Category Archives: Homeschooling

How Long Does it Take to Teach a Fourth Grader?

Syllable notesA while back, a non-homeschooling mom friend was intrigued that my homeschooled, elementary-aged children were mostly done with “formal” school by lunch time.

To me, it was no big deal. It’s just the way it is with homeschooling. You move forward by capability rather than blocked off time and required busy work. But she thought it was fascinating, so I thought I would share how we get through a fourth grade school day in about 3-4 hours rather than 7-8.

We spend 20-30 minutes on math.

We spend 20-30 minutes on language arts (grammar, spelling, and writing).

Ten minutes on handwriting (cursive).

We spend about one hour on Spanish.

About 15-20 minutes on history and geography.

About 15-20 minutes on music.

We incorporate daily silent sustained reading.

We cycle through art, science, and poetry at different times of the year in different ways. Doing a sporting activity is important to our family, and we make sure the kids are exposed to and find a sport they enjoy.

That’s about three or four hours of school. A little more if you count the evening sports activities.

With the rest of the time, there are playdates, meal cooking, some laundry, plenty of giggling in the family, Lego building, and some technology time.

Not everyone would want to homeschool, but if you get the chance, it’s an amazing experience. If you love to learn, and you can share that with your child in such a way that sparks and inspires them, what a gift. I try to push my kids as far as they will allow me to, but pull back just before they burn out.

There are a couple of things that I’m really pleased with about our curriculum. I am really happy that we have time to teach cursive, which is being removed from the modern public curriculum. I really would like my kids to be able to read any old fascinating family letters and also historic, legal documents. (I would like my kids to be able to read the Constitution first-hand.)

I am also happy that my kids will be bilingual because we have started their Spanish instruction at such a young age. It does take the longest of all the subjects taught.

Lastly, although this post summary reflects the time it took my older kids when they were in fourth grade, too, it no longer reflects their current schedule. In addition to a fourth grader, I also homeschool a ninth grader and seventh grader (and a preschooler). The older kids’ work takes much longer.

Have a great day!

Stop the Homeschool Tears and Yelling, Part 2

Scathing words. Hard crystal eyes. “It’s your fault, Mom. You asked for it. If I was in school, we wouldn’t have this problem. If you can’t teach me, you shouldn’t have homeschooled.”

Well. Huh. This isn’t going well. Accusing responses build loudly, sounding like a jackhammer in my head. Somewhere in the house I hear doors softly close as siblings retreat out of the fray. Do I take the bait? I know this path. It’s easy to follow.

Nope. Not this time. I’m done with that. I make a mental HARD STOP. Immediately. I am not a fish! I do not jump on dirty worms hiding nasty barbed hooks. It is my job to bring out the best in my four children. It is my job to bring out the best in myself as I bring out the best in my children. (So help me, God. Because I am going to need it.)

I have been homeschooling for ten years, and I love it. And I’ll tell you what! My kids do, too. We have had our moments, months, or even years. There have been maybe two or three times when I finally broke down, couldn’t think of another thing to try, and offered to send a child to school for classes. (It is my full intention to homeschool all four of my kids through high school, but I am not here to ruin my children’s lives. I am here to help them thrive, learn, and be the best they can be, inside and out.)

However, my children have always turned me down in the end. They decided they liked the homeschooling education and opportunities, and they wanted to find a way to work together. I know I am the adult here. I know I can find a way to understand the dynamics. I was gifted these human beings. In today’s post and in the last post, I explain some important thoughts that I consider to keep me from antagonizing my children.

The Reflection of Me I Refuse to See

I am consistently beginning to notice that when my kids irritate me as I teach them, it’s because I am looking at (often subdued) pieces of myself. Every time tears glisten in my children’s eyes, there’s a good chance I have provoked them because “Big Terri” (that’s me) is reliving “Little Terri’s” life and school inadequacies. I’m not teaching math or grammar anymore! I’m covertly “teaching” my child what I had to squash out of me (or call forth out of me) in order to “succeed” in school.

Be quiet. Sit down. Do math faster. Lose math facts chalkboard races again. Quit counting on your fingers; you’re too old for that. Stop talking. No whining. Pay attention. You’re a good reader, but not good enough for that class. That’s bad handwriting; look at Melanie’s. Be number one or nobody will care or notice. How can you be so smart and not be able to add fractions? You talk too much. You’re trying to learn German, and we’re working on spelling. We’ll spank you because strong enough to be an example.

These are voice loops from my school experience. (And the paragraph got way too long, so I took half of it out! Laugh till you cry! And I was a good student! What kind of voices do non-conforming adults carry in their school memories?) Anyhow, I see an awful realization:

My teachers and lessons have become my kids’ teachers and lessons nearly thirty years later!

So often, whatever it is that I am losing my temper about is really about me. I am looking at a piece of me or my life somehow. It can take me months to see that I am so angry because my child is:

  • doing something I do,
  • doing something I have done,
  • doing something I have been reprimanded for or embarrassed over,
  • or showing me a trait of mine that I have squashed down so deep in me that I don’t even know the struggle is there anymore.

When I finally do see how it is not my child that I am punishing, but me, I’m dumbfounded. It takes courage and curiosity to see it. I have asked my friends sometimes about traits that I see in my children and if I have any of that in me. “Hmm. Never seen that in you, Terri. You’re perfect.” Thank you, dear friends. I know perfection surrounds itself with good company.

