college, high school, homeschool, planning

Prepare for the Visits: College Search Part 5

OK, you’ve (hopefully) narrowed the list of to-be-visited colleges down to a manageable number. We visited one about a year and a half ago (that was the top pick for a while), one last spring (also a past top pick), one last fall, and four last week. Just off hand, don’t plan on visiting four colleges in one week unless you have a lot of energy! We will probably be visiting one more in a few weeks.

If you plan to do one visit at a time, start with the most likely candidate (if there is one). If you’re going to do several on a road trip, plot them on Google maps so you can visit them in a logical order. No sense doing more driving than you have to.

Again, take a look at the college websites to make sure that the date(s) you want to visit are available. Most websites have online forms for setting up visits. Some will only have tours available on certain days at certain times. When in doubt, call the college and ask to speak with the visit or tour coordinator. If possible, download a map of the campus so you can more easily find the admissions office when you arrive.

Wear comfortable clothing, but don’t wear anything too scruffy. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes; you will be doing a lot of walking all over the campuses.

Prepare a written list of questions to ask such as the following:

  • Do you have an honors program? What are its requirements?
  • What kind of scholarships do you offer?
  • Do you have work-study jobs available?
  • Is chapel mandatory?
  • How many Bible classes are mandatory?
  • What are the visitation rules in the dorms?
  • How is the on-campus security?
  • Do you have a transfer program?
  • Do you have a study-abroad program?
  • Do you have any mini-mesters (J-term or May-term)?
  • What are your entrance requirements?
  • What is an average class size?
  • What is your retention rate?
  • What accreditations do you have?

Copy this list, put a college name at the top of each one, then fill in the answers while you’re actually at the college.

Also, have your student take notes on her impressions of the college. While we may not be too worried about the dorms, our kids most certainly will be! Have your teen write down what she thinks of the dorms, the campus in general, the distance from home (write it down), the class size, and other thoughts. Make sure you do this as soon as you get in the car to go home or go to the next college. After the first college visit, they all start to blend together and you’re likely to forget which college had the dorms with the private bathrooms and which college had the best cafeteria food.

As an aside, don’t skip visiting colleges just because of distance and/or time constraints. The ambiance can feel completely different when you’re actually there than when you just look at a website. That happened to us just last week. We visited a college that looked fabulous on the Internet, but the girls absolutely hated the atmosphere when we got there. It’s off the list now.

Q4U: What else would you want to know when you visit a college?

college, high school, homeschool, planning

Consult Experts: College Search Part 4

As homeschoolers, we don’t have the luxury of a full-time guidance counselor in an office down the hall. We’re already so busy juggling schooling, housekeeping, other kids, and maybe a job (and grad school) that we don’t have the time or the resources to keep up with all the latest college entrance requirements, financial aid, and scholarships.

Scholarship consultants are here to fill in that gap for us. They know what colleges offer which majors; they’ve got statistics at their fingertips; they’ve got all the latest information on scholarships, and they even know what the FAFSA is.

If you live in the Carolinas and want to meet someone face-to-face, I highly recommend Elizabeth Hartley of Scholarship Gold. Her office is in Lake Wiley, SC. We (my hubby, my daughter, and I) met with her for 2 1/2 hours last fall and it was money well spent. Elizabeth listened to what my daughter was looking for in a college (majors, size, location, Christian, etc), and then listed a bunch of colleges to look at. She also gave us a log of helpful information about scholarships, as well as scams to avoid. In addition, she’s only a phone call away for a follow-up chat. We also came away with a binder filled with helpful forms and websites for the entire college process. She also works with traditional school students.

If you’re not in the Carolinas and/or don’t want to take the drive, then I highly recommend Lee Binz, The Home Scholar. Lee’s two homeschooled sons got scholarships to top-ranking colleges, so she practiced what she preaches. She has different books, DVDs, webinars, phone consultations, and more to help you through the college scholarship search. She also has a bunch of resources to help you prepare your student’s transcript. In addition, she has free resources, so there’s no excuse not to check out her site!

Q4U: Have you used a consultant? If so, how was your experience?

college, high school, homeschool, planning

Online Previewing: College Search Part 3

When I was in high school, a musical group from a Bible college came to sing at our church. The guys were really cute, and I liked their music, so I decided that I wanted to attend that college. Oh, the college also had the major that I was interested in :-). I sort of half-heartedly took a look a a few other colleges, but my fate was sealed when my number one choice offered me early admission. I think I had applied and been accepted before my parents realized fully what that meant. So, I went to college and graduated four years later with no debt (thanks, Mum & Dad!).

