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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time4Learning Review

We have spent the last month abandoning our curriculum in favor of the Time4Learning website. Since we started, we have had our ups and downs with the site. I will take you through the major highs and lows.
“Time4Learning is a new approach that takes advantage of today's technology. It's a convenient, online home education program that combines learning with fun educational teaching games.”

The Time4Learning site has an AMAZING Language Arts program. It is packed with interactive areas and fun, quirky characters that draw in students and teach difficult concepts like simile and prefixes.

The math program was a little less well done. There were a few lessons that had great energy and a fun approach but most were monotone and downright boring. During one lesson, my 5th grader had a hard time focusing because the tone of voice and repetitive nature of the lesson tuned him right out. There is also another issue with learning the material. If your student does not understand the concept being taught, the site only offers the ability to redo the same lesson. To me that is limiting as far as teaching is concerned. We found ourselves having to abandon the lesson provided in order to go into further depth on our own.

Social Studies and Science were hit and miss. There were some interactive areas but most of it was a lot of reading and quizzes toward the end. There was also no recourse to failing exams. The main circles are checked as completed and students move on—even with poor grades.

There is also an L.A. Extension area that offers more work on the above areas.

The one thing I was disappointed with was the complete lack of writing. Not typing, because there was plenty of that, but actual—old-fashioned, paper and pencil writing. My kids did not put pen to paper once the entire month. I think that is dangerous to encourage in young children. While technology is a great way to get children interested and engaged, it should not be used to replace a traditional curriculum and human interaction.

Buyer Beware: this program IS NOT a hands free comprehensive alternative.

“The online language arts and math comprise a comprehensive program for preschool, elementary school, and middle school. Science and social studies programs are provided as a free bonus for most grades.”

Here again I will state that the language arts program is the star. Math comes secondary and science and social studies seem almost a throw away to get you in the door. Many of these lessons are not well done, can be overly complicated, and left me scratching my head.

“Kids like using the computer to learn and to develop their skills. The Time4Learning educational teaching program gives students independence to progress at their own pace.”

This fact is true. I liked the ability for my students to move up or down one grade level so if a lesson was too tough, they could click the grade level below and choose something comparable there. Likewise, they could go up a level if they found something too simple (something not possible with our textbooks).

“Parents like that Time4Learning tracks progress and helps students advance along individualized learning paths. Students master the skills and concepts needed for academic success.”

I did enjoy the learning paths. I thought the site was very user friendly even for my preschooler. As far as mastering concepts, that did not happen 100% of the time solely based on the website. I had to step in on many occasions to explain ideas and find alternatives to examples given in order for my children to understand and engage.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful supplement for any home school program. It is up to the individual family however to decide if the cost outweighs the benefits. For me I think a better fit for our family is to purchase textbooks and supplement with free content on the internet. With that said, although we have been offered another free month with sign-up, we will be passing (and I cannot wait to jump back into our books).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Your Child Will End Up a Social Outcast (and other things non-homeschoolers say)

I recently had an interesting chat with a young lady about homeschooling. She was very anti and I was very pro (obviously). Before the conversation could get past, "I home school..." she pounced. Her laundry list of arguments against homeschooling I had already heard countless times before, but it made me smile nevertheless.

Argument #1
"Your kids will be social outcasts!"

This argument has to be the most used but it's also the one that always makes me smile when I hear it. No, my kids are not socially outcast. They know how to make friends and more importantly, how to treat them. It's also important to point out that most homeschooled children are involved in extracurricular activities outside of the home. That could be in the form of music lessons, sports activities, book clubs, play dates, homeschool group meetings, or religious activities.

Argument #2
"Parents are not qualified to homeschool or teachers have to earn a degree but parents do not."

When it comes to whether or not a parent is qualified to teach their children, I leave that to the state to decide. Many states have homeschooling laws that require a parent have a high school diploma or equivalent in order to keep their kids home.

The argument about parents having to have the same education as a teacher from the same grade they are teaching is an interesting debate that I love to have. Teachers need to be able to function in a classroom with many children who range in abilities. College courses for teachers include the psychology and social foundations of children. They need to be able to understand the diverse cultures the children in their classroom come from in order to identify with and understand not only the child, but the entire family. Also, as more children with special needs are mainstreamed into the classroom, teachers need to have the skills necessary in order to teach them.

Parents are their child's first (and in my opinion, best) teachers--and a college diploma is not required! From birth we encourage language and motor skills, critical thinking, religious (or spiritual) guidance, and morals. As children grow, those basic lessons grow more complex.

Those parents of children with special needs have most likely spent a lot of time understanding and learning about their unique children. As a result, they are able to tailor a curriculum suited to their child instead of leaving it up to another person.

Argument #3
"It's too expensive."

This is, by far, my favorite argument. Everyone who knows me understands that I love a good bargain. Cheap is good, free is better. That said, homeschooling doesn't have to cost more than sending your child to public school.

