Month: December 2011


How to Teach a Subject You Know Nothing About

One of the things we focus on at Home Education Council of America is making things easier for the home educator.

I've noticed that in many of the online forums, a lot of discussion the past week has been centered around planning for the new year.  Many parents are tossing out curriculum that they might have paid hundreds of dollars for, only to purchase more curriculum worth hundreds more dollars, and they aren't even sure that will solve all their problems.

Why continue to spend money on textbooks and lessons for all subjects, especially a subject you know nothing about?  Is that really going to lift your load? Probably not – because now you have even more reading to do to familiarize yourself with the lesson layouts and then customize them to your child's learning style and your schedule.

The best way to teach a subject you know nothing about is…..DON'T TEACH IT!   Homeschoolers all over the world understand that no matter what your background is, a parent can't possibly know how to teach every subject.   We also know that although home education is a constitutional freedom, some states and countries do regulate what courses students have to take – particularly when you get to the middle school and high school years.  This presents a problem for parents as children get older and there are courses that parents know nothing about (or in my case, just don't understand).  In some college applications your child might have to include transcripts or syllabi from certain core subjects.  Because you are free to choose HOW your child receives the core requirements, why not find someone else to teach certain subjects while you focus on the ones you do know?

There's lots of ways to do this – from trading with other parents, to private tutoring, to taking online courses.  Taking an online course is much like participating in a co-op class – co-ops are a very popular approach for homeschool groups. 

Asking for help or supervising a course that someone else is teaching does not signal defeat.  In fact, it shows that you know how to use your resources wisely.  While your older child is taking an online science course, you could be teaching a younger child handwriting or grammar, while still supervising your older child if you so desire.  

For me, teaching Chemistry was the single hardest course I ever taught my kids when they were in middle school/high school.  It was hard enough to teach them math at levels that I never reached in high school (I later resolved to expensive private tutoring for math), but all of the equations and scientific notations in Chemistry made my brain feel like it was going to burst some days!  I cross-taught my 7th grader and my 9th grader because I absolutely did not want to have to teach this subject twice.

But since my kids have all taken the ACT and the SAT, I discovered that I really didn't need to teach Chemistry as in depth as I did.  Because NOTHING that was in that chemistry course was on those two exams.  That's right – science is not part of either of the standard ACT or SAT exam.  And EVERYTHING that was in the course that I had purchased, is taught in their college course for chemistry.  They are not expected to have previous knowledge, none, nada, zip.  

Now, I would definitely encourage the basics of chemistry as well as physics, before college.  It will definitely give them and edge.  But to stress out about it, no.  Get your kids involved in co-op classes, hire a tutor, and take a load off!

The Bill of Rights

If you were to walk around your neighborhood, or even just stand outside the local grocery store, and poll people with this question:  "What is the significance of the Bill of Rights?" how many would be able to answer the question?

Consider this explanation of why we have the Bill of Rights:

"During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights."

As we ponder this, we can come to an understanding that the Bill of Rights is definitely part of our Constitution.  Yet most people don't connect the two documents.  Both documents together not only spell out our basic human rights, but they detail with exactness the duties of the President of the United States, his restriction of power, and the duties and responsibilities of Congress with limitations to their power.


Every person who is of legal age to vote should KNOW what was in our founding documents.  Some politicians don't think it's necessary for you to know – because if you know, then they can't convince you to vote for corrupt bills and laws under the guise of false promises.  American Government should be a requirement for all students, yet it is an elective course in most public schools.

I felt it was essential to teach American Government to my children shortly before the last presidential election campaign.  One evening, my son was watching the debates with us on television.  As candidates began offering their speeches, he listened carefully to what they were promising the American people.  My son stood up and shouted, "He CAN'T promise that – it's unconstitutional!"  and my son was quite confident that people could not be so ignorant as to vote for someone who doesn't even know what our constitutional rights were.  Yet people believed this candidate because they were unaware that Congress would never allow him to fulfill those promises.  Not because Congress is mean, but because it's simply not permitted under our Constitution.  Some time later, after this candidate was actually elected, my son's frustration grew as he watched speech after speech of blatent intent to take away our constitutional freedoms.

As we enter in to yet another election process, our Constitution is clearly hanging by a thread. Education is essential to making the right decisions when we vote.  Not just for presidential candidates, but at the local and state level.  American voters must understand what the rights of the President are, and the rights and responsibilities of Congress.  Knowledge is freedom, ignorance binds us.  Knowledge will help us to hold candidates accountable, ignorance will allow them to continue in corruption until we have nothing left.

Which do you want for your posterity?  Freedom or bondage?


Math Relief

Are you struggling to teach an older child who is behind in math?  Did you recently transition from institutional school to home education and realize your child doesn't know the basics to be in an Algebra class?

You are not alone.  Many parents are discovering that schools have pushed children thru without really teaching the concepts – or, they spent so much time "teaching to the test" that students don't learn anything other than how to keep guessing until they get the right answer. 

Parents of children with special needs are especially frustrated.  Teachers are packed with more and more students in their class, and are not trained to teach to varying levels.  They teach one grade or proficiency level, yet studies consistently prove that most people learn math at a different pace.  Students who can't keep up are either ignored, failed, or sent to a "special" math class.  If you have ever spent time in the remedial math classes, it's often an even worse situation. 

When I was in middle school (in the 70's), I got pretty good grades in math until I reached financial math and pre-algebra, then things got tough.  When I look back, there are certain skills that were not emphasized as important when I was preparing for high school.  One of them is word problems.  All of my teachers – ALL of them – had a policy that if the students did well on the "regular" problems (usually 50-60 equation drills of some sort) then we were permitted to skip the word problems.  BIG MISTAKE!

