Curriculum Recommendation for Real Life

June 2, 2015

mom and son“Hi, my name is Melissa and my son just completed 4th grade. I’m really concerned because he is really struggling with Reading Comprehension & Writing. I know the VLA program starts with 9th graders, but what program/programs would you recommend for 5th graders and middle schoolers? I appreciate your feedback, thank you!”

This is an actual email I received a couple days ago, and it is a sampling of what fills my Facebook messages and personal email inbox.

I most certainly understand and applaud parents who are searching for the very best stuff out there for their children in terms of curriculum. What I want to highlight is the fact that it AIN’T about curriculum!

Curriculum is just a tool in the hands of a student. A good student can use any curriculum and learn. It is the MINDSET of the STUDENT that will yield his results.

Self-Propelled students have a “yes, I can!” mindset from doing their own problem solving day in and day out, regardless of curriculum. Students who are dependent on their teachers do not necessarily possess this positive approach to learning. (I write extensively about this positive mindset in my book The Self-Propelled Advantage.)

Students who have a “no, I probably cant” mindset are going to struggle with any curriculum. It is all about getting to the bottom of this attitude and understanding what causes it which will be of most benefit to the student, not trial and error with this curriculum or that curriculum, although that is what happens most often. Home-educating parents tend to doubt the worth of a curriculum before they look at what is REALLY going on in the heart of their student.

Why?

It is easiest to blame curriculum. It is pretty darn simple to curriculum-hop, but isn’t it painfully expensive and time consuming? In 23 years of schooling eight kiddos, I’ve never changed a curriculum. What I purchased 23 years ago for my first child, my last child is using today.

What did I say to the sweet mom who wrote me? I’ll cut and paste my answer in case anyone is interested. Hopefully it will highlight what parents can do right now, this summer, to grow children who are on the road to becoming truly educated.

Hi Melissa,

Thank you kindly for your email! If you don’t mind, may I just say one word?

RELAX! 🙂

Writing skills develop over time, and that is why I don’t offer any courses for kids below high school.

I have five high school graduates. All totaled, they’ve written me ZERO papers in their 13 years of schooling other than for the composition class and research paper classes they took in high school for a total of two semesters. When they did VirtualLanguageAlive, they didn’t write essays for ME, they wrote them for themselves to utilize their vocabulary, to learn their vocabulary words.

What I did require and what I recommend you do is to go to the library and let him check out books. Set a minimum time of one hour of reading per day even (and ESPECIALLY) through the summer. Allow your kiddos to get ALONE with their reading material. Take away distractions of the technological kind, and make reading the only option, but give children choice in selecting their own reading materials.

Have technology-free days or technology-free times of day, at least. Take away those distractions and temptations FOR your children.

Encourage your child to read by giving your child ruminating time: time to think with no distractions. Charlotte Mason said, “Children must be left alone to ruminate,” and as a child, I was given that time as well. We didn’t have close neighbors or a public swimming pool, or etc. My mom took me to the library every two weeks or so, and my brothers and I would leave there with at least a dozen books. Happiness meant reading away in the coolness of an air-conditioned house. Or in the car. Or on the porch swing.

If I had had all of the distractions that today’s kids have, I would never have developed an appreciation for being ALONE with a book. I would not have honed my reading skills when there was no pressure to do so because I was reading for pleasure, not for school.

Today’s kids need to be left alone with their thoughts to ruminate. We are not being “mean” by just saying NO to screen time of all varieties!

This is the biggest challenge parents face in the 21st century: fostering reading in an age of electronics.

Just my two cents. Bahahahaha! I really got going there, Melissa. I apologize for being lengthy. I didn’t intend to be. READING is the key to lifelong learning. Comprehension will come and it grows over time, so simply allow a child to have his own relationship with any book he reads this summer. Eventually, from whatever curriculum he is given, he will be able to grow and learn.

Hugs,
joanne calderwood

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reading girlOne last tip for today:

Head out to your local bookstore, and let your kids look around for the latest and greatest stuff. Don’t purchase the books from the bookstore! Go to Amazon.com or to your favorite online book seller and order them at a discounted price. Waiting for the books to come in the mail adds EXCITEMENT! Don’t you love getting stuff in the mail? So do your kids! Set them up for additional excitement this way.

