When a Review is not a Review

Whenever I’m going to buy something, I like to look at the reviews of the product online first to see what people are saying about it. In general, I think word of mouth is pretty valuable because it’s usually someone’s actual opinion based on their experience, as opposed to hype or advertising from the company that made the item.

Traditionally, a product review is something the product’s creator never pays for (other than the cost of the review copy and shipping); in addition, it’s bad form to ask for a good review. The whole point is for the reviewer to give an unbiased opinion. Obviously, if the review copy were to arrive with a check payable to the reviewer, the review would be biased.

We started Cardamom Publishers, our homeschool publishing business, in 2003, and we’ve never paid for a review or asked for a good review. We just send out review copies and wait. We’ve been gratified to receive good reviews, and we want homeschooling parents to know that those reviews are unbiased.

There are many good homeschool websites and magazines that offer unbiased reviews. But apparently there are others who require creators to pay for something they call a product review, but which is actually an advertisement. I recently received an email from one such site, howtohomeschool.net. They’ve offered to review our products. Here are the details:

Removed at the request of the writer 7/11/17

There’s nothing wrong with advertising, but to claim that a paid ad is a product review is dishonest. Homeschooling parents love hearing the opinions of other parents about homeschool products; I valued that input when I homeschooled my four kids. But there’s a huge difference between an unbiased opinion and a paid ad, and I don’t think it’s fair to imply that there isn’t one, especially when your intended audience is made up of very busy homeschooling parents who have enough to do without trying to figure out when they’re being misled.

 

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Child vs. Lesson Plan

My youngest nephew is seven, and a very bright child. He loves science, and keeps busy at home with educational toys that would bore or overwhelm many boys his age.

Up until recently, he did very well in school. But his second-grade teacher expects her students to sit quietly and read; she thinks he has a problem with this so she’s been sending notes home about it, which is upsetting him and his mother.

As I said, he’s seven and he’s a boy. Sitting quietly and reading is not his natural behavior. I’m not saying he shouldn’t learn this, but I’m sad that his current inability in this area is affecting his grades.

But that’s school. The teacher plans a learning experience for the entire class; those who can’t do what she says will be graded down.

Don’t think this only happens in school. When I was homeschooling, especially at the beginning, there were times when I found “the perfect curriculum” at a homeschool convention, brought it home, made lesson plans using it, and watched my children for signs of “delight-directed learning” or whatever the catchphrase was on the cover….but was disappointed to see none of that on their faces. That’s when I realized that they didn’t do well with the curriculum. I had to learn that children learn best when the subject is presented in a way that works for them…..which may not be the way that works best for the teacher.

Ultimately, gearing materials toward the child’s interests, intelligence level and developmental stage is what works. Successful homeschooling parents learn to do that for their children. Teachers, even very good teachers, can try to do that but how do you accommodate the needs of 30 children from a variety of backgrounds? You can’t.

That’s why homeschooling is so successful, especially once we stop trying to be a school and concentrate instead on giving each of our children what they need at a particular point in time.

Knowing When to Back Off

Sometimes new homeschooling moms ask me when they should teach their kids to read, or when to sign their children up for music lessons. These moms naturally have a lot of questions, and many of them are “when” questions.

I think one of the most important questions a homeschooling mom can ask is when to back off, because sometimes we moms are so eager to do everything right that we overdo it.

For example, let’s say your child is learning how to subtract fractions, and it’s not going well. You can see that he’s coming close to the point of losing it. You try to explain the concept in a different way but he’s still not getting it. Instead, he’s getting teary-eyed.

No matter what the “experts” say about what grade a child should be in when he learns how to subtract fractions, if you’ve got a child on the edge, you need to back off. He might not tell you this in words, but you know him well enough to see that he’s hit the wall. Trust your knowledge of your child. Take a break from fractions for a while. You can always come back to it later.

Knowing when to back off doesn’t just apply to a child who’s overwhelmed by his schoolwork. Sometimes, we need to back off when our child is enthused about something. Years ago, I recall getting all excited over my kids’ enthusiasm about frogs. It started when they found a frog in the basement window well and requested a container to put it in. I gave them an empty coffee can, and they caught the frog, named it, carried it around in the coffee can, and showed it to their friends. They gave it some grass and learned it wasn’t interested in grass. They put a little water in the can in case it got thirsty. They were really into this frog.

Being a proactive mom who couldn’t wait to capitalize on their newly discovered interest in frogs, I brought home a stack of library books about frogs, expecting them to pore over them in their excitement over their new pet. But they ignored the books. So I had them sit down with me so we could read about frogs. And you know what? That pretty much extinguished their interest in frogs. I didn’t even get a chance to do the art project about frogs that I found in one of the books. In fact, I had to let the poor frog escape from his coffee can after his young captors forgot about him.

Over time I discovered that I had to let my kids learn freely instead of jumping in and turning an interest into a learning experience. This wasn’t easy for me. My own reaction to something new that interests me is to investigate it by reading about it. But I needed to let my kids learn in their own way. I had to learn when to back off.

You can see where we often need to back off even though our intentions are good. But what if it’s not a matter of intentions but instructions? For instance, the guide to the curriculum we’re using has a timetable that’s been tested by the experts. We won’t complete the curriculum by the end of the year unless we stick to the timetable. And yet life keeps intervening, and we fall further and further behind, until it becomes obvious that we’re never going to finish this curriculum in time.

What to do? We could:

  1. institute seven-day-a-week school in order to catch up (that’ll go over well, won’t it?)
  2. cut out something else that the kids are doing to leave more time for the curriculum.
  3. just back off of the curriculum.

You knew I was going to pick #3, didn’t you? Remember, curriculum is meant to serve you; you’re not supposed to serve the curriculum. When you fall behind on a curriculum, something is wrong. The timetable might be too ambitious for your family. You might want to stretch the program over a longer time period, or combine lessons where possible. Or perhaps it’s just not the right curriculum for you and your kids.

It’s OK to admit that, by the way. Yes, I know you spent good money on it, but most of the time, you have no way of knowing how a curriculum will work for your family without actually trying it. Also, the curriculum might have been written for actual schools, which are very different from home schools. Such programs are more appropriate for captive audiences (i.e. schoolrooms) than people having a life.

Whatever the problem is, back off of the curriculum and come up with an alternate plan. Expect that this will often happen to you when you homeschool. If you’re not already a flexible person, you will become one!

Of course, backing off isn’t something that comes naturally to most homeschooling moms. We’re used to being proactive when it comes to our children’s education. But if we can become aware of situations where backing off is the smart thing to do, we’ll see that homeschooling becomes easier for us. And that’s always a good thing!

(Excerpted from Stages of Homeschooling: Enjoying the Journey (Book 2), just published by Cardamom Publishers. Available HERE for $4.99.)