Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Refresh Homeschool Retreat

I am so excited to announce our new homeschool moms retreat.  The 2015 Refresh retreat will be held at the 4 diamond Ross Bridge resort in Birmingham, AL.  It will be a weekend of relaxation, encouragement, and great speakers.  Registration opened today!

We have speakers lined up such as Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason, Mary Prather of Homegrown Learners, and Susan Long of Decoding Dyslexia.  We also have planned yummy food (that you don't have to cook!) and lots of fun surprises over the weekend.

We would love to have you join us!  All the details can be found on the website below.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Dyslexia.  That was not an easy diagnosis to hear. We weren't surprised really. We knew his struggles. This is why we had him evaluated. But hearing someone actually else actually give him that label hit me hard.

But I know my son. I know his quirks inside and out. I know how he takes a few minutes longer to come up with a response, but it is always worth waiting on because it is so profound. I know his giftedness in problem solving, art, and dance. I know the depth of his conversations, the interesting questions he always seems to have, and the mature thoughts he brings up. I know his heart and his sensitivity. Dyslexia isn't a problem. It is a part of who he is, and he is amazing.

We have spent the past month now talking about his amazing brain and how it works in some amazing ways thanks to dyslexia. He is embracing it--not as an excuse, but as an honor. I am spending a lot of time researching the best ways to teach him.

With my son, our biggest struggles right now are composition and spelling. He has amazing ideas, but getting those onto paper in ways that other people can read and understand is difficult. He doesn't run away from difficult, but he does get frustrated that his ideas get lost in bad spelling and the mechanics of writing.  His reading comprehension is actually good, but that is mostly due to his problem solving and ability to figure out the context based on the words he is reading correctly. Reading is difficult, but he is reading at grade level after a lot of hard work. Letters float off the page and move for him. Using a colored filter does help with that issue. He also can not tell if letters are correct or reversed, which causes even more issues with writing and spelling.

After our eval, we took the materials provided by Scottish Rite for dyslexia, but we have found them miserably boring at this point, and so we will likely just return them. To help his spelling, we ordered Apples and Pears, and we have decided to just start from the beginning. It will be super easy for him for awhile, and we should move quickly, but this will build his confidence and catch any holes in his understanding. I am also using some at-home vision therapy materials from Dr. Kenneth Lane. We are beginning with Recognition of Reversals: Perceptual Training Workbook.

I taught him to read before we had an actual diagnosis, mostly with Explode the Code, but if I had it to do over again, I would use the Wilson Reading System materials.  If I have another child showing the same tendencies, I will go ahead and purchase Wilson.  I just don't think we need this approach with Samuel.  We are going to work on strengthening his phonics skills through his spelling program.

I love this kid, his strength, and his amazing brain.  And I would love to hear any resources or suggestions you have for helping a child with dyslexia.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer plans and goals

This is the time of year I love.  We relax the schedule and look back on the year to evaluate our progress.  We look forward to next school year to see where we want to go.  And, we finish out our current year with lots of fun hands-on learning.  This year we will wrap up our year 1 studies with the Americas and botany.  We will visit local Native American sites and (hopefully!) grow things if my black thumb doesn't get in our way.  I am also working on planning some fun field trips for next year related to our year 2 studies-geology, astronomy, and the middle ages.

I think my favorite part, though, is to look back at what we have accomplished this past year.  I stop and evaluate where each of my little students is at currently, how far we have come, and where we hope to go, and I make a list of goals to focus on during our relaxed time over the summer.

For us this summer, we will be working on reading fluency with 2 kiddos, and early reading with a 3rd.  My current 3rd grader (almost 4th grader!) was just diagnosed dyslexic.  His summer goals involve improving his reading and spelling skills with some new materials which will hopefully appeal to his awesome dyslexic brain.  We will be using some of the materials provided by the Scottish Rite, along with Apples and Pears.  My 5th (soon to be 6th grader) hopes to spend lots of time reading this summer.  We don't school all summer, but we do try to keep our activities sensory-rich and learning-rich.  School isn't separate from our life, rather it is our lifestyle and we tend to be all in when we are studying a particular topic.

My oldest (soon to be 11th grader) is actually beginning his junior year early this year.  He will be in France in January as an exchange student, so we are starting schoolwork in June.  He will be taking a dual enrollment class, as well as starting his history and lit, math, and thesis work for the year over the summer.

When I look back at what we have accomplished, and set new goals for the summer and future school year, I try to be careful to look not just at academic goals, but also at character issues and study skill related issues in each child.  I want my children to be self-motivated and independent learners.  We use tools through the year to try to encourage them along that path.  For example, beginning in 6th grade, my kids set their own schedule using a planner.  They decide which work they will accomplish which day and week.  They set their own goals and schedule.  I come behind them to make sure they are accomplishing the work at a pace they need to meet, but they are responsible for deciding how to break the work down by day and week.

Even for my younger children, I try to give them time management skills and independence by using work plans beginning in 1st grade.  All the work they need to accomplish in a week is written onto their work plan, and it is their decision how and when to accomplish each task over the week.

