Tag Archives: curricula

{SQT} Awesome Online Elementary Homeschooling Resources

 

online homeschooling

 

Here in no husband land, we’re still narrowly avoiding the nighttime zombies and mama’s pre-dinner meltdown. I’m down to my last quarter box o’wine with four days to go. Can’t…hold…on…much…longer…. I’m seriously considering  dragging around a king-sized pillow drapped in one of his dirty t-shirts. I’m definitely not a poster child for moms that excel in the absence of a husband.

How about a quick post regarding online stuff, since I’m hanging on the computer all day hoping to catch my husband on Google chat???? Alrighty then… Here are seven of my favorite online resources.( If the thought of me carrying around a pillow has freaked you out, go ahead and skip back to Jen’s for more Seven Quick Takes. I’ll understand.)

 

1. Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’re a hermit, you’re probably very familiar with Wikipedia. It’s basically how I answer any strange question my kids shoot at me. But for images, including historical maps and photos, I’m all about Wikimedia Commons. With few exceptions, all the images are in the public domain. It’s a great resource for finding timeline images. Need a map of the U.S during the civil war? They’ve got it. A map detailing the path of the Oregon Trail. BOOM! It’s there. Pictures of trenches and soldiers during WWI? No problem. And it safe. A Google image search can turn up all sorts of crazy things I wouldn’t want my kids to find, but with Wikimedia, there’s less chance of surprise boobage. Plus, most pics will link to the related Wikipedia article if you have questions.

2. Timeline Index

If you’re studying a certain time period and want to find saints, scientists and other historical figures outside your textbook, check out Timeline Index and search by era or person of interest.

3. Spelling City

Enter in your child’s spelling list or select one of the many ones already listed by grade level, theme or curriculum. Then walk away and let your kids play games, write sentences and take quizzes on their words. I’ve used it as a stand alone program and as a supplement.

4. Studyladder 

I love, love, love this site. It’s one of the few I’ve paid for, though the free membership allows you to try lots of the games. Each of my kids has a profile and I can select games in all subject areas, even science, music and consumer math. Activities include downloadable booklets, worksheet and videos. Many subjects are aligned to Common Core Standards. Plus by completing parent selected tasks, kids earn points to outfit their online bedroom. My kids like changing their bedrooms, and avatars, on a daily basis. Currently, Byron is sporting a mustache and cowboy hat.

5. Starfall

For children just learning to read, there is no better free program than Starfall. It’s grown considerably since I started using it with Addie four years ago.  But the stories and games have engaged all of my children and  helped with their reading skills. Whenever someone starts getting burnt out on reading, I let them spend a week on Starfall and inevitably they come back refreshed.

For preschool and kindergarten printables my favorite sites are:

6. Making Learning Fun

7. First School 

First School can seem overwhelming in its complexity of choices but you could create an entire preschool program using nothing but their printouts. Make Learning Fun is a new favorite of mine that I discovered when looking for road letters for Fulton to trace. If you’re the type of mom who wants to find activities for your youngster at the last-minute or ease into schooling at your child’s pace without purchasing a ton of materials, these sites will be a blessing.

Did I miss any? What sites do your elementary aged children enjoy?

 

 

 

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Filed under Curriculum, Homeschooling, Seven Quick Takes, Tips and Tricks

Summer Ramblings Of The Blah, Blah, Blah Variety

Did you ever have that feeling on a Monday night that your week was shaping up to be one of the longest yet one of the fastest weeks in you life? Like you would feel all 168 hours of it in the marrow of your bones, yet you would see and remember none of it as it zipped by at lightning speed?

It’s the kind of day that two glasses of wine at dinner does nothing to relax and an iced coffee at 6:30 p.m. does nothing to invigorate.

But I can’t complain, because, ignoring the 5 hours I logged behind the wheel yesterday, I think my fatigue is related to all things rather stellar. And honestly, any time I need a pick me up I just glance at the new clock I bought for our kitchen. I’m going to devote an entire post to ‘the clock’ at a future date, but let me entice you by saying, on a scale of one to ten it’s ninja awesome. Like, a ninja tossing chocolate-covered bacon throwing stars right into my mouth awesome.

