Friday, February 26, 2010

Fit Mommy - Week 7

This is my weekly check-in for Fit Mommy, hosted by Denise over at Got Chai?

Well, I crawled back on to the wagon this week, though I perhaps have a leg dangling off still.

My top 10 things learned this week:

10. I'm really good at something - procrastination!
9. Starting the week off on the wagon helps me stay there.
8. I like squats better than lunges.
7. I stink at squash (is there any ball sport I'm good at?)
6. There is life after chocolate.
5. Scales - who needs them?
4. I feel better if I'm more consistent with vitamins.
3. Previously stretched jeans are good for self-esteem.
2. Small goals are better for getting back on track.
1. It really feels good to be back on the wagon.

I have a good report compared to last week. Since I did nothing last week, I can't claim a huge victory, but I'm still pretty content that I was able to throw myself back on the fitness wagon. Ok, it wasn't graceful and hurt a bit, but I'm riding along now.

I'm now declaring my fitness week Monday - Friday. Weekends are a fitness flop for me. We usually eat out at least once in addition to hitting the local Coney after church for a greasy breakfast. I surrender! Maybe eventually I'll get there, but I'm not going to focus in on weekends.

I had a very S-L-O-W start on Monday. I hadn't worked out in over a week. I. Did. Not. Want. To. Move. So what did I do? I practiced the fine art of procrastination while wrestling with it in my head. Instead of working out first thing in the morning, I stayed in my pajamas for MUCH longer than normal. I knew as soon as I jumped in the shower without working out, there was no turning back (likely for the whole week). The skinny fitness trainer on my right shoulder finally beat up the couch potato on the left shoulder and got my lazy butt in workout apparel.

I continued using the EA Sports Active, More Workouts, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The workouts were about 25 minutes on average. They aren't great workouts, but are much better than the first program in this series. I know my muscles are working harder because they were sore a few times this week. They aren't screaming, perhaps just a whimper, but at least I know various muscle groups are getting something!

As I mentioned earlier, where the last program was heavy on the lunges, this one does more slightly more squats. I've determined that I like squats better. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'd rather have a sore rear than sore thighs? It might be a mental thing...there IS muscle under there! Also, instead of tennis, this program has squash. Yep, I pretty much stink at it. It is much easier to just have fun with it when your virtual trainer isn't nagging you to "stay focused". The programmers for this one must have been women.

Nutritionally speaking, the week wasn't stellar. It wasn't a total bust either. I gave up two things - chocolate and scales. Yes, not a single piece of chocolate has passed my lips since the weekend with not so much as even a tremor of withdrawal. I also gave up scales. No sense in depressing myself anymore! I managed to be more consistent with my vitamins too. I missed a day here or there, but I noticed a difference. I am a much happier mama when I have my vitamins regularly. I think if my kids realized the correlation of mood and vitamins in me, they'd be slipping some in my chocolate.

Since I gave up scales, the way my clothes fit need to do the talking. Unfortunately, my clothes didn't do any talking this week. Everything felt just the same. I did have a lovely conversation with someone else's jeans though. It was a much better conversation than the one I had with the chocolate Santa a couple of weeks ago.

I was at the Salvation Army this week and decided to try on some jeans. I selected two pairs of Levis of identical size and style to the ones I normally wear. Unfortunately, I'm now one size bigger than I was a year or two ago, so even picking up the "new" size to try on doesn't put me in the best of moods.

The first pair I tried on said all kinds of obscenities to me.

"You're too fat!"
"Even my bigger size is tight around that gut of yours."
"Oh, honey, you need to do a few more squats."

I quickly shut up that nasty pair of jeans and ripped them off. Sigh. The next pair was identical in size and style, but I tried them on anyhow. They just looked kinder. I wasn't disappointed.

"Oh, look good."
"Do you see that extra room in the thighs...yeah, baby!"
"Wow! Have you been working out?"

Talk to me, baby! I almost felt like wearing them to the cash register rather than changing back, just like a little kid does when he get new shoes. I wore the jeans the next day and they continued to whisper sweet nothings in my ear by stretching a bit and even being a little too loose! Now, I'm fully aware that the previous owner had likely stretched these jeans out in all the right places, but my self esteem needed the boost. I'm desperate and will take what I can get.

My focus this week was on small goals - no chocolate, taking vitamins, and jump starting the workouts. It feels good to be back on the wagon. Maybe I'll get my dangling leg up this coming week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: Math Mammoth

One thing that I really love about homeschooling is the opportunity to teach to mastery. It is a benefit that both of my kids need but neither would likely get in a typical classroom. In some areas, this allows them to move forward quicker and in others, it allows them to linger until the concepts sink in.

One area that we tend to linger is math. If the concepts are not mastered before moving forward, trouble will be down the road. One of my children raced ahead in math in the earlier years, but hit a wall once we headed into middle school territory. Some of this was developmental, but not truly mastering and understanding the steps learned previously was a contribution. For this reason, we've been spiraling in this subject for about three years, filling in holes, adding more practice problems, and drilling facts before moving on to the next level of material.

Math Mammoth is one tool we've used during lingering math stays. The author, Maria Miller, has a heart to help homeschooling moms give their children true understanding of the subject affordably. From the website:
My aim is to help parents and teachers teach math so our children and students can really understand what is going on. I've strived to explain the concepts so that both the teacher and the student can "get it" by reading the explanations in the books. In essence, the books become practically self-teaching.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Math Mammoth last year. Please do read the full review from last year as I used different workbooks during the review period and included additional information. However, for those new to Math Mammoth, the following is a repeat of the product lines available from Math Mammoth.

Math Mammoth has a full line of products for grades 1-12 to fill just about any need, whether it be a full curriculum, supplemental, or remedial resources. These downloadable workbooks are perfect when an area that needs more attention - right now - is discovered. There are several different series and collections available.

The Blue Series, Grades 1-5

Each worktext, containing both explanations and problems, in this series concentrates on only a few topics with varied problems for full understanding. The focus is on learning a particular topic; some of the books in this series cover several grade levels of material. This series is an excellent choice for remedial or supplemental work. Depending on the selected topic, cost for an ebook format is a very affordable $2-5.

