Whole Box Curriculum and Miscellaneous Stuff

I thought I would start off this posting with a little conversation I had with one of my boys – or rather a conversation he had with me that is.

Boy, very spontaneously:  “Mom, you should run a school.”
After 6 years of homeschooling I think I was missing something.
Me: “Um….. I thought I already have a school?”
Boy:  “No, one with lots of kids.”

I guess a school with 4 kids is not enough 😉  I think I choose to take that as a compliment  that he likes learning at home with his mom, and he thinks his mom is a cool teacher.  But, as I write this, I am sure his mind has changed for today he is not happy at me and does not like my teaching style!  So, I think I will remember that yesterday he liked his teacher and try to forget that today he does not. 🙂

For those that do not know yet, the 4th Annual Torah Home Education Conference will be held in the Baltimore area on Sunday, May 6.  All information and registration can be found at: http://www.eventbee.com/v/torahhomeeducation.

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I am trying to take a trip down memory lane.  As I gain experience and confidence (and with money always helping to dictate direction as well,) I have tried a variety of approaches to teaching.  I am always happy to move on and always happy for what we did.

As mentioned in previous posts, we first started off with getting a whole curriculum.  I chose Calvert’s all in one package.  It comes with everything you need to start teaching including teacher manuals, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpeners and paper, as well as support by phone, email or online chat.  There is the option to purchase what is called ATS   and with that you send in tests and assignments that the child has completed to be graded by certified teachers.  At the end of the year you then have an official transcript so that if one is going to go to a school the next year (either because you want the child in school, or the child is going into high school – at the moment I believe Calvert only goes through grade 8) the child has official grades and do not have to be tested again to see what grade the child needs to go into.

It was always exciting, both for me and for the boys, when “The Box” came in the mail.  It is wonderful for we would get it 1-2 days after I ordered it.  Textbooks, notebooks, crayons, construction paper, glue, (and the important teacher’s manuals)  were all there.  There was not very much prep time needed, and for me that was a very important part;  partly because of my personality, and partly because I had 3 children.  Well, okay, I would say it was mostly because of my personality.  I was one who would wait until the last minute to do things, and I was not accustomed to thinking very far in advance usually.  My Pesach cleaning would start 2 weeks before Pesach, and yes, I would get it all done.  Before I go on, I should mention that Calvert allows you to choose a different math level than the rest of the curriculum.  So, if a child is in grade 3, but is a head in math, then you can order a grade 4 math program to go with it.

Ideally, one is supposed to read the manual before teaching for the day, for occasionally (it is more for the very young children) there is prep work that needs to be done.  In any case, the manual tells the parent exactly what is going to be done for the day, what pages in what book need to be finished.  It tells you the goals, what to say, what questions to ask to attain the goals, etc.  I know that the math books come with an answer key, and I am trying to remember if any of the other stuff does, but am drawing a blank at the moment.  Perhaps someone else can remind me.  If there are any questions that arise, then you are always welcome to call in to talk to someone, email or even chat online.  For those using the ATS, the teachers we had were always  very positive and wanted very much for the children to succeed.  If I had any issues, I could write to them as well, and they would write back with suggestions as well.  The teachers would always write and tell the student the positive they saw in the assignments and tests and then any suggestions for areas that needed improvement.

So, that is my plug for Calvert.  For when we used it, we had wonderful experiences.  There are other all-in-one curricula out there. HomeSchoolReviews has a list of complete curricula,  I have not used any others, but I think you can get the general idea – all-in-ones are just that – all-in-one.  Great if you are unsure of what to include.  The textbooks are generally the same kinds as the ones used in schools, so if you are planning on a temporary homeschooling, then sticking to the same format as a school does have its advantages.

I stayed with Calvert for 3 years.  I decided to look into other options at that time for I was having problems getting my child to switch subjects.  I would send him 10 feet to the cabinet and tell him to get something different out, and he would take 10-15 minutes each time sitting down by the cabinet.  It did not matter what tactic I used to get him to go faster, he just could not.  While I was sitting and learning with him, he was great, but to have to change momentum, it was terrible.  At the end of the 3rd year, I decided to look into unit studies.

The 4th Annual Torah Home Education Conference!

The 4th Annual Torah Home Education Conference will be held in the
Baltimore area on Sunday, May 6 and the schedule is packed with great
speakers and topics that are sure to give every current or
prospective homeschooler something to take home and actualize!

