Answers To Questions I’ve Been Asked About Homeschooling
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This is a lengthy post in order to be as thorough as I can. If you decide to read it later you might want to know that there is a sale code on one of my primary resources for Lapbooks towards the bottom of the post that expires December 31st. Thanks!
Many of you have noticed through my instagram and occasional posts on Facebook that I’ve started homeschooling my daughter. It has been a joyous first semester for both of us and we have each learned so much. I’m looking forward to the years ahead with excitement I didn’t know was possible.
While I used to think homeschooling was some fringe activity participated in by a few, now that I’m immersed myself I have discovered a vast network of encouragement, knowledge, and truly amazing people. Lately, I’ve also found that more and more people I personally know are choosing to homeschool their children and even though I am the new kid on the block, I’ve been asked so many questions about the curriculum I use that I thought a post might prove helpful as there are a lot of people (three in my own circle) that plan on beginning to homeschool for the first time this January.
There are countless good reasons why a parent may choose to homeschool their child so I won’t spend much time on that topic. I know a lot of folks are fleeing to homeschool right now due to situations in their child’s school and my heart is with you. We were very fortunate (blessed) in not being in a situation like that. Both of my children attended a school that didn’t teach against our beliefs or use an academic structure that we felt did not put the child first. In fact, my son is still attending that school, being in high school and heavily involved in school activities. Still, I know people who personally have felt the need to “flee” the school system for their child’s sake and I can certainly empathize. Still others just feel compelled by the knowledge that a one on one, personalized education will be better for their child, and I understand that as well. On our count, I will just say that we felt led to homeschool.
The most important thing I have learned about homeschooling is that, until you homeschool, you can’t really understand homeschooling.
Gratefully, we have many friends who homeschool and Alabama is a very homeschool friendly state. There are countless groups of homeschoolers around who go on field trips together, take classes together, and get together for social activities. And just so you know, that whole “socialization” thing is the biggest joke in the homeschool community, because kids have twice as much socialization as those who are told to sit down, sit still, and be quiet all day. Yes, I immediately ousted myself as an newbie when I asked that question of the first five or six homeschoolers I spoke to regarding homeschooling myself. “What about socializing?”. They were so kind and answered with grace, even though now I know how ridiculous the thought of not socializing was and that they had been asked that at least a thousand times.
The Curriculum I use
With this being my first rodeo when it comes to homeschooling, I was very grateful to have some close friends who are veterans and I eagerly sought their advice. It helped tremendously that they personally knew my child so they were able to factor her personality into their suggestions. I didn’t go with one set curriculum although you can. There are companies where you can just send them money and a box arrives with all you need inside. I went with a more customized approach because I wanted to be able to choose a curriculmn in each course area that would keep my daughter engaged and excited about learning.
Please note that I am homeschooling a 4th grader and have not homeschooled any other grades at this point. However, the curriculum that I am suggesting is offered for many other grades. There are countless homeschool blogs on the internet that are wonderful resources for more research. I don’t profess to be a veteran homeschooler but I am just sharing what I have found right out of the gate that works for me for anyone who might be interested.
Here is what I have tried that I love, separated by subject, in no particular order…okay, maybe the first one is first for a reason though, because it has kinda changed my life :
Teaching Textbooks. Oh mercy, Teaching Textbooks, Teaching Textbooks, Teaching Textbooks!!! Math was the one thing I dreaded teaching because it is my least favorite subject. Having taken higher level maths in college, I did just fine in them, but have been happy to shut that door of my life after realizing the grand conspiracy of high school math teachers to convince us we would need trigonometry in our everyday lives is just that. As soon as we began talking about homeschooling I told my husband he would have to handle math and I could do everything else.
Several friends raved about Teaching Textbooks so I went there first and I am so glad I did!!!!
I LOVE THIS PROGRAM and my husband has not once stepped in to teach math.