We’re also enjoying another influx of out-of-town family visitors. The kids are in their glory between the break from school and the amount of new people in the house who take a genuine interest in all the things I can no longer pretend to understand/ appreciate. I am so tired of being lectured on Star Wars characters or the rules for their homemade basement carnival games. Finally there is fresh blood willing to listen to the character differences between episodes and the finer points of Byron’s game called “I’m Starving” which to me, looks like a big mouth hacked out of cardboard propped against an old shelf, but apparently, is on par with Dungeons and Dragons in strategy.

I’m also at the apex of school planning. You know that giddy, delicious feeling when you open all the new boxes of curriculum, stoke the glossy covers, inhale the scent of fresh paper,  then scream at the kids to stop playing with the packing peanuts. Cracking open the crisp binding on a new workbook makes me stroke my knuckles and cackle with delight. In the works is a trip to the dollar store to pick up school supplies which we’re all pretty stoked about. Plus, I have the added excitement of pimping out a new school room. It’s small, but I’ve got a whole cabinet packed to the ceiling with books and three used school desks ordered off of ebay. (Aw yeah, some old school bling in da house!)  I cannot wait to push each child’s desk into its own corner and let them work beyond arms length of one another for a change. Tony thinks it’s not going to go as smoothly as I imagine. I keep putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La,la,la,la, la, independent work spaces are the answer,la, la, la, la now cook your own dinner.”

Summer is slipping through our fingers like so many melted creamcicles, but we’re licking off each drip and savoring every moment. I should be ready for September, and all its looming responsibilities, despite the distractions. Namely a playdate bonanza. Two weeks, plus all the families I’ve been meaning to schedule stuff with all summer, equals exhaustion! Yay for procrastination! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to kill myself in order to full-fill all my half-hearted promises. I can’t wait. And I know Tony is pumped for two weeks of   last-minute dinner attempts scraped together from food-like substances currently trapped at the bottom of our freezer.

I would call this a summer to remember, if I thought I would have any brain cells left by the end of August.

How are you wrapping up your summer and easing into school?

 

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The Force Of Homeschooling And My Dark Side

When I started homeschooling I knew “Seton” families and “Calvert” families and unschooling families. I assumed that once you found a curriculum, or method, you liked, your course was set for your duration as a homeschooling family.

I watched as my oldest blossomed at an early age under the Catholic Heritage Curricula reading program, and then the Abeka Math program. My goal was to start my son, with a late October birthday, one year behind my oldest daughter, with a late September birthday. I’ll admit, my underlying motivation was to see Byron receive his First Holy Communion the year after Addie. I just couldn’t see making him wait two years, when *I* was sure he would be ready.

Perhaps Addie just set the bar to high, or maybe I expected too much of Byron but after keeping pace for a year or so he started struggling. By this point he was enrolled in CCD one year behind Addie, but his reading skills were not as strong as hers. The CHC reading program that worked so well with Addie was torture for Byron. Addie cruised through her second grade CCD year, and seemed to memorize each answer the moment she completed reading it from the catechism. So long as I  sat and reviewed her work with her, she learned and retained information easily. Once her First Holy Communion was under her belt, I turned my attention to Byron, hoping the same practice and drill would elicit the same well versed responses.

We began Byron’s second grade year still trying to work with CHC and throwing in any supplementary material I thought could help. While he was making steady progress in all his subjects, he was not “where I thought he should be.” And unfortunately, not where some other people thought he should be either. Thankfully, Byron was spared any labels, and the comments that were uttered did not leave any lasting impression. “How’s Byron’s reading? What are you doing for him? You need to make him read more.” I was more stung and hurt than him. After bragging about my “prodigy” daughter, I found myself sticking up for my son, who I finally accepted, might not be made in the image of his sister.

We approached May and I fretted over his prayers and I lost sleep worrying about his interview with the parish priest. My anxiety would sometimes manifest as anger and of course Byron suffered as a result. He became convinced he couldn’t do it, and he couldn’t understand why the answers he needed to memorize didn’t stick in his mind.

