Why we are using Connections Academy as our homeschool program.

Connections Academy is the homeschool program that I have signed my Li’l Rosebug up with. We’ve been with the program for about a half of a school year now, so I wanted to summarize why we are homeschooling, how this program works, and my opinion of it.

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A couple of decades ago I chose to homeschool my now-adult son, Nick. Even back then I didn’t like how the public school system handled my child and his education. However, while I alleviated some problems by homeschooling, I was largely a disorganized mess of a teacher. We tried affiliating ourselves with the local district-based homeschool, but since the concept of homeschooling through our district was a fairly new concept to them as well, I’d venture to say that they weren’t exactly on the ball either. While trying to find the best situation for him during his elementary and middle school years he got bounced around from public school, to homeschool, to a private religious school. Each solution had its pros and cons. Finally, he graduated high school from River Valley Charter High School and, at the time, that was a great school. (I can’t vouch for it now as I haven’t been affiliated with it in a decade or so, and all of the staff has changed.)

When The Rosebug was placed in our care at 5 (almost 6) years old, she had virtually no exposure to academics. (I guess they didn’t have chalkboards available when living in a car.) She didn’t know a single letter of the alphabet, except R. She didn’t know how to count to 5, didn’t know her shapes. As I recall she did know her colors. The principal at the school in the children’s shelter she was temporarily housed in told the social worker that he felt she was “delayed, with no hope of ever catching up”. How’s that for a positive statement? I took that on as a personal challenge.

Since my home is TK Home Preschool, we immediately integrated her into our class and started trying to teach her everything she should have already known. We were given permission by the county to skip kindergarten, because she was so very behind, and she could get far more one-on-one attention in my preschool. We started with the very basics (see How to teach your child to read and Patterns, math before it starts) and worked hard to bring her up to speed. We had more than delays to work with, though. There were a myriad of emotional aspects to deal with. The girl screamed and melted down the very first time I put the simplest of worksheets in front of her, claiming “I can’t! I can’t!” between sobbing tears. After much drama and dedication she found out that she could, after all. We did, indeed, “Catch her up!” Within 7 months, by the time she was to enter first grade, she knew all of her alphabet and phonics, and her numbers, and was reading phonetic words and doing simple math problems.

I would have preferred to homeschool her for first grade then, but I didn’t have her educational rights at that time, and the “Powers-that-be” insisted that I put her in the local public school. She was evaluated as to whether she should go to kindergarten or first grade, and since she had a bit of an academic foundation under her, was at “grade level” and by nature was bossy and pushy, it was decided that first grade was a better fit.

As soon as she walked into the classroom the problems began. She didn’t want to work, and they couldn’t make her! Seriously, they couldn’t. Too many kids, not enough staff. She cried, had temper tantrums, bounced socially from task to task completing almost nothing, and convinced her teacher that she was incapable. The teacher had her class set up with 6 tables, 6 tasks expected per day, and for the entire year The’Bug got away with only doing 1 or 2 a day. I think The ‘Bug convinced herself that she was incapable, too. Having taught her intensely for 7 months, I knew better, and I did everything in my power to support the teacher, and “incentivise” The ‘Bug, but she was having none of it. Her first grade year was a circus where she was not held accountable for anything, and she didn’t learn very much except how to manipulate her teacher into believing that she couldn’t do anything. Sigh…

Over the summer we put her back into our TK curriculum and settled her down some, and also I managed to secure her educational rights and got permission from the social worker to homeschool her (so long as the homeschool was state accredited). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found Connections Academy. I researched several state-accredited home schools and even some nearby charter schools. I liked this one the best, I picked it, and I am so glad I did.

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Connections Academy is a tuition free, fully accredited, online K-12 public school. It is available in most of the United States.

(They are not paying me for this review, in fact they don’t even know I am writing it!)

What I like best about this school, hands down, is the planning calendar. The whole school is very organized; they are on the ball! They mail you a computer (not high end, pretty limited, don’t get too excited!) and all of the books, curriculum and supplies you will need for the year.

You create two accounts, one for the student and one for the “Learning Coach”. When The’Bug opens her account on her computer, she sees a list of her assignments for the day. She can click on one of the titles in that list, and it opens up into a several-page lesson. At the end of most lessons is a 2 – 15 question assessment. Some work she does needs to be scanned and sent to the teacher.

Sample Planning Calendar. (before we changed to the block schedule of one subject per day)

Sample Planning Calendar (before we changed to the block schedule of one subject per day)

Simultaneously, on my device (computer, iPad, iPhone), I can open MY account, and it shows me the same list of lessons. I can click on the same lesson that she clicks on, and I see the same thing she does, but in addition to seeing her lesson, I also see a list of teacher’s objectives, directions and suggestions on how to complete the lesson with her. We do one page at a time, following their directions. There might be a video she is to watch, pages in a text she is supposed to read, a worksheet she is supposed to complete, or a science experiment we are supposed to set up and complete. They have suggestions in the teacher’s portion on how to re-teach it if your student is having difficulties, or suggestions to add some challenge if your child needs or wants that. It is a very comprehensive curriculum.

