Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top Tips for the New (School) Year

Well, most homeschoolers are getting ready to get back to the books here soon (if they haven’t already). Many will already have everything they need for the upcoming year, but some will still be undecided about a certain curriculum or tool they have yet to purchase. It seems that in homeschooling circles, personal review and word of mouth advertising is a big deal, and so (keeping in mind that my children are entering grades 4, 3 and K) I am honoured to share with you my top 5 recommendations and failures of the past school year (in no particular order) :

5. The Well Planned Day planner. It’s pretty, it’s helpful, it doesn’t have a load of stuff you’ll never use, it’s got monthly articles that are just great and it helps keep up to 4 kids planned at a time. For older students who are keeping track of their own work a little more, they also have student planners for middle school and high school. It’s my second or third year using it, and I’ve got no intention to change.

4. My girls used Learning Language Arts Through Literature last year (the red and yellow books). We did not get on with these. The girls like them fine, but they just didn’t seem to have much teeth to them. The program was trying to do a lot of things – copywork, spelling, grammar, reading, handwriting, etc – it seemed to be skimming the surface of lots and not doing anything particularly well. To that end, one of my kids managed to get through the year learning less than half of her spelling words, words that she was getting right at the end of the week, but there was no staying power.

3. The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. I cannot count how many people I have recommended this to, but if I had a nickel…Abi used it, Anna used it and now Noah is using it to learn to read. It’s excellent – methodical, clear, uncluttered. You know what to do and what to expect your child to do. It has helped to produce two strong readers in this house already, and Noah is quickly on his way to joining them. And you can’t beat the price – you can even find it in the library (like we did).

2. We purchased the Institute for Excellence in Writing last year, though we didn’t really get into using it until this spring. Oh. My. Goodness. It is extensive, and a little overwhelming, but totally worth it. Abigail is still only in the beginning phases of it, but it’s basically a system for learning how to read critically, process and report back what a student has read. It will serve in reports, note taking and eventually creative writing (that’s pretty far away for us still – Abi’s only now coming to grips with the fact that she is not allergic to her pencil). There is a lot of information and if you’re like me, you can get totally distracted and seriously jump the gun, so if you get it – and you should – read the suggested lesson plans. I didn’t at first, and wasted months by frustrating myself and my child. Once I sat down and looked it all through (which didn’t take that long), it was all a lot more sensible and easy to manage.

1. Know yourself. Don’t try to be what you are not. If you’re relaxed, then be relaxed – you don’t need to schedule every second because someone else swears by their method. If you’re a planner, plan wisely and don’t fret that the other family in your co-op just built a scale model of their town in their spare time while you’re struggling to get the math work corrected. But also know your weaknesses and be prepared to glean wisdom from others and think outside the box a little. This can be difficult – in our hearts, I think we all want to be self-sufficient and just “make it work”, but it is a wonderful exercise in humility to admit to and ask for suggestions and guidance. So by all means, ask a friend, then ask your husband – and submit it all to the Lord. It is His children we are training and for His glory that we are training them.