Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Back to School for Those Who Go to School (and homeschoolers!)--Tip V: Preview Textbooks

Tip V of XII: Preview Kids’ Textbooks With Them at the Beginning of School

“The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” Robert M Hutchins

For all types of schoolers—a post on previewing textbooks with our children. I am going to post this for those attending school, but hope that those who homeschool will utilize it as well. (Note: This was posted in three parts a year ago for back-to-school tips in a different series—with some changes.)

Comprehension and study skills are not necessarily as much remembering all of the details that were read as much as knowing how to read for meaning, remembering the most important parts, and being able to locate information as needed. Students’ textbooks in the content areas (science, history, government, health, geography, etc.) lend themselves greatly to comprehending the information they contain.

I recommend that you have your kids bring their textbooks home, one at a time, and follow some of the tips below previewing their books with them. This will help them (and you) determine the signaling systems, layout, study tools, etc. that each book includes.

A student needs to now quickly how to find information in his book, whether there’s a glossary or index for quick vocabulary help, how each section is summarized, and many other tips that can be discovered right when he begins using that text (with some help from Mom or Dad). By previewing his whole text at first, he will know how user friendly it is, how to set up his notes, and even which study strategies will and will not work for that particular text.

Sitting down with your student and his textbooks (maybe one per evening) during the first week will go a long way towards his comprehension and ease of use of those books throughout the school year. Try these specific strategies for previewing textbooks with your student to help him or her get the most out of his or her texts this year:

1. Graphs and charts—Remind your student that charts and graphs usually restate (in another form) what is indicated in the text. He can use these for quick overviews, as well as for reviewing before tests.

2. Enumerations—If his text uses a lot of enumeration, it could be that this subject has a significant number of lists to be learned. Point him to these lists and show him that often what is listed in the margins or sidebars is also expounded upon within the text.

3. Section headings—The more headings a book contains, the easier it is to learn from. The student is constantly reminded, by the headings and subheadings, of what the section is about. Show him how helpful these headings can be as he uses the book during his reading and for test preparation.

4. Pictorial aids—Maps are always in included in history textbooks. If his textbook contains a large assortment of maps, show him how they can help him see the big picture. Maps usually show where something that is discussed in the text occurred.

5. Glossary—Books that contain glossaries give the student an easy way to find definitions that may be more obscure within the text. Teach him to use this for quick finds, but encourage him to use the text itself for most studying since students who learn vocabulary in context retain it better.

6. Tables of Contents—The Table of Contents can be used somewhat like an index to find where information is in a particular chapter. It is especially good for getting a big picture about a whole chapter.

7. Prefaces, introductions, and summaries—If a text has any of these three, some of the work is already done for the student. Show him how advantageous these are for quick previewing of a chapter.

8. Footnotes—If a student is in a class that requires research papers, footnotes can be a real plus. We teach our research paper students to use lengthy works’ footnotes to find other credible sources that they might use in their papers.

9. Appendixes—Appendixes are the “extra credit” of the book. I always like to thin of myself as a prized pupil, so I tend to gravitate to these right at first, since they’re usually for those who want additional information—and I always want to know more! Tell your students that sometimes the appendixes aren’t even used in the actual course, but they are good for learning more, for research-based reports, and for cementing what is found in the text.

10. Indexes—If a book doesn’t have an index, I say send it back and get a new one! Show your student how quickly he can find information with the index. The more specific the index, the better it is for the student.

11. Bibliography—The bibliography gives lists of books, articles, and documents relating to the subjects in the textbook. Like footnotes, we direct our research paper students to these.

12. Pronunciation guides—These guides give the phonetic markings to aid in reading unfamiliar words. Many texts do not have these guides, but they are helpful in a class where a student will be giving presentations so the can pronounce unknown words correctly.

Any signaling or sign posting that a book contains is that much more opportunity for the visual learner, especially, to learn and retain. If you have an auditory learner, you might have to record his vital info on cd or cassette! Smile…

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Homeschooling Tips--V: Prioritize Life, School, & Home

Twelve Back to School Tips for Homeschoolers--Tip V of XII:  Prioritize Your Life, School, and Home

This point is a three hour mini-seminar and audio series, but I will try to summarize it in a couple of brief paragraphs! When we began homeschooling many years ago, even with only one little son, we found ourselves overwhelmed by activity. Ray and I were both working on our master’s degrees. We were active in church. We were homeschooling my sister and helping others homeschool. We lived close to extended family who needed and wanted our attention (including younger siblings at home).
One day we sat down to solve our time and activity dilemma, and we made a list of all of the things that could/did fill our evenings—things we needed to do (meetings, etc.), things we should do (visit elderly grandparents), things we wanted to do, and things that were automatically built in (overtime, church services, etc.). When we examined our list, the total evenings that could potentially be filled came to sixty—if we did everything we could/should/would!
Armed with that calendar and prioritizing help from marriage and family teaching we had received, we learned how to prioritize. We looked at the things that we wanted to say yes to—and said yes to them. We looked at the things that we could say no to—and said no to them. We applied the mantra that “when you say yes to something (or someone), you are saying no to something (or someone) else.” We asked ourselves who we truly wanted to say yes and no to—and determined early in our marriage that we did not want to say no to our immediate family (our children and each other) just because we were saying yes to someone else. 

