My new article Geography Teaching Tips suggests ways to help kids learn map skills. But there's a lot more to geography than just maps.
"Cultural geography" is the study of all the things that make a country unique -- its government, its topography, its language, food, clothing, and other aspects of daily life.
Several years ago I created a workshop that taught kids about "what makes a country a country" by introducing them to micronations -- little countries that kids and adults create themselves.
Now that idea has been turned into a book, just released by the homeschool-friendly publisher Nomad Press. Micronations: Invent Your Own Country and Culture explains all the different aspects of real countries, and includes 25 activities that encourage kids to make their own. I'm very proud of my latest book, and can't wait to see what creations homeschooling families and others come up with!
Over the years, I have met a few homeschooling parents whose kids accomplished extraordinary things. It's natural to want to look up to those parents and try to follow in their footsteps.
But not every parent of a gifted or talented child makes a good role model. Some I've known were so competitive that any conversation turned into a contest of one-up-manship. One actually suggested that hanging out with my kids was making her kid dumber! (My impression? He needed no help acting dumb.)
Other parents have been just the opposite. Generous with their time, willing to share their wisdom and experience, and able to talk about their kids' attributes without making other parents feel diminished.
Luckily, I've known many parents like that, too. One of them, Mary O'Keeffe, was honored this week with a Jefferson Award for Public Service. Mary runs the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in her Upstate New York community, helped found local Math Circles that sent homeschooled and public school students to competitions at the highest levels, and organizes summer workshops in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for economically disadvantaged students from the region. I have written about her advice about homeschooling math which urges parents to approach it with a playful attitude.
Mary has always been one of my homeschooling role models, and it's great to see her service to the community acknowledged. Congratulations!
Do you have a homeschooling role model?
You may have noticed that About.com is redesigning its look with bigger and better photographs. That means we Experts have to find lots of interesting, appealing images to go with our stories.
The problem is, when you go to a photo service like Getty and search for "homeschooling," what you find is a lot of photos like the one above: parent hunched over child doing homework at the kitchen table.
It's a perfectly good image, but it's just not accurate -- thank goodness. Is there anything parents and kids hate more than struggling together over a worksheet? I know I'd never have lasted this long if homeschooling meant hour after hour of homework.
My new article "What Homeschooling Really Looks Like" tries to present a more balanced view of what it's like to teach your kids at home (including a few shots of my own kids busy learning). What's your favorite image of homeschooling?
Image: ONOKY - Eric Audras/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Today, the push seems to be getting kids to read early, to give them a "head start" over the competition in their own country and abroad. And reading instruction programs are big business in schools and among homeschoolers, as Google's recent purchase of Accelerated Reader shows.
But there's also a school of thought that says most kids can teach themselves to read, given enough time. The question is whether letting kids learn at their own pace handicaps them down the road.
My new article Early Reader/Late Reader: Does it Matter? looks at some of the research and anecdotal evidence about whether sooner is always better.
Image: ONOKY - Eric Audras/Getty Images
DragonBox, an app that teaches algebra to kids as young as five, is free today on Amazon.
It's just one of the resources I mentioned in my recent article Fun Math Stuff to See and Do.
I just grabbed it and will review it soon. Let me know what you think about it too!
I love activities that span more than one subject. I've just published a "homeschooling lesson plan" that shows you how to take a simple wave bottle project, enhance it with a decorative rocker base, and use it to teach science, math, and engineering as well as art.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
I just got back a nice note from the school district person who handles our paperwork. I let her know my son had received his GED (so we wouldn't be filing any more quarterly reports) and as an aside, that he was weighing a bunch of college offers for next year. She sent us a big "Congrats!"
Never thought I'd get teary about the end of paperwork.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
Whenever I read about schools closed because of natural disasters or teacher strikes, or families that decide to pull their children out because of stressful situations, I always wonder whether parents know how to help their kids learn without a classroom in an emergency.
