What is a spiraling curriculum and why does it matter?

Have you ever heard people talk about spiraling curriculum, and wondered what they meant?  If you picture the metal wire that binds a spiral notebook, you’ll see that it keeps coming back around to meet the pages as you travel up the wire.  It does not cut through at the same level, but nonetheless is passing through the same pages again and again.  A spiral curriculum does essentially the same thing.  A child’s studies will come back around to the same ideas at different points throughout their learning journey.  Just as the wire does not enter the same point in the pages every time, the learning is at increasingly complex levels each time a subject is revisited and may place emphasis on different aspects of the same topic.  I love the freedom a spiraling curriculum gives.  It takes away the pressure of making sure we eek out every bit of learning before leaving a topic.  It allows us to introduce complex topics to our young children, letting them make sense of as much as they are able.  It builds a foundation of understanding that serves as prior knowledge the next time we return to the subject, providing a springboard that enables children to investigate on a deeper level.  It reinforces concepts that we learned a while ago, that may have been dangling precariously at the edge of brain storage, soon to be lost forever.  Instead, the knowledge is saved, strengthened and extended.  The concept of a curriculum spiral has an added benefit for homeschooling families.  In addition to giving one child more opportunities to learn about a subject, it also enables us to meet each of our children at their own level while sharing experiences, lessons, and discussions.  A younger child will benefit from hearing more advanced insights from a sibling who is revisiting the topic.  For example, every spring frogs can be heard in the woods.  A preschooler may learn to identify the sound, look at pictures of frogs, notice how their bodies are shaped and learn about where frogs live and what they eat.  A primary student might learn about the life cycle of a frog and what makes it an amphibian.  An older elementary student may learn about different species of frogs and what unique characteristics help them survive in their habitats.  A middle school student could dissect a frog and compare its anatomy to that of a human.  A high school student may focus on what it means for frogs to be an indicator species and collect or find data to test a hypothesis about the health of local ecosystems.  While each child is working at his/her own level and exploring different aspects of the topic, we could have discussions, visit parks or museums together, and watch the same educational shows on our shared topic.  While young children may not be ready for complex aspects of a topic, spiraling allows for more complicated questioning and investigations over time. If you need more proof of the effectiveness of spiraling curriculum, think about your experiences as you homeschool your children.  I am learning so much more about many of the topics we’re studying than I ever did as a child!  Maybe this time, I’ll actually remember something about history.What does a spiraling curriculum look like in math? This is probably where the greatest debate lies between spiral curriculums and those built on mastery. When you think about it, all math curriculums spiral to some extent. Children learn to add in kindergarten, and then we revisit addition with two digits, four digits, fractions, variables

