Thursday, March 28, 2019

The International Wildlife Encyclopedia - A Surprise Hit for Middle and High School Science

We finished up the science books we've been working through this year, early. Instead of rushing out in search of something new, I gave the younger children (ages 12-16) a volume of Marshall Cavendish's "International Wildlife Encyclopedias", and ask them each to try reading about one animal a day, as part of our new "use what's already on our shelves" initiative.

I can't remember when we got the set, or where it came from - some library sale, the grandparents, or a spring cleaning neighbor, maybe.  It's been on our bookshelves for a long time.  We've used a volume, once or twice, for refence (like the time we had a vole in our window well)…

… but I never would have thought to hand them out as reading material if we hadn't been trying to deliberately use books from our own bookshelves.  And, what a loss that would have been.  It turns out the set is huge hit.

I was thinking it might make a good filler until summer break, and sort of keep science going in a vague way.  But, the volumes are packed with information, and a good dose of history, anthropology and geography on top of basic biology.  And, they're  written right at the perfect middle school/high school level to really engage all three of the kids.  They've turned out to be so much more interesting to the children than the science books they dutifully (and willingly) read, but then quickly forgot, already this year.

Not only have they happily been reading about a new animal each day, they're sharing with each other what they've read, in an enthusiastic, "hey, look at this!" kind of way.

I could only dream that our other science texts would spur the kinds of discussion and additional research that these plain, old (literally old, they were published in 1969) encyclopedias have done.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Taking the Next-Gen Accuplacer Reading and Writing Tests

D (age 16) finally got around to taking the reading and writing portions of the Accuplacer (college entrance exam) test, yesterday.

As you may or may not remember, he took the math section at the end of January, and had planned to wait about a week and then take the reading and writing sections.  Winter hit with a vengeance right after that though, and we didn't want to have to add the worry of whether we could make it to our testing appointment to the stress of the test. So, we waited until our roads had completely thawed out to schedule the final sections.

But really, there is no stress to this particular test - or at least there shouldn't be.  The Accuplacer is a placement exam, the reading and writing sections are designed to indicate if a student is reading, and prepared to write at a college level.  If they are not ready, you don't want them in college classes - they will fail.  If they are ready, it will show on the test (barring any type of serious disability that makes testing itself difficult, and then allowances should be made through your local testing center).

The Next-Generation version of the Accuplacer doesn't even include an essay section (the old Accuplacer required an essay).

That means that basically it's just a multiple choice, reading comprehension and basic grammar (read this section and correct the errors) type of test.  And from our experience, it seems that the equivalent of an 8th grade education is what is currently passing for "college ready" in our country.  So, really don't stress.

Not to mention, that on the off chance that a student crashes and burns on their test day, this is one of those tests that can be taken as many times as you like (for a small fee of around $10/section), and only the most recent score counts.

The College Board site (where you sign up for the SAT's) and the Mometrix test prep site have plenty of additional information about the how, when, where and why's of the test.  They even offer study guides - though if you take my advice you'll skip that in favor of an honest assessment of where your student stands.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Creating a High School Diploma

I had some time this weekend, so I decided to print-up and add the finishing touches to A(age 18)'s "official" high school diploma.  She has one coming from our local homeschool association, ordered from an print company, that we'll present to her at the homeschool graduation, but this is the one we'll use in our private, home ceremony, and have notarized (which is why it isn't signed yet) to present to her dual-enrollment college before they can issue her an associates degree for her credits earned there.

I had really wanted to have some fun with our home diploma...

… but in the end, I decided that since it's going to the college, and since we'd like them to take us seriously, we'd better be good and play it straight.  Sigh.

I searched "homeschool high school diplomas" and grabbed one from images that I liked, to use as a template.  Then, with my own high school and college diplomas as a guide, I cut and pasted things around in paint, and typed in our personal information in a font as close to the template font as I could find (there are plenty to choose from in paint).  I would have added a verse to the bottom, but the template I chose already had the one I wanted (Col. 3:23), so I didn't even have to do that.

