Thursday, May 31, 2012

All About Spelling - Curriculum Review

Spelling has been an area of frustration in my house for my oldest son and I.  I have never struggled with spelling because I could just look at a word and visually remember how to spell it.  Traditional spelling lists, copying lists and spelling tests were all I needed to learn to spell.  So I haven't known how to help him when he struggles.  We have tried so many different programs.... Sing, Spell, Read and Write, Spelling Power, Sequential Spelling and MCP Spelling Workout.  After giving each of these popular methods a pretty good try, we just weren't getting anywhere with our spelling progress.  I'm sure that these methods work well for many people, in fact, they had been recommended by respected friends, but we were not making any progress. 
Then I found All About Spelling!

All About Spelling teaches phonograms, spelling rules and spelling strategies all with a multi sensory approach that is fun for kids.   We have completed levels 1 through 4 so far, with two of my boys, so my comments will be with those levels specifically in mind.

Here is what a lesson looks like:
First you will review any phonograms (letters or letter combinations that represent a single sound.)  Flashcards are used for this part.  Next you will teach a new concept, like a new phonogram or a new spelling rule or generalization.  These lessons are scripted so that you don't have to do too much prep beforehand.  As the lessons progress, the child will begin to use magnetic tiles to combine the phonograms into words, a really great hands on method to practice spelling.  Eventually, you will begin dictating phonograms, then words, then phrases and then complete sentences over the course of the seven different levels of the program.  (We use little personal whiteboards for this part of the activity, which seems to make it more fun - no more pages of spelling lists stacking up in the folders!)

What we love most about it:
  • I love how easy it is to use - virtually no prep after the initial set-up (which just involves cutting out the phonogram tiles and affixing the magnets).  The lessons are paced well and easy to follow.
  • I love that it teaches spelling rules, not just patterns.  There are always exceptions to the rules, but these aren't introduced until the basic rules are solidly understood.
  • I love that spelling words are taught within the context of phrases and sentences.  I used to find that the boys could reproduce the spelling "list" correctly with other methods, but couldn't ever spell a word correctly within the context of writing a sentence.  All About Spelling gives plenty of practice using spelling words in real contexts (which really helps with all those homophones!)
  • I love the reinforcement of the concepts from level to level.  Because we are spelling phrases and sentences, (not just isolated lists of words) even the easier words continually get reviewed as they are used in sentences.
  • The boys love the phonogram tiles and the sentence dictation (believe it or not!)  Really, I think it's the white boards....
  • The boys love marking their progress on the progress charts.
  • Price.  AAS is more expensive for a years worth of instruction than some of the other programs I have tried.  (However, all the other programs I tried are sitting on my shelf, or need to be sold at a curriculum fair, so I guess that makes them money thrown away.)  I will be using AAS with all three of my boys, so I guess that cuts the cost of the program into thirds, and now it's not looking so bad after all.  $39.99 per level divided by three kids = $13.33 per level per kid.  Not bad at all.
  • There really isn't any other drawbacks that I have discovered so far!
AAS Bonuses:
  • The All About Spelling website has great helps and tips for particular spelling problems that you have.  I just found this great article today about helping your child with his "b's" and "d's"!
  • All About Spelling has a one year money back guarantee, so if you try it out and it doesn't work, it won't be sitting on your shelf, or waiting to go to the used curriculum fair.  You can just get your money back.
  • All About Spelling has a reading program too.  All my kids have learned how to read before we found the spelling program, so I haven't used it, but I would definitely look into it if I had another one to teach reading to.
If you are looking for a spelling program, or don't like the spelling program that you have now, I highly recommend checking out All About Spelling!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I don't review or recommend any product that I haven't tried or don't fully believe in. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The First Year... What NOT to Do

(This post is the beginning of a series for new homeschoolers, called (simply) "Homeschool 101".)

I don't know about other people, but when people ask me about homeschooling, I always think of what my first year was like and what I would want to tell myself if I could do it over again.  So, this is my top 5 list of things NOT to do in your first year of homeschooling. (Followed by the more excellent way.)

