3

My biggest distraction from writing  is, of course, my toddler(BUT I LOVE HIM SO DEARLY!!).  The obvious thing to do would be to write while he 'naps'.  Of course, he doesn't nap.  But he does play inside his Discovery Toys tent that I bought at a yard sale for $2! And he does this for about an hour or more a day.  However, this is the time my older son and I do history together and I usually have some other things to do during this uninterrupted time.

I'm not a fan of sitting down the child in front of the TV to keep them busy.  He does watch some TV but we try to keep it limited.  I want his time to be well spent.

He loves to build.  BUILD. BUILD. BUILD. If he doesn't go into construction or architecture, I'll be amazed.  I know a lot of boys are like this, but.... needless to say I'm thinking Christmas will be full of more building toys....oh, and pirate stuff. But as much as he likes to build, he also likes to show me what he built (every five minutes) and he does need variety in his day.

I've read where some homeschool moms put various toys in various bins labeled with the days of the week.  Only on the day labeled is the toy taken out and played with.  I like the concept but fear it would hinder my child's creativity.  So while my living room often looks like a cyclone went by, in the middle of the mess is a great tower of blocks, Legos, a dust pan, a broom, a paper towel tube, cardboard bricks, and various other items that when all put together make a fantastic pirate ship, cement truck or some other creative masterpiece.  Who wants to hinder such creativity?  So I've given into the cyclone.  But I do keep the busy bags in a storage container of drawers that are labeled with the days of the week.  And that keeps these creative bags of quiet focused time new and interesting.

Our Busy Bag Drawers - they are labeled Monday thru Saturday.  He finds the drawer.  I tell him "Today is MMMMonday...what letter does MMMMMonday start with?"
Our Busy Bag Drawers - they are labeled Monday thru Saturday. He finds the drawer. I tell him "Today is MMMMonday...what letter does MMMMMonday start with?"

I've heard about the concept of busy bags a long time ago.  I used something similar in my classroom years ago (file folder games and learning centers) but I had older children and it's been awhile so I've had to do and am still doing some research and shopping for items to make busy bags with.  So I've been doing lots of looking at Pinterest Boards and homeschooling sights to figure out what to do.  The concept I'm looking for is that each day of the week, he have different activities to do that will keep him 'busy' and should be beneficial, allowing him to practice skills he is currently developing or has already acquired.  Basically, a busy bag should be a rather small, transportable and fairly quiet toy or activity for the child to keep him or her busy.  The transportable part means they can be easily picked up to go in cars for unexpected or planned car trips!  Double Bonus there!!

So I thought I'd post some of the sites I've been looking at as resources for my followers who are also homeschoolers or parents (or caregivers) of young children.  And here they are:

Second Story Window - An amazing site that I just rediscovered!

Homeschool Support Network   Online Homeschool Support Group

Free Homeschool Deals Affording the homeschool life

Pinterest!!  - There are lots of boards for these on Pinterest.

There is something out there called Busy Bag Swaps...where one parent makes a ton of the same busy bag and then the moms all get together and swap.  Super cool idea!  But I don't really know enough parents of my son's age yet to do that.  It's something to keep in mind though.

My goal is to get started making new things very soon for my son's busy bag drawers.... I put 3-4 bags in each drawer.  Some of the activities only take about 5 minutes, others may be 10 or more.  So all together, I have afforded myself with about 20-30 or more minutes of quiet uninterrupted time in which my son is actively busy in a learning type activity.  I'd like to get it to about 4-5 activities that will take 45 min to an hour of time.

Naturally, I do have to sit down and show him how to do the activity the first time or two.  And I keep him close by when doing the activities so I can remind him what to do if needed or give an encouraging word.  Some of them may need assistance in setting up (most of the days include a book on tape...I need to put the tape or CD in the player...this isn't something I let my 3-year-old do yet!).

Here are the things I have in my toddlers busy bags so far:

Books on tape/Cd-  Inside the bag is the book, the tape and also a piece of construction paper with the name of the book...and some colored pencils, crayons, etc.  He is allowed to just look at the book or if he wants to draw a picture of the characters or something from the story, that's okay too. I have quite a few books on tape so there is enough for one each day.

Puzzles - I picked up an alphabet matching puzzle at a yard sale.  One day he has letters A-M, and another day he has letters N-Z.  He's doing really well with this so I may put them all into the same bag soon and make it a longer, slightly more challenging activity.