I must see that I’m judging myself when I judge them.

Stuff a sock in your thoughts and compliment your child.

Kids thrive on accurate, TRUE praise. I have very high standards, so I begrudgingly compliment my kids about their schoolwork. It’s expected work. But I KNOW that my kids do better when I tell them, “Great job!” Or, “You’re really good in multiplication.” The hard thing is, compared to all that is stuffed in my brain, they’re, uh, well, honestly, they’re not good at reading, writing, and math.

Whoa. I know. It sounds horrible to read. But I subconsciously base my evaluation of my kids on my brain after successful completion of thirteen years of public school, five years of pharmacy school, four years of medical school, and a medical residency. Plus living over forty years.

So, yeah, stuff a sock in your thoughts, Terri. I have to consciously tell myself that I need to encourage and compliment my children each day in each area. Sometimes it feels fake and like flattery, but I know that’s because I am thinking about it from a brain that has been educated already.

I must compliment more.

Sit with them.

This is the hardest for me, actually. Strangely, it’s even harder than all the others! And it requires nothing.

Sit. (That’s hard.)

Sit. Quietly. (Oh, just give me a kidney stone already.)

I’ve got lunch to make and supper to plan. Laundry to fold. Bills to pay. Mom’s birthday coming up. Other kids’ lessons to teach. A four year old to pull away from the TV.

I don’t have time to sit here for thirty minutes, mostly in silence, just waiting for my child to move forward somehow. What sixty minutes now? What? Two hours? Are you kidding me? She has accomplished nothing and brought me down with her.

No! This won’t work! I need to show my student how to her work, hurry her along to show me she’s got it, and then move on. Check-box marked.

But homeschooling doesn’t work that way. When there are struggles, especially coming out in anger and tears, I have learned that I must sit quietly with my kids as they work. I must not ask inflammatory questions or hastily push them along. I must be there to help. Not degrade. When they’re mad at me and trying to explain themselves, I must not interrupt. I must not even interrupt their silence! I must sit in silence as they formulate their words, sometimes requiring long, long tens-of-minutes of silence. I must sit next to them as they struggle through math, keeping my voice and thoughts calm and focused on them.

I must sit in silence.

School is an Option

When I’ve exhausted everything, every opportunity, and I still feel like what I’m doing is making us both worse people, then, I ask the hard question. “Do you think you need to go to school to learn this? Would you and I be better together if you took this class, and others if it leads to that, at a school?”

There has come a point in which I knew my parent-child relationship was deteriorating due to homeschooling interactions. I knew that in a particular area in homeschooling, I was letting a child down. I knew that even though I was trying my best, I wasn’t doing a good job! And I told my child exactly this. I think because of my exceptional honesty, my child decided that whereas she had been unwilling to budge before, she wanted to try it again with both us trying even harder.

I must be willing to let go if I have to.

You Should Have Made Me Do It

When I meet resistance in my children, I usually stop and assess the situation. I make some tweaks and changes in what we’re doing to coax them along. I don’t usually just plow through and make them do things “because I said so.” I’m a very strong-willed person, and this is a sure-fire way to lose me; therefore, I am cautious to treat my children how I would like to be treated.

I recently was in combat with one of my older children who was pointing out that I had let her slide through a school subject in her younger years. (I had tried everything throughout the years, and it only created resentment and anger. So I put it off till I could put it off no longer.) I asked her now that she could look back, what should I have done? She said, “You should have just made me do it.” Sigh. Easy for her to say.

At select times, I must be willing to push my child past the point she thinks she’s capable of.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Since they were born, I see my children as PEOPLE with futures. I just got lucky enough that these people got put in my arms to tend. When yelling and tears happen, I step back and take inventory. WHAT can we do here? WHAT is REALLY happening here? WHAT am I missing? God gave me these people. Their His people. What does He want me to know about them? What does He want ME to know about ME?

Best wishes to you! Find a way!

Terri F

Stop the Homeschool Tears and Yelling, Part 1

Listen. I love my kids so much. We all do. I mean mine are the best. Shine like stars. Thanks for loving them, too.

Okay. Kidding.

We all love our own kids immensely. We want the best for them. If you homeschool, you’ve decided that your home is the best place for them to learn their academics. But sometimes, there’s a kid who always makes you yell, even if you just won a million dollars, tax-free.

There’s one who you always make cry. You tell her she’s pretty in a harsh voice and she tears up. And you tell her she stinks in a soft, loving voice and she glows. Kids are crazy.

We have tears and yelling sometimes in our homeschool. It happens. Some years more frequently than others. Some school topics more frequently than others. Some kids more frequently than others. We have had tears or yelling over:

  • Where to put the apostrophe in English contractions
  • Whether to add or subtract numbers in elementary school story problems and pre-algebra problems (Example: Solve for X when X-357 =120)
  • Writing thoughts down on paper to construct paragraphs or essays
  • Failed crafts
  • The feeling that too much school work has been assigned
  • My voice
  • Their voice
  • Their eyes
  • My eyes
  • Critical remarks from on-line teachers
  • Not fitting in anywhere

Yep. We’ve had tears and yelling. Yelling and tears, to me, mean something is wrong. Something is not right. It does not mean my child is defiant. It means something is wrong, and the buck stops with me.

