Friday, December 31, 2010

Things that will make me not buy a homeschool material

As I've said, I do a lot of research before buying any of the materials for the kids' schooling. I have rarely wasted money because of the extensive research I do. So, I thought I'd talk about some of the things that will pretty much guarantee that I won't purchase a specific curriculum/program/material/service. This isn't going to be a post bashing curricula or publishers that I don't like. I don't intend to name any publishers or materials. These are just things that will make me pause, make me think twice, about buying something. Even though almost every one of these is enough on its own to make me not want to buy, I don't stop researching at just one issue. The point isn't if I like the materials or not, the point is if the materials would work for the child in question. Therefore, even if I come across one of these irksome issues, I tend to keep researching until I'm 100% certain that I can not justify purchase of the material.

Some of you may be wondering how I get accurate information about materials I have never purchased. That's a logical question. So, here's the answer. I visit the publisher site. I read descriptions written by the publisher. I read articles and other information on the publisher site. If the site has a page or article(s) about the philosophy behind their materials/service, I read that. If the site has a page about why/how they got started, I read that. I look for samples and free trials. If I can find samples, I look them over, several times, on more than one day. If, after looking them over several times, I think they might work, I let the child I'd be purchasing for try them out. I look on sites that sell the material to find previews & in-depth descriptions. Many materials offer suggestions of books or sites to supplement & some have lists of required books & other materials. I look at those suggestions & requirements, as well. If the library carries it, I'll check it out & look it over for a few weeks. If it's available at a local store, I'll stand in the store & look through it as much as I can. As with the samples, I'll look through it more than just once. I do read reviews & ask on forums, as well. However, that has a lower weight in my decision.

Some have argued that reviews & opinions of actual users should carry more weight than samples, since those people actually use it. However, I see it differently. A sample should provide an accurate idea of what the material/program is like, because a sample is generally part of the materials or program. Plus, a sample is what the publisher provides to help you make the decision to buy or not. You would think that the publisher would be motivated to provide you with samples that show some of the best features & the things that make it unique. Therefore, if I'm looking through the sample & it doesn't seem to back up the claims made by the publisher, that means more to me than the opinions of people who may have a very different perspective and different goals/needs/expectations than I do.

So, here we go (in no particular order)....

1) A price incommensurate with what you get. $600-700 for 1 year of 3 subjects, is preposterous. I have 2 kids to buy for & a limited budget. I'm willing to buy an expensive program if I really feel that it is worth the money. However, for elementary school level, $600-700 should buy a whole lot more than 3 subjects for one kid.

2) Inaccurate claims. Claiming that it's a "Comprehensive Curriculum" when it only covers a few subjects; claiming that it "Works for ALL learning styles and/or homeschool methods"; claiming that it is aligned with "National Standards"; these are just a few of the inaccurate claims that bug me. A curriculum can not be aligned to National Standards (for the U.S.), because those standards DON'T EXIST! Yes, National Standards have been proposed, but they are optional. Not to mention, most publishers that I've seen claim alignment with "National Standards" did so long before the current proposed standards. Then, there's also the fact the proposed standards are ridiculously simplistic & well below any expectations I would ever have of my kids. So, even if the proposed standards were adopted by all 50 states, therefore truly becoming National Standards, a curriculum claiming to be aligned them still wouldn't be a draw for me. Also, if a curriculum claims to be 'aligned with State & National Standards', the site should have a list of the standards or link to the standards with which they are allegedly aligned.
Education is not one size fits all. Therefore, no material will work for ALL students. If it will work for a wide range of students, then say that. Be honest about the curriculum. Don't try to BS me into buying.
If you claim the curriculum encourages higher-level thinking or critical thinking skills, the samples should indicate that. If the samples don't indicate that, I have no reason to believe the claim. If the curriculum claims to be written for gifted children, the 4th grade level should not be the first level with work that would challenge my 1st grader.
Don't make claims you can't back up or that are clearly untrue. You risk alienating potential customers.

3) Underestimating the intelligence or ability of children. Sometimes, you can tell the publisher underestimates children by the low-level work in the samples or the small amount of time/work dedicated to a topic. Other times, the articles that explain the publisher's philosophy make it blatantly clear that they think kids are idiots. Saying that kids in the early grades don't understand the concept of time & think that dinosaurs & ancient civilizations were around when their parents were kids, makes me seriously wonder if you've ever even met a child. When you're using this to explain why your curriculum, for gifted children, approaches Social Studies the way it does, you've pretty well proven that you know nothing about kids, education, gifted education, or the way the gifted mind works. When your curriculum is full of coloring pages and easy cut & paste type activities, I have to doubt that it is for 4th grade or above. Literature study guides should not be limited to simplistic reading comprehension questions and below level vocabulary lists.

