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Middle School Math - Two Clear Winners!

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, September 5, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 36, September 5, 2011, ISSN: 1536-2035
(c) 2011, Heather Idoni - www.FamilyClassroom.net

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Notes from Heather
-- Homeschooling False God #1
Winning Website
-- Confessions of a Homeschooler
Helpful Tips
-- More Help for Christina
Reader Question
-- Math for Middle School
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Heather

Overheard on Facebook...

"Home schooling false god no. 1: Socialization. 'But will your children fit in??!!' We hope not. Followers fit in, leaders stand out. 'But what about time with kids their own age?' What about time with all ages? And you were once a child -- what did you learn that was so great, from kids your own age? Usually when a kid shoplifts, or sneaks his first smoke, or vandalizes somebody's property, he's not with his grandmother at the time." -- Rick Boyer


Your feedback is always welcome! -- mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net


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Winning Website

Confessions of a Homeschooler

Erica's homeschool blog shares tons of printable activities for kids of all ages! (Most of the activities are free printable files and some are for sale.) The author also has extensive articles and question/answer pages about practical homeschooling activity ideas and how to integrate subjects, etc., with an emphasis on pre-K to 4th grade level.

Helpful Tips

More "Help for a Worn-Out Mom" from Our Readers

You can read Christina's question and the first set of answers for her at this link:


"Christina -- I recently heard the distinction made between the Lord being our shepherd and leading us vs. driving us. I too, get overwhelmed at times as I desire to keep the house reasonably clean, cook nutritious meals for my family, be a companion to my husband, homeschool our 3 sons and train them in obedience and character - not to mention gardening and canning part of the year, soccer practice and games in the fall, 4H meetings and activities, AWANA and other church activities. It's all good stuff -- what do we eliminate? How do we keep up with it all? As you seek the Lord's guidance he will lead you in what is best. Isaiah 40:11 is such a comfort to me: 'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.'

A few things came to mind as I read over what your day looks like. Are your children helping with the housework? Those are life skills they'll need. I use indoor chores (like dusting and sweeping a room or folding a load of laundry) as a break between subjects for my boys. It gets them up and moving and then they return to focus on their next book. Plus we're tackling the housekeeping as a team. I simply can't do it all alone!

Also, I am using Abeka books for most of our subjects, however, I don't even purchase the teachers' manuals or test books and keys. (Although I may need those manuals in the higher grades!) By supervising/checking their work in the workbooks I am monitoring what they are mastering and what they need more work on. I try to keep things streamlined and eliminate excessive redundancy or busywork. For example, I've read that it isn't necessary to have students complete every single problem in their math books. Once they've mastered a concept, the repetition isn't necessary. Some suggest having them only do even-numbered problems on the page.

Another suggestion is combining subjects. For example, rather than have penmanship be a separate subject, work on penmanship when they write out their spelling lists. Have them write their English paper on a History topic and you've covered both subjects at the same time. Combining grades when possible is another way to increase efficiency. One of the changes I am making for this school year is teaching history to both my 5th grader and my 3rd grader at the same time. I'm going to use a different resource that covers the same material for several grades but requires more from the older students. Teaching every subject and every grade separately is just too much.

Is it possible for your older ones to 'tutor' your youngers ones in something? This would benefit both of them and save you some time. Finally, is it necessary to do K-4? Little ones learn and benefit so much simply by being included in what we are already doing -- living life, negotiating relationships, caring for a newborn, worshiping God, grocery shopping, cleaning house, etc. He or she will pick up some of the academics simply by playing nearby while you are reading/discussing things with the older ones. Rather than take on another 'grade' at this age, can you spend some less formal time going over preparatory concepts (i.e. reading books, playing games, educational toys)? Could one or some of your older ones be assigned some one-on-one time with the 4 year old to do this?

Just as you can tackle housework as a team, you can approach learning as a team effort. One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is tailoring it to your family. As your family changes (in size, schedules, needs, priorities) you can adapt/change/tweak your homeschool. Rather than concerning yourself with the 'proper' use according to the curriculum manufacturers, seek the Lord's guidance for your family." -- Rochelle


"Hello! First of all I want to say, WOW -- you do a lot for one day. You first need to BREATHE, RELAX, then K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Sister). I have graduated 2 of my 3 children so far and the work load you have is just too much for you and the kids. You don't need to do a lot of it, especially in the elementary years. Also, the older children can help with some of the work load you have; you may need to learn to give up some things and let the children do it.

You don't need to do all the subjects every day -- you can do math on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and do English on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for instance. And also music can be cut back some -- you are having them practice every day. My daughter loves learning to play piano and she is 16 years old and she doesn't practice every day. She tries to get in a certain amount of time for the week, but she doesn't do it every day.

Here is a question for you: Why are you homeschooling? Are you doing it the way the public and private schools do it? Or are you homeschooling... homeschooling and 'schooling at home' are two different things. Just something to think about." -- JoAnn in Ohio


"Christina -- I have six kids (ages 16 to 3) and I think you might have to take a step back and determine how 'perfectly' everything needs to be done.

If your child grasps the concept the first time, it might not be necessary to do every worksheet, drill and/or project provided by the curriculum. Most curriculum tends to provide much more to do that most people have time to accomplish. Even school teachers rarely finish 75% of the text by the end of the year. Many of the subjects have built in reviews so they don't need to have a perfect grasp of everything first time around. They don't have to do every project you can find related to the water cycle because they will probably study it again if a few years. There will always be gaps in your kids' education. (I totally missed U.S. history as they don't teach that much in Scotland -- but I still survived and I like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable -- even in U.S. history!) The key is to teach your kids HOW to learn. Most of us don't remember everything we were taught, but if we remember what is important to us and know how to figure out or learn the rest, I think we can be considered well-educated.