This is the only conference geared to Orthodox homeschoolers in the
entire world – yes, literally! Every year, people have traveled from
all over the US and even Canada to participate and the consensus was that it was worth
every penny and hour away from home. Don’t think that you’re a four hour drive away and
it’s not worth your time. You just won’t have anywhere else to access this wide of a
group of Torah home educators any other day in the year, anywhere.
Here is the (tentative) schedule for the conference:

8:15 – 9 am Registration

9 – 9:10 – Opening remarks

9:15 – 10 am – V’shinantem L’vanecha – Defining Torah Home Education –
Mrs. Susan Lapin

10:05 – 10:50 – Parallel workshops:

a) Practical Preschool and Early Education Years – Mrs. Jennifer MacLeod

b) Reaching Bar/bas mitzva – Homeschooling Older Children – Mrs. Shoshana Zohari

10:55 – 11:40 – Parallel Workshops:
a) How to Homeschool, Do Housework, and Prepare for the Chagim with a Smile – Mrs. Jennifer Green

b) Gishmei Brocha – Involving Your Family In Money Management – Rabbi
Shmuel Simenowitz

11:45 – 12:30 – Parallel Workshops:

a) Integrating Kodesh and Chol, Two Sides of the Same Coin – Mrs. Deborah Beck

b) Focusing in an Age of Digital Distractions – Mrs. Robin Alberg

12:30 – 2:30 – Lunch, Educational Material for viewing/for sale, “A Day in the
Life of a Homeschooling Family” Poster Presentations, and a Facilitated
Discussion with Mr. Max Masinter

2:30 – 3:15- Raising Independent Learners – Mrs. Evelyn Krieger

3:20 – 4:05- Veterans Panel with Mrs. Amanda Keefe, Chana Cox, Susan Lapin,
and Rebecca Masinter

4:10 – 4:55 – Advancing the Relationship between Homeschoolers and the
Community – Rabbi Cary Friedman

5 – 5:15 – Closing remarks

Mrs. Gila Haor, a special educator, will be available for consultation
throughout the day of the conference. If you’re interested in
reserving a slot, be in touch with her at Gila.Haor@gmail.com.

The conference planners are doing everything they can to welcome
participants to the Baltimore area and make your stay comfortable. If
you wish to spend Shabbos in Baltimore or Silver Spring prior to the conference,
hospitality is being arranged – Mrs.Tova Brody is taking care of this, and
she can be reached at 410-504-7798 or keep.shabbos@earthlink.net.

Child care will be available for your young children during the
conference, as well as activities for your older children – we need to know how
many children to prepare for, so please register and tell us your child care needs
as soon as possible. Mrs. Alisa Mandel is once again taking care of this, and you
can contact her at 410-963-2977.

Homeschooling teenagers are welcome to attend the conference for no
charge, although registration is required and donations are appreciated.

All registration and current information for the Torah Home Education Conference is at

http://www.eventbee.com/v/torahhomeeducation.

We made a decision…. Now what?

Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Tu B’Shevat.  It is an especially wonderful chag (holiday) in our house.  Not only is it the birthday of the trees, it is the birthday of boy #2 and it is nice to take the day and make it even more special.  So, I am wishing my 10 year old a wonderful birthday!  (The cake is supposed to resemble a pomegranate cut open. 🙂  )

This post is actually a continuation of the previous posting.  The first step was coming up with our decision.  The next step was deciding what in the world I was going to do. Actually, these two steps were made simultaneously.  As I was investigating, I investigated different curricula, but it was not until I found the answers to my questions did I feel I was ready.  And when I was ready, I already had the material I was going to use.

As I mentioned, during the six months of research, I investigated all sorts of curricula and methods, and given the fact that this was the first year homeschooling, and I was not sure I could/would find the time to create my own, (and why should I re-invent the wheel anyways, if something else is out there?) I settled upon Calvert’s homeschooling package.  This appealed to me for Calvert sends everything one needs to start homeschooling, including pencils, paper and a pencil sharpener!  What more could I ask for?  And, at just under $700 (which included teacher support the entire year, and ATS – optional testing/grading by accredited teachers,) it was 92% cheaper than our day school.  What a deal!

At the time we had 3 boys, the youngest being only 18 months.  I was going to homeschool our oldest only, who was going to be almost 5, and entering grade 1.  (We felt that he had more than the mental capability at such a young age and with his personality it would be better to push him than keep him behind.)

