Earlier Rather Than Later: Unique Preschool for a Child with Down Syndrome, by Brit

 

When our daughter was born with Down syndrome, we never questioned whether we would homeschool her. That was just a given: she would be educated at home with her brothers. What we did question almost from the beginning was how, what, and when. As we were moving toward a much more classical approach with our boys, we wondered if we would also classically educate Kate. Would she be able to handle the rigor and work? Could she handle learning Latin like her brothers? We started to question the curriculum choices we were making with the boys, wondering if she would need something entirely different. And we weren’t sure when to start a more formal approach to her learning. Would we wait until she was “school age” to begin formal learning, beyond what she showed an interest in? Or would we take an “early is better” approach?

It wasn’t very hard to realize that Kate, too, would be classically educated. We knew it might, and probably would, look different than her brothers’ education looked. But it would be classical to the best of her ability. I bought Cheryl Swope’s book Simply Classical. Reading her story, and that of her two children made me realize that it wasn’t just possible to educate Kate classically, it was the best way to educate her as a whole person. Sure, she will need to learn life skills. Sure, we will need to help her gain as much independence as possible. But those skills just address one piece of what makes Kate, well, Kate. She is a body and soul and deserves an education that forms her whole being just as much as her brothers do. Recently, our decision was validated and cemented when I read this quote by Martin Cothran of Memoria Press:

If a child cannot accommodate the amount or depth of knowledge of most children, it is not less, but more important that what they learn be of the highest quality.

Now that we knew roughly what her education was going to look like, we needed to decide how it was going to play out. As I read books and on the internet, and as I spoke with others who have walked this path before me, I began to discuss the idea of early academics with my husband. Knowing that all learning for Kate would be uphill both ways, we decided that an early start to building her academic foundation was vital to her potential success later in life. The first place we began was reading instruction. Not only is the ability to read one of the most fundamental abilities necessary to participate in every day life, but learning to read also helps cognitive development as well as speech development, both of which can be delayed in individuals with Down syndrome.

We have put together a reading program using a variety of resources including The Learning Program materials, See and Learn, and the book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome. Mostly, we use flash cards that have a word on one side with a corresponding picture on the reverse. The flashing through is fast; it takes a couple minutes to go through a stack of ten cards, twice. We have also added books from the Learning Program with simple sentences to help her make the connection between words on a flashcard and words in books. The goal is for Kate to be reading and comprehending at or above grade level when she begins first grade.

In addition to teaching reading in the preschool years, we also are teaching early math literacy – counting everything (steps as we go up and down the stairs, objects on pages of books we read, pieces of food), sorting and categorizing toys, and playing with pattern blocks and attribute blocks, among other more formal activities. Looking back, so many of these early concepts came naturally for her brothers, either through playtime together or through videos from Leap Frog. We didn’t think much of what we were doing, we just included colors, numbers, shapes, and sizes in everyday conversation with our boys. With Kate, though, nothing can be assumed. Yes, we play with her in the same ways, having similar conversations. But we also pull out flash cards, linking cubes, and small math manipulatives. We must be much more deliberate with Kate, much more explicit with the instruction, much more repetitive with her. The idea is that she must have 10,000 times more input than typical children to retain information. She must have her working memory exercised consistently to build connections and synapses. We can never just assume with her that she is learning the ways her brothers learned – just by picking things up in everyday life.

The final, and the most beautiful, piece to the puzzle for Kate’s early preschool education is the new Simply Classical curriculum from Memoria Press. Harkening back to the quote from Martin Cothran, and based on her book, Cheryl Swope is designing classical curriculum for special needs children. We have begun working through the first level with Kate this summer. We start each day with a prayer from the beautiful Little Golden Book Prayers for Children. When we talk about the baby birds and mama bird on the page, Kate practices her speech and her signing. From there, each day includes basic calendar activities (days of the week and weather), counting and alphabet recitation, as well as beginning memory work from Scripture. We then read the book of the week. Cheryl Swope has chosen wonderful books from authors including Beatrix Potter, Richard Scarry, Eric Carle, and Margaret Wise Brown, among others. Because these are board books, they are perfect for little hands and allow Kate to practice her fine motor skills by turning the pages for me.

