In the Age of High-Stakes Testing, How Do I Know if My Child Measures Up? by Cheryl

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One of my biggest fears as a homeschool mom has been that my children will be “behind.” Behind what? Behind where the public school system says they should be? This fear plagues the minds of many new homeschool parents. The school systems have numerous fancy tests to check a child’s progress, but is this really the best way to evaluate a child? In the past few months the debate surrounding the reading test for Oklahoma third graders has been anything but pretty. One test was to determine if a third grader would be promoted to fourth grade.

With the adoption of Common Core in many states, the high-stakes testing is getting worse. If this is how the schools are monitoring a child’s progress, is this what homeschoolers should do, too? I do test my kids once a year when they are at or above a first grade math and reading level. I use a product that only tests language and math skills. Before we test, I have an idea of how my child will perform because I have been evaluating them all year.

The nature of homeschooling allows for constant monitoring of your child’s progress. But how do you really know? I have listed a few of the methods I use to evaluate my children in various subjects.

Reading: My children read aloud to me daily. I ask questions about what they have read. For my oldest, some days we read out of a McGuffey reader, and most days he reads his grammar lesson to me and then we discuss. If you want to check for decoding abilities, reading aloud is the best method to test. For comprehension, ask your child to narrate what they just read. (With narration, after they read they tell you what they read.) Another less intrusive testing method is emotional response. If your child is reading alone and begins to laugh at a funny book or cry at a sad one, you’ll know they are gaining comprehension. I have watched my eight-year-old laugh at many books he reads. It gives me great joy to see him react to a book!

Math: After working together on a topic, I send my oldest to work alone. After I check his work, we rework any problems he missed. We retouch on topics as we do the built-in reviews. If one type of problem is missed more than I think it should be, we go back to that topic. If a child struggles on advanced topics, it is a good bet that some more basic skill is lacking. Review and then try again.

Spelling and Grammar: These subjects are some of the easiest to test. Look at what your child writes during non-school hours. You will see what is carrying over. I also do dictation three days a week to practice spelling and punctuation. I recite sentences or paragraphs using words we have studied in spelling and punctuation we have covered in grammar. We discuss mistakes and then try another sentence or paragraph.

Science and History: Talk to your kids and listen to what they want to tell you. My son will talk my ear off about a science topic that interests him. I know what he is retaining when he talks to me or creates books about a topic. After a chapter on magnets in Physics, it has become his favorite topic. I have let him run with it.

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My eight-year-old made this book for fun. I can see that we need to work on capitalization and punctuation, but his knowledge of magnets is far beyond what I expected.

I combine formal evaluation with much less formal evaluation methods. As I work with my kids daily, I learn their strengths and weaknesses. The one-on-one focus that homeschooling gives parents make the evaluation of skills simple.

Test if you want, but don’t let the pressure of the tests used in schools add stress to your homeschool. The tests should be treated as one tool of many in our education process. You will know your kids are learning. I struggled with this idea as it is a hard shift to make in one’s thinking about education, but you will see it and you will be amazed by what their minds can do!

 

Cherylcheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Getting Started: Choosing Curriculum, by Sarah

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You’ve finally decided that you will homeschool your child. There are hundreds of reasons that may have brought you to this point, but here you stand, about to start.

I’m a planner so I like to know what curricula I will be using to teach my child, at least to start. Since we are eclectic classical homeschoolers that means I did a lot of research to figure out what I thought would be a good choice. I was completely wrong about most of my original choices, but I still did a lot of research before deciding on all the wrong books.

That is probably the first thing to remember when choosing a curriculum and planning the subjects you will study with your new homeschooler: you will occasionally be wrong. You will think that XYZ looks super exciting and is something your child will love, only to end up with your child despising the book and everything related to it. It happens to everyone at some point, even to experienced homeschoolers.

This brings me to the second thing to remember: just because it looks good on paper doesn’t mean it will work for your family. Often, something you purchase even though you have doubts about it ends up working far better than the curriculum you were absolutely certain about. I chose Singapore Math for my son. He is good at math, and I really liked how SM taught math. I figured it would work great. I was wrong. My son was not happy with my choice; it was too much busy work for him and he tried to get out of math every day. I then bought Life of Fred thinking it would be a nice supplement. My son loved Life of Fred; it suited his learning style a lot better, and he was much happier doing a chapter of Fred each day rather than a couple pages of Singapore.

This leads to the third thing to remember: be flexible. Sometimes you will have to change plans midstream. The “perfect curriculum” ends up being a paperweight instead of the repository of knowledge you hoped it would be. This can be painful since some curricula are costly, and money spent for something that doesn’t work can hurt your financial plan for the year. Fortunately there are some cheaper options out there, but having spent $100 or more for something for the year only to figure out it was a bad match for your child can be painful, especially for your wallet.

Look for samples to check out the material before buying. It’s no guarantee, but it can be helpful. Another good option is to enlist your child’s help in deciding what to use. If you are undecided between two or three things, ask your child to look at them with you. He may see something in one that makes it his top choice — or his bottom choice. This also works well when you are not sure what subset of a subject you should teach. Asking your children what they are interested in or knowing their interests can make it easier when you are trying to decide between chemistry or physical science or biology.

