Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are we having fun yet? That’s a question I ask myself regularly. Why? Because “happiness is the object and design of our existence”. Because “men are that they might have joy”. Because homeschooling is supposed to be fun! Because learning is fun! Being with your children is fun. Teaching them the truth in every subject, from the principles of the gospel to science to math brings joy! And “men are that they might have joy”. Watching your children grow and learn and enlarge their talents is wonderfully joyful.

I can’t think of a richer, fuller, more fun and joyful way to live than to homeschool, to have your precious, impressionable children as your best friends who prefer your company best and haven’t yet discovered your shortcomings. What better daily work than learning about God’s world and his laws and how to grow into a righteous influence for good among your brothers and sisters on this earth? I think this lifestyle can bring us to say, as the scriptures tell us, “and it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness”.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t often feel overwhelmed as mothers, or feel the heavy weight of our enormous task before us. It is a challenge to homeschool your children. But it can be fun and most rewarding. Yes, we do have an occasional day that never seem to get started and it is 11 o’clock by the time we are ready for school. And there are days when math frustrates my teenager to tears. But, as parents we have assurance that there is no job as meaningful, as worthy than to be consecrated to doing the best for your children so that they may develop into righteous men and women.

There is tremendous joy in moving steadily forward to the realization of this goal. There can be joy and fun in every day of homeschooling. The way I see it, my children and I get all the fun. I feel pretty bad for my husband as he doesn’t have a fraction of the fun we have. Together my children and I explore the nearby river bottoms, we sculpt things out of clay, we read an exciting new library book about how Mt. Rushmore was carved, we cook and invent new recipes together, and sing and laugh in the kitchen until we can hardly read the cookbook for the tears from laughing. We read story after story about how it pays to be honest. We play math games, and learn to be polite and sensitive to each other. We laugh over the baby’s funny antics, we memorize scriptures, and collect wildflowers to press, we find different kinds of leaves, and all race outside to see a newly discovered rainbow together. We read book after delicious book, making friends with all the inspiring characters of great literature. We take care of our chickens and ducks and cow. We grow huge pumpkins. We discuss politics. We learn to identify God’s signature in all of his creations. We talk and talk and talk and talk together. We are together. Don’t you feel sorry for my husband too—that he misses out on all of this fun?

Let’s talk about ways to maximize the joy and happy times. What can you do to increase your chance of saying, “Yes” to the question, “Are we having fun yet?”

1. Commit Yourself

First of all, I think it takes being committed to the noble calling of Mother/Teacher. That means taking your children’s education seriously enough that you say “no” to the things that would distract you. For ten years, my visiting teachers have been invited to come in the late afternoon. I don’t make dental appointments. in the morning. I try not to talk on the phone during school time. I just try to keep that time sacred in the sense that the children know that school is important and won’t often be bumped. Interuptions and distractions lessen our chance of having a joyful time together.

2. Catch the Vision

It takes catching the vision of the delightful occupation and lifestyle of raising righteous, intelligent children; spending each day’s best effort training and teaching them. Remember that love is spelled “T-I-M-E” to a child. They want and need your time and attention. Learning how to live, development of character and virtues, their disposition and attitude—these are the things they learn their teacher and companion. That companion needs to be you. Spending your time with them is how they become like you. If you aren’t perfect, then you can point the way to all of history’s great heroes to hold up as models. This is why studying history and classic literature is such a wonderful way to learn: we can be surrounded with greatness in spite of our own weakness.

Daniel, my oldest son, comments or complains from time to time that I have raised clones of my daughters. He’s wrong: in many ways, my daughters are better than me. But, he is right in the sense that we are our children’s mentors, their tutors. Whether for good or bad, they watch and follow us. “The greatest and loudest sermon that can be preached or that ever was preached on the face of the earth is practice. No other is equal to it.”  Richard L. Evans has said, “Abstract qualities of character don’t mean much in the abstract. It is how we live, how we serve, how we teach our children, what we do from day to day that both indicate what we are and determine what we are; and all the theory and all the speculation, all the quoting of scripture. . . don’t in the final and saving sense amount to very much.”

One of my favorite homeschooling scriptures is found in Deutronomy 11: 18-19: “Lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul and ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thous sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”.

We have been listening to the original book of Pinocchio on tape as we drive around this summer. This is nothing like Disney. It is the story of a very naughty and naive puppet, who without the influence of a mother and unwilling to listen to those who would advise him well, gets into horrible and constant trouble. As soon as he gets out of one ordeal and feels repentant, Pinocchio meets up with evil companions: a fox and a cat. Pinocchio is on his way to beg forgiveness of his father for his naughtiness, and has 5 gold coins to give him. Unfortunately, the conniving fox and the cat convince the trusting and naive puppet to bury the gold coins in the ground, so that he can grow a money tree laden with thousands of gold coins. Over and over again, I hear my children exclaim while we are listening, “How can he be so foolish?!”

