Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So you've bought the curriculum; what's next?

I am learning slowly that taking time to plan in advance not only what curriculum we will use but how we will use that curriculum is a valuable use of my time before the school year starts.

I have at least one child who is disturbed by any sort of change in routine midway through the school year. So there is pressure to get it right from the start.

I think other home schooling parents must have difficulty tailoring curriculum to their students because I see a lot of curriculum with one or two pages completed or in new condition for sale by other parents.

The other problem of course is that so much curriculum is bought sight unseen from online sources. Being specific in your search for material and critically reading reviews, especially the negative ones, is essential. And still you might end up with curriculum that doesn't quite meet the needs of your school/life or home school.  Being 5000 miles away from curriculum suppliers and libraries, we've had to "make do" with what I bought a few times.  It can be frustrating and painful for parent and child, but life's like that sometimes.

Whether you love the curriculum you bought or you're unhappy with it, here's some suggestions for getting the most out of what you bought:

1.  Find the instructions for the teacher.  Sometimes this is a big text separate from the book you child will use; sometimes this is a few introductory pages.  Read the instructions for the first few lessons.  This will tell you how the author thought you would use the content. This is your chance to be the teacher and decide how you will use the content. Reading the teacher's manual will also help you to know in advance what sort of help is available if you or the student struggles.

One of my children used Saxon math again this year.  "Mr. Saxon" thinks that every problem in every chapter should be completed.  I don't agree.  So my child will complete only a portion of each chapter's questions.  Now in case you think my child is a math whiz kid, let me set you straight.  Making math lessons as painful and as long as possible will not make my child a math whiz kid. There is already fear and loathing when it comes to math, Every question in every chapter will turn math into a battleground and there is no learning when you are under enemy fire. By carefully  choosing which math questions to do, my child has a chance at success. 

This is your chance to change things up and give life to the material.   I love workbooks, oh yes I do.  I love all those neatly completed pages one after the other; but that's me!  I'm not sure that workbooks always are the best way for students to learn information. I still order workbooks, in fact I ordered one from recently and downloaded it.  I used it as a teacher's guide for a set of lessons I did with fractions.  My students completed some of the pages and used the manipulatives included in the text, but they will never see the big fat complete book.  They will only interact with the material as I guide them through it. 

2.  Find the marking guide.  It took me most of three years with Math U See curriculum before I realized that the marking guide was in the back of the teacher's manual.  That's because I skipped step one.  The other reason to find the marking guide is so that your student doesn't succumb to the pressure and use the marking guide as a way  to shorten their study time.  I've had more than one of my blessings use the guide in the back of the book to "check their answers" before they wrote them down. 

If the marking guide is in the teacher's manual you didn't order because it was thick or expensive, now is a good time to change your mind.  The marking guide saves you time and frustration. I bought the teacher's manual for my daughter's grade 10 English course last year and it was an invaluable help not just to me but to her as well.  When she missed the mark with an assignment, I could show her from the teacher's manual the suggested answers.  This made grading simple and improved her comprehension of the material.  This was well worth the extra cost.

3. Now is a good time to choose pretests, midterms and post tests.  I like to use the same math facts quiz (one for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) three times each year. So I make three copies of the quiz I plan to use at the beginning of the year. If they're in my planning binder, I am much more likely to use them.

4. Review the table of contents.  What will your child be learning and in what order? 

Last year when my son was struggling with his science curriculum, we reordered the units.  He got to do the ones he was looking forward to first!  That way, if for some reason we didn't complete the dreaded curriculum, at least he learned about topics he was interested in.

If there are subjects in the table of contents that you have already covered or want to leave out for some other reason, pick and choose the areas you wish to study.  Don't let the curriculum boss you around.

It's okay to order and use curriculum which does not suit the learning style of your particular student. Gasp!  You can read aloud the passages from a workbook and have your student answer orally.  You can turn science into a series of game show quizzes, complete with a bell to ring.  You can learn perimeter and area using bathroom tiles or a tape measure and area rugs in your house if there is too much workbook in your math program.  Make the curriculum work for you and your student.

Reviewing the table of contents also gives you an opportunity to order additional material from the public library, find a YouTube video or two to watch along the way or even find some internet/app games to play which will help the content be converted into understanding.  If you find and record the information now at the planning stage it can be in your house and ready to use when you need it - even if you have unexpected company, work commitments or the toilet overflows. 

Just a note about games, just because it's "educational" doesn't necessarily mean it's fun to play.  Never buy a game you haven't personally played and enjoyed. Yes, I know from personal experience.  If it is both educational and fun to play, don't assume that your children will understand why it is relevant.  My eldest played DragonBox  and really enjoyed it, but never really understood that it was teaching her how Algebra works.  The activities didn't cross over in her mind.  Don't assume they understand.  Tell them.

