Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 7- Focusing on True Education Instead of Mass Instruction

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My kids love to help me make beef chips. They each line up at their own station prepared to do their part in creating the finished product. Our little assembly line looks something like this:

1st Station- Take a sirloin beef tip off the plate and bread it

2nd Station- Dip the breaded beef tip into the egg/milk mixture

3rd Station- Rebread the moistened, breaded beef tip

4th Station- Deliver the prepared beef tips to the cook

5th Station- Fry the beef tips until golden brown

In case you’re wondering, today’s post is not about cooking despite how things may look at first glance. This post is about the education, or should I say mass education, that is being provided in traditional schools.

You see, I’ve come to see this method of education as an assembly line, similar to our beef chip assembly line. From kindergarten on up, each grade has the goal of providing exactly the same thing to a very large and often very different group of students. As the years progress, the steps taken may look different, but they are all working toward achieving the outcome hoped for by the school system. What is that outcome? Well, the outcome we hoped for in our beef chip assembly line was to repeat the same steps over and over again so that each beef chip would turn out exactly the same.

All of American education has come to resemble Henry Ford’s assembly line. Students receive a standardized education. Teachers work as quickly as possible as the product moves by to put in those parts deemed necessary by the administration. Quality-control inspectors watch the workers to make sure they are doing everything as dictated by the owner’s manual. In the past decade, the line has been sped up, the workers are asked to add more bells and whistles, and the raw material at the beginning of the line has decreased in quality.– Washington Post

The problem with this idea is that our children are not beef chips. They are not automobiles, and they are not pairs of sneakers being assembled. They are individuals with different interests, different strengths, and different dreams.

Wouldn’t it make much more sense if we parents took the initiative to give our children the education suited for them? And, unlike the assembly line, this doesn’t look the same for every child, nor should it.

A true education is not about textbooks and worksheets and standardized tests. A true education will provide preparation for the real world- the actual real world, not the simulated version designed to fit within the walls of the school building.

The elementary school by our house

It will be molded to best fit each child’s potential calling in the world they will one day be a part of are already a part of. A true education will approach life itself as the classroom- a classroom without boundaries or bells or timed tests.

Government education has two ultimate goals it aims to instill in every student- conformity and following orders.

If you ask me, that’s not much of an education at all.

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Lazy Day Links- 5/27/16

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All of our kids are now finished with “school” and had their homeschool evaluations this morning, so our spring/summer break has now officially begun! My younger kids have been finished for about two weeks now, and I’m honestly missing our unit studies already.😦

Anyway, on to this week’s links:

Favorite Blog Posts:

Please Don’t Tell Your Kids to Believe in God Just in Case He Exists– Natasha Crain

Why I Chose to Be Pro-Choice (Read it! It’s not what you think!!)- Me, Coffee & Jesus

The Time to Take a Closer Look at Our Public Schools Is Now– Children Are a Blessing

It’s Normal to Have Babies. (That’s Why I Look at You Weird When You Ask Me If I’m “Done.”)– Generation Cedar

Dear Drake– Beauty Beyond Bones

 

My Older Posts:

Homeschooling IS Learning in the Real World

Going on a Road Trip? Ditch the Textbooks and Live Life!

Why Should We Homeschool?

An Obliteration of Childhood

Sometimes the Best Teachers Don’t Need a Degree

 

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Books Worth Reading:

Fossil Hunter– John B. Olson

The Nephilim Trilogy– L.A. Marzulli

Wars of the Realm Book 3- Light of the Last– Chuck Black

The Mothman Prophecies- A True Story (Note: I haven’t lost my mind…I don’t believe this story is true, but it makes for a great science fiction read!)

What Do I Do Monday?– John Holt

 

That’s it for this week. Starting next week, I plan on using a theme for all of my book recommendations. Until then, Happy Memorial Day!

 

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A Tale of Ten Homeschoolers- Evaluation Week!

