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Product Review – Spelling Dictionary October 17, 2016

Filed under: Homeschooling,Product Reviews — Meghan Hamilton @ 9:43 pm
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Last spring (or maybe early summer?) I saw that a fellow homeschool mom was selling some used books that were about Alex’s level. I forked over my money and hoped we’d get some use out of the materials.

One of the books was “A Spelling Dictionary for Beginning Writers” by Gregory Hurray (ISBN-0-8388-2056-5). We have used it extensively. Alex very much wants to spell words correctly. But being a beginning writer, his spelling skills are still rudimentary. This book saves me from the arduous task of spelling all of the words for him as he painstakingly writes them down.

It has about 1,400 words in list format. There are no definitions, just words in alphabetical order. At the end there are a few themed lists, such as numbers and colors. I have an older version with room to write more words at the bottoms of the pages. I don’t know if the current edition keeps this feature.

If you have an early elementary student who constantly asks how to spell words, get this book and empower them to figure it out for themselves.


Learning to Relax September 16, 2016

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 3:17 am
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We’ve started Alex’s 3rd Grade school year. Each month, and now year, that passes, I learn to relax a little more when it comes to his education.

Like many new homeschooling parents, back when I started, I was very worried about fitting in all of the elements of a good education. While that is still my priority, I’m realizing that we have years to do this, not days.

The concerned and organized parts of me want Alex to sit and do his lessons with good focus on a daily basis. I want him to enjoy reading and writing as much as I enjoy them. Then the part of me that loves and respects him as a fellow human point out that he’s still a young kid who needs to play. He may never enjoy reading or writing to the same extent that I do because he’s not me.

So, I remind myself that he’s made steady academic progress. I remind myself that even with lots of days spent away from our school books to go on field trips or to playgrounds or just using Google to pursue interesting topics, (or hibernating for the entire month of February), we finished the books ahead of schedule in 2nd Grade.

Today, the familiar voice that says, “Do the book work!” clanged about inside my head. We went to a library program with other local homeschoolers. Then most of us headed to the playground to enjoy some gorgeous September weather. Then I took Alex to play Pokémon with another group of homeschoolers. I reminded the worried voice that these activities are also instructional and a very important part of childhood.

“You need to hit the books!” that voice insisted once more as I accepted an invitation to play tomorrow morning and another to visit family in the early evening. Alex wants to be a nice person. He expressed gratitude when I bought a book to help him with that. But experience with other people is the best way to learn that. So we’ll go to the playground. So many kids don’t get to know their grandparents or extended family. So we’ll take advantage of the opportunity to eat with my in-laws and other family members while we’re all together in the same town. There are lessons there that can not be learned in any text book.

I reminded that voice in my head that New England offers a very long winter that is perfect for sitting with school books. Here in my corner of New England, winter offers many icy days where driving is difficult and playing outside is just no fun for us summer loving folks. We will hit the books more often in those months. Alex will continue to progress in his education, sometimes in spite of me.


How do I meet requirements for homeschooling hours? October 30, 2015

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 3:01 pm
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Watching bears at the zoo

Watching bears at the zoo

In Massachusetts, homeschoolers agree to instruct their children for 180 days and 900 or 990 hours (depending upon grade level) over the course of those days. Most states have a similar policy. For my 2nd grader, that comes out to five hours of instruction per day. That looks very daunting at first. How do I make him sit and do math and reading for FIVE HOURS? Well, I don’t. Chances are, your local public school teacher doesn’t either. We started Alex in public school. At the Open House, his 1st grade teacher gave a copy of the schedule she followed most days. There were two hours of math and reading scheduled per day. Two hours. Even high school students have down time and wait on the next part of their day. How much of the class time is the teacher answering questions that maybe your student already knows the answer to? How much time would your student have to wait to have a question answered while the teacher answers other questions? Homeschooling is generally more efficient because the student to teacher ratio is much lower. So if we don’t get in five formal hours, I’m not going to worry about it.

My son asks a lot of questions over the course of the day. So even after our formal book work is done (Usually around 2 hours for my 7 year old), we are looking up information on other topics. Little things, like asking questions about pricing in grocery stores, add up to a lot of time. Doing routine things, like taking/sending kids to places like the post office, can count. How many schools teach about the post office but can’t take their students? Taking your kids to the bank can count if you are involving them in what you are doing (how to fill out a deposit slip or a check, etc…) Do your kids cook? There is an activity that counts for school hours.

