Homeschool Curriculum (there are just so many choices!!)

It is day two of our blog hop, and today’s topic is homeschool curriculum. This is a subject I can really get in to!! I love books in general, and I spend countless hours going through magazines and surfing the net looking for curriculum for my kids (I even have a notebook with ideas for curriculum for the next 3 years!!). I honestly think checking out curriculum can become an addiction, there is just so much to look at!!

I am grateful as a homeschool mom to have so many options for teaching my kids. However, sometimes the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. When I first started out, looking at curriculum and trying to decide what to use made my head spin!! How could I tell what would work with my kids (without spending a ton of money finding out the hard way what didn’t work?)

Basically, when I am looking at curriculum, I try to think about my individual kids needs, and my goals for that subject. Do I want hands-on, or just straightforward textbook learning? Do I want to teach my boys together, or have them work on their own? Do I want a LOT of parental involvement, or do I want to turn this subject over mostly to them? Asking myself these questions helps me to decide whether or not a particular curriculum is a good fit.

For some subjects, like upper-level math, I try to look for an online or DVD curriculum, because I need support in this area (think Chalkdust or Pearson’s My Math Lab). I love literature-based studies for history (a la Sonlight or My Father’s World). I really enjoy Apologia’s Young Explorer series for science as well. The key is knowing what it is YOU need for what YOU are trying to accomplish, and not getting caught up in spending a bunch of money on something that looks great but that you will never use!! (Believe me, I have made some costly curriculum mistakes in the past!!)

To sort through all of this curriculum, I like to search the web for reviews. Obviously, the TOS Crew is a great place to get those!! Hearing from people who have actually used a curriculum in their home really helps me to decide if that curriculum will work for me or not. Another thing I like to do is check out message boards where homeschoolers discuss curriculum they have used or want to use. Being able to ask questions of someone who is currently using a curriculum I want to try is a great way to get specific feedback about the program. A couple of good sites for this are Homeschool Reviews.com and The Well Trained Mind Forum. Many individual curriculums also have their own message boards where you can ask questions and even talk to the authors!!

Another great way to get more information about a curriculum is to attend a curriculum fair. Usually, your state homeschool organization will have one (sometimes in conjunction with a homeschool conference). There are two local fairs I go to, and I can tell you that being able to see a curriculum first hand makes a huge difference! Sometimes you find out that something you thought would be wonderful isn’t really going to work, and then you find something great that you never even thought of!! Homeschool fairs also feature workshops and lectures, often by authors of the curriculum, where you can get a LOT of information.

Of course, my key when choosing any curriculum or materials for my children is always prayer. I believe the Lord has called me to homeschool my children, and those He calls, He also equips! I know that He has a plan in mind for my children, and I trust Him to guide me in helping them along that path. When I start to feel nervous or overwhlemed, I remind myself that I am not doing this alone. As long as I am faithful to God’s call, He will lead me in the direction I need to go.

Of course, budgeting for all this curriculum isn’t easy. Right now, we have pushed our school start date back because we haven’t had the funds to buy all of our books yet. However, I know that (again) the Lord will provide in His perfect timing, so I am not going to worry.

Remember that the joy of homeschooling your children is the fact that you have the freedom to do what you want. Your homeschool does NOT have to look like anyone else’s. You have to choose curriculum based on what fits your family. Sometimes, that can translate into a LOT of pressure, but keep in mind that you truly know your children best.

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this topic, click here:
BacktoHomeschool

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Homeschool Methods: (or, HOW exactly am I supposed to teach these kids??)

I am so excited!! The TOS crew is hosting a “Back to School” blog hop about all things homeschool and I am participating!! I hope you will join us for all 5 days of this blog hop. I am looking forward to being inspired by all of the ideas my fellow homeschoolers come up with!! So, here we go: the first topic for this week is Homeschool Methods!

I will admit, I was a former teacher for many years before I began homeschooling my kids, so you would think, I would HAVE this, right?? Wrong!! There is something SO very different about being totally responsible for the education of your own children, versus, being responsible for teaching a bunch of kids (that don’t belong to you) one subject. Yes, I did have experience with teaching in general, but did all of that experience transfer to homeschooling my own kids?? Not exactly!

First of all, in doing my research, I was absolutely INUNDATED with all the different homeschool methods (Charlotte Mason, textbook, unschooling…etc. etc….). Wow!! This is a LOT to take in at first. I checked out a lot of books from the library, and spent a lot of time on the internet in order to conclude, that I am an eclectic homeschooler!!

