Learning A-Z

There are a few curriculum-related items that I have been wanting to write about, but I have not had much time and I wanted to be sure to do them justice because they are really great products.  The first of these is Learning A-Z (learninga-z.com).  I was introduced to this site by P’s kindergarten teacher, who used the online books for him.  Basically, there are several different subscription-based products and while I liked them when I first took a look at the site, I was not sure that it was worth the very high (almost $100) price.  After using it for most of this year, I can say that it certainly has been worth the price for us and my only regret is not using it sooner.

Learning A-Z is made up of the following:

  • Reading A-Z – Printable leveled books, from pre-readers through fifth grade, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Raz-Kids – online leveled books
  • Vocabulary A-Z- printable vocabulary activities that correspond to the books (or words can be chosen on your own)
  • Writing A-Z – leveled writing resources for K through 6th grade
  • Science A-Z – leveled science resources for K through 6th grade
  • Headsprout – one decoding program for K through 2nd grade and another comprehension for 2nd grade and up

My experience has only included Reading A-Z and Vocabulary A-Z.  Since my budget is limited, I only planned on getting Reading A-Z and that was because it was on sale (10% off the $99.95 original price).  Even with the discount, I decided and undecided over and over again until the last minute.  When I purchased the Reading A-Z subscription, it offered an extra 5% off my order and any of the other products (plus the 10% off from the original sale price), so I decided to get Vocabulary A-Z, because I know that vocabulary is a weak area for both D and P, and it ended up costing me something like $25 extra for the one year subscription.

Some of the books we have used this year

Some of the books we have used this year for D and P

Reading A-Z: Why We Love It:

The best thing about Reading A-Z is the fact that they have so much variety!  I have probably used 100 books or more from this site this year, and I didn’t start using it until late fall.  When I signed up, I thought that I would just use whatever books they had on the two boys’ reading levels for reading comprehension, but I have actually used it more as a supplement for just about everything we have studied this year, especially in social studies and sometimes in science.  I type in a subject and the options will appear.  The results can be filtered by reading level or other criteria like fiction or non-fiction or you can search by the skill you want to work on (i.e. author’s purpose, cause and effect, etc.).  Each book comes with several comprehension activities and a quiz.
Here are a few other features:

  • – Books that focus on specific higher order thinking skills (books with lesson plans that focus on these things)
  • – Book “pairs,” which will give you two related books along with a guide for comparing and contrasting the two books
  • – Literature circle activities
  • – Practice with graphic organizers
  • – Comic/humor books
  • – Serial Books with characters that appear is a series of books
  • – Poetry – everything from a nursery rhymes for little ones to more sophisticated collections of poems for older students
  • – Books about current (or fairly current) events like Hurricane Sandy, the 2014 Olympics or recent oil spills
  • – Some classics like Frog and Toad, The Snowy Day, Little Bear and others
  • – Many come with complete lesson plans that emphasize reading strategies like visualization or summarizing
Foreign Language Learning

We also use Reading A-Z for our Spanish learning.  Many of the books have translations available in other languages, like Spanish or French and they also have some blank books, that only have pictures, no words.  I choose a book around first grade level in Spanish and we read it and make note cards for new words.  On another day I may give him a blank book and he can use his note cards to write his own sentences in Spanish on each page.

Multi-Level Learners

I know that many families teach their kids social studies and science together and just modify the activities for the level of each child.  I think that Reading A-Z would be especially useful for these families.  If, for example, you were studying Abe Lincoln, you could find books on several different reading levels about him.  Some books are even “multi-level” books, which have the same content on three different reading levels, so that three children could be reading the same book, but with vocabulary that is appropriate for that particular student.

Really, my only complaints about Reading A-Z are:

  1. It only goes up to a fifth grade level.
  2. I wish that all of the books had Spanish translations, not just some of them.
  3. It uses a lot of paper and ink because books are printed out.  You can save some by using the “pocketbook” versions, which are just smaller versions of the same thing, but on the longer books for older kids the font gets very small because there is a lot of text on each page.  You could also use the online program Raz-Kids, which are done totally online, but I like being able to write on the books and I do not want to pay almost $100 more for the Raz-Kids subscription.