I encourage as much independence as possible. My children each have a 'task chart' that tells them what to do each day. They complete them in any order they want, but they need to get them all done or they can't play with friends, computer, TV etc. Some things require my help (especially for the under 3rd grade kids), but my older kids just have a few things that require my attention. (You could also look into Work Boxes -- same concept.) Once they can read instructions, you shouldn't have to do much 'teaching', unless they do not understand the instructions given. Even my kindergartener know how to do his math fact sheets without any help from me as they are the same thing every time. I work alongside my kids. For example -- they do math while I do dishes. I have honestly found that my kids do not move much faster if I hover close. It is better if I say see if they can finish a row before I finish the cups. Works with many of my jobs. I do not do my work, THEN start school, I do my work while the kids do their school.

You also might find it easier to do history on Monday and Wednesday, and then Science on Tuesday and Thursday. A little more time on each, but overall less time as you won't need to hop from subject to subject. It also helps to keep in mind that some years I will not be able to accomplish as much. I know that when a baby is in the house it just DOESN'T stay very clean and I don't have the time and energy to do as many hands-on, messy projects that my kids love. Now that my youngest is 3, I am finally getting things done. My kids do not appear to have suffered from the slower pace." -- Sandy

Last Issue's Reader Question

Math for Middle School

"I have been intentionally relaxed in the math department regarding my boys, and would like to find a good program for my 13 year old that doesn't drive him to tears, anger, and contempt! I'm considering Teaching Textbooks, as it would give him the added 'fun' of the computer (which we currently only use for a typing tutor). He would be starting below grade level, but he has an engineering mind, so I believe he will 'catch up' and catch on quickly. Any suggestions?" -- Jane B.

Our Readers' Responses

"Hi Jane -- My daughter is in sixth grade and our 'relaxed math' approach had relaxed her math competence -- and I got worried. But, then, we started with Teaching Textbooks. She loves it! She works on her own doing 3 or more lessons per day without being asked -- sometimes even more. She worked at her own rate and, surprisingly, she is nearly caught up to 'grade level'. My son started out with Teaching Textbooks beyond his level and managed to complete a third of the grade above his level, but then got stuck and could not seem to go on. So we took some time off, did some cheap workbook review, and then he was on his way again.

When I reviewed this math I found that some said it was not for the math-brained kid in that it was not rigorous enough. I saw comments about its lack of review. On the other hand I noticed that it built math confidence as the child learned to work independently and to be successful. And, that it increased self-motivation, which was nice because the child could work at his own pace and therefore could potentially exceed his grade level. Yes, this means you may have to buy more math each year, but hey, I am willing to do that if the kid learns and loves math!

For us it is all wonderful and we LOVE it. If my kids start to find it easy or too advanced for their age, I will worry about that then. But for now I am happy that they have math confidence and self-motivation -- and it all seems to be sinking in as I can quiz them orally and they retain what they learn and do.

Teaching Textbooks is very popularly used in my local home school community." -- Beth


"Hi, Jane -- I suggest you check out Life of Fred math books." -- Michelle


"We have been using Teaching Textbooks for 3 years now and love it. There is the computer fun side to it for us, but I believe this curriculum is much more than fun. It allows audio, visual and -- if you use the workbook -- kinesthetic learning all at once.

We are not really math oriented and my youngest is dyslexic. We previously had used Abeka, Saxon, and Horizons, as well as Switched on Schoolhouse. SOS did not explain as thoroughly as Teaching Textbooks. We have used the workbook format along with the CDs -- and all the kids are leaping ahead with math.

Teaching Textbooks is self-grading on the CDs. We have our kids do the workbooks some lessons ahead of doing the computer lessons to see how they can do on their own. If you are math oriented, your boys will probably go through a year of curriculum very quickly. When we switched, my daughter did a year of lessons in 2 months because the approach finally clicked with her.

Another set of books we have looked into are the Life of Fred books, which are totally a non-traditional approach. They appeal to my son who is good at math theory but not so good at application." -- Cindy


"My boys love the Life of Fred math series. It is funny, engaging, has built-in boredom busters, and provides as much drill as they each need. I don't know if it would work for the engineering mind, but I would encourage you to read the Life Of Fred website to learn more about it. My son, who kicked all through Saxon, now enjoys math and worked through most of last year on his own." -- Lois Tebo

New Reader Question

"My son does well understanding math concepts, but we have one problem. I don't put a lot of stock in standardized tests, but the last test he took illustrates our problem. On the math portion of the test where I read him each problem, he got almost all of them right; however, when we got to the timed portion, he had trouble. He made a lot of careless errors and was unable to complete the test within the time limit.

We will be doing 'third grade' this year. I have tried flash cards and drill sheets over the past two years, but we have both ended up frustrated. We tried flash cards again this summer; we have given him a goal of doing the pack of flash cards in 3 minutes. He is only able to do about 28 to 36 flash cards in the 3 minutes. His best time is 43 cards. He will go through 10 or so well sometimes -- and then he just sits and stares at a card. It could be 6+1 or 5+7 or 8+9 -- it doesn't appear to be specific facts that he gets stuck on.

I have given him all kinds of strategies when he doesn't know the answer - use the doubles, rule of 9s, simply counting up. He just seems to blank out and stare at a card and then get frustrated. Has anyone had success with overcoming a situation like this? He can sing all of his multiplication tables, so I'm somewhat confused by this addition 'mental block'. Thanks." -- Cindy B.


Would you like to respond to Cindy's concerns about her son?
Please send your email to: hn-answers@familyclassroom.net

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