4) Inaccurate information. I read a sample of a Science curriculum that basically said that humans are not mammals (I believe the sentence was - 'Unlike humans, mammals can't just walk into a grocery store to get food.'). I read a sample of another Science curriculum that tells the parent to inform their child that all living things can be divided into 2 Kingdoms - the Animal & Plant Kingdoms. Since the other 3 Kingdoms aren't part of that lesson, the writer decided that you should misinform the student about how many Kingdoms there are, until a later lesson when the other Kingdoms come into play. Seriously!? They tell you to purposefully provide incorrect information, so that you can correct that information later down the road. I looked over samples of a Math curriculum. Not only did I not like the way it taught concepts, but I also found many incorrect answers in the answer key.

5) The audacity to tell me how to parent. I've come across multiple publisher sites that tell you what & when your kids should eat; how much (if any) tv and computer time they should have; how much sleep your kids should be getting; how you should set up your homeschool area; how your day should be scheduled, etc. I've seen publisher sites that infer that conditions like ADHD don't exist & your child's inability to focus or their hyperactivity must be due to your parenting style/choices. I've seen publisher sites that assume that you won't be the one teaching your student (constant references to the tutors you hire to work with your kids). Their opinions about how you raise your kids or live your life are simply not relevent. They have no right to tell their customers how they should parent.

6) No flexibilty. In my house, flexibility is a must. Yes, we have a basic outline of a schedule. Yes, we have some things that are done the same time each day. We have a routine of sorts. However, we need to have flexibility. We need to be in charge of our own schedule, not at the mercy of a curriculum or program. The kids need to be able to go at their pace, not a pace determined by some publisher. We have to have flexibilty . If a program doesn't allow the necessary flexibility, I won't waste my time or money on it.

7) Pushing their views. (this one goes along with #5) If a publisher sends me emails telling me how I should vote, or pushing their views on political issues, I won't purchase from them. Same goes for pushing their views on psychological conditions, religion, etc. If they tell you that one of the first steps to homeschooling is to get signed up with with someone like HSLDA, I will not be purchasing. As with #5, it's not their place to tell their customers or potential customers how to live, homeschool, think, etc.

8) No respect for homeschoolers. A company that will not sell teacher manuals or answer keys to homeschooling parents, but will sell them the student materials, does not respect homeschoolers or see them as legitimate educators. A company that states that Secular homeschooler is an oxymoron, is being disrespectful to those of us who choose to homeschool for non-religious reasons & don't use religious materials. If I know a company has been openly disrespectful of homeschoolers, I won't give them my money (or even use free materials/services they offer).

9) Low/poor quality. This one's pretty self-explanatory.

This isn't a comprehensive list, I'm sure there are other things that would cause me to refuse to use a material/curriculum/sevice. These quickly came to mind, though. I did have specific materials or publishers in mind as I wrote much of this. I chose not to list those materials & publishers for my own personal reasons.

So, that's my (partial) list of things that will cause me to not use a curriculum/material/program/service. Care to share your lists?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Importance of a Day Planner

Why is my planner so important? Like so many others, I have a lot of things going on in my life & need to keep it all organized.
We have a rather large family. There is hardly a month that doesn't have someone's birthday or anniversary. Without my planner, I'd miss almost everyone's birthdays.
Also due to having a rather large family, holidays are not simple, one day events. Without my planner, I'd have a very hard time remembering who we're seeing for each holiday & what day we're seeing them.
My daughter has regular appointments with her therapist & her psychiatrist - we need to keep those appointments straight
The kids have regular Dr appointments
The kids sometimes have outside classes & extra-curricular activities
My husband's work schedule has changed somewhere around 7 times during the second half of this year
We have regular things to fit in each week - library, grocery shopping, guitar lessons, chess
We also have to fit in family game night & family movie night
My husband is still working on his Auto Mechanics course
I earned my certificate in Child Psychology, and will start a new program next year - so I need to schedule time for my schooling
I have to fit in the kids' schooling, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, keeping us stocked on certain foods, and make sure all the bills are paid on time
I have to keep track of memberships and when they're up for renewal
I need to keep track of what chores need to be done each day & who needs to do them
I have various goals to track
I have multiple personal projects I'm working on
I have a business that requies some of my time

As you can see, I have a lot on my plate. If I didn't have my planners, I'd miss a lot of things.

I have a planner for the kids' schooling, one for the household, and a personal one. Some of the material overlaps, but I simply have too much to condense it all to one planner.
My planners not only keep me organized, they keep my whole universe running smoothly.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Just taking a quick moment to say Happy Holidays to all my readers. I hope you have a fantastic & low stress holiday.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

As December ends...

December is almost over. That means it's time to start putting next year's pages in the planners. It's time to start marking holidays and birthdays on next year's calendars. It's time to make sure that next year is an organized one.

January is National Get Organized Month. Throughout the month, I plan to post about organization - giving helpful tips & advice. It starts now, though. The first step to an organized 2011 is to have a planner (or several). Whichever types of planners you need - school assignments & activities, home & family, personal, work - get them (or make them) and get them filled with the necessary pages. Only use pages that YOU actually need. If they come with pages you won't use, take them out & throw them away.