Clothespin Game - I remember this from years ago as a game we played at my daughter's birthday party.  You put a jar on the floor and hold a clothespin up to your nose.  Try dropping the clothespin from your nose into the jar.  It's not necessarily as easy as it sounds.  He's 3, so he can just drop the clothespin from wherever, but the idea of course is fine motor skills and eye hand coordination.  In time, I'll explain holding it all the way up to his nose while standing fairly upright.  He loves it.  He has about ten clothespins and does it over and over.  You can use various sized containers to drop them into.

Stickers - In various bags I have combinations of little dollar bargain notebooks and various sheets of stickers as well as pencils and crayons.  He just sits and draws in the notebook and adds stickers at random.  I was afraid there would be stickers all over the place but he listens really well and stays in the spot I put him in and does really well with it.  You never know how something will go until you try it!

Foam Stickers/Construction Paper - Another sticker type activity that is so good for those fine motor skills!  I take a big tub of those foam stickers you can buy at a craft store and divide them into little snack size baggies.  I put in about 20-30 per bag.  Along with this I just give him a piece of construction paper and he, after removing the backing from the sticker, arranges them onto the paper however he wants.  He made lots of nice fall pictures for our fridge this last month with foam leaves and brown paper!

Colored Counters/Color Word Cards -  I have a set of those cute little colored counters.  My son's are transportation vehicles (planes, cars, buses, etc.) that I bought at Rainbow Resources.  The most common are the bears, I think.  I also took a deck of those simple preschool flashcards - you know, the ones that have colors, shapes, simple words and numbers.  I found cards that had the color word along with the color on one side.  He spreads out the cards and piles the vehicles of the same color onto the card.  Once he learns a color word or two, I'll use the cards that have the word on one side and the color on the other side so he can pile onto the word and easily check to see if he's right.

Pipe Cleaners - He loves bending and winding these into all sorts of shapes!  He loves combining the colors.

Dominoes - Right now he just builds with these.  I've shown him how to try to line them up and knock them down.  He gets frustrated with that still so he sticks to his building.  But this is still nice as it gives him a new material to use for that and it's kept to the novelty of just one time a week.  I found three sets at a garage sale - the nice wooden ones really cheap!

Smart Links - This is another 'building' tool that we keep limited to one or two times weekly in the busy bag drawers.

Goodnight Moon Game - This is a puzzle game in which the child matches the numbers with objects from the story on puzzle pieces.

Window Washing Supplies- This is my son's favorites and can literally keep him occupied for up to an hour!!  We have window markers-- but those aren't the highlight of this activity.  The idea is that he's to write on the windows and clean up his mess with vinegar water (in his own small spray bottle) and a sponge.  He LOVES spraying the water and using the sponge to clean!!

These are items from our busy bags!
These are items from our busy bags!

BTW - They are called busy bags because they can be stored easily in a small or BIG ziplock bag and can be taken anywhere.  But some people store them in baskets too. And mine, while most are in ziplock bags, go in drawers labeled with 6 of the 7 days of the week.  (We don't do them on Sunday and usually not Saturday either but I have one for that day just in case!  )

I really really LOVE the idea of busy bags...  I'm hoping to collect a lot more ideas to share with you and other sources.  In time, maybe I can figure out how to make a new page for this blog to just have those ideas on.  Feel free to share your own busy bag ideas with me so we can make a really nice list for other homeschoolers!!  In the meantime, I need to get busy making bags!!

5

          In response to a recent question and one that I actually get quite often, I've decided to post today about the subjects required to be taught according to the Pennsylvania Homeschool Law.

           Each year, the home education program must provide at least 180 days of instruction(this is 900 hours at the elementary hours if the parent chooses to keep track of  hours rather than days or 990 hours at the secondary level). At the elementary level, the student must have English (reading/literature, spelling and writing), math, science, geography, history of the United States and Pennsylvania, civics, safety education (including fire prevention), health, physical education, music and art. At the secondary level, the student must have English (grammar, composition, literature and speech), science, geography, social studies(American history, Pennsylvania history, world history, civics), mathematics (including algebra and geometry), art, music, physical education, health and safety education(again to include fire safety).

          That's a long list of subjects.  But know that not all of these subjects need to be taught every year.  Each subject only needs to be covered at some point during the elementary or secondary level as specified.  The majority of homeschoolers cover English, history (American, world, ancient, etc., usually one per year), science and math as well as art and/or music, and some form of physical education and fire education during the course of a year.  Health is usually thrown in with science at some point.

