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With Virginia’s homeschooling conventions coming up soon, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share my thoughts on homeschool curriculum. So here you go:

How to Select a Homeschool Curriculum

Day 1: Google homeschool curricula. Get distracted by trying to figure out the plural of curriculum. (Classical ed folk will know the Latin plural. Unschoolers will know the name for it in Swahili, or create a mathematical code that stands for each of the letters. People like me will look it up on merriam-webster.com, and then still misspell it.)

Start reading at result number 1 of 35, 000,000,000,000,000.  Begin seriously doubting not only your capability to homeschool, but also your worth as a carbon-based lifeform by result number 3.

Day 2: Take a deep breath and review the reasons you are considering homeschooling. Call a homeschooling friend. Discover that people who truly want to give their child the best education use Charlotte Mason.

Call another friend. Find out that people who truly want to give their child the best education use Classical Conversations.

Call another friend. Learn that your first two friends are destined to failure, because the only way to ensure success is through Montessori.

Day 3: Read about Waldorf. Mail order chickens. Call your husband at work and ask him to pick up some wire mesh for the coop on his way home.

Cancel chicken order.

Day 4: Narrow down your list. Discard method 6, which lists growing cannibis as a science experiment. Rule out number 34 because it would require becoming Amish.  Anything that made you seriously consider self-destructive behaviors (like watching Matlock or buying your children drums) should go too. You can look at those during year 2.

Day 5: Put all the curricula that you haven’t crossed out into a hat, sprinkle them with holy water, and pick.  Order the complete package, including highlighters, playdough, and an exact historical replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s day planner. (That last one might be a gimmick.)

Day…Somewhere down the road: Discover that you and your children can have a great experience and learn tons no matter which path you chose.

 

P.S. Sorry if you were expecting actual advice!

Photo by Enokson under CC License

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The other day in a math reader (The Great Number Rumble), I read to the kids about the “butterfly effect.” The theory is that something as small as the wind from a butterfly’s wings can set in motion a series of changes that can lead to huge weather events months later (small causes can stir up large effects). 

This year I made a change in the way we are approaching math in homeschooling, and I am beginning to notice ripples of change and am wondering where those changes will lead. (Bear with my brief background of the change, and I’ll get to what I’ve noticed.) At the end of last year, I felt that I needed to experiment with our approach to math because of some of the blocks that Bethany was experiencing. In researching ideas, I came across a program called Living Math, developed by a homeschooling mom named Julie. It takes a literary and historical approach to introducing math concepts; we read about the people who first came up with different math ideas and what was going on at that period, and why they came up with innovations in mathematics, and it gives a framework for the kids to then explore and learn those mathematical concepts.

This has been a fun and interesting way to come at mathematics, and I think it has been positive for the kids. However, it was some resistance that tipped me off to one of the main changes coming through this program. Bethany expressed some frustration with not being able to check something off and be done with it. Last year, she could do the workbook pages I assigned, and yes, there was a whole lot of negative emotion involved in the process, but she could do it, be done, and move on. This new way of doing things, however, requires us to all be present for the process– engaged, willing,  hopefully enjoying, but most of all, completely there.

I would say that I have thrown up resistance to really engaging myself in the present with things that I don’t want to do…and even some things that I enjoy. It’s often easier to be mentally in the past or the present or in some alternate reality, and to just let now be on autopilot. Yet, being present, and accepting the present, has probably been one of the most valuable, persistant, and life-changing skills that I have been learning over the last several years. (And I want to say that I’m not very good at it yet, but just having that thought reminds me that I can enjoy where I am now in the process even if it’s not where I hope to be someday.)

That resistance that I glimpsed in Bethany (and see regularly in myself) is to me a sign that we are wrestling (in a good way!) with allowing ourselves to be right where we are, whether it’s in learning math, daily jobs, relationships, spiritual upheaval, or identity upside-down-inside-out-ness.

One of the things I really want for my kids as I homeschool them is that they learn to enjoy and immerse themselves in the process of learning rather than racing ahead to an end or an outcome. That’s really what I want for them in life too, and what I’m learning for myself–to go ahead and enjoy the process, even when (and because) we’re still learning.

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As you know, I began homeschooling Bethany full-time this past year, and I will be teaching both kids this coming year, with Bethany in 4th grade and Josh in 1st. I am loving it way more than I ever anticipated and am on a quest to make our experience better and better. Math is the topic I am diving into deeper these days.

My very bright little girl developed something of a mental block toward math when we switched to homeschooling, thereby changing the language in which she studied math.  She was learning math in Arabic at school, and she enjoyed it and was good at it. Now she tells me, “Arabic math is easier. This is too hard.” This year, as the two of us have been enjoying homeschool tremendously, math has remained an emotional subject day after day, and though I think I’ve been really patient with her through the process, I have really wanted to find a way to help her feel better about doing math.  I have tried different approaches and techniques for encouraging her within the curriculum we are using (Singapore Math, which I really like), but I have decided that it is time to expand my repertoire and gather new ideas.

My first research topic has been games that develop math skills. I bought a magnetic Sudoku travel board, but I made the mistake of turning her loose to do it on her own too soon, and she got frustrated. I think if I play it with her for a while, thinking out loud about the process, she might start to enjoy it.  I am determined to play a game with her every school day, and a lot during the summer too. Today we played a game called Sprouts, which I found on the internet.  Other games we have enjoyed are Checkers, Rummy, Blokus, and Uno.

Here are a few great math sites I have found:

http://letsplaymath.net/

http://wildaboutmath.com/

www.livingmath.net

After game ideas, my second research topic is methodology. I am really intrigued by ways of teaching math that help the student explore the processes of math along with the memorization aspect of math. I will be looking into ways to structure our math times in these ways, also adding in historical context through stories. I think that will help make the concepts more personal and accessible. Living math, mentioned above, has some fascinating ideas and reading lists for doing this.

A couple of months ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (and highly recommend it!).  One key piece of info that I picked up from the book was that high frustration tolerance and perseverence with details (and even tedium) is absolutely necessary for success in math. Now, I don’t have a high frustration tolerance (for puzzles and games, etc.). I like to succeed right away, and I think Bethany takes after me. I do think this kind of perseverance is a quality that can be learned and practiced, though. Learning how to help a child stretch her ability to tolerate frustration is another topic on my research agenda, and I would welcome any of your thoughts, too.

Finally, as I delve into this topic, I realize how little I have really taken note of my kids’ learning styles as I have taught them. I look forward to learning how better to observe and work with their unique preferences for learning.

So, this is my current obsession in the homeschool adventure. I’d love to hear your experiences along these lines. I’ll post updates as I learn more.

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