Monday, August 31, 2009

Preschool Activities

So, my 2yo and 3yo will be increasingly active in our school room this year. I have the challenge of making our school room user-friendly for all of them now.

Coming up with activities for the 2yo is proving to be the most challenging, but here are a couple that I think he'll like:

He'll spread out the different colored pieces of felt and then try to toss the matching bean bag on it. I think my 3yo will like this too and it can be used in a variety of more/less challenging ways.

Sorting plastic silverware. Just for fun. Got it at the dollar store.

Sorting sea shells (bought them at fred meyer) into a 12 compartment bead organizer. This is re-do of an older version I had of this activity. I used to use the entire bag of shells (but it took way too long for them to do) and have them sort it in a muffin tin (but the thing was way too big). I think this will work better and re captivate their interest in the activity. I may add tweezers to make it more challenging and the 6yo will probably like it too.

More to come, I hope.

Morning Routine and Chore Chart

I have been pondering the question of how to organize our morning routine and our chores for many months...probably since the beginning of the year. I was delighted when the workbox yahoo group had a very indepth discussion on the topic. I also read the book A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion
and got some terrific ideas. Then my friend from church told me about a system she had put together for her young children as well. So my subconscious had plenty of ammunition to keep it firing and it FINALLY came up with something that seems to be working pretty well in the 3 days I have been putting it to the test.

Here's what I needed from a chore system:

I wanted ONE chart for both morning routine and chores.
I needed REAL, meaningful work to get done at an age appropriate level.
I needed it to be motivating, simple, easy to use. I also need it to be flexible enough to roll with a very unpredictable group of kids. And because I rarely hold myself to a rigid set of steps to complete each day, I didn't feel like the chart should always be the same for them either. There needed to be an element of choice, of ownership, of pride.


Here's what our chart looks like at the beginning of the day:

The 2yo is not included on the chart yet. But he does get to help out when he can and gets the same sort of "reward" as the girls do when/if he does.
I put magnetic tape on the back so it can hang on my fridge and I can slide it up out of 2yo's reach. I got this pocket chart at the dollar bin at Target.
The row of icons just under each girl's name is the morning routine. It's the same for them both:
eat, toilet, brush teeth, get dressed, put PJs away, brush hair. Each completed icon gets 1/2 of a "bean" (explained later). So finishing the morning routine = 3 beans for each girl. A half bean icon is placed in front of each completed step of the morning routine so that it is visually obvious how they're progressing along.

Then I get out my box of chore tickets.
And I choose a variety of chores that actually need to get done that day (i.e. work that I would do myself anyway, but would like them to complete.)

I lay those chosen tickets out on the table and let each girl choose their own chores. Each chore has a "bean" value. My 6yo needs to choose enough chores to add up to 5 beans. The 3yo only needs to choose enough chores to add up to 3 beans. And I'm finding that we may need to start her out even more slowly, and that perhaps the 6yo could handle more responsibility. But we'll see...
Anyway, after they've chosen their chores, the chore tickets go into the second row of the pocket chart below their names:

In this example, she has chosen to collect all the laundry and take it downstairs for 3 beans. She also chose to empty the dish drainer for 1 bean and put away her own pile of laundry for 1 bean. That's five beans. So here's what it looks like after she does the work:

Then we count all the beans she has earned that day. A typical day would be a total of 8 beans for the 6yo and 6 beans for the 3yo. So we get real lima beans and put them in the jar :

When the jar is full they will get to do something special. They've already decided that they want to go to a paint your own pottery place and have a fun day making a special piece.

I'd also add, that they can earn beans in other ways besides chores. I try to "catch" them doing nice things for each other and for the family. Good deeds, no matter how small, are noticed and rewarded with a bean or two. I try to resist the tempation of removing beans for bad behavior. But I confess that on one particularly exhausting and frustrating day, I dumped out the jar and made them start over. I wouldn't do it again. It's very discouraging for the kids.

My only other comment is that we need to set some ground rules for how quickly the chores need to be done. Before we start school? Before they can go play? Before dinner? BEfore bed? See, that's where the flexibility part comes in. Sometimes I don't get my work done until weeelllll into the night. But for consistency sake, I think the rule will be that chores must be done before school UNLESS they have chosen a chore that cannot be completed until later in the day such as setting the table for dinner or clearing the dinner dishes.

