“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!
With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.
Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:
Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder.
Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.
Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.
Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!
This blog post is brought to you by our Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz. I think you’ll enjoy it!
Hello Middle Schoolers!
This is a very important alert about the shark-infested waters of the Plagiarism Sea into which many middle school students dive at one time or another. It always starts out as a search fortreasure…the quick path to a wonderfully phrased and well-edited essay or report, but quite soon, the unsuspecting student becomes tangled in strands of broken copyright seaweed and the sharks begin to circle!
As an Oak Meadow teacher, I often notice that some of a student’s writing is almost word for word the same as parts of material in the sources used. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons for including citations for all sources. If no sources are cited, I can not be sure the work is original.) It’s really important that you always write in your own words and not copy sentences or paragraphs from other sources. Copying from other sources is considered cheating, and is taken very seriously at Oak Meadow. The first time it happens teachers give a warning, and if it happens again, it will more seriously affect grades.
Please take time to read more in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook in the section called “Original Work Guidelines.” This can go a long way towards ensuring that you avoid the weeds and sharks on the way to the true treasure…an original, well-crafted piece of writing or research. I can also recommend the Purdue OWL website. It has some very good content that you could use.
Plagiarism is a very tricky thing to define at times, since excessive paraphrasing can also be considered copying of a sort. There is definitely a learning curve about plagiarism in all its forms, especially with use of the internet. There are many reasons that students plagiarize their work. Using three reliable sources at all times and taking very brief notes from these sources can be enormously helpful. Another possible path to try would be to do the work in your own handwriting, in your own words of course, so there are not cut and paste errors.
It is extremely time consuming for an Oak meadow teacher to verify plagiarized work. Once the first warning is given, any further work that is plagiarized will need to receive a failing grade. Let’s avoid this!
In summary, here is what to do:
*Review the Original Work Guidelines in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook
*Read the bibliography piece called Citing Your Sources
*Discuss with your parents how to use your own words
Welcoming a new school year is exciting! Here in New England I think I can actually feel the excitement in the cooling air of autumn. Getting ready for a new school year can mean finding the best spot for studying, getting your supplies in order, and setting up your desk space. Setting up your own “work space” allows for you to separate work from play. Look for a quiet, comfortable space with few distractions, and good lighting. Looking ahead in the curriculum to see what supplies you may need is a great way to set yourself up for successful learning. Get out your favorite pencils, pens, crayons, and notebooks!
For those of you in the middle grades (ages 11-14), if you don’t yet have your very own dictionary and thesaurus, now is the time to find them! Both will become your best friends as you go through the year. Printed book versions are great to just have next to you as you read and write. With a book at hand you won’t be distracted by your device (computer, kindle, phone, ipad) and you can mark up the pages any way that you like! You can often find used ones at second hand book stores. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years, look for Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent additions.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus.
Also really useful is a good atlas for discovering new places in the world and helping you illustrate maps. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
Why does homeschooling feel like a good idea? What needs are not being met well in other ways, and how might homeschooling help best meet those needs?
What is my child expecting homeschooling to be like? What am I expecting homeschooling to be like? How do those two things line up?
What areas of learning are easiest for my child? What areas are most challenging?
What are my child’s passions and interests? How will they fit into our plan for homeschooling?
What are my biggest worries about homeschooling? What are some strategies I could use to work through those things if they happen?
What struggles do I predict we might have as we add homeschooling to our parent-child dynamic, and how can I anticipate and prevent them?
How will I meet my own need for self-care so that I am able to give all that my child needs?
What will I say to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers who are skeptical about our decision to homeschool? How will I prepare myself for such questions?
Who are my homeschooling support buddies? Do I have friends, neighbors, or relatives who homeschool? If not, do I know where to find local and/ or distant homeschoolers to share experiences and ideas with?
So I’m reading The Heart of Learning and love it, but I’m also left with a feeling of failure. I feel like I failed my 9 and 5 year olds. My 1.5 year old, too, but I still have time with her. Anyone ever feel like this?
Can you relate?
On your way to a heart-centered approach to learning, has the journey has been long and complicated? Have you have spent years trying different approaches to parenting and/or education before finding one that really feels right? Have the many twists and turns left you, and perhaps your children, feeling frustrated and exhausted?
Start by giving yourself credit for where you are and how you’ve gotten there! You’ve worked hard to navigate the complicated path of parenting. You’ve followed your heart to the place where you are now. Your children benefit from your courage when you open your family to new possibilities. You are not failing — you are succeeding!