I’m going to assume if you’re reading this that you have tried the take-a -break, go-get- coffee, hold-hands-and-pray posts. You’ve learned all that. You’ve remembered to use your resources and identify learning styles. All that jazz.

Today and the next post, I want to point out a few ideas that I have internalized which have helped me through our trying homeschooling experiences, so we can stop the tears and yelling. I could write an e-book on this one day, I think. 🙂 But I’ll keep it somewhat short.

When I have to repeat myself, we’re heading for trouble.

From tricky (to the kids) math concepts to writing expository essays, when I hear myself explaining things I’ve explained before, I can tell you one of us will come to tears, exasperated words, or yelling. Whether it’s explaining something repeatedly in four different ways over the course of ten minutes or explaining it in thirty seconds reminders repeatedly over the last month, if they can’t remember important information or processes, I get testy.

The condescending questions start insidiously, “Why aren’t you getting this?” and “Why is this difficult for you?” They’re asked innocently enough, but they are the START flag to the race. My kids commence looking down at their papers, doodling, looking away from me. In their own ways, they’re trying to avert this situation, too, although it’s usually counterproductive.

So when I see myself explaining something multiple times, I know I’m on thin ice and I have to make sure I’m using every single adult neuron in my brain. I know if I don’t change my past behaviors, we will not move forward in any way, shape, or form. And that’s not okay. When the sign says, “Bridge out.” It means the bridge is out! When the signs say, “argument coming.” That’s what they mean!

Evaluate the fear in the situation.

Why do I deteriorate as a teacher and parent when my kids aren’t “getting it?” I have tried my hardest! My kid (yes, whether I believe it or not) has tried her hardest (as she perceives it). Why are we both so frustrated that she’s not getting it?

FEAR. And it is said that fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate. Whether it’s hating me, hating our homeschool, or hating writing, I don’t want my child to have anything to do with hating anything!

What fears do we have?

Mom’s fears:

  • My child is getting behind and is not keeping up with her peers.
  • Grandma and Grandpa are keeping tabs on our education, and here is another example for them to say I’m not doing a good job homeschooling.
  • My child won’t perform well on standardized tests (and college admission tests).
  • My child might have a learning disorder.
  • My child will never get this!
  • I can’t think of any more ways to teach this!
  • My child does not listen well and is going to grow up to be an absent-minded or insolent adult.
  • I must be a bad teacher.
  • My child does not try and will be lazy and not get a job in the real world.
  • My child will not be prepared for college.
  • I’m running out of time to get lunch made.
  • I’m running out of time to help brother and sisters with their homeschool topics.
  • I’m running out of time before we have to make this appointment.

Student’s fears:

  • I’m letting mom down.
  • I’ll never get this stuff. I’m not smart enough.
  • I really can’t remember what I’m told.
  • Mom is mad at me.
  • I won’t make it in college.
  • I will do badly on standardized tests.
  • I won’t have time to play with my friends if I have to do all this stuff.
  • Mom is going to give me more homework if I can’t figure this out.
  • Mom is disappointed in me.
  • Mom and Dad won’t love me if I can’t do school right.
  • I’m not as smart as my parents or brothers and sisters.
  • I’m going to have a late lunch because we’re working on this, and I’m so hungry.

That’s a lot of fear going around! Once I identify the fears, I come from a place of compassion for myself and my child–and not anger. That’s a healthier place to parent and teach from.

Conclusion

To summarize today’s post: 1) If you have homeschool tears and yelling, well, join the club! 2) Try the usual suggested things to head them off. (Take a break, change curriculum, find a friend to teach your kid, modify the environment, etc.) 3) Know you are responsible for finding a peaceful way through this homeschooling dilemma. 4) Identify the signs that pop up every time you have homeschool tears and yelling and heed them! 5) Give words to the fears behind the tears and yelling!

Kids are amazing. And so are you. Figure it out! You can do it!

Part 2 on Monday!

Terri

 

Why Can’t I Do Both?

Lazy and lame. Someone scathingly wrote to me that I was lazy and lame because I quit working as a medical doctor and instead chose to stay home with my four kids and homeschool. The words stung a little, but it’s nothing my own mind hasn’t wrestled with over the last seven years since staying home. I mean, there ARE moms who actually do BOTH homeschooling and doctoring! I know it IS possible. I’m a pretty capable woman, so I have often wondered why I “couldn’t” do both! In my life, I have confidence that I can handle most challenges thrown at me. In fact, a sure-fire way to guarantee I do something is to tell me I can’t!

Why, then, could I not “handle” work and homeschooling simultaneously? I mean, deep inside, I romanticize about being the mom who runs kids, always has extra kids around, has fresh meals on the table, volunteers in the community, is always there for her friends, desires her husband each night, pays the bills, exercises, keeps a neat house, attends social functions, reads good books, and is loved at the workplace. Other women say they do it successfully and happily!

No Satisfaction in Both

I know I’m not “other women,” but I curiously, deeply wondered what it is about me that prevented satisfaction when I did both. (Because I can sure tell you there was NO satisfaction or good humor when I did both, despite the fact that I LOVED doing EACH!) I just can’t be that, and I have to keep forging a life that keeps me true to my inner core. (I think that’s a unique thing in life. To step INTO yourself and say, “Yes, I feel really good. THIS fits me.” And to find a way to make that work for you, your family, and society.)