Whether a puppet or a real boy, all children need guidance! They need teaching and virtues and values to live by. No one loves and has such interest in your child’s outcome as you do. You are the best teacher. “Mothers, teach your children the gospel in the home . . . this is the most effective teaching that your chldren will ever receive. This is the Lord’s way of teaching. The church cannot teach like you can. The school cannot. The day-care center cannot. But you can, and the Lord will sustain. Your children will remember your teachings forever. . . Mothers, this kind of heavenly, motherly teaching takes time—lots of time. It cannot be done effectively part-time. It must be done all the time in order to save and exalt your children. This is your divine calling.” (Ezra Taft Benson)

“As our children grow, they need information taught by parents more directly and plainly. Unfortunately far too many parents in today’s world have abdicated the responsibility to teach these values . . . to their families, believing that others will do it: the peer group, the school, church leaders and teachers, or even the media. Every day our children are learning, filling their minds and hearts with experiences and perceptions that deeply influence personal value systems. It is our solemn duty to set a powerful personal example of righteous strength, courage, sacrifice, unselfish service and self-control. These are the traits that will help our youth hold on to the iron rod of the gospel. . .”(M. Russel Ballard)

Here I would put out a plea to fathers. I am not asking you to tutor your children, in the sense of teaching them classes. Life seems to be way too busy for fathers trying to earn a living. But, you can work side by side with your children while you are cleaning up the yard, or fixing the car, and in the process teach them so much about how to live and how a man should act.

3. Use the Best Tools

Get the best tools you can for the job. You can’t run a carpenter shop with a dull saw, a broken hammer, and bent nails. Neither you nor I want to go to a dentist with an outdated old fashioned hand power drill. Yet many mothers try to wrench an education out of garage sale books that are outdated and dull. I love to go to yard sales and sometimes I find great teaching stuff. But when it comes to teaching my children, I want the best I can get. These children grow up so very fast. The number of teaching hours and books they can work through is a finite amount. Your career is short. If you do a good job with homeschooling, you are going to work yourself out of a job. Children grow up. Just like I want the healthiest, most life giving food for my children’s bodies, I want the best quality food for their minds.

I’d like you to imagine that your are a 9 year old boy in my homeschool. Today we are studying “China”. You can take your pick of resources, or learning tools. I have a comprehensive, black and white textbook that I picked up at a thrift shop. I know you could learn a lot about China from it if you tried hard. Or, you could learn from many interesting things: a CD of Chinese singing, a costume from China, a film, a doll in Chinese dress. “Oh, look at the color photos of China in this book! Let’s try these chopsticks and Chinese food for lunch”.

I plan my budget so I have money for the best school supplies, because it makes learning so much more effective and joyful.

4. Take Advantage of the Power of Patterns

Patterns, good habits, and routines make life go smoothly. If you get children into a good pattern, they can operate on “cruise control” and they will go about their day and their work without nagging from you.

All of us have probably known someone who holds their pencil wrong and struggles to write. It is just like the tree without a stake that bends in the wind until it has grown into an inflexible trunk. Good patterns taught early to children can make all the difference in the amount of joy you have in your homeschool.

My children know the pattern of the school day from the time they are toddlers. They know that after breakfast, they do their chores, bath and dress and come to school. They have wall charts in the school room that show the littler children exactly what to do each day. They come into the schoolroom, get their daily work out and do it.

Summer and vacations always prove to me just how important the routine and pattern is to children. It seems my children can follow the pattern faithfully day after day all winter long, and yet a week of goofing off seems to take another week of so much stress and reminding the children, just to get back on track. If you want peace in your homeschool, teach your children some good patterns. Be very consistent in training them what you expect every day in homeschool, and you will find that they enjoy the pattern and managing their own time, and you will get far more accomplished in learning together.

One of those good habits needs to be obedience to parents. Without this, it is impossible to be your child’s teacher. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children.

5. Build Meaning into their Schoolwork

Accumulation of information is not our goal in teaching homeschool. We want to help our children grasp God’s great plan for mankind, and how we fit into it. Busy work isn’t the way to do that.

I want to show you how I teach my children to write. I have tried a lot of methods over the years. We have done worksheets, and games and penmanship practice and creative writing workbooks. But teaching the children to write with a God-given purpose has proven far more successful than anything else.

Ammon's journal

This is my son Ammon’s journal. He began keeping his journal when he turned 5 years old. I start by having him tell me a sentence that he wanted to write in his journal and I wrote it down for him. Then he drew a picture of what he said. We progressed to writing the sentence in yellow felt pen so that he could trace over the letters in pencil. As he matured and learned to write his letters, I helped him spell and write his own sentence. Incrementally, year by year, he learned the mechanics of writing: letter formation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, good sentence structure, writing a paragraph, and other English skills.