It’s never too late to adapt your parenting style in response to new ideas and inspiration. Even partway through childhood, your child continues to benefit from your growing confidence and experience. Parenting skills evolve over time. When your first child arrived, you had no choice but to learn on your feet. Maybe later you had other children whose needs were nothing like your first, which meant you needed to develop new tools.
You tried whatever came to you along the way. Perhaps you followed the model of other parents, the suggestions of relatives, or the advice of professionals. Or maybe you stayed with what felt familiar and made choices similar to those your own parents made. You made use of the resources you had and made the most of whatever was available at the time.
Maybe those approaches worked, at least for awhile, or maybe they taught you that your child needed something else. Or maybe your instincts were tugging at you to take a different path from the start. Every parent has had the experiences of making a choice that turned out to be less than perfect. Every child is unique, and it can take several tries to figure out how best to meet a particular child’s needs during a particular phase or circumstance.
Even when you’ve discovered an approach that feels like the perfect fit, you may have mixed feelings about switching gears – and your child might, too. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transition:
Explain the changes. One of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to model what it means to be a lifelong learner. If you are making a change that your child will notice and wonder about, affirm their experience and share your reasons for moving in a new direction. If you feel regret that your older children did not benefit sooner from such a shift, acknowledge this, but also make sure they know you tried your best given the information and support you had at the time. Let them know that everyone can learn from their experiences.
Include your child in the process. If a big change is in the works, such as a switch from public school to home learning, ask your children what matters to them. Give their input careful consideration and let them know that their opinions and insights are important to you. Do your best to foster and maintain connection with your children, especially if your earlier approach was less connection-oriented.
Take good care of yourself and one another. Remember that significant transitions can be stressful even when the result will be positive and healthy. Find ways to create and maintain balance for yourself and your children. Spending time in nature can be restorative and healing for the whole family. Finding and following a rhythm in your days and weeks can help keep everyone grounded, especially when new adventures are beginning. Stay present with your child; you are on this journey together.
Take time to feel. If you need to grieve the way things might have been, give yourself (and your child) space for that important process. Be gentle with yourself and allow the transformation in your life the time it deserves.
Acknowledge growth. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s – embrace its unique lessons and gifts.
Remember that the heart is at the center of the parenting journey. It awakens to new ideas in its own time. You can trust that your heart is leading you well. You can do this!
Have you ever wondered how homeschooling works for ordinary parents? It’s true: Most of us do not have advanced degrees in education or child development. Most of us are just ordinary people who went to school like every other kid we knew and never imagined we’d be homeschooling our own children someday. How can an ordinary parent possibly be qualified to be a home teacher?
Good news! You certainly can successfully teach your children at home. You are already doing it. Home teaching is a natural extension of parenting. You’ve been a teacher since the moment your children arrived to join your family. You’ve simply followed your instincts to figure out what they need and figure out how to best meet those needs, whether the solution is something you do on your own or seek outside help with. This is what teaching is all about.
As you go about your daily life, you teach through example and by explaining what you are doing and why. You answer questions and challenge your children to come up with some of the answers themselves, sometimes, too. You pay close attention to them as you explain many things and support them as they try things on their own. You bolster their courage as they grow in new ways. You know more about them than anyone else in the world!
Although you may not have an advanced degree in education, you do know how to tell when your children are open to learning something new and when they are not ready. You know when they are feeling confident and when they need extra support. You know how to tell when something really isn’t working for them, and you know just when to switch gears when that happens. You can read their signals better than anyone else can. And using a packaged curriculum can give you the peace of mind that, pedagogically, you are offering an optimal learning experience.
As a homeschooling parent, you are an educational coordinator, especially if your family takes advantage of teaching resources such as in-home tutors or classes outside the home. If you don’t feel capable of teaching French or Calculus because you never learned it yourself, you can engage a local or distance learning teacher to handle that subject with your children. If you are afraid your lack of confidence with math will interfere with their ability to develop a love for it, don’t worry – just get some help from someone who really does enjoy teaching math. If your children are learning primarily at home, even if they are also taking classes or lessons here and there, you’re their home teacher – and in the best position to support their learning.
For a homeschooling parent, sometimes a little boost of confidence can go a long way. Seeking outside help when you need it is important. If you would like to learn more about tools and techniques that can help you be more confident as a home teacher, Oak Meadow’s Foundations in Independent Learning course is a great place to begin. One or more homeschool support sessions or the ongoing support of an accredited distance learning program can also be a great help. Most homeschooling parents do not have a teaching certificate or an education degree, and yet most homeschooled students learn what they need to learn and grow into capable adults.