Back to my meanie accuser. I realized that this person and I may never see eye to eye because we simply do not have the same wiring, the same mother board, the same values. I am not here to tell moms to quit their jobs. I have a best friend who I told to get back in the work force—get back in there! Go for partnership. This woman needs to work or she’ll drive herself (and me) crazy. Work keeps her grounded and focused, even though she has four kids at home.

But not me. I pondered this now that time has passed and softened the emotions surrounding the transition from practicing medical doctor to being a stay-at-home mom. What is it about my wiring and my mother board that won’t allow me to peacefully work and homeschool?

Run Back to the Convent

My mom must have sensed something strange about me, because she used to tell me I should be a nun. “You’re running the wrong way, Maria,” I would have screamed as The Sound of Music‘s heroine danced and sang herself back to the Von Trapp home. “You’re running towards chaos! Go back to PEACE and ORDER! Go back to the convent, I say! When they tried to solve a problem like Maria, the nuns must have subtracted wrong. They got the wrong answer! You’re doomed! Return to the inner sanctity of order and quiet!”

No. Kidding. I didn’t really need to be a nun, but there definitely is something appealing about those quiet stone halls and methodical rituals! I love being a mom and teaching my four daughters. They’re bright. Loving. Talented. Kind. And I get to teach them every day! We can run into a lot of chaos homeschooling, but introspection has taught me that at the end of the day, I must have–or be moving towards– peace and order in each area of my life:

  • my kitchen
  • my stack of bills
  • my laundry room
  • my purse
  • my relationship with my husband
  • my relationships with my kids
  • my relationships with my friends
  • my relationship with God
  • my teaching
  • my health
  • my schedule
  • my text message and e-mail in-boxes

I’ve been called a perfectionist before, which I see now is somewhat of an error! I see how I and others could confuse them. For me, it’s not perfectionism, but it’s the pursuit of peace and order which makes me feel good inside. The house doesn’t need dusted as long as it’s picked up! I’ve been called controlling before, too. Again, maybe. But not really. “Honey, you didn’t put the garlic press back where it goes. It’s out of order…”

When I Was Working and Homeschooling

Anyhow, when I was working at the hospital as a medical doctor, I came home exhausted. I hadn’t lunched, supped, peed, or pooped. I carried two pagers (the code pager and the on-call pager) and the “house” phone. I was busy. I ran to codes, sick patients in the ICU, and had 5-7 patients waiting to be admitted to the hospital from the ER. It was fun. It was hard. But when I came home, my core value need could not be overridden. I needed order and peace.

Instead, I was greeted by sticky hands full of love. Couch cushions on the floor and blankets draping the chairs to create imaginative tents. And mail partly opened and tossed haphazardly on the counter for me to organize. Once, I even came home to find that tiny, nimble fingers had moved my great-grandmother’s fine china dinnerware all around from its protective nook.

School was expected to run on my days off, yet I hadn’t had time to organize my lessons. Get art supplies. Run through a craft or activity to see if it would work the way Pinterest said it would. My child didn’t do school the way I wanted. We (are supposed to) start at the left and we work to the right. We (are supposed to) fold our papers in the middle. And we don’t scribble-scrabble all over them!

PEACE. ORDER. Those are intrinsic needs for me and drive how I interact with life, my environment, and my people. No matter how many different things I tried, I couldn’t align my deep needs for peace and order with working and homeschooling simultaneously. Since family and education are other values that I cannot compromise, fully embracing motherhood and homeschooling and forfeiting professional goals (which don’t seem to drive me as much as peace and order, family, and education) felt much more comfortable and fulfilling. I do not regret my decision.

Conclusion

I hope you know that what you do is important. How you do it is important. How you feel when you do it is important. Strive to find out what makes you tick, and create a wonderful life which fulfills you and makes a difference where you want to make a difference at! If you’re struggling and you can change your mindset and that takes care of it, go for it! But if you try different routes, different techniques, and your mindset just won’t budge, maybe you should have been a nun. No. Kidding. Maybe you need to find out exactly what it is that’s not able to compromise deep within you and honor it.

How about you? Do you have greater needs for peace and order than other people? Does this need affect your work-home relationship? Do you fervently seek peace and order in all areas, including your own head? What happens when you have to be exposed to too much disorder and chaos? How does it make your body feel? How about your head?

May good blessings fall upon you today!

Terri F.

Image attribution: St. Lucas altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrea_Mantegna_019.jpg

 

 

My Biggest Homeschooling Challenge

The other day, someone wrote to ask me about my biggest homeschooling challenge. I referred to it in a post I wrote about five years ago: Why We Homeschool. I thought my response to Barb might resonate with other passionate, intense homeschooling women who frequently fight their high expectations, so I wanted to share it here. The image at left is meant to be humorous and NOT indicative of our homeschooling days!

 

Dear Barb,

Hello! Thanks for reading! I had to go back and read that post from five years ago–and that’s what took me so long! (Finding time is a big challenge!) I hope you’re doing well, as is your family! And homeschooling is thriving! You asked about my “biggest” challenge.