Specifically, in the area of prioritizing and time management with homeschooling, when we meet new homeschoolers, we often ask them what their days (especially mothers) are like (before beginning homeschooling), and when the mom tells us how busy she was with part time work, volunteering, and other obligations, we ask her what she will cut from her day to make time (three to six hours a day, depending on the ages and neediness of the students) to homeschool. Homeschooling is not something that you can add onto an already full day. It must be prioritized—and put into the schedule before other things of lesser importance. One of the reasons that I am thankful that we started “homeschooling” when Joshua was a toddler is that I never knew of life with daytime hours that were not already earmarked for school. In other words, my days have always been spent schooling. I didn’t have to add it onto other things that I did during the day. Prioritizing school—the hours that it truly takes to educate and oversee our kids’ education—makes a huge difference in the success of a person’s homeschool.

Monday, August 6, 2012

For Those Who Go to School--Tip IV: Start Tomorrow Tonight

Twelve Tips for Those Whose Kids Go to School--Tips IV of XII: Start Tomorrow Tonight

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

                                 Winnie the Pooh

Here are just a few ways that we have implemented this or heard how others have:

1. We start the next day’s laundry the night before. (We do one or two loads a day now; we used to do two or three loads per day.) The “little laundry lad” (many years ago it was the “little laundry lady”) starts his first load any time during the evening the day before. If it is a “fold up” load, he even puts it in the dryer before bed. If it is a “hang up” load, he leaves it in the washer and in the morning, runs it through rinse again then pops it in the dryer.* This way we have a jump on the next day’s laundry. (It’s even better if his fold up load is in the dryer dry and his hang up load is in the washer, ready to re-rinse and move first thing!)

2. We do not leave dishes to be washed tomorrow. We run the dishwasher after dinner and the dish person the next day just has to unload it and load the breakfast (and last night’s ice cream!) dishes in it.

3. Everybody goes through the house and picks up his or her things before going to bed. We do not have to start the day tomorrow with messes from the previous day.

4. If we have to get up earlier than usual the next day, we adjust our bedtime accordingly. This has had various levels of success—as it is easier said than done. But generally speaking, if we are doing something the next day that requires our getting up one to two hours earlier, we try to get everybody to bed an hour earlier or so.

5. If we have some place to go the next day, we get the things out, bags packed, etc. the night before and have them ready to load or already loaded. This has eliminated so much early morning hassle on “going away” days.

6. If we need a packed lunch for some reason the next day, we pack it and put in the fridge (the entire cooler in the extra fridge in some ways).

A huge part of being organized in home management is warding off problems before they start—seeing potential problems and solving them immediately (or even ahead of time). Starting today last night is one way we have found to do this. There are probably many things that you already do to make tomorrow better—think about these and see if there are others that might help your family, as well.

*We don’t iron much here. I have taught the kids to move hang ups directly into the dryer when the washer is done spinning, then to pull them out of the dryer when they are still hot, shake them, and hang the up. Eliminates most ironing.

Back to School for Homeschoolers--Tip IV: Understand Learning Styles and Readiness

Twelve Back to School Tips for Homeschoolers--Tip IV of XII: Understand Learning Styles and Readiness

My first“homeschool purchase” for our own children twenty-eight years ago was the complete set of audios of “Your Story Hour”—Bible, true life, character, and history stories of the “Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue” venue. I remember clearly running my fingers over the cassette holders, smelling them, and being so happy to have such a quality product to help me teach Joshua. He, on the other hand, was more interested in playing in the box that they came in. Then along came Kayla, one of the smartest little girls I had ever seen, yet she couldn’t write her name for years and years. Both Joshua and Kayla showed me right away what their learning styles were—those audio cassettes, along with daily lengthy read aloud sessions with Mom, were their avenues for learning for many years, for they could learn nearly anything (except how to write their names!) by listening.

Along came our third child, and if it didn’t have pictures and she couldn’t snuggle close, her learning didn’t seem to transpire so easily. (The exception to this is when we began getting Ken Ham audios. She was mesmerized by his voice and wanted to listen to him every day!) Cami was anything but an audio learner. She loved workbooks and activities—the more, the better.

We understood early on that we were homeschooling in order to provide the kind of education that we wanted for our children—and the kind that each child needed. Thus, we learned about learning styles and purchased materials accordingly. We used multi-sensory materials and definitely had our non-auditory learners still listen, but focused on their learning styles in the areas of math and reading, especially. There is a wealth of information out there about the three primary learning styles (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic), as well as how to determine how your child learns best.

 Along with learning styles, we also learned early on—through my elementary education studies, and then later from Dr. Raymond Moore’s (one of the pioneers of the Christian homeschooling movement)—that readiness does not come at the same time for all children, nor for each gender. We learned about a phenomenon then called “Integrated Maturity Level”—the level at which all comes together for a child and he or she is ready for more formal instruction. This often takes place between the ages of seven and ten. And we set out to wait on it for each of our children---in an effort to make learning easier and to develop a love for learning and homeschooling in them. Until the time of readiness for formal learning arrived for each child, we taught informally, all of the time. And our kids loved school and loved learning. We even adjusted our school to allow for late bloomers without labels: kindergarten began when a child was six years old by September first; first grade began when a child was seven years old by September first. No pressure—on the children or on me.

It was an absolutely blissful way to teach young children. (It also allowed us to focus on obedience and character in those who needed a little more time!) The research is out there! Sure, some kids learn to read at ages four, five, or six. I think that would be fun—I’ve just never experienced it. And that is fine. Every child is different—and remember, that is one reason we chose this approach to education. The point isn’t to wait and wait for formal education. The point is to do what is best for each child in your family.

(For more information about readiness to learn to read, check out our audios, including, “Beginning Reading Instruction.” For more information about readiness for learning in general, start with Dr. Raymond Moore’s book, Better Late Than Early.)