Vocabulary A-Z

Vocabulary A-Z is primarily companion vocabulary program to Reading A-Z.  If a book is assigned in Reading A-Z, there is usually a vocabulary list to go along with it and activities can be printed out for the words on your list including definitions, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, cloze sentences, some games and a quiz.  You can click the link and get a whole set of activities for your words.  I also discovered that you can make your own lists and if the word that you want is not in their huge database, you can add it in pretty quickly.

I rotate vocabulary words, so that one week we may work on the words that are found in our social studies reading, while the next week we may work on the words in the novel we are discussing and the week after may be the vocabulary words from our writing program.  I have found that doing the activity packet (which is usually one or two pages of work per day) helps D really grasp the new vocabulary in a way that study cards or just writing out definitions do not.  Another important tip for new words is one that I learned from Lindamood Bell, and that is have your student make a clear mental image for each word.  If you can’t picture it, you can’t understand it.  Between visualizing and using the Vocabulary A-Z program, we are finally making good progress in vocabulary after trying many different methods with little success in previous years.

If you decide to try it out, they do have a free two week trial subscription, but the number of books you can download in that time is limited (so that you don’t just download 100 books to use throughout the year and then not subscribe).  I had done a trial several months before I subscribed, but I really didn’t understand how great it was until I had the full subscription.  Also, I found out about the sale by following them on facebook, so you may want to give that a try.


How I teach my non-verbal son

Please notice the title of this post. I know that parents are often looking for “how to teach a non-verbal child” or “how to teach an autistic child with little language,” but I really cannot tell you how to do that. I can tell you what has worked for us with our own child, who does not have reliable verbal responses. Around kindergarten I think most parents of Autistic children start to panic if their Autistic child is not conversing and one of the reasons that they are panicking is that they cannot envision teaching their child history or long division without reliable spoken language. I completely understand that feeling, but I know now, more than ever, that spoken language is not a prerequisite for learning. Moreover, it is a grave injustice to deny a child a chance to learn. Can you imagine how bored you would be if your were “learning” the same things over and over again for years? This is what happens to many of our non-verbal children in school because it is assumed that if a child cannot communicate verbally what they know, they have not learned it and cannot learn it.

I have been teaching P at home for as long as I can remember, even before we officially “homeschooled” and we have recently begun to use Soma RPM (Rapid Prompting Method), and some of these ideas come from RPM, but this is not a “How to do RPM” post. We are just starting the program and although we love it so far, we still have so much to learn. I used these steps before we ever started RPM, but RPM has helped me understand WHY many of these things work and has given us a more solid path toward open ended communication in education.


I believe that my child can learn, and that he can learn on grade level. I believe not only that he will “one day” lead a productive and happy life, but I believe that for this grade, today, right now. Have you heard of the “least dangerous assumption”? Not the theological one – that one has some problems:-) The autism one. What if I assume that P can understand me? How does that change my interaction with him? What if I assume he understands the things I say in front of him, about him? How does that change the way I treat him? What if my assumption is wrong? What if it is right? I assume he is competent and that he understands. Does that mean he is tuned in to everything I say? No, but then again, even typical kids tune mom out sometimes 🙂


In RPM this is called the “open learning channel.” In P’s case, he is very, very visual, so I try to support just about everything I say with visuals. He is also easily distracted visually, so I have to stimulate the kinesthetic sense by using small movements to help him to keep his focus on the lesson. Even though I try to appeal to the visual sense, it is also important for him to develop his attention to auditory cues and spoken language since that is what most of the world uses to communicate information (not that he cannot understand spoken language, but it is hard for him to maintain focus on it), so I am constantly talking and explaining things to him while I am also presenting the information visually. If you are not sure what your child’s most alert sense is, ask yourself: What do they spend most of their time doing? What are their “stims”? That can help give you a place to start.


