Instead of Halloween, Host a Harvest Festival

emily_scarecrow2010Want a fun alternative to Halloween? Host a Harvest Festival! It is lots of fun. My children wouldn’t trade it for trick-or-treating any day! We have been having Harvest Festivals for the past eleven years. When we first decided that Halloween didn’t fit the description of seeking after things that are virtuous, praiseworthy and of good report, we realized that we couldn’t leave a vacuum. We had to begin a new wholesome tradition to fill the gap left when we abandoned Halloween. My children look forward to Harvest Festival eagerly each year. Rather than decorating our house with ghosts, spiders and ghouls, we focus on the blessings God provides for us in a bounteous harvest. We leave these decorations up right through Thanksgiving. We learn songs such as “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” and other hymns that celebrate the harvest. God is the center of this season.

If you would like to start a new tradition in your family by hosting a Harvest Festival, here are the ingredients for success. Invite 10 like-­minded families. We usually make it a homeschool affair but anyone who shares your values will make for good company. We have had parties with 250 people but you can have a great time with just a few families!  Make sure you have a variety of ages—teenagers, young children, adults—so everyone will have friends their age to enjoy.

If your group is small, your home is fine. Bigger groups need a church building or other local building in your community. If there is a rental fee, ask every family to donate $2 or whatever it will cost to pay the fee. We decorate very simply on a Harvest theme, such as pumpkins or squash, a horn of plenty, Indian corn, gourds, a scarecrow and bales of hay.

Invite everyone young and old to wear a costume but we ask for non-scary Halloween costumes. Sometimes we have themed our party: medieval costumes or storybook characters. Children love to dress up, and we usually have tigers, bunnies, ballerinas, princesses, dress from other nations, historical heroes, and the like. We do emphasize, however, that we do not want any mummies, vampires, witches, jack­-o-lanterns and other Halloween dress. Our invitations state: “no scary costumes!”

The evening can include a potluck supper. This is harvest time, so we try to focus on the foods that the earth has given us. It is wonderful to be able to share a nutritious meal together. Some people bring nutritious desserts, such as carob “brownies” fresh apple cake (unfrosted) and honey popcorn balls. We’ve also tried charging one bag of candy as an entrance “fee” and using that candy as prizes for the games.

We have families volunteer to set up a simple carnival game, such as a ring toss, tin can golf, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or bean bag toss, giving each child a piece of candy or a small toy prize for trying. It’s pretty easy to gather small toy prizes by cleaning out your toy box and gather all the little toys or gadgets. One summer I found a whole box full of MacDonald happy meal toys at a yard sale for $1.00. They

Teens try to bob for doughnuts!

Teens try to bob for doughnuts!

make great prizes. So do stickers, pencils, and bouncy little balls. The teenagers often enjoy setting up and running these games for the younger children. It’s fun to include some games for the teens too!

If you have a small group, it can be fun to do a talent show. Anyone can present a talent. We don’t ask anyone to sign up or even make up the program. We just leave it open and it works great. Last year we had a ballet dance, singing, juggling, guitar playing and poetry and scripture recitals. The talent show usually lasts 30 minutes and then everyone pitches in to clean up, wipe off tables and put them away so we will have room for our family dance.

A Family Dance is such refreshing fun. Everyone is included from two-year-olds to Dads. We do the Bunny Hop, the Hokey Pokey, Virginia Reel, square dances, and other fun dances. Initially people may feel shy, but family dancing is so much fun, that once your guests are warm up to it, they will want the dance to go on and on.

The problem is getting everyone to go home! It is such a fun event to be with other homeschool families, that no one wants to leave. Usually we begin at 6:00 PM and are still trying to close the party at 10:00 PM. For our family, Harvest Festivals are a joyful and anticipated event.You can make a frightening holiday into a celebration of God’s goodness in providing abundant food and the blessing of like-minded friends! Have a Harvest Festival!

 

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But What About Social Life?

studying-703002_1280Contributed by Daniel Hopkins (age 17)

“But, what about social life?” This question is one of the most often asked questions regarding homeschooling. It’s the reason many homeschooled teens go back to public school.

