We all have our favorite curriculum. What are the things to consider when you feel like your favorite is not serving your child well? Join us as we weigh the pros and cons of math, spelling, composition, and grammar curricula, and help you create a list of priorities in deciding what the coming year means for you in these academic areas.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:06.805
Hello everyone. Welcome. It is my very great pleasure to welcome you today to this conversation about the pros and cons of changing curriculum. My name is Gretchen Roe and it is my delight to welcome you to this episode of The Demme Learning Show. Our mission is to help families stay in the learning journey wherever it takes them. And today I have the pleasure of being joined by my colleague Lisa Pimento so that we can talk about the pros and cons of changing curricula. Now, if you saw the promotional that we did for this, it included our colleague Michael SAS and Michael is unable to be with us today. So we miss him. We wish he was here. But we’re still going to have this conversation with you all because we think it has great benefit. By way of introduction, my name is Gretchen Roe. I’m the homeschooling mom of six for three more days and then I will have graduated my last one. And so the journey changes but I have to tell you I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. And Lisa, I’ll let you introduce yourself.
Lisa Chimento: 00:01:11.701
Thanks, Gretchen. My name is Lisa Chimento. I am a customer success consultant and placement specialist here at Demme Learning. I homeschooled my four children for 25 years and they are all adults and out of the house now. I also work at homeschool conventions and have the great privilege and joy of meeting many of you at those live events. And it’s really a lovely thing. I’m excited today to share what we’re going to share with you which actually are mostly questions for you to begin to ask yourself.
Gretchen Roe: 00:01:48.263
Yes, indeed, this is a conversation that we have annually and the reason that we have this conversation annually is because about this time of year, you all get to the point where you’re saying, “Oh, maybe I should make some changes.” And so we want to help you figure out what those changes should look like and how to make them a profitable experience. So as we get started, one of the things that we felt was important to talk about is to ask yourself why you’re sticking with a curriculum. Lisa, can you talk about maybe the why’s of why you would have purchased a curricula? Because at this time of year, it’s hard for us to remember our own names so I think there’s benefit in revisiting that.
Lisa Chimento: 00:02:34.286
Yeah, this is the time I think where it’s an opportunity for parents to just sit down, look at what they’ve purchased in the past, and then ask themselves a series of questions. And I think the first one to start with is, why did I buy this last year or in mid-year, if I made it a change mid-year? So some of the initial questions to ask, did I buy it because of the price? Was it a less expensive product than something else that maybe I thought would have worked better? And then was it worth it? Was the cost difference was it worth it for you? Did I buy it because it looked like it was easy to implement? Homeschooling families run the gamut and range of reasons for homeschooling and circumstances within their homeschooling. Many homeschooling families have newborns and toddlers. Sometimes they are working part-time or full-time, sometimes they’ve got a situation where they’re traveling or they have other commitments one or two days a week, and they have to be able to do something that is easy to implement. If that’s a situation, then that may have been one of the reasons that you purchased what you purchased. And again, did it work for us this year? Did I buy it because it was a grade-based curriculum and my child is in this grade.? And then after those questions to ask, “Okay. Now that I know why I bought it, has that why changed since last September or last August, and do I need to now have different reasons for buying what I buy?”
Gretchen Roe: 00:04:15.493
One of the things I could think that we fail to take into account is to recognize that when you begin a homeschooling journey, it’s as much about learning about yourself and your child as it is about the materials that you use. So if you’re approaching the end of your first year of your homeschooling journey, you probably know a whole lot more about what you like and what you don’t like than you did last spring or last summer when you made purchases. And I always encourage parents to take a cheap little $2 notebook and start writing down as you go through the season, “These are the things I like about this. These are the things I don’t like about this. If I could change something about this, what would I change?” Because you know what? When you reach the point, “Okay. Now it’s time to purchase,” sometimes you don’t remember those conversations you’ve had with yourself in the middle of the time. So I think it’s really common in the first year for us to look for something that appears super easy and we can implement with fidelity and not be too concerned about that implementation. But now that you’re reaching the end of that year, what does that look like? What is it going to be for us to begin to approach the curricula as– as we see it? And so, Lisa, let’s talk a little bit about what the questions might be that a parent would ask from their student’s perspective.
Lisa Chimento: 00:05:49.953
Yeah. I remember you saying this to me a long time ago that– that one thing that parents have the opportunity to do during the course of their time homeschooling their children is to become students of their children. And that observation is a big piece of it. As you’re using whatever you’re using to be able to watch and see how it’s working with your child, you begin to learn about the different ways your children learn. And the ways that they’re different from you and from each other, because sometimes what looks appealing and wonderful to you may not work for that child. So becoming a student of your children is a big piece of it. Another big piece of it is actually asking them questions. And it’s an okay thing for a parent to ask a child specific questions about the materials that they’re using. One thing right off the bat that I would think I would ask myself and then ask my kids is, do I look forward to doing this? Now, granted, if you ask your child, do you look forward to schoolwork every day? The answer may be [laughter] a resounding no. But when you’re in a teachable moment and you can really speak honestly with each other, to be able to ask some specific questions. What did you like about this? Or what did you not like about this? And those kinds of questions are good to ask to get your child’s feedback.