As I mentioned, I use tactile cues and movement to help him focus. It doesn’t have to be big movements. It can be handing him a pencil, asking him to write a key word, tracing a drawing that I am discussing. I also change thing up as much as I can. I change the tone and/or volume of my voice, I change the type of letters that I am writing with, I change my position or his position. In RPM we keep a constant pattern going of giving information and then asking what you just taught, so you may say, “Forests are full of plants.” and then ask, “Did I say that forests are full of plants or cars?” or I may ask “What would I see in a forest? Trees or desks?” The purpose of the questions is not because you don’t think the student understands the initial statement; it is to make sure they are still engaged. I have found that P is perfectly capable of understanding first grade language (he is in first grade), but he may not always be paying attention, so if I expect him to learn, he must be tuned in to the material.


Here is one of the latest examples of how we have adjusted (this one with the help of Erika at ACE Teaching and Consulting):

ATTEMPT: RPM starts out by having the student select between two written answers.

OBSERVE: P has a habit of repeating the last option and after he repeats it, for some reason he wants to choose it. If you take the verbal element out (if he does not repeat) he will choose the correct answer, but the repeating is not something he can just stop doing.

ADJUST: If we just write the two options after the question, he is much more successful. Instead of saying “Tree or Desks,” we say, “this or this” while we write out the options. Voila! He can now show what he learned without being distracted by repeating the last answer.

Truly, the biggest hurdle is presuming competence. Once you believe your child can learn, it is just a matter of figuring out how to do it. If P has not learned something appropriate for his grade, it is only because of my incompetence as a teacher, not his inability to learn. Notice that I did not say “act like any other first grader.” I said “learn.” Pablo is autistic. It is no great tragedy, but it is a great difference and his communication will be different than that of a neurotypical child, but that does not mean that he cannot understand and analyze information and develop higher order thinking skills, just as any other child does. Who knows what that unique brain of his will come up with, if he is given a chance to be educated.

If you are looking for some inspiration or confirmation that your child really can learn, consider these:

Carly was assumed to have a low IQ and thought to not understand the world around her, until she finally found a way to communicate. Now she is a successful college student.

Ido was depressed and angry because he could not show that he knew what he was being “taught” and thought that he would be trapped forever in silence while no one knew.

Emma knew much more than anyone imagined, but could not express it until recently.

There are so many more! These are NOT isolated cases and notice that they did not suddenly start speaking. They learned to communicate in other ways. As one of the main participants in the movie “Wretches and Jabbers” says, (I am paraphrasing) “Communication is a basic human desire, not a special talent.” (Watch that documentary for several more examples of non-speaking communicators.)

If you want to know more about Soma RPM:

HALO (in Texas)

ACE Teaching and Consulting (in Wisconsin)

SomaMukhopadhyay’s books on RPM

Check out this page at Emma’s Hope Book for more Autistics that communicate without relying on spoken language.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE (pretty please) read “Ido in Autismland.” It should be required reading for anyone that works with the Autism community or who has any Autistic friends or family members.

Starting Homeschool: Getting Connected/ Online Classes

This is the last post in the series, “Starting Homeschool.”  You may download the entire Starting Homeschool Guide here.

One of the classic concerns about homeschooling is the issue of socialization.  If you homeschool already, you are probably either laughing hysterically or getting very annoyed by that last statement.  Most of us know that there are more than enough ways to get connected if you homeschool your child(ren) both for them and for you.  If you are just getting started, here are some ideas for you.

Discussion Groups (ONLINE)

The Well Trained Mind

Info/Forum for “Classical Method” of Homeschooling (very helpful for curriculum suggestions)

Facebook Groups

Search for what you are looking for: Special Needs Homeschool, Christian Homeschool, [your area] Homeschool, etc.

Yahoo Groups

Some local groups here for outings
Discussion groups for special interests/special needs

Meetup Groups – meetup.com (IN PERSON):


There are a more homeschool meetup groups than you can count including Christian, secular and special interest groups.  It is easy to search for one in your area or start one yourself!.

  • field trip groups
  • Co-ops (Most co-op sign-ups usually begin in about March/April)
  • parent groups

Another common concern is, “What will I do for high school?”  Many of us barely remember what we learned in high school chemistry or trigonometry.  How will we teach it to our kids?  What if my high school student is interested in things that I know nothing about?  Luckily, many community colleges allow high school students to take classes (called dual-enrollment) and there are also many online class options.  Sometimes a group of families will even hire a teacher or form a co-op for certain subjects.

