Monday, September 14, 2015

What I've Learned About Co-Ops

This is my thirteenth year of homeschooling.  One of our boys has graduated and is in his first year of college, after taking two years off, in an honors program.  Our second son will graduate high school at the end of this school year, and our youngest son is in fifth grade this school year.

We became involved in a small co-op, that was just starting out, in our first or second year of homeschooling.  After two or three years, the lady who ran that co-op decided to leave, and I and another lady decided to take over because we didn't want to lose the co-op; both we and our children enjoyed it.  We ran it for about three or four years and then passed it on to someone else, but we continued to be involved in co-ops every year.

Now, let's define what a co-op is and what its definition is.  In our area, all of the co-ops we've been a part of, which is a total of four over the years, have been run the same way, and from what I know from talking to other homeschoolers in other co-ops, it seems that the majority of co-ops in our area are run the same way.  That is that moms have to teach or be a helper in a class and classes consist of children in several age groups or grades (i.e. Pre-K -- K-5; 1st - 3rd; 4th and 5th or 4th thru 6th; 6th - 8th or 7th & 8th; and 9th - 12th grades).  Each class is similar to a school classroom as far as a teacher teaches the subject and there is a helper in the room to help in whatever capacity is required.  The main differences between a co-op classroom and a regular classroom is that if kids are wiggling, it's okay, if they are drawing while listening to the teacher, it's okay, and the teacher tries to include activities that work for all of the learning styles, which means the class requires listening skills, visual skills, and hands-on activities.

Now, here are two definition for the word 'cooperative', (co-op for short), 1) involving mutual assistance in working toward a common goal, and 2) a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.

As I thought about the meaning of the word cooperative, I began to think that the co-ops in our area have stretched the definition and created something similar to school, and I have to admit, that we chose to homeschool for several reasons:  because our boys were facing issues in the Christian school we had them enrolled in that I didn't think we needed to deal with; because we want our boys to grow up knowing and believing in the one, true God and we wanted that to be part of their everyday learning; because we want them to know the truth of history; and because we want them to be able to learn at their own pace according to their interests.  (The first two reasons were our original reasons, the last two reasons have been added over the years.)

Our two older boys have enjoyed these co-ops throughout their school careers, and our youngest enjoys them too.  However, for me, this year, I began to desire something different.  I want our youngest to experience some of the things that our older boys experienced when they were younger that are currently missing from our homeschool.  Also, I was struggling with some of the things going on in our current co-op, mostly administrative things.  Then a friend came to me and expressed similar thoughts, and we began talking about what we really want and we started writing ideas down and brainstorming.


So, what's new?  Our brainstorming session actually turned into a plan; a plan we were going to begin next school year, and that we were praying about.  Then God stepped in and set the timing for us.

My friend and I each had a homeschool mom call us and ask us for help because the Governor of PA shut down some charter schools, and the one they were going to send their children to was now not operating, and school was to begin by the end of the week.  After these conversations, I called my friend and she and I were talking about this situation, when we both received the same text from a mutual friend asking about getting together once a week for a physical education activity.

We saw that as three affirmations that our plan was a good one.  We also saw it as God telling us we need to start it this year, not next year.  So, we got together again and finalized the plans.  Then we spoke to the ladies, and they loved the idea.

Today was the first day of our new homeschool group, which we are not calling a co-op, even though it actually is what the definition of 'cooperative' says it should be.  We are using a Unit Study approach and including kids from 1st to 12th grade, although our current group is 4th through 12th grade students.

Now let me tell you what we did today, as this is the plan for each week:
At home, before we had our first meeting today, each of the families involved, read an assigned section of The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli.  This is a book about Medieval times.
Today, I taught an English lesson based on the book, discussing literary elements and which ones are in the book.  Then I gave them two short writing assignments that must be completed in two weeks, as next week we will not have English.
Next, another mom taught History, and she went over the feudal system and how people each had their specific place in the community from the King, to the Lords, Barons, Earls and the Clergy, to the Vassals (knights) to the Peasants.
Then another mom taught Art, and she had the students make their own hardcover books that they can write and/or draw in because in Medieval times, the monks made their own paper and books.
Then we had a lunch break and after lunch, another mom taught a physical education class, where the students played two games that children in Medieval times played.  That ended our day.