My biggest challenge. Yes! My biggest challenge is overcoming myself. Homeschooling forces me to overcome MYSELF. My inherent tendencies. My little hang-ups. My natural (and developed) habits. These children are people, and they’re amazing! But (at least mine) they weren’t born neat and tidy. They weren’t born quiet. They weren’t born believing that mom is right. They weren’t born wanting to do their work. Mine weren’t born knowing how to express themselves. And so on and so forth.

And I feel like I WAS born to be neat and tidy. I WAS born to be tranquil. I do think I’m always right (ha!). I was born a worker. I’m super expressive and make friends easily. I’m sure I wasn’t born this way (Haha! Right!? Or was I?…), but it sure feels like it now! I am a perfectionist set in my ways who likes to succeed. (Oh, my. That sounds horrible.) So forcing myself to step back patiently, yet persistently, to reach our goals without squashing who each child-person was (is)—was (is) super hard! I want to jump in like a Tasmanian devil homeschooling mommy and whip them all into the little beings that they are to be. But, alas, I know in my heart that’s not possible or desirable.

Learning to cut myself out of the picture, while still pushing the children so they could (can) bloom, grow, and succeed in the future all alone without me (and my husband), was (is) really hard. Dealing with the chaos. Noise. Mess. Stubbornness.  Lazy bone-ness. The inability to be able to share what’s on their minds/hearts because they’re still learning feelings and words for them. Accepting the mundaneness that sets in when the thrill of all the new learning and teaching is over. (Because homeschooling is exciting at first, with all the new things to learn and ways to get your child to learn. But then after a time, 90% of the day, you kind of go on cruise control. You’ve got it mostly figured out– how the day needs to go and how your children learn. Then, it gets a little mundane. And you kind of question what you’re doing.) Are you really making a difference in the world like you meant to back when you were 20?

And there are other hectic, frenetic days. Where nothing goes right at all. And nothing happens the way it’s supposed to. And this goes on for a week or two (or more). And panic sets in because there’s no “good” school. And I feel mad and angry and controlling. Learning to rein that in with love and compassion and a heavy dose of reality checking. (I mean, seriously. In public school, there are tons of days where classes are not structured and linear. Snow days. Holidays. Fire drill days. Teacher institute days. Picture days. Substitute teacher days.)

So my challenge is ME. That is it. That is my challenge. It’s not an exciting challenge. It’s not anything risquĂ© or mysterious. But it’s my biggest homeschooling challenge. Controlling me, my fears, my perfectionism, and my expectations! Letting my children become amazing adults on their own terms and not mine, while still educating them according to the standards I think they’ll need to have a job they excel at and enjoy one day. (So I can finally sit around and eat bon bons.)

Hope you have a great weekend and that you love homeschooling as much as I do!

Terri F

Written:
11/9/2018
Image attribution: Hans Holbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koerperstrafe-_MA_Birkenrute.png

Lively Latin, PA Homeschoolers Spanish, and Roman Roads C.S. Lewis Course

On-line, live classes have been helpful academically and developmentally in our homeschool situation. They teach attendance, listening skills, respect to diverse teachers and peers, excellent material, time management skills, and due dates. I often search reviews on-line before selecting products, and I am always grateful to be able to find feedback on them before trying them out myself. Today, in gratitude to those who have taken time to share, I am sharing my reviews.

Lively Latin II live on-line course

This was an excellent and interactive class taught by Magistra Drown (Mrs. Drown). It met once a week and lasted 75 minutes (but sometimes a little longer). My student was exposed to other students and also to a classroom-type environment with lecturing, questions posed by the teacher with students called on to answer, and breakdown into small groups during class to work on certain things together.

Often homeschooled kids think they’re “missing out” or that they won’t survive when they have to take a “real class” in college. Sitting in a classroom with other kids, perhaps more motivated or less motivated than they are, really can shed light on their own strengths and weaknesses as a student. My student enjoyed this class immensely and regrets that there will not be time for Latin III next year in her schedule, although we discussed picking it back up again as a tenth grader if desired.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally organized with clear expectations
  • Wonderful, self-contained workbook (consumable) that is clear and concise
  • Includes excellent background in Roman history in addition to Latin language instruction
  • Fun, live classes with several kinds of in-class activities (whiteboard, breakout groups, question and answer, etc.)
  • Students from all over the country (and even world) participate
  • Kind and passionate instructor
  • Homework and projects are assigned but the time and work required from the student seems very appropriate. (Submitted via text photos on phone.)
  • Teacher sends update e-mails just about weekly to parents and responds in a timely manner when corresponded with
  • Live class

Cons:

  • Needs to be on the computer
  • Does cost
  • Committing to a set time for class each week for a full year (my daughter had to sometimes take her on-line classes during vacation)
  • Requires use of phone to text assignments. (My daughter texted from my phone. It was not inconvenient for us, but for others it might be.)

PA Homeschoolers (Ray Leven) Honors Spanish II live on-line class

Please know as you read this, that this is my student’s favorite class. But I am going to lay it out to you. Senor Leven is a tough teacher. Tough. Anything you read out there in cyberspace about his class may probably be true. But it is a great class, and your student will come out speaking, reading, and writing Spanish like a champ. Although my student wrestled (I’m putting it mildly.) with this class initially, by second semester, it was the FAVORITE class, and when a track meet interfered with attending class one day, there was actually disappointment to miss the class! The class met once a week for 60 minutes (sometimes ran over a little) for the whole year.

