Archive for the ‘ Must Read ’ Category

What About the Social Aspects of Homeschooling?

Friday, September 12th, 2014

For so many of us who grew up attending public schools and being educated among same-age peers, there are real questions about the socialization of homeschooled kids. We remember sitting in classrooms packed with other children and truly wonder how homeschoolers will fill in that “void” of being with other children so many hours of the day.  As a homeschooling family, though, I was quick to realize that socialization is not an issue. Let me explain why…

Are homeschoolers isolated?

You would be surprised how many homeschoolers there are. The number is estimated as somewhere between 1.9 and 2.5 million according to Dr. Brian D. Ray, head of the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute. To put that in perspective, that is the same number of kids as attend charter schools in the U.S.  Because of this, there are lots of homeschool opportunities:

We may be “home” schoolers but some of the best learning opportunities take place outside of the home!

Be sure to check out Homeschool Days at your local museum, historic sites, aquariums, zoos and elsewhere. For example, there are homeschool days at Mt. Vernon, Valley Forge, Gettysburg,. Biltmore. Williamsburg has two weeks of homeschool activities in September. There are outdoor homeschool programs at nature centers and environmental centers.  And though not necessarily educational, places like Disney World, Legoland, Silver Dollar City and Sea World have special homeschool days.

To be honest, we have to try to keep our schedule clear enough that we can get our academic work done!

How do homeschoolers learn to listen to a teacher or authority figure if they aren’t in (public) school?

Another underlying concern that comes from the “socialization” question is, if kids are not listening to a teacher all day, will they still have the same skills (listening to adults/authority, following directions and things like that).  If you think about a large classroom of kids, teachers definitely have their hands full keeping everyone on task.  In a homeschool setting, it is glaringly apparent when the kids are off-task, distracting a sibling or being disrespectful. In the homeschooling families I know, the parents are very involved and emphasize the social skills of good listening, being polite, using their manners, respecting and listening to others (adults or kids). We are able to address behaviors that are inappropriate simply because we are around them and monitoring them more. Does that mean my kids are perfect angels?  Absolutely not! But Hubby and I have helped them learn to be polite and respectful. Homeschooled kids are around adults during the course of a normal day and usually have coaches, teachers, adult friends and other adult mentors they interact with regularly.

I like this quote I found from Fine Homeschooling:

Dr. Raymond Moore, author of over 60 books and articles on human development has done extensive research on homeschooling and socialization. “The idea that children need to be around other youngsters in order to be socialized is perhaps the most dangerous and extravagant myth in education and child rearing today.” Children often do not respond well to large groups. They become nervous and over excited by noise and too many people. Learning becomes difficult. Behavioral problems develop.

After analyzing more than 8,000 early childhood studies, Dr. Moore concluded that, contrary to popular belief, children are best socialized by parents — not other children.

How do homeschoolers learn the skills of working together so that the skills necessary for collaborative work?  

This is definitely something to think about. There is no doubt that teamwork is important in the workplace and elsewhere. So how do you find opportunities for homeschooled kids to build these skills (especially if you have an only child?)  Basically, you have to seek out opportunities for your children.  Certainly there are team sports, scouts and other groups, but there are other collaborative opportunities for homeschoolers such as homeschool robotics clubs, homeschool science odyssey comptetition teams and even odyssey of the mind teams for homeschoolers.  If there isn’t a team around, you could always form one! As always, it takes time and energy as the parent/educator/fascilitator to make sure kids build the skills you feel are important.

Do homeschooled kids learn to deal with bullies and other “realities” of school?

I actually get this question from time to time… In fact, sometimes the tone is more like “how will your children cope if they haven’t experienced this?” It’s important for every parent to address the issue of bullying… and to emphasize being respectful and kind to other kids.  In a study measuring communication, daily living skills, socialization and maturity homeschooled kids outscored public school students.  Studies show that homeschooled kids are often more self-confident and self-assured than their public school peers. This inner strength is what I believe will help the kids deal with difficult situations and any of the different kinds of people they will meet in life.

