Archive | August, 2010

Welcome to our Homeschool Room

25 Aug

Today is the third day of school and I wanted to share our homeschool space while it is still fairly organized.  In our current house, where we have lived for a little over two years now, we have the luxury of having a whole room dedicated only to homeschooling.  We have had several different set-ups over the years—we have done school at the dining room table, in the living room, on the road, and in a separate homeschool room.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

The advantages to doing school in main living areas (dining room, living room, etc.) is that school seems a little more integrated into everyday living.  Also, if you have babies and toddlers, they can be in an adjacent space and it is easier to keep an eye on them while doing school with older kids.  The disadvantage is that the wonderful mess of homeschooling is on display most of the time and that can be a source of stress for some.

The advantage to homeschooling in a separate space is you can leave projects out for days on end, the mess is (hypothetically) more contained, and if you need the mental closure to the end of a school day, you can just leave the room and shut the door.  The disadvantage is that school can feel separate from the rest of “life” and that can be contrary to some people’s philosophy of homeschooling.

I personally prefer having a separate room where most of our school stuff resides, but we do some activities elsewhere in the house.

Here is my desk, although I rarely sit at it.

My desk

Here are the kids’ spaces.  This is Alpha’s desk and the community computer.

Alpha's space

However, you will usually find Alpha tucked away in the Reading Nook when he is not on the computer.  This is the view I often have of him:

Alpha in the reading nook

This is Bravo at her desk, reading The Magna Charta for her history course:

This is Charlie’s desk:

Charlie's desk

And her collection of origami dragons she has been making:

Origami dragons

But today is one of the first pleasant days we’ve had in a long time, so she and her brother decided to do some of their school work on the flat roof outside of the schoolroom window:

Here is Delta working diligently at his desk:

Delta at his desk

Well, that’s our space.  You will probably see this as our backdrop in days to come, but it may not be so neat!


First Day

23 Aug

This morning was our first official day of the new school year.  Since we have been keeping late hours over the summer, I decided to gradually work our way back to early mornings, so I let them sleep until 8:00 (our goal is 7:00 for the kids, 6:00 or 6:30 for mom).  We ate breakfast of crepes,

did morning chores, and headed to the school room.  We spent the first hour in our “Monday Morning Meeting,” going over schedules, courses, chores, etc.  We passed out everyone’s books and got desks organized.  Then several started on their Quote Journals.

We started Quote Journaling last year.  Here are the guidelines:

  • write at least one quote a day
  • the quote can be from a book of quotations, the Bible, a song, a poem, a speech, or something a friend or family member said
  • use neat handwriting

Since we were having a “soft start” today, they only had to tackle two subjects besides their Quote Journals and Bible.

I found that we are missing a couple of required books (have no idea how I overlooked that) and still need to sit down with some and work our their personal weekly schedule.   Now, Alpha has gone to band practice, and the other kids are in the pool.  All in all, a good first day.

Last Summer Roadtrip: The Four States

22 Aug

Yesterday we took our kids on our last summer roadtrip, this one a spur of the moment thing.  Since we live in the southwest corner of Missouri, also known as part of the Four States area (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas), we decided to eat in four states in one day.  We started off, of course, in Missouri eating breakfast.  We headed south and stopped briefly in Neosho, MO.

Neosho, MO

We continued south into Arkansas where our GPS took us on quite an adventure on some back country roads.  My husband swore he heard dueling banjos in the distance!  Despite the rough roads, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and saw several deer.  We ate our snack in the car since this part of our journey took much longer than expected.  We all cheered when we hit paved roads again.


We then headed west.  Once we made it into Oklahoma, we stopped for lunch in Grove.


After lunch, we turned north and stopped in Baxter Springs, Kansas at the Cafe on the Route for a sugar frenzy dessert.

Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive Ins and Dives (The Food Network) featured this small diner on his show a couple of years ago.

It sits on the corner of Main Street (Route 66) in Baxter Springs.