Pros:

  • Excellent interactive teaching style
  • An exceptionally honest teacher who provides accurate feedback for each student and pushes them to be the best Spanish student they can be
  • Spanish spoken in class by teacher and students
  • Small class size (4-6 students)
  • Diverse assignments (worksheets, paragraph writing, book assignments, on-line site)
  • Uses a spine textbook
  • Student needs to be completely responsible for all aspects of the class
  • Almost immediate response to e-mails
  • Mastery of material required and put to use so student moves toward fluent spoken and written Spanish
  • Live class
  • Students from all over the country

Cons:

  • Intense pace
  • On the computer
  • Completing the on-line assignments on the website (which accompanies the book) requires extra screen time (I don’t like screen time much for homework/assignments. EVERYTHING we do nowadays is on a screen. I don’t think it’s healthy for the pineal gland and other light sensitive body parts and system loops.)
  • Big time commitment (1-3 hours of homework each day, weekend commitment routine)
  • Significant time management required
  • Student needs to be completely responsible for all aspects of class and there is little communication with the parent unless there is a concern. Student is the “owner” of this class, not “mommy or daddy.” (My student was an eighth grader, and I had not transitioned her to this mentality yet, so this helpfully, sometimes painfully, did it for us. Ha!)
  • Costs money
  • Committing to a set time for class each week for a full year (as mentioned above, my student did take her laptop and do class on vacation sometimes)

I’m saying all this so that anyone who is researching this class will know what to expect. It is a great class. Great. The on-line, live interaction is great. The content is great. The reinforcement is great. We are already signed up for Honors Spanish III. I highly recommend the class, but unless your student is used to tons of work and pointed, constructive criticism (and spoken in that Northeastern US accent which we Midwesterners sometimes perceive as short and hurried), be prepared for lots of push back. We had tons of push back. But we told our daughter to just do what she could initially, and we asked Senor Leven to be patient as we learned to transition from a middle school type study habit to an advanced high school type study habit. It took some time, but as I said, this class is now a top choice. I recommend this class highly for motivated Spanish students. Your student will LEARN!

Note: Ray Leven no longer teaches Spanish I. If you want to get into his Spanish II classes, then you have to have a Skype session with him and he will interact with your student in Spanish. He then lets you know if the student would be competent in his class. If he perceives gaps, he suggests tutoring to work on the weak areas. My daughter had to complete some tutoring. I’ll tell you, his tutoring is even harder than his class!!!!

Roman Roads C.S. Lewis Literature class by Christiana Hale

This was my first interaction with Roman Roads. It was a good experience and recommended by a friend. One thing I’ve noticed about these on-line, live classes is that the teachers are very passionate about their subject matters! That’s refreshing! The C.S. Lewis Literature class ran 90 minutes for the whole year. It focused solely on the literature of C.S. Lewis.

Pros:

  • Teacher passionate and knowledgeable about the subject matter
  • Kind teacher, well-respected and liked
  • Live class with other students
  • Agreeable homework methods: reading assignments, shorter reading responses for each book. tests, longer reports due at each semester end, class lectures
  • Discussion encouraged in class among students
  • Students exposed to more of a lecture style class which they might see more of in college
  • Oral presentations often required of reading responses, but the teacher is so gentle and kind that my student was able to get over her fear of speaking and talking about her report in front of others
  • Pushed my student to consider pretty deep personal ideas about herself, life, and religion
  • Live class

Cons:

  • Some of the philosophical ideas and metaphors of Lewis’s books are very deep and can go over the heads of younger readers. I suggest this class for an older student.
  • On the computer
  • Costs money
  • Committing to a set time for class each week for a full year
  • Sourcing all the C.S. Lewis material

Roman Roads and Christiana Hale were easy to work with. I will consider using Roman Roads again in the future, and any class by Christiana Hale I can tell will most probably be a joy.

Closing

I’ll happily answer anything I can or have time for! Happy educating! Do it with LOVE. Push with LOVE. Admit to your student when you make a mistake (but find ways to help each other through the mistake). I made a mistake this year. As much as my daughter enjoyed all these classes, we learned that three year-long live, on-line classes were too many. The classes were exceptional, but it was hard to attend all of them, scarf down lunch before running to violin, make it to rescheduled track meets, miss class for vacation, and so on–plus attend to the other homeschool classes I was responsible for. My student told me it was okay because she really liked all the classes and didn’t want to drop any of them. So I found other ways in the schedule to lighten the load. Don’t bristle. Don’t react when they get angry about too much work. Just think and manipulate your variables! Good luck!

Terri F

Miller and Levine Biology

Note: Hi! If you’re trying to determine if Miller and Levine Biology would be a good fit for your use, I hope that you’ll find this post helpful! Happy educating! In case you are just dropping in, I have a medical degree and before that, a pharmacy degree, so I’ve had a little science. I love homeschooling my own four children.

We completed one semester of good, solid biology this 8th grade year with my oldest student,  and we ended up covering the first 4 units of Miller and Levine’s Biology curriculum from Pearson. I chose Miller and Levine’s Biology (Macaw edition) because it is comprehensive, frequently used for high school biology courses (including AP Biology), and includes supporting consumable materials (labs, worksheets, and tests). While I can say many fine things about this curriculum, I can also say I have reservations.