       However,  it doesn't have to be done this way.  The law really allows for flexibility.  For example, if the idea of teaching both science and history in one year seems daunting, it's okay to teach one at a time every other year so as to cover more material and have the time to do more intensive projects.  Geography can be taught as one individual subject or can be included in with history each year. Pennsylvania history, contrary to popular misconception, does not have to be covered every year (nor do the other subjects other than fire safety).  It can be added in small amounts yearly or as a single subject during half or all of a single year.

          Art and music also do not need to be taught each year. A lot of homeschoolers do teach them, in some manner, each year.  Art can be included easily by way of drawing illustrations or making art projects for the other subjects. Some homeschoolers take art lessons and some study famous artists from the history time periods they are covering that year.  Music is often covered in the way of instrument lessons or voice lessons.  Some cover this by studying composers of the history period they are currently studying.  Again, they do not have to be covered each year so some homeschoolers may pick just one year to do a more intensive study of one of these subjects.

          Physical education also does not need to be covered each year...but I urge you to do so for the health and well-being of your child.  It does not have to be any type of specific sport, though many opt to participate in homeschool co-op sports or participate in a sport offered by the local district as it is in the law that homeschool students are allowed to take part in these extracurricular activities/sports.  A daily walk or bike ride could also cover this requirement and gets your child out in the outdoors and good exposure to the sun offering its' natural vitamin D supply!  A list of such activities in the portfolio or a few photographs of your child participating in one or all of these is enough to demonstrate that this requirement is being filled.

          Fire education does need to be represented in your portfolio each and every year.  It can be covered in a field trip to the fire station with your local homeschool co-op or you may draw out a fire escape plan with your child and discuss a meeting place outside your home in the even of a fire.[ ***PLEASE have a meeting place established!!  If you don't have one yet, do it NOW.  You can never predict when there will be a fire.]   There are lots of online resources as well.

           In regards to high school classes, some Pennsylvania homeschoolers seem to think that speeches must be done each year due to regulations set by the diploma agencies.  Please note that getting a diploma through an agency is NOT required and not at all necessary.  Parent-issued diplomas are equally legal and this is what the majority of homeschoolers across America use.  So while speech is listed as a requirement for the high school level, it is not a yearly requirement.  Research papers are not a yearly requirement by the state either.

          This is a summary of this part of the law.  I'm sure I have not answered every question you may have regarding the teaching of these subjects.  Feel free to comment below with any additional questions you have and I'll do my best to provide an answer.  I also always recommend to other homeschoolers that they become a member of HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association).  HSLDA provides not only legal counsel but a wealth of information regarding the law, curriculum and so much more on their website.  They have answered a considerable number of questions for me over the years and I can always rely on the website for an abundance of resources.

I'm sure my readers would also love to read in comments below what other creative ways you've used to apply these subjects!

Have a blessed day!

5

Too many times as an evaluator for homeschool students, I see children who HATE to write.   I can't imagine hating to write but I think I understand where it comes from.  Too many times educators and parents put sooo much emphasis on the spelling, grammar, and punctuation that the creativity and fun is lost. I've been guilty of this myself.  I guess I had too many years of public schooling in my system and add that to the worry of being the only one now responsible for my children's ability to learn to write well... well even the creative writer in me buckled under pressure to conform to how writing "should be taught."

I've tried at various times to incorporate creative writing just for fun into our homeschooling though.  It just hasn't always lasted as it does take time and along with anything else fun and relaxing, I'm guilty of worrying about future SAT scores and setting it to the side.  But in the back of my mind I'm thinking...I should write it... a writing curriculum that teaches all that important stuff, sure, but focuses on the creative fun aspects of writing. Maybe one day I will...

One way I've approached it with my kids is to do fun writing exercises they enjoy.

My son, just the other day, asked, "Hey how come we don't do those neat writing things anymore?"  I'm guilty.  My first thought... 'and just how am I going to fit that in the schedule??'  but realized later, 'where there's a will, there must be a way.'   So I'm hoping next week to restart those.  Even if we manage just once a week it will be good for him and good for me.

