Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Money Management

I apologize for not posting for so long. School, the holidays and general laziness prevented me from doing any new research lately. I will be picking up the pace starting this week. For now I just wanted to let you know that I am still here and still dedicated to helping others find their way in the world of homeschooling.

Today I want to share an article from fatherhood.about.com regarding Teens and Money Management. It applies to everyone really, but the article focuses on teaching teens the value of money. The fact that I am terrible at handling money (or have been in the past) makes this article stand out even more. I found the article after a co-worker mentioned the technique of using monopoly money and the family budget to explain to kids why we can't buy everything. It has a few other helpful suggestions as well. I'm going to try this with my family in an effort to reduce the stress related to spending. I will let you know how it goes.

Teaching Your Teens to Manage Money

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Habits, Spaces and Supplies

As I dive head first into this homeschooling world I find that my first objectives must be:

1) Reorganize the home classroom so that it provides a comfortable working/learning environment.

2) Gather the proper supplies based on the demands of the curriculum.

3) Restructure the daily routine to make the most efficient use of time.

So I guess I'll start with Extreme Makeover - Homeschool Edition. The space that I have is great, except that it is currently "dad's den" which also happens to be the black hole where everything ends up when we "clean" and set aside items that aren't currently useful. We all have that space, whether it's the garage, the game room, a "guest" room or all of the above. I am proud to say that about 3 years ago I finally made the garage a place that we can actually park our cars in (if you can imagine). Now, as much as I dread trying to figure out what to do with all the clutter, I am looking forward to making this den space useful. With the holiday weekend coming up I will have four days to make this den into a homeschooling command center. I promise to post before and after pictures as soon as I'm finished.

Now for the supplies. Where to begin…oh boy. For now I will use the two books that I mentioned in my post Kylie - The Journey Begins to create a list of supplies. I can't say where I will be shopping until after I see the list, but I am hoping that Bookman's and Wal-Mart will be able to do most of the heavy lifting. I will also post my final supply list once completed.

Finally, the daily routine. This will be the most challenging part for Kylie and me. We are set in our ways as far as waking up later than we should, hanging out at breakfast while watching TV and finally going someplace to play. In the past, I have only been successful at executing a more productive agenda by using a daily planner. I will either use my smart phone or Google Calendar (or maybe both), depending on whether or not I need to share the calendar. Google Calendar is a good way to go because you can access it from any computer with Internet access and you can share it with anyone that has a Google account. This way, for example, my wife can update my calendar with a dentist appointment for Kylie so I shouldn't forget about it.

Hopefully, these first posts aren't too boring. I will have more interesting posts once I get things established. The reason I've been making posts as I go is because I thought it might be helpful for new homeschoolers to see another greenhorn go through the process from the very beginning instead of having more seasoned homeschoolers make suggestions in retrospect.

By the way, the inspiration for this blog post came from another blog called Wildflowers and Marbles. This lady has it together. I can only hope that I will be as efficient someday. Plus, her site is full of useful links and great ideas. The link above will take you directly to a post from this past summer. It's a guided tour through her learning spaces…very cool.

- Ryan

Monday, November 23, 2009

Internet Life Made Easy

I was searching the Internet (as I do everyday) looking for interesting things. I found a homeschool group that I wanted to check out, so I created an account with them to have a look. From what I could see, the group didn't have much to offer, but the account creation reminded me that creating random accounts like this can get out of hand very quickly. Unless you have a notebook filled with usernames and passwords, trying to revisit sites can become frustrating as you try to recall your password (maybe even your username).

Years ago I came up with a solution that works for me, and later read about similar methods in a magazine article. The article referred to it as a "password algorithm". There are many ways to create your own algorithm. I will share the method that I use. If you decide that you are looking for a more complex (more secure) method, do a Google search for "password algorithm" and you should be able to find more advanced techniques.

As for my method:

1) First, I select a word that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I do this so that no one can guess my base word due to my hobbies/interests/possessions. For example, if I owned a Ford Taurus, using the word Taurus is a bad idea. Someone may guess that. Instead I may choose the word "crepe". For me it's a rather neutral word. I'm not especially fond of them but I don’t hate them either, so it's unlikely that someone would guess it as my word.

2) Second, I modify the word with numbers in order to make the word even harder to guess. Generally, I replace letters with numbers that look similar to those letters. It doesn’t matter how many you replace as long as you replace at least one. In this case, a "3" looks like a backward "E" so I would change the word to "cr3p3".

3) Finally, I add the first three letters of the name of the website to the end of the modified base word. For example, if I had a Yahoo account, my password would be "cr3p3yah". Then if I opened a Google account, my password would be "cr3p3goo". Both of these are rather difficult to guess but easy to remember as long as I can remember my base word and how I modify it.

Many people just use the same username/password combination for every site because it's easier. The problem is that if someone gets their hands on that password, they may begin trying random sites to see if you have an account. Some may argue that they never share their password with anyone so how can someone get it? At least a few times a year I see news stories about large corporations like MySpace or Facebook getting hacked and thousands of user profiles being stolen. If you happen to be one of these unlucky users, your Internet presence could be destroyed in a very short period of time. Even worse, if you use that same username and password for important stuff like bank accounts or paying bills online, you could be in a very precarious situation.

