Friday, May 2, 2014

Home School Resources Round- Up

Home Schooling is a topic we talk about rather frequently in my house. Since I am formerly a public school English Teacher I have mixed emotions about Home School. I personally don't like the Common Core changes that I am seeing in public schools but I do find the classroom environment beneficial for children. At this point I would say we are leaning more toward sending our children to private Christian schools but we have not completely ruled out home school as an option for our family.

Even though I plan on sending my son to preschool (especially with the new baby on the way) I have still been on the hunt for Home School curriculum I can do at home with my children. There are so many hours in the day, we can and should spend a little time on learning.  I believe we can make learning fun and entertaining at home I just need some ideas and a place to start. I know a few moms in my devotional group have also been interested in doing educational activities with their kiddos at home as well. I hope this is helpful.

How I Do It At Home
There a couple of ways I have approached learning at home. There are websites/blogs I frequent to get ideas for fun and entertaining activities. You can also follow many of these sites on Facebook and Pinterest. Sometimes a fun idea will pop-up in my news feed and we will do the activity latter that day. Sometimes, I just store the idea away in my brain for future use.

One nap-time a week or so is my "prep" time for activities. I will gather a bunch of ideas and a bunch of dollar store supplies and create what I call "learning kits". I will put all the materials for a single session in a large Ziploc bag. I will then make one for each day of the week (5-7 activities) and then just pull a baggie when I needed an activity. We often do ours after lunch before nap time or after nap time while I cooked dinner. My Learning Kits are also helpful to take along to doctors appointments or places we might have to wait and to have for the babysitter. Some of the Learning Kits are easy to reuse or I have modified over time to increase skill level or regenerate interest.

In March, my son seemed ready and able to start a little more structured learning so we spent the month on colors. He was over 2 years old and had more of an attention span. This is when I actually started planning the direction our learning at home would go. My husband, a stock-holder in my sons education, got involved as well and we made the month about colors. At dinner we talked about colors when they played blocks or cars they talked colors. We just enjoyed colors for the month I dyed the scrambled eggs one morning and we coordinated our shirt colors- easy and fun things like that. During the day I try to play at least one directed activity toward colors.

I find most of the time I already have the materials in my house for these activities but if I don't a quick trip to The Dollar Store remedies any deficiencies. I make a trip to the dollar store at least once every month or so for church needs anyway, so while I am there I keep a look out for items I can use in my learning kits. You don't have to spend a lot of money but for me if I am going to put flour in a tray for tracing shapes and letters I would rather use dollar store flour than my bread maker baking flour. I hope these sites are helpful and provide many hours of fun and learning!

Blogs and Websites- mainly Toddler & Preschool
These are helpful when I need ideas for an activity. I follow most of these sites on Facebook/Pinterest so I don't "search" them very often but I get great stuff from them all the time. These sites are also regular posters on social media with seasonal ideas. Social media makes learning at home very easy in some senses. Example: The season is changing to Fall, what kind of fun Fall activities can we do with leaves and fall colors? 

Curriculum Sites- Preschool & Pre-K
  • ABC Jesus Loves Me- This site actually gives you a 36 week Bible based plan. Everything is free online for individual family use but you can also buy a printed version. I truly love this site and plan on using it with consistency this fall with my son.
  • ABCMouse.com- You have to pay for a subscription to this site. I do not use this site as a regular education site but started it more because my son was so interested in the computer. He does really engage in the activities for about 20 minutes at a time. We use this more as fun supplement or distraction when we need him to be still for a moment. We have the Apps on our phones so when we are out he can "play" but he still gets to learn at the same time. I bought my membership on special to save money. You can try a free 30 day trial as well. I find it works best on a tablet device because my son can use his fingers to manipulate the games rather than navigate with a house or cursor. 

Curriculum Sites- Elementary and High School
I recommend these sites without having spent much time on them. I just don't have a need to use them yet. The first site listed is the best I have come across.
  • Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool - This site gives you a 180 day plan (which is the number of days children are mandated to attend school). It starts with Pre-K and goes through high school. I haven't spent much time on this site because I don't have a need to at this time but what I have explored I like. 
  • Free Home School Deals- This site includes more than just lessons and resources. It has coupons, frugal living tips, and tutorials as well. 
  • Home School Freebie of the Day- Sends you free lessons and resources you must enter your email to subscribe. The website has some lesson ideas but it really is more of a regular email notification of lessons and freebies. 
  • Wycliffe Bible Translators free Downloadable Curriculum
  • The Cinnamon Bear based on an old time Radio Show. It is available for a minimal cost.
Home School Curriculum Catalogs
In some cases you have to pay for the catalog but this is often a way to preview the curriculum and pick the one that best fits your family's needs and interests. I do suggest that you make sure the curriculum you choose aligns with the standards and expectations for the state you live in. If your child has to enter/re-enter public school you don't want them to be behind the other students. The best advice I can offer as a former public school teacher is to make sure you align yourself with what they are doing in your state and what they doing in your school district. You are free to explore topics and teach the material the way that works best for your child but the state does provide a baseline for you and others to follow. 

You can find state standards online and most school districts also publish their standards. Chances are you will do more learning and go deeper in your study than they will do in school but this also means you have to stay on top of their learning and continue to find ways to challenge them and help them grow. 
Personal Note:

Even if you don't home school you can still use these resources to enrich your summers and school breaks. The best advice I can give parents as a teacher is to always continue learning at home. If your child has a special interest or is gifted in an area- foster it! If you go on vacation think about how you can make it educational (journal each night about your adventures, have them look up the dinosaur that was their favorite at the museum, explore together how a roller coaster is made). Allowing your child's brain to go stagnate over the summer is the worst thing you can do for their development and sets them back when school resumes. Breaks and fun are important but reading, writing, math, and science are all skills. As skills they require practice and refreshment otherwise they are lost to us. 

While teachers work very hard to include as much learning in the year as possible they have 20 or more students in the room. Sadly, teachers also have to meet expectations for student performance on state tests which does prevent going deeper on somethings because they have to ensure they teach all the topics that will be covered on the state exam. While I staunchly defend public school teachers I also have the unique perspective from my tutoring business. The sad truth is there are bad teachers and not all schools or districts are created equally. You cannot expect school to teach your student everything they need to know to be prepared for college or a successful career. I strongly believe it is the parents job, my job and my husband's job, to ensure that our children are prepared and have the skills they need to succeed in life and academically. Regardless of whether or not we choose public, private, or home school we will be home schooling at all times to some degree.