Gretchen Roe: 00:07:17.697
Sometimes you make a decision and you think you’ve weighed all the options and you’ve really made a good decision and you have– and you give yourself your list of reasons, and then it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to. And I minded now of my eldest son. When he was 12 years old, I made a change. We had used a curricula for a number of years as a family. And because his oldest sister had aged out of that curricula, I moved the whole family into a different curricula because the curriculum we were using didn’t have high school materials. And I was thinking, “Okay. I’ll move over to these materials where high school is available, and the other kids will just follow along behind. I was looking at it from the perspective of, let’s make it easier for yours truly. And that year was the most difficult academic year for my son and I. We were at loggerheads all year long. And it wasn’t until April– I guess I’m a slow learner, but it wasn’t until April of that year that he said, “I hate these materials. I don’t like them. I don’t want to do them.” And my first rejoinder being the German girl, yeah, I spent the money. You will do the material. He said, “What if I buy my sixth-grade materials myself so I can go back to the other material?” And I looked at him and I just remember at first thinking, what an insolent thing to say to your mother. And then, my husband said, “That kid is talking about having to spend money and he’s as cheap as the day is long. Maybe we need to take a greater look at this.” And what ultimately ended up happening is he did buy his own sixth-grade materials. And between April and September of that year, he finished sixth grade in the materials that he was fond of.
Gretchen Roe: 00:09:22.940
Powerful lesson for me in just making a wrong call. And PS, that kid threw newspapers. He raked yards. He helped pull weeds for neighbors. And he raised the money himself. And he still talks about that now that he’s in his 30s as being the vehicle by which he recognized that he could be in charge of his academics. Now, do I recommend that for every parent? Absolutely not. But it was a great educational experience for yours truly of recognizing sometimes we make what we think are good choices and our children don’t see it that way. So Lisa, can you talk about– I know you had alluded to– I know what you’re talking about because you alluded to approaching the world differently. And I know we’re talking about your darling daughter, but can you talk a little bit about how you have to weigh curricula through the lens of the way your children see the world a little bit as well?
Lisa Chimento: 00:10:23.556
Yeah. They are all different, for sure. And many times, they’re very different from us as parents. And so it is a tough thing to call. And one thing that I do want to mention real quick here, we’ve spoken about this before with regard to children and making mistakes and being able to reframe that idea of making a mistake as an opportunity for greater understanding and better learning. And we as parents have to be able to give ourselves the grace as well. There are going to be times where we’re going to choose something and we will find out it just wasn’t the right thing. And we need to give ourselves grace and say, okay, I made a decision. It wasn’t a bad decision. I need to just make a different decision. Now, but the way to do that is always to go back in and take a look at what you did and find out what was wrong about it. Because we don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction and just go off and buy something else that might not be the correct thing. Let’s look at why it was the wrong thing and ask those questions. And yeah, for sure, there are times where you’re going to use things for one child that won’t work with another child. And that’s a hard one. I’m frugal to the point of being super cheap and the idea of having to get different things for different children. But this is one of the beauties of homeschooling. We’re not homogenizing our kids the way that can happen in a classroom situation. We want to be able to offer them what works and what’s going to be best for them. We want them to be successful. So we want to build that pathway for success. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be challenging for them. It just means that it needs to be the right material for them so that they can offer their best effort.
Gretchen Roe: 00:12:09.249
I think the flip side of that coin, though, is you and I have both spoken with homeschool moms over the years who have turned themselves into pretzels. Because they have a kinesthetic learner and a visual learner and an auditory learner. And so, they’re creating one set of curriculum for the auditory learner and another set for the kinesthetic learner, and it’s exhausting. So you kind of have to split the difference a little bit and find something that works for you, as the parent, that your child is not absolutely going to plant their feet and say, “I will not do this.”
Lisa Chimento: 00:12:47.868
Right, right. And as often as possible, whenever you’re teaching anything to a child, if you can offer them something that is going to engage multiple senses, then not only will they be able to receive that information in the way that they learn best, or their learning preferences, but it will also help develop all of the other ways that they learn. So that’s always a good thing. We want to be careful that we’re not just catering to a child’s learning style. And I’m putting that in air quotes here. Because that was a very trendy thing to talk about for quite a long time. But we know that students can learn in many different ways. They will show a preference. But we want to be able to develop all of the ways that they learn. Because when they leave school, there is no boss or adult opportunity, where someone’s going to come to them and be able to say, “Well, let me find out the way that your learning style is, and let me just present it to you that way.” That’s not the way the world works. We want them to develop all of their senses, to develop all of the ways that they learn, so that their brains develop, and that they grow better as a whole person.