But this writing is meaningful. At the end of each year, we take these journals to the printer to be bound. He knows his children and grandchildren will read it someday, and learn to know him through his writing. I often remind them of how delighted their children will be. It helps him feel motivated to do neat work. He often makes lists of important things he wants to remember so he can write them in his journal. This journal is becoming a Book of Remembrance for generations to come. He is learning to read and write as well. Adam taught his children to read using a book of remembrance. “And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam. . . and by them their children were taught to rad and write . . .” If you can get your child to catch the vision of where he is headed in homeschool—that we aren’t just doing English, but that we are writing a book of remembrance for our posterity, for example—then there is a greater chance for joy in learning.

6. View Opposition as Good Practice

Training children is rigorous work. I don’t think any of us thought it was going to be so hard as it is. Yes, parenthood also has its moments of great joy. But each person comes to earth with an independent will and trying to help them bridle and use it for good can be an exhausting job. If we could just see opposition or difficulty with our children as good practice, practice in learning or teaching to obey, practice in refining our communication skills, practice in keeping the commandments better . . . perhaps we wouldn’t feel so bad about the hard times. We on here on earth to prove ourselves. We have to experience the “whole enchilada”. Trying to duck out of it doesn’t seem a practical way to become more Christ-like.

Whenever people find out that I homeschool, it seems that their immediate reply is, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for that!”  I have found myself secretly wanting to answer back to them, “When do we plan on developing the patience with our eternal family? Better now than later. This life is the practice time. Let’s do it until we get it right.”

7. Look to Revealed Truth

If we are looking for joy, we must look to the Lord. I have never experienced greater joy than when I feel the Spirit—that warm, clean and full-of-light feeling. Whenever truth is taught, the Spirit promises to witness to it. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth . . . “ (John 16:13). As we inculcate the principles of the gospel into every subject, we will be blessed with the joy that comes from having the Spirit testify of truth. No subject is boring when the Spirit is present!

We are in such a unique position. Never before in the history of the earth has mankind lived in such a time of revealed truth! We have access to truth. When we teach astronomy, we have Abraham’s great understanding of the galaxies and solar system to enrich us! When we discuss political issues of the day, we have the scriptures to tell us that God approves of our Constitution. When we teach countries and peoples, we have the scriptures to remind us that we are all literal brothers and sisters and all are alike unto God—black and white, bond and free are invited to Him. When we wonder why we have to even study and learn anything at all, we can turn to the doctrines that all knowledge and intelligence rises with us in the ressurrection. “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come”.

Practical Help

Emily, my 10 year old, advised me what to speak about today. She told me, “Those moms want to hear how to make math fun so that their kids want to do it and ask to do it instead of hate doing it. They want to know how to make English fun so that their kids love it. Tell them that, Mom.” So, I’ll try to finish up with some practical ideas for making school more fun.

Multiplication Math games

Math
Math is so easily made fun by games. And who doesn’t love games? Start kids early playing with math, and it doesn’t hold the same dread when they see it in black and white. Another great way to make math fun is to use manipulatives. I taught one of my children how to subtract (regrouping) by using shampoo bottles while I was taking a shower. Manipulatives stick in the mind.

Science
Science is so wonderfully fun! Nature is full of delight, and just getting out in nature, you can have the most marvelous hands-on science lessons. I love books, and we use science textbooks, and lots of picture books and library books. But learning hands-on is by far the thing that my children prefer. We got a kit on that teaches how to use a microscope and we spent the morning looking through a little hand held magnifier that introduced us into an unknown world. It was thrilling! We looked at fabric under the microscope, and coins, and hair, and salt and the carpet . . .and we just couldn’t get enough. The children were dashing off and coming back with some new thing to view and oohing and aahing over how it looked. My husband happened to be home, and he was drawn into this excitement and had to spend some time enjoying science too. It is hard to find a child who doesn’t beg for science when it is done this way.

Art
Art is too fun already. Kids love it. Take the time for it, Moms. It is a mess, but you can teach kids to clean up after themselves. Art really pays off in enjoyment, developing creative minds and hands. I like to have a lot of art supplies around, such as modeling clay, paints, colored pencils, stencils, construction papers, etc. plus “how-to” and idea books. We take an afternoon once a week and create and do new projects. We have learned to recognize some of the works of the great masters and have tried out some of their styles. Who can forget Renoir when you’ve painted a watercolor picture with brushes strapped to you hands, as he had to, plagued with arthritis in his old age? I love art just as much as the kids. If you, the mother, create something too, your ideas and their watching you will be an inspiration and a model to your children.

English
I’ve told you how we do our writing journals. We also have a lot of fun with poetry, writing stories and plays, and writing letters to relatives and friends. I teach my children grammar using Winston, a game-type program. Literature is thrilling! I have learned so much about truth and human nature from great stories. Reading aloud can turn reading into shared enjoyment and learning. So often we pause while reading and teach truth. At one point in the story of Pinocchio, the puppet is feeling very badly and sorry for his mistakes. He wails, “Oh, if I could be born again!”. I paused at this point and asked my smaller children if this is ever possible. We had a good talk on the beauty of baptism, repentance, and how we can truly be reborn because of Jesus Christ!

