Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: homeschool
Showing posts with label homeschool. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homeschool. Show all posts

Saturday, August 12, 2017

There are literally millions of ways to homeschool

If you live near a Sonic Drive-In, you probably already know that they are famous for their amazing array of drink combinations. In fact, according to a 2016 press release, Sonic's menu had reached an astonishing 1.3 million different drink combinations, up from the "more than 168,000" it had boasted in 2007. 

Now, that would be one heck of a menu if all the possible combinations were listed, but thankfully, they are not. Instead, there is a menu of possible choices, from which thirsty diners can pick and choose and customize the perfect drink for each member of the family.

If you think Sonic has a lot of choices on their drink menu, you should take a look around at all the different curriculum options available today. There are so many different choices, way more than there were a decade ago. 

Some folks still like to go with a boxed curriculum where the whole package is set up for them, much like the customers who order a plain Coke. That's okay if it works well for them, especially if they are new and might find the abundance of choices a bit overwhelming the first year.

But most of the experienced homeschoolers I know like to choose from all that's available: one option for math, another for language arts, something else for science and history. Mixing and matching they come up with a unique combination all their own. Instead of that basic Coke, maybe they have a cherry,vanilla, Dr. Pepper, or a grape, raspberry, frozen lemonade with sour candies mixed in. The variety is virtually endless.

And just like choosing your drinks at Sonic, you can choose something different for every member of your family, trying out different options until you find favorites, and then switching things up again when needs, or tastes, change. 

Don't feel like you have to homeschool the same way as your neighbor, your friend, or that really experienced homeschool mom at co-op. Yes, it's a great idea to gather opinions and thoughts on the different options available, but in the end, it's your school. You get to decide, from the literally millions of different curriculum combinations and make your homeschool work for you. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Get your copy of The Unplanner, 2017-2018 Edition today!

Back-to-school is in the air! Studies may have already resumed in your house, or the first day back may be coming up soon. Either way, it's not too late to visit my store and get your copy of this year's edition of The Unplanner. 

If you are not already familiar with The Unplanner, it's a different kind of organizer made just for those of us who are a bit overwhelmed by the planners with too many pages and way too many blanks. If you're the sort who is looking to do some light planning, and mostly keep track of what your kids have done through the year, this is the organizer for you!

With month-at-a-glance pages for keeping track of upcoming events and appointments, weekly pages for scheduling lessons, attendance sheets and pages for keeping track of the curriculum you use, the books your kids are reading and the learning adventures like field trips and experiments you will want to remember forever, The Unplanner has all the pages you want and none of the extras you don't.

And at just $7.99, this handy 6 x 9 inch, professionally bound book with a pretty floral cover is less expensive than many of the "free" printables you might place in a binder or have bound at the local printer. Treat yourself to a copy of The Unplanner today!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What comes after Algebra 1?

"What should my high school student take after Algebra 1?"

That's one of the most commonly asked questions among homeschoolers, and it's not so simple to answer. Where do you go next, into Algebra 2 or Geometry? Ask this question in any large homeschool group and you are sure to get a lot of debate.

When I was in school, most students enrolled in Geometry right after Algebra 1, but I chose to enroll in Algebra 2. It made more sense to me to cover that material immediately following Algebra 1, and I did well taking the courses in this order.

There is a strong argument to be made, however, for taking Geometry immediately after Algebra 1, because a student would have more exposure to those concepts before taking the PSAT, thus potentially raising their score.

As my twins were approaching the end of Algebra 1 this year, I realized it was time for our family to make this difficult decision. I had curriculum for both courses ready to go, and had reviewed the first several chapters of each. I just needed to pick which one we would do first.

After a lot of thought, I decided to try a different approach. We're going to do both Algebra 2 and Geometry simultaneously. Now, that doesn't mean I am doubling the workload on my kids. No, in fact, they will be maintaining the same weekly schedule as they did with Algebra 1. But instead of doing one full course and then the other, we are going to do one small section at a time, and switch back and forth between courses.

Some folks have called me crazy for trying this approach, and others have called me brilliant. I'll settle for a little of both, so long as the plan works well for my kids. We can always revert to doing one course at a time if the alternating schedule doesn't work out, but I think that my twins are bright enough to handle switching back and forth.

The best part of this plan is that both Algebra 2 and Geometry will be fresh in their minds when it is time to take their PSAT next fall. We do a year-round schedule with intermittent breaks, and they should be finished with most of both math courses by next October. If everything goes the way I hope it does, this will give them their best chance to score well, and hopefully earn some scholarship offers.

