Secrets to Successful Homeschool Planning

A successful home school year begins with successful planning. Having a really cool looking class planner that you enjoy filling out, with a calendar and checklist, is a good tool.

This one works for up to four students, and has some wonderful features!

While planners are very useful, alone they cannot guarantee that your plan will be worth the paper it is written on. So, consider the following secrets to successful planning as you set the course for this school year.

SECRET #1: Begin with the WHY.

Why are you homeschooling? Is it to instill faith and the knowledge of God in your child’s heart, through all that they do? Perhaps it is to prepare them for the real world, give them a good work ethic, or focus them on a certain skill set for a career? These are all good “whys.” They are not mutually exclusive. In fact they, along with others, can be synergistic! As we “train up a child in the way they should go,” having the reason behind what we do will strengthen our commitment to seeing the goals through to the end.

Take a few minutes, or several, to work out your own reasons for why you homeschool.

#2  Next is WHO.

Each child has particular needs, strengths, and interests. Design that works will keep their individuality in mind and work with it.

Write down each child’s name and begin with their strengths and their dreams, then add their challenges. Pray over these and ask for guidance before you implement the tools of curriculum and scheduling.

Questions to ask yourself include:

–  At what time of day is my child most alert and receptive?

– Are there subjects where they might work best alone?

–  Do they need a challenge or a competition to stay motivated or complete a certain topic?

– Does your child learn best by seeing, hearing, doing, or a combination of these?

–  Do they need to take breaks during the process or do they do better completing a task before taking a break? (Will they lose focus or gain focus from distraction?)

#3 The SECRET to WHEN:

You do not have to follow a public school schedule in your planning. You do need to have regular times of instruction for the teaching to be effective and create consistency. Children need some measure of that. You decide the times to “do school.” The clock does not have to be your master.

If your child is tired or hungry or just had a fight with a friend, those things need to be taken care of before introducing new material. This is where a schedule needs some flexibility!

TIP: Even children with a short attention span tend to remember the first five minutes and the last five minutes of what is taught. So if you have short spurts of teaching new information, with reinforcement, they will retain it better.

What must be included in presenting a new concept is:

–  Vocabulary. The meaning of new words in any subject must be fully explained along with the new concept. When the child can repeat the concept back in their own words, they understand it.

– Real life application – whenever you can relate a new concept to something they already know and understand, you create a learning link that will stick.

–  Use as many sensory gates as you can. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and doing… will create a stronger impression. There are many books and articles on learning styles that you can find online, that will give ideas for how to do this.

–  Simple, pithy phrases that they can repeat in a drill, should be used daily for at least a week, then repeated occasionally to reinforce long-term memory. Some children remember best when memory work is put to a simple tune.

#4  The SECRET to WHAT

It’s not merely “what will be on the test,” but will this information help them understand the subject?  There are arbitrary facts often taught in grammar school that children just don’t need to know. One example of this is naming the capitals of states. Unless they will be on a game show, that information is superfluous and easily found if needed. Don’t waste your precious time on that.

Focus on the building blocks of learning and the puzzle pieces that need to fit together for the subject to make sense in the real world. See the big picture before creating your foundation and filling in the blanks for understanding. However, too much foundation building, before seeing the sense that the end product will make, will only frustrate your child. Let them see what the outcome will look like. Let textbooks be a tool to learning, and not the master over your day. Use a variety of tools. You are “teaching the student, not the textbook.” You don’t have to buy expensive books, learning can be done inexpensively through your local library and the internet. Biographies may bring more life to a study than a history textbook. Lap books or creative note taking can create a sufficient record for most things. But if a book has special meaning to you or your child, it’s best to buy one. You never know when a valuable resource may disappear from the shelves.

#5  The SECRET to HOW

Planning and goal setting involves getting a young child excited about the outcome.  As the child gets older, they can participate in the goal setting. Doing this will help them “own” their responsibility and be more motivated to finish. You can use the metaphor of a sport, a game, or a journey with a specific end goal. There should be celebration markers along the way for encouragement, and it does not have to be grades (until time to make transcripts in the high school years). Choose your metaphor according to what interests your child. You could use a timeline or game board with their character moving through the various stops. You could make the year into a story book with chapters, pictures, and progress that the hero (your child) is making. For older children, they can plan out goal posts on a calendar and learn what disciplines will help them achieve each one. Moving on to the next will be the reward for achieving the first levels.

