Setting Weekly / Monthly Goals

Because my wife and I meet with an Education Specialist each month (with work with a charter school), it is important for us to keep tabs of all the school work we do.  Lots of homeschoolers don’t need to worry about this, and therefore, they don’t bother.  I bet there are a lot of Unschoolers reading this write now saying, “School work?  What school work?”

However, many homeschoolers teachers (like myself) do give routine assignments.  Some parents follow a strict schedule.  We know a Mom who gets her kids up at 8 am and they work in the garage (which has been transformed into a classroom) until 12 noon.  After lunch, they study for another hour and then they are done.  When the next day rolls around, the cycle contnues.  My wife and I are much more informal.

We have a bare minimum that we expect our girls to achieve (and we hope to inspire them to pursue many other accomplishments):

Math — 5 worksheets per week.  (Usually one sheet a day.)

Writing / Spelling: Three sessions per week.

Science: Two projects / lessons per week.

Reading: Everyday (Including Weekends)

History: Two projects / lessons per week.

Physical Education: Everyday — We make sure our girls are taking physically actively classes, or that they are part of a sports league.  (Fortunately, they love soccer and track!)

Art: We do this so often that we don’t have a set goal.  It’s probably the girls’ most natural and frequent activity.

Of course, every family has their own style.  The beauty of Homeschooling is that you — the parent — can shape the learning experience to fit the child.  (Unlike public school, in which the child must fit the learning experience.)

Homeschool / Teacher Discounts at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Other Bookstores

Ugh… It’s the Christmas season.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like putting up the Christmas lights.  I love listening to my kids play Jingle Bells on the piano and the guitar — not at the same time; those girls have two very different tempos.   I like the whole chestnuts roasting on an open fire, that whole gig.  But what I don’t like is wandering through the malls during this time of year.  (Even with the recession is still seems too busy to me!)

So, if I have my druthers, while my wife and kids are off trying on clothes or on some equally boring shopping expedition, I prefer to make my own personal detour into the local bookstore.  I could spend all afternoon in a Barnes and Noble.  (And before I had kids, I sometimes did!)

So, what does this have to do with homeschooling?  Well, not everyone knows this, but stores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders offer impressive discount to educators.With my Barnes and Noble Educator’s Card, I save 20% on all my purchases — and when you buy something from their clearance area, that’s when you can save some serious cash!

Now this may vary depending on the particular state and particular store, but in Southern California, the book stores welcome homeschool families, and they consider homeschool parents educators.  To find out more, ask to speak to a manager and bring whatever contact information might be usefuyl (charter school info, private school status, etc.).

Of course, most of the books we read come from a remarkably inexpensive location.  The library.  However, I do like stopping by the local bookstores.  I’ve gotten the girls some terrific workbooks, journals, and “arts and crafts” kits — things they can get their hands on and destroy!  (Something the library doesn’t always appreciate!)

How to Make History Fun

History should definitely be fun.  Yet, most of my history teachers throughout my public school days made history as boring as possible.  To them, it just seemed to be a series of dates, names, and vocabulary words.  With one exception: Mr. Wolfe.  He was the coolest history teacher in all of Junior High.  And because of him, I know how to make history fun for my kids.

What did he do that was so different?  He loved telling stories.  That’s what history is, after all, a series of stories.  Wolfe loved the stories of America’s past, and he brought them to life in several different ways:

Acting and Roleplaying: Instead of quietly reading about the past, try reliving it.  Go in the backyard and pretend to be traveling down the Oregon Trail.  Gather the family around the kitchen table and pretend to sign the Declaration of Independence.  Go to your neighborhood park and relive the adventure of Lewis and Clark.  (Of course, this means that as the homeschool parent, you’ve got to brush up on your history so that you can guide them on this historic journey).

Mnemonic Games: If you want your child to learn all the names of the Civil War generals or the state capitals, rote memorization gets awful boring.  Mnemonic games and activities help us remember dates and facts that would otherwise get lost in our maze of neurons. My daughters have been learning the capitals of the world, all with the help of amusing words and mental images.  Here’s and example:

The capital of Uganda is Kampala.