Get a pen to keep in each planner. Larger planners (binder type) can hold a pouch, in which you can keep pens, Post-It pads, and other small items you may need. Some planners come with little pockets to store things in; use them, but only for things you need.

Now is the time to set up next year's calendars, both the ones in your planners & your wall calendars. Fill in as many dates as you can. Fill in birthdays, holidays, standing appointments, family reunions, etc.

The more you can get on the calendars now, the less you have to worry about later. Getting your planners filled now means not having to rush to get them done in the beginning of January.

So, use this last week or so of December to make sure that 2011 starts off organized. Get those calendars & planners set up & ready. Backup everything on your computers - pictures, documents, music, etc. Make a list of everything you need to do to get your home, life, family, school, and work organized. Meet the new year prepared.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

That is NOT jam!

I decided I wanted to try making jam. I found a website that had several jam recipes & step-by-step instructions for making jams & jellys, with regular sugar & low/no sugar. I chose to make blueberry jam. However, I don't do anything simply, so I really tried to make blueberry, pomegranate, orange jam. Anyway, I had 12 jars of blueberry syrup. So, I reworked it, according to directions from the same site, adding more pectin, more sugar, more lemon juice. Now, I have 11 jars of runny crap. The lemon juice added too strong a flavor. The sugar made it too sweet. The pectin (a total of 3 times tha amount the original recipe called for) still hasn't done it's job & thickened the jam. Plus, now it has a grainy texture.
Guess this was lesson #1 in how not to make jam.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

My son, my youngest, my BABY will be turning 7 years old in a matter of days. I don't feel old on my birthdays. I'm 30, big deal. I do feel old on the kids' birthdays, though. I'm just not old enough to have a child a few months away from being a teenager. I'm definitely not old enough for my youngest to be 7. As I sit here, feeling old, while my daughter helps my husband do a brake job on our car and my youngest decides which documentary or Mythbusters episode he wants to watch, I can't help but remember what was going on this time 7 years ago.

My son was not planned. He wasn't an accident, we were just planning on being together a bit longer before he came into the picture. My husband (we were not married yet) had just started a new job and Dea had just started Kindergarten in a public school. Hubby had just moved in, and we planned to let everyone adjust to that before having another child. However, birth control has never been my friend, and all of a sudden, we found out that I was pregnant.

Right after finding out that I was pregnant, I started bleeding. I was put on immediate bedrest and told that I would most likely lose the baby. That set the stage for the rest of the pregnancy. I had problem after problem. I was on and off bedrest. When I was off bedrest, I was on extreme restriction - don't lift or carry anything, don't stand for too long, don't sit for too long, don't walk too much, don't exert yourself at all. I had unexplainable pain through my body. We now know that it was likely fibromyalgia. At the time, however, everyone was stumped.

After a particularly bad night, of absolutely no sleep due to the pain, I went to the doctor again. It was at this visit that we found out that I had started to dilate, my cervix had thinned, and my water bag was bulging. Just what every woman wants to hear when she's 23 weeks pregnant. As I'm sure you've guessed, our next stop was the hospital.

The hospital gave me Magnesium Sulfate. I tried to refuse the Magnesium Sulfate because they said it was to stop the contractions, but I wasn't having contractions. They gave it to me anyway, and then told me that it could cause problems such as fluid buildup around my heart & in my lungs. Then, they shipped me off to a different hospital, one that had a better NICU and High Risk Moms Unit.

Not long after getting to the second hospital, I started having extreme trouble breathing. The geniuses at this hospital were convinced that I had pneumonia because I had fluid in my lungs. I mentioned that the other hospital had told me that was a possible side effect of the Magnesium Sulfate, but they disagreed. By the way, I have since looked this up, since I know I didn't have pneumonia (I'm even more certain that it was not pneumonia since my experience of actually having pneumonia). Pulmonary Edema, or lungs filled with fluid, can be fatal and is a complication (not a side effect as I was told, but a complication) of magnesium overdose. Anyway, they were convinced it was pneumonia and put me in ICU. They decided I needed antibiotics (for the pneumonia I didn't have). They wanted to put me on Zithromax, but I told them NO. I have developed a severe sensitivity to Zithromax & vomit uncontrollably whenever I take it. So, did they choose another antibiotic to give me or, even better, realize that I didn't need anitbiotics since I wasn't sick? No, that would be way too easy. They decided to give me Zithromax through the IV.

So, thanks to my hospital stay, we are now aware that IV Zithromax causes me to develop large, painful, red welts at the IV site. Did they stop the Zithromax at the first sign of problem? No, again too easy. They decided to move the IV daily so they could continue giving me an antibiotic that my body clearly doesn't like and that I didn't need. I was only in ICU for a few days, but was on Zithromax for over a week. In addition to the daily IV move, I was also getting daily steroid shots (to help Jay's lungs develop), and daily anti-clotting shots. Good thing I'm not scared of needles. I swear they drew blood 100 times during that stay. They had to do blood gas tests (the blood has to be taken right at the bone in your wrist for this) until they were sure the 'pneumonia' was gone. I'm not sure why they needed to take blood every day after that, though.