One of our Science projects. I sent these photos to her teacher as part of her portfolio. She loved this assignment!

One of our Science projects. I sent these photos to her teacher as part of her portfolio. She loved this assignment!

science project

In addition to what we do together, on our own, The’Bug belongs to a virtual “class”, and twice a week she gets on her computer and attends an hour long “class” where all of the students in her class are online at the same time. Her Connexus teacher teaches a class (either Language Arts or Math), using a chat-type set-up and display screens. Each student has earphones and a microphone that they can mute or un-mute with the teacher’s permission. (I think its cute that the child has to ask permission to turn on their microphone during class time by clicking a little icon that shows a person holding up their hand.)

What I love the most is that we are able to structure our own schedule the way we want to work. I have chosen to do one subject per day. Since in this grade they really focus a lot on Language Arts, we do that subject first, on Mondays. It’s a lot of work, but I figure we are fresh from the weekend! What I like best is that after we have done all of the required language arts lessons, the rest of the week is truly downhill! Tuesday is Social Studies, Wednesday is Science, Thursday is Math, and all we have to do on Friday is Art! Sometimes we even do art on Thursday  so she can have all of Friday off to go do something fun with her Dad, or to go play at the ranch all day with her horseback riding instructor.

There are a lot more “extras”. There are clubs and activities she could join in online, but at this point The’Bug is too resistant and doesn’t have time for any “extras”. There is also a lot of support for the “Learning Coach”, which is what they call ME, rather than calling me her teacher. I took offense t0 that at first, but finally kind of got over it. I still know that I am her teacher, regardless of what they want to call it.

Don’t let me kid you. At this grade level, and with The’Bug’s level of resistance, this is a full-time job. I have virtually taken a sabbatical from my little private preschool to be available to teach her full-time. But the rewards are great. Since she learned virtually nothing in public school first grade except for bad habits, we decided to repeat the first grade curriculum. I am glad we did because it is challenging. But I am pushing hard and holding The’Bug accountable for every piece of work she does. It must be neat, and correct. She knows that she doesn’t get any privileges until her work is complete. But all this effort and perseverance (and frustrations, and tears!) is worth it! The’Bug is reading fluently, understands almost all of the concepts put in front of her, and although she wouldn’t willingly admit it, I think even she is starting to believe in herself, academically, a little bit more.

Connections Academy goes through the 12th grade. I cannot tell what the future will hold, but at this point I can see us using Connections Academy through high school. My goal is to get The’Bug working more independently by next year so I can get back to teaching in my preschool (although Ashleigh and Blythe are doing a phenomenal job!).

My only complaint is not with the Connections Academy at all, but rather with the “core” curriculum. It is, at times, completely ridiculous with the concepts it is trying to teach. It’s like someone went into the curriculum and, concept by concept, looked to see how they could possibly make it more difficult, more complicated, and more confusing. It annoys me to no end. Especially in the subject of math. I often have to study this first grade curriculum, turning the book every which way and tilting my head, and reading ahead, to try and figure out what the hell they are trying to teach. I have a friend who is a mathematician and I often show this stuff to him, and he agrees that it is ridiculous. I don’t blame Connections Academy for this. This is what our state requires. When the adoption is final, and The’Bug is fully and truly ours, I may look into other private homeschooling options just to get us into some more straightforward curriculum. But I will only do that if I can find a system that is as organized and comprehensive as Connections Academy. I love, love, love how Connections Academy have their school set up! A fantastic alternative to standard public school.

What she gets to do when her work is complete!

What she gets to do when her work is complete!

I was wondering if any of you have any experience with different Homeschool curriculums? What do you like/hate/recommend?

5 Thoughts on “Why we are using Connections Academy as our homeschool program.

  1. Samantha on January 18, 2016 at 6:54 am said:

    So cool to learn more about the program!! Bug is a very lucky girl that you came into each other’s lives! You are exactly what she needs

  2. Kari S on January 18, 2016 at 9:39 am said:

    This is an excellent blog posting for those parents that are looking to homeschool their kids but don’t know where to start, or maybe even for those that are on the fence on whether they should home school or send them to private school. There are benefits to both if the right school for the right kid is found. I’m glad you found the right school for her. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Kristi on January 19, 2016 at 1:08 pm said:

    Great blog! I had my own, different reasons for homeschooling many years ago, and I would do it again in a nano second.

    I love the picture of your Bug on horseback. She appears to have an excellent foundation, good seat and hands!

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