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.
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 resurrection. “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”.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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.