Wednesday, September 28, 2011

About Socialization...

"I'm homeschooled, that's why I'm so social!" --Hazel, from the movie Dolphin Tail. Love that line!

We saw this last night...what an inspiring movie. Winter (the dolphin who had to have her tail amputated) inspires Sawyer to overcome his educational and social struggles, and gives hope to people with physical disabilities. Based on a true story--here's a bit of background information and a "behind the scenes" peek. Thumbs up from both of our kids!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

6 Writing Mistakes—Reluctant Writers Part 2

I promised I’d write about some of my failed attempts to teach writing. I’m probably my own worst enemy in this area! When I was 7, I wrote a story that my mom liked so well, she submitted it to Cricket magazine for publication. Yes, I received my first rejection letter in second grade! But that memory lingered with me and gave me a false impression of what’s “normal” for second grade!
Mistake #1—expecting too much too soon. If you have young children who love to write, great! Let them write to their heart’s content. If you don’t, then don’t sweat it. If you have older children who really struggle with grammar and mechanics—don’t overload them with excessive editing requirements. (I love IEW’s focus on giving kids as much help as they need.)
Mistake #2—copywork. Now, I love copywork as a tool for gently teaching all kinds of things, from grammar and mechanics to literary styles and that ineffable quality of “voice.” It’s also great for helping a child who struggles with writing to build up stamina. You can start with short segments and gradually lengthen them. So, what’s the problem? The problem was in my execution. I chose passages from books without realizing that the passage could be too difficult. My reasoning—all of the words are right there, the child copies them, what could be easier?
Then I took a copywork and dictation class from and learned why my children could leave letters out, leave words out, misspell words and so-on in their copywork.
One of the first exercises we did in the class involved doing copywork in 4 different languages: Dutch, German, French, and English. The passage in Dutch was the most difficult—the spellings were not at all phonetic in the way that our language works. I found myself trying to make up phonetic strategies to copy it but most often having to simply memorize the letters in order, the way one might memorize numbers in a phone number. This is what copywork is like for children who don’t understand how the phonograms work and actually undermines learning for them—it encourages them to rely on strategies that are not helpful.
German was a bit easier, and that process compares to children who do “fair” with copywork but still make many mistakes. French was still easier, and compares to the child who does well with copywork but doesn’t really enjoy it. English of course compares to the child who enjoys copywork and does well at it.
For a bonus, we also tried copywork in Greek. Now, I have seen Greek letters before but never studied them. I found that in order to copy Greek, I had to stop mid-character and look at the original again to see how to form the character. This would compare to the young student or one who isn’t sure how to form the letters, struggles with handwriting, and so on.
My kids were typically in the Greek-Dutch-German phases, and I was giving them a copywork length and difficulty comparable to what a child in the “English” phase would do! One of the reasons I so appreciate All About Spelling is that it enabled us to go back to the beginning—focus on writing letters and segmenting, then simple words, then 2-word phrases, short sentences, and so on. It gave them the incremental steps that they needed to be successful.
Mistake #3—doing things out of order! It seems so obvious to me now to work on things in an orderly fashion—first phonics and reading, then handwriting, then add in spelling, and then finally, when they are ready, work on formal grammar and writing. (Early on, I do like to work on grammar informally as it relates to reading and speaking). But I was so excited to get to writing that I pushed my kids to write something—anything, before they were really ready. They needed to have a fairly large number of words successfully under their spelling “belts” before they could be successful with communicating thoughts in writing. I did do a lot of narration and oral writing early on (they spoke, I scribed), and that was a good choice. But if I had it to do over again, I would have worked on spelling more before trying to get them to do their own writing. Narration develops creative and organizational skills at a pace that fits the child, without stressing them out with writing before they are equipped with the skills.
Mistake #4—I love the idea of natural methods, but that teaching style didn’t work for my oldest. Some kids love discovery-oriented programs and learning processes, while others don’t do well with them. And some, like my son, may even feel betrayed by them. In my son’s mind, to teach in that fashion is to purposefully hold back the information that will help a person be successful—to set them up for failure. Wow! It took me a few failed curriculum choices, some tentative forays into the dreaded workbooks, and then stumbling across incremental, mastery-based materials to help me see the type of approach that would work best for this child.
Mistake #5—worry. And the partner to worry is mistake #1, pushing. Many of us start out with the mistaken impression that all homeschooled kids are “ahead.” Then we have a child who struggles, and fear sets in. Pretty soon we just want our kids to be “on grade level” to help us feel like we are not inadequate, not failures, that we didn’t make some huge mistake by homeschooling. Maybe friends and relatives add to our doubts by quizzing our children and exposing their struggles, or telling us they wouldn’t have trouble if we would just put them in school. Worry is detrimental to the teacher and shakes a student’s confidence, as does too much pushing. And it was all for nothing, because the skills do come together when the children are ready. The best thing I did for myself in this situation was give myself the freedom to say, "If my kids have to take a remedial writing class in college, it's not the end of the world." That took the monkey off my back, and gave me such a sense of freedom—I could focus on helping my kids learn the next thing instead of worrying about failure.
Mistake #6—mistaking a learning disability for laziness, and being too afraid of learning disabilities to learn about them. But I think this deserves a separate post, and I’ll write more about that another time.
What mistakes have you learned to overcome?

