Esther Cepeda: Teach children to embrace challenges

“Anyone can change their mindset and influence others’ mindsets, although it is not fast or easy. Instead of ‘How was your day?’ try ‘What mistake did you make that taught you something?’ or ‘What did you try hard at today?'”


IXL – our review of them

A while ago, some UK home educators tried to arrange a school discount with IXL as a group of about 200 home educators. IXL initially agreed to a truly remarkable discounted price of £5 per child per year for them, under a classroom license. IXL must have earned about £1000+ from home educators under this agreement.

Then about a month after that agreement and after all families have paid up this amount, IXL sent out emails to every family saying their accounts have been cancelled because they have suddenly found that the classroom license originally agreed upon for the group of 200 home educators was found to be in “violation of their selling regulations”. Now they said  that each family had to pay IXL around £50 more in order to continue using IXL or else their entire accounts would simply be cancelled. By this time, many home educated children who had taken up this offer had already started their IXL use and built up a record of achievement. It seemed cruel to suddenly be told well, pay more to keep the account or all your children’s progress on IXL so far would be completely erased.

Clearly someone in IXL decided that earning £1000+ from home educators for this classroom license wasn’t enough profit, and thought what a money spinner it would be if they charged everyone almost £50 more! Never mind the fact that by doing well this, they’ve essentially backtracked on their word, a month after agreeing on it.

Numbers of home educators, outraged at this sudden change of agreement by IXL, took to Facebook to leave negative complaints on their IXL Facebook page. Their ratings on Facebook dropped to 1 star out of 5 and they were inundated with complaints from disgruntled families.

After a few days, IXL decided to renege on what they’ve said and sent an email to everyone to “make things right” again, and they agreed to allow all 200+ home educating families who originally subscribed under the classroom license to continue with their £5 per child subscription for a whole year before that deal stops, after which they would not be renewing it. As a gesture of goodwill in response, many home educating families also decided to retract their complaints on IXL’s Facebook page.

As you can tell, IXL’s behaviour towards the UK home educators as far as this deal was concerned left much to be desired. Many have lost faith in this company. We would not have had an issue with them if they had not even granted us a discount in the first place. It was the way they had conducted their business towards us – first agreeing on the discount, then upon the popular uptake of that discount, deciding to renege on the deal they’ve agreed by asking people to pay a lot more to keep their accounts.

But… Putting their business ethics aside, I wanted to offer my review of what the IXL Maths program itself is like for our family. I’m not about to throw the baby out of the bathwater. Is IXL Maths itself any good for us? Is it worth it’s price?

Well for my eldest daughter who has always struggled a bit with Maths because she is naturally evasive to challenge and takes it really personally whenever she finds she cannot do something “right” – floods of tears and anger for instance – Maths has proven to be a sticking point for her over the years as it has such a clearcut distinction between right and wrong answers that there is absolutely no leeway for her if she didn’t get the answer required in a Maths question. It has always either been right or wrong, my way or the highway when it comes to Maths for her… I don’t know why but she’s always been like this about Maths since her days at school before home ed.

We’ve tried a lot of book and online resources for Maths in our home ed over the years. There was always a difficulty for her mastering Maths topics she finds tricky, simply because of the limited number of Maths practice questions she gets in the Maths resources we’ve tried. She’d get questions wrong, get told the right answer and shown the right way of doing it, then what? There were usually no more questions left to test her, to find out if she can do any further Maths questions on that topic of that level of difficulty, if she had gotten them wrong.

Here is where IXL Maths really shines. It offers unlimited practice questions, plus its questions are all graded on level of difficulty and IXL Maths monitors children’s progress and ability and adjusts the level of difficulty of the Maths questions in order to suit each individual child. If it finds that a child can correctly complete Maths questions of a certain level of difficulty in a specific Maths topic, it will then start giving the child more challenging Maths questions on that topic, and the child has to work them all out correctly or else the child’s achievement scores on that topic will drop.

So basically for drilling and mastery of Maths topics, IXL is doing it right. No other resources we’ve tried, and that includes Conquermaths, even comes close to doing this, especially for high school level Maths. Plus the way it is done is less upsetting for my daughter. It runs by a reward system, where she unlocks “prizes” with mastery of each Maths skill, so she is less likely to take it really personally if she fails. What’s most promising about her use of IXL Maths is that she has been growing in her ability to figure out her mistakes on her own whereas previously she was a bit “spoonfed” in mentality – she used to prefer to ask others to tell her why she got questions wrong and how to do them correctly.

And now with IXL Maths, she no longer has gaps in her knowledge, as IXL Maths’s scoring and achievement monitoring makes sure there are no gaps and makes sure she has always mastered easier skills before giving her more challenging questions.

For these reasons, we have continued with our IXL Maths subscriptions for her, even though we paid full price for it (£59 a year). That price alone could price out some families. I get that. It would be great of course, if IXL ever really agreed to a £5 per child per year deal again, but as long as we can still afford it, we’d continue to go with IXL Maths for her until she takes her GCSE Maths exam.

We’ve found IXL Maths invaluable for our eldest daughter for this reason.

Board games for speech therapy | Obfuscated Objective

I found this amazing resource online where a speech therapist has chosen and reviewed extensively some board games on the market that can be used as aids for helping a child develop different speech skills. The reviews are thorough and contain lots of details to help you decide if a particular game is right for your child.

As a mother of children with speech and communication difficulties, I think this is a godsend… Granted I am not a speech therapist myself and may not be able to use the games in the way a speech therapist might for therapy purposes, but they would still be of benefit to us if we played these games.

I’m a board game fan and our home has lots of board games already, but I am always looking for more to add to the collection, so this is just right up my street!