#6  The SECRET to WHERE:

Finding the most natural places for learning does not usually include a desk in a classroom with many other students. Though learning is possible in that environment, there are more distractions. Sometimes a quiet place is required. However, sitting down all day will make the brain tired, so try different environments and use what works for you and for them! Having a conversation while walking is quite effective for reinforcement. But let most of the walk be listening to them. This can also be your evaluation. A written test is not the only way to evaluate progress.

In summary, know your own reasons for this journey of learning.
Know your own child and their strengths and weaknesses and their goals.
Don’t skip the foundational understanding that makes sense of the big picture, and give real goal posts along the way to celebrate when you reach them!

This takes prayer, thought and planning. But it is the planning that makes for a successful homeschool year.

 

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Subject Integration

Subject integration is something that home educators strive for more and more these days.  Topics are not so easily categorized in real life and have a natural overlap. This is why textbooks become dull. They force divisions of topics or disciplines that rob the student of the bigger picture.

Unit studies try to overcome this problem by creating links to other individual disciplines and show what they have in common, but this is also often forced and the child ends up with more worksheets and uninspiring “twaddle.” So, how do we show the integration of subject matter in a natural way that keeps our young learners curious and engaged?

One key way to keep children interested is to NOT give them the answers. In fact, wonder out loud why things were or are a certain way and create an opportunity for detective work to discover the reason! Become detectives and keep a notebook and sketchbook of your findings. Look for possible links of causality or other influences that may have brought about the status quo. What if something happened differently along the way? How may the outcome have changed?  There is no telling which direction your adventure may take you, but you may become a scientist, a researcher, a writer, a historian, a philosopher, an artist, a logician and in some cases, a mathematician (depending on what you’re finding out) in the process.  Go ahead and use the web to find answers, but also investigate by doing, where you can. Let them try things, and draw their own conclusions.

One topic our home school dealt with this year was the issue of creating a passageway from South America to Mexico for cougars – where they could be free to roam without being harmed or hunted. Concern for the animals well being also brought up other questions. What of the cattle they attacked along this corridor? These cattle were owned by ranchers who suffered loss because of it. At times, cougars also attacked people and harmed or killed them. Whose need should take priority, and what could be done to preserve an ecosystem without harming the population nearby? This issue touched on geography, animal science, philosophy, property rights and economy.

Another similar topic was the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and their effect on it. The rivers stabilized in their course because erosion was less of a problem, meadows and woodlands became healthier because the deer population was kept in check and much wildlife, including beavers and rabbits returned to the park. In one case the introduction of wild animals to an area created a problem, and in the latter it solved several!  Again we covered animal science but also learned about ecology and the web of life with its interdependencies. We looked at paintings of landscapes and created artwork with our animal of choice. We also talked about whether it was “bad” or “good” for animals to attack and eat each other, and saw by this example that God’s design worked perfectly when nature as He planned it was kept in balance.

We also learned about how man’s attempt at “fixing problems” could backfire by bringing in a predator bug to destroy another. This was especially true when the predator was introduced from a foreign land. This was also true of plants. Learning about plants and their natural enemies led to a study of gardening and what would attract or repel certain visitors. In our study we looked at kinds of leaves to identify plants, how roots functioned and what nutrition they needed, and what conditions were optimal for creating food.

We learned about the migration habits of birds and butterflies and also the animals of the oceans. As we learned about the ocean currents we also learned about how sailors used these to navigate more quickly between America and Europe. We measured and baked food that the explorers would have eaten during the 17th century and visited an outdoor cultural museum. We watched a movie about early explorers and learned some songs that told about their exploits.

We studied weather and listened to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” while creating a storyboard of a changing  maple tree.

While reading The Trumpet of the Swan, we learned about trumpets and jazz, drew birds (including swans) and learned about flight. We created kites and flew them on a sunny and breezy day, as well.

No, it isn’t easy to buy curriculum for such a method. If you have some good resources – use them as launching points instead of assigned books to be completed because of some arbitrary rule. In fact, you don’t need to purchase much. Instead, you need access to the world around  you, the library, and the Internet. Perhaps even people close to the topic that you can interview!