Lastly, getting information and opinions from homeschooling friends, local groups, and online sites can help cut down on bad choices. I found a number of resources when researching. The Well-Trained Mind message boards were extremely helpful, as were Facebook groups. Seeing various options in person, either because a friend brought it over or I saw it at a curriculum fair, helped as well since I could actually evaluate the physical product. I will admit that even with these resources, I did make a few bad choices for my son, but they also aided me in finding a better replacement.

The main things to remember when researching and choosing curriculum are that you need to be flexible, you need to do your research, and in the end you need to be willing to admit something was a mistake and start over. I have done my research for the coming year for both my son and my daughter who will be starting Kindergarten. I am hoping that most of my choices for my son will work since they are just a continuation of what we have been using, but I am well aware that my choices for my daughter will likely end up being tweaked as we discover together what works for her and what does not. Also remember if your choices do not work out, there’s always next year to find a better fit for your child as you learn together what works best while continuing on your homeschooling journey.

 

SarahsarahSarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys reading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.

Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

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We at Sandbox to Socrates are not in the habit of getting offended by strangers on the Internet. We don’t have time for it after our pressing responsibilities of rocking babies, singing nursery rhymes, going on nature walks, standing at kitchen chalkboards teaching sentence diagramming or long division, getting supper on the table, finishing tomorrow’s Hamlet lesson plan, driving our teens to work, washing dishes, spending a little time with our husbands before they fall asleep exhausted after their day, staying up a bit later to read Chesterton and nurse the baby, going to bed to do it all again tomorrow…no. We don’t have time to look for offense. Life is full.

Sometimes, however, offense finds us. As lifelong friends of the classical education revival and frequent readers and purchasers of CiRCE Institute’s work, we were astounded this week to see classical homeschooling attacked in a piece by CiRCE member Josh Gibbs, both in the article itself and in the subsequent discussion. As our staff discussed amongst ourselves the many fallacies in the author’s logic and information, we decided a response was required. The author seems to be whispering to potential homeschooling mothers that classical education is best left to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.” We refute this opinion with the best possible evidence: our own children, who have achieved their classical education at our own kitchen tables under our supervision. The veteran homeschooling mothers at StS are not sitting around wondering whether we will ruin our children if we homeschool. We’re looking at our grown children, knowing that we taught them well. We are here to encourage other parents who desire to do the same.

The following response is the reaction of just one of our contributors as she attempted to take in the dubious wisdom of CiRCE blogger Josh Gibbs’ A Regal Fantasy. While our website is committed to a secular-leaning inclusive perspective, this author is a Christian and is responding to the Christian language and references in Gibbs’ article. The original article, included in its entirety, is bolded and the responses are in normal typeface. All scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. ~Editor

A Regal Fantasy

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return?
By Joshua Gibbs

Mr. Gibbs, when my son stands before the throne of God, he will come as a son returning to his Heavenly Father. As the child of the King, he will have gained some lofty titles: Joint-Heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), part of a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5), a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21-25), a saint (Romans 1:7), and a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12) – but when he goes home, he will be going home as a son to his father. In all of scripture I can find nothing about earthly or spiritual monarchs as such greeting Jehovah in heaven on that footing. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10)…as men. They will be sons of God or not. Nothing else will matter about their station during their earthly life as nothing material exists beyond death. So what does this imagery of an abandoned earthly monarch have to do with us?

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On a Friday night, a stranger knocks at your door and puts into your hands a newborn. The stranger says, “This child is fated to be president of this country in fifty years,” then the stranger runs away, vanishing into the night.

Over the coming weeks and months, you don’t regard the newborn any differently than your own children, who are nine and twelve respectively. As the years pass, though, you come to think of the child very differently than your own.

Not according to the history and literature of the West. Ask King Arthur.

Leader of the free world, you think. The things I put into the mind of this child will someday come to weigh heavily on the heart of the man who makes war. The sense of fairness and justice I grant to this child will someday sway the imagination of the man who considers nuclear war, abortion, the arts, taxation and slavery.

You might think that, or if you are Sir Kay, you might send him out to tend the pigs and sheep because he lives here and there is work to be done. If you are Akki, you might set him to picking apples in the garden. If you are a fisherman who rescued the infant boy and his mother in their wooden box in the sea, fleeing for their lives, you might just teach him to fish.

What is man? Rather, what is the purpose of man? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” according to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). If the goal is for my child to know the Lord and make Him known, the manner in which I raise him will not vary, whether he is to be butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or king. Whether he is a manager on a construction job, a father in a home, a leader in a church, or governor of the state, his character will need to be of one kind if he is to be both righteous and effective.

If a stranger knocked at my door and placed into my hands a newborn with a prophecy, I would tell him that I only know how to raise children created in the image of God and their destiny is known only by Him. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). “He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). Shakespeare acknowledged as much: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 5).

The Messiah Himself was placed into a humble home, not into a cradle for kings. He wasn’t given to a Lord High Chancellor. He was given to a mother. He was given to a family, to be raised with humble children as one of them. Tell me more about the education of Mary and Joseph, and of their great wealth to be able to send their son to the best schools. Jehovah God knew He was sending the Messiah to poverty-stricken carpenters who would follow their faith while eking out survival in an uneducated community. Yet that is where He placed the King of Kings for His childhood.