My daughter memorized it this way.  They imagined a little brother calling for his big sister. “You gotta… come Paula!”  Uganda, Kampala. Get it?

I recommend useful books such as “Yo Sacramento” and “Yo Millard Fillmore,” both of them are by Will Cleveland.  Of course, you and your kids could create your own!

Create Art and Comic Books: Because history is so action packed, filled with battles, great escapes, natural disasters, and glorious victories, the whole field of study seems like the perfect comic book vehicle.  My kids and I, when we are feeling artistic, like to tell frame-by-frame stories about history.  Last month, we made a comic strip about Plato and Socrates.  We drew humorous looking characters and recreated Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and also made a story about Plato’s Utopia.  It was a fun way to express the ideas we learned from some rather dense and daunting historic literature.

Houghton Mifflin — Online Educational Resources

My ten year old daughter — she just had a birthday & I can’t believe she’s now a decade old! — told me today that she and her younger sister plan to enter a spelling bee in January.  Now, my older girl has had a love-hate relationship with spelling.  She enjoys writing songs and stories — but she does not enjoy the tediousness of the English language and prefers to invent her own ways to spell.

On the other hand, she likes to practice spelling out loud — but only as long as the words aren’t too difficult.  If I start asking her words above third grade level she gets flustered.  So, to help make spelling a bit more fun and a bit less stressful, I’ve been searching for some free online spelling games.

Here’s my favorite:

Education Place 

This website is a supplemental component of Houghton Mifflin’s textbook series.  So, not only can you find a number of spelling and vocabuklary resources, they have a lot of great material for:

Reading / Language Arts

 Social Studies


and Science

Check them out and let me know what you think.  And please leave a comment to let the rest of us know about other terrific educational websites!

Question: “Hey, Dad. Can I Help?” Answer: “Yes.”

Our children want to spend time with us.  As much as some may complain that kids today are addicted to the internet, video games, text-messaging and other forms of hypnotic electronica, I believe that if we welcomed more opportunities for our kids to spend time with us, most children would jump at the chance.

For example, if I were to say to my nine year old, “Would you like my to read your favorite book to you, or would you like to watch television.”  She will invariably choose storytime with Dad.   And if I say, “Do you want to play Wackyball in the backyard?” she would never reply, “Oh, I’d rather sit here and play with my Gameboy.”

Of course, the trouble is this: Parents don’t always have the free time to say “Hey, let’s do something fun together.”  Sometimes we have to pay bills online, we have to change the oil, we have to weed the garden, or mop the floor, or balance the checkbook. We are busy with all of these ever-so-important (and ever-so-boring) activities.  How can we possibly fit in quality time, let alone homeschooling time?

Well, think about this.  Have your kids ever come up to you when you were in the middle of a household chore or when you were trying to tackle a work-related task from the office.  Maybe your child asked, “What are you doing?”  And maybe you responded by saying, “Work stuff.  I’ll be done in an hour or two.”  Maybe the kid even asked if he could help, but because you wanted to get the job over as quickly as possible you said “Thanks but no thanks.”

Never say “Thanks but no thanks,” when your child wants you to help.  this is a parenting moment.  This is a time when you can priase the child’s developing work ethnic and his growing identity as a contributing member of the family.  Moreover, this is a teaching moment.

No matter what the task happens to be — there are things to learn.  Are you putting in laundry and detergent?  Then it’s time to talk about chemistry.  It’s time to discuss the effect of cold water versus hot water on clothing.  How does soap work anyway?

Are you paying bills online?  It’s time to talk about the old days of balancing checkbooks.  Discuss the way business changes with each passing generation.  It’s also a great time to talk about money.  How someone earns it.  How careful one must be when keeping track of expenses.  How are math skills important.