This is the exercise we will start with.  If I recall correctly, it's his favorite.  It's called Stop 'N Shop and I got it out of A Writer's Notebook by Caroline Sharp. With this exercise you imagine you are working as a check-out clerk in a convenience or grocery store.  A customer wanders up to the register with about 5 items.  Tell their story....   The book suggests coming up with ten character profiles first (29-year-old woman, sixty-four year old widower, etc).  My son and I skip that.  We just randomly list our items.  Then we decide what kind of person might buy those things and why.  Here is a sample from some time ago:

The List ( we take turns- one of us comes up with 2 items and the other 3)

  • pickles
  • peaches
  • granola bar
  • yogurt
  • milk

The Story (we usually time ourselves with 5 minutes)

This healthy young lady is on her way to yoga class.  She has grabbed some granola bars and yogurt for her breakfast before class.  She'll have peaches and milk after class.  The pickles are a snack she likes to have at night while she's reading.  She's weird tha way and knows it's a healthier choice than chips or cookies.  After class, she will go to the library where she works.  She likes working there amidst all the books and likes recommending her favorites to others.

It's not a prize-winning paragraph, but it's a fun way to be creative.  My son and I share one another's stories after we are done writing.  Sometimes these stories can be really funny.  And guess what else?  We DON'T check for spelling, grammar or punctuation.  We just have fun because writing SHOULD be fun.  I'm looking forward to starting this exercise again.

Today marks day 64 of the school year for my oldest boy.  This is his 9th grade year, his first year of high school and his first year of keeping grades for a transcript.

Some parts of planning for this year were difficult.  Others not so much.  You see, I've been through this before and have sent my daughter off to college already.  She is in her first year and doing quite well! I'm really proud of her.

My other boy is only 3!  There's not so much planning for the three-year old...though my eagerness has kept me exploring and I have peeked at several preschool and kindergarten curriculums but am heavily leaning towards a Charlotte Mason approach for him.

But back to my oldest!

This year we determined to start with 5 major classes:  English 9, Biology with a Lab, American History, Algebra II, and Russian.

English is always my favorite subject to plan!  I love reading and I love writing so what's not to love about planning English?  I do not like curriculums that lay everything out for English because I like to fiddle with things too much and make it more personable and meeting the needs of my child.  But I have dealt with such curriculums in the past for various reasons.  This year, I again chose a mixture.  For Literature, we are using the Gold Book of the Learning Language Arts through Literature Curriculum.    I chose the Gold Book because it ties into American History.  In the beginning, I was all for having him do the whole book and was excited about him being introduced to short stories.  But then I read some of them....   🙁     I knew darn well these were not going to be his cup of tea.  Classic literature or not, if he wasn't going to enjoy it at all, he wasn't going to learn.  So I fairly quickly ditched that part of the set-up.  (We'll try short stories another time, perhaps, if I can find some modern stories that he could relate to.)  Instead, I made a book list (oh how I LOVE creating book lists!).  In addition to the three books that the Gold Book incorporates (The Pearl, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Red Badge of Courage), I decided to introduce him to at least one Shakespeare.  We will be reading The Tempest.

Selecting which Shakespeare play to begin with was probably the hardest part of the book list!  But with much researching and asking of friend's opinions, The Tempest it will be! I'm looking forward to it as this is one I actually have not read myself yet. Additional required books on his list are:  Rifles for Waite, The Outsiders, Johnny Tremain (we read this one a long time ago as a read-aloud but I felt it fit with his American History and he may enjoy it more now that he's older), and My Side of the Mountain.  In addition to these, he gets to choose 8 for himself with the only rules that one must be about our Orthodox faith and they all must be pre-approved by myself.  I have a feeling he will be reading the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book soon since it was just released, but this one will NOT count towards the required reading!!  The Gold Book, in addition to providing background information and questions for the three books it covers, also has a poetry unit.  Three poems are assigned for reading for each poet the book covers along with comprehension type questions.  It seems to give a good overall view of the elements of poetry and develops skill for analyzing literature.

For the writing part of English, we are using IEW.  My son watches the video lessons presented by Andrew Pudewa and follows through with the assignments.  I think his writing has improved a great deal.  We are also using IEW's Fix It Grammar program as a nice review.  My son completed the Analytical Grammar program last year and,quite frankly, that program covered things so well that I truly  don't think he will ever need much in grammar ever again!

Biology was another easy choice.  It's his 9th grade year and the local co-op provides a lab for biology every few years....this being the year for it!  The course is through the Apologia Curriculum.  I love Apologia. It truly prepares the student for college level science but keeps the Christian worldview focus.  Science does NOT have to be all evolution.

