History Through the Ages

It’s time to answer another reader’s question! This question is about history–what we called social studies when we were kids. I don’t know what passes for social studies in schools these days; I’m more interested in the actual facts. Classical education, which our family has embraced since we started our homeschooling journey, espouses studying history chronologically from the beginning and studying it all the way through consecutively.

The most popular way to incorporate a linear study of history is to complete three four-year cycles, beginning in first grade: ancient, medieval, early modern, modern. Another popular curriculum does a five-year cycle from second through sixth grades, then two two-year cycles in junior high and high school. The length of time spent in each historical period doesn’t really matter. What matters is covering each major period several times throughout the homeschooling process (assuming you’re homeschooling all the way through). Each time a history period is covered, more details will pop out, more in-depth discussion will occur, and more work will be required of the student. The student will gain a deeper, richer knowledge of history’s parallels and applications each time through each segment.

Since many homeschooling families have more than one child, let’s talk about how to utilize this method without teaching all of the time periods at the same time and without driving yourself crazy. The first child gets to start ancient history in first grade. The next child, when she hits first grade, joins child number one wherever he is in the cycle, and so on. Yes, that means that not all of the children will start with ancient history. But that’s ok—really! Eventually, child number two (and subsequent children who did not start with ancient history) will catch up and travel through history from beginning to end more than once.

As much as I love American history, I don’t want to teach it every year to my kids; furthermore, they don’t want to learn it every year! Chances are, your kids don’t either.

Q4U: What’s your homeschooling or organizing question? What would you like to see answered by me here on my blog?



Planners and Responsibilities

Remember the teacher’s planner that enthralled you so much at the convention that you bought it? Its purpose is not just to look pretty on your shelf or on your computer’s desktop. It’s time to pull it out and start using it, or to figure out all the features it has if you’ve purchased an e-planner. Yes, I mean right now (well, after you’ve finished reading this)! If you follow a more traditional school year, you’ve probably recently started the new school year. The good news is that it’s not too late to start using your planner!
First of all, plan—at least roughly—your starting and ending dates for the school year. Be sure to incorporate holidays and other dates you know you’ll be taking off from official academics. Make sure you have 180 days if that’s required in your state. It’s okay if these dates fluctuate during the year—really—at least you’ve got a framework.
The next step is to write all these dates into your paper planner or to program them into your e-planner. The nice thing about e-planners is that they will calculate the number of days for you and it’s much easier to change dates if something unexpected comes up, and it will. This feature comes in handy towards the end of the year when the kids (and you) are getting antsy for the last day of school. Many states require you to keep and submit a yearly attendance log, which will be a breeze once you start using your e-planner. No more counting out days trying to remember if you did school on Columbus Day or not.
Mid-range planning involves breaking the school year down into quarters (or whatever units you use), then months, and then weeks. I plan which books will be read when and which projects go with which history and science units. I also look at every textbook, workbook, and living book we’ll be using to see approximately how many pages and chapters need to be done every quarter, month, and week. It saves time when I do my short-term planning during the school year, and it also helps me keep the children on track to finish each book by the end of the school year (but not three months early, unless we want to do it that way).
While this may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, it makes my planning during the year go much more smoothly. When I do my bi-weekly planning, I simply look at my chart and decide what and how much to do each day. That way when we get to the end of the year, I don’t discover a really cool project that we forgot we had or find a book about an explorer when we’re studying the Civil War.
Short-term planning, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, involves planning specific pages, chapters, lessons, and projects for each day of the school week. I have found that it works best for me to do this once every two weeks. Doing it every week tends to feel cumbersome and never-ending. If I do it only every three or four weeks, we tend to get out of sync too easily by an unexpected field trip or illness. It may take you a few tries to figure out what timing works best for you, but you will be much more relaxed throughout the school year if you take a little bit of time now to do so.
As I do my short-term planning, I print out a lesson plan schedule for each of my children, starting about when they reach the fourth grade level. At this point, especially if you’ve been homeschooling for several years, children are capable of looking at the list, figuring out what to do next, and crossing off each item as it is completed. This is part of the progression towards independent learning. Children enjoy feeling as if they have some control over their days, and they start to figure out the process of scheduling for themselves. For us moms, it cuts down on the constant, “Mom, what do I do next?” syndrome. Of course we’re not leaving our children completely to their own devices; we’re just teaching them a little bit of independence at a time while we can still monitor their progress.
Another option is to purchase (or make) a planner for each child. The Well-Planned Day, Apologia, and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Store offer planners for different age groups with grade-appropriate forms in addition to regular curricula planning pages. With younger children, you may find yourself writing everything in their planners and perhaps just having them check off each subject as it is completed. Even kindergarteners and first graders get a kick out of finding the word math on Tuesday and x-ing it off.
As they get older, you can have children take more responsibility for planning one subject at a time—with your guidance, of course. For instance, when my children reached middle school, I started telling them that they had two weeks to finish a science module. We elect to complete most available tests for memory retention and for future training (driver’s license or SATs, anyone?), so I teach my children to work backwards from the test date. If this is Monday and the test will be next Friday; that means that next Thursday will be a study day. That leaves us with three days next week and five days this week to read the chapter, do any experiments, and answer the questions along the way. Now we count the pages in the chapter; let’s just say there are twenty-four pages. Then, we divide the twenty-four pages by the eight days in which we have to do them and come up with reading four pages a day, including corresponding questions and experiments. In the early stages of planning, I make my children write the exact page numbers on each day of their planners. Voila, they’ve planned out the next two weeks of their science curriculum (almost) on their own.
I get less strict about how my children plan while keeping tabs on their general progress as they become more mature. Instead of doing some each day, particularly in science, history, and other subjects that don’t need daily repetition, some students may prefer to do more of one thing on certain days. That works, too, but make sure you count the right number of days and/or weeks when you plan that way.
Yes, this type of planning takes time. But it’s not just about writing down the next math lesson number or the next literature chapter. It’s also about learning to manage one’s time and resources, which is a life lesson that will be used over and over again. Most jobs require some sort of planning and implementation—even homemakers are more efficient if meals are planned ahead of time.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” Proverbs 11:14.
“Plans are established by counsel” Proverbs 20:18a.

