The Baby IS the Lesson

One morning on my daily walk, I was fretting and stewing over what I could possibly do with my one-year-old during school time. I was feeling some despair with a new baby on its way. I couldn’t see any end to the disruption of babies in my home school for many years to come. I was praying and scheming at the same time: I could wait until the baby’s nap to teach school, I could rotate the children with baby-sitting chore away from our schoolroom, I could get a playpen . . . all solutions that didn’t feel right—babies needs their moms!

As I walked and pondered, suddenly the Lord introduced one sentence to my mind and revolutionized my mindset entirely! “The baby IS the lesson!” I thought I was trying to teach Math, but in reality I had been teaching, day by day, how an adult values the precious gift of children. My children, by watching how I deal with the frustration of a crying baby or keep a toddler happy and busy with some of his “own” pieces while we play a math game, are soaking up “the lesson”. Unfortunately, I had occasionally been teaching that the baby interrupts our lesson.

How to be a Christlike person is the most valuable lesson a child could ever learn! The lesson is learned moment by moment; watching a parent being patient, handling frustration with kindness, pressing on for the goal in spite of numerous interruptions, valuing each child’s needs regardless of inconvenience. That valuable insight–how Mother handles the baby is the real lesson–has dramatically changed how I view my home school. I am teaching foremost my values: godly character, kindness, respect for others, individuality, sacrifice and a host of other Christlike attributes. Teaching them reading, writing, math, etc. is very important to me but my perspective has been altered. “Mimic me, follow me and I will show you the way a Christlike person acts and what he values”. That is the message every parent relays to their children whether they are aware of it or not. Children try to copy everything anyway (our mannerisms, our daily activities, etc.). We must be certain that we are providing a correct pattern for them to copy, not only in our daily activities but in our attitude, our tone of voice, and our facial expression. We need to conduct our lives so that we can say “follow me”. If our children are to “buy” our values, what a tremendous responsibility we have to make sure we are living our best so the lesson is clear and well learned! What more could you ask for from your homeschool than to produce Christlike people?!

Teaching your children basically means getting your own personal life in order and striving daily to be the leader for them to follow. Of course, we fall short and they must look to Christ for the perfect being but they need to see daily how one acts, speaks, lives, solves problems. We are acting as a proxy, in a sense, for Christ. Since they can’t have his daily role model, then he has given his children parents to be an example, to point the way. Along with lesson preparations, we need to prepare ourselves by asking: is the pattern I live the way Christ would act? Can I say today that I have marked the path for my children to follow? Children learn from seeing their parent’s role model. Watching an adult make a simple mistake (such as being too punitive with a child) and go through the process of repenting is 100 times more effective than your devotional lesson on repentance. This means children must be intimately involved with you in your daily life. A few hours a day after school won’t do it.

Children should be involved in the adult’s life rather than daily life rotating solely around the children. Research has shown that children who have grown up to be productive well-adjusted adults are those who have been drawn into the parent’s world; their daily activities, work, and interests; rather than having parents who centered their world on the child. When I began home schooling, I never could find the time to do the things I felt were important for my life; such as writing in my journal, corresponding with relatives, studying my scriptures, and more. Somehow, in my busy-ness of trying to teach the kids how to write in their journals, I was neglecting my own journal writing. Thankfully, we now have journal writing time in school daily, and we write letters to relatives together as a family on Sunday. Homeschool life should help parents do the daily necessities, rather than usurp the time needed for them. Home maintenance, chores, food preparation, gardening, food preservation, budgeting, clothing care (mending and sewing), planning family social relationships, caring for small children, record keeping, quilting, raising animals, etc. are all wonderful life skills that can be done together that enhance a child’s education!

The parent’s joyful task is to lead and guide the child into the real world–not set up a contrived pseudo-world to teach skills that the children would easily learn if they spent their time around adults who were striving to live good lives. What constitutes an adult trying to live a “good life”? Being a productive adult would constitute a full-time curriculum! Plant a garden, read good literature, serve the needy, be politically aware, keep a journal, vote for honest men, develop your talents, etc. The exciting part about leading a child into the real world is that they are self-motivated. The moment I sit down to play the piano, all my children want to play and want me to teach them to play something. No sooner than I begin typing on the computer, I have the whole family “needing” to type. My efforts at writing have, humorous to me, stimulated the production of “books” from my youngest children. Modeling is so much more effective than lecturing.

