The following suggestions are simply opinions – my comments are limited to my four years of experience with one national school, one girl and her teacher, and one boy and his teacher. Your family will have your own unique style and will need to adapt to your situation. We started out supplementing very slowly and have grown in our abilities to do so.
Regarding Academic Testing:
I have my kids academically tested every year or two in English to try to see what the gaps may be and to give me peace of mind that they are not getting too far behind. I have found this quite helpful. Most recently, they took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and I was comforted that national school was not ruining them for life. My son’s score was 3.7; his age level is 3.9 (third grade, ninth month) so his total was quite average compared to children his age in America. My daughter’s score was 8.9; her age level is 5.9, so I was thrilled that she was definitely not behind in any subject.
Here are my random thoughts about supplementing national school with homeschool. First, consider NOT supplementing as your child makes the adjustment, especially the first semester. I know of one family who did no formal supplementing for one and half years (half of second grade and all of third), and the child has been able to “catch up” just fine in one semester. It will depend on your child.
Secondly, keep at home a good number of quality, English books for your child’s level and offer motivation to read if he needs it (he writes down books read on a posted list, gets to read before bedtime instead of lights out, gets a reward for ten books read, etc). Try to read out loud to your child each day if you can, maybe in the evenings just before bed. Buy colorful science and history books, like Usbourne’s “Book of Knowledge” or “World History,” that will attract the child (books available through Sonlight.com). Different children like different kinds of books. Whereas my daughter likes fictional tales, my son would prefer a story on the Wright brothers or just reading captions in a Science book. Take books to any place where the child will be potentially bored (long team meetings, waiting for food at a restaurant, vacations, airplanes, etc).
Make your household a place of learning. I found that after a few science experiments that the children starting doing science experiments on their own (sometimes much to my chagrin). Children have a natural curiosity which formal classroom learning in any country can stifle. One of my main goals in supplementing/home schooling is for my children to love learning and to seek out answers to their questions. My children are going to forget a great deal of what I teach them – such as battle names and dates. However, I want them to always remember that they are capable and can find solutions to their questions and problems.
Take advantage of teachable moments even when they do not occur during the time you have set aside for homeschool. I found if my goal was to get through a particular curriculum that I missed natural times of learning. Recently after breakfast, my kids started reading a newspaper article from their grandmother about a high school kid doing a science project on the amount of bones a T-rex can crush. My temptation was to look at my watch and feel like we better get ready for “homeschool” so that the “real” learning could take place. Fortunately, I held back my natural impulses and let them learn all they could from that article even if it was not on the daily schedule of lessons.
Summer is a good time to “catch up” if you are not on furlough. I know of moms who have focused on teaching reading during the summer and spent time on it each day. I use summer for fun lessons, like art and music, which I rarely have time for during the school year. I try to set aside time each day for kids to read for themselves during the summer months.
Concerning teaching reading, the experts say it is best for a child to learn to read in his home language before his foreign language. I went this route so I cannot really argue against it, but I do know a boy who learned Turkish first (which is a purely phonetic alphabet) and then taught himself English. I taught my daughter to read in first grade and then sent her to national school in second grade. She is an exceptional reader, but there was some time needed for adjustment going into second grade at a national school. I taught my son to read in Kindergarten since he had taught himself the letter sounds already and then sent him to national school in first grade where the adjustment was easier. He reads English at grade level, but I have to make him read since he would rather play. There are many teaching reading programs available so I hesitate to make any suggestions. I used Sonlight. I have heard great things about “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” (Amazon.com). There are also Internet sites, such as www.starfall.com which assist in teaching reading.