It doesn't take much to get started. My new article on Emergency Homeschooling contains advice for creating an educational environment on the fly, in almost any kind of circumstances.
What would you include in an "emergency homeschooling" plan or kit?
Image: Getty Images/Robert Llewellyn
My new article lists 10 Famous Homeschoolers -- but in combing the Internet to find ten names, I came across some people whose early education was not typical, but not really homeschooling, either.
For instance, I'm not sure U.S. President John Adams belongs on the list -- although other White House occupants have a better claim to the title. And I didn't include former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice either, after seeing that her "homeschooling" only went up to first grade. In other words, she started school at the usual age, after being taught at home as a preschooler. Considering that academic preschools were a rarity when Rice was a child, I wouldn't classify that as technically homeschooling.
I also tried to include a couple names that don't usually make the Top 10 list, but I'm sure I left some out. Who would you add to my list of notable homeschoolers?
Image: Painting by Asher B. Durand, Public Domain
Homeschooling is sometimes treated as a decision to withdraw from society. But the truth is, many homeschoolers end up attending school at some point.
It's not unusual for a school family to find themselves homeschooling for a short period as well.
Most children make the transition with no difficulty, but it can take some adjustment at first. My new article on Short-Term Homeschooling contains some tips to help make the switch from school to home and back again as smooth as possible.
What's your advice for short-term homeschoolers?
Image: Zigy Kaluzny/Getty Images
This month a blog post from a teacher who shares my feelings about reading systems has been making the rounds. Dear Google, You Should Have Talked to Me First tells the search engine giant that buying the program Accelerated Reader for $40 million was perhaps not the best investment they could have made.
As a kid, I hated the reading system that appeared in my classroom one year. Instead of reading actual books, we were presented with a kit full of brightly colored cards. Reading through the box of cards and answering a few questions correctly meant moving on to the next colored level.
Reading became a race instead of a pleasant activity. The fact that the colors matched the properties on the Monopoly board only helped to strengthen the competitive nature -- I really liked that orange corner on the board, so zipping through to reach the orange box of cards was my goal!
Today classrooms may use computer systems instead of cards, but the idea behind them is the same. Break reading down into measurable bits in order to generate data -- not to foster a love of reading.
My article Make Reading Fun tells you how to encourage your children to read, without all the fancy (and harmful) bells and whistles.
Image: kate_sept2004/Getty Images
When it came time for my children to apply for college, they took the GED exam. In some homeschooling circles, that's a controversial decision.
In my state an equivalency diploma is one of the ways homeschoolers show they have finished their K-12 education. But it's not really the same as a high school diploma. Many homeschoolers feel their right to educate their children includes the right to determine when they have completed their studies satisfactorily. The question is, whether the outside world agrees.
My new article Does Your Homeschool Grad Need a GED? looks at some of the pros and cons of taking an equivalency test -- some new ones have sprung up this year -- and provides information for those who are interested in using it in their homeschooling.
Image: Getty Images/Peter Dazeley
I'm convinced that homeschooling parents would be accused of child abuse if they did what schools do on a regular basis. The latest affront is the "sit and stare" policy many schools are imposing on students who opt out of Common Core testing.
My article on Standardized Testing and Homeschoolers gives suggestions for minimizing the impact of tests in state which require them.
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr user Alexandratx
For years my family belonged to a homeschooling book club. Most months, we used the book club selection as our evening read aloud.
Sometimes we listened to the audiobook version instead. But we never watched the movie version without going through the text of the book first.
Other families in our book club were not so strict -- and it showed. Their kids simply couldn't participate in the book discussion when all they knew was the general outline, and not the original story. They also had no insight into the writer's language or way of presenting the narrative.
Did my family ever watch the movie adaptations? Sure! In fact, some months, reading the book and then getting together with the book group to watch the movie was our monthly activity. It gave the kids a chance to compare how the story was presented on screen and on the page (and possibly helped my younger son decide to major in filmmaking).