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Our last week of “school” has finally arrived- for real! And a new-to-us car (okay, SUV) has also finally arrived today! This past couple of weeks have been the longest days of our lives. Imagine living in a 12-person household without going grocery shopping for 10 days.😦 Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

Although we’ve been without transportation for most of the week, we’ve been very busy. Tomorrow morning our homeschool evaluator will be calling us for our evaluation interview, so this week has been much about the kids and I working together to choose which work samples to send to her. While it’s a lot of work, especially since I have 6 kids needing evaluations this year, it really was fun to take a look back at our year.

The Littles:

I’ve been continuing math practice with Luke (7) since his new workbook is pretty advanced for the coming year. Ireland (6) does not, technically, need the practice since she just finished Kindergarten, but this child is highly motivated and has astonished me in so many ways this week.

The other morning I drew a number line for Luke because he still needs to practice some of the more difficult addition facts. During his math time, Ireland asked me to make her a number line. I explained to her that I couldn’t help her right then because I was working with Luke, but she asked for it anyway. Then she asked me to write down some “hard” addition problems. Since I don’t like pushing kids too early, up until this point I had only worked with her on addition problems that add up to 0-5.

She sat on the floor diligently working on these problems, and I didn’t expect much because I had never shown her how a number line works. At one point I asked Luke what 7+8 was, and while he was calculating in his head, Ireland called out “15!” I asked her how she knew that. She casually replied, “The number line.” I walked over and checked her paper, and out of 20 problems, she only got 2 wrong! I was astonished.

The next day, she taught herself how to ride a bike. Again, we’ve never helped her with this. She hadn’t really been interested in it until this week when she simply got on a bike and started practicing over and over again until she could do it. Ireland is honestly the perfect example of how well children learn if they are left to figure things out for themselves. John Holt would’ve been proud.:)

 

The Big Kids:

Caollin, London, and Bailey have all also been continuing math. With everything going on, we haven’t done it everyday, but we get to it when we can.

Caollin’s been spending a lot of time at the creek with Dillon. This week they found a snapping turtle and a huge bullfrog. Thankfully, they did not bring them home and left them there.:)

London spent most of the week at my mother’s house and just came home today for her evaluation tomorrow. She had such a good time with her grandma and my uncle when she went out to eat with them and Jack Sparrow and Tinkerbell showed up. Afterwards, they went outside of the restaurant and saw a bunch of geese. London approached a goose to pet it, and it immediately fluffed up its wings and started chasing her. London was terrified, but I wish I’d have seen it. I would have been a bad mom and cracked up laughing! Later they did see why the goose was so belligerent- her babies were right up on the hill. She was just protecting them.

Tonight Bailey went to an event at the elementary school with a neighbor. He was so excited because he got two free books there.

 

(This post contains affiliate links.)

The Teens:

The teens are so happy to be finishing up their week. Devin has been busy preparing for three trips back-to-back-to-back. On Sunday, she’ll be leaving to go with a friend to the Special Olympics at Penn State. Her friend’s brother participates in the track event. They’ll be camping at a nearby campground for a few days there, after which she’ll be coming home for a day, and then setting off for an anime convention in Atlantic City. After being there for the weekend, she’ll come home for a few weeks and then head back to New Jersey for a Japanese Christian event with another friend whose mother is from Japan. Devin is a busy, busy girl!

Dillon has been another busy one! On Saturday he went to the roller rink with some friends, and practically every other day this week he’s been at the creek, which has meant no book work for him. I truly feel he’s learning more there because he’s actually interested in it. He’s still taking photographs of the wildlife and surrounding habitat. I think he may finally have found his niche!

 

Arianna has still been in homebody mode, although she did help our oldest son clean up my mom’s backyard this week. She found her Apples to Apples game this week, and we’ve played it several nights now. If you’ve never played this game, I highly encourage you to try it. It can be so hilarious if you’re playing with goofy kids like mine.😉

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Compared to last week, this week started out just as difficult but has ended on a high note. God is good all the time, isn’t He? Here’s to hoping you have a blessed and fun weekend!

