Archive for the ‘Home Schooling’ Category

Using Comic Cards for Narration

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Timeline1

My boys were not enthusiastic writers. We would read piles of books together, which they thoroughly enjoyed as long as the books were interesting.  And they were happy to talk about the reading, as long as I didn’t call it “narration” (because that sounded too contrived or schoolish), but when it came to “Let’s write a paragraph about what happened during the War of 1812,” there was absolutely zero interest in this.

Being a fairly laid-back sort of homeschooling mom, I didn’t want to force them to write, but I was a bit anxious. It seemed like they ought to occasionally write something. I also felt that keeping some sort of history timeline would be helpful, because we would sometimes jump from Ancient Greece to Early American History to Medieval Europe, and they needed some way to put it all in perspective. I finally had the idea to try something that my oldest son was already doing – drawing comics.

He could spend 45 minutes with one sheet of blank paper, drawing epic space battles with laser blasts and little text bubbles for the characters to hurl insults at one another. So, I suggested that he illustrate scenes from our reading on a small 3 X 5 card, and then we would collect the cards to lay down on a timeline. He thought this was a fine idea, and my younger son was happy to do whatever his big brother was doing.

Timeline2

It worked pretty well. After reading, the boys would choose something to illustrate and I would write a short description of the event because they believed that even this would be too much writing. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before they started writing their own descriptions on the front or back of the card. We also included the date of the event on the back of the card.

Each boy had his own index card box to store the cards, and once a month or so, we would lay all the cards down on a timeline on the floor. I had purchased a roll of adding machine paper and used about 20 feet to mark out time periods. When we taped the paper to the floor, the boys used the dates on the back of their cards to lay them out in the proper order. It was tricky because some areas would have LOTS of cards (Early American time period), while some areas would have none. This did make an impression though, because we all realized, “Hey –  I have no idea what happened during these 600 years!” It was humbling.

Timeline3

Eventually, as the boys got older, they did learn to write well (perhaps a subject for another post), but drawing timeline comics on the index cards provided easy nonthreatening preparation for note-taking in those early years. For one thing, the small size of the card seemed more manageable. They weren’t faced with a full sheet of blank notebook paper to fill. Plus, using dialogue bubbles meant that they could write without worrying about complete sentences or exact punctuation. They also enjoyed seeing what the other brother created for each event. It was always a secret until they finished and traded cards.

I’ll mention another idea for cards here – if your kids like to collect and play with cards such as “Pokemon” or “Magic the Gathering,” they might enjoy making similar cards for history, science or literary characters. My only advice would be to give them plenty of artistic license. It wouldn’t be any fun if they couldn’t use their imaginations to embellish the truth a bit!

Do you have any other ideas for using index cards in your homeschool?

How Do Homeschooled Kids Learn to Take Notes?

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Note-takingMy daughter, who goes to a public high school, has been exclaiming about her heavy homework load this year – particularly in AP American History where she is expected to take copious notes from her textbook reading. I’ve been watching with interest, to see if this method helps her retain any of the information. It also got me thinking about my boys off at college. They never took notes in high school, because they didn’t go to high school. It never really occurred to me that they should learn such a thing. In my mind, note-taking was something you did during a lecture to help remember what the teacher said, and this was before the age of Powerpoint and online course notes. I did show them how to take notes for research papers, and how to keep track of works cited. But we didn’t do “lectures” in our homeschool, so they never learned to record information in this way. Did this handicap my kids when they went off to sit in lecture halls at college?

What my kids think of taking notes

When polled, my oldest son said:  “I don’t think the lack of note-taking lessons hurt me at all.  I just sorta DO it, it’s not exactly rocket science.  I feel like everyone ends up developing a unique style anyway, so there’s not a huge amount of benefit in learning a particular method.”

My younger son reported that he does have a hard time taking notes, but mainly because his handwriting is so slow. If he brings his laptop to class though, he can type amazingly fast – being ambidextrous may be a disadvantage with pen or pencil, but it’s pretty handy with a keyboard! Most of the time, he prefers not to take notes at all because it distracts him from listening to the professor. He listens with intense focus and somehow remembers everything he hears. It depends on what type of course he’s taking as well. Most of his classes now are about math, computer science, physics and music theory. For these topics, it’s more important for him to understand what is happening then to absorb a lot of random facts and figures. Later, while studying or doing homework, he pulls it all together in his notebooks to solve problems.