Colleges Offering Free Classes for Your High School Student (or for you!)

These are not for college credit, but can still be a good option if you are not necessarily looking for the credit, but want to find an appropriate class for your older student.  There are actully many more available, but here are some ideas to get you started.  When seeking out classes like this, look for “open” courses, sometimes called “OpenCourseWare.”

Institution: Link:
Berkeley http://ocw.berkeley.edu/
Carnegie Mellon http://oli.cmu.edu/
Duke http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/lectures/
Johns Hopkins School of Public Heath http://ocw.jhsph.edu/
MIT http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Notre Dame http://ocw.nd.edu/
Stanford (Engineering) http://see.stanford.edu/
Tufts University http://ocw.tufts.edu/
UC Irvine http://ocw.uci.edu/
University of Massachusetts, Boston http://ocw.umb.edu/
University of WI – Eau Claire http://open.uwec.edu/
Utah State http://ocw.usu.edu/front-page
Yale http://oyc.yale.edu/
Various available on iTunes U* http://www.apple.com/education/ipad/itunes-u/

*There are many  colleges and universities that have lectures and some downloadable print content available on iTunes U.  I have listened to many of these lectures myself because, yes, I am just weird like that.

Other (paid) options to consider:
Many high school students take college classes online or at their local community college (known as dual enrollment), but I am not aware of any that are free.  Dual enrollment  can help your student get a jump start on college credits and can help them “prove” their ability as they apply for colleges after high school.

Starting Homeschool: Where to find what you need

Some of the best learning is not from a book!

Some of the best learning is not from a book!

This is the third of four parts in the “Starting Homeschool” series.  You can download the entire printable guide here: Starting Homeschool Guide.

We have talked about finding your philosophy/method of learning here, and we talked about some of the best known publishers of homeschool curriculum here.  Now we have a list that I could only call “Other Resources.”  There are online “stores” here as well as blogs from people that develop homeschool supplements, online classes, sites that direct you to free resources, video supplements for certain topics, and more.

If you have any other places that you love to use, feel free to add them in the comments so I can check it out.

Other Homeschool Resources

educational games

All Kids Network
lots of free worksheets and ideas

Amazon (of course)
new and used curriculum/supplements

Ambleside Online
Totally free complete curriculum (yes, really), Charlotte Mason-style, Christian

brainpop.com (for 3rd grade & up)
brainpopjr.com (for K-3rd)
We use this free through our school district, but I did have a subscription at one time.  It is another expensive one, but it really has so many topics and the companion activities are good.  Here is a list of the BrainPopJr topics (K-3rd) http://www.brainpop.com/educators/community/bp-jr-topic/?brainpop-subject=all
sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Christian Book Distributors (CBD)
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy).  Look for sales and free shipping specials.

free code/programming lessons

Code Academy
free code/programming lessons

Code Monster
free code/programming lessons

Confessions of a Homeschooler
Blog by a homeschool mom who creates curriculum – very good and affordable for complete preschool program and supplements (music, literature and others) for older elementary students

Downloadable curriculum and supplements and online classes

Deep Space Sparkle
Really great art class ideas

Easy Peasy
Totally free complete curriculum (yes, really), Christian

Ebay (of course)
new and used curriculum/supplements

printable supplements (lots)

Hardcopy and downloadable curriculum and supplements

Enchanted Learning
some free, LOTs of printables with subscription

Evan Moor Teacher File Box
subscription-based, access to their workbooks, must be printed from their site, cannot download pdfs, sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Exodus Books
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy)  New and used available

Free Homeschool Deals
Alerts you to free and very cheap resources (great site!)

Freely Educate
Blog with GREAT free resources (sometimes they repeat)

Homeschool Buyers Co-op
Group discounts on curriculum/supplements (deals are rotated throughout the year), Free homeschool ID too!

Homeschool Classifieds
Used curriculum (anything and everything)

Homeschool Freebie of the Day
They will send you an email once a week with a free downloadable resource for each day of the coming week.  I usually don’t download them, but every once in a while there is something good.  Christian, very conservative

Howard Hughes Medical Institute
FREE educational materials.  They don’t even charge you for shipping!  High quality dvds and other materials (all from a secular perspective).  Middles school and up.

