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My Best Lessons from our First Year Homeschooling

Homeschooling is more than just teaching school at home. Even after 17 years teaching public high school, I had so much to learn this first year of homeschooling.

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Homeschooling is more than just teaching school at home. Even after 17 years teaching public high school, I had so much to learn this first year of homeschooling.

Last summer, we decided homeschooling was our best option and love the flexibility for scheduling and curriculum choices, and the joy of learning together. Homeschooling has brought our family much closer.

I knew homeschooling would be educational – I didn’t realize all I would learn as the teacher.
1. The most important lessons aren’t always in the curriculum.

I learned that teaching one child I love is very different from teaching a beloved subject to 100 children. Structuring lessons around her meals, moods, and skills, I’ve gained a new appreciation for how many factors affect learning.

I knew homeschooling would be educational - I didn't know all I would learn, as the teacher. Click To Tweet

She had to learn about school. We had to address everything from paying attention to holding pencils to following directions.

When I focused on the goal of raising a learner, not just the math or reading concept, I was able see skills as building a foundation for her future.

To start, I had to teach her to fail.

When something wasn’t immediately clear, she would freeze and melt down rather than make a mistake.

I had to teach her it’s okay to fail:

  • mistakes are how we learn
  • doing your best doesn’t mean perfection
  • not having all the answers is a permanent condition (unfortunately)

Homeschooling is more than just teaching school at home. Even after 17 years teaching public high school, I had so much to learn this first year of homeschooling.

Then I had to teach her how to learn.

More than reading or math, I had to teach her how to tackle problems.

For example, my kid can skim through books using context clues and often guess unfamiliar words, but sounding out words is her kryptonite.

If you’ve ever sat with a six year old repeating, “sound it out; sound . . .  it . . . out; make the sounds with your mouth . . .” Welcome to my world.

Instead of losing my mind, I began calling her a “Word Detective” and showing her all the tricks of word detection, like the silent E that gives magic to any vowel within one consonant of its maniacal reach. . . mwahaha, and makes it say its name, but if two consonants stand in the way, they block the magic from changing that vowel sound!

Somehow, being a detective transformed her desire to problem solve. Eventually, I heard her using those terms in her self-talk. She was able to slow down and work it out.

2. Character education was our most important subject.

Building a foundation for the rest of her education means teaching her character and citizenship: diligence, perseverance, and the fruit of the Spirit.

We practiced doing our best, not racing to finish. Page protectors let us do an activity several times with dry erase markers.

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We practiced how we show kindness and respect despite rough emotions and difficult days. And we LIVED the lessons from our daily devotions and scripture reading, which taught us both about being more Christlike.

3. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be AT home.

We could use the world to learn. Reading lessons could be a menu or nutritional label for informational text.

Homeschool doesn't have to be at home. Heaven Not Harvard
Here we’re learning what school was like in Laura Ingalls’ day at Old World Wisconsin.

We learned by going to museums, zoos, aquariums, and historical sites. Going fishing could be science class as she watched the clouds or the water, poked at bugs, or noticed the different characteristics of fish.

A trip was geography come to life. This spring she traveled to or through Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, and California.

Phew! No wonder I’m tired.

4. Homeschooling doesn’t have to look like school.

Almost anything can be school.

When I voted, I explained the basic principles of U.S. government. Going to the doctor and dentist, we learned about community helpers.

We could study nutrition at the grocery store, use math to calculate the cost of something, fractions cutting her sandwich, or division to share the last of the cookies.

Spending a week at my father’s nursing home, she learned to care for people of all ages, to ignore their infirmities and just see people to love and befriend.

5. Balance is the key.

The beauty of homeschool is the freedom, but we both need some structure to function in the world. Teaching her to follow a schedule was balanced by lazy mornings snuggling and discussing her dream from last night.

A field trip day was balanced by using books and worksheets to reinforce what she learned.

Being together was balanced by teaching her to complete a task alone before we’d review it, building her attention span and confidence minute by minute.

6. Homeschooling is a job.

I had to learn to approach it with professionalism or we’d end up procrastinating and getting side-tracked.

Half my day is cooking and cleaning, so I have to be a master multi-tasker, and accept some things just don’t get done. I have to dedicate several hours per day to school.

7. I learned that sometimes things that seem obvious to me are totally foreign concepts.

My poor girl was grumbling over a math worksheet last fall, skills she had been doing for months, so I didn’t understand what was wrong, only to realize she had never seen a numbered worksheet before.