Gretchen Roe: 00:13:59.030
Right. And I think that’s a really important thing that we need to take into consideration. There’s so much of what we do curriculum-wise that we can adapt to multiple ages. And for instance, a history curriculum can adapt to– your elementary school kids will listen until their cups are full. And then, they’re done. And then, you can go in more depth with your middle schoolers and your high schoolers. One of the things that doesn’t adapt, Lisa, is math. And we talked a little bit about this in our notes and in our note-taking. So can we talk a little bit about– I love what you said in the notes about, “Are you using a curriculum that was mandated in a classroom, and now, you’re trying to adapt it for home?” And this is where we really see the rubber meet the road with math. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Lisa Chimento: 00:14:53.952
Yeah, for sure. A classroom program is being created for, what I reference to, the homogenization of the students, where I guess that they’re picking what they figure the average child in that grade, or of that age, will be able to learn. But we know that children fall across a spectrum. You can pluck seven sixth graders out of a classroom, who’ve all been presented with the same material, and they don’t all know the same material. So math, in particular, is very specific. Because unlike many of the other school subjects, it is inherently sequential. You can teach English and history and science and geography in any order you want, and it’ll be fine. But when you’re teaching math, if you’re not following the natural sequence that is built into math, it can create gaps. And children will fall at different levels in their skill sets, and their abilities, and in what they’ve mastered. So you can have two children the same age, or in the same grade, but maybe they don’t have the same skill if one of them has a gap in their learning in an earlier concept, you don’t want to push them forward because they’re of a certain grade or a certain age. You want to make sure you address where they are. We want to look at what a child, what their skill sets are today and meet them where they are, and then help them progress. So we want to be very careful, particularly with math to assess a child before you pick a curriculum or even pick a grade or any level that you’re using with them. Make sure that you’re assessing them for what their skills are today, not where they should be. Or what grade level says that they should be, but where they actually are and then work with them that way. So that’s one thing in particular. You want to be real careful, with math.
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:51.007
Absolutely. And you know one of the things I think that is really important for us to recognize is there’s things that we love to teach as parents and things we last love to teach as parents. And so there might be merit in evaluating how you feel about the curricula you’ve chosen as well. If it’s a particularly intensive experience for you, as the parent, then maybe that’s not the best guidance for you going forward to continue that. Lisa, you had mentioned something that I think is really important. And we were really speaking about this with regard to Math-U-See because that’s our personal experience. Now, I’ve used over a dozen different curricula in the 21 years that I homeschooled as far as math is concerned. But one of the things I think is important before you discard whatever you’re using, whether it’s Math-U-See or something else, are you implementing it with fidelity? So can you talk a little bit about that, about doing it as it’s designed?
Lisa Chimento: 00:17:55.842
Yeah, absolutely. You know, curriculum has been written with a great deal of effort and thought ahead of time. Whatever you’re using, there are specific instructions that go with it. And when parents purchase, you’ve made an investment. So you want to make sure that you are reading the material properly. You are looking at what the specific instructions are for that curriculum and then ask yourself, am I following it and using it the way it was designed to be used? Because if not, you may be withholding success that way. And if you’re finding that a curriculum doesn’t seem to be working for you before you just ditch it, take a look at the instructions, go back over them, and say, “Let me see if I was using this the way it was designed. Let me see if I was implementing everything in here that was in the instructions.” And if not, maybe I just need to give it a little more time and tweak the way I’m using it rather than just toss the curriculum itself. If you have been using it the way it was designed and you’re still not finding success, then maybe that’s the clue for you that it is time to make a change. But first, you want to check on that. I think the other thing that we want to ask about is what kind of support that particular curriculum is offering me as a parent, particularly if it’s in an area that you don’t feel fabulously confident with. A lot of people share that with us. Oh, gosh, I don’t feel confident to teach math. When I was homeschooling my children, I never felt confident teaching them to write. And so I went around and looked for curriculum that would help support me better so that I could then teach my children. And so you want to look at what kind of support the curriculum and the curriculum company will offer you if you have questions. If you are stuck on something, if you disagree with something in the curriculum and you think maybe there’s an error, you have to be able to contact that company and find find a resolution to the issue. So what kind of support are they offering, and where can you go to get that support? Is it written right in the curriculum? Do you have to make a phone call or whatever, right?
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:12.846
And I think that’s one of the things that set Math-U-See aside for me as far as being something that was different because the curricula that I had used before I found my way here didn’t offer me that kind of support. So I really was rowing my own boat. And when you’re right at the water line as far as confidence is concerned it was wonderful to know that there was someone who could come alongside me and make sure that I was implementing it with fidelity that offered me encouragement to say, “Hey, have you tried this?” and those kinds of things. So that made a tremendously different experience for me. One of the things that you had said about investing time I think is really important for us to talk a little bit about here because I think the homeschool parent of today is busier than they ever have been before. And you’ve mentioned this already. But maybe there’s merit in evaluating what kind of time you need to spend. And there’s a difference between well-invested time and just time spent. So maybe we can talk a little bit about that as well.
