Sunday, November 13, 2016

Advice to New Homeschooling Moms of Kindergartners

I gave a 30 minute talk last night to a lovely group of ladies.  It was on choosing curriculum, and it was geared mainly to those moms who are just starting homeschooling and have younger kids.  I'm going to paste in my notes here in case anyone ever wanted to know what I think about choosing kindergarten curriculum . . .  It's really long, and formatting is weird, since I took it out of word.

·         10 kids, 19-2, names and ages
·         Bob—retired AF Lt. Col, now government contractor
·         Didn’t grow up in a big family or even ever want to homeschool
·         College experience, bio/math degree
·         L’s lived with us, we saw homeschooling in action
·         Walking group—trying to get into best preschool, etc.
*Suzanne’s advice to me then:  just work on first-time obedience, good attitude, attention span
                                --Buy Usborne count by numbers and alphabet books, tear out pages and laminate them
*Moved to Ohio, started “real” homeschooling
                --Veritas Press stuff, found Well Trained Mind
                --Nathan couldn’t rhyme, had problems spelling, slow to learn to read, but took off after he turned 7
                *Did a lot orally!
                --Luke taught himself to read at 4 after a few lessons of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
*Moved to VA when Nathan was in 2nd grade, in 2004 (*had 4 kids)
                --plodded on with homeschooling, had 6 more babies, including 3 girls in less than 3 years
                --Discovered Nathan most likely had “dysgraphia”, where there was a “gate” between his brain and his hand, and that doing things orally was a good thing for that
--Worried about putting him in local co-op in 7th because of writing/spelling issues
                --Year of CC with good friends, the McCs—new campus, showed us what we wanted and didn’t want
                --Started our own little junior/senior high co-op with McCs and 2 other families the next year called Rivendell
*Rivendell—rigorous; 8 approved AP syllabi, 4.5 average score, I teach junior high school science classes there, through AP biology
                --Nathan graduated 2 years ago, having gotten a perfect 800 on the verbal part of the SAT, turned down an appointment to West Point (USMA) to take a 4 year full ROTC scholarship at VT as an engineering major and had a 3.84 GPA last year.
Encouragement—what they are at 5 is not what they will be later on
                --WIDE range of normal; assume normalcy but work with weaknesses
                --Don’t compare, especially boys/girls

I say all this as introduction so you know where I am coming from.  I am not one who says, “Just do character stuff—academics don’t matter!”  BUT it is so easy to get completely overwhelmed when looking at curriculum and just homeschooling—am I doing enough?  Is this curriculum challenging enough for my kindergartner?  As you look at curriculum and map out your path, I want to tell you what I’ve found important to focus on, and I want to give some advice about choosing curriculum.

General advice first:

1.       Pray.  Seek the Lord’s guidance.  Listen to his voice, but don’t confuse it with noise around you.  Just because everyone is talking about a certain new curriculum is not necessarily a sign that God wants you to switch to that. Be discerning.

2.        Don’t chase after the perfect curriculum, and don’t buy into the hype of every shiny new curriculum.  Don’t envy your friend’s new curriculum—especially if the one you have been using is working just fine.  The perfect curriculum is not out there.  And even if you find one that works perfectly for one child, it won’t work that well for the next.  Balance your expectations!

3.      A corollary to #2:  Don’t jump from curriculum to curriculum, especially in math.  There may be legitimate reasons to switch.  I did it this year for my 5th grade daughter.  But make sure you understand the reasons the first curriculum didn’t work, and get to the root of the problem, instead of just bailing out at the first sign of a problem.  Jumping around is a good way to have gaps for your kids.

4.        Don’t make choosing a curriculum, especially at the kindergarten level, a bigger deal than it is.  You’re not marrying it.  And honestly, most curricula and most methods of teaching (CM, WTM, traditional) will really get the job done, especially at this young age.  So don’t fret about it.  Go with something you like and you think you will use because YOU understand the logic behind it.  Don’t choose something that will make you feel guilty if you don’t use it, or that ties you to a strict schedule.  These are your years to be flexible!

5.       Choose something that compliments your lifestyle and family situation.  Don’t choose something with high teacher prep or high one-on-one time required if you have several other younger kids.  If you lose stuff easily, don’t pick a curriculum that has you storing 50 small pieces that are all very important.  And if you don’t even like crafts, then don’t choose something where you are buying supplies every week and cleaning up messes that you hate.  That’s what TNT is for.

6.       Don’t try to do a ton of different subjects, just to say you’re doing them.  Honestly, seatwork at this age should be about 20 minutes.  Work on developing attention spans (and those of you that have girls first will have the advantage here), but don’t try to cram in phonics, math, grammar, art, science, history, etc. so their schedule looks like that of someone in 4th grade.  It doesn’t need to, because there are many more years to add on subjects.  Have reasonable expectations for this age, looking ahead to your long-term goals, but not trying to accomplish those goals all in one year.  Fourth grade is where we really start beefing up the schoolwork.  By then the kids are more mature and able to handle things. 

