It seems everyday you read another story about how much college costs, how much debt college graduates are burdened with, and how little a college degree helps when it comes to finding a job.
With one son halfway through his college years and another one coming up fast, this is a topic that fascinates me right now. My new article reviews Don't Go Back to School by Kio Stark, a book that addresses the question of whether you can learn what you need to know without college and still succeed.
Stark knows how to get things done without going through the normal channels. In 2011, Stark launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book. It attracted 1,588 backers, who paid a total of $38,928 to help Stark get her book out to the public. That's just one of the things that makes Don't Go Back to School an interesting read for homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike.
I went to college in Montreal, and my family goes back to visit every year. We love the Botanical Gardens, the Biosphere, the bike paths and the bagels. But we also go there to speak French.
With a major French-speaking city only a few hours' drive away from our home, it made sense to choose French as the foreign language I would homeschool with my kids. When we visit, we always stop in one of the big bookstores and replenish our supply of French books, magazines, videos, and CDs.
We try to order meals in French, and we even took a French-language biking tour of an outdoor sculpture garden. Of course, Montreal is big enough to support communities that speak many different languages, and we enjoy experiencing many of them whenever we're in town.
My new article on Homeschooling a Foreign Language includes tips, advice, and resources to help you cover the language of your choice with your kids. Visiting ethnic communities near your home or on vacation is one of my favorite suggestions. How do you homeschool a foreign language?
Image: Flickr/James Cridland
You can find many designs for solar cookers online, but building one is not hard. So instead of giving step-by-step instructions, I boiled the project down to its basic components, and made figuring out the best way to create them part of the activity. Once you've got the hang of it, you might want to try to build a model big enough to make a meal. The directions on NASA's Climate Kids website are a good place to start.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
One of the biggest puzzles for me as a new homeschooler was how to work with my older son when my younger son was still a toddler. Luckily, I had a large community of homeschoolers nearby to consult.
One mother told me her rambunctious preschooler pretty much kept her from doing any homeschooling with the older two for an entire year. "But at the end of the year," she added, "my six-year-old was reading." The message? Even when it seems like you're getting nothing accomplished, there's still a lot of learning going on.
Since then, I've acquired a few more strategies for working with kids at different ages and stages. If this is an issue at your house, check out my new article with 5 Tips for Homeschooling Multiple Ages.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
Are your kids fans of Where the Wild Things Are and other classic picture books by Maurice Sendak? The author and illustrator, who died last year, would have been 85 today, and Google is celebrating with an animated Doodle that takes you through several of his most loved books.
You can see the animation by going to Google's home page and clicking on the decorated logo. The popular search often has fun Doodles that kids would enjoy, and can lead you to research some interesting topics.
Update: It's no longer on the home page, but you can still see the Google Doodle animated Google logo created for the late Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday in the Google Doodle archive.
When my kids hit the upper elementary years, every spring was devoted to a history research project. The projects started out simple -- just a few pages of homemade worksheets to fill out. As the kids got older, they became more in-depth.
What I enjoyed most was seeing how they fit their other interests into these all-encompassing projects. When my younger son was engrossed in learning the violin, he drew portraits and wrote biographies of Mozart and Beethoven. The year my older son became obsessed with video games, he chose to center his report on the history of the computer. That information came in handy a couple years later, when he interviewed at colleges hoping to get into their computer game development programs.
My new article lays out in detail the things my kids included in their history research projects, and the steps I helped them draw up to see the project through.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
About.com will be producing some new videos for the Homeschooling site over the next few months, and the video team is looking for your input.
What topics would you be interested in seeing presented in a video format? The topics you suggest should be applicable year round.
Take a look at the homeschooling videos available, and then leave your suggestions for new topics in the comments below. I'll be taking the best ideas and sending them on to the video team to share with their producers.
I look forward to hearing what you've got to say!
I had the thrill of meeting Susan Wise Bauer, co-author of The Well-Trained Mind, the popular homeschooling guidebook that shows you how to build a curriculum around history, at Book Expo America in New York City last week. As I have already described, Bauer's book gave me a good start on figuring out how to created my own courses.
Bauer is also the author of a series of readable histories for kids called The Story of the World, and is currently working on a similar series for teens and adults, History of the World. I received some copies of other books by her own publisher house, Peace Hill Press, which I will be reviewing in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, you can read about How to Create Your Own History Curriculum, including tips that worked for me and my family.
Image: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
As I mentioned last week, when my kids were young we homeschooled year-round. One reason was fear of the brain drain experts tell us happens when students forget what they learned over summer vacation. But it helped that they had fallen into a routine of practicing their instruments, working in the math books, and doing a little writing -- and didn't have any friends nearby to ring the doorbell and inform them that school was out for the year.
