We’re delving into “middle school” this year for the first time. My oldest is so excited for this milestone. He’s my Flint Lockwood (from Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs), my absent-minded, super-dramatic, techy science guy. So putting together his curriculum is always a lot of fun. For the most part, we are classical homeschoolers, making a few adjustments here and there for our rampant ADHD. To accommodate for personality and attention-span, we include lots of variety with short lessons. None of our subjects extend beyond 20-30 minutes at a time, but I serve up a variety each day to keep all his firing cylinders on task. In classical terms, he will be in the logic or dialectic stage this year, learning to think critically and make deeper connections with what he is learning in his homeschool curriculum for 6th grade.
There is nothing that beats being able to hold a curriculum and flip through its pages when you are trying to decide what to buy, but that’s not always possible. Whether you simply can’t make it to a homeschool convention, or the curriculum you are interested in isn’t anywhere to be seen, shopping homeschool curriculum online can be done. Even though it’s not quite the same as seeing a book “in person,” you can still get a good idea of what a curriculum is like with a few simple tips.
Tips for Shopping Homeschool Curriculum online
We were a few years into nature study before I started keeping my own nature journal along with the kids. I’ve stumbled along and tried a few different methods of sketching and journaling, but I’ve finally found a groove that’s working for me. If you are stumped about what to include in your nature journal, here are a few ideas to get you started.
What to include in your nature journal
Start with a heading. Include the date and place of your hike, maybe the time of day, the weather, and anything else that seems pertinent.
Make a list of things you spotted on your hike. For me, this is the best way to get past the “writer’s block” of nature journaling. Instead of staring at a beautiful blank page hoping I don’t ruin my nature journal with my lack of artistic talent, I start with listing all of the plants and creatures we identified on our walk, even if it’s just a few common birds and flowers, turtles on a log, frogs in a pond, dragonflies, etc.
Sketch and caption of a few of your favorite moments. As I’m making my list, I usually always have a few favorite memories from our hike. I sketch two or three of these favorites into my nature journal, and then journal a sentence or two about what we saw and what happened. I’m far from an artist, so these are much more about remembering than anything else, just a rough sketch. I’ve tried a few different tools, but I’ve found I love using watercolor pencils and a watercolor marker most of all for my sketching, and a Sharpie pen or Micron pen for the journaling itself.
Include a few new discoveries. Our routine is to take a few pictures of “mystery” plants or creatures and then to use Google Images to identify them. After we’ve figured out our new discoveries, we sketch these on a page in our journals, practicing observation skills as we sketch the details. I’m not super talented, but I don’t feel I have to be. We’re learning plenty with our rough sketches and fun memories.
So often in education, we make the process of learning and discovery much harder than it has to be. Nature journaling and nature study do not have to be complicated or intimidating. It’s really about discovery and wonder and shared memories.
If you’d like a little gentle direction for your nature study, check out these NaturExplorer studies (affiliate link). Each study gives you fun books to read, tons of nature walk ideas and activities, as well as printable pages to add to your nature journal.
(This post contains affiliate links. That simply means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation. It costs you nothing and helps me offset website expenses. Thanks for your support!)
Though standardized testing might not always be the best method of assessing a child, sometimes, as homeschoolers, we find ourselves without a choice. Currently, we are in a homeschool situation that requires regular testing. It’s taught me a lot, about myself, about my kids, about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Whether you are deciding if testing is right for you or trying to make the best of a state-mandated testing policy, here are some pros and cons of standardized testing that may help you gain a little perspective.
The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing for homeschoolers
Cons of Standardized Testing
I love the emphasis that learning styles have received, in both homeschool and public education. I love that we are appreciating differences in learning and equipping kids to understand how they learn. But the great irony is that while we are making strides in educating according to the different learning styles, we are still assessing in one style—the standardized test. Consequently, my number one reason for disliking testing is that it is, more often than not, an inaccurate reflection of what a child knows.
Tests are long, boring, and intimidating. Children zone out, or don’t test well. If the material is asked in a way the child is not familiar, he may answer incorrectly even if he knows the material. Tests hurt a child’s self-image, especially if that child is already insecure about certain learning struggles. And honestly, nothing kills a love for learning like struggling through a standardized test. I’ve seen smart children (including my own) feel like they are losers or stupid because of a less than gratifying score. For all the time we spend praising differences, standardized tests reduce a child’s learning to a single line on the graph. And not every child is going to follow that graphed trajectory. We don’t expect them to be on the same trajectory for height or weight at the doctor’s office. The growth of their bodies is expected to vary, but the growth of their brain is supposed to march along the same upward incline as everyone else.