What about those information dense courses such as history, biology and foreign language? My daughter’s not sure yet if her history teacher’s note-taking requirement will help her remember, but she is a devoted believer in flash cards. For her, making little flash cards for vocabulary words, grammar rules and biology facts really helped her learn the material in past coursework.

What the pros think of taking notes

In an interesting paper called “Note Taking and Learning: A Summary of Research” presented by the WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) Journal, the authors state that the function of note-taking is twofold: “Note-takers take notes to fulfill two major functions: to record information and/or to aid in reflection.” It’s not surprising that note-taking is really a very complicated skill that requires the student to decide what is important and how to describe it in a few keywords. The very act of note-taking is supposed to help students remember – especially if they transform the original information source and put it in their own words. Summarizing has been shown to be more effective than simply highlighting words in a text.

This paper also summarizes the studies done to evaluate the effectiveness of different methods of note-taking. It seems that recording information in a matrix or keyword tree type diagram is more effective than the outline structure, which in turn is more effective than the linear method used by most students. This means that using the whole page to spatially organize information into categories is more effective than just line after line of abbreviated notes. For examples of what this looks like, please do look up images of this type of note-taking online.

How does this work for homeschooling kids?

I can certainly understand how matrix style note-taking could really help the university student, which is the focus of the WAC Journal paper. And even though homeschooling students don’t typically sit through lectures, I can see how some form of note-taking would help “aid in reflection” as kids process information learned through reading, watching or learning from experience. It also occurred to me that some of our common homeschooling methods already fill that role.

Charlotte Mason style narration for example, asks kids to summarize material learned in their own words, first through oral narration and then written as they get older. There are many other narration methods for kids with different learning styles to transform raw information and put it in a form that is personally meaningful.

Lapbooks, notebooking, foldables, and other forms of paper projects all seem to serve a similar role in helping a student create something unique out of pure information. Another style that might appeal to your kids is visual note-taking or sketchnotes. A little online searching will yield some amazing examples.

As in so many other things, I think the best way for a student to “take notes” and process information will depend on his or her learning style. Show your kids examples of what other people have tried, and see if anything jumps out at them. They might want to try different techniques for that biology textbook or those world history DVDs, all with the objective of retaining and understanding what they learn. Next week I’ll post some examples of cartoon timeline cards my boys made for studying history – humor being their favorite way to spin any subject.

Win both the Mac and iPad versions of OLLY!

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OLLY for iPad Progress Report

OLLY for iPad Progress Report

If your paper planning system is getting unwieldy, here’s your chance to put your computer to the task – assuming you have a Mac or iPad of course.

The Intoxicated on Life blog is running a giveaway which will finish up on Oct. 16th, so be sure to get your entry in before that date!

New Resources to Geek Out Your Homeschooling

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The very first worldwide virtual Homeschool Conference was a success!  With 8 great keynote addresses, 48 presentations, and 1600 registrants, you wouldn’t believe the amount of information and inspiration that was traded this past weekend! The co-chairs for this conference, Steve Hargadon and Pat Farenga, hope to make this an annual event, with the next one penciled in for January 2014.

The great thing is it’s ALL FREE, including the recordings of every presentation. You’ll find the recording of my presentation on “Self-Directed Learning and the Roots of Success” here. This is also a great way to see  an overview of the material covered in my book.

I will be listening to various presentations I missed in the weeks ahead, but there are a few resources I learned about that I want to bring to your attention:

The first is a site for K-12 educators called EdK12.com. It’s still in the beta stages, and not specifically for homeschoolers, but it’s a great place to ask questions, participate in discussions, and share resources. They have also compiled an amazing, growing database of learning websites that you can search by grade, subject and category. So, if you are looking for ideas or help with something specific, say Middle School Math, you can search their library and find all kinds of websites pre-screened for relevance (not just a Google search which may lean heavily towards commercial sites).

 EDK12 Library

A similar resource, provided by a nonprofit organization that includes such heavyweight backers as Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is Goorulearning. This site provides search engine capability for standards-aligned learning resources, along with a nifty way to organize your favorite sites into “Playlists” and create a virtual classroom for your students. This site is also in the beta stage, and only has search features for grades 5-12, but K-4 is in the works.