Some final thoughts on homeschooling and socialization:

At the end of the day, Hubby and I are trying to raise polite, respectful, articulate, friendly people who treat others (regardless of their age) with respect. Some of the true skills of socialization are

  • character
  • honesty
  • morality
  • generosity of spirit
  • citizenship
  • listening skills
  • manners
  • respect for others
  • fairness
  • sympathy/empathy
  • kindness
Whether at school, at home or out in the world, these are skills that all parents are trying to foster in their kids.

This seems  to be the perfect time to share a graphic with you. I was contacted by Peter a couple of years ago and he said I was welcome to share the graphic he and his team developed with all of you.  It celebrates many of the positives of homeschooling.  Anyway, I have WAY too many friends whose (brilliant, wonderful, motivated, amazing) kids attend public school to agree that mine will “dominate” or “take them down” but I do like how this graphic presents many of the statistics about the successes of homeschooling:

Homeschool vs. Public School
Created by:

If you are interested in seeing some of the educational statistics about homeschoolers for yourself you might want to visit this National Center for Educational Statistics: Digest of Educational Statistics about homeschooled students which is where I suspect he and his team got a lot of the statistics they use in the graphic above. Another source of homeschool statistical information is the National Home Education Research Institute and you can read some Research Facts on Homeschooling by Brian Ray, PhD.

I get questions about socialization fairly regularly… and have tackled it in other ways from time to time. You may be interested in a previous post I wrote: Homeschool Questions Answered: What About Socialization?

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See you next time or at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page.

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Alphabet Activities for 2-4 year olds (Free Alphabet Mats)

Friday, August 29th, 2014

I thought it might be useful to pull a lot of our letter-activities together into one post, although we didn’t ever focus exclusively on letters. We generally had a theme or unit (astronomy, birds, volcanoes, bears, pirates, princesses and whatever else the kids were interested in at the time…)  and we added in these types of activities to supplement whatever else was going on.  So, just keep in mind that I pulled these activities out of context.

When my kids were little, we added in a lot of games to learn to recognize the letters, learn the letter sounds and learn the shapes and how to form the various letters.  Here’s a glimpse at the kinds of activities we did to keep it fresh and fun!

File Folder Games:

We played lots of matching file folder games. The spider web matching came from a paid website I belonged to called Kidssoup, but the hearts capital-lower case matching came from File Folder Fun.Child Care Land also has lots of free file folder games and other early learning activities.

Sandpaper Letters:

I purchased a set of sandpaper letters and the kids used them a lot when they were 2-3 years old. It’s a Montessori activity that we did regularly. We got ours from or you can get them from Montessori stores such as Kidadvance:

Here ED then matched some foam letter stickers to an index card.  We usually only focused on a few letters at at time:

Jump on Letters: We did this activity with everything from contact paper in the kitchen to letters written in chalk on the driveway. This active game was a huge hit with all my kids. “Find the “R.”  ”Go jump on the “K.”   You get the idea!

Cereal Box Matching:

ED had to put letters in the correct slot in the cereal box. You can find the alphabet printed out in various themes and I used to do this a lot using websites such as Communication 4 All (look in theliteracy area)

Scavenger Hunts:

I always tried to make learning fun and interactive. Here the girls went on a scavenger hunt to find their letters and then they had to mail them as they told me what letter/letter sound they made:

Drawing Letters in Sand:

For those of you who don’t know much about the Montessori method, I actually sat down with ED and “presented” the activity below to her.  I show her each and every step…

  • take out the blanket and spread it on the ground
  • take the tray with two hands and lift it down and place it on the blanket
  • lift up the lid
  • sketch the letter in the sand
  • mail the letter
  • take the sand tray with two hands and shake it back and forth
  • repeat until done
  • put the tray away
  • fold up the blanket
  • put the blanket away

I think arming ED with EACH step has really made a big difference to how successful she is at doing the various activities and then repeating them on her own.

We did this in combination with a scavenger hunt and a “mail box” with a slot to mail the letter. We just had a tray of sand and ED had to write the letter before mailing off her letter!  I never wound up making more “letters” for her to mail, but if you’re interested in   A, B, C, E, L, M, N, O, R or S you can download them free here.

