To Test, or Not To Test…That’s the Question

 

I sealed the plain brown envelope with some hesitancy today. That envelope held some pretty important papers…standardized tests for my oldest boys.  Now, I should explain that we are not required by the state of Arkansas to do standardized testing.  On the contrary, they wisely realized that by requiring the testing of homeschoolers, they were wasting taxpayer money on something that didn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of state education.  However, I’ve always said that I would test my kids regularly just for a few reasons:  A) To make sure that I know where they are in respect to other kids, B) To make sure that they have exposure to test-taking situations, and C) In the event that we do put them back in school, it will be added documentation for where they should be placed.

testing

 

But, I made that decision five years ago, when we pulled our oldest child out of public school. A lot has changed since then.  My philosophy of education is vastly different than it was.  I don’t want a standardized test to define my children’s knowledge or worse, to label them one way or another (genius, average joe, or dumb as a rock).  After all, my children are anything but “standard”.  They are each so unique and different…how could any of them be tested up against the other?

So I didn’t test them last year. It was James’s first year of homeschooling, and I wanted to give him a year of rest, and Isaac had tested the year before so it wasn’t going to hurt anything for him to skip a year.  Then this year rolled around, and I really wanted to see where they stood academically.  So we decided to go for it and test them, but as I sealed that envelope today and sent it off in the mail, I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach again.  It’s that inner dialogue that we all fight in one way or another that says, “What if this just proves that everything you are doing has been worthless?”

Of course, I know that voice….and it’s not the voice of my Father. So I reminded myself that God leads our every step, and then I realized all the things that these pieces of paper would NOT tell me.  Here’s my list:

  1. That paper will NOT tell me how far we’ve come with James. .. All the hard days, hard discussions, and tears that have paved the way for healing…there’s no test that can tell me the result of that.
  2. It does NOT account for all the times that we stopped instruction to do some serious heart work this year.
  3. It won’t tell me that James is testing WITHOUT medication for the first time.
  4. It won’t tell me that Isaac, who was a struggling math student until last year, did every problem in his head (and nailed it!).
  5. That paper will NOT provide a complete synopsis of the skills, talents and gifts that God has given each of my children.
  6. That paper will NOT tell me the hours that we’ve spent together reading and discussing great literature together as a family.
  7. It will NOT tell me everything that my kids know about our three-year study of American History from the days of the Native Americans to the present.
  8. That paper will NOT tell me the character of my children.
  9. That paper will NOT tell me the spiritual condition of my children’s hearts.
  10. That paper will NOT tell me their intelligence level.
  11. That paper will NOT tell me their worth.
  12. That paper will NOT tell me MY worth as their Mom or their Teacher.

Thankfully, after reciting these things to myself, I was able to drop it in the mail knowing that we’ve had a great year. Not only have we made big strides in academics, more importantly, we’ve made big strides in life.

So mamas and daddies of both homeschooled and public schooled kiddos, here are my words of wisdom when it comes to standardized testing…Everything has a place, but keep it there, in its place. Don’t allow it to seep out into other areas where it has no business.  A piece of paper, whether it’s a standardized test or a BMI or anything else, at the end of the day, is just a piece of paper.  It tells you a few things, but stops short of the big picture.

If you are seeking God’s will for your family and diligently following it to the best of your ability, you have nothing to worry about….God will fill in the gaps, so rest easy.

 

Advertisements

Mom’s Helper System

Today, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Mothers of Preschoolers or MOPS for short. I really enjoyed it, and I would most definitely recommend this group to anyone with preschoolers!  I spoke about chores, and I must say, in the chore system area, I’ve pretty much tried everything.  But there are two systems that have really worked for my family.  So I thought I’d share them here with you.

Preschool-chore-charts-with-pictures-2

From Homeschool Creations

The first system is one I used when my kids were preschoolers. It’s from the website Homeschool Creations.  I really liked it because it was simple for me and fun for them, plus it gave the option of extra paid chores.  Click here for this system.

The second system is one I developed after my oldest came to me one day and said, “Mom, you never spend time with me.” After I got over the initial shock and rage of the comment (after all, I am a homeschooler…we spend every waking minute together for goodness sakes!), I evaluated our routine, and aside from school time, I really didn’t spend much extra time with them.  A big reason for this was simply that the work load of having a larger family was taking a lot of my time.  So, after some brainstorming, I figured out a system that would accomplish three things:

  1. To teach my kids to do everything needed to keep the house going
  2. To take some of the housework off me
  3. To spend quality time with each child while I’m getting a clean house

So here it is…the Mom’s Helper System. I simply put four hooks (one for each kid) on the closet door in our kitchen, and I hung the cards on the hooks.  Every day that we are home, I rotate the cards.  So, everyone gets to do every job.  I really like this system too, because if we are gone one day, it’s no big deal…I just rotate the next day.