5 weeks of being poked, having blood drawn, tests, and bedrest, all in the name of trying to keep my baby healthy. He was born at 28 weeks. He decided he'd had enough. My water broke & he was coming out no matter what. They did an untrasound to make sure he was in the right position. He was. So, they started to get ready to deliver. When I was fully dilated and ready to go, they did another ultrasound. He had turned sideways and was trying to come out arm first. That's not good. They rushed me off for an emergency C-section.

My son was born at 28 weeks gestation. He was 2 lbs 14 oz and 15 inches long. He was rushed straight to the NICU. He couldn't breathe on his own and was on a ventilator, then a bubble C-pap. He was fed through a tube because he couldn't eat on his own. He lost some weight and got down to 2 lbs 5 oz. His bilirubin count was dangerously high. The Drs talked about needing to do a blood transfusion if it didn't go down quickly. It did go down, and he was fine. Things didn't get any worse for him. As he grew, his lungs developed and he was able to breathe on his own. His ability to eat on his own also improved as he grew bigger.

I, however, had an interuterine infection that went undiagnosed for about a week. I wasn't allowed into the NICU to see my son until they figured out what was causing my fever. Once they knew I wasn't contagious, I was finally allowed to see my little boy. I didn't get to hold him right away, but being able to see & touch him was better than nothing. I went home a week after he was born. I still had not held my baby & I had to leave him at the hospital. That was such a hard day!

He made great progress in the NICU. They had told us that he would likely come home around the date he should have been born (which was St. Patrick's Day). He's a fighter, though. He was determined to come home early. He came home the last week of February. He weighed about 5 lbs. He was eating on his own. He was breathing on his own, but still had some apnea problems. So, he came home on an apnea monitor.  The monitor didn't last too long, though.

He was an amazingly healthy baby. He was not, however, an easy baby. He slept for 20 min at a time. He ate every hour. We had to do special stretches & exercises with him to prevent needing physical therapy. He needed tummy time 10 times a day for at least 10 min each time. He does everything in his own time, and nothing will change that.

This tiny little baby - 2 lbs 14 oz, 15 in long, is a baby no longer. He will be 7 in a few days. He now weighs 50 lbs and is about 50 inches tall. He is skinny & all muscle. He's freakishly strong (always has been). You would never know that he was a preemie.

On his birthday, we do a special dinner and activity. This year, he's decided on homemade pizza for his dinner. He hasn't picked an activity, yet. Then, in February, we celebrate the anniversary of his homecoming. Again, he chooses his dinner & an activity. We usually give him his b-day presents in Feb. This is mainly because if we do his b-day presents in Feb, we can guarantee that he doesn't get less than he would if his b-day wasn't right by Christmas. A year or two ago, we gave him the option to get his presents on his b-day instead of on his anniversary. He said he wants to leave it how it is.

I love my little guy. He's a brilliant, awe-inspiring, amazing, little boy. It's hard, most of the time, to imagine him as a tiny premature baby. With his birthday coming up, though, it's hard not to think back to that time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The kids' thoughts on next year

Well, I talked to the kids about the plans & materials for next year. They are thrilled with it.

Dea is getting a bit older & we feel it's time for her to take more responsibility for her education. So, we've given her full responsibility over her Math, effective immediately. We've informed her of what levels need to be completed to graduate. She has to get a B or higher to pass. We will continue to purchase the levels as originally intended, but it will be up to her to do them. As of next year, she'll also be responsible for History. I will plan the course, with her assisstance, but she will be responsible for making sure it gets done. She'll also be responsible for Art & Music. She's already mostly responsible for her Art, Music, and History anyway, so it isn't adding as much responsibility as it sounds.

She's not thrilled about having to take full responsibility of her Math. To be completely honest, we're doing it because we're tired of the fighting. Every single day is a battle when it comes to Math. She has to find it within herself to do it or she'll never truly learn it. Now, I know that sounds extreme, but she doesn't just not do the work. She truly puts huge amounts of effort into NOT learning it. She purposefully does problems wrong, when we know she can do them right. She will answer questions without even looking at them first. We have her redo incorrect problems. She'll redo them time and time again, still refusing to read the problem or to work it our properly. If she would put just a fraction of that effort into doing the work properly, she'd be getting an A in Trig by now, instead of barely passing Alg 1.

With the exception of Math, there's not a single subject that she seems to have any issue with. She's looking forward to learning computer programming. I'm not sure if it's something she'll really enjoy, though. I have a feeling it will be like guitar - she'll be very excited until she starts, then get bored with it. She's actually looking forward to Spanish this time. We tried it years ago, but she had no interest at that point. Now, she's excited about being able to talk to her Grandma in Spanish. She's also talking about writing a series of books. I'm not sure if she'll stick to that or not. I'm happy that she's trying, though. She has so many interests and many strengths. It'll take some trial and error to see which one(s) will lead to a career, which will lead to hobbies, and which just won't pan out. At this point, the important thing is that she's finally willing to try. She's getting over her fear of failure enough to try new things. I'm very proud of her.

