Thursday, October 29, 2009

KONOS unit studies

One of the curriculum that I have used and that we had a lot of fun with was KONOS unit studies. One of the main focus points is character traits, which are always good to integrate into your daily lessons. I was using this when my older son was in 4th or 5th grade. At the time he was the only one doing “school” on a regular basis. I was having a hard time getting our son to agree to any curriculum, but when he heard that he could dissect a cow’s eye he was sold. Of course the curriculum gave me the freedom to jump to what ever lesson I wanted, but we went through the attentiveness lessons with the finale being the dissection.

The amazing thing about KONOS is that it is very hands on, and creative. You can choose which activities you want to do and with very little imagination you can swap the suggested books based on what you have available and still make a great lesson of it all. You can also utilize the library and a good many “around the house” items. The hard thing about it is that you have a LOT of prep work to do. Gathering books and supplies and making sure it is ready when you need it. KONOS has done a good job of putting together a second option called KONOS in a box, where they provide a good portion of the books and supplies you need, but of course you pay more for the convenience.

During our attentiveness lessons, and in particular the Sight/Seeing unit we were able to study the human eye, find out what it would be like (sort of) to be blind, learned about interesting people like Helen Keller and really got a good idea of everything we use our eyes for. Amazingly enough, while we were in the middle of this unit I had to go to the eye doctor and I happen to choose one that was great with kids and had some patience. My son started talking about our lessons, and pointed out the parts of the eye he recognized on the poster in the exam room. The doctor was impressed by what he knew and allowed him an inside peek at my eye – there is nothing like the real thing to really set a kid talking. By the time we left the office that doctor was convinced he had just met with a future optometrist. That was never an option really, but it did give me one of those “ok, this is why we homeschool” moments.

When we were through with that year we had made and crawled through an ear, dissected that cow’s eye, dissected an owl pellet, gotten a very good start on a time-line that covered the wall, made a knights shield, sword, and tunic which was worn to Medieval Times and impressed all the actors, and walked two miles through a store and the post office blind folded, with ear plugs just to get a small taste of what Helen Keller’s life might have been like. There were many more things I can’t recall right off the top of my head but it was a fun year and I hope to do at least one like that with each of the kids. It’s harder now, because it is a lot more work to do that for more than one grade level at a time. It can be done – there are people who have used it for many children all through their homeschooling years.

There will be a link at the side bar if you want to find our more about it.

Curriculum – what to choose and what to stay away from?

There is not an easy answer to this one. But I will put a few tips here that might help wade the deep and sometimes rough waters of finding your tools.

Curriculum always drove me crazy. It did not help that, at first, I insisted on going to the homeschool fairs to do all my research. A few words of advice I got on the fairs a little too late:
1. Leave your checkbook at home. You can always go home, think about it and then order the items you want. In the end it might end up cost a little more (not always) but spending a little extra on shipping is still better then going home with the wrong fit.
2. Don’t take your kiddies, it is a distraction to you AND to the other attendees. Most of the fairs are very kid friendly but when you have your littles tugging at your legs while you’re trying to listen to a speaker, or listen to one of the vendors tell you why their curriculum will solve all your problems, you tend to make rash decisions. The exception to this would be the high school years. There are usually speakers and activities directed toward the high school students. It also is very good for them to hear how much work is involved in getting transcripts together, thinking about collage applications and or career choices.
3. Take notes and brochures and put notes on your brochures and if you have a camera on your cell phone – take a picture of the vendor with a piece of their curriculum. You’ll never remember all of that information, no matter how much they impressed you.
4. Take an extra bag for all the brochures, samples and that one or two items you just can’t leave without. Even though I warned you to leave your checkbook at home…

Also, I have found that just because a curriculum works for one kid does not mean you’ll be able to use it for all of them. Saxon math is a good example of this. I love Saxon math, well I love it AFTER you get into the 54 book. I used Saxon with the first, after struggling through others of course, and I used it for the second too, BUT we had to take a break from Saxon and used Math-U-See instead. Now the first used Math-U-See once too, but it just did not work for him. It can be trial and error, and it can be that for each and every child or you can get lucky and find one that works for multiple kids.

The point is curriculum is a funny thing. I’ve only found a few things that I was thrilled with and each of them had their draw backs, and I have not found one thing yet that really, truly worked for all the kids. Some of them only needed a tweak rather than a complete change, which was nice. Some people have had the “perfect” curriculum or program, so it isn’t that you should give up all together, just don’t be disappointed if the first thing you try just doesn’t do all you thought it would.

One more suggestion I have for curriculum, borrow, borrow, borrow… get with a homeschool group and ask if you can look over some of their books. Use some of it for a while, if you really, really like it then go ahead and buy it for yourself. If you find out you hate it – well you’ve just saved yourself some cash, go get yourself a coffee and celebrate.

