Friday, January 27, 2012

Homeschoolers and College -- Part 2: Tips for Parents of Middle Schoolers

     As I stated earlier, homeschoolers do, in fact, go to college.  However, getting there is a little different for homeschoolers than for traditionally-schooled students.  Therefore, I am offering tips for homeschooling parents of middle schoolers.  Beyond middle school, my personal knowledge is limited, but I am listing some resources that may offer some insight. 

     1.  Record keeping -- As a homeschool teacher in Tennessee, I was required to turn in curriculum lists and semester grades, be able to prove 180 days of instruction, and be registered with a private school or public school.  However, in Texas, such record keeping is not required.  If you have not begun to do so, in the middle school years, start keeping good records.  Make a list of curriculum and textbooks used, outside courses taken, hig school level books read, etc.  All of this will be imperative when completing college applications because many colleges require a homeschool supplement.  Take steps towards getting disciplined now or making a high school transcript will be a nightmare.  
     I use a Mead Five Star 1 subject college ruled 100 page notebook with a pocket in the front (the cover is plastic).  I write down notes daily, and I use the pocket for book lists, play programs, field trip info., etc.

     2.  Start Giving Grades -- Many homeschoolers choose not to give their children grades, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, starting in the 6th grade, choose a course (math is easy and objective) and start testing and giving grades and give a final course grade.  For example, tests count once and semester exams count twice.  Average it all and give a final grade.  Start doing this BEFORE the grades have to show up on a transcript so your child understands how this works.  Be honest, too.  You won't do your child any favors by padding grades or giving excessive extra credit so grades look good on a transcript.  Starting early gives your child a chance to understand how testing works, and he or she can work on study skills, etc. 

     3.  Math -- Make sure your child is caught up in math and has a strong math foundation.  Even if your child does not plan to major in a field that requires math, he or she will probably have to take a college math class or two.  If your child does plan to go into a math related field and he or she is behind, work over the summer or hire a tutor.

     4.  Testing -- Starting in the middle school years, begin testing your child every other year.  I recommend the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because it is nationally normed and timed.  This will get your child used to testing (think SAT) and give you an idea of his or her weaknesses and strengths.  I tested my oldest in the 5th grade and plan to test him again in the 7th grade.

     5.  Book List -- As I said above in record keeping, start a book list of books your child has read that would count as high school reading material, whether read aloud by you or read by your child.  For example, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens are high school level books.  Do not write down a high school level book that you read an abridged version of (unless it was Chaucer or something like that) or books where you only watched the movie version.  Keep this list in your notebook or on the computer.

     6.  Class at HEP -- Joanne Juren, veteran homeschooler and owner of the HEP Bookstore, teaches an affordable three-hour seminar called Getting Ready for High School and College every summer for parents of upcoming seventh grade or older children.  According to this year's course description, "Joanne Juren will discuss many topics pertinent to the student just entering the high school years.  Topics include: goal setting; course guidelines from 7-12th grade; the 4-year Plan; the high school transcript; extra-curricular courses and activities; job co-op; testing for high school/college; scholarships; and many more topics of interest!"  Your child can attend with you which is helpful ("Oh, Mom's not making me do this to be mean but because I really do need to") but can be overwhelming to him or her.  The amount of information crammed into three hours will leave your head spinning, but I felt it was well worth the $35 I paid for the seminar.  After a week or so, check in with your child about what he or she has heard.  My oldest son was stressed because after the class, another child told him homeschoolers can't go to college, and this really bothered him.  On the flip side, he has not complained about math one time since we took this class!  The class was offered in June last year but is offered in August this year.

     7.  Transcript -- By 8th grade, your child may be taking courses that will count as high school credit. Algebra I, Spanish I, or Earth Science are all high school classes.  Also, start planning ahead by making a tentative four-year plan for high school starting when your child is in the 7th or 8th grade.  Then take the necessary steps to make sure you are prepared to make those classes happen.  For example, if your child needs extra writing instruction or math help, try to get those areas stronger by the end of the middle school years.

     Lastly, not everyone goes to college, and that is okay.  Homeschooling offers a tremendous opportunity for students to apprentice or work within a field of interest to see if they like it.    
     For more information, HSLDA has a wealth of information on homeschooling through college on it's website.
     Also, for more information on homeschooling, see the Homeschool Progress Report 2009:  Academic Achievement and Demographics which gives some helpful insight into homeschooling in general.