What does this mean? Well, basically, I use a LOT of different methods to homeschool my kids, based on the subject we are studying and the NATURE of that particular child (oddly enough, my classroom wasn’t that different! :)). So, we use a Charlotte Mason style approach for history and literature, but we use standard textbooks for math, grammar, and spelling. We also like a hands-on approach to science!!

Basically, we do this because I have taught long enough to know that each child is different!! They may not all be talented in the same way, but they are still talented. The beauty of homeschool is that you can teach to your child’s individual strengths, while also giving them one on one attention in their areas of weakness.

Examples: My oldest is like me, a natural reader. He has ALWAYS loved books and getting him to read is NEVER a struggle!! (in fact, finding enough books for him to read is a challenge!!). His weakness is math (as is mine). In contrast, my youngest does NOT enjoy reading, unless it is a comic book!! Taking him to the library is a chore, all he wants to do is play on the computer!! Reading is a struggle for him, which is one of the reasons we pulled him out of school to begin with!!

Since we homeschool, I can fuel my oldest child’s love of books, while also addressing the struggles of my youngest. For my oldest, I introduce books that tie into our history studies, or books that I loved as a kid. We discuss and enjoy them together. With my youngest, we do a lot of read-alouds and shared reading. Seriously, his reading level has improved DRAMATICALLY since we started homeschooling!! He is starting to read more chapter books (without my prompting) and is a more confident reader overall.

For subjects like math and science (my personal weaknesses) I like structure. I choose textbooks with clear directions, because they make it easier on me!! I also look for classes through local co-ops and homeschool groups for extra support in these areas!!

The beauty of homeschool (once you get beyond the initial fear!) is that you can truly tailor the methods to what suits YOUR child. The key thing to remember is that every child is different, and as the parent, you need to adjust for that. I am thankful for all the amazing approaches there are to homeschooling, and I am grateful that I get to mix them up to suit my kids!!

If you are looking for more information about homeschooling methods, check out these websites:

Charlotte Mason:
http://simplycharlottemason.com/

The Robinson approach:
http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com/

textbooks:
http://www.titus2.com/

Unschooling:
http://www.unschooling.org/

Unit studies:
http://homehearts.com/step-by-step-guide/step-4-develop-your-approach/the-unit-study-approach/
To see what other members of the crew had to say about homeschool methods, click here:
BacktoHomeschool

Schoolhouse Teachers

Schoolhouse Teachers is a website devoted to all things homeschool. It is an expansion on the Teachers Toolbox website from The Old Schoolhouse magazine. I loved Teachers Toolbox, but I love Schoolhouse Teachers even more!!

The website features content from experts like Diana Waring, Kim Kautzer, and Malia Russell, that is updated on a weekly, monthly or daily basis. There are lesson plans you can print out and use right away!! As a member, you also get access to the latest TOS Schoolhouse planners (I got my first one in 2010, and I have loved them ever since!!) as well as access to ebooks, thematic units, and digital back issues of the magazine. Honestly, I have to be careful or I could spend days at a time just reading those!

Do you like lapbooking? We do!! Schoolhouse Teachers has lapbooking lessons you can download and print every month. The focus for July is “Summer Safety”, in June, it was the painter, Raphael. Being able to just log in and print out the lessons each week was a huge convenience!!

Schoolhouse Teachers also includes downloadble lessons in many subject areas, including economics, high school math, literature, art and even chemistry! The chemistry lessons, written by Joey Hadja, include a lesson plan for you (featuring an activity to illustrate the concept using household items), a reading section, practice problems and even a test!!

Want more? Schoolhouse Teachers has it!! In addition to all of the content available, the website also has recipes (beef and black bean tacos, cobbler…yum!!), a suggested monthly reading list, a section on homemaking, “this day in history” information, and so much more!! My boys have been looking forward to the Olympics all summer and we are currently enjoying working through the Summer Olympics activities on the website! I know, it sounds almost too incredible to be true, but what else would you expect from The Old Schoolhouse?? Don’t believe me, check it out for yourself, samples are available here:

http://schoolhouseteachers.com/sample-pages/

Since we are currently waiting to start our official school year until we get a little more money together for curriculum, I am using Schoolhouse Teachers with my boys to keep us learning right now. The best thing about it? A subscription will only cost you $5.95 per month!! For all that is included, that is a fantastic price! This is one resource I would not want to live without. To find out more, check out the website here:

http://schoolhouseteachers.com/

To see what other members of the crew had to say about Schoolhouse Teachers, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Zane Education