What it is:
Teaching textbooks is a program offered in many different formats. I wish I had of known this before because I purchased them all when only one was needed. You can get it in paper form or cd-rom but let me just stop you here and tell you about the cd-rom, which is what we use exclusively.
Katy puts the cd into her drive and a window pops open. She clicks on the lesson number she is at. A window pops open and a man begins to speak in a very casual and friendly tone. It usually goes something like this “Okay, so today we are going to learn about fractions. Now some people think fractions are hard but they’re really not and today I’m going to show you how to figure out fractions the easy way…”
This video tutorial is done with cartoon examples along the way. I commonly hear “Ma, you’ve got to come look at this! This is awesome!”. The narrators tone is amazing at instilling confidence, and you feel like he is the one person who can make math simple and is sharing that knowledge with you.
During the tutorial you work some sample problems, all on computer, and he guides you to make sure you understand how the answers are obtained. Then, you work practice problems which are also guided by the narrator. If the wrong answer is entered you have an option to try again or ask for a hint. If you click hint, you are easily walked through that problem in a way that just seems like common sense.
After the practice problems are done for the day the student does a group of problems on their own (but still have the option of help if they need it) and then take a quiz.
The program has a parent login that allows me to see any problems she missed, grades on practice problems and quizzes. After a few lessons, the students take a test and that is listed as well. This program was designed by Harvard grads and I’ve got to tell ya, they are brilliant. I am completely and utterly sold on Teaching Textbooks as it has helped me to even enjoy math. I wish this would have been available when I was Katy’s age.
Teaching Textbooks is offered for a variety of grade levels and there are placement tests you can take online to see where your child should start out. If you choose to go the CD-Rom route, you don’t need to purchase anything else unless you really want to. Like I said, I purchased everything and have had no need for it. The book is just a printed duplicate of what is taught on the CDs. You don’t really need the teacher book, test book, or test answer book either. I bought all of them and have cracked them open a grand total of one time. Just the CD-Roms, unless you are itching to do something on paper. Each lesson covers about 4 worksheets in paper form but if you go the paper route, you’ll have to teach the lesson. I don’t know about you but if I can find a Harvard grad who knows how to make sense to teach it to my child, I’d just as soon sit back and play teacher’s assistant.
Thanks to Teaching Textbooks, Math is the only subject I do not teach in homeschooling. We have Harvard grads for that.
Everyone told us we’d love Apologia Science and everyone was right. This is what is referred to as “a living book*” that uses engaging language and writing to draw the children in and immerse them in what they are learning about. You can purchase just the book itself or the book and a notebook or junior notebook to go along with it. The notebooks are a great idea to help drive home the specific points of each chapter but after a few weeks we discovered the Apologia lap books from A Journey Through Learning and now use the science books in conjunction with the lap books to teach each chapter. This is a wonderful setup for us that makes teaching and learning highly effective.
I do suggest purchasing a science kit with each book and you might want to look at the notebooks as they are a good fit, we just like the lap book method better. Each chapter has experiments at the end of them and by purchasing the science kits ahead of time, you have everything you need for every single experiment – and some experiments call for some highly specialized items so the kits save a great deal of money. We are on our first book of the 3 book Biology series now and will then follow up with their curriculums for middle and high school. Apologia is definitely a science we are sticking with for the long haul.
*You’ll learn more about “living books” when you read about Charlotte Mason, more on that later.
Oh my word, we have found the most interesting history course! We are riveted to the page and every book in this series are what is considered “living books” (see asterisk just above the book photos).
History should be interesting, because it is, but there are some teachers who manage to take the fascinating and turn it into cardboard. I’m pretty sure I had all of those teachers. I had one interesting history teacher in my entire career as a student. He was my teacher for a grand total of ten minutes, until I realized I had gone into the wrong class by accident. It was my first day of college. I stood up, politely excused myself, and told him I sure was sorry I wasn’t in that class. I spent the rest of the semester trying to stay awake while listening to a monotone voice interspersed with multiple “uums” read directly from a text.