Lisa Chimento: 00:21:27.919
Yeah, for sure. You do need to figure out what kind of time you have and what kind of time the curriculum you’re using is going to require. You also want to look and see, “Is it full of busy work?” Busy work is generally created for a classroom teacher who is spending a good portion of their time in crowd control, frankly [laughter], and passing out papers and handing in papers and making corrections or whatever they have to do in a classroom with multiple children. If you don’t have 12 children in your home to have to adjust to and work with then maybe you don’t need all of that busy work. I think a big thing to keep in mind, and we’ve talked about this many, many times in different webinars, we certainly talk about it in the homeschool convention booth and when we’re talking to families even on the phone, be aware that more time spent in material does not mean more success. It doesn’t mean more learning for your child. And it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be going on more quickly because every child has a certain amount of brain battery and mental energy to bring to a task. And once you have crossed that threshold, their neurological threshold, you’ve gone beyond what they can retain. And so you’re really kind of spinning your wheels. Our general rule of thumb is to add two or three minutes to a child’s age. And that’s the amount of time where they can give you their best effort with new material and that they’re going to be able to retain it from one day to the next. So if you are finding yourself in a situation where you worked with your children yesterday and everything was groovy and they learned it and they understood it and you came back to it today and they looked at you like deer in the headlights as if they had never seen it before that may be a clue that you worked too long on that material because you crossed the threshold at which they could retain what they were learning. So keeping those lessons short and finding materials that allow you to do that is I think a key to consider when choosing curriculum.
Gretchen Roe: 00:23:44.599
Absolutely. And I think that makes a difference for us as choosing curriculum as well. There’s a tangential thing that I really want to talk about here. And that is at what age can we anticipate a student working independently and I know this varies for every student. So I’m sort of set me up a little bit, but you have conversations with parents all the time who are looking for some degree of guidance and help. So let’s talk a little bit about evaluating the materials we’re using and what degree of independence we can expect from the kids when they’re doing it.
Lisa Chimento: 00:24:25.865
Yeah. Children are different. You’re the parents of your child. You know them and love them better than anyone on this earth. So this is where really becoming a student of your children is so critical. I know that we are busy as parents, but we want to be careful that we don’t just toss materials to a child and expect them to be able to learn on their own. Some can, and some can’t. And the age will vary with different children, even within your own family. So we need to be careful that we are not expecting more of a child than he’s able to do. If you are finding a child is freezing up, or anxiety is coming in, then maybe that child is still in need of you sitting with them and working through that material. And we want to make sure that that child is able to verbalize back to you what they’re learning. Every new lesson that they have to take on is like a little mini-crisis in their brains. They have to cross that line, right? They have to cross that line of, “I do not understand what this is about” until that lightbulb goes on, and they go, “Oh, I’ve got it now.” So what’s going to happen is you need to make sure that in order to help them cross that line, they are fully equipped with all of the prerequisite information that they need to take on that new challenge. If they are not, then it’s just dreadful, and nobody wants to do that. So being with them to make sure and assessing them. You have the opportunity, as a homeschooling parent, to pretty much assess them almost on a daily basis and find out where they are. So if you’re taking on a new lesson in a new challenge, be checking with them, “Okay, are we ready for this? Have you retained everything that you need to retain? Are you understanding everything that needed to come before today in order for us to take on this new challenge?” And so it just takes a little bit of time and patience on a parent’s part. But we need to be careful that we’re not throwing them into the deep end too soon. Want to make sure that they are fully ready.
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:44.226
Right. One of the things that is really important for us to understand, I think, as well, is that your children’s capacity to work independently can vary within a family. And I tell this story from stage when I speak in homeschool conferences, my eldest son couldn’t be left alone to do a single math problem until he was 17 years old. It just wasn’t– he did not have a high degree of interest in math. He didn’t feel confident in math. And so he just really needed the support of me being not just in the room but literally there next to him. And my youngest son, by the time I got to my sixth child, he’s the one who said to me in fourth grade, “How about I get you give me a list and if I need y’all let you know?” Different kids, same mother, same dad, but just different kids. And I think that’s one of the things that we need to recognize as parents is, if I had to do over in a lot of ways, I would have wished that I had not assumed some of my kids related the same way to materials that they’re older siblings had related to materials. I think it would have been a lot easier
Lisa Chimento: 00:28:01.959
Yes [laughter], for sure.
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:05.341
Lisa, we’ve had some great questions about this. So I wanted to see if maybe we could address some of these. When we’re looking to assess what worked and didn’t work this year, going back to our list of questions– this was a mom. She said she was– “I’m looking to assess what worked and didn’t work and how we want to move forward.” Would you recommend a hierarchy of parents as far as how they go through the content to be able to take a look at those materials? I’m a busy homeschool mom. I’m a working homeschool mom. I’m going to paint a scenario for you. What would I need to assess first? What are the important elements that we really need to assess that are really the core of a homeschool content?
