adult helping boy with his work Oct. 16, 2017

Parent Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Excel Academy Student Succeed

At Excel Academy, we’re always looking for ways to continue to help our families and students make the most of their homeschool experience. We’ve found there’s no better way to prepare our students for success than by talking to their parents—after all, their experience can be used as an inside guide to homeschooling. One of our parents—Jennifer—has homeschooled all three of her children, and has picked up some tips and tricks along the way.

Jen chose homeschooling for a flexible school program to work around her daughter’s many medical appointments and procedures. This flexibility at home also allows Jen to instill Christian values in her children and prepare them to navigate school before sending them off to college or a public school down the line. Although instilling religious core values at home is not a part of Excel Academy curriculum or standards, homeschooling can provide the pathway for personalization of learning for each family. 

Whether you’ve just started your homeschool journey or have your own successes, here are 10 pieces of advice Jen shared with us that you might find helpful too.

1. Take Advantage of iReady

At Excel, we use the iReady benchmark assessment, which is an online adaptive diagnostic test, to give parents insights to their students’ progress and performance. Jen tells us, “I love iReady! It tells me specifically, your child can do these skills, your child struggles with these skills, and your child may be ready for these skills.” 

The iReady assessment is administered at the beginning and end of every school year so parents, like Jen, can use the program as a tool to evaluate how their children have progressed in reading and math throughout the year. They can then choose the books, schoolwork, and resources to tailor their children’s education to their abilities.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Your Children 

With iReady, Jen was able to see places where she could challenge her kids with level-appropriate reading and coursework.

“It showed that my first grader could be reading harder books, so I handed her a chapter book and she’s reading it no problem,” Jen says. “I’m a teacher, and I’ve homeschooled three kids and I would have missed that.” 

She’s also able to adjust her children’s coursework because of the special access to supplemental material, like BrainPOP subscriptions that Excel Academy offers.

3. If You Have Multiple Kids in Homeschool, Combine Coursework When You Can

It might take a little creativity, but finding areas where you can combine lessons or topics—especially if you have multiple kids to teach—can ease your stress. Last year, Jen taught anatomy; at the time her older children were in fourth and sixth grade, and her youngest daughter was in kindergarten. She worked with her Education Specialist (ES) to find a K-level anatomy book so her daughter could listen to the same material as the older kids, but then could work on her own age-appropriate work page where she’d color a picture and write out a related vocabulary word. This year, Jen’s children will be learning about California History, and she’s excited for the field trips and experiences (gold panning, poppy festivals, ghost towns, etc.) they will get to have together.“

4. Make Friends with Your ES

Jen says she probably couldn’t teach such complex subjects to each of her children without the help of her ES, Amy, who will help her find schoolwork—like the kindergarten anatomy book—that is specifically geared for each grade level. And when Jen struggles teaching a subject, such as math, she can turn to Amy for additional materials and resources to help her get through it.

5. Plan out Your School Year

Before the start of each school year, Jen sits down with the books she’s chosen to map out her school year. 

“I just take a pencil and a piece of paper, and I make a schedule so I know what trips, holidays, family visits, and state testing are planned,” she says. “And then I fill in so I make sure that at the end of school year—with a little bit of padding—we finish the book.”

Jen recommends taking the number of lessons in the book and dividing it by the number of weeks you plan to teach; it gives you a clear schedule to help you dictate your pace or plan around busier weeks.

6. Take Your Child’s Education on the Road

Creating a schedule also lets you work travel into your schoolwork. Jen says, “We could travel with them and do real-life learning in places other than where we live.” When her family visited Hawaii, her oldest kids completed a study unit on WWII and Pearl Harbor, while her youngest daughter learned about sea turtles and ocean animals.

“I felt like they learned so much more by going and seeing it,” she says. “They’ll never ever forget it.”

7. Block off School Time 

Jen recommends protecting the homeschool day as much as possible. If you keep a consistent time for study, your children will be less likely to become sidetracked if a distraction—like an appointment, errands, or chores—comes up.

8. Look to Unexpected Sources for Guidance 

Being a homeschool parent, you have the choice to completely customize your student’s curriculum. When it comes time to plan the school year for her children, Jen closely mirrors that of her local school. This keeps her children on par with their peers, but still gives her the freedom to personalize their assignments to meet their individual skill levels. 

“I plan our schedule to be similar to what the local schools do, but I’m not married to it,” she says. “Everyone can do what works for them, obviously that’s why we homeschool, but that’s what makes sense for me.”

9. Give Your Children Responsibility Over Their Schoolwork 

When she did put her son into public school at seventh grade, she found that he struggled with managing his school planner and assignments. She now knows to make her fifth and first grade daughters, who are still homeschooled, more accountable for their work. At the end of each school day, Jen writes her daughters’ assignments down and has them copy it into a planner, helping them learn responsibility and organizational skills.

10. Remember You’re a Teacher and a Parent 

Working with your children as their teacher and being able to impart your values on your children is a unique blessing that comes with homeschooling. However, if you don’t forget to take your teacher “hat” off at the end of the day, you can quickly become overwhelmed. Remember that when the school day is over and during the weekends, you’re just a parent. Use that time to play with your child and just enjoy your time with them. Save your work and lesson planning for school time.

To learn more about flexible learning at Excel Academy, click here.