All that to say that I have no idea what I’m doing with daughter number one right now. I do remember that my brother had quite a different experience in choosing a college. I vaguely remember that he had stacks and stacks of catalogs in his bedroom, and we visited quite a few colleges before he settled on one.

Instead of stacks and stacks of catalogs, we now have the Internet. Thank goodness! Today’s college search tip is to utilize the wealth of resources available at the tips of our fingers. Start by checking out local colleges and other colleges you’ve heard about online. Look at the websites with your college-bound teen to get a feel for what’s offered and what the campus might be like.

When your child takes the SAT or the ACT, if s/he creates an online account, which I highly recommend, s/he will start receiving postcards and information from colleges that match her/his profile. Check out those college websites, too.

Look for college fairs in your area. If you belong to a homeschool e-loop, chances are that someone will post information about a local college fair. Attend, be open, talk to the admissions counselors. Oh, and take your student.

Here are some general college prep websites to check out:
College Board
ACT Student site
Peterson’s College Search
U.S. College Search

Q4U: What are your best online college search tips?

college, high school, homeschool, learning styles, planning

When I Grow Up: College Search Part 2

When I grow up, I want to be a storm chaser, a meteorologist, a horse trainer, a missionary, a writer, and a teacher. Yes, all at once. This is what I heard from my older daughter. Now she’s narrowed it down to teaching English in high school with a (very large) side of creative writing. Of course, that’s subject to change.

What do you do when your teen either has no idea of what she wants to do (my younger daughter) or has too many things she’s interested in to decide (my older daughter)?

First, let your teen pursue some of her interests, even if you think she might not want to stick with it. I knew that meteorology had way too much math for my older daughter, but I signed her up to take a 1/2 credit, online class when she was in 9th grade. Sure enough, she was over the whole meteorology thing before she even finished it. Let your teen shadow someone her field of interest. Get some extra workbooks at a curriculum fair or education store. Check out the plethora of online offerings. Have her volunteer in a variety of settings.

Second, have your teen fill out personality and interest surveys. We used The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers, by Jill Dixon. We found it to be very helpful in pointing out different types of careers that suited my daughter’s interests. You can also check online for many other kinds of inventories and tests. For younger children, be sure to expose them to a wide variety of careers and possibilities.

Another resource we found helpful was Homeschool, High School, and Beyond: A Guide for Teens and Their Parents, by Beverly Adams-Gordon. It’s a time management, career exploration, organization and study skills course. It’s worth 1/4 credit; I had my daughter do it at the beginning of 9th grade as we were plotting out her four years of college. She didn’t end up following it exactly, but at least it was a starting point.

You may also find Senior High: A Home Designed Form+U+La, by Barbara Shelton, to be helpful. I looked at it and incorporated a few ideas, but we did not use all of it.

One last resource is Homeschoolers’ College Admissions Handbook, by Cafi Cohen. I must confess that I have not read this book (yet), but it is sitting in my to-be-read pile. It looks helpful :-).

Third, don’t panic if your teen still doesn’t know what she wants to do, or if she changes her mind as often as she changes her hair style. That’s perfectly normal. In fact, I read a statistic recently that said 78% of students change their majors during their college experience. (Don’t shoot me for not remembering where I saw that number!)

Q4U: Do you have any other tips for helping your teen choose a career?

college, high school, homeschool, planning

What Comes After Homeschooling? College Search Part 1

 What comes after homeschooling? For many students, it’s college. But how do we choose the right college? How do we get from being intimately involved in our children’s education to sending them off to an institution?
We’re not quite all the way through the process, but I thought I’d share our progress and some tips for being at least somewhat organized about the college search process.
It’s all changed so much since I went to college (save the age jokes, please!). I knew by the time I was in high school where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to major in. I applied for early admission (after my junior year), was accepted, went, and graduated four years later. It’s not so easy with my older daughter.
Below are the ideas I’ll be discussing during the next few weeks. Hey, why not get as much mileage out of this as possible?! Please let me know if you’d like to see any other related topics covered, because I’m sure I do not have everything covered here.

  • Explore career options
  • Explore a wide variety of colleges online
  • Visit a scholarship/college consultant
  • Narrow down the list
  • Schedule campus visits
  • Prepare for the visits
  • Process the visits
  • Consider community colleges first
  • Apply

homeschool, learning styles, planning, study skills

Learning Styles: Intake (Part 2)

How do our children intake and process information most effectively? That’s how we want to teach them!