Lisa Chimento: 00:28:59.497
Okay. First of all, with regard to the student, again, you want to make sure that you’re assessing a student’s skills in those different school subjects and areas to find out where they are. I really want to encourage parents. Peer pressure is a real thing for all of us, no matter how old we are. And for homeschooling parents, there is a great deal of peer pressure, too, for their children to be working at the same level some other children are working at. “Oh, their friends, or their kids, their cousins, or whatever, something– next door neighbor who’s in school is doing this material already and my child isn’t.” It doesn’t matter a fig. I’m sorry [laughter]. It really doesn’t in the end because if you are working past your child’s capacity, they’re not going to be able to learn anyway. And you’re actually then losing some time in trying to make them be able to work at that level. So find out where they are, pick materials that will meet them where they are, and help them progress at a healthy pace. And then, you need to look for yourself not only an ease of material but, “Okay. If you’re working, what kind of time do you have to prepare for what you’re using? What kind of preparation will be required in each of those subjects? If this is the kind of– a program that requires a lot of hands-on work for you and a lot of extra preparation, maybe that’s just not what you can do in this season. And of course, seasons change. So things may change. And you may be able to look some– look at something that looks really appealing to you, but you don’t maybe have the time for it right now. But maybe you can use it a little later on down the road. I remember in those early years when I was homeschooling and having babies, I found that it was about a three-year transition period when a newborn came into our family because that first year, there was a lot of sleeping and a lot of– but some things that I needed to do. I was nursing and so forth. And so that required certain amount of time. But then, there would be whole swatches of time when we were free because maybe the baby was napping for several hours. And we had that time to work together– my older children and I. But then in that second year, now you’ve got a child that is awake more often. And maybe they’re scooting around [laughter]. And you got to keep them out of trouble and keep them alive. Your time might not be the same. In the third year, they’re toddling around. But maybe now, they can actually join you in some of the things that you’re doing. So those first three years are going to be transitional years. Don’t keep fighting yourself on what you want to do. But maybe it’s just not humanly possible to get it done. So give yourself that time and allow for that transition. But then when you’re at a place where you know, okay, I am not going to have this much time, then don’t get a curriculum that’s going to take that much time. You really want to look at what you are able to do that isn’t going to burn you out or isn’t going to make you irritable with your kids because you’re stressed. You really want to make sure that this is a joyful experience for the most part. There are going to be challenges, and there are going to be rough days, but on the whole, you want to come out of it with you and your children enjoying that time with each other.
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:35.124
Right. And I think if you’re looking at the hierarchy of all the things that you need to do, reading is the highest priority. So if you have an emerging reader, or you’re going to teach someone to read, that’s a very high priority. Math, that should be the highest priority. You should start with math and then fit everything else around it. I think if you have a fully emerged reader, you need to teach them compositional writing because they need to learn the process of organizing their thoughts into cogent sentences because somewhere along the way, someone’s going to ask them to write, whether that is college entrance essays, whether that’s for a job application. Whatever that is, there will be that opportunity. And I think you need to learn to teach a child to spell. And the reason that I say this is because if you’ve ever gotten an email from someone that has a spelling error in it or more than one spelling error, you’ve made assumptions about that person as far as that spelling content is concerned. And so we want to give our kids a leg up. And I think everything outside of that now, when I present this at homeschool conferences, there will be a parent who will say to me, “Well, what about religious studies? What about Bible study?” To me, that’s not an academic experience. That is a life skills experience, and it should be part of your family time together. So to me, that’s how I would parse those as far as different. I think one of the questions that is really important for us to address, Lisa, is what if you have changed curricula several times? And we have talked about this without even looking at our list of questions, but one of the questions that a mom said is “I’ve changed math curricula three times in the last three years. What’s going to happen for me? What are the implications there?” So can we talk a little bit about that?
Lisa Chimento: 00:34:42.140
Yeah. That is a tough one. And I know that parents have done that. We’ve talked to lots of families that go through that same thing. If you are going to be changing curriculum, and you’re getting the same kind of curriculum, then it may not make the changes you’re hoping for when you make the change to a different course. And when I say kind, here’s what I’m going to specify. If you’re dealing with math, you have a couple of different methods of working through math. I mentioned earlier that math, unlike other school subjects, is inherently sequential. So if you are using a grade-based math that uses what’s called a spiral approach, you can pretty much go to any curriculum, and it’s going to be offering the same material. And it will very likely be taught in a similar way. There will be differences in that, but for the most part, it’s going to be presented in the same way. So if you’re hopping from math to math to math curriculum that’s a grade-based spiral approach, there may not be a great difference in the outcome because there isn’t a big difference in the way that it’s taught and in the sequence. For Math-U-See and possibly other courses out there that I’m not familiar with, we follow the natural sequence of math. And we teach it in that cumulative concept-upon-concept building of those skills. And so it’s not grade-based. And it uses what’s called a mastery approach. And it gives students whatever time they need to master one concept at a time, and then build on that cumulatively. And so if you are struggling with one of those methods or the other, changing curriculum and keeping the same method may not be the solution for you. You may need to look into a change in the way that it’s taught in the sequence in which it’s taught.