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Why We Use a Homeschool Routine Instead of a Schedule

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Last year, as I was paging through the teacher’s guide for one of our math curriculums, I came across a sample schedule for a typical homeschool day:

8:15-8:25- Pledges, prayer, songs, devotions, etc.
8:25-9:10- Bible
9:10-9:55- Language Arts
9:55-10:15- Recess (juice break)
10:15-11:00- Mathematics
11:00-11:45- Social Studies
11:45-12:30- Lunch, recess, quiet time
12:30-1:15- Science
1:15- ? – Drill, remedial work, enrichment

I gazed at it for several minutes, astonished that someone might actually conduct their homeschool day like an actual school day. After looking into it, much to my surprise, I found that there are, indeed, families who use- and enjoy- this method.

I realize that every homeschooling household does things differently, but I really felt that I should write about why our family uses a routine instead of a schedule like the one above.

I’d like to start by explaining the difference between a schedule and a routine. A schedule is exactly what you see above. Besides the structured time, a schedule also usually involves a pre-planned agenda determining exactly which pages or assignments are to be completed on which day. A routine is somewhat different in that it incorporates a rhythm throughout the day rather than instituting specific times and activities for each day.

While a formal schedule can certainly be helpful for those families who thrive on this sort of structure, the limitations on time can inhibit learning if a child is interrupted prematurely to move on to the next subject. If your daughter has only five minutes left to complete her math assignment and is just starting to get the hang of it, is it a good thing to end that subject simply to move on to the next one?

I know this often occurs because a parent may worry that if one subject runs late, the whole schedule may be thrown off, or- worst-case scenario- another subject may be missed entirely. And if that happens, then the entire lesson plan for the week will be thrown off. What to do?

I would suggest that you apply the same reasoning to schedules that you (hopefully) do to curriculums: Schedules are a tool. Do not allow yourself to become a slave to them.

In our homeschool routine, we do have very general times that we try to do certain things. Most importantly, we always try to start our “school day” by 10am. We’re usually pretty good with that because I do have a lot of kids to facilitate, so it’s essential that we are diligent about getting started. After that, though, our lessons have no time limitations. Sometimes I may work with the littles until 11am. Other times, we may still be going strong at 11:30, in which case the older kids will only get about thirty minutes in before lunch. Sometimes, though not often, I may have the littles and the older kids finished by lunchtime. Other times we may need to continue on for an hour or two after lunch. And still other times, we may need to wrap things up prematurely for a trip to the library, the grocery store, or a doctor’s appointment.

No matter what, it’s all good, because I realize that there is learning in everything they do.

One thing that largely helps me with this mindset is that although I do write a quick plan of what I hope to accomplish during the week, it’s not set in stone. If we miss an assignment, it’s no big deal. If I feel that it’s important or will be fun for us, I’ll fit it in another day. If not, I’ll toss it completely. This is one of the beauties of homeschooling- flexibility. I am not going to freak out if we miss something and start scheduling make-up days. I’m pretty sure we’ll survive if one grammar worksheet is left undone.:)

No matter the method you prefer to use when it comes to coordinating your day, keep in mind that homeschooling is not school at home. Why should we try to imitate something that isn’t working? Learning can be an awesome experience, especially when it happens together as a family. This should be the essence of home education- not frantically trying to recreate a system that has proven itself to be almost utterly futile.

So as you continue in your homeschool journey, remember that this is a journey that will quickly come to an end. What do you want your children to remember? The schedules? Or the time you spent together each day?

 

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Drop Your Schoolish Mindset So Your Kids Can Get a Real Education

It’s a well-known fact that schools are failing, so why on Earth do we keep trying to imitate them?

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America’s schools are failing. There’s no doubt that our educational system has entered a period of extreme crisis. Violence is on the rise, teaching to the test has become the predominant method, and children simply aren’t learning as well as they should be.

Why is this? Most people are unaware that the US educational model has remained almost unchanged in the last 150 years, when it was first instituted to train future factory workers. The current method of dry textbook learning, separation of subjects, and changing classes upon the ringing of a bell looks quite the same since the beginning of compulsory education.