1.  Go Prayerless - You can do this in your own strength!  You've got great curriculum!  You've got a neat-o planner and new school supplies!  You (might) even have a teaching certificate! Most of all you have enthusiasm and lots of coffee!  Let's go, go, go, go!!!
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

2.  Schedule Everything - Ring your school bell at 8:00 and begin on time.  Plan subjects to start and end on time.  Workbook pages should take about 15 minutes, right?  Plan "recess" for exactly halfway through the morning and don't take a break until then.  When that doesn't work...
2.5   Let Chaos Reign- Wait a minute, we are homeschooling.  We can school in our PJ's!  Let's have a leisurely breakfast, start when we are good and ready and do subjects when we feel like it.  Today we will start with math, tomorrow we will do whatever the kids don't complain about because starting with math was really a trial.  Keep the kids guessing, that will make it exciting, right?

After making BOTH these mistakes I found a good middle ground was to establish some rhythms that ruled our day.  We had definite starts and definite stops, the in-between time was flexible but ordered so the kids always know what to expect and weren't always asking, "What do we do next?" 

3.  Get out those workbooks! - Find some workbooks for each subject you want to teach and set the kids at little desk and get working!  It's what we did in school, right?  And we LOVED it!  As soon as you finish this page, you can be done!  This is why homeschoolers can finish so much faster than public schoolers - get the workbook page done and no waiting on the slow kids.

Unless your kids are the slow kids.  And who isn't, when it comes to workbooks?  OK, you might have SOME workbooks, especially to practice handwriting or math facts - but there is so much more interesting ways to teach things.  Start with reading aloud- snuggling on the couch or while the kids play legos on the floor.  Take some nature walks, do some projects and then read aloud some more.  Got older kids?  Don't stop reading aloud!

4.  Turn discipline upside down - When the kid is struggling with their workbook page, or with reading or not wanting to do math - assume that it is rebellion and needs to be disciplined.  They need to learn how to stay on task, right?  The reason they are taking too much time with this particular activity couldn't be that they don't understand it, can't process it or need it explained differently, or maybe that they need glasses?  On the other side of that, when there is a real discipline problem, like sassing mom or throwing a temper tantrum - just ignore it because you feel guilty about disciplining the kid wrongly for something that was really a learning problem and not rebellion.

Wow, this is really a hard one.  It is hard sometimes to discern what is rebellion and what is a struggle with learning.  Pray for discernment that you will be able to tell the difference between childish responses to frustration with learning and true heart issues of rebellion.  Oh, and pray for that for the kids too.

5.  Go the way of culture - Not WORLDLY culture, silly.  You are homeschooling to get away from worldly culture!  Go the way of homeschooling culture!  Look at what other homeschoolers are doing and make it part of what you should do.  If they are baking bread, you should make bread.  If they are involved with this group and that activity you should be involved with it too.  If they go to a new church full of homeschoolers, you should change churches too.  And don't forget the rules!  (There are plenty of rules, I won't list them here - but you can probably go to a your local homeschool conference and find out what they are for yourself.)

Please don't do this.  Homeschooling is a way of life, it's true.  Your family will develop it's own way of doing things and it will probably look pretty different than the world.  But that doesn't mean that it has to look like how everyone else does homeschooling.  Decide what works for your family and don't be drawn in to a list of rules and regulations and activities and structures. 
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery....  For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another....  Galatians 5: 1, 13

How about you?  If you have been homeschooling for more than one year, what would you tell yourself if you could do that first year over again?  What would you tell a friend who will soon be starting their first year?  I would love to hear your thoughts...

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Goal of the Gospel

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God
1 Peter 3:18

"Gospel" means good news—but what makes the good news good? What is the goal of the gospel, without which it is no longer good? It is that Christ’s death brings sinners to God! Were it to bring us anywhere else we would be left hopeless. But the gospel is that God gives us himself—Christ died to give us Christ—, and this self-giving is his highest mercy to us and the best news for us! The most profound, most exceedingly gracious, final and decisive good of the good news is Christ himself as the glorious image of God revealed for our endless satisfaction.  - God is the Gospel, by John Piper,

 Read the entire book for FREE here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Homeschool Idol

What are the reasons that you decided to homeschool?  If you are like me and many other parents who have chosen homeschooling, it may be a combination of any of the following reasons...

