Monday, June 25, 2012

Review of Time 4 Learning

Time 4 Learning
Over the past month I had the opportunity to review the Time 4 Learning program. Time 4 Learning is an online learning program that can be used as a homeschool curriculum (complete curriculum for language arts and math), a homeschool supplement, or for children who attend traditional schools, can be used as an afterschool, summer school, or tutoring program.

How the Program Works (for Students)
Here is a little walk through of the student portion of the program and how it works.

1. Landing page.png
Student landing page after login

When a student first logs in, they can see all of their subjects and choose which one they want to work on. For Hunter's grade level, they have:
  • Language Arts Extensions
  • Languages Arts
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies
These are the basic subjects for almost all grades, but some grades are slightly different. You can see what is covered in each grade by going to their complete online scope and sequence here. You can also check back to their site for updates: sometimes they add new things! I set Hunter's (age 7) level at third grade (he is going to be working on 4th-5th grade material this year, but I wanted to look over the 3rd grade material to make sure everything is mastered).

2. Subject landing page (4th grade math).png
Categories for math
For each subject you can see all of the categories, for instance in 3rd grade math they had number theory and systems, patterns, money, algebra, properties of shapes, etc (see above). The flashing arrow makes it easy for your child to see what they are supposed to be working on.

Grade level switching
At the top of the screen there are little buttons so that you can easily switch between grade levels, and choose to do the activities from the grade above (4th) or the grade below (2nd) your child's currently set grade level (3rd). Parents can change their child's set grade level at any time from the parent account.

4. Metric system sub categories.png
Subcategories for the "metric system"

When your child clicks on one of the categories, they will see all of the "subcategories" - for instance, in the "Metric System" category there are the subcategories: Length, Capacity, Mass, and Temperature. The arrow points to the category they are working on.

6. Metric System length activities.png
Activities and lessons
Clicking on "length" will take us to the above screen, and we can see all of the activities, lessons, and resources.

8. Metric system length annimated activity : lesson.png
The animated lessons are interactive and engaging
The first item is "The Metric Motor Company", which is an interactive, animated lesson. The animated lessons are interesting and engaging. There is generally a story line where the characters are working out a problem in a variety of settings. The child gets to watch the characters and interact with the screen to help solve the problems. 

The lesson also starts with objectives, such as Define metric units of length, Estimate and compare length using metric units, Measure to the nearest centimeter. This is certainly helpful for parents. 

9. Metric system length resource.png
Many activities have printable worksheets
 Above is an example of part of a printable worksheet, listed under the "Resource" section. All of the worksheets I saw included 4-6 pages and looked like great resources for taking some of the learning offline. 

10. Metric system length exploratory.png
"Exploratory" involved open-ended math tools and exploration questions
 Another cool thing was the "exploratory". The exploratory is really an open-ended math tool, kind of like online manipulatives. For the "length" subcategory, the exploratory included some drawing tools, a virtual ruler, and instructions on how to use it. Then there were 6 exploration questions for the child to solve using the tools. In this case, the questions included:
  1. Create a line segment that has a length of 6 centimeters. What is its length in millimeters?
  2. Create a 10-centimeter line segment. If 10 of these segments are placed end-to-end, what is the combined length?
  3. How do you find the measurement of an object when the first two centimeters of the ruler are broken off?
  4. Create the mystery shape using these clues. It has 2 pairs of equal sides. One side is 4 centimeters. Another side is 3 centimeters.
  5. Create a shape that has a total perimeter of 15 centimeters.
  6. Create a square with a perimeter of 36 centimeters. What is the length of each side?
The answers are also included by clicking on the "key" symbol if the child (or the parent!) is stuck. Great reinforcement and practice!

11. Metric system length handbook.png
The "handbook" is more useful information and teaching related to the subject
 Then the last thing for "length" was the "handbook". The handbook (example in picture above) is written in more of a book-format with pictures, questions, stories, and teaching, rather than an animated lesson. The handbook also has true or false and multiple choice questions scattered throughout to reinforce what is being learned. When a child is done doing all of the activities, the screen will look something like this:
5. Number theory subcategory.png

Very easy navigation for your child to know what he is supposed to be working on!
The rest of the subjects (science, language arts, social studies) had similar types of lessons. Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions had a lot of interactive, animated lessons, including a lot of stories. Science and social studies weren't quite as interactive - they were mostly composed of activities similar to the "handbook" type lessons. There were lots of cool resources and activity types, such as the online word processor and writing prompt below:

LA writing
Word processor and writing prompt
Another neat aspect about the Time 4 Learning program is what they call the "playground".

