April 23, 2014

{Part 2} When You're Convinced Your Child Cannot Learn - Our Story

Let me tell you about a time that I was convinced my child had no brain.  I also wondered if I was totally inept at teaching, talking, writing, and everything else because I was doing an apparently terrible job with teaching my child how to add.  I'll tell you about our year and a half of horrible, awful, no-good, just plain tragic math struggles with Curly.

I chose a math curriculum and was all excited.  I never liked math in school and I really wanted a different experience for my kids.  I wanted to make everything better than what I went through.  I knew I would be able to empathize with them when it was tough but I was sure that they could triumph over math just as I had done.  So, I opened the manual and we began.  This was our Kindergarten year.

Math went well for a full semester.  We worked our way through lots of different concepts.  Some were tricky at first but we mastered them.  Others were easy and we breezed on through.  Curly and I were enjoying math for the most part.  This was not too bad!

Then suddenly we moved into the next level book of the curriculum.  This one required adding.  Lots and lots of adding.  We played games.  We used blocks.  I tried flash cards.  I used the whiteboard.  We watched videos.  I had dad try to teach the lessons.  NOTHING!  My child did not get it at all.  She could not add.  You would ask her 3 + 1 and she would collapse on the floor in a fit of "I don't know" and "That's too hard!"  You're adding 1!  Good grief!  Just count up to the next number already!

I finally became so frustrated that I was convinced that it was the curriculum.  It simply wasn't explaining it properly.  I tossed it aside and after much research chose something else.  We started at the very beginning with concepts of number sense, patterns, and things like that so we had a great time.  We had so much fun - until we hit the lessons on additionThen we died a very quick but excruciatingly painful death.

I tried new games.  I tried new tactics.  We took breaks.  We focused on other subjects.  My husband taught some lessons.  We pointed out math in real life situations.  We drilled.  We worked.  We helped, and encouraged, and practiced.  It took an average of 4 minutes for her to answer every single addition problem.  And I mean problems like 6 + 1 and 4 + 2.  The only ones she mastered were the 0's!  5 + 0 = 5!  Yes, we had those down easily.  Everything else was a foreign language to her.

I wondered if we would ever learn addition.  How would we ever progress through math?  We were almost to our last semester of 1st grade and my child could not add to save her life.  I was feeling stressed.  We took one last break and then started our last semester of 1st grade.  Curly was slowly making some progress through the book but it still took her forever to do any addition problems.  I tried to sit patiently as she would think and think and think before she would tell me the answer.  But slowly she was able to do the work.  It was not a noticeable breakthrough but just small steps in the right direction.  We would work through 5 lessons and then get stuck.  I would turn back 8 or 10 lessons in the book and we would start over and try again.  Sometimes we would work to the same spot and get stuck so we would start over and begin again.  Other times we would inch past that spot to get stuck at another spot.

By July we had finished the math book.  We were adding.  Curly was still fairly slow while doing her computation but there was a glimmer of understanding when she worked.  I thought maybe we had overcome our huge hurdle.  I decided to give her the standardized 1st grade test that the public schools would have taken at the end of the year.  I desperately needed to see how we were doing and have some record of progress we had made.  I also wanted to see the weak areas as assessed by someone else.  I was pretty sure that I knew where they were though.

I gave Curly her test over a weekend.  There were 3 math sections.  I cringed the entire time she worked on them.  She finished them all within the allotted time and when the test was complete I mailed it in.  I waited anxiously for her results.  One day the email came through with the test scores.  I waited until my husband was home in case I needed his support as I cried over them.  When I looked over her results my jaw hit the floor and I did cry.  But they were happy tears.  Curly had gotten a perfect score on each of the math sections.  She did not miss one single problem.

I was worried that the test results were maybe a fluke thing.  When we started our second grade year I was terrified of our new math book.  I should not have been.  Curly has been breezing through subtraction, multiplication, and advanced addition.  She has not had any tough spots in the math book and math has become something that is somewhat easy to her.  She actually does entire addition problems in her head faster than I can complete them.  She'll be moving on to third grade math before the end of the school year.

All the tears I cried over math (and her tears too), the hours we spent working, the times my husband took over, all the lessons we repeated, the breaks we took, the effort I put in to making sure her foundation was solid was so worth it.  Math doesn't intimidate her now.  She has a great foundation and she is making huge progress in math.  That's not to say that we won't have other times when we'll be stuck on a concept or need to go back and review.  But I'm so glad I did not give up or force her to rush ahead when she was not ready.  For some reason it took an extraordinarily long time for her to learn one little math concept.  But once she understood it, she was able to move forward at a pace that has left me far behind her.