She was trying to add in the number of the problem, reading –

  1. 2+3 =   as  1 + 2 + 3 and once she got past adding to ten, she was so frustrated.

Poor girl. Sometimes, even us seasoned teacher mommies forget how to start from the beginning.

From that lesson, I learned to ask more questions about what is happening in her head and the importance of clear communication from us both.

Homeschooling is more than just teaching school at home. Even after 17 years teaching school, I had so much to learn this first year of homeschooling.

8. Lastly, I learned I LOVE homeschooling!

We get to explore our world together, making memories everyday, and building a relationship closer than most parents will ever have. Her father and I get to share our different gifts and skills with her. We have just had the most fun learning how to do this together and can’t wait to see what next year brings.

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Can the KidloLand App Benefit your Kid?

Looking for great preschool content for your little ones? The award-winning KidloLand app has 245+ nursery rhymes &100 +educational songs and activities.

Looking for great preschool content for your little ones? The award-winning KidloLand app has 245+ nursery rhymes &100 +educational songs and activities, covering so many subjects it’s perfect to supplement your child’s learning.

Most mamas are intentional about screen time for our children, wanting only the best for our babies. The KidloLand App was recently awarded the Spring 2016 Academics’ Choice Smart Media Choice award so moms and experts agree, we can feel good about letting our littles use this app.

Can your preschool kid benefit from the KidloLand App? I think so! Find out why I recommend it. Click To Tweet

When my daughter was little, I found that the right apps and programs could do more than keep her entertained, they could help her learn through catchy songs and repetition, both of which the KidloLand App has in spades!

I was given a free subscription to write an honest review of the application, but the opinions are totally mine. The KidloLand app is certainly one you can feel good about handing to your toddler-preschooler.

The songs are sweet with adorable characters. I really like how the lyrics are printed on the screen and are clearly shaded as they are sung, which helps children visually track the words.

Looking for great preschool content for your little ones? The award-winning KidloLand app has 245+ nursery rhymes &100 +educational songs and activities.

Following from left to right and understanding that spoken words correspond to written ones are crucial steps toward literacy. Kids won’t even know how much they are learning.

KidloLand App has so many fun and educational features. Kids won't even know they're learning! Click To Tweet

My daughter just turned six, so she is at the top of the recommended ages, and I could see that she has probably aged out of much of the content, but even so, I downloaded it in preparation for a trip to keep her occupied during our travels.

She really enjoys playing on the app. Each song has several screens with interactive elements your child has to touch to discover. She has fun discovering what happens when she touches each character. She easily stays occupied for 15-30 minutes if I let her.

The songs cover such a variety of content, it would be challenging for most kids to even get through it all, much less get bored. The content ranges from very early learning all the way through kindergarten with the months of the year and counting.

As a professional teacher and homeschooling mom, I think the KidloLand app is a wonderful resource for early education.

A subscription unlocks ALL the content per month or year depending on your preference. Why subscribe? New content is automatically added every month allowing your child to constantly explore new lessons without singular in app purchases.

The cost of a subscription is under $40 a year, less than $1 a week, and you can get a 7-day trial for FREE.

Cons –

  1. Depending on how much your child would use the app, the price could be an issue, but the app has loads of value.
  2. As an educator, I would like more interactive lessons for children to have to demonstrate mastery of the material, which utilizes different levels and areas of brain activity.

Overall, KidloLand App is adorable and entertaining, using musical repetition to teach and reinforce almost everything a young child needs to learn.

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How to Make Math Fun

Make math FUN – Doesn’t that sound hopeful? If your kid is anything like mine, math is usually closer to pulling teeth, certainly the hardest part of homeschool.

Math is problem solving and puzzles. It should be fun. Who doesn’t like puzzles?

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But somewhere in my life math stopped being fun. My teachers made me copy my addition, subtraction, and multiplication tables over and over. Not much fun, but I learned them really well.

Why? Repetition is part of what makes new ideas and concepts permanent. Sure – but does it have to be so terribly boring all the time? I think we can find ways to bring back the fun.

Somewhere in my life, math stopped being fun. I want to make math fun for my daughter. Click To Tweet

Especially for my kindergarten kiddo, I want learning to be exploring new ideas and understanding mysteries, not just copying and worksheets.

But I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a math curriculum.