Kids can earn time to play games

In the "playground", there are dozens of games to choose from, including "action games" like space invaders or air hockey, games from outside sites like PBS kids or Starfall, "puzzlers" like hangman and sequence, "activities" like cup stacking and  sound factory, "educational" games like bus driver math or french color matching, and "two player" games like tic-tac-toe or snakes and ladders. There was a huge selection and I loved that almost all of them had educational value.

The playground is only accessible after a child has been working on lessons for a set amount of time. Parents can choose how long their child has to work on lessons and how long their child gets to use the "playground". For instance the parent could set lesson time for 30 minutes and playground time for 15 minutes. A little timer at the top of the screen counts down how long a child has been working on lessons or playing games.

To be honest up until recently I didn't even know about the games, Hunter just started using them. He still loved the program even without the games!

  Parent login.png
Parent Use

The parent section was very easy to use and very useful. You could see your child's progress, see the objectives for each lesson, and print detailed progress reports for record keeping and portfolios. Such a timesaver! You can also control the grade level setting for your child, the length of lesson time and "playground" time, and much more.

As with all learning and educational options, whether or not this program will work for you will depend on your child's learning style, your teaching style, and your family's current situation and preferences. Does your child enjoy working on the computer? Are  you wanting a program where your children can work alone and independently, rather than as a group or one-on-one with a teacher? 

For us, this program is a perfect fit for this period in our life. As I mentioned in my previous post, my teaching style tends to be all over the place in terms of grade level content. I like to do hands on projects and experiments, read lots of books, and have lengthy discussions and explorations. But I fear for too many little "holes" in his education because I don't follow a scope and sequence, and tend to focus too much on one area (fractions, for instance) while neglecting another (such as geometry). Because of this it is sometimes difficult to move forward, since he may be at a 5th grade level in one aspect of math while only at a 2nd grade level in another aspect of math.

Time 4 Learning is perfect to remedy this. I can be confident that he has mastered the basic fundamentals of each grade level, so I am free to continue planning all the enrichment and in-depth learning while leaving the basics to this program. Another thing I like about this program is that school can go on even when I am not as organized as I need to be and get behind, or when life gets hectic and chaotic and I just don't have the time to sit down and teach. I can simply tell him go do his Time 4 Learning, and he is able to log onto his account, go to the lesson he's supposed to be on, and complete it on his own. I am available to answer any questions he has if he doesn't understand, and to review with him what he's learned when he's done, but in general it is almost entirely independent on his part. It makes it so easy to fit in learning a little here and a little there, whenever and wherever we have the time. He often does Time 4 Learning before dinner or before going outside to play on the weekends. It doesn't take very long and is always ready to go! Things I love about the program:
  • Using a program like Time 4 Learning is a simple way to make sure that we have the content from each grade level mastered. It gives me peace of mind and confidence.
  • Time 4 Learning works very well with my desire for accelerated curriculum. I can easily skip things that he already knows, and it is also easy to get a lot of lessons done in a short period of time. All grade levels and lessons are available to him with just a simple adjustment from the parents section, and he can progress at whatever pace he desires.
  • I love that the program is organized by "categories" or "skills", rather than as a day-to-day lesson format. Rather than having, for instance, 180 "days" of math lessons, we can just see all of SKILLS that are covered in a certain year and work on those skills until mastery, spending more time on some than on others. Day-to-day formats tend to be stressful for me, especially when a day is missed, and tend to have a lot more unnecessary repetition and "busy work" - that is, work that just takes up time and is not really necessary to learning.
  • He can do pretty much the entire program independently, which saves me a ton of time and makes it so I can spend more time preparing enrichment activities and projects.
  • He actually enjoys doing the program. Always a plus - motivation for learning is key.
  • The countdown clock during the lessons is a great motivator for him. He can work for a set period of time and then move onto another activity or be rewarded with games in the "playground" section.
  • I don't have to plan lessons, prep materials, or develop a scope and sequence. It's always ready and waiting for us!
  • The progress reports are simple and informative and a HUGELY time-saving way to do record keeping.
I am very happy with this program and I have already renewed our membership. The monthly fee (which you can see: here) is very practical in my opinion and there is no contract or commitment. If the program doesn't work for you, you can even get 100% of  your money back within 14 days of signing up, no questions asked. You can also start the program and then later put your membership on hold for whatever reason (time off school, budget adjustment, whatever), while all of your child's progress is saved. A big thank you to Time 4 Learning for letting us try out their program! For the time being, this is perfect for us and we are hooked. I would love to hear your thoughts if this review was helpful to you, or if you have ever used this program or anything similar. Thanks for your comments!
Disclosure: As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.
Has this blog been helpful to you? Want a simple way to spread the love and give back? If you decide to sign up for this program and mention my name (Elizabeth Austin), it will help me pay for more fun homeschool stuff for me to review on this blog! Thanks in advance if you choose to help out in this way!