Click here for the files:

Moms Helper Chore SystemMoms Helper Chore System vERTICAL

Moms Helper Chore System

My laundry helper helps wash, dry, fold and put away all the clothes for the day. My kitchen helper (this is the most coveted position available) helps me decide what to make, prepare the food for each meal, and clean up after each meal.  My Outdoor helper helps me keep the outside of the house clean by picking up trash, watering plants and putting up toys and bikes.  Sometimes, this person also gets to pick out the new wreath and put out new décor or plant flowers in the springtime.  The Bathroom helper gives all the surfaces a good wiping with a Clorox wipe, changes toilet paper, and cleans the toilet (as needed).  My kids are still young and not very confident with these “bigger” chores yet, so I at least supervise, but usually I’m right there with them helping.  That’s where the quality time comes in.  While we’re up to our elbows cleaning the toilet, I’m talking to them and finding out what’s going on in their world.

One of the great benefits, however, is that after just a few weeks, these jobs can be done by the kids themselves (for the most part), so if I get in a pinch, I can easily say, “Isaac, go start lunch for everyone.” He will know what to do, because he has plenty of experience now.

I’ve also included a Living Room card. This person could do the dusting or picking up of the living room area.  I’ve also included a Mom’s Helper and a blank card.  These can be used just about any way.  It’s up to you.  This has been a really easy system to keep going.  I know because if it’s not easy, I won’t do it!

I’m making these files available to you to download for free. I hope you enjoy them!

 

 

Here to Help Learning Review

“Mom, what do you do at  your blogger meeting?”  asked my oldest son.

“Well, we get together and talk about blogging things and we do writing prompts,” I replied.

“What?!  You get together and write???  Why would anybody choose to get together and write?  It sounds horrible!” he insisted.

This might give you a glimpse of the stark difference between my view of writing and his view of it.  The other day, I wrote about my journey of homeschooling a struggling writer, and I wanted to elaborate just a bit on the new writing program we have found and are really enjoying.

Do you have a struggling writer? Looking for help?

Do you have a struggling writer? Looking for help?

What’s so funny is that while I love to write, I struggle to teach writing.  When I write, there is no rhyme or reason.  I just pour out my thoughts as naturally as if I were journaling, but children need more concrete instruction to get them going…especially children who dislike writing.  I’ve learned that there is a lot of patience needed in teaching writing, and I believe that you can over-write.  Some writing programs are just far too exhausting. That’s why we are loving Here to Help Learning.  Here are a few other reasons:

1.  Bite-sized assignments.  I love that Here to Help Learning breaks down the tasks into truly bite-sized pieces.  It’s so much less overwhelming than looking at a really big chunk of writing work.  It’s not intimidating for reluctant writers, because every assignment is doable.

2.  It’s fun!  Each lesson comes with a video.  The videos are engaging, visually stimulating, and fun!  Also, the Warm Up writing assignment usually includes a really funny picture that gets my boys tickled.

This is Mrs. Mora from Here to Help Learning. She's your guide through the exciting world of writing...and no, exciting wasn't a typo! It's true!

This is Mrs. Mora from Here to Help Learning. She’s your guide through the exciting world of writing…and no, exciting wasn’t a typo! It’s true!

3.  Excellent instruction.  The instruction is very clear and easy.  Mrs. Mora makes everything seem so simple!  The program is so well organized that the kids don’t even realize how the small assignments add up until they’ve written a whole paragraph!  After their first completed writing assignment, my boys had a solid idea of the writing process, and they quickly remembered the motions to each step.

4.  Fosters Independence.  One of the big goals at the Wood house this year was to begin working toward independence.  I wanted my boys to start working more on their own instead of with me holding their hand all the time.  This program has really helped us do just that.  My boys work much more independently this year with their writing.  After all, writing is easy with Mrs. Mora’s help!

5.  Well organized.  As the facilitator, I’ve really enjoyed how easy this program is for me.  With very little preparation, I can have a great writing lesson ready in just a couple of minutes.  For this busy mom of four, that is absolutely necessary and priceless!

6.  It’s positive.  Mrs. Mora does an excellent job at making sure that the learning environment remains positive even during things like peer review, which can get sticky.  This program is Christian based so it’s no surprise that there’s an emphasis on things like positivity, how to effectively critique someone else’s work, and appropriate writing topics.

7.  It’s rewarding.  Not only is it rewarding for my kids to have finished a piece of writing that they can be proud of, but Here to Help Learning also includes an incentive program that really keeps the kids on their toes.