The Lightblue Series, Grades 1-5

The Lightblue Series is a complete curriculum. The two worktexts (A & B) include answer keys, tests, cumulative reviews and an additional worksheet maker. Each grade level has limited topics, going deep rather than broad, and a longer time is spent on one topic for better learning. There is little prep work for the teacher. Children who can read will be able to self-teach with the clear explanations, including visual and puzzle exercises. The Blue and Lightblue series are essentially the same material, just organized and packaged differently. Each downloadable worktext is available for $15.50, or you can purchase both A & B worktexts for $29.70.

The Golden Series, Grades 3-8

This series is a collection of 120-150 worksheets for each grade for review and supplementation, starting with grade 3 and going through Algebra 1. The Golden series has problems only; concept explanations are not included. One topic per page is covered with variable problems for practice and understanding. Grade levels are available in two parts (A & B) with their corresponding answer keys available separately. Each part (A or B) is available for $6-9 and answer keys for $2. Complete packages are available for $12-14.

The Green Series, Grades 3-7

This series is similar to the Blue Series in structure and is organized by the topic. The worksheet collections may span several grades, making this series great for a comprehensive review and supplement of a particular topic. One topic per page is presented with variable problems, including word problems. The worksheets in this series are the same as those in the Golden Series, just arranged by topic rather than grade. Prices range from $2.50-9.

Make it Real Learning, Grades 3-12

This series has been added since my last review. Do you have a grumbling student because they don't see the purpose of math? This series, written by Frank Wilson, provides real life application of the math concepts your student is learning. The problem sets are meant for short usage, ideal for 1-2 class periods. If you have a high schooler or student that has covered material in the other series, look in this series for upper level material. Prices range from $4.99 individually or for $39.99 for the complete set.

Each series is also available in printed format, CD and in various packages and pricing structures. Purchase of certain packages also includes bonus Soft-Pac software.

If you are unsure of what grade level you need, Maria Miller is willing to consult parents on what might be a good option for your child. There are also placement tests available for the Lightblue series.

This time around I selected Algebra 1 Worksheets from the Golden Series and Linear Functions I from the Make It Real Series.

Algebra 1A Worksheets

The biggest thing to note with this particular series is that there are no explanations on how to do the problems. For us, that worked out perfectly because I am using this workbook as supplemental work to make sure the material is solidified. My daughter has no trouble following directions and solving a problem with examples for reference. However, after she has learned the new material, I want her to be able to understand the material well enough to apply it without explanation. Because one topic is covered per page with a variety of problems, this workbook has been a handy tool for practicing and checking understanding of new concepts.

Linear Functions I

This workbook is perfect for showing your Algebra student real-life examples of how they would use the math they are learning today. There are 10 scenarios with 6 questions to solve. Completely worked out solutions are provide. The first problem set my daughter worked out was titled "Choosing a Cell Phone Plan - T-Mobile". The series uses real situations and real companies to draw in more interest from the student. The cell phone plan application immediately caught my daughter's attention. It certainly didn't look like her typical worksheet. The workbooks in this series are not long (this one is 46 pages, solutions included), but may be just what your student needs for a change of pace and to see what they are learning really is useful!

Overall, Math Mammoth is an affordable and convenient math product. While I used our selections as supplements, please read some of the other Crew reviews to see how the complete curriculum option (the Light Blue Series) worked for other families.

Visit the Math Mammoth website for more information and to browse all the available workbooks and series. Make sure to take advantage of the offer for a free package of 280 worksheets and sample pages, an excellent way to try before you buy.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I received the above product at no cost in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Co-ops? Not for me! Or are they?

This week's Blog Cruise question is, "What do you think about co-ops?"

In general, based on experience, co-ops aren't my thing.

Before continuing, let me define co-op. To me, there is a distinct difference between a support group and a co-op. A co-op is a group that requires each member to contribute in a defined way on condition if their membership. This means that the parents involved are each doing their part, including the teaching. A support group is less structured and less commitment. There may be some requirements, such as a membership fee or participation guidelines, but typically it is a la carte rather a complete package.

When I first starting homeschooling, I joined a very small co-op in my small town. I thought that is what everyone did if you were to homeschool and I didn't realize there was any other type of group. This one was extremely close, too - just a mile down the road.

Despite my high hopes, it didn't go well.
  • The group was very small and limited only to 20 families.
  • The classes were few and varied greatly in quality.
  • The focus of the group was on older kids. My kids were 2 and 4 our first year as members.
  • The group was structured around classes. Field trips were rare.
  • I felt that many in the group were using co-op day as their core teaching.
  • The group felt strongly that they should not hire outside teachers.
  • As someone just starting out, I did not feel qualified to teach the children of others. However, that was a requirement.
I gave it a go for two years. The group was not a match for me and I was not a match for them. In fact, I was actually asked how I felt about going as an "inactive" member so they could let a family in with older kids. What I needed was a support group and I wasn't getting much support. I understand now that I was on a completely different page than most of the families in the group. At the time, though, I was frustrated.

There were four other families with young kids that came into the group at the same time, all just starting out. None of us felt like we belonged, but we also didn't really know where to go. We were often told by other members that we should do our own thing. After the second year, I took their advice. My family, along with the other four families, left the group and started another. We had such an aversion to co-ops that we advertised the new group with "we are not a co-op" on the fliers.

It was an instant success and grew very rapidly. Our model was one where each member contributed when they were comfortable, with a focus on fun activities. We did coordinate some classes, but we hired instructors and core/essential classes were not allowed. Class offerings of sewing, art, karate, textiles, etc were very popular. That first year we went on over 20 field trips. It was just what my family needed and I realized that I should have moved on from the first group much, much earlier.

Our group has changed slightly from the early years. We still offer classes with hired instructors, but they are now limited because of the economy. No one can afford the expense right now. We've also opened up offerings to include some core subjects because it is more of a focus for the older kids. However, we still hire teachers to maintain the quality. I want to avoid having Mrs. Smith teach history, even though this is not a specialty area, simply because it was an open slot for that semester and she was available. But because our focus isn't really on classes and the families vary widely, it isn't always feasible to fill a class on a given subject. For example, someone tried to coordinate a chemistry class this year but a single high school class offering was not enough of a draw for the limited high schoolers in our group. Now that my kids are older, I'm beginning to see the value of co-ops.

Despite my original experience, I am actually hesitantly considering a co-op next year for my oldest. However, the structure is completely different than the first co-op. Most classes have hired teachers and the parents help out by being classroom assistants or room monitors. There is a fee for the classes, but it is more affordable since members are required to pitch in. The group is much larger and has more class options. The focus is on just junior high and high school classes.

