Homeschool Information Library

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Supplements Are The Key!
This article, by Lois Szymanski, was originally published in the May-June 1995 issue of Home Education Magazine.


I admit it. When I began homeschooling my seventh grade daughter just this year, I was overwhelmed. As a first time homeschooler, I had ordered a curriculum, but workbook after workbook is boring for any child, let alone an adolescent. I can't count the amount of times I pleaded, begged and cajoled Ashley into "getting back to work". A trip to the library, local bookstores, and a teacher supply store, as well as some creative thinking turned things around for me. That's when I found that the key to home education is in the supplements we choose. I knew I had succeeded when officials at our first home school check asked me if I was a teacher. Well, I've never been certified, but I guess I am a teacher... now!
The library is the first great place to search for supplemental material. Not only is there a plethora of materials to choose from, but it is all free! A library offers records, books and videos on a great variety of subjects. For Reading, try to assign a book every week or two. Ashley gets to pick the book with the knowledge that we will be dissecting it, looking for hidden meanings and lessons as well as discussing the impact or "gut reaction" it makes on the reader She has to do a written report after each book as well as several work-sheets (which I design), along the way. Sometimes I guide her choices. For example, when I realized that all of the books she was choosing were similar, (humorous fiction) I assigned a biography. Ashley never reads biographies, so at first she was not happy with my direction! But a trip to the library to see all the choices available changed her mind. A biography written by her heroine, Reba McEntire, had just been released and Ashley was The first ones to check it out!
As a children's book author, I realize the incredible impact books can make, but supplements can be so much more than just books. I already mentioned that Reba is one of my daughter's favorite people. The reason for that is that she aspires to become a country music star. Discovering kareoke, gave us a new avenue to explore when supplementing the subject area of music. Background tapes, (available at most music stores) helped Ashley rehearse songs, then we were off to local establishments offering kareoke. Not only did her music studies become exciting when she began singing in public, but she learned more about poise, stage presence and handling audiences! Add to the curriculum voice and guitar lessons, and her music studies are complete.
As we worked our way through the boring Social Studies packets, Ashley's interest was stirred by the brief information given on rain forests of the world. So we were off to the library again to read book after book on that topic. Then we delved into the scientific side of rain forests. What influences the plant life? A book on experimenting with plants gave us a few activities to do, but simulating our own rain forest with a ten gallon aquarium was even more fun! To do this, we incorporated three subject areas. Science, (it was an experiment), Social Studies, (we were studying the rain forest region) and physical education. For the physical education part we headed into the woods on horseback. There we found mosses and ferns, worms and bugs which we brought home to "plant" in the ten gallon "rain forest". Once the top was sealed with plastic wrap it could not be opened. If the rain forest died, Ashley's experiment would have failed. But in front of her sunny bedroom window, it dripped daily, and all of the plants thrived!
Ashley has collected shells for years, so we worked it into the curriculum. For science, she began to classify the boxes of shells she had already accumulated. For art, science, and just plain fun she created an educational game in which a spinner directed a hermit crab (a mover) in his search for a larger shell. Along the way, four stacks of cards gave out well-researched shell facts. It sure beat the boring work-books! Science became fun!
For my daughter, the most tedious subject of all was math. Books such as, Rapid Math Tricks and Tips (by Edward H. Julius-John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) helped her circumvent boring rituals she did not understand. Finding a faster way to get an answer excited her, It became a game. Money-Smart Kids, and Parents, Too (by Janet Bodnar- Kiplinger Books) covered an area I was interested in, helping her learn to handle money responsibly.
Have you ever thought of the world around you as one giant supplement? I do. When we go on walks, (which is physical education) we take along a great book called The Birder's Journal. Created by Mel Baughma and published by Stackpole Books, the journal is filled with sketches of birds that can be colored. Under each bird is a place to list when and where it was sighted as well as a spot for notes. Using her Peterson First Guides to Birds, (by Roger Tory Peterson- Houghton Mifflin Company) and her Golden Guide to Birds (by Herbert S. Zim and Ira N. Gabrielson- Western Publishing Company, Inc.) she looks up the birds she sees and colors them in. When we go marsh mucking on Assateague Island on vacations, we drag every unknown specimen we find into the naturalist to learn more about it. Then we document our findings on paper and with photographs and keep them in a notebook.
The official that gave us that first home school check was very supportive of our homeschool studies. She said she wished more parents would supplement, instead of relying so heavily on packet work. That's when I realized why things had been going so smoothly at home.
Flower and vegetable gardens in summer become science studies and experiments. Canning and cooking become adventures in home economics. Grocery shopping becomes an adventure in couponing and comparative shopping. Vacations always become learning experiences that turn into reports which are added to our notebooks. There are a world of supplements all around us. Tapping into your child's interests and using exciting supplemental material could make your home school experience fun!
1995 Lois Szymanski

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