The Here to Help Writing Set comes with a teacher's manual, a student workbook, and 6 DVDs. It's a great deal!

The Here to Help Writing Set comes with a teacher’s manual, a student workbook, and 6 DVDs. It’s a great deal!

I would most definitely suggest Here to Help Learning to my fellow homeschool moms.  It’s been a big boost for us in writing, and I’m thrilled that we found it!  To check it out for yourself, click on the link below.

Here to Help Learning

Pencils Up!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this program in exchange for my honest review.  All the thoughts and opinions shared are my own.  The links provided are affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting this site. 

Help for the Homeschool Mom of Struggling Writers

Help for the Homeschool Mom of a Struggling Writer

I love words.  I love to write.  I can feel the words flowing from my fingertips constantly, and when they aren’t actually flowing through my fingertips, I’m writing blog posts and books in my mind.  That’s how much I love words and putting words together to communicate.  And that’s why it’s been so hard for me to be mom to a struggling writer.

My sweet Isaac has never enjoyed writing.  Way back in kindergarten, he decided he didn’t like it.  And as much as I tried to explain how wonderful writing was, he just hated it.   So, a couple of years ago, I decided to stop fighting it, and start thinking outside the box.  So I decided to observe him to figure out the root of the problem.

The first thing I noticed was that it took Isaac a long time to write anything.  It seemed that he pressed the pencil a little bit too hard, and it was more labor-intensive for him to write than it should have been.  He hated turning his pencil over to erase, so many times, he just wouldn’t, and he made random scratch marks all over his paper, I think out of frustration.

I also noticed that he struggled to start his writing assignments.  A blank page was daunting to him, and the beginning of a writing project was the worst day of his life, closely followed by every other day of a writing project.  I knew that I wanted to change this, but how?

The first thing I did was I addressed the physical part of writing.  I did some research and I found something called dysgraphia.  This is a learning disability closely related to dyslexia where the child struggles with the actual act of writing.  The symptoms seemed to match pretty well, so I looked into getting him some therapy.  We went to a physical therapist in our area and while he wasn’t diagnosed with dysgraphia, we did find out that he had some pretty severe delayed fine motor skills which were hindering his writing.  So, we began to work on it under the direction of the therapist.

Every day, during our read aloud time, I would have Isaac do his “fine motor” work.  He would do simple tasks like transferring marbles from one place to another with chopsticks or digging beads out of therapy putty.  Slowly, over time, I began to notice a big difference in his writing.  He wasn’t struggling or laboring over it like he once did.  Addressing fine motor issues was a huge step in writing success for Isaac.

Next, I wanted to address the blank page phobia.  I knew that Isaac thrived when he talked to me.  He could tell me lengthy stories and describe vivid scenarios in detail.  So, I decided to start working with him verbally.  I decided to be his recorder.  I would introduce a topic, we would discuss it, and I would collect his thoughts on paper.

Then, we would take that paper, and we would organize his thoughts using a graphic organizer.  After that, he would use the graphic organizer to verbalize his paragraph or story to me.  He would stand next to me at the computer and say what he wanted me to type.  I would type it on the computer in large print, double spaced, exactly like he said it.  NO EDITING MOMS!  This is critical.  If you want learning to happen, you have to write it without capitals, periods, misspell a word or two…make mistakes so that he can practice finding them.

I would print that out, and he would edit and revise it.  Then, I would type it out again with the revisions.  And finally, I would have him copy it in his handwriting.  This process would take anywhere from two weeks to a month, depending on the project.  It made all the difference in the world!  Soon, he began to really enjoy writing, because it was something that he could see slowly, but surely, coming together.  And when he was done, he really had a piece to be proud of, one that he could take complete ownership of.  It was a win-win.

The past two years, we have seen tremendous growth in Isaac’s writing.  And when I think about it, I realize that we could have just gotten stuck in that spot.  I could have left him behind, and let him continually struggle.  But instead, we were able to find a solution that improved everyone’s experience.  This year, I decided to try a more formal method of writing instruction using Here to Help Learning’s writing curriculum.  We are loving it so far!  In fact, my next post will be a review of Here to Help Learning’s program.  I hope you’ll check it out.

Most of all, if your child is struggling in an area, it’s always a good idea to stop and think outside the box.  Don’t get stuck in the box of how everyone else does something.  First, look at actual physical delays.  Is there a fine motor delay?  Are you dealing with dysgraphia or another learning disability?  Next, does your child just need a little more assistance from you?  Remember, it won’t last forever.  Independence will come.  But your help may be just what they need to get going.  And if you can’t offer them that assistance, can you try an outside-the-box writing curriculum like Here to Help Learning?