Important things to focus on in kindergarten:
1.        Reading—obviously
a.       Like potty-training, this is easier when they are motivated.  If they don’t get it right away, it is okay to not push it.  Again—WIDE range of normal.
b.      I’ve used VP’s Phonics Museum because I did a ton of research when Nathan was my oldest, and so then after that of course I was going to use it.  100 EZ Lessons works well too, with ETC, or really any other phonics program.  Use what you like.  Your kids will probably be excited for a lesson or 2 and then not want to do anything resembling hard work after that, so don’t depend on what they “like”.  They can be fickle.  Again, don’t use something too complicated when you are still having babies or have toddlers.  I dropped all the fancy extras of VP, and you know what—it still worked just fine.
c.       Read aloud, and make SURE they see you reading yourself, something other than your phone or computer.  It’s hypocritical to talk about how important reading is, but never actually do it.  Sometimes have them narrate back what you’ve read to them to make sure they are comprehending, another important skill.
d.      I start handwriting by writing with a highlighter and having the kids trace over it.  You don’t need fancy curricula for everything.  After that we generally use HWT because it doesn’t have a slant, and I’m left-handed, so it’s hard for me to teach writing. This is not a big focus of mine, honestly.

2.       Math—this is a big focus of mine, but not necessarily the workbooks.
a.       Do a lot of practical math—cutting apples, graham crackers, etc. into fractions, adding things, playing with 10s concepts so they can envision numbers in their minds
b.      Encourage logical thinking, with steps, in problem solving.  Break problems like organizing a room into smaller steps.  Critical Thinking Press, Hidden pictures, etc.
c.       Don’t skip around in your curriculum; make sure they know their facts
d.      We’ve always used Saxon until I switched Anna (5th grade) to Teaching Textbooks this year.  She needed a confidence boost, and her 13 month younger sister was at the same place in math as her, so it made sense to put her in something else.  She would have been devastated to be doing the same math as Grace.  It’s been a great change for her—she’s gained a lot of confidence back already.

3.        Memory Work (Train the brain to memorize—Nathan has appreciated this skill in college)
a.       After a year of CC, I designed my own based on what I wanted them to know later
b.      Bible passages (benefits to knowing chunks of Scripture), timeline, kings and queens by houses, presidents, science facts, poems, and then mapwork corresponding to TOG (which we use with our older kids)
c.       We do it all together (until junior high) , but different expectations for different ages, as part of our “couch time” every day, where we also read the Bible, pray for a country in Operation World, read SOTW, and do other oral stuff like FLL. 
d.      Younger kids—at least the first several verses of the Bible passage, some timeline, easier poems (Owl and the pussycat, I’m Nobody, Who are You, All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc.), while the older kids eventually learn all the timeline, kings and queens, etc. plus harder poems and speeches, like St. Crispin Day speech from Henry V and the Gettysburg Address. 

4.       Latin—not for kindergarten, generally, but more like 2nd or 3rd grade
“Math for the right side of the brain”
Junior high—take National Latin Exam level 1, then start foreign language
BUT Anna is taking German this year because that opportunity arose, so don’t be afraid to take opportunities that come up just because they don’t look like your ideal plan

5.       Science—extra at this age.  Make them curious and observant.  Develop a science vocabulary, like with memory work, and don’t worry if they don’t understand it.  Read library books on different science topics.  Take nature walks and help them ask “why” questions.

6.       History—read something like SOTW or MOH, have maps everywhere in your house.

7.       Unstructured time to play both inside and outside, especially for boys
This honestly is more important than any curriculum.  There is so much time for sitting still later. 

8.        Don’t be afraid to take time off.  Take a long-term view.  Kindergarten schoolwork is simply not that deeply crucial.  If it takes you 2 years to finish something, so what.  If you have a baby and need to take a while off, that is okay.  “The baby is the lesson.”

9.       I liked to school 6 weeks, then take a week off when I only had littles.  Don’t burn yourself out.  Being super-rigorous or finding the perfect curriculum is worthless if you can only last 2 years. Again, think long-term.  Go year-around—not only is it better in terms of retention, you can take time off without guilt.

10.   If you are burning out at this stage—dial it down.  Teach practical skills instead, that will actually help you, like laundry folding, sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.  Take field trips.  Go to the park or on hikes.  Read tons of books out loud. 

Ultimately, we are all just giving the Lord our loaves and fishes when it comes to educating our children.  He is the one that gives the increase.  Be faithful, but not obsessive.  Don’t make kindergarten more than it needs to be.  If your curriculum is overwhelming you, then that’s a sign to step back.  Most importantly, pray for guidance.  The Lord will be faithful and give you guidance—you just have to be careful that you are not putting your demands and ideals on him!

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