American History was a little bit trickier to choose.  My son is not a lover of history.  He doesn't hate it.  But it's not a huge interest.  So I wanted something that may present things differently... not a typical dry textbook and not something that was only going to quickly go over the basics without grabbing any interest.  After much debate, we chose Exploring America by the Notgrass Company.  Of course, we've done some adapting.  The curriculum is cumulative in that it incorporates reading and bible into the history.  We are only using it for the history.  This means he's not doing the literature books they recommend, primarily because I knew they would never be books he would choose for himself and it wouldn't have left room for me to select books I felt he should read.  In addition to skipping the literature, we skip the bible lessons as well - they are of a protestant nature and I don't feel they are necessary to comprehend the history lessons.  We are Orthodox Christians and we read plenty of bible and faith related material without adding this aspect to it.  I here that part of the curriculum is actually done quite well.  I just decided there wasn't a need for it for our particular needs. We are actually reading the history lessons together and I am enjoying this.  We then answer the questions orally together and I help him study for the quiz that he takes every 5 lessons. I like the detail that the author put into the history lessons.  I've covered more American history in the past 2 months I've been reading with him than I think I covered in all my history years in the public schools.  And it's interesting... not just boring factual stuff.  I like it.

I am a HUGE fan of Teaching Textbooks!  We've been using it for our math since my daughter was in 6th grade!  It is AMAZING!!!!!!!  I am not a math expert.  While I got through math and actually got an A in my last semester of high school Algebra, it is not a subject I prefer teaching.  Teaching Textbooks does it all for me.  It's a computerized program and every single problem is on the computer.  If the student plugs in a wrong answer, they can watch the entire problem worked out step by step and see exactly where they made their mistake...and NO arguments with Momma!!  🙂  How can you not love it?? So this year he is doing Algebra II. He knows that he is to watch the explanation of any problem he misses.  If he scores below an 80, I delete the lesson and he does a do-over.  This way, we meet mastery before going on to the next lesson.

My son chose the language he wanted to learn.  My husband's heritage is Russian so it seemed a no-brainer to him to pick Russian.  While my husband recalls a few words and phrases taught to him by his grandparents in his youth, he is not ready to teach the language and I know nothing....sooooo......    CurrClick.Com offers a variety of online courses for homeschoolers and one of them is Russian!!  Mr. G does a fabulous job and my son really loves the course.

Well, that's the main courses.  In addition to these, he practices typing with a Mavis Beacon program as well as types out his final papers for IEW and Fix-It-Grammar.  We haven't seen dramatic results yet, but there are signs of improvement! He also uses Vocabulary.Com to practice SAT vocabulary and does the SAT question of the day two times a week to help prepare himself for that test in the future.

We've also added a bit of geography to the day.  I've been reading a lot about that Charlotte Mason approach and have learned a bit of how she approached geography with outline maps.  I liked the idea and thought it would be a really easy thing to start covering with him.  There's actually no set law that a course HAS to be completed in the same year it's started, so we decided to start out slow and add to it bit by bit like it's presented by the CM Approach... so right now we are covering North America since that's what he is most familiar with.  He did a bigger course last year that covered land forms, environments, etc.  so right now we are only focusing on learning names and locations of countries, major cities, bodies of water, etc.  It's only North America and I've already added to my own geography knowledge!! We'll see how we do the rest of this year before deciding whether to add to it and actually make it worth a partial or whole credit course.

Well, that wraps up what we are doing this year for my son's 9th grade year.  It's actually been a good year so far.  He seems to be doing well.  It's been an adjustment getting used to the amount of reading material and higher level questions and balancing that with Boy Scouts, hunting and pretty soon the ski season will start.  But for a 15-year-old boy who also helps out with chores and is a great big brother, I'd say he's doing a really good job!

4

Apparently, Pennsylvania is known for having tough homeschool laws. Supposedly there's a lot of paperwork involved.  As a former public school teacher, I can assure the rest of the homeschool mom's out there that, in retrospect, what we have to do as homeschool teachers is nothing in comparison.  Sure, as a homeschool mom, I can understand not wanting to have to do one more thing for the state.  I get that.  But it really is not as time consuming or difficult that some homeschool parents are making it out to be.  In my experience as a homeschool evaluator, I find most parents doing MORE than what they need to do.  So I'm going to try to put it all here in a nutshell.  What do we really need to do in Pennsylvania?

If you want to read the actual law, Session of 1988  Act 1988-169,   there are many sources online that provide this.  The link above is one from CHAP (Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania).

But what does this really mean?