Materials We Used

This curriculum has two intensity levels to choose from, A and B, but they both use the same textbook. The A curriculum material writes and asks questions from a more complex and higher reading level than the B curriculum. More depth and comprehension is expected from those who use the A curriculum. You do not need both. I wasn’t sure which I would need, so I ordered both.

  • Miller and Levine Biology textbook
  • Study Workbook A or Study Workbook B
  • Study Workbook A Teacher Edition or Study Workbook B Teacher Edition
  • Lab Manual A or Lab Manual B
  • Lab Manual A Teacher Edition or Lab Manual B Teacher Edition
  • Teacher’s Edition Assessment Resources (includes quizzes and tests and their answers for both A and B levels)
  • High grade microscope
  • Lab materials (beakers, flasks, test tubes, pop beads, planaria, etc.) ordered from various sources on-line based on resource list in the lab manual.

Process

We progressed through the spine textbook mostly in the order the authors’ presented the material, taking it at the needed pace. If concepts needed more explanation and practice, like cellular respiration, I would lecture on the chalkboard or print off extra worksheets from the internet. We spent as much time as needed for mastery. We used the accompanying worksheets for each section, mostly from Workbook A, but sometimes I would use Workbook B if something wasn’t clicking or if I liked its simplification better.

Most importantly, we taught the process of outlining a chapter/taking notes, identifying important points, and drawing one’s own charts and pictures to help in comprehension and retention. This was required for particular topics that I know will be extensively tested in any future biology class, such as cellular respiration, meiosis, mitosis, and DNA replication.

If you take your time reading, learning, doing labs, reading the interesting supplemental materials, and taking tests and quizzes, then there is way more here than you could cover in a year of biology, while still doing other school courses at the same level. We did as much as we could in one semester (about 4 units, but we were not as diligent on the lab work as I would have liked), but we’ll take next year to knock out what I think will make my student exceptionally prepared for college AND keep her interested in learning for the fun of it!

Pros of the Curriculum

  • Comprehensive and appropriately detailed coverage of general biology for a student who may pursue a science-based college degree
  • Excellent concise and pertinent outlines for each chapter section included in the workbook manuals
  • Excellent worksheets
  • Excellent lab manual
  • Tests and quizzes available for purchase
  • Two levels for different levels of learning intensity
  • Contains sections called “Careers and Biology” to show students all the fun career options available with a biology background, which I think is very helpful for students to know about
  • More here than you could ever dream of covering well (you’ll see this listed as a pro and con): basic biology, careers in biology, controversies in science, mini-labs, labs, cool mysteries in science
  • The chapter reviews at the end of each chapter are very good, focused, and pertinent

Cons of the Curriculum

  • Sometimes, the writing and format (graphic design) do not make major biological concepts clear from more minor concepts, making it difficult sometimes for a new biology learner to tease out the most important points from the reading material. The book reads and displays sometimes like it’s “ALL” important. However, the worksheets do a good job highlighting the most important points.
  • The textbook is chock-full, and the pages, as many textbooks now, are super “Dora-the-Explorer” busy, making it difficult to stay focused. It’s nice to have the career excerpts, history excerpts, controversies, quick labs, and mystery case reports, but it can also be very distracting. There are so many different highlights packed in the margins and throughout the chapters that they’re hard to keep straight, and they detract from investigating the photos and tables of the main material that is required to be learned.
  • I often wrote my own tests. I used many of the test questions from the publisher (and eliminated ones I thought were poorly worded or minutiae), and then added my own questions. Why? Because I didn’t feel like important concepts were given heavier weight on the tests than fluffier, “less needed” material. I wanted important topics that I knew would be studied extensively in college to receive more in-depth testing than “less” important topics.
  • Not catered to homeschoolers so no accompanying internet resource and had to search around to find all the written resources. (I stumbled across a web page somewhere in which a person described how they were able to get access to the internet links that mass purchasers get for their students. So it’s out there somewhere, FYI, but I lost the web page. I didn’t need to pursue the internet support and resources.)
  • Complete, thorough, clearly visible vocabulary lists are needed. Each chapter section has a few vocabulary words listed at the beginning in the side margin, but it is not a complete list of the new words and terms introduced in each chapter section. One of the most difficult obstacles for students in biology is all the new terminology. It would be more effective if all of the new terms were listed clearly together.
  • Focuses on controversy

The Use of Controversy

My biggest reservation regarding this biology curriculum is its huge focus on controversy. (Maybe Joe Levine’s journalism background contributes to this.) Regarding the Miller and Levine Biology text, Pearson (the publisher) states on its teacher training site, called my Pearson Training:

“Using controversial topics in biology instruction grabs students’ attention and shows them that biology is relevant to their lives. When studying controversial topics, the goal is to help students gather scientific data, gain a scientific perspective, and evaluate media coverage.”

And elsewhere in material from the afore mentioned site:

“When looking at the Miller & Levine textbook, it is easy to see that many topics come directly from today’s headlines.”

It’s sensationalized biology. But our American society is so polarized, I’m not sure that building a biology text which screams the word “controversy” over and over is a good thing. Which side of a controversy should be taken? As thoughtful as the book seems to be, bias sometimes seeps into word choices. It seeps into the controversies chosen to discuss. It seeps into the controversies that were minimized.  The writing seems like it tries to offer opposing view points on controversial ideas, but sometimes the wording and arrangement is just subtle enough to indicate an eagerness to have the reader choose one side over another.

