Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Flexibility in Using Story of the World

Story of the World can be a great resource, especially for homeschoolers who feel unsure about teaching history. In these books, Susan Wise Bauer has written about for events and people in chronological order, which can help you know what to study.

            However, after using it for a while, many are finding that students get bored with just reading a little about each person or event. They realize the need to dig further into a subject to help students connect with people that lived long ago. The Activity Book helps with some of this, but there is more you can do to keep history alive while using Story of the World.

            Don’t be afraid to use this or any other text as a guide and only a guide. Most of us chose to homeschool because of the freedom it offers in meeting individual needs of our students. You may not cover every event and person in Story of the World in the slotted time, but your students will connect with history on a different level if you are willing to let go of the rigid schedule and explore a bit more.

            As you make your plan for the year, go through Story of the World, or whatever other text you might be using, and choose key people or events you would like to explore in more depth. When you get to these, go to the library and find everything you can on this topic. Look for books on each child’s reading level. Consider putting Story of the World aside completely for a week or two and read together allowing your children the pleasure of discovering the interesting tidbits that will bring a person or event to life for them. Lapbooks are great way to delve into this information. Making a few lapbooks every year was always about the right mix for my children.

            Another thing to do with your history study is to create a timeline. There are many ways to do this. Here are a couple ideas for creating yours:

1.      Create a large timeline to hang on the wall or around the entire room. We once made a timeline that went down our stairwell, across and back up the other side.

2.      Use a notebook to create your timeline. See My Book of the Centuries, available at The Learning Cottage if you want a simple and inexpensive way to create yours.

            As always, remember to enjoy the journey. If you are dragging through each day and hating it, then it’s time to change things up a bit. The beauty of homeschooling is that there’s more than one way to learn history.

           Do you have any other ideas for bringing history to life?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Outlining a Novel

I just completed my first novel. I’ve started several, but for one reason or another I’ve set them aside and either attributed them to learning or figured I might come back to them someday. But this one was a winner. I fell in love with the story line and followed it through to the end. I cried when I wrote the ending. But I think I’ll try a different approach with the novel I’m working on next.

Over the years I’ve listened to other writers discuss whether to outline or not. Some say they outline the book completely before beginning. Others write as they go. Because my outlining strategy left something to be desired, I figured I was one of those “write it as you go” writers. But I think I just didn’t have the correct tools yet. I was trying to just use an outline like I’d learned as a student instead of having a formula to follow.

Dan Webb says to start with the conclusion. He says you can’t write the beginning until you know how the book is going to end. According to him and others, outlining a novel has more to do with a figuring out conclusion, beginning, midpoint, a couple turning points and so forth. See his set of videos for helpful information about Story Structure.

Exercises like the ones in Book in a Month can provide help in developing the outline. Whether you write a book in a month or not,  Book in a Month provided a lot of insight on writing a novel. I used a portion of these exercises to help develop the novel I just finished. The exercises I used were amazing and helpful. But I had to back up and re-write the entire plot of the book so many times that I have had new thoughts on developing the story as far as I can before I begin. I’m planning to do more pre-writing this time.

Writing a novel is great adventure. Effective tools improve the journey.

Best Unit Study Group Ever

Years ago a friend shared something she had discovered about organizing a group activity for homeschoolers. She said, “I can last about six weeks.” In other words, when organizing an activity where you as the parent are very involved, it is realistic to give your all for six weeks and then need a change or a break.

But how do you organize activities for your children for the whole year without burning out? How do you work with other homeschool parents to share the load so that you really are supporting each other?

For us the answer came in a Unit Study group that another friend invited our family to participate in one year. It was such a success that we used this model in organizing groups for years after that. It’s pretty simple and doesn’t put a huge load on any one parent.

The group focused on a chosen age range and was organized so that there were five families participating. This number works out well with the number of weeks there are in a school year. It also keeps the group at a size that will provide a lot of fun interaction between families. But the group is still small enough to be able to meet in most home.

The year is divided into six week segments, allowing two units before the holidays and the other three from January to May. Each parent chooses a unit study topic and one of the six week segments. That six week unit study is then planned and hosted by that family. Usually it’s fun to have a culminating activity the last week of each unit. For instance, when we studied the ocean we took the group to visit a nearby Seabase during feeding time. Watching the attendant feed the nurse sharks and helping to feed some of the other fish left and impression on every family. When we studied the Civil War, the family hosting this unit, set up tents for the North and the South as their culminating activity. The students each chose a person from the civil war and wrote a report. Depending on what side their person fought on determined which tent they sat by. The kids enjoyed the activities during this unit and this day gave each student an opportunity to prepare a presentation and get out of their comfort zone.

These and many other unit studies provided some great experiences and learning that my children still talk about years later.