Hands on Activities:

We often fit the letter activities into whatever unit/holiday we were working on/celebrating such as the bird unit or the Shamrock fishing activities below:

An activity after reading Green Eggs and Ham!

Using foam letters and contact paper to create a matching game:

Q-tip painting: As the kids were learning their letters, I tried to change things up for them.  Sometimes I brought out Q-tips which they could dip into paint to practice “writing” their letters. Here are some alphabet mats I made that you can download as you need them:

Alphabet Mats: A to Z

(font licence purchased from Kimberly Geswein Fonts)

Clothes Pin Matching:

Using Clothes Pins to match the letters. These letter matching cards are from Honey at Sunflower Schoolhouse (the link I had doesn’t seem to be working anymore), though it would be easy enough to make with a marker and an index card.

This is something similar from Making Learning Fun – Upper – Lower Case Letter Matching

Here is another cute letter matching activity from Making Learning Fun:


My kids loved doing the do-a-dot activities (with bingo markers). The ones pictured below are by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler. Erica developed an entire curriculum around the letters of the alphabet. Here’s an example of her Letter A activities or Letter F Activities. Awesome, right?!  We just used a few of these activities and fit them into our units  (More about that in another post!!). You can also find do-a-dot letters at Making Learning Fun.

Letter Factory: All three of my kids loved the Letter Factory movies. The tune is catchy and it helped the kids learned the sounds of the letter.

I hope you found a few ideas you can use with your kids!  If you found anything useful or have other ideas to share, I’d love to hear from you at our Homeschool Den Facebook page.

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A Huge List of Things to do with your Preschooler

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Are you gearing up for the new school year with your toddler or preschooler? This is the week for you here at the Homeschool Den!  Today I am sharing our huge, long list of activities that you can do with your 2-5 year olds. I compiled this list a couple of years ago when I was struggling to balance the needs of my preschooler with my older two school-age kids.  Then tomorrow and continuing on this week are suggestions for doing activities with your preschooler in math, science, letters and more.  Next week, I hope to start a new series on teaching your child to read.

I am a list person! I love writing down things we should do, could do, have done. In fact, I started this blog as the ultimate list of things we’ve done!  Trying to balance the needs of three kids, I worried at times about not doing enough with ED. I was going through the preschool lists I created for the other kids and started making a list of things I wanted to do with ED. Then after going through my old lists, I also went through my blog (you can scan through out old toddler or preschool posts too by going to the categories in the right sidebar). I came across a lot of things  to do with ED…

 Ultimately I came up with a three-page list of things to do with my preschooler. Some things she is beginning to outgrow, but I included them since others might find them helpful.  You can find my Huge List of Things to do with your Preschooler  here! I included hyperlinks back to old blog posts. And if you find this list helpful please drop me a comment.  I love sharing our activities and get a huge boost when I hear from others!

I hope you find some fun ideas to do with your preschooler!

What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool
What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool
What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool

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Making Learning Active, Engaging, Relevant & Memorable!

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

After spending time talking about all the homeschool curriculum choices, I really wanted to talk about what excites me most about teaching and homeschooling… the possibilities!! It really doesn’t matter what curriculum you use… anything can be used as your spine… but (for me) education is going beyond the books. It’s all about the passion, the excitement, the hard work and intensity that comes with learning. When you have those moments with your kids/students, you’ll know it!!

I just finished a book by an award-winning language arts teacher called, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. What an inspiration to read!  Even though we don’t function as a “traditional” classroom/school, this book had so much to offer to me as a parent, facilitator, instructor & mentor.  If you need a bit of inspiration before the school year begins (or even in the midst of your school year!) I highly recommend her book.  It really got me thinking beyond lesson plans & units to how and why we’re homeschooling. So much of what she wrote resonated with me and I wanted to write more about that. The author of the book is Kim Bearden. I’ll just refer to her as Kim because after reading her book, I feel like I know her! ;)