For most of us, this means that we were conditioned for 13 years, at the very least, to accept that this is the best way- the only way- to get a proper education:

  • textbooks– often dry, monotonous resources which are almost impossible to pay attention to
  • subjects taught like an assembly line– a generic assortment provided to each and every student regardless of their need for, or interest in it
  • a pre-ordained allotment of time given for each subject– more time for the “important” subjects like math, language arts, science, and social studies; less time for those pesky “less important” ones like art, music, drama

Chances are, if you have made the decision to homeschool your children, you are well aware of the problems within the established educational system. You have taken it upon yourself to give to your children what no school can- an individualized, quality education.

Which leads me to the question at the heart of this topic- why do so many of us try so hard to imitate a school system which isn’t working? We take our kids out of school- or never send them in the first place and then proceed to purchase boxed curriculum, write timed schedules affording 45 minutes for math, 45 minutes for language arts, 30 minutes for social studies, etc., and we, in essence, try to replicate the very atmosphere we removed our children from in the first place!

Why??? Why do we do this? The most likely answer to that is what was mentioned earlier- we have been conditioned this way.

Homeschooling is our chance at allowing our kids to learn in freedom. I’m going to let you in on a little secret…textbooks are not the only way to learn. In fact, for many children- if not most- they are the least effective way possible.

What I want from you today is for you to take every notion you have about what education is supposed  to look like, toss it out the window, and start from scratch. I’ll tell you what I’ve realized that learning is supposed to look like:

  • A baby figuring out how to take his very first steps- without one single lesson!
  • A toddler learning his native language simply by being immersed in it.
  • A little boy who is so in love with reptiles that he can identify every single obscure snake he sees, merely by poring over book after book about them in his free time.
  • A teenage girl who is so enamored by cosplay that she teaches herself how to sew.

That is what true learning looks like. It’s more than having the ability to spout off facts on command, only to forget them later. It’s taking the knowledge that you’ve acquired and being able to apply it to real life situations- something that most people will never do with geometry proofs (which is why my daughter who is taking geometry does not have to do them).

I do strongly believe, however, that textbooks can serve a greater purpose. Some things, like math, can be easier to learn this way, but we need to remember that they are a tool. Textbook learning holds no more value than hands-on learning, or reading for pleasure, or crafting, or dancing, or wading through the creek, or grocery shopping.

Each of these examples are rife with learning opportunities. I’d even wager that the learning in these types of activities is learning that will be absorbed- something not too common with memorizing facts out of a textbook.

Some homeschooling families would probably be horrified at the fact that my 16-yr-old son only completed book work twice last week and none at all so far this week. But it’s so important to recognize that he accomplished so much more than vocabulary assignments during this time. He spent a lot of time at the creek, finding different critters, bringing them home as specimens to watch for a few days, and researching what they ate. He attended a choral concert and a volleyball game at the local middle school. He went to the roller skating rink and realized how much he enjoys it, so he’s been skating around the neighborhood, not even caring what people may think. He’s been taking pictures outside, trying to hone his skills as a wildlife photographer.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that textbooks would have been almost useless for what he achieved in the last week.

It’s time to take off your “school goggles” and replace them with your “life lenses.” The reason school doesn’t work is because it’s taken the life out of learning. It was doomed from the start.

 

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Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 6- Centrality of the Family

Children spend more time with their teachers than with their parents. Why do we let it continue?

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Did you ever wonder why most parents of public school kids don’t question the fact that their kids are in school more than they are with their own families? The average school student will spend about 30 hours a week minimum in the school building. This does not include the endless after-school programs designed for test-prep, art enrichment, chess club, organized sports, and so on. Nor does this include the before-school breakfast programs or the hours many children spend at a child care center until their parents are done working, which- to me- is simply another type of school. Until everything is said and done, a good portion of children will not see the inside of their homes until after 6 pm, after which there will be a rushed dinner, an hour or two of homework, and quite possibly some unwinding in front of the TV before bed. The next morning, the cycle will begin again.

I’m not pointing the finger. I did the same thing when my kids were in school. I signed them up for every after-school program known to man, for fear they might miss out on something otherwise. I sent them to school early for breakfast because, hey, it was a lot easier and my house got quieter a lot quicker. I told myself that I was doing the right thing because…well…school is good, right?