Other issues we look for and encourage include note-taking, study skills, and listening skills.  Oftentimes, if you are self-teaching mostly by reading, you lose the opportunity to develop your listening and oral note-taking skills.  To attempt to teach these skills to my children, we watch videos and documentaries, use Khan academy and Coursera lectures, and take advantage of open courses available free online, such as those offered by Yale and MIT.  We also require oral presentations from the kids over the year in a variety of environments, as well as their regular written work such as research projects beginning in middle school, and shorter projects in the elementary grades.

I love watching them grow and learn each year.  In the midst of the daily grind of the school year, it is easy to miss the progress.  Taking time to look back and reflect allows me a chance to see how far they have come.  And laying out specific goals allows us to stay focused on where we are headed.  And always I try to stay focused on the fact that they don't have to learn everything in one year, or even when they are young.  They will repeat so much of the same information in high school.  If we are struggling in an area, we work on that area over the summer more intensely, but always recognizing that those character issues and study skills issues are the most important in the younger grades to prepare them for high school.

Classes and planning assistance

If you are local and have a middle schooler or high schooler, I am going to be offering some classes again this summer and next school year.  All the details are on this site Courses Available.  Let me know if I can help you!

I also do essay grading and lesson planning on an individual basis, and would be happy to help you with your homeschooling needs!  Just email me if I can help!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

High School History and Literature

For high school, we combine history and literature WTM style into a great books course which covers the full 4 year cycle.  I start with the basic reading list given in the WTM for each year.  I then modify this list somewhat to include more world books instead of solely western literature, as well as adding in a few books that I think are valuable.  I think anyone could stick strictly to her list and do very well.  My son is also a very quick and strong reader, and typically reads a work each week.  If your student is a slower reader, you might want to drop some books to allow more time with each piece.

Our typical week looks something like this:  Monday-he reads the background reading relating to the time period and culture we are studying.  We use a variety of college textbooks for this purpose and chose from them if the subject is US, World, or European focused.  My son will write an outline about the chapter he is reading, read further regarding the rest of the world during that period in the Timetables of History, and enter any important dates on his timeline book.  He will also read some biographical reading about the author we are reading for the week.  He then uses this background reading, as well as the biographical reading, to write a 1-2 page summary about the full background to the piece we are studying.  Then he will jump into reading the text.

Tuesday:  He will read some relevant primary source material from the time period we are studying.  There are great sourcebooks out there and available, as well as easily accessible sourcebooks online, such as this one.  He also continues reading the text for the week.

Wednesday:  Mostly just reading the text, taking notes.

Thursday:  We have a set discussion time on Thursday.  We have been blessed to have a close friend follow our reading list along with us and come and discuss the text together with us.  We discuss the context, as well as literary aspects of the text including theme, tone, characterization, style, etc.  If you want to follow a similar approach, but need help preparing this discussion, I personally love the Stobaugh books which will provide you with discussion questions, etc, for a range of books.  You can also find Great Books summaries and commentaries in print and online to do your research and make sure all important aspects are covered in the discussion.  Ideally you will have read the text as well, but even if you haven't been able to, it is very possible to lead a solid discussion with some preparation.  It is important to let the discussion be Socratic and organic, rather than lecture based.  I really enjoy hearing the thoughts these two teenagers have about what they are reading, and our discussion of the literature naturally leads into good historical discussion, as well as interesting comparison and contrasts.  At this time, I will typically assign him some kind of relevant essay.  Often I draw from AP World History or AP English Literature essay questions to give him good solid practice in those types of essays.  I try to sprinkle in AP multiple choice throughout the year as well.

Friday:  Friday is spent finishing and polishing his writing and giving feedback on his weekly essay, as well as getting a jump start on the next week's text if it is longer.

That's our basic process.  If you would like copies of my plans for high school history and literature years 1, 2, or 3, contact me.  I am available to share my plans or to write personalized plans for you for any grade with reading and writing assignments for a donation to my son's exchange student fund.  ;)

11th grade

Our plans for 11th grade are somewhat modified because my oldest will be in France for part of the year as an exchange student.  I'm thrilled he will have the opportunity to really establish his language skills while attending a high school in France and living with a French family for 3 months.  If you are interested in a similar experience for your high schooler, or if you are willing to host a student from another country, read more here and contact me!

History and Lit:  continuing our great books approach.  We will be in year 3 and using a modified version of the well-trained mind reading list for year 3.  He will also study for and take the AP US History exam.  

Thesis:  He will complete an extended junior thesis this year.  In 9th and 10th, he completed a standard research paper.  His project this year will be longer and more involved.  Details of how to do a junior and senior thesis can be found in the WTM.

Math:  Math U See

Science:  dual enrollment Biology
                He will also work through Astronomy a Self-teaching guide so as to not skip the astronomy year altogether, but I won't include this work on his transcript

Language:  Stewart English books 1 and 2
                    IEW's Succeed on the AP Lit Exam (testing at the end of the year)

Electives:  French 3 (credit from 3 months in France)
                  Latin 4-online with Henle
                  Russian--with Pimsleur and Russian in 10 minutes a day
                  Apologetics through NCFCA Speech and Debate
                  Art-continue with the Annotated Mona Lisa and the Story of Painting for art from year 3, as well as studying sculpting
                  Music-Classical Music 101 (1st half)
                  American Government-dual enrollment