I'm still unsure about it and will likely only register for classes that aren't essential classes until I get a feel for the general instructional quality. The attraction, however, is more in-person academic classroom experiences for my kids. In addition, some subjects, like debate, really need a group learning experience. With high school rapidly approaching, the benefits of such a situation are higher than when my kids were younger. Also, this particular co-op appears to be rather flexible, making it feasible to take only one class and give a proportional amount of time back.

Co-ops can be great if they are run effectively and support everyone involved. If you are seeking out a co-op, I would recommend looking at the following:
  • What is the general age group? A small co-op that has a large spread of ages will likely not serve your family well. On the flip side, a very large co-op that tries to do it all may not be organized enough to run efficiently.
  • What is the focus of the group? Does the group offer core or enrichment classes? Both?
  • What is the quality of the classes? A poor quality enrichment class has fewer consequences than a poor quality core class. There is a big difference if your student's basket weaving teacher doesn't know how to teach the subject compared to a truly ineffective writing teacher.
  • What is the requirement to join? If it is teaching, are you both comfortable and available to fulfill this requirement? Teaching a co-op class is a lot of work and the time involved may be better used teaching your own. Make sure what you are required to put in is proportional to what you get out of it.
  • What is the general philosophy of the group? Does it fit with your family?
An alternative to big co-ops would be to start a small co-op class with friends that you've invited to join. Select a topic that you would like some accountability or shared experience with and limit the course to a time period. The chances for success are greater with families you know are like-minded. A friend used this model for a 10-week science class, with each participating family teaching 2 weeks, with success. There wasn't a huge commitment and no cost, while still gaining the benefits of a traditional co-op.

While I do see the value of co-ops, in general they are not for our family as a focus for our homeschool, even though I may dip my toes in next year. I do think that it is important to have opportunity to learn in a in-person group, but so far we have been able to achieve this outside of a co-op through online classes, paid courses, workshops, and field trips through our non-co-op general homeschooling support group.

Co-ops may be a complete blessing to another family. As with homeschooling families, no two co-ops are alike. If you think a co-op may the thing for your family, shop wisely for a fit. Weigh what benefits you'll be getting versus what you'll need to put in. I've heard of many successful co-op situations, but not-so-grand experiences are just as common.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fit Mommy - Week 6

This is my weekly check-in for Fit Mommy, hosted by Denise over at Got Chai?

I probably should have mentioned last week that I was going on a Fit Mommy break this week.
Problem is:

I didn't know.

The Godiva was gone and all the Palmer Santas consumed. It was going to be a great week, right?

Then it arrived...Russell Stover.

My mom, bless her, still sends me a Valentine's Day package. There were some other non-edible trinkets in my package, but I had to show Mr. Russell Stover my appreciation of his contribution to chocolate lovers through consumption of said chocolate. Just for fun, you can read a bit more about the history of Russell Stover here.

And that kind of sums up how my week went. I didn't watch myself nutritionally and for the first time in five weeks I didn't exercise AT ALL. Not one Wii workout or walk around the neighborhood.

I'm not sure what my problem has been this week. I'm just in a funk, I guess. The goal for next week is to snap out of it.

With that, I'm going to leave you with the Top Ten Things I Already Knew this week, since I didn't really learn anything new, being on vacation and all.

10. My mom loves me!
9. My mom loves me enough to not recognize I could stand to drop 20 pounds.
8. I am a chocoholic.
7. Falling off the fitness wagon is easy.
6. Falling off the fitness wagon with chocolate in your hand is even easier.
5. I have no self-control.
4. Sleeping in is much more attractive than an early workout with a virtual trainer.
3. Working out regularly is hard!
2. This won't be the last time I fall off the fitness wagon.
1. Falling off the wagon is ok, as long as you crawl back on (next week, I promise!)

Review: Homeschool Library Builder

Want books? What homeschooler doesn't? I think most of us have a serious addiction. The problem isn't the addiction, but funding it!

Homeschool Library Builder is a family-run book business by two fellow homeschooling moms whose goal is to affordably fill home libraries with quality literature. Both new and used books and materials are available at reasonable prices and a satisfaction guarantee.

I reviewed Homeschool Library Builder last year. You can read my full review here. At the time, I had ordered some books that I needed for our Sonlight program, which were easy to find in with the "Search by Curriculum" category. Since that time, I have again ordered more from Homeschool Library Builder and received the same great service. This time I found two new DVDs that had been on my wishlist for some time. The prices were great and I was able to use my membership points for a discount.

If you order in the month of February, you will receive and automatic 20% off your order. If you find a treasure to add to your library, make sure you take advantage of the free HSLB Book Points Membership Rewards Program when ordering to earn points for discounts off future purchases.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

World Math Day March 3rd

This looks like a lot of fun and is FREE through Mathletics, a product I reviewed earlier in the year. Please pass on the information below to anyone who might be interested.


World Math Day is free and lots of FUN!

Join us in a celebration of numbers as students from

around the globe unite in their quest to set a world record

in answering mental arithmetic questions. Be a part of

this great education event involving more than 2 million

students from over 200 countries.

It's Free and Fun!

• Brand NEW format.

• World Math Day is the education event for the world!

• Your students will love it! Be part of setting a world record!

• It will create an amazing buzz around Math

• Designed for all ages and ability levels. Simple to register and participate. All you need is internet access.

• Great prizes

• And it’s absolutely free!!

HURRY, registration closes March 2nd 2010

Review: Zeezok's Presidential Penmanship

When your kids practice their penmanship, doesn't it make sense that they practice with something worthwhile? Scripture, famous quotes, and excerpts from great literature are often sought out by busy homeschooling moms seeking for something worthy of carefully scripted words.

Now the work is done for you with the Presidential Penmanship series by Zeezok Publishing. Presidential Penmanship is a supplemental handwriting program for first grade through senior high. Easy printable worksheets contain the words and writings from America's founding fathers and presidents, exposing your students the foundational morals and government principles of America, all while practicing penmanship.

Presidential Penmanship is available in 6 different writing styles:
  • AB style (similar to A Beka), DN style (similar to D'Nealian)
  • BJ style (similar to BJU Press)
  • DN style (similar to D'Nealian)
  • HWOT (similar to Handwriting Without Tears)
  • Italic style (similar to Getty & Dubay Italic)
  • ZB style (similar to Zaner-Bloser)
Individual grade levels are available as eBooks or all levels can be purchased at once on CD. I was provided with the Italic Style Complete Program on CD for review.
The passages to be copied are structured by grade level, starting with thirty-six quotes on founding principles and character qualities for first and second graders. Below is a sampling of various passages for some of the grade levels.