You can order a diploma, pre-printed and personalized, or you can create one completely from scratch.  I liked having the copy from images as a template just to keep size and placement in mind, and so I didn't have to look up how to curve words, but it could certainly be done.

You want it to state what it is, to have the date of graduation, the graduate's name, your homeschool name, if you have one (I simply put from the J-- Family Homeschool, since we don't have an official school name), and that it certifies the graduate has completed the study required (by your homeschool) to graduate from high school.  I also added our city and state.  Again, you can look back at your own diploma, or check for examples online, just to make sure you don't miss any details.

You can also buy special, heavy-weight, paper to print your diploma on from just about any office supply store.  I tea dyed a light weight piece of card stock (I think it was part of the packaging from one of the boys' dress shirts) for G (age 19)'s diploma, when it was her turn...

… but this time, I opted for plain old typing paper (though I did add a gold foil seal sticker for an aesthetic touch).  As to size, all of our other diplomas are about 5''x7'', but this time I chose 8.5'' x11'', to leave plenty of room for the foil seal, and the notary stamp (which, as I mentioned, the college wants to see in order to count the diploma as official).

While I was ordering the seal stickers from Amazon, I also ordered a diploma case (I like the ones that come with a plastic sheet to cover the diploma), and a "grad" tiara  (since A hates the mortarboard, and I didn't get to have any fun with the diploma).  It ended up coming with a grad sash and eight grad party pins too...

… so we're all set!

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - How to Pay for College, Part 2

Once you and your future college student have pursued all of the standard avenues for funding tuition and other collegiate expenses, it can be tempting to think about returning to the work-force yourself, to help out.

The majority of homeschooling families survive on a single income.  That makes sense, as homeschooling is a full-time job in and of itself.  That also means there is a potential source of additional income lying dormant in your home.  If one parent is already able to support all of the household expenses, then theoretically a second income could be used completely for outside expenses (such as tuition for your children).

Of course that's not entirely true, because going back to work comes with expenses of its own in clothing, travel, tools and the like.  I've dipped my toe back into the workforce waters a few times in the last few years - once as a para-professional in a school, once as a temporary worker closing a local branch of bankrupting big box store (a fascinating "Americana" experience), and briefly herding toddlers at a daycare connected to the college where the kids have been dual-enrolling.  Each time I ended up spending almost as much as I earned back into the job.

Mind you, I wasn't making much to begin with.

One of the shocking things to keep in mind, if you are considering going back to work, is how little your years away will be worth to potential employers.  That might be a topic for a future post.

The biggest problem I encountered with working though, apart from discovering how comfortable with "traditional" roles my formerly egalitarian husband had become, was that it was detrimental to the schoolwork the children still at home.  I know some people are able to pull off working and homeschooling at the same time.  I am not one of them.  So, this will probably not be an option for us this time around - maybe when our youngest is applying to college (if I can still walk without a cane by then).

However, if you are going to try heading back into the workforce to help pay expenses for your student, and if you live close enough to their college or university of choice, you might begin your job search there.  Some schools offer a tuition waiver for the families of their workers (even if you're a janitor or cafeteria server).  My mother-in-law went to work in the admissions office of a local college when her two were in high school, and was able to offer them free tuition without touching her take-home pay.

Not all schools offer this benefit, but it's worth checking out benefit packages if you're thinking about heading back to work anyway.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Don't Believe Everything You Read on a College Website

For those of us who attended universities during happy days of growth and expansion, the shifting sand of the current collegiate landscape can be startling.

When Moody Bible Institute closed its Spokane campus last year, we felt like we'd dodged a bullet. T(age 21) had seriously considered one of the programs they offered in Spokane.

When we asked, during the parent orientation day at his current university, about the debate team they had touted on their website (which offered scholarships for participants), we were sad to learn it had been discontinued more than a year before when the professor who had been heading it up left the school.

When the same school announced sweeping cuts to majors this spring, including one that A(age 18) had not only considered, but applied and been accepted to, we counted ourselves fortunate that T's program was left intact (for now).  But, we're formulating a back-up plan.