Today, we aren’t cracking open a single text book unless Alex wants to. But it’s still a school day. How? We have a four day book work week and use the fifth for field trips or educational videos. As I didn’t plan any field trips for today, I chose several educational videos for him to watch. One was about a Tuareg boy who lives in the Sahara Desert, tying into our current science unit. One was the Electric Company, tying into language arts. Then he watched several episodes of Wild Kratts, because fun! How many times have your kids voluntarily watched an educational program? Some days Alex watches these things because he just wants to. One of his favorite DVDs is about trains in Colorado. From that he’s learned about Pike’s Peak, the Rocky Mountains, the Rio Grande River, and other aspects of the state. Those shows can be counted towards your hours.

How much time do they spend on artwork on their own? Just because you aren’t sitting with them, or assigning it to them, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of their learning. Many kids like to read for pleasure, so even though they are choosing their reading material, they are still doing educational things outside of what you have planned that you can figure into that 900/990 hours.

Additionally, when you look at a schedule from a public school, much of the day is spent moving between classes/activities. For young children, play is counted as educational, thus recess figures into the school day. How much time does your elementary school aged student spend at play? For jr high/high school students, they have study halls.

As for myself, I also look at things that we do on weekends. If we spend two or more hours at an event that is teaching my son something on a Saturday or Sunday, I check that off as one of our 180 days of school. (I like record keeping…) For example, my mother in law took him to a multi-cultural event and he learned quite a bit about other countries. So, it was a school day. I took him to a wild animal event at our local Audobon Society, so I counted it as a school day.

When it comes to high school and tracking “credit hours” for putting together transcripts for college, many parents will consider completing a text book designed to be used for an entire school year as a completed credit. Even if their student completes it in six months as opposed to ten months. They don’t see the need to fill in those other four months with extra activities to count the credit. Think about it. There are a number of high schoolers in the public schools and certainly in accredited private schools that graduate early because they were allowed to work ahead of their peers. They still get full credit and a diploma even if they didn’t spend the same number of actual hours on a subject as most of their peers. That is why it’s called a credit hour and not just an hour. 

Yes, I love record keeping, but I don’t track every minute of the day to make sure I’m getting in the five hours. I am looking at our lifestyle. Much of what we do with Alex is educational in nature. So I am not worried about it. As evidence mounts that homeschooled students get an equal if not better education than their public school counterparts, I know I can relax about minute counting and just make sure that we have reasonable goals for what we want to complete each school year.


Curriculum Review: The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor by Susan Wise Bauer October 5, 2015

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 6:00 am
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When it comes to homeschooling curricula, I’ve found a number of books that can be used at a variety of ages and grade levels. “The Story of the World” is one of those. We are about three quarters of the way through volume 1. My son and I have enjoyed it and plan to move on to volume 2 when we finish.

In addition to my plans to complete the series, I also want to repeat the books we cover at this early age. He is seven and working at a 2nd grade level for most of our subjects. At this age, I’m treating this as an introduction to history. The activity book that accompanies the main text has lists of questions, maps to fill in, pictures to color, writing assignments, craft activities, worksheets, and suggested additional reading. (I probably missed something, but you get the idea, there is a lot going on there.) We’ve managed to answer the basic questions orally so I can check that he understood the story and was paying attention. But he’s not so into crafts and isn’t ready to do a lot of writing. Right now that is enough. But by the end of this year, I expect him to be doing some of the writing and we may delve into extra reading when it touches on a subject that grabs his attention. By 4th and 5th grade, I can see this as a great resource to tie into learning how to write essays and do a basic research paper using the additional resources suggested. If you have more than one child in elementary school, this would allow you to do one history lesson for everyone, then each student can do as much responsive work as fits their learning level and style. As an audio-visual learner, my son doesn’t need crafts to learn what a fasces looked like. A visit to our favorite search engine produced an image that he remembers. But a kinesthetic learner may want to make the fasces as suggested by the activity book.

The text is written in an engaging narrative. The language is simple enough to be understood by early elementary students, but it doesn’t come across as watered down and over-simplified, making it accessible to older elementary students. I would recommend a more complex history book if you are teaching Jr. High or High School students. There is a CD that you can buy to have the text read to your child(ren). I didn’t purchase it. I am glad I didn’t, because this way I am forced to read the text myself. You’ll see why this is important to me when I explain the drawbacks to this book. But if your schedule is crazy or you have difficulty reading one more thing aloud to your children, this would be a nice thing to get so that they can have that portion done independently. By the time they are in 4th grade, the students should be able to read this on their own.