Zane Education is an online video library, offering visual learning on a huge number of topics! The site also offers lesson plans and quizzes to go along with the video. Perhaps the most unique part of the Zane program is what they call “The Missing Piece”, including subtitles with the videos! Research indicates that there is a link between the use of subtitles and an improvement in children’s literacy skills. This is something I heard about as a classroom teacher, and if you think about it, it makes sense. Do you remember those “sing-a-long” videos that were popular when we were kids? You know, with the bouncing ball that would travel over the words to the song? I remember learning lots of catchy tunes that way :), but I also remember recognizing those words that I saw on the screen when I saw them in a book. The same thing applies here.

There are videos available in many subject areas, from art and biology, to history, math, music and science. Videos are organized by subject as well as grade level. There are videos for all grade levels, elementary to high school. While watching the videos, students have access to a glossary, thesarus, enclyclopedia, and the “World Fact Book” which all give them additional information. Both of my sons thought the World Fact Book was pretty cool, because it had all kinds of information about different countries, their flags. etc.

The downloadable lesson plans for the vidoes are very helpful. They include review questions, key glossary terms and suggestions for activities and discussion. The videos range as far as how long they are, with some that my younger son watched being around 10 minutes, and some that my older son watched being around 20.

I found the videos to be great way to supplement our curriculum. We used them a lot for history, music and art. We also enjoyed the science and literature videos as well. I searched for videos based on topic to tie into some of the things we were studying, and we usually watched them together. I thought the quizzes were a nice feature as well, I used them mostly for review.

Zane is great for use in a homeschool setting, and is easily used to supplement any curriculum. Membership costs for Zane vary, depending on how much access you want. A Gold membership, giving you access to all of the videos, quizzes, lesson plans etc. for a whole year, costs $17.99 per month or $197.89 per year. A Silver membership, which provides you access to all of the videos within a grade level of your choosing, costs $12.99 per month/$142.89 per year. A Bronze membership, which allows you access to all of the videos within a subject area of your choosing, costs $8.99 per month/$98.89 per year.

That’s expensive, I know, and I don’t believe a regular membership would fit within my homeschool budget. I would consider a monthly membership, to allow my kids access to a specific subject, if I thought it would benefit our studies, but I don’t have an extra hundred or more dollars to spend on a supplement. Zane is a nice program, and if you did have some extra money and wanted to use it on this, I would say go ahead, but if you are pinching pennies, then probably not. You can get a limited free membership to Zane if you want to check it out for yourself. To learn more about Zane Education, click here:
http://www.zaneeducation.com/Membership.php

To see what other members of the crew had to say about Zane, click here:
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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this program for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Math Essentials

Math Essentials, founded by math teacher Rick Fisher, strives to make teaching math easy and practical for parents. His award-winning series includes middle school and high school level math products. For this review, I got to use the No-Nonsense Algebra and the Mastering Essential Math Skills Geometry books with my boys.

First, let me say (as I have mentioned before), upper level math is one of the areas that stresses me out. I did okay in high school algebra, but it wasn’t easy, and geometry might as well have been an alien language!! Therefore, I am always looking for math programs that are clear and easy to understand, and hopefully offer some type of supplemental support when necessary.

No-Nonsense Algebra meets these criteria. The workbooks are very well done, with clear, concise instruction and helpful examples. The lessons are (mercifully) short, with about 10-20 practice problems, depending on the lesson, and a few review problems as well. At the end of each chapter there is a chapter review. I found these helpful, because if I found my son (a 9th grader) struggled with remembering how to do a certain type of problem, I could simply review that section with him, and then use another source to provide him with additional practice problems. The solutions are also located in the back of the book, which is great because you don’t have to buy a teachers guide to get the answers!

However, the best thing about this program, to me at least, is the fact that when you buy the books, you are given access to a website that has video lessons for each chapter!! Seriously, I have looked at DVD and online based math programs before, and most of them are very expensive! I am so grateful to Rick Fisher for creating an affordable program that allows parents access to this kind of support. We found the videos easy to watch, and very clear in their instruction. Most of the time, my son would watch the video on his own and complete the lesson without any problem. If he struggled with a particular concept, I would watch the video too, and then go over a few problems with him. This method has worked for us very well, and my son really seems to be “getting” algebra, and not hating it at the same time!! No Nonsense Algebra is an excellent math program for use with your high schooler.

