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Articles Bright Ideas Just For Fun Lesson Ideas My Humble Opinion

Starting a Co-op – Finding Others

Thinking of starting your own homeschool co-op? Not sure how to find other people to participate? Not sure how to outline expectations? Here’s where we started…

We were really excited about the idea of homeschool co-ops long before Ana ever started one. But there were a couple of things we weren’t really sure about, like when we should do it and how to find other people who were interested. It had always been in the back of our minds, but was always one of those things we thought we’d get to sooner or later. We really started talking seriously about it when other moms in Pea’s loose-knit play group started asking about where/when she’d be attending pre-school. Our answer was always, “we’re homeschooling”, and since we sort of believe that education starts at birth, she was already “in” school as far as we were concerned.

We were discussing it one night, and Ana mentioned jumping right in and starting up a co-op for preschoolers. Why not? The beauty of a preschool co-op would be that even parents who planned on sending their kids to a traditional school later on but were currently staying home with them may want to participate. We also thought it would be a good time for us personally to shift Pea’s educational experience a little by exposing her to different teachers and other students. Playing the part of mommy and teacher at the same time didn’t always work out as planned for Ana.

Ana jumped online and went to our local MomsLikeMe site and wrote up a quick post, just to gauge interest, and the response was great. Actually, the response was a little overwhelming. There were a lot more people interested than we’d anticipated. We figured the ideal class size would be 6 or 7 kids, but there were way more initial responses.

A meet and greet was set up so that the moms and kids could get to know each other a little. This was one of the most important steps of organizing the co-op. Of course, not every family who responded showed up for the meeting. Not a problem–if you aren’t interested enough to come to the first meeting, you probably aren’t that interested long-term. The meetup also provided a chance to lay out all the things that would be involved in a co-op. Supplies and curricula cost money, so there would obviously be a financial commitment. More importantly, there needed to be a commitment to being heavily involved with teaching classes and providing care for younger siblings while their moms were instructing.

Most of all, there needed to be a real commitment to participate every day to help the kids establish a steady group dynamic in their school. Sure, kids get sick and scheduling conflicts come up, that’s understandable. But the kids needed the stable group and each mom’s unique creativity and perspective.

Miss Annette Teaching Math

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I wouldn’t go so far as to say anyone was scared off, but if anyone expected this to be just another playgroup or a chance for moms to get together and gossip while the kids played with letter blocks, their eyes were opened to a very different idea. The group of moms that decided to continue on with the project was fully committed, and the results have been great. The kids are now getting a variety of classes taught by different moms, and they are having a blast with it.

I’d say the commitment of the families involved, and that especially means the MOMS, is the single most important factor in the co-op’s success so far. If you are thinking of starting a co-op, don’t feel bad about being selective and laying out firm expectations from the very beginning.

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My Humble Opinion

State Standards As A Resource

I recently helped a friend of mine with the decision to homeschool their daughter that just entered kindergarten. They were unhappy with their school for various reasons and decided that they would keep her at home for school. My friends are very excited yet nervous about the decision and asked for some guidance and help with where and how to start.

We sat down and covered the basics:

  • Homeschool method of choice – Classical, Unschooling, Waldorf,  Montessori…so many to choose from! (BTW, this is a great place to start because this will lead you to the kind of teaching/learning style, curriculum, and environment that will fit your family)
  • Co-op or no co-op? What are the local options?
  • Curriculum and materials – What to buy? What can I make? There’s so much out there!
  • Reading instruction – Quick intro to Phonics vs Whole Language and the latest research
  • Daily structure – or lack there of if unschooling
  • Daughter’s learning style
  • Mom’s teaching style
  • Starting points and assessments
  • Planning
  • And other such things that come up when talking about homeschooling

Anyway, she had some great questions about planning for subjects and on how to be sure that she would be teaching the things that her daughter needed to know for her age. This is a really common concern and there’s a super easy and free resource that you can use to help guide you in the general direction. Your state standards.