I'd love to hear what you have planned following Algebra 1, or if your students have already moved on through higher math, how they did using one approach or another.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Around and around we go

I love riding a Ferris wheel. Next year will mark 125 years since George W. Ferris built the first Ferris wheel in Chicago in 1893. Ever since then, thrilled riders have hung on as wheels around the world took them to new heights, showing them unique views of the world around them along the way.

My favorite part of riding the Ferris wheel is not the exhilarating, non-stop ride you enjoy once the cars are full and the wheel gets up to speed. It's actually the many stops along the way, each one at a different point on the wheel, as some riders get off and new ones get on. Every stop brings a new view, a new perspective to sit back and enjoy. Sometimes even the air seems different at a new stop. I love to just look around and take it all in, enjoying every moment before it passes, always too quickly, and the wheel starts moving again.

Life as a homeschooler is a lot like a ride on a Ferris wheel. Each year we go around and around again, sometimes letting one child off as they graduate and leave the home, other times bringing a brand new student on board as a little one joins the learning crew. And along the way there are stops, each at a new point with so much to discover.

It's a brand new school year, and as I sit here in my recliner, organizing the resources I will use for the classes my kids will be taking in the fall, my heart skips a beat. I feel like I am sitting on a Ferris wheel, near the top but not quite, my gondola swaying in the breeze as I look at my children. My twins are about to start 10th grade. How did they grow up so quickly? They'll start driving this year, and taking concurrent enrollment classes at the local university. Don't move, wheel. Not yet.

My youngest will be starting 5th grade this semester, a year ahead of where she would have been if she'd started kindergarten in public school at age five. She's excited for the changes this year will bring, as she joins a new co-op and maybe makes new friends.

I feel the wind change and I know that the ride is about to take off again. This year will be different than any of the ones before. After eight long years, I finally retired my post as leader of the local homeschool group, and going into this school year I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I laugh in anticipation of a fun year, thankful for the mom who took over my duties so I could change my focus. The view is different from here.

School starts back for us full time next week. The Ferris wheel is about to start spinning again. I take a deep breath and one last look around. I'm ready! How about you?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Get four times the fun with this free worksheet

You may have seen the meme that the Facebook page, Math is Awesome, shared this week. Using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, factorials and carefully placed parentheses, students can solve expressions using four fours to equal every number from 0 to 13.

I thought this would be a neat exercise to give my own homeschoolers, so they could see the good old order of operations in a creative way. With a little bit of work, and a refresher on how to type the division symbol, I turned the meme into a worksheet.

Click here to get a free copy of the worksheet you can use with your students. And just in case you don't remember everything from your algebra class, in the problems near the end, 4! means 4 factorial, which is 4x3x2x1. Have fun!

How a simplified homeschooling routine helps in difficult times

I don't know if folks who don't know me well in real life follow this blog closely enough to know when I take some time off from writing, but in case you did happen to miss me over the last couple of months, I wanted to take a moment to check in and confirm that yes, I am still here and still homeschooling!

I had to put my blog on the back burner over the holidays, as my family dealt with some difficult times. My mom had some pretty severe health issues, including being hospitalized with a stroke before Christmas, having surgery shortly after that to resolve a blocked renal artery and finding out she would have to have open heart surgery as soon as possible. In the middle of all that, my uncle on my mom's side passed away following an extended stay in the hospital. 

When it became clear that this school year was going to be complicated by difficult times, I realized I would need to simplify our homeschool routine in order to keep things running smoothly and keep the kids on track with their studies.

You may be homeschooling through difficult times as well, or find yourself doing so in the future. These are some of the things that have helped us to keep homeschooling in spite of the complications.

Reducing our obligations

From running our local homeschool group and writing this blog to taking the kids to extracurricular activities and events, I had several obligations outside of simply homeschooling and maintaining the house, which in itself is a full time job. One of the first things I did, when I realized we were in the middle of a difficult season, was pull back. 

It's not always easy to reduce your obligations, especially if you don't have others to pull up the slack for you. I am not a super-blogger with a virtual assistant on staff to keep things going when I need to step away, and I didn't have a reservoir of pre-written pieces I could just schedule to post in my absence. So stepping away meant letting the blog sit idle for a while, and being okay with that. 

Reducing my outside obligations in our local homeschool meant letting some things go, too. During a time when I would normally be busy planning activities and leading field trips, I have had to step back and hope others would take my place. 

Revising our schedule

The next thing I did when I realized we had weeks, and possibly months of work ahead of us helping my parents as my mom recovered was to revise our schedule. I knew that my twins would need help with things like learning new concepts in algebra, but they could easily handle studying world history on their own. So I changed our schedule to focus more heavily on math at the beginning of this semester, before the heart surgery, so we could get more of that done while I have more time at home.