Are you doing something difficult?  Is it just a “one-man” job?  Then find some way for your child to assist you — even if it’s just holding the lugnuts while you change the tire.  (Remember “A Christmas Story”?)  As you perform the task, talk to your child throughout the process.  Explain what you are doing.  Why you are doing it this way.  Ask him/her questions to see if they can guess what will be done next.

Of course, this is all basic stuff that every parent should be doing — regardless of whether he homeschools his children.  But sometimes we get so focused on completing our busywork — we forget that our children want to spend time with us — whether at work or at play.  Life is a series of teaching moments — even the everyday stuff that we often want to mindlessly hurry through.

Homeschool Perks

Whenever I tell people my reasons for homeschooling, I focus on very academic reasons:

  • Excellent Educational Opportunities
  • Statistically More Likely to Succeed in College
  • One-on-One Teaching
  • Develops Self-motivation Skills

However, I do have to admit there are a few perks to this homeschool gig that aren’t so academic… but they are still wonderful reasons to school at home.

1) Sleeping In!  Ah, yes… There’s no reason to get up at the crack of dawn and shuffle your zombie like children out to the bus stop.  Instead, our children wake up any time between 7am and 9am… whenever their body tells them to wake up.  (And that means Mom and Dad probably get more sleep than the rest of the parents on our block!)

2)  Safety Issues.  Maybe I’m a paranoid, over-protective Dad, but every time I hear a news report about school shooting, knife fights, drug deals, and good old-fashioned bullying, I’m thankful that my kids are in a safe environment in which they can focus on developing into happy, compassionate, and wise individuals.

3)  No Homework Overload.  Remeber all of that pointless busy work the teacher would assign?  Do you recall the countless pages of meaningless handouts that needed to be completed the following day — even though you already fully understood the concept and you were ready to move on to the next subject.  Well, with homeschooling the parent decides whether or not there should be deadlines and busy work… And for the most part, most homeschool kids happily work at their own pace rather than haphazzardly scrambling to finish busy work assignments by the next morning.

What does this add up to?  More quality time for the family! (The best perk of all!)

Take Off with NASA TV

A few blog posts ago, I was discussing the pros and cons of that electronic friend (or dreaded living room fiend depending on who you ask), the television set. 

Well, today was a terrific example of when to watch TV, NASA TV to be specific.  This afternoon the Space Shuttle Endeavor rocketed into the sky — and my girls were able to watch their first “real-time” shuttle launch.  And, since Grandma was visiting at the same time, we talked about what it was like for her to watch the first moon landing.  We told the kids the sad story of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and we talked about the different experiments the astronauts would by conducting while staying in the International Space Station.

Pardon the cheesy puns, but the kids had a blast watching the launch.  And I had a stellar afternoon spending time with them.

The Importance of Teachers

One might erroneously believe that homeschoolers dislike or distrust teachers.  On the contrary, most homeschool parents LOVE teachers.  For one, we parents are primarily teachers of our own children.  But we also know that other teachers (whether fellow home school parents, public school teachers, or specialized instructors) are invaluable to our children’s development.  And teachers can be found all around us.  Here are just a few examples of teachers in our lives:

Grandparents:  Right now, my mother is paying an extended visit from Washington state. Each time she visits she teaches my daughters about sewing crafts (something my older daughter loves).  They rehearse the piano and the guitar together (something my younger daughter thoroughly enjoys).  And perhaps best of all, Grandma tells the girls about her past — they get to learn about history first hand.  Even better, my mother has spent decades exploring our family tree, so she is wise in the stories of our ancestors.

Field Trip Guides: We are fortunate enough to belong to several wonderful homeschool groups.  Every week, we manage to join other homeschool families on a field trip adventure.  Some of the other parents are expert guides.  In fact, two years ago, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park and we’re given first-class tour by one of the moms in our group (Thanks Vicky!).  Vicky has been to Yellowstone over one hundred times, and her expertise helped to create a remarkable educational opportunity for our kids.