Hunter is currently 7 years, 3 months old (2nd grade)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to Teach Your Baby to Swim (6-12 months)

How to Teach Your Baby to Swim

Summer officially began yesterday, but for many of us "summer" has been in swing for weeks or even months now, which hopefully means lots and lots of beneficial swimming! Our swimming program has been on again, off again since April, but lately has been going great with fabulous progress from both of my boys (ages 1 and 7).

In this post, I would like to share with you the exercises I have been using with Damien (12 months) over the past few weeks to teach him how to swim!

DSC_0363 2

I use the techniques as outlined in the Doman book How to Teach Your Baby to Swim - Birth to Age 6. A little about this program:
  • It is not just a "water introduction" program as most "swimming lessons" are for this age. It is actually about teaching your baby to swim, by themselves, beginning at birth or any time thereafter (newborns are born knowing how to swim).
  • The program is gentle and joyous! No aggressive, cry-it-out techniques here.
  • The program emphasizes learning swimming skills, water safety, water hygiene, and bonding with parents.
This 6-12 month old program is the second level of the Doman swimming program (first level is 0-6 months). Some prerequisites to this level of the program:
  • Is ideally familiar with and accustomed to water and pool.
  • Can hold breath underwater
There are a lot more things covered in the first level of the program, but if you have an older baby and are just now beginning, you can jump right into this level of exercises after you first work on getting your baby comfortable in water and knowing how to hold their breath underwater. Some tips for achieving that are found below!

Are you ready for the techniques? Here are some of the exercises we do:

  Jumping into pool 2
1. Jumping into the pool

This is an important exercise as it is not only laying the foundation for diving later on, but you are also teaching your baby how to safely enter the pool. It's also an awful lot of fun!
Key: Teach baby to only enter pool with parent!
You can do this exercise by first having baby sit at the edge of the pool. Teach him that mommy always goes in first and he must wait. They're never too young to understand this! Once you are ready, give him permission - "Ok! 1,2,3, jump!" Whatever wording you choose, be consistent and always say that same phrase. In the beginning you will need to have him hold your fingers with his hands and very gently pull him in. If he is accustomed to going underwater, let him jump in and go under and then pull him up to the surface or let him kick and swim up to the surface.
Beginners: If he's not yet accustomed to going underwater, just let him go in chin deep and then pull him back up to yourself. Gradually go deeper under as he learns and becomes comfortable!
Jumping in standing 

Some alterations of this exercise:
  • Jump in from sitting without holding parent's fingers
  • Jump in from standing position with or without holding parent's fingers
Tip: Continue to hold your baby's fingers until you feel he is very well balanced - slipping is easy and can be dangerous
DSC_0432 2
2. Blowing bubbles, bobbing up and down, going underwater together

Blowing bubbles in the water is a great way to teach your baby to hold his breath if he's not yet accustomed to it. It will teach him to blow out, not breath in, while his mouth is underwater, and will also help him to get comfortable with his face in the water. Babies love to mimic so this is always a lot of fun! Bobbing up and down is another way to slowly introduce your child to holding his breath. Think of a phrase to use, such as "1,2,3, under!" that means he is about to go under the water, and use it every time without fail!
Always tell your baby when he is about to go under (either a little or fully submerged). He will learn what the phrase means and will hold his breath in anticipation.
At first simply bob him up and down only to chin deep. Keep it fun and joyous! Gradually, over the course of time, get deeper and deeper, first getting just his mouth a little wet with each bob, then submerging his entire mouth, then up past his nose, finally you will get to where his entire face and then entire body goes under with each bob.
Read your baby's cues - introduce steps gradually and don't continue if your baby isn't enjoying himself!
A final exercise in learning to hold his breath will be to go underwater together completely. Do this for just a split second at first and you will gradually be able to stay under longer. Make it fun!