Gretchen Roe: 00:36:48.176
Great. Absolutely. And I think one of the things that is difficult for us as parents– is when we have had an experience academically with our kids that has not been stellar, sometimes we don’t always evaluate. Sometimes, it’s clearly the curricula. But sometimes, it has to do with is the child ready? Have we missed those foundational concepts? So Lisa, I’m going to ask you– I’m not really going to go off-topic here because I’m really rolling into your wheelhouse here. But if I were a parent and I’m trying to figure out, “Gee, my child is really struggling mathematically,” what are the kinds of questions as a parent before I bail with whatever I’m using? What kind of questions should I be asking myself?
Lisa Chimento: 00:37:40.286
Yeah, and this is– again, we were talking about the difference between math and other subjects. And this is where I really want to encourage parents because if you– if you’re using assessments that go along with a grade-based approach and if you’re a student is struggling in one particular area, it may be affecting everything that came after it. So if you’ve got an older child– maybe your child’s in fourth or fifth grade, and they’re struggling with division, or fractions, or something like that. If they do an assessment, that assessment may tell you that your child is still working at a first or second-grade level. And that really isn’t helpful. It doesn’t address where the gap is because they may be able to function perfectly well at a first or second-grade level. But maybe there is one area where there’s a gap that just needs filling in. I like to mention to parents that math can be equated to constructing a building. And if you have started constructing a building and you got to the fourth floor and somebody noticed a crack in the foundation, you probably wouldn’t need to knock the whole building down. You just need to pause forward motion temporarily while we go fill in that crack and bring stability and solidity to that structure before you go adding more weight to it. And it’s like that with math. You don’t necessarily have to bring a child back to a first-grade level because most of what would be taught at that level would be too easy for them, repetitive, and boring and you’ve wasted money and time, whereas if you can assess them and find out what the actual problem is -where the gap occurs- then you can address just that gap, fill it in, and then let them continue. So when we’re talking about math, let’s do a proper assessment where we’re looking at the skills that they’re having to use at their grade level and finding out if all of those skills are intact. And if not, which ones aren’t? Let’s identify the gaps. Let’s pinpoint them. And then, we can take the proper steps to remediate where it’s needed and get them back on track.
Gretchen Roe: 00:40:01.611
And I think that is huge because as parents, I know for me, I switched curriculums three times in a year because it was the curriculum I was convinced and it wasn’t until I got to the third curricula that I figured out it was the student and her mother that were the problem [laughter]. We did get it straight. I mean, she’s a research biologist today. So we ended up all right. But in that process, it took us a little bit of time to recognize that it didn’t matter what we chose to go forward with. It was, as you said, we had a weak foundation. I’m minded of my son, Duncan, who has been hiking on the continental divide trail and he said that they had one day that they only managed to make two miles in t10 hours because they were post-holing through the snow. In other words, you have to pick your feet up very high and you end up with your feet sinking into the snow, and that’s another analogy to what we’re trying to do with our kids mathematically when we’re expecting them to go forward. It’s like post-holing through the snow. You’re making it, but man, it’s low and kind of painful.
Gretchen Roe: 00:41:18.660
Lisa, we had a parent who asked about considerations for high school grammar and composition options, and I think that’s really an important thing for us to talk about because here’s where we get to get into that conversation of what happens after we’re done with our children. What do they want to do? And if we’re talking about a high-schooler, now’s the time to engage them in the process of the academic experience. So can we talk a little bit about that? I know how it was in my family, but how was it in yours as far as preparing them composition-wise? I realize I’m kind of setting you up a little bit because I know how much you just loved teaching compositions, so [laughter].
Lisa Chimento: 00:42:05.276
Yeah, it was tough for me. And I think to be able to find materials that can equip the parent with not only the skills to teach writing and grammar but also to be able to offer constructive feedback to your children, and that’s where I really struggled. I could look at a piece of writing and say this is good [laughter], but if I saw things that were weak, I wasn’t always the best at being able to say how to fix this or let’s work on these things to help improve your skills in these areas, and that’s where I was really kind of weakened. So if you’re like me and maybe you’re not as confident in teaching writing, you want to try to find curriculum that is going to offer you that. It’s going to offer you the support and the tools that you need to teach the different skills in writing and then also to be able to offer constructive feedback because writing a C in a red pen and putting a circle around it at the top of your student’s paper does not give them the information that they need on how they can improve their writing and we want them to be able to write better. Whether they’re going to college or not, we want them to be able to communicate well. When a baby is learning first learning language, we’re talking at that child all the time and they are receptively understanding, but eventually, we want them to be able to speak and to speak well, and it’s like that with reading and writing. We want them to be able to learn to read, but we also want them to be able to learn to write. That’s the expressive end of this portion of language development and we want them to be able to communicate well what they want to communicate, whether it is creative writing or if it’s nonfiction writing in essays, if they’re going be taking college boards and they have to be able to write a well constructed, well thought out essay, we want to put the tools in their hands to be able to do that. But if you don’t have the tools, then you need them yourself. So find curriculum that is going to give you those tools. And it doesn’t have to be a perfectly scripted thing where it’s feeding you lines to give your children. But give you ideas. Give you suggestions. Give you some help. Give you literature suggestions. We want children to read beautiful literature, well-written literature. That’s going to help them to become better writers as well.