Studies show that the biggest determining factor for a child’s success in reading in school is if they have seen a parent reading in the home on a regular basis. This is especially true for boys if the parent who reads is their father, rather than their mother. Somehow, the example says far more about the value of reading than endless hours in school reading groups.

In every area it takes instruction to teach skills to little people. Children need to master the basic academic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic), social manners, music competence, and a host of other abilities and that do take focused concentration and time from mother/teacher to accomplish. It isn’t realized just by living in a family. But shared family life practices and contributes to those skills. Having taught my little girl the numbers and the plus, minus and equal signs and how they worked, she jumped right into figuring out how many plates she needed to set the table using her new skills: (“We have 9 and the boys are gone to college so that is minus 3, so we need six”).

When we think of homeschool, sometimes we get tunnel vision, and think “academics”, “keeping up to speed” and other worrisome concerns that don’t really tell the whole story. Homeschool is the growing and nurturing of fine, upright people.

So, how we treat and value the baby really is the lesson.

Class never dismissed.

 


May I recommend:




What’s it Like to Be a Boy?

My son Ammon is a sensitive, intelligent boy who loves plants. He is a careful 17-year-old, and he has been working studiously on his budget. I noticed that his budget includes a monthly allowance for “breaking things”. I was amused that he would list such an expenditure, but over the days since we talked about his budget, I have had a taste of what it would be like to be a teenage boy. 

Not ripping your clothes is a constant challenge. Somehow barbed wire just jumps out at you when you walk by. Outreaching knobs and latches snag your clothes when you pass. Your pants end up with holes in them. Your buttons rip off when you wrestle.

Dishes slip out of your newly-large hands. Pictures on the wall just seem to slide off when you walk near them. Even ceiling moutned light fixtures are not safe from a boy’s antics. Keeping a watch on your arm while doing boy things is always tricky. That is, if you don’t lose it first.

Not breaking things is extra difficult. Yesterday alone included dropping a sharp object on the kitchen floor and denting it, and then dropping a stapler on the hardwood table and denting it. Perhaps it has to do with the need to do science experiments with every thing you handle. Last summer’s breakage expenses included a truck window. Ammon was loading firewood onto the back of someone’s truck as a service project, and accidentally jammed a log against the back of the cab window, shattering it. That was a pricey budget deduction. Last month, it was a broken bow to his violin. Whatever it is, breakage is a real and ongoing issue for boys!

My current theory is that teenage boys are kids in mens’ bodies, and still trying to learn to handle and direct all the sudden and unexpected muscle power. They mean well, but things do break ever so easily when you are a teenage boy!

Mom, don’t get too mad at your teenage or soon-to-be-teen boys. They really don’t mean to break a thing. They really mean to be very sensitive and very careful. It is just all this strength unleashed . . . it is hard to keep it in good control! It feels like driving a car for the first time. These boys will soon be men and off on important duties. Enjoy now!

 

 

My Child is Behind in School

Question:

I put my son James in public school for a short time and the teacher said he was “behind”.  I was so upset, I cried for days!  You said he is so young, I shouldn’t worry.  At what point should I worry?

Answer:

At what point should you worry?

NEVER!

Just pray and do your very best.  Children have their own growth path, their own maturation process.  Assisting them to learn what they are interested in, and providing fun ways to learn the things they have no interest in, but that are necessary life skills—is the best any mortal can do, including any public school teacher.  You are their very best teacher!  Your methods may vary, and you may explore and try new ones, but basically, it is YOU— your love, your caring concern, your energy to help them pursue their interests— not the academics, that makes a good education.

Your child is not “behind” or “ahead”.  He is James.  Period.  With all his varying skills and abilities—some areas higher and some areas lower than the “norm” (which doesn’t exist, of course).

I am so sorry that you felt bad and cried about the teacher’s opinion.  James is who he is. I wish you could see how it will work out—that James will grow up to become his own phenomenal person!

I think we underestimate the divine nature in our children.  They are progressing, opening like a blooming flower.  And their potential and final intelligence level is really not up to us, just as we cannot determine what color a blossoming flower will be.  We can assist, or retard their blooming efforts, but we can’t determine their talents, ability or intelligence level.