Fine and gross motor, oral language, and other therapies are wrapped into the weekly readings. We practice making a pointing finger to count objects; we jump, squat down, and push strollers to act out parts of a story; we discuss feelings and learn empathy while learning to read emotions on the faces of the characters. Cheryl Swope has taken those skills that need explicit instruction and woven them beautifully into activities springing out of the books we are reading. She has captured special needs preschool and bottled it inside something true, good, and beautiful.

Early academics is not something I would normally advocate. If I did, it would come in the form of “only if the child shows an interest.” Of my three boys, the younger two did show an interest, but ultimately, it was not the early academics that drove them. It was the desire to emulate their older brother(s) by doing “school” too. We kept it simple – a few Kumon books; a white board and marker to practice “writing;” some paper, scissors, glue, and crayons. If they felt like being at the table with the rest of us, they were welcomed. But it was not planned or forced. We do not have that luxury with Kate. We knew early on that she needed an early start to build a foundation that came easily for her brothers. We knew her development was an uphill climb from the beginning. But we also knew that given the skills, the input, and the time, she would be able to fly. Early academics, beginning much younger for her than her brothers, is the key to helping her fly. For us, that takes the form of early reading instruction, explicit math instruction, and a beautifully written preschool special needs curriculum. And she is thriving.

 

10320484_10152303634377954_6796617664035885030_n1Brit and her husband are living this beautiful, crazy life with their three sons and one daughter in sunny California. They made the decision to homeschool when their eldest was a baby after realizing how much afterschooling they would do if they sent him to school. Brit describes their homeschooling as eclectic, literature-rich, Catholic, classical-wanna-be.

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Preschool and Kindergarten: A Homeschool How-To, reposted from Lisa at Golden Grasses

Reposted with permission from Lisa at Golden Grasses.

I’ve had several young mommas (so young I could be their momma!) ask me about pre-k and kindergarten recently. This is my all-in-one response with tons of resources – blog posts and series, Pinterest boards and FB pages linked. Let’s get started!

The biggest challenge with preschoolers is keeping them engaged. Most still have a fairly short attention span, are easily tired and need fed and watered at regular intervals. Habit is key – routine is your safest bet.

I would  recommend taking a look at Kendra’s Circle Time. This is a great way to think about what you want your littles to learn and how to organize it.

After years of doing this I recommend over-planning before you get started and then going with the flow once you start. With littles, like with anything else, you don’t get what you want, you get what you plan for. With littles, you often get lots of surprises, too, right?!

What can pre-Kers be expected to do?

Age appropriate chores. Kids do what you inspect, not what you expect, BUT, they do need to know what you expect, too! One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Andrew Pudewa is that if your child keeps asking for help, they need help. This seems simple – well, it is, really, but it might not come naturally!

Outside play and exploration/nature walks – do you see the baby snapper we found on a walk near our home? Nature journaling and nature tables (or in our case, our entire enclosed front porch) is a great way for kids to display the cool things they’ve found as they explore the great outdoors!

Read-alouds  – at least 15 minutes a day; more is better.
I think some table time is good at this age, because it helps kids get acclimated to regular study.

Crafts and art – there are so many fun art books, but in any case an easel, paper, and paint are always appropriate. Colored shaving cream is great for bath/shower painting. And hey, how about a shower tile wall- works great as a white board and for painting – easily wipes off – all for $15 bucks.

Gardening – this can be in the yard, with containers, or how about a Fairy Garden?

Bible Study – Arch books, Bible Memory, reading a good quality Children’s Bible, Veggie Tales, Veritas Press or Bible Study for All Ages Bible cards.

Memory Work – When our youngest was four, we started a Classical Conversations community. She learned 160 VP history cards that year (even though she was a pre-reader), along with 24 history sentences, several others hundred facts related to grammar, geography, Latin, poems and more because we regularly and diligently used CD’s and table time to review. She also learned the letter sounds and started on a notebook-sized timeline. I say all of this so that you realize your littles are capable of learning a LOT. This is NOT to say that you should sit them at the table and force information down their throats. Kids this age, however, can learn a ton through CD’s, good DVD’s, books and great visual aids such as flashcards. Also, if you have older kids, why not include your younger kids? They really are sponges. If you start early “training their brains to retain”, you’ll be amazed at how much they really can and do retain as they grow older.

