We have YouTube playing continually all day long at home. At the moment, John is obsessed with some 24 year old young man’s piano channel. Christine is always playing music in the background while she does her math or plays chess. Her latest favorite find is a “no voice” Frozen song, with which she’s most happy to fill in the blanks, of course (link).
Just off the top of my head they have watched: rollerblading lessons, yo-yo trick tutorials, elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, science videos (ViHart and Minute Physics), and history videos (Liberty Kids and Horrible Histories). They’ve learned magic tricks, new craft projects, etc.
This morning John found some LEGO pinball machine and then ran off into his room to build his own.
YouTube is just a bottomless font of inspiration. Seeing others do, particularly children, will really motivate your children to push onward and try new things for themselves.
TIPS – Make sure “safety mode” is enabled. Only let them watch YouTube in public places (i.e. not their closed bedrooms). Monitor their viewing “history” and make sure they know you do!
Am I really a member of over 20 homeschool groups still? There’s a residual group from Boston I still follow even though I moved 4.5 years ago. There are a couple of national ones I joined. There are 9 in New York that I’m “in”. Oh and I’m in 8 now in London. Yeah most of them are on that execrable Yahoo Group platform. Some on Facebook…and a few on Google Groups.
Certainly they can be brutal at some things (e.g. like clearly communicating WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE GROUP) but nevertheless I have benefited tremendously from interacting directly with other brave families. (NOTE – homeschooling is a radical thing to do in the Northeast, still – not to mention in Europe!). I could not possibly quantify how many books, websites, resources, how much support, advice, inspiration,….how many new friends, even paying clients, I have been blessed with on account of the FREE interaction, both online and in the flesh, offered by these groups.
TIPS – Don’t expect joining a homeschooling group to automatically provide your family with a slew of great classes, activities, and friends. Groups are more like loose confederations and merely provide a framework for you to meet others. However, you can’t just lurk. You must invest some time and effort. You must reach out, welcome new people, introduce yourself to everyone, volunteer to help out at group activities, and organize events both small and large in order to get the most out of FREE homeschool groups. A great, surefire icebreaker is asking new people you meet, “So, what made you decide to homeschool?”.
Khan Academy Math
Khan is nothing short of an absolute boon for the homeschooling parent. Not only is it FREE, but it’s comprehensive, it’s more interactive than any textbook could ever be, AND it’s constantly being updated with money from Bill Gates and deep-pocketed corporations.
One thing no one talks about is the sheer power of online math with its instant negative feedback. When the kids get a question wrong on an app or website, they are informed immediately. In the past (1,000 years?) these kids might do a whole problem set incorrectly before becoming alerted to their errors.
Furthermore, someone has to sit there and preside over this inferior method. I can’t for the life of me understand why a harried homeschool parent – especially one with multiple kids – would want to manually check and correct math problems.
One of the other killer aspects of Khan Academy Math (besides the immediate feedback) is the “Hint” functionality. When a student is stuck on a question they have the option of unlocking a slow stream of tiny hints to nudge them forward. It’s just like having the ideal teacher at one’s beck and call!
When it comes to math, everyone likes to fuss over “curriculum”. While there are certainly differences among the texts, I submit that far more important than the specific curriculum chosen is “time” – the number of hours a child spends actually doing math. Ideally they need to be doing a lot of math, right at the very frontier of their learning curves. This is something only Khan can do. It optimizes time spent and also serves up the most appropriate material – the stuff that’s new and just a little bit harder.
TIPS – The “Khan Math” I am touting is the practice module – not the videos which are certainly okay but not nearly as important as Sal Khan would have you believe. Set goals for your kids in terms of number of skills mastered, skills practiced, and time spent. I’ve even had success by conducting contests between my students. Don’t be afraid to let them kids bounce out of sequence and between grade levels either. Feel completely free to skip some, if not many, of the skill modules at your discretion.
We are a big chess family. A few years ago I decided to make it a core part of our curriculum and it’s been going well – even to the point where I’ve become addicted to the game myself!
Chess.com allows us to play people all over the world, for free, any time of the day. There are more articles, puzzles, and training tools than one could ever use. There are online tournaments all day long, live events, and social networking opportunities within 10 million member Chess.com community.
Chess.com allows players to set the parameters of their games too. We play short (5 minute) games when pressed for time and I have my kids only play opponents rated moderately higher than themselves – so the games are neither too easy nor too hard.
Chess has recently been exploding in popularity thanks to websites like Chess.com more than anything else.
TIPS – Stop procrastinating. I know you have been meaning to push chess a little but feel unqualified. Learn with your kids. Just get started, the learning curve is very steep early on. Here’s an old, short post I wrote on how you can get moving.
Libraries are our sanctuaries – our genuine homes away from home. Of course my kids love them for the books but as a homeschool parent I love them for several other reasons. Most of all, there are fewer distractions at the library. Goodbye ringing phones and door bells, see you later yard-work-that-needs-to-be done, no dirty dishes or clothes staring you in the face, and clean tables to work on! Did I mention the relative silence?
As for books….well as a family of four we always have about 100 checked out at a time. We are fortunate on Long Island, NY to be able to tap about 40 county branches for inter-library loans. My kids have been actively going online and reserving books for themselves for a couple of years now. And my daughter, the former resistant reader who has become our reading champion, she all but tortures the librarians by oftentimes reserving her latest new favorite princess series books….20 at a time!
However, Living in London has been a hardship from a library standpoint. The largest library here is about as big as one of the smallest in Nassau County, NY – at least in terms of the children’s book selection.
Thankfully from across the Atlantic we are still able to tap the “digital loan library” (Kindle books) of our network back in New York!
If only there were more kids’ books available on Kindle…
Libraries are a terrific place for parents to get their work done too. Light-years ago, back when I was in college, it took me a painful entire first semester to learn that I could only productively study at the library, i.e. far away from my dorm. In the course of homeschooling my children, I certainly re-learned this same lesson.
TIPS – For maximum productivity/silence, go in the morning before schooled children arrive. Butter up all the librarians – no matter how prickly some may be. We give them all baked goods and cards around Christmas and I know this investment goes a long, long way.
Playgrounds, county parks, state parks, beaches, nature preserves…
They are also sanctuaries and seemingly all our own especially mid-week on those first warm spring days and those sublime fall days. We really do plan our week based on the weather forecast. And living mostly in the dour Northeastern United States, with its variable climate, it’s a total win to be able to do this.
TIPS – Bring their work too! Bring books, workbooks, journals, and art supplies to the park. A day out doesn’t have to be a dreaded lost day. Plus you can justify basking in the sunshine even longer.
Of course I’m partial to blogs – but not just because I’ve been blogging for 10 years.
Blogs are what led me to the idea of homeschooling in the first place!
I’m constantly mining them for nuggets and I’m continually blown away at my new discoveries.
Read them. Bookmark them. Subscribe to them over email or through a reader like Feedly.
Invariably, whenever I see a family struggling with some element of their homeschool…it’s a situation where the parents AREN’T reading homeschooling blogs and homeschooling books. Essentially they aren’t doing enough research to gain the insights and confidence required for the task at hand.
TIPS – Don’t overlook the blog comment threads as they can often be more helpful than the original posts. Pay attention to a blog’s other followers (if possible) and the commenters; click on their avatars to see if they themselves have blogs. This is precisely how I’ve ended up spending hours upon hours surfing the web!
Okay, that’s my list.
If I boiled it down even further I’d say all a family needs is Google and a library card!
Did I miss anything? What are your favorite FREE homeschooling resources?