As homeschoolers, our schedule is wonderfully flexible, in that we can move lessons and even full courses around to accommodate our family's needs. While I am spending time with my mom at the hospital, my twins will likely be working on history and literature, subjects they can do without supervision, and my youngest will be focused on reinforcing a few skills that need work before moving on to new concepts in the spring.

Reassigning our chores

Along with revising our school schedule, I realized quickly that I needed to use this time to reassign the household chores. As my kids have gotten older, their list of chores and household duties has not always kept up. Like many moms, I have found it easier to do things myself than to delegate the responsibilities that I should. But I needed help, and my kids are more than capable of doing extra work around the house. 

Of course, with more responsibilities come greater rewards, so in addition to increasing their basic chore list, we gave them lots of opportuinities to earn a few bucks by going above and beyond what was expected. In the coming months, there will be plenty of ways for them to earn both spending money and other rewards by helping with big jobs at our house and their grandparents'.

Renewing our  faith

There's nothing like hard times to remind you of your faith. Of course, we find ourselves praying a lot lately that my mom will be okay, but we also find ourselves feeling thankful for the little ways we see God moving in our lives day to day. It shouldn't take a crisis to bring us closer to Him, but there is nothing wrong with resting on God's promises and leaning on His grace and love during times of trouble. 

Letting difficult times put your homeschool routine in perspective can be a good thing. Yes, we're still focused on learning, and on getting through this year's material in a timely manner, but if that time ends up encompassing part of the summer, so be it. Even though a lot was added to our plates in the middle of this school year, simplifying our homeschool routing and adjusting our priorities has actually made the load seem lighter than it was before, and maybe by the time this rough patch is over, we'll be breathing that much easier. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New study shows age-based grade assignments harmful to millions of students

A new study published by the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University shows that millions of students in the United States are suffering from educational harm caused by age-based grade assignments. According to the study, a surprising percentage of students are performing at a level significantly higher than their assigned grade level, but because of rigid class assignments, these students are not allowed to work up to their potential, and often must rely on their parents to provide stimulating educational experiences outside the classroom.

This Institute suggests alternatives to the current K-12 system of assigning classes strictly by age, including grouping students according to their abilities and allowing advanced students to skip grades and progress through the system more quickly.

The results of this study are probably not surprising news to your average homeschooler. The homeschooling community has known for a long time that individualized education is the best option for most students, regardless of their skill level, because it allows each child to learn at their own pace.

Accoding to Michael Mattews, one of the researchers involved in the study, “Regardless of the instructional level, it is far more likely that teachers will be highly effective when they have a narrower range of ability to address in their classroom.” Matthews added, "It is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to design effective instruction at an appropriate level for all of these learners within the constraints of a 24-hour day.”

Researchers noted that there is a nine year gap between the reading levels of the most and least advanced students in the average upper elementary school class. That means a teacher who is tasked with instructing more than two dozen 5th graders may have students on a range as wide as 2nd to 10th grades, all of whom are being given the same lessons and preparing for the same high stakes standardized tests.

Gifted children, in particular, are often removed from public school because their educational needs are not met in the standard classroom. Too often, instead of being presented with challenging and exciting opportunities to learn, advanced students are instead turned into indentured servants, working for free as teacher's assistants.

If involved parents have to do the extra work of providing their children with learning opportunities outside the classroom, they might as well take hold of their children's entire education and set them free from the constraints they face during school hours.

Not every family is able to homeschool, whether for financial or other logistical reasons, but studies like this one may lead to positive reforms in the public schools if administrators would just take heed, and that could be a good thing for millions of students. Any reforms that would allow kids to work at their skill level, rather than be grouped and paced for 13 years or more based on their age alone would certainly be beneficial for students whose families are unable to provide them with a fully individualized education.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sometimes I just can't...

I think this post has been a long time coming. It's not easy to let your guard down and write something like this. I'd so much rather just maintain the illusion of being a successful, happy homeschool blogger and mom! Yeah, I know, I totally had you buying into the myth of my awesomeness, right? But I feel like I need to write this, if not for my own cathartic release then for the other homeschooling moms who are going through similar circumstances right now.

Here's the thing. Sometimes I just can't.


I talked to a couple of my best friends yesterday, after nearly two weeks of no contact. It's not like me to go so long without talking to my friends. I usually need contact and communication. One of them had asked the other whether she'd heard from me, but she hadn't. I had not even been on Facebook for more than a few minutes each day. It was like I had fallen in a hole.