After a few years, though, I decided that summer would be a good time to take a break from the routine of homeschooling. Sadly, the city day camps in our vicinity featured all the worst elements of public school -- bullies, overworked leaders, and silly rules that made no sense (including one that stopped the counselors from letting the kids cool off in the nearby play fountains).
After that, I opted for educational enrichment programs, rather than a one-size-fits-all day camp. My kids got along better in a group where everyone shared an interest, and the adults who led them had more to offer my kids than the teen counselors at our city day camp. I got some time off to catch up on my own work and prepare for the school year ahead, and they had a fun and productive summer.
Even if you homeschool year round, there are ways to shake up your routine and take advantage of the relaxing pace of summer. My new article about Summer Enrichment for Homeschoolers suggests many ways to help keep kids busy and learning -- whether your kids are home or away.
A few years ago the kids and I did the most amazing home physics lab ever -- we built a particle detection cloud chamber using household ingredients (and a uranium marble from United Nuclear). I've written about that experiment elsewhere, if you're curious.
But one of the ingredients we needed was dry ice. The welding shop where we bought it would only sell us a ten-pound block -- about the size of a bowling ball. I asked them to saw it in half for us, and we used the extra for all kinds of cool (if less sophisticated) experiments.
Since the weather was warm at the time, we used the backyard for our laboratory, so I wouldn't have to worry about protecting the furniture. My new article gives directions for a couple of fun science demonstrations with dry ice, and links to others from About.com's excellent Chemistry site.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
With summer drawing near, many homeschooling families are looking for a little change in routine. Why not take your science studies outside with a project that gets kids thinking about the living things around them?
One year I decided we would keep tabs on every species in our backyard. I admit I even let sections of our lawn go to seed, just to see what would appear. (I called it our "meadow.") The variety of wildlife that we discovered in our urban yard was astounding. Along with this Northern Leopard Frog you see here, we found snakes, butterflies, and spiders galore, along with some wild rabbits and even a skunk! And that's just in the animal kingdom -- we cataloged everything down to the microbes in the compost pile.
Making a Nature Notebook is just one way to combine learning and fun during the warm months. I'll be suggesting many more in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned!
Image: Kathy Ceceri
A fun project for nature studies is to find out what edible plants grow in your neighborhood. I love this project from homeschooling mom Rebecca Angel, who explains how to make delicious color-changing tea using violets from your yard -- complete with an explanation of the chemistry behind it.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
No matter where they fall on the homeschooling spectrum, over the years a wide range of families have found The Well-Trained Mind to be an inspiring resource. I suspect many of us picked it up and started dreaming of how impressed the in-laws would be when the six-year-old began to recite The Iliad.
The Classical Method as espoused by The Well-Trained Mind is particularly attractive to parents of gifted kids -- which, in keeping with the Lake Woebegone Effect, is most of us. Of course, most of us quickly realize that the ideal of WTM as described in the book and the way it plays out in real life is somewhat different.
This, I believe, is the secret of WTM's popularity. For when you go on the companion website's blog or forums, you discover that everyone's version of WTM is less than perfect. That includes the book's coauthor, Susan Wise Bauer. In fact, what convinced me to give it a try was Bauer's famous blog post chronicling a day of school at her house.
Bauer recently posted a video in which she updates fans on what happened in her family, more than 10 years after the book first appeared. She couches it in terms of what she's learned now that her oldest children are grown. It's very encouraging for those of us whose kids are less than perfect (and that's most of us), and very worth watching.
Image: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Although in my state the school year doesn't end for another six weeks, in many parts of the country students are already on summer vacation.
That means a break for many homeschoolers, too. And looking for other activities to keep kids busy.
I'll be putting together some articles about what homeschoolers do over the summer. My family has run the gamut -- homeschooling year round, summer camp, enrichment programs, and just hanging around with friends.
I'm interested in hearing what you do over the summer. Does your family follow the traditional school schedule?
Image: Flickr user Labyrinth X-2/Creative Commons
The news that Denmark is about to get the world's first Lego school made me think about all the ways Lego is used by homeschooling parents. I know at one point they threatened to take over my sons' bedrooms, if not the whole house.
So I asked some homeschooling parents what educational projects their kids do with Lego. My favorite answer:
I always jokingly say that picking Lego out of a pile of swept-up crud is our spelling curriculum because research shows that good spellers are just people with extraordinary visual discrimination and visual memory skills. They know when a word looks wrong. That is certainly a skill put to practice when a kid can look at a pile of two hundred tiny colorful objects and pick out the three little Lego one-peg units.
To all the moms out there -- especially those who are giving of your time, energy and experience to homeschool your children -- I wish you a wonderful Mother's Day!
And if you just want a little fun online, check out today's Google's Doodle for Mother's Day -- it lets you create a virtual card!