The Beginning:

You must fill out a notarized Affidavit and hand this in to the local school district before beginning to homeschool your child either at the  compulsory attendance age of 8 (or the school year in which he or she will be turning 8) or before pulling them out of the public school if he or she has already started or been registered for attendance there, regardless of age or grade.  An affidavit  will include the names of your children (that are to be homeschooled), the name of the supervisor of the homeschool program (this is usually the mother though I recently saw that CHAP actually recommends the father),address and telephone number of the home education site,  and a statement that no one in the house has been convicted of a felony and that the homeschooling parent has a high school diploma. The affidavit should also include a statement that the students listed have received the health and medical services required by the Public School Code (dental exams upon entry into school and in 3rd and 7th grades and medical exams upon entry into school and in sixth and eleventh grades as well as immunizations OR an exemption due to religious beliefs or medical reasons). The affidavit must be legally notarized.

Along with the affidavit, the supervisor must hand in a listing of proposed objectives.  This does NOT need to be difficult!  As a former teacher, I struggled with this one.  I really wanted to give very long, drawn out, detailed objectives.  It's not necessary.  Your list of proposed objectives is really a set of goals.  List each subject you plan on covering through the year (Note the word "PLAN" here:  It is okay to change your plans.  You are not required to fullfill the exact objectives you hand in.  It is just that.  A PLAN.).  For each subject that you list, write about 3 vague or specific obejectives.  For example,  if you are covering 3rd Grade Math, the objectives may be:  - to introduce multiplication and division facts,  - to use math skills in everyday situations as in grocery and Christmas shopping,  - to continue improvement of math skills on a 3rd grade level.   See?  Very easy!  If you are wondering about a subject and what to write for objectives, let me know.  I'd be glad to help!

This is all for the beginning, UNLESS your child has been formally identified throught the school district as having special needs.  In this case you must submit objectives that have already been approved by a "licensed clinical or certified psychologiset or a teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth to teach special education".  In other words, find an evaluator ahead of time that can approve your objectives ahead of time.  (More on evaluators later.)

During The School Year:

Teach.  Duh, of course, right?!     🙂   (But don't teach your kids to say duh....just a little humor...hope you're smiling)

You are obligated by law to provide instruction in the required subjects for 180 school days or 900 hours if your child is in elementary grades, 990 if he or she is in secondary grades.  Most people use a list to show days rather than hours but this is entirely up to you.  Keep the list of days in calendar form or in some other form of logging style to show your evaluator and put into your portfolio for the end of the year (see below for more information on portfolios and evaluators).  The 180 school days is no more than the public school child.

Standardized testing is required just as it is for the public school children but, thankfully, only in grades 3, 5 and 8! So during the course of the year, you will need to find a resource that allows your child to take a standardized test that is one of the approved tests and include the results of this test in your portfolio at the end of the 3rd, 5th and 8th grade years.  The approved tests at this time are:  California Achievement Test, Comprehensive Testing Program (CTPIV), Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Metropolitan Achievement Test, Peabody Achievement Individual Test --Revised Edition, Standford Achievement Test, Terra Nova, and the Woodcock Johnson Revised Tests of Achievement.  Some homeschool co-ops offer one of these tests on a yearly basis to their homeschool group.  One of these tests is actually available online.  Most require another adult to be present during the testing time other than the homeschool parent/supervisor.  You will need to do your research in advance.  Do NOT wait until the end of the year as you need the results to give to your evaluator and to put in the portfolio.

Keep a portfolio.  The portfolio is NOT that big of a deal.  But do yourself a favor.  Decide at the beginning of the year how you are going to set up your portfolio and start saving and organizing the samples to put in it through the course of the year instead of being an overwhelmed homeschool mom at the end of the year who isn't sure what to do with all these stacks of paper!  My suggestions is just purchase a 3 ring binder... no bigger than one inch!  Put dividers in the portfolio for all of your subjects you are covering.  Now as the year goes on, every month, put in one sample of each subject behind the divider for it.  At the end of the year, you will have enough samples in your portfolio!  Easy peasy!

Keep a Log.   This is probably the most contraversial piece of material in the PA law because there are soooooo many interpretations as to what this log is, besides a list of reading materials.  There must be a list of reading materials.  There is no doubt about that.  So keep track of those books your child is reading.  HSLDA provides a thorough explanation of interpretations of this part of the law on their site. Their recommendation is keeping a calendar form and marking the materials you use each day in a type of code.  I will confess, most people do not use this method.  Usually, people hand in a simple reading log within the portfolio that lists all reading materials for the year and often includes curriculum used as well.  This seems to satisfy the majority of school districts. In addition to the reading list, they have a type of calendar form or number list showing the 180 days that have been covered in the year.  It is preferred by most evaluators that this list does show the actual dates of school and not just the numbers 1-180.