However, in the end, he did pass his interview and he did receive the sacrament of First Holy Communion in a smashing white suit. We crossed the finish line but at such a cost. It was a shot between the eyes for me; my unrealistic goals and expectations could ruin my job as a homeschooling mom, make it 10 times harder all around and drive all the joy of learning from my child.

I wish I could say, I found the perfect curriculum for Byron after that and things got better. Heavens knows I’ve looked, and tried and bent over backwards to accommodate his unique learning style, but some days, it’s still a struggle. I decided against keeping him one grade below his sister and instead gave him a workload two grade levels behind, which is where his birthday would have placed him in the local public school anyway. I never told him. I just slowed down our progress in some areas and replaced a book or two and it’s been a huge improvement for us both. Most noticeably, he’s finally learned to love reading. Thankfully, years of slow gains did not drive him from the printed word.

While outside comments quieted down, I still struggled with my own feelings of inadequacy; as if the differences in learning exhibited by my children were completely related to me and not them.  Could he have learned with that program if I was a better teacher? Am I failing to give him the specialized attention he really needs? What if there is a perfect curriculum out there for him and I haven’t found it yet?

And then today, Byron went and did something amazing.

Recently, he’s taken a keen interest in everything Star Wars. We’ve checked out all the books from the local library on the series, and he’s read them all multiple time, asking for help with all the difficult words. He watched all but ‘Revenge of the Sith’ numerous times (while under the care of grandma-totally not my doing) and drawn detailed movie scenes, character portraits  and built 3-D models from cardboard. But today, as he quizzed his uncle on obscure Star Wars trivia and answered every question, in detail, that was asked of him, I finally realized his complete potential.

He can memorize dates, facts  and misc. information. He can watch or read a story, pick out the main characters, plot, setting and summarize the story in chronological order. He can discuss all these things, with an adult, with conciseness and clarity, using complete sentences  while maintaining eye contact and good posture, without fidgeting.  Yes, it’s Star Wars, not Shakespeare, Roman History or Algebra but it shows what’s possible when his passion is ignited.

He’s taking the skills we’re trying to teach him and applying them to what he loves and learning as much about it as possible. Isn’t that the goal of homeschooling, especially a classical education? To give our children the tools to learn whatever they want? To form them into knowledgable, well-rounded adults, capable of seeking out information beyond the status quo? Today, at age eight, it’s Star Wars. Tomorrow it may be art history, biology or theology. Whatever he picks, he will be prepared to tackle it. Finally, I can see that and not worry about the little things.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect curriculum or magic formula for all children. Each child will have their own strengths and weakness that will force you out of your comfort zone. But just when you think, it isn’t enough, they surprise you, and if you’ve put their needs first, they will grow into the educated people you prayed they’d become.  It’s been a learning journey for us both. Someday I hope Byron will understand how much he has taught me.

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Sweaty Summer Hand-Wringing Broken Into Seven Quick Takes

I don’t even know if these really qualify as seven quick takes since they’re all related. Can Jen disqualify people for not keeping things distinct and succinct?  If she asks, let’s all pretend I’m following protocol mmmmmkay? Because it’s really too hot here for me to work any harder than I have.

1. While most kids have left behind thoughts of books and homework, homeschooling moms are now sweating out thoughts of planning next years lesson plans. Glossy catalogues are arriving, two-day homeschooling conferences are in full swing. You ask your child to divide his brother’s sandwich into quarters and he gives you a glassy-eyed stare, they’re already forgetting everything you’ve taught them, and it’s only June! Maybe it was last years curriculum, maybe you need to switch it all up. Before you know it, you’re sitting pool, lake or beachside with an iced coffee, no less than three curriculum catalogues, two legal pads and a husband so desperate for your undivided attention he’s taking off his t-shirt and exposing his bright white chest to the world.

2. In what I considered to be a stroke of genius, I made the decision from the get go to school year round; three months on, one month off. The children would never suffer from the summer brain drain, I’d get December off for Christmas prep and a whole month for spring break in April. Why isn’t everyone on board with this?