Grade 1
Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. ~T. Jefferson

Grade 3
The circulation of confidence is better than the circulation of money. ~James Madison

Junior High
The philosophy of the schoolroom in on generation will be the philosophy of government in the next. ~Abraham Lincoln
Not only do the selections provide the beginnings to government and civics study, but the passages are perfect for memorization work as well.

Click here for an 88-page sampler of all levels.

When my kids were first learning to write, finding appropriate passages always took a bit of time locating and then copying in my own hand passages to copy. I eventually resorted to purchasing consumable workbooks when my daughter was first learning. Of course, when my son started learning, the purchase of more workbooks was required. I'm typically not a fan of digital products, but if any product has an advantage over print, it is handwriting materials.
  • You can use it over and over with multiple children.
  • Sloppy work? Just reprint the page for a redo!
  • Twelve years of material on one disk.
  • No more half-used workbooks! Print only what you need.
It is important to note that the CDs do not teach the strokes for each style with repeated practice of individual letters, but are meant to be supplemental practice. My children do not write in Italic and I therefore couldn't put this product through the "kid test", but I can see how this would be a welcome addition into our homeschool if we did regular handwriting practice in this writing style.

If you are tired of searching for material for your children to copy during writing practice, Presidential Penmanship from Zeezok will certainly inject a huge dose of convenience into your homeschool. Individual grade levels are available as eBooks for $9.99 or a complete program can be purchased on CD for $39.99 ($15 savings). Many other materials, including historical fiction and the Great Musician Series, are also available from Zeezok. For more information or to make a purchase, visit the Zeezok website.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Beehive Reader

One of my favorite products I've reviewed while on the TOS Crew is All About Spelling. In short, this is fantastic spelling program that really met a specific need in our homeschool. You can read my review from last year here.

As a returning vendor, All About Spelling sent me their new Beehive Reader 1 for review.

The Beehive Reader, part of an upcoming All About Reading series, maintains the level of quality that has become expected from All About Spelling products. Most of the early readers my children had when younger were flimsy paperback pamphlets. In contrast, the Beehive Reader is a beautifully illustrated hard-cover book of 160 pages. The simple feel and look of the book is sure to make emerging readers feel that they are about to embark on a wonderful reading adventure.

There are ten stories contained within its pages, all coordinating with the words that are learned using All About Spelling Level 1. (Level 1 Correlation by step) Most of the stories are 10-12 pages long with one or two sentences per page, yet still carry a decent story line. A combination of serious and silly tales are included.

To help with tracking, a dotted line is beneath the sentences. Care was put into proper line breaks and natural phrasing to encourage the child to read in phrases rather than choppily in individual words. Even the paper used is a heavier, cream-colored stock that feels good in the hands and it easy on young eyes. These are all subtle features that set your beginning or struggling reader up for success.

The pencil illustrations one each page are absolutely gorgeous and charming! Unlike other early readers I've seen, the illustrations do not allow readers to guess the words on the page, yet still compliment them perfectly. Your children will appreciate the detail of the drawings. Additionally, each story has a repeating watermark image in the background that coordinates with the story for added charm. For example, the story titled The Bat and King Sam has crowns on the background of its pages.

See more sample pages

This is a quality reader inside and out. My two are long past the early reader stage, but I know they would have just adored the Beehive Reader when they were just learning. There simply isn't anything not to love.

The Beehive Reader is $19.95 and available at the All About Spelling website*. More readers and additional materials for the All About Reading series are in the works. Look for them later this year!

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

*All About Spelling affiliate

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Modern One-room Schoolhouse

This week's TOS Blog Cruise questions is, "How do you homeschool multiple ages?"

With a classroom of only two students, I'm not sure how qualified I am to answer this question. I no longer have little ones in the house. While I don't have a lot of kids to juggle, my kids are not at the same grade level on anything. In fact, our grade level range is much wider than the age range when you take into account grade variances among subjects for the same child. I'll try to pull from my memory what I did one my youngest was still ripping wallpaper off the wall when I turned my back, but most of my perspective will be on two school-aged children with a wide gap between functional grade levels.

There is no reason why teaching multiple levels should be a huge concern. The one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear worked under this model successfully. In fact, there are various levels within the modern classroom, even if segmented by grade. Essentially, this question is one of using time wisely so that the children in your homeschool get a balance of one-on-one and independent learning time.

1. Incorporate the younger kids

When my kids were younger, my son benefited from many field trips and activities that I normally wouldn't have done with him until he was much older. He was learning right along and secretly soaking up all kinds of information. Of course, you should check with the activity coordinator and make sure little ones can come and never bring younger siblings that may have behaviors that will disrupt the older kids. The main point is, don't limit activities that your older kids will enjoy because you think your younger kids won't get much out of it. They likely will get more out of it than you think.

2. Nap, anyone?

This seems obvious, but worth mentioning because new homeschoolers don't always realize that homeschooling doesn't mean 6 straight hours of work. Utilize nap time wisely and do whatever subjects your older kids need the most help on while little ones nap. A lot can be accomplished in 2 hours. When your toddler is needing supervision, have independent work available for your older kids.

3. Look for materials that can be modified up or down to meet all levels.

Sonlight is a prime example of this. Children can enjoy read-alouds at various levels. Younger children can narrate back the story while older kids can be assigned written comprehension questions. While my children have quite a gap in their grade level, I can almost always teach history together on some level.

4. Strive towards independence of the older children.

I'll admit that I actually teach my oldest very little. At 13, she is able to do most of her work on her own. I am more of a facilitator and am available to help in trouble areas. I understand that not all kids are independent, but it is something that should eventually be the goal. After all, a major part of learning is to know how to teach oneself. With the oldest more independent, I have more time available to work with my younger child.

5. Outsource some subjects.

There is nothing wrong with outsourcing some subjects. My daughter currently takes two online classes. One is in a foreign language which I really didn't want to teach. The other is in a subject that I could teach, but I wanted to give the experience of working with someone other than me and receiving outside grades. Online courses are sometimes expensive, but worth it to me. Another option would be a local co-op course.

I've also swapped time with a friend. While she taught my daughter and her son writing, I taught her daughter spelling. It saved time and money for both of us.