4 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Math Confidence

It's important to help increase your child's math confidence because confident students learn more.  Why?  One major reason is that they don’t give up.  Students who believe they can find a solution aren’t stopped by mistakes or difficulty.  They keep thinking and try to find a different approach.  This leads to deeper understanding, more flexibility in problem-solving, and more efficient mastery of concepts.  These students are also likely to spend more time doing math since they are happier while studying it.  More time leads to more progress.  Focusing on increasing your child's math confidence can increase the time your child is willing to wrestle with math concepts. Another factor is attitude.  Confident students look forward to thinking mathematically and have a positive outlook as they approach new concepts.  Students who fear that they won’t be able to figure it out may be apprehensive.  This stress can actually lead to the release of hormones that make thinking more difficult.  By putting effort into increasing your child's math confidence, you can help your child's brain be more ready to think through tough problems and remember new strategies later.There are many more reasons to want our kids to be confident in their mathematical thinking, but let’s go ahead and talk about how to boost your child’s math confidence.1. Be confident - it's contagious!Make it very clear to your child that you believe in her mathematical thinking abilities.  When you consistently convey that you are confident that she can understand the concepts and solve the problems, she will begin to believe it, too.  This doesn’t mean that you keep pushing when she’s tired or may truly not be ready for a concept.  Make it clear that you’re stopping to give her very capable brain some rest and that you know she’ll be able to figure it out eventually.  Good mathematical thinking takes time and isn’t always done in one sitting!2. Be positive - find what's correct.None of us enjoy being wrong.  We all feel better about it when someone begins by telling us what we’ve done correctly.  Take the time to examine your child’s work or listen closely to his explanation.  Even if there are mistakes or flaws in his reasoning, find a positive place from which to start.  Maybe he realized the problem called for adding the numbers together, but his computation was incorrect.  Maybe he drew an accurate picture to help him solve the problem, but wasn’t careful as he counted.  Perhaps he underlined the important information in the problem – we can still praise that even though he had no idea how to begin solving it!  There’s a big difference between how a child reacts when he hears “No, that’s wrong.  Let me show you how to do it,” as compared to, “I can see that you drew the four pigs in a pen, just like it described in the problem.  That’s a great start!  Let’s see if we can figure out together what we need to do next.”  3. Be involved - share your thinking.When you think aloud as you solve a problem, children become more familiar with the problem-solving process.  They understand that you don’t know the answer immediately when you look at a problem (even though you may arrive at it very quickly when the problem is simple). Rather, you must go through a process of understanding the question, pulling out the necessary information, figuring out what calculations must be done to find the answer, and then using efficient strategies to solve it.  This builds children’s confidence because they know how to approach a problem and that it is okay to take some time to think through it.  We can also share with our children that when we think about a problem in different ways and hear someone else’s thinking, it extends our understanding and we become better mathematicians.  I had to make it clear to my daughter that when I shared my thinking about a problem, it wasn’t because her thinking was wrong or mine was better. It was because I wanted to deepen her understanding by sharing another way.  4. Be reassuring - explain the process.Help your child understand that good things happen in math when we’re willing to work in our uncomfortable zone.  We build on what we know and work together to push into new levels of understanding.  This can feel confusing at first, until our brains sort it all out and make the right connections and we finally say, “Aha!  I get it!”  My daughter was always more willing to keep thinking even when something was difficult and confusing once I explained to her that I didn’t expect her to completely understand it, but just to try and see how much she could figure out.  We often worked beyond her grade level, just to get used to the feeling of mathematical exploration and lay some mental groundwork for the future.  She was very motivated by the thought that she was working on math that much older children typically learn!Keep these ideas in mind next time you work on math with your children.  Work on increasing their math confidence in order to maximize the amount of time they're willing to work on math and keep their brains in learning mode. Help them become confident mathematical thinkers who will approach even very difficult, multi-step problems with thoughtful confidence.Click here to learn more about how Homeschool 4 Real Life can help you teach math in ways that boost confidence.

Take Time to Reflect

As a parent, it’s important to take time to reflect on how things are going for our kids and for our family in general.  Homeschooling makes it even more critical that we do this.  For one thing, it gives us a few minutes to sit down, put our feet up, and still be doing something productive!Good days and bad daysTaking time to reflect is just as important on good days as on the bad ones.  We need to think about what went well, why it went well, and how we can make more of that goodness happen!  On bad days, we need to pause and remember that it was just one day, one tiny piece of our life and learning with our children, and it’s okay!  The most important thing is to consider the root of the problem and what we can try to do differently that may be a step in the right direction to help other days go more smoothly.Topics for reflectionWhat is it that we’re reflecting on during this time?  Well, the list really could be endless.  Just choose one or two things that really stand out when you think about your day or things that you want to work on the next day. Maybe you'll spend time thinking about where to find ideas for instruction or practice for a certain concept or skill. You may want to think about how your kids are feeling (about their learning or other things) or how well they're getting along. Thinking about how you want to prioritize the various ways your family spends homeschool time can also be valuable. When my children are having difficulty with something, spending some time thinking about what could be causing the problem and what might help can increase the wisdom with which I respond. This will help me to be better prepared to handle issues the next day.  I might even decide that it would be a good idea to talk with the kids and help them brainstorm solutions the next morning, before we dive into school work and other parts of our day. Benefits of reflectionTaking time to reflect along the way can make our homeschooling journey more calm and peaceful.  It can also help us to have more fun and learn more effectively.  Don’t ever think that time spent thinking and praying about how to best support your kids and your spouse while still taking care of yourself is frivolous or wasted.  In reality, it’s probably among the best ways you could spend a few minutes at the end of your day. You should walk away from your time of reflection feeling like you have a better handle on how your family is doing and what they need.  You may want to jot down a list of what you plan to try or what resources, information, or support you need to find.  Even if you don’t come up with plans or solutions during your reflection time, you’ve still laid valuable groundwork for progress the next day.Time well spentSometimes we get so busy trying to squeeze everything into the hours of each day (there are never enough!) that we forget to pause and think about if we’re happy with how we’re spending those hours.  It will benefit your children (and you!) so much if you take the time to reflect on the ups and downs and what steps you can take to increase the enjoyment and effectiveness of homeschooling for your family.  Don’t feel like you have to find all the answers and figure out how to have everything picture-perfect the next day.  Just becoming more aware of where you’re at and where you’re going will benefit you and your family, and you can start working on the first steps you’ll take to make progress on that journey.  Remember, if you need some ideas or support, we’d love to talk with you in the community forums at H4RL.com or connect with you on our Facebook page!