Make sure he has religious training. That is the biggest factor, because as kids get to be teens, their respect for God, and for you and others will make a huge difference.  Next, make sure he has the basics:  reading, writing and math—according to his time table—don’t put expectations on him to go faster, to be something he is not.   Make it fun, as I know you try to do!  Help him:  be his best aid in pursuing his interests.  Get books at the library, buy kits, find DVDs, travel with him, take him to science fairs, seek out mentors like the blacksmith at the county fair, that can answer his questions.  Kids are hungry to learn things that interest them. Feed him as fast as he can take it.  And don’t force feed him too much stuff that he has no interest in.

I used to stress, too. I think it is because I had the mistaken idea that I was the creator.  That how my children turned out  intelligence-wise, talent-wise was entirely up to me, somehow. I know that if you keep homeschooling the best you can, and you keep him out of public school and make sure he has religious training, you will be calling me in ten years to tell me what a fabulous, smart, achieving, amazing son James is.

Breathe deep.  He is God’s child first, yours second.  Do your best, and you’ll be amazed with the results!

 

Advice to the New Homeschooling Mom

Some things I wish I had known when I began homeschooling:

1) Put homeschooling first, for your kids sake

When I began homeschooling, I thought that I would somehow just add homeschool to my  already busy life. It didn’t take long to realize that is impossible. There are only so many hours in the day! I came to the realization that in order to give my children a good education, it would have to be my first concern during “school hours.” I had to commit to the priority of educating my kids. I had to turn off the phone, avoid interruptions, and focus on my children—a very joyful occupation!

2) Consider patience as a wonderful virtue homeschooling teaches

As a new homeschooler, I was excited and wanted to tell everyone about my happy new discovery! People seemed to respond to the subject of homeschooling by commenting that they didn’t have the patience for it.  That puzzled me some, as I didn’t suggest that they homeschool, but just wanted to share my own enthusiasm.  A thought began to form in my head whenever I heard a response of “I don’t have patientce.”  When would I really learn patience, if not now?  If I am striving to have a happy family, it seems like a good idea to begin right now. Patience is a skill developed through practice and homeschooling—being with your children daily, gives you lots of practice.

3) Realize you are your child’s best teacher

It’s a good idea to abandon too-difficult learning tasks until the child is more ready, avoiding trying both of our patience!  Organization and preparation will really diffuse a lot of problems. Even with your best effort, sometimes you’ll have a difficult child.  In that case,  it really helps me to think: “If I feel annoyed— I, who love this child so much, who have his future and well being at heart— how would a school teacher feel? I have a vested interest, he is better off with me.”

4) Routine is incredibly helpful because everyone knows what to expect.

Get organized. We have an opening exercise that begins with a pledge, patriotic song, prayer, fun oral quizzing, and me reading aloud. It feels secure to my children to have school start with the same pattern every day. I don’t try to do every subject every day, nor do I think it is wise to break a child’s concentration by changing subjects every 30 minutes. That is not the way you and I enjoy learning. We would rather pursue our interests uninterrupted until our curiosity is satisfied. If you keep getting interrupted, you begin to wonder if it is worth starting anything interesting.

5) Set some ground rules

Some of ours are:

  • -All work must be done before play.
  • -Doing your best is required.
  • -Sloppy work must be redone.
  • -A cheerful, helpful, willing attitude is the most important thing you can bring to homeschool.
  • -Don’t interrupt while Mom is working with another child. Go on to something else if you’re stuck and Mom is not available.

6) Learning to obey is one of the most important lessons your child will learn in homeschool

Obedience is a hard lesson for all of us, and yet an undisciplined person is not as useful to anyone—not himself, others nor God. Learning to be the master of your own self (self-control) begins by learning to obey your parents. Homeschooling, unfortunately and fortunately, compels us to come to grips with the issue: who is in charge? God gave parents the responsibility to train their children, and part of that training is to be obedient to parents. I tend to be overly tender towards my children, as many mothers are, but children learn best when we are consistent in helping them mind us.  I do think you need to listen and make allowances. Sometimes children are truly tired and need a break or a change of program but repeated choruses of “I don’t want to do my schoolwork”  can undermine your efforts.

7) Education comes in many forms

Flexibility is so important! We drop everything if there is a sunny day in winter and go hiking by the river instead. There is a lot to be learned from visiting the neighbor horse’s new foal. Working on an Eagle Scout project, a 4-H project, baking or sewing, watching birds make a nest— are all very valid learning experiences.

8) Be gentle as your children adjust

If you are just coming out of the public school system, expect a detoxification period. Usually kids are pretty burned out by the regimentation and busywork routine of school. When I brought my children home, my 5th grader could be turned into tears instantly by the thought of reading. I finally decided to totally forget reading for awhile (for that child) and just read aloud to all the children so he could begin to enjoy reading again. Within a year, he was an avid reader who really couldn’t remember ever hating it.