The Story Of Our World is nothing like that. I am thrilled to have a history program that brings it to life for Katy, and fascinates both of us equally. We get so excited about our History lessons! This program came highly recommended by everyone we spoke to. I have already read the entire book, because I couldn’t stop. When it comes time for history, Katy and I often go and curl up in bed with our book – It is that good! There is also a wonderful activity book you can get to go along with it filled with teaching ideas and activities to reinforce what you have learned, in addition to a test and answer book.
I highly recommend purchasing everything they offer for each book, except for the cd’s. The CD’s are great if you have younger children or children who have problems reading, but they are just the books, read aloud, on cd. If you have a fair to middlin’ reader these books will draw you in on their own, no CD needed.
Also, Drive Thru History DVD’s are great for teaching history and entertainment. They aren’t related to The Story of our World but it’s not like we can learn too much history, right? Goodness knows there isn’t a lot offered on television these days that is family friendly, entertaining, and enlightening and these DVD’s fit the bill. The whole family loves them. They are expensive, but I’ve been buying a few at a time, watching those, then selling them on ebay before buying more. I have heard they are available on Netflix if you have the dvd rental service but I’m not sure. Libraries may have them, you’d need to check locally. We sometimes use Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube to look for short videos that further expand on our studies in history.
Note: Most of the curriculum I’m sharing is based in Christian values, which is my intent. If you’d rather have a secular curriculum, be sure you research each one to make sure it is a good fit for you.
Rod And Staff – This is a solid Grammar program that is available for each grade level. Your kids will be able to diagram a sentence like it’s nobody’s business. With grammar being my favorite subject, I would call this program “rigorous”. Unfortunately, Katy would call it “boring”. I admit, it is repetitive and the books are all black and white, which is how a lot of them were from my days in school. Whether or not this is a good fit will depend on your child’s learning style. I think Rod and Staff is an excellent English curriculum and will work for 90% of all children. We are trying something new now, though, in hopes of finding a program we can both be excited about. In the end, it may be that Katy just isn’t one to get excited about grammar – and if I come to that conclusion we’ll just work on structure and foundation and I’ll stop worrying about showing her how much fun English can be to her, when it isn’t.
Rod and Staff is a full curriculum that can be purchased directly from their website at a very reasonable price. I suggest buying the student text, teacher text, worksheet book, and test booklet. This is a rigorous grammar program with lessons that start out at appropriate age level (not overly difficult) and advance by building upon one another. They are a very nice company to purchase from and shipping is pretty quick. You can find various parts of the curriculum on ebay and such but I’ve found it is often cheaper (and easier) to just purchase everything directly from the publisher.
What I’m working with now: First of all I supplement a lot of English with worksheets from Education.com, various curriculum books, and other things I come across that I feel she needs to know. I do this with all of her subjects. There is too much out there to learn to confine ourselves to what is in any one set of books. We are beginning a new Grammar program next week that was designed by a retired English teacher who taught grades k-12 for 35 years. I’m very hopeful about this program and will report back.
What I wish I had known about Rod and Staff: This is best for children who like repetition and puzzles – because a lot of it is diagramming sentences, which is akin to solving puzzles. If this program were for me, I’d be all over it! If you have a child who is easily bored and needs a little stimulus of newness and color pictures, Rod and Staff isn’t going to offer that.
I have not found a Bible curriculum that works for us just yet. This has been the most difficult one to find but I am going to a homeschool convention in the spring and hope to get lucky there. We have used Rod and Staff’s Bible curriculum which is also a reading curriculum and it is good,but just not the best fit for my child. Until then, we are using various lap books.
Next week we start a lap book on the parables of Jesus and when we finish that one we have ones lined up for The Old Testament and The New Testament. Hopefully, we’ll find a bible curriculum that works for us at the homeschool convention but if not, we will continue to use lap books and adapt children’t bible studies for homeschool use.