At the beginning of this school year I did a  break down of the costs of sending one of my children to public school. Here is what I came up with:

New Clothes: $200.00 (includes shoes and outerwear)
Classroom Materials: $150.00 (spread over the year)
Class Supplies: $100.00 (spread over the year)
Birthday Celebration Supplies: $30.00
Class Pictures: $30.00
Book Fair: $20.00
Lunch: $522.00 a year ($2.90/day)
School Gear--a t-shirt with the school logo: $10.00
Fundraisers: $30.00
School Trips: $30.00
Total: $1142.00

Surprised? I know I was when I came up with that figure--and it's an estimate!! The actual costs would probably be higher because of the extra money given out for the general store and snacks at lunch. All of my numbers (except for the school lunch) are an approximation of what I would typically spend on ONE of my children. Some costs, like lunch and clothes are necessary. Others like school gear and pictures are more social obligations played out by peer pressure. Those kids not opting in are singled out by those kids who partake in the activity.

When you weigh those costs against the costs of homeschooling, you'll find that you'll be spending around the same amount, if not less! For instance, new clothing is a must, but instead of buying a large wardrobe so that my child will have a variety of items in the closet to wear, I can get by with a smaller selection. Also, because I'm not buying classroom supplies for the entire classroom (typically the teacher requests things like Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and tissues) I save money. I also don't need to purchase a bookbag--more savings!

The one area most homeschoolers spend their money is with curriculum and the options are huge. Packages can be pricey. This year we chose to skip the packaged sets and create our own. We set off to our local homeschool store, which is a haven for a good deal. If you have one close by I highly recommend paying them a visit! After selecting all the materials we needed, we spent approximately $200.00. And when I say $200.00, that includes school supplies like paper, pencils, pens, etc., in addition to text and workbooks.

We will still wind up paying for things like trips and lunch but we negate the cost by being able to take trips and eat lunch as a family.

Argument #4
"How will you know that your kids are learning if they never take a test?"

Many adults grew up with the idea that testing is the only way to be able to tell if a child has learned the lesson. I was one of them. I grew up going to public school where every week we would be given spelling tests, math tests, history tests, science tests, language tests... You name it, I was tested on it. However, I came to realize that testing has its flaws. For instance, I took Spanish for two years in high school. We had a test every week and I held my own, passing them and ultimately the class. If you ask me today if I remember everything I was tested on and passed, I would have to say no. The few words I do remember from Spanish class didn't stick because I was drilled and tested. They stuck because the lesson I learned them in was engaging and I was paying attention.

Now, before we go any further, let me make it clear that my children ARE formally tested once a year--as mandated by our state homeschooling laws. Many states pass laws regarding testing for homeschooled children--some don't. However, even if our state did not mandate standardized testing once a year, we would still opt in. These tests are a valuable asset to homeschoolers to gauge where their child stands and to see if curriculum adjustments need to be made.

Argument #5
"When you pull your kids out of school the school suffers because their funding goes down and the rest of the kids in the school will be at a disadvantage."

It's a fact that public schools receive money based on the amount of students enrolled. The more students, the more money. When parents take their kids out and opt to home school, the school loses the funding for them. If many parents decide to take their parents out of one school, you can see the problem that might cause for the school.

If we are being honest though, many parents take their kids out of public schools because they don't like, agree with, or are upset by the curriculum, practices, environment, staff, teaching styles, or red tape that cause their children to miss out on a quality education. It's not fair to expect parents to leave their children in a struggling school because, if they pull them out, the school suffers more.

The argument should be, why are schools struggling in the first place and how can you fix those shortfalls to help the kids who remain get a quality education regardless of how many kids are left in a classroom due to homeschooling?

I'm sure many homeschoolers have heard similar points of view from opponents of homeschooling and if you haven't, I hope I've been able to arm you with information for that fateful conversation that will eventually come your way!

If you have met similar people, I'd love for you to comment and share with us how you've dealt with the situation!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving at Scholastic!

I really enjoyed the Scholastic webcast from the Plimoth Plantation. I hope you all got a chance to see it with your children too! (If you didn't just click the link to watch!) Being able to see actual people speaking in dialect from the time and wearing period clothing has managed to breathe life into obscure concepts like dress and traditional customs for my kids. 

Scholastic has also pulled out all the stops, presenting an abundant resources page on their site. It's a great spot for homeschoolers wanting to teach about Thanksgiving because everything from lesson plans to crafts are organized and presented in a way that makes teaching a breeze!

A really nice touch is the Historical Letters section. They not only offer the written letter but you have an option to hear it read aloud! (A bonus for hearing unfamiliar vocabulary spoken aloud.)


Letters From a Pilgrim Child

I don’t know if I can sleep tonight! Tomorrow we will go to see the English at Patuxet! The Sachem Massasoit of Pokanoket has been there with 90 warriors and has said that the English are holding a celebration to give thanks for the harvest.  Even though Massasoit had made an agreement with the English last spring to be allies if either should go to war, he was troubled by the news that many, many shots were heard from their weapons that they call muskets. When Massasoit and his warriors arrived they weren’t certain what they would find. They found that the noise came from the men hunting to get enough food for a feast. Some of the other men were practicing shooting these strange weapons too.  They invited our People to stay and join in their celebration. Now father and I will go there too.