So, there will be times that you're sure your child cannot learn.  There will be times you will be stuck on a concept.  Try not to stress or fret (although I know you will).  Step back and reassess.  Do you need a break?  Does your child need a break?  Do you need to focus on something else for a time?  Do you need your spouse to step in and teach for a time?  Do you need a tutor?  Do you need new curriculum?  Do you need to do more review?  Do you need to keep practicing?  Don't push forward just because someone else's timetable or another person's lesson plans tell you to move on.  No, take that time to get a solid foundation built.  Your patience will be rewarded.

In the end I've achieved a child who is now confident in her math abilities.  We've struggled through math together and we can both fully appreciate the progress she's made.  Whenever she tells me that she can't do something I simply remind her of our math struggles and point to her successes.  We've come a long way in only a few short years.  I've learned to be patient, to encourage, to be flexible, and to give us both a lot of grace.  That's giving her a good foundation not only for math but for our relationship.

April 22, 2014

{Review Crew} CTC Math

We were excited to try out an online math tutoring program, CTC Math, with a 12 month family subscription of the homeschool version for Curly, Tiger, Bee, and myself.  The kids were excited to do a little something different for math and have some individual computer time while they learned. 

CTC Math Review

What is it?
CTC Math is a completely online math tutoring program which contains over 1,300 animated lessons with interactive questions and tests.  The program also provides feedback for students as well as progress reports for parents.

CTC Math has programs for Kindergarten level math up through Calculus so it would work well for ages 4 up through high school age (or even for adults who want to brush up on skills).  Each level is broken into topics and subtopics for quick and easy searching.  Also, a student can start at the beginning of a grade level program and work through each lesson or the student can select the various topics in which they need help and work only on those lessons.

CTC Math Review

Each section contains a standard test and a comprehensive test to help determine correct placement for a student or provide a review of concepts learned. 

I received a 12-month family plan subscription which allowed me to have a sign in for up to 10 students.  Each student has access to the material in any level with the membership.  You can easily switch between levels and topics for each student.

How did we use this product?
I created a login for Curly, Tiger, Bee, and myself.  Curly used the 2nd grade level, Tiger the 1st grade level, and Bee the K level.  I brushed up on some pre-algebra and algebra topics for myself.

Before starting each section, I had my kids take the standard test to see how well they understood the material in that section.  Then they worked through the section on their own, repeating sections in which they did not receive a 100%.  My kids worked to complete each level with a 95% or higher.  (As you redo the levels and achieve a higher score, the score averages and will slowly go up with each attempt).

My kids would first watch the short video lesson of 5 to 10 minutes.  After the lesson, they would complete the assignment which was a set of interactive questions.  The questions gave instant feedback if an answer was correct or incorrect while also giving the correct answer.  If they ever struggled with the questions, I had them go back and rewatch the lesson video.

They were usually able to complete more than one lesson per day since the lessons are fairly short.

Once they completed a section, I had them take the comprehensive test to see how well they did.  This allowed me to assess their understanding of the concepts from the section.

I worked on lessons in the pre-algebra and algebra sections.  These sections have a teaching video followed by a worksheet.  There are multiple choice answers at the bottom of the worksheet (with more answer choices than problems on the worksheet).  To have the worksheet scored, you enter your answer choice into the program and submit your answers.  The program gives you the ability to correct any wrong answer choices before moving forward.  Once the answers have all been entered, you can view the solutions.  There is also an option to view a lesson summary page to remind you of the concepts taught in the lesson.

What did we think?
My kids really loved having an online math program.  They found it fun to do math in a different and interactive way.  They enjoyed the short videos and found it especially fun that the narrator had an Australian accent.

The questions at the end of the section were great review and practice for them.  There were also a limited number of questions (often around 10) so it was enough for practice without being overwhelmingly long for my little people.

The lessons were narrated well and the topics were clearly illustrated through the use of graphics and numbers on the screen.  It was easy for my kids to follow along and understand.  The assignment questions, however, did not have sound.  For the K and 1st grade level, there were a few questions that did require some reading so my children needed help in completing those.  I would have preferred there to be an option to have the instructions or questions read to them so they could work on their own.  For the most part they were able to complete the questions on their own with a few exceptions of time that they needed help.