Example Weekly Schedule:
Even though I use Sonlight curriculum, I have not been able to use the lesson plans for supplementing because it is just too much material. At the beginning of a year or semester, I write out a weekly plan and then photocopy that and check off the subjects with dates as we do them. Here is what a week looked like for us last semester: (one kid did a workbook while I did dictation or spelling with another)
Monday: Read Bible verse/Pray together, Dictation and study Dictation words missed, Reading, Workbooks, Poem
Tuesday: Play verse in song while kids write it, Spelling, Reading, Workbooks, Grammar
Wednesday: Review verse, Creative Writing in their special notebooks, study writing words missed, Reading, Indian prayer
Thursday: Review verse, Spelling, Reading, American History, Workbooks if time
Friday: Perform verse if possible, Catch-up day, Science
I need to say here that we NEVER had a week that went exactly as written above, but the plan itself allowed me to get way more done than if I had not had a plan. I put the most important stuff on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and tried to do those days’ lessons if we only had time to do three days of homeschool that week. When I did History or Science, I often read a couple a days’ worth of lessons because we were enjoying it and wanted to do more.
Even though I did not exactly use the Sonlight lesson plans, I needed them for the sequence of books I used and the writing projects. Sonlight has way too much material for a child who is trying to learn language and culture.
Curriculum and Resources:
I buy a one-year curriculum, but I spread it out over two years. I bought the Sonlight 1+2 (First and Second Grade) One-Year Condensed History and then spread it out over about a two-year period when my kids were ranging from ages 5 to 8. We’ve started the 3+4 (Third and Fourth Grade) One-Year American History and am using it with ages 8/9 and 10/11. If your child needs extra reading material, you can order all the readers Sonlight offers or just borrow books from expat friends. I use Sonlight Science packages and may use a one-year program for two or three years. Again, you want to instill a love of learning – not push to finish a certain curriculum by year’s end.
Concerning specific subjects, for Grammar, I use “Winston Grammar” and “Grammar Songs” (from Sonlight). We also cover grammar questions as they arise during “Creative Writing” class (see below). For Spelling, “Spelling Power” did not work well for my son even though we tried it for a year, but I have a home schooling friend who loves it. We are currently trying “Sequential Spelling,” but I have no verdict yet. I may switch my daughter back to “Spelling Power.” For her, I have to pull problem words from her Dictation exercise or from writing portions because normal spelling lists do not provide enough difficult words to study.
In the area of handwriting, I worked with my children closely with their printing skills when they were in Kindergarten. Beginning around fourth grade, I expect my children to use cursive for Spelling, Dictation and Writing exercises.
For “Creative Writing,” I use the writing topics suggested in the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide. These assignments cover a variety of kinds of writing: a narrative, a letter, a dialogue, and so on. In the beginning, I did the handwriting as the child dictated to me, until third grade for my daughter and fourth grade for my son. Keep your writing class fun and not too formal so your kids will want to write. My children are now, on their own outside of homeschool, writing “books” on the computer (which automatically helps them with spelling!). My son, even though his spelling is poor in my opinion, is writing his autobiography on his own initiative and wants me to explain why some things are marked in green by the computer (Microsoft Word shows grammar inconsistencies in green and spelling problems in red).
For “Dictation,” I choose a passage from whatever book that child is currently reading. For first grade, the child wrote about one sentence, for second grade about two sentences, and so on. Some children may need to study the sentence first. I usually first dictate the sentence word by word while the child writes, and then we talk about the words and punctuation missed. I usually try to have the child look at the passage and try to figure out what he did wrong. My son loves notebooks so we have a special notebook for Dictation (and one for Spelling and one for Creative Writing which contains all his work since Kindergarten).
For Scripture memory, songs are great. Steve Green has set verses to music for children in “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” (Volumes 1 and 2 available from Amazon.com). Those are available in both audio and video. We have also used the Bible verse CDs from Sonlight. Sometimes my kids have written the verses and made pictures for the words. This year we have written the Bible verses on note-cards and kept them in a recipe-sized box. Sometimes the children recite a memorized verse for their father or for our house church.
We have also learned verses in the local language as part of homeschool.