There is so much in good literature to be bless us! Once when I was reading aloud Charlotte’s Web to my children, it suddenly dawned on me that Charlotte, the spider, was actually a Christ figure. She was willing to lay down her life for her friend. What illumination this cast upon the whole story. How her love changed Wilbur the pig. How Christ’s love changes us!

Music
Here is another subject that is so much fun. I am not musical, but any mother, musical or not, can teach her children to sing songs at the beginning of school each day. Even the toddlers love to sing along. We learn new songs for each season and holiday. At Easter last year, we learned a negro spiritual called “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord” and we all got great joy out of singing it. I don’t have the skill to teach my children parts, but we sing everyday and have fun with it. We have learned about the great composers and can recognize some of their great works. There is piano playing: duets are so much fun. We have not been very successful at playing the recorder together, I regret, as we all end up laughing too hard at each others’ mistakes and you really can’t blow while you are hysterically laughing.

History
Oh, history is the most fun of all! What could be more fun than reading aloud to your children as you learn about all the marvelous people and events of this earth? I began teaching my younger children American History this summer. We started by reading a book on Lief Erickson, the Viking explorer who first found America. The book was a children’s picture book called Leif the Lucky. I loved reading it and so did the children. We incorporated some art projects into studying Leif Erickson, and we talked about his good virtues and character. I don’t focus much on dates, except to orient us to what else was happening in the world at that time. We moved on to Christopher Columbus and his exciting ship’s log and journals. He was inspired by God to come to this land of America. Oh, history is wonderful! There is no reason for history to be dull.

I am a structured homeschooler. I use textbooks, and workbooks and assign my children their daily work that must be done. But, every subject can be enriched and a joy to learn if you are there learning right along with them.

I do hope that you will have “fun” in your homeschool, and that homeschooling will be a great joy for your family. Joy comes from the companionship of the spirit, the company of your precious family, and being an instrument to raise intelligent children that love the Lord.  It has been an incredible blessing to me to homeschool my children, and I thank my Father in Heaven for the privilege often.

 

Keeping A Nature Journal

Every day I walk in the river bottoms, across the road and down the country lane from my house. It is so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful there. I am all alone, and very rarely see another person in the 45 minutes that I am wandering through cornfields and along the banks of the river. What I do see, however, is wildlife! As I come home and describe what I have seen to my children, they take great interest in each day’s discovery. I have even taken them along, one by one, in hopes that they might happen upon the red fox and her 2 babies frolicking in the morning sunshine, as I once did.

One way to record nature’s wonders is to keep a “Nature Journal”. You don’t have to take a walk in the countryside to see evidences of God’s handiwork every single day. Having your children keep a nature journal helps them be alert to nature’s changing display and aware and more interested in animal life, as well as providing the best possible science lessons.

All seasons hold interesting potential entries. You may want to sketch and describe an electric storm and its eventual rainbow, autumn’s changing leaves, the praying mantis on the front porch, or the wild sunflowers in bright bloom.

To create a Nature Journal, fill a 3 ring binder with heavy white paper, or buy a spiral bound artist’s sketch book. Each time you or your child sees something interesting to enter, sketch the creature or plant and then describe it briefly. Later, go to the internet, encyclopedia or field guides to make sure you are identifying it correctly. If you keep a Nature Journal yourself, it will be an inspiration to your children in keeping their own. This book can become a source of joy and education for your family.

Sing Christmas!

I’m not quite sure how the tradition started in our homeschool, but for as long as I can remember, we have learned a new Christmas song every single December. Not a common song but a unique song that we may have heard the melody of, but have not learned the words.

I choose songs that focus on our Savior’s birth and we look forward to singing it every morning in our homeschool. My kids end up learning to play it on their instruments too, for fun. Once you know a wonderful new song, it seems there are chances to perform it, even if only in a family talent show.

As December nears, my children are asking what song we are going to learn this year. I thumbed through our Christmas carol book, and realized just how many we have learned through the years. Here’s a few of the ones we’ve enjoyed:

Good Christian Men, Rejoice!

Fum, Fum, Fum

The Holly and the Ivy

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella

Unto Us a Child is Born

One in Royal David’s City

It is so fun to be able to sing along whenever we hear Christmas music playing, and to think about the words, too, which are often very focused on the good news of Christ. If you have little ones, learn the more traditional songs first so your kids can enjoy singing along at church or caroling. Older children enjoy the challenge of a lesser known song.

This year I found an old traditional carol that we have never heard before: See Amid the Winter’s Snow. It talks about Christ’s birth with some lovely lyrics that include:

Lo, within a manger lies
He Who built the starry skies;

and in another verse:

Teach, O teach us, holy Child,
By Thy face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble Thee,
In Thy sweet humility.

If you’d like to learn a song with your family, there are great resources! There are websites where you can both read and print off the lyrics as well as hear the tune.