As they become more advanced they evaluate information based on their research and determine a conclusion. Taking a position they may develop an argument, write up the thesis beginning with the hypothesis, show the process of experimentation or reasoning, give evidence and their conclusion. In doing so, they have followed the scientific method and written a persuasive or expositional paper. All that remains is to publish it (in a family newsletter or website) or a YouTube video, or present it in person to an audience!  Publishing the finished work brings its own reward. Try to do this in a variety of ways.

It doesn’t really matter what topic you choose to begin. It can be what interests your child. As they grow in the process (and you do too), they can be given topics to research. Once they have the tools and are used to it, these assignments will not be so daunting.

I’ve only touched on a few things we covered this year, but you can see by God’s design, all of life is integrated in some way. Seek and learn along with your children. Through your example, inspire them to become life-long learners. Along the way you’ll awaken your own curiosity again. Your imagination and conversations around the dinner table will be richer for it.

6 Steps to Orderliness

Training children through housework  bring so many benefits! Implementation of these skills can make their lives less stressful (no more lost shoes or game pieces).  Also, the skills they develop will bring greater understanding academically while developing character.  Sound hard to believe?  When the following steps are consistently implemented, the difference will be life changing!

It seems we often don’t “see” our surroundings until company is  coming over. In order to handle such a large load of responsibilities,  we shut out what is right in front of our eyes, in order to focus on the task at hand.  But much study is wearying to the body, for both parents and kids. When you take a break, do something physical. And while you’re at it – create order!

Before Jesus fed the 5,000 the first thing he did was instruct his disciples to create order. He ordered them to have the people sit down in groups and in sections, because he would be passing out food soon. To try to hand out bread and fish in an unorganized crowd would be chaotic and distracting! Our God is a God of order and peace; not of confusion.  As his beloved children, we can imitate our Lord’s example and follow in his steps.

In the same way, with our young disciples, we can “line up our ducks” before we begin to work. It really streamlines the process and gives more of a sense of accomplishment as you see smaller tasks *done* section by section. Each task completed creates its own mental reward! There are a few secrets to efficient cleaning, and as you are teaching your children, give them these gifts of training with the  Steps to Orderliness!

1. Line Up Your Ducks

Before I wash dishes, they are stacked according to type – so I can load the dishwasher more efficiently – seeing how to best use the space available on the rack.

Set aside regular times for maintenance so the job never becomes too overwhelming. You know best when friends are most likely to knock at the door. You may want to post a note on the door saying, “Come back at 3:00,” for instance, if your children are particularly easily distracted!

Create a cleaning caddy to carry from one bathroom to the next so you have all your tools with you, as well as cleaning gloves for everyone.  Make sure it has trashcan liners in it.

Be sure to eat something before you start – so hunger pangs don’t pull you away from the task, half-finished!

Be dressed for the work you will be doing; hair up and out of the way and clothes that can get dirty, will be needed.

2.  Think Categorically

Whether the task is schoolwork such as organizing an essay or doing complex math problems, or you are teaching your children how to sort and fold laundry, put away groceries, or pick up a messy bedroom – the key skill for any organization task begins with categories.  Sort them according to kind, then into sub-categories within that group as needed for the purpose you have.  Not every task requires as much scrutiny (lest we develop OCD characteristics!).

In the refrigerator you would keep uncooked meat separate from fruit or cheese or leftovers (for health reasons). In a bedroom you would want to keep toys separate from clothing and books. For a very young child, you may not want to be more specific than that. But as they get older and lost pieces could bring tears, you will want to keep sets together. Games should be kept with their pieces. LEGOs all in one box, or (if your child is concerned about it) each set in their own box. It becomes a greater task when they get older and for this reason, start as young as possible with this training so it doesn’t become overwhelming later.

When your children learn to help you with household tasks, you are not only training them but providing valuable opportunity for important talks about life. As they become adept at the skills, still work with them when you can so this opportunity isn’t lost. The work will be done more quickly, as “many hands make light work!”  My granddaughter and I sometimes put on the radio and dance while we clean too! It makes for great memories and takes the drudgery out of housework.

If it is still just too much, you may want to think about thinning out and donating some of their stuff. With ownership comes responsibility. They need to care for what they have, in order to gain more. If you can’t bear to give it away, pack away some things for a while, as they learn to be faithful with a little.

