Friday, March 21, 2014

Streamline Frustration While Developing and Implementing Your Own Curriculum

This blog could easily be called The Real Gangsters of Homeschooling. Sometimes its a fight just to figure out what to teach. With all the many options from which to choose and all the competing viewpoints, it all can become a blur. Not to mention you still have to design, plan, and implement lessons without knowing what your child's response will be. It can all be very intimidating, but before you go spend you lottery earnings or your retirement savings on curriculum materials, check out some of these tips on developing and implementing your very own curriculum.

Run To The Fight, Pick A Side, And Join In

Developing your educational philosophy can be a fight that you shouldn't avoid. My advice for developing a curriculum is to run to the fight and by that I mean run to the controversies. Find all the controversies and disagreements you can find about how something should be taught. My go to example of course is sight words vs. phonics, or better yet, common core vs. the no-name curriculum from before. Based on your own research, pick a side and start fighting. Get dirty. Go hard for what you believe. Those controversies can point you to what activities to avoid and can guard you when you're developing what it is that you will do. Research, pick, a side. Test your research. Get feedback from your child. How does your child respond to your educational approach/ philosophy? Does it match how he learns. If not, it's cool. Change your mind and jump ship. Go hard for something else.

Steal or Hijack

When it comes to developing your own curriculum, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Every possible way to teach 2 + 2 is 4 has probably already surfaced, and if for some reason, you're going to come up with a new way to teach material, looking at the creativity of others could be helpful in getting your juices flowing. Don't be afraid to know your state's standards and even try to put your hands on curriculum maps. Do the same for commercial curriculums. You don't need to purchase them, per se, but look for a table of contents online, or unit tests. This can give you some clues to or even the actual scope and sequence for each curriculum. You don't have to copy these or even use them for your curriculum, but use the knowledge gained from what others are doing to develop your own materials. Then implement, test, regroup, relearn, and reimplement.

Before you decide on what to teach in reading (maybe math,too), it may be necessary to check to see where your child is. There are plenty of commercial (some are expensive) products to help you gather information about your child's reading level. You probably can find Fountas and Pinnell testing information in your local library, or try There you can find instructions for checking your child's reading level. This access to their online program is about $79/ year, but they offer a 7 day free trial, where you can download daily from their site. They also offer free 7-day memberships during teacher appreciation week and again just before school starts in the fall. For early readers, I really did love readinga-z. I never bought the program. Those free times have been enough for us, but for more than one child or for classrooms and coops, the price would be well worth it.

I would suggest if that you have a very young reader that you start from the beginning with phonics. Lots of times children who learn to read early basically from memorizing sight words, generally are fluent readers sooner, but also are less accurate than students who learn using phonics. I've asked so many 4 year olds to come read to me and their fluency is great and they gather the correct meaning, but they aren't accurate readers. Without proper guidance this could become a problem later.

Once you've decided what to teach and in what order, google and pinterest (yes, these are verbs now) away for teaching ideas and activities.

To help with avoiding frustration:

Confer With Your Accomplices

  1. Try to include a morning meeting or circle time with your children before you jump into learning. Sing plenty of silly songs (you can make up your own) and/ or include a movement component. For the little ones you could do weather and calendar. Whatever traditions you come up with try to include a talk back time. Now you might want to guard your talk back time because your circle time can get away from you, and sometimes that will be OK, but keep the circle times short- generally, 20 mins tops. A little too short is better than a little too long. Also, once you've gone through it a couple of times, allow the children to run it. During this time you can go over what it is you plan on doing for the day.

    Even now with my 7 year old, if I gather that she's not ready for learning, we do a circle time, or cut away from our work just to sing and/ or touch base. This works amazingly well to get her back on track.

  2. Before each new subject or activity, let them know what it is you're hoping to accomplish and why and how. Once you've completed your lesson or activity, assess immediately to see if they got it. Ask for feedback. How do they feel about what they learned and how they learned it? How would they have gone about getting the lesson across? Your child may be able to articulate a method that works, or they may be aggravated that you're asking so many questions. Either way is fine.