As to the drawbacks, there isn’t a lot to say. I don’t believe anyone can be unbiased in writing. As much as the author tries to stick to the facts, she paints a picture with her choice of adjectives and with her choice of which facts to include and which to leave out. This is the sort of history that most Americans, Canadians, and Europeans will learn and find in their school text books. As my own horizons have expanded, I’ve become rather critical of the approach of some of my past teachers and of this author. Overall I have to say that there is very little I disagree with in her portrayal of ancient times, but there have been instances where I’ve pointed attitudes out to my son. I’ve offered him different views of the same events and people. There was nothing so big that I can even remember specific examples. But I tend to read things with a critical eye. I don’t avoid difficult subjects with my child. I use them as opportunities for discussion. If you aren’t reading the text yourself and are relying on the CD or your child to read it himself, you may miss out on some of those opportunities.

In conclusion, if you have an elementary school student, this is a great text book. The workbook is well worth the additional expense as lessons are planned out and easy to do. If you are a crafty family, the crafts use materials that are easy to obtain if you don’t already have them on hand. The optional CD would be great if you need your non-readers or early readers to listen to the story independently of you.


Why I Chose to Homeschool September 21, 2015

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:44 pm

Learning about 19th century schooling at Old Sturbridge Village in MA.

Many people have many different reasons for homeschooling. Some people aren’t impressed with their local public school but can’t afford private schools in their area. Some people want to bring more of their religious faith into the school day. Others find that their children don’t thrive in the public school environment and just need a quiet space to learn the material. There is a growing movement of unschoolers who eschew traditional curricula and guide their children in making their own path on their educational journey. Living near a military base, I meet families who have chosen homeschooling as a way to keep their kids’ educations consistent as there can be very different programs from school to school. For these families, choosing a home with school quality in mind is simply out of the question.

My primary reason for homeschooling is that I can tailor my son’s education to his needs and incorporate more of the things he likes into learning. For example, he excels at math, so he doesn’t need to wait for the rest of a class of 20 or more kids to learn a concept before he moves on. As to reading, he is at the slow end of average and he absolutely hates to read books. At home, we can move quickly through math, take our time with reading, and choose books or other reading material that will be more interesting to him than when a teacher has to choose books that will be acceptable across the broad range of interests in a full class. Choice of curriculum is great too. As daunting as it is to choose a starting point, it’s been great having the freedom to change when something doesn’t work. The 1st grade science book I got was not his style. He hated it. I wasn’t stuck with it though. I have a different book this year that he loves. Both publications teach the same material, but they have vastly different approaches to accommodate different learning styles.

Additionally, we have more time for fun. When you don’t have 20 or 30 kids to line up and keep track of to move from room to room, you move more efficiently. We can be done with our school work in a couple of hours and he can have lots of free time to play. We can go on more field trips because our schedule is our own. Logistically, a family can get out on the road more easily than 100 kids from a grade.

On the social end of things, my son is spending time with people of all ages as opposed to kids who are just his age. I’m also more available to advise him when he runs into arguments with his friends. He started in public school and the teachers/staff were unconcerned about helping kids through social difficulties. They had an anti-bullying assembly and left it at that. People aren’t born with good communication and problem solving skills. They need to be taught.

It’s not always easy. He argues a lot because what he loves to do more than anything in the world is to switch back and forth between YouTube videos about Minecraft and actually playing Minecraft. As the adult, I need to make sure he’s learning about other things as well. But since he can get his school work done pretty quickly most days, he has more time to do the things he loves than he would if he spent most of his day at a public school then still had to come home and do homework.

Do you homeschool? What was your motivation? Do you send your children to a traditional school? Why? I’d love to hear from you. Different education models work for different people, so I thank you for keeping your comments polite when comparing your choices to other options available.


Homeschooling – Ending 1st Grade and other thoughts May 21, 2015

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 1:01 pm
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A few months ago I wrote about beginning our homeschooling adventure. It has certainly been an adventure.

Now that the school year is drawing to a close, I am seeing posts in an online forum for local homeschoolers from parents that have decided to withdraw their kids from public school for the next grade. They are looking for advice on how to do it. I love giving advice! I am rarely insulted if you don’t take my advice, but I’ve always been eager to jump in with my thoughts and experiences. For once, I have little to offer.