The plan for next week will be:  one mom teaching Science, two moms working together to teach Geography, one mom teaching Music, lunch, and then everyone can go home or just socialize for an hour or two.

During week three, we will finish the book with:  me teaching another English class, another mom teaching an Architecture/Art class, another mom teaching History, lunch, and one mom teaching cooking Medieval food.

A week later, we will be going on a field trip to a museum that will be having a Medieval theme exhibit.

So, that's the new plan:  all moms participate and work together for a common goal, all activities are related but include multiple subjects; all students work at their own level but everyone gets to participate together and learn from each other and help each other.  And, we are a small group, and we plan to keep it that way because we meet at a mom's house and rotate houses each week so that it doesn't become a burden to anyone.  We all bring supplies and share our resources.

The results of the first week, according to the students:
1)  It's fun, and I can do more here independently than I can at the other co-op.
2)  I really like it because it's more relaxed than the other co-op and I was able to talk to other people, and I liked that it was on a Monday because it gave me something to look forward to over the weekend, and now it helped me to feel like doing school the rest of the week.

The results of the first week, according to the Moms:
1)  It is fun and relaxing because we participate, but also have some down time in between and there's no pressure about time frame as long as we end by our end time.
2)  It is more community-like and less stressful.

We are all looking forward to continuing this homeschool group.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Online Writing Classes

It's been quite a while since I've posted here, but I still like to post once in a while when I have something worth sharing with those of you who homeschool.

This year, as I have one son who just went off to his freshman year of college, one son who is a senior in our homeschool high school and who works part-time, and one son who is a fifth grader, I have a little more time to do some things I am interested in doing.  I've actually been doing a bit of that the past two years, as I have begun writing again and studying the writing craft and what is currently going on in the world of writing and publishing.

Also, I have been teaching writing at homeschool co-ops for twelve years and continue to do so, and I have begun teaching literature in homeschool co-ops the past three years and will do so again this year.  I love teaching writing and literature, my two favorite subjects.

Therefore, I have decided to set up a website, with the encouragement of some homeschool friends, where I will offer writing classes online.  I also offer critiques for writers.  You can find all of the information for classes and critiques at Kelly Barr Teaches Writing, Plus.  I believe my prices are reasonable and payments are easy to make via Paypal.  Also, if you enroll your student(s) before August 24, 2015, you can receive a $20 discount.  Go to the link and read all about me and the classes and services I am offering.  I hope some of you will sign your student(s) up and share the information with your friends.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Anthony Barr | #TrustParents

Here is a speech my son presented at Demme Learning (the creators of Math-U-See), his employer, at their school choice rally in January.  I am very proud of him and it was such a blessing to me to hear this speech, as he talked about the value of his homeschool experience as I taught him at home.  I hope it will inspire you in your homeschool journey as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

School Choice/Trust Parents

I know it's been a really long time since I have posted here, but I find that I have become very comfortable in my homeschooling and don't see much as new to post for those of you who read this blog.  I apologize for that.  Also, I am also trying to become a successful and, hopefully published, writer in addition to homeschooling my two remaining school age children and that requires a lot of my time.  I also have two other blogs, one for my writing, and another on healthy eating/living.  I rarely publish on the healthy eating/living one either.  There just aren't enough hours in a day to do all of the things I feel I should be doing, so I have to prioritize.

Today, however, something new happened that I thought would be important to share here.  Today is "School Choice" Day, and I attended a small School Choice Rally this morning at Demme Learning, the creators of Math-U-See, and now, Spelling-U-See.

What is "School Choice"?  You may ask.  It is concerned citizens, parents, politicians, etc., who are trying to find ways to make it possible for ALL parents to be able to choose the best place for their child(ren)'s education, be it private school, private Christian school, public school, or homeschool.  Right now only people who can afford to choose have the ability to choose where their child(ren) are educated, but what about those who live in poverty or the single parent working two jobs to put a roof over their heads and food on the table -- shouldn't they be able to choose the best possible education for their child(ren) too?  Do we not think that those parents don't care as much for their child(ren) and their child(ren)'s future as the parents who can already afford to make a school choice?