6. Have independent learning activities available when needed.

There are times when I'm working with one child and the other is requiring my help. I try to have several independent activities ready and available. Rather than loose the learning opportunity while one child waits, I will instruct them to silently read the next chapter of a book, log on to an educational website, or work out of a puzzle workbook. The important thing is to have the items ready and available. What I do is incorporate this into our workboxes. Typically, I'll have the materials for several independent activities in the last few workboxes. If my son is needing me, I just tell him to pick one of the last three boxes to work on while he waits.

My daughter is able to select something on her own if her assignments are neatly in front of her. If she needs me for math but I am not available, it is simple to catch up on some textbook reading of another subject is she has her materials and assignments well laid-out.

If you have little ones not formally learning, be sure to have plenty of boxes of new activities to rotate. Puzzles, playdough, and playsets that aren't all the time are great to pull out to steal 15 minutes to work with another child.

The answer to teaching multiple levels is to use your time wisely and thinking outside of the box. Make use of your time and their time, while striving towards an independent learner.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Ray's Arithmetic

Several years ago, an email circulated that contained the 8th grade final exam used in Saline County, Kansas in 1895. You can find a copy here. The point was to show that the education a child received over a hundred years ago was very different than the standard education of today. While some areas of our education system have made great advances, I'm not convinced that is the case across the board.

If you have interest in how subjects were taught in the frontier years and emulating that in your homeschool, you may consider exploring Dollar Homeschool. Dollar Homeschool has compiled a full curriculum, Eclectic Education Series (EES), of the very texts and materials used in America from roughly 1865-1915. Portions of the EES series are also available individually, Ray's Arithmetic being one of them. For review, I received the full Ray's Arithmetic series in a PDF format.

Ray's Arithmetic includes 38 titles, which includes 12 core textbooks, answer keys, and teacher guides covering K-12. Also included are extracurricular and interesting math related topics, such as Survey and Navigation and Astronomy. For a full list, click here.

The approach of Ray's Arithmetic is that students first learn concepts verbally. Is not until students fully understand the concepts that they express in written form. As to be expected with this approach, there are many word problems. Students who don't understand the concepts and instead are following steps will have much difficulty solving word problems; their heavy inclusion in this program certainly is a bonus. Ray's makes sure that students know the practical application of the math they are learning.

Emphasis is placed on spending as long as needed until concepts are fully mastered. With this curriculum, a stone at a time is laid in the foundation, slowly building on each. In addition, the curriculum, used during a time when schools weren't readily available and parents didn't have spare hours to teach, is designed for students to be independent in their learning.

When I first received this product, I was a bit overwhelmed. I would recommend starting with the Method of Manuals and A Manual of Arithmetic, which will give you an overview of the curriculum and approach. The quality of the scanned pages was not an issue, with the exception of an occasional illustration. Since the scans are formatted as images, you can't jump to sections within a text from an index. Scrolling through the document is necessary, which didn't help my aversion of digital products of this magnitude. However, the titles are indexed nicely according to level of difficulty, making finding a particular text simple.

Click here for more sample pages.

The Ray's CD is designed to be a printing curriculum. The titles range in size from 100 - 400 pages and you certainly wouldn't want to print all the titles at once! Print what you need or have your child read the text from the computer.

If I were just starting out homeschooling with young children, I can see using Ray's in the early years, especially if I were on a budget. The method seems to be a solid approach resulting in full understanding of the subject rather than memorization of steps or facts. Jumping in to this program would be more difficult with an older child, though there are suggestions for proper placement in the Welcome file of the CD.

While these titles are available on public domain, finding and downloading them all may be a bit of a time investment. Dollar Homeschool provides a service by doing the work for you. The other value added feature is that they have removed the answers next to the problems commonly found in other copies for the student texts. This way your student can work directly from the text and not have the answers provided. The books with answers in them are also provided, but are referred to as the "Teacher Editions".

Ray's Arithmetic on CD costs $59. Visit Dollar Homeschool to learn more about Ray's Arithmetic and other products available. All Dollar Homeschool products come with a 30-day unconditional guarantee and a full refund if you are not 100% satisfied.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Website for Grapevine Studies

Grapevine Studies is launching a new website, I reviewed their Level 5 Old Testament Overview earlier in the year. You can read the review here. Many of the products are being offered at sale prices through the end of February. The Level 5 PDF version is currently $14.50 (reg $28.95).

Fit Mommy - Week 5

This is my weekly check-in for Fit Mommy, hosted by Denise over at Got Chai?

The top 10 things I learned this week:

10. When Godiva is gone, Palmers will suffice.
9. Watching the Super Bowl is more fun with food.
8. Sometimes, you just need to put the scale away.
7. It is possible to like one virtual trainer over another.
6. A good workout using the Wii really can happen.
5. Virtual waterskiing is almost like virtual inline skating.
4. I know *exactly* where my hamstrings are located.
3. Prolonged exposure to cold weather increases your BMR
2. Walking in deep snow is quite a workout.
1. What took 3 years to happen, can't be undone in weeks.

It wasn't a great week nutritionally - again. I've come to terms that I just like to eat. I mean, I really enjoy food. Who doesn't? This past week has been difficult though. I've been craving all kinds of goodies and have had zero will power. The Godiva is GONE and no longer haunts me. I did find an Palmer chocolate Santa left over from Christmas. It wasn't nearly as good as the Godiva. Can you tell I have a problem with chocolate?

Part of the issue is the weekends. We've been going out to breakfast regularly after church. In addition, our family watched the Super Bowl and had snacks for the occasion. My hubby, after all, is not on the Fit Mommy page and wasn't hip on munching on carrot sticks.

So while it wasn't really a terrible week, I don't think it was a "Fit Mommy approved" week nutritionally. I really didn't modify anything. I did have a piece of fruit every day for breakfast and stayed on my low-fat chai. I'll guess I'll have to claim those two things as there is nothing else!

To no surprise, I haven't lost any weight. I actually didn't step on the scale after the weekend. It seems it doesn't matter what I do, the weight just stays the same. I've decided not to check the scale for awhile since I'm not really making drastic changes nutritionally. I know with continued exercise and even with cutting snacks here and there, eventually some will come off.

As far as exercise, I did much better. I didn't work out Monday because I was feeling ill. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the junk I put in my body the day before. Umm...yeah. On Tuesday, I decided to go to the second EA Active program, not so creatively titled EA Active: More Workouts. Wow. How inspiring. I felt like I wasn't getting much with the first program. More Workouts actually did give me a decent workout. I was even a bit sore the next day.