Another flexibility plus of this system: I have some blank tickets that I can use at a moments notice should a "new chore" present itself. For example, tomorrow I think I'll write one for "clean out the microwave." That will probably be a 4 or 5 bean job.

I've also told the girls that if they'd like to do MORE than the required number of beans, they can choose between receiving the extra beans or receiving a dime for each extra bean they've earned. For example, if my 6yo did 8 beans worth of chores in a day, then she could choose to receive all 8 beans, or to receive 5 beans plus $0.30. It's one more way to help her feel some ownership/control in the process. Plus it teaches decision making, math skills, and money management as she earns more.

There you have it. Our new system. Let me know if you ever decide to give it a try yourself and how it worked for you? And any suggestions for improving it?

UPDATED AUGUST 9 2010: I'm glad that this post has been helpful to some of you. I've had several requests over the past year or so for copies of the chore chart images I used. I'd be happy to share....if I could find them! I simply don't know what happened to them. The hard drive monster ate them. But all you really need to do is search the google images clip art for the images you need. Good luck!

Oh, I should also note, that a year later, we don't even really need the chart anymore, which I consider a blessing since charts are not my thing. We still use the bean jar, just not the chart.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Nationwide Study Confirms Homeschool Academic Achievement

Ian Slatter
Director of Media Relations
August 10, 2009

Each year, the homeschool movement graduates at least 100,000 students. Due to the fact that both the United States government and homeschool advocates agree that homeschooling has been growing at around 7% per annum for the past decade, it is not surprising that homeschooling is gaining increased attention. Consequently, many people have been asking questions about homeschooling, usually with a focus on either the academic or social abilities of homeschool graduates.
As an organization advocating on behalf of homeschoolers, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) long ago committed itself to demonstrating that homeschooling should be viewed as a mainstream educational alternative.
We strongly believe that homeschooling is a thriving education movement capable of producing millions of academically and socially able students who will have a tremendously positive effect on society.
Despite much resistance from outside the homeschool movement, whether from teachers unions, politicians, school administrators, judges, social service workers, or even family members, over the past few decades homeschoolers have slowly but surely won acceptance as a mainstream education alternative. This has been due in part to the commissioning of research which demonstrates the academic success of the average homeschooler.
The last piece of major research looking at homeschool academic achievement was completed in 1998 by Dr. Lawrence Rudner. Rudner, a professor at the ERIC Clearinghouse, which is part of the
University of Maryland, surveyed over 20,000 homeschooled students. His study, titled Home Schooling Works, discovered that homeschoolers (on average) scored about 30 percentile points higher than the national average on standardized achievement tests.
This research and several other studies supporting the claims of homeschoolers have helped the homeschool cause tremendously. Today, you would be hard pressed to find an opponent of homeschooling who says that homeschoolers, on average, are poor academic achievers.
There is one problem, however. Rudner’s research was conducted over a decade ago. Without another look at the level of academic achievement among homeschooled students, critics could begin to say that research on homeschool achievement is outdated and no longer relevant.
Recognizing this problem, HSLDA commissioned Dr. Brian Ray, an internationally recognized scholar and president of the non-profit National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), to collect data for the 2007–08 academic year for a new study which would build upon 25 years of homeschool academic scholarship conducted by Ray himself, Rudner, and many others.
Drawing from 15 independent testing services, the Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics included 11,739 homeschooled students from all 50 states who took three well-known tests—California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and Stanford Achievement Test for the 2007–08 academic year. The Progress Report is the most comprehensive homeschool academic study ever completed.

The Results

Overall the study showed significant advances in homeschool academic achievement as well as revealing that issues such as student gender, parents’ education level, and family income had little bearing on the results of homeschooled students.

National Average Percentile Scores



Public School













Social Studies









a. Core is a combination of Reading, Language, and Math.
b. Composite is a combination of all subtests that the student took on the test.

There was little difference between the results of homeschooled boys and girls on core scores.

Boys—87th percentile
Girls—88th percentile

Household income had little impact on the results of homeschooled students.

$34,999 or less—85th percentile
$35,000–$49,999—86th percentile
$50,000–$69,999—86th percentile
$70,000 or more—89th percentile

The education level of the parents made a noticeable difference, but the homeschooled children of non-college educated parents still scored in the 83rd percentile, which is well above the national average.