  DSC_0435 2
3. Passing underwater

Once your baby is comfortable holding his breath underwater, you can begin to teach him the swimming motions by passing him under the water. Grasp his sides as in the picture above and hold him horizontally in the water. You can either hold him straight out in front of you (as above) or sideways in front of your, or by your side. Then give him to phrase ("1,2,3, under!") and put him underwater while moving him through the water. Encourage him to kick, kick, kick! This will teach him the forward motions of swimming. As he gets used to this, briefly let him go while you do this exercise.

  Swimming underwater
4. Swimming independently underwater

Once your baby is comfortable and confident underwater, he can begin to truly swim! Start by doing the bobbing up and down exercise or the passing underwater exercise, but briefly let go of him while he is underwater. This may startle him at first to feel his own weight floating in the water without your hands supporting him! Just begin slowly and gradually, as with everything.

Next begin to walk backwards in the pool while holding baby by his sides in front of you (see above picture). Give him the signal that he is about to go under ("1, 2, 3, under!") and let him go. Hold your arms out for him to swim to you. Babies instinctually know how to swim! He may be uncoordinated at first but will get the hang of it quickly. If he doesn't fully swim to you, pull him towards you and then lift him out of the water. Praise him profusely! Begin with just split second swim sessions and gradually lengthen the time baby stays underwater as you sense his capabilities.
Walking backwards before you let him go under creates a current and will make it easier for baby to swim to you!
Alterations of this exercise:
  • Have baby swim to you while you are standing still (instead of walking backwards first)
  • Have baby swim between two parents or between a parent and sibling
  • Have baby swim in front of you or beside you (this way you can "push" him through the water before letting him go, giving him a boost)
  • Have baby sit on a stair step or hold onto the ladder or edge and then jump in and swim to you
DSC_0426 2
5. Floating on back

By being able to float on their backs, babies can learn to swim, flip over to catch a breath (and/or rest), swim some more, and then catch another breath and continue in this pattern. Most babies will be able to float on their backs long before they are able to lift their heads out of the water.

This exercise is simple - put your baby on his back and help him float! At first hold your baby completely so he feels secure, but gradually decrease the amount of support you give him until eventually he will hopefully be able to float on his own. If baby is uncomfortable in this position at first, you might need to get creative - for instance, lay your baby's head on your shoulder (at water level) and be playful - have him kick his feet and tickle his tummy! He will gradually become used to the horizontal position.
Try associating a song with back floating - we sing "Twinkle, twinkle little star" (as he looks at the sky). Consistently using specific words, phrases, or even songs for each exercise will teach your baby what to expect and spur his success.
Alterations of this exercise:
  • It is a good idea to teach your baby how to get on their backs from a different position. Flip them gently from their stomach to their back, then back onto their stomach, etc.
  • Help your baby to swim to the surface of the water and then get into the back floating position. 
On a side note, my son hates floating on his back! The child is all smiles the entire time we're in the pool but becomes very upset whenever I try this with him. I just introduce it in short little bursts and don't push it when I see he is not enjoying himself. I know, as with everything, he will get it eventually.

  Climbing out of pool
6. Safely exiting the pool

It is very important that your baby learn how to climb out of a pool. Have baby grab the edge of the pool and let him hang on with as little support from you as possible. Let him hang there for a little while. The goal will be to be able to swim to the edge and hang on by himself, and then to eventually be able to hang on and climb out of the pool.

After he has held onto the edge for a little while, tell him to climb out. Give him a little push or let him push off of your hands as needed, by try to let him do as much as possible by himself. Alterations of this exercise:
  • Swim to a ladder and climb out the ladder
  • Swim to the stairs and climb out from the stairs
  • If you're in a lake, pond, or ocean, have him swim to the edge of the water and crawl or walk out, or have him hold onto the edge of a dock or climb out a dock ladder

DSC_0430 31. Always, always, always supervise your baby. It doesn't matter how good of a swimmer they are - they need adult supervision at all times. Do not become complacent thinking that your baby can save themselves if they fell in. Ever. You need to have the same (or more) vigilance as if they had never seen a pool a day in their life. Drowning is a leading cause of death in young children and 85% of these deaths were completely preventable with proper supervision.

