As a mother who home educates 3 children with rather wide age gaps, I want to ensure my kids are learning effectively whilst not allowing book-learning or the “school” part of the day to take up too much time – because if I was happy for my kids to be spending up to 5 hours a day sitting at a desk, then I’d just send them to school. Also, as I have 3 children to educate, making them do “school” for up to 5 hours a day is not ideal nor realistic. And besides, it’s not quantity but quality when it comes to education. Which is more effective? Being forced to sit in a classroom for a 1 hour lesson only to get maybe 5 minutes of individual teacher’s attention, if one’s lucky? Many kids don’t even get any individual attention from school teachers for the entire hour of class as it’s 1 teacher to a class of 30 kids! Or sitting in the comfort of your own home, getting individual attention from mum or a tutor, for at least 30 minutes a day? The reason why kids at school need 1 hour to grasp a little bit of information is because there are so many kids in class needing that 1 teacher’s attention and every child progresses at different speeds – so some are really slow, and the fast kids have to wait for the slower kids to catch up before moving on. At home, we don’t have that issue. That same bit of information would really take maybe 10 minutes of a child’s time to grasp, because they have almost 1 to 1 attention with their parent or tutor. And the child can progress at his/her speed with no need to wait for other children to catch up.
So no, I don’t see the point in making kids sit for up to 5 hours a day doing “school” at home nor in conventional school. I see a lot of value in freedom and play and pursuing personal interests. And I have found over the years that the only way I can achieve what I want for my children and keep everyone happy, is to use as many open-and-go homeschooling resources as I can. Resources that don’t require lots of prep work, preferably little to none, that are effective and efficient for my children – i.e. they don’t require a long time to digest or understand and they teach concepts well. I favour direct instruction in my homeschooling for that reason. Whilst I don’t use it all the time in our homeschooling, as I still do believe in allowing kids a lot of free time to play and explore other things, I use it for teaching the basics, like reading, spelling, writing, grammar, maths, etc. I know direct instruction is not popular with many English educators. Perhaps it is because I am not English myself but I have no aversion to that and in fact, find direct instruction methods very useful for keeping my kids at or above the education standards that would be expected of them if they were in school, whilst at the same time taking up little time and hence freeing up their time for other pursuits. Another reason for us having to home educate with some structure is if we were to return to our native countries where schooling is more traditional and “rigorous”, this would serve them well. With the economy being quite bad here, there is every reason we may have to move back if we can no longer sustain a decent living standard here. By doing it semi-structured style, my kids can be taught “school” but also have a lot more free time to pursue personal interests compared to schooled kids.
Recently I discovered some new resources which I think are really good for my kids at this point in time. Twinkl and Connect The thoughts.
Well I’ve tried a lot of different worksheet resources for my kids, but recently discovered Twinkl and it is special. Okay maybe it’s still early days. I only subscribed in December, when a home education group I belonged to was putting up a Twinkl discount for home educators. I have never used Twinkl before, and I did mull over the decision of whether to subscribe or not. The discount was quite substantial.- nearly 50% off, but having spent a lot in the past on various homeschooling curricula and materials, and found some of them to be quite unsuitable for us (and therefore a bit of a waste of money), I have become much more wary now of spending on yet another homeschooling resource.
I tried registering for an account on Twinkl. That went well. After that though, I tried navigating the website to preview the materials. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I found the website not easy to navigate and many of their resources were not free of charge. The ones I were interested in were for subscribers only, so I did not have much to go on. Maybe because it was nearly Christmas time and I was already spending quite a bit on presents for the family. I decided £25 wasn’t that much to spend on a homeschool resource that so many other home educators were raving about on groups and when I have 2 children that fall into the age group this resource caters for, and the resources seem cute and engaging enough, I thought why not try it out? So I bought it.