As I alluded above, this is an extremely common literary trope in the canon of the West, this idea of an infant monarch being stashed with humble folk for the duration of his childhood. We see it from Holy Scripture to Greek mythology to the early modern era to the post-modern era. People love this idea because it is true to life: Simple and good people are best qualified to raise someone else’s future leaders of the free world because they will bring him up along with their own children and according to their own home values. You assumed the humble folk would begin to treat destiny’s child with more love and care than their own. According to our history and literature, they don’t. They treat him exactly the same or sometimes slightly worse than they treat their own biological offspring.

Mr. Gibbs, as you are a high school English teacher, I’m sure names are already springing to mind, but in case they are not, here are a few: Sargon, Perseus, Alfred the Great, Arthur, Aurora, The Prince and the Pauper, Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. It’s 2014, and the world has largely forgotten Danae’s fisherman friend, Akki, and Sir Kay, but human nature is still quite ready to believe in the humble Kents from Kansas. Why? Because if baby Superman were dropped off on our doorstep we’d raise him the only way we knew how. We’d think in pity that even though he was special, the poor little thing deserved a proper Midwestern upbringing, the same as any child.

At the age of three, the child sees a “Looney Toons” show on television, though you have not shown him any such thing before. You wonder, “Is this the kind of thing I want forming the heart of the most powerful man in the world?” You turn off the television.

Mr. Gibbs, have you raised a man yet? I have. Of all the mistakes I made, a little exposure to Looney Tunes was not one of them. We first met Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and Corot through Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig. (In the hands of Blanc and Jones, Rossini’s Barber of Seville became The Rabbit of Seville, and everyone knows What’s Opera, Doc? Porky Pig frequently walked out in blue smock and black beret, easel and chair under his arm in the fashion of that forerunner of French plein air painting — Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.) Of course, our studies of composers and artists did not end with Looney Tunes, but the laughter and fun are very precious memories. As the mother of four sons I prefer to teach and share with joie de vivre, and I want my sons to be hale and hearty men who can laugh at harmless amusements within their culture. If they cannot, of what use will they be to this world? If they are so hot-housed and removed from those whom they are to serve, they will be useless.

Have you raised leaders yet? I have. I can claim the precious privilege of understanding for myself how George Washington could be better educated than his men, and far more apprising of the grave responsibility they all faced, yet able to joke with them according to their sense of humor. He wasn’t talking down to them either. He was laughing with them.

When the child cries for a toy which has been stripped from his hands, you hesitate a moment before giving the toy back. Yes, you can give the toy back and spare yourself a splitting headache, but years on, will the world receive a leader who cannot counter the difficulty of austerity and asceticism? You deal with the screaming. For the sake of the world, you deal with the screaming. For the sake of just tribunals, you deal with the screaming.

Good parents do not spoil their children, whether they are raising future kings or future ditch diggers, sir. Good parents do not go out of their way to put their children through trials, either – in the godly home, the family endures hardships together. We teach our children to be stoic and brave by being stoic and brave when the inevitable challenges of life come to us.

At the age of four, the child lusts for every sparkling and glittering thing he sees in a mall. You decide the mall is too much… for the child to deal with? No, the mall is too much for the world. You find it hard to see the child as anything other than a fifty year old man, a man with missiles and nuclear submarines and trillions of dollars at his disposal. The child is a child and the child is not a child. The child is but a child and must be treated like an angel. The child is a man and must be treated like a monk, like an abbot. When the child lies, you correct world currency markets. When the child strikes a playmate, you cut off preemptive strikes and encourage leniency—the kind of leniency which spares the lives of women and children who know nothing of political science and prudence.

No matter who our children will grow to be, we teach them self-denial by practicing self-denial. The child’s father works alongside him and in the sweat of their faces they eat their bread (Genesis 3:19), and A Man’s a Man for A’ That. Each knows that if any shall not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10), and they sleep well because the sleep of a labouring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The child learns to speak the truth because he knows full well the difference between virtue and vice. He learned it at his mother’s knee. He learns not to strike others in anger because the Son of God, when reviled, reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and no man who is a brawler is fit to be a pastor in the church (Titus 1:7). He learns to show mercy because he has been shown mercy. These are home lessons of the most basic kind.

At the age of five, you weigh your options. You might send the child to the best school in town and eat less for the next twelve years, or you might educate the child yourself and spoil everything in the child which could rise like a seraphim to please a strange teacher. You might send the child off to doctors and philosophers, and the leader of the free world might know Latin and Greek and read Plato and Ptolemy and Euclid and Athanasius, or the leader of the free world might get a discount education or a free education and you could trust yourself to read good books with the child on the weekends, when you’re not too busy.

Education in a good home begins at birth. Mr. Gibbs, have you made the sacrifices to live on one scanty income and teach your children at home, believing that you owe it to them to pass on the great traditions and heritage of the West? I have. It wasn’t a bit of reading on the weekend in my spare time either. Latin, Greek, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Athanasius are well known to my son through my own diligence over the course of his life. I have not spoiled what is best in him, and I care nothing for the strange teacher deprived of his seraphim. What does that even mean, that my son would rise like a seraphim in a classroom somewhere if I didn’t hole him up at home? If Christ Himself does not glorify and sanctify my son, the teacher will never be able to do it. Education is not the means to salvation. It never has been. Even though I give my life to teaching my child to know God and trust Christ, and though I love him far more than any schoolmaster ever could, even I cannot save his soul.