Limit screen time – There are so many apps, computer games, DVD’s, etc, and they are all fascinating. We use some but in limited quantity. You really want your pre-Kers neurology to be hard wired to people and words, not electronics. Studies have shown that kids learn language skills by interacting with people – NOT screens.

Open Ended toys – Brio Trains, Playmobile, Duplos/Legos, Stuffed Animals. Pinterest has some adorable pins of old entertainment centers refabbed as play kitchens. Add some felt food and old pots, pans and measuring cups.

Art Supplies – Easels, paint, glitter, glue, pipe-cleaners, colored paper, stickers, colored rice bins, colored shaving cream to “paint” in the bathtub, white boards around the house (make a whiteboard wall with shower tile or several smaller lapboards), chalkboards and magnet boards (easily made with some chalkboard or magnet paint).

Unstructured Outside Play – Trampoline, playhouses, daily walks, parks, swimming, gardening, sandboxes, swings.

“Sound exploration” -Musical makers. Kids loving making sound.

Gross motor skill development – For years we had a “Step 2″ playscape, complete with ladder and slide, IN our house.

Sand box or table – a friend actually built a sandbox in their basement for their kids and we had a sand table on our front porch for years.

Fine motor skill development – have plenty of pens, pencils, markers around for the kids to play with, sewing cards, small toys (once they are past the “everything in their mouths” stage- Lego, of course.

Cooking – my kids have all loved to help cook in the kitchen. Usborne’s First Cookbook is full of fun and simple recipes.

Travel/field trips

Singing – the Wee Sing series, with books and CD’s are full of old favorites.

Christian Studies – Arch books are a fabulous way for your littles to get a great introduction to basic Bible stories with pictures that they’ll remember for a life time. We also have loved and read out loud to our kids a couple of different Children’s Bibles, including the Golden Children’s Bible. We had tons of felts and teaching Bible stories through felts is always an attention grabber. Daily prayer. Family evening prayers, with everyone snuggled in a bed together is really a gentle way to teach your littles about what’s important to you. We have each child pray, youngest to oldest, ending with Daddy blessing each child. If your kiddo doesn’t know what to pray for just help them along following ACTS (Adoration, Confessions, Thanksgiving, Supplication). We would just have them repeat a simple sentence or two, such as, “Thank-you, God, for this day.” This year, we made an Easter garden.

Pre-Reading – Read aloud 15 minutes a day. There are so many adorable books on everything under the sun; don’t limit your read-alouds to baby books.

IEW Language Acquisition through poetry memorization– This is a fantastic program and easily accessible for littles, especially with the CD. There are four sections of 20 poems each, starting with simple, short poems and ending with epic dramatic retellings. Andrew Pudewa (who put the program together and recites the poems) has incredible diction, so your kids will really hear fantastic vocabulary and superb story-telling.

Letter and Number recognition – We used Kumon and Usborne workbooks; colorful, easily accessible and fun. There are tons of complete programs available.

Phonics – We always used Alpha Phonics in conjunction with Explode the Code. There are other great products out there. We took the low cost, no bells and whistles, effective approach.

Books – If you live with books and magazines, your kids will think having them around is normal. My kids love books on tape. We use Sonlight, Bethlehem Books, Memoria Press and Veritas Press catalogs as reading lists. Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, Ladybug, Boys Life have all been favorite magazines around here.

Good Stuff:
Classical Conversations Cd’s
Veritas Press and Classical Conversations history, Bible and Science cards
Kumon Workbooks
Silly songs CD’s
Usborne Cat and Mouse books, Puzzle Books, Mazes and Dot-to-Dots, along with Board books. We love UBAH!
Bible Study for all ages.

Editor’s Note: For an assortment of links full of ideas, crafts, curriculum, games and much more, see the full article at Golden Grasses.