I’m so thankful that we have found a groove that helped my son so much.  This year, he’s writing more independently, and it’s a joy for us both!

Quiet Time Journal Page for Kids {free printable}

A free printable to guide your child through their own individual quiet time.

A free printable to guide your child through their own individual quiet time.

For the past three years, my kids and I have met each morning in the living room for Bible Time. And we have loved every minute of it. Over the past three years, our time has grown from 10 minutes a day to an hour simply because we really do love it. This year, while I still plan to do a group Bible Time, I am going to be requiring my boys to do an individual Quiet Time for the first time. With the girls at school, there’s actually a good chance that the “quiet” part can actually happen this year!

I think that establishing a Quiet Time routine is an essential practice for the Christian life, so I’d love for my boys to get started early. I plan on easing into this, probably having a Quiet Time one day per week, and then growing it to a daily practice slowly as we go. I wanted my boys to have something to guide their time with the Lord, so I made this little printable for them, and I wanted to share it with you too.

The idea behind the printable is to forget about complete sentences and proper grammar, and just get the thoughts down, so I’d encourage you to go through the page with your child the first few times and model this. For reluctant writers, I would recommend one word phrases…just enough to recall their memory later. There’s also extra space on the page for artwork, doodling, and extra notes-all of which I feel are important for children (and us grown-ups too!).

I’m so glad to be able to share this printable with you! I’d love for you to share it with your friends as well. I’ll give you all an update on how our quiet time is going in a few weeks!

Just click on the link below for your very own copy!

Kids Quiet Time Journal Page pdf

When There’s Not Enough Mom to Go Around

When There Isn't Enough Mom to Go Around

When There Isn’t Enough Mom to Go Around

Today, I took my sweet 5 year old to enroll her in public school kindergarten. The new, somewhat last-minute plan for the year is for Lydia to go to Preschool, Hannah to go to Kindergarten, and my boys to homeschool. There are a million reasons why we made this decision, but in all honesty, it really boils down to the fact that at this season in our life, there’s just not enough of me to go around.

This is not an easy pill for this Type-A homeschool mom (who likes to think she is SuperMom!) to handle. I can’t stand not being able to do all that life throws at me-and all that I throw at myself. And, I’m not too keen on watching my girls walk away from me with backpacks and lunchboxes in hand this year. It’s not the picture I had envisioned when we began homeschooling three years ago. Please don’t get me wrong…I’m not anti-public school. On the contrary, I am thankful for our public schools. The part I struggle with is what I can’t do. So, I’m trying to take my own advice that I always give other moms. (Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to take your own advice??) As a reminder to myself, I am listing the advice I give here. Maybe it will bring comfort to you today too.

*It’s okay. Whatever the decision you make, however the situation presents itself…it’s okay. Public school or homeschool, medicine or no medicine, cloth diapers or disposable, formula or breastfed, work or stay home…well, you get the idea. If you have prayed about these decisions and you have peace about it in your heart, then it’s okay. These decisions alone aren’t going to make a perfect child nor will they destroy a child.

*What’s right for one child may not be right for another. Yeah…wouldn’t it be easier if every one of our kids was exactly the same? Well…I guess that depends on the temperament of your first child, huh? But they aren’t. They are each unique, each with different personalities. Hannah is thrilled about going to school. She couldn’t be happier. When I told Isaac, his first response was sheer terror followed by, “I’m not going am I??” That kid would stay with his mama forever…and just for the record, I’m okay with it! So, yeah, every child is different.

* What’s right one year may not be right the next. Tim and I have ALWAYS said that homeschooling for us was year to year, and our kids know that too. Each year, we pray about it, and see where God leads us. Now, in all honesty…I didn’t expect to be acting on that bold statement so soon, and especially with my babies! But, as I told my kids today, “That’s part of the fun of being in the Wood family…you just never know what God will lead us to next.”

*You’re not a failure. The phrase that has come out of my mouth so easily and so genuinely to so many other mothers seems to get hung up in my own mind. Why is that? Failure is not a mother who prays for her children daily. Failure is not a mother who considers every decision carefully. Failure is not a mother who loves her children. So, I will rest in that.

*You can’t expect to do everything. It’s okay to hand some things over sometimes. It’s okay to not be in control of everything. It’s okay to let others carry the load with you.