Many thanks to Leesa W. for sharing so much of your knowledge with me and for recommending the HEP class.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homeschoolers and College -- Part 1: Yes, College Is an Option

     "Most homeschoolers don't go to college, do they?  Won't homeschooling be a problem for college?"
     Since my son is now in the seventh grade, two different people have asked me about homeschooling and college in the last month, so I thought I'd allay any fears that anyone may have concerning homeschoolers going to college and then offer some tips for homeschooling parents.  
     Many years ago, being homeschooled limited college choices.  Universities didn't know what to do with homeschoolers who applied.  Not so anymore.  According to the HSLDA website, "Many colleges are now familiar with homeschooling in general, and most of them have already admitted homeschooled students. Some colleges even have admissions officers who specifically review homeschooled students’ applications. Record keeping is important during the high school years, so that you can provide admissions officers with an accurate account of the courses that your child has completed in high school. Most colleges require either SAT or ACT test scores for admission."
     Estimates suggest that there are approximately 2 million home educated students in grades K-12, and homeschooling is the fastest-growing education choice.  (Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., Facts on Homeschoooling).  Therefore, most universities and colleges have implemented policies for homeschooled applicants.  Google "university homeschool applicants," and you'll see what I mean.
     However, the question remains:  How do homeschoolers do in college?  Does homeschooling hinder performance?   "Can Homeschoolers Do Well in College?" on had some very positive things to say about homeschoolers and their college experience.  This article, written on July 20, 2010, states  "A new study published in The Journal of College Admission suggests that homeschool students enjoy higher ACT scores, grade point averages and graduation rates compared with other college students."   Another article, "New Study Shows Homeschoolers Succeeding in College", also gives evidence that homeschooled students do well in college.
     Many home-educated students are used to educational independence by the time they are in high school.  In addition, contrary to the socialization argument, many homeschoolers  are very comfortable interacting with adults and therefore, college professors and administrators.  According to a nationwide survey released in 1997 by Dr. Irene Prue, Assistant Director of Admission of Georgia Southern University, "Homeschoolers are academically, emotionally, and socially prepared to succeed at college."  Of course, this is not the case for 100 percent of homeschooled students, and I am not advocating that all homeschoolers will definitely do well in college.  However, for the diligent homeschooled student who shows an aptitude for and desire to attend college, don't worry.  A homeschooled student can do just as well in college as a tradionally-schooled student.
     So, the answers are, "Many homeschoolers DO go to college," and "No, homeschooling (as a school choice) does not by nature hinder potential college success."  However, getting to college is different for homeschoolers.
To be continued... See Homeschoolers and College -- Part 2:  Tips for Parents of Middle Schoolers

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle -- A Great Read Aloud

     When I first began reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald aloud to my two boys, I wasn't sure what to expect.  We quickly found ourselves chuckling, giggling, and laughing out loud.
     Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an older lady who lives in an upside down house with "no family at all."  However, she quickly befriends all the neighborhood children with her stories, games, and fun!  She allows the kids to dig for treasure in her backyard, comb her hair, and make a mess baking cookies in her kitchen.  The real laughs begin, though, when Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle begins to give the neighborhood parents "wonderful cures" to help them correct their children's poor behavior.  Her cures include The Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure, The Answer-Backer Cure, The Never-Want-To-Go-To-Bedders Cure, The Fighter-Quarrelers Cure, and more.  All of these cures are hilarious, but when we got to The Radish Cure to help little Patsy learn to take a bath, I laughed so hard I cried!
     Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is eight short but wildly-entertaining chapters long and highly recommended by the Mullin family!  

Note:  If you don't read aloud books as a family, turn off the television and try reading this book together.  It's great, cheap, memorable family fun!  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning Math with Math-U-See

     Math.  For me, like many homeschoolers, math was the one subject that caused much fear and trembling.  Math was the subject I did not want to mess up.
     For my oldest's kindergarten and 1st grade years, I used workbooks, fun games, and manipulatives to learn basic skills.  However, concerned that I needed something that offered a strong foundation and built upon it, I began to research a variety of curricula.  I ordered a free sample Math-U-See DVD, sat down to watch it, and on a lesson about multiplying fractions, I found light bulbs going off in my own head.  I knew HOW but not WHY.  Over the years, word problems were a thorn in the side.  I could always get the math problems correct because I memorized how to do them but figuring out why was tricky for me.  I had just figured out something I didn't know, and shortly thereafter, I purchased my first Math-U-See book of many.
     Some math books cover wide ranges of topics a little -- they go wide.  However, Math-U-See covers one topic from top to bottom-- it goes deep.  For example, when learning multiplication, Math-U-See teaches all the multiplication facts, converting tablespoons to teaspoons, quarters to dollars, pints to gallons, quarts to pints, ounces to pounds, area of a rectangle, multiple digit multiplication, prime and composite numbers, solving for the unknown (division), etc.  For the entire year, you learn everything there is to know about the skill of multiplication.  In other curricula, you may learn some multiplication, some time, some fractions, some decimals, and some other math skills; they skim the surface of several different topics, and over the years, they are cumulative (which is a fine but different approach).
     The program uses a great deal of manipulatives, even in the older grades, thus the name, Math-U-See.  The hands on approach really worked for both of my boys and aided in their understanding.  I have heard many say that Math-U-See is weak on word problems, but I have not found that to be the case.  Perhaps later editions of the program have added more word problems.
     My sons and I watch the DVD introducing a new lesson which takes 5-10 minutes.  The "teacher" and creator of the curriculum, Steve Demme, is entertaining and clear.  In the student book, there are three pages of lesson practice on the new concept and three pages of systematic review.  We do not do every page; if the topic is mastered, we move on to the systematic review.  On some lessons, we may do two lesson pages and two systematic review pages.  In the pre-algebra book, there is an additional "Honors" page that my oldest son completes.  Other than watching the videos with my sons and making flashcards of multiplication facts, I do not do any other preparation.
     We are in our seventh year of using this curriculum, and I have been very pleased.  In the fifth grade, my son scored 100% on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills on both single-step and multiple-step word problems.  Whew! I was so relieved!  The curriculum offers clear instruction, lots of practice, systematic review to ensure mastery, and both single-step and multiple-step word problems for all concepts.  I highly recommend Math-U-See.