9) Slow and steady

Choose your activities wisely. You can’t do everything! Field trips can be fun, educational . . . and sometimes overly exhausting. Some homeschool moms seem to try to make up for the lack of public school activities by setting up a dizzying round of choir, soccer, scouts, art, gymnastics, etc. . . . rush, rush, too much time driving here and there. We brought them home because we wanted them home and near us. Remember?

One trip that we do deem important is a regular trip to the public library. I ask each child to consider what they want to learn about and make a list. Once in the library, we go to the computer and get the titles and numbers so each child can get their own stack of interesting nonfiction and fiction reading. I think a child could get alot of his education via the library, just following his interests!

10) Don’t rush into buying lots of curriculum

What to buy first? As a new homeschooler I think I made up for lack of confidence with stacks of books. Now, I try to encourage new homeschoolers to begin with the very basic necessities: a journal, Bible, a hymnbook or songbook, a good phonics program, a language arts program and a math program. Basically, that is all you need. There is so much on the market that really can make homeschool easier and more enjoyable but you can also use library books for reading, history, science, health, etc. and buy other things you may want as you have the money. Take care to choose carefully at the library. Not everything at the library’ is worthy of reading! As your first year progresses, you will see what is working and be able to buy the things that are best for your children.

Enjoy the journey! Homeschooling  is a wonderful lifestyle!

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.)

I Want to Homeschool

Question:

I really have a passion for wanting to homeschool our 4 children, however my husband and other family members think it would be better for the children and I would be better off sending them to school. Am I showing respect to my husband by dropping the subject and teaching them what I can when they are out of school for sick days and vacations? How can I get my husband to understand how badly I want to do this?

Answer:

I believe that God inspires us, and if you feel a passion for wanting to homeschool, I think that feeling comes from God and you will be blessed if you follow it. It will take courage, but the results will be amazingly wonderful! I am so thankful—so very, very thankful that I homeschool!

How to convince your husband? Well, it depends on what type of a man he is. If you do the research, read things, find statistics for positive results of homeschooling (such as the fact that many of the National Spelling Bee winners were homeschooled, or that more homeschoolers per capita graduate from college and make more money, etc.), will he listen to reason? If you sincerely express your heartfelt feelings and do all you can to be a good, loving, attentive wife, will he want to honor your feelings and allow you your desire? Study out the best approach and patiently go about it, not trying to rush him, just trying to gently win him over. Discuss his concerns and fears and see if you can find a way to quell them. They are his children, too, and he wants them to have the best opportunity.

There is a lot of negative research that shows how awful public school is. I think mucking in the negative is not the right approach. I would rather emphasize the incredible results of homeschooling, the family unity, the smooth sailing during teen years, the love of learning that is ignited in homeschooled children. There is much that you can focus on that is excellent and uplifting.

“Dropping the subject and then trying to teach them when they are out of school for sick days and vacations” does not seem like a good way to honor your husband. It seems like a good way to make your children resent the fact that they have to go to school, plus spend their “time off” in school too! You will bring honor to your husband when your children grow upright, educated and respectful through your diligent teaching and mothering.

How to convince family members? I don’t think there is a need. Please God and be true to yourself. That is all anyone can do. You will never make everyone happy. Besides, even the most critical family members cannot ignore good results, and as your children grow into educated, sensitive, caring, good citizens, some of those critics will become your loyal supporters. The best way I have found to deal with family criticism is just to carry on, be loving with them, and debate it as little as possible. Understand that they care, and just want the best for you, and mean well. They speak out of love, generally. So take their remarks as if they had expressed love, and don’t discuss homeschooling pros and cons with them. Set your own boundary of self-respect—not allowing them to delve into the whys and wherefores. You won’t convince them with words, but “the proof is in the pudding” and when they see your children changing, becoming more mannerly, more respectful, and excited about learning, you won’t have to try to convince anyone.

And, above all, pray! There is a lot of power in consistent prayer.