When I first started homeschool, I was anxious to make friends and be accepted. My Mom helped out a lot with this problem. She helped me organize activities with other homeschooled teens so I could make friends. We also had a regular “park day”—we all went to the park and played volleyball while the moms talked and the little kids played on the playground. These activities helped me feel comfortable and helped me make some friends. After that, we just did a lot of stuff together on our own. When new homeschoolers came to the activities, we’d include them in our “group” and try to make them feel welcome, too.

Another thing I did to try to make friends, was go part-time to high school. I took a few easy classes—my main reason for going was to get a social life. I soon found out, however, that the kids I was hanging out with at school were not the right type of friends. Also, I learned that if you want to make friends at school, go to the activities, not the classes. School for me wasn’t the answer to making friends.

There are so many homeschooled teens who feel inadequate, like they don’t fit in, because they don’t have a group of friends they can relate to. Often, when I work in our business, people will ask me, “How do you get friends?” “What do you do for your social life?” Here are some of the things I’ve learned from my own experience: First of all, plan activities. Nothing happens when nothing is planned. Take the lead. Parents can help in this too. Think up fun activities, call your friends (or just all the homeschoolers you can find) and make it happen. Don’t be afraid to make calls or invite people you don’t know—how else will you get to know them?

In our area, we’ve organized a homeschool teen committee—3 or 4 others and I have regular meetings and plan out fun activities for the homeschooled teens. We try to invite everyone—it’s great to meet new people! Some examples of activities we’ve planned are dances, skating, sledding, riding horses, canoeing, swimming, sports and service projects. Usually we have a service project before the fun part of our get-together.

When you plan activities, keep in mind their purpose: to get homeschooled teens together and make them feel accepted, that it’s cool to homeschool, and to have fun! Also, don’t fall into the trap of having a clique or not welcoming newcomers. Don’t be afraid to expand the group.

I hope that some of these ideas will help you make friends and feel content with your social life. It has certainly helped me feel confident and accepted to have friends who think the way I do. It’s a lot more fun to homeschool when you have friends to go out with on Friday nights!

 

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Social Life: The Real Need

Social LIfe

Singing round the campfire at a homeschool campout

When I first began homeschooling, all I could think of was academics. I spent lots of research time trying to find the best books and worrying that I couldn’t teach my children all they needed to know. As the years have filed by and I have gained confidence in my ability to teach them and educate them well, I have increasingly become concerned about their social well-being.

Homeschoolers can be way ahead academically, but it hardly makes up for poor social skills. Sometimes that is the “hallmark” of a homeschooler: a genius who is awkward and socially backwards. I don’t think it has to be this way. If mothers would put some of the effort that they put into worrying about the academic part and instead put it into creating a postiive social environment for their homeschooling children, everyone would be happier and better adjusted.

Many young mothers begin homeschooling and as they learn and get to know their children better and have fun together, life is pretty good and happy for years. Then their oldest child grows a bit restless, as he is reaching puberty, or a few years before, and homeschooling isn’t as fun. The child who could play with any kid in his church class suddenly feels left out and socially ill at ease. This is the moment that can make or break homeschool. If the mother continues with the status quo, the child can become increasingly uneasy and discontent. If the mother makes an effort to provide a rich social life, everyone benefits. Homeschool can happily continue, and social skills and friendships develop.

Just how much work is providing a social life for your homeschooled child? Lots. I think over the years, I have given increasingly more time to trying to create an oppportunity for my children to meet other homeschooled children with high standards so that friendships can develop.

I know older mothers that have been homeschooling for many years that put a great amount of effort into the social aspect of their children’s lives. One of our dearest homeschool friends actually drives hours to associate with us—a great blessing for us! But it also illustrates just how important it is to be with like-minded friends.

Children need friends. The best kind of friends are other children with high standards who are also being homeschooled, sharing the same kind of experiences. Looking for friends among those who attend public school can be searching for a needle in a haystack. There are plenty of good children that go to public school. The problem is that many have learned to “fit” and so they have the markings of “fitting”—the clothes, rock star idols, the cool words, the preoccupation with the social ongoings at the school, the fads, the worldly trappings. This can create an uncomfortable difference for a homeschooler. Another factor in looking for friends amongst the children in the public school system is the fact that they are in school all day long, and have an evening of homework ahead of them. Besides, many have afterschool sports, lessons and eventually part time jobs. They don’t have the social need—in fact, they probably need some time alone to think and daydream. Because the need is not there, they aren’t as eager or able to spend time.