You can see the lyrics, hear the melody line, hear a 4 part orchestra play the carol, print off free sheet music and more for several traditional carols here:
http://www.christmas-carol-music.org/

This website has lots more titles and most you can listen to:
http://wackyanne.tripod.com/musicrm/xmusicrm.htm

This site has more carols that you can imagine and free sheet music too!
http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/HTML/index_of_carols_ij.htm

Have a singing Christmas!

Tomorrow

I think as moms we often live in the zone of “tomorrow”. There is just so much to do today and we are getting tired.  Tomorrow is always there, promising more time and new energy.  Like Annie, it seems we bank our hopes that the “sun will come out tomorrow”.

The bad news is that tomorrow just keeps hopping ahead one more day, and some very important things keep getting scheduled for “tomorrow”.

Louisa had asked for cooking lessons for several YEARS!  (Gosh, it hurt me to write that!  Could I really have put her off for years?!)

I had some grandiose ideas:

  • -recipe cards in a cute flip-top recipe box
  • -little 3-ring-binder that we add one recipe at a time as she learned to cook
  • -vocabulary terms
  • -discussion of cooking utensils and equipment
  • -healthy treat recipes that we invented together
  • -a syllabus and a plan with weekly hour lessons where we focus on quick breads, then soups, salads, breakfast foods, etc.
  • -fun, hands-on nutrition lessons
  • -a cooking class with friends

. . . ah, need I go on?

Dreaming, dreaming!

Better to do a little than nothing at all. If we wait to pull things together and do them up right, then very often NOTHING happens.  It is scheduled for that ever-fleeting “tomorrow”.

So, one day when she was 10, I called Louisa in from play and said, “I want you to follow the recipe and make Cabbage Banana Salad for dinner.  I’ll help you if you need me to.”  Nothing grandiose.  No organization or cute recipe cards needed.  Just spur-of-the-moment, practical stuff.

She didn’t feel confident but the salad got done and a little bonus is that the other family members gave her some kudos for it.  And another bonus is thatI got a direly needed reminder to myself that it doesn’t have to be done exactly right as long as it is generally edible.  She felt good about her effort!  Next day I had her make Broccoli Tree Salad.  And the following, it was Spinach Salad. Eventually I assigned her a weekly “dinner night” in which she planned the entire meal and had it ready on time.

These were not the cooking lessons I dreamed of giving her. . . boo hoo!  But my spur-of-the-moment hands-on lesson was realistic, I could manage itright then.  Little by little, day by day, she learned and made the metamorphosis into the capable cook she is today!

Don’t wait for that elusive tomorrow.  Let the sun come out . . .today!


 

Go Exploring: the Best Education

Open the door and let your children go out exploring today! Give them each a little sack, and tell them to put their treasures in it. Better yet, go along with them, and be the “sack holder”. Smell all the blossoms. Listen to the birds. Look for butterflies. Observe the clouds. Pick up the prettiest rocks you find. Consider your children better educated for it.

“A child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hay fields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets—and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his or her education.”
—Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank lived until 1926 (77 years old). He was a botantist and developed more than 800 varieties of plants, including 113 types of plums and prunes, as well as the freestone peach, Shasta daisy, Elberta peach, Santa Rosa plum, and most noteworthy, the Russet Burbank potato, the common potato we all use. (McDonald’s fries are made exclusively from these potatoes.) In a speech given the year of his death, he said, “I love humanity, which has been a constant delight to me during all my seventy-seven years of life; and I love flowers, trees, animals, and all the works of Nature as they pass before us in time and space. What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature . . .”

My Cantaloupe Man

Ammon (15) loves plants. He cherishes them, in fact. He can spend hours supervising and nurturing his garden. When he was a little boy, I always made sure he had his own large bed in our family garden that he could plant with whatever he wanted. This year, Ammon wanted to plant melons and squashes—both which take more space than our garden would provide, so the idea was born to let Ammon grow his sprawling garden in front of our house. We live our in the country, so this is not so radical a plan as it sounds like . . . but we have had some comments from the neighbors.

Ammon chose his seeds carefully from catalogs during the winter months, with me as his partner. He spent hours upon hours scheming and planning on paper while the snow was still deep. Finally spring arrived and in went the seeds, not haphazardly, but with the greatest of care. All of us in our family were amazed at what detailed care he took.

Now Ammon is enjoying the fruit of his labor—we all are! It is cantaloupe for breakfast, honeydew for lunch and more, more, more for dinner! He wants to taste and relish each variety. He photographs each melon, both on the vine, and cut and ready to eat.

As a mom, I am hoping we will very soon progress to the desire to give them away and reap the joy that comes from sharing something you have worked hard to produce. That would be the ultimate lesson.