At the age of six, the child takes up an interest in ninjas and mutants which have crept in from well-meaning but undiscerning friends from church. What will you say to the leader of the free world about mutants? Will you say nothing? And what will saying nothing to the leader of the free world about mutants mean when all the aberrations of society are banging on his chamber door for pure discretion and unlimited rights three decades in the future?

The father, the foreman, the governor, and the president all need to know what is good. Ninjas and mutants are of no interest to my family, but those shows aren’t really about real-life ninjas or real-life mutants, you know. They are childish entertainment. With proper education and example, children will grow to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11). As our future classically-educated President finds himself confronted with citizenship rights for cyborgs, he won’t think of childish ninja turtles even if he caught an episode or two at a friend’s house when he was six. He will think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He will consider the definition of man and the rights of man, two common themes of the Great Conversation, in light of the best and brightest thinking of the West.

And on and on.

But your own child was given to you with the same promise that the hypothetical child in the parable above was given to the hypothetical you. Your child is the leader of the free world, which is only to say the leader of their own self, their own family, their own society. You are raising kings and queens. Do you want kings and queens raised on cartoons or something better? Do you want the leader of the free world raised on Pop-tarts and pop culture, or something better?

I am not raising kings. I am raising men who will stand before kings and give testimony of the risen Christ (Matthew 10:18). I choose to raise them carefully through character training and classical home education as my duty, but I know that Christ does not need them to be so carefully prepared in order to save them. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians after listing their former sins and deprivations of character, “…and such were some of you. But ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Corinthians 6:11). Any missionary or minister will tell you that a person raised in pop culture and paganism can be saved and made new. The pride of the classical schoolmaster might bristle, but history tells us that the leaders of the free world don’t always need him, anymore than the Savior of the world needs him. Some of the world’s most important leaders have often been self-taught or trained out of school; it’s an American truism. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. God will use whom He chooses, and He will discipline and train His children, according to the Hebrew writer, with an education we could never preempt nor duplicate (Hebrews 12:6). Shakespeare again in Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I believe in teachers and in classical education. I have devoted my life to teaching my own children classically at home. But let’s not lose our sense of proportion about our own importance and worth.

Education becomes nothing more than an idol when we start to believe that, through it, we have the power to determine and control the spiritual destinies or future earthly course of our children.

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return? What kind of upbringing is appropriate to kings and queens? Why are kings and queens given special treatment while young? And why should your own children not receive the same? Rulers must be “habituated to self-respect,” as Edmund Burke says in his Reflections, or else they have no sense of what might be lost if they fritter away their years.Too glibly we speak of “a child of promise.” If you knew your child would someday rule a nation, would you raise them differently? However you would raise a child to rule… this is how you must raise them anyway.

The royal interest returned on an investment into the education of a king… it is yours for the taking. If you would not raise a queen on cartoons because you fear a zany crown, then neither raise your own child this way. If you would not raise a king who patronizes mediocre artists, then do not fill your home with mediocre art. What kind of table manners ought a queen have when dining with foreign dignitaries? Incline your own child to care about the polity of dinner.

You might think I’ve been agreeing with you all along without knowing it, that I have colossally missed the point because I am obviously also calling for equality in child rearing. But while we might generally agree on how to raise children in this culture (from good books to table manners) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick as to the “why,” to an almost fatal degree.

You want the children of shepherds to be raised as if they were future monarchs. I want the future monarchs to be raised as if they were shepherds. History and, indeed, God Himself are on my side in that. Why was Jesus placed in a humble home? King David, Gideon the Judge, and Moses the Hebrew slave were all raised in the meekest of families and then called to take up their tremendous positions of leadership. Home is the seat of training in character, faith, philosophy, and leadership and is by no means in opposition to Burke’s call for that habituation to self-respect so necessary for future leaders.

In “Sin No More,” Rémi Brague suggests the universality of the command to keep the Sabbath points toward the aristocratic blood of all men. God commands that even strangers and foreigners and slaves be treated like gentry on the last day of the week. In the end, everyone is free. Everyone is folded into the leisure of the ruling class, because the privilege of the aristocracy is an icon of humanity, not an icon of wealth.

God claimed the Sabbath before He made kings and taught us to rest as He Himself rested after creating the world. We are not like kings when we take our Sabbath rest. Kings are like the humble and obedient people of God when they take theirs.

For this, no matter how poor and powerless we are, we must crown our children early.

I am not here to crown my child. I am here to crown my Lord with many crowns and to teach my child to do the same. Therefore, as a Christian classical educator, I cannot accept the imagery and metaphor of this article. I am repelled rather than inspired. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – that is glory enough to aspire to without seeing ourselves as keepers of children more special than average. We’re not here to raise hot-housed prigs who have been so preciously kept, unfit to live among the common man and enjoy simple pleasures of life with those whom they are sent to serve. We are here to raise humble, wise, brave, and faithful people who identify more with shepherds and prophets than with the kings of this age. Their heads may be full but so are their hearts, filled with love for God and for their fellow man whom they believe to be equally created in His image.