Neither parent has a college degree—83rd percentile
One parent has a college degree—86th percentile
Both parents have a college degree—90th percentile

Whether either parent was a certified teacher did not matter.

Certified (i.e., either parent ever certified)—87th percentile
Not certified (i.e., neither parent ever certified)—88th percentile

Parental spending on home education made little difference.

Spent $600 or more on the student—89th percentile
Spent under $600 on the student—86th percentile

The extent of government regulation on homeschoolers did not affect the results.

Low state regulation—87th percentile
Medium state regulation—88th percentile
High state regulation—87th percentile

HSLDA defines the extent of government regulation this way:

States with low regulation: No state requirement for parents to initiate any contact or State requires parental notification only.

States with moderate regulation: State requires parents to send notification, test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress.

State with high regulation: State requires parents to send notification or achievement test scores and/or professional evaluation, plus other requirements (e.g. curriculum approval by the state, teacher qualification of parents, or home visits by state officials).

The question HSLDA regularly puts before state legislatures is, “If government regulation does not improve the results of homeschoolers why is it necessary?”
In short, the results found in the new study are consistent with 25 years of research, which show that as a group homeschoolers consistently perform above average academically. The Progress Report also shows that, even as the numbers and diversity of homeschoolers have grown tremendously over the past 10 years, homeschoolers have actually increased the already sizeable gap in academic achievement between themselves and their public school counterparts-moving from about 30 percentile points higher in the Rudner study (1998) to 37 percentile points higher in the Progress Report (2009).
As mentioned earlier, the achievement gaps that are well-documented in public school between boys and girls, parents with lower incomes, and parents with lower levels of education are not found among homeschoolers. While it is not possible to draw a definitive conclusion, it does appear from all the existing research that homeschooling equalizes every student upwards. Homeschoolers are actually achieving every day what the public schools claim are their goals—to narrow achievement gaps and to educate each child to a high level.
Of course, an education movement which consistently shows that children can be educated to a standard significantly above the average public school student at a fraction of the cost—the average spent by participants in the Progress Report was about $500 per child per year as opposed to the public school average of nearly $10,000 per child per year—will inevitably draw attention from the K-12 public education industry.

Answering the Critics

This particular study is the most comprehensive ever undertaken. It attempts to build upon and improve on the previous research. One criticism of the Rudner study was that it only drew students from one large testing service. Although there was no reason to believe that homeschoolers participating with that service were automatically non-representative of the broader homeschool community, HSLDA decided to answer this criticism by using 15 independent testing services for this new study. There can be no doubt that homeschoolers from all walks of life and backgrounds participated in the Progress Report.
While it is true that not every homeschooler in
America was part of this study, it is also true that the Progress Report provides clear evidence of the success of homeschool programs.
The reason is that all social science studies are based on samples. The goal is to make the sample as representative as possible because then more confident conclusions can be drawn about the larger population. Those conclusions are then validated when other studies find the same or similar results.
Critics tend to focus on this narrow point and maintain that they will not be satisfied until every homeschooler is submitted to a test. This is not a reasonable request because not all homeschoolers take standardized achievement tests. In fact, while the majority of homeschool parents do indeed test their children simply to track their progress and also to provide them with the experience of test-taking, it is far from a comprehensive and universal practice among homeschoolers.
The best researchers can do is provide a sample of homeschooling families and compare the results of their children to those of public school students, in order to give the most accurate picture of how homeschoolers in general are faring academically.
The concern that the only families who chose to participate are the most successful homeschoolers can be alleviated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of parents did not know their children's test results before agreeing to participate in the study.
HSLDA believes that this study along with the several that have been done in the past are clear evidence that homeschoolers are succeeding academically.

Final Thought

Homeschooling is making great strides and hundreds of thousands of parents across America are showing every day what can be achieved when parents exercise their right to homeschool and make tremendous sacrifices to provide their children with the best education available.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The New School Room

Drum roll please.....

Ta DA!

Wow, my brain had to work really hard to figure out a way to organize this room for optimal schooling. And I have to say that after MONTHS (all summer) of agonizing on just how to make it work, I'm really pleased with the outcome. The walls are still pretty bare/boring. And I have a few more things to figure out, but we're definitely almost done.

Here's a tour of the room.

Above: This is our shelving area. I take somewhat of a Montessori approach and have made many of my own materials using their philosophies. This is where I store those "works" and they are often swapped on a regular basis to keep things interesting.