Jay was pretty much jumping for joy when I talked to him about next year's plan. He's really enjoying learning Latin & is looking forward to learning Spanish. I told him that he didn't have to start Spanish next year, that he could wait a few years & focus on building a strong foundation in Latin before starting Spanish. He said no, he wants to start Spanish next year. He's also dead set on starting computer programming next year. He just loves learning new things & enjoys his schooling so much. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he found out that he'll be learning to work with leather in Art next year. I really don't think he cares much what he's learning, as long as he's learning something new all the time.

So, we're going to let him try Spanish next year, in addition to his Latin work. It will be on a trial basis, though. In order for us to allow him to continue to learn both, he'll have to make good progress in both languages and not let his other subjects slide. If that doesn't happen, we'll drop Spanish for another year or two. The computer programming will also be on a trial basis. We know there is a possibility that he just isn't ready to learn programming yet. If it's too difficult, we'll drop it & let him try again later. I don't want to stand between him & knowledge, so I'm going to let him try the things he wants to learn. If he can do them, I'll continue to allow them & will do everything I can to encourage his continued progress. Anything that proves too difficult, though, I'll have to make him drop until he's better prepared for it. He won't be happy with me if I make him drop something. I know how he gets, though. He gets obsessive about his perfectionist issues. He has an innate NEED to do things perfectly. So, if he struggles with something, he obsesses about it until he's capable of doing it to a degree well beyond what would be expected of a child his age.

I know that some people think this is something I have caused - that my perfectionist issues have rubbed off on him. I really don't think that's it. He's always been like this. He said his 1st word at 12 months (9 months adjusted age, due to being 3 months premature), but then he didn't say another word to anyone for the next 10 months. When he did start talking again, it was in full sentences (not 3 word sentences, but full adult sentences) with a huge, adult vocabulary. When he learned to walk, he refused to fall. He walked holding onto furniture for months. One day, he took a step away from the couch, and walked back & forth in front of the couch, not holding on but close enough that he could grab the couch if he was going to fall. Less than a week of doing that, and he realized that he could walk without falling. He's been running at full speed ever since. When he was learning to read, he would sit in his room reading aloud to himself. Since he rarely let people read to him, I'm sure that he was reading not just telling a story he memorized from hearing so much. I'd stand outside his room listening to him reading Berenstain Bears books. He refused to read a single word for me, though (except on the rare occasions that he allowed me to read to him, then he'd read a word or two if asked). Then, one day he decided to read to me, just came into the living room, sat down, and read a book to me. He had been hiding in his room reading for several months and finally had enough confidence in his abilities to show me. His fear of failure & his need to do things prefectly are completely natural, an inborn part of who he is.

Anyway, because of his obsessive perfectionism, I have to force him to drop things that are just too difficult. I'm not talking about the things that are challenging, but attainable with some extra effort. I'm talking about the things that just are not attainable for him at this time. He's always allowed to try them again, at a later time, when he's better equipped. I do try to not let him focus his every waking second on mastering something that is beyond him, though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I hope this cold goes away before Christmas

It's been almost a week since I posted last. Sorry about that. I've got a cold. I felt it coming on the last few days, and it hit me in full yesterday. I'm just hoping to get rid of it before it turns into something worse. With Christmas so close, I really don't want to be sick. Dea's feeling a bit under the weather, too. She's having sinus problems - congestion & coughing, maybe heading toward a sinus infection. If she isn't better in a few days I'll take her to the Dr.

My plan for today:

drink lots of hot tea
make hot chili and corn bread for dinner
find out why my kitchen sponge disappeared
watch some educational dvds with the kids
read some library books with the kids
get the kids' opinions on the materials I'm thinking of getting for next year
decorate the tree
stay inside where it's warm (the temp is currently a negative number)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's That Time of Year Again

It's that time of year again. "What time?" you ask. Time for pre-finalization of next year's plans & materials. Yes, I said pre-finalization. I won't finalize until Feb. I'll buy in Feb or March. This is the time of year that I go through my list of what I think we'll use next year & tweak it.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to planning our homeschooling. I have basic plans for all the way through high school. I can tell you what materials we'll be using for some subjects, through high school, for both kids. If the places I generally shop have wish lists, I use them. The wish list feature at Rainbow Resource allows me to have groups in the list. I have a different group for each grade for each child. That way, I can better organize potential purchases. Before deciding on any material, I read & re-read descriptions & reviews. When possible, I get samples or try out demos. Our homeschooling budget isn't incredibly flexible, so I have to make the most of every dollar. Spending money on something, only to find out that it is useless to us, is something I try to avoid. In other words, I don't like to buy blind. However, I can't look through every single thing before we buy it. So, I do a LOT of research before buying.