My new article tells you how to Start a Homeschool Book Club. If you'd like to give it a go, there are some great movie adaptations coming out this year. Here are my picks:
- The Fault in Our Stars
- The final Hunger Games movie
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Image: Getty Images/Stone
My most popular article on About.com Homeschooling to date, What Not to Say to a Homeschooler (And How to Respond When They Say It Anyway), has stirred a lot of feelings among readers. Find out what other outrageous remarks homeschoolers have endured in the comments to the accompanying blog post called "And That's Why I Homeschool!' And Other Things Not to Say.
If you've got little ones at home, you'll also want to read How to Homeschool Your Preschooler, which features age-appropriate activities.
And Do I Have to Give Grades? suggests alternatives ways to evaluate how much your kids have learned. Enjoy!
Image: Howard Sokol/Getty Images
A member of the email list Homeschooling Toward College (hs2coll) today pointed towards an essay on CNN that she felt validates what homeschooling parents do with their teens -- give them individualized attention. Two university professors talking about ways to help at-risk urban youth suggest a model used by an organization called Match Education of Boston:
Match had the insight that teaching one or two students at a time eliminates some of the biggest challenges involved in teaching a whole classroom of students (like classroom management). Many more people can be good at tutoring compared with being good at classroom teaching; extensive teacher experience and training are not required.
Like these education experts, I believe the reason homeschooling parents can be good teachers is because the skills needed to manage a classroom are different from the skills needed to work one-on-one with a child (especially your own child). That's why homeschoolers who continue on through high school have so much success making the transition to college and beyond.
Image: Getty Images/Peter Dazeley
Find out today, March 12, at 11:30 am Eastern time as I join my fellow "parenting experts" Terri Mauro, Catherine Holecko, and Amanda Morin on the Parenting RoundAbout Podcast. We'll be discussing how we earned our parenting cred, the responsibility it brings, and how every parent can own their expertise.
And you can listen to past episodes and see what's coming up on the schedule on these sites. Give a listen!
As a homeschooler, I get uneasy when I see parents and politicians pushing for universal pre-kindergarten, especially when they tout it as preparation for Common Core testing to come.
Don't get me wrong -- I want the children in my community to get a good education. But the implication that more hours spent in the classroom is good for kids is worrisome.
Early childhood experts believe little kids need more time to run around and explore. That's how their brains develop. Forcing kids to sit still, work quietly, and do only what they are told to do before they are ready can lead to more children being diagnosed with attention problems who really just need an environment that's appropriate for their emotional and chronological age.
That's why I encourage homeschooling parents not to begin "schoolwork" with their very young children unless the children themselves ask for it. My new article "How to Homeschool Your Preschooler" includes ideas for age-appropriate activities you can do before traditional homeschooling work starts.
Image: kate_sept2004/Getty Images
Astronomy fans will want to tune in this week to watch Cosmos, a reworking of the Carl Sagan series that inspired so many with its explanations of time, space, and how the universe works.
Host Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is one of the most well-known scientists today -- most famous for demoting Pluto from the status of planet.
You can catch Cosmos tonight, Sunday March 9, at 9 pm Eastern Time on multiple Fox channels, with re-broadcasts on Monday and Friday on the National Geographic Channel.
Image: National Geographic Channel
According to a study in Science Daily from last fall, researchers got a surprise when they compared the health of homeschoolers and traditionally-schooled children.
"Based on previous research, we went into this study thinking home-schooled children would be heavier and less active than kids attending traditional schools," said Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD, the study's lead author. "We found the opposite."
As researchers discovered, both groups got about the same amount of exercise, but homeschoolers were still less likely to be obese than the traditionally-schooled kids. The deciding factor? Homecooked meals. Kids who ate cafeteria meals got way more calories, sodium, and sugar at lunch than homeschoolers.
If you're having trouble finding time to prepare homecooked meals when you're also homeschooling, try some of these Cooking Tips for Homeschoolers. Research shows, it's worth it!