Keeping Records Through Middle School, by Angela Berkeley

 

Homeschooling elementary students is a somewhat daunting yet very exciting process.  Having selected a classical education philosophy, you assemble your teaching aids, materials, and curricula. You feel like you’re all ready to start. But then you realize that you also face a somewhat crumpling question: How will you know whether you’re teaching successfully? How will you evaluate your child? How much is ‘enough’? How will you know?

The responsibility is yours. You can’t fall back on anyone else. You’re the teacher. You’re the evaluator. You’re the assessor of whether reasonable progress is being made. And frankly, after the hard work of figuring out your teaching philosophy, studying up on curricula or other materials, finding out how to register with the state properly, it almost seems like too much. It’s a bit daunting. It almost makes you want to fall back on ‘school in a box’—a program that has textbooks for all subjects needed for one entire grade. Then you will know that there are no gaps, right? Then you will know that your child is on grade level.

But wait.

Classical education is different. Our standards for assessing grade level are to be age appropriate and focused on each child’s individual capabilities. Marching your child through standard classroom material in the 180 days of a standard school year schedule really gives up a great deal of the available benefits of homeschooling. Being inflexible does nothing to customize your child’s learning to her unique abilities. It does not permit letting her spring ahead in composition compared with spelling, for instance. It does not allow the significant advantage of being able to take family vacations and field trips away from the school crowds during the school year. It doesn’t let you catch up or leap ahead in math over the summer or enjoy full days out in wild parks during the week or take three weeks off at Christmas time and thoroughly enjoy the holidays. It leaves no room for a four-week focus on writing a novel, complete with character development, dialogue, and imaginative development; or to coordinate your science studies with your Lego robotics projects. In short, it gives up too much for too little—for that bit of security based on norming your child to be like every other child of the same age.

By nature, classical homeschooling takes a far different approach to learning than typical public school curricula. It focuses on learning about the whole world, from the very start. It teaches reading, writing, and other language arts from a very different perspective than public schools—emphasizing massive amounts of personal and read-aloud literature, history, and science. It avoids busy work so completely that it empowers children to recognize and resist it forever. It uses copywork and grammar as well as composition to teach writing skills. Science is taught in depth; experiments and field trips are more important than book work at the early stages. Summarization, outlining, conversation, and thesis formation are taught gradually across all subject areas and lead naturally to being able to formulate and convey effective argumentation. (This is a mixed blessing in the high school years, but I digress…)

Naturally this means that children being taught in a classical manner are not necessarily going to be learning the same strategies and ways of organizing information that public school children do. Or they will learn strategies at different ages than public schoolers, due to a combination of the different sequencing of learning in a classical education and the opportunities for customized progress that homeschooling offers.

Really, though, there is no need for concern about these issues when you’re first getting started, if you take a few basic steps to eliminate these questions. First, make a commitment to homeschool long enough for your child’s learning to converge with public school learning. Generally by around 3rd or 4th grade, the various approaches result in consistently similar results from a testing standpoint. Of course, in addition to the typically tested skills, the classically-homeschooled child has had considerably more experience in science experimentation, more exposure to world history, and a lot more opportunities to investigate a broad range of their own interests.

Secondly, commit to teaching to the point of mastery, and don’t worry about assigning letter or numerical grades through at least 6th grade. Grades are used to assess progress and compare children with each other, by teachers who are teaching an entire classroom full of children. You don’t need to compare your child with others, and you know whether she is learning the material or not, so assigning grades is largely a useless exercise unless and until you need them for an application to a brick and mortar school. If your child is going to homeschool through high school, start assigning grades in 8th grade. If she is going to homeschool through middle school only and needs a transcript to apply for a private high school, find the high school application materials (usually available on their websites) and start assigning grades in the first year that is required on the applications. Many homeschoolers who place their children into public high schools find that they simply need to discuss math and/or honors placement with the high school counseling staff and don’t need to assign middle school grades at all.