Tutors: My older daughter is still having difficulty with reading.  Although she has just turned 10 years old, she reads at about a third-grade level.  Now, this is not for a lack of effort.  My wife and I have tried scores of different reading programs.  Some of them helped, some of them didn’t.  However, our first real breakthrough came when we began going to Valencia Tutors.  Once she began working with a reading specialist, she began to blossom.  Her confidence levels tripled.  She didn’t become so frustrated with the learning process.

The funny thing about it:  The teaching style of the tutor and the learning material is about the same as our own.  However, our daughter responds differently when she works on her reading in front of us.  She feels more pressure — although I’ve tried my best to create a comfortable, stress-free environment.  I think she’s been so eager to please us by learning how to read that reading with Mom and Dad is a lot more challenging  than reading in front of a friendly tutor that has no stake in the relationship.

Sometimes working with someone other than the parents gives the child a chance to relax — and a chance for the learning process to take flight.

Who Else? Of course the list of different teachers could go on indefinitely.  I’ve given three types of teachers that are important to our family.  What about your experience?  What teachers are essential to your homeschool experience?

Math for Art Lovers

My kids love to draw.

However, they aren’t too devoted to their long division homework.  That’s why some days we combine art with mathematics.  One way to do this is quite simple: Create Pictures with Geometery!

For example, as I’m typing this blog entry, my daughters are busy at work on an art project.  I have asked them to illustrate a robot (my daughter want me to let you know that it is a “robot-dog”) using only three shapes.  Circles, triangles, rectangles and squares.

Now, that sounds rather kindergarten at first.  But after they are finished drawing and coloring, I’ll get out the ruler and have some questions for them:

  • What’s the cirumference of that circle?
  • What is the degree of that angle?
  • What is the area of that particular square?
  • What kind of triangle is that?  Obtuse?  Acute?

After we tape their art work to our refrigerator, we’ll surf the web and find some wonderful examples of classic artists who use math to create their masterpieces.  Here are some of my favorites:

There’s so much to see in this one — and sadly this image doesn’t do the painting justive.  Still, one can still detect the mastery of perspective.  Here’s a great link to more about the craft (and mathematical skill) involved in creating perspective.

Another terrific web-stop is “Mathematics in Art and Architecture.”  This site contains many articles and illustrations that clearly explain architectural designs — from maze gardens to pyramids.

Also, I rather like a blog called Math Art, although they don’t post as often as I’d like,  I can’t get enough of their M. C. Escher-styled landscapes:

Know any good websites that combine art and arithmetic?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!

The Time Management Blues


I’ve been busy at work — teaching classes and grading lots of papers.  My wife has been overwhelmed by Birthday Season.  Our girls’ birthdays are within two weeks of one another, so we’re very busy this time of year.  And then there’s the general chores that we try (but often fail) to stay up to date on.  Throw in a pile of bills to pay, and you can perhaps see how its easy to toss homeschool curriculum into the waste basket and embrace unschooling.

“Mom and Dad are busy kids.  You go learn something — anything!”

This week I’ve had the Time Management Blues.  It’s not that I haven’t spent time mentoring the children.  I’ve gotten some great quality time in… However, its been eratic. Yesterday, my older daughter and I spent an hour together going over the perils of long division.  But today — with her soccer and my post-work, burnt-out frame of mind — we didn’t do anything “academic.”  No math, science, history, reading, or writing.

This, of course, isn’t a big deal.  Except that tomorrow — if I continue my usual pattern — I’m going to over-compensate and try to make up for lost time.  So many things to learn, so many hours in a day.  That sort of mentality will grad hold of me, and then my kids might get burnt-out from my over-zealousness.

Fortunately, I have a cure for my time mismanagement blues.  After I’m done typing this blog entry, I’m going to select a book from the shelf.  (I think I’ll choose Poetry Speaks to Children, a wonderful collection of classic and contemporary poems).  Then, after the girls get tucked into bed, I’ll read to them for at least thirty minutes and talk to them about each poem.  And I’m sure they will have plenty of questions of their own.

I find that a solid half-hour of bedtime reading and talking can produce wonderful teaching moments.  It’s a terrific cure for those ol’ blues!