Anyway, with only a few months before I'll be buying for next year, I'm tweaking my wish lists. Of course, I won't finalize until I'm ready to buy. That's why this is my pre-finalization period. This year is a little odd, due to our 6 month break from formal schooling. The kids have been told that certain subjects need to be finished in order for their school year to be considered done. If they are done with the work for those subjcets by the end of our break, they'll start the next school year when the break is done. If they aren't finished with that work, they will continue with the current year until it is finished. I'm pretty sure that Jay will be done by break's end. Dea will be done with some of it, but I'm not sure she'll finish all of it before the break ends. So, the next school year might start at different times for the kids. That'll make things interesting.

Math - I had planned for Dea to do Beginning AlgebraAdvanced Algebra this year. However, I told her that I will consider her Math finished if she finishes Beginning Algebra. So, she might be doing Advanced Algebra next year, instead of Geometry. It's really going to depend on her. If she can find the motivation to do her Math without the procrastination and fighting, she could be doing Geometry & Trig next year. Whatever level she's doing, she'll be using Life of Fred.
Jay will be continuing with Mastering Mathematics. He will pick up wherever he leaves off this year and continue from there. He's currently in the multiplication book.

Art - Dea will focus on 5 artists she has chosen. She will study their lives & their work. She will also continue to pursue her interests in this area.
Jay will be introduced to new styles and media. Much of his art will revolve around his Science & Social Studies topics.

Music - Jay will continue with guitar lessons. Both kids will continue singing. Both kids will be getting recorders. Dea will continue to study musicians.

Latin - Jay will start Latin for Children Primer A. Dea will be doing Latin for Children with Jay, so she can communicate with him at the level he's at. She'll also be continuing with Oxford Latin.

ASL - Both kids will continue to learn ASL using Signing Time DVDs and other DVDs from the library.

Spanish - Both kids will be using Tell Me More

Science - Dea will be doing Anatomy & Physiology. The spine will either be a college text we have or a free course on FreeEd.net. We will supplement with anatomy coloring books, software, various websites, library books, documentaries, etc. She will also do Psychology, with a college text.
Jay will do another year of Magic School Bus based Science. His topics will be electricity, flight, & space (with slime thrown in for extra fun).

History - Dea will be doing her first year of High School History. We're letting her do specialized History courses, instead of general overview. So her course will be an in-depth study of Anceint Civilizations.
Jay will be studying Anceint China, Vikings, and Native Americans. If he finishes his History early this year, we'll do Vikings this year instead.

Geography - Dea is doing her High School World Geography course this year, so she won't have a Geography course next year. Jay will either focus on reading maps or we'll start on World Geography.

Language Arts - Jay will be starting Grammar, using Easy Grammar. He'll also be starting Writing. We're going to try the Stack the Deck writing program. He'll continue reading books of his choosing.
Dea will be doing year 2 of High School English. The reading portion will be focused on Mythology & Legends, which coincides with her History. We're going to try Put That in Writing, for the writing portion. She'll continue using Easy Grammar for Grammar. Both kids will continue with the Spelling/Vocab program I created.

Logic - Jay will be using Logic Safari. Both kids will continue to do logic puzzles from books. Dea will have the year off from actual Logic work, then will do a formal Logic program the following year.

We're also considering buying Logo Adventures. Both kids have expressed an interest in computer programming. So, we're thinking about getting this as an introduction to see if they really want to continue with it.


Since I started writing this post yesterday, Dea may have found the motivation to do her Math. We were discussing career choices. I asked her to seriously think about what she wants to do with her life. Of course, she came up with several ideas, all requiring a LOT of schooling. So, we did some research into what was required for her career choices. We talked about the fact that she isn't going to like every single course she has to take, but if they are required or will give her an advantage, it's worth doing them to get where she wants to go. If she can just keep her goals in mind & she really wants to reach them, she should be able to find the motivation to do the work she doesn't want to do.

So, that's the plan for next year. Some materials are definite, some may change. Some courses are already being planned out, some have to wait until the materials get here. I always enjoy this part - the planning & research. It's so much fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Benefits of Homeschooling the Twice Exceptional Child

For those who don't know, the term Twice-Exceptional is used to refer to children who are Gifted and also have ADHD or an LD. Both of my kids fall into this category. I don't use the term often. In fact, I generally don't mention that the kids are Gifted, or have ADHD, etc. unless I think it's relevent to the discussion (or at least my contribution to the discussion). I think this is because I don't see it as a big deal. It's just part of who they are.

Maybe, if I was surprised by any of it, it might be a big deal. I'm Gifted & my hubby is Gifted. So, it wasn't exactly shocking to have Gifted kids. I have ADHD & hubby has ADHD. So, I knew the kids might have it & was watching for signs. Hubby has Dyslexia. So, it's not a surprise that both kids show signs of mild Dyslexia (many of the problems they have, I had/have too, but always figured they were due to my ADHD). I have family with Bipolar. So, it's understandable that Dea has it. In other words, none of it was totally unexpected.