The wrong way to homeschool

Wait – I thought there was no wrong way to homeschool! Well, that’s somewhat true. Families homeschool in many different ways and their children learn and thrive. However, there is one mistake that new homeschoolers make that often ruins the experience. Here’s how it happens.Let me tell you a story

Homeschool schedule – what’s best?

It seems like such a simple question, but so much can affect what kind of homeschooling schedule is best for your family.  The ages of your children, number of children, scheduled activities, parent work schedules, family dynamics, personalities…all of these factors lead to a wide variation of schedules among homeschooling families.  There is also tremendous variation when it comes to homeschooling approaches and philosophies.  Let’s explore some options for your homeschool schedule, both on a yearly basis and daily. Some families prefer not to set a schedule at all, believing that keeping life unscheduled allows for free exploration and meaningful learning.  Others follow essentially the same schedule as the public schools, with breaks at holidays and during the summer.  Families that choose year-round schooling take breaks for a week or two at intervals during the year rather than taking the bulk of it at one time during the summer. Many homeschooling families find that without a large class and the logistics of learning at school, they are able to get most of their studies done in the morning.  Others choose to “do school” only three or four days per week.  It may seem like it would be difficult to “cover everything” or accumulate sufficient hours in such a manner. But when you stop to really evaluate the time your children spend learning (discussing, exploring, reading, investigating, observing, building, testing…), you’ll find that their education extends into much more of the day than scheduled lessons. Daily schedulesAs for the daily schedule, some families “do school” for set hours each day with specific times dedicated to each subject.  Others take a more relaxed approach and base the schedule either on content and activities or time of day.  For example, 9:00-12:00 is learning time and everything done during that time must be educational in nature.  When my daughter was young, I wrote a list on a dry erase board each day of what activities or subjects we would do, and she was able to choose the order and erase them as they were completed.  When those activities were done, school was done for the day (learning continued, of course!).  That method was too wide open for schooling my two children, though, so when my son joined us we had to change the approach.  I carefully thought through which subjects each child could do independently and which required my help. Then I arranged the schedule so that they wouldn’t both need me at the same time.  We did much of our learning together, but I was able to do some individual instruction by staggering independent work and guided lessons.  We didn’t follow the same schedule every day, though.  I thought about what I wanted each day to be like and what I needed to include for each child. Then I laid out a schedule that would work. As school gets more demanding (this happens as kids get older!), my son seems to need more structure. This year, I am going to do my best to keep a regular schedule of subjects several days each week. I think I might include a day for freeform learning and a day for exploration (field trips, youTube, etc.).  Freeform learning will be the type of schedule mentioned earlier during which kids have to do something educational for the allotted time, but have freedom as to what that is. We live a lifestyle of learning.  Every day we learn new things.  It is important to me that we also deliberately study core subjects, though, and develop good study habits.  So, each year I spend time thinking about how my children are learning and growing and what will best suit our family.  I try to keep flexibility in our schedule while maintaining some structure as well.  Most of all, I try to keep learning fun and interesting so my children will continue to be curious and see learning for the adventure that it is, rather than feeling it is something to be avoided (a great tragedy which can spoil even the best education).  My son may complain about tasks and assignments, but he still loves learning, asks questions, and has the promise of a lifelong learner.  I just keep trying to find the best balance and approach for us, and it changes every year.Find what works for youIt isn’t easy, but try to avoid the pressures (often self-inflicted) that come with feeling like a certain schedule is better than others and your family has to adapt to it.  Homeschooling families can thrive in many different ways.  Thoughtfully plan a schedule for your family, try it out, and change it as needed.  You can make changes at any time; don’t stick with a schedule that doesn’t work for a whole school year!  Just give your family some time to settle in, thoughtfully reflect on how things are going, and make tweaks as needed.  What’s the best homeschooling schedule?  The one that works for your family!

