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April 2016 Newsletter

Anticipating a New Academic Year

Options for Outings, Electives, and Curricula
Appropriate for Students of All Abilities

Faith Berens, M.Ed. Faith Berens, M.Ed.

By Faith Berens, M.Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

It happens to me every year about this time. In the midst of finishing up our academics and bringing our school year to a close, I start anticipating and wondering: “What will next year look like? What curricula will we use, what topics will we study, which clubs or outside activities will my children participate in?”

It’s only spring, but it’s not too early to begin planning for the upcoming academic year. Summer will be here and then fly by before we know it! So here are some ideas to help you plan and prepare for next year.

Faith Berens, M.Ed.

Check Out Conferences and Curriculum Sales

At this time of year and throughout the summer, many homeschooling families attend a local or state homeschool convention where, in addition to attending workshops, they find exhibit halls full of various curricula and teaching materials. This can be a good place to peruse materials, leaf through textbooks and workbooks, try games and manipulatives, or “test drive” a computer-based learning program.

Be sure to check out your state homeschool association to find a conference near you.

Can’t make it to a convention? A curriculum swap or used curriculum sale can be another great way to investigate materials. You may be able to find one in your area or you may want to consider organizing your own in your community! HSLDA offers members an online used curriculum market.

Speaking of Curriculum…

Sometimes, it’s easy to become overwhelmed because there are so many choices out there!

How do you select a curriculum? I always encourage parents to choose materials that will be interesting, engaging, and age-appropriate (based on the child’s functioning levels for reading and math). Be sure to also consider the child’s preferred learning styles. However, do not neglect to address areas of weakness.

Keep in mind that this may mean having to use an eclectic curriculum. For example, you may choose a specific curriculum—such as My Father’s World or SonLight—for the “spine” of your home education program, and supplement it with a targeted program in order to address a specific area of weakness. Handwriting without Tears, for instance, could be used to help a student with weak visual-motor integration/dysgraphia. Other resources for the student with handwriting difficulties include Loops and Other Groups, Cursive Logic (available through Little Giant Steps), Rhythm of Handwriting (part of Logic of English), and Dianne Craft’s Writing 8 exercise (part of her Brain Integration Therapy Manual).

Here are a few, specific materials and curricula options appropriate for children with special needs:


  • Miquon Math—These workbooks are affordable, work well with manipulatives, and are visually plain and simple, so they are a good fit a child with visual processing difficulties or attention/focus challenges.
  • Shiller Math is a very interactive and Montessori-based math system. It also has musical CDs to teach math concepts. It is a very multi-sensory curriculum.
  • Math-U-See comes with a DVD, textbook, and student workbook, as well as manipulatives. It is very systematic and clear. Also, it provides lots of repetition and uses a mastery approach.

Opt for Some Online Classes:

For sure, we cannot do it all. Personally, I have found it necessary to outsource a good portion of my older daughter’s coursework in order to make room for schooling my young son, working, and all the other duties that come with being a mother. You too may need (or want) to have your child take some of his or her courses via an online or computer format so that you are not tasked with teaching every subject. Here are some options you may wish to consider:

Online Writing Courses:

Enhance Learning with Electives, Clubs, and Special Experiences

Begin investigating what opportunities there are in your community for volunteer work, job shadowing, special outings, clubs, organizations, trainings, and social experiences. One year, my daughter volunteered at our local library and served with the puppetry troupe that performed for toddlers and preschool-age children during the weekly story hour. Another year, she took a Red Cross first aid and babysitting course. You can find chess clubs, drama troupes, scouting, and all sorts of opportunities by reading community newsletters and bulletin boards, and following or joining local homeschool groups. Such experiences can help to train your children in important life skills such as service, communication, organization, and leadership.

Here are some scout-like organizations that offer exciting experiences and may be of interest to your child:

  • Trail Life USA, is a Christian outdoor adventure program.
  • American Heritage Girls, focuses on building women of character through service to God, community, family, and country.
  • Alert Cadet, seeks to raise up Godly young men by assisting fathers to guide their sons into biblical manhood. They do this by spending quality time together, completing exciting projects, and participating in engaging activities, as well as memorizing Scripture.
  • Civil Air Patrol is a non-profit, civilian auxiliary organization of the U.S. Air Force. They have three main objectives: develop youth through a cadet program, educate Americans on the importance of aviation and space, and perform live-saving humanitarian missions.

Cognitive Core Skills

Sometimes (for a season), dare I say it, we must choose to cut back on academic content or core subjects in order to take time to build up our children’s “cognitive core” skills.

Let me explain what I mean.

When students struggle, we teachers often try to slow down the pace of instruction, reteach concepts (over and over), or try to “go around the same barn just a different direction.” As a result, we (and our students) wind up feeling frustrated and exhausted.

I have experienced this with students whom I have tutored, as well as with my own daughter. As a parent and fellow homeschooling mom, I know what it is like to watch a bright child struggle with academics. After years of my daughter struggling with math (as well as listening and note-taking), we decided last year to take one semester and scale back on some of the academics in order to address her weak cognitive functions of slow processing speed and working memory. We began cognitive therapy with Carol Brown’s Equipping Minds Cognitive Development program.

These weekly therapy sessions consisted of games and activities that focused on building my daughter’s visualizing skills, problem solving, planning, organizing, speed and memory. The program has helped my daughter in her ability to listen and take notes, complete tasks within an allotted time frame, memorize and recall facts and information, and have more confidence. We are seeing these core cognitive skills transfer to my daughter’s academic and life skills.

I hope you will find these resources and ideas helpful as you are preparing for your next school year.

Happy planning!

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