Thursday, December 31, 2009

California Educational Resources

If you are lucky enough to live in the state of California, there are a plethora of resources available to parents devoted to the proper education of California children. I don't think any decision is final and parents need to be constantly evaluating new technology options as they become available. Here's an excerpt from an excellent place to get started when considering your options for child education, especially if one of those under consideration is a homeschooling in California option:

"There are different types of charter schools. Some are run by school districts and they are "in school" charters. Then there are charter schools that are homeschool based. We have used this route for all the years we have been homeschooling. The homeschool based charter school provides a teacher once a month to collect attendance and work samples. They are also there to bounce ideas off of and place the purchase orders for curriculum, field trips and classes that the charter school offers. The funding offered by each charter school varies so interviewing each school is a must to see what they offer for the money provided. There is also a different rate for high school than for elementary which is considered K-8 for the purpose of funding. The constraints are no religious materials, you have to use their vendors, and testing is required by the school. Now I use "required" loosely since you can opt out of testing just by writing a letter stating you are opting your child out."

Of course, I'm always on the lookout for technology solutions that fit the bill and that's why I'm drawn to Time4Learning, especially with the recent launch of their new online preschool curriculum. If you are homeschooling, trying to get ahead or dealing with remediation or performance issues, the Time4Learning animated online option seems to work well for thousands of families looking for student-paced, interactive teaching options. I especially love the music in the latest version of Time4Learning preschool. A friend of mine has had excellent results with her adopted Vietnamese child. It has been a fun way to improve her English language skills in preparation for kindergarten.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lapbooking & You

So I have seen these great project books called lapbooks used by many homeschoolers. Simply put, here is a definition of a lapbook taken from Time4Writing:

"Lapbooking is one of the most popular trends in the homeschool community. Many families include lapbooks in their learning to help their children master material and build solid writing skills through easy, creative and fun mini-books. After your children have created a collection of mini-books, they pull them together in a perfect lap sized folded file folder."

But one thing I don't see a lot of are writing projects of any length included in these lapbooks. They seem to be more of an arts and crafts project with flash cards, wheels and reveal folded papers. Missing are the essays or paragraphs of prose written by the student on the lapbook subject matter. One problem is that a lapbook doesn't lend itself to long prose like a 3 ring binder. So I thought I would share with you a free downloadable lapbook pocket that is perfect to hold a writing assignment of almost any length (that is 10 pages or less). 

You can learn more about homeschool lapbooking and even see a video complete with finished projects in them at To watch the video, click the photo of the finished lapbook on this page.

I think lapbooks are a great way to focus a student's attention on a single subject collecting an assortment of related lessons in a reusable format. Besides, who can resist it when Johnny totes out his latest masterpiece and starts reciting all of the things he has learned in the process of creating it. Makes me what to replace my lap dog with a lapbook.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Unschooling the homeschooled

Here's another great approach to homeschooling but again the name will throw you for a loop: Unschooling! Now I'm all for unschooling and unlearning bad habits or inaccurate information but I'm not sure I want to throw the baby out with the bath water. For an explanation of what unschooling is, I refer to the Time4Learning overview:

" You may be wondering what unschooling "looks like." It is probably as different as each family is. But in one unschooled house, you might see kids building with Legos, examining a preying mantis in a jar, or watching the Clash of the Titans and discussing the ancient Greek gods. In another house, you might see a young man or woman spending his whole day programming a video game that he or she has envisioned. Another unschooling family may spend their day volunteering at an animal shelter and picking up trash near the highway. What you probably won't see, however, in an unschooled scenario is anything resembling a classroom experience, with specific schedules for learning and the days activities broken into "subject areas".

This explanation doesn't sound anything like its name unschooling. It sounds more like fun schooling to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eclectic Homeschooling?

I think homeschooling in and of itself is eclectic but I had no idea that there was an approach called eclectic that is a subset of the whole homeschooling movement. So I started doing research on the topic and this is what Time4Learning provides as an overview of eclectic homeschooling:

"One of the challenges of homeschool education is selecting a curriculum that meets the needs of each child. Many families find that what fits one child, may not fit another, or that what worked well one semester, may not work the next. Or in some cases, what works for one child in one subject, does not work for the same child in another subject.

Eclectic homeschooling is the result of parents’ endeavors to provide a highly specialized education plan for their children, based on the children’s strengths, learning style, and interests. Eclectic homeschoolers see value in a variety of different educational methods. While actual statistics are hard to come by, we believe most homeschooling families use an eclectic approach to their children’s education."

I think maybe a better description of the eclectic homeschooling approach would be common sense with dedicated parents willing to do what it takes to find the best match of learning styles for each of their children and teaching methods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Homeschooling for Fun and Profit?

Homeschooling seems so out of context for the lay-person especially those of us who graduated from public schools and seem to be doing okay in spite of it. It seems that I never hear or meet someone that was homeschooled unless they are rich and famous, like actors or athletes. But I think the real reason why more families don't go back to the roots of homeschooling (that's where it all started remember) is the opportunity cost of one of the parents leaving the workforce. It is a well-known phenomenon that it now takes 2 just to make ends meet in today's economy. So how does someone justify taking themselves out of the job market so the family can live on half as much money plus pay for homeschooling supplies.