And in a way, I had. I was in an emotional black hole, and it was one of those times I just couldn't. I couldn't deal with e-mails or messages on social media. I couldn't deal with talking on the phone. I didn't even want to think about going out around people. I managed to keep feeding my kids and providing them with assignments, so they wouldn't fall behind on their lessons, but I was worn out.
Maybe it was hormones. Or the Benadryl I was taking everyday to survive the ragweed in the summer air. Maybe it was the hot, sticky, 95 degree September days that felt more like 110. Or perhaps it was the blahs that seem to set in every year about a month and a half after we start back on our regular school schedule. I don't know.

All I know is that for a while, all I really wanted to do was crank up the air conditioner and hide under a blanket. And a part of me wondered why celebrities are able to retreat to a cushy hospital suite for a week to be treated for "exhaustion" and that option isn't available to moms.

We're the ones who really need that!

No break for you!

Even though I couldn't run off to a spa, I did try to take care of myself during this time. You might notice there is a gap in my blog. I took a little break from writing and played Plants vs. Zombies instead. I've been leading our local homeschool group for more than seven years, but I basically took the last couple of weeks off from managing that, too. I gave myself permission to stay in my cave and rest, as much as I could,

Homeschooling is a full time, year-round commitment that sometimes lasts decades. I think we're kidding ourselves if we think there won't be times that we run out of gas and need to take a break to recharge. Whether this is your first year as a homeschooler or your fifteenth, you've got to allow yourself to float through those occasional times that you are just mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically spent.

Brighter days ahead

I went out yesterday, to my youngest daughter's monthly co-op day. And I spent the afternoon painting at the library with my friends and our kids. I feel like I have made it through another slump, and I am excited for the activities we have coming up over the next few weeks.

I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling and all your other mom duties, you can take some time, even just a day or two, to regroup. Don't be ashamed to ask for help from your spouse, family or friends. And remember that it happens to most, if not all of us. It doesn't mean you are failing, and things will definitely get better if you can just get some rest and then reconnect with people who make you happy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Let them talk! They're building language skills

I've never been a proponent of the idea that children should be seen and not heard. Sure, kids should learn manners, and as they grow they should figure out when it is appropriate to use their inside voices, or maintain a respectful silence, but in general, I am a big fan of allowing children to talk, both to one another and to adults.

I will, however admit to wanting to pull my hair out on occasion and scream, "Okay, enough, I don't care to hear one more word about Five Nights at Freddy's, thank you!" That's because I have an 8-year-old who is going through her motor mouth phase, and she never, ever seems to shut up.

But this past weekend, I was speaking at the Tulsa Homeschool Expo, and I had a chance between my sessions to sit down and listen to some of the other speakers, and one of the things I heard really struck me. 

Andrew Pudewa, in a session about building language skills, said that little kids need to hear themselves talk. Hearing themselves say words out loud is a crucial building block of language development. 

Okay, then! According to Mr. Pudewa, language building expert of the homeschool community, my instincts were right to not only allow my kids to talk freely, but to encourage them to do so. That is, of course, except when we're in heavy traffic, when it would be inappropriate for anyone to rattle on, or when mama is down to her last nerve.

I've come to realize that the motor mouth phase only lasts a few years, as my older kids have grown into teenagers and their tendency to talk on and on, even when no one is listening, has waned. They still talk to me, and to each other, but more purposefully now. They don't seem to talk just to hear themselves talk. 

But now that I realize that's exactly what they were doing while they were younger, developing language skills by listening to themselves saying words out loud, I am so happy that I let them jabber. That, along with reading aloud together and other things we did as a family, helped them build strong vocabularies and become confident speakers and writers. 

So, let your kids talk... and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Interview with Sam Sorbo, homeschool advocate and author of 'They're YOUR Kids'

This week, I had the privilege of doing a short interview with Sam Sorbo, actress, author, talk show host and homeschooling mom of three. I heard about her new book, "They're YOUR Kids: An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate" and asked to review a copy for my readers. After I finished the book, she took the time to answer a few questions and talk some more about homeschooling, a topic she is passionate about.

Sam and Kevin Sorbo are not unlike many other celebrity parents who have chosen homeschooling as the most beneficial option for their kids. And in her book, Sorbo explains that one of the reasons they chose to homeschool their three kids in the first place was because it fit their lifestyle better and allowed them to more easily travel to film locales as needed.

What sets Sam Sorbo apart from other homeschooling celebrity moms, in my opinion, is that she not only chose homeschooling for her own children, she put herself out there as an advocate for homeschoolers and as a support for those who may be weighing their options with regard to school. And she pulls no punches when she challenges public schools as they exist today.