Thirdly, establish a routine, and establish minimum weekly progress as an ongoing benchmark. While some use a minute by minute schedule, a routine is effective (and less onerous) for many. What kind of routine? I suggest distinguishing skills from content, and teaching skills every morning and content in the afternoons as much as possible. Skills are things like reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic. Content areas include history and science. Our ‘typical day’ included a religion lesson first thing, followed by either a lesson in reading skills acquisition or arithmetic, whichever was currently more difficult, followed by the other, and then followed by other aspects of language arts—copywork, editing practice, reading aloud, discussing, and summarizing reading, spelling, etc. Science, history, literature, art, music, foreign language, etc. were taught in the afternoons, and not all of them were taught every day. A reasonable schedule for a week might include 5 math lessons, 4 grammar lessons, 4 copywork episodes, 4 literature lessons, 3 spelling episodes, a foreign language lesson and 2 practices, 2 history lessons, a music lesson, and 2 science lessons. So you would call a week ‘done’ when those were finished, and exceed those quantities most weeks, but also have the flexibility to settle for that amount and know that good progress is being made. Field trips counted into the mix—a day-long trip to a science museum might be the equivalent of 4-5 science lessons. Watching and discussing a play would be perhaps 3-4 literature lessons.

Lastly, track your progress loosely for your own benefit and to make sure that you are not letting anything fall through the cracks. I homeschooled my daughter through 8th grade and used two main tools to track her progress: a master calendar and a monthly template.

The master calendar can be kept in any standard software format. I used Lotus notes, but others such as Outlook would work just fine. The calendar is for exceptions and scheduled lessons outside of the home. Weekly choral and art lessons would go onto the calendar, because despite their being routine, everyone needed to be reminded of the times and dates for lessons that occurred outside of the house. More uncommon exceptions like field trips to the zoo, plays, science museum visits, and play dates were also documented. This meant these activities did not need to be remembered in advance and that later, when documentation was being made, it was easy to create a list of ‘special’ activities.

The monthly template is a Word document that has major subject areas as headings and is cut and pasted into a new Word document each month. Subject areas might be religion, science, math, social studies, writing, reading, other language arts, music, art, PE, and Misc. Each month I would look at a printout of the prior month’s report to remind myself of the status at the beginning of the month. For instance, in March we may have completed the grammar text through lesson 35 and continued through lesson 57 in April. So to write the April report, under ‘other language arts’ I would write, “Grammar lessons 36 through 57.” Hence a short but reasonably detailed overview of progress would easily be generated.

What is useful about this? For one thing, it enables the teaching parent to clearly see that progress is, in fact, being made—something that is easy to miss in the moment. It also gives her a chance to take stock and see whether progress is too skewed—too much writing at the cost of science, for instance, or vice versa. Is there something that should be emphasized more next month? Has progress been so great that it’s time to purchase the next materials? Is there something that could use a little more emphasis? This process also puts a summary of that month’s accomplishments right at the tip of her tongue, for interested relatives or others. And lastly, assembling all of the monthly reports for a year or two is a great starting point if you need to formulate a transcript or an overview of progress for applications to brick and mortar schools, or scholarships, or jobs.

In summary, the processes of homeschool scheduling and record keeping can be thorough, complete, and yet not particularly time consuming. It doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective.

Testing and Record-Keeping in a Minimally Regulated State, by Cheryl

 

What do you do when nothing (or little) is required of you?

The Oklahoma State Constitution provides protection for the right of parents to homeschool their children. The Attorney General qualified that right by stating “so long as the private instruction is supplied in good faith and equivalent in fact to that afforded by the State.” “Equivalency” has never been established. The compulsory school age is over 5 and under 18, and 180 days of instruction must be completed in a year. The following subjects must be taught: math, writing, reading, citizenship, U.S. Constitution, health, science, P.E., safety, and conservation. Although this is all required, we report to no one. No one looks at our attendance chart or our grade records. (For a full evaluation of the laws affecting homeschools in Oklahoma, visit the OCHEC website* or HSLDA’s page on Oklahoma Regulations.)

*The OCHEC website includes a withdrawal form for children who have been in public school previously.

If your child has never been enrolled in public school, as of the publishing of this article, there is nothing you must do in this state.

With no one to report to,and no required records to maintain, there is great freedom — but should you really do nothing? Should you just forego record keeping all together? In my opinion, no. Why?