It took me quite a little while to start utilising my purchase. I already had quite a few things going for my semi-structured homeschooling. Finally though, I decided to take the plunge and try using the website again. I have to admit, it was various posts by fellow home educators made on the Twinkl Home Educators group I belonged to, which enticed me and gave me more direction as to what to do with my Twinkl subscription. It took me about a month after purchasing the subscription to actually go on the website again and try to navigate it, and try to print things out of it. Once I started doing that though, more followed, and more followed. And now I found myself printing out a lot of stuff for my kids over the last week especially, as this year we had Valentine’s Day (14th Feb), Pancake Day (17th Feb) and Chinese New Year (19th Feb) all falling in the same week almost!
My kids loved them all. You know what? I did feel a bit like a school teacher handing out the worksheets and stuff and telling my kids how to go about doing them. It was not quite what I had in mind. I also showed them Powerpoint shows from the Twinkl resources about the different special days we were celebrating. My kids enjoyed every aspect of it. I almost thought to myself perhaps my kids would enjoy school. But it was still different from school. I actually consulted with my kids about many of the resources I printed out – whether they looked like something they’d like to do – before I printed them out. Sometimes my kids asked me to print out copies. For example they were not happy with making just one Chinese dragon. They wanted to make 2 or 3 more. I did all of that. School would not offer them the chance to pick what they wanted to do. They also found the resources really cute and fun. Well I did choose only the ones I felt were going to be stuff they liked doing. There were a lot of stuff I chose not to utilise because they didn’t like them.
Anyway, I am now a Twinkl convert. I will be using them a lot more in future. I like it even more than the Evan Moor stuff. Oh yes, what with St. Patrick’s Day and Easter cominig up next, definitely will be using Twinkl for those. I would probably not use Twinkl that much for actual teaching of stuff though. To supplement, yes. I already use very effective teaching resources that I prefer and I have never been big on worksheets. I went through a phase of using Evan Moor but after I found other resources, I decided Evan Moor was perhaps not that great as a main source of teaching. Take spelling. I used to print out a lot of Evan Moor spelling pages, but then realised my daughter was not actually taking in much of what the worksheets taught. But now I am a total convert to All About Spelling. No other workbook or worksheet for teaching spelling I’ve used even comes close to what All About Spelling does for my children. It’s quick, easy to use, doesn’t take up too much time, the kids actually find it more interesting than plain workbooks/worksheets for learning spelling, and best of all it complements and enhances my children’s reading skills at the same time. And it is so so effective for us. My children are now ace spellers. Yes, even my son, for whom literacy isn’t the strongest subject, can spell so well! I will never find any other resource as good as that. Literacy… comprehension… grammar. These are all things that other approaches I prefer using – more Charlotte Mason or Classical educational approaches – that are far more effective in achieving that aim with a lot more side benefits thrown in – for example, insight into humanity, history, culture, etc.
But there are times when I need a cute worksheet, a fun idea, or a simple craft idea that is not too difficult to source materials for, that won’t take up too much time, and that is cute and fun. Sometimes I want a more themed approach to introducing certain topics. That’s when I go for Twinkl.
I’m not totally sold on the lapbooks on Twinkl though. I think they’re a bit basic, which is probably alright for my little boy, but for my 2 daughters, they are way too basic and easy and they would feel like it was a waste of time doing them. I prefer the ones like these from A Journey Through Learning. Yes I would actually pay for a lapbook if I think it’s good. I tried lapbooking the DIY way and it didn’t really work out that well. I’m not a very crafty person and am not good at coming up with new craft ideas or new ways to make interesting and pretty lapbooks. And if I did have to come up with the entire plan of a lapbook, I fear I would be using up even more of my precious time – yes I do make “me time” for myself every day, and that is usually the time after I put my kids in bed! Whilst I do use some of that time to plan what I’m going to do with my kids for the next day or week, I also need the rest of that time to do my own stuff – I am always busy reading or creating something. Probably the busiest mum who isn’t working in a paid job! The problem with many lapbooking websites for me is that they tend to provide bits and pieces and then I have to sort of try and put them together myself. My kids didn’t like it and I didn’t enjoy the process either. And I didn’t having to spend time on that. With the paid lapbooks I have bought from sites like A Journey Through Learning, they have the entire lapbook pre-planned, all the ideas are there, and I am provided with options on how I would like to organise the book, so no matter how I choose to do it, it all turns out very nicely and with little to no prep time on my part.