I hope this information helps someone 🙂

IGCSE or GCSE Maths for Home Schooled Students? | Rosalind Martin – Maths Tutor – WordPress Website Designer

I noticed my daughter struggles with arithmetic. I was surprised to learn that IGCSE Maths allows the use of a calculator in both papers. Might be a consideration when I decide whether to let her to IGCSE or GCSE Maths. IGCSE Maths has been known as the more difficult paper because they have to learn more topics than those doing GCSE Maths. I suppose since my daughter does struggle a bit with Maths either way, it will not be an easy choice anyway.

Why do humans get “goosebumps” when they are cold, or under other circumstances? – Scientific American

Just a few days ago… Maybe even yesterday, I’m not sure.. An was getting undressed for her bath and she said she felt cold and had goosebumps all over. She made a remark about how goosebumps are useless at warming our bodies even though they were meant for warming our bodies. I remember saying to her that I think they do work… And she then said – yeah maybe a little.

And now I stumbled across this piece by Scientific American which states goosebumps are an evolutionary heritage from when human ancestors used to have much longer body hairs. When body hairs are long, goosebumps would raise the hair follicle so that the entire strand of each hair puffs up, thereby creating a layer of trapped air between the skin and the hair ends. It is this layer of trapped air that insulates and warms the creature.

Us modern human folk, well our bodily hair strands have evolved over time to be much too short for the goosebumps to make any difference to our bodily temperature that way. So nowadays the goosebumps don’t really serve the function they were meant to serve. But they are still good indicators of certain emotions or sensations.

It’s late now and An is already sleeping. I’m sure she’d be pleased to hear about the information from this article when I tell her about it tomorrow!

Unschooling? How about NVC?

Before I discovered NVC (Nonviolent Communication), I read about and was hugely inspired by Radical Unschooling and Sandra Dodd’s and John Holt’s writings.

For years however I stayed away from certain online Unschooling support groups, finding the language used in these groups against parents lacking in the same compassion they ask parents to extend towards children.

I will reiterate that this has been my own experience. I only speak for myself. Not that I’ve ever tried to poke the proverbial hornet’s nest. I was just a silent observer in all of that. I read, I moved on.

Recent events in an online Unschooling group on Facebook took a turn for the worse as I recently saw a debacle where special needs were denied and parents accused of doing their children a disservice if they did in fact use diagnoses to understand their children’s difficulties. Be it a right or wrong approach, I felt it was counterproductive to treat others with such strident and unforgiving criticism, when we all are learning and evolving in our own ways and circumstances, just trying to get by and do the best job we are capable of at any moment. We all grow in our own ways and I just cannot see how the uncompassionate treatment of a person can inspire said person to give compassion to another (in this case, the children involved). It seems almost contradictory to me.

Anyway, I have now become far more enamoured with the NVC approach to parenting – when I learn and practice NVC, I learn to extend that compassion to myself and to others – including my children. No more having to look up to certain individuals (or “gurus”) to tell me shoulds or should nots.

I no longer call myself an Unschooler, a structured home educator, etc. I just call myself a parent. Yes I have done away with the labelling. I know unschoolers who advocate doing away with labelling but here I’ve done it myself naturally, not because I willingly listened to “gurus” telling me to do this, but as a personal result of learning and understanding NVC and using these principles in my own life. NVC did not tell me not to use labels. I eventually came to this conclusion myself (although I accept everyone who practices NVC will have their own take on it so I don’t speak for everyone). But it is so much more positive, empowering and compassionate to do all this naturally out of my own free will. Rather than be compelled to by peer pressure – and if a person is very strongly attached to a “guru”, then yes there is peer pressure to conform to what a “guru” and the followers say. I had no such pressure to do so. I simply did it because it made sense to me to do so. And I wouldn’t dream of going around saying everyone should do this or they’re not “doing it right”.

NVC is what I use nowadays to guide my parenting and my own personal affairs. I feel so much more liberated now than I ever was.

I think all those Unschooling groups I joined at the beginning of my home educating journey played their part, for without the inspiration they provided me, I may never have eventually come upon the concept of NVC. Alfie Kohn was also another inspiration that helped steer me along the way before I came upon NVC. I am grateful for these inspirations even if I am no fan of the online fights I’ve witnessed.

If anyone is a home educator or looking to become one, and the Unschooling philosophy attracts, and hanging around some of the online Unschooling support groups has been quite disappointing and deflating because of the constant infighting and language used, I will put my 2 cents here : Don’t lose hope. Consider reading up on NVC. Marshall Rosenberg wrote a very good book to introduce people to NVC, but there are lots of online resources to learn it too. Reading up on NVC will help you understand the premise of unschooling far far better without all the dogma of having “gurus” and “followers” dictate or humiliate you to do the “right” thing. Incorporating NVC knowledge into practice in your home life and home education could be a more effective and much kinder approach for yourself, your children and everyone around you.

The science behind academic achievement

“Academic performance was found to correlate significantly with Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness.

Where tested, correlations between Conscientiousness and academic performance were largely independent of intelligence.

When secondary academic performance was controlled for, Conscientiousness added as much to the prediction of tertiary academic performance as did intelligence. ”

What is Conscientiousness? According to Wiki’s entry on “Conscientiousness”, it is :

“the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant. Conscientiousness implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people areefficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. They exhibit a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; they display planned rather than spontaneous behavior; and they are generally organized and dependable. It is manifested in characteristic behaviors such as being neat and systematic; also including such elements as carefulness, thoroughness, and deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting.)”

Conscientiousness is such a major predictor of academic achievement that the psychological research quoted above said it contributed as much as intelligence towards academic performance in secondary and post-secondary education.

Some intelligent people don’t do well in school or in exams. Now I know why… At the end of the day though, there are many many roads to happiness. Academic achievement is not the be all or end all, neither is your IQ score!