What flows out of my mouth when I’m encouraging others seems like old honey oozing out of my fingers today as I type. It’s not easy to take the advice that you dish out is it? The truth is that Hannah will excel this year in school…that’s just her personality. She will probably love everything about it. Lydia may not love it, but she needs it. She needs the structure that I cannot give her right now. James needs a year at home to mature and to be grafted into the family. And Isaac needs a year to focus on his relationship with James under the comfortable umbrella of homeschool. I need a year to breathe a little bit more freely.  It is my hope and my prayer that this time next year, I will look back and be able to see all these things coming to complete fruition. And then, next year, we’ll pray about it, seek the Lord’s guidance, and do it all over again!

To all my blog readers….I’ll still be blogging regularly. In fact, I hope to blog through my boys’ Sonlight Core D year. I also have a kid’s bible freebie coming your way soon. Thanks for reading.

Our Curriculum 2015-2016

This is always one of my favorite posts of the year. The curriculum post. I wrote this past weekend about how I’m practically a curriculum-tester…remember? Yeah, it’s true. I love curriculum. I get the same rush from new curriculum that I get when I see all the pens, pencils, and backpacks out at Wal-Mart every summer. It makes me happy. I’m nerdy that way.

This year, I have a fourth grader, a third grader, a kindergartner, a pre-k kiddo, and a partridge in a pear tree….wait….more like a finch in a half-dead tree? Not the same effect huh? Okay, okay, on with the post!  Here are our curriculum choices for the 2015-2016 school year:

THIRD & FOURTH GRADE

My boys will be doing things pretty much together, and I’ll simply be tailoring things to their individual needs. Of course, once again this year, we will be using our absolute favorite, Sonlight. We did the first half of Core D last year (American History) and we will finish up that core this year. I have really enjoyed taking two years to complete this core because we have had the opportunity to expand each topic through projects and extra activities. It’s been really fun. Click here for my Pinterest board on Sonlight Core D to check out all our extension ideas for this year (and last year too!). We’ll be using Sonlight for our Reading & Literature, History and Science.

Our Curriculum Choices for 2015-2016

Our Curriculum Choices for 2015-2016

For Math, we will be using Right Start Math. After two and a half years of struggling in Math, I am so happy to say that after half a semester with RSM, Isaac happily claims that his favorite subject is Math…along with history, reading, and science. I am tickled pink about it! We love RSM because it’s hands-on, activity-driven, and the workpages aren’t too intense for my reluctant writers. With Isaac, we will be finishing up Level C and moving to Level D. With James, we will be starting Level C.

A great Math option for your homeschool curriculum.

A great Math option for your homeschool curriculum.

Last year was the first year that I actually felt really good about writing. I finally felt that we had hit a groove, and I knew what worked. However, I still feel like I am missing a lot of the mechanics and grammar of the writing process. So, I’m really excited to be trying out Here to Help Learning’s writing program. My kids and I have already checked out the first lesson, and my oldest son has officially declared that it “might be kinda cool”. That’s 9-year-old code for, “Wow Mom, that’s amazing! I can’t wait to start this writing curriculum!”

Penmanship….I feel like this is where the gloomy music begins playing in the background. Do you hear it too? This is the one subject where my oldest son absolutely rares up and starts bucking. The child hates to physically write. We realized last year that he had a pretty significant fine motor delay, so we worked with a therapist all through the year last year, and made significant improvements in his writing. I’m encouraged with the progress we made last year. In that line of thinking, I’ve decided to go with a therapy-approved cursive curriculum this year. The big thing that attracted me was that the practice pages were minimal, so it shouldn’t be overwhelming. Also, there is actually a method to the way the swoops and loops are taught. It’s called Handwriting Helps for Kids, and I’m optimistic about our Handwriting time this year **smiles**

What are you using for Penmanship this year?

What are you using for Penmanship this year?

KINDERGARTEN AND PRE-K

Again, we will be using Sonlight Core A for my girls this year (big surprise huh?) for reading, history, language, and science. I will be supplementing with Bob Books (just because she loves them so much) and we will continue using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I really like that book, and so far, it’s done a great job getting our girl on an early start to reading. Click here for my Pinterest board on extension ideas for Sonlight Core A.

Our Curriculum Choices for 2015-2016

Our Curriculum Choices for 2015-2016

For Math, we will be using Right Start Math Level A. We started this last year, and the girls just ate it up! They loved the card games and the activities, and who can beat the Yellow is the Sun song?

For Handwriting, we will be using Handwriting Helps for Kids manuscript for my kinder girl and pre-writing level for my pre-k girl. Again, I’m excited about this program, and I think it will be a good fit for us.

What are you using for Penmanship this year?

What are you using for Penmanship this year?

As far as Bible goes, I’m looking for a little deeper study for my older ones without losing my littles, and I’m considering the Picture Smart Bible. What are your thoughts on this? Any experience?  What do you use?