Remember that the internet is a fantastic resource! There are any number of freebies and even some sites that charge a small fee that are very useful. I’ll have some links in the side bar of my blog, but don’t be afraid to just spend some time with my dear friend Mr. Google. It can be time consuming, but no one site is going to have all the good ones listed.

One more thing: HAVE FUN with this!

Why do you homeschool?

Homeschooling was not something I thought about until... until my son was in 1st grade and things started to nag at me.

Things like preschool teachers coming to my home and telling me in front of my son that he would never be a "star" student, the same teachers who told me he could not zip his jacket or tie his shoes. The same jacket and shoes I had him zip and tie everyday before heading to school. They told me he didn't climb the stairs correctly, never mind that I had taught him a certain way so that he would be less likely to fall down the 30 or so stair steps he climbed every day several times a day at home. The same teachers that put a 4 year old boy on one side of a large classroom while the rest of the class played on the other side in clear view, and expected him to take a "test" of skills and pay clear attention only to them.

Things like the kindergarten teacher - we took our son to meet her the day before school actually started. On our way home my son was telling me he thought it looked fun except - except that the teacher hugged him. I explained to him that if he did not want hugs he didn't have to hug, and next time to stick out his hand so she could shake it. I took him to school the next day and knowing the teacher meant well but might not catch his signal I told her that he was uncomfortable with her hugging him and our solution. Instead of understanding that he might just be a bit shy, she turned to me and said "well in my experience, it's the kids who don't want the hugs that need them most." WOW, what a slap! I told her to shake his hand until he indicated it was ok to hug, assured her that he would eventually as he was a pretty affectionate kid and left it at that.

Then we had first grade. In first grade they told me he could not read well enough, wanted to put him in title one reading. Ok, I thought, it'll get him extra help in reading how could that possibly be a bad thing? Throughout the year, I noticed him more and more reluctant to read, that was backwards. When we went in for parent teacher conference we had a few discussions that didn't go well. The first was about the reading. They were not taking him out of normal reading time for the title one reading. They would take him out of computer time, or math time, and while the teacher was teaching phonics the title one teacher was using whole word reading. This first grade boy was mixing the rules (imagine that) and getting scolded for it. By the time the year was over, he would not read for me at all.

Also in first grade, they decided on some diversity training at the school. Ok, I figured they would also keep it appropriate to the grade levels. Unfortunately, their idea of appropriate for first grade was much different than mine and that became abundantly clear when our son came home with that weeks button on his chest. "It's ok to be gay." I understand the public school thoughts on diversity and their thoughts on it's necessity, but first grade? That was too much information way too soon. After all it was earlier in that year that I had to explain to him that "no, just because the little first grade girl and the little second grade boy had kissed, did not mean they had sex." How on earth was I going to explain to him what his button meant?

Next first grade tip off was when we decided that summer school might help with the reading block. (What on earth was I thinking?) Through the course of summer school, the teacher decided to let me in on a secret. My son was eligible for FREE ADD/ADHD testing. Isn't that fantastic? Turns out she didn't have any particular reason to offer that to us except that each student tested got money for the school. She presented this to us as if she felt our son NEEDED the testing, all the while there was no real reason, except that my 6/7 year old son could not sit in his chair for the length of every class of the day without fidgeting. Hmm, I've yet to meet a 6/7 year old boy who can do just that.

Throughout that first grade year I was also going to school. I had heard about this homeschooling thing from a couple who lived a few blocks down in our student housing area, and the seed was planted. But who was I to teach my kids? I didn't have a degree, or training beyond the few education classes I had taken so far. I started to do research, and talked about it occasionally with a neighbor. How could I do this AND go to school? The wheels kept spinning. This was 1997, homeschooling was not new, but it was not nearly as popular as it is now. All the research I did showed that tools were available, laws were easy to follow, I might be able to do this...

My neighbor and I went back and forth with this, but one day we both hit on it at the same time. And we thought about how we could work our schedules so that we could help each other, then it was time to let the husbands in on it. I handed all the research I could find to him, told him the summery of what I had learned and let him go do his own research. He was working in the collage admissions office at the time and went in to the office of the head of admissions. I don't know how the conversation went exactly but I imagine it started out something like this: Boss my wife wants to do this crazy thing called homeschooling..." then went the questions about getting into collage after being home schooled etc. The boss handed my husband a file and told him there was a lot of information there, and further he told him something that gave us enough confidence to give this a try. He said that there were actually colleges out there who were actively seeking homeschoolers. Why? Well, not so much because they knew it all, but because they knew HOW to learn and that was even more attractive. Even some Ivy League schools were looking FOR homeschoolers.