Okay, buy them one book at the bookstore. And grab yourself one while you are at it. If your kids see you enjoying a book in your spare time, they will get the message that reading is a worthwhile pursuit.

 


Respect: It Ain’t Just a One-Way Street

January 28, 2013

PortraitParents can hurt their children unlike any other type of humankind on the planet can. Parents of adult children often don’t realize that their offspring never outgrow the need for respect from their parents. And vice versa. But the onus is on parents to be mindful of this truth in the first place.

I know I mess up with my kids and give them lots of reasons to feel less than respected at times. I hate when I do that!

So this post is written as a reminder to ME of how I should treat my still-at-home children as well as my grown-up children if I want to maintain a healthy and vibrant relationship with them.

Respect means:

1. Giving my full attention (by putting down hand-held devices such as smart phones, looking away from the blog post I’m typing and making eye contact, removing ear buds and turning off loud, rockin’ country music, opening eyes when I’m almost asleep…finally…after a long day, and etc.).

2. Did I mention making eye contact without ear buds in?

3. Respect means not interrupting unless it’s with interjections such as Wow! That’s Awesome! Woo-hoo!

Avoid interrupting by using interjections such as Hush! Wait a minute! Dude! Can’t you see I’m busy?

4. Respect means speaking to my kids like I’d speak to an adult. Three-year-old kids don’t need a sing-songy voice, and neither do teens. Neither does my 80-year-old Dad.

5. Respect means saying please and thank you even for stuff that is “expected” such as chores.

6. Respect means not deliberately embarrassing my kids in front of others, including siblings. In this day and age, it means asking permission before posting something concerning them on Instagram or Facebook. Or even in a blog post.

I would never deliberately embarrass my kids in front of anyone, just fyi. The thought makes me cringe, actually.

7. Respect means apologizing when I need to….like when I forget to ask permission before posting something concerning them on Instagram or Facebook. Or even in a blog post. Asking forgiveness, too, is essential.

8. Respect means knocking on a door before entering their rooms. (It also means not hiding behind the door to scare the life outta your poor mom. Just sayin’.)

9. Respect means not asking my kiddos to do something I’m not willing to do.

The exception would be asking my skinny little daughter to reach something that fell under my bed…like an earring that I shall never see again unless she slithers under there and kindly retrieves it for me. Heh heh.

10. Respect means communicating, not commanding.

The exception to this rule lies in safety-related issues. Sometimes there isn’t time to communicate why not to run out into the open field during a thunderstorm in order to retrieve a kite that’s stuck in a tree.

Fortunately, Benjamin Franklin’s mom failed at this particular safety command, and we now how electricity with which to power all these things we need to put aside when our dear children are communicating with us. So yeah, there are always exceptions to exceptions.

11. Allowing my kids to have their own opinions without telling them why they are freakishly wrong is another way I can show respect.

This is especially relevant when you have adult children. Not that my adult children have opinions that I think are freakishly wrong….well…there is that one particular offspring….! JUST kidding.

12. Listen well. Listening is always respectful. So is nodding and otherwise acting interested. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh…” gets awfully annoying after a very short while.

Uh-huh.

Okay. I see you have a call coming in, so I’ll bow out now. Respectfully.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Says Who?

January 4, 2013

ImageThree of my girls take piano lessons. I am a pianist myself, but I do not enjoy teaching piano. In the busyness of my life, I’ve found that it is very hard to find time to do things about which you are not passionate. Sometimes something’s gotta give; you cannot do it all. Know what I mean? I know you know what I mean!

Yesterday, Adrienne asked me to take a look at one of her assigned piano pieces. It was in 2/4 time, and the right hand was on the off beats in this syncopated piece of classical music. As I played through the piece for her, I flashed back to when I actually learned to play this piece as a child. I also remembered my teacher, who happened to be my mom, fuss at me because I didn’t always pay attention to the fingerings. And it didn’t only happen with that particular piece either.