Consulting outside experts who might be helpful to you doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to be a home teacher, but that you are capable of being a very effective home teacher. And as the home teacher, you are the one who most aware of what your children needs. You are the primary expert on your own children, and you are capable of homeschooling them!
Homeschoolers usually spend a significant portion of their days at home. The many hours of projects, crafts, meals, experiments, and exuberant learning that happen every day in a homeschooling house can add up to a significant amount of clutter and chaos. What are some ways to keep your home and your family from getting overwhelmed by this?
Consider the favorite spaces that your family uses for various activities. Set things up so it is easy to clean up and start over when space is needed for another project. Make sure there is a storage area nearby for works in progress and a safe spot for anything that might need to air-dry.
Observe the patterns in your house. How are family members using the space? Where do piles of things usually grow? One of the biggest challenges in any house is keeping things up off the floor. Where do things most often get dropped? If you have a perpetual pile that grows unbidden in a particular place, it’s a sure sign that those items need a permanent home nearby. Put baskets for hats/mittens near where coats are hung. Unfinished works of art may need a shelf near the crafts area.
Who is responsible for tidying up and when? Setting aside regular time once or twice each day for routine clean-up can help keep the clutter from growing. You may find it helpful to assign a container to each family member – a basket, bin, or box – where anyone can deposit items belonging to the owner. Put trash/recycling containers in every room where trash is generated.
Make it a habit to weed out and discard unwanted items on an ongoing basis. Things that are broken should be fixed or discarded. Papers can often be recycled. If you feel overwhelmed, just deal with the pile or item that you bump into first — then repeat, repeat, repeat.
If your children have a hard time decluttering, play a fun family game of “Keep or Don’t Keep?” See how fast you can sort through a pile together. Start with two containers for sorting things into – one “keep” bin and one “toss” bin. Hold up each item in turn and ask dramatically, “Keep? Or don’t keep?” Encourage your child to respond as quickly as possible for each item. Time yourselves if it adds to the excitement. When the pile is gone, you can whisk the “toss” pile out of sight to quietly dispose of later.
Here are some things to consider adding to your home in areas where clutter collects:
Hooks to hang things on
Shelves to put things on
Bins and drawers to put things in
Baskets, containers, crates to organize things
Furniture with doors and drawers to help to keep clutter hidden
Make sure that storage is at the right height for the people who will use it. If you have young children, store off-limits items on the highest shelves or behind cabinet doors and “help-yourself” items, such as toys and basic drawing supplies, within easy reach. Storage that is too difficult to access will not be used; same for storage that is not in the area where its items are most likely to be abandoned. Try to make it as convenient as possible.
Consider turning a closet or cabinet into a storage space for art/craft supplies and other homeschooling materials. Sort by category and assign one bin or box to each category (crayons, ribbons/string, paint, knitting, etc.). Label everything clearly so that everyone can see what to store in each bin without having to open it to check. Use pictures or symbols if you have family members who are very visual or not yet reading.
Cozy nooks for reading and relaxing are important but can invite a state of ongoing disarray. What are your nooks like? Are there pillows? Soft blankets? How do you want things arranged when not in use? What does that look like? Show your children how to stack pillows, fold blankets, and leave things tidy for the next person.
With a proactive approach and some practice, managing clutter can become a regular part of your family’s homeschooling routine. Involve everyone in the family in the process and the results will be worth the effort as you enjoy a calmer, less cluttered home.
As we move through the years of parenting and homeschooling, maintaining our connection with our children is essential. Nurturing this connection is the most important thing we can do as parents. We sometimes hear parents lamenting that they feel they’ve lost the connection with their child and are not sure how to get it back. Sometimes, especially when transitioning from school to homeschooling, we want to deepen the connection but aren’t sure where to start.
How can we as parents invite and strengthen a healthy connection with our children at all stages of development? Here are a dozen suggestions to foster a strong connection with your child:
Listen to your child with the attention and focus you would give another adult. Be fully present – make eye contact; stop multitasking; concentrate on what they are trying to say. Show with your body language that their words and thoughts are your priority in that moment. If they have a hard time getting words out, let them take the time they need, without giving up on the conversation. Attention is a big part of connection.
Let your child take the lead sometimes. It may mean things will be slower, messier, or less efficient. Give your child the gift of your patience and the opportunity to spread their wings and feel your trust in them. As their confidence grows, so will their effectiveness. Believe in them and they will believe in themselves.