While watching Ammon out in the blazing sun tending his melons, I often think of Mark Twain’s remark: “Don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education.” Ammon took a Botany course at the local high school with textbook readings and rather contrived projects. He learned a lot, especially vocabulary terms that he now uses when talking about his plants. But, he has learned a zillion times more about Botany by actually getting his hands in the dirt and growing his melon garden. It is a lot harder in real life than on the pages of a book! There is the constant need for water, weeds to deal with along with bugs, wilting, raccoons, birds, and the scorching sun. Ammon often comes to talk to me about the newest challenge: this week the leaves have developed mildew!

What wonderful preparation for life! Our at-home-Botany-course has taught marvelous lessons that far exceed the textbook, and will ready him for life, including:

*neglect when things are young can ruin them when they are grown (including people, animals and plants)

*the path includes challenges, and joy

*we are dependent on God for every blessing

*growth is a miracle that we take for granted

*you only reap what you sow (corn seeds do not produce cantaloupe, forgetting to practice does not create a concert pianist)

*only God can make the sun shine, can bless us with the necessary elements to create life

*time marches on (get your planting done early in the season, as you cannot delay the killing frost)

. . . and many more lessons!

I love homeschooling!

Practice for Preschoolers

Rebekah does her cut-and-glue work

School time, but what to do with the little ones? They want to have “school” too. They need activities to keep them happy and busy while you are teaching older ones. Here’s some of my preschoolers favorite “jobs” to do during school time:

1. Cut-and-Glue

Hands down, this is my preschoolers favorite fun at school! Simply take a piece of white paper and draw a very simple outline drawing using big geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, diamonds, etc. to make a picture. You could put a circle sun in the sky, a rectangle truck with circle wheels, a triangle teepee, and so forth. Then draw those simple shapes on different colors of paper. Give your child some child-sized scissors and a glue stick and let them cut out the shapes and glue them onto the matching shape on their picture. They can use crayons or markers to draw in details. This is lots of fun and great cutting practice! Stick it up on the wall for Daddy to see when you are done.  (See my favorite cutting and pasting books for little ones!)

2. Pom Pom Sort

Glue several different colors of felt rounds into the bottom of the cups of an old muffin tin. Give your little one a bin of colored pom poms in colors to match the felt in the muffin tins, and let them use tongs to pick up the pom poms and drop them in the matching color space. Now that takes some coordination! Younger children can sort them with their hands or a spoon. This muffin tin is also great for noiselessly sorting buttons, beans, coins and more.

3. Lid Match

Save all kinds of plastic containers and their lids, plus jars and their matching lids, for a 4-5 year old who can handle this project. I kept mine in a computer paper box, and brought it out once a week or less to keep it novel. Just match the tops to the bottoms! A very challenging puzzle!

4. Tracing Time

You can build fine motor coordination, so necessary for writing by using tracing to help your preschooler learn to control a marker, crayon or fat pencil. Just paper-clip a piece of tracing paper firmly to a coloring book page (torn out of the book) and have your child trace over each line. It’s exciting to see the image appear on the tracing paper! Great practice to make a wonderful future writer!  (See my favorite tracing book for preschoolers).

5. Puzzle Dump Challenge

If your preschooler has mastered all the kids’ puzzles you have in your school room, you can give him a project to master by taking 2 or 3 (or more!) puzzles and dumping all their pieces in one pile. Lay the puzzle frames in front and let your student figure things out.  Exciting and challenging!

6. Pattern Train

One of the kindgarten math skills requires learning to replicate a pattern. Preschoolers can learn this and have fun with it. Using big legos (buttons, game tokens, dollar store poker chips or any other manipulatives), create a pattern for your child to follow. Start simple. You might make a row of legos in a pattern: red, blue, red, blue, red, blue. Now it is your child’s turn to make a very long train following your pattern over and over. As their skills develop, make the pattern more complicated: red, blue, yellow, yellow, green . . . and repeat . . . red, blue, yellow, yellow, green. Let your little one take a turn making a pattern train for you to follow, too.

Enjoy!

May I recommend:


Sticker & Paste

Book of Tracing

Book of Cutting

Feed Creativity!

Summer time—the academic pressure is off! Whew! Now some really important learning can happen: creativity! From a monetary standpoint, the value of a creative mind is priceless. Every businessman and inventor yearns for more of this precious element! It is not something that can really be taught in school, either—but you can foster creativity in your home.

Here are some ideas to feed your family’s creativity:

My son Ammon, 15

1) Be creative cooks

This is hard for me to do (because I tend to be thrifty and efficient) but it has been amazing when I “let go” and let the kids combine ingredients and spice things up the way they prefer. My only rule is you have to clean up, and eat what you make.

My son Nathan invented and named a family favorite dish, “Yummy Turkey Bolitos” when he was about 10 years old. He even made a chant/song about it, and printed and illustrated his recipe. I would have never been creative enough to try all the combinations he did! Basically, he baked potatoes and banana squash. Then he scooped out the cooked potato and squash and whipped it with a mixer, adding a little milk and lots of savory spices (salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, parsley, marjoram, oregano, etc.). Then he scooped the golden mixture back into the potatoes and topped them with cheese. They don’t contain any turkey, but they are definitely yummy.