I think we all realize that public schools are in trouble, but Sorbo uses an analogy that illustrates the problem so vividly, it's hard to counter her position. She asks readers to consider a tall, refreshing glass of clear, sparkling, ice cold water on an oppressively hot day. And as you are about to take a drink, you see a tiny bit of poop floating in the glass. Noting that things like Common Core new sex ed standards in public schools are akin to poop in the glasses of even the most sparkling local schools, she asks, "How much poop in your water is okay with you?"

And so, she speaks out, not just for her own family but using her celebrity status to open doors not available to all of us, she advocates and works to inform and educate every family about their options. "The best cure for Common Core, which is a name now associated with the entirety of what ails our education system, is to arm parents with accurate information," says Sorbo. "Once they understand what the government is teaching their children, they may well consider alternatives such as home schooling."

Sorbo realized that no one loved her children more than she did, and no one was going to be more dedicated to giving them the highest quality education than she was. In writing this book, she set out to encourage other moms and dads that they're YOUR kids, not the state's, not the school district's, not anyone else's. You have the right to decide what's best for them.

But it was her honesty and openness about her own insecurities and doubts as a fledgling homeschooler really struck home. How many of us have not experienced the same emotions, wondering whether we are qualified to teach our own kids or whether we are doing the right thing? According to Sorbo, that feeling of self-doubt is not our fault.

She wrote, "Our entire society has been brainwashed to believe that teachers have cornered the market on education, that institutional education is the best way to accomplish - what, exactly? Conformity and indroctrination."

In her book, Sorbo explains how she overcame every doubt and insecurity, and grew into a confident homeschooling mom. I asked her if she is facing any new insecurities as her oldest moves into the high school years.

"Home schooling always invites insecurity. I’ve decided that this is because the school system built into us an inherent opinion that we are inferior to it," she replied. "I’m enjoying learning the various subjects alongside my child. I do not fear divulging to him that I don’t have an answer. He knows that I was deprived of a proper education, and that he benefits from a better one than I had. So we learn together."

I also asked if, as a high profile author, she has received any backlash for her book. Sorbo answered, "I did recently experience some backlash for my criticism of the public schools. However, the very idea that public education cannot withstand criticism betrays just how fragile and failed the system is."

And Sorbo shared these final thoughts, which she also went over in her book, but merit even further emphasis. "Children need, first and foremost, LOVE. That’s a dwindling, if not non-existent, commodity in our schools. I dare not deprive them of love, most of all, and that, of course, is the number one motivator for home education. Love on your children. You teach them everything until they go off to kindergarten. What transformation happens to the parent when the child turns 5 or 6, that makes the parent unfit to teach them anymore? The funny thing is that a lot of parents go through a kind of withdrawal, turning their children over to complete strangers at the door to the kindergarten. It feels bad to them, but they fight that uneasiness, because of peer pressure, tradition, group-think, societal expectations, whatever. I say, go with your gut. If you don’t want to let the child go at that tender age, no one should force you to."

Wise words from an intelligent woman. I'm glad she's on our side.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Don't let unplanned adventures pass you by

Sometimes having an unplanned learning adventure is as simple as taking a spontaneous turn down a road you've never traveled. Or following something amazing that catches your eye. 

Stop at that scenic overlook and read the plaques. Take the exit marked by the brown signs. That's exactly what has led to some of our most memorable adventures.

Follow the road less traveled

I know it's cliche, but sometimes adventure does lie just off the beaten path. Driving back and forth to St. Louis, while my husband was working there a few years ago, we passed a brown sign near Springfield, Missouri several times. One day, when we the weather was nice and traffic was light, I decided to take the turn at that sign and we ended up at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.

We'd been studying the Civil War, so I thought we might see some interesting things. But the field trip actually ended up being something the kids would never forget, as it stirred feelings inside them, standing in the very fields where thousands of men died. 

Chase unexpected opportunities

Once, on the way home from a birthday party when my twins were just preschoolers, we spotted a hot air balloon that appeared to be landing less than half a mile off the main road. I persuaded my husband to follow the balloon, and we ended up at a little farm house with a wide open field. We pulled into the driveway to turn around, but the owner of the house was outside, so we waved and told them we had just been following the balloon to see it land.

He invited us to park the car and come on out to the field with him, so the kids could take a closer look. It was so exciting! We'd, of course, seen hot air balloons before, but the kids had never been so close to one. 

That day, my small children were filled with wonder as they saw up close just how big the balloon was, and even got to touch it. But best of all, they were invited to roll around in the billowing fabric to press out the air so the balloon could be packed away. It was an unforgettable hands-on lesson about one of the most beautiful ways to fly.

Leave time for adventures

You'll never have time for unplanned learning adventures if your schedule is packed so full that you can't take an unexpected detour once in a while. Homeschooling gives you freedom, but only if you claim it. Don't be afraid to stop the car and go tilting at windmills.