Dessert at Cafe on the Route

We sampled their desserts: Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae, Peach Meringue Pie, Blackberry Cobbler, and Deep Fried Cheesecake.  The cobbler and cheesecake were our favorites!  We plan to come back sometime and try some of their “real” food.

We got back home in time to spend the afternoon in the pool.  All in all we had a good day!

Annual Planning Session

20 Aug

So yesterday I was working on putting together my Master Planner and the kids’ Student Planners.  I loaded up my backpack, grabbed my Mac and headed to the Teachers’ Lounge (aka Starbucks).  There I  met with disappointment: my all-time favorite drink, the Dark Cherry Mocha, was no longer available.   So I had to substitute it with the Raspberry Mocha, which I discovered I like alot, but not quite as much as the cherry-cordial-in-a-cup that had been my go-to drink for the past six months.

Anyway, I found a table (near an outlet—essential for long planning sessions!) and started working on my planner for the year.  While looking for downloadable forms, I came across the website…how can I be a veteran homeschooler and never have visited, let alone taken advantage of this treasure trove of sites?  Am I the only clueless one out there?  If you haven’t visited her site before, run, don’t walk, there now!  She makes available so many different forms, checklists, ideas, pieces of advice…all for free!  Needless to say, I had a good day at Starbucks and, even without my beloved Dark Cherry Mocha!

Homeschool Stereotypes

10 Aug

Here’s an amusing tongue-in-cheek video by Tim Hawkins!

The Homeschool Family

It is surprising the stereotypes that exist about homeschoolers:

  • the girls always wear denim jumpers, have long hair, and don’t wear make-up
  • they are socially backward
  • they raise some kind of livestock or poultry or both
  • they are uber-religious
  • they have a minimum of eight children
  • they eat only organic food, make their own clothes, and entertain themselves by having family sing-alongs around the piano
  • either spend their school days reading books published before 1900 OR playing “educational” video games

Some of these stereotypes are grounded in the truth and there is nothing wrong if any of these fit.  In my homeschooling experience, I have met all kinds from atheists to conservative Christians; from those who set up a school room with traditional school desks and a blackboard to those who let their kids lay on the couch or floor or wherever to do school; from those who actually do wear long denim skirts and have never cut their hair to tattoo-toting, short skirt-wearing, chain-smoking women who have a heart to teach their own kids; from those who have their children do their school work completely via computer or out of a box  to those who follow “unschooling” principles and trust in their child’s natural curiosity to teach them what they need to know.

According to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from 1999, and up 36% since 2003.   (  Certainly the number is approaching 2 million, if not more, as the number of homeschooling families has continued to increase.  With that many kids involved in homeschooling, it is ludicrous to think that they would all fit some mold.

What’s your favorite stereotype and how do you respond to them?

Do Homeschool and Testing Mix?

2 Aug

After my last post on standardized testing, I was thinking more about testing in general for homeschoolers.  Some of my homeschooling friends give their kids as many tests as they would take in public school and some of my homeschooling friends are adamantly against any sort of formal testing.  I came across an interesting article that addresses this issue of testing and decided to repost it.

5 Reasons Why Homeschoolers Reluctantly Use Published Tests (And What To Do About It)

Here are five reasons why we reluctantly use published tests and some follow-up responses.

Reason #1: We feel insecure.  Even though home schooling has become more and more mainstream, we still realize we’re not trained professionals, and we don’t want to risk ruining our children’s education by trying something too “out of the box.” We play it safe and stay with the “tried and true.”

Response: Feeling insecure is normal when you don’t have the “proper papers.” While it seems to go away with time, it returns when our students enter their high school years.   Years ago I began my teaching career in a private school without having completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree, let alone my teaching credential.  I hoped my students’ parents would not ask about my university training, and when they did, I changed the subject as quickly as I could.  As a non-degreed/certified teacher, my insecurities were eased by finding good teacher mentors to help me and give me feedback.  Our high school diploma program was born out of such concerns.  My recommendation is to seek out home school mentors.