When you have many young children, turn picking up toys into a game.  Remember Mary Poppins? Definitely use music, challenges and races to accomplish a task! It may come undone in a minute, but they will still be learning something in the process.

Someday, when the science teacher begins to explain Genus and Species, your kids will have no problem understanding that concept!

2. Top down

Yes, you dust before vacuuming!   When washing or dusting, the rule is begin at the top and work your way down. Ceiling fans or light fixtures first (with an extending duster), tops of window frames and door frames, then pictures on the wall and any cobwebs, before bookshelves and tables. Finally, the baseboards (if you have them). Otherwise the dust or dripping dirty water will cover your finished work! Do it by example and have them follow your lead. When done, be sure to carry your supplies out of the room and put them away (or to the next room to clean). The task isn’t done until the supplies are away.

3. Line upon Line

Working in rows is not only neater, it shows you where you’ve been. Wandering in circles can lead to wasted time. After categories are organized or the room is picked up, vacuum in rows. In the lawn, mow in rows. In the garden, work weeding in rows (from the back to the front). When washing a floor, mop in rows from the back to the front – leaving yourself an exit!  No need to walk back across a clean floor to rinse the mop, bring the bucket with you and work yourself out of the room.

Clean windows, one pane at a time, in rows (from the top down), ending with the sill from one side to the other.  As you create trash with your cleaning, have a bag handy to catch it so you don’t create more work for yourselves on the floor. Show the kids how thinking ahead like this and working in an orderly fashion saves time. You may want to “do it wrong” once and have them time you, before doing it right.

Washing cars has the same principle. From the top down, in rows. It’s an easy and repeatable concept.

Have small boxes or bags for items that need to be transported to another room. After finishing your present task, drop off the bag/box of items at the door of their proper location. The owner of that room will need to put things where they belong before play-time.

4. Clean, dry, and serviceable

In the Air Force, we were instructed to make sure our area, ourselves, and our clothing were all clean, dry, and serviceable. This is when you know you are “done.”  Years later, as a mom raising four young kids, I had to take smaller victories. It is good to voice your satisfaction as small task is finished and the tools are put away. Taking a moment to revel in the accomplishment will model this for the kids! They will learn to delight in a task well done, too.  This website has some great organizing solutions!

5. Anticipating messes before they happen.

Before taking out the Lego set, put a towel or other cloth underneath for the “play space.” When they have finished, they may display their work on a shelf – but the sundry parts and pieces can be easily swept back up into the cloth and deposited in the LEGO box!

Put an empty laundry basket or box on the inside of the front door, if you don’t have a mud room (or even if you do) for shoes that are just coming in. You may, as the Koreans and Japanese do, have slippers just inside the door to put on. This does keep a lot of dirt from being tracked through the house and lightens your work load, as well as theirs.

Keeping an artificial grass-type mat or other door mat outside will scrape off most of the dirt on visitor’s shoes. You can also have a softer mat on the inside of the door to get finer dust/dirt off.

Put a few extra shopping bags  (a bag in a bag in a bag) attached to a seat handle and centrally located, in your car. These are ready to receive trash after a drive through meal. Once you arrive home, have one of the kids grab the inside bag to throw it away and you have an empty trash bag in your car! It’s a good idea to keep a hand-held mini vacuum in the car stored under a seat (that can plug into a cigarette lighter) for quick clean ups, too. Before entering or exiting, make sure all coats, shoes, and books – etc – come out with the kids and make it to their destination before they are released to play! Your home and your car are places you live in. You don’t have to allow such disrespect of your living spaces and you can instill this situational awareness quite young, without having to yell.

When your child is brushing the dog or cat, have them do it outside if possible. At least on a hard floor that is easy to sweep.

Ask your kids to be detectives and find ways they can “save work”!  Be sure you brag about them to their dad at dinner, when they do.

6. The Big Reward: Projects

Paying your children for doing a task well is surprisingly unmotivating. Nothing gives a return as much as satisfaction of a job well done. Once your children have mastered (or are on the way to mastering) these skills, they are ready for bigger things! Projects.

Painting a room, building a shed, landscaping, bike or car repair, sewing or cake decorating, they have qualified to take the next step into the adult world of quality production!  Celebrate every accomplishment along the way, with gentle reminders of the Steps to Orderliness – so they become second nature.

Now, I’m off to practice what I preach.  Blessings to you and your family, today!