It is no wonder that our schools have become somewhat of a holding tank or prepaid baby sitter for our kids as we no longer have the luxury of choice - public school or homeschool. You notice I left out the private school option just because it is so out of reach for most families. It is good to know that there are plenty of options and homeschooling resources out there that at least make it doable for the average person. And if unemployment continues to rise or school closures continue to escalate, who knows, more of us may end up as temporary homeschoolers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do Charter Schools Really Work?

California Charter Schools have a great way to channel taxpayers' money into educational projects that actually work! There are 750 charter schools serving over 276,000 students in California today. They are open to the public, tuition free, participate in state testing and have credentialed teachers. Not only this, they also provide funding for distance learning options including curriculum for preschool to 8th grade such as Time4Learning and online writing courses for kids provided by Time4Writing (full disclosure, I work for Time4Learning). These classes are provided not only to students physically attending these schools but they also provide resources to homeschooling families.

But who cares exactly what products are offered, the important thing is the results. Research has shown in the past that California charter schools are better at increasing student achievement than traditional public schools.* Another study found that 12 of the 15 top performing public schools in California serving children in poverty are charter schools.** And finally, a 2007 field study reported that charter school parents cited "challenging curriculum and individualized student attention as key reasons for their high level of satisfaction."

*Research based on the California Department of Education’s Academic Performance Index from 2004 – 2007 indicates that 11% more charters than traditional public schools show substantially higher student achievement by the end of the school year. **A November 2008 analysis conducted by the California Charter Schools Association examined 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) Growth Scores of California public schools with 70% or more Free and Reduced Price Lunch participants and found that 12 of the 15 top performing schools were charter schools.

Okay already with the research and the statistics, I'm convinced. So why aren't charter schools more prevelant? California is growing at a rate of 50 new charter schools every year, but this concept has only barely escaped the state borders or major cities. A few big cities are notable, Boston, Chicago and actually about 40 states have charter school experiements although most are restricted to these large cities.

According to a comprehensive study of charter schools conducted in June of this year by CREDO and Stanford University these states/cities had significantly higher learning gains for charter school students than would have occurred in traditional schools:
o Arkansas
o Colorado (Denver)
o Illinois (Chicago)
o Louisiana
o Missouri

As of 2009, more than 4,700 charter schools enrolled over 1.4 million children in 40 states. This is nearly identical to the number of homeschoolers in the US today. The ranks of charters grow by thousands each year. Even so, more than 350,000 names linger on waiting lists. Why isn't the federal government jumping on programs in the over performing states and cities to bring these best practices to all 50 states? Why aren't we clamoring for more out of the box thinking to solve our nations' educational crisis? How long will it take for us to adopt new approaches that may threaten traditional face-to-face teaching jobs (gasp)? As our test scores continue their slow decline, maybe the time is now.

For more information about state-by-state homeschooling options and standardized test preparation, see the list below for your state:

Standardized Tests by State –
Alabama: Alabama Reading and Mathematics Tests - ARMT
Alaska: Terra Nova - SBA HSGQE
Arizona: Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards - AIMS
Arkansas: Arkansas’ Augmented Benchmark Exam - AABE
California: Standardized Testing and Reporting - STAR
Colorado: Colorado Student Assessment Program - CSAP
Connecticut: Connecticut Mastery TestConnecticut Academic Performance Test - CMTCAPT
Delaware: Delaware Student Testing Program - DSTP
District of Columbia Information Found Here
Florida: Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - FCAT
Georgia: Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests - CRCT
Hawaii: Hawaii State Assessment - HSA
Idaho: Idaho State Achievement Tests - ISAT
Illinois: Illinois Standards Achievement Test - ISAT
Indiana: Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress - ISTEP+
Iowa: Iowa Test of Basic SkillsIowa Tests of Educational Development - ITBS ITED
Kansas: Kansas State Assessment - KSA
Kentucky: Kentucky Core Content Tests - KCCT
Louisiana: LEAP Alternate Assessment - iLEAP
Maine: New England Common Assessment ProgramMaine Educational Assessment Maine High School Assessment - NECAP MEA MHSA
Maryland: Maryland School Assessment - MSA
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System - MCAS
Michigan: Michigan Educational Assessment Program - MEAP
Minnesota: Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II - MCA II
Mississippi: Mississippi Curriculum TestSubject Area Testing Program - MCTSATP
Missouri: Missouri Assessment Program - MAP
Montana: Montana Comprehensive Assessment System - MontCAS
Nebraska: Nebraska State Accountability Assessments - NeSA
Nevada: Nevada Proficiency Examination Program - NPEP
New Hampshire: New England Common Assessment Program - NECAP
New Jersey: New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards - ASK
New Mexico: New Mexico Statewide Articulated Assessment Program - NMSBA
New York: New York State Testing Program - NYSTP
North Carolina: North Carolina Standardized Test - EOG
North Dakota: North Dakota’s State Assessment - NDSA
Ohio: Ohio Achievement Test - OAT
Oklahoma: Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests - OCCT
Oregon: Oregon Statewide Assessment System - OAKS
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania System of School Assessment - PSSA
Rhode Island: New England Common Assessment Program - NECAP
South Carolina: South Carolina Statewide Assessment Program - SC PASS
South Dakota: Dakota State Test of Educational Progress - STEP
Tennessee: Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program - TCAP
Texas: Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills - TAKS
Utah: Utah Performance Assessment System for Students - U-PASS
Vermont: New England Common Assessment Program - NECAP
Virginia: Virginia Standards of Learning - SOL
Washington: Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program - WCAP
West Virginia: West Virginia Educational Standards Test - WESTEST
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Evaluation - WKCE
Wyoming: Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students - PAWS

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Facebook vs. Twitter - who do you think will win?