During Christmas shopping, I discovered a new family game that makes math fun!

The game is a version of Shut the Box. Each player rolls the dice and has to add or subtract to eliminate a number from your side of the board (older players may also multiply and divide).

Make math FUN! Doesn't that sound hopeful? You want to make math fun for your children. Math is problem solving and puzzles. It should be fun. Why isn't it?

Adding and subtracting fluidly within ten is one of the main kindergarten objectives for math. Each turn, I had her both add and subtract before deciding which number to use. We even discussed multiplication when she needed 3 and rolled 1 & 3.

She didn’t know it was school. We were just playing. The game made math fun!

Plus, playing as adults over Christmas, we had a great time. For under $15 on Amazon Prime, you just can’t beat a family game that doubles as homeschool curriculum.

Another way we make math fun is through using math in hands-on or real world examples, like baking together or cutting up her PB&J sandwich into quarters.

We often use M&Ms as manipulatives to demonstrate numbers equal amounts. Plus, she gets to eat them as a reward when we are finished.

One of my daughter’s favorite books is The Doorbell Rang about chocolate chip cookies, and nothing compares to Grandma’s. Her own grandmother makes chocolate chip cookies that are a favorite. In this story, the sister and brother get to divide a dozen cookies, until the doorbell rang.

And two more friends arrive. Using a dozen M&Ms, we divide them up by the two characters. Then we add the two new characters and figure out how many cookies each person will get. As more and more characters arrive, we have to divide more and more.

While division isn’t a kindergarten math objective, introducing the concept in this fun cross-curricular lesson that ties reading and math together was just right to show we had the same number of M&Ms just divided differently.

She practiced counting, adding and manipulating numbers. We both laughed, and I enjoyed watching her pretend dividing up the “cookies.” We will be repeating this lesson, and the story is one of her treasured favorites.

These are the ways we learned to make math fun, and she is truly learning the concepts despite all the fun we’re having.

Another concept that I’ve learned is crucial is subitizing. Subitizing is the ability to mentally group objects into chunks without counting. Most adults do this subconsciously. Using dice or dominoes can be a way to help children practice this mental skill that helps with early math mastery.

We played dominoes almost daily during her kindergarten year. I had her count the pips on each side of each domino. Then, as counting grew easier, we began adding the pips on each side to learn how many in total on one domino.

With just a little creativity, I was able to make math fun and help her build the skills she needed to grow in confidence and ability.

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My 3 No-brainers to raise a Brainiac!

Some parenting is hard. Raising a brainiac doesn't have to be. 3 No-brainers to Raise a Brainiac! Heaven Not Harvard shares easy tips to start your child on a path to love learning.

Raising a brainiac is a bit tongue in cheek, but all parents want to give their children the best start in life possible.

And we’ve all wished from time to time that kids came with instructions.

From getting them to sleep or eat green beans, all parents have struggled with getting the hang of this parenting thing, but helping them be ready to learn can be easy with these tips.

My 3 no-brainers to raise a Brainiac!

My daughter is has a sharp memory and insatiable curiosity. While I can’t take credit for her natural gifts, especially since we adopted, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we prepared her to be a learner long before we officially started homeschooling.

Some parenting is hard. Raising a brainiac doesn't have to be. Heaven Not Harvard shares easy tips to start your child on a path to love learning.

1). Read with your child.

Experts recommend 20 minutes a day. Reading  . . .

  • builds bonds between parent and child. I started reading to my daughter in the NICU so she could hear my voice. Reading together still makes me feel close to her.
  • teaches vocabulary, prepares children for oral language acquisition, but also contributes to their ability to follow a narrative and process with visual imagery.
  • helps children understand the basic building blocks of language: print moves from left to right, letters represent sounds that create words representing ideas, a fundamental understanding of grammar and punctuation.
  • can be the vehicle to teach ideas, vocabulary, and content in a variety of subjects. My daughter loves space and animals. She learns about them through reading. Double win!
Reading together builds your relationship and a love of learning, language & books. Click To Tweet

2). Talk with your child.

We all talk to our children, so what do I mean?

  • Use adult vocabulary. Kids are sponges – use it. They’ll repeat everything anyhow, so give them a few things you won’t be embarrassed to hear in the middle of a quiet library.

I used vocabulary above her ability but follow-up with a familiar word to tie the two together.

