Category Archives: home school

Homeschooling Concerns

Parents frequently have questions about homeschooling. In this post, we look at three common questions related to homeschooling.

  1. How do you know if your child has learned
  2. What do you do about socializing
  3. What about college

How do You know if they Learned

One definition of learning is a change in observable behavior. In other words, one-way a parent can know that their child is learning is through watching for changes in behavior. For example, you are teaching addition and the child begins to do addition on their own. It is evidence that they have learned something. There is no need for standardized testing in order to indicate this.

A lot of the more advanced forms of assessment including standardized test was created in order to assess the progress of a huge number of students. In the context of homeschooling with only a few students, such rigorous measures are unnecessary. governments need sophisticated measures of achievement because of the huge populations that they serve which would be inappropriate when dealing with one or two elementary students.

Another way to know what your child has learned is to look at what they are studying right now. For example, if my child is reading I know that they have probably mastered the alphabet. Otherwise, how could the read? I also know that they probably have mastered the most of the phonics. In other words, current struggles are an indication of what was mastered before.

What about Socializing

The answer to this question really depends on your position on socializing. Many parents want their child to act like other children. For example, if my child is 7 I want him to act like other 7-year-olds.

Other parents want their child to learn how to act like an adult. For them, they want their 7-year-old child to imitate the behavior of them (the parents) rather than the behavior of other 7-year-olds. A child will only rise to the expectations of those around them. Being around children encourages childish behavior because that’s the example. Again for many parents, this is what they want, however, others see this differently.

The reality is that until middle-age most of the people we interact with are older than us. As such, it is beneficial for a child to spend a large amount of time around people who are older than them and understand the importance of setting an example that can be imitated.

All socializing is not the same. Adult-to-child socializing provides a child with an example of how to be an adult rather than how to be a child. Besides, most small children would love to be around their parents all day. They only grow to love friends so much because those are the people who give them the most attention.

What about College

This question is the hardest to answer as it depends on context a great deal. Concerns with college can be alleviated by having the child take the GED in the US or local college entrance examinations in other countries.

It is also important to keep careful records of what the child studies during high school. Most colleges do not care about K-8 learning but really want to know what happens during grades 9-12. Keep records of the courses the child took as well as the grades. It will also be necessary to take the SAT or ACT in most countries as well.

Conclusion

Homeschooling is an option for people who want to spend the maximum amount of time possible with their children. Concerns about learning, socializing, and college are unnecessary if the parents are willing to thoroughly dedicate themselves and provide their children with a learning environment that develops their children wholistically.

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What it Takes to Homeschool

Some may be wondering what does it take to homeschool. Below are some characteristics of the homeschool.

Time management

Being able to adhere to a schedule is a prerequisite for homeschooling. It is tempting to just kind of doing things whenever when you have this kind of freedom. However, in order to be successful, you have to hold yourself responsibility like your boss would. This is difficult for most people who are not used to autonomy.

This is not to say there should be no flexibility. Rather, the schedule should not be cheated because of laziness. There must be a set schedule for studying for the sake of behavior management of the children. If the child doesn’t know what to expect they may challenge you when you flippantly decide they need to study. Consistency is a foundational principle of homeschooling.

Discipline

Discipline means being able to do something even when you do not feel like doing it. In homeschooling, you have to teach whether you want to or not. Remember, sometimes we had to work at our jobs when we didn’t feel like it and the same with teaching in the home. If you’re tired you still have to teach, if you’re a little sick you still have to teach, if you’re angry you still have to teach.

The child is relying on you to provide them with the academic skills needed to compete in the world. This cannot be neglected for trivial reasons. Lesson plans are key. Either buy them or make them. Keep track of completed assignment and note the progress of the student.

Toughness

As a homeschooling parent, you are the only authority in the child’s life. This means all discipline falls under your jurisdiction. One reasons parents enjoy sending their kids to school is to burden the public school teachers with their own child’s poor behavior. “Let the school deal with him” is a common comment I have heard when I was a k12 teacher. However, when you teach as a homeschool parent only you have the pleasure of disciplining your child.

Discipline is not only about taking away privileges and causing general suffering for unacceptable behavior. Discipline also includes communicating clearly with your child to prevent poor behavior, have clear rules that are always enforced, as well as providing a stable environment in which to study.

Patience

Homeschooling also requires patience. For example, you are teaching a basic first-grade math concept to your child that takes several weeks for them to learn.  Naturally, you start to get angry with the child and yourself for the lack of progress. You may even begin to question if you have what it takes to do this. However, after waiting for what seems an eternity they child finally gets it.