Social media has arrived and the fallout has already started. What used to be the darling, MySpace, has now turned into the ghetto of social media and the newest darling is Twitter. In between these two is Facebook but really Facebook is winning hands down. Twitter has amazing growth but still has less unique visitors than say Classmates or The hard part of measuring Twitter is the huge audience that doesn't visit the site but instead uses Seesmic or TweetDeck or Twitterberry to keep up to date with all of their tweets.

So these new media arrivals show incredible promise for delivering instant news, highly targeted to an interested and engaged audience. When I can watch a burglary in real time using someone's webcam while they call 911 and watch the police make the arrest in their home (actually happened in Palm Beach County this year), now that's breaking news. Twitter and Facebook have turned every citizen into an instant news machine, going an being in places that CNN could only dream of being (think of the jet landing in the Hudson or the hostages in the hotel in Mumbai this time last year).

So who will win the social media audience game? My vote is for Facebook, only because I love it and use it so much and I find the total web based interface to be more user-friendly than being required to download something to manage Twitter. A colleague of mine wrote a blog post to the executives of Facebook with some "free" advice on how they can win and dominate social media. I thought you might enjoy the read.

Bottomline, some type of social media is here to stay. It is replacing phone calls, email and holiday letters across the nation, keeping families and friends connected in real time using multi-media updates. Before I tie up all of my time loading photos, videos and personal journals onto a site, I want to make sure it will be around say 6 months from now so I don't have to do it all over again. I think John Edelson, the author of the free advice article, is on to something when he recommends that Facebook allow someone to have different faces for their different relationships (one for family, one for friends, one for professional). Once they do this, then look out LinkedIn, "Faces"book will rule the social media world!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Join the Blog Community!

Here's a class that is almost too good to be true, Blog Writing 101, starting 10/12/09. For the low price of $59, you get 8 weeks of information about how to set up a blog, what to write about, inspiration to find your voice and tips on how to promote that blog. The class is taught by an experienced homeschool mom and blog writer of many years. Not to mention that it is offered by a reputable company,, an expert at distance learning that also offers online writing classes for grades 2 through 12.

Yes, parents too can take courses. Learn something new and be a role model for the value of education for your kids. This blog writing class is being offered especially for parents. Sessions are conducted entirely online and this class comes highly recommended by past participants.

The Blog Writing 101 course is designed primarily for an adult audience but is also open to high school students that either have or want to start a blog. This course is a great product at a great value. If you have ever thought about starting a blog, here's the push you just might need to make it happen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is a longer school year really the answer?

Who needs a summer vacation when there are things to learn and tests to ace? If Obama has his way the summer vacation and after school hang outs will soon go the way of buggy whips and 8 track tapes. But I have to wonder if it isn't quality over quantity that really counts. My selective perception must be selecting only things that show that methodology (one-on-few) and the ability to adapt the teaching style to the individual pupil has more impact than the amount of time held hostage in a classroom.

The article on Yahoo! News yesterday does provide some general references that might lead you to support this premise. For example they cite that spending more time in school studying math does increase math scores but by how much. And is it as significant as the increases seen by using online education delivering custom tailored classes that are student paced? Or how does this compare to homeschooling, that shows a 30+% increase in test scores? And what about the case for waiting longer to start school? Singapore holds the distinction of having the highest math scores worldwide and this country waits until children are 7 years old before starting school.

I'm not against spending more time in studies, I just think we need to be absolutely sure that we are investing that time in the best and most productive learning environment rather than creating a holding cell for our kids. If the impact on test scores is not significant then we might just be creating students that are only capable of counting down the extra minutes until the school bell rings.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Web Makes Spelling Fun!

The web is all abuzz about, a free online website that helps teach kids how to spell and what those words mean. This site has gone from zero to 2 million page views in nothing flat. It was only launched just last year but 2009 will be it's year to shine. Collecting awards this year like some people collect stamps, they have already won the 2009 Parents' Choice Award, the 2010 Teachers's Choice Award, been named a finalist for the Golden Lamp Award, and were selected for inclusion in the American Library Association’s Great Web Sites for Kids.

And I remember the olden days when I had to beg someone to read me my spelling words hoping against hope that they pronounced them correctly and if I was really lucky, help me use them in a sentence so I had some idea what they meant. Well, all of that is now automated and systemitized at SpellingCity. And talk about a dictionary, they have over 40,000 words available for spelling games, vocabulary practice, handwriting and pronounciation by a real human. I don't know any parent that wouldn't love to help make their child a better speller in a way that seemed more like a game than a chore.