·         To provide more individual instruction and choice in academics

·         To cultivate Godly character

·         To protect from worldly influences or unhealthy cultural trends

·         To instill a Christian worldview

·          To nurture family relationships, authority of the parent and bonds between siblings

·         To instruct them in the principles of your religion

I’m sure there are many others I could list; you probably have a few others that were important to you.  But would you say that these things are the center of your homeschool?  I don’t think that many of us would state it that way.  If you are a Christian home educator, you would most likely say that Christ is the center of your own life, your family and your homeschool.  In my own life, I would say this is what I want to be true; however, I have found that my heart is really prone to wander.  In fact, as C.J. Mahaney has said, my heart is an idol factory producing all sorts of objects of worship and substitute saviors.  All these good things that are part of our choice to homeschool can end up functioning as idols that we serve and look to for our salvation.   Ken Sande defines idolatry this way:

 “An idol is not simply a statue of wood, stone, or metal; it is anything we love and pursue in place of God, and can also be referred to as a ‘false god’ or a ‘functional god.’ In biblical terms, an idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on (Luke 12:29;1 Cor. 10:6), that motivates us (1 Cor. 4:5), that masters or rules us (Ps. 119:133), or that we serve (Matt. 6:24).”  

Richard Keyes steps on my toes a little more when he states,

“An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as God. All sorts of things are potential idols, depending only on our attitudes and actions toward them...Idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God’s existence or character. It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, in itself, perfectly good...An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero - anything that can substitute for God.”

Christian counselor and author David Powlison has helped me to diagnose my functional idols with what he calls “X-ray questions”.  Here are a few that really struck home to me…

1.       What do you love? Hate?

2.       What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for?

3.       What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?

4.       Where do you bank your hopes?

5.       What do you fear?  What do you want?  What do you tend to worry about?

6.       What or whom do you trust?

7.       How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable?

8.       What do you talk about?  What is important to you?  What attitudes do you communicate?

9.       Where do you find your identity?  How do you define who you are?

Do you see how these questions can really reveal a heart that depends more on our choice to homeschool as the salvation and security of our children than on Christ, the power and wisdom of God?  I want Christ to be the actual, functional center of our homeschool, our family and my life, not just the “mascot” on our flag.  But how does that happen, in real life?  Should the Bible be our curriculum, should I post the 10 commandments on our walls, start the day with prayer, copy bible verses for handwriting?  Well, I could do those things, but they would probably just be external religious trappings, and they don’t have any power to change my idolatrous heart or the hearts of our kids. 

What I need is the Gospel- the good news of who Christ is, what he came to do and what it means for me, not only upon my entrance to the Christian life, but throughout my Christian life- in my marriage, my parenting, my homeschooling, my blogging, and every other area.

Without the Gospel….academic excellence results in knowledge without worship.

Without the Gospel…character training is simply moralism that either produces Pharisees or rebels.

Without the Gospel….protection from the world results in isolation not mission, fear and not compassion.

Without the Gospel…worldview training produces dead orthodoxy.

Without the Gospel…family centeredness bears autonomous family units disconnected from the larger body of Christ.

Without the Gospel…religion training is worthless, powerless, and results in death.

That is why I have chosen to name this blog “Gospel-Centered Homeschooling”.  I want to attempt to work out what that means, what it looks like and how it works in the trenches.  I don’t have the answers to all of this, but I want to figure it out.  
Any other “center” will result in idolatry.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

End of the Year Celebrations

Getting to the end of the school year can sometimes seem like a long uphill hike, especially from about February thorugh the end of the year.  We may begin to wonder if we are getting anywhere at all, and progress really seems like it may never come.  Doubts can pile up and we wonder if we've really learned much at all, or if we are really cut out for this homeschooling project.  But eventually, we do reach the end of the year!  We may crawl or limp to the finish line, but we do finish!  Did we just survive the year, or did we conquer it?  Sometimes it can be a little bit of both.