The Mastering Essential Math Skills Geometry book is a great supplemental or introductory Geometry tool for middle school students. Again, the instruction is clear and concise, and includes daily review, instruction (in the “Helpful Hints” section) and a short number of practice problems. This would not be a complete Geometry program for a high schooler, but it would be great for review or practice. Alas, there are no videos for this one, but perhaps Mr. Fisher would be willing to create some (or just make a high school Geometry course similar to No Nonsense Algebra 🙂 ). I used this book with my middle school son as some extra practice. I appreciated the clear instruction, which made it easier for me to explain concepts to him, he liked the short lessons!!

Now, for the best part about Math Essentials: the price!! No Nonsense Algebra costs $27.95. Period. That’s it. I’m serious!! $27.95 is all you pay for the book (which includes the answers) and access to the videos!! I have yet to see another program that offers ALL of that for anywhere close to that price!! The supplemental Geometry book will cost you $11.95 (again, very reasonable!) and Math Essentials also has supplemental books for other areas, like problem-solving, whole numbers, etc.

To check out all the Math Essentials has to offer, click here:
http://www.mathessentials.net/index.html

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this program, click here:
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** Disclaimer: I was given free access to this program for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Jeepers Peepers!

Jeepers Peepers is a family game created by the people at Super Duper Publications! They have all kinds of games and other products designed to help kids have fun while they are learning!! Jeepers Peepers is a great game that helps kids build questioning skills, describing skills, problem solving skills, and more!

To play the game, one player puts on a pair of glasses and randomly selects a photo card. The cards come in different categories, and the player with the glasses is NOT supposed to know what is on their card. After placing the card in their glasses, the player asks a series of yes or no questions and tries to guess what is on their card!

We love board games in my house, and this one was loads of fun. We laughed together as we tried to ask questions that would point us to the image on our card. You would think this would be easy to figure out, but really, with only asking yes or no questions, it isn’t as easy as you think!! We learned that we had to phrase our questions very carefully if we wanted real information. Fortunately, the game comes with a “cue card” that gives you suggestions about the type of questions you may want to ask.

If your family enjoys playing games, I would highly suggest this one. It is a lot of fun, and encourages a lot of thinking skills, both in figuring out the clues, and asking the questions!! Jeepers Peepers costs $29.95, which I think is a very reasonable price. We have been playing this game a lot this summer, and we haven’t gotten bored yet! 🙂 Super Duper Publications even has a special coupon code to give you 30% off the game, to get it here:
Jeepers Peepers

http://www.superduperinc.com/products/view.aspx?pid=JP350&stid=

Coupon Code: BLGJP30

Save 30% Expires 8/31/12

To learn more about this product, check out the Super Duper Publications website here:

http://www.superduperinc.com/default.aspx

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

It’s summer!! Now how do I keep these kids busy?

Our blog cruise topic for this week is “summer family fun!”. I have to say, I love summer, along with fall, it is probably one of my favorite seasons. I love the weather, the lazy days, the “we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to” attitude. But, of course, all of this comes with a challenge, how do I keep boredom from setting in for my kids? The worst phrase a mom can hear is “There is nothing to do!!” So, how do I keep this from happening? Let me tell you 🙂

First of all, we live on the East coast of Florida, very close to the beach, and that is one of our main sources of entertainment during the summer months (which generally last from about April-October!!). My husband and my boys like to surf, so on many days, we pack a lunch and hit the beach!! I enjoy sitting in the sand and looking at the waves, and my boys enjoy surfing with their dad. They also participate in some local surf camps.

Our church is another source of activity during this time. They have weekly activities for my youngest son, and my oldest is a volunteer helper. This summer they have gone ice skating, been to the planetarium, had a water day (complete with blow up slides) and had a sleepover!!

My husband and I also like to take advantage of the water parks that are nearby. Wet N Wild offers a “Splash Pass”, which allows you to pay for the day, and get in for the rest of the year free!! Now that my boys are finally old enough to ride all of the rides, it is a LOT of fun. We usually pack a lunch in the cooler, and go hit the water parks when my hubby is off from work. This is a great way to have family fun in the summer around here!

We also enjoy going to movies. My youngest is into superheroes, and lately, it seems like all of the superhero movies come out in the summer months. We take advantage of matinee’s and coupons, and also the dollar kids movies!!

Summer is one of those unstructured times in my house, I relish it, but it can also be difficult keeping my kids entertained!! What do you do in the summer to keep your family busy? To see what other members of the crew had to say on this topic, click here:

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