I think SpellingCity is a good example of the old addage that the best things in life are free. But if you would like to let SpellingCity automate your grading and student reporting then you can do that for a small annual fee of $25-50 per year. Aw, the price of convenience, still a deal at twice the price!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Home is Where the School Is

Watching the news last night I was moved by the report and family interviews of yet another fatal stabbing in our South Florida public schools. This just happened on the heels of the Yale student who was found killed and stuffed into the wall of her classroom. And images of Columbine may never leave our collective consciousness.

With all the violence in our schools today, is it any wonder that more and more families are turning to homeschooling as a viable option? Couple the violence with entire school closings due to the swine flu outbreak and it seems that the best solution might be to bring school back to the home where it all started. Even if the decision isn't permanent it might be a viable solution until the school reopens from the latest quarantine.

The media talks about homeschooling as if it is something new. A new trend in a new time but in reality everyone was homeschooled when our country was young and public schools didn't exist. Actually a centrally controlled secondary education system funded by the state was a concept elevated in importance and implemented by Napoleon in 1802. Since that time public, private and religious education systems have come to dominate the former domain of homeschooling.

So where do you start if you decide, "Okay, I'm going to look into this homeschooling thing to see if it might be for me?" Here's a link to a great resource for anyone just getting started, the Welcome to Homeschooling Guide compiled by Time4Learning. And the best resource ever for homeschoolers is the Internet, where everything old is new again. As parents, no stone can be left unturned to protect our students from the violence that threatens them where they study. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blogs May Be Medium of Future Great Literature

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, it seems even more obvious to me that lasting great literary works and ideas may indeed be those published online in blogs like this one. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that only history could be used to judge the greatness of an author, how well their ideas and concepts endured the test of time. He refers to great books but in today's world, we also need to include the great blogs and ezines of today's authors.

And as parents leveraging today's technology, we can encourage our children to use a blog instead of a journal to self publish in a way not possible in our youth. How empowering and endearing for a child to share their talents in a way that can easily be accessed by friends and relatives and be captured for generations to come. With the help of a scanner they can even provide illustration for their ideas or as another way to communicate them. There are great blog writing resouces available online and even basic online writing courses that require students to publish their work as part of their assignment.

In conclusion, the movie also demonstrates how great ideas transcend the medium as Julie's blog became a popular book and a movie. The only thing we don't know is how enduring are these ideas will be through the test of time. In the meantime, Julia Powell can bask in her popular success and only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finally, Proof that Online Learning is Best!

Okay, so I have to first say that I have a bias that must be revealed before we go any further in this article. I have made my living from the web since 1995 and feel that almost everything is better online. So when the U.S. Department of Education released their study this week, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, I stood up and cheered!

According to this study, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Hallelujah - finally someone researched and proved that the web is better than live. Kind of reminds me of the commercial, "Is it live or is it Memorex?" In this case Memorex beat the live instruction. This research spanned 12 years and 99 studies of mostly colleges and adult education environments. It did find a small but statistically significant improvement in test performance with online students scoring in the 59th percentile compared to face-to-face students scoring in the 50th percentile using standardized tests for both.

Now don't go off and close all of the physical schools just yet, but do look for online education options to continue to grow dramatically just as the tools to deliver it also continue to expand. With the adoption of broadband, the rapid consumption of video and the use of collaborative online communication tools, this segment of the education industry should continue to see explosive growth.

I hope the Department of Education expands its research to younger students as I believe the improvement in performance will be even more dramatic. The advantage that online has over other methods is the ability for a course to go at exactly the right pace for each learner and also the opportunity to incorporate a wide range of teaching styles via this one-on-one medium. And research abounds that proves learning by doing versus learning by listening produces better results.

Online learning curriculum such as should definitely be in the next round of tests that are conducted in this field. By providing interactive activities and games for kids Pre-K to 8th grade to learn language arts, phonics, critical thinking, math, social studies and science, this online educational program could prove a fertile ground for extending their findings to younger audiences.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Size Does Matter - At Least in the Classroom!

The old argument about classrooms finally has research proof that size does matter. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association just published their latest research on how homeschooled children compare with traditionally schooled kids and there is no surprise, homeschoolers performed 37% better on standardized tests. So a classroom size of 1-5 children (even if their ages and grade levels are all different) is better than classroom sizes of 20-30. And the reason is in my humble opinion is that with a smaller classroom size, the teacher is better able to adapt the teaching method and pace to the student as they have fewer students to evaluate and learn what the best approach is for each student and then to implement that teaching style at exactly the right pace. I don't think there would be enough time in the school year to evaluate 20-30 students for learning style or pace and then to develop a teaching style to address each one, not to mention the implementation of many different teaching styles delivered at exactly the right pace for each individual.

So these levels of improved performance results might explain why homeschooling continues to grow at a 7% annual rate accounting for about 1.5 million of today's school age students. The Department of Education also estimates that an additional 1.5 million students are receiving remedial or supplemental education using traditional homeschool approaches to augment their public or private school lessons.

What's the bottomline? Again, no surprises, to improve a student's performance in school, parental involvment is key, only because it isn't financially feasible for public or even private schools to go down to classroom sizes that approximate homeschool classes (1-5 kids). However full-time homeschooling may not be an option for many families who can't devote their entire day to teaching and educating their kids.