We made the decision and let the district know just two weeks before classes started for the fall, and I went out in a mad rush to get workbooks and information so I could begin. My friend did the same. Both of our husbands said to us "we will try it for a year, see how it works out." 12 years (and several kids later for both of us) our families are still homeschooling our children. It has been a roller coaster of a ride as is any adventure when you throw children into the mix. Twice I got serious about quitting, both times God gave me a big slap on the back of the head and told me we were still on the right track and to keep at it. I'm so glad I listened.

My oldest, the only one of my children who has ever gone to public school is currently attending USMAPS, the prep academy for West Point. I am still teaching the others I have children in 7th grade, 4th grade, Kindergarten, and the youngest is 3. I'm also pregnant and due in April. With all that there are sure to be a lot of stories for me to put here, as well as some of my favorite tips, curriculum, and ideas. After all this time I still don't have it all worked out so this should be endless. I hope you enjoy it all and come back often. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What is my idea of Christian Charity?

That is a question I believe we should ask ourselves periodically, I know I catch myself being uncharitable, and I have to bring the meaning back into it's true form.

Hate the sin not the sinner... well that kinda covers it - but I don't think it is complete either.

I am thinking about how we are so quick to jump on each other for our differences. I'll give a few examples.

Women: Boy we are mean to the core, and we are nasty and vial to each other. I stay at home with my kids and for some reason that gives working moms the right to belittle me. I've heard it all, I'm taking away from my kids because I don't help bring in the cash, my kids suffer because they can't do or have all they want. I homeschool and there fore I am horrible because as a Christian, I should send my children out to be the light in the darkness, the example. I am not allowing them to develop "normal" social skills. I am secluding them. I am a wife who will cook and serve her husband breakfast - oh Lord he is such a tyrant! and I'm horrible to allow it. And of course the women on the other side of those bridges hear some things about themselves too.

Christians: Well, I've touched on that a bit, but it just kills me that Christians can sometimes be the WORST at expressing Christian charity. If I go to one church instead of another then I'm lost, if I watch a horror movie then I'm lost, if I allow my children to read certain books well I'm sending them straight to hell in a hand basket. There are times when I feel the most judged by my Christian friends. And further more, since I'm Catholic some of them don't even consider me Christian. In our church Christian means one who believes in and follows Christ. I don't know a Catholic around who isn't being taught to do this. Of course we are not perfect - show me someone who is and I'll worship them, because as far as I know Jesus was the only human who was also perfect.

Parents: You see where I'm going with this. At first I didn't really separate this category, but after the recent saga of "balloon boy" I had to add it. Why is it that all were so worried about the boy, then the news broke that he was safe and the FIRST thing out of some peoples mouths were abuse, neglect, etc??? I mean how many parents out there don't have some story about how they were scared by something their child did or got into and the tables could have been easily turned on you as well. Now, of course we find out that the "balloon boy" was not all it was cracked up to be, fine charge them. My issue is with people who will cry "unfit parent" and every parent who's child is hurt or lost etc. Kids are kids folks and sometimes they get into trouble. There is not a parent out there who has not at one time or another thought "gee, I should have..."

So my point in all this is that we need to have a little more charity towards one another. Don't be so quick to point a finger, try instead to support those who do things a little differently. If you feel it is your duty to "save" someone you better look at the log in your own eye first, because I guarantee that there is someone out there who can find your faults.

I'm not saying we don't try and build each other up, help each other grow etc. but telling me that I'm sending my kids to hell for letting them read a book - well frankly I just want to tell you where to stick the book rather than to rethink my position. I'd much rather let my kids read Harry Potter and discuss it with them in regards to magic and spells not being real, and how they can't really fix their glasses with a few words and how nice it is that the kids stick by their friends side, and help each other out, then to listen to you judge me on something so superficial. If you truly think I am endangering my children, there are better ways to approach me then to basically call me an abuser and a heathen. Stay at home moms can help support working moms and vise versa - you don't have to be at each others throats. Homeschoolers, we fight the school, we fight the media, we fight a battle upstream against ourselves "are we doing enough" "can I be doing something more" etc. we do not have to fight against each other as well.

Christian charity is a lot about hating the sin but not the sinner but it is also about recognizing that no matter where we are on our path of being a good person or a good Christian NONE of us is perfect and NONE of us can presume to be better than another in all areas of our lives. We need to learn from each other, support each other, help each other and look into our own house to see where we are willing to seek or accept help.

Remember that no matter what we've done in our lives we always have the chance to get to heaven, we all have the chance to repent to the only one who matters. And in judging others harshly, you have some repenting to do as well. You see we can judge to a point but it is not our job to decide who is lost or saved. I can keep my children from hanging around with drug dealers, and I can judge that their actions are not what I want my children to emulate - but it is not my job to say they are going to Hell. Because you see God has told us that they have as much opportunity to receive HIS blessing and mercy and forgiveness.