Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Learning to Love Latin

Once upon a time, Latin was a central part of students' education.  Students not only learned to conjugate verbs, but to read and enjoy literature in Latin as well.  Unfortunately, Latin has slowly been pushed aside to make way for other subjects.  Many schools only offer Latin as a lower-level course, making it a poor option for students concerned with their GPAs.  Luckily, as afterschooling parents, we have the option of giving our kids what the schools do not provide.  Even if you don't know a bit of Latin, you can learn along with your kids!  Here are some fantastic reasons to teach your kids Latin:
  • Your child will increase his vocabulary and increase his ability to understand unfamiliar words.  (SAT skill!)
  • Latin teaches grammar explicitly, which helps kids comprehend confusing English grammar concepts.  (SAT skill!)
  • Understanding Latin makes learning other Romance languages easier.  Since most college-bound students will study a Romance language in high school, this could be a huge help!
  • The ability to read Latin opens up a door to a world of Classical literature and culture. 

Convinced?  There are many wonderful Latin programs out there designed for homeschoolers.  While it is nearly impossible to teach your child a spoken language if you aren't fluent yourself, it is possible to teach Latin!  Most classical homeschoolers and afterschoolers start Latin instruction around third grade.  At this age, kids have the ability to read and write in English and understand basic grammar rules.  They are still young enough to memorize easily (a skill that fades as we grow older) and see learning a "secret" language as exciting.  

One Latin program I've looked at is Visual Latin.  It's a lively video Latin program that takes the pressure off nervous parents.  I've heard nothing but positive reviews from parents in the Well-Trained Mind Forums.  (Although I can teach my daughter Latin now, I know she'll probably progress faster than me as she gets older.)  And right now, it's 30% off!  Check it out below.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Early SAT Prep 3: Writing

Those of us who took the SAT years and years ago only dealt with two subjects: math and verbal.  Today's student face three: math, critical reading, and writing.  Many parents dismiss the writing section because they feel only the other two sections really matter.  While this was probably true when the writing section was first introduced, it's less true now that it's a well established section.  In addition, even if a college focuses on math and critical reading, a glaring low score in writing is sure to attract their attention.  You would do well to prepare your child for all three sections and let colleges focus where they will.

Before I start with specific advice, I'd like to tell a little story about a student I tutored this year.  I was tutoring her in AP history, because she had trouble keeping up with the fast pace of her AP class.  She had straight A's in her AP English class, however, so I assumed she was a strong writer.  When I helped her revise a history paper, I discovered I was sadly mistaken.  Nearly every sentence was a run-on sentence.  Some sentences actually lasted 5 or 6 lines!  Her paper wandered around her topic at random.  I could not discern a coherent argument.  While some paragraphs were nicely written, they didn't connect into a cohesive whole.  I sat there and wondered, "How is this an AP English paper?"

The fact is, that English teachers today have way too much to teach in a 50 minute period.  Great literature, critical reading, vocabulary, grammar, composition, poetry, and more.  It's too much!  I love literature, but I'd never want to be an English teacher.  Since their time is spread so thin, most English teachers can only help their students with the basics.  They teach the 5 paragraph essay format, which focuses on writing a thesis, introduction, body examples, and conclusion.  If they're lucky, they'll have time to address a few critical grammar problems as well. 

Strong writers are not created in 50 minute classes.  Here are some ways you can support your child's writing development:

1.  Read, Read, Read
Just like small children absorb the language they hear and then utilize it in their own speech, writers internalize what they have read.  Exposing your child early and often to well-written literature is essential to developing the inner ear: the ability to hear what sounds right and what doesn't.  Now, kids love and adore all sorts of terrible series books, and that's okay.  Just make sure your child is also hearing and reading vibrant, descriptive writing as well.

2.  Learn the Rules
Grammar is one area that continuously gets shortchanged in public high schools.  Strong readers will learn many of the rules by ear and naturally apply them to their own writing.  But most student need some explicit instruction.  The SAT writing section contains two grammar sections that ask students to identify and correct errors like run-on sentences, misused colons, subject-verb agreement, and improper pronoun cases.  You may be thinking, "What??"  Trust me, so are your kids.  There are many great homeschool grammar programs out their to choose from.  I recommend First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind for young children.  Make sure grammar work doesn't end in middle school, however.  There are more advanced grammar rules that students still need to master well into high school.

3.  Argue With Your Kids
Yeah, like you needed a reminder to do that!  Americans love to argue, but have you ever noticed how few do it well?  Occasionally debate issues with your kids.  Make sure they stick to the topic, don't change sides, and support their argument with strong examples.  All these skills are necessary for good persuasive writing.  Learning a bit about the classic art of rhetoric wouldn't hurt either.