Homeschooling Unexpectedly Due to COVID-19

Many families are finding themselves in what feels like a no-win situation. With the uncertainty created by COVID-19, heading back to school does not seem like the best option for creating a stable, effective learning situation. On-line school might work for some, but leaves other parents concerned about too much screen time and not enough interaction, especially for active learners. Homeschooling feels like the only option, but seems overwhelming and is definitely unfamiliar territory. That’s the empty half of the glass. Let me offer you some encouragement by shedding light on the other half of the glass – the half that is full of opportunity! Homeschooling may only be a brief interlude in your family’s educational story (or maybe you’ll love it so much you’ll decide to stay!), but you may find that it turns out to be an incredible gift. Just as many families have found that staying home due to COVID-19 has given them the chance to slow down and reconnect, homeschooling provides time for family members to really get to know one another and to enjoy sharing ideas and pursuing interests together. Let’s look at some ways to make the most of unexpected homeschooling.Keep in mind as you begin…The sudden transition to home learning last year is not what a planned year of homeschooling will feel like.  Stress was at an all-time high as support systems fell out from under us and schools imposed unrealistic and confusing requirements at home.  It was a mess.  While you may have some chaotic days at home during a regular year of homeschool (there are always crazy times with family, right?), your regular rhythm will be one that fits your family and adapts to the changing needs of parents and children through the year.  Sending notification to homeschool removes the outside stresses and requirements and opens up your days to pursue learning that will benefit your children.You can choose to homeschool in ways that fit your family.  It doesn’t have to be like regular school.  It doesn’t have to be like so-and-so’s family that has been homeschooling for eight years.  It can involve textbooks or library books, planned curriculum or spontaneous investigation, outdoor exploration or computer classes, games or workbooks, audio books or sidewalk chalk…learning can happen in almost any place and any way, so use this as an opportunity to try things and see how your children learn.If you plan to send your children back to school when things calm down, you can access the same standards that teachers use to guide their instruction.  In younger grades, these standards will tell you which math concepts to explore together and what reading and writing skills to develop.  In older grades, the standards will also tell you which science and social studies topics to investigate.  Then, you can find curriculums or library books and on-line videos that will help teach those subjects.  If your child is in elementary school, you can use language arts techniques and ideas found at H4RL.com, and those of you with kindergarten or first grade students are really in luck – our How to Teach Math videos will show you how to introduce all of the concepts your children need to learn!  Other grades are coming soon.This year of homeschooling isn’t going to be perfect for any of us.  Most homeschooling families spend a lot of time gathering with others, whether through a formal co-op or just meeting to play or learn together.  We go on field trips and attend classes at the park, zoo, art studios, etc.  We attend musical and theatrical performances.  All of that is on hold right now.  So just keep in mind that we’re all adapting and this year will provide only a very limited version of what homeschooling offers.During my first year of teaching, I broke down in my principal’s office, worried that I wasn’t going to be able to provide the amazing learning experience for my students that I wanted them to have and that their educations would suffer (yep, professional teachers have trouble doing it all, too).  She looked at me and said, “What do you think is going to happen?  One year won’t ruin them!”  She knew that I was doing my best, caring about the students and demonstrating an enthusiasm in my classroom that inspired a love of learning, and that if they missed a few things that year the students’ resiliency would make up for it over time and they would still absolutely be able to succeed in life.  It’s important that we as educators (yes, you’re an educator if you’re homeschooling – in fact, all parents are educators) keep in mind that each year, each day, each lesson is part of a lifelong journey of learning.  Even if your child does not receive top-notch instruction in every single subject this year, can you think of some other very valuable outcomes this year could have?  Perhaps the chance to become closer as a family, to know that learning is important and relevant, to indulge curiosities and learn deeply about certain topics,…Try not to put too much pressure on yourself as a first year teacher and instead watch for amazing blessings that would have been missed at school.You may find…That your family needs some time to make the adjustment and a slow-start to your schedule may be of great benefit.That as your family gets to know one another better and spends more time together, understanding grows and conflicts decrease (notice I didn’t say disappear). That your children (and you) find renewed joy in learning and discovery.That you discover particular needs and strengths of your children of which you were previously unaware.That you try different approaches throughout the year, some that work and some that don’t.That parenting is a lot of work and when you’re not sending them out the door every morning, there is more demand but also more time to work through issues and develop cooperation.Remember…That God works for good in all things.  He can make something great out of whatever you do this year.  Just do your best!This too shall pass.  COVID-19 will not last forever, schools will re-open, and you will be looking back on this year, reflecting on the good and the bad, and deciding your family’s future.  Homeschooling may be a special memory to take with you back into the life you knew, or it may be a new lifestyle you embrace as you move forward.  Either way, your kids will do great.Try to relax and enjoy this year of homeschooling.  We’d love to see you in our membership community!