Friday, June 21, 2013

What to Look for in a Homeschool Group

As much as some people continue to insist homeschoolers are unsocialized, the reality is most homeschoolers have a plethora of opportunities to interact and socialize with all sorts of people. We're active people who enjoy getting involved in numerous community activities. From 4H clubs to community classes to karate to prom planning committees, it feels like we're always on the go.

As homeschooling continues to grow as an education option, we'll see more and more homeschool groups crop up. Finding a good fit with your homeschool group is important. These groups offer advice on curriculums, experiences overcoming challenges, and support on the days you feel like you're screwing up. You also want to have some fun too, right?

So how does one go about finding a good fit in a group, other than by playing eenie meenie miney mo? You can start by asking a few questions...

1. How active is the group? 
Find out what kind of events the group offers. Some groups sound like they offer a lot in their description, but once you see their schedule you find it's more like random park days that often get cancelled. Look for regularly scheduled field trips, parties, park days and social opportunities. Look for a Facebook page or website where you can easily get information on events and opportunities.

2. Is the group organized?
Look for some structure and organization within the group. Now, you don't want some militant structure with little flexibility over who is allowed to plan what (sadly, they exist), but neither do you want a group that acts willy-nilly. You want stability, but not totalitarianism. Just use your common sense on this one.

3. Are the members friendly?
When you post a question on their page, do you get a response? A good group will have veteran homeschoolers willing to answer a newbie's questions. There should be a solid network of support and guidance. Not everyone is an extrovert, but look for one or two people who try to make newbies feel welcomed and included at their first event.

4. How religious and political are you?
This one is a biggie and where I've seen the most fall outs within groups. If you are pretty laid back and tolerant in your religious views, don't try to fit in with a group that is strict and fundamental in their views. In the end, it often doesn't work out. Likewise, if you are vocal and fundamental in your views, don't try to fit in with a group that is laid back on the subject. Speaking for our local secular group here, we really don't mind what people's personal religious and political beliefs are. These topics are off the table and we focus on homeschooling. We have conservative Christians rubbing shoulders with liberal Buddhists. The key to how we do this is we just don't talk about religion and politics. However, other groups may not be like that and there are both subtle and not-so-sublte ways they discourage anyone who doesn't align with their exact biblical beliefs. This is why it's important to assess your own views and the views of the group you're thinking to join. A close match can minimize conflict down the road.

5. Have you heard good things about the group?
If you know any homeschoolers in your area, ask them about local groups. Each group has their own personality and asking other homeschoolers their real-world experience in a group is helpful. If one person had a bad experience, it might be worth keeping an open mind and try it for yourself. But if you hear of repeated problems from multiple people, you'll probably save yourself time and frustration by skipping that group. Warning signs would include social cliques (both with the kids and moms) and group drama.

6. How am I willing to contribute?
The best homeschool groups have many "worker bee" members. These are people willing to contribute their ideas, time, and energy into creating fun and exciting opportunities. It's about community, after all. Bring some fun energy to the group.

If all else fails and you can't find a group in your area, start one up yourself! You may be surprised who's lurking in the unsocialized woods (ha!), waiting for a group to come along. With Facebook and a few flyers around town (the local library is always a popular place for homeschoolers!), it's easier than you think to get one started.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homeschool 101 Seminar - Introduction to Homeschooling

We will be hosting a Homeschool 101 seminar in May for anyone in the Mobile area who is interested in homeschooling in their child. 

Veteran homeschoolers will be on hand to cover the state laws and requirements for homeschoolers and different homeschooling methods. We will have some favorite curriculums on display, along with catalogs from various homeschooling companies. There will be handouts covering the benefits and myths of homeschooling, deschooling, local support groups, and online resources.

The meeting is May 18th, 9:30-11:30 am at West Regional Library's cafe room. 

*We will not have a sitter or activities planned to keep young children occupied. Keep in mind this is an adult business type meeting. It's up to you to decide whether your child can sit quietly for two hours while adults talk or to leave them home with a spouse/sitter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

4th Grade Secular Astronomy Unit

Big Bang Theory notebook page w/foldable
Even though I'm close to wrapping up my third year as a homeschooling mom, I still haven't found a science curriculum program I'm happy with. Being a secular homeschooler rules out soooo many curriculums due to the religious content, so I've been creating most of our science as unit studies. As I've written more and more unit studies, I've become a bit faster at it, but I won't lie; I still long for a quality all-in-one secular science curriculum.

With my youngest son in 4th grade, we agreed to do a six week astronomy study. He doesn't enjoy earth science very much, plus he's terrified of the idea of asteroids hitting the earth, alien invasions, black holes, or anything that might threaten life on our planet. Needless to say, I skipped most of those topics and made sure the "life on other planets" day was very light and non-scary. (Not that I succeeded. Even though I thought the alien section was benign, he did NOT.)

Since this isn't a special interest of his, I kept the unit to covering just the basics. (I even committed the cardinal sin of not requiring one of those solar system displays!)  I used four different books as spines, with two being the main ones: Usborne Book of Astronomy & Space, and Scholastic Discover More: Planets. I borrowed the other two minor astronomy books from the library. (Not that the DK Space book is's very thorough! We just didn't use enough of it to justify owning it.) Below is a list of topics we covered during our study:

Layers of Earth's atmosphere foldable

The Universe
Big Bang Theory
Galaxies & the Milky Way
History of skywatching
The Sun
Inner Planets
The Earth (seasons, layers of atmosphere)
The Moon (eclipses & tides)
Outer Planets
Comets & meteoroids
Dwarf Planets
Animals in Space
Life on other planets
Hubble telescope & space stations

I've begun utilizing text-mapping with the goal of training my kids to pull out important information from non-fiction text. Our highlighters are color-coded with orange being a new vocabulary word, blue the main idea, yellow supporting details. Or maybe it was yellow the main idea and blue supporting details? Well, you get the picture.

text-mapping highlighting on the right page

Little by little, I'm adding notebooking into our history and science studies. The text-mapping ties in nicely with the notebooking technique since it can highlight the information to be summarized on the notebooking page. We did this for our historical astronomer notebooking page...

You can download a pdf of my six-week lesson plans for this unit. It contains links to the different books I used, foldables (when applicable), projects I found on Pinterest, and relevant Study Jam videos