I have found the most successful path is to search out other homeschoolers and try to build friendships with them. Right off, the children have so much more in common. Their lifestyles and standards are usually similar. They need and enjoy the companionship.

Where can you find other homeschoolers? It may seem that there are no other homeschoolers in your area, but there are! When I first moved to Utah, I made up flyers and posted them in local grocery stores, the library, and other prominent places. Basically, the flyer said, “Homeschooling? We want to meet you for friendship and activities. My children are such-and-such ages. Please call Diane.” Soon I was getting phone calls and was able to gather a group of LDS homeschooling families to meet at the park. From this group, we made many friends. Just recently, I was at a soccer game and another mother recognized me. Soon we were deep in conversation and discovered that she lives just a few blocks (actually across a big field) from me. For ten years, she has lived there, thinking there were no other homeschoolers in her neighborhood!

You will be surprised how many homeschoolers there are. Some families feel shy about homeschooling and keep a low profile. If you have a friendly librarian, ask her about other homeschoolers. My librarian tells me you can always spot them. They keep the library in business with their frequent trips and huge numbers of books check out. I suppose if you have a friendly school secretary, she could also tell you who has registered to do homeschool rather than attend public school.

What can a mother do to help her children fill the social need? I have had the most success in creating activities for others to attend. Most mothers are thankful to have somewhere to take their children to enjoy the company of other homeschoolers. They are usually very willing to drive them to your house. Sometimes, they offer to reciprocate and have the activity at their house too. One of the blessings of being the organizer is that you can pick and choose the best time that fits into your schedule. Your younger children also benefit from being there.

We have had an ongoing weekly class of some sort or another for many years. When Julianna was 10 years old, it was called “Art Class”. We had other girls her age come to our home every Thursday afternoon for two hours. I would help them do a fun project and, before and afterwards, they would play together. As an adult, Julianna still enjoys the friendships made in that “Art Class”!

Co-op school is another good way to meet the social need. All it takes is one other family with similar aged children. You can meet once a week or just once a month to “do school” together. Co-op school means you are teaching other children too, and since you are “in the spotlight”, you often make it extra fun. This takes effort but, of all the things we’ve done, my children have loved co-op school the best.

Field trips, picnics and other out-of-home outings are a good way to get to know another family on neutral territory. I usually just invite one family and most often, our children hit it off and make friends. This doesn’t take much effort, and becomes an anticipated event for my children.

Teenage parties at our house once a month, with food and games, has been a good way for my teenagers to get to become good friends with other homeschoolers. Teenagers are reluctant and uneasy at first, but most of them don’t have a lot of contact with other homeschoolers, so it is a treat to share their company. They have so much in common that friendships form easily.

All of these activities take energy and planning on mother’s part, and often it feels like just one more thing in an already packed schedule. I do feel it takes high priority, however, because it makes such a difference in the success of your homeschooling experience. Of all the mothers I talk to that have reluctantly put their children back in school, the single reason that they give is that their children yearned for friends and that homeschooling could not meet that need. You can prevent “homeschool dropout” by providing friendship opportunities.

Do yourself and your children a favor. Make your homeschool successful, not just academically, but socially also. It will be a great blessing to your children’s lives!

 

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Lonely, Lonely Child

Question:

My daughter is very social and craves having a playmate all the time. She is very intelligent and easily a grade or two ahead because of homeschool, but she complains nearly constantly about feeling lonely, wishing for friend to play with, wanting to talk to someone, even on the phone. My other children are younger and do not satisfy her social need. She is pretty unhappy. What do I do?

Answer:

Each child is such an individual creation of God, unique in their needs. As mothers, we strive to meet our children’s needs—spiritual, academic, social, physical. I like the scripture in Luke 2:52 , “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Each child has these same dimensions of their being: wisdom (mental, academic), stature (physical growth), favor with God (spirituality) and man (social development). As homeschool moms, we are responsible for nurturing growth in each of these dimensions of a child’s being, not just academic.

Some children just need other children in order to be happy. They are dominantly social in nature and they have to other people in their life, just as much as they have to breathe. I have had children who are content to stay home and crave books, or played by themselves and didn’t need a friend, and others who withered without many people (besides a large family), in their daily life.