Where the first program is obsessed with lunges, this one has a fixation on squats. By the end of the week, I knew exactly where every thread of muscle in my hamstrings is located. It also incorporates a warm-up and cool-down with stretches, which I like. There is no inline skating (whew!), but instead there is water skiing which is amazingly similar in requirements. I stink at water sports in real life and the virtual world is no different. However, I think the programmers figured out that constantly being told to focus isn't really encouraging. The trainer tells me I'm doing great, no matter how terrible I'm doing. My Mii even performs tricks off the ramp as long as I actually make it to the ramp. I used the new program every day, Tuesday - Friday. I even worked on one of my "rest" days for the program. I feel pretty good about that.

I also took the kids sledding this week and was surprised at what a workout it can be walking through deep snow. I probably should have gone down the hill a few times simply so I'd have to come back up, but I wasn't really in the sledding mood. I was freezing and the snow was powdering, flying in the faces of sledders all the way down! Then it dawned on me. Perhaps I'm burning more calories simply by being outside in the cold. Could it be true? Well, sort of. Not enough to claim the right to eat a chocolate Santa though.

Next week I'll work on getting back on track with the nutrition. I need to start regularly taking my vitamins and plan to add that in as a goal this week. Now if I could just get some chocolate-flavored vitamins...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Snow Day for Our Homeschool!

My son has what the family affectionately called "the list". There are a number of items on the list at any given time, but he'll fixate on whatever is at the top until the "box" is checked. Lately, going sledding has been at the top of the list. Normally, that wouldn't be too difficult to accomplish during the winter in Michigan. Unfortunately, we haven't had much snow since before the holidays. For weeks blotches of dead grass have been visible on our lawn. It definitely hasn't been good sledding weather.

Then came this Wednesday. I think it was the biggest snowfall we've had all year. Both our 3-hour art class and evening AWANA program were canceled. I was hoping to use the time to catch up on a bit of school work, but the list called. I tried to convince my son that today would be a better day. Yesterday the local schools were closed and I knew the sledding hills would be crowded. Today, with all the kids back in school, they would have the hills to themselves. It didn't matter. The. Box. Must. Be. Checked.

So, we hit the hills at the nearby metropark. It was packed with kids riding their sleds down the still powdery hills. My son didn't care if there were crowds. He was finally getting his sledding box checked.

We ran into some friends who shared a few runs down the hills. They then retrieved their toboggan and took a trip down the toboggan run a few times. Unlike the other hills, the run was completely empty! Then, the group spotted a large snowbank and ditched the sleds for awhile to build a snow cave. My daughter, who is constantly complaining about how short she is, insisted I take this picture that makes her look extremely tall with the help of a friend.
Just before I was able to take a group picture with the kids inside the structure, it collapsed. We managed to get a group picture anyhow.
After arriving home and making hot chocolate, there wasn't much left of the day to get to that school work I had hoped to get in. The school work can wait for a change. Sledding was more important this time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Applications Being Accepted for the 2010-11 TOS Crew

Are you interested in becoming part of the TOS Crew? Applications are now being accepted for the next Crew. You can read all the details on how to apply here.

If you love to try new products and share your findings with others, I highly recommend you apply! If you have any questions about what it is like being part of the Crew, please feel free to leave a comment and ask!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Part 4: A True Evaluation

How do I know my kids are keeping up with peers?
I spent quite a bit of time with Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 on how to answer this question numerically using outside evaluation. However, I do not want to mislead you. I do not believe testing is the best approach to this question. It may put the unsure parent at ease, quiet suspicious relatives, or otherwise provide something quantitative to outsiders. Outsiders, who do not know your homeschool nor your children, understand numbers. You, however, know your child and can go much farther than a number. Today I'd like to explore a different perspective.

It is hard not to look at how our kids are doing compared to others. Standardized testing does answer the question that my children are at least as well off academically at home as those in public school. Even though academic reasons were one of the first things that pushed me into homeschooling (and I say pushed, because it wasn't my original intention), it isn't the only reason we continue to homeschool. For me, using standardized testing hardly puts a dent in the answer to how my kids are doing.

Rather than zoom in on academics, the question of how my children are doing is answered best by looking at the bigger picture. How is this child doing compared not to others, but to themselves? I sometimes like to play a "what if" game. "What if" my child went to public school? What would be their focus? How would that change how their strengths and weaknesses play out? "What if" my child attended a great private school and I worked outside of the home in order to pay for it? The impact would be much more than academics. There is always a trade off with choices. What are those trade-offs with each situation for each individual child?

For example, I have a bright child that struggles with writing. Compared to peers, whether public schooled or homeschooled, he is behind in spelling and composition. If he were in school, I highly doubt he would get the one-on-one instruction he needs in this area. A teacher with 30 students in the classroom would not be able to take the time to move beyond written output for evaluation. Furthermore, because he is great at compensating for his weaknesses, he'd likely be written off as an average or below-average student. The end result would likely be a child that both falls through the cracks and remains unchallenged. Even though he is currently still behind his peers in this area, he is much farther ahead than if he attended the local school. I fully expect that with time, writing is not going to be an issue.

My other child excels in all subjects. She'd do well academically, but at what cost? She, too, would not be challenged; schools often are not open to acceleration. What, exactly, would she be doing with all of her free time while she waited for the rest of the class? Getting into trouble? Be bored out of her mind? And upon graduation, would this child truly know how to learn and strive towards goals, having never really had to work for an A?

When I look at what my children would be as public schooled children, I have no doubt that they are better off at home academically. In addition, I believe that the academic structure of public schools would make them fall behind in a more important area - character. Let's face it, teachers often have no choice but to shoot for the middle and teach to the test. It isn't their fault, but the nature of the system. However, if a child does not have their academic needs met because they do not fall within the box, they are less likely to learn to learn in a way that works for them.

Socially, my children would have been completely different children had they not been homeschooled. The very thought that homeschooled children are at a disadvantage socially completely humors me. Because of a more flexible schedule, they get to experience more. My children have been able to build strong friendships year-to-year. In school, friendships often come and go based on who is in your class that year. They have both developed friendships outside of their age group.

My daughter was recently involved in a theater production, that a regular school schedule would not have allowed, and was the only one on the cast younger than the age of 24. Yet, she was able to become friends and make connections with all the adults in the performance. My son was deathly shy when he was younger. If he had been in school, I honestly don't think he would have managed well. Homeschooling has allowed him to grow and mature at his own pace. He is by no means shy anymore. More importantly, their friendship as brother and sister is much stronger than it would ever be if they went to school. The ability to maintain solid relationships with others is more important than academics.