5. Now get out a pen and figure out what will be done when.  Get detailed. Write dates on the table of contents, make lists of additional curriculum.  Write assignment due dates on the calendar.  Look carefully now at when big assignments are due.  If the assignment is due the same week as the dance recital, you might want to change the due date now while it's easy.  Midterm exams aren't much fun if you have to do them during the family vacation.  Take your life, your commitments and your lifestyle into consideration when planning.

6. Chores. Now is the time to give thought to what daily, weekly, monthly chores each of your children will be doing.  Early  in my education as a home school parent, I heard a conference speaker say that children should be given work to do as soon as they are physically able to do the task safely.  That means that my children do their own laundry and have since they were about 8. The youngest, who is now 13, needed help last year because he wasn't tall enough to hang his clothes on the line to dry.  This year that isn't a problem, because he's taller than I am.  All our children began in the kitchen as table setters and have graduated to meal makers. The eldest one at home (16)  has been making meals independently for a couple of years.  This year she worked unsupervised in the kitchen and prepared two evening meals each week and worked with her younger brother one day each week.  This year, I worked with the 13 year old and he independently prepared his first complete meals for our family this year. Making the bed, keeping your room tidy (vacuumed and dusted) are all work that even the youngest school age child can accomplish. Get the routines established before you get back to the books.

If you've got questions, or some other ideas about planning for the year to come, please leave a comment. Happy Planning!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Many Subjects?

When I was new to home education, I had a long list of "school" subjects.  In addition to math, science, social studies, and English; there were Bible, music, foreign language, home economics, art, physical education and the list went on and on and . . . Well you get the idea.

This was a stressful way to educate, because lesson planning and supervising three children in fifteen different subject areas in the course of year is IMPOSSIBLE.  My beloved facilitator finally clued me in.  Now there are only four school subjects:  math, science, social studies and English.  The rest is "life" or "enrichment".  So for the four school subjects, I carefully plot, plan and purchase curriculum. (for more on what to do with curriculum see blog post coming soon "I bought the curriculum, now what?") Because we tend to follow a more traditional home education approach, this works well for us.

For all the other things we do, I provide opportunities to learn and experience. There have been lessons, courses, camps and coops.  I report these accomplishments to my school board at the end of the year, but I don't grade them. I find serious answers for serious questions and model where and how to look up answers. Eventually, I say, "I don't know. You should look that up." In this way I hope I am creating life long learners.

This has lightened the load for my children too.  Now there are some activities where they lead the learning.  I have seen both my daughters enjoy drawing, painting, sewing, and other crafts. I don't grade their efforts or their output,  I just hang their creations on my walls and brag about their progress.

Where the Bible is concerned, I have modelled daily Bible reading and also modelled once in a blue moon Bible reading, because I am not perfect and life can be chaotic.  We talk about what we read in the Bible, just as we talk about and share everything we read. 

In the area of home economics, my children have been required to plan, shop for and make meals.  Not once in a while, but weekly because we all like to eat regularly.  They do their own laundry and keep their rooms tidy.

The areas which aren't graded tend to be those areas which will become life sustaining in their later years.  Everybody asks why it's necessary to learn Algebra, nobody questions the need to learn to read and understand a recipe, or why it's good to have rackets or sticks and move a ball around.

So we homeschool, but we also live.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Write a letter to be delivered later - A first day of school project

Here's a neat idea for the first day of school.  Write a letter to be delivered later.  You can write to your child or they can write to themselves. This  free mini lesson guides you through the process:

Letters to the Future:

If you want to you can even send the letter by email at some later date. will even send the letter by email

Friday, July 25, 2014

Astronomy Links

Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, Pridis, Alberta. Milky Way nights, school programs, drop in times

Classical Astronomy curriculum for middle and high school students:

Royal Astronmical Society of Canada 2014 Star Party

Monday, May 19, 2014

Simple Record Keeping


1) Each student gets one page with their name and school year as the title.

2) Make five headings:  English Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math, Other

3) Under each heading list any curriculum you plan to use. I usually put lots of detail into this list. 

For example at the beginning of the year the list for my 12 year old son's math section looked like this:


Math Facts Practice:  Skip counting 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, Math Rider, Mad Minute, Operation Math*
Math U See Delta Review Lessons 1 – 12 (1 week) and Units 3 and 4 

Math U See Epsilon 

4) Under "Other" list anything that does not fit in the four other sections like swim lessons, work experience, hobbies, special projects, field trips, skills, language study,  courses or travel.

Keeping Records:

As the year progresses when your student completes curriculum, goes on a field trip or achieves a new swim badge, add the month, year and achievement or final score to the list.  Keep work samples and certificates in plastic sheet protectors in file folders or a binder.  I have three students to keep track of and all their samples fit in one binder. I keep at least two samples for each subject area; one from the beginning and one from the end.

At the end of the year, delete any curriculum your student didn't do from the planning list.  Make a note of anything which was incomplete at the end of the year and record final scores. You'll notice that Sam didn't do MUS Epsilon at all this year so I deleted that information.  I recorded his pre and post tests for Mad Minute and deleted the fact drills. I print the completed list and add it to the samples I've collected in the sheet protectors and my record keeping for the year is done. 