But then once my children finally came home for the day, I’d be shaking my head, thinking, Why can’t my kids just get along? Why are they so wound up? Why won’t my middle schooler come out of her room?

When I began homeschooling, this problem was certainly not one of my reasons to pull them out of school. I still hadn’t seen the connection. In fact, I anticipated that things might get worse having the kids together all the time.

But I was wrong.

Things started getting better. My kids started playing together and soon became the best of friends. My daughter who never left her room initiated movie nights and marathons of TV shows and animes with me almost every day of the week. She’d follow me around the kitchen after she awoke every morning, telling me about her dreams and wondering what they meant. The chaos that I expected simply didn’t happen.

I eventually asked my daughter what had changed that made her actually come out of her room. Had she been going through a phase? What she told me was very straightforward. She said that after being in school all day, she was drained, but she couldn’t rest because she usually had at least two hours of homework. By the time she was finished, she was so tired, she would just lay in her room, vegging out.

Is this the kind of life we want for our kids?

I slowly began to realize that the root of the behavioral problems at home was school.

  • My kids weren’t getting along because they weren’t together enough.
  • They were hyper because they had been forced to sit all day long.
  • They were stressed, exhausted, and cranky, but it wasn’t because of being home. It was because of school.

Additionally, since my children weren’t with my husband and me very much, we were not as influential on them as we would have liked. If your kids spend 6-8 hours a day with their teachers and peers and only a few with you, who do you think they are going to emulate? If your kids have teachers and friends with the same values as you, it may not be so bad, but, how often will that be true in this day and age?

What will happen, inevitably, is your children will likely begin to look up to their friends and their teachers, instead of you, their parents. Where do you think the ‘My parents don’t know anything’ idea originated?

Family will soon become a mere nuisance to those who have learned through experience that there will always be other people who are around them more. Siblings will be brushed aside, parents will be ignored, and family harmony will be a thing of the past.

But none of this has to happen…

I learned the effect that schooling can have on children the hard way, but it was so worth it, because when my 14-yr-old rests her head on my shoulder during church, or my 16-yr-old says, “Bye, Mom! I love you. Love you, Dad,” in front of his friends, or I see my younger children happily playing together, I know I made the right decision.

Like I said before, I may not have started this journey because of our family relationships, but the Lord knows that, in this case, homeschooling was just what the doctor ordered.

 

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Lazy Day Links- 5/20/16

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Welcome back for another list of my favorite books and links I’ve come across. Have a great weekend!

Favorite Blog Posts:

5 Reasons You Think You Can’t Homeschool, And Why I Think You Can (Read at Your Own Risk)– Generation Cedar

On the Quest for Homeschool Mindfulness– Simple Homeschool

Reason 252: This Is my Number One Reason– 365 Reasons to Homeschool

My Top Tips on How to Homeschool Young Children– A Wise Woman Builds Her Home

Is Spiritual Truth a Matter of Opinion? An Open Letter to a Relativist– Natash Crain

 

My Older Posts:

Sorting Things Out: My Rant Against PA Homeschool Laws

Homeschooling in PA- It’s a Piece of Cake!

Maybe It’s Easier Than I Thought

The Unschool Experiment

Why Should We Homeschool?

 

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Books Worth Reading:

Instead of Education– John Holt

Weapons of Mass Instruction- A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling– John Taylor Gatto

The Book Thief– Markus Zusak

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism– Timothy Keller

This Present Darkness: A Novel– Frank Peretti

 

That’s it for this week. Enjoy!

A Tale of Ten Homeschoolers- The Week Everything Came Crashing Down

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You know how whenever things seem to be going great, something awful usually happens and your world comes crashing down around you? Well, that’s where we’re at right now. So, while I could write about trips to the creek, math practice, and crafts completed, this is not going to be that post.

On Sunday after church, I took a slight detour to return a library book and was in a car accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but our van- our only vehicle- was totaled. What this means for a family of twelve living on one income is that we have no transportation for my husband to get to and from work. So, this has been the bulk of our education this week- survival.