Louisa makes the most gourmet, exotic scrambled eggs. I am afraid to ask what is in them, but they are always highly seasoned and delicious. I have the inkling that she just opens up the spice cupboard and grabs whatever she sees!

As I’ve loosed up on letting my kids experiment in the kitchen, I have seen their creativity expand and their confidence grow!

2) Dress up

We all express ourselves creatively every day just by choosing what we will wear. Moms can allow a lot of freedom in this department and let children experiment with many ways to dress, combining outfits from their own wardrobes. (I do reserve the right to give final approval before going to church or out in public if their outfits are too unconventional—we want to serve as modest, good examples and not be distracting or attention-getting with the way we dress!)

Besides getting dressed each day, there is dress-up play—another chance to be creative! Keep your eyes open for fancy or unique clothes, shoes, accessories and wigs from yard sales or a thrift shop. They are well worth the price in creative dress-up! We have a pair of full length metallic silver gloves in our dress-up box, and they have served to create robot-looking arms, a glamorous accessory for an evening gown, surgeon’s gloves, and much more over the years. Seems every child can think of a new use for those silver gloves!

When Ammon was just a little guy, he wore a tiger suit—complete with headpiece and tail—every single day for months on end. I learned that tigers can do their math and their chores just as well as people!

3) Paint together

You don’t have to be talented in the least to enjoy painting. It is so creative!

I buy watercolor paints (the cheap ones are okay, nice ones are even more exciting) and collect scratch paper (usually computer paper that has been printed on one side and is no longer needed) for our painting times. Set a leaves, shells, or fruit on the table to create a still life. Put on some classical music, and get your brush wet. Look out the window and paint what you see. Look at your sister and paint her eye close-up. Imagine your favorite place and paint it from memory. Do it realistically or with dashes of colors and vague forms, or with dots of paint. Use a fine brush to add details. You aren’t trying to paint a masterpiece—you are just painting for the sheer fun of it, rather like dancing. When you are all “painted out”, you may have 5 or 6 paintings each. Dry these flat, and then use masking tape or sticky tack to arrange your paintings all on your dining room wall for a temporary art gallery. It is fun to look at everyone’s paintings while you eat.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”—Albert Einstein

Have fun being creative!

It's Gotta be Fun!

Question:

This is our second year of homeschooling. Our first year we homeschooled our kindergarten son and were very actively involved and had learning experiences outside of the house. This year, we enrolled him in an online academy. We have not yet finished our first week of lessons and I already hate it! The lessons are long and tedious. Much too academic for our style from last year. Also, we have no more time for our beloved outings to the park or the zoo. I feel like a slave to this program because of the load of work and no real learning going on. My son is starting to hate anything to do with the word “school” or “lesson”! Any advice on this would be really appreciated!

Answer:

In my opinion, school has to be fun! It has to be enjoyable and pleasant; something to look forward to each day. If your learning experiences don’t fit that description, I would say you took a wrong turn, and you better turn around fast. This is not to say that we won’t do challenging work, and stretch our brains, and think deeply, but that the overall sensation is satisfying and happy. Tedium doesn’t belong in the world of a 6 year old boy. He won’t learn anything but to “shut off” whatever interests he had in learning new things if he is continually pressed and wearied by too much academia at his age.

I have often found it amusing and interesting when looking at homeschooling statistics to find that 80% of first year homeschooled children are boys, usually between the age of 7 and 10 years. I think there is a real message in that for us. Little boys are wiggly creatures that need to climb trees, build things with their big muscles, dig holes, wrestle and tumble, ask questions, and discover the world of nature. It is somewhat cruel to put their bodies in front of a computer or book for long hours. There is a lot to be learned without ever opening a book. And when little boys are tired, they will gladly lay on the floor and listen to Mom read aloud some classic literature that vividly engages their mind. And there is time in their day for a few hours of schoolwork, if it is interesting, involves lots of interaction, discussion, hands-on projects, pictures and stories and learning tastes delicious to them!

Please go to the park and the zoo and the museums! Get lots of books from the library with bright pictures, books about space and animals and trains and everything else you can think of to give him a feel for the joy of learning. Teach him how fun math is. Play number games and math games after he has 1/2 of his math page done, as a break and a reward. Read aloud to him. Let him do all the messy science and art experiments you can think of!

Most of all, enjoy! Learning is so very satisfying!  You can feel very confident that he will grow, progress and learn if you give him a happy, interesting learning environment.

An Elective Summer

I hate to stop homeschooling for the summer. Not many of my friends feel the same way, but for me it takes so much momentum to begin again that I’d rather not stop at all. Homeschooling keeps the children in an excellent pattern of waking for scripture study, doing chores, and then getting on with their schoolwork every morning. There is still lots of time in the afternoon to swim, play with friends, and do all the summery things children look forward to.