(Hat tip to the Free Range Learning Facebook page for the link.)
Image: Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Stories in The New York Times and Washington Post report that the College Board, maker of the SATs and other standardized tests, has faced reality. Nobody ever liked the Writing section the company tacked on in addition to Reading and Math (especially the hand-written essay), and many colleges simply ignored those scores.
So starting in 2016, students will only have to take the two original sections. To lessen complaints that it's weighted towards wealthy kids whose parents can afford expensive test prep programs, free online SAT prep lessons will be also available through Khan Academy.
I don't put much stock in standardized tests, and many educational experts don't either. It'll be interesting to see if these changes can quell the backlash against the over-testing of kids in school.
Have your kids taken the SATs, ACTs, or other standardized tests? Are you happy to see these changes?
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr user Alexandratx
Parents who send their kids to school and those who homeschool share a lot of concerns. But sometimes it's the differences that come out in ways that can be ... unpleasant ... for one or the other.
Not long ago, a friend on Facebook complained that discussions about school problems always seem to draw a comment along the lines of "And that's why I homeschool!" She's right -- homeschooling is not, and never will be, the solution for everyone. (Although for many families it can make some issues disappear overnight.)
But homeschoolers also have a few choice phrases we'd rather not hear again, either. To find out what they are, check out my new article, "What Not to Say to a Homeschooler (And How to Respond When They Say It Anyway)." And please share your least-appreciated remarks in the comments below!
Image: Howard Sokol/Getty Images
The article quotes pioneering math educator and curriculum designer Maria Droujkova, who has talked to adults and worked with students to find out what really works. Droujkova says:
Studies have shown that games or free play are efficient ways for children to learn, and they enjoy them. They also lead the way into the more structured and even more creative work of noticing, remixing and building mathematical patterns.
Homeschooling gives parents the freedom to throw out stifling worksheets and introduce kids to the wonder of math. You can find resources to take your kids where math is fun in my article How to Homeschool Math.
Image: Kathy Ceceri
An op-ed piece in the LA Times yesterday argues that we'll never teach kids to use math as problem solvers if all we show them is mechanics -- and not the ideas behind them. According to UC Berkeley math professor Edward Frenkel,
In elementary and middle school and even into high school, we hide math's great masterpieces from students' view. The arithmetic, algebraic equations and geometric proofs we do teach are important, but they are to mathematics what whitewashing a fence is to Picasso -- so reductive it's almost a lie.
I heartily agree. One day when I was in elementary school, a math professor subbed for our absent teacher. Instead of fractions, he spent the morning introducing us to Fibonacci numbers. It was only a single visit, and yet that day learning about ideas instead of filling out worksheets has stuck with me through the years.
My own children once got to sit in on a lecture at a local college from a "freelance geometer" who used what would now be considered primitive video games to teach them about four-dimensional space. As Frenkel says in his piece, the kids in the audience hadn't yet learned that this math was beyond them, so they followed it eagerly.
Don't believe traditionalists who tell you worksheets and memorizing are what math is all about. If you'd like some ideas for helping your kids to find the wonder and excitement in numbers, check out my article How to Homeschool Math.
Sign up for my newsletter!
I've been enjoying taking part in the Parenting Roundabout Podcast, featuring some of my fellow parenting experts from About.com. This week the topic was "When Should You Worry?" That's a question many new homeschooling parents have, when their kids don't seem to fit the standard timelines. I'll be writing an article with some of the insights from that conversation in the near future.
Special Needs Expert Terri Mauro has a running list of new podcast recordings as they go live, so you can go back and catch up on any that you missed. You can also see what topics are slated for future episodes. One I'm looking forward to is "What Makes You an Expert?" -- something all parenting "authorities" must surely ask themselves when dealing with their own kids!
If you've got any suggestions for topics you'd like to hear discussed on the podcast, please share them in the comments below!