Anyway, the fact that the kids are Gifted, have ADHD, and might have mild Dyslexia is relevent to this post. These are the benefits, as I see them, of homeschooling them.

1. An environment free of bullying, name-calling, ridicule, physical & mental abuse. They can be themselves without having to worry that someone will bully them for being different. They are encouraged to learn, instead of being attacked for being smart.

2. Individuality is encouraged, not stamped out. They are encouraged to be themselves. They can dress how they want (as long as it's appropriate & within our budget). They are encouraged to follow their own interests, not pressured to like what others like.

3. Their education is personalized. I'm not anti-public school. I also know that not all public schools are the same (neither are homeschools, for that matter). However, one thing that no public school can offer students is a truly personalized education. High schools can offer Honors classes and AP classes. Some districts offer enrichment or Gifted classes. Some districts have entire programs or schools dedicated to Gifted education. Some districts have programs or schools with a specific focus like the Arts or Science. Some districts allow grade advancement (skipping a grade). Even with all those options, they can't offer a truly personalized education.
Do you know why skipping a grade isn't a great idea? First, you're putting them at a social disadvantage by placing them in a grade where they are the youngest (and likely smallest) student. Many of their new classmates will not react kindly to them being there. Second, Gifted students are rarely at the same grade level in all subjects. This means that while they may be ready for 6th grade Language Arts, they might still be struggling with 4th grade level Math. This type of asynchronous development is the main reason that public school is not the best place for Gifted children.
On the other hand, homeschooling can easily meet the asynchronous educational needs of a child. If a homeschooling parent has knowledge and understanding of their child & is willing to put time and effort into researching and planning, they can easily meet the needs of a child whose abilities are all over the place. Homeschoolers don't have to stick to the public school schedule. They don't have to stick to public school mandates.
When Dea was in public school Kindergarten, her teacher told me that she wasn't allowed to give Dea more advanced work, something that would actually challenge her. I don't have that restriction. I don't have someone telling me that I can't let them work above grade level, that we can only use certain materials, or that only certain books can be offered to them. One of the books Jay read last month was George's Secret Key to the Universe. That is NOT a 1st grade level book. I think it's pretty safe to assume that he'd be fairly bored with the books available in a public school 1st grade classroom, considering his reading selections generally consist of 3rd & 4th grade level books. 1st grade Math generally consists of introducing basic addition and subtraction. That's not exactly challenging for a child who can add & subtract numbers of 6-digits (or more), with or without decimals, with or without regrouping, and is already working on multiplication.
Most middle schools don't offer high school level classes to their students (especially students in 6th grade). So, Dea wouldn't have been able to take high school Earth & Space Science last year. She also wouldn't be in so many high school level classes this year (7th grade). A public school wouldn't be able to focus on improving her writing the way we have. They wouldn't have allowed her to study Wars for History for two years. They wouldn't allow her to choose specific eras for in-depth study in high school History.
The kids wouldn't have the opportunity to take foreign languages in grade school. They wouldn't be allowed to choose from a list of appropriate assignments. They wouldn't have a say in the materials they used. They wouldn't be allowed to work at their own pace.
Since we homeschool, we can buy more than one level at a time, in case they finish early. Last year, Jay did 3 levels of ETC. I bought 1st-6th grade Math for Jay, so he can go through it at his own pace. We're buying LOF 2 levels at a time for Dea. They don't have to do the work at a specified pace. They can work through it at their own pace. When I plan work for the year, I estimate how long I think each topic, material, or program will take. That helps me plan an appropriate amount of work for our (estimated) 40 week school year. We will work until all that work is done, even if it takes longer than estimated. I also keep some additional topics in mind, in case we finish the planned work for a subject early or finish all planned work before the materials for the next year are here.
The kids always have something to do. They aren't wasting time with busywork or ridiculous amounts of review & repetition. They study the things I feel are important and also get to focus on their own interests. They study more subjects each year than they would in public school. They determine how much time is spent on school each day. They go more in-depth than public schools. Their education isn't planned out by a faceless committee, who have never met my kids, and, therefore, don't know what would be an excellent education for my kids.
Plus, I can accomodate their ADHD. We can work on improving their organizational & time managment skills (in meaningful, useful ways), while still making accomodations for their current skill level. I can do all of that without putting them in special ed classes or forcing them to do work below their academic abilities.

4. A teacher that understands them. Whatever you want to call me - teacher, facilitator, guide, educator (I've used all of these terms at one time or another) - no one could have a deeper understanding of my kids than I do. No public or private school teacher would know my kids like I do. I know when Dea could do better, but is slacking on her work. I know when Jay is losing focus & needs a break or different type of work. I know when Dea is about to melt down and needs to go calm down. I know if Jay is really struggling with a book, if he just isn't focused enough to read right now, or if he finds the book too boring to focus on it. I know their moods, their tricks, their abilities, their interests, and their needs. I have first hand knowledge of what it's like to be a Gifted child with ADHD. What are the odds that every teacher they would have in a public school would be able to claim all of that?