Calvert lists the average amount of time required for each of their subjects, so before our new school year was to begin, I made a schedule – starting at about 9 am.  I quickly ran into a big problem.  For kindergarten, they were suggesting 2.5-3 hours of school work — Ok, so 9am-12pm.  BUT, that was not going to work!  I was going to have one boy at a playgroup, and I was going to have my baby (ok, toddler) at home, and there was nap time, as well as having to feed him and play with him – he was not a newborn, and so just having him sit next to us was not going to work.  I had to have everything done by lunch time, for that was when I had to go get my other child and spend time with him too!  How could I homeschool?

As with most people, I was never homeschooled and until this time, I do not recall ever meeting (let alone talk too) another homeschool parent/child.  People get used to a school setting: Go to school by a certain time in the morning.  Bell rings.  Take attendance, class.  Bell rings.  Change class/recess.  Bell rings.  Lunch.  Bell rings.  Afternoon classes and recess.  The bell rings for these as well.  We are conditioned with the bell.  Also, how we are taught is similar throughout almost all schools – Textbooks and worksheets.

Then the breakthrough happened.  I learned something very important to homeschooling, something seemingly so obvious, but not obvious to most people:

 You do not have to follow a standard school schedule.

What this means is that I do not have to do a 9-12 school, I can teach whenever I want/need/have time too.  If I want to start before the standard school starting time, then I can.  If I want to take the entire morning off for it does not fit our family schedule, and teach only in the afternoons, then I can.  If I wanted to teach a little in the mornings and then a little in the afternoon when the two younger boys went down for a nap, I was allowed that too.  I realized I was allowed to think out of the box.  I was free to be different.  There is no “one size fits all” approach in homeschooling.  As I was to find out over the years, this applies to the teaching style and materials used as well.

With this enlightenment, my eyes were opened, and all of a sudden this big heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders.  I was actually getting really excited.  I could see that I could do it, and I was not worried if things did not quite work out.  I knew that I was allowed to try things a different way.

This was not going to be the first time that things just “seemed to click”, and I am sure there will be a few more to come.  As I am learning more and more lately, homeschooling is learning for everyone in the family, not just the children.

How We Got Started

I figure I would start off by writing about how we began homeschooling.  That is usually the one of the first questions that we are asked, so, I’ll jump ahead and tell you about it so you won’t have to ask. 🙂

The last 6 years has been quite amazing to say the least.  Six years ago I could not imagine homeschooling.  Six years ago I could not imagine doing several things that I have found myself capable of doing.  With being married to a wonderful husband and being blessed with 4 wonderful boys, it is not surprising that I find myself going beyond what I thought was my limit.  Each day is a new day.  Each day we live and try to learn and grow.

Deciding to homeschool was not a simple and easy decision.  Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular within the Jewish community. As with most people, money was an issue with us.  However, we thought we should try the best we could and send our children to a religious Jewish school. With insight that many times only a parent can have with their child, we knew that after only having experienced preschool, the schooling had to be changed.  One night we sat down trying to come up with a list of options.  With public school out of the question, we found the only other option that we could think of was homeschooling.  My husband was so excited. I did not quite share the same level of excitement, probably because I would be the one teaching, not him! 😉

To make a long story short, after that one conversation, nothing more was mentioned for 2 months.  Then, one afternoon:  “Are you still thinking about homeschooling?”  “Um, yes.  You?”  “Yes.” Then nothing more for another 2 months!  One afternoon the question was asked again.  We both had been researching on our own for 4 months.  We then decided we were both serious about it and we should probably start talking to each other about it.  It took another two months before I finally got the big answers needed and I felt comfortable with the idea.

I am not going to say that was it.  Nor am I going to say we never looked back.  What I am going to say is that our decision was the beginning of a long ongoing journey; A journey that has had, and continues to have its ups and its downs.  There have been times when we have asked ourselves if we made the right decision.  However, when we look back and see how each of our boys have grown, we do believe we have made the right decision.

Have we always made the right choices and taught the things in the right way?  Of course not.  This is part of being human.  It is a learning experience for all.  We cannot always know the best way to teach each child, or even the best topics to teach.  Sometimes it is just trial and error.  There are times when I just want to pull out all my hair.  And then, there are the times when you see the sparkle in their eyes as something just clicks inside of them.

I think the biggest help that I have had was belonging to a few different email support groups.  It has been extremely helpful to not only have a group of people to ask questions too, but also to just read the questions and answers that others have.  You find out that your home is not unique – many other people have the same questions and issues as you.  You are not alone.  🙂

What I would like to do is write down some experiences we have had and I hope that others will get some benefit from them.