How do you mark the end of your school year?  What celebrations do you plan?  Do you look back and see where you've been?  Do you tally the activities that you have completed during the year? 

Some homeschoolers follow a traditional schedule and take a summer break.  Others school throughout the year taking their breaks as the family needs them for family obligations or off-season vacations.  Regardless of when they happen, I want to make a case for having a definite space and time for marking completion of goals and celebrating your accomplishments.  We follow a pretty traditional schedule, taking a break for the summer and starting up again in the fall, so our family just had our "end of the year celebration".  This is always one of my favorite times of the year and not just because we are finally done!  Somehow, when we first started doing school at home I began a habit of writing out a record of what we had accomplished throughout the year and putting it in a folder for our records.  This isn't something required by our state, but I guess I thought we should have something like it just for our personal records.  It turns out it has been a huge blessing.  It gives me a chance to look back and ask, "What did we do this year?"  I don't know about you, but I can get to the end of the year, dragging into the finish line pretty discouraged, wondering, "What was all that about?"  Stopping to look back and think about what we learned and writing it down in a formal way makes me really encouraged about our progress and I realize that what we did really was pretty great.  There are things that it helps me to correct, too.  I may get to the end of the year and realize that we really were spinning our wheels in spelling or science, but it helps me to focus my efforts on what I can improve next year versus what is really going pretty well and doesn't need any changes.  My method of evaluating the school year may not look like yours, but if you haven't been stopping to evaluate, I encourage you to try it this year and see what a difference it makes.

Here is how I do it.
  • I type out a record (by subject) of what we covered during the school year for each child.  I may list what curriculums we used, what books we read or what major projects were part of our learning.
  • After typing out what we covered, I make sure to note any special progress that we made in that subject (usually referring to last year's report to see if we have accomplished goals we set or made progress from where we ended the previous year.)
  • I also leave space to record any goals for next year.  This might simply be to mention which curriculum we will be using or what we may need to emphasize next year to address any challenges or difficulties that we had in that area this year.
  • I make sure to include a list of all the books that the child has read during the year, all the books that have been read aloud to them and all the field trips, sports or special activities that were part of our year.
  • I always include a section on spiritual training, character and discipline so that I can evaluate what were our biggest teaching opportunities in those areas.  I like to note what I see as their character or personality strengths and weaknesses, how we addressed discipline problems and what was our family's spiritual focus that year.
  • Finally, I also like to have the kids complete their own evaluation of the year.  They answer questions like, "What was your favorite subject?"  "What were you most proud of?"  "What was the most difficult?"  "How would you like to improve next year?" or "What do you want to learn more about?"  I include their evaluations (in their own handwriting) and any end of year test scores in the file altogether.
This might sound complicated, but it doesn't have to be.  It can be as simple as writing a letter to your kids at the end of the year, talking about how much they accomplished and what goals you have for them next year.  It could be a list of books, projects, activities and subjects.  Or it can be more elaborate.  Although mine looks more extensive, I use pretty much the same form each year and change the curriculums and add a few comments based on what this year was like.

Another thing that we like to finish the year off with is a family celebration.  This might just be a special meal or ceremony or field trip.  The last few years we have celebrated the end of the year with the first camping trip of the summer.  This year we headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for fun in the sun, sand and water.  What else could a boy want than to dig in the dirt all day?

What are your end of year traditions?  If you school year round, do you still have a starting and stopping place?  How do you celebrate accomplishments?  I would love to hear from you....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gospel-Centered Blogging

Whew... this blogging is harder than I thought.  I'm learning all kinds of things and still struggling with getting things all set up and looking nice.  If anyone wants to design my blog for me, I will pay you in cookies!  Homemade ones.  Not like those Pillsbury break-and-bake kind I make for my kids.  In the meantime, I thought I would point you to a bunch of other blogs that have really helped me in understanding just what it means to be gospel-centered in my parenting and homeschooling.  For your reading pleasure this weekend and beyond...