Leave yourself time to spend with your kids, chasing butterflies and exploring trails, diving into experiences they'll remember forever.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review of 'Brick Themed Activities for the Year' by Gypsy Road

This month, I was privileged to review a copy of "Brick Themed Activities for the Year," a bundle of unit studies to do throughout the year with your little Lego fans. All three of my kids are Lego fans, so I was excited to try out some of the lessons with my youngest.

If you like holidays, and you like Lego, this is definitely a product meant for you. With holidays from New Year's Eve through Christmas, and even selections for birthdays and back-to-school, you can truly use Lego blocks and minifigs to learn through the whole year. 

It's springtime now, but my daughter wanted to check out the Halloween activities. There were clever writing prompts, math pages that related to real world situations, coloring pages and more. Best of all, they featured some of her favorite minifigs and included ideas for projects she could build. 

Pick up a copy on the Gypsy Road homeschool blog.

A review of 'Famous Artists: Renaissance to Surrealism'

One of my most memorable experiences as a homeschooler was taking my children to see the traveling exhibit of Claude Monet's water lilies triptych at the St. Louis Art Museum. These three massive paintings, each canvas 7 feet tall and 14 feet wide, are owned by three separate museums in the United States. They had not been shown together since the 1970s, and the chance to see them as they were meant to be was an opportunity we could not miss.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies from the St. Louis Art Museum

I was awestruck, standing in a darkened room with a limited number of guests, silently taking in the beauty of an artist's work I had only seen in pictures and prints. I took my glasses off and looked at the canvases as Monet would have looked at them, or close to it, as my vision is not quite as impaired as his was when he painted these masterpieces in his old age. As the colors converged in my blurry sight, the images took on new life and I could almost believe that if I reached out my hand, it would permeate the water. I felt deeply connected to the art and the man.

Not everyone has a chance to see incredible art up close and have this sort of moving experience. I know, growing up in rural Oklahoma, my opportunities were limited, at least as compared to those who live close enough to stop in at a major museum whenever they'd like.

Maybe that's why I am so impressed with the Famous Artists Volume 1 online unit study by Beth Napoli of Techie Homeschool Mom. This interactive unit study introduces kids to artists like Monet, daVinci and Picasso, whose work they probably already recognize, but also includes artists like Klimt and Dali to introduce forms which may be less familiar.

Gustav Klimt's Kirche in Cassone

With several artists to study, each representing a different and unique style, students can become familiar with a wide range of artistic movements, spanning more than four centuries. And the interactive elements in the study will help kids feel more in touch with the art than just flipping through the pages of a book.

Your students may not have a chance to see the work of these great masters in a museum any time soon, but they are sure to get excited about building and sharing their own virtual gallery. Having completed a unit study like this one, your whole family will have a more complete appreciation of the experience the next time you get to visit a museum in person.

Look for the Famous Artists Volume 1 online unit study on the Techie Homeschool Mom blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The hidden costs of free virtual public school

You've heard the saying, "All magic comes with a price!" That's what I think of every time I hear about a family choosing virtual public school because it is free.

Yes, the state-run online public school options are usually free of charge, come with a full set of curriculum and certified teachers to instruct your kids. Many even include money to spend on extracurricular activities or computers for your kids to use at home. It's hard to ignore the extensive prize packages that accompany enrollment in a virtual public school.

But like magic, all education comes with a price, and what appears to be free always comes with strings attached. Here are just some of the hidden costs of virtual public school.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Don't worry about cursive

I am about to take the most controversial stand I have ever taken as a homeschooler, maybe even more controversial than taking sides on the great vaccination debate or publicly endorsing a presidential candidate. I know it's risky, but I trust you to take in what I have to say with an open hear, so here it is:

Teaching cursive writing doesn't matter.

Oh, gasp! I know, I know. Please read on, though, and I will explain why I have come to this shocking conclusion.

"If you don't teach your children how to write in cursive, they will never be able to read the documents our nation was founded upon, or letters from their great aunt Sarah, and civilization will surely come apart at the seams." Those are the grave concerns I have read over and over since becoming a homeschooler. 

Some parents, in fact, list the failure to teach cursive writing in their local schools as one of the reasons they started homeschooling in the first place. 

I'll be honest, I wasn't excited about teaching cursive when I became a homeschooling mom. I hated writing in cursive when I was in school. It hurt my hand, and it took me three times as long as printing. As soon as I was allowed to go back to printing, I happily did so and never looked back. But, as a student educated in the '80s, I learned to write in cursive as part of the standard curriculum, like it or not, and I figured I would teach my own kids in due course.

