Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A bit of a change from the curriculum reviews-  I was chatting with a home educating mom, who told me about a conversation with another mom who is worried that most home educated children grow up to become unmotivated adults who expect that everything will come easily to them.  That mom had become so convinced of this that she's sending her children to school in the fall.

I've been thinking about this, and of course I began by considering our own children, three of whom are now adults (24, 22, and 20 years old right now.)  All three of them have worked at coffee shops and often had to be at work at 5:30 to have the shop ready for 6:00 opening.  One son was a courtesy clerk at a grocery store and used to jog back into the store after putting groceries in someone's trunk.  All have been commended by their employers for being reliable, diligent staff.  So I really don't believe the generalization that home educated children and youth will be "losers" as adults.

There are a few things that I can link to our children's good attitudes.  They had reasonably good examples.  My husband and I do our own work.  We've never paid to have anything done that we could reasonably do ourselves, from housecleaning and yard work to home repairs and painting.  We expected help from the children as they were able, and they had regular chores.

Beyond that, they have had jobs to provide themselves with the things that they have wanted beyond their basic needs.  Our son wanted a quality bass guitar, so he took that courtesy clerk job, and earned it.  Our other son wanted woodworking tools so he has served up a lot of coffee.  Our daughter wanted more financial independence so she had a cleaning job at a church camp.  They know that there is a link between effort and financial reward. 

I think that their successes in post-secondary education have been due to their understanding that only their own efforts can take them to their goals.  They knew when they were applying to colleges and universities without any high school credits, with no diploma and no government issued transcript that they had to be exemplary students.  They had to work with us to prove that they deserved to be there, and they have done that.  They hand essays in on time.  They study for their exams.  They do more than their share on group projects because they do not want to receive a grade based on the slacker attitudes of others in their groups.  

I think we led them to that attitude of diligence by requiring that they have a daily schedule at home.  We typically began the educational part of our day soon after breakfast and we worked through the morning.  They used their afternoons for music practice, or independent study, and were allowed to watch television or play with friends only after the work of the day was complete.  Beyond that, the experience of home education kept them from adopting a standard that was "just good enough."  I knew what they were able to achieve and I expected that they would live up to that.  The job of a parent is to see and unlock the potential of their child, and that includes the expectation that they live up to that potential.

None of this happens every day or in a day.  There isn't a magic formula.  But it grows from daily attention to the daily work of life.  And it ends up in a generation equipped for their own lives.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Curriculum Review- Northwoods Press

We're dedicated Sonlight Curriculum users, and I will make that the subject of a post soon, but this yea ris an off year for us.  Because Sonlight is American, there are a couple of years that are so focused on American history that we have skipped them.  I really miss the curriculum guides that accompany the Sonlight program and I'm excited for next year when we'll study Core 5, Eastern Hemisphere.

This year, Hannah is studying Canada for history and geography, and we're using anotehr favorite program:  Donna  Ward's Northwoods Press.  Ages ago when our older children were this age, there were few choices for Canadian books, and when I first saw Donna's materials, I was delighted with them.  We used the first edition of some of these programs more than ten years ago!  They are still my number one choice for Canadian history and geography.

The programs Hannah has completed this year are all suitable for several grades, and all were designed for use by home educators.  Hannah has completed Canada, My Country, a geography book suitable for elementary grades, , Canada's Natives Long Ago, a study of the history and culture of the aboriginal people of Canada, and Courage & Conquest, an introduction to Canadian history.

I was especially glad to see that Pierre Berton's history books for children have been reprinted.  We used Canada Moves West, and The Battles of the War of 1812 as extra resources.  Each book includes 5 to 7 short non-fiction books (fomerly printed as separate books) which can be read separately, and which focus on the characters of history.  He has a very readable style, and these books are well-worth seeking out.  

All of these books are mom-friendly, well-written, and include suggestions for supplementary books and extra projects.  Hannah has gained a good knowledge about our history and geography, and has enjoyed the books.  I only wish that someone would put together a novel and read-aloud package to go with these books that would link in language arts.  

Highly recommended!  for more information, check out Donna Ward's web site.  Books are also available at CHER, and EAP.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Curriculum Review- JumpMath

JumpMath is a fairly new program, developed in Canada, with the goal of helping all children work through the underlaying concepts of mathematics so that real comprehension is encouraged, not jus the ability to get the questions right.  The name stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies.  The course is published in a workbook format, available in two editions:  one is the complete program including geometry, measurement, patterns and algebra, numbers sense; the other is a shorter version that focuses just on the arithmetic components of the program.  The short version is available at Chapters or Costco, the full program can be ordered from the University of Toronto  bookstore.


We chose JumpMath because of it’s excellent step-by-step approach to math concepts.  The lessons work slowly through each step to ensure solid understanding.  Teacher’s guides are available on-line at no cost, and have extra activities and explanations. 

Antoehr very positive thing for us is the Canadian content of the course.  Money is shown as loonies and toonies, word problems are about driving across Canada, and measurement is based on the metric system.  This alone would not be the deciding factor for me, but it is a definite bonus.


We have found that Hannah is truly getting math  now.  It can be hard to tell whether the concept is clear to a child or if they have just learned the tricks that get a right answer, and we discovered that the previous program she used was not giving her a real understanding.  Switching to JumpMath has stepped up her true comprehension.

For more about the program, I recommend the book The Myth of Ability that explains the development of the program.  I found John Mighton’s approach to math, and his conviction that every child can learn math to be very inspiring.


If the program sounds intriguing to you, the fractions unit is available to down load.  It is a useful test-drive of the method and style of the lessons.  It’s also a great way to start up with a sense of achievement since everyone knows that fractions are really hard.