When A considered her second local choice, a program offered by one of the state schools through a local extension office here in town, I was nervous when a recruiter from the school told us at a college fair that she'd heard rumor the local program was going to be shut-down.  According to the website, everything was fine for that program and another being offered here in town with face-to-face classes.

I called the school and spoke to admissions officers, secretaries, professors and administrators.  Some assured me all was well.  Others were unsure or unable to share what they "knew".  As spring approached, the two programs remained listed on the school's website.  We worried less, figuring the rumors had been false.

When A settled on one of the two programs as the most practical for next year (though she hasn't completely given up on the concept of a gap year) I took a quick peek at the fall schedule to see which classes were being offered locally fall semester.  There weren't any listed for either of the programs.

I called the school again (after A emailed them and waited a solid week for a reply), and discovered that one of the programs has not been offered locally in over a year.  The other is supposedly still being offered.  Needless to say, we set up a meeting with the program advisor, and started formulating yet another back-up plan.

My point with all of this is that since we, as homeschool parents, are also our children's guidance counselors, it's important to stay as on top of the changes coming to the colleges our students are considering (it's not always easy), to be ready with back-up plans (and back-ups for the back-ups), and to never (NEVER) take a college website at face value.  Check, check and double-check every fact you read.

It's great (if sometimes exhausting) to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Homeschooling with Teens - Books to Movies: Mary Poppins Returns

I had a chance to watch Disney's Mary Poppins Returns with four of the kids today - my two oldest (ages 19 and 21) and my two youngest (ages 12 and 14).

Even though we'd read that the film is not really a literary adaptation of P.L. Traver's work, the younger girls and I read through the second book from the Mary Poppins series, earlier in the week, just in case...

… and I'm so glad we did.  The magical nanny from the books is quite a bit different than one Julie Andrews brought to life in the original Disney classic (more like Nanny McPhee with a dash of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle).  Somehow though the film-makers managed to capture quite a lot of the tone and content of Traver's story, while still creating what truly feels like a sequel to the first film.

I didn't have high hopes going in.  The cast looked good with Emily Blunt (we loved her in The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Mortimer (a favorite of ours from The Kid), Lin-Manuel Miranda (E is a huge Hamilton fan), Colin Firth (Mr. Darcey!), not to mention Dick Van Dyke, Julie Walters, Angela Lansbury, and Meryl Streep.  I really thought Disney would ruin it though, but they didn't.

It's clean, family friendly, upbeat (even if the opening scenes did cause my oldest to claim he'd gotten soda fizz in his eyes), beautifully filmed, with more than a couple catchy tunes, and just enough of the book to keep it interesting and of the film to keep it light and nostalgically entertaining.

It's one we'll watch again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Homeschooling With Teens - Sabaton Has a History Channel!!!

I posted a few weeks ago about the Swedish metal band's history themed songs.  Then, a week or so ago one of my local homeschooling friends sent us a link to a video announcing a new YouTube history channel exploring all the history behind the songs.

We finally got around to watching the first of the series (on the battle of Wizna) this morning, and loved it.  It's extremely well done.

The series is hosted by Indy Neidell, a Texas born historian now living in Sweden, who has a couple of very interesting sounding YouTube channels of his own - one walking week by week through the events of WWI and another exploring the events of WWII.  I'm looking forward to checking them out with the kids, as well.  Please keep in mind though, that I currently know almost nothing about him, so if you check out his channels proceed with caution and all due discretion, as with anything online.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Games with Literature Lead-Ins: Whist

With all the teen dystopian novels we've been reading lately, our literary diet has begun to feel a bit unbalanced with mind candy.  For our next "read together" novel I wanted something that offered more vocabulary meat, but with a story light and airy enough for spring reading (we tend to be restless in the spring).  That generally means Jules Verne to me, but I was thinking we'd read pretty much everything of his - until I realized it's been nearly ten years since we read "Around the World in 80 Days" together.

That means D was only six at the time, and C just 2.  Needless to say they do not really remember the story, or the rousing games of Whist it inspired.