My children don't see others as a grade or an age. They see them as people. I tend to chuckle when adults tell me my children are articulate. What they really mean is that they can look them in the eye and have conversation with them. A true test of how your children are doing socially is how they interact with others, not how much they know about pop culture or the latest fashions. My children may be behind in the latter compared to their peers, but they are far ahead when it comes to social skills that will matter as an adult.

To determine if my children are keeping up with their peers, I do not compare them as children, but as how I see them as future adults. Are they learning now what it takes to be a responsible adult in all areas? It is all a process, and I'm more interested in the end result than the current stats. How will they compare when they have graduated from our homeschool? Will they have learned how to learn? Will they have character? Will they be able to carry on relationships? There is no paper test nor evaluation to answer these questions. The results will not be realized for many years.

The best way for me to answer the question, "How do I know if my kids are keeping up with their peers?" is to redefine their peers. I make their peers the person they can potentially be. In the end, I care only about how they are doing against the standards that God has set out for them. This may mean an occasional examination of various areas, including academically and socially, but not to see if they are keeping up with peers. The goal isn't to keep up with peers, but rather to become the person that God would have them to be.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Review: Kinderbach

Finding a quality music program for young children is difficult. Formal one-on-one lessons are often too much for little ones, requiring longer attention spans that most preschoolers have to give. Yet, many little ones are ready to move beyond just appreciating music and start learning rhythm, note identification, and music patterns. Kinderbach is a music instruction program for ages 2-7, with lessons available through an online membership or on DVD. If you have a budding musician in your house, Kinderbach may be just the answer to get them started.

I reviewed Kinderbach last year for the 2008-2009 review season. I'm not going to repeat myself on all the details; you can read my original review here. However, I would like to highlight some of the additions from last year.

You can read a full Scope and Sequence by Level at the website to get an idea of all this curriculum covers.

Since my review last year, more lessons have been added and now include Levels 5 and 6.

New features include:

Student DVDs forLevel 1-3

The new student DVDs run $9.95 each and include entertaining songs and stories from the corresponding levels

Crafts and Games for Level 1-3

A floor keyboard, flash cards, posters and games are all available as PDF downloads. Costs range from free - $9.95.

Coloring Pages

Also available as a PDF download, coloring pages corresponding to the lesson are available with costs ranging from free - $3.95.

Below is an introductory video that will tell you more about this program:

free 2-week trial is also available so you can try before you buy.

An online Kinderbach membership is available for $19.99/month or at a discount for $95.88/year. If you'd like to fully check out all lessons, you can purchase a day pass for $5.95. Also available are a variety of DVD packages, which may be a better value if you'd like to use the lessons over the years with younger siblings. This would also be the preferred option if you are on dial-up. Kinderbach comes with a no-risk 30 day money back guarantee.

Visit the
TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Part 3: Determining Level in Specific Subjects

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared a bit about testing your homeschooled students using standardized tests. These tests are great for giving a big picture of where your student stands academically to other students. Bubble tests are limited in the information they provide, but might give you cause to further examine a particular area.

You may find that a full standardized test is entirely too much of a time and money investment if you are looking just for a quick assessment in one area, such as reading. Fortunately, there are various assessment options for the 3Rs available on the internet, many for free.

For starters, you may consider contacting your local school district and ask them to send you a copy of their scope and sequence for a specific grade level or subject. You can then compare their benchmarks to the level of your child. Or, you can search online for comparison.

All Subjects, Categorized

Some of the below links have a listing of standards and some have actual tests for subjects available for download to administer.

Oregon Department of Education

California Content Standards K-12, categorized by grade and subject

Michigan Meap Tests Grades 3-5

Internet for Classrooms

Rubrics for Teachers


Many suppliers of math curriculum have assessments for you to determine what level of curriculum you should purchase. A few are:

Math Mammoth placement tests for Grades 1-5

Singapore placement tests

Teaching Textbooks placement tests

K12 math placement test

Keep in mind that different programs cover different material at different times. This may mean that your student tests as the 3rd grade level with one curriculum and 4th with another. It could be a reflection of a curriculum that has higher standards than others. It could also signify that your current curriculum isn't up to snuff or that your child is struggling with the material. Either way, these sort of tests will give you both an idea of where your child stands with the subject and what level to purchase should you decide on that curriculum.

Language Arts

K12 language arts placement test


Reading level is always the biggest worry with young kids. Aside from looking on the back cover of the books your child is reading for the recommended ages/level, there are plenty of quick reading assessments available online.

A-Z Home's Cool

Schonell Reading Test

Liverpool Reading Estimator

Mindplay Reading Assessment


Many assume that children reading at a certain level should also be spelling at the same level. This is often not the case. Determining spelling grade level is as simple as testing from various grade level spelling tests. Below are a couple options.

All About Spelling Spelling Lists

Everyday Spelling


One area that is usually difficult to assess for homeschooling parents is writing. Writing can be rather subjective and sometimes expectations are skewed by the experience with earlier children. I have one child that is very strong with writing and another who is weak in that area. I really have no idea what is typical at any age. One of the best sources of information I've found to get an idea of where your elementary child stands in the area of writing is from Oregon's Department of Education. Writing samples and scoring are provided for grades 3, 5, 6, and 8.

For older children, I would suggest looking at some of the writing samples and scoring from the ACT and SAT tests.

As you can see, there are plenty of free options available on the internet for you to get an idea of where your children might stand according to outside standards. For those that would prefer something with more official results, you may want to consider Let's Go Learn. Both reading and math assessments are available through Let's Go Learn at very reasonable prices. For one of my children that struggled with reading and spelling, I used the Dora Reading Assessment every 6-12 months to gauge progress in the elementary years.

If you feel you need to test your child in order to answer the question, "Are your kids keeping up with peers?" from an academic standpoint, there are certainly a variety of options available, from full-scale standardized tests to quick subject assessments. I covered testing options at length because many want concrete, leveled answers. However, I'm not so sure this is the best way to answer this question. In my next post, I will be moving away from testing and on to a different perspective.