More about JumpMath is on-line at

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Curriculum Review- Bible Study Guide For All Ages

The curriculum we have used the longest is Bible Study Guide for All ages, a program we started in the very early years of our home education program and which we have continued with through most of the intervening years (with a break during the time that our three oldest children were all doing Bible quizzing.)


Bible Study Guide For All Ages is a family-developed program, created by home educating parents for their own children and then published and shared with others.  It looks at scripture as a series of biographies, working through  the life stories of major biblical figures one after the other, not in order but in a sequence that helps develop an understanding of the importance of each person to the whole biblical story.


Each lesson has a scripture passage to read, background information, and questions of varying levels of difficulty.  There are also review questions as part of every lessons set up to continually review the most important parts of previous lessons.  Each lesson is completed by having the child copy a stick figure visual of the major events of that day’s lesson, reinforcing the lesson in a child-friendly way.


We have liked this program because it’s simple to use, thorough in the way it goes through each person’s story, and successful in the way it has equipped our children with a good grasp of biblical history.  They knew why Joseph’s brothers hated him, and what the Abrahamic covenant was, and where Paul traveled because they had worked through this program.


Now that I’m part way through book 2 with Hannah, I see again that the simple system of this program really is effective in building a solid foundation.  It’s easy to do daily because it’s one of those lovely programs that I can just open up and teach from without any advance planning.  It has become a valuable part of our daily routine.  It really is one of the best things we have done with our children. 


Bible Study Guide For All Ages is available from many curriculum providers, including CHER and Educational Adventures.  Information is available online at

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Curriculum Choices

We began home educating at a time when curriculum choices were very limited, both by availability and cost.  It's amazing how much curriculum is now available to home educating families.  There are dozens of ways to teach every subject to every age level.  And of course that is both good and challenging.

There is a natural desire on the part of every parent to want what is best for their child.  However that can lead us into over-analyzing every choice and continuing to look and look for the perfect curriculum.  I heard a home school speaker long ago say that we shouldn't do that, instead we should look for one that works and stick with it.  (I think I'm quoting Mary Pride here, from her appearance at a conference about 12 years ago, but I'm not certain.)  We have definitely found that to be true.

There are many benefits to choosing one curriculum, working through it carefully and using the same program year after year.  It simplifies planning since the major choices are already made once and for all.  It eliminates gaps since curriculum is designed to cover major skills and themes over a longer term.  The approach and expectations become familiar to you and your children and you do not have to continually work out what to do next.

Having said all of that, we have never used one type of curriculum or one publisher for every subject.  I know families who do, who purchase all of A Beka at grade level for each child and work through it beginning to end, and that works very well for them.  Kudos to you if that is your method and it's working.  This is a very individual journey, and we all pick our own way to get to our own goals.

In our home, we have always used a variety of curriculum types and methods.  I like to have a structured program for math, one that I can be sure works incrementally and builds the essential skills.  We have mostly used a good books centered curriculum for language arts and history.  We have created topical studies for science in early grades and moved into a more structured program in high school years.  Language study has been very hit and miss.  We've used the same Bible curriculum since 1989, replacing it with Bible quizzing in the junior high and high school years.

The most important thing is to pick a curriculum that works for you and your family.  I plan to post about the books we are suing this year over the rest of this week, but I encourage you to create your own plan.  Our favorite supper might not please your family at all, so why would our favorite book necessarily satisfy your needs?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We have experienced two very different ways of home educating.  Our older children are quite close in age.  We had three babies in four and a half years, so it was natural to teach them together as they grew.  I could choose books to read aloud that all three would enjoy.  We selected Bible, science and history curriculum that spanned a wide age range to simplify planning and teaching.  It's easy to have discussions about almost any subject when several children are working on the same topic.  There were some wonderful benefits to teaching them as a group, and I believe it strengthened the relationships between them.  

Now of course, with just the ten year old at home, I am teaching one-on-one.  I had to adapt some of my expectations as we have progressed with Hannah's schooling.  Some curriculum that I really enjoyed using with the older children is not as useful with just one child.  On the other hand, I can now pick a book that is specific to her interests in a way that I couldn't before.  I also have time to sit with her through the entirety of her math lesson, question by question to be sure that she understands the concepts, rather than waiting for her to find me when she isn't getting it.

I truly am enjoying this unique opportunity to go through so many things again, sometimes in the same way, sometimes in a new way.  Maybe someday, I'll get to do some of this a third time with grandchildren.  I think that would be wonderful too.

(As an aside, our ten year gap and Hannah's birth are an interesting story.  I just want to say that if part of your heart is saying that you should have had more children, I say DO!  Hannah has been an amazing blessing to each member of our family and a huge testimony to God's goodness in our lives.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Things We Did Right-Part 3

As our children neared the end of their at-home education, I worried about how well equipped they were for the kind and level of writing that would be required at college.  Even though I had been a high school English teacher, I felt very challenged in this part of home educating.  

Now I realize that the most important aspect of writing ability really is thinking skills.  The distinguishing characteristic of a good essay is the quality of thought expressed in it, so research and reading skills, and logical reasoning ability are the foundations of good writing.  Those skills are being developed as we talk with our children, and usually in a stronger and more interesting way.  Teenagers are naturally opinionated, even argumentative, and engaging in discussion develops their intellectual abilities.  The ability to disagree with others in a respectful and polite way is an essential skill for our youth, both in educational and social settings, and the ability to explain clearly what they think is a large part of that.

We often focus primarily on mechanics of writing:  things like sentence structure and punctuation.  Those are important as well, since good skills in those areas allow us to express our thoughts understandably.  But I'm glad we took time to talk with our children and work with them to help them see whether or not they had really considered what they were saying.