For example, before the ethical issues of stem cells are discussed, the benefits and needs are discussed.

“Basic research on stem cells takes on a special urgency. . . Given the suffering and death caused by these conditions [heart attacks, strokes, paralysis]. . . Many hope to see a day when damage caused by a severe heart attack can be reversed. . . “

After exuding enthusiasm about the benefits that stem cells can offer, the ethical issues are discussed, and it is stated that harvesting stem cells causes “destruction” of an “embryo.” (All true.) It’s subtle, but notice it does not cause “death” of something alive, just destruction of an embryo. Whereas as you keep reading in the next line or two, harvesting and using stem cells can “save human lives.” Minor wording choices can affect which side of a controversy we’re on.

Most of the controversial topics are clearly marked with the word “controversy” or “ethical issues” and the book makes a concerted effort to present well-rounded discussion. But some of the controversies of our time, such as global warming and evolution are treated as if there is no controversy, which I think perpetuates the distrust from opposing viewpoints even more.

I understand that the authors and other scientists are sick and tired of all the criticism and hate they receive from people who don’t believe these ideas. BUT the fact of the matter is, these ARE still controversial topics in 2018 and it would be more productive to list the factual reasons or cite the research which causes other people to be skeptical about evolution and global warming, fostering respect rather than scorn. It would be productive to provide the evidence which makes a significant number of people have questions about evolution from the fossil records or have questions about the role and significance of humanity on global warming–and allowed for uncertainty where uncertainty exists.

Politically, those instrumental in putting Miller and Levine Biology together understand how lucky they are to put together a textbook for the captive, young audience mandated to learn biology. They urge:

“Don’t just memorize today’s scientific facts and ideas. And please don’t believe them! Instead, try to understand how scientists developed those ideas. . . In our society, scientists make recommendations about big public policy decisions, but they don’t make the decisions. Who makes the decisions? Citizens of our democracy do. In a few years, you will be able to exercise the rights of a voting citizen, influencing public policy by the ballots you cast and the messages you send public officials. That’s why it is important that you understand how science works and appreciate both the power and the limitations of science.”

They urge kids to think for themselves, yet their textbook has subtly worded stances (intentional or not) and makes an unstated point to root out disbelievers of points they consider moot discussions.

There is so much information to cover and learn in basic science classes, that instruction woven around controversy belongs in other classes. I teach science for my homeschool co-op, and we keep plenty busy just mastering what nucleotide bases are and have enough controversy discussing how exons could affect translation of our DNA. Now THAT’S science!

A Note on Evolution

You can’t get away from evolution in this book. The authors have made it the entire theme of the book. It is woven throughout the chapters, starting right front and center in chapter one. Right away the book states:

“Today, evolutionary theory is the central organizing principle of all biological and biomedical science. It makes such a wide range of predictions about organisms–from bacteria to whales to humans–that it is mentioned throughout this book.”

But the writers go on to say:

“A useful theory that has been thoroughly tested and supported by many lines of evidence may become the dominant view among the majority of scientists, but no theory is considered absolute truth.”

If you want a gentle approach to evolution, this is not the book for that. Whammo. Bammo. Evolution. Controversy and evolution are the themes woven throughout this book. But, I don’t mean to sound too negative, there is TONS in this book to be taught no matter what you believe about evolution. I still don’t know what in the heck to believe about elements in a primordial environment coalescing into one little organism and then eventually forming me! The simpleton faith in me just says, “Wow. God, just wow.”

Closing

The Miller and Levine Biology program is not a bad choice, per se, because it does a good job including everything a student can expect to see in a college biology course. Many high schools use it. I like that my kids are learning what the rest of the United States’ kids learn scientifically because that’s who they’ll be working side-by-side with for the rest of their lives. I like the resources that come along with the text.

But I don’t like the controversy used as its educational tool. I don’t like the cloud that hovers over me as I read the book, feeling like particular ideas are being indoctrinated into a population. I also wish the authors did a better job at making important topics seem important and at putting together vocabulary lists.

For the 2018-2019 school year, our plan is to finish the topics covered in the Miller and Levine book, add in a couple of other texts to help my student read complicated material as explained by other writers (when I feel like Miller and Levine is weak or confusing), review the topics I know will be hit hard in college science classes, focus more diligently on completing labs, and use some “living books.”

I have ordered two additional texts to use:  Campbell’s Biology and Test Prep Series: Preparing for the Biology AP Exam (also by Pearson). For now, I just intend for them strengthen our program and round it out, not replace it.

The Test Prep Series: Preparing for the Biology AP Exam is reported to make the main points of biology very clear and concise, leaving no question about what must be known in each topic of biology. At this time, I do not plan on AP tests, but I must research more on that. I feel like everyone is saying, “Take AP. Take AP.” And, well, I’m just not sure this is the way our education system should be going, so I need to read more and decide.

That’s it! Feel free to ask any questions. I’ll try to help if I can. If you see any typos, let me know so I can fix them. If you have any concerns or counter comments, I’ll try to field them with the best thought that I can. Thank you.

Terri F