Other posts on this topic:
Part 1
Part 2

Friday, February 5, 2010

Part 2: Testing: Fleshing Out the Results

Yesterday I addressed the question “How do you know if your kids are keeping up with their peers?” from the perspective of using a measurement tool that is nationally normed as a baseline (Part 1 here). Mostly these tests can be used to quiet fears, either internally or externally, about what your kids are learning at home.

Part 2: Testing: Fleshing Out the Results

Today I will discuss how to move beyond a baseline and use testing as a tool for giving you information on your child's strengths and weaknesses. Most times we know the weak and strong areas just by working with our kids every day. But what if the initial testing results unexpectedly showed your child is hugely behind or ahead grade level? Now what?

The problem with grade-level tests is that they only test grade level material in a single grade. They do give you a baseline, which in many cases is sufficient. If your child is an average student across all subjects, standardized tests are very good at telling you that. But how many homeschooled students are average across the board? Most homeschooling parents give their kids an individualized education. That means if Johnnie is ready to read chapter books early, that is what they are given. The parent doesn't tell Johnny he can only read the 3rd grade books when in 3rd grade. If Suzy is struggling with fractions, the parent doesn't tell her "too bad" and go on to the next page or suggest she get after-hours tutoring so they can move forward with the curriculum.

Testing will often reflect this variation in levels. Whether you administered a standardized test for yourself, the state, or a nagging relative, there are sometimes indications on such tests that may be useful to your homeschool. Some variations are normal, but many low or high scores may be a sign that your child would be better off with a different level test. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as just giving your 3rd grader a 2nd grade or 4th grade CAT, SAT, or ITBS test. To understand your next step, I first need to explain a bit about how standardized tests work.

Many people do not understand what the results of standardized testing and often misinterpret scores. If you are going to use a standardized test, it is important to know how to read the results. Most results give a composite score (all the subtests together) and individual subtest scores. You may see raw scores, number of questions, answers marked and scaled scores, among other data. However, the most useful information is the percentile ranking and the grade equivalent column.

Percentile Ranking

This score is not the percent answered correctly on the test. Instead, it tells you how your student did compared to other students that took the same level test. A percentile ranking of 88% means your child did better or the same as 88% of the students taking the test. In this example, 12% did better. A percentile of 50% is considered average.

Grade Equivalency

This is where there is the most confusion. Many times I've heard parents say, "Our annual testing shows that little Susie is working three grades ahead!" This is not the case! The number in the grade equivalent column does not tell you what grade level your child is working. Remember, this is a grade level test with material that covers one grade. The only thing results can tell you is how much your child knows in that particular grade level.

So, what exactly is that number in the grade equivalent column? To best explain, I'll use a numerical example. Say little Susie takes a 3rd grade CAT test and has a grade equivalency of 6.5 in the Reading Comprehension subtest. What this does not mean is Susie is comprehending at at mid-6th grade level. What is does mean is Susie answered just as many questions correctly as a 6th grader taking the 3rd grade test would. Yes, she knows her third grade material, but knowing how far above is impossible to extrapolate out of the results.

Parents like to look at those grade equivalent scores, but the percentile scores are really more useful. Look closer at subjects that have very high or very low percentile scores.

If there is an unusually low score, parents should first consider if there are reasons other than knowledge for a lower-than-expected score. For example, were time constraints an issue? Does the child not understand the material or is it something as simple as the sequence of topics is different in the curriculum you use? Maybe your child was just tired on testing day or is simply not a great test-taker.

Low scores do not necessarily mean your child is behind, but you should look into potential reasons for them. There may be a gap that you didn't know about that needs filling. No matter if your child is educated at the local school or at home, there will be gaps. The advantage of homeschooling is you have the opportunity to fill them when presented. In a public school environment, the class is just moved on.

What if your child's scores reflect that he knows all the material tested extremely well? While that is good news, how do you know your child is being challenged in your homeschool? Are your materials too easy? How far above grade level is your student working? A grade-level test will not give you this information; some further investigation will be required.

Most standardized tests are not normed to give useful results when testing out-of-level, whether above grade or below grade level. Therefore, the solution isn't to give your 3rd grader a 2nd or 4th grade test if they are working below or above grade level. If you are looking for a standardized measurement tool that measures beyond or below the students grade by age, there are a couple of options.


One possibility is the PASS Test mentioned yesterday. The PASS is normed by level, not grade. Before administering the PASS, students are to take a pretest to determine what level test they should take. A 3rd grader will not necessarily pretest into the 3rd grade level. Unlike the CAT, SAT, or IBTS, the results on the PASS are compared to those students who place into the same level test, regardless of age. The actual tests do not have a grade designation and instead go by letters, but most parents will be able to determine grade level of each test.

The flexibility of the PASS test applies to both those behind and above grade level and is an excellent way to test them where they are at. Testing at a grade level by age for a child with a learning disability, an long-term illness, or at some other issue that prevents them from working at the level of their ages peers is no more useful than testing a precocious child at a grade lower than they are actually working.

Talent Searches

Some students may qualify for testing through one of the talent searches. The one in my area is Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search NUMATS) and is for kids in grades 3-8. The talent search programs test high achieving students with out-of-level tests with results and percentile rankings of both the other students of the same age in the talent search and the typical student taking that level test. For example, students 3-6th grade are given the 8th grade EXPLORE test. Parents get two sets of results. The first is how their child did compared to the 8th graders across the nation that took this test. The second is how their student did compared to the other students in the talent search the same grade as their student. Grades 6-8 take either the ACT or SAT with the same sort of comparisons.

Using the harder test material is beneficial in two ways. First of all, scores are more meaningful. If a 3rd grader gets a 99%ile on a grade level test, but a 80%ile on a 8th grade test, that is very telling. They know much farther than 3rd grade. In fact, they know as much as 80% of 8th graders. However, it is possible that same student that scored a 99%ile on a 3rd grade test could also get a 20% on the 8th grade test. Their mastery of 3rd grader material is no different, but how much farther they go beyond that material is.

The second benefit is that each year the student takes the same level test, which helps determine growth in an area. For example, one year one of my kids had over a 25%ile jump in the science subtest after introducing a new science curriculum. Because I was comparing the same level test and format over the two consecutive years, the success of the new curriculum was very obvious.

One note: I do not recommend that students participate in the talent searches unless you are sure they meet the eligibility criteria. Otherwise, they will find the experience very frustrating.

In the next post, I will gladly move beyond the complete standardized test. They have their place and are worth discussing, but there are other options to test students in specific subjects if there is a concern. After that, we'll move beyond testing and get to the core of this question.

Other posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4