Provide Visuals

For the very young? Provide visuals for everything, or almost everything. Try to incorporate something visual at every lesson. For example, your whole lesson might be a National Geographic or YouTube video, or if you're singing a counting song, make a visual representation of what you're singing. When my child was young, our visual representation was mostly magnet board stories. I used them a lot in my music class in public schools, too. It just really adds depth to what you're doing and helps to keep the attention of the little ones.

For older students, this might look different, though. During the time I taught at a school that didn't have smartboards, I invested in an old projector from ebay. You don't have to project things, but plan ahead and use powerpoint or even free smartboard software to add just the right visual impact.

For my home I knew that I wanted a magnetic white board, but those were entirely too expensive, but I figured out a workaround. Be creative and try to find ways to make your homeschool environment a stimulating one.

Cross Reference, Cross Reference, Cross Reference

Use the theory of multiple intelligences to your advantage. Allow and plan for ideas and concepts to show up across subjects. When I was running my phonemic awareness program, I worked on isolated letter sounds. I did one letter per every couple of days. So whatever that letter was, using lots of visuals, we would go over its sound and words that either began with and/or ended with those sounds. Let's say that the letter was I, for a couple of days my child went over the sounds in circle time, again in read aloud time when we included My 'I' Book from First Steps in Reading, again during our phonics/ reading time when I found or either made I books for us to go through, again in handwriting when the same letter was the focus, and again in art when we made inchworms out of pipe cleaners, yet again in Science when observing insects/inchworms, and lastly in music when we sang made up songs about icky insects. This is easily accomplished with theme based learning, but can be done without any theme at all.

Keep It Moving

Find creative ways to incorporate movement into your learning. The movements don't even have to be related to the learning. You can try jogging in place or doing jumping jacks in between subjects, or just playing a song and letting your child jump around after something strenuous. I used to make up games where the idea is that you do something on one side of the room and then run to do something else on the other side. You can set up practice stations outside and have your child run through an obstacle course of sorts where the student would have to show some kind academic knowledge or perform a skill before running to the next station. Time it and encourage your little one to try to beat it the next day.

Take Instruction

Let your students show you what they know. Every so often, my daughter likes to play the teacher. I let her teach me the things we just learned. I ask plenty of questions, sneakily accessing any information learned. Allow for talk back times when students can teach the teacher.

Wear Your "Colors" with Pride

Congratulations, we are all well on our way to becoming a part of The Real Gangsters of Homeschooling. Ooh- Ooh(please, substitute whatever call you wish)!!! If you use any of these tips, let me know how it works out. Want to add more tips? Leave them in the comment box. Feel free to ask any questions and make any statements, and me? I don't even mind if you disagree. Leave that, too. Thanks for reading. All the Real Gangstas of Homeschooling- STAND UP!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mental Math tips

Like most on this blog, this post is long overdue. Last Monday, I wanted to do a mental-math-minute type post about adding 8's and 9's, but after thinking about it, I didn't want to do anything that was a shortcut without addressing how to develop number sense. I thought about all of the background information that I deemed helpful, and this long video became the response.

In this video, I give ideas on how to develop a good number sense, share where to find some manipulatives, and show some strategies toward doing math mentally. If you want, you can skip straight to the strategies.

Now, this video is far from perfect. I didn't have a script. I make plenty mistakes and obscure noises along the way, and the volume's a bit of everywhere, so be prepared to turn up and turn down. Still, I hope that the information shared is valuable and worth any adjustments.

For Even Smaller Sums

If the things in the video are a little too advanced for your little one find addition tips for numbers 5 and under here:

For Sums 6 - 10

At the time of the above video, I was considering making another video for addition sums from 6 - 10. I probably won't, but just briefly, this is the order I would do to get me through.

  1. The info from "Getting Started With Math" video.
  2. Play games (make them up) to solidify addition facts to 5. Use abacus when playing games.
  3. Use your fingers and the color coded abacus to learn your "5 and's..." (5 + 1 = 6, 5 + 2 = 7, etc.) to 10.
  4. Represent "5 and's..." in all possible ways (fingers, tally marks, abacus, sticks, etc.)
  5. Partition 6 into all of it's parts. Use the abacus to begin.
  6. Do the same for the remaining numbers to 10
  7. More addition games using abacus when necessary.

Thanks for checking out this blog. Hit me up if you have questions or comments.