These parents may want to consider augmenting their more traditional approach with homeschooling activities that include direct parental involvement for the evaluation, identification of learning styles, adoption of a methodology that matches the student's learning style and pace and then the delivery of that program with guidance, praise, direction and participation by the parent. There isn't any magic formula, just paying attention and being involved enough to act on what you observe to turn it into improved performance for both the parent and the child.

The even more amazing thing is that the cost of homeschooling was found to be only 5% of the cost per student in public education ($500 versus $10,000 per student) but of course this doesn't include the opportunity cost of the parent who is not able to work a full-time job and homeschool. However about 20% of homeschooling parents do hold a full or part time job with nearly 85% of those being part time. One thing that is nearly universal is the existance of a computer in the home for homeschoolers (98.3%) as technology is one way to improve the experience and the delivery in both learning style and pace. Again the cost of the computer and Internet access is normally not considered in the $500 cost above as it is typically an appliance available in most households today.

Compelling research, results with serious implications and food for thought for all parents that care about their children's education.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Standardized Testing to Standardize Our Kids?

I totally understand the concept of No Child Left Behind but the rhetoric is much better than the execution. It is a catchy title but that alone won't accomplish the results intended and a soundbite on it's own isn't worth the digital media it is embedded on. What we need isn't standardized testing, we need a rock solid, standardized curriculum that specifies what kids need to know in order to advance to each grade level. And why in the world should it be state specific? I think New England got it right when all of these neighboring states said, let's agree on standards for all of our collective states instead of each one of us doing this on our own. What if we took it two steps further a nationwide standard but not on tests, on knowledge and curriculum - blasphemy.

Focusing on the test is like our focus on the symptoms, not the cause of an illness. The reason/cause that kids are left behind is that they don't learn the things they need to succeed in life, but instead of focusing on that, we focus on testing to see what kids know at each grade level, so our kids get good at taking tests which may or may not measure what they need to know. If we are lucky they do, but without a healthy well defined curriculum it is more pot luck than by plan and design.

And it isn't bad enough that we had to create these standardized tests, we had to do it 45 times, once for each state (less the New England gang who agreed on one test for their collective). So just for fun and giggles you can read all about these non-standard, standardized tests and weep for all of the state tax dollars we are spending for each individual state to create, execute, administer, monitor and report on these non-standard, standardized tests.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Power Of Interactive Graphics

I have sons who struggle with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Which simply means that their brains do not organize what they hear auditorily. For years I would read posts from other homeschooling families who would sit around and read a loud wonderful works of literature and think that it was my job to teach my children to love being read to and even more importantly that it was my job to learn to love doing it. What was frustrating was that I would invest all this time reading out loud, only to have my children look at me blankly when I would finish and begin to ask them questions about what we had just read.

Then in "2007" I was introduced to a new on-line curriculum that looked intriguing because my children could pop on some headphones and work independently. That whole first year I worried that they weren't learning because I wasn't there working, reading, listening with them. Don't get me wrong I was availalbe, I checked their tests every single day because this program had on-line grading, but I had spent years thinking that the harder I worked the better they would do. Not True!

Imagine my surprise when we went for their year end testing and at the end of that one year their test results went up more than they EVER had in math and every other subject was accelerated as well? It threw me for a loop? How could that be? Had I been doing it wrong? Well, that year I went to a home education convention and heard a speaker talk about Auditory Processing. What she shared helped all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

You see, However, God has given my boys an incredible visual learning capacity. When information was going in auditorily it was getting lost because their brains do not know how to organize information received by hearing. However, my new curriculum, Time4Learning used strong visual graphics that plays to their strength (Visual) and the information they learn is able to go into the brain appropriately so that it sticks and stays put!

Now here we are two years since we switched to on-line learning and I am a solid believer that more is not better, more is just more. Now I work smarter, not harder!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

CD ROM or On-Line Learning?

There are so many decisions we have to make when working with our computers. The longer I learn about my computer the more questions I aquire. At the same time the more I answers I have as well. One thing that I struggle with is using software that I have to install. MAC does make it easier than when I use my PC, but it seems like there is always one glitch or another. The problem with CD ROM is that when something goes wrong I have to spend a long time troubleshooting the issue and sometimes end up needing to call the manufacturer to work it out. It can be a lengthy process. I have actually found that I prefer On-Line learning.

I wish everything could be as simple as signing in and logging on. For instance, my homeschool program is on-line. I love that I can access it from ANY computer. We’ve even let the boys do school at the library just to break up the monotony of our day. I love that if there are any glitches I can simply hit the e-mail button and they are on it. I don’t have to try to troubleshoot anything. Now, I have a friend who very much LOVES her CD ROM’S, but in the midst of our conversation though she had lots of pro’s, she also had lots of con’s. Mostly technical issue’s. The only negative she could come up with for On-Line learning was that we wished every place gave you the option.

How about you? Do you prefer CD ROM or On-Line?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cyber Communites!

When I began my home education journey back in 1998 I did not even own a computer. However, two years later we made the big purchase and I quickly found a love of cyber communities. As a homeschool mom who had lots of young children it was not easy to socialize at park day because I needed to keep a close eye on my little ones. I LOVED being a part of cyber communities. I have friends all these years later that I've never met in real life but are precious to me.