2. Strongly emphasize from day one that baby may never, never enter the pool without you first giving the signal and being right there. Be consistent and they will learn.

3. Be joyous in your teaching! Your baby will pick up on your attitude. Always be enthusiastic, happy, and full of laughter and excitement, even if your baby might be timid. Babies will feed off of your composure.

4. Watch your baby carefully for distress, and never push him beyond slight discomfort. The key is to be gradual and patient. If he does not like something, do the exercise for just a split second and then praise him profusely. Hug him, kiss him, tell him how wonderful he is, and celebrate his accomplishment. Perhaps repeat one more time, then go onto something else. A little bit every day leads to substantial progress over time.

5. If your baby does not enjoy the water at all, do not try and do these exercises until he is comfortable in water. Start small, just by getting him used to walking around in the water while you hold him. Encourage him to splash, watch you get your face wet or blow bubbles, or play with toys. Once he is comfortable, gradually build in more exercises into your routine. The bathtub is also a great place to introduce splashing, bubble blowing, floating on back, and getting their faces a little wet while you rinse them off.

6. Try to swim at least three days a week to achieve the best result. Swimming every day is ideal! As some encouragement for you, here is a video of my baby I took two days ago of him swimming underwater. If it makes anybody feel better, just a few weeks ago he hated putting his face in the water and would often swallow water whenever I put him under! Now he swims with great joy and even since this video, he has progressed! He now kicks his little feet and swims farther and longer underwater, and he also no longer nose dives to the bottom of the pool but stays relatively near the surface!


Happy swimming! I would love to hear about your experiences and progress with your little ones!  

"The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea."
Psalm 93:4
Damien is currently 12 months, 2 weeks old 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Damien (12 months) Finding Alphabet Letters (Video)


We have been doing a little bit here and there with the letters of the alphabet since Damien was nine months old. Mostly with his munchkin travel flash cards, and mostly letter sounds not letter names. 

About a week ago I started showing him some foam alphabet letters during diaper changes or potty sessions. Worked fabulously in keeping his hands busy and, y'know, out of his pants. He has been a long-time enthusiast, for sure. Every time we got near the changing table he would start grunting out some random letter sound, usually "/b/" or "/h/". At the zoo the other day he saw an alligator, which is part of his munchkin cards, and started saying "Ah! Ah! Ah!"

Today, after a week of  playing with the letters A-F every day, I held up two letters and asked him, for example, "Where is /b/?" He chose the correct letter every time! Then I tried to get a video. Ha. This was the best I could get.


 Thanks for your comments!

"...Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them..." 
2 Samuel 24:12

Damien is 12 months, 1 week old

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Science at the Creek

DSC_0576 2_new
"For by thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall."
2 Samuel 22:30
Hunter is 7 years, 2 months old

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trying Something New: Time 4 Learning Online Homeschool Program


I have heard of the program "Time 4 Learning" on many a homeschool blog over the past few years, but never really considered it for our family. The main reason for this was because it is a subscription-based monthly membership, and I am somewhat of a tightwad and try to get resources for free as much as possible.

But my perspective is changing.

This past school year, Hunter has been using Study Island, which was paid for through a charter program we tried. Study Island is essentially online test-prep, where kids answer test-style questions and then get to play a brief game each time they get the answer right. Hunter really enjoyed it, and I began to see a lot of value in this type of program.

For one, all of the "key" skills for language arts and math were covered and he could get practice in them to ensure mastery. We tend to be all over the place sometimes in our studies, so it was helpful to know that he was getting the basics, and we could truly say he had "passed" such and such grade.

Another benefit was that he really enjoyed it. Like most kids, he loves using the computer, and the cute little games were a nice motivator. Thirdly, I didn't have to plan it, and progress was automatically tracked for me. One less thing to do in my busy schedule.

However, we are not doing the charter program next year, and when I looked into purchasing an individual subscription, I found that it was $60 per year, per grade level. Not a bad price for a year. But, our unique issue was that it only included one grade level. And as some of you know, Hunter is all over the board in "grade level" ability and I wanted him to be able to work at his own individual pace in each subject, and to progress faster than one grade per year.

So, the Time 4 Learning name that I had heard so many times came to mind. And, quite conveniently, they had just contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to do a review. How convenient! 