I loved the aspect of repeating the assignments to achieve a higher score.  My kids were motivated to work on a gold or platinum level with 90% accuracy or above.  This meant that they would have to repeat the assignments for sections with lower scores in order to raise their scores.  Sometimes, they completed a section 3 or 4 times to bring up their average score.  It also helped show them areas in which they were weaker on concepts so they could know what to practice more.

I received weekly assessments and progress reports when my children completed an entire topic section in the lessons or when they were working at a higher level of proficiency.  I enjoyed receiving each email so I could easily monitor what sections had been completed by each child.  I found these progress reports to be very helpful.

I liked that each student could choose how the sections on which to work.  It was easy to find topics and have students work only in those sections or to have them start at the beginning of a grade level program and work straight through.  I enjoyed having the flexibility of deciding how they were going to use the program and even switching them to different grade levels or topics as needed.  

While I found the questions at the end of each lesson to be comprehensive for that topic and to be adequate practice, they did not contain review questions from previous lessons.  Each topic section could be used as a stand-alone and done in any order.  This is perfect when using the sections in various orders for focused practice or review.  However, if starting at the beginning of a grade level and working straight through, there might not be enough practice of topics from previous sections.  While I could use the comprehensive tests in each section as a review, I sometimes wished for an easier way to have built-in review and more consistent practice of previous topics for my kids.

My wrap up!
Our family has greatly enjoyed this math product with the clear explanations in the lesson videos and the practice problems.  I have seen my kids work on math independently and also enjoy their time of math practice.  I liked that I could switch between levels and topics as needed and that each child could work at the pace that was best for them - repeating lessons as many times as needed.

Although CTC Math can be a full curriculum, it did not contain review within each lesson.  My kids need quite a bit of review so I had to be creative in using the different tests at various points in order to make sure the topics were reviewed on a regular basis.  Because of the lack of built-in review, this program worked best as a supplement to our regular program.  We are going to keep using this product throughout the summer and the next school year, however, because we all enjoy it so much.

More info.....
You can purchase various different membership packages through CTC Math:
Single Student Membership:
Monthly      $29.97
6 Months    $127
1 Year         $197

Membership for 2 or more students:
Monthly       $39.97
6 Months     $197
1 Year          $297

Currently CTC math is having a special sale on the homeschool membership!

Single Student
Monthly $11.97
6 Months $50.80
1 Year $78.80

Membership for 2 or more students
Monthly $15.97
6 Months $78.80
1 Year $118.80

You can find CTC Math on Facebook

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April 21, 2014

{Part 1} When You're Convinced That Your Child Cannot Learn

Let me preface this post with a disclaimer.  I am not talking about children with various learning disabilities or other challenges.  I'm talking about neurotypical kids who are just "stuck" in their learning process.  
Have you ever felt that your children just cannot learn?  I have......want to read what I do when I feel like we've hit a wall in our learning?  Read on! 

Have you ever been convinced that your children cannot learn?  I have had days when I've told my husband that my children have lost their tiny little brains and they are incapable of intelligent thought.  They don't and can't "get it"!

There are many days that I question my own ability to teach them.  I mean, do I really know what I'm doing here?  Not always.....but I do know how to ask for help when I need it.  I can read a teacher's manual.  I do know how to research.  And I am absolutely determined to do my very best for my children.  So, while I'm not omniscient, I do care about their education greatly-as well as their character-and I think that makes me the perfect person to learn alongside them and gently direct their path.

I love it when I see those light bulb moments of understanding in my kids.  But some days.  Whew!  On those days I just know there is nobody home in their minds and they just are not ever going to learn what I'm trying to teach them.

When you homeschool you will have lots of moments like this.  You will know that your child's brain has fallen out and with it went every single thing you taught them the day or week before.  Some days you are sure they have forgotten everything they know.  You will wonder if they were abducted by aliens during the night and then were brainwashed.  Who is this child sitting across from you who can suddenly no longer spell or add but just yesterday could write a full paragraph with properly spell words and add huge sums in her head?

Other times you will have weeks or months of time when a topic or concept just will not sink in.  It was never there in the first place and no amount of pounding, pushing, or prodding will get that concept into their head.  You have explained and demonstrated in 50 different ways and your child still stares at you blankly, shrugs, and then asks what you're having for lunch.  You are astounded because you just taught them something wonderfully awesome and they missed it completely.

What is wrong with your children?  Why can't they learn it?  Why don't they get it?

This will absolutely happen in your homeschool.  It will happen many, many times.  You will question if they have a mind and know how to use it.  You will wonder the same thing about yourself.  You will also wonder if you have the grace and patience to make it through this frustrating time.