3. Because when it’s hot as the Mohave, no one wants to do school. I go to pick my arm up from the lesson plans and they’re sticking. I can only motivate the kids to do their work in a timely manner by bribing them with Fudgesicles. Now there’s brown finger prints everywhere. Ignore every indication they’re not just from the Fudgesicles by eating more Fudgesicles.

4. An old house with central air is as cool and inviting as having a fat man sit on your lap and fan you with the folds of meaty flesh on his arm. Or maybe it just feels that way to me since I’m always got a child or four clinging to my sweaty body.

5. It takes a long time to fill a pool with water when your husband demands giving the well pump a break after an hour. Yes, I know it’s old and could give out at any minute but I don’t think I can keep the kids from jumping in our 3/8 filled pool and breaking their legs for much longer.

6. I’m trying to use up food from our freezer and pass it off to the kids undefrosted as a cool dinner alternative.

7. So while I’m trying to wrap up this school year and not dehydrate, I’m freaking out about next year’s school work as are many of my friends. We’re as helpful to one another a flock of cackling hens before the slaughter. “What are you using for spelling? Aaackkk, spelling, who said spelling?? I forgot about spelling? Aaackkk! I was all concerned about grammar! Aaaacckkk! Grammar, who said grammar! Aaaccckkk! I forgot about grammar! And what about transcripts?? Aaacck!”  waddle, waddle, waddle

At the local homeschool conference, moms are bombarded with a dizzying array of curriculum choices. Most are lucky to emerge at day’s end without their heads exploding.

So if you’re off to a conference this weekend, keep your wits about you! Keep calm and enjoy the central air and whatever you do, don’t buy the first glossy book you see. Or you could avoid planning a bit longer by heading over to Conversion Diary for more Seven Quick Takes.

 

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Reviews for Sale!

{This is another one of those posts where I tell you what other “good” homeschooling blogs do, then I go and do the opposite. You’ve been warned.}

Product reviews! In Kelly’s fantasy land, I get lots of great books and materials mailed to me for free by people who think other homeschoolers hang on my every word. These free products would do everything advertised and blend seamlessly into my current lesson plans. My children would love the books, learn easily from them; I’d be hard pressed to say anything negative about the free materials. I’d write a glowing review, net tons of sales for the sponsoring company and maybe, get some sort of pink Cadillac, like a great Mary Kay sales woman. (If it was a Catholic company, maybe a pink 15 passenger van.)

However, I live in Kelly’s reality world which is currently humid and full of dust. The only free curricula I received in today’s mail were the charity solicitations I let the kids use as scratch paper in art class. But to prepare myself for that day when the companies come calling, I’m going to write a sample review about a product I downloaded a while ago from a well-known homeschool curricula site. We’ll call this product “The Stab Yourself in the Eye with a Test Tube Chemistry Book”, or just ‘the chemistry book’ if you prefer.

This 50+ page book was a pdf download I purchased for about $20. It boasted a research guide, experiments, reproducibles and instructions on how to tie everything together into a cool looking folder/ lapbook type thing. Even though my last foray into lapbooking went horribly, horribly wrong, I thought this book might make the overwhelming science of chemistry fun. My first mistake was in assuming that “research guide” meant more than ten pages about chemistry. So I just tacked a few more library books onto the hold list. No real problem yet. And then we did the first experiment….and I couldn’t explain our hypothesis or why that stuff in the test tube did those things and not what the book said it was supposed to do. And not only was elementary chemistry beyond me, I was once again outwitted by a simple file folder. Sure the instructions said, cut here, fold there, tape down here and, viola, an atomic elements pop-out chart should arise directly from the middle of your double joined folder, but it looked about as good as that copy of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ the baby tore into. Within a couple of weeks, I ordered this and this combined it with a boring homemade ‘My Science Experiment’ handout and before long, it was all Mr. Wizard like up in here.

If you love lapbooks, like getting lots of science books from the library,  then this might work for you if you have upper elementary kids who love origami and have an interest in chemistry.  (See? I can offer positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism.)