Internet 4 Classrooms
Online activities to supplement your learning

Khan Academy
Free online learning.  Main emphasis is math, but also science lessons also.

Learning A to Z
Free trial.  Basically, these are leveled readers.  This is by far the most expensive resource we use, but we can use it for all three kids for Reading, Social Studies and Spanish.  We also added the vocabulary one, which creates a vocabulary lesson for many of the books.  We use probably well over 100 books a year from this site, so it is worth it for me. My review is coming.

Muzzy Languages
Free through our library.  Online language learning.

A ton of classroom ideas for PBS documentaries, some ready-made lesson plans that can be adapted for homeschool.  Sign up to get access.

Rainbow Resource
Traditional Curriculum/Book Sellers (usually have some downloadable/pdf versions, but mainly hardcopy)
(new and used)  They also have a free GIGANTIC catalog they will send you if you request it.

Saylor Foundation
Free online classes (K-12 classes launched in 2013)

subscription based, large variety of subjects/grades

Spectrum (Carson Dellosa) workbooks
good for review or extra practice, not teaching concepts in detail

Lots of free early learning activities (Preschool-1st grade)

Super Teacher Worksheets
subscription-based, printable worksheets/supplements (lots)

Teachers Pay Teachers
printables created by teachers
Newsletter sends you 10 free each week

Time 4 Learning
Free two week trial.  We have used parts of this site for different subjects.  In my opinion, it’s better for the younger years (Pre-K, K, 1st) but the kids usually love it.  You can cancel at any time. Sometimes I have used it over the summer as a review.

Online books (mostly little kids) Read to them or read on their own.  Pairs fiction with non-fiction.  We use this free thorough the school district and the library also has a free subscription.

Vocabulary Spelling City
Subscription-based spelling and vocabulary activities.  Some activities are free.

Well Trained Mind
Used curriculum – mostly classical education

Youth Digital
computer classes/video game design (expensive but very good)
sometimes on sale at Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Starting Homeschool: Curriculum Overload

(continuing the Starting Homeschool series)

You can download the whole ten page guide here:  Starting Homeschool Guide , which has all of the information in this series in a format is a little easier to read and a blank planning page here: school year planner page.

Tips to Save You Time, Money and Frustration  When Choosing Curriculum:

When it comes to homeschool curriculum, there are the all-in-one sets that have everything (or almost everything ) you need for a year and then there are publishers that specialize in one or two subjects alone.  I have found that most people start out using a big set of complete curriculum.  That is a perfectly fine place to start if that is what you decide (especially you buy it used), since it would be very difficult to match your child(ren) to the perfect curriculum until you work with them on a daily basis and find their specific strengths and weaknesses and until you get to know what is available.  Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing curriculum:

  • Take note of the things that are not going as well as you would like or specific areas where they may be struggling and ask around if anyone else has had a similar situation.  That is where the discussion groups are very helpful.  Others may know of something that addresses that very issue.
  • Most sites have at least some things for free – some more than others.  If you sign up for their “newsletters,” many of them will send you free printables.  Most will require you create an account with a password, even for things that are free, but I have not had an issue with spam from any of these.  For sites that are for teachers, just enter “Homeschool” as the name of your school if they don’t have an option already for homeschoolers.  Some blogs have free downloadable resources, especially for younger children.
  • Most subscription sites have free trials.
  • Lots of workbooks (like Spectrum workbooks or Evan Moor Daily Practice workbooks have the option of purchasing a PDF download instead of the actual printed book.  This helps if you have more than one child, because you can re-use it when the next child needs it by just printing them out again or if you want to review.
  • Focus on the “3 R’s” (Reading, WRiting and ‘Rithmetic)  If you have strong readers and writers that can do math, everything else will be okay!  History, Science and all the rest are important, but the foundations are reading, writing and math.  If they are not strong readers it is hard to acquire the information in other subjects (not impossible, but harder) and it is more difficult to show what they know if they are not strong writers.
  • If you are thinking of homeschooling only for a few years, you may want to check out your state’s standards or common core online for your child’s grade so that they are learning the same things as their peers.  If it will be more long term, it may not matter to you.  You can also take a look at the “What Your ____ Grader Needs to Know” books.  They are available in most libraries.
  •   I have put together three charts to give you an overview of the materials that I have used or looked into at one time or another:
  1. Major publishers of “all inclusive” sets (below)
  2. Major publishers specializing in certain subject areas (below)
  3. Supplements and lesser known sources (coming – this one has more than you can imagine)