To top things off, our homeschool evaluations should be scheduled soon, and I haven’t even gotten around to starting our portfolios yet. Thankfully, our evaluator is very relaxed about that sort of thing. Come to think of it, I have to rewrite all of our resource lists again because I lost all of those files when my MacBook crashed. Fabulous.

This is probably going to be my shortest post ever because I’m honestly so stressed out right now that I can’t even think straight. If you happen to think of it, please pray for our family. We could sure use it right now.

 

Homeschooling Multiple Ages? Simplicity Is the Key to Success

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Of all of the fears I hear from would-be homeschoolers, the issue of multi-level homeschooling is very near the top of the list. I can totally identify with that because that was one of my very own when I started homeschooling. It’s true that educating several children of differing ages can seem like a nightmare if you are looking at home education through the lens of a public school atmosphere.

When people hear that I have eleven children and homeschool nine of them, I can tell by the looks on their faces what they’re imagining my days to be like:

A classroom of school desks with my children excitedly raising their hands in order to answer a question. Me standing at the front of the room wearing an apron with a duster in one hand and a pointer in the other. Classical music playing in the background while I conjugate Latin verbs with my 5-yr-old.

or…

A classroom of school desks thrown askew as a slew of children parade around the room banging on pots and pans, protesting that day’s assignments. Me standing at the front of the room, hair falling out of a bun, dark circles under my eyes, pleading with them to please sit down and do their 3x each. The three-yr-old in the background, going through the makeup I no longer have time to apply, drawing cat whiskers on her own face with my eyeliner.

Although I have had days with features of each of these:), neither of these is an accurate depiction of what goes on in the average homeschooler’s school day. Thankfully, homeschooling does not have to fit the traditional school model, which is most fortunate for those of us who are homeschooling larger families.

Of all the homeschooling approaches I’ve tried, the one thing that has kept our days happy and manageable has been simplicity. The very first point I want to get across is that homeschooling does not have to take six hours a day. There are various reasons that a public school day takes that long, which is a post for another day, but suffice it to say that most homeschooling families do not spend nearly that much time on formal assignments.

While each family does it differently, and no one way is right or wrong, these are the routines that have helped with our family.

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(This post contains affiliate links.)

– Focus on the three R’s- reading writing, and ‘rithmetic. Although this approach is often seen as being for younger children, it can work quite well with inquisitive older kids, too. My teenage son does not use any textbooks for anything other than language arts and math. He has no need to. He loves reading about and watching movies about WW2 and is an avid outdoorsman. It seems like everyday he is bringing one critter or another home from the creek to observe. (As a matter of fact, he lost two snakes in my yard just this week! His response to my alarm? “Don’t worry, Mom. There are only three venomous snakes in the state of PA, and these weren’t any of them.” That doesn’t exactly reassure me, but it does let me know that he’s been doing his research!)

– Teach your kids together with unit studies. Right now this has been the go-to method for our family. Since I do have so many children, I’ve found that it works better for me to separate the kids into two groups with separate unit studies, which they take turns doing every other day. After I work individually with each child on language arts and math (which is not really necessary, but I do enjoy the one-on-one time with my kids) I will read aloud to them, and then they will complete some unit study assignments together. The nice thing about unit studies is that they are cross-curricular; there is no need to teach each subject individually. Each topic explored will tie in one way with the next and everything from math to science to history to art (and so on) is almost guaranteed to be covered. Some of our favorite unit study curricula have been Konos, Five in a Row, Media Angels Creation Units, and various thematic units. I’ve also written unit studies of my own on Famous Inventors/Inventions, Greek Mythology, and the Little House series- all of which can be found here on my blog. It’s so much more relaxing to know that you can adequately educate all of your children either together, or in groups, as I do.

– Keep in mind that as children get older, they also gain more independence. While I do technically homeschool nine children, it has to be said that I am really only heavily involved with the teaching of six of them, and even that is not terribly time-consuming nor stressful because of the way we approach things. My older kids will occasionally ask for help with math (why is it always math??) and are pretty competent on their own with everything else. They know I am there if they need assistance, but my actual involvement with their school work is minimal.