12211601494_8a0a5dcb15by Amy Rose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

Blessed Be the Interruptions, by Briana Elizabeth

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When my twins were three months old, I got pregnant with Child Number 6. He was born almost within the same year as his twin sisters. So, at one point in time, I had three toddlers in the house while I was trying to school their three older siblings who were 5, 9, and 13.

I would be lying if I told you I remembered those days. They were a sleep-deprived blur. They were days of crunchy things underfoot, endless nursing, laundry never being done, dishes almost never done, and my husband gone 16 hours a day because he was building a business to support us. We were ships passing in the night, and when he did crawl into bed, we almost always had a kid or two sleeping between us and our touching feet became the most comforting of hugs. We were in the thick of building our family, and he needed to know that I was holding the fort down while he was out there slaying dragons for us.

Through all of this, and despite all of it, those older three were homeschooled. Not only were they homeschooled, but they became excellent students who learned Latin, and Logic and are pretty well-read.

I have NO idea how I did it. None. I remember fighting over The Scarlet Letter. I remember fighting over Traditional Logic. The younger one even learned to eventually read and do basic math in those years. And I did it in a 1000 square foot house.

Much more, I remember buying chickens and how much fun my children had learning about them and caring for them, and then how we learned to butcher them together because we were trying hard to be farmers. They remember eating all of the peas out of garden before I got to harvest one. We remember a baby squirrel jumping on one of the twins and her giving a blood curdling scream that sent me racing into the yard to find her, and then putting that squirrel in a cage and learning how to feed it. They remember fishing, and learning to ride bikes, and life being very home-centered because that was all I could manage. We remember lots of days at the park.

What am I trying to tell you? That it will be OK. The children will learn, and just “sticking to the basics” is fine. The house will recover. Believe it or not, your marriage will be strengthened, because you trust your team member even more and take pride in what you’ve built together.

So, I’ve some ideas to help you do something with those toddlers while you ignore the laundry, and the dishes, and the crunchy things underfoot.

Create a flow. Call it a habit, call it a loose schedule. Whatever you do, don’t let it dictate to you what must be done. It’s only there to establish a routine to your day. Now is when we eat. This is when we rest. Now is when we learn. This is when we read aloud.

Get a baby yard. They will not die if confined. Do we? No, with confinement we learn creativity. Boundaries are safe things. Even use baby gates to fence off one safe room for them.

Minimize the toys that you put in the play yard/room. Can you imagine what your house would look like if you allowed three toddlers to keep every toy anyone ever gave them? Pack some up and rotate them every week or two.

Make yourself a busy board or two. Think of what fun this could be to make together! They are wonderful things that help fine motor skills, encourage problem solving, and are very Montessori. Make them smaller and switch them out if you can. Make tactile books for them with different surfaces. Get them a broom and dustpan and show them how to sweep.

Bring them into your schooling when you can, for the read-alouds (let them be busy in the room while you read aloud), and for art and especially for singalongs and nursery rhymes. Pull up their high chairs to the table and give them some paper and some watercolors. Make sorting games. Have your older children help you make these! What fun they will have helping and screwing things onto the busy board. This is a wonderful lesson in parenting, too, and for appropriate expectations for children.

Don’t forget to have fun days and school on the floor or in blanket forts! Let the older ones have some time schooling independently where they can, but always remember to check their work! I always had mine bring me their work them they were done.

Adjust your expectations. Stop comparing your season of life to a mother who has older children. Give yourself grace: this is a hard thing you are doing, and instead of criticizing yourself more, how about you pat yourself on the back more?

Find God amidst the pots and pans. St Teresa of Avila told her nuns, “Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all. Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.”

Know that this is your vocation and that this hard time will only be like this for a short time in the scheme of things. All of my children were out of the house for a weekend recently,  and let me tell you I was bored and lonely. I know that those days seem far off to you, but they are right around the corner. My youngest is only 8. I remember back when they were small thinking that if I was alone in a room for a day I would have done nothing but stared at a wall in silence and been content to do just that. This too shall pass.

Remember to bend when a child asks you for something. Your day is made up of a hundred small requests and demands on your time. God as our parent is always barraged with questions and requests from us, and is always patient and long-suffering.

This is a high calling, to be a mother. Don’t let it pass without letting it change us into the people we want to become.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

The World is Our Schoolroom: June 20th edition

More beautiful photographs of children learning wherever they are!

This is a weekly feature at Sandbox to Socrates, and we are looking for submissions!  Each week we will pick the top 5 photos and feature them on our blog.  You can submit your photos by linking to them in the comments below, or by posting them in our Facebook Group. Please only submit photos that you own and that everyone in the photo has given permission to be published on our blog.

*The Facebook Group is a closed group, but open for anyone to join.  This means that while anyone can join the group, posts are visible only to the members of the group.

Curricula Fairs and Conventions: How NOT to be Overwhelmed! by Cheryl

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You have decided to homeschool. You have taken the necessary steps to withdraw your child(ren) from school or register with your district/state. Now you need to pick the perfect curriculum. Where do you start? What about the convention and curricula fair that is happening in the spring? You can go and browse everything that’s out there and make a decision! There is nothing better than getting a hands-on look at everything, right?

WRONG!

A convention or curricula fair should be your last stop on the journey to find the right curriculum. The best way to guarantee that you will be overwhelmed  is to go in without any prior research. So how do you prepare? A few simple steps will help you enjoy the convention and find what you need.