Another site you might find useful is virtualhomeschool.com. Have you ever wanted to participate in homeschool co-op classes but didn’t have enough homeschooling families living nearby? Or maybe you couldn’t find enough families interested in learning the same topic/s? Now there is a VIRTUAL co-op, run entirely by homeschool volunteers, using online classrooms and tools to work together. You can even create your own course to share with others.

Virtual Homeschool Group

If you attended the conference, or have a similar site to share, please let me know in the comments!

Inaugural Worldwide Homeschool Conference

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homeschool conference logo

If you have some time this weekend and could use some FREE inspiration to get your school year started, then check out the very first Worldwide Homeschool Conference, to be held online starting tomorrow, Aug. 23rd 2013. Here’s the description from their website:

“On August 23 – 24, 2013, we will hold the inaugural worldwide Homeschool Conference. This two-day, online, and free event will provide an opportunity to share strategies, practices, and resources for those involved with homeschooling, unschooling, free schools, democratic schools, and other forms of alternative and independent education.”

Some of the keynote speakers are Pat Farenga, David Albert and Peter Gray. I will also be giving a presentation on Saturday morning at 10am Pacific Time – check the website for a complete schedule based on your timezone.

What the World’s Best Basketball Coach Can Teach You About How to Homeschool

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John WoodenThe late John Wooden was a highly esteemed coach who built up the UCLA Bruins into a powerhouse team with 10 National Championships. The Sporting News named him “The Greatest Coach of All Time” in 2009, and he wrote several books about his principles of coaching, success and leadership. There is a lot we could learn from him, but the wisdom I’d like to borrow from him today is about the way he taught athletes during practice.

He used what is known as the whole-part-whole framework: first introduce the big concept, then break it down into smaller parts, then put the parts back together after they are mastered. Wooden carefully planned all of his practices, using 3X5 cards to keep his drills and teaching points in order. He was adamant about the fundamentals of ball handling, and took the time to teach his players exactly how to do each move, routinely demonstrating first the right way, then the wrong way, then the right way again. His feedback to the players was short, concise, and packed with useful information related to the task at hand.

He also kept his practices moving along, keeping the players focused and alert, with the first half devoted to new material and the second half devoted to repetition of previously learned skills. He believed that his players must be able to perform the fundamentals so well that they don’t need to think about them. Then, during games, their attention could be focused on the dynamics of the court.

John Wooden’s methods worked spectacularly well in basketball, and I think they could work equally well in any teaching environment. But the thing to remember is that he didn’t teach his skill drills in isolation. He taught them within the context of something the players cared about – basketball.

A lot of the skills that students are expected to learn in school, such as reading, writing and multiplication, are indeed fundamental and require lots of practice. However, teaching them in isolation, with one workbook for every subject is hardly ideal. Teachers are then forced to find some external motivation such as bribes, praise, or punishment  to keep the kids’ attention.

The better way is to teach basic skills within the context of something your kids already care about or have an interest in learning. This is really pretty easy when kids are little. Have you ever used the “Five in a Row” curriculum series developed by Jane Claire Lambert? They are an excellent example of using something a child cares about, in this case a wonderful storybook, as a starting point to teach various skills or concepts. My family LOVED using these books, and I was sad when we outgrew them.

Another thing we used were certain Scholastic math skills books because my kids thought they were fun. They loved outlandish word problems, riddles, and games. Educational software games were a hit too.

It gets harder to do this as kids get older because you probably won’t find prepared lesson plans full of advanced skill-builders in the topics that your kids most want to learn about. In this case, you might have to come up with your own 3X5 cards with ideas for practicing the fundamentals – this is the virtue of “Unit Studies.” You might be able to find pre-packaged unit studies that suit your student, but be wary. I’ve seen a lot of dull stuff out there, clearly written by people who don’t have a passion for the topic.

Better yet is to work with your student to craft your own unit study. Take whatever they are passionate about, say fashion, and brainstorm ways your child could practice some of the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. Along the way, there will undoubtedly be a smattering of history, geography, sociology, critical thinking about media and pop culture, and who knows what else.

John Wooden was able to keep the same stack of 3X5 cards and use them over and over again because he always had students who were interested in the same thing: becoming better basketball players. You will not be able to do that because your kids will all be motivated by something different. But you can use the same framework of whole-part-whole.

Can you think of ways to teach skills within the context of something your child is already interested in learning?

What About Gaps?