Besides that, children lose so very much in skills over the summer. All you have to do to prove it to yourself is open a math book. Nearly 1/3 of the entire book is catch-up for what was lost over the summer vacation. I began my little Emily at age 5 in Saxon 1, the first grade book. She sailed along fine and arrived at the end of her book in February when we began Saxon 2. As you know, Saxon books are not cheap but they are excellent. But, I did feel it was wasting my money when nearly half of the Saxon 2 workbook (part 1) was review. We did bits and pieces of the lessons but Emily pronounced them all too easy. Math is not her forte so she probably represents most children. What we were faced with is the public school’s need to bring children back up to date that have done no math all summer long. Skills such as math and reading are easily lost if they are not practiced!

This summer my teenage boys are working, so I only have four children at home all day long. We decided to have an “elective” summer. Since this school year was pretty bare maintenance at my house due to pregnancy/birth of my seventh child, we didn’t do much in the way of “fun stuff”. I asked my children what they were interested in learning. Since three of the four children are girls, they chose: sewing, cooking, crafts (photo albums, art projects, stenciling, tole painting, etc.), piano and gardening. We named Monday: Sewing Day. Tuesday is Cooking Day, and so on. The children look forward to each day with great enthusiasm. I find it tricky to get anything done when I have a new baby but knowing that all I have to accomplish is this one thing makes it possible. The house isn’t staying very tidy, but we are spending some great time together learning. On our first Sewing Day, even my little 4 year old Ammon was able to cut out the pattern pieces for his shorts and sewed them up on the sewing machine with my help. I was amazed at what he was capable of doing!  The children were so excited to learn a new skill and have worn their projects proudly and often.

For Cooking Day, we are learning basic skills such as making bread, tortillas, soups, etc. We also use cooking day to mass produce meals for the freezer to free us up from having to cook dinner on evenings when we’d rather enjoy being outside. A team of children working side by side with mother’s direction can produce 10 casseroles assembly line fashion rather quickly—and it’s fun! Daddy likes to come home from work on Cooking Day because there is always something fresh baked—cookies, cinnamon rolls, or bread. We try new recipes and experiment with favorite recipes to see if we can make them healthier without ruining the taste, a tricky endeavor! Cooking gives children confidence as well as kitchen skills. The other day I was nursing the baby at lunch time and my big children were not home, so Emily (6 years) made lunch all by herself and it was good. She made her choice: vegetable sandwiches, washing and slicing all the fixings herself. Good job!

Each of my children is keeping their own photo albums and we enjoy sitting around the table gluing photos into our books and writing comments and dates by them. We decorate our pages with stickers and fancy writing. It is a fun way to keep memories alive and the children feel proud of their books. This is a good choice of project, because if you don’t get your children to keep up their books, you will find yourself swamped with unlabeled, unidentifiable photos in a few years—I know from experience!

One day was a little rocky because the baby was fussy and needed most of my time and attention, but we did manage to have some short piano lessons. Emily and Ammon learned where middle C is on the piano, and memorized a simple little tune. Julianna got a longer lesson and some songs to practice. Not exactly what Mozart would have done, but at least we are getting started on some long overdue desired topics in homeschool.

You can make each elective topic into a notebook, collecting information as you go along pursuing your interest. Or, use a binder with five dividers—one for each topic. Our sewing notebook contains the children’s measurements, numbers of patterns that worked well with notes of how they had to be adjusted, sale flyers, and pictures from ads of outfits to inspire future sewing projects. We also keep a large zip lock bag containing a square piece of fabric from each project that they sewed so that they will be able to piece a quilt from all their projects someday. I did this when I was a teenager and still enjoy that quilt and the memories of sewing projects, clothes I’ve made.  Over the years, our cooking notebook eventually developed into the Hopkins’ Healthy Home Cooking book that we sell! My son Nathan has collected so much information in his Spanish notebook that it is the size of a dictionary (well, almost!).

Besides these electives, I require my young children to do a math worksheet daily and practice their phonics flashcards or read to me from their readers. Julianna (12), practices typing or piano daily, as well as doing part of a math lesson. These skills have to be kept up. But these things can be easily done in 1/2 hour to an hour and then the fun can begin.

My teenage boys love juggling, Spanish, fixing engines, and computer animation. My girls enjoy cooking, making up dances and skits, sewing, gardening, and drawing. These are just a few of the things they are interested in learning more about and study with great motivation.

If you want to have an “elective “ summer, start a brainstorm list with your children. Then chose the five things they want to do the most, one for each day of the week. You can pick another five after a month if you want to. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Woodworking
Drawing
Electronics
Quilting
Cross-stitch
Canning
Gardening
Calligraphy
Raising rabbits or chickens
Photo albums
Herb study
First aid
Pottery/Ceramics
Knitting
Spanish (or any foreign language)
Playing a musical instrument
Cartooning
Drama
Sculpting
Scouting skills
Tropical fish
Story
writing
Wood
carving
Knot tying
Haircutting
Singing harmony parts
Baking

Have fun!

(Written when my children were younger.)