Auditorily, visually, and kinesthetically are the three main ways in which to intake information. Auditory learners prefer to be read to, to read aloud and to repeat information over and over again. Auditory learners will learn best with audio books, singing math and geography songs, and reciting verses out loud. As much as possible, aim to provide books on tape (CDs, MP3s, etc.) and to encourage verbal repetition.
            Visual learners need to see it to understand it. They usually love reading, and understand more easily with graphs, charts, and pictures. Provide lots of quality reading material and don’t be frustrated if this child doesn’t want to be read to as much after she learns how to read herself. This is the easiest style to accommodate, because much curricula is visually oriented.
            The little wigglers really can’t help themselves; they’re most likely kinesthetic learners. They may be required to sit still in Mrs. Smith’s first grade classroom, but in our homeschools, let them wiggle. I have found that to require absolute stillness from kinesthetic learners is a recipe for disaster. Sure, they may sit perfectly still for five minutes, but they won’t be able to concentrate on anything else; all of their energy will be directed towards not fidgeting. By allowing some movement, we free up their minds to intake academic information. Some not-too-intrusive ideas are allowing a little squishy ball to hold and squeeze, standing for a while, sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair, and allowing movements (such as making up a cheer for a Bible verse). Their concrete nature means that they’ll need manipulatives for math. Most children start off being kinesthetic learners, but many outgrow the need to touch and/or move in order to learn as they get older.

homeschool, learning styles, planning

Learning Styles Introduction (Part 1)

          How do you retain new information best? Chances are, at least one of your children does not learn the same way that you do. My older daughter does learn the same way that I do, so I was in for a shock when I tried the same style and activities with my younger daughter. It should be no surprise that not everyone learns best with the same style of teaching. That’s why so many people do not have good memories of their school years; they just weren’t taught in a way that engaged them. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can discover our children’s learning styles and teach them in a way that they will enjoy and retain information. Learning styles are similar to personality traits. Every book I’ve read, and every person I’ve heard speak on the subject gave different titles to different traits and styles. For the next several posts, I’ve lumped the different styles into four categories: intake, output, setting, and orderliness.

homeschool, lessons learned, planning

A Fresh Start in the Middle of the Year

For those who homeschool on a more traditional schedule, January is the middle of the school year. And no matter what the calendar says, I’m convinced that February is the longest month of the year. Nevertheless, we can take steps towards a fresh start even at this juncture. Now is a great time to refocus on our objectives—while our minds are all ready focused on losing the same ten pounds we lose every January, and we’re in the starting-over mindset. Let’s take a look at three areas in which we can reestablish our beginning-of-the-school-year goals: curricula, clutter, and character.
Let’s tackle curricula first. Yes, I mean the new math program we were sure would turn our little darlings into Albert Einstein miniatures. Is that new math program really working or would it be better to pull out the good old standby that has a proven track record? While it may not be the easiest time of year to try to sell used curricula, it is the right time of year to start a to-sell bin. If it didn’t work this year, chances are that it won’t work next year.
What about all those cool extras that we were sure we would be able to squeeze into our already-overcrowded academic days? If it’s still collecting dust on the top shelf, put it in that to-sell bin. Don’t think of it as wasting money, think of it as seed money (after you sell it, anyway) for next year’s curricula list.
Next we’re ready for my favorite category to organize: clutter. Some people have every stray Christmas hand towel and ornament tucked away in matching red Rubbermaid bins by New Year’s Day. Others of us are still finding turkey fridge magnets and glittery bows as we get out the Valentine’s Day decorations—not to mention must-have toys that turned out to be not all that.
The perfect time to declutter our seasonal decorations is when we’re boxing up our them up. Trash the broken ornaments, the ugly centerpieces, and the faded wreaths. This time of year is the most cost-effective time to invest in new storage, if need be. Mass retailers currently have season-specific storage solutions on, which is the only reason that my Christmas decorations are all stored in red and/or green plastic containers. As a side note, color coding makes it easier to figure out which bins need to come down from the attic for each season. When you’re shopping for storage, though, don’t give in to the urge to purchase all new decorations just because they’re on sale. That defeats the purpose of decluttering!
“Out with the old, in with the new,” goes the old saying. If your kids’ grandparents are anything like mine (my in-laws at least), then you know that Christmases and birthdays bring in a plethora of new toys, games, and DVDs. While some of the new items lose their appeal the day after the wrapping paper has been ripped off, some of them really do earn a spot in the limelight. Now, while our kids’ attention is on their new stuff, is the time to weed through their old toys and games. Start a yard sale bin for things in good condition, a give-away box for items that can go to the less fortunate, and a BIG trash bag for toys that are broken, games with missing pieces, and videos that got eaten by the VCR.
While we’re in the decluttering mode, let’s go through our papers, too. First the obvious: trash old invitations, expired coupons, and finished magazines. Next the less obvious: academic papers that multiply like dust bunnies. Remember those portfolios that we were going to set up in September for samples of our children’s school work? Now’s the time to start them for real. Can’t remember the details? Review my column in the July/August 2011 Home School Enrichment magazine. The basics are to just keep a few of each subject, to sort them by child and by topic, and to file them in a binder every few weeks.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about making a fresh start with our character development. Like Paul in Philippians 3, I do not count myself as having arrived. I start each new school year with good intentions of being more patient, more flexible, and more godly as a homeschool mom. About this time every year, though, I find myself exhausted and ready for June. The problem is that June is still six months away. Instead of letting this area slide—again—let’s regroup and start over. It’s the perfect time of year to take a deep breath, say yes to an unscheduled field trip, and to start each school day with devotions—again. Let’s say with Paul, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12, NKJV). We need to practice what we preach to our kids in this department. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of holding my kids to a higher standard than I want to impose on myself. We just need to remember that good character traits are caught more than they are taught.