Pros of Standardized Testing
My kids have struggled and excelled on standardized tests at varying points in time. Being in a situation that requires testing has been a growing process for all of us. But as my kids struggle through the emotional roller coaster of testing and test scores and national averages and learning trajectories, etc., we’ve learned a lot, too. Sometimes, the tests confirm struggles I felt we had, learning gaps I was pretty sure were there. Sometimes, a test will help a homeschool parent see a struggle she wasn’t aware of at all. But perhaps the greatest advantage to testing, the one I remind my kids about each time testing comes around, is the practice and preparation for life. For better or for worse, our culture is a testing culture. Driving tests, college entrance tests, college midterm and final exams, further education for job training, performance and certification testing—bottom line, our children will grow up to be adults who have to take tests.
If your kids are anything like mine, they have a lot of testing anxieties. Both my older kids have an ADHD diagnosis, my daughter has anxiety and dyslexia, and both panic any time you say “timed” anything. We’ve worked for years on the “timed” test anxieties, and made great strides. Now, in one sense, we are stepping up that test anxiety with standardized testing and scores. I tell my kids that standardized testing is merely practice for the tests that matter. My kids are told to do their best, but not to stress about the final score. The end goal right now: learn to take a test.
By the time my kids have to take the ACT or SAT, they will have had lots of experience with standardized testing, without the pressure of performing. They will have had lots of time and room to grow beyond the anxieties they experience today. They will learn what questions look like and will have the maturity to think critically and problem solve. There will be a day when the test matters, but for right now, standardized testing is just practice for life.
Whether you have the choice to test, or the choice was made for you, your child can benefit from your knowing the pros and cons of standardized testing. A whole lot about the testing experience is determined by the adults involved. Coach your child through the process and the results. In the end, it could be a great asset to your child’s curriculum for life.
As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.
I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.
So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.
My steps to homeschool planning:
Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace
I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.
Gathering our other curriculum.
I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.
Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.
In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.
Tackling the master plan.
Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)
Organizing the resources.
This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)
Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia
There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!
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It happens. Maybe you switched curriculum mid-year, maybe you transferred from a brick and mortar school to homeschool, maybe your child has special needs, maybe you just flat out missed some spots. Gaps happen. Filling in the gaps in your child’s education does not have to be stressful or intimidating. Here are a few ideas to fill in the gaps gently and easily.
Ideas for Filling in the Gaps in your Child’s Education
Catch it next year.
So much material is reviewed each year. If your child’s educational gap is not a glaring one, you may be able to just hone in on it more firmly next year. Take a look at your curriculum for the coming year, identify when that particular topic will show up and make sure you allow plenty of time to cover it thoroughly. Sometimes, a “gap” could just be that your child wasn’t developmentally ready to handle that new skill or concept. Just being a few months older could make all the difference for your child when you are filling in the gaps in their education.
Tackle it during the summer.
Keep in mind, I’m not even suggesting that you have to do a full school load all summer. But if there is a subject or a topic that you feel warrants a little extra attention, spend 20-30 minutes a day. Just that little bit of time for an extra month or two may help your child leap forward in time for the new school year.
Reinforce it with extra activities.
I use this technique with my daughter. Her “gap” is actually an on-going weak area for her: spelling. Because of her dyslexia, spelling is her nemesis. She is easily a year or two behind in the subject, but she’s making progress. My technique is constant exposure. Spelling is not a single subject that she does for specific time each day; it’s something I subtly add anywhere I can. I had her do typing lessons everyday, and not just for the keyboarding skills; I wanted her to see and make words correctly. Each week, she made her own list of words by hunting words of a certain length: a list of four letter words one week, a list of five letter words the next week, a list of six letter words, etc. She also had a couple of different spelling apps that she used throughout each week (Dyslexia Quest and Simplex). Next year, I’m adding a formal spelling curriculum that provides a lot of non-traditional practice (A Reason for Spelling—we are both very excited about this program). And I’ll be adding calligraphy and zentangle word-art projects for her to work on. By exposing her to spelling in all of these different areas, we are reinforcing her weak area. This is an area that may always need a little extra attention, but she’s making progress.
Filling in the gaps in our child’s education does not need to send us into a panic, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a minute to assess how much help your child may need and then give one of these ideas a try. Have some other ideas for how you’ve filled in the gaps? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to add them to my list.