1. It is good to keep some sort of record to track your child’s progress. It is also fun to go back and compare their work from previous years to see how they have grown. In addition, laws can change or you could face a move to a more highly-regulated state. It is good to be in the habit of keeping some records.

Lilly at the microscoper

3. If your child is interested in attending college, you will need records of work at the high school level that fulfills the admission requirements for the school. By keeping records throughout the child’s school career, it will be a less daunting task when you reach high school.

Aidan doing Math

I keep three types of records for our school. The first is simply to keep all work completed in a year. We date our work and everything goes in one box at the end of the year. The second is a photographic record of the kids on field trips and working at home. The third is one standardized test at the end of each year. (I have played around with several online and paper planners for maintaining records. For elementary school–for me and the way we run our homeschool–they are not a good fit. When we reach middle school or logic stage work, I plan to add an online planner to our record keeping.)

making a lapbook

Why do I test if it is not required? For my peace of mind. That is the only reason. I start testing when my kids are at a first grade level or above in reading and math. I order my tests through Seton Testing. The tests are inexpensive, and the company has provided quick service every year we have used them. Scores are posted to your online account for a quick turnaround time.

I have used the CAT/E or CAT Survey for 1st and 2nd grade and the CogAT for 3rd and will use it again for 4th/5th grade testing. I like these tests because they only test math, reading, and language abilities, not science or social studies. Since we follow the classical method as laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, we do four-year history and science cycles. What we study does not line up with what is taught in most public and private schools in the lower elementary (or grammar) stage. I just want to see how my kids are doing in the basics of math and language.

I do not test for the “grade” my child is in, or the “grade” they would be in if enrolled in public school. I select the test for the level at which my child works. My son took the first grade CAT/E when in “kindergarten” because he was working on first grade math and reading. This year he has made a huge leap and we will test at a 5th grade level (last year we did 3rd). My daughter is in kindergarten, working at a kindergarten level, so we will not test this year. Next year we will start with a first grade test. You will not gain any information about your child’s growth and development if you test too far below or above their level. (This advice is meant only for states where testing is NOT mandated; if testing is required, follow the regulations for your state.)

One side benefit of testing when it is not required: If anyone were to question the education of my children, I have tests that show they are at or above the level of their peers. Another side benefit is that they have practice taking standardized tests in a low-stress environment. My hope is that they will be very comfortable with testing by the time they start taking college admissions tests.

When nothing is required of you, you must be more self-motivated. You must set the standards you want for yourself and your children.

 

CherylcherylCheryl 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.

Seen Around the Web: Homeschooling in Highly Regulated States


Megan has compiled a list of links to begin your research on homeschooling laws in your state, and Cheryl has shared her best advice for recordkeeping in a minimally-reporting state. The editors at StS decided we should also offer some record-keeping insight for those living in more stringent states, but most of our team do not live in those areas of the country so we can’t write authoritatively about them. Our solution is to bring you the best from-the-horse’s-mouth information we can find online, shared by generous homeschool bloggers who live under more regulation than the rest of us. We hope you will enjoy this little Blog Hop! We are delighted to meet these bloggers, journalists, and organizations, and we thank them for sharing their skill and knowledge with us all.

Florida

Getting Started and FAQ’s by Homeschool in Florida

How to Make a Homeschool Portfolio by Parkridge Church Homeschoolers

Requirements by Florida Parent-Educators Association (FPEA)

Vitarete Academy is a new homeschooling umbrella organization that is registered as a private school in the state of Florida

Maryland

Preparing a Maryland Homeschool Portfolio by Tinderbox

Getting Started Homeschooling by the Maryland Homeschool Association

Homeschooling in Maryland by The Homeschool Mom

Pennsylvania

Start with the Homeschool Forms page, but then read everything at Ask Pauline!