In our home we do have guidelines to keep us safe. I do not chat with men. I do not give out my address on a forum. I've learned that I don't have to express my opinion on everything. If there is a topic going strong and I am of a different mindset I just keep moving.

But for those times that I find like minded moms walking through this wonderfully, yet incredibly difficult season I LOVE investing time building those relationships. They make me a better wife and mother. Do you plug into cyber communities? If so which ones?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Special Needs- Thriving NOT Striving!

There I was minding my own business, washing dishes when my young son Seth walks up to me, “Mama did you know the sun is a star”? Pausing to look into his sweet little face I said, “Yes I did, but I’m so proud of you, where did you learn that”? He looks up at me as though I am a little dense, “Time4Learning”. (duh) I can’t help but smile as he walks off to go play.

My heart is so very full as I watch my children thrive like never before. You see, I am a homeschooling mom of four sons. Two of them struggle with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Which means that when information goes into the brain auditorily it often doesn’t go where it should. It’s almost as though information is coated with teflon and it slides around making it difficult for the child to find it and use it when they need it.

From 1998 until 2007 I used a slew of homeschool programs. Some gave us wonderful results, but they were very teacher intensive. When a friend of mine shared Time4Learning with me it changed my life. You see Time4Learning is a computer based educational program that has strong interactive graphics which pull my children in. The vivid colors and sounds add “velcro” to information so that it sticks and stays put. At the end of our first year with Time4Learning my boys (all four) went up in math more than EVER before.

However, that was just the beginning. Once I found the POWER of media it began to change our lives. We now use Netflix to rent DVD’s that coincide with our history and science. It makes information come ALIVE! My oldest son used an on-line program for creative writing. The simple process of typing and sending helped him to focus more on the creative and mechanics of writing and less on the actual writing. (though we work on his writing) If you have a child that struggles to hang onto information try bringing in the internet and see if it doesn’t change your life? Here are just a few reasons we use on-line learning and multi-media in our home:

1- Information Sticks and Stays Put!

2- Children gain confidence as they become more independent.

3- My children learn how to research and become lifetime learners as they work independently.

4- I am better able to use my time to nurture my children by reading a loud great books.

5- Laundry and dishes don’t seem nearly as overwhelming as my time is freed up!

In a few weeks I am preparing to speak to moms and dads of special needs children at a homeschool conference. There are many MANY tips I share, but at the top of my list is the power of your computer. It helps you to work smarter and not harder!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Overcoming Technophobia in Your Child

Computers are everywhere and so much of our lives depend on our mastery of this machine and more specifically, mastery of the Internet. Both a blessing and a curse, the net can be our master or our slave to make our lives harder or easier depending on our computer self-confidence. So how can you safely encourage your child to develop this comfort? Here are a few tips to get them off on the right foot:
  1. Make using the computer a fun activity that you do together. Try asking some questions and then using a search engine to find the answers.
  2. Play simple, easy to win games together using sites such as Learning Games for Kids, Spelling City and Vocabulary Games.
  3. If your child gets stuck or makes a mistake, sandwich your correction between two thick slices of praise. For example, "Maya, you have done a great job to get this far, I'm amazed at how quickly you have picked this up. I see that you have reached a dead-end right now but I'm confident you have what it takes to get back on the right track as you have done so well up to this point."
  4. Augment their textbook lessons with online curriculum such as Time4Learning.
  5. Look into affordable online writing tutors offered by courses found at
  6. Write emails together to family members and include photos or links to videos that the 2 of you select from YouTube.
  7. Allow supervised use of protected kids social media sites such as Club Penguin and WebKinz.
The most important ingredient in how much self confidence your child has around computers is how much you display yourself. So be a good role model and mix a good dose of trial and error with genuine curiosity. Treat it like an adventure and you are sure to change fear to fun in an instant.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Loving On-Line Education

I just went through one of the busiest seasons of my life. I knew going in that it was going to be tough and it was going to be busy, but I also knew that it was not forever. The one thing that I am so very thankful for is technology and how it allows us to make our lives easier and more productive than ever.

As I've homeschooled my children over the past twelve years I have found on-line learning to give me more bang for my buck. I love that my children are able to work independently and yet they're not on their own. We use a specific program called Time4Learning that has interactive media. They pop on their headphones, type in their username and password and begin a wonderful journey of self education. My goal has always been that I would not fill a bucket, but light a fire.

Using on-line learning teaches my children how to take ownership of their education. I hope it never stops. I hope as adults they will continue to read books, watch education programs on television, go on the computer and research. I can feel confident that I've given them a solid start.

In the midst of my crazy busy life, on-line education has allowed our homeschool program to keep going STRONG in the midst of my craziness. Yes, I still have to be available to answer questions, to have discussions, to check their work and to cheer them on, but I can let go of having to make lesson plans, pull things together, sit down and do the teaching. On-line learning gives me the freedom and flexibility to take care of my home, to snuggle and read a loud wonderful books, to write and speak which is my passion and to do it all without losing my mind. (laughing)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Take advantage of your kids' love of the computer

Your kids would sit in front of the computer all summer if you let them. If only they liked their textbooks as much. But unfortunately, they don’t. They like technology… and the internet.