5. Encouragement. I encourage the kids to do their best. I encourage them to follow their interests. I encourage them to do better, to challenge themselves.

6. A more well-rounded education. When I was in grade school, we had to take Spanish (the Gifted Program did, I'm pretty sure the regular program didn't). By 6th grade, Spanish was optional. Now, even in the Gifted Program, it isn't even offered before High School. I've heard from people with kids in the public schools that Science and History are not daily (sometimes not even weekly) subjects in grade school. Home Ec isn't even offered anymore.
When you homeschool, you can start foreign languages in grade school. You can require more than one foreign language. You can make sure that important life skills - cooking, basic car mainenance, personal finance, and any others you feel are important - are covered. You can put a heavier focus on Science, History, Music, or Art. You can do in-depth Cultural Studies. You can include computer programming classes or engineering classes. You don't have to just focus on what the public schools offer. You can decide for yourself what the 'core subjects' are in your homeschool. There are some who consider Math, Reading, and Writing to be the 'core subjects'. Some also consider History and/or Science as 'core subjects'. There are a lot of 'core subjects' in our house - Math, Language Arts (which includes reading, writing, spelling/vocab), Science, Social Studies (which includes History, Geography, and Cultural Studies), foreign language, Art, Music, Life Skills, and Logic. These are required every year (or almost every year), in our school.
When you homeschool, you can make sure that the subjects you believe are important are covered, even if the local school district doesn't focus on them. Your child's education doesn't have to be limited to what the local district offers. Your child's areas of interest can have a higher priority. You can make sure that all the important subjects/topics are covered. You aren't controlled by the limitations of the local school district.

Obviously, these would be benefits for any child, not just those who are Gifted or Twice-Exceptional. However, as beneficial as these would be to all students, I really believe they are more beneficial for those who are not 'average' - those who have LDs, ADHD, are Gifted, or some combination. They are the ones least likely to flourish in a 'typical' school setting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Testing

Ahh, testing, quite the hot topic in education. Public schools are all about testing. Their entire curriculum is aimed at having students score higher on standardized tests. Many classes don't bother to include information if it won't be on the test. It seems to be all the public school district cares about. Of course, their funding is partially determined by test scores.

The problem is, all that testing doesn't add to the education recieved in those schools. Having a test, in every subject, every week doesn't help them learn more or deeper. Forcing them to take standardized tests every year or two doesn't help them retain more information. In fact, having the curriculum so focused on test material severely limits what the students study. Plus, many children develop test anxiety because of the high priority given to tests in school. In fact, even though she was only in public school for Kindergarten and we don't do standardized tests, my daughter suffers from test anxiety. She freezes up, becomes scared of failing, and then does an awful job because of how stressed she is. This is a child who has never taken a standardized test. Her Kindergarten class did constant tests, though (usually orally). They were always testing the students to check improvement & progress. At every parent-teacher conference her teacher would show me the test scores for the class - my daughter always in the number 1 spot & the number 2 spot always way below her score.

We don't do many tests before high school level work. If a program we use has tests, we may use them. We do start chap or unit tests by high school level courses. We start with tests in one or two subjects by 4th grade, then add a few more the next year, and continue in this way until most courses contain tests. Some classes will never have tests in our homeschool. I see no reason to take tests in Art, Music, or Home Ec/Life Skills.
In our state, standardized testing is not required. Homeschools are considered private schools. Therefore, we are not held to the standards & regulations of hte public schools. Since we don't have to take standardized tests, we don't take them. I know some people feel that they are a good tool for assessing where a student has gaps or needs help. I disagree. Standardized testing only tests one thing - how good you are at taking tests. 

I much prefer to use projects as an assessment tool. They allow the student to show so much more than a test. They allow for individuality and don't reduce my child to a number or letter. The fact that my son can put together an exhibit to showcase what he did while studying Ancient Egypt, can explain to visitors about the Gods & Goddesses, the pyramids, the Sphinx, etc., can help them write their names in Heiroglyohics, and explain to them how papyrus paper is made, tells me much more about his comprehension & retention then any grade on a test ever could.

I also like assessing with real life use. We were watching a show today. We paused & the screen showed how much we had already watched (36 minutes) and how much time was left (8 minutes). My son, who has barely done review of addition this year in school, added them together (in his head) to find out the total length of the show. That is so much more important to me than how he tests. Yesterday, I was reading aloud to the kids. Since I was reading aloud, she didn't interrupt, but I could see my daughter react to every grammactical error in the story.

The only reason my kids take any tests at all is to prepare them for college. Unfortunately, I don't see them getting all the way through college without ever having to waste time on taking a test. Maybe someday, society will remove the focus on tests & the people in charge of the education of our future generations will finally gain an actual understanding of what learning is & how it takes place.