There was a good reason why I didn’t always follow the suggested fingerings: I have a genetic thing where my pinky finger is smaller than the average person’s pinky finger. So what? Well, playing octaves is certainly a challenge. If you don’t have short-pinkyitis, don’t judge me. LOL Here’s a pic to prove my disability:

Notice how my poor little pinky only comes up to about the middle knuckle? Now look at your hand. I bet your pinky comes up to about the first joint on your ring finger, right? Because of this issue, I had to make some adjustments in the fingerings of music I played. I had to compensate for the stuff I couldn’t physically pull off.

I discovered that whoever wrote in the fingerings in my piano books wasn’t always correct. At least the fingerings didn’t always work for me. I had fun convincing my mom of this since I didn’t get the genetic issue from her side of the family. She would point out when I used the “wrong” fingers, but to me I was using the “right” fingers. Who said you have to follow fingering notations anyway? I doubt Mozart or Chopin included them in their original manuscripts.

Certainly fingerings in piano lesson books are there to help the budding musician adopt the easiest approach to playing any given piece. The fact was that just because it was easy for everyone else didn’t mean it was possible for me, so I adjusted the fingerings so that I could play more easily. I think my mom eventually gave up trying to enforce the fingering rules. I failed to conform because in many cases I just couldn’t due to the fact that my young hands were small, and they just couldn’t stretch like everyone else’s.

How does a tiny pinky relate to education?

Not all children are alike. Guidelines that work for one child may not work for the next child. In my teaching days, I was not always able to tailor a lesson to the needs of individual students due to time constraints. In fact, it was more like throwing all the information out there to the class and hoping some of it would stick with a high percentage of the children. I’d tell the class what I was going to tell them, then we’d go over the information together, and then I would tell them what we just “learned,” followed, of course, by some sort of quiz or test to see if they learned what we’d discussed.

Not all the children in my classroom were ready to understand the “ph” sound when I presented it. Not all children had the mental maturity to understand fractions just because the math book said it was time to learn fractions. In a classroom, it is difficult for a teacher to monitor each student to ensure that he/she has mastered each subject each day before moving on to the next lesson. The child either succeeds, partially succeeds, or fails. Or figures out a way to work around what they can’t do that everyone else can do.

In some cases, this involves self-protection devices where the child just gives up and accepts failure because he gets used to it, hoping that he’ll “get” the next thing that is presented in the sequence of the school year. Just as I totally disregarded the fingerings because so often I had to find my own way through the piece, children will find a way to work around what it is they cannot do. Or they will give up.

Had my mom insisted that I conform to the fingerings, I would have hated piano and felt a definite sense of failure. Instead, she let me find my own way through.

As a teacher of my own young children, I have learned not to be a slave to our curriculum. If my child is not understanding basic phonics skills that we’re doing together, perhaps I need to back off for a season. Who says every 6-year-old child is ready for phonics just by virtue of the fact that the curriculum says he should be?

Failure is not an option in my home school.

If a student isn’t “getting” something, I’m looking to see why. I’m looking at the possible reasons why he or she is struggling. Very rarely is it laziness on the student’s part. More often it is just a concept that needs to be presented in a fresh manner. (Reteaching, so to speak.) Or perhaps I need to set aside the consonant digraphs until the child is ready to understand blends.

The most important part of teaching children is understanding how their young brains work and not expecting them to conform to a curriculum in the elementary and middle school years especially.

What a great benefit of home schooling! The students move on when they are READY to move on. They don’t fail at a lesson and then just move ahead because we don’t have time to make sure they know everything to an A level. Of course we have time! But do we have the patience and stick-to-it-tiveness to identify the issue and then help the child find another way to understand the material?

If you get to a point in your child’s educational path where he is really struggling with something that is being presented, find out *why*he is struggling instead of moving on to the next day’s work, and help the student find a work-around.

Sometimes that may mean allowing them to do something a little unconventional like not forcing their little hands to conform to the fingering markings because they aren’t physically capable of playing that way. Or are they being lazy? Hmmm….as the parent, I should be able to discern the answer to that question. A teacher, on the other hand, may not be able to uncover the source of the issue because she does not know the child as she would know her own child. Conformity is the issue in a school classroom. Conformity is not always possible.

Says who? Says me, the parent of my children. Says you, the parent of your children. Don’t force conformity to curriculum without a good reason.

