SKILLS TO LEARN BEFORE YOU START
If you want to make your homeschooling journey easier, there are some skills that will help you. Learning these is easy and you may already know most of what I am going to show you, not realizing their relevance to homeschooling.
Research is the key to finding the truth. Knowing where to look for information is vital. Just "reading a book" does not guarantee that you are learning anything real. Some books are good and others may be all opinion and full of errors. When it involves the education of your children, it always pays to check out the information for yourself!
The easiest research is done at a public library. Our library system is one of the most amazing things this country has perfected. Even a tiny library in a rural community can reach out to other libraries to find things you need. Using a library is not difficult and there is always someone there to help you if you need assistance.
Most libraries are organized by the Dewey Decimal System. This puts books in catego- ries and makes finding and filing them easy, as it is the same system in any of the public libraries other than the Library of Congress. Your librarian can show you how the system works in a few minutes and you'll be amazed at how easy it is to follow. University libraries are also organized this way, so if you have a college or university nearby, feel free to browse in their library, as well. You may not be able to take out books there, but they will allow you to peruse them on site.
At one time, libraries had a card catalog for looking up information. Now, libraries use computers and the information is all cross-indexed. If you want information on home- schooling, you can type in Homeschooling (or Home Schooling) and see what they have on the shelves that relates. The librarian can help you find information that can be borrowed through inter-library loan from other libraries if it is not available at your local library. Our local library charges $1 a book for interlibrary loan, to pay the postage.
You also need to have some reference materials at home. You need to have a good dic- tionary. You also might want an atlas, an almanac, and an encyclopedia. None of these need to be the latest edition. You can probably find what you need at yard sales, book sales or used book stores. We have a 1974 edition of the World Book that is quite useful. There is a big advantage to the World Book's print edition over other encyclopedias if you have young children, as it is set up so the first paragraph of each entry is written on a 4th grade level. As the information gets more technical, the reading level goes up. Al- so, at the end of each article, there are links to more information or related information. You can probably pick up an outdated World Book for $10 to $50, depending upon its age.
An atlas should be new enough to have the right countries in Africa. If it still says "USSR," instead of the individual countries, buy it anyway. You can check on the inter- net and write in the correct names for the individual areas if they aren't on your maps. Often, you can find inexpensive world atlases at WalMart (soft bound).
An almanac is an amazing source of information, as well. Statistics, dates, names, and numbers are easy to find in an almanac. We have several of them, different years. When they fall apart, I throw them away and get a newer one at a book sale. There really is no reason to spend the money for the latest edition, unless you want a brand new one.
We use the almanac a lot. One fun thing is checking the birth dates of movie stars. We bought some really old movies for $4 each at the grocery store. The kids never heard of half the actors and actresses. Once they looked them up in the almanac, they knew why!! Even though some of them looked 25 in those movies, they are either dead and gone or 80+ years old!
Depending upon the ages of your children, there are other useful reference books to own: Roget's Thesaurus, Bartlett's Quotations, the University of Chicago Book of Style or another style sheet for writers, to name a few. You can find a lot of this information on the internet, but the books are quite useful to have.
Research on the internet is easy and fast. The biggest problem with internet research is not finding things, but finding too much and knowing what is good and what is crazy stuff. There are many good search engines. Some people swear by Google; others use Yahoo! and Altavista; I like Alltheweb.com but I also use AOL Search, which uses Google. There are search engines just for children, like AskJeeves.com, which allow them to ask questions rather than merely search for keywords. Sometimes it is good to do the same search on several search engines, just to see if you can find more information.
Using search engines is a lot easier than it used to be. Most of them have a page for users to explain the best way to find what you want. Basically, you type in keywords. If you want to find out about homeschooling, and type in Homeschooling, you will probably get a million "hits". You need to narrow down your search to something like "Home- schooling Tips" or "homeschooling resources" or "Homeschooling Support Groups". Use the quotation marks, as that means you are searching for that phrase and not all the words, separately. If you type in Home Schooling Support Groups, those 4 words will give you a different list than the 3 words Homeschooling Support Groups (no quotation marks), as the normal search is for all the words. You may end up with some sites for support hose, for example. So use the quotation marks to limit your search. If that doesn't give you what you want, take off the quotation marks and try again. Still no luck? Reword your search!
This is something that takes some practice to get used to. Don't get upset if you type in something, making a typo, and end up with sites you wouldn't go to for any amount of money! Just close the page and start over. Unless you open the links, they aren't on your computer to stay. This is one good reason to monitor what your children are doing on the computer. Most children figure out very quickly that there is a lot of leeway on what they can find, in a search engine.
If you have AOL or MSN, and want to use search engines, don't set your security too high on your computer! Since search engines have all sorts of sites indexed, any "nanny- type" program will refuse to use them! Just teach your children that they should not go to any website unless you approve of it, as they begin to use the computer. Once you can trust them to be careful, you still need to insist on them being careful, as you don't want them to open sites that might have viruses or trojans hiding in them (let alone porn or worse). Children need to know that computers can be vandalized by hackers, through the internet, if they visit the wrong sites. It helps to have a good virus scan program, such as McAfee or Norton, on your computer. These programs will find and eliminate many problems on their own. Just be sure to get the updates, as there are new viruses coming out all the time.
There are other sites where research can be done easily. If you are interested in history, visit university websites and state sites. There are websites dedicated to science, to art, to theater, etc. Rather than give you pages and pages of links, it is better if you learn how to find these on your own. Merely go to your favorite search engine and type in the information you are looking for. Some examples of keyword phrases you may want to try, just to see what they find:
As regards the last example listed above, if you don't want to get sites for flour, type "King Arthur"-flour Also, if you want more information, try "King Arthur"+round table. (Note that you do NOT want a space between the words and the plus or minus sign.) What you are doing here is further limiting or expanding the search with an "operator" (the + or -). This sometimes works and on other search engines, gets you nothing but strange information.
Before you let your children loose on the computer looking for websites, please make sure you know as much or more about searching than they do! Kids are amazing. How- ever, grown ups can learn this stuff just as easily as the kids can. They don't think so, but we grown ups know better!!
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