4.  Teach Transitions
I've noticed that schools tend to teach that essays are made up of individual paragraphs each focused around a topic sentence.  That's a great start.  But students often don't realize that those individual paragraphs need to be careful woven into a cohesive essay.  Teach your kids that the topic shouldn't shift abruptly at the end of a paragraph.  For example, an essay arguing that creativity is the most important human quality might contain a paragraph about Einstein and another about Da Vinci.  The paragraph about Da Vinci shouldn't simply start with "Da Vinci was highly creative in many areas of his life..."  Instead, there should be a smooth transition from one paragraph to the other like, "Einstein was a great creative genius of the 20th century.  Similarly, Da Vinci was the creative genius of his time.."  Or whatever, but you see the point.

6.  Be Descriptive
There is a world of difference between decent writing and good writing.  And the difference mainly lies in style.  Which sounds better, "Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights," or "Martin Luther King Jr. fought passionately for civil rights"?  One small descriptive word can make a whole lot of difference.  Great writers know this and describe everything they discuss.  Make sure your child have a strong vocabulary full of adjectives and uses them regularly.  You can use them too in your daily discussions!

I could make a million more suggestions, but this blog post is already wordy enough.  (Hey, it's about writing!)  One great comprehensive writing program I love it 6 Trait Writing.  It can be used for any level and teaches students to edit their own work.  Self-editing is crucially important for college students and adults!  There's not always going to be a parent or concerned teacher looking over their shoulders to help them improve.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Story of the World: Chapters 5 & 6

Life has been a little crazy around here this week between the 4th of July and preparing for the kids' art class I'm teaching next week.  So here's a combined post for The Story of the World and Episcopal Children's Curriculum (EEC).  Chapter 6 of SOTW tells the story of Joseph, which tied into our EEC unit, so we studied them together.

Story of the World: Chapter 5
This chapter tells the story of Sargon, the first Sumerian dictator.  Sargon united Sumer and renamed it Akkadia.  Chapter 5 was very short and none of the suggested crafts particularly appealed to us, so we skipped them.

The Golden Sandal - a Cinderella story set in Mesopotamia

Ancient Civilizations for Children: Ancient Mesopotamia (With Teacher's Guide) [VHS]

Sumerian Inventions Word Search - found in the Activity Guide

Story of the World Chapter 6 and EEC Shell Year Unit 1: Sections 5 & 6

Joseph - this is a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated bible story
Dance, Sing, Remember : A Celebration of Jewish Holidays - introduces Jewish holidays and includes some accompanying activities


Joseph - King of Dreams

Crazy Bug made a many colored dream t-shirt using spray on fabric paint. This was a good lesson in "less is more" because the more spray that was added the muddier the colors became.  We're going to try it again this summer using only closely related colors like red, purple, and blue.

We've also been checking our Chicken Mummy and changing his salt mixture regularly.  He's already dried out a lot!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Buying Curriculum Without Going Broke

At some point, once your signed onto the idea of afterschooling, the big question is going to hit you: How am I going to PAY for all of this?

Homeschool curricula, art supplies, project materials, and educational aids can be expensive.  But you can afterschool without going broke.  Here's how:

1.  Use your library.
 If you haven't been in a while, you'll be amazed at how much your library has to offer.  Most libraries also offer interlibrary loan, where you can borrow materials from other local libraries and pick them up at your own library.  This should be your number one stop for read alouds, independent readers, non-fiction resources, magazines, documentaries, etc.

2.  Decide what you need.  Then decide what you really need.
Once you've realized what your library has to offer, you should be able to narrow your list down.  What else can you do without?  Many curricula publishers offer all sorts of extra materials you don't really need.  For instance, I don't need videos and cds to accompany every book I have.  Could you use free online resources instead of pricey ones?  Join a forum like The Well Trained Mind Forums, and you'll find that many members have already created great materials and are willing to share free of charge.

3.  Buy used.
Amazon.com, Paperback Swap, and library book sales are great places to find cheap materials.  Check if your local homeschool organization organizes a used curriculum sale too.  Last month I found half the Smart About Art book series and all the early readers I could ever need at my town library's sale.  I walked away with a huge bag of books for under $10.  I also collected 20 Illustrated Children's Classics at a yard sale for just $3!

4.  Visit the dollar store.
You can buy cheap craft materials, workbooks, flashcards, and more dirt cheap.  I also use this as a resource for those one-time-use project supplies.  I don't drink coffee or iron, so when I needed coffee filters and spray starch for an art project, I purchased them cheaply at the Dollar Tree.

5.  Rack up points.
Lately I discovered a great site called Swagbucks, where you can earn points to redeem for Amazon and other gift certificates.  In just a week I've earned $20 in Amazon gift cards.  Just by downloading the Swagbucks toolbar you can earn points for doing your normal, everyday searching.  If you have extra time to take surveys, you'll earn even faster!  (My daughter swims for hours every day, which is normally wasted time for me because I have to be by the pool.  Lately I've been taking surveys on my cell phone to better use the time!)

Do you have other great money saving ideas?  Let me know!  We can all use a little help.

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