Gretchen Roe: 00:44:40.869
Right. I think one of the things that we also miss as far as parents are concerned is we know intrinsically as homeschool parents that we need to study grammar, but if we’re not grammarians of note. Why? Why do we do this? And you know you and I both know the difference when we’re speaking in grammatically correct sentences. And when we’re not, and so I think one of the things that’s important to give parents is an understanding that grammar in and of itself is a tool to make a better writer. So if you’re studying grammar just for the sake of grammar in some sort of static enterprise that isn’t connected to their writing, it does seem to be a waste of time. But if we as parents can recognize that the purpose of grammar is to create a more adept writer, then it becomes a better experience. And I know my kids, the curricula that I used most of the years that I homeschooled had grammatical elements every single year. And I’ve since learned, looking back in retrospect, that I probably didn’t need those grammatical elements until my kids were fully emerged readers. But once they were, particularly at middle school and high school, grammar becomes the tool or the vehicle to help us become more adept writers. And I think that in finding that particularly for a high school student, that would be a really remarkable thing for us to do as parents. One of the reasons that I have loved the analytical grammar program that is now part of the Demme Learning family, I loved it well before it was part of Demme Learning because it helped me create that grammatical experience in my students so that they could become good writers. And my five college graduates, three of them are in very compositionally centric employment as adults, even my research biologist daughter does an inordinate amount of writing. So being able to equip our kids in that capacity, I think, is really an enormous thing. Lisa, we have about 15 minutes left here, and I want to make sure– you did such a terrific job of putting together our notes for this. What am I missing as far as questions to ask you? Take a look at those notes again because we had great questions to ask parents and I want to make sure that we’re making sure that all those questions are entertained.
Lisa Chimento: 00:47:30.180
One of the questions that we put in our notes is a question that we are asked sometimes by parents who reach out to us and they’re considering one of our products for the first time, and their question is, “Well, I plan on putting my child back into school at some point. And is this going to keep them up to grade level so that when they go back in school, they’re not behind?” That’s a valid and very important question to ask. So for instance, I mentioned earlier that Math-You-See uses a different sequence than a grade-based approach in school. For those elementary levels, say, first through sixth grade, the sequence will be different. If you know that you’re going to be putting your child back in school in third or fourth grade, then maybe it’s a consideration to not use something like Math-U-See for those levels if you’re concerned that they won’t be up to speed. I will tell you this, however– and forgive me for plugging Math-U-See here because I have used it, and I know. And I’ve heard from many parents who’ve also expressed even though the sequence is off because there’s such a strong foundation built in, and there’s such a strong understanding of the concepts that students are learning even in the very earliest levels, even though they haven’t seen some of the same material that kids the same age are seeing in school, they are able to take what they know to figure out what they don’t know because of the understanding of those underlying concepts. So they’re not just not just memorizing rules or memorizing rote memorization of material. There is deep understanding being built in in the early levels. So this is something for you to consider though. If you are going to be putting your child back in school, you want to make sure that they’re going to be okay when they return to school. And that’s a question to ask yourself and then to ask the curriculum companies that you’re calling. I mentioned that. Don’t be afraid to ask these hard questions. If we don’t have answers for you, then that tells you something. So you want to ask every question that’s there. Write them down before you pick up the phone. And ask as many as you want. That’s what we’re here for.
Gretchen Roe: 00:49:55.815
And I think in being good detectives, it’s important for us to figure out, okay, these are the questions that I want answers to, but what leads me to something else as far as asking questions or concern? And you said something early on, Lisa, that I think is really important. Your kids probably have a lot more insight into their own academic experiences than we give them credit for. So even a seven or an 8-year-old would have opinions. One of my children had a very strong opinion about the math that we were using. When he was a child and he felt like it was a lot of silly, busy work. And we actually changed math curricula for him. It was long before I found my way to Math-U-See. But we changed math curricula for him because he felt like it was silly, busy work. And so I think that makes a difference as well. And I’m really glad in that particular instance, I listened to that child because we were able to stay on track for him. Lisa, let’s talk a little bit about continued homeschool education because I know some parents look at their homeschool experiences and they think I don’t know if I want to continue my homeschool journey. So what are the things that we need to use to evaluate the journey as a whole?