Of course there are many more not listed here, but these are the ones that I am most familiar with.  We use materials from many different companies and have found a great mix that works well for us.  The advantage of homeschool is that you can give your child what they need, not what a typical child needs at their age.  It’s not about being ahead or behind.  It’s about providing just the right challenge exactly where they need it.

Major Publishers of “All Inclusive” sets

Tip:     Almost all of these publishers will send you a free catalog and most will let you see samples online,
so look at the catalogs, see what appeals to you and check out the best ones online.

A Beka: http://www.abeka.com
Christian, academically rigorous curriculum, all subjects

AOP (Alpha Omega Publications): http://www.aophomeschooling.com
Christian, very popular
They offer traditional (book based), online, and software

Bob Jones: http://www.bjupresshomeschool.com
Christian, now offer distance learning   options as well as traditional

Five in a Row: http://www.fiveinarow.com
Literature based, mostly for early primary
Also have “Before Five in a Row” for preschool and ” Beyond Five in a Row” for later

k12 (independent route): http://www.k12.com/courses#.UusKqbS5iHM
You can also use it   “independently.”  You pay for   the class (or classes) and they send you all the books and access to the site   for a year.  We used this for our first   full year of homeschooling and occasionally for certain subjects along the   way. Very thorough curriculum, high quality materials.

k12 (through public charter school or their own private school): http://www.k12.com/enroll-or-buy/find-a-school-and-enroll#.UusKmrS5iHM
Secular, complete virtual school complete   with a teacher to grade work and have class once a week at a brick and mortar   school.  These are often charter   schools and are free to people who live in the districts that offer it.  It can be rigid and time consuming because   you have to do it “their way.”

Rod and Staff: no official website, available at multiple sites
conservative Christian curriculum, style is   old-fashioned, many people use just language arts from Rod and Staff

Sonlight: http://www.sonlight.com
Christian, literature based complete   curriculum
We use their book lists every year for novels, historical fiction and   biographies.

Veritas Press: http://www.veritaspress.com
classical curriculum

Heart of Dakota: http://www.heartofdakota.com
Charlotte Mason/ Unit Study

My Father’s World: http://www.mfwbooks.com
Christian, Literature-based, clear lesson   plans. different content for different ages/grades

Tapestry of Grace: http://www.tapestryofgrace.com/explore/bigideas.php
some classical style elements, integrated   unit studies, can combine ages/grades

Common Publishers for Individual Subject Areas:

American Chemical Society: http://www.middleschoolchemistry.com
free, secular middle school chemistry curriculum by the American Chemical Society

Apologia: http://www.apologia.com
science, very popular with Christian homeschoolers, young earth, no climate change

Explode the Code: eps.schoolspecialty.com

Family Time Fitness: http://www.familytimefitness.com
PE, includes the whole family, written materials and videos

Handwriting without Tears: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt
printing and cursive, very popular in schools

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW): http://www.iew.com
amazing writing curriculum
Review is coming for this one!

Life of Fred: lifeoffredmath.com
narrative approach to math, many use it to supplement

Math Mammoth: http://www.mathmammoth.com
math curriculum

Math U See: http://www.mathusee.com
I have reviewed this here.  We LOVE MUS!

McGuffey’s Readers: free here: http://www.learn-to-read-prince-george.com/McGuffey-readers.html
old (think 1800’s) school books, popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers

Primary Language Lessons: http://www.amazon.com/Primary-Language-Lessons-Emma-Serl/dp/0965273512:
popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers

Real Science for Kids: http://www.gravitaspublications.com/products
Science, author is a Christian, but does not address evolution/creationism.