1. Know what method of homeschooling fits your family: Classical, school-at-home, Charlotte Mason, eclectic, or unschooling. Most libraries have a shelf of books on homeschooling. Select one with an overview of different methods to start your research. Once you pick a method, select a book that is specific to that method. I use a few books as support on my journey through classical homeschooling: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer and Jessie Wise, The Core by Leigh Bortins, and Charlotte Mason’s original homeschool series. The first two books have curriculum suggestions for most subjects. These are my guide as I start to narrow my search.

2. Know your teaching style. Do you need a script to teach, or just a textbook? Some products (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, some Abeka products) tell you word for word what to say to the student. Others provide a teacher’s manual with teaching helps (Singapore Math, Rod and Staff, Real Science 4 Kids, and many others). Some are self-teaching (upper levels of Saxon math, Teaching Textbooks). What do you need and what do your kids need?

3. What subjects do you want or need to cover? This will be partially determined by your state and partially by your child’s age and interests. Most families will cover math, science, history, literature, grammar, and spelling. Do you want to add a foreign language? Which one? Do you want to add geography, health, social studies, or writing? Do you need reading and phonics? Make a list of what you want to cover.

4. Is there a company that specializes in curricula for your style? Classical Academic Press, Memoria Press, Peace Hill Press, and Classical Conversations all cater to classical homeschoolers. Do you have to be classical to use their products? No, but knowing that classical is the method they specialize in will help you as you shop. The scope and sequence of the products is geared toward the classical student.

5. Do you want secular, protestant Christian, Catholic, or Jewish programs? Or does it not matter?

Once you have considered these five things, you should have a manageable list of curricula to search out at convention. By this time, you are no longer researching; you are at the decision-making point. You will know which tables to visit and which tables to skip.

Will there be distractions in the vendor hall? Yes. Will you find something new and wonderful that you’ve never heard of but is perfect and you must have it? Yes. But you will be focused and you will be able to weigh your options better because you are informed.

Before purchasing, there are two more steps to completing the process and be satisfied with your decisions.

6. Set a budget. You know what you can spend. Set a limit and stick to it! You don’t need to buy EVERYTHING. You can find literature selections and some history curricula at your library. Be sure you have checked what is available.

7. If your convention lasts two days, window shop and attend seminars on the first day. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING YET! Take a notebook. Look at everything on your list. Make a price list. (Many times you will save money by purchasing at convention: No shipping charges and sometimes a discount for buying on-site. Note the savings in your list.) Go home, review the list, make decisions, sleep –  and then go back to purchase the second day. This alone is the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

If your convention is only one day, follow the same steps, but do it before and after lunch.

Our local convention is huge, with thousands of people and more tables than I have time to visit. By going in well-researched with a shopping list, I know my shopping experience will be less stressful. This allows me to pick the speakers and workshops I want to attend and shop in between. I don’t feel the need to spend all day in the vendor hall.

One final and important hint: Take a rolling cart for your purchases! Those books get heavy fast!!

Conventions can be a great help and support to new and veteran homeschoolers, but we must all go in prepared!

 

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and cheryltheatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Beginning Colored Pencils, by Apryl

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Colored pencil has to be my favorite medium to work with. I love the control and the feel of using them, and I love the results.

“Emma” colored pencil portrait.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a colored pencil and what makes it different from regular pencils?

For an interesting look at how colored pencils are made, check out this video from “How It’s Made.

What is the best brand of colored pencil?

Although individual preference can dictate which pencil will work best for you, there are some favorites among serious artists. Most often, Prismacolor pencils come out on top for quality and color selection, followed by Faber-Castell polychromos. Personally, I would recommend Prismacolor to start out with and then experiment with a few other brands. You can usually buy colored pencils from open stock at art supply stores, so you can experiment without investing in a full set.

What is the best type of paper to use?

While you can draw with colored pencil on just about any type of paper (and even wood!) some papers perform better than others. In order to layer colors and blend without marring the paper, you need thicker paper with a little bit of tooth. (Tooth is the rough surface of the paper.) I recommend using a heavy weight paper such as Bristol. Hot press papers will have a smoother surface, while cold press will be much more rough. My personal favorite is Arches Watercolor paper, 140lb Hot Press. It is smooth, but still retains enough tooth to allow several layers of color. I buy it in large sheets at the art supply store and cut it down into the sizes I need.

What do I need to start?

For a beginning artist who wants to seriously explore colored pencils, I would recommend the following:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Woodcase Pencils, 12 Assorted Colors/set. You can often find the larger sets on sale for half price, especially around Christmas.

Prismacolor Premier Colorless Blender Pencil, 2 Pencils

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Pad – 11-Inchx14-Inch – 20 Sheet Pad

X-Acto Home and office Electric Pencil Sharpener (19210) Yes, I do recommend an electric pencil sharpener. Don’t go all out and buy the most expensive one, as colored pencils will be hard on your sharpener. That said, I’ve had an X-Acto similar to this one for several years now and it is still going strong.