I will tell more after I have seen the coat-men.

I do not know why these so-called English cover themselves with so much clothing! It must make it difficult to move through the forests or to fish. And it looks so strange! Still, they have proven that they are able to hunt using their muskets. I am so curious about these English! They live in strange square houses, wear curious clothing, and keep odd animals near their houses.  Some of their food is very strange as well. At least we had deer to eat, which some of our people had presented to the English Sachem that they call Bradford.

While I was there I saw some of the English children playing with a ball, like the deerskin balls that we use to play football. The ball dropped on the ground and rolled toward me, so I picked it up and threw it back to a girl about my size. I was hoping that they would motion me to play with them, but just then someone, I think it was the girl’s mother, called “Lizzy!” to her. I don’t think she wanted the girl to ask me to join their game.
We will sleep one more night here, outside of the village of the English, then we will return home in the morning. I’m trying to stay awake for our dancing but I’m afraid I’ll be asleep before it even starts. I can’t wait to return home and tell my friends about all that I have seen.

Diary entry of 12-year-old Pometacomet, a fictional member of the Pokanoket tribe of the Wampanoag nation.

Wampanoag Words 
Sachem: chief
Pniesog: warrior counselors valued for courage, wisdom, and strength. Only the strongest of boys is selected to become a pniese.
Ahtomp: bow 
Fletching: attaching feathers to the shaft of an arrow with glue and animal sinew
Kouhquodtash: arrows

Visit Scholastic.com today!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Take Time to Laugh!

Let's face it; Homeschooling can be STRESSFUL! It's hard to remember to enjoy yourself when your 7th grader needs help with math that even you don't quite get, your 5th grader wants to explore the topic of 19th century opera singers, or when your toddler interrupts by having a tantrum over the puppets you're using, just when you're on a roll explaining to your 1st grader how community helpers are vital to the neighborhood.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios then pat yourself on the back because you are proof that homeschooling parents CAN survive!

The next time you find yourself faced with a problem that seems larger than life, take the time to step away and think about why you started homeschooling in the first place. Chances are that will be enough to spread a smile on your face while you're cleaning up the mess left behind from your 4th grader who wanted to learn the properties of cornstarch and water on the dining room table that sits right on top of your oriental rug...

Oh, and if your day is so stressful and you're ready to drive straight to the local school and sign up your little angels on the spot, take a look at Jim Erskine's great comic strip before you grab the keys. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time4Learning Update!

It's been a week since my kids have started using their FREE TRIAL of time4learning. Update Time!!!

Our first hour in and the entire site went down... Not kidding. I sent them an email and got back an answer that "developers experienced technical issues on their end, which caused slowness when trying to log into the lessons." I was asked to, "wait...a few minutes" and try to log in later... If I were paying I would've been very upset. 

So far, the site has been hit or miss. My older kids have been left stuck mid-test 4 separate times. Once they reload, they have to start the test all over again with different examples which is a bonus for me (more practice) but makes them less motivated to get the right answer because they're positive they'll put in the work and have the site blank out on them.

We've also had hiccups with browser issues (which somehow magically resolve themselves once you refresh a few times) and text issues--we've noticed that with some lessons, screen size affects the ability to see the words.

If you are patient and know how to manipulate your browsers, you should be fine. It's very annoying though to have to sit in front of the computer troubleshooting for 30 minutes (which I've done every single time any one of them has started a lesson.)

Overall though, there have been lots of laughs shared--mainly with the language arts lessons. My kids think that's the strongest area of the site and I have to agree. The animations are funny and interactive.

The math is dry--very dry. Some lessons are better than others but it's math after all, and making it fun is difficult. My 5th grader said, during a lesson of place value, that the voice coming out of the speaker was monotone (a word he actually learned in a language arts lesson the day before) and he felt sleepy listening to it. That's not a good thing for learning.

Science and social studies are almost an afterthought and all my kids are struggling to find inspiration with the lessons presented. It's filled with bad clip art and book suggestions--which wouldn't be bad if they presented us with some sort of lesson planner to help organize before hand. I'm guessing this area will be updated at some point in time?

So now we press on with week two! Maybe the site problems will resolve themselves? Maybe the math will get better and my kids will stay awake during a lesson? Maybe the science and social studies will get a revamp and become interesting--I see a missed opportunity there... We've committed to 30 days and that's what we'll do!

Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Busy Week!

It sure has been a busy week. I want to congratulate Randall Mullins for winning our very first Home School Quote Contest!! You can find his fantastic winning quote on our facebook page

Since today is Election Day, I thought I'd share a great site for introducing democracy to kids. pbskids.org examines what government is, what role it plays in our lives, and why we need government.

Election Day is also a great time to explore how other parts of the world vote. For instance, did you know that women were granted the right to cast ballots in Kuwait in 2005? Crayola.com has a great lesson plan that outlines how to get started exploring this fascinating topic. 

Finally, the Secretary of State, Just4You website is a must visit for any homeschooler interested in further exploration of democracy, voting, and elections. It's full of great info, lesson plans, fun videos, and much more.