Obviously, if you want to send your materials to me for review I will include big colorful photos of me, or my children with the materials. Since I have no photos of the chemistry book, or me stabbing myself in the eye with a test tube,  here’s me with a great Melissa and Doug abacus! I love it!

If I have not won you over with my prose or modeling experience, please be assured that I do have my price. For an agreed upon amount, which can be paid in greenbacks,  Kohl’s Cash or gluten-free brownie mix, I will say whatever you want about your wonderful product and stay out of all photos. With daily page views in the teens, how can you afford to not have me favorably review your learning materials? Advertising space on my blog, or the side of my van, house, family set of t-shirts, is also available. Contact me before it’s too late!

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Don’t Cheat On Your Favorite Curricula

I try to do homeschooling on the cheap. Certainly, it is not always possible, but my husband and I always think long and hard before plunking down a wad of cash for a fancy boxed set of anything related to education.

Through the years, people have recommended all sorts of programs that will supposedly provide me with all the tools I need to educate all my kids in said subject ’til death do us part. A student workbook and textbook, plus special grip pencils, instructional DVDs, a 3 part teacher’s manual, a CD-ROM of printables,  plus color-coded labels and tabs for your lesson plans. I feel like I’m watching a PBS pledge drive when this thing is being presented to me. And if I act now, I get the matching tote bag! Of course, purchasing such a miracle curricula rivals the cost of a semester at private school.

And for what? Weeks of eager anticipation as we read the manuals and organize our materials.Yes, this is it! Finally, our kids will completely grasp a new concept from the very beginning with minimal input on our parts! Oh, it’s all so clear and well laid out. Even a fool could teach their kids with this method. They’ve really thought of everything!!  Meanwhile, our kids run their hands over the crisp, new books thinking this might be the very book that makes grammar/math/ geography tolerable. There are color pictures on every page, and manipulatives and video clips! Wow, this will be fun!

Then bang, October. It’s that month you start to wonder, what was I thinking? They always did so well with the old program, why did I switch them to this new one? You start digging out last spring’s curricula catalogues, and reminisce over the curriculum you could’ve bought. You’d always been so happy with that curricula. They didn’t have confusing color coded tabs that didn’t make sense and set you back a week after you realized you’d missed that whole unit on decimals.

By October, the kids’ books are scribbled on, the manipulatives have been absconded by the 3-year-old, or by you so the baby doesn’t eat them and the older kids just make fart noises and laugh at the teacher on the DVD clips. And the printer is always out of paper, due to last-minute art projects, so no supplemental printables either.

This is what you just paid hundreds of dollars for. And then your husband comes home from work and doesn’t understand why you start crying when he asks “How’s the new program working out?”.  Because you know you can’t ask him for more money to buy more stuff to replace the curriculum you so desperately needed back in June. Don’t you remember telling him about the tote bag?

Maybe this isn’t you, maybe you bought that fancy expensive program and it worked out great for child number one. It was the best thing ever! You sang that program’s praises  at every homeschool activity,  manned the company’s table at the local curriculum fair and wrote a great review of their product on your blog. Yessireebob, it was one God-send of a program! Then, boom, child number two.

Child number two hides in the linen closet when the books come out, has dared scribble in the teacher’s manual out of frustration and refuses to do the finger play and accompanying lap book activities! This child dares to question the perfect program! Doesn’t he/she know it’s the perfect program? It worked so well with child number one, you reason child number two must have a learning disorder and try to slow down the pace or do a different finger play, or even try to incorporate whole body movement, and still no progress and lots of resistance. You eventually realize it’s the program or your child and, reluctantly, you choose the child.

Despite careful shopping, I still occasionally make rash decisions I ultimately regret (When did I ever think I’d do that unit on classical music appreciation???) but thankfully, my favorite curricula, doesn’t hold it against me. It’s always there, waiting for me, ready to pick up right where we left off.  Don’t let other, newer and younger, curricula tempt you from the good thing you have going on. That fancy program may be beautiful on the outside, but chances are, it’ll  just leave you poorer and heartbroken.

 

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