What Questions Can New Homeschool Parents Ask Veteran Homeschoolers?

This was the gist of a question by a HWHS reader. Here's the discussion that followed over on the HWHS Facebook page. (Just click on "Comments" to see the responses.)

{GHF Blog Hop} Apps for Working Homeschool Families

The Dragon Box app is a personal favorite in our home.

For this month’s Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop ("Tips, Toys, Tricks, & Tools for Gifted/2E Kids"), I’m sharing some wisdom gleaned weeks ago in the How to Work and Homeschool Facebook discussion group.

Basically I invited group members to share their favorite apps. As a demographic, these parents tend to be very tech savvy and willing to test and use technology freely in their home learning environments. And because many of them are parenting very bright, gifted and/or twice-exceptional (aka "2e") kids, they were the perfect group to poll on this topic for this particular hop.

Here are some of the responses, which I’ve edited slightly:

“I like the Handwriting Without Tears app for the iPad for my preschooler. I do the ‘chalkboard’ exercises with him on the iPad. So it takes very little of my involvement, unlike if I were working with him on an actual chalkboard where I would have to make the letters for him to trace and erase and then make sure he draws correctly. . . We do more educational things with computer programs like Youth Digital Minecraft Mod class, BrainPop, ABCMouse, and Ooka Island.”
DragonBox . . . [our son] whipped through the first one pretty fast and through the second faster than I thought he would. He still wants to go back and "get all the stars" or whatever the heck the bonus point stuff is. I think it's really good for introducing algebra in a game way.
“Evernote, but that's for me. For my son, YouTube is good for learning stuff he's curious about. I don't intend to use apps for a while. My son is almost 6.

“Algebra Touch (and Long Division Touch) - they are amazingly intuitive.

As for our household, we're heavy-duty iPad users and have been since we purchased our current tablet over 2 years ago.

Some of our favorite apps are mentioned above (specifically DragonBox, the BrainPop apps).  We also like EpicWin for supporting the development of executive skills (our son uses it as his checklist for school work and chores). GoSkyWatch and StarWalk are awesome for exploring the universe and night sky. Mystery Math, Marble Math Jr, and Math Drills have been a lot of fun, too, for grade school math. In the beginning Evernote was just for me--I wrote much of How to Work and Homeschool on it--but as our kiddo has started to write longer projects, I’ve allowed him to try it, too. Lately we've added VocabAhead (the 6th grade version for our word-loving 3rd grader) and Spell Tower to which I'm completely and totally addicted.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Meet Annie Graham, A Real Life Working Homeschool Parent (and iPad App Developer!)

 Homeschool mom Annie Graham and her family

As the author of a book about working parents who homeschool, I love learning more about the topic from my readers via the book's Facebook page as well as the private (moderated) Facebook group.

A few weeks back a reader named Annie Graham shared news about her new math app (more on that in a minute). I invited her to share her working homeschool story and she graciously agreed to do so.

Annie writes:

Working from home has always been my dream. Actually, my dream has been to work from a camper while driving my children around the country on a learning adventure, but that’s a story for another time.

I left my office job as a Visual C++ software engineer when my oldest son was almost 2. I became a freelance web developer and was happy to accept a smaller paycheck in exchange for the freedom to work when I wanted and where I wanted. I was a single mom so working from home allowed me to get my work done when my kids didn’t need me.

Six years ago, I met my husband and his two special needs children. I soon discovered that life with special needs children involves lots of meetings, therapy and putting out of fires. I took some time off from work to help him manage their schedules. We then went on to become therapeutic foster parents for two more little girls, bringing our number up to six. For a few years, life was crazy and hectic, revolving around helping our children grow and move through their difficulties. Work was not even a possibility for me.

Then things calmed down a bit. Everyone was in school and I was left with several free hours during my day. I thought about going back to the high stress, deadline oriented world of software development and decided against it. What I really wanted to do was help kids. So, I applied to graduate school at the University of Montana. I was accepted into the Curriculum and Instruction program and I began my journey to become a licensed teacher. But, of course, everything didn’t exactly go as planned. As I began my first semester, my youngest son began to have problems at school. “I just wanna come home, mom” he kept saying. I was called into school day after day to discuss his constant behavioral issues. So, only a few weeks into my education, I became a home school mom of one. Soon after, my other two sons joined him.

I started to think about why they weren’t enjoying school and what I had to offer that was a little outside of the box. I had to keep them in line with their grade level standards, but I also had to keep them engaged. I looked through the common core standards and came up with projects and curriculum that addressed those standards in fun and creative ways. I created a website to document these projects and similar projects that a friend of mine was trying out in his first grade classroom.

During this time, I really got to know the Common Core standards. I wondered how we could keep students in a classroom engaged, while also covering the standards that they need to know. The answer was simple and exciting: iPad applications. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to revolutionize the school system so that all students were doing fun and engaging project work. But, kids love apps and schools love technology! And I had enough training as a software developer to create those apps!

My friend (a first-grade teacher) and I started working on our first app, called iGet Math: Base 10. It was crucial that our app cover the standards in a different and more engaging way than what students are usually exposed to in school. The characters had to be important to them and the process had to be one of discovery, not memorization. And, of course, we had to incorporate the standards so that teachers could easily and effectively use them in the classroom.

An unexpected benefit of this process was that I could allow my children to become software developers. We talked about different aspects of the game, design issues and features they would like to see. They participated in the process of creating a product from conception to roll out. They were the best software testers ever. Mostly because they were cheap (ahem, free). And what better learning experience for them – this is how the real world works. It is not about worksheets and standing in line, it is about seeing a process through from beginning to end. My children got to participate in the ultimate version of project based learning: they helped us make an app and put it in the app store.

On March 1, 2014, our first app was released in the iTunes app store. It is called iGet Math: Base 10 and I truly believe that it will help young students to understand the basics of math. We all feel a great sense of accomplishment for making this happen, and I am excited for my future as an app developer and homeschool mom.

You can learn more about Annie Graham's apps via the Learning with Meaning website, Facebook, or on the iTunes App store.