My son really enjoys computer games, so I have kept him stocked with educational ones over the years. He has two CD folders – one is for educational games which he plays during the week and the other folder is for “brain-dead” games which he is only allowed to play on weekends. Internet games are also only allowed on weekends since they are a big time drain and can be addictive. Good educational computer game companies are Reader Rabbit, Mia’s Big Adventure collection, Jumpstart, Cluefinders, and Math Missions. All these computer games are available through Amazon.com.
MATHEMATICS If you feel inadequate or a little rusty on some math concepts, a great resource is “Math on Call” published by Great Source and available through Sonlight. “Math on Call” has simple explanations and good pictures for computations, geometry, graphs, and so on. For example, your child is working on multiplication of decimals and you want an easy way to explain it. You just look up decimals and then multiplication in the back of the book and you’ve got it. Older kids can even read it on their own to reinforce what their teacher is saying in Turkish at school. There are no problems or worksheets in the book, just explanations, but your kid’s national school math book will include plenty of practice. Worksheets can be found at
To have enough time for homework and for supplementing, I have found that I can add extra minutes to each day by having the kids follow a daily schedule. We work on a schedule as part of the first week of homeschool each year. By the end of the first or second week, the child writes out his daily schedule or draws pictures beside my words if he is not old enough to write or read his own schedule. This schedule has saved me a lot of yelling. After breakfast, I can say, “Go do your list,” rather than scream at the kids to finish each item (brush your teeth, get dressed, prepare a snack, etc.). I usually have to give them a time limit, and they can play if they finish early (or forfeit computer/video/etc time if they do not). The schedule covers after-school activities and bed-time rituals as well and includes play time.
Training in Life Skills:
Keep in mind that you will want to continue training your children in skills that they would not learn in any school anywhere. Help your children learn how to handle money – tithing, saving, spending. Learning how to organize and clean a home will benefit any child. Both my children are responsible for making their beds, keeping their rooms picked up, cleaning off the breakfast table, and loading and unloading the dishwasher (it still takes a LOT of effort on my part to make sure all this happens, but I am hoping that training is taking place!). If I ask them to do other jobs, such as cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, cleaning mirrors, I pay them since they do not get allowances. A good book that offers suggestions on teaching life skills and gives a list of important life skills is “Life Skills for Kids – Equipping Your Child for the Real World” by Christine M. Field (available from Sonlight or Amazon).
We try to help our kids get physical exercise since their school day is short and they have P.E. one day a week! Walking to school, hikes on weekends, swimming and surfing in the Black Sea, bicycling on the boardwalk, exploring islands, and preparing for local fun runs have all helped our kids to have better cardiovascular health. I am not a big health nut, but when my kids ask, “Is this good for me?” I try to teach about a healthy diet. Childhood obesity is a terrible problem in America these days. I want to help my children avoid a life of junk food and poor health.
You will want to help your child learn computer keyboard skills before they start bad habits. I did not feel a need for this until my children were ten and eight and starting to email friends. “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” (available through Sonlight) is a fine computer program for teaching typing, and the student can do it on his own. However, I still have to check my son from time to time to make sure he is practicing with the correct fingers and not just hurrying through a lesson.
I feel like it is important to have a homeschool graduation ceremony at the end of each school year. The audience is Daddy. Each child shows off his notebooks, workbooks, artwork, spelling tests, etc. for the year. Each kid also has a folder filled with memorabilia from museums, historic sights, etc. that we have visited so they reminisce about the trips. Each child stacks up the books he has read and the ones he listened to. They sing a favorite Bible verse and show off new skills. One year we did a mini-play.
I have found I need the feeling of completion and not the feeling that I am supposed to be doing home schooling every day of my life. I need the change of summer. In addition, I think it is important for a child to know what grade he is in since this is a common question in American culture. I have met home schooled children who did not know what grade they were in and who felt awkward when asked. These graduation ceremonies are usually thrown together in a few minutes, but they are still important to us. My husband even makes certificates on his computer.