Looking into the program, I am so far thoroughly impressed. Time 4 Learning can actually be used as a complete homeschool curriculum for language arts and math (grades Pre-K through eighth). And, an important issue for me, all of the grade levels and activities are available to your child, so Hunter can work at whatever grade level suits him and progress through the grades at his own speed.

Time 4 Learning also has what looks like a great science program (grades 1-6) and social studies program (grades 2-7). One year of high school algebra is also included.

I am looking forward to the possibilities this program might open up for us. I intend to use it as a supplement to other studies and resources, but it is looking like it will be a very valuable supplement. And might just be able to give me the peace of mind knowing that all of the "key" issues in each grade are mastered so we can have fun exploring everything else.

So, now for the disclosure:
I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. My opinion will be entirely my own, so be sure to come back and read about my experience. Time4Learning can be used as a homeschool curriculum, for afterschool enrichment and for summer skill sharpening. Find out how to write your own curriculum review for Time4Learning!
Hope to see you all back in a few weeks when I will write a full review of how the program is working for us!

P.S. Have you used any online programs that have been valuable to your child's learning, membership-based or otherwise? I would love to hear about them.  

"Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them."
Isaiah 48:6
Hunter is 7 years, 1 month old (Grade 1)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Infant Potty Training - Diapering or Underwear Solutions?

Swim diaper_new 

Now that Damien is becoming more of a steady walker, we are going to attempt to get a little more consistent with this elimination communication / infant potty training ordeal.

I am not crazy (I keep telling myself). Worldwide, 50% of babies are potty trained before their first birthdays. My goal is at least by 18 months, but this is new territory for me, so I will see how it goes. 

As he continues to become more of a walker and less of a crawler (currently, he still chooses crawling as his main mode of transportation, but he CAN walk and is walking more every day), he will be able to take himself to the potty when he needs to go.

And I am really trying to figure out how I am going to dress him in the meantime.

We will probably opt for diaper-free most of the time. Good old bare-bottom freedom. We will probably still use diapers for a while when he sleeps, or while traveling.

But what about those other times? What about when he's mostly potty trained, but still might have occasional accidents? When it's not appropriate for him to go bare-bottom, but he needs just a little something in case of a leak?

Did you know that it is near impossible to find underwear that fits my 10-month-old? Especially because he is small for his age (he just grew out of his 3-6 month clothes). And also, it would be great to find underwear that is somewhat absorbent.

I have been looking online. Several times. For several months. And I am still not coming up with anything fantastic. The smallest sizes are usually 18 months.

The solution I have currently come up with - swim diapers. The reusable type. They're not perfectly leak-proof, but it seems to do the trick for what I am looking for.
  • They are cheaper than cloth diapers (usually around $10 or less each)
  • They are easier to pull on and off than cloth diapers
  • They're not as absorbent, so the "sensation" that one just went in ones pants is still strong
  • They're not bulky - kind of like underwear, just more absorbent
My main hold-up is the leaking, but I guess the only way to get around that is to just straight up put a diaper on the kid, and that kind of defeats the purpose.

Anybody else been through this? What did you use for your little one while accidents were still prone to happen?  

"And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty..." Deuteronomy 15:13
Damien is currently 10 months, 3 weeks old

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Year Round Homeschooling and How We Organize It

I have shared my system for organizing our year-round school schedule before here, but today I wanted to touch on it again, this time with a visual I created to help simplify my explanation:

  Year Round Home Schooling Schedule Organization 

It really is simple, but with all the different jargon out there to describe portions of academic calendars, I thought this little chart would help to put into perspective what I mean when I am talking about the way I organize our year. I use four keywords to describe different portions of the year - the school year, the semester, the unit, and the gap

School Year - Our "school years" begin in the summer, followed by "graduation" the next spring. I intentionally coincide this part of our calendar with traditional schools, mainly to give other people a point of reference (when they ask Hunter the ever-famous question, "What grade are you in?") I consider Hunter in whatever grade he would be if he were in school (currently, 1st grade) but that doesn't dictate what level of work he does (he is above grade level in almost all subjects)

Semesters - The second level of organization is "semesters". I keep it really simple and just have one semester per season. The summer semester goes from June through August, fall semester from September through November, winter semester is December through February, and spring semester covers March through May, in general. Since the beginning of each week doesn't always coincide with the beginning of each month (obviously), the semesters will sometimes slightly overlap into other months (for instance, this year the "summer semester" runs from May 27 - August 25).