The CEO, and a couple of other Demme Learning employees, including my oldest son, a lady from a local Christian school and Senator Ryan Aument all spoke on this topic at the School Choice rally:

                                                Ethan Demme, CEO of Demme Learning                                                    

Senator Ryan Aument

Lady from Dayspring Christian Academy

My son, Anthony, PR Assistant at Demme Learning

Amy Spencer, Marketing Director at Demme Learning

All of the speakers did a wonderful job, and another key piece that was talked about was "Trusting Parents".  Because parents know and love their child(ren) and want better for their children than they, themselves, had, they should be trusted to know what is best for their child(ren) and to make the best choice for them.  

The lady from Dayspring Christian Academy gave information on some Tax Credit programs that are available to help parents be able to get their child(ren) into private schools they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.  It has to do with businesses contributing to the schools.  I don't know if these programs are available in all states, but they are available here in Pennsylvania.  You can find out more about the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) program here and the OSTC (Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit) progam here.  

Senator Ryan Aument wants to get the community to work together to make the necessary changes to enable ALL parents to be able to have School Choice because he Trusts Parents.  He also spoke about the fact that public schools that are failing are concerned about what would happen to them if everyone was able to implement School Choice, and Senator Aument is aware that they could face a decrease in students, but he has ideas for solutions.  He gave a very visual picture to stress his point about school choice when he said that he vividly remembers learning about June 11, 1963 and seeing the photo of Senator George Wallace standing blocking the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from entering to get a better education, and Senator Aument said, "We are standing blocking the doorways of the failing schools and preventing students from leaving, which is just as much of an injustice."

Monday, April 7, 2014

What About State Required Testing?

State testing is nothing to get worked up about.  It really has very little importance.  It is just one more thing the government wants us to do.  So, in Pennsylvania, we have to have our kids take a standarized achievement test in 3rd grade, 5th grade and 8th grade.
There are quite a few tests to choose from, so how do you know which one you should have your child do?  Well, I say that depends on your child.  My oldest child had taken the Iowa Basics test at each of the three required grade levels, my middle child took the WRAT in 3rd grade, which is no longer an acceptable test to the state, the CAT test in 5th grade and the Iowa Basics test in 8th grade, and my youngest just had his first testing and he took the PIAT test.
The CAT and the Iowa Basics are written tests where the students read problems/questions and color in the circle of the answer among the multiple choice possibilities.  The PIAT, which is similar to what the WRAT test was, is an oral exam, where someone administers the questions to the student by showing them questions, sentences, pictures and asks a question and the student has to orally answer the question or choose the correct answer from 4 visual options.
The written tests can be challenging and can cover most of your school subjects.  The verbal PIAT test simply covers: general knowledge, reading comprehension, spelling, vocabulary and math.
For students who are not good test takers or who fear test taking, I suggest the PIAT.  For students who work well with paper and pencil and who are comfortable with test-taking, I suggest one of the written tests.  The three tests I mention in this post are the only ones that I am familiar with.  I find all of the tests quite useless as I know what my child(ren) are learning, what their strong subjects are and what the subjects are that they need a little more work on because I watch them daily as they do their lessons in our home.  The test may help pinpoint some weaker areas, and that's about all the good they are.  I certainly am not the kind of mom who feels the need to put my children through these ridiculous tests more than the state requires, but I know some who have their child(ren) take them yearly, which I see as a lack of confidence in their own judgement and teaching ability.
If you are an involved homeschool parent, you know your child(ren) better than anyone else because you spend the most time with them, so if you are happy and pleased with their abilities and progress, don't worry so much and don't stress yourself out, and don't put too much stock in these achievement tests.  More often than not, homeschoolers test well above their peers on all the tests they take.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Determine Your Homeschool Schedule

There are a couple of things to consider before setting your homeschool schedule:  1) when do your children learn best, morning or afternoon -- you may not be able to determine this until trying one or the other and seeing how well it works; 2) what is your husband's work schedule -- if he works a shift that requires him to sleep during the day, you may need to figure out how to school around that, or if he works a shift where he is only home a few hours during the children's awake time, you may want to be sure to spend that time with him and have him be involved and then do other studies while he is working; 3) consider yourself, allow flexibility for unexpected events or emergencies to avoid being stressed when deadlines loom and you haven't finished schooling yet.