Homeschool can give kids the academic advantage (if the mom is doing her part in teaching them), a physical advantage (if mom cares about nutrition), and a spiritual advantage (non-wordly environment, teaching the scriptures, giving opportunities and time for service)—but it does not always fill their social need unless the mother is very attentive to it.

That is why I spent time and effort  to create friendship opportunities for my kids: forming support groups, hosting Girls’ or Boys’ Club, putting on teen dances, and running a co-op school. I tried constantly to try to make sure that social need was filled, so the children wouldn’t get lonely and “friend starved”, or socially awkward from lack of interaction. I also designated two days a week for having a friend over, so basically my kids had a social connection nearly every day. I know that this is a big job for mom, but meeting a child’s social needs is just as important as giving them good nutritious food. I know babies and their needs complicate things, so does not having a car, having poor health, etc.  But recognizing that social interaction is a very real need can help us pay proper attention to it.

To meet your daughter’s needs, you might want to import children. One idea is invite a few girls that you like to come to your house for some kind of class once a week (arts & crafts, drama, dance, etc.) and let the girls play for half of the time, and do some simple project the other part of the time. That is a way to schedule playtime that other moms (and you) can plan on so you aren’t always calling trying to find a friend. Moms are much more willing to drive their child over to your house on a regular schedule if they feel they are getting the benefit of a free, good class for their child, rather than just unstructured playtime.  And consistent, positive time together is what opens the doors for friendship.  Girls Club was a very essential part of my daughter’s upbringing.

Another option is to join or organize a mom-taught co-op, where you are present, taking your teaching turn, while your children rotate to enjoy other teachers in a class setting. I directed a co-op school that met once a week for most of my homeschooling years, and it was a wonderful blessing to our family, providing support and friendship. In the summer months, we met for Park Day.  So year round, my children were able to connect with their friends, usually bringing them home afternoon play.

I am assuming your daughter has chores to do, along with her schoolwork, and family duties such as helping care for younger siblings, playing with them and reading to them.  And perhaps an elderly neighbor to visit weekly. This service will make her happier.  Long periods of nothing to do will get many children whining for friends just to entertain themselves.  It is a really helpful to teach children some skills so they can content themselves with hobbies when they feel restless. If they have an interesting project going, such as simple hand sewing, crocheting, sculpting, playing music for fun, drawing, etc., they will find satisfaction in creating. If you can teach your children to love to read, it will open an exciting word of virtuous friends and role models.

Homeschool” means that parents in the “home” are in charge of “school” (your children’s education), rather than the government, the state guidelines, the media, the school district, the Sunday school teacher, the Scout leader, or anyone else. It is acknowledging that our children’s upbringing is our responsibility. It cannot be shrugged off onto someone else. Once that is firm in our minds, then it is our task to search for means to fill our children’s needs and help them develop. Extra attention to creating social opportunities may be enough to help a child feel balanced. You may feel good about using opportunities outside the home to give children the balance they need to be happy and grow best. Be wise and careful, especially with young children, who do best under the watchful guidance of their parents and the protection of values lived in the home.

Listen to the inspiration your feel in your heart. God loves your children more than you do, and He will direct you to do what is best for them.

 

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Wishing to Go Back to School

schoolbus-81717_1280Question:

My daughter is 10 years old, and we are homeschooling full-time this year. It is hard because we moved to a small town and she is used to having friends in the neighborhood. We are slowly getting to know some really nice homeschoolers in this area. How do I continue to keep her motivated? It seems like things will go along smoothly, and then she wishes she was back in school. I don’t want to send her back.

Answer:

The big issue with keeping your daughter happy learning at home may be having enough social contact. When she wishes she was back in school, she may be wishing for friends to be around. I assure you she is not missing the lessons that move slowly, the long school day, the homework, the lack of time to be a child, the stories unread, waiting in line, missing out on cooking with Mom, the group mentality or the peer pressure.

So, Mom’s job, in addition to providing a rich, stimulating educational environment, is to take care of the social dimension. At 10 years old, if she has siblings, your daughter needs be involved with friendly, interacting peers for at least a few hours 3 times a week minimum . This can be accomplished in many ways:

1) by attending a support group meeting where she can play with girls her age

2) by inviting over a child for a play date at your house

3) by attending a class where she can interact with other children (gymnastics, dance, art, music). A class only works if she feels comfortable interacting with those children.