The End of the Year:

Before handing your portfolio in to your school district, your child must be evaluated by a qualified evaluator. Most evaluators are certified teachers but some are psychologists while others are homeschool parents who have taught at all levels.  The certified teachers and psychologists are automatically qualified (as long as they have experience testing at the level your child has completed),but those not having certification must be pre-approved by the school district.  Most homeschool co-ops are able to porvide you with lists of evaluators in your area but there are websites that also provide this information:

              CHAP Online         Askpauline.com            PHAA

Be sure to ask the person you call what their qualifications are.  Some are only qualified for particular grade levels (elementary vs. secondary) while others are qualified for all grade levels as well as special education.  Ask their price for the evaluation.  There can be a great variation with this price.  Some, but not many, will come to your home or meet  you somewhere. Some automatically do a long extensive write up for the district that is required by homeschool accredidation agencies (which are not necessary to join) while others hand in a simple form that meets the expectations of the law without providing more than necessary to the school districts.  This may affect the price as well.  Also, be sure to make your appointment in advance!  Do NOT wait until the end of the school year to make an appointment!  Many of these evaluators already have an extensive client list and book up fast for evaluations.  Others may not evaluate past a particular date.  So please, contact them early.  It is not unheard of to at least contact an evaluator early in the year to find out when to call them to make the appointment. Also, by contacting an evaluator early, they should be more able to help guide you in preparing the portfolio and knowing what to expect during the evaluation and possibly answer any other questions you might have about the process or homeschooling in general.

Once you have the evaluation, you will be ready to hand in your portfolio.  Your evaluator will probably all ready make sure it contains all that it needs to contain:

  • reading log
  • 180 day log
  • samples of each subject covered (there should be about three samples from the beginning, middle and end of the school year for each subject, totalling approximately 9 samples for each subject) Samples may be workbook pages, tests, essays, book reports, pictures of events, activity, art exhibit, etc., or artwork.  Unschoolers often use lots of photos in their portfolio with captions to explain the subject being covered.
  • Test results if it is a year of required testing
  • Evidence of Fire Safety being covered (Fire saftey is the ONE subject that MUST be covered EVERY year)
  • A copy of your signed evaluation form given to you by the evaluator

That's it!  Just walk into your district office and hand it in, always obtaining a written receipt that states you have handed in the portfolio with the above pieces included (I always type up my own form, listing everything that's in the portfolio as in the list above and just have the secretary or who I hand the portfolio to sign my receipt).

I usually advise to my evaluation clients that this is the perfect time to hand in the affidavit for the next year as well along with the objectives and to get a receipt for that too.  This way, one is free to begin homeschooling and counting days on July 1, the first day of the school year, if they choose to do so.  This is great as it allows those great summer field trips to count as school days! 🙂

I love helping fellow homeschoolers, so again, if you have any questions, let me know!  If I don't know the answer, I might at least be able to offer a source that would!

Happy homeschooling!

5

HOMESCHOOLING IS AWESOME!!! (just in case you were wondering)

There are actually a number of methods to homeschooling.  Each family has its own style they are most comfortable with and choose as the best method for their homeschooler.  As an evaluator for other homeschoolers (Pennsylvania is a state which requires each homeschooler to be evaluated by either a licensed psychologist, school psychologist, certified teacher, or other persons meeting qualifications and approved by the school district in which the student resides), I am able to see the results of all of these methods over time.  They are all wonderful methods.  But not all methods suit all children or all parents for that matter.

I am only offering a simple overview here.  It is by no means an overall account of each one I mention. If you are looking into homeschooling, I suggest you pick a couple that resonate with you and read more about them.  In time, I will try to add a list of sources with each one.

There is always what is sometimes called the 'Public School at Home Method' which just means the parent uses standard textbooks (sometimes even borrowed from the public school) and the child uses these texts and standard paper and pencil tests for evaluation.  Some parents use Cyber Schools (the student has textbooks at home and attends 'class' via computer at home) to incorporate this style.  Most would not call Cyber Schools true homeschooling and I would be inclined to agree, but if your goal is to simply have them at home away from the influence of youngsters in the public schools, then this might work for you.