Real Science Odyssey: http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=50
Science lesson told in a story, labs, popular with Classical homeschoolers

Right Start Math: http://www.rightstartmath.com
math curriculum

Saxon: saxonhomeschool.hmhco.com
popular math curriculum

See Time Fly: http://www.ganderpublishing.com/Visualizing-and-Verbalizing/See-Time-Fly-History-Series.html
Review is coming for this one!  This is a little-known but EXCELLENT set of history books, good middle school follow up to Story of the World for those that use the classical method.

Shurley English: https://www.shurley.com

Singapore Math: http://www.singaporemath.com
very popular math program

Teaching Textbooks: http://www.teachingtextbooks.com:
math curriculum

For those of you that already homeschool, I would love to hear about YOUR favorite resources in the comments!

Starting Homeschool: First Steps

Spring is coming (although there is little evidence of that here) and every year the homeschooling groups get a sudden influx of parents who are realizing that they are unhappy with the way this school year went and are now considering homeschool.  This is especially true of the special needs groups, as IEP meetings happen and parents are not satisfied with where their child’s education is going.  For all of you who are considering homeschool or have already decided in that direction, I have put together some resources to help you get started.  We’ll start with some general information and I will include more detailed information in the weeks to come.

R having fun

Where to start:

1.  Research the requirements in your state.
Do you need to do standardized testing?  Are you required to register somewhere?  Here is a good starting point: http://www.hslda.org/laws/

2.  Learn about on the different homeschool methods (brief chart below).
There are books about most of them, but you can also read some of the many homeschool blogs that will tell you why they love their particular style of homeschooling.  Be sure to read many different perspectives so that you get a complete picture of the pros and cons of each, although most people don’t stick to one strictly.

3.  Look at the curriculum available.
Many places will send you catalogs and you can see samples online.  If you attend a homeschool convention you can also see them in person.  Some maybe available at teacher’s supply stores, but most are not.

4.  Do some planning.
What do you want your kids to learn this year?  Here is how I planned P’s first grade year https://hupostasis.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/planning-first-grade-homeschool and here is our fifth grade plan for D https://hupostasis.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/on-to-fifth-grade.  You don’t have to be as detailed as I am, but it is a good idea to figure out where you are going so that you can evaluate which are the correct tools to get you there.  It helps you avoid the mid-year feeling of “Why did I waste so much time on that?”

5.  Jump in!
Start with some things that are light and fun to get used to the idea of learning at home.  Use summer break to do some fun science experiments or projects.  I would strongly advise against spending a lot of money your first year because you will find that what you thought would be great may not work as well as you thought for your kids.  If you really want to try something that is a little expensive, try getting it used.

Changing your plan is not a sign of failure!  Don’t feel bad if you need to scrap something you thought would be great and go in another direction.  Homeschool in real life is usually nothing like what you imagined in your head.

Method Description More info:
Classical Based on The Trivium – Little ones are in the “Grammar Stage” (learning basics to build on), the “Logic Stage” at about middle school (learning the way things fit together, more analytical), High School is ” Rhetoric Stage” where students perfect their skills and learn to communicate their now more sophisticated knowledge well.  Four year cycles of learning, most also learn Latin. The Well Trained Mind (by Susan Wise Bauer)
Charlotte Mason Heavy emphasis on the Humanities, especially literature.  Uses narration and copywork, many CM homeschoolers do a lot of unit studies. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series
Unschooling Following the child’s lead in what he/she wants to learn, not requiring anything in particular, but encouraging their own curiosity. The Underground History of American Education (by John Taylor Gatto)
Eclectic A mix of different methods This describes most homeschoolers that I know.
Traditional Based on what children usually do in public schools a traditional school environment
Unit Study Integrating all subjects into areas of study.  A study of the rainforest might include a science study of what plants/animals live in the rainforest, literature based on someone’s life in the rainforest, math problems adding up jungle animals and geography lessons locating rainforests on a map. Usually a mix of unschooling ideas (follow what they love) and Charlotte Mason.  It is also a way to teach children in different grades with the same content but different assignments for each child.
Delayed Academics Young children simply explore their world (like unschooling), with no pressure to read, write and do academics until they show interest. Better Late than Early (by Raymond and Dorothy Moore)
Literature-Based All areas (except math usually) are explored through literature.  Biographies and historical fiction are used for social studies and math. Sonlight is probably the most well known curriculum that uses this method.  Charlotte Mason is often literature-based.