As it turned out, though, I didn't teach my children to write in cursive, other than to sign their names. I put it off, in favor of other learning opportunities, thinking I would eventually get around to it. When my twins turned 14, and we had still never made it past the letter B in their cursive book, I admitted to myself that it might never happen. 

But that's when I made an amazing discovery. My twins could read cursive with no difficulties! Out of curiosity, after one too many of the scary doomsday cursive conversations on Facebook, I brought out samples of cursive writing, from handwritten notes in a scrapbook made by my kids' great grandmother to copies of historical documents. With very little hesitation, my 14-year-old twins read everything that I put in front of them. 

Now, my younger daughter was not able to read the cursive samples, but that was because she was not yet a fluent reader of print. My older two, who could both read printed English fluently, had no trouble recognizing the letters that look similar in both print and cursive, and could easily decipher the unfamiliar letters through context. 

I, of course, rejoiced, not only because I now realized I did not have to teach cursive formally after all, but because I was confident that my failure to do so would not doom America! Hooray!

So, although the sample size of my little experiment was small, I am confident that anyone who can fluently read printed English can, with just a little effort, read the same words in the many varieties of cursive used over the previous generations. 

And with that knowledge, I tell you, you don't have to worry about cursive. Teach it, don't teach it... do what you want. Either way, your kids are going to be just fine.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A review of 'Under Construction: A Young Writer's Workbook'

I was recently given a copy of "Under Construction: A Young Writer's Workbook" to try out with my kids. I have known the author of this workbook, Amanda Zieba, since we were both starting out as freelance writers. I've always admired her work, so when I saw that she had put together a writing curriculum for middle to high school age students, I was excited to check it out.

Zieba is both a teacher and a published novelist, but she doesn't just bring her own expertise to the table in this workbook. "Under Construction" features more than a dozen pages of advice from other published authors with tips and helpful instructions from writers who have managed to turn promising ideas into published works.

It took me a while to actually write this review, because once I got the book in hand, I knew I wanted to actually go through some of the activities and share the workbook with other homeschoolers I know to get more feedback. I had a feeling it could be an excellent resource for homeschooling families, but I wanted to be sure.

It turned out the other homeschooling moms with whom I shared the book were impressed. They liked the fact that the spiral bound book, with just over 140 pages, was not overwhelming and that the lessons were short and open ended.

They agreed that one of the best things about this resource, besides the low price, is that it doesn't feel overwhelming. Often, writing assignments are overwhelming to young writers, especially those who are not confident with their skills. This resource includes a relatively small amount of space for each exercise, which of course can be expanded by adding additional sheets of paper, but the original allotted space encourages novice writers to give exercises a shot without feeling intimidated.

Another thing we all loved about the book is that it includes so many different types of writing. Of course, students ought to practice the standard five paragraph essay, but this writing workbook also encourages them to explore not only fiction, non-fiction and poetry, but also screenwriting, graphic novels, and more.

I would not use "Under Construction" as a standalone language arts curriculum, and it is not marketed as such, but I do believe it would work very well as a supplement to any language arts curriculum you are using for your middle school or high school students, especially those who may be considering a career as a writer.

"Under Construction" encourages all writers to use their imaginations, to be brave and just put their ideas on paper. Each exercise is short and easy for students to relate to their everyday lives, such as finding a message in a bottle or describing what is in a main character's closet.

Perhaps the best part of using this "Under Construction" with my own homeschoolers: They don't groan when I get out the book. You can order a copy on Teachers Pay Teachers or by contacting the author directly. And if you are interested in using this workbook for a co-op or other class, make sure to contact the author to check on a discount on combined shipping and tell her the Unplanned Homeschooler sent you!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for my objective review.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Learn to fix appliances online: Inspire your kids and save a bundle

Broken appliances happen to all of us. Parts wear out and we're faced with the torturous dilemma: should we try to fix the old appliance or go buy a new one?

If you are reading this, you're probably like me and don't have piles of cash lying around to just buy new appliances every time something breaks. That's why, at least for me, broken appliances are a serious headache, and they make me face one of my biggest fears, that I will waste lots of money trying to fix a problem only to discover that it is beyond repair and I have to buy a new one anyway.

Repair calls are so expensive. You could be looking at $80 to $100 or more just to get an expert in your front door, only to find out your appliance can't even be fixed. If it can be repaired, you'll be out even more for labor and parts, and those parts that can be quoted at virtually any price because you have no idea what you're really dealing with.

But a lot of appliance repairs are relatively simple to perform, and they can make excellent research and hands on learning opportunities if your kids are old enough to help out. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I have so much more to learn about history

Tonight I watched a video called "The Fallen of World War II" that has been going viral on Facebook. It explains in great detail how many people were killed, both military and civilians, in every country involved in the war. It shows the deaths in relation to one another, and spread along a timeline, and even has links where you can interact with the data to learn more.