Change it Up; Be Fresh and Innovative:  One of the reasons we love homeschooling is because it allows us to create a joyful learning environment. Kim talked about changing the lessons up and creating a sense of wonder for the students.  I whole-heartedly agree… in fact, that’s one reason we homeschool.  As I think about our units, I spend a lot of time searching for fresh ways to approach the material… So what do I mean by that? Let me give you some ideas:

Math facts getting “dull” but still need work?  Time for Math Monster or other Active Math Games

Science need a pick me up? Make it hands on, interactive… create a demonstration or science experiment.  Below, the kids showed the heart leaving the heart with oxygen (red tile), traveling to the limbs and dropping off the oxygen (flipping the tile to blue) and returning to the lungs for more oxygen before returning to the heart to be pumped out again… It’s been three years since we did the circulatory system and heart activities, but the kids still talk about Harold (pictured below)!!!

Circulatory System Activity

And what better way to believe in the strength of levers (in a Simple Machines Unit) than by lifting Mom!! (See more Lever Activities here and be sure to download our free Simple Machines Packet (about 25 pages))

And once the weather is cold, there are always indoor games to play, lapbooks to make and experiments to be done!

Magical Learning: One wonderful idea that I took away from Kim’s book was suspending belief — making learning magical. I don’t want to share her ideas (go read her book, it’s wonderful!), but I realize as I look back on the past year or so, that there are so many ways I can stretch our imaginations and take us far away from our homeschool room…

I see SO much potential

  • I could set up different scenes for our German lessons… a day at the beach, a restaurant, a store-front
  • historical dilemma – Now this particular activity I’m about to share is not appropriate for my six year old… but when I taught history at a private high school, I taught a popular elective on the Holocaust.  It was very challenging (emotionally), but the students and I really explored some issues deeply.  One particular lesson stands out. I had prepared cards ahead of time with different roles… We spent time role playing. Then jumped out of The conversation we had that day was
    • “You are a mother of two young children.”
    • “You are shopkeeper. You live about the store. Your store is frequented by government officials and SS officers.”
    • “You are a father whose teenage son just joined the Hitler Youth.”
    • “You are a 15 year old Jewish teenager. Your parents disappeared. Approach the friends (former friends?) of your parents and see if they will hide you from deportation.”
  • mock trial – Again, when I was teaching high school, my colleague and I designed a number of lessons… holding mock trials of historical figures (like George Washington) complete with witnesses, a judge and jury.  I haven’t ever done anything like this with my kids, but they are now old enough that we could do a simplified version.  (Do you hear the wheels and spinning with excitement turning in my head?!!)

Goal Setting: I think it’s important to point out that when you look at a blog like mine with various idea or read a book like Kim’s with all her extraordinary ideas laid out for you that I point out that we highlight the successful, memorable activities and experiences and don’t dwell as much on the days where we let the kids read all day or just trudge through the basics because someone is sick or we had a handful of errands to run all day.

We don’t do extraordinary science experiments, activities, crafts and scenes every day, but I always have a goal in the back of my mind… To be honest, one reason why I (continue) to blog is because I have set goals and have activities I hope that we’ll get to… Knowing that I can/will share that on the blog is sometimes enough to get me off of my duff and actually DO IT.  There are times in the semester where pulling together the materials we’ll need sounds nothing short of exhausting. Then I push through and do it anyway.  Anyway, I just share that so you know that you (readers) help to motivate me… I bet there’ll be times when you need outside help to motivate you as well.

For example, when the kids were in preschool I tried to set up a theme time table once a week for five weeks… or did a science experiment 2-3 times a week for 3 weeks… or set up tot-trays with activities with one quick activity per day.

Now as the kids get older I plan out units and have a half-dozen hands-on activities we *could* do along with the unit. My goal is to try to do something interactive at least every other day (rather than *just* the basics), but it doesn’t always happen.

Anyway, all that was to say, don’t get stressed out by Pinterest or homeschool and educational blogs with a gazillion ideas. Just pick a few fun goals and try to fit those in when and where they work!

