Monday, 15 September 2014

Tips for my non-homeschooling parent friends during this interminable teachers' strike!

Worried about your kids falling behind during this teachers’ strike?  A few people, knowing that I homeschool my son, have asked me for tips on resources.  Here are some of the suggestions I’ve made, based on our experiences:

#1 - the public library!  Just get lots of books.  All kinds of books.  On every topic under the Sun - and beyond!  If your child has a particular interest (be it a sport, hobby, art, etc), feel free to extend beyond the Children’s section.  If they’re reluctant readers, read to them, or invite other kids/friends/family to do so. Or get audio books.  Your librarian is your best friend.

These are the ones I use most often:

And here is a map with all the Lower Mainland libraries pinned:

Looking to buy textbooks or workbooks?  The Greater Vancouver Homelearners website has a listing for curriculum and book (and other cool stuff) suppliers, both local and online vendors:

Language arts

For the little ones:
(for learning to read)

Read something appropriate for their age/abilities to them (or have them read it themselves), then have them tell you back what happened (they can imagine they’re telling a friend or relative about it).  If they’re older, they can write out a wee summary.  This is called “narration”, and is a cornerstone of the “Charlotte Mason” method of education (she was a Victorian educator with some pretty radical ideas for her time, primarily focused on ensuring nobody wasted children’s time with “twaddle” i.e., unworthy material).

Two more Charlotte Mason gems:
  • Copywork - have them copy classic quotations that not only are written well (copying good writing is a start to writing well oneself) but may have some inspiration or value that you’d like to inspire in them.  Older kids can copy longer passages.
  • Dictation!  Old school works!  Read something to them, a little bit at a time, and they write it down.  Choose something of appropriate length and difficulty.

Peggy Kaye’s books Games for Writing, Games for Reading, and Games with Books are all excellent for the Primary school set.  I know there are a few copies scattered among the libraries.

Ah… here’s the one people are most worried about!

Board games, card games, dice games, games, games, games!  Check thrift stores and garage sales if you don’t have many games yourself.  For kids who have issues with winning/losing, invest in a few cooperative games.  “Max the Cat” by Family Pastimes was a favourite around here when my kids were primary-school aged, along with “Save the Princess”.

Yes, this is Math too!

Peggy Kaye’s book Games for Math and the massive tome Family Math have tons of excellent ideas and activities for the Primary school set to help them really truly understand numbers.  In this age group, two concepts are the most important foundations upon which all further arithmetic is built: place value and finding pairs of numbers that make 10.  Focus on those, and keep it fun.  Both books are useful to about grade 3 or 4, and possibly for kids who need some extra attention to the basics and some confidence-building work up to about grade 5 or so. The games are easy to figure out, and usually don't require much preparation on your part.

Boxcars and One-Eyed Jacks is a series of books (including dice/cards/etc) that are fantastic for learning math.  Do pay close attention to the suggested levels.  We bought the DecaDice book too early, and didn’t find many fun activities for when Kid 2 was that age.  So we put it aside until about grade 3 or 4, and then it got more fun.

From about Grade 1 or 2 onwards, (all the way up to College…), Khan Academy is a great website, and it’s free.  Sal Khan and his website are revolutionizing the way math (and other subjects) can be taught and learned.  Your child will start with a “placement” activity that will throw a bunch of math questions their way (one at a time!).  Warn your child ahead of time that the computer doesn’t know how old they are, and they won’t have learned *lots* of stuff yet, so if they haven’t learned something yet, they can just click on the “I haven’t learned this yet” button and it will gradually narrow stuff down to their level.  They may need support through this because they may get upset, being used to tests that only test what the teacher knows they’ve been taught.  Just stick by them and go through it.  Once they’ve done the placement questions, the system will present many possible activities in different mathematical areas.  Students earn points and badges for various accomplishments (so many right answers in X amount of time, watching X number of videos, etc.).  There are extensive lesson videos that can be accessed for just about any topic your child might need, either for review or learning something new.  Sign yourself up too, so you can try it out (ideally first), and you can sign yourself up as your child’s parent so you can track their progress.

[Note of caution re: signing your child up using their Google account: If your child is under 13, they’re technically not supposed to have a Google or Gmail account, and Google may somehow cotton on to this fact and lock them out of their account.  This happened to us, and while I don’t know how they cottoned on to it, I suspect it could have been through Khan Academy.  The same could apply if they have a Facebook account.  Just sign them up using an e-mail address.]

If you’re looking for something more “workbook-like” (free’s great, but you have $40 per day coming your way!), Maria Miller’s Math Mammoth workbooks may fit the bill.  They aren’t expensive, and you can order them as e-books (i.e. PDFs) so you get them right away and you only need to print out what you’ll use.  There are free assessment “tests” you can download to try on your kid to see what level they’re at, if you’re not sure.  They also have some free sample pages you can try out too.  She has set up her system a couple of possible ways.  You’ll probably be interested in the “light blue series” which are a complete curriculum organized by grade.  But if you know your child has deficiencies in specific topics (or is particularly interested in certain topics) you may want the “blue series” which are organized by topic.  She also has review workbooks, sets of worksheets, and more.  She has a video that explains the differences.  I haven’t used her products, but I do subscribe to her newsletter and I love the way she thinks (Kid 2 just isn’t much into workbooks, so I’ve hesitated to invest.)  She also has some other great resources on her website, including her approach to teaching multiplication, which I think is very effective, and we have used to some extent.

There are also some fun activities on a cool Canadian website called Math Pickle.  They have stuff covering K-12.  Some of it is group activities, which our little homeschooling math group enjoyed doing last year, but much of it could be done with just you and your child.  Some of it doesn’t look much like math, but if you watch the videos, I think this teacher does a great job of explaining the purpose of the activity.  The videos are intended for teachers (though not complicated), but you’ll want to watch them yourself, then organize the activity, then show your kid how to do it.  Don’t just make them watch the video.  Some of the activities are card-based games, and he has a page where he suggests excellent board games.  There is TONS of stuff on this site, much of it organized by grade-level “tabs” at the top of the pages, so make sure you dig around.


If you’re just looking for a simple one-stop workbook that will cover the bases, we are currently using the Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills Gr. 6 (they have them for each grade, I think) which covers Language Arts and the basics of Math.  In our case we have not had a formal approach to learning… well… anything yet, so we just decided to have something that would just go over everything.  The book is organized into different topics, and while I don’t always think that what they put under each topic actually fits the name they gave it (e.g. the “reading” section is really spelling), it will cover the basics of spelling, grammar and reading comprehension, along with Math.  I calculated how many pages from each section that he would have to complete each week to finish the book in 32 weeks of school, and made a little chart that Kid 2 uses to keep track of how much he’s accomplished that week.  So far so good, especially for my very reluctant writer.  Husband-man bought our copy at Black Bond Books, and if you’re not keen on ordering stuff online from mega-retailers, they’re always happy to bring stuff in for you and can do so pretty quickly.

And if your kid is giving you the “I’m bored” line, here is a list of possible things to do:
(I printed a copy of this and keep it handy.)

(Of course PE = go play outside! Science too!)

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