(Note: This is a re-posting of a blog post I did about a year ago that I thought was worth pulling out of the hat once again. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blast from the past.)

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


10 Critical Things Parents of Young Children Should Keep in Mind

December 18, 2012

Family grocery shopping.Here they are in no particular order, as they are all kinda important in the whole scheme of parenting. 🙂

1. My young children are my responsibility in every sense of the word. I (and my spouse) have the authority to make all decisions regarding them; We are in charge, but we can also choose to abdicate this authority.

2. If I don’t like the way my children are turning out, I have the ability to change that. Starting Today.

3. If I can’t stand being around my own kids, chances are good no one else can either. Refer to #2.

4. Children need understanding and praise, and I am the primary one to provide these.

5. Children need discipline and boundaries, and I am the primary one to provide these.

6. It is impossible to love my kids too much. Smother? Spoil? Yes, but neither of those is actually love. Refer to #4 and #5.

7. My children need my spouse and me and our influence in their lives. There is no substitute for loving parents and a supportive home environment.

8. Sometimes I need a break from my children and vice versa. Sometimes I may even need caffeine, chocolate, and a seratonin booster.

9. My children will become a product of their home and educational environments. Combining the two provides an incredible launching pad for future success! Refer to #7.

10. It doesn’t take a village to raise my child. Refer to all of the above.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


SAT Perfect Score Conclusion (Probably)

December 17, 2012

YTo conclude the last few blog posts’ worth of examination of Dr. Tom Fischgrund’s Perfect Score Study of 600 perfect-SAT-scoring students and their families (breathe here), I’d like to point out that the students who were the subject of the study did not revel in their perfect scores.

Sure, they were happy about their scores, but they didn’t define who they were by test scores.

As Dr. Fischgrund found,

“Perfect score students would probably never have been able to succeed if their parents never took the giant leap of letting their kids have some control over their academic lives.”[1]

Letting go and allowing our children to have a measure of control academically is vitally important.

Yes, I was very, very encouraged by the way the Perfect Score Study results echoed the results my family has had. The similarities were almost eerie.

It should not surprise me that strong family values are so important to academic success because apparently the Moms and Dads in this study set expectations when their children were young and didn’t allow them to slack off at home.

They were able to motivate their young children, and as the children matured, the parents were able to take a more hands-off approach to their young teens’ learning.

Once the teens became high school seniors, they had a sense of purpose as a result of developing one or two core passions before graduation. They had a direction to pursue after high school. They could see the bigger picture.

Parents, we have not only the responsibility but also the privilege of having the greatest influence on our children.

Would your children say that you and your spouse are the primary influences in their lives?

This is what I get from the Perfect Score Study: kids succeed with support in the home. I’m not talking about simply success on the SAT; I am talking about success in life!

Scoring well on the SAT or ACT is not a goal in my home-educating family. I want that to be perfectly clear. What I am laying out for you here is the fact that young adults who have been given the opportunity to be independent learners, who master each day’s work before moving on to the next day’s lesson, will be equipped to score well on the College Board exams.

Does that mean I think these exams are good things? No, not necessarily. I hate that so much hinges on them, and I guarantee they are not predictors of success in college or beyond. They are hoops through which our young people must jump if they want to head to college, and especially if they want to earn scholarship money for college.

All three elements of the Self-Propelled advantage ~ self-mastery, self-learning, and mastery learning ~ will absolutely give your children an advantage in scholarship competitions.

Beyond that, a firm family foundation will give your children an advantage that goes way beyond that type of success. There is nothing that can replace the value of family. 

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 74.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation and Self-Esteem (Part 7)

December 13, 2012

School children and their teacher in a high school science classWelcome! If this is your first foray into my series on Motivation, we’ve been talking about a book entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, by Dr. Tom Fischgrund.

Dr. Fischgrund studied 160 students who scored perfectly on the SAT in 2003…and their families.

In several of the interviews done with perfect score students themselves, it was found that high achievers’ parents respected and encouraged their kids.

“Perfect score students don’t operate in a vacuum. They can’t tap into their inner motivation without first having high self-esteem. They need to believe that they can succeed before they develop the drive to succeed.