They like the images, the sound effects and the interactive nature of it. It engages them and consumes them. They like having independence and control over what they’re doing. Some have called it the “luminescent effect”, which compares a child’s attraction to the computer with a moth seeking light after darkfall. So, why not use this to your advantage?

Summertime doesn’t necessarily mean that learning should be put on hold. Of course, you want your kids to enjoy their time off, but at the same time, you don’t want them to fall victim to summer learning loss. Using the computer as an educational outlet can help minimize backsliding and carry your child’s learning momentum into the summer months. In fact, there are some really good online learning tools, including a website that offers elementary through high school level students writing instruction taught by certified teachers.

Taking their learning to the computer is a great way to expose your kids to summer learning without making them run away screaming. You already know they like the computer, so you’ve already got half the battle won!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Could you live without your computer?

Can you live without a computer?

A friend and I were recently talking about the power of the internet. When I began homeschooling I did not even own a computer. It was still not a standard item in every home. I look back and wonder how in the world I ever did it?

How did I ever manage without e-mail? I love that I can communicate at any hour of the day. With children it allows me to give and receive information after my kids are in bed. I love that e-mail allows me to think concisely about what I want to say.

I love the web. My children not only do all their school on-line, but it actually does all the scoring for them. I don't have to worry about record keeping. I get to come alongside them as they work to make sure they are understanding concepts, but leave the teaching to the the computer.

I love the on-line community as it helps me stay connected without leaving my home so I can stay on top of the important needs of my family, but not feel isolated. I love the encouragement and fellowship of talking with other mama's.

How about you? Can you imagine your life without a computer? How would that work?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why do you homeschool?

Last weekend when I attended the FLorida Parent Education Assocation's Annual Homeschool Convention I was overwhelmed with a spirit of unity as I looked out over the halls at 15,000 homeschoolers. I would focus in on specific families as they would walk by and wonder how they came to home educate their children.

When I began back in 1998 I was a full time nurse supervisor and was still in the beginning of my medical career. My oldest was in Kindergarten at a wonderful public school. I had no idea that by the end of that first year my life would change forever.

It all started when we were over halfway done with his school year. I still remember my Brandon's teacher coming to me to tell me that he was struggling to understand letters and their sounds and this was at the END of the school year. I went home and saw an infomercial for a popular phonics program and in just a few days he learned all of them. That was the beginning of our homeschool journey. I realized that my son learned best one on one.

However, I find that what made me start homeschooling is not what's KEPT me going. I love the relationships I've built with my children. I love the opportunity I've had to nuture their friendships with one another. I love being their biggest cheerleader, but none of those are the reasons why I continue to homeschool. I continue for two specific purposes.

The first reason is because our family has a strong biblical worldview and though we plan to teach different views as they get older we don't want them introduced until later in their life. The second reason I've just recently discovered and it has given me such deep purpose. I homeschool because I want to manage my children in their nuetral and weak area's and I want to focus and concentrate on their STRENGTH'S. I don't want a cookie cutter education, but one that is personalized to each of my sons specific giftings.

What does your home look like? Do you homeschool or school outside the home? What are your goals for your children's education? I find it facinating to peek into each other's reasons. None are right or wrong, just what's right for our children, our homes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Well Rounded Children?

This past weekend I attended our annual homeschool convention. I love this time every year where we come together to attend workshops that challenge us to think outside of ourselves and to consider new idea's. One of the speakers I felt inspired by, was a woman by the name of Linda Werner. Linda spoke on Strength's Defined which talks about changing the way you think about education. She highly recommended that we test our children using the Clifton Strengthfinder Test ourselves to find out what our Strength's are and then do the same for our children. Once that is done we then allow our educational programs to revolve around those strength's, instead of spending all of our time trying to strengthen our weaknesses. I liked that she didn't say we should ignore weak areas, but her philosophy is that you manage your weaker/nuetral area's and invest in your passions and strengths.

The defining moment in her talk was when she introduced us to a 10 year old little boy who had spent the past five years trying to work on his weaknesses so he could better fit the classroom. You see, this little boy had ADD/ADHD as well as Aspergers and all they saw was how disruptive he was. However, Linda owns a private umbrella school and when the parents brought their little Matthew to her she immediate administered the strength finder test to figure out what made Matthew unique. She then asked us if we could figure out what his strength was as he took the stage dressed up as an indian.

As that little boy took the microphone and began to speak over one thousand mouths hit the floor. You did not see autism or aspergers, all you saw was an incredibly gifted young man. When he closed we jumped to our feet with thunderous applause. I personally had tears streaming down my face.

I began to think of all the years I invested in big academic programs trying to make responsible well rounded children. As I listened to Linda speak I realized I don't want well-rounded! I want incredibly passionate people who work in fields they love and that love them. Careers that will use their gifts and talents to the fullest.