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Crossing the Gap

Have you ever felt that surge of alarming doubt when your homeschooling friend talks about her ten-year-old’s rigorous curriculum, complete with 3-page written reports, Latin flash cards, accelerated math program, and violin lessons? Or how about when your neighbor gushes praise for the new local school science program or marching band?

Does it make you reassess your decision to let your daughter play “Sims,” draw horses, and read fantasy novels all day every day?

You would have to have nerves of Zen not to let this bother you. It may be true that your daughter will miss out on the benefits of Latin, violin, marching band, and all the rest. But it is also true that those other children will miss out on the benefits of “Sims” and unlimited hours of free reading. Is it an equal trade-off? That’s the big question. Students who receive a rigorous academic education may indeed be better prepared for further academic studies at college or university, particularly when compared with an average U.S. school experience. But if you know any teachers, or spend time reading the forums that teachers frequent, you’ll hear that two of the biggest indicators for student success are having parents that care and students that care.

Students that Care

It doesn’t matter how rigorous the curriculum is if the student doesn’t want to do the work. Teachers, or parents, might be able to convince or coerce a student to complete an assignment, but that doesn’t mean the student will retain the information. There will always be those achievement-oriented students, especially with helpful parents, who work hard to earn top grades and extracurricular attainments in order to impress college admissions offices, but how much are they really learning? And what about the rest of the students who are bored, or confused, or just getting along until graduation sets them free?

This is where the true benefit of self-directed education comes in. When children (or adults for that matter) have ownership over their own education, they will care more. They will pursue subjects that are interesting to them . . . or necessary in the pursuit of something else.

When Teddy Roosevelt was a boy, he was passionately interested in the outdoors, birds, animals, taxidermy, adventure stories, and naval history. His aunt, who taught Teddy at home, required a few other subjects, such as letter writing and French, but he was “behind” other boys of his age in mathematics. It wasn’t until he was fifteen, and eager to get into Harvard, that his father hired a tutor to help him prepare. He worked so hard (6-8 hrs a day) that he was able to do three years of mathematics in only two years.

Kids probably will not pursue subjects that you wish they would.

An 8-year-old would never say, “I want to learn more about language arts.” But they might pick up a book beyond their present reading ability and read it anyway. Or they might enjoy making up stories to play with their friends. Kids want to find answers to their own questions (“What does a leech look like?” or “Where would I look for a Sasquatch?”), and explore their favorite subjects in exhaustive detail. I had one son who was obsessed with deadly snakes (non-deadly snakes were of no interest), and he wanted to read every book we could find on the subject until his interest shifted to Aliens (deadly ones). Later, he moved through a procession of interests, including Greek Mythology, Yu-gi-oh cards, Tin Tin comics, fantasy novels, Shakespeare, weight-lifting, acting and singing. Along the way, he also learned how to read well, spell, write amazing prose, conquer math tests, memorize long poems, and identify logical fallacies.

Younger kids prefer concrete over abstract learning. They would rather build perfect squares out of Legos than learn how to square a number on a workbook page. This doesn’t mean they will never learn about square roots or grammar or the scientific method; it just means that they will learn it when they are ready for it. When they are ready for abstract concepts, it’s much easier for them to dive in and cover more material.

There will ALWAYS be Gaps

Even if your child went to the best college-prep school in the country, there would be “gaps” in the curriculum. There is no possible way we could teach children everything there is to know in a dozen years of school. There is no possible way any of us could learn everything there is to know in a dozen lifetimes. The thing to ask yourself is this: “Since we can’t learn everything, what are the most important things to learn?”

If your child doesn’t get to have a say in this, then she must decide . . . either to do as she is told or to rebel. With the first option, it’s hard to say how much the child is truly learning and she may forget what it feels like to be truly interested or curious. With the second option, the child might just reject any and all adult help, which will make independent learning very difficult.

If your child does get to have a say in what is most important to learn, and their opinions are truly honored, then a balance can be reached. Both parents and children will care. Children will feel a sense of ownership, but also know that they have their parents’ support and help whenever it is needed. It’s good to research college and/or job requirements together, but remember that sometimes a student’s true zest for learning can lead to places that neither one of you might expect.

Following along with someone else’s curriculum is like following along someone else’s trail. It may be a fine trail, but you will always end up where the other trailblazer meant it to go. Take the chance to go off trail and explore a little – or a lot. Teddy Roosevelt would approve.