I know, I know…many families homeschool to get away from the state school system. Yet the state standards can be a really helpful guide for parents because it shows you what kids should (developmentally) be learning for each subject by grade level. This doesn’t mean that you have to teach those things or that you can’t go above and beyond those things – but it can really help to give you a big picture of where you want to go for the year and might even give you some ideas for what you want to teach.

So if you have these same concerns as a new homeschooler or if you’re a veteran looking for ideas on what to teach for a certain grade level or subject, then you can definitely get some ideas from this free resource. Check out your state’s standards online by going to your state’s department of education website.

What are some things that you all have done to help you organize or decide what you teach? We’d love to hear from you!

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Curricula and Books Must Reads My Humble Opinion What Others Are Doing

5 Questions To Ask Before Buying Homeschool Curriculum

A new school year means a new curriculum for many families. Whether you are just starting out or you’ve decided to try something new, there’s a ton of curricula to choose from. Although I have my favorites, I don’t like to recommend any particular curriculum to anyone because families and children are so different. What works great for one family (or child) might not for another, so it’s really important that you take your time choosing the one that’s best for you and your kids.

So how do you decide? You can start by asking yourself the following questions about the curriculum you are considering for reading instruction (although these could be used for any subject). I’ve put them in order of importance for me…which of course may be different for you!

  1. Does it fit my child’s learning style? As the learner, your child’s learning styles and preferences should play a major role in deciding what type of curriculum you should buy. Is she more hands on or does she enjoy listening to and discussing stories? Does she do well learning with technology or does she prefer more traditional approaches? Look for a curriculum that uses methods that work best for her.
  2. Does it fit my teaching style? Although your child’s learning style is a really important deciding factor, you are the teacher and therefore must be comfortable in how you teach the material! Do you like to have things laid out for you in a very structured way (day by day plans, lesson procedures, suggested/provided materials, etc.) or are you more interested in having freedom to choose the what, how, and when of it all? You might even fall somewhere in between – check out question # 5.
  3. Are the instructional methods solid? By this I mean…Is it a trusted curriculum that has shown good results for many kids? Is it based on reading research? Is it thorough or does it just skim the surface of what you want to teach? Try to do your own research by visiting curriculum fairs, talking to other parents, and reading reviews online (on sites other than the publishers’!).
  4. Is it fun and engaging? This is huge! This is where schools sometimes have an advantage…there are many fun things a teacher can do with a class of students that parents may not be able to do to at home to keep interest high. So it’s really important that you find something that is fun and keeps your child’s attention. Try to look for curriculum or methods that include things your child loves to learn about. It’s so important for kids to have fun reading!
  5. Does it allow for flexibility? If you home school, then you know this is a must! Flexibility allows you to change, add, or leave out certain things from your instruction. Some programs only work well if they are followed as is, so you may not see the best results if you decided to tweak it. Just make sure you chose something that lets you have some wiggle room if you need it.

Starting a new curriculum can be very exciting for parents and kids, so have fun with it! Check out what these homeschoolers have to say about it:

A to Z Home’s Cool has some great resources put together to help you avoid wasting money.

Home School Curriculum has descriptions of curricula along with comments and input from parents about each one.

PEAH shares great resources to help you save money and keep you updated on the happenings in the world of homeschool curriculum.

Have a great year!

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In The News My Humble Opinion What Others Are Doing

Reading Phailure?

USA Today has a pretty scathing criticism of Reading First in its editorial section. The crux of the argument is that the system has been duped by textbook publishers into wasting a lot of money on a program that has no value. But does that mean the research is wrong? Is the problem with the research or the implementation?

…the studies the panel reviewed show that intensive phonics has little to do with students’ ability to understand what they read. Distinguished literacy experts Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman have provided compelling evidence that comprehension is the basis for learning to read: We learn to read by understanding what is on the page.

But what happens after we learned to read? How do we learn to stretch our skills? What about reading to learn? Shouldn’t our goal be to eventually learn to understand by being able to read what is on the page? Mr. Krashen’s solution to literacy ills is the mere presence of books.

Instead of wasting billions of dollars more on Reading First, let’s invest much more in libraries in low-income areas. Let’s make sure all children have access to books, and solve the real literacy crisis forever.

