- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2008

As the big yellow school buses begin to wend their way through the neighborhood again, most home educators are gearing up for a new school year as well.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to get the learning year started and to create your learning plans:

  • Have your family brainstorm together, making a wish list of every person’s goals, no matter how outlandish or impossible. (“I want to visit China.”)
  • Distill the list, identifying ways to reach the goals. (“I want to learn Chinese.”)
  • Research the tools necessary to achieve those goals (“Hey, there’s a DVD that teaches Chinese language available!”), and then “shop” for the tools, together (“I found it online at half price!”)

  • Create time schedules that enable the goals to be met. (“I need to have the computer every day for an hour. Can I use it first thing in the morning?”)
  • Agree on a reporting method. (“Let’s see if you can do a page of written work each day.”)
  • Define an “endpoint.” (“After three months, let’s see if you have learned 50 common phrases in Chinese.”)
  • Look for auxiliary materials (literature, history, math, arts, music) that augment the goal. (“There’s a kung fu movie in Chinese tonight.” “I found a book about Chinese medicine!”)
  • I believe in making study areas exciting, interesting places to be, so you might want to invest in posters, art prints or other visual elements supporting your learning goals. Scheduling field trips to local embassies, museums or restaurants also can support the core topics of study.

    I encourage families to visit the library regularly and ask the library staffers about storybooks, photo books, art and videos connected to your areas of study. (I am a passionate advocate of borrowing books, not buying them, unless you plan to write in them.) The library is a rich — and often underused — resource in any community, and most books are used for a certain period of time, not kept forever. Home-schoolers can save a lot of money by using the library or buying secondhand rather than purchasing expensive textbooks or curriculum materials.

    Don’t forget human resources in your study plan. Invite people with special knowledge of a given subject for dinner, or for a specific event. Let your children show them what they are studying, and then “interview” them. Most people are delighted to be able to share their expertise with a young audience.

    In terms of specialized skills, you might want to seek out classes or groups that allow the child to learn both technique and application. Perhaps a local artist can teach them how to take photos, but also show them how to use them in publications. A choir director teaches them to sing, but also brings them to various venues to entertain different groups.

    I also like to have the students create a regular project — whether a newsletter, booklet, photo album or movie — to memorialize the subject matter, and to become an item in their learning portfolio. By having it done at regular intervals (every week, month or whatever timing you think appropriate) they develop good planning skills and can get feedback on the quality of their work.

    There are a lot of places to share your own successful learning adventures: Feel free to join the Home School Galaxy blog at www.washington times.com/communities, and tell others about the great things your family is working on this year.

    Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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