Sanford Design Kneaded Eraser

Extras that are handy, but not essential:

Mini Dusting Brush, 10in for dusting off pencil dust without smudging your drawing

• Masking tape for taping off the edges of your work for a clean edge

• Rulers

TECHNIQUE

Outlining:

Colored pencil can be hard to erase, so laying out your drawing beforehand is recommended. I often draw a sketch entirely in pencil, and then trace it lightly onto clean paper for my final colored pencil drawing. I will usually use a light gray or brown colored pencil to trace with, and use a very light hand. For easy tracing, tape your original drawing to a window or glass door and tape your clean paper over the top. The light will shine through, making the tracing easier. You can also purchase light tables for that purpose.

As you can see in this photo, I am working on top of a lightly sketched drawing.

Laying down color:

Colored pencil drawings are slowly built up by layering the colors one over another. You nearly always want to keep each layer of color light, adding more light layers to make it darker or to modify the color. If you color with a heavy hand, the wax of the pencil will build up too quickly and you will find that you cannot add more color. It will end up looking blotchy. So, when coloring in your drawing, use light even strokes.

Keep your pencils sharp. A sharp tip will fill in all of the little hills and valleys that occur in the paper surface. This results in an even coverage and fewer white specks showing through. When your pencil is blunt, it will skip over any small valleys in the paper, allowing the paper surface to show through.

You will also want to begin with the lightest colors first, gradually building up your drawing, and finishing up with the darkest colors.

Here you can see where I have begun to gradually build up color and shading.

more gradual color building

A very handy tool when using colored pencils is a colorless blending pencil. These pencils are just wax, and can be used to blend and smooth your colors. This should be done near the end of your project because it will lay down a layer of wax that makes adding more layers difficult.

Beginning to blend the skin tones more with a colorless blending pencil. The eyes and lips are also blended.

Lifting or erasing color:

Colored pencil can be very difficult to erase, and will rarely erase completely. However, you can use a kneaded eraser to “lift” color. You do this by firmly pressing a small amount of eraser onto the area to be erased and lifting it. Do not rub it across the paper. This technique will pick up small amounts of colored pencil. Be sure to use a different area of your eraser for each lift, so that you do not smear color back onto your paper.

You can also use an electric eraser. I have read that people can get good results from them, but I have not tried it.

Highlights:

There are several ways to create white or “highlighted” areas in your drawing. If you are using white paper, you can leave the desired area blank. You can color it in with a white colored pencil (with no other colors beneath). You can “lift” an area of color with a kneaded eraser. Or you can use a knife or other sharp object to gently scrape the area clean of colored pencil. For very fine areas of light color (such as hair) I have used a needle or thumbtack to lightly trace the area, leaving an indentation. When you color over it with a darker color, the pencil will not hit the indented area, leaving it white.

Below I have used a combination of highlighting techniques. In the eyes, the light reflections were left uncolored until the end, and then I went over them with a white pencil. The forehead and cheekbones needed a little more highlighting to make them more rounded, so at the final stage, I went over the skin tone in those areas with a white pencil, lightening them slightly.

The finished piece. I left the background unblended.

PROJECT

In this project you will create a color wheel and learn how to blend colored pencils to create different colors and shades. If you would like to learn a little more about color theory, check out my previous article, “The Science of Color.

First download and print this mini poster onto paper. You can use regular copy paper, but you can also use artist paper cut to fit your printer.

For this project we will only use 3 colors: red, blue and yellow. I used Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Canary Yellow. You can also use a blending pencil if you have one.

1. With your three pencils, color in the primary color wedges — red, yellow, and blue:

2. Color in secondary colors:

orange = yellow + red (because of the way colored pencils blend, I recommend laying down the yellow first. This will keep the orange lighter in color.)
violet = red + blue
green = blue + yellow

Remember, use a light, even hand and a sharp pencil when coloring.

3. Color in tertiary colors:

yellow-orange = yellow + yellow + red
red-orange = red + yellow + red
red-violet = red + red + blue
blue-violet = blue + red + blue
blue-green = blue + blue + yellow
yellow-green = yellow + blue + yellow

4. Now you can use these color mixing techniques to color in the pictures around the color wheel. Experiment using different combinations of the three colors to create shadows and contrasts. *

*Be sure to read “Pencil Control and Shading” for more on how to create realistic shadows and gain pencil control.

Below I have a photo showing the same image colored on two different papers. The paper on the left is just white copy paper. The paper on the right is Arches 140lb Hot Press watercolor paper. You can see the difference in vibrancy and that I was able to add more color depth. Also, if you look at the cherries in this photo vs. the cherries in the above photo, you can see where I have used the colorless blending pencil to smooth and blend the colors.

Have fun with your new colored pencil skills!

apryl

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

A Tale of Two Boys: Learning How to Write, by Megan

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PIGBY

I’m worried that this post will make me sound a like a fairly uptight or perfectionist mom. (More so than I really am, because I sort of am.) I tried not to be that way when my oldest son, Pigby, was doing “preschool” with me. He demanded I teach him how to read, so I did. He never showed any signs of wanting to write, and anytime I tried teaching him it led to struggles, so I backed off. For several years, I didn’t push the issue at all; I didn’t want to kill his love of learning.

When he was five, I figured it was time to start in earnest. I thought most kids learned how to write in kindergarten. I vaguely remember being able to write all my letters as a kindergartner. We struggled big time. We started with one program that offered no instruction in how to form letters. It just provided the dotted lines and expected him to copy the letters over and over and over and over. Oh my word, just remembering it makes me want to pull my hair out. He could not copy them well. Some of his letters were so skinny, some were so fat, and most missed their marks on the three guiding lines. I was struggling so hard not to freak out about it in front of him. “How can this be so hard for him? All he has to do is recreate each letter?!” I was figuratively pulling my hair out every day.