We have an app and website that we use which works with any spelling program. It is called Spelling City and I paid around $20 for a full year membership. I go and enter in Katy’s words each week and it generates a list of definitions and sentences using them, or I can create my own. I like to alter a few sentences each week and often add in a single silly word. For example:Pumpkinhead. And when you click on it it says Katy is a pumpkinhead. One week, I added “podunkpiddly” to her words and the definition was “You are Mama’s little podunkpiddly!”. These are just little fun surprises to keep spelling fun. After you enter the words they can then play games with them which help them learn the spelling and definitions. Whenever they are ready they can take a test, either practice or final, and the scores are recorded for your print out whenever you need them.
Having said that, though, while I love Spelling City and plan on continuing to use it to an extent, we are about to start learning spelling using the Charlotte Mason Method. Once you get into homeschooling you’ll hear that name a lot and I highly suggest reading up on Charlotte Mason in order to understand why her manner of teaching has drawn so much praise over the last hundred years or so. That lady just makes sense.
A lot of folks teach exclusively with the Charlotte Mason method but like most things, I pick and choose what I feel works best for us. We are about to start using a Charlotte Mason method of teaching spelling, which is to introduce the child to quotes, poetry, and prose from famous people throughout the ages and have them learn those rather than a random list of words. By the time they are done going through five books, they will have learned how to spell over 12,500 words, including the most common 6,000 words in the English language. The books to use for this are called Spelling Wisdom and are just a joy to read! I purchased the one book I have so far on ebay but you can get all of them at SimplyCharlotteMason.com.
I’ve heard that some schools are phasing out cursive but I want to give my daughter the gift of beautiful penmanship – which is something I don’t have. My mother’s generation were taught penmanship and Mama’s handwriting illustrates this beautifully. Having always had horrendous handwritting myself, I’d like Katy to be able to write beautifully rather than be embarrassed by her own hand. This has proven a bit of a challenge with her being left-handed as most resources are for right handed folks. However, we are pressing forward with minor adjustments. The system we are using now is working out great and Katy and I are both doing it together. We are using Pentime Penmanship and really enjoy it. We found we had to go back a year to learn the basics of this cursive since what they teach in school now is entirely different.
Katy plays piano and began guitar lessons this year as well. During studies, rather than have a quiet house, I usually play upbeat classical music but recently found a fun collection of albums that have got Katy loving classical music more than ever before! These songs are meant to pull children into enjoying the classics such as Beethoven and Bach and they definitely do that. Children first listen to the music with words and then later just the music itself, in it’s original form. Each album features both versions of the songs. You can purchase the cd’s on Amazon and then you receive an instant download version as well, no extra charge.
More Lapbooks! We also do unit studies or lap books in addition to all of our other subjects, just to keep things lively and new. We generally work on a new lap book for a week or two until we are done and then move on to another one. Subjects vary but coming up we are doing lapbooks for Chocolate, which includes the history, how it is grown, processed, and recipes, The Science of Spring, Constellations, Renewable Energy, and one on using the Dictionary and Thesaurus. Each lap book typically has lessons that involve English, Vocabulary, Spelling, Science, and Art. But mainly, they’re just fun and help develop a greater thirst for learning! There are a lot of sources online for lap books but my main source is A Journey Through Learning. Check them out soon because right now all of their lap book downloads are 50% off using code: WINTERFUN. Note: This is only good through February 2015 so act fast! Below are a list of some lap books I’ve purchased from A Journey Through Learning, in case you don’t know where to start.
Lapbooks I have purchased so far from A Journey Through Learning*
*If you order any of these, I would greatly appreciate it if you clicked my affiliate link to get to their site. It won’t cost you a penny more but I will get a small commission which will help me pay for my ever growing lap booking habit 🙂 Clicking on either of the Journey Through Learning ads above or here will get you there via my personal link. Please and thank you! 🙂
Bell Express LapBook (Alexander Graham Bell study)
The Great Depression
America’s Great Documents and Speeches
American Government And The Election Process
Fall Fun Research Lapbook
Flowers Express Lapbook
Frogs Express Lapbook
Going West Lapbook and Study Guide
Inside My Body Lapbook and Study Guide
The New Testament
The Old Testament
The Parables Of A King
Plants Lapbook and Study Guide
The American Revolution
The Arrival Of A King (We did this one for Christmas)
Who’s That President?