Have fun together. What brings you both joy, makes you both smile, leaves you both feeling great afterward? Find shared interests and spend time doing them together. If you have a hard time finding common ground, start by sharing things that one of you enjoys and hopes the other might like. Ask your child for ideas, and be open-minded about trying them out. You might be surprised by the things you enjoy together!
Support your child in their passions (even or especially when you don’t share them) and invite them to honor yours. Each person in the family is a unique individual, and passions may vary widely among family members. Even if you’re not interested in something for its own sake, learn to appreciate how it is important to your child. In this same way, give them some insight into the passions you have so that they can gain an appreciation for differences in relationships, not just similarities.
Create opportunities for conversation. Car rides can be great for this when children are old enough to ride up front. Working quietly side by side at dishes or yardwork, or a leisurely walk outside, can also set the stage for talking and listening. Allow for quiet and potentially long pauses as you wait for each other to fill the space with thoughts and feelings. If nothing is forthcoming, ask an open-ended question and listen to your child’s response without interrupting or overriding their viewpoint.
Be humble. When you make a mistake, recognize it and own it. Show your child the side of yourself that is a lifelong learner. Embrace the opportunity to show them ways to make things right when you’ve erred. Apologize gently and thoroughly, and allow them to see that nobody is perfect, not even the most capable, experienced, confident people. By inviting our children to connect with the less-than-perfect side of ourselves and see us recover from a setback, we reassure them about their own vulnerabilities and their capacity for recovery.
Be accountable. Hold yourself to the same standards that you expect your child to meet. Hang up your coat and put your shoes away. Clear and rinse your dishes after a meal. When everyone in the family shares and participates in the work of the household, it is clear that everyone’s contribution is valuable. Working together for the good of the group is a bonding experience and helps to keep family members connected with each other.
Allow your child to disagree with you. Children need to feel secure in having their own opinion, and they may need to experience this over and over as they grow. You may need to help them learn to express their differences appropriately, and practicing this with them helps them grow into young adults who can remain connected and secure even through difficult conversations.
Make time for one-on-one. Spend individually devoted time with each of your children, no matter how many you have. If you have many, particularly small ones, this may be quite challenging. Think creatively. Perhaps an older child can ride along with you to an appointment, or one child at a time can walk with you to the mailbox and back each day. Or plan a simple “date” to read a favorite book in a comfortable chair together without interruptions from other family members. Any length of undivided attention lets them know they are important as an individual. That time is precious to a child, and it’s most effective when there are no other pressures or distractions. It is in these moments that a child will be able to open up their heart and connect with you in a way they ordinarily cannot.
Learn your child’s Love Language and find ways to use it regularly. Does your child need physical touch or words of affirmation? Do they thrive on one-on-one time or have a deep-rooted need to receive gifts? Are they most affirmed when someone does something helpful or thoughtful for them? Discovering the nature of your child’s need and how they best “hear” love from others can help you facilitate connection most effectively.
Encourage developmentally-appropriate independence. Every time your child heads off on their own, they will feel the pull to return to you, thus strengthening your connection with each other. Sometimes a little time apart, especially in the case of older children and young adults, helps both child and parent find new perspective to appreciate the other’s strengths and contributions.
Be a thoughtful role model. We model how we wish our children to connect with us, whether we are aware of it or not. If we are present, respectful, supportive, and open-minded in our interactions with our children, they will reflect those things back to us as well.
Staying connected with children throughout their childhood and into adulthood takes commitment, patience, and an open mind. It is worth the effort and will go a long way in making your family’s homeschooling experience enjoyable for everyone involved.
by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow
How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists—leaving notes here and there all over the house—and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. That pile of tasks that seemed doable early in the morning looks like an impossible uphill climb by lunch time and morphs into Mt. Everest by dinner time. Sigh. Another day slips by with a vague feeling of incompletion.
When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??” Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be leaving out or forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.
At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”
Let the planner do the remembering
No matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.
Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement—just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!
Making the planner work for you
So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.
Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. The book report will get done before the grammar exercises or spelling quiz. That’s not to say spelling and grammar aren’t important—they are—but the book report will get done first to make sure it is completed before moving onto the next book.
Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. Who cares which days you homeschool and which ones are free days? Do what you can in the days remaining; any leftover tasks are moved to the top of the list for the following week.
If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.
More reasons to love your planner
Feel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.
The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).
Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.
Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.
DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.