Tragedies and Blessings

Something happened several times last year and now again this year that hit me so hard that I almost didn’t have words to express my grief.  Not one, but several Autistic children and young adults were killed, not by a crazed stranger, but by  their own parent.  One of them was not too far from us in another suburb of Chicago.  Others were in various places around the country, but each one of them had their life taken by the one person who should have protected them.  Reactions were strong on both sides.  Some people saw the parent as a victim; others viewed them as a monster.  I guess victims sometimes become monsters.

Certainly the government and society as a whole may have failed both parents and children.  The government has failed my own child when it blocks access to needed therapies.  Society fails him when they fail to believe in his capabilities or he is excluded from certain activities.  Government fails him when they fail to provide a free and appropriate public education or refuse to help keep him safe.  Society fails him when they don’t care.  Both society and government have failed parents as well.  Respite care and mental health services are often not available to parents when they need them.  Parents feel like they are fighting an uphill battle every day and become weary.

Sadly, some organizations have painted Autistic children (and adults) as a burden in their efforts to raise funds – a burden on their parents and a burden on society.  That view has been adopted by the people that look at us with pity and say that they could “never handle” having an Autistic child.  Yes, yes, I know that they are trying to be sympathetic to what they see as a difficult situation.  Their intentions are good and for that reason I truly do not judge them, but it makes me sad that they cannot understand the tremendous blessings that come with having P as my son.  At one time I would have said that I love P, but don’t love Autism because it makes his life hard, but I have come to realize that am just not sure who he would be without Autism.  Being Autistic is part of his identity and although I will help him to achieve his goals and have as many options as possible, he is not, we are not, victims of Autism.

In certain situations it is not an advantage, for example, that my husband was not born and raised in this country.  People can make unfair judgments based on his accent or based on the fact that he looks differently than they do.  Likewise, when I was overseas it was sometimes not an advantage to be from the USA because of some people’s thoughts about what “Americans” were like.  Still, it is not a tragedy that I am from this country.  It can make things hard in some situations, but it would be wrong for me to be ashamed of my country or for another to be ashamed of their own ethnic background.  In the same way, Autism should not be heartbreaking.

What is heartbreaking is the refusal of many to allow Autistics to communicate in their own way or to calm their anxiety in ways that seem “inappropriate,” like flapping arms or spinning or whatever is helpful to that individual.  What is tragic is when schools do not seek out new methods of teaching when the old ones are not appropriate for the learner.  What is sad is when people assume that not being able to communicate verbally equals no intelligent thought.  What is truly devastating is when a parent feels that their child’s life is so worthless that they would be better off dead.  The thought of it brings up the familiar sadness that I feel when I hear that it was probably a “good thing” that so-and-so had a miscarriage because the child would have most likely been disabled.  Again, I have no judgment here, truly, because I know the intent is to see the “positive” in a very difficult situation, but in my heart it hurts because it says that this person believes that the life of a disabled person is worth less than a person who is not disabled and I know that they just don’t know the truth – that the joy of loving a child with a disability is the same joy that every parent feels.  It is not, in any way, diminished by a diagnosis or atypical behaviors.

So then, why would a parent kill their own child?  Maybe it was frustration and exhaustion because they couldn’t make their child “normal”?  Why was that even the goal?  I really can’t understand it and it can never be excused or justified.  I know, I really do know, the frustrations of raising a child that is greatly affected by Autism.  My son is basically non-verbal.  He has never once answered back to a, “How are you?”.  He has gotten out of the house and just keeping him safe is a constant challenge.  We have been through periods of potty training issues and feces smearing and all of the challenges that go with Autism, but I can say with 100% sincerity that he is a joy.  His life is a blessing beyond what I could ever measure and I love seeing his beautiful face every single day.  His life is just as valuable as yours or mine.

Pablo on my lap at PC