I ordered paperbacks for each of us.  We checked a copy out from the library last time, but now we like to read out loud in turns, which makes having multiple books a must.  Kindle books would be less expensive, as we'd only have to buy one copy for all of us to use at once, but I don't like reading too much from screens where we already play games and watch videos.  Somehow reading from paper pages seems to strain the eye less - at least in my thinking.

While we're waiting for the books to arrive I did have everyone (meaning my youngest three) download a free Whist app by GASP to their Kindles.  That way, when we pull out the cards next week, along with Phileas Fogg (Vene's Whist obsessed protagonist), everyone will already know how to play the game.

There are several free Whist Apps to choose from (at least for the Kindle).  I like the one from GASP partly because of the inviting graphics...

… partly because of the training-wheel-like "easy" level, that really walks you through what to do...

… and partly because of the very simple written instructions it offers under it's "help" menu (and in the game description on Amazon).

The classic game of whist is a plain-trick game without bidding for 4 players in fixed partnerships. There are four players in two fixed partnerships. Partners sit facing each other. A standard 52 card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest:
A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.
The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. Any card may be led. The other players, in clockwise order, each play a card to the trick. Players must follow suit by playing a card of the same suit as the card led if they can; a player with no card of the suit led may play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump in it - or if it contains no trump, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.
When all 13 tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks scores 1 point for each trick they won in excess of 6.
The partnership which first reaches 7 points wins the game.

It did take me a minute to figure out that the "trump" suite is the one being shown in the middle of the screen.  But after that, it was incredibly easy to learn (or re-learn in my case) and play.  It's also extremely addictive.

I can't wait until the books arrive and we can start reading, and playing, together.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Pray Before You Plan

The girls finished up the math I had planned for the year on Friday.  We also finished reading our latest book together on Friday, and listened to the last lecture from our latest Modern Scholar series, and ran out of videos in the Crash Course series we've been watching.  Which had me back at a planning crossroads this morning.

Happily the advent of daylight savings time meant everyone was naturally sleeping in an extra hour this morning, and I had more time to try to pull it together.  Of course, that also meant I had more time to go into full chaos mode.

The nice thing about homeschooling middle and high school is that there's always something more to learn.  The terrifying thing about homeschooling middle and high school is that there's always something more to learn.

What's really important?

What will flow nicely into whatever is next?

What works together well?

What uses resources we already have on hand?

What will fit into our schedule - around plays and work and trips and into deadlines?

What will interest everybody the most (because we still are very much unschoolers at heart)?

How does all of that fit into one single schedule?

Does it have to fit into one schedule?

Can we juggle multiple schedules?

How could I possibly have let the coffee run out?

By that last question, with a growing sense of panic, and an increasingly cluttered bubble chart before me, I realized I had forgotten to pray.

I know it sounds trite, but it's so important and so easy to overlook.

If you are a Christian homeschooler, pray before you plan.  Pray while you're planning.  Pray after you plan.  If you're not a Christian homeschooler, then my suggestion is that you become one, and then pray.

The teen years are pivotal in way that earlier schooling years were not.  Our children are making decisions (and we are making decisions for them) that have the potential to have long term and possibly permanent implications.  That's a lot of responsibility - except it's not ours.  Praying helps to bring that all into focus.

My job isn't to direct my children's paths or orchestrate their futures.  I just have to teach them some math, and history, maybe a little science and hopefully some table manners, and maybe remember to pick up some more coffee while I'm at it (amen).

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Study Skills: Taking Notes

Taking descent notes during a lecture is an essential skill for every college student, and beyond.  Sooner or later we've all needed to take notes in a business meeting, seminar, or even Bible study. But, it's not a skill we use naturally in our homeschooling day, and so it falls into the category of one of those "study skills" I've had to mindfully teach before sending my teens out into the world.

There are a number of great online videos that cover the topic.  I prefer "Taking Notes: Crash Course Study Skills" with Thomas Frank (actually the whole "Crash Course: Study Skills" playlist is pretty good)…

… or BrainPops clip on note taking …

… or one of the many "College Success" type class videos from almost any community college across the country (such as this one from Long Beach City College).