Remember: Some of the good lessons become phenomenal with time.  Spend time, not only creating memories, but sharing and embracing those same memories.  When we were learning about the digestive system, we did an activity to show how small nutrients pass through the intestines into the blood stream… We still talk about squeezing and twisting a pair of panty-hose to make oatmeal “pass through” our digestive system… it looked gross and was a sticky mess.  We all laugh about the activity… and have cemented that lesson by talking about it so much after the fact!

Here’s another example… About a year ago, I took the kids to Antietam, where thousands of soldiers died during the Civil War.  The kids and I STILL talk about the powerful moments we spent at the graveyard there.  This is what I wrote at the time…

I have lots more pictures of what we saw that day, but honestly the most wrenching part was the cemetery. The kids and I were the only ones there.  Because of that, it was silent and somber.  I became very choked up (and honestly writing about this I have tears in my eyes) when I realized what DD was doing. She (and then ED also) went from grave to grave whispering quietly, “I’m sorry you died…” over and over and over. Oh my goodness, that was just heart-wrenching.  We all were very overwhelmed… and DD leaned on me and cried quietly at one point.  It was stirring and horrible… and touching all wrapped into one.

We ARE making a difference, even on our bad days! I actually stepped away from this post (and had major surgery). Now I’m coming back two weeks later and lost my train of thought… but one of the ideas I had jotted down in my writing notebook was about not being discouraged.  It’s important not second guess every decision, bad day, or bad lesson. When things go wrong, learn from it and then let it go.  We have to remain patient with the kids AND with ourselves.  In the larger scheme of things we are

  • planting seeds
  • walking beside them
  • instilling a sense of wonder
  • supporting them
  • modeling a strong work ethic
  • making them feel appreciated
  • caring
  • teaching manners and grace
  • believing in them
  • showing them how to be polite and respectable
  • disciplining
  • smiling
  • instilling positive messages
  • making them feel significant
And above all, I loved the message Kim shared throughout the book… to remember that positive energy is contagious! It’s up to us to set the tone and encourage positive thinking rather than complaints.  That’s true as a parent as well as an educator, right?!!
So with that, I’ll bring this post to a close.  A huge thanks to Kim Bearden, author of the inspiring book, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me.

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Math Worksheets, Game Boards, Lapbook and more (All Free!)

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

This is the second part in my talk about math curriculums. Not only did I list some of the better known homeschool math curriculums, but I shared 15+ ideas for making math engaging and fun!

Today I wanted to share some of the materials I’ve made for the kids. I’ve found that the kids really enjoy when I make sheets specifically for them. They’ll always ask me, “Did you draw this?  Did you make this for me?”  After I’ve done all that work, I’m happy to share them with the wider world. If you click the links below that will take you to the post where and the link to google docs to download them free. I thought I’d pull out some of the more popular math worksheets I’ve made.

This list is not complete… you can always scan through the Math Category or Freebies Category to see what else is available.

Pete the Cat:



A “Bump” Game with Pets.

I made up cards such as 7+7 or 8+5. Each player took turns taking a card and covering the answer with a token. If another player had a token on that pet,  she could “bump” him off.  Once a player has 2 tokens on a pet, it’s hers to keep.

13s, 14s, 15s Board Games

For practicing addition such as 6+8, 5+9, etc.

(Directions to this game at the post)

Kitty Math Pages

Kitty Clocks

Kitty Game for Doubling (5+5 thru 10+10)

Multiplication Cat Races

Winter Themed Math Pages

Valentine’s Day MathVarious Valentine’s Day math sheets I made for addition, multiplication, doubling (8+8) , division, etc.

Easter Math Sheets

Christmas Math Number Cards and Math Games

Thanksgiving Math 

More Thanksgiving Math Games and Math Packs

 Skip Counting Mazes:

I’ve also made all sorts of skip counting mazes like these:

Sometimes the materials I make aren’t themed… like the ones below:

Equivalent Fractions Pack I made for LD last year:

Geometry Review Pack

Free Math Lapbook (ages 4-6)

That’s about it for today. I hope you found something useful… and stay tuned for some new math sheets in the months to come!

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Homeschool School Supply List

See you next time or over at our Homeschool Den Facebook page!

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