Let me give you a few tips to get through this time.
Take a break - sometimes you need to let that subject rest for a time and come back to it in a few days, weeks, or months
Try something new - try a new game, a new tactic, a new book, a new curriculum.  Sometimes you simply need a new approach.
Find support - You might need a tutor, an online teacher, a video course, or your spouse to take over the teaching.  When you're both frustrated it might be best to let someone else struggle through with your child.
Review - maybe you need to try reviewing or doing some easier and less stressful work in that subject.  There might be a concept in earlier lessons that didn't quite stick with your child and that might be the reason for your current struggles.
Keep practicing - there also might be times that you need to simply keep practicing and not give up.  Your child might need to work on that same topic for a week or even months.  Don't push them forward on your time table but allow them time to really build a foundation and deeply understand the topic.

Think about these things....
Relationship - Your relationship with your child is more important than mastering spelling words or multiplication tables.  Take breaks, get tutors, or turn teaching over to someone else if one subject is dramatically damaging your relationship.
Encouragement - Your child needs you to be their biggest cheerleader.  How you react to his/her struggles will color your child's self-worth and image of himself or herself.  Your child needs you to believe in him or her.
Flexibility - You might have to throw out your carefully crafted lesson plans in favor of letting your child's ability lead the way in learning.  You will have to readjust your schedule and try new techniques. 
Patience - You will be forced to learn patience.  You will have to keep your thoughts to yourself and be patient as you wait for understanding to dawn and progress to be noticeable.  Waiting through struggle is so hard.
Grace - You must give grace to your child when they struggle and understand that learning is challenging.  But you must also give grace to yourself.  Although you are not a perfect teacher, you care and are doing a fabulous job.  Sometimes the child just isn't ready to learn a concept and it may have nothing to do with the teacher, curriculum, or approach. 

Come back later this week to read our story or a time when I was absolutely sure our oldest daughter could not learn, what we did about it, and what I learned through the process.

Hip Homeschool Moms

April 19, 2014

{Book Nook} Gooney Bird Greene

Affiliate links may be used in this post.

We love the Gooney Bird Greene series by Lois Lowery.  Gooney Bird is a precocious, creative, and wacky girl who tells absolutely true stories and comes up with imaginative learning ideas that inspire her entire class.  My kids love hearing about her crazy outfits complete with mismatched socks.  And we've loved the stories she tells that seem like exaggerations but in the end are true stories with a twist.

In later books, Gooney Bird learns about US geography, putting on a Thanksgiving pageant, writing poetry, and the art of writing fables.  The series takes you through an entire year of Gooney Bird's second grade as the students complete projects and celebrate the different holidays.

April 18, 2014

Love is.........

We have an anniversary this weekend!  On Saturday, Prince Charming and I will have been married for 11 years!  That is so hard to believe and I feel like the years have flown by.  It's easy being married to your best friend!

In honor of our anniversary I wanted to share a poem that was read at our wedding by my grandfather.  He talked about Biblical examples of unselfish love and then shared this poem to illustrate the definition of true love:

Love is the desire to share things with somebody.

The longing to share your thoughts, your pasttimes, your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your enthusiasms, your successes with Somebody -

This is love; the irresistible impulse to run off and tell Somebody, to brag to Somebody, to confess to Somebody, to laugh with Somebody, or to cry on Somebody's shoulder.

This is love - the painful realization that you are missing half the joy of a beautiful sunset because He or She is not there to enjoy it with you -
that the most delectable dinner is flat and flavorless, unless He or She is sitting across the table.

This is love - the inexplicable urge to reveal your secret thoughts to Somebody, to discuss the news in the morning paper with Somebody, to read to Somebody that fascinating passage you came across last night.

There isn't much excitement or inspiration in anything - planting a garden, painting a picture, building a house, making a new discovery, dreaming a dream, working out a new philosophy, or putting salt on the tail of a brilliant idea, unless there is somewhere a bright particular He or She to thrill with you, to rejoice with you, and to share with you the profits or the plaudits.

There isn't much triumph or satisfaction in winning a fight, a game, a battle, or a job; there is little achievement or accomplishment, unless there is Somebody to share it with, Somebody rooting for you, Somebody to say "I love you."

This is love - the power to enjoy things, to endure things, to work for things, and to sacrifice things together, to dream the same dreams, to hope the same hopes, and to find the same answer to the great mysteries of life.

This is love - the desire to share things with Somebody.

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