Note:  Because I was afraid that my children would not get a strong math background, in the early years, I forced my children to do every problem on every single page of their math books.  A friend and math major told me that I needed to move on if the subject was mastered.  If my boys do a good job on the first two pages of the new concept, we move on to the systematic review and then to a new lesson.  This has made an INCREDIBLE difference in their attitude about math.  It is no longer the dreaded and hated subject that it once was.  Don't be afraid to skip pages.  However, if your child needs that practice, by all means, do it.  If they do not, move on.  That's part of the beauty of homeschooling -- individualized instruction.

Thanks Leesa W. for the suggestion!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Mystery of History by Linda Lacour Hobar

     When I was in high school, every history teacher I had wrote copious notes on the board which we were required to write in our notebooks, word for word, for a test grade.  History was boring.
     When I began homeschooling, I decided there must be more to this subject of history.  I'd heard others say they love history.  My husband loves history.  Surely, I must be missing something.
     Early on, I decided to teach history in chronological order because that made sense to me.  Teaching about the Pilgrims followed by the Mayans followed by the Greeks seems ... well, out of order and confusing.  Initially, I chose to use The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer.  My oldest son and I enjoyed the book and the activity book.  We checked out several recommended extra library books, made a Nubian costume, colored maps, and made all sorts of crafts.  We got through the first 10 chapters out of 42 in our first year. 
     During this time, people were beginning to talk of a new book called The Mystery of History and how wonderful it was, but I was content with The Story of the World.  After finishing volume 1, we began The Story of the World, Volume 2: The Middle Ages, but there was something missing.    I purchased a copy of The Mystery of History:  The Early Church and the Middle Ages and immediately switched. 
     The Mystery of History by Linda Hobar, like The Story of the World, is written in chronological order, is conversational, and has an activity guide.  However, The Story of the World is meant to be a secular text, and The Mystery of History is unabashedly Christian.  Once we came to the middle ages and the Reformation, understanding church history became necessary to understand any history of Europe at all. In Bauer's attempt to be secular, the history of the church and thus all of Europe at the time, was anemic.  Also, I felt that Bauer's writing in her first book was markedly better than that of her second book (and I hear that her third and fourth are worse) and that the historical events were not in a strict chronological order, which drove me crazy.  Finally, I believe The Mystery of History is more easily adapted for older students.
     In the "Letter to the Teacher," Hobar writes, "I think one of the easier ways to 'know God better and to make Him known' is to first know the stories of Him found in history and the Bible from the beginning to the end!  That to me is history.  I believe history is the story of God revealing Himself to mankind and that He did it most perfectly through the person of Jesus Christ.  For that reason, I call this course The Mystery of History, believing that the 'mystery' is the gospel of Jesus Christ."  I agree, wholeheartedly, which is why I love this series; it is strongly Christian and yet strongly academic.
     Some have complained that Hobar shares too many opinions and is too conversational, but my sons and I thoroughly enjoy her writing style.  They look forward to reading history every day.
     The book can be adapted for a variety of ages and has suggestions for doing so.  The activity book has an excellent list of literature or other books to accompany this curriculum, broken up into categories for older, middle, and younger kids.  There are tests, quizzes, activities, maps, and other fun ideas in the activity book as well.  Timeline figures are available from Homeschooling in the Woods to make a timeline, or you can make your own pictures.  We used the pre-made timeline figures for Volume 3, and I had my oldest make notecards with important points listed for each chapter.  My youngest listened to the chapter with his brother and to any additional books, fact or fiction, that we chose to read to go along with the chapter. 
     Currently, The Mystery of History Volume IV is not written, so we have taken a break from world history and begun studying United States history.  However, we anxiously await Hobar's next and last volume.

     Finally, I believe, God used The Mystery of History:  Volume III The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations  to reveal Himself more fully to my youngest son.  In August 2011, we studied  Lesson 71 about  Blaise Pascal (1654).  Pascal was a brilliant man who invented the first calculator, came up with Pascal's Law and Pascal's Theorem, and refined the Theory of Probabilities.  However, unlike most history books, Hobar shares Pascal's testimony of how he trusted Christ as his Savior after losing control of his carriage and almost losing his life.  His life was radically transformed, and he dedicated the rest of his life to Christian causes.  It was during this lesson that Titus decided to trust Christ.  As Hobar says, "history is the story of God revealing Himself to mankind and that He did it most perfectly through the person of Jesus Christ."  Amen!
     Oh, and by the way, I love history now.  It's one of my favorites, as long as I'm not copying notes off a blackboard.