This is the reality of homeschooling. No matter how bad you think you are the child will eventually get it when they are ready. This requires patience in the parent and some confidence in their own ability to help their child to grow.

Conclusion

There are many more ideas I could share. However, this is sufficient for now. In general, I would not recommend homeschooling for the typical family as the above traits are usually missing in the parents. Many parents want to homeschool for emotional reasons. The problem with this is that when they feel bad they will not want to continue the experience. Homeschooling can involve love but it must transcend emotions in order to endure for several years.

Teaching Math in the Homeschool

Teaching a child to count and do simple math is much more challenge then many would believe. Below is a simple process that I accidentally developed from working with kindergarten home-school student for two years. Keep in mind that often these steps overlapped.

  1. Number recognition
  2. Counting
  3. Counting with manipulatives
  4. Flashcards with larger numbers
  5. Writing numbers
  6. Adding with manipulatives
  7. Subtraction with manipulatives
  8. Visual math

1.  Number Recognition

Number recognition simple involved the use of flashcards with the child. I would hold up a number and tell the child what the number was. Memorizing is perhaps one of the easiest things the young mind can do as critical thinking comes much later. This initial process probably took about 6 months with a four-year-old to learn number 1-20.

2. Counting

With the numbers memorized, the next step was to actually learn to count. I did this by holding up the same flashcards. After the child identify what number it was I would then flip the flashcard over and have them count the number of objects on the card. My goal was to have them make a connection between the abstract number and the actual amount that could be seen and counted.

Again it took about six months for the four and half-year-old student to master this from numbers 1-20. It was a really stressful six months.

3. Counting with Manipulatives

The next few steps happen concurrently for the most part. I started to have the student count with manipulatives. I would show or say a number and expect the student to count the correct number using the manipulatives. This was done with numbers 1-20 only.

4. Flashcards with Larger Numbers 

At the same time, I worked with the student to learn numbers beyond 20. This was strictly for memorization purposes. This continued from 4.5 to 6 years of age. Eventually, the child could identify numbers 1-999. However, the never discovered the pattern of counting. By pattern, I mean how the 0-9 cycle repeats in the tens, how the 1-9 cycle repeats for the tens when moving to 100s, etc. The child only knew the numbers through brute memorization.

5. Writing Numbers

Writing numbers was used as preparation for doing addition. It was as simple as giving the student some numbers to trace on paper. It took about 8 months for the student to write numbers with any kind of consistency.

6. Adding with Manipulatives

This involved me writing a math problem and having the student solve the problem use manipulatives. For example, 2 + 2 would be solved by having the student count two manipulatives and then count two more and then count the total.

My biggest concern was having the child understand the + and = sign. The plus sign was easy but the equal sign was mysterious for a long time. However, the learning rate was picking up and the kid learn this in about 3 months

7. Subtraction with Manipulatives

Same as above but only took one month to learn

8. Visual Math

At this stage,  the child was doing worksheets on their own. Manipulatives were allowed as a crutch to get through the problems. However, the child was now being encouraged to use their fingers for counting purposes. This was a disaster for several weeks as the lack the coordination to open and close the fingers independent of each other.

Conclusion

This entire process took two years to complete from ages 4-6 working with the child one-on-one. By the age of six, the child could add and subtract anything from 1-30 and was ready for 1st grade.

I would recommend waiting longer to start math with a child. Being 4 was probably too young for this particular child. Better to wait untili 5 or 6 to learn numbers and counting. There more danger in starting early then there is in starting late.

Teaching a Child to Read

Learning to read is in no way an easy experience. In order to read at even the most basic level requires mastery of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics at a minimum. These are skills that we expect a child normally under the age of 8 to show some proficiency at.

This post will explain a process for teaching reading to small children that worked. Of course, there is no claim here that this is the way but it does provide an example. When I began this experience I had been an educator for years at higher grades but had never actually taught anybody how to read. My training and experience have mostly been in improving reading comprehension skills.

The Process

The process I stumble upon goes as follows

  1. Letter recognition
  2. Letter sound production
  3. Word family phonics
  4. Sight words
  5. Reading stories with support from steps 3 & 4

Each step builds on the steps before it

Letter Recognition

The first step in this process was to have the child recognize the letters of the alphabet. This was done through the use of flashcards. In many ways, this was the easiest step. I thought it would take a year for a 4-year-old to learn this but it only took 3-4 months

Letter recognition relates to morphology as letters are in many ways morphemes that cannot be further divided. At this point, the learning experience is simply memory only with no application

Letter Sound Production

Once the alphabet was memorized, I exposed the student to the sounds of the letters. The student then had to reproduce the sound in addition to recognizing what letter it was.