I have also recently started using Connect The Thoughts curricula on my eldest, who is 12. I think she’s at the right age and mindset for this. I did try out the free lesson plan at first. I read through it to see if it was something that would work for her. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure about the tone of language in the resources. I felt it was a little… just a teensy bit patronising and reminded me a lot of certain school teachers’ teaching styles. The author used to be a school teacher so maybe that’s why. Perhaps this was a method of teaching he felt was most effective for teaching, and maybe that is the case for a lot of school children. I was never a typical kid or a “normal” kid. I was always a quirky, rebellious, inquisitive, impetuous kid so I guess I was a nightmare to teach, for the wrong sort of teacher (I did have my favourite teachers!) But my daughter is not like me in many ways, and she is quite passive and likes things all spelt out for her rather than her having to second-guess and read between the lines, so I thought she might actually find this curricula okay. And she does. I wanted this curricula for her also because I wanted her to learn how to “own” her own learning. You see, unschooling didn’t really work on her. I have gone into it before in my other posts so won’t elaborate on this now, but she is not a naturally inquisitive kid, does not seek out things to do on her own, and will remain doing the same thing again and again every day even if it gets boring. I think the author is a very clever man; he really knows his stuff and I agree with a lot of what he says on his blog. I have been following him on Twitter you see. In fact, that was how I actually got to know he actually wrote a homeschooling curriculum! That was what prompted me to check him out in the first place! And he seems like a nice guy. I find his curriculum very interesting. It purports to teach children to think yet the tone of the curricula is quite directive and specific in what it wants the kid to do and what direction it wants the kid to follow. He always emphasises the fact (in his material) that in his curriculum there will be no grading and no emphasis on “getting the right answers”. He makes it a point to repeat the fact that what he cares about is that the child decides what he/she is going to do with the information they find, and what he/she wants to think of it. So in a way it is somewhat the antithesis of unschooling and yet it’s not school either – because we all know that schools require rigidity in answers (“there is only one right answer to a question”).
So I bought a lesson off him. My daughter is doing his lessons now. She is going through them all. She is like that. She will happily do anything I (or anyone else) suggests, because she is normally not sure what to do with her time. She likes some structure and she likes me or anybody else planning out that structure for her. And because this curriculum doesn’t demand “right” answers from her, she actually finds this quite refreshing for once, because she hates getting things wrong. She actually gets quite upset whenever she gets things wrong. So here in this curriculum, she is getting the explicit instructions she wants and needs, and yet getting the freedom to think however she likes about what she’s being directed to explore. Seems to be a win-win for her at the moment. If it works out, I might just keep buying more modules from the curriculum for her. They do Science, History, Creative Writing, Art and Music appreciation, Current Events, etc. I really like the curriculum’s “Educational Basics” lessons as well. It does things like teaching kids the difference between opinions and facts, how to do research, understanding how to discern between peer pressure or fads/trends and what is truly worth following in life, etc. without broaching on the religion bit. And teaching children their bill of rights, i.e. children’s rights. I mean that is good. How many children actually know their rights? Not much, and most schools do not teach this stuff.
In short there’s quite a lot of stuff in there. All with the same sort of ideology behind it – quite instructive, which is the bit that seems rigid about it, but allows the child to freely opine or think about the topics introduced rather than expect a set of correct answers to questions. So I guess what it does is it actually is teaching directly, but in an open-ended sort of way. This may not be the right sort of curricula for me (if I were homeschooled), or for some other children, but for her, perhaps this is best for her for now. I’m quite impressed, especially as the price tag is not that expensive at all compared to some other homeschool curricula I’ve tried in the past. If money was an issue, it is always possible buy the lessons one by one to spread the cost. The bundles seem to be most cost-effective though.
Other resources I have yet to try but may have been useful to me for homeschooling my 3 would be My Father’s World and Five In A Row. I heard good reviews about how good they are for teaching children of different ages at the same time. Not sure about how strong the religious overtones are in My Father’s World, but I tend to prefer more secular material even though I personally am a person of faith.