Things you need:
THESE FOLDERS – THESE are the folders I use for our lap booking. I am linking specifically because the first time I ordered them, I ordered the wrong size and now have a whole box of gargantuan folders sitting around. I use the rainbow ones so we can easily tell which lap book is which when we are working on multiple ones and to keep it lively.
Laser Printer – My friend Jyl told me right off the bat that I’d need a good printer and suggested a laser one due to the low printing costs. She was so right! There are countless resources online as well as workbooks that need to be copied, tests to generate, etc. I ordered this black and white laser printer and have loved it. I am amazed at how much cheaper it is to use than our inkjet. I am, however, hoping to upgrade to a color laser printer soon, but most homeschoolers I know just use black and white. A scanner on top is an added luxury that I just couldn’t do without.
Memberships that help:
I have memberships at three sites that have proven to be very helpful to me.
Education.com – I can usually go and type in whatever we are studying and find a few worksheets to print off in order to reinforce our knowledge of the topic.
SchoolhouseTeachers.com – This is a great website put out by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. On this site you can find free lesson plans, free daily plans, free online classes, and unlimited resources in addition to electronic copies of all of the back issues of the magazine. I use this for our daily writing prompts, enrichment classes (above and beyond core classes), etc.
Spellingcity.com – This is that fun site I mentioned above in our spelling curriculum.
Where I buy my books:
Pretty much all of my homeschool curriculum books and resources are purchased at these three sites:
Christian Book Distributors is one of my absolute favorite online stores. They have tons of curriculum choices in addition to books, DVDs, gifts, etc. They ship quickly and have great customer service.
I do purchase a lot of things off Amazon, mostly school supplies (folders, printer, etc) and sometimes resource books (like this, this, and this).
Ebayis an excellent resource for new and used curriculum and can save a lot of money. This is a great time of year to shop as there aren’t as many folks looking for school texts so you can get better deals.
Milestone Books is an excellent resource. They publish Rod and Staff and a number of wonderful subjects under that brand. They are a wonderful company to order from.
What You Need To Know About Homeschooling
Everyone told me to be flexible and they were right. Some days we don’t seem to accomplish a tenth of what my goals were and some days we fly through twice as much material with incomprehensible retention. Children are not robots.
If you try to make your homeschool function like a public school you are shortchanging your child and yourself. Public schools function like they do for a reason and a big part of that reason is that they are shuttling hundreds (in some cases thousands) of children from point A to point B and English to Math in a set period of time. Keep ‘em moving along.
You have your child or children and you have your goals. If your child doesn’t get a certain concept, you can afford the luxury of sticking with it until it is mastered rather than having to move on. If a set curriculum doesn’t bring a subject to life in the eyes of your child as you’d hoped it would, you can try others until you find the right fit.
You don’t have to have an education degree (unless your state law requires it) – I’m sure it is a plus but absolutely not neccesary. I do have an education degree but not to teach elementary school. The primary requirement of being a homeschool teacher is the ability to learn and a passion for knowledge.
You can do it. Don’t think you can’t. Stop berating yourself. If you feel led, pray about it. Talk to your spouse if you have one. Talk to your children. Talk to your friends. Then, make the best well informed decision you can for your family.
I hope this post has been helpful in some way. If you homeschool, I’d love to hear your favorite curriculum choices in the comments. I’d also love to hear about your experiences: any special memories, funny moments, etc.
If you don’t homeschool and have questions because you are considering it, please feel free to ask them. The Southern Plate family is filled with wonderful folks who can help and I’ll be glad to chime in if I can be helpful as well.