I ended up switching him to Handwriting Without Tears. It started with using gross motor skills and would eventually translate those same motions into fine motor skills (writing the letters on paper). Someone pointed out to me that he disliked anything to do with fine motor skills and he always had. That was why at age three he’d had no interest in stickers, buttons, shoelaces, glue, scissors, or coloring; he avoided them all. In fact even now, at eight years old, he still struggles; he’ll try to get me to do lots of things requiring those pesky fine motor skills. When he was five, people recommended that I help him build those hand muscles, then it wouldn’t be so hard for him.

We started by coloring every day. I was advised by one person to use crayons because they require children to push harder, which would build the muscles. Another person advised me to use colored pencils, because they required more control and precision. I compromised by having him alternate colored pencils and crayons every day.

As time went on, I had to adjust the way we did school to accommodate his hatred of writing, while still working on that particular skill. Some of the things we did:
• I used Handwriting Without Tears to help me teach him how to break down the formation of letters. This program really did stop all of my tears over teaching him. Copywork wasn’t enough; he needed to practice creating each stroke.

• Once we completed the first two levels of HWOT, he wanted to learn how to write in cursive. I bought the StartWrite software and created my own copy pages. I created pages of one letter filling the line. The letters were dotted so that he could trace them. After he got proficient at copying, I’d leave space in between each letter so he could try to recreate the letter next to the one he had traced. Then I started doing the same things with his spelling words. Then we moved on to sentences. We took as many baby steps as we needed.

• In subjects other than handwriting, I would often write for him. I wrote for him in math, grammar, writing, spelling, science, and history. That way his progression in certain subjects wasn’t hindered by his desire to not write.

• We used phonogram tiles for spelling. We do use the program All About Spelling, but I got my phonogram tiles from Mama Jenn, printed them on card stock, had them laminated and put some magnets on them. Using the tiles greatly cut down on the amount of whining because as with math, his abilities in spelling greatly surpassed his progression in writing.

As we took these little baby steps, I was often worried that he’d never be able to write on his own. I worried that I would fail him somehow. It was all for naught because now at the end of second grade, he does almost all writing on his own. I’m glad we took it slow and steady and I’m glad I took the battle out of this issue.

 

DIGBY

(All his letters in green, mine in gray)

Teaching Digby to write has been a completely different story. Whereas Pigby was reading at three and avoiding handwriting, Digby showed no interest in reading, but was extremely proficient in all things involving fine motor skills. He was very proficient with scissors, tape, stickers, buttons, markers, etc. I first started giving him pages of letter outlines made with StartWrite because he wanted to do school like big brother. I would show him how to write one letter, then he would do the next.

Last year, I found a fun app for my tablet that gets kids to make the correct letter formations by having them start at the green dot, trace the line, and end at the red dot. If they veered too far off the line or didn’t start and end at the right place, they had to do it over. This app pretty much taught him the correct way to form letters. Now all I do is make sure he writes them properly on his own (he often writes a backwards “N”). I plan on starting him with more formal HWOT work in the fall when he starts kindergarten.

 

Megamegann–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.

 

Handwriting: Learning Cursive First, by Briana Elizabeth

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I taught my children cursive first. Not because I thought it was superior, or because I read the studies saying cursive made kids smarter. I taught them cursive first because it’s easier. Yes, that’s right, cursive is easier to teach than manuscript. Why? It has fewer strokes.  And it actually uses more of your brain, and is beneficial for cognitive development.  But mostly because I’m lazy.

My lefty son was the first child child I taught cursive (my older two learned cursive in their public school). It was very frustrating until I learned that his using a pencil made him ‘push’ and that a fountain pen enabled him to ‘pull’ like a righty would do. This lessened wrist fatigue and enabled him to write more and for longer periods of time. If you’d like to start a young child with a fountain pen, I recommend the Pelikano Jr which comes in lefty and righty. If you’re starting with older children, try the Platinum Preppy which is very affordable and comes in lots of fun colors.

Now, for teaching the actual letters, we went with the French styled cursive, which I am partial to.

The French Cursive book starts out with letting the children copy simple strokes, then moves them on to letters. I cheated a bit though, so let me explain. For example, the French styled ‘a’ uses three strokes, but I  taught them to not take their pen off the paper. So don’t be bound to it.

Once they graduate from the French stroke and letter booklet, we found Seyes ruled notebooks (which is the lined paper you see in the above picture) for their copy work. There are some free printables that you can use to practice on.

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We love doing copy work this way. My children are very proud of their handwriting and their notebooks which, when finished, will be beautiful books of poetry that they will be able to keep for the rest of their lives. Children can respect beautiful things, and they can be taught to use these tools with care. I taught mine that they were not allowed to scribble in their copy work books, and they were supposed to respect them.

There is something very reverential about writing poetry in a beautiful book, with a beautiful writing utensil, and the children actually are proud of being trusted to use them. But best of all there is a gravitas during that portion of our schooling, which gets done almost as a morning benediction for the day.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.