college, high school, homeschool, planning, writing

Thank You Notes are Always in Style

  Is it just me, or are thank you notes (the paper kind you hold in your hand) becoming obsolete? Are they following the dwindling number of friendly letters and Christmas letters and cards that used to stuff our mailboxes? Well, my mum (she’s Canadian, but I thought the southern phrase more apropos for the title) taught me to acknowledge every gift with a handwritten thank you note. If your techno-kids balk, here are some inspirations to help reinstate the good old-fashioned thank you note.

1. Don’t restrict Thanksgiving to a single day or month. On the contrary, the fact that Thanksgiving comes exactly a month before the day when kids get overloaded with new toys, books, and electronic gadgets should prime them for even more thankfulness.

2. Someone—grandparent, aunt, sibling, parent—took the time to pick out a special gift for each child in your home. The least a child can do in return is to take the time to handwrite note acknowledging appreciation for the gift and for the thought that went into its purchase.

3. Yes, grandparents know that little Jimmy just loved the Tonka truck, but writing a thank you note is kind of like saying “I love you.” You know it, but it’s still nice to hear frequently.

4. The Bible leads the way in encouraging thankful attitudes. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14a NJKV). “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).

5. You can count writing thank you notes as a school project! Just look at all the subjects you’ll cover: grammar (proper letter forms and written grammar), handwriting, art (if they design their own), spelling, and etiquette (it is good manners to write thank you notes).

6. Let’s face it: the kids will be looking for something to do in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The novelty of the new toys will wear off about two days after they’re opened and writing thank you notes can help fill in the time gap before you’re ready to jump back into formal lessons in January.

7. Many children enjoy designing their own cards or drawing pictures. The recipients will enjoy seeing those pictures and cards on their refrigerators. This works especially well with children who are too young to write complete sentences; they can draw pictures of themselves playing with their new toys.

How many ways can you say thank you? Shukran Gazillan, Thoinks, Moite! Wado, Xie_Xie, Merci, Danke sehr, Mahalo, Köszönöm, Grazie, Cheers, Salamat, Spasiba, Tapadh Leat, Gracias a todos, Tesekkurler, Thanks y’all! (Other languages courtesy of e-Tailers Digest.)

(It’s a repost because I have to remind my own kids to write Christmas thank you notes every year, and I’m sure you do, too!)

encouragement, homeschool, medical issues, planning

Dealing with Chronic Illnesses Part 3: Dreading December

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the rest of our wonderful writers!

December is my favorite month of the year because it includes my two favorite holidays: Jesus’ birthday and my birthday. I love the presents (giving as well as receiving), the wrapping, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the caroling, the baking, the planning, the partying—all of it. At least, December was my favorite month until I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses that have left me overwhelmed and gasping for air with a regular schedule before even adding holiday duties. I hate that my favorite season has become a series of duties.
So, what’s a mom to do? Cancel Christmas? Not likely! Go full bore and pay a heavy health price in January? Not a good idea. How ’bout a balance that falls somewhere in the middle? The following measures can help us experience a more peaceful nativity.
Ten Steps to a dread-proof December, even with a chronic illness:
Think about what really matters. What’s at the top of your list that you just can’t give up during the holidays?
Make a list of the top five items on your what-really-matters list and brainstorm ways to make those happen this year.
Let go of the rest. Yes, I know that’s the hardest part!
Delegate everything possible. The cookies will be just as good if your 13-year-old makes them.    
Simplify the decorations, the baking, the gifts, and most of all your expectations.
Be happy with what gets done and try not to focus on what’s left undone.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to complete your entire list in one afternoon just because you start off feeling great.
Take naps.
Rest often.
Remember the real reason for the season: Jesus. Nothing else really matters.
Now, all I have to do is follow my own advice, and I can return to enjoying my favorite season instead of dreading December!