4) by holding your own “Girl’s Club” meeting in your home and inviting a few other girls over to do a craft or activity, plus play together

5) by offering a educational class once a week, such as “Art” or “Learning to Crochet” or something else of interest, and inviting homeschooled kids to attend

6) by joining a club such as 4H or church sponsored activities

She also needs to get out of the house a few times per week, into the bigger world. Taking a trip to the library, having a little job to earn money, actively helping you grocery shop (price comparison, etc.), doing service by visiting an elderly person or babysitting–these all help meet that need of interacting in the world outside of home.

Make sure that she is not just doing “school” at home, but that she is fully integrated into your life, that you are her friend, and that she is learning other skills as well. You are modeling to her what an adult woman does with her life all day long. She needs to be actively involved in doing laundry, baking bread or sewing (or whatever you do), helping plan and cook meals, serving those in need, taking care of little ones (if you have them), keeping her personal history (journal and/or scrapbook), reading the same book together or aloud with you and discussing it, learning to do mending, and more.

It doesn’t take too much to get kids motivated to do fun, enjoyable things! As far as motivation to finish a less desirable task, I think varying activities is a key element to staying happy working on anything, schoolwork included. When my daughter and I do her math together at the table, we take breaks every so often to read a story, do an art project, take a walk outside, stir up some muffins to bake, etc. Then we come back to it and work on it some more, but never to the grueling point. Breaking the task into smaller bite sized pieces (say 1/4 of the lesson), and doing just that much at each sitting can help too. I stay feel it is important to stay present, either working with her, or doing my own writing, or reading nearby while she does her schoolwork.

Seek for ways to learn that are fun and interesting. One thing I have done with math is to mount a huge chalkboard on the wall. (You could also paint a wall with chalkboard paint!). We do the math problems on the chalkboard, where it is much more fun to write big numbers, work out problems and draw diagrams! Another favorite is the chin up bar (just a wooden dowel and those round closet dowel end parts to slide into) across the top of a doorway, so that my kids can swing and chin-up while doing their memorizing. Just post the memory verse or poem on the wall nearby and ask them to recite while they swing–works great! I also use whatever is handy (dimes, legos, blocks, pencils, etc.) to demonstrate the math concept in a hands-on, visual way. Whatever the subject, I try to find videos, games, electronic educational toys, photo illustrated books, community events, museum trips, pictures, a fun internet site, audio recordings, and even willing people that have an expertise in some area to add spice to learning. In this way, there is seldom disinterest and need for motivating. I, myself, enjoy very much learning whatever the topic happens to be. You are never to old to have fun learning. But no one is old enough to sit through dry lectures, boring worksheets, dull textbooks, and other sleep inducing forms of learning.

Best success to you. Remember that you are doing the most important work that you could be involved in! Nothing is more vital than giving your child the strong, loving foundation of a caring environment where learning is considered delicious. Your efforts will have positive consequences far beyond your lifetime. Keep up the excellent effort! Your daughter is very fortunate!

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Making Friends

holdinghands

Question:

We joined a homeschool coop which is great and I love it. They only meet for 2 hours or so on Friday mornings, though, and then for field trips once a month. Of course, there is no guarantee that the kids in my daughter’s class will be at the field trips. So, how do your kids make friends? I didn’t want her to go to public school, but with homeschool it doesn’t seem like she’ll make friends as easily. She’s very introverted.

Answer:

Plan a playdate! Choose a friend in her co-op that you both like, and invite her to your house for a playdate once a week for free play. If the friend’s mother is reluctant to add one more thing to her schedule, offer a teaching time such as: “we are going to do arts/crafts class every Tuesday from 3 to 5 pm”. Most moms are more likely to commit if they feel there is educational value involved and they don’t have to teach it.

You are involved in a Friday co-op, so a playdate on Tuesdays would be ideal to break up the week. You can also call to make sure the friend is going to the field trip too, or invite her along if her mother is not planning to attend.

If you feel your daughter needs more social contact, then arrange one more playdate per week with another friend. Playdates plus co-op and a field trip should keep her happy.

Don’t overestimate the public school’s ability to socialize. Just being with other kids is not enough. Other children make be kind and friendly…or they can call her names, make fun of her, and teach her bad words and habits. If being in contact with other people was all it took to socialize a person, then our prisons would be great places to become socialized! True socialization comes from associating with those who can model good behavior, share true values, and love you.

 

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