Desiring God

"Desiring God exists to help you make God your treasure- because God is most exalted in us when we are most satisfied in Him." I would like to make that my blog mission statement, but that would be stealing. DG has recently begun a blog series titled, "Grace at Home" which has helped me every time I read one of their articles.  Here are a few of my favorites...
      From Rachel Pieh Jones....
          Desperate, Breathless, Dependant Parenting
          Flee to the Cross
     From Gloria Furman (also the co-author of Domestic Kingdom blog)...
          How Eternity Shapes Our Mundane         
          Treasuring God with One Finger in the Cookie Dough
          "Kids You Know Better!"

The Gospel Coalition

This blog is my other top go-to blog for all things gospel-centered.  You should just put it in your regular feed.  The topics they write on are really varied, but I read a particularly good one recently on parenting I wanted to share.

Do Not Neglect the Holy Spirit in Parenting by Daniel Darling

And this last post was written for pastors, but I really got a lot out of it in terms of how it applied to my parenting and my teaching.

Give Us Free by Jared C. Wilson

Well, that is enough for this weekend.  I would like to regularly pass on good links and good blogs, so check back often for encouragement and weekend reading material! (Next time, I won't give you so many at one time.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Welcome to My Blog!

I'm Jennifer – wife to Jeff, mom to three hilarious, energetic and sweet boys, and expert on nothing! That makes me perfectly qualified to start a blog, right? From day one, I want to state my lack of qualifications to provide anything authoritative whatsoever on the subjects of homeschooling, the gospel, parenting, or really anything else for that matter. Excited to keep reading?

This blog exists to point.
"[I'm] just a poor beggar telling other poor beggars where to find bread." 
-D.A. Carson
I hope through this blog to share with you things I have found on my journey of homeschooling that have helped in my attempt to prayerfully and intentionally point my kids to Christ, who alone can rescue us and satisfy us forever.

Is this blog just for homeschoolers?

It depends on your definition of homeschoolers!

It is my belief that God has given us as parents the primary responsibility for raising up our kids to know the Lord.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.   (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God. (Psalm 78:5-7a)
This includes how we parent, discipline, and instruct them. But let's face it – as parents we have freedom to prayerfully, and purposefully delegate some of those responsibilities to others. If you are a "traditional" homeschooling family, you may delegate to a tutor, co-op, online instructor, grand-parent, music teacher or textbook any number of subjects in your child's education. 

Similar choices are also made by those who choose to delegate teaching responsibilities to the public, charter, or private schools. These parents, for purposeful, practical and prayerful reasons have made these decisions, just as traditional homeschoolers have done. Most non-homeschooling parents that I talk to, still feel a very high degree of responsibility for educating their kids.  So homeschooling is really something that most of us do, to one degree or another

If you are prayerfully, diligently and intentionally supervising your child's education, this blog is written for you. 

Granted, if you are not teaching your child math, you may not be interested in a review of Saxon Math. But you may be interested in links to some great websites that help your kids with their times tables.

What can you expect?

If I'm not an expert, and this blog isn't just for homeschoolers, then what can you expect to find here?
  • Good News Monday – Every Monday, look for gospel encouragement to focus your week on those things of "first importance". (1 Cor 15:3-5)
  • Mid Week - Interesting how-to articles, resources, curriculum reviews and web-links for those who are traditional or "full-time" homeschoolers, or who are thinking about homeschooling "full time". (Many written by people who are more of an "expert" than me!) Resources to help teach your kids the gospel, theology or understand the gospel in all of life.
  •  Friday Book Club - An online book club where we read through a book one chapter at a time and share our thoughts.  (Check out the book club tab for our current book!)  

Why "Gospel-Centered" Homeschooling?

Great question! This is what I am most passionate about on this blog.  This blog is not primarily about homeschooling, or education but about how the gospel is central to all of life.  Parents can frequently rely on the "do's and don'ts" of Christianity and rely on those things to produce good, moral, Christ-following children- and homeschool families can be especially susceptible to this.  So I will regularly post about how the Gospel transforms parenting, homeschooling and all of life - not just at the moment we begin the Christian life, but all throughout it until we are glorified with Christ in heaven. 

To understand more about the gospel, you might want to check out this video called
"The Gospel in 6 minutes".



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