Great. Now what do we do about the kids who don’t live next door to the library?

Whether taught at school or at home, with books paid for by the parents or provided free for loan by libraries, using researched based techniques or trial and error, children are ultimately going to be affected more by their parents’ attitudes toward literacy and reading than anything else.

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In The News My Humble Opinion

Age Guidance For Children’s Books…No Thanks!

That’s what Philip Pullman and over 80 other authors, illustrators, librarians, and booksellers are saying in their petition against the proposed age banding for children’s books by leading publishers. This proposal looks to add suggested age ranges on children’s books (such as ages 5+ or ages 7-9) in order to help parents, teachers, and kids tell which books are appropriate for children to read. This has sparked much debate amongst those involved with children’s books. The publishers claim that this will be very helpful to parents when choosing books for their kids at bookstores and for teachers selecting material for their students.

Is this really necessary? Has there been some sort of epidemic of concerned adults wandering the aisles at bookstores and libraries unsure of what material is appropriate for their children to read? I don’t think this age banding proposal is a good idea and here are a couple of problems I see with it:

  • Not all kids are the same: Every child reads at different levels at different ages! Parents who homeschool have much more control over letting their child read out of the “appropriate” range that will appear on a book’s cover, so I’m sure we will continue to make decisions that best suit our children rather than allow an unnecessary age range deter us from purchasing a certain book. Yet will kids who attend schools still have the freedom to choose the books they wish to read? Will the advanced 7 year old (like this one) who devours chapter books deemed for older kids be allowed to read them at school?
  • It may discourage readers or embarrass others: A child who is interested in dinosaurs may excitedly pick up a book about them only to put it down quickly once he realizes it’s a “baby book”. There’s no telling how much he could have learned or how much fun he could have had reading it because he never even gave it a chance. And trust me, kids don’t want to be caught reading books that are considered too young for them! So what about the kids who read below their current grade or age level? How would an 11 year old who reads at a 3rd grade level feel when they are given a book that says it’s for ages 8-10? My guess is that child would not want to read that book…or any other that reminds him how behind he is. Pullman says it best:

“…Everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out.”

I really hope that these publishers take to heart the wishes of the petitioners and decide against including these age ranges on their books. Parents, educators, and kids should enjoy choosing books based on interest and curiosity without such limits!

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Bright Ideas My Humble Opinion

Readers and Golfers

Tiger Woods -- GolferI love to play golf, but I’m not a golfer…yet. That raises the obvious question–what are the differences between a golfer and someone who plays golf? Well, they’re basically the same differences between someone who can read and a reader.

Golfers have spent countless hours practicing chip shots and bunker shots. They’ve hit thousands of buckets of balls with their drivers and irons. They’ve spent time and effort tweaking small nuances in their swings in their basements. They are prepared for every situation the course, which they’ve played dozens of times and know intimately, can throw at them. As a result, they score well on the weekends when they play.

Guys who play golf (like me) usually go out once a week or less to play 18 holes. Maybe we hit a bucket of balls before we play to warm up. We get a little stressed when put in the situation of having to chip downhill onto green because we don’t really have that shot. We lay up instead of going for greens because we can’t hit our 2 iron well every time and can’t rely on it. We basically play every hole shot to shot, reacting to the latest situation we’ve created for ourselves instead of setting ourselves up and executing a strategy.

So what does this have to do with reading? Maybe you can see where I’m headed with this…

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In The News My Humble Opinion

Where Does Literacy Begin?

Well, according to Esther A. Jantzen’s article in the LA Times, literacy begins at home, and I couldn’t agree more. She had this to say about the study which found that Bush’s Reading First program is not working:

I doubt if anyone with experience in urban education is surprised at the announcement. We’re disappointed that, once again, a generation of public school kids didn’t get whatever is needed in order to learn to read well.

But we’re not surprised. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree a long time.