It made me begin to re-evaluate what I would be using for curriculum next year. I want to manage my children's nuetral or weak areas and engage in their stregnths. My oldest is an excellent public speaker and I am considering entering him into speech and debate. My #2 son LOVES Piano and I would like to spend most of our time investing in his musical gifting. My #3 and #4 boys are still young and we are learning what their passions are. But one thing I am sure of is that we will stick with our core math and language arts program that allows my children to make steady progress in the important core subjects while investing in their strengths. I will continue to use our library and to check out books and to read a loud, we will spend time doing this together as a family.

How about you? What do you think? Do you find yourself teaching to strengthen your children's weaknesses or do you teach to the strenghts? After hearing what Linda shared does that change your perspective at all?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To Summer School or NOT to Summer School, THAT is the question!

What are YOU going to do this summer?

This has been one crazy year. It started last summer when I found out I had some blood pressure issue's. Shortly after that my sweet daddy went through a second bout with cancer and we did a lot of traveling back and forth. (he lives four hours away) Add to that the responsibility of homeschooling my four sons, taking them on field trips, plugging into co-op's, running to park days and the truth is, I'm just POOPED!

Yet, I hate to take the summer off because then I end up spending the whole month of August reviewing what they've forgotten on their time off. Not to mention the chaos of no structure at all. But the thought of having to pull out a curriculum sends shimmers up this Mama's arms. So I have found a wonderful balance!

I have decided this year that we are going to do a simplified Summer School. It's the best of both worlds. The boys will stay on top of their basic core subjects (Math and Language Arts) using Time4Learning and I can relax and be available, but no big lesson plans to worry about.
I look forward to simply spending our mornings working on Math and Language Arts using our beloved On-Line Time4Learning curriculum.

On the other hand, I have a close girlfriend who doesn't even want to hear the word school and covets her summers off. As I've been pondering my conversation with this friend and the deep discussion we had trying to figure out what was best for our children, our homes, it made me wonder what others are planning?

Whether you homeschool or go to school, do you take the summer off or do you work on academics? Do you do just the basics or go for it and do EVERYTHING? Enquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Pro's And Con's Of Being On-Line

I was sitting here tonight remembering back to when my husband and I first began homeschooling our children. The year was 1998 and we did not even own a computer. (gasp) That just seems shocking since my whole life seems to revolve around this beautiful white machine sitting on top of my counter. I love the freedom it has given me!

Do you remember life without your computer? Everything had to take place by phone, mail or in person. Simple things we do in our home today were not so simple back then. Checking out books in the old days meant driving to my local library and going through a card catalog to find specific subjects. If a book was checked out I could put it on hold and hope that it was in the next time I visited. Now I can go on-line and check out my books ahead of time. If they’re not in, I can reserve them and it will notify me via e-mail when they arrive at my local branch.

I remember in the early days of our homeschool, having to purchase curriculum and hope for the best. Today I can go to a vendor’s website and print off samples to preview before making a decision. One of my favorite aspects of on-line living is on-line learning. My children use an on-line curriculum called Time4Learning Inc,that allows them to simply go to the website, type in their password and do their work. It keeps all their records and scores for me so that I am able to take care of my home, run errands and live my life without being bogged down in details.

When my boys were young I believe that on-line discussion forums and cyber communities saved my life. In the midst of diapers and algebra I could go online to talk with other moms who were in the same season of life I was. It wasn’t easy to get out with little ones, but my computer allowed me to leave for short breaks during the day and talk with other adults.

Lastly, I have found e-mail to be the BEST part of being on-line. With four growing boys and a busy life I cannot always take calls when they come in and then when I try to return a phone call I will end up having to leave a message as well. E-mail allows me the freedom to communicate at any hour during the day. It allows me time to stop and thing through my communication which frees me up to live my life.

Now in the title I said, “Pro’s and CON’S”. There are con’s to being on-line. I do think sometimes it’s easy to get in such a habit of sending thing via e-mail that I forget the personalization of a phone call or hand written letter. It is possible to open your home and invite people in that you don’t really know. But with both of these examples it is simply taking the time to evaluate personal attention in relationships as well as personal safety for your home. How about YOU? What do you love or dislike about being on-line?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parent Discussion Groups

Have you ever had a parenting issue that you weren't sure how to handle, and no parents close to you, with kids close to your age, to help you figure it out? The time for those feelings of isolation is over! The internet contains more information on parenting, child-rearing issues, special needs learning, child health issues and other parenting issues than you could even possibly hope to get from any live or local source.

Parenting Forums are making better parents out of moms and dads world-wide. There is nothing better for or more calming to a parent than being able to hear/read that what their child is doing is completely normal.. or at least that other children are doing the same thing. Parents who are able to make comparisons to other children the same age as their child can often relax in the knowledge that they are not in the process of failing as a parent, as they might suspect. Instead, their kids are right on track with what other kids are doing.

Parent discussion groups can be an invaluable resource, no matter what age or issue your child might have.

There are many great forums out on the web. Some are very focused on particular issues and some are very general with focused sections. Time4Learning has a fantastic parenting forum that is frequented by parents with children having learning issues, homeschooling parents, Christian parents, parents of preschoolers through teenagers as well as many other "types" of parents, parenting from many different angles with many different issues. This type of forum is so great because of the multitude of possible issues that can be covered by the experienced parents there.

There is no need to feel alone in today's electronic age. There are millions of other parents out there ready and willing to share their advice and experiences with you.