Reason #2: We assume that book publishers know what they’re doing.  We say to ourselves, they are the professionals, and we are just the laymen.  They have the inside scoop on pedagogy, and we’re not even sure how to pronounce that word.

Response: Yes, professional educators and text book publishers do know things we don’t.  My recommendation is to use the teacher guides that come with the textbooks.  However, we need to see them as tools, not another set of the “Ten Commandments.” Many teacher guides were designed for teachers in classrooms of 25 plus students.  Don’t minimize your own ability to improvise on a lesson.  For most mothers, every day is a day of improvising, course correcting, and multi-tasking.

Reason #3: We tend to teach how we were taught, and we test the same way.

Response: Like we were taught, before Google.  My recommendation is that for tests that are memory intensive and scheduled to be taken frequently, cut out some of the questions, maybe up to half.  Which half you ask? The “footnote” questions, the ones you could only find the answer to if you spent a lot of time in the index of the book, the ones whose answers bear little significance to getting the main idea of the chapter or section — these all should get the ax!   Again, our diploma program advisors walk their clients through this process.  Additionally, study sheets and oral reviews help students know what the test is targeting.  More on this in an upcoming article.

Reason #4: Published tests are easy to score.  Simply bring out the answer key, and in minutes you’re done.  Evaluating answers to essay questions is another story, and so we keep them to a minimum or exclude them altogether.

Response: True!  I like tests that are fast and easy to score tests.  We all experience time pressure. Tests that use primarily true-false, multiple choice, and matching items yield a quick score, and most students like their parents to tell them how they did in a reasonable amount of time.  But, I’m suggesting we move away from tests in which seventy to eighty percent of the items are fact based. That means using questions that require the student write a paragraph or more to answer.  How is this to be graded?  I recommend using a point system to quantify answers.  Here’s one way to do this: When evaluating the student’s response to a question, award the following: 4-5 points for good to excellent answers 3-4 points for adequate answers 1-2 incomplete answers Add up the number of points earned and divide it by the number points possible, and you’ll get a percent which you can use to justify a grade.

Reason #5: Publishers produce and sell what consumers buy, and we buy their tests.

Response: This is just simple economics. But what if you want to change how you measure understanding?  As the saying goes, “You can’t be something with nothing.”  Four different products we offer go beyond basic memorization.  While they do involve some recitation of facts, they also include questions that require comprehension, the ability to analyze, and the ability to evaluate. Asking questions that extend student’s thinking and understanding must be done intentionally.  While it may be difficult and time consuming at first, with practice, it gets easier.  In future articles, I’ll present and explain six levels of thinking that you can put to use immediately to check your student’s understanding beyond their ability to parrot facts back to you. Curt Bumcrot is the founder and director of Basic Skills Assessment and Educational Services. He has been active both as a teacher and administrator in Christian Schools. He and his wife, Jenny, who home schooled their three children, currently reside in Oregon City.


Standardized Testing

1 Aug

At the end of this past school year, some of the parents from our homeschool co-op decided to have our kids take standardized tests.  For me, I wanted to know if we were “on track,” generally speaking, and  what areas I should give more attention to next year.  Our DS#1, who will be a Junior this year, took the Stanford Achievement Test and DD#1, DD#2, and DS#2 all took the Iowa Basic Skills Test.  Most of them had never sat for a comprehensive test like this before, so that in itself was an important experience for them.  I was pleased with the experience overall and was encouraged by the results.  All were at least at grade level and far ahead in some areas.  One subject they all need to work on is geography, which I was planning on incorporating this coming school year anyway.  Commas apparently were an issue for some, so I will make sure we address that this year in their writing assignments.  (I find commas to be challenging at times myself, so it will be good for me to review.)

I certainly do not put a ton of weight on the importance of the standardized tests, but I do find them  to be a helpful benchmark in our homeschool journey.