Affadavits, Objectives, and Samples, Oh, My! by StS contributor Nance at HOME’S COOL

New York

Homeschooler by The Journey Mom

Homeschooling: Homemade Education by Sarah Berson for METRO FOCUS at thirteen.org

New York State Homeschooling Regulations Simplified by New York Adventures in Homeschooling

Homeschooling in New York by Angela for Sandbox to Socrates

North Dakota

North Dakota Homeschool Association at www.homeschool-life.com

Homeschooling in North Dakota by The Homeschool Mom

 

 

Planning For High School, by Lisa Appelo

 

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been homeschooling kids since kindergarten, thinking about homeschooling through the high school years is daunting. What records will you need? Can lab sciences and pre-calc really be done at home? Even though thousands of other homeschoolers have graduated and gone on to successful post-high school experiences, it can still seem like a grand experiment until you’ve graduated your own child.

I have found there are five keys to high school planning. Follow these to curb misgivings and missteps.

1. Start with the end in mind. Before you look through the first catalog, sit down with your child and talk about post-high school goals. Does your child prefer a large state university or a small liberal arts college? Will she likely go into the service or to a vocational school? While not immoveable, knowing the end goal will help you shape the high school years.

In our family, we knew our children would most likely go to a state university because of their career goals and an excellent state scholarship program. With that in mind, we looked at two things: the state universities’ admission requirements and any special homeschool conditions. One university required homeschoolers to take several accredited courses, or alternatively, SAT II exams in those subject areas. Armed with that information, we were able to fold in accredited classes over the high school years. It would have been a major roadblock had we discovered this during the senior year admissions process!

Once you know your student’s post-high school vision, you’re almost ready to open the catalogs. But first, pause and reassure yourself with step 2.

2. Just take the next step from 8th grade. Moving into high school is much like moving a child from kindergarten to first grade or from 6th grade to 7th. While high school may seem like promotion to a whole new world, the student is just progressing up one step academically. For many core subjects, this simply means going to the next level in that subject. In math, for example, the student might move from Saxon Algebra I to Algebra II. If you already have favorite curricula, some of it can be used right into high school.

Even the schedules and learning style you found in the middle years can be used in high school. Thinking of just going up one level, rather than creating a whole new structure, will help take the angst out of high school planning.

3. Research state graduation requirements. In most states, homeschoolers are not bound by state graduation requirements. But these standards help indicate two key things: what colleges in your area are looking for and what credits graduates will have taken — graduates in the same college application pool as yours. If graduates in your area routinely take four years of core academic subjects (math, science, social science, language arts and foreign language), you will want your student’s transcript to reflect that as well.

Also, while most college admission sites list the minimum requirements, be sure to look at the freshman profile page. This page gives a picture of the test scores, GPA, and credits for the freshman class actually admitted and attending. At this point, you’re ready to make the four-year plan, only in light of Step 4.

4. Sketch a four-year plan. In pencil. Now that you know your child’s goals, what worked in eighth grade, and your state’s requirements, you’re ready to rough out a four-year plan. Go ahead and add in details like curriculum you might use or online classes that would fit. Be sure to write in tests that should be completed along with courses (AP, CLEP or SAT II) as well as tests necessary for dual-enrollment and college (PSAT, SAT, ACT).

Now is the time to get out the catalogs and dream big! Just remember that this draft will change. Before your child graduates, new books will be published. Outside classes and local opportunities will appear. Or your student may develop a new passion. Of course, the beauty of homeschooling — sometimes most clearly seen in the high school years — is being able to tailor learning to our children. Even in pencil, this sketch will provide a great scaffold for the next four years. Just one more thing to add:

5. Consult a local source. This is my favorite part because it usually means I get to take another  homeschool mom out to lunch. Choose someone who has already put kids through high school and is familiar with state requirements. Ask her if she sees any problems with your four-year plan. In the best of worlds, this parent will share the transcripts, planning forms and tried-and-true wisdom learned from the process.

Planning for the high school years does not need to be intimidating. Even for those completely new to home education, these five practical steps will get you started and help you craft a plan for your high schooler. And be sure to stay tuned, as Sandbox to Socrates will cover the high school years in more detail in October.

Lisa Appelo is in the 16th year of homeschooling her seven children. The oldest three were homeschooled through high school and went on to their first choice colleges. Lisa continues to teach the others in grades 2nd through high school at home, most recently as a suddenly widowed single mom. Each day is an adventure in life and grace.

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

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.