This was much tougher. The student would either forget what letter it was or forget the sound or both. There was a lot of frustration. However, after several more months, we were ready to move on.

Letter sound production is an example of phonology or the understanding of the sounds letters make. This is a crucial step in learning to read.

Word Family Phonics

At this stage, we combine several letters and “sound” them out to produce words. Often, the words used had the same ending or morpheme such as “-ap”, “-at”, “-ad”. etc. and only the first letter would change. This helps the student to recognize patterns quickly at least in theory.

There was also an introduction to vowels and other common morphemes. Looking back I consider this a mistake as it seemed to be confusing for the student. In addition, although phonics are valuable in learning to sound out words I found them to lack context and read “cap”, “tap”, and “map” outside the setting of some story was boring for the student.

Sight Words

Sight words are words that are so common in English that they need to be memorized. Often they cannot be sounded out because they violate the rules of phonology but this is not always the case.

There are two common systems of sight words and these are Dolch and Fry respectively. In terms of which is better, it doesn’t really matter. I used Fry’s and again I think the lack of context was a problem as I was asking the student to learn words that lack an immediate application.

Reading Stories

After about a year of preparatory training, we finally began reading stories. The stories were little short stories appropriate for kindergarteners. At first, it was difficult but the student began to improve rapdily. It was much easier (usually) to get them to cooperate as well.

Conclusion 

The most important point is perhaps not the most obvious one. despite my inexperience and mistakes in pedagogy, the student still learned to read. In many ways, the student learned to read in spite of me. This should be reassuring for many teachers. Even bad teaching can get good results if the aspects of planning, discipline, and commitment to success are there. Students seem to grow as long as they have some guidance.

I would say the most important thing in terms of teaching reading is to actually make them read. Reading provides context and motivation as the student can see what they cannot do. Studying all of the theoretical aspects of reading such as phonics and letters are only beneficial when the child knows they need to know this.

Therefore, if you are provided with an opportunity to teach a child to read start with stories and as the struggle teach only what they are struggling with. For example, if they are having a hard time with long “o” sound, reinforcing that with supplemental theoretical work will make sense for the child. As such, children learn best by doing rather than talking about what they will do.

Homeschooling Bilingual Children

A colleague of mine has kids that are half Thai and half African (like Tiger Woods). In the home, both Thai and English are spoken frequently. A major problem with bilingual children is that one of the languages is never truly mastered. This is called semilingualism. The problem was not with the kids learning Thai because their mother was Thai. Instead, my colleague was worried about his kids developing broken poorly understood Pidgin English.

About 8 years ago there was another family whose children were half Thai and half American and they had faced the same problem. However, they overreacted and never spoke Thai in their home in order to make sure their children learned English. This led to the kids knowing only English even though they were half-Thai and lived in Thailand. My friend did not want to make this mistake.

What He Did

I suggested to my friend that he needed to set some sort of schedule in which time was set aside in the home for the use of both languages. Below is the schedule that he developed.

  • Monday – Friday from waking up until 2 pm Thai language
  • Monday-Friday 2 pm to bedtime English language
  • Weekends-English only
  • Exceptions-Home school curriculum is in English with the exception of Thai language

This has worked relatively well. The children are exposed to both languages each day for several hours at a time. Generally, the rule is when dad is home English is used.

To further support the acquisition of English I encouraged my friend to never speak any Thai to his children. This has stunted his development in the language but it’s more important that they learn than him.

For the oldest daughter who is home schooled, Dan and his wife taught her to read and write in Thai and English at the same time. Many language experts would disagree with this and suggest that it is better to learn one language first and to transfer those skills to learning a second language. I see their point but my friend wanted his daughter to have native fluency in both languages to the point that if she is having a dream both languages could be used without a problem so to speak.

Challenges

With bilingual children, all language goals are delayed. This is because the child has to acquire double the vocabulary of a monolingual child. My friend’s daughter didn’t really talk until she was three. However, by five things start to move at a normal pace with some “problems”

  • Word order is sometimes wrong. ie my friend’s daughter will use Thai syntax in English and vice versa.
  • Mixing of the two languages at times (code-switching)

Most kids grow out of this.

Conclusion

Raising bilingual children requires finding a balance between the two languages in the home. I have provided one example but I would like to know how you have dealt with this with your children.