  • Explain EVERYTHING. I know it gets exhausting. By dinner time, my brain is ready to explode, but she wants to know everything about everything.

And despite the exhaustive nature of the why?, I really want to encourage that her curious nature.

I started before she could talk: We’re going to the store; see the pretty trees – those are pine trees, pine trees are coniferous.

It really doesn’t matter that it is WAY above their heads. Talk anyway because it really helps brains development and babies are not great conversationalists.

Talk WITH your kids about what you're reading, watching, doing. You'll teach them so much! Click To Tweet

3). Edutain them!

While experts recommend ZERO hours of screen time under two, but we all know mommy has to shower! I tried to be very careful with what she watched.

Her music, books, video games, television, movies – 99% are educational exclusively.

If she can’t learn from it, we don’t watch it.

And talk about what you’re watching! Sociologists noted that parents influenced their children the most when they discussed shows they were watching together.

The more we talk, the more the information solidifies in her mind. She asks questions. We can even look up extra information online about what we’re watching.

Bonus TIP!

Most of all, make it fun. Kids will love what is fun. You will love having fun with them.

Play alphabet games, think of silly words that rhyme, watch shows you can enjoy with them.

We spent a week watching #BigBlueLive on PBS about the swarming of marine life in Monterey Bay, Ca. We’ve loved watching it each night and learned a ton.

You can still watch the webcams here.

Raising a brainiac isn’t nearly as important as raising a kind, caring child, but give them the foundation to make learning easy and fun, and make a life-long learner out of your kid.

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The Best Homeschool App (you’re not using)

This app teaches reading skills, problem solving, grammar, listening skills and so much more. Heaven Not Harvard

I’ve used this app before for fun, but didn’t think to use it with my pre-k child until just last week. Whether you are homeschooling or supplementing your child’s education, this application has amazing benefits.

We’ve just barely made the decision to homeschool, so I am looking for as many easy homeschooling tricks as I can find. Part of our decision is that school doesn’t have to take all day, so cross-curricular lessons are especially beneficial. But I also want to create the most beneficial educational experience for her. And why I am so glad I found this app.

Because she loves Dora the Explorer and Diego and is enamored of Skippyjohn Jones, my five-year old has wanted to learn Spanish for a long time. My mother wrote her Master’s degree thesis about the benefits of elementary school Spanish, so I know teaching her a foreign language is beneficial for her creativity, reading, mental flexibility, English grammar skills, writing, and future language ability.

This magical app teaches reading skills, problem solving, grammar, listening skills and so much more. Heaven Not Harvard
graphic used by permission of Duolingo’s press dept.

However, yo no habla español. I can get by to find a bathroom or order a limited meal, but that is about it. I took French in school, so how do I teach her Spanish?

Duolingo is a free app that uses some of the same principles as pricey Rosetta Stone – FREE!

Last week, I opened the app and started using it with my daughter. MAGICAL!! I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.

In order to use the app, she is challenged to read new words: man, woman, girl, boy, bread, water, which, speak, translate, sentence, etc. The application uses multiple learning styles to imprint new words, both Spanish and English. Duolingo has a variety of languages available, but we started with Spanish.

I have to explain articles (the, an, a), feminine and masculine nouns, and capital letters, and what is a sentence, but I’m amazed at how much she intuitively understands through using the app, which also makes the articles and the combinations repetitive so it becomes automatic to pair up the correct article and noun and in later lessons the proper conjugations of verbs and subjects.

She has learned some Spanish, not much, but what she really gets out of this app is a lot of English grammar and reading practice! Additionally, we’ve only used it together three or four times and she can almost operate it independently, which is amazing since she is just heading into kindergarten.

Parts of the Duolingo app are matching pairs of words together, matching English to pictures with Spanish captions, translating sentences with word groups as choices, translating into English/Spanish using the keypad, and speaking your target language.

Watching her play is such a joy. Today, she was spelling words in Spanish! She is just barely learning to spell in English. She is learning and doesn’t even know it! She volunteers for Spanish class!

And I’m not the only one who thinks this app is fantastic. It won best learning app in 2013, and in a recent independent study, professors found that when using Duolingo for 34 hours, students learn the equivalent of one university semester of language instruction.

If you’re like me, making the decision to homeschool or supplement your child’s education comes from wanting to give them the best advantages in life. Learning a foreign language at a young age is a proven method to give children skills that will set them up for educational success, wherever they call school.


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