The ones I heard about the most when starting out were the Classical Method and the Charlotte Mason Method.  The Classical Method is based on a philosophy which is built  on a three-part process to train the mind. This is known as the Trivium.  In the first step, the child learns and memorizes facts.  In the second step, connections are made between those memorized facts .  The third step is when the student forms opinions of his own about those connections he or she has made with the known facts.   The Classical Method generally involves the use of the Socratic method and the classic books of the Western tradition, extensive learning of Latin as well as Grammar, logic and rhetoric. There is a LOT of reading and writing involved with this method.   The homeschooling families that I have witnessed using this system thrive on the structure involved!  So if you don't like structure, this is definitely NOT the method for you.  And if your child is not a strong reader or writer, it may be difficult to manage.

Sources:  The Well Trained Mind

1000 Good Books List

Circe Institute

Classical Homeschooling Curriculum

 

The Charlotte Mason Method is based on the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  The Charlotte Mason focuses heavy on LIVING BOOKS, books that pull the reader into the subject and touches upon your emotions usually written by one individual (vs. a textbook written by a group of authors) who is obviously passionate about the subject.  This method also heavily uses the tool of narration (verbal and written), short lessons, the study of art, nature and poetry and focuses on the importance of teaching good habits.   Parents who choose this method enjoy being heavily involved in the process of the child's education discussing books, listening and reading narrations, enjoying art, music, and nature together  and does not feel the need to have their child take formal tests.

Sources:  Who Was Charlotte Mason?

Simply Charlotte Mason

Ambleside

The Unit Study Method has the student focus on one specific topic and incorporates as many of the academic areas around it as possible.  For example, a student may be intensely interested in the Civil War.  So besides the obvious readings good historical fiction books and biographies (history, literature) about people of that time period, the student will study the geography(geography) of the areas the battles were fought in.  They may research what scientific discoveries(science) were made at the time and make graphs (math) of death tolls for various battles.  All of this while listening to music (music appreciation)composed or enjoyed at that time and study paintings of the war (art).  A lot of people using these methods love making scale models of various things or some sort of final project to demonstrate what they have learned.  This method really helps parents who are teaching children at various levels and enjoy doing hands-on-projects and do not worry about following the traditional scope and sequence of subjects.

Sources:  Five In A Row

Unit Study Resource List

The Unschooling Method allows the child to lead the way in learning.  The parent will offer resources based on the interests of the child at that time.  This method does not in any way follow the traditional textbook, sit at a desk, formal test method of public schools.  The child determines, based on their motivations and interests, what they want to study at a given time and the parent provides books, materials, possibly even online or local classes on the given subject at hand.  This may mean that the student may be 'behind' in certain areas in comparison to a public school child but may be well advanced in others.  He or she may quickly catch up in those areas of lesser skill as soon as they move on to other interests.  I have seen this method work very well with friends and colleagues who have taken part in it and the knowledge that these children acquire can be astounding but I would strongly advise preparing in advance and understand the method before proceeding with it as I would hope anyone would with any homeschooling.

Sources:

Unschooling.com

Unschoolersg.org

The Eclectic Home Schooling Method tends to be what I see the most of and what I have used myself in the past and currently with my high schooler (I am researching another method extensively to use with my toddler).  In this method, a variety of home school methods are used depending on the learning style and interests of the child.  Instead of choosing just one method, the parent may use various methods and various sources depending on the subject.  For example, one child may use a classical approach for history, a Charlotte Mason approach for science and literature, a 'school at home' type method for math and other subjects with an occasional unit study thrown in.

Sources?  See all of the above 🙂

There are certainly other approaches as well but these seem to be the most common.  If you are new to homeschooling, I'd advise starting with researching these methods a bit more and see where that takes you.  There's a huge world out there!  I recall being absolutely awestruck at our first CHAP convention in Harrisburg, PA. I had NO idea how big homeschooling was! I had NO idea how many people were involved. I had NO idea how much curriculum was available.  I had NO idea how many options there were and I had NO idea how much support there was or how much I would fall in love with it all!

Feel free to ask me questions about homeschooling if you'd like.  I can't promise to have all the answers and I only know the homeschooling laws of Pennsylvania, but I can share with you what I do know and what my experiences have been.  And if I don't know the answer, I might know of a source to get you the answer.  My FAVORITE homeschooling source is HSLDA, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.  They are more than just lawyers and I always recommend to my clients that they join.  They have been a tremendous wealth of information to me over the years.

I will try to add more sources for the above methods listed as time goes on.  If there is one that interests you, in particular, let me know.  If there is another method I haven't covered here and you think I should, send me a note and I'll try to address it in the future!