Struggles with Early Childhood Education

I had a friend (Dan) share his experience with me of home schooling his oldest daughter (Jina) and the challenges he faced as he tried to start her education too early in his opinion. He began homeschooling his oldest daughter when she was about four years of age. His goals for the 1st year was simply for his daughter

  • to learn to count to 10
  • to recognize the letters of the alphabet

That was all he wanted for the first year of instruction. Dan friend knew Jina was young, perhaps too young, so he did not want to push it. He just wanted to develop a rhythm of learning and instruction in the family along with the two goals above. In addition, his family was one of only two families who home school their kids in his community and he wanted to make sure his daughter was always on par academically with the other children in the neighborhood as a witness to the benefits of homeschooling.

Yet, a strange thing happened. Both academic goals were achieved in less than four months. Now Jina was getting bored with school already. This meant that Dan now had to raise the level of complexity with more goals

  • recognize numbers
  • Know the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet

By the end of the first year (age 5 now), without any pressure, and by going at her own pace my friend’s daughter could read simple words, count objects, recognize numbers, do simple addition, subtraction, and had the rudiments of telling time. However, near the end of the first year of learning some strange things began to happen.

  • One day Jina would complete a task with no problems but the next day she could not seem to remember the slightest way how to do it. She seemed to inadvertently lose motivation for no reason.
  • Some concepts (telling time) never stuck no matter how many times it was taught and review.
  • She was inconsistent in her ability to recognize words and seemed to lack any ability to generalize concepts (transfer) to other settings. For example, realizing that ‘cap’, ‘snap’, ‘lap’, all end with the -ap ending.

When she turned five, Dan and his wife formally started Jina in an official home school curriculum rather than the ad-hoc stuff they did for the first year. Jina now had the ability to do 1st-grade work thanks to her parents prior teaching. Old struggles subsided and new ones appeared. Unlike the ad-hoc curriculum, the formal home school curriculum had weekly lesson plans and Dan was determined to stick to the “schedule.”

Why the Struggle

Dan still wondered what the problem was. Jina was progressing but it was a chore and I couldn’t understand why. Isn’t it good to start kids in school early? That’s when he asked me.

I explained to him some of the basics of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. This is not just any theory. Piaget’s ideas are taught to almost all undergrad education majors on the planet.

Piaget proposes that there are four stages of cognitive development

  1. Sensorimotor (0-2 years)-Learning only through senses
  2. Preoperational (2-7)-Symbolic thinking and pretend play
  3. Concrete Operational (7-11)-Ideas applied to literally objects, understand time and quantity.
  4. Formal Operations (12-adult)-Abstract thinking, logic, transfer possible.

Dan was teaching his daughter all of these abstract ideas (counting, reading, telling time, etc) when she was at a preoperational level cognitively.

Reading is a highly abstract experience. Letters on a page have a sound attached to them and these letters can be combined to make words etc.? This is astounding for a child and their minds will struggle with this if they are not ready. Numbers on a page represent an actual amount in the real world? This is another astounding breakthrough for a young child. Dan was teaching his daughter to tell time when she had no idea what time was! He was frustrated when she could not transfer knowledge to new settings when this is normally not possible until they are 11 years or older.

If a child is not developmentally ready for these complex ideas they will struggle with school. If Piaget’s theory is correct (and not everyone agrees), formal schooling should not begin until age 7 for most children. What is meant by formal schooling is the study of math and reading. They should begin learning math and reading at 7. However, traditionally, students have been studying these subjects for several years by the age of 7.

This is not a totally radical idea. Many parents are delaying the enrollment of their child in kindergarten by a year in order to allow them to develop more. The term for this is redshirting

What He Did

By the time I had spoken with Dan Jina was six years old and already in second grade. She was doing better but now Dan and his wife worried about burnout.  He did not want to stop her studies completely because stopping now would mean having to fight with her to begin again. I suggested that they decided to slow down the instruction. Now they complete a weekly lesson plan over two weeks instead of one. This helps to minimize the damage that has taken place while still maintaining a structure of learning in the home. Unfortunately, Jina is learning multiplications when she should be learning to count.

Conclusion

I can say that there is evidence that early education is not best for children. If Piaget is correct a child under 7 is not ready for rigorous study and should be allowed more hands on experiences rather than abstract ones. Of course, there are exceptions but generally, you can start too early but it is difficult to start too late. If a child starts too early they will be in a constant state of struggling. All children are different but I think that parents should be aware that waiting is an option when it comes to formal instruction and one benefit of home schooling is the ability to have authority over your child’s education.