That being said, I'll explain my choice of schedule to give you an example and give a few other options.  My husband works during the day and is home evenings and weekends and I like to get work done in the mornings and have the rest of the day to enjoy and do what I enjoy, therefore, I trained my children that way as well, because I found that if I allowed any play time before school work was complete, they had a hard time getting back to school work.  Therefore, our rule became "schoolwork right after breakfast until it is finished, although we take lunch when it is lunchtime.  Then when schoolwork is finished, the rest of the day is your time to do what you want."  This has worked very well and most days, we are finished with school by lunchtime, although sometimes we need to finish after lunch.  We hardly ever go past 2 p.m.

We begin school every year in July, the week after Fourth of July week and we end by the end of the first or second week of May.  That gives us a full two months off, and we have found that if we take any longer than that, the boys become bored and start asking to start school.  We also take at least one full week, but usually try to take two full weeks, off at Christmas.  I like to take the week before to be able to decorate, bake and shop without getting stressed by trying to fit school in too, and then the boys like the week after so that they can enjoy their new gifts for a while before having to get back to the schoolwork.  We really like this schedule because it still gives us enough flexibility so that if an emergency or unexpected situation happens at any other time of the year, we can take a day off here or there without having to stress about it.

We don't always take a family vacation, but if we do, we do several things that can be counted for school so that we can keep our schedule.  By this, I don't mean that we make the boys "crack the books" on vacation; what I mean is we visit something educational such as a museum or a zoo -- something that is fun but where they are also learning something about history or science.

I know lots of people who still choose to take the entire summer off and follow a schedule like the public school.  I also know people who homeschool all year round and simply take breaks throughout the year like a Spring break, a Fall break, a Winter break and a Summer break.  It all depends upon what works for you.  Plan your schedule according to what you find works best for your family and creates the least amount of stress for you and your family, and that will help you to be able to continue your homeschool journey year after year.  It helps avoid burnout.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Unit Study Approach to Homeschooling

Some families like to do unit studies for their homeschooling.  You can purchase a unit study curriculum or you can create your own.  Unit studies are an easy way to teach to children of multiple ages and grade levels at the same time.

Our first year of homeschooling, we used a unit study curriculum.  We used Konos in a box.  We studied, knights and horses and the lightbulb and made our own old time lanterns and made candles out of melted crayons.  We enjoyed it, but there were things I chose not to do because I didn't know how to make those things understandable for our son who was in kindergarten at the time.  Therefore, we finished Konos a few weeks before we reached our 180th day of school, so I decided to create my own unit study for the boys to finish out the year.

I asked the boys what they wanted to study, and they both decided they wanted to study China.  So, we went to our local public library and we checked out books about the country of China, Chinese cooking, a book about Tiananmen Square, a book about Confuscious and a book entitled The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean.  We also checked out a video on how to make a dragon.

The boys made dinner one night from a couple of recipes from the Chinese cooking book, they enjoyed making the dragons out of egg cartons and paint.  They enjoyed learning all that we learned about China for those couple of weeks.  Today, this unit study remains one of their favorite memories of homeschooling, and The Kite Rider remains one of their favorite books.

The unit study we did on China included every subject except math, science and music.  We had math and science, but I was trying to figure out what we could do for music.  Then I remembered that we have a store nearby that sells things from all over the world, and one of the things they carry are CDs of music from most other countries, so I took the boys there with the intention of buying a CD of Chinese music.  However, when we arrived at the store, I discovered that they had sample CDs that you could listen to through a boom box and headphones, so we listened to a few selections from a couple of CDs and then we went home.  The store people didn't mind and the store wasn't busy at the time.

So, you can create a unit study without spending much money or you can purchase a unit study curriculum like Konos or Amanda Bennett.

One word of caution when checking things out from your local public library, be sure you choose your books and resources wisely, making sure that they are in line with what you want to teach your child(ren) -- the correct world view, and if they don't be sure that you can effectively explain to your children the difference between what you believe and what the book is saying.  We, of course, had some interesting discussions about Chinese culture and their beliefs as compared to our own, and my children understood that our beliefs are in the one, true God.