Mad Minute Correct answers in 60 seconds September/December:  (+) 12/18  (-) 14/19 (x) 4/14 (/) 7/18  or                         September 37/130 28%                 December 67/130 52%  

Math U See Delta Review Lessons 1 – 12 (1 week) and Units 3 and 4  95% December 2014

Some Final Notes:

I'm a big fan of pre and post tests.  I want to see that my students are improving through the school year.  but I'm always excited to get started with the school year and often forget that step!

If you can make your planning list on the computer, then you can easily add and delete information.  The saved planning list from last year will help me make the new list for this year.

At the end of the year also add to the list anything your child particularly enjoyed that year.  In Sam's case he spent a lot of time building new creations with Lego so I'll be adding that to his list. 

Separately, I keep a list of books that my student has read or that we have done as a read aloud.  Unfortunately, I didn't start this early enough with my two older children and I gave them the responsibility of keeping it up to date too soon.  As a result, their book lists have gaps.  Sam's list has every book he's ever read.

Record keeping requirements vary from place to place so be sure you are following the guidelines set by your school board and your governing authority.  This is what works for me.

* Math Rider:

The Mad Minute: (We have an old version bought used)

Monday, April 7, 2014

2013-2014 What worked and what didn't

What worked:

Writing With Skill Level 1 by Susan Wise Bauer:  Excellent curriculum for Grade 10 English.  It teaches the student to research topics and outline papers in a step by step process which is painless for the parent and the student.  Be sure to buy both the instructor's manual and the student book.  You'll need both these fat fabulous books. The instructor's manual includes information on how to mark the papers, and how to help the student along the way.

Mad Minute I first encountered Mad Minutes in a public school classroom nearly 30 years ago.  These 30 or 40 question drill pages really forced my students to learn and remember their math facts.  I made all of them do them and they all improved speed and and accuracy in all four operations.

What didn't work:

Saxon Math  Both my high school students are using Saxon, unfortunately what makes Saxon an easy text for parents also makes it easy for students to get the right answer without understanding the concepts. (Each question has a lesson number.) If you can decipher the curriculum, you don't have to understand the concepts just follow the examples in every single problem. Coming from Math U See, I also don't particularly like the seeming random order of the chapters. Not sure about alternatives for my high schoolers, but my 12 yo might just continue with Math U See.

Monarch Online Science  This year two of my students tried Monarch's science courses on line.  One of my high schoolers did Chemistry and my 12 yo did Science 600.  These are dense full year courses.  I bought them because I thought they would provide a change from textbook science.  Last year I spent a lot of my time trying to find YouTube videos for my son to illustrate scientific ideas.  I had the impression that Monarch's lessons, especially Science 600 would include lots of audio and video presentations. I was disappointed. The videos were generally poor quality and done by a man dressed as an eccentric scientist; not really the picture of science I wanted for my son. If you have a student who learns by reading, has taken algebra and is interested in Chemistry, then this is a great course for them. Lots of detail here, but read carefully or you'll miss the clues which will help you answer the questions.  I thought this would be user friendly and plug and play, but I spent hours and hours helping both students understand the material and answer the questions.  There is no teacher's manual for the parent, so ideally you should pre-read and understand the material before your student does. On the upside, you can change the order of the units; allow your student to skip questions and choose which days are school days. The online part of this course worked flawlessly.  You can print informative grade reports for each course and student.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Peace in a time of Conflict - High School Unit Study

1  Yann Martel and What is Stephen Harper Reading? - view this website. What is the Yann Martel's purpose? Why did he start sending Stephan Harper books? Do you think a PM has time for a lot of free reading? Find out how the arts are funded in Canada?  Answer these questions in writing.

2.)  View this webpage/photos:,29307,1887394_1861256,00.html

3.)  "Democracy Education Network was founded in 1993 to help Canadians learn key democracy, civics and active citizenship skills"

Advocacy and civics courses

Organizing a Peaceful Protest

4.) Read about Louis Riel p.61 Discovering Canada's Government,
Read Great Canadian Speeches p. 60-64,
Watch Historica Minute

Who was Louis Riel? What kind of protest did he lead? Was it successful or a failure?  What does the word Metis mean now - and what did it mean in Riel's time?  Is Louis Riel a Canadian hero?  Treat this as a research project and generate a thorough response in the form of an essay.

5.) Read about the history of UN Peacekeeping missions.

6.) Find statistics for Canada, USA and one other country.  What are the latest available numbers on military spending?  Can you find a per capita amount so you can compare the countries side by side. It might also be illuminating to look at violent deaths in those three countries.  Does military spending correlate in anyway with the number of people who are killed (or injured by guns)? 

7.) In your opinion is peaceful protest a useful way to make changes in society? Why or why not. 500 word7