When students prepare to take the ACT, the SAT, or other college entry exams, you can bet that every single math problem on those tests is a word problem.  If a student has little experience with word problems, it's like reading a foreign language.  For visual students such as myself, financial math and equations with x's and y's were confusing and pointless.  Does this sound like something your child would say?

When it came time for me to teach my kids, creativity was essential to not only help them understand but so that I could finally understand.  I was able to discover numerous methods to engage them, and later used those same methods to teach other kids.  I have helped a number of students to adequately prepare for Algebra, and they have gone on to do very well in higher maths.

I have spent a great deal of time with expert math instructors who are equally frustrated with the school textbooks and the "new math" that administrators are making them teach.  This is primarily because the new math is trying to teach math in illogical order.  

They explained to me the EXACT order that math needs to be taught for the best possible outcome and to properly prepare them for higher math and college.  The list is highly accurate, and I have used this method to remediate many students who were struggling because they didn't have the basics.  I would even be as bold to say – if you use my list, and then google free resources for worksheets, you will never have to buy a math curriculum.  Ever.

I have placed this amazing resource in the member Toolbox.  It is available for all membership levels, including our Basic (free) level.  Simply login with your member credentials, and the Toolbox link will appear in the navigation menu at the top of the website.  Click on the Math section, then Pre-Algebra and take a look!  


Easy Homeschool Resources

There is no doubt that home educators want the BEST academic experience for their children.  We all want our kids to go far and to have every opportunity afforded to them.  Yet sometimes it's just not practical for a parent to teach ALL the subjects their kids want or need to learn.  What do you do if you can't get it all in?  What if you have many children?

Many people do "cross teaching" which essentially means you teach a subject to more than one child at the same time, and the same level.  My son was doing a 9th grade level curriculum (boxed type) and I was simply exhausted from trying to teach him chemistry and then do general science with my daughter who was in 7th grade.  As well, two separate English courses, and two separate history courses, while teaching really advanced math, it was just too much – and I only had two children at home at the time!! Imagine having 4, 7, or 11 children in all different levels. 

So anyways, I thought it might be interesting to let my daughter sit in on some of the lessons with my son.  She was so ready for this – and actually helped HIM with understanding the chemistry (ah, the simplicity of the younger mind!).  They began having discussions about the history, and the English assignments.  My thoughts were – if she can keep up, then why am I teaching her to a lower level?  So I did the cross teaching successfully.  Math still had to be kept separate, but thankfully I was able to find really great tutors to take the higher math off my plate.

And that's another point – as home educators, we have that flexibility to utilize tutors.  It does not signify failure or lack of knowledge to hire a tutor.  Rather, it shows that we know how to use our resources wisely!  It doesn't always have to be fee based, some parents trade services with tutors, and others live in an area with a high population of homeschoolers and can work with co-ops.

Besides cross teaching, tutors, and co-ops, there are online courses in a wide variety of subjects. The important thing to remember is that the parent can supervise all of these options, and if it's not what you expected or wanted it to be, then you can walk away at any time.  Unlike public school (or private school) where you are stuck with whatever they have to offer. 

One of the special areas that Home Education Council of America tries to work on is making things easier for home educators.  You don't have to do it all yourself.  We've seen a lot of parents waste hundreds of dollars switching curriculum halfway through the year because they get frustrated.  If we learn to lean on reliable resources, and communicate our needs with each other, our kids can receive a superior education while we supervise the quality and ethics.  

That just makes sense!  This is why HECOA is now developing courses to teach parents how to teach various subjects.  We also have our member Toolbox which outlines what needs to be taught for each subject – that way you can google tons of free resources online to get the job done.  To access the Toolbox, simply login with your member credentials, and it will appear in the navigation menu at the top of the website!!


Words with Friends

Vocabulary Builder Tip:

This past month in the Facebook feeds, there's a photo circulating of a family Christmas postcard where all the members of the family are looking down and texting at their cell phones instead of smiling at the camera.  All you see is the top of their heads.  Of course, the photo is meant to "relate" and be humorous.

Are your kids hooked on technology? Rather than fight the battle for a glimpse of their eyes, why not implement lessons using the very technology they love?

I'm not someone who plays games on Facebook, I never have time nor do I want to get hooked.  But there is one app that I installed on my android phone that I absolutely love – it's called Words with Friends (by Zynga).  There's lots of Youtube videos explaining what an "app" is – so I'm not going to hit on that in this post.

I did not download Words with Friends from Facebook, something about clicking on Facebook games still scares me (hackers abound in that realm).  Instead, I downloaded it from the apps marketplace and then connected it to my Facebook account. 

Basically, Words with Friends is a scrabble game.  You can choose to play with your friends (connecting through a variety of social networks and email hosts) or you can play with random strangers (not my choice, but some people don't mind).  All the points are the same as Scrabble.  After you submit each word, there's an ad that pops up, but you can get away from it rather quickly. 

The fun thing about Words with Friends is that you can try different scenarios and if it's not a word, the app will let you know.  So many words I didn't even know existed!  One way to implement this into a vocabulary lesson is to have your child look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and gain an understanding of the definition.  Words such as "Za" and "Qi" are actually worth a lot of points if played strategically!

If you have a hand held device that has the capability to download apps, Words with Friends is a great way to get your kids thinking about words all day.  Have fun and happy wording!