**This article appears over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the other great writers over there!


Elementary Language Arts

Reader Q & A time

Elementary Language Arts is just a synonym for English, right? Well, not quite. Language Arts is a broad category that covers several different skill areas. All of these skills are important to cover during the elementary years. The following are the skill areas that must be emphasized during the elementary years:

  • Reading–During the earliest years, reading is basically phonics and learning how to read. Later on, students need to start learning to read for comprehension. Personally, I think that, after they’ve mastered The Bob Books they should move onto real, living books. Let’s face it: graded readers are boring! Get your kids interested in reading a wide variety of literature; start with his/her interests and branch out from there.
  • Handwriting–This is, admittedly, a dying art, yet it is still important. Perhaps it won’t receive the attention it once did when we were in school, but kids do need to learn how to write both manuscript and cursive legibly. Many people choose to use copy work (writing specific Bible verses or other literary passages) for handwriting practice in order to give children a reason to write by hand.
  • Grammar–Yes, grammar is important! No, children will not just pick it up unconsciously while they put their creative stories down on paper starting at age ten or twelve. It’s like the basic math facts and needs to be drilled regularly. It can be made fun; it does not have to be drudgery. Your is not the same thing as you’re!
  • Writing–Writing is a skill that needs to be taught. Sure, some students are naturally creative and will be scribbling away in notebooks just for fun beginning at an early age. Most students are terrified when told to “write something.” Find a good writing curriculum and take your kids through the entire writing process. Who knows? You may even learn something in the process!
  • Spelling–Spell Check on a computer word processor is not foolproof. ‘Nuff said.
Q4U: Do you have a homeschool or organization question that I can answer in a future blog post? Now is the time to send me your burning questions and to have them answered so everyone can benefit. Chances are that someone else has the same question.


What I Did Yesterday Instead of Writing Blog Posts

I rearranged the furniture–again! A few months ago, I had moved my office stuff into the guest room so that I could close the door on the TV, warring radio stations, and door slammings. Well, I realized that just was not going to work too well for school (which starts today), so now Emily has a school desk in my office/guest room. Don’t worry, Mum and Dad, there’s still plenty of room for when you come to visit us!