Just watch out for YouTubers trying to teach how to make "pretty" notes rather than effective notes.

Once we've reviewed the basics, and maybe some of the reasons for taking notes, we usually try it out together while watching a video from Great Courses or Crash Course.  Honestly, if your kids can keep up and take descent notes through any of the fast paced Crash Course videos, they'll have no problems keeping up with your average college professor.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Subscription Services: Universal Yums.

We just finished up the last little packets of Italian crackers and chips from our first, monthly Universal Yums box, and are waiting with some (not quite great, but slightly more than mild) anticipation to see what will arrive this month, and from where?

Generally, I try to avoid subscription services at this time of year, like the plague.  The on-set of snow-induced cabin fever can make me especially susceptible to any pitch promising "fun in a box", as our burgeoning game cupboard can attest.
So, I knew I was in trouble when I learned that delicious snacks could be delivered right to our door from a different country each month (thanks  Dawn Rebekah).  I didn't even click the link to check out the website (not an affiliate link - if that makes you feel any better).

But then, when their ad popped up, a week later, while I was scrolling through Facebook, just as yet another snow squall was blowing in...

… well, I'm only human.  Besides which, this one is educational. At least that's how I presented it to the Man of the House.  I mean look (a couple of pictures up) it comes with a map!

He wasn't fooled (though the company does try to add a fair amount of educational fun and games in with chips and candies).  He knows a box of snacks when he sees one.

Luckily, our box arrived while he was home for lunch, and he likes snacks as much as the next guy, and is just about as done with winter as the rest of us, so he didn't grumble about the subtraction from our budget.  Either that, or we've just been married long enough now that he knows a box or two is going to be arriving this time of year, and hey, at least this one had something he could eat.

The boxes come in different sizes, ranging in price from $15 to $39 a month.  I opted for the big box, because we have teenagers, and there was plenty.

I'd guess our $40 (shipping is free in the States) bought us about $20 worth of snacks and about an hour, whiled away, sampling each item after reading its well-written, travel brochure-like description from the accompanying material.  So, a better deal than an afternoon at the movies, and we got the thrill of opening a package.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Ordering Graduation Announcements

Drawing by E (age 14)

We spent way too much time today, trying to pick 10 pictures out of 18 years worth of memories for A's part in the homeschool graduation slide show.  It's still so cold and snowy out though, I didn't mind staying in for a cozy afternoon of sorting through pictures with the girls.

While we had the albums out, and graduation in mind, we decided to forge ahead and order A's graduation announcements, while we were at it too.  All the etiquette articles say the announcements need to be mailed in time to be received somewhere around two weeks before, or up to two weeks after the graduation (which is suddenly looming large before us).

 Luckily I had snapped a few shots in the fall, under our neighbor's tree...

… on a stairway by a store parking lot...

… in front of a wall outside of play practice...

… and so on, that could be edited up to work as senior pictures.  We had really intended to try to get a full photoshoot in, but had snapped the here-there-and-everywhere shots just in case.  

If you have an upcoming senior, unless you live somewhere beautiful, take pictures of them anytime there are leaves on the ground, and whenever you get a chance, because teens are too busy to catch for long, and fall colors are nicer than winter muck for senior pics (spring is usually too late for making deadlines).   If you're lucky you'll find time (and cash) for a photographer, but don't count on it.  Senior's schedules fill up fast.

We like to order our picture card type announcements right off of Walmart's website (though I'm sure any picture site would do just same).  There's a good selection of easily modifiable, and inexpensive templates to choose from.  They arrive quickly, either in store, or shipped (often for free) to your house.  And, the information is stored on the site, so you can order more if you run out. 

Most have room for 1-3 pictures, but some have spots for up to 8, or even more.  A(age 18) chose one that has room for 5 pictures, as well as space on the back for a personalized message. She also used the spot on the back of the envelope flap, meant for a return address, to type a quirky graduation quote - something from Gravity Falls' Grunkle Stan.  I'll have to explain it to her grandparents, but it made A's eyes sparkle, so why not?