You see, dear reader, this homeschooling thing is full of choices which is a double edged sword. At the base of the homeschooling decision is the knowledge that public schools (or even private schools with a similar model) are not working for your family. But the reasons for that are so varied. For some people, there is not enough religion in public schools and private religious schools are too expensive. For others, the curricula don’t fit with their child’s learning style. For others, the material isn’t rigorous enough. For still others, it’s too rigorous. That means that there are hundreds of choices for text books. There are many styles of teaching. Some people do great recreating a classroom in their home, but using the texts that fit their values and their childrens’ pace. Some people throw out everything that smacks of a formal classroom and go with an unschooling model. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

Where do you start? Search for curricula for your child’s grade and see what appeals to your style and your budget. Also look at unschooling. But be aware that many parents have found that as their children grow and mature, they need to change curricula from year to year or even in the middle of the year. And that’s ok. It can be hard to see an expensive book languishing on a shelf. But it doesn’t do any good to force your child into doing something that’s torture for him or her. Find another way and you’ll both be happier. Maybe you’ll luck out and hit the magic formula for your kids immediately. Maybe they’ll be that rare breed that loves the material from the same publisher year after year. It has been known to happen.

You’ll have to let your local school system know that you are going to homeschool. Every state has different reporting requirements. So, make your search engine your best friend and find sample letters that fit your local laws. Call your local superintendent to find out where to send the information. Be prepared that some of them do not understand your rights under the laws of your state and will demand more than they have a right to demand. Many homeschooling parents insist on avoiding phone calls and only communicate in writing/email so that they can prove that they have followed the state’s requirements should a truancy officer come knocking on the door. That rarely happens, but it can. The writing thing also keeps things much calmer in the face of opposition to what you know is best for your child. We are blessed to live in a district that makes it easy on homeschoolers.

Now we are wrapping up our 1st grade year. It has been rewarding and wonderful to see Alex grow and learn without the things that stressed him out at our local public school.

Alex loved some of the text books I chose and hated others. Some of those books got replaced immediately. Some have been replaced as of 2nd grade which we will start in the fall. Many homeschooling families don’t take a summer break. Where I live, the weather is only warm for a short window of time, so we’ll be enjoying that as much as possible. As it is, Alex has completed his 1st grade book work with the exception of science, so, we’re finding things to do outside of book learning. He hated the science book I got him. So we abandoned it and are watching videos and going on field trips. We’ve taken advantage of the ice melting away to get outside and go on nature walks. We live on Cape Cod and can hit the beach, a kettle pond, the woods, and grassy areas all in one day.

These are some pictures I took at the Long Pasture location of the Mass Audubon Society over the weekend.


Looking out to Sandy Neck Lighthouse. There is a beach just below the trees in the foreground.


A pond where we heard frogs and saw baby Eastern Painted Turtles


Spring comes late to Cape Cod. This tree is just starting to leaf mid-May.


Part of the trail we took leading away from the beach and pond.


Soon, this field will be home to several species of butterfly.

On their website they had a “quest” that you can print out that serves as a guide through the trails and points out many different aspects of the environment. We followed it, but didn’t do the contest this time. In a new environment, both Alex and Craig seem to like to charge ahead rather than slowly take in the things going on around them. That doesn’t mean Alex isn’t paying any attention. He asks great questions and gets very excited about the things he sees. This was a new place for him. On our next visit, I’m sure he’ll see more.

At the beach closest to us, he can spend long stretches of time looking in the same small pool of water or under the same rock, observing the way the water moves and what the snails or other creatures are doing. He’s been there countless times, so he’s quite familiar with the environment there. I never quite know what will capture his attention on any given day.

He spent close to 20 minutes in this spot.

He spent close to 20 minutes in this spot.

Alex doesn’t enjoy the woods as much as he enjoys the beach. But sometimes I insist on a walk in the woods because that’s where I feel most at home. About a month ago a friend told me about this nature preserve. Before we left for a visit a couple of weeks ago, he had watched a video about erosion. He noticed the trail was exhibiting signs of erosion in some places and told Craig and me all about it. It’s great to have that kind of evidence that he’s paying attention!

Making use of the binoculars he got for his birthday

Making use of the binoculars he got for his birthday

Sometimes I wonder if we are doing enough to teach him the things he’ll need to know as an adult. Then he surprises me with some bit of knowledge that he stowed away from one of our lessons. And I know. Yes, we’re doing enough.