Image: Kathy Ceceri
A reader who asked to remain anonymous sent in some useful suggestions for helping your homeschooler prepare for the SAT.
One book her kids liked was called Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT. I just ordered a copy for my son, who'll be taking the test in a few weeks.
In the meantime, here's some good advice about SAT prep from a veteran mom whose daughters did very well on their standardized tests.
Image: Workman Publishing
Still wondering whether to send your little one in school next fall or give homeschooling a try? You're not alone. Every year at this time, families reach out to local homeschool groups, looking for information to help them find the best educational fit for their child.
Only you can decide whether homeschooling is the right choice for your family. But if you need some fodder for the kindergarten v. homeschool debate in your house, here are Six Reasons You Shouldn't Worry About Choosing Homeschooling.
Image: Daniel Hurst Photography/Getty Images
Here at my house we're about to start buckling down and prepping for this year's edition of the SAT. My son already took it last year -- in our state, some kind of standardized test is required every year -- but it never hurts to try to raise those scores a little.
Because my 17-year-old seems to work better on his own, I'm glad I found the free online SparkNotes SAT Prep book. Of course, I'll also be sending him to look around all the SAT resources at the About.com Test Prep site.
I'd love to hear your strategies for college admissions test prep!
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr user Alexandratx
According to a Washington Post story yesterday, Virginia's first and largest cyber charter school is closing because of administration concerns. But the Post noted there have also been questions about the effectiveness of online public schools. The Virginia school was run by the nationwide company K12 Inc., which recently settled a shareholder lawsuit that accused the company of misleading investors about student performance.
A New York Times story in 2011 said some K12 teachers felt pressured to pass students who did little work. But the settlement in March dropped claims about teacher qualifications, high student-teacher ratios, and misleading parent satisfaction scores.
Do you use an online public school? Do you think they work well for families that want to learn at home?
Homeschooling families with kids who are considering college can find several useful online support groups to help them. One that I have found helpful for my own family is a Yahoo Group email list called Homeschooling Toward College -- usually referred to as hs2coll. The group is polite and respectful, and discussions stay on topic.
Members on the list come from across the country and include homeschooling families of all stripes. Many of the veterans are happy to provide insight into the college preparation and application process from a homeschool perspective. But the range of experience in all fields among the group means that just about any question will find an answer, and perhaps spark a lively discussion as well.
Last week the discussion centered on how to find letters of recommendation for college applications. I've included some of their different points of view in my new article on Homeschooling Students and Letters of Recommendation.
All homeschooling-to-college lists can be overwhelming at times, as parents obsess over making sure their kids get the best headstart on adult life. So if you decide to check out online support groups, just remember that only you know what is right for your family.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
The North Carolina State Senate has passed a bill requiring schools to teach cursive. According to an article this week in The News & Observer, the bill was the idea of one state legislator who was upset when she received handwritten letters from a class of fourth-graders that were written in manuscript (what they called in my time "printing"). The bill requires schools to have children master cursive by the end of fifth grade.
My own sons never mastered cursive -- and like many people, I developed my own hybrid of print and cursive, which is sometimes called italic. But many people fear that students will miss out if they cannot at least read letters from grandparents or historic documents in the original handwriting.
Where do you come down on the handwriting debate?
I love doing science projects at home with my kids and in the workshops I give, but we've never done anything as impressive as the projects at the White House Science Fair yesterday.
I was particularly excited to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy and Levar Burton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow fame) host the live online coverage. That's the kind of attention science education should be getting year-round.
Do your kids take part in science fairs and competitions?
With the college search process beginning for my 11th grader, I've been revisiting the narrative homeschool transcript I put together a few years ago for my older son. One of the things I included in it was a statement of my personal educational philosophy.
On Friday, we stopped by the local high school, where the guidance counselor has been helping us with the college application process. And I was very encouraged when he specifically mentioned my explanations of our philosophy and goals as one of the things that helped my older son win admittance to the college of his choice.
Every family has its own reasons for homeschooling, and a different idea of what "success" looks like. But most homeschoolers share a goal of helping their kids develop the initiative and resourcefulness to keep learning and growing throughout their lives. My Homeschooling Philosophy gives you a peek into how I view this wonderful process we are all involved in.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
Ask around for the best way to prepare a homeschool transcript for college applications, and you're bound to get differing opinions. One school of thought says to make your your child's high school transcript look as much like a typical school transcript as possible. That can include using a name that implies your child graduated from a private school (which in some states, is one way homeschooling is handled).
The other is to create a transcript that highlights your student's nontraditional education. That's the route we chose to go with my first son, and it worked out great. He was accepted on the spot during his interview at his first-choice college.
Many homeschooling parents have asked me to share the process I went through to put together a narrative transcript for my son's application. Here are my tips for creating a Narrative Homeschool Transcript.