Study Skills for Grades 7-12

For most of us, the beginning of the school year is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time to hone your middle and high schoolers’ study skills. TODAY at 12:30 p.m. EST I’ll be presenting a session especially for your tweens and teens on essential study skills. It’s not too late to pick up a ticket for the entire Heart of the Matter Homeschool Conference happening this week. Click here to visit Heart of the Matter.

AND, I’m pleased to announce that Study Skills for Grades 7-12, the e-book, is releasing today as well! Visit my business website to purchase your copy at the introductory, discounted price of just $3.95. Hurry, this special price is available just for this week!


How to Create an Overcommitment-Proof School-Year Schedule

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today talking about schedules. Come join the fun!

Ssshhhh! Don’t anyone tell my husband the topic of this month’s post or else he might make me read and apply it! We might as well get my confession out of the way right off the bat: I have issues with scheduling. And overcommitting. But, I need to get better at it because I was recently diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Hhmm, I wonder if there’s a correlation . . . Maybe this year I’ll actually follow my own advice and stick to the schedule I create at the beginning of this year. Maybe this year I’ll remember that I’m already booked to capacity before I commit to another big project. Maybe.
Part of the planning process involves outlining a workable schedule for each week and for each day. Have you ever found yourself double booked? I have and it’s not a fun place to be. In addition, my kids—especially when they were younger—found it helpful to have an established routine.
During the summer or at the beginning of the academic year, I find it useful to print off or make a blank weekly time schedule in order to avoid scheduling snafus while I’m planning out our basic weekly agenda. I use a basic template from Microsoft Word or just hand draw six lines on a horizontal piece of paper so that I have a long slot/space for each day. Then I start filling in the blanks with the regular practices, classes, and appointments to which I’ve already committed for the upcoming school year. Subsequently, as more opportunities present themselves, I look on my basic weekly schedule/calendar to see how or if they will fit.
For our family, I have found that the morning hours are the most productive times in which to concentrate and do actual academic work. This means that I have had to say “no” to many outside classes and opportunities that fall before noon. Your family may find that afternoon or even evening hours are the most productive academic times. Whatever time of day is best for your children to focus is the time that you should protect as much as possible and aim not to be out of the house during that time, except for the unavoidable orthodontist and doctor appointments.
When planning a daily schedule, it’s not necessary to plan to complete every subject every day. As a general rule, skill areas such as math, reading, spelling, and handwriting do need to be completed each day in order to reinforce the concepts. On the other hand, content areas such as history, science, and literature can be worked on for fewer, but longer, sessions during the week. For instance, we have done history on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and worked on science on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One afternoon we may focus on music appreciation, and then work on art appreciation another afternoon. This also gives a longer period for projects that may accompany these subjects.
Another thing I try to do is to make sure that I am not out of the house every single afternoon every week by limiting our outside classes to one or two days. I realize that this becomes difficult if you have children in sports that require practices three or four days a week and then have games on top of that, but usually those practices are later in the day, which helps.
Now comes the tricky part: sticking to our basic weekly schedules. When a long-term commitment or big project opportunity presents itself, take a good, hard look at your schedule before agreeing to it. Talk to your spouse to get his input as well (and then follow it). Let’s hold each other up in prayer as we consider the upcoming year’s activities and schedules.


Got Vision? Part 3


I’ve covered goals we want our children to achieve before they leave our home and our reasons for homeschooling as part of sharing our family’s homeschooling vision, originally composed in 1999. This week, I’m going to focus on the big questions that everyone—including the grocery store cashiers—asks: What about socialization?

Here’s what we think about the whole socialization issue:

  • We want to socialize our children in ways that will be honoring to God, rather than their peers.
  • We want control over our kids’ friends and contacts.
  • Our children do not need over 1,000 hours a school year of interaction with kids who could possibly be a bad influence on them.
  • Our children need to learn how to relate well to people of all ages and in all situations, not just to kids their own age in a classroom setting.
  • Our children are/will be involved in various church, co-op, and community activities with kids their own age. They will be permitted to choose one other sports activity at a time according to their own interests.
  • We aren’t hermits, and we are not raising our children to be such.