How do your children feel about their curriculum? Did they help to choose it? Why? If it’s boring, do they understand or agree with the reason to stay with it?

Video Interview Thursday Jan. 24th

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Would you like the chance to ask me questions about homeschooling? There will be a one hour live interview with me tomorrow at 12:00 pm (EST) on WizIQ, an online learning platform that has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Mashable, and other media sources.

Here is the link for more information.

The interview is part of a series called WizIQ Conversations, which is a live online course that connects people from around the world with experts in a variety of fields. The course is included with a paid membership, but they do have a 30 day free trial if you are interested in trying it out. If you are busy tomorrow, I believe the recorded conversation will later be added free to viewers on the course website. WizIQ has a variety of courses, especially in language learning, music and technology.

Ten Great Things to Do with Kids Outside

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Autumn is really the perfect time of year to spend outside. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and the air smells crisp and inviting. Don’t waste these days sitting inside. Your kids NEED to be outside!

Here’s a list of ten fun things for younger kids to do outside:

1. Make fairy houses. Use sticks, stones, leaves and other natural materials to create miniature dwellings at the base of trees or other inviting nooks.

2. Play “Pooh Sticks.” Borrow from Winnie the Pooh’s idea to simultaneously drop sticks on one side of a bridge and look on the other side to see whose stick comes out first.

3. Micro hike. Lay three 3-5 ft long strings around an area to study. Flop down on your bellies to observe the tiny details.

4. Go on a night hike. Pick a night when the moon is bright and don’t use flashlights. Try to identify sounds.

5. Find the rock. This was my Dad’s favorite way of keeping us kids busy on camping trips. Have your kids find a small distinctive looking rock. Throw it about 20 ft away (make sure the area is clear and safe first) and let the kids race to find it.

6. Meet the neighbors. Spend time getting to know the individual birds, insects, and other animals around your  home. Find out where they live, how they eat, social habits, etc. Maybe draw pictures of them. Maybe name them so that your family can differentiate between one squirrel and another.

7. Scavenger hunt. Prepare a hunt in advance by creating a sheet of things to look for on an outing. Consider what trees, insects, animals, feathers, droppings, rocks, plants, or other features your kids might actually see in the intended area. Here’s a website with lovely ideas/photos.

8. Miniature hide and seek. Choose a small area (say 15 X 15′) and take turns hiding a small 1 inch tall toy. The others try to find the toy. Your children might discover that other things are already hiding in certain places, or they might decide that the game needs to be moved to a bushier area with more hiding spots.

9. Build easy tree forts. Rather than hauling out the ladder and toolbox, use fallen branches and sticks to prop up and around the base of trees. With the right materials, you might even be able to weave sticks and grasses in and around each other. Blankets and beach towels are always useful for tenting materials.

10. Imagination games. The best games are the ones your kids invent on the spot. Give them plenty of unstructured, kid-directed time to do this. While you’re gardening, reading a book, or working on your own project, let them have time to just play.

If your kids want to learn more about the things they see outside, but you are not an expert, I highly recommend the “Crinkleroot’s Guide to . . .” books by Jim Arnosky. Unfortunately, I think most of them are out of print, but you might be able to find them in your library. My kids loved Crinkleroot!

Getting Older Kids Outside:

If your kids are already teenagers and have no interest in the above activities, there’s still plenty of ways to get them outside. First consider their personalities. If your kids love to socialize, then find opportunities for group outings, classes, or volunteer work. If they are athletic, give them a challenge. They might enjoy classes in mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, backpacking, fishing, etc. If they are more the quiet type, they might prefer time alone outside, keeping a nature journal, or learning from a local naturalist.

Another thing to look for is a kid’s outdoor program in your area. My daughter did a year of a program called “Homeschool Dirt Time” which changed her life. She had so much fun and grew to appreciate the outdoors in new ways. She would have loved to do more, but school and gymnastics got in the way (for now). She hopes to go back as a counselor in the future.

 

 

Photo Credits:

Fairy house is from http://www.creativeworksforchildren.com/how-to-build-fairy-houses-with-children.htm

Pooh Sticks is originally from “The House at Pooh Corner” by A. A. Milne, but I found it at this website: http://www.quirkbooks.com/post/ten-things-winnie-pooh-taught-me-about-life