The prospect of homeschooling multiple ages can seem intimidating and stressful at first glance, but once you’ve found a routine that is comfortable for you and your family, it can be one of the most delightful endeavors you’ve ever accomplished. Simply remember that homeschooling is not school at home. Focus less on that and more on keeping the home in your school, and success will soon follow!

 

There’s No Place Like Home is now on Facebook and Pinterest!

 

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5 Simple Steps to Creating a Literature-Based Unit Study

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Writing my own unit studies was never something I seriously considered doing. I was completely satisfied with the prepared resources I had purchased and assumed that it would never be necessary. However, when my children and I grew tired of the last unused unit study we had, I was faced with the option of forging ahead through something none of us wanted to do, or creating my own unit. The idea was rather daunting to me, but out of desperation, I decided to give it a go. Surprisingly, I discovered that not only was it quite easy, but I loved doing it.

I approach everything with a no-nonsense attitude. I have ten children at home and don’t have time for any unnecessary triflings, so I write my unit studies the same way- with a clear, concise plan unencumbered by extraneous details.

Today I am writing about literature-based unit studies because I find that writing a unit with a specific read-aloud in mind makes for an effortless transition into authoring thematic units on your own.

5 Steps to Creating Your Own Unit

1. Choose a book that both you and your children will enjoy. There is no point in opting for a title that neither you nor your children have an interest in, despite how popular it may be. If a good bit of time is going to be spent exploring a particular book, it had better hold everyone’s attention!

2. Decide how long you would like to spend on this particular unit and how many activities per day will be appropriate for your family. Every family is different. While some may enthusiastically dive into 4-5 activities per day, others may be content with only 1-2. You know what your children can handle. If you want a successful unit study, don’t overdo it. When deciding the length of time for each unit, I strongly suggest to let it work around the length of your chosen book. A 2-week unit study simply wouldn’t cut it for a 700 page book. I tend to tailor the time spent on a unit around how many chapters a book has. For example, if there are 23 chapters, I’ll more than likely make it a 5-week unit study since I usually read one chapter aloud per day, unless they are particularly small.

3. Do the math and begin browsing for ideas to explore. If you’ve decided to spend three weeks on a particular book and are aiming for three activities per day, simple math will tell you that for 15 days x 3 activities per day, you will need to come up with 45 ideas to explore. For a two-week study with two activities per day, you’ll need 20. This may seem like a lot, but there’s a rather basic way to approach this. If, like me, you are planning to read aloud one chapter per day, simply browse each chapter for the number of activities you plan to do. It is not necessary to read through each chapter thoroughly. Skim through and watch for any words or phrases that stand out to you. For example, if you are looking for two ideas per day, you may find “wolves” and “tree sap” seem to jump out at you in the first chapter. Never mind if they seem unrelated; the literature will tie them together. Jot down those two words and move on the next chapter, and so on, and so on…

4. Get creative and turn those ideas into lessons/activities. Once you’ve gone through the entire book and have a basic idea of what you’d like to explore, it’s time to create your lesson plan. Remember that unit studies are meant to be cross-curricular, so keep that in mind as you’re brainstorming. There are so many ways you could approach each idea; the possibilities are almost limitless. Going back to the “wolves” idea, just off the top of my head, these are the activities I can think of right here on the spot:

  • researching wolves and writing a report
  • watching a documentary about wolves
  • visiting a wildlife sanctuary
  • making wolf masks out of papier mache or simple paper plates
  • researching what parts of your country, if any, are home to wolves and locating on a map where they are
  • calculating how far from your state or city wolves can be found in the wild; how long would it take to get there if you were traveling at 60 mph?

I could do the same thing with “tree sap,” but I don’t want to bore you. And don’t get overwhelmed by ideas. Pick one! Which one is your favorite, or  which one do you think your kids will enjoy the most? Go with that one.

5. Gather your materials, and you’re off! Once you have everything planned out, head to the library for any supplementary books that would be useful. Make a list of any art supplies needed and get them ahead of time. Once you have what you need, you’re ready to begin!

Watching your children’s faces light up doing something that you’ve created just for them can be an exhilarating experience. Don’t doubt yourself or your own innate creativity. You might just be astounded by what you come up with!

 

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