I’ve actually been watching and waiting for the inevitable finger-pointing that was bound to happen once the news spread about the lack of success the Reading First program has had in improving student performance in urban schools. It should come as no surprise that the blame be tossed around and passed down from office to office before finally landing in the laps of the schools and teachers. While I knew the finger would also eventually be pointed at parents, I didn’t expect it to be done this quickly.

Although I think some blame belongs to the schools and the administration of the program in general, I completely agree with the author’s views in regards to the importance of starting literacy in the home. She goes on to share the findings of an eye-opening study that was done on children’s vocabulary and literacy; an important one that most parents (and many educators) are sadly, unfamiliar with:

They found that by age 3 children of welfare parents heard 10 million words, those with working-class parents heard 20 million words, and those with professional parents heard 30 million words. In addition, with children 13-18 months old in welfare families, almost 80% of the feedback to the child was negative, in working-class families about 50% was negative, and in professional families more than 80% of feedback to the child was affirmative.

It turns out that verbal development is not so much about IQ, parental love or socioeconomic status. These skills are related to how much a child is talked to and the tone of the communications. Literacy is founded on words heard and words used. What this means is that the critical place that literacy develops is the home, not the school, and that the crucial intervention period is very early in the life of a child.

This is powerful information for any parent to have and act on! I wish every parent would make it his or her personal mission to assure that their child gets the best start possible by simply following what this study suggests: talking and interacting with your child in a positive manner as much as possible! Jantzen goes on to supply several realistic ideas for parents, companies, and the community at large to make this change happen in homes across the country. Having worked at a couple of urban schools myself where parental involvement meant calling a social worker, I can only hope that her message is heard.

I can at least help by spreading her word and by providing parents the knowledge to teach their kids to read at home through our site! Read the whole article here to find out more about her ideas.

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Articles My Humble Opinion

Previously On…

I admit it. I’m a TV junkie. I like to think I watch in moderation, but I probably watch too much. I know that fact may seem to contradict what we’re advocating here, but I can’t help it. And I actually noticed something helpful about television a few weeks ago when Ana was explaining a reading strategy to me. The strategy we were discussing is summarizing. I’m not the reading expert, so I’ll let her take you through the specifics of summarizing, why it’s important, and how to employ it, but I quickly realized that it is a strategy used in television all the time.

Most of my favorite shows are running series like Lost that develop characters and stories over weeks and years. One thing every episode of these shows has in common is that they all begin with a “Previously on…” segment that summarizes what has happened so far. As Ana points out in her article on summarizing, there’s a very good reason for this–it gives us a chance to get caught up very quickly so we can pay attention and absorb the new material.

Again, I’ll leave the coaching of this strategy to Ana, but I thought I’d point out a way that this strategy is commonly used in another medium. I’ve always appreciated the “Previously on…” segments of television shows. Besides reminding me of what has happened in previous episodes, they’re also effective in setting the mood for what I’m about to watch. Whenever I pick up a book I’m working on, especially if it’s fiction, I almost always skim a few paragraphs I covered in my last reading session just to give myself a quick reminder of where I was and to get my mind back into story.

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In The News My Humble Opinion

‘Reading First’ Not Working…Why Not?

The Reading First initiative is a federally funded program that aims to raise student performance by improving reading comprehension (as measured by state tests). The program has very strict guidelines that states and districts must follow in order to receive and maintain funding. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Having a reading coach – a person that works to train teachers and make sure they are up to date on the latest research on teaching the five components of reading. This person is to work side by side with teachers in and out of their classrooms to help them accomplish these goals.
  • Using approved scientific research-based curricula
  • Provide students with an uninterrupted 90-minute reading block each day
  • A set amount of time for teacher professional development in reading instruction

You’d think all of those efforts should pay off, right? Well, according to a preliminary report published by the Department Of Education, students who attend a Reading First school have shown no more gains than those whose schools lack the program. The program weighs in at about $1 billion dollars a year so far (for a total of $6 billion), so you can see why this would be disturbing to some. A final report that looks at the effects of the program guidelines on student comprehension is due out in late 2008.