Units - The third level of organization is units. I make lesson plans for two-week periods, also known by me as units. Each semester has six units. 

Gaps - Also within the third level of organization is what I refer to as "gap" weeks. There are fifty two weeks per year, and if you divide fifty two by four (semesters) you will end up with thirteen weeks in each semester. Since units are two weeks each, that leaves you with six units per semester (twelve weeks) and one week left over. That extra week is what I call a "gap", and I leave it free of lesson plans, allowing us to use that week to catchup, review, or take a break.  

Why This Planning System Works Well For Us

1. Schooling Year Round Gives Us LOTS of Flexibility - A traditional school calendar goes for 36 weeks, or 180 days. With planning flexible lessons 48 weeks per year (and using the 180 days as a "guide"), that gives us 20 days per semester - 80 days per year - to take off for an impromptu day at the beach, visitors, sickness, no-motivation days, holidays, or vacation, if we need to.

2. I Plan More Fun Things - Just because "Winter Unit 3" overlaps December 25, doesn't mean we'll be doing math worksheets at 8:00 am on Christmas morning.

Throughout the year, I plan based on the season, holidays, and known events. For example, in the unit that goes through Christmas, I might plan only a bit of math review to do a few days during the unit, while using Christmas books for our literature and poetry, and postponing our normal history studies to talk about Christmas traditions around the world or to learn about the birth of Christ.

 Summer involves a much lighter work load, and many more fun activities and field trips are planned into our units. Planning lessons year round allows me to take a "school as life" approach to education and to lighten up all around. Knowing that I have flexibility makes it easier to incoporate the fun things.

3. The Flexibility and Fun Means We Don't Need Large Breaks - The rigors of traditional schooling make a good case for giving kids a much-needed summer break to relax, rejuvenate, and just enjoy being a kid. But homeschooling, particularly in this way (with flexibility for days off whenever needed, impromptu vacations, and incorporation of joyous activities and varying workloads throughout the year) makes such a break unnecessary.

In addition, being able to skip the summer vacation also means being able to skip all the downfalls of this giant break in learning, too. In the spring, time ends up being wasted because the end-of-year testing takes place a couple weeks before the end of school, making the last couple of weeks before school lets out somewhat of a "dead zone" where not too many new skills are being learned. When school resumes in the fall, it is well-known that the first several weeks are spent on reviewing forgotten material from the previous grade, as well as getting back into the old routine and readjusting behavioral standards. I would estimate that this equates to at least 3-6 weeks of school completely wasted due to summer break.  

How This Organizational System Helps Me Plan 

The School Year - As mentioned, the "school year" is more for other peoples' point of reference, but it does help to have a definite beginning and end to describe the goals I want to accomplish each year.

Semesters - Dividing up the year by the seasons (or semesters) helps in terms of goal simplicity, too. I am better able to define what I want to accomplish during each season, to see how much I have actually accomplished each season, and to plan our topics of study based on the seasons (for instance, lighter workloads in the summer, or holiday and seasonal lessons).

Units - The units are the key players in my lesson planning grand scheme, and were the beginning of this whole schedule in the first place.

I used to plan in one-week increments, but ended up spending most of my time feeling behind, discouraged, and guilty because we were never able to accomplish everything I wanted to get done. 

Making my plans last for two weeks has brought beautiful benefits to my family. I don't feel so rushed, there is room for error and "life", and even more importantly, we can cover topics in much greater depth than we were able to before.

Gaps - The gap weeks don't always happen the week following unit 6 (in fact, they rarely do). If we take a week-long family vacation during what would normally be in unit 2, the gap week just gets switched around and all the other units get bumped down a week. Guilt-free flexibility!

I hope that this post has been informative and useful to some of you. Perhaps if only to get a glimpse at how life works around here, or maybe as some inspiration if you are considering adopting a year-round school schedule in your own home.

I should also mention, that even though I have only talked about Hunter's schooling so far in this post, I plan Damien's (10 months old) activities and lessons on the same schedule - in two-week units, with no-plan gap weeks, and goals divided by year and season.

I would love to hear your comments!  

"All this, said David, the LORD made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." 1 Chronicles 28:19

Hunter is 7 years, 1 month old (1st grade)
Damien is 10 months, 2 weeks old (grade "KB")