This past year in my city, some moms started a home schooling play group.
There are about five families which attend regularly, and most of us live within a twenty-minute taxi ride of each other. Academically speaking, an important aspect of the homeschool group is that once a month the children do presentations for each other. Children have read aloud book reports, shown art work, shared memorized verses/poems, given trip reports, played instruments, sang songs, etc. Not every child presents every month – just the ones that have prepared something. The children also did a play at Christmas and one in the spring which dads and guests attended. We have met in a church basement and in playgrounds near our homes. The group met twice a month one semester and every week the second semester; our family could not go every week due to involvement with locals so we just continued going twice a month. On non-presentation days, the children play games, learn sports, etc.
Recently, the kids in the homeschool group started working on a kind of Christian scouting program. The first badge that many earned was for First Aid. One of the moms in the group gave a presentation on treatment for cuts, burns, etc. and then on a later week the kids demonstrated what they learned. To earn a badge, the children also had to read a book on First Aid, memorize emergency numbers, etc. The scouting program is contained in books (one for girls and one for boys) published by Keepers of the Faith (www.keepersofthefaith.com). Since we don’t really have badges or uniforms, the boys earn certificates and the girls earn charms for a charm bracelet. In addition to academics and life-skills training, the home schooling group has provided much-appreciated Christian friendships for my children and a place for me to ask home schooling/parenting/ministry questions.
Concerning grades, we have tried to let our kids know that high test scores and report cards have not been the goal. We go get ice cream after report cards regardless of the report. I praise finishing a semester. I knew one mom who encouraged her child to get more answers right than wrong on a test which seemed like a good goal. My son does not want to be the worst student in his class – that’s an attainable goal for him so I support him in that. I try to remind my kids that they are going to Turkish school to learn how to speak and understand Turkish so that they do not stress about high test scores. My daughter has enjoyed the competitiveness with other students and has excelled, but her motivation has been from within and not from me. My son scores poorly on tests, but he does not stress about it.
Last but not least, you will need to be sure and focus on your child’s spiritual development. I really want my children to hide God’s Word in their hearts. In addition to Bible memory which we do in the homeschool time, my children also read their Bibles or Bible Devotional book first thing in the morning. In fact, this habit was begun by my husband who says, “Sons will do what they see their fathers doing.” The Sonlight packages used to come automatically with Bible/devotional materials, and the children have used some of those in their personal quiet times. One of the easiest Bibles to read I know of is “The Toddlers Bible” by V. Gilbert Beers (Amazon.com). “The Beginners Bible” by Karyn Henley is also good (Amazon.com). Before they could read, my kids watched the Visual Bible (entire book of Matthew or Acts at www.mountcarmel.com for just $21.51 each), the “Jesus” film for children or a Bible cartoon story in the morning for ten minutes and then prayed about what they had learned. Usually they did this while I made breakfast.
During breakfast, we have family devotions. My kids have been afternoon students for the past two years so our mornings are not too hectic – you may want to think about evening devotions if that is better for your family. When the kids were preschool and early elementary, our favorite family devotion book was “Day by Day” by Betty Free (Amazon.com). Each devotion takes about three minutes – I’m not kidding – so it’s perfect for tiny tots. We went through the book twice, and it lasted us about three years. Our favorite elementary age family devotional book is “Sticky Situations” by Betsy Schmitt (Amazon.com). This book is about character issues and has brought up great discussions about school life.
In summary, go slow. Start with small goals and implement grander ones as you go along. Learn the language and make friends along with your kids. Consider a tutor. Think about the various subjects that you want to emphasize. Remember to use the teachable moment. Use lesson plans but don’t let them abuse you. Consider having your kids tested to see the gaps. Find an expat friend (or group) who supports your decision and can encourage you – even if she lives far away! Focus on both academics and life skills. Let the love of God and His love for others impact your kids. Instill a life-long love of learning in your children.
Enjoy the journey together!