I'm not trying to scare anyone. For the most part I am just trying to help you find an easy way to remember all of your website passwords in a more secure way. If you are now worried about your financial accounts, you could always create a password algorithm that you use for only the most secure stuff and use a different one for the simple website accounts that you aren't necessarily worried about being hacked but may want to remember the password to get back into the account after six months of not logging in. It's true that you could always use the "forgot password" link, but we all know how frustrating that can be if we are in a hurry.

- Ryan

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kylie - The Journey Begins

In addition to posting useful resources and stories of motivation, I will be posting my homeschooling progress with my 4-year-old daughter Kylie. Don't worry. I won't be posting every little detail each and every day. The last thing I want to do is turn this into the blog equivalent of sharing vacation pics. That's what Facebook is for. What I will be posting are items that I think are worth mentioning such as techniques or tools that we have applied with great success, places that we visit that are both fun and educational, and major changes in "curriculum" if things aren't going the way that we had hoped.

Today I thought I would share the two books that I will be starting with on Monday. The first book is Learn At Home (Grade K) by School Specialty Publishing.

It contains 36 weeks of lessons plans with step-by-step instructions. It covers every basic subject and a few "electives". I don't plan to follow it to the letter. I will be using it as more of a guide to keep me on task as far as maintaining a well-rounded curriculum.

The second book is The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas by Linda Dobson.

The cover boasts "500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities" and they mean it. This thing is loaded. I will be using this book alongside the Learn At Home book in order to create a more spontaneous and flexible curriculum.

I will be laying out my first week's lesson plan this weekend. Here we go!

- Ryan

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where to Begin?

The Internet is a tremendous resource for gathering information on any subject. Actually, "tremendous" may be an understatement. The Internet is a gargantuan resource, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. I have always learned in a linear fashion. I can learn how to do just about anything from a textbook, video or hands-on exercise. However, if you put me in a workgroup or send me to a website, I get lost very quickly. Most websites are designed to fit as much information as possible on each page. To me, all of the text and links are just a bunch of white noise that I must filter out before I can make any sense of it. I literally feel like every line of text is screaming at me to "look over here" or "click me, click me". I drive my wife crazy when I am running the keyboard while we navigate websites "together". She can instantly focus on the places she needs to go, while I tend to read everything before I proceed. Finding what I need can be frustrating and time consuming. If you find yourself in the same boat, I'm hoping that I can help you skip some of that frustration by sharing my favorite pages of some of the best websites.

Today's sample comes from Homeschool.com. They have a seemingly endless amount of information on their site. I will most likely be sifting through it for many weeks. For now, here are my three favorite pages from their site:

1. Free Podcasts - That's right! Free! They have hours and hours of MP3's that you can listen to directly from the website, or you can download them to listen to offline. So far I have only listened to the first one, featuring Rhonda Barfield. From this one podcast, I have already learned new terms like "unschooling" and "school-at-home". Learning this new vocabulary will help me focus my searches on the methods of homeschooling that interest me the most.

2. Homeschooling Approaches - This page lists some of the most popular "styles" of homeschooling. Each link provides a brief description of that style. These descriptions should help you decide the method (or combinations of methods) that you can use as a starting point. You may be surprised to find that homeschooling is very flexible and can be customized to meet the needs of your daily routine.

3. Local Support Groups - This is the first place that I have found that has a list of support groups by state. I have yet to contact any of the support groups, but I will be doing so next week. It may take some time to separate the good from the not so good, but it's always great to have a place to start. If you are wondering what a support group does exactly, you are not alone. As I find out I will post what I learn. I am hoping that they can help with things like, for lack of a better term, "play dates", as well as a place to collaborate on group field trips.

It may seem odd that I would direct you away from my blog to another site. The sites that I recommend could easily become your favorite resource, leaving me in the shadows. That's fine by me, as long as you are finding what you need. If you ever lose your way, please return here to see if I have covered the subject you are looking for. If I haven't, send me an email and I will see what I can dig up.

- Ryan

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dispelling Myths

I would like to begin this journey by directing you to a site that helped me to remove my biggest obstacle to homeschooling…my own doubts. It never fails. Time after time, I find myself among a group of parents and the conversation always turns to our kids. They ask how old Kylie is (she's 4) and the next question is always, "Will she be starting kindergarten next year?" I know it's a reasonable question, but I got tired of answering it because 9 times out of 10 the response was negative or politely condescending. Such a negative response can wear on a person and make them wonder if they are making the right decision. I had finally decided to just answer "yes, she will be starting kindergarten next year" while telling myself that technically this was true because I would begin with kindergarten level "curriculum". This still seemed like a half-truth at best.

Relentlessly, I continued to ask myself if I could really do this. Perhaps I was being too idealistic, or worse, maybe the public school system isn't really that bad after all. Maybe it's all in my head. Then I found this site during a Google search, and all of that negativity just faded away. It's amazing how much support you can get from people that you have never even met, just because they were kind enough to take the time to put into words a pep talk designed to rally disheartened souls. Thank you At Home in America, for helping me break through the negativity.