Friday, May 8, 2015

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Over the past several weeks I've been able to review the Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course by Stephanie Walmsley. The goal of Successful Homeschooling Made Easy is to help homeschoolers navigate their choices and be effective and successful in homeschooling right from the start, by providing information and encouragement.
Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
Stephanie Walmsley is a Christian mother and grandmother, with a background in teaching - and she brings her experience as a homeschooler to her twenty-six week online course, Successful Homeschooling Made Easy. The course covers all the basics of homeschooling - schedules, organization, lesson plans, and choosing curriculum - as well as dealing with practical concerns and things like housekeeping. 

The lessons come in pdf format, as a weekly subscription. Each lesson gives guidance and information on getting started in homeschooling, and each has an assignment to work on during the week. There's room to add your own notes on each page of the lesson, and other helpful tools, such as reproducible schedule templates, are provided as well. Stephanie guides you through establishing a workable schedule and routine, deciding on the most suitable homeschool style for your family, and choosing curriculum that will work well. Her course is designed to give you the tools you need to make homeschooling a success for your family and your situation.

How did I use it? Well, as you may know, I have already been homeschooling for quite a few years, so I was reading the lessons from the perspective of "would this have been helpful to me when I started out?", but of course I also wondered if there were new insights that could help me as a 'veteran' homeschooler too. Through the local homeschool groups I am involved with, I am often in contact with new homeschoolers just starting out, so I kept that in mind as I was working through this as well.

Since we didn't have a full twenty-six weeks to work through the course before sharing our reviews, Crew members received the first four weeks of the course all at once, and continued to receive lessons on the weekly schedule after that. So at this point, I've seen nine weeks' worth of Successful Homeschooling Made Easy. Each week I received an email with the download link to the new lesson, which I then saved (as a .pdf document). It's recommended to print out all the pages and make notes on them and save them in a binder which would then become a personalized homeschool reference guide as the course was completed. I chose to read each lesson on my computer monitor and was more picky about which pages I would print.

Stephanie writes in a comfortable, conversational style that is easy to read and the gentle pace of the assignments allows new homeschoolers to ease into new routines step-by-step. The lessons encourage the reader to think carefully about what their own goals are, what will work best for their family, and what is a reasonable and sustainable expectation for their homeschool.

From the very first lesson, Stephanie has the participant establishing home education in her home - even if this is their first day of homeschooling. She starts out simple, with what we would consider core subjects, and the first assignment is to work out a realistic weekly schedule. The first core subject to be introduced into the routine is a Literacy Hour, which is basically an established time for everyone to be at the table, reading together. She recommends having children read and write every day, using a journal for their writing. A Numeracy Hour (math!) is the next subject added, and she provides advice (and a bonus lesson) on making math concepts practical, useful, and fun. These Literacy Hour and Numeracy Hour recommendations are good for brand new homeschoolers or those with very young children, in my opinion, and may be less useful for those with older students.  Time spent with art and music are added in subsequent weeks.

Lessons 4 and 5 focus on casting a vision and setting goals for your homeschool, which is something we all need to do from time to time, even if we've been homeschooling for awhile! The lessons encourage the reader to explore WHY they are homeschooling and the goals they have for themselves and their children. Lesson 6 encourages mom to make self-care a priority.

I found Lesson 7 to be particularly interesting, because it gives a brief history of home education. Did you know that compulsory education is relatively new? Yes, that idea only came about in 1763, and as a result, standards and curriculum were developed because there was a need for structure in the schools once children of varying ages and abilities were compelled to be there for a certain number of hours each day. So educating our own is not a new idea! How does this history of homeschooling lesson help the new homeschooler? By putting the specter of meeting standards and aligning with grade levels in proper perspective. This lesson also briefly outlines some homeschool methods and gives the assignment to examine the different approaches and decide which style is the best fit for you.

Lesson 8 addresses another area of concern with homeschoolers, and that is socialization. Some statistics putting those questions into perspective are presented, along with plenty of reassurance that homeschoolers are happy, well-adjusted, sociable, and stable citizens in their communities. I thought this lesson was particularly valuable because of the practical advice on making the home the center of homeschooling (it's so tempting to over-schedule our kids, and get too busy running them from one activity to another), and not giving in to pressure to provide artificial socialization or overbook our kids with every opportunity that comes along. Set priorities and boundaries - more is not always better!

What I liked best:
  • I appreciated the practical and reassuring tone. If I was a complete rookie homeschooler and had no idea where to start, Stephanie's course would have had me establishing good educational practices right from the first week, even if I didn't yet have any curriculum. And because each week builds on the good practices already begun, this course builds confidence.
  • Starting small and building on successes.
  • Practical advice on everything from choosing a suitable curriculum to getting some help with the housework. Several of the lessons offer suggestions for further reading.
  • I think Lesson 3, which addressed the homeschooler who has pulled their child out of a brick-and-mortar school, is excellent material. It contains a compilation of advice and encouragement from moms who have BTDT and speak from experience.
What I need to mention:
  • I felt that some of the "add THIS to your day" suggestions would be viewed as impractical by some. For example, a Literacy Hour as described might have worked in my home when my kids were little, but wouldn't now that they are older; many kids (mine included!) would probably balk at being expected to write in a journal; and the suggestion to listen to "good music" every day isn't qualified by any explanation of why to do this, or what constitutes "good music" beyond the pieces she suggests. (Of course, it's possible that more explanation regarding the music is still to come in a lesson I haven't received yet.)
  • My opinion is that this course is excellent for homeschoolers who are still very new to the game, or homeschoolers that feel they need an overhaul in the way they are doing things. That seems to be the target audience, and although there is plenty of good, solid advice, I think it would be less useful for homeschoolers that have several years of experience under their belts and are only looking to tweak things a bit. 
My bottom line: If you or someone you know is very new to homeschooling, this might just be the 'virtual mentor' to guide you through getting started, and giving you confidence and clarity in your decisions. It would also be helpful for someone who has already been homeschooling but is experiencing frustration and confusion and needs a do-over; or maybe for a homeschooling family facing a big change in their circumstances.

I'm interested to see what is still to come in the remaining lessons, and I hope to post an update as I near the end of the course!
Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
Would you like a helpful guide to successful homeschooling? Here's what you need to know:

Pricing:  The subscription course is available at $10 per month, or a one-time price of $48.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. 
Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review

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