Parents, of course, can build or tear down their children’s self-esteem. Starting at the youngest age, children get cues from their parents about how high their expectations are. If children know that their parents expect great things that are realistically achievable, then they will be motivated to achieve those things.”[1]

Some would scoff at the whole concept of self-esteem and believe-in-yourself psychology. To them I can only say there is such a thing as self-esteem or self-worth. It is very real, and a child either has low, average, or high self-esteem. While self-esteem is internal, it is formed by external factors or cues from parents, siblings, friends, and other relationships.

A young child’s parents and close family members have control over his self-esteem, and children raised in a loving home will have higher self-esteem than those raised in a home where they do not feel important or valued.

Parents need to instill in their children the belief that they have the ability to succeed.

That is not to say that failure isn’t going to occur. Failure is a part of life, and teaching our children that sometimes things will not turn out the way we want them to is vital.

Learning how to deal with failure was a real challenge for my children. Because they tend to throw their whole selves into a project or activity, they take failure personally when it does come. But there are always important lessons to be learned through failure, and my husband and I don’t discourage our children from trying a new activity out of a fear of failure.

It’s not easy to watch our children fail, is it? No, it never is, but we recognize that struggle is part of what brings out the beauty of the butterfly as it breaks the restraints of its cocoon.

Freedom requires struggle.

As a tenth-grade chemistry student, I quietly fought against failure. Because I was an honors student, failure was especially humiliating, and I hid it from my parents until my first semester grade report arrived. I don’t remember my parents saying much at all. They knew I was a “good student” who always tried to do my best. In reality, there was something unapproachable about the chemistry teacher; he didn’t talk much. His classroom was always eerily quiet.

I still remember the way he would look at me and my lab partner during labs when we didn’t know the answer to a question. He would look at us with a sort of grin on his face as if to say, “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re kidding, right?”

So I stopped asking questions, and so did my lab partner. I ended the year with a solid D.

Looking back now, I cannot believe my questions were not taken seriously. The teacher was not gifted in teaching at a high school level, and I was not a self-learner. Consequently, the last thing I would want to study as an adult is chemistry because I still don’t think I can. “No-I-can’t” is what I hear in my head when I flirt with the idea of studying my high schoolers’ Apologia chemistry book.

Academically, a self-propelled student is going to find out that yes, he can do things on his own with excellence.

Parents who require mastery learning are setting their kids up for success because mastery ensures that a student is constantly moving on but not before he is ready to do so. That yes-I-can attitude is what translates into positive self-esteem.

Setting realistic goals is very important to building self-esteem. In order to set goals that are challenging as well as realistic, the student has to understand that he can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Is the student willing to do what it takes to achieve his goal? Does he understand how hard he is going to have to work to achieve it?

While a student may work hard to achieve a goal, he is naturally going to work harder if he has set the goal himself than if a parent has set the goal for him. The “realistic” part comes into play when the student sees just how much effort is required to meet the goal. Is it an amount of effort that he is willing to give?

In the long run, achieving a goal will depend upon the student’s personal motivation which is a direct result of the self-confidence he’s developed via childhood experiences. Many of us spend our adult lives overcoming the lack of self-confidence stemming from our childhood days.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 69.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Parenting Perfect SAT Scorers (Part 4)

December 8, 2012

father_001Dr. Fischgrund, in his chapter on self-motivation, writes, “Perfect score students learned to become self-motivated by watching their parents giving the right amount of assistance, enough but not too much—during their grade school years.

“These students said they relied strongly on their parents to motivate them in elementary and junior high, but that their parents stepped back from this role when their children entered high school and became self-reliant.”[1]

This parental pattern of being more hands-on when children are in elementary and middle school and then stepping back in the high school years is 100-percent consistent with what I propose for raising self-propelled students.

I would add that parents must trust their instincts in supporting young children as they begin their educational journey in the early, formative years; however, it is just as important that parents understand that to everything there is a season.

There is definitely a season for letting go of the bicycle seat. Holding on to it prevents autonomy which will wreak havoc on the student’s motivation.

Tomorrow: more on home-educated students and the SAT. It ain’t purty, y’all.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, p. 67.
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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


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