Lisa Chimento: 00:51:31.088
Well, I think a big piece of this is talking to your kids. Sit them down and ask them, how did this work for you? How did you like doing this? What did you like about it? What did you not like? And then evaluate the things that are brought up. If it’s the kind of thing like, yeah, this was really good. I felt like I learned a lot of stuff, but I really miss seeing my friends every day, is that a reason to put a child back in school versus continue homeschooling? There are lots of thoughts on this. Maybe we’ll take them up at another time. But you need to evaluate for yourself and for your family what is most important to you. And I think there are other things to consider, as well. You want to find out whether or not this worked out with your family’s circumstances. Every family is different. Jobs and where you live and what’s available to you are important to consider. Do you have a library nearby? Is it a single mom? Is it a husband and wife, but maybe Dad’s away? What is the circumstances in your particular family? Do you have babies or young children to consider? All of that together. I will say, like I mentioned before, when you have a newborn in the house, there will be changes in those first three years. So it might be worth your while to stick it out and hang in there because it will not be the same. This is not a static situation. Life happens; change happens. And things may be different from year to year. When you are a brand new homeschooler, you don’t really know what to expect. You can ask a lot of questions, but your experience won’t be the same as another family’s. You might need to get something that’s kind of all neat and tied up and done for you until you gain more confidence. I know that that’s what happened with me. I bought kind of like a big box curriculum the first year. And after the first year, I thought, “Okay, we did not need to spend all of this time.” I have two little boys and a baby. We could be done by 11:00 in the morning. I don’t need to be sitting at a table with them for six hours a day. This is not necessary. That’s what goes on in a school because it’s what has to happen when you’ve got large classrooms of children. That’s not our circumstances. So you want to really take a look and see if what you’re using is right for you and ask all of these other questions. I think there’s such important questions for parents to ask themselves. Do it at a time when you have the time to sit and really examine what you’ve been doing and what has worked and what hasn’t. And do talk to your children. Their feedback is so important. They really do have insights that you wouldn’t believe. And even though they might get up in the morning and grumble that they have to do their schoolwork, you may be surprised at some of the things that they have to share back with you.
Gretchen Roe: 00:54:33.614
Lisa, I think that probably is the most surprising part of all is when we homeschool our children, we create independent thinkers.
Lisa Chimento: 00:54:44.529
Oh, we do.
Gretchen Roe: 00:54:45.019
And then we don’t want them to think independently. We want them to just get on board with what we want them to do. And then we’re so surprised when they don’t necessarily get on board. So we have to hold it loosely. I think to be able to recognize that our kids may have opinions that differ from our own. I look back on my homeschooling years and when my fifth child told me he wanted to go to public high school at the end of his freshman year of high school, I didn’t want that to happen. But it was the right decision for that child. And it was a good decision. And I look back on that now, and I’m glad that both my husband and I were able to listen to him and say, “Yes, this is a good choice for you.” And as I graduate my last one on Friday, it’s been a good choice for him, as well. So I want to encourage you as moms that this is something you do independently. This is something that you do for the joy of your children and your family. Don’t be pressured because there’s people in your church community or people in your homeschool community who insist that you continue to do this because the relationship with your children is paramount. Lisa, we’re almost at the top of the hour. What closing thoughts do you have for our parents today?
Lisa Chimento: 00:56:12.361
I just thought this is something that I should have mentioned earlier, but I can do so now. If you are going to be continuing to homeschool, find support for yourself. If it doesn’t come from within your extended family, maybe not in your neighborhood, find it. Find it online if you can’t find it locally. Most cities have homeschoolers in them that maybe you don’t know yet. You can put the word out there. Go on to the Nextdoor app or something that is a community-based outreach where you can put a question out there and say, “Any homeschoolers in the area, let’s get together.” You want to surround yourself with people who can support you. If you are a brand-new homeschooler, please don’t be afraid to ask questions. Nobody is going to resent you for it. Most homeschooling families that I know are very generous to share their experience and their wisdom. It was a blessing to me when I first started. It made all the difference. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions. If you can’t find it anywhere else, call us. We’ll sit on the phone with you and talk about anything, and it doesn’t have to be to try to sell you anything. We’ve all homeschooled our kids here. We are happy to talk with you and just share and listen if you just need somebody to bounce ideas off of.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:30.787
Absolutely. I think those are very wise words indeed. So we’ll leave you with Lisa’s words today. This is Gretchen Roe for The Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can find the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLearning.com/Show or on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this, especially if you really enjoyed it. Thanks for joining us today, everyone. We’ll talk to you again soon. Bye-bye.
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We have reached that point in the year where we need to evaluate our successes, and perhaps revisit things that were less than successful before you launch into next year.
A dozen questions to ask yourself as you prepare for next year:
- Are you staying with a curriculum because you bought it? (Remember why you bought it.)
- Did you look forward to doing it? Does your student?
- Did you dread it? Who is not liking the material – the parent or the child? Do you have conversations with your child about what they are learning?
- Have the results been what you expected?
- What kind of support does the curriculum you are looking for provide you? Where can you go to get support?
- Are you using the curriculum the way it was designed to be used? Some programs have specific instructions that make all the difference for success.
- Homeschoolers and grades – are you in the correct level? Math & spelling are skills-based; you can alter the material like history to adjust for age, but if math and spelling aren’t placed properly, it will be an unpleasant experience.
- Is what you are using designed to be used in a classroom and you are trying to adapt it? Is it full of busy work?
- Do you plan to put your child back in school at some point? You may need to tailor what you are doing.
- What kind of time can you invest? Kids have different needs; is your 1:1 time with them something they crave? What are your expectations for your child’s independent work? Modeling for your student is essential.
- How much preparation is necessary for the materials you are looking at? What are the expectations for time spent in a particular discipline?
- How many times have you changed curriculum in the past? Is it the curriculum or is it you?
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