As I watched the video, I was stunned at the sheer number of deaths, and more than that, at how little I knew about various aspects of the war. I have so much to learn.

Public Domain,

I studied history in high school and college, and was an excellent student. But when I started homeschooling my own children, and learning alongside them, I was ashamed and embarrassed by how little I had even been exposed to in the classes I took. To say that the depth of knowledge presented was shallow would be an understatement. My classes barely skimmed the surfaces of the topics that were covered, and so many topics were left as untouched as pristine, shimmering, newly fallen snow.

In recent years, I have dived into long documentaries by Ken Burns and other filmmakers. I have read biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts of Marines who faced unthinkable horrors in the Pacific, a bomber crew that was shot down behind enemy lines and then beaten to death by a German civilian mob, children who lived through the war on both sides, and more. But I have so much yet to learn.

Watching the video tonight, I realized that I know next to nothing about the war on the eastern European front, where the vast majority of casualties occurred. Is it because I grew up in the Cold War, during which any sympathetic reference to the Russians would have been taboo? I don't know. But I want to know. I want to know more about the siege of Leningrad and the mass casualties in the Battle of Stalingrad. I want to know what effect the loss of so many millions of young fighting men and civilians had on the Russian people, and what that means for them and for us today.

I feel blessed to be a homeschooling mom. This summer, my kids will be reading both "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "On Hitler's Mountain" - the first written by a young Jewish girl who died during the war and the other written by a woman who spent her childhood just down the hill from Hitler's compound, living in a Nazi family with limited access to any news unapproved by the Nazi regime, but still silently questioning why things were happening the way they were. We'll be watching the Ken Burns documentary, "The War."
We've visited our local World War II memorial, dedicated to the men who perished on submarines, and were privileged to meet and talk with a veteran of the war. We've also recently seen FiFi, the last flying B-29 bomber. I don't know what else we might do to study World War II, but I think it is important that we continue to learn, and that my kids realize at a much younger age than I did how much there is to learn about this war that truly changed the world.

You can watch the video here, and hopefully be inspired to learn more, too.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A review of 'Nellie Nova Takes Flight'

Earlier this month, I received a review copy of the new book by Stephenie Peterson, "Nellie Nova Takes Flight." This book, about a nine-year-old, crazy-haired, glasses-wearing, homeschooled genius with high aspirations sounded like a fun selection to read with my own precocious, crazy-haired, glasses-wearing, homeschooled eight-year-old daughter.

Nellie Nova is quite the little girl. From the very beginning of the novel, the author makes it clear just how brilliant Nellie is. She's not just smart, and she's not just a regular genius. She's so far beyond, I actually began to worry that the character would not be relatable as I began reading the book aloud to my daughter at bedtime.

But my daughter had no problem relating to Nellie, whose brain was so powerful, she was nearly superhuman. She was excited to see what adventures Nellie would encounter as she traveled through time in her homemade time machine.

Nellie Nova set off in her time machine to meet a woman who changed the world, specifically, the famous pilot, Amelia Earhart. But not everything went according to plan. It's through the twists and turns in the story that you start to see there is a lot more to Nellie Nova than just her big brains. This homeschooled youngster is very close to her family and cares a lot about others, too.

My daughter and I enjoyed this book, and now that she has worked the kinks out of her time machine, I have a feeling there will be more Nellie Nova adventures to come. We look forward to reading them.

Keep up with author, Stephenie Peterson, and all of Nellie Nova's adventures on the Nellie Nova Facebook page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for my objective review. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Finding a fabulous prom dress on a budget

I mentioned in my earlier post about getting ready for a homeschool prom that I would let you in on a few great tips for finding a fabulous dress on a budget. With spring formals and proms just around the corner, there's no time to waste in finding that perfect dress.

I'm not much of a girly girl, but I just love this time of year, when my Facebook feed is flooded with photos of dress fittings, and exclamations from moms who can’t believe their babies are so grown up. I love the fanciful prom pics that will be floating across my screen soon, with bright, clean-scrubbed young men and beautiful young ladies in dresses of every sparkling hue. This year, I'll be joining them with pics of my own, as my kids attend their first semi-formal dance, a masquerade ball hosted by our homeschool group.

I bought my daughters' dresses secondhand this year, and saved a bundle. I bought my son's suit secondhand, too, which is great because at 14, he is still growing like a weed. If your kids have a big dance coming up, you can save money, too.Here are some of the best ways you can save a bundle on a beautiful dress for prom or a spring formal.