Q4U: What do you think about the whole socialization issue?



Recharge Your Batteries

Let’s face it: homeschool moms expend a lot of energy. We’re not only the chief cooks and bottle washers, but we’re also the main teachers and guidance counselors for our children. And then, our hubbies like for us to reserve a little energy for them, too. Not to mention the fact that many homeschool moms also work-at-home (or even away from home) and volunteer at churches and other organizations. No wonder we often feel as if our batteries are dead! We’re expected to act and last like the Energizer Bunny on a dollar store charge.
So, what do we do about it? When, in our insanely overcrowded schedules and commitments, can we find time to recharge our batteries? Summer is the perfect time for homeschool moms to recoup. Some of us completely shut down our homeschools for the season (except for that field trip disguised as a vacation and the occasional worksheet or required book), while some of us keep going with the core subjects. Whatever schedule we follow, summer still tends to have slower, lighter expectations. Here are some ideas to get us started recharging our batteries:
·         Float in a pool
·         Catch fireflies in a jar with your kids
·         Pack a picnic lunch and relax near a playground while your kids do the monkey bars
·         Spend time at your favorite destination (beach, lake, mountains, state park, etc.)
·         Sleep in late a few times
·         Rent your favorite adult movie (And I don’t mean R-rated! I mean non-Sesame Street.)
·         Read your favorite book again
·         Journal about homeschooling highlights
·         Brainstorm with your hubby or other homeschooling friends how to improve this coming year, even if you had a good year
·         Sign your kids up for the free activities at your local library and spend that time browsing for new books
·         Set aside some girlfriend time and leave the kids home with your hubby or a responsible teenager (your own or a babysitter)
·         Soak up some sun (properly sunblocked and hatted, of course)
·         Soak up some Son—spend extra time reading Scriptures, praying, praising, and listening for God’s encouragement and direction           
I don’t know about you, but I’m solar powered. Sunshine makes me happy and energized! SON time is even more important. Add in a few of the ideas listed above to some quality solar time (both kinds) and your inner Energizer Bunny will be ready for the new school year come September.

This post is featured over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Go check out some of their other great content!


Got Vision? Part 2


In Got Vision? Part 1, I outlined our original goals that we want our children to achieve before they leave our home.

Today, I’m going to outline our reasons for homeschooling. While my parents and our church family were thrilled at the prospect, not everyone else was as happy. We needed to have concrete reasons to present to the doubters (who have been converted in the years since, by the way!).

  • Safety—the most physically, mentally, and morally safe place for our children is in our home, under our direct supervision.
  • We will be able to lay a stronger foundation in godly morals and our family values.
  • Our children will each have an individualized education—with flexibility and different choices for curricula and other activities.
  • Our curricula will have a Christian world view in all subjects; the Bible will be a basis for all other learning.
  • Our children will be in a nurturing environment.
  • We want to strive for academic excellence.

Q4U: What are your reasons for homeschooling?



Got Vision? Part 1

milkWhen we first started homeschooling, way back in 1999, we were encouraged to think about why we wanted to homeschool our children, not only right then, but in the future. We were also encouraged to come up with a set of goals that we wanted our children to meet before they graduated from our care (homeschool or otherwise, just before they left our home to be on their own).

Here is the first part of our vision (modified only slightly from the original), goals we want our children to achieve before they leave our home. We want our children to . . .

  • have a personal, vital relationship with God, which includes active spiritual growth, displaying the fruits of the Spirit in daily living, effective evangelism, and a clear, working understanding of the Bible
  • be independent thinkers and independent learners
  • love to read
  • have basic life skills, such as consumer math, housekeeping, transportation, etc.
  • develop an appreciation for fine arts
  • have competent computer skills
  • develop good people skills—to be able to work well with others, to choose friends and a godly mate wisely
  • speak well and write well
  • strive for academic excellence
  • develop cultural awareness
  • be able to display hospitality