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Algebra, Writing, Thinking, Living...

"YES!!! A sentence that makes sense!" my son yelled when I read him the first dictation sentence in All About Spelling Level 6, Step 2: "My algebra homework makes me pull my hair out." I think he punctuated it with an exclamation point when he wrote it though! We often laugh at the fun dictation sentences, but my son felt he was understood (and perhaps vindicated?!) when I read this one.

Secretly I've been musing how useful algebra really is. It forces one to think logically and sequentially, as well as creatively (sometimes there is more than one way to approach a problem). Skills that are also very essential to writing, whether one is writing fiction or non-fiction. I'm not sure I could convince my son of its usefulness when he is knee-deep in variables, but I see applications abound to many areas of life from the discipline of showing one's work and having to follow a task beginning to end, step by step, in some orderly fashion.

But as I said...that's my secret!

Merry :-)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And the Winner is....

elilillie! Congratulations! Please email me at: merry at hopeismyanchor dot com.

Thank you to all who participated. And a big thankyou to Marie Rippel at All About Learning Press for sponsoring this giveaway, thanks Marie!

I will be hosting two more giveaways this fall, one for All About Reading Pre-1 and another for All About Spelling, stay tuned!

Merry :-)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grass is Greener Syndrome

Whether you've been homeschooling for awhile, or you are just starting out...sometime this is likely to hit. You'll know when it does. Maybe one subject is hard for your child, and it sounds so easy for someone else. Maybe there's a new curriculum that people are raving about and you wonder if you should have purchased that instead. Maybe you just like to window shop...and before you know it, some bear put that curriculum into your virtual cart and made you bring it home! (My husband always says a bear made him buy something at the store if snacks sneak home with the groceries).

But before you switch gears and end up trying out multiple curricula for the same subject, there are some things to consider. Here are my personal rules for switching curriculum, especially mid-year:

1-Don't fix what's not broken. If something worked and we enjoyed it reasonably, no need to change it.

2-There is no "perfect" curriculum. There are LOTS of excellent curricula. If what I am using is excellent, then there is no need to change it.

3-The curriculum grass is not necessarily greener on the other side! What may be LOVED by someone else may or may not be loved by me and my kids. Don't change just because something else SOUNDS like it might be better, if what I have is already working.

4-I am teaching children, not curriculum, not state-guidelines, not someone else's goals...children I know well, *my* children. What someone else is teaching and how early their children knew XYZ really has no bearing on what I am teaching and how early my children know something--therefore it is not a reason to change curriculum. When my kids are grown, no one will care if they knew what nouns were in 2nd grade or did algebra in 6th grade or....

I DO change if something isn't working. I judge that by how stressed it makes me to use it, if it takes an over-abundance of my time or produces underwhelming results, or by how much my kids hate it. If they just don't like a subject, that's one thing--but if it's overwhelmingly frustrating them, that's definitely worth changing.

WHEN I change....I look at as many samples as possible. In person if I can--if not, I look for samples on many suppliers websites as well as the publisher's website. Often the samples will be different on Amazon vs. CBD vs. Rainbow and so on. If I can't see enough, or if I have questions, I email or call the company. Their response sometimes dictates whether or not I'll use their curriculum. If my kids are struggling in a subject or if a curriculum isn't working for some reason, then it's definitely an area I'll need support. Support on message boards is helpful, but sometimes I also want support from the company. Last year I emailed one company and didn't get a response for over 2 months! I was surprised they finally emailed me! I had already moved on in my search long before they responded. I know companies can’t always get back in a day or two--but 2 months is ridiculous!

AFTER viewing samples myself, I show my child. We discuss pros and cons. We discuss what is not helpful in the current curriculum and talk about changes that they think would help. Sometimes looking at samples helps them to see what would help (I found this true as early as 7 years old, which is the first time I tried this strategy.) I want my kids to take ownership of their education, and this helps them in that process. And their ownership helps a lot with not needing to skip around as much. If they have "bought in" to a curriculum by helping to choose it, they are less likely to balk at it.

Reviews can be very helpful, and I use those to help me in my search. But I look particularly for people whose teaching style seems similar to mine, or whose children seem to have some of the same strengths and weaknesses. I also like to look for what people hate, and why they hate it. Sometimes I find things that work well for us by looking for someone who either schools the opposite of how I do, or has children with opposite needs. Evaluate curricula from many angles.

I hope you find some good products you can stick with. Not perfect--perfect isn't out there! But good is.

One more day!

If you haven't already signed up for the All About Spelling Giveaway, today is the last day! See details in this post. I'll be announcing the winner later this week. I hope someone who really needs this wins!

Merry :-)