Above: Our easel and computer station. I use the white board on the easel for just about everything so I kept it close to the table.

Above: I bought these cool little school chairs that will last a life time off of craigslist for $5/each.
The table was also a craigslist find and it was FREE!! wahoo. I just cut the legs down to size so it would be the right height for my girls. And the little guy sits at the smaller table on the end. They were painting tonight. Please pardon the mess.

Above: These are my new babies. We just put them up. They're the trofast shelving system from IKEA. And I'm pretty darn sure that I'm going to absolutely love using them as workboxes. See, we also use the Sue Patrick workbox system (google it and you'll find a TON of info). This is a huge step up from the previous workbox system I was using (see previous posts on workbox system). I got the idea of using these things from a post on a wonderful workbox yahoo group. I was hesitant to spend the money on these things. But you know what? I learned last year that the space in which you school really makes a HUGE difference in your school day. A neat, organized, clutter free, well lit and inviting space will allow for a much smoother and peaceful day with less frustration and more success. And that's really hard to put a price tag on.

Above: Teacher's chair. Now that I've got the trofast storage system, I can have the big green shelves for all my stuff and bring order to my life! Hurray. I also replaced my big hulky, huge computer armoire for a much smaller desk that I got for cheap guessed it...craigslist. Now I can look out into the room without turning around or getting out of the chair. It's very fung shway. Or is it feng shuia? I don't know.

Above: Ah, this is my newly created Calendar/weather/#of school days center. I got the idea from a really great blog that I love at
She also uses workboxes and has an adorable school room so take a peek.

Above: This used to be our shoe closet. And yes, we always had dozens of shoes strung out all over our school room no matter how many times I picked them up. So the shoes have a new home out in the garage and now I can organize our art supplies, games, puzzles, musical instruments, play dough, my overhead projector....etc. On the other side of the closet I have stored all of our Montessori bead material (which I made myself). yeah, it's finally done. hurray.

There you have it. I'm ready for fall so bring it on! We won't be starting with formal curriculum for a couple more weeks, but we're rip roarin ready to go!

First Successful Family Book Club Meeting

Well, it took some time to pull it off, but we've had our first family book club meeting. And it was a hit! We had a superb time.

For those of you who may not be aware, we read Stuart Little by E.B. White with a family who has children of similar ages as our own. Then we set a date to meet at our house for a simple book discussion, a craft activity related to the story, and a treat.

The meeting lasted about1.5 hours (but could have been shorter if the adults weren't enjoying themselves so much").

To get the discussion rolling, I shared some information on the author with the kids and then used a few of the questions from this site to further our discussion. IT was great to hear from the kids about how they enjoyed the book and what they thought of it. So fun.

For our craft, we made small beds for Stuart out of Popsicle stix and matchboxes. Here's a look at one of them (unfortunately I didn't get pics of the rest):

I kept the treat very simple since we had just arrived back in town from vacation. We had jello and whipped cream. Doesn't get much easier than that but I think most of us enjoyed it.

Our friends offered to choose a book and host the next month's meeting for us! We'll be continuing on with the same author and reading Charlotte's Web. I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

Post Card Kids

So, after being absent from my blog for a goooood long while, here I am again. Like most homeschooling moms, I've been very busy rearranging, organizing, decluttering, planning, and generally trying to get my ducks in a row for the coming school year which is ever so quickly approaching.

I had envisioned homeschooling over the summer. And while we did do a few things (unit studies on bees, the orchestra, lots of reading) my brain and my body just needed a break from the day-to-day grind. And I wanted my kids to enjoy summer to its fullest. So we put the books aside for most of the summer and just enjoyed being immersed in summer time activity.

However, I continued my never ending research on possible projects and materials. In the process I came across a great yahoo group called Postcard kids. You can join it here.

This is a great way to have fun while learning US geography. We just started this month and have been taking a nice easy pace so as not to get overwhelmed with all the sending and receiving of postcards. Here's a look at our map and our cards:

I used rubber cement to adhere the map to the foam board. I got the map from a dollar bin at Target while visiting family in Idaho. The board is then hanging from 2 clothespins that I hot glued right to the wall. YEP! you can do it and it will come off without damaging the wall.

My kids are loving this little "club" they're in. After we've got them all, or perhaps as we go along, it would be a great opportunity to use our postcards for further unit studies on each state or for notebooking/lapbooking.