So why is the initiative not working as intended? I don’t think it’s because of faulty research. I suspect the reasons why it’s not working as anticipated are due to the implementation, management, and expectations of the program. My experience as a reading coach in one such school lends me a bit of insight into the matter. While I definitely don’t think the following applies to all schools, it may still be true for many. Here are three reasons why I think Reading First may not be working to its full potential:

  1. Misuse of resources at the school level: I found that my time as a reading coach was not used effectively by the administration. Much of my time was diverted towards taking care of discipline issues instead of working with teachers.
  2. Lack of teacher “buy-in”: Teachers oftentimes need to buy into and feel like they own ideas in order to change. I found that many teachers were so bogged down with the other guidelines they were placed under (NCBL, state, and district mandates) that they simply couldn’t find the time to change and grow professionally, or, in a few cases, simply didn’t want to.
  3. Unrealistic expectations: Many of the children being served in the targeted public schools come in with such limited language and literacy skills, that it’s really hard to catch them up to “grade level” in a couple of years (at least to the point where they score well on state tests) . These kids would likely make great gains quickly if they had individual instruction on a daily basis, but that’s just not realistic in today’s schools.

Could this be the beginning of the end of The Reading First initiative? Surely people will not stand behind something that costs that amount of money with no proven results, but it would be a shame if the instructional methods of Reading First are dismissed as being ineffective. I truly feel that the research that has been done to support the program and reading instruction in general is solid and strong. I’ve personally seen it work and make a difference in helping many children learn to read. I guess we shall have to wait and see how it all plays out!

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Bright Ideas Just For Fun My Humble Opinion

Nine Months Old and Learning to Read!

Ok, I’m sure you don’t believe me, but it’s true…just let me explain.

Our nine month old is learning to read already. She can’t read yet, and she probably won’t be able to read for years, but she’s already learning how. She’s learning because we started building her reading foundation months ago by doing a few simple things. At our house, we call it “reading with a purpose.”

Like most kids, Chick Pea has a favorite book. For her, that book is Marcos Counts. We read this book to her at least six or seven times a day. At times it’s the only way I can get her to calm down while Mom cooks or writes. We’re very fortunate that she shows an interest and loves everything about books, whether it’s listening to us read, looking at the pictures, or eating them. But every time we read this book with her, we read with purpose. Just a few simple things make all the difference (we hope) in helping her catch on to the idea of reading long before she has the ability to really read. Here are a few techniques you can use with babies and toddlers:

Repeated Readings
If you’re like us, you don’t have much of a choice in this one. Small children love repetition and pretty much force you to read the same book over and over. But these repeated readings help them build vocabulary and fluency early on.

Tracking the words in the book
Even though you’ve memorized the text from repeated readings, tracking the words with your finger as you go along helps them make the connection that the scribbles you are pointing at with your finger (text) have some meaning and are related to what you are saying. Resist the urge to recite the words and turn the pages on queue.

Let your child turn the pages
With repeated readings, you child will learn pretty quickly when the page needs to be turned, and they’ll be anxious to do it to get to next part of the story. Along with tracking, which will be paused while waiting for the page to turn, kids quickly figure out that the story needs the next page to continue. In our case, she’s figured out that pages need to be turned, but her timing’s a little off. That’s ok too–it’s good practice.

Look at the book while you read
Again, this may be tough to remember to do because you’ll have the story memorized pretty quickly, but directing your attention to the pages and text gives your child a visual cue that the information is coming from the book, not from you. You can expand this using tracking by pointing at the pictures in the book and talking about them. For instance, Marcos Counts objects, but the book never mentions what those objects are in the text. We always point out what Marcos is counting on each page (ducks, cars, crayons, etc.) to help her learn to identify these objects.

HAVE FUN!!!
This is the main purpose of our reading sessions. The single most important thing you can do to instill a love of reading in your child is to make it fun. Don’t force a reading time on your small child, and don’t chase them around insisting that they listen to the story. Even though it’s her absolute favorite book, Chick Pea often crawls away 3 pages in to Marcos Counts to go inspect a wooden block or chase a cat out of the room, and that’s ok. I usually just sit quietly and read silently to myself to find out what happens at the end of the story. 🙂