Homeschooling Begins January 16, 2015

Filed under: Family,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:10 pm
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Hello, Dear Readers!  It’s been too long since my last post.  Through the holidays I was sick with one minor illness after another (colds, stomach bugs, etc…).  Then I started home schooling Alex.  What a big change!  We are loving it so far.  I think that’s what I want to talk about today.

Why did Craig and I withdraw him?  For one thing, we always wanted to do this from the time he was born.  When Kindergarten rolled around, I realized it just wouldn’t work out.  I didn’t have the energy to keep him motivated.  At the time I had no idea that I was sinking into one of my deeper depressions.  In hindsight, enrolling him in public school was the right decision for that time in our lives.  I would never have been able to teach him through that first winter.  When it came time to make a decision about first grade, Alex really wanted to go back to our local school, so that’s what he did.

That brings me to our main issue with our local school system.  Alex ran into teachers with a very hands off attitude during free time like recess or lunch.  If someone isn’t being physically beaten or breaking an arm while falling off the jungle gym, the kids are often left to figure out their problems for themselves.  There is little to no guidance from the adults when it comes to disagreements and arguments among the students.  Though I certainly think that they should be given a chance to work things out for themselves, I know that they often need guiding through that process.  How many adults are in marriage/family counseling because they weren’t taught to communicate effectively?  People aren’t born knowing how to work out their problems.  We need to be taught a lot of these skills.  An assembly with an entertaining presentation telling the kids to be nice to one another isn’t enough.  The adult staff need to back that message up as situations arise.

Overall I am happy with the curriculum our town has chosen. Kids graduate from our local high school knowing a lot more than those from other towns.  But, as with most schools, there is a lot of bureaucracy.  In Massachusetts we require all teachers to earn a Masters Degree.  Yet when it comes down to teaching, they are handed a curriculum and told to use that and too bad if it isn’t working.  Why all the education for these people if they aren’t allowed to actually use it?  I’ve met some very smart teachers whose hands are tied when it comes to deciding what’s best for their students.  They know when the program isn’t working.  The parents know when it isn’t working.   But everyone is stuck until the entire system slowly makes changes.  With one child at home, I can make changes on the fly when things aren’t working for him.  I love that flexibility.  It’s why I teach music lessons individually.  I have my “go to” books.  But if a student isn’t learning from one method, I can try others until we find what works.

Given that I can tailor Alex’s work to his interests and strengths, we are already finding what works for him.  He easily does twice as much math and five times as much science as he did in public school.  Those are the subjects he currently loves.  While he is on target for reading, it’s not his thing.  He doesn’t enjoy it.  So I have the flexibility to sneak reading into his day without forcing him to read tons of story books that he hates.

He has always been a fiercely independent person who wants to make his own decisions.  Obviously as his parents, Craig and I need to make some decisions for him, but as a homeschooling family, Alex gets to make some choices with his work.  What order does he want to do it in on any given day?  Where does he want to sit?  Does he want to do a math coloring page or just complete a list of problems?  Does he want to get everything done all at once and have the entire afternoon to play?  Or does he want to take it slow and have a few breaks, extending the day, but having a nice easy pace?  Does he want an actual paper to work on or does he want a computer based program?  These choices allow him more control over his own life and make us all a lot happier.

Another problem I have with the public school system is the amount of homework assigned.  There is a growing body of evidence that kids don’t need homework.  In Alex’s case, he was already tired from being in school all day.  Getting him to do more work was very difficult.  Now that he’s home, Alex is able to complete all of his work during the school day.  This makes sense to me.  Most jobs don’t require that you work from home everyday after putting in a full day at the office.  Though there are a few professions where this is the case, most of us leave work at the office.  Yet here in America, we routinely demand that our children put in a full day at school and then come home to do more work.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  If the students aren’t learning enough during the day, something is wrong with the educational system.

playground-service-play-structures-2013But what about socialization?  I don’t think that children are capable of teaching one another how to be responsible adults.  Isn’t that what we want our children to grow into?  If he is spending his day with children that are being mean to him or jockeying for the “boss” position on the playground, what social skills is he really learning?  Over the last few years, as home-schooled children have become adults, they have proven that they are perfectly normal and capable of being around other people.  This Washington Times article is just one example.  This academic paper also addresses this issue and states that home-schooled students do just fine socially.  Alex and I are not hermits.  We go places.  He plays with other children on a regular basis.  He’ll do just fine.