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - How to Pay for College

We're starting to pin down A's college decision for next year, and as we are once again weighing one of our children's opportunities against our bank book, I thought it'd be a good time to pass along some of what we've learned.  Just keep in mind I'm a mom not a financial advisor.  This is purely mom to mom type advice.

We personally despise student loans, and strongly encourage our children to make it through their college years debt free, if at all possible.  I wish we could afford to pay their way for them, but six children, three sets of braces, and a wedding all on a single income, hasn't left us a lot of extra cash for college.  That doesn't mean they can't get a good education.  We advise our college hopefuls to:

Pick a school they can afford.

That sounds obvious, but kids are used to being able wiggle around cost if they really want something.  It's better to know going in that some costs are too high.

Apply to multiple colleges and universities.

They won't know what they can afford until they apply.  The sticker price of a university degree is almost never the actual price.  Most private colleges and universities have automatic "scholarships" offered to every enrolling student.  A(age 18) applied to three private schools that were in the $40,000-$50,000/year range (including room and board) and found that their totals were really closer to $25,000/year once she had applied.

This is where GPA and good test scores matter (but aren't worth ulcers over).  For the three schools she applied for the difference between excellent scores and barely getting by scores was around $7000/year in scholarships.  But, the difference between pretty good and excellent was only like a $1000/year.  Still, when every penny counts, it's time to take the tests seriously.

Apply for financial aid.

This is done on the FAFSA website starting in about October of the year before a school year (earlier is better).  FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  It's not difficult (parents and their students both apply), it takes less than an hour, and most of your tax information can be retrieved electronically as part of the application.  College financial aid offices are more than happy to give you a hand if you find anything confusing or intimidating.

This is how students find out if they are eligible for federal grants (money that doesn't have to be paid back), loans (subsidized - that don't have interest accruing or payments due while a student is in school, or unsubsidized - that don't require payments while a student is in school, but have interest that starts accruing right away), and work-study (allowing a student to work in certain jobs on campus to earn money for their tuition that will not effect their future financial aid eligibility.

Even if you don't think you will receive any grants, it is still important to apply, as colleges use the financial aid numbers to help determine grants from their schools as well.

Apply for scholarships.

Most schools have a list of additional scholarships students can apply for, most often related to a specific degree, academic or sports achievement, or community involvement. They often require some sort of essay.  Applying is a lot of work, but worth a try.

Start out at a community college.

Even if students are too late for high school dual-enrollment classes (which are a fantastic deal), they can still save some serious dollars by knocking off core classes at a community college.  Just keep in mind, not all classes transfer to all schools or into all programs, and sometimes students take longer to finish a degree if they start out this way.

Go local, and live at home.

Dormitory and dining hall expenses add around $10,000/year to a college bill.  If there is a local school nearby, living at home can save a bundle.  Colleges hate that.  Students will receive a lot of pressure to live in the dorms, because it is a big part of the college experience, and living in the dorms can help students to bond with their classmates better.  Still, that's a lot of money for an experience.

Get a job.

We encourage our teens to start working part time jobs as soon as possible (as I've posted about before).  T (age 21) worked full-time for a year before starting into his university studies, and has worked part-time during the school year, and full-time during winter and summer breaks since then.  He also chose a job that pays tuition assistance for his school.

A (age 18) chose a job that does not pay tuition assistance, and has only worked part-time, but at a slightly higher salary.

Keep in mind whatever students earn will count against them when it comes to applying for federal aid.  It can be a bit of a catch-22.

Ask grandparents for help.

This is not our favorite option, but in pinch haven't said no to a check from Grandma.

Consider payment plans.

This is another option we haven't had to fully explore yet, but T came close last semester.  You usually pay a little bit more in fees to be able to pay tuition off in monthly payments, but spreading the costs out over a year (especially a final year) might make things easier to handle.

Easier to handle is good.

Of course, all of this depends on students being able to find a program they can work with and that will further their career goals within the parameters.  So far, we've had one business major, and one wavering between a business major and a degree in elementary education.  Those are common programs with a lot of options.  That helps, too.