I want to tell you about my friend. Her husband was dead set against homeschooling, and she yearned to do it so much. She left homeschooling articles on the coffee table. She dropped hints. She pleaded and begged. She cried. She was silent. She tried to do summer school and Christmas vacation school with her kids. Finally, she and I decided to pray every day consistently about softening her husband’s heart. She also determined to fast once a week asking God to touch her husband. Her husband did not know why she was fasting, nor did he know about our prayers. After 3 weeks, her husband was sitting in the living room reading the newspaper one evening while she fixed dinner. Suddenly, he folded the newspaper and said, “Okay, just go ahead and homeschool!”. He said it in a rather irritated tone, as if his conscience had been nagging him. She didn’t care what tone of voice he used—she was just thrilled to have his permission!

Be persistent in your prayers, and prepare yourself to homeschool. Get your school area set up, gather your books and supplies, decorate a bulletin board or a space on the wall. Make school look very fun!  If you intend to teach a science unit on lizards, decorate with a toy lizard and some pictures. Get library books on lizards and let the kids look through them. Go forth getting ready with enthusiasm. If your husband asks about it, say you are exercising faith. Put trust in the fact hat God loves you and your husband loves you and they both want you to have the desire of your heart. Be upbeat and positive about it. It is hard to stop a happy, energetic attempt at doing good.

Best success!

 

Creating a Home School Library

I’m a book-a-holic and live in a regular-sized house, so books get tucked here, there and everywhere. Naturally, when one of my children asked a question about the bottom of the ocean, I wanted to show them that wonderful book with the great picture of the ocean floor . . . but where is that book? By the time I’ve dug through this shelf and the cabinet and this drawer, they’ve lost interest.

After hearing a wonderful church leader’s talk about having a library in his childhood home, I started looking at my homeschooling area with an eye for building a library. There is seldom any extra space, but I started looking at our rooms with the hope for a way to fit in some shelves that could serve as our library. I finally settled on an area and with some rearranging and ingenuity, we created a “sort of” book shelf. Actually, I was so over-eager that we stacked honey buckets from our food storage with old boards laid across until they were high enough to be dangerous. Although it could only accommodate a portion of our books, it gave me a taste of a homeschool library, and now I was hopeful for the real thing. Time to build a family library!

We began shopping for shelving units. I found that a finished oak shelf unit, 6 feet high and 4 feet wide cost anywhere from $180 to $300! That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Besides, that space was way too small to accommodate my dream. After more shopping and comparing, we finally settled on buying 8 foot by 1 foot boards from a lumber store. These boards were composition board on the inside, but were coated with a white plastic laminate surface, and the edge of them was rounded smoothly. The cost for lumber for a built-in shelf unit that measured 8 feet long and was floor to ceiling was under $60. Most lumber stores will even make the cuts for you, reducing the labor even further. Generally the first few cuts are free, and any other cuts are 50¢ each. It may be worth it to save the time if you aren’t a handyman-type.

The unit wasn’t too hard to put together. Because the boards were already finished and did not require sanding, painting, etc.; the work was cut to a minimum. My husband Rick chose screws rather than nails, thinking it would make the unit sturdier. He also screwed it into the wall to make it safe.

Once you get your bookshelf area set up, have a “treasure hunt” with the kids by gathering all the books in the house. I weeded out as many books as I could (be ruthless). I could barely wait for it to be finished! I dragged boxes of books from every place I had stashed them for years and covered the floor with them. I pulled them from cupboards and cabinets and closets and desktops. Just when I had an enormous book heap on the family room floor, my in-laws arrived from out of state (naturally)!  . . . So much for making a good impression of homeschooling!

I decided to arrange my books in subject order. I took a length of masking tape and applied it to the shelf edge, writing the subject neatly in permanent marker on the tape. I ended up with: World History, American History, Geography, Science, Health, Math, English, Life Skills, Children’s storybooks, Readers, Art, Music and Educational Magazines.

Our “History” section begins with Ancient History books: nonfiction, textbooks, documents, literature and good fiction reading that is set in the time period of ancient history. Putting the good reading books in their historical setting makes them very handy to read along with history studies. My “History” shelves continue through Middle Ages, Modern Times, US Constitution and Government, and Freedom Documents along with wonderful children’s fiction set in the time period.

Then come the “Science” shelves, divided into the 4 fields of science: Biology (including Human Body and anatomy books), Physical Science, Chemistry and Earth Science. Nature magazines and DVDs go here too.

The “English” section begins with reference books, and includes books on how to write poetry as well as books of poems, spelling books, grammar books, my favorite Vocabulary Cartoons books, as well as collections of literature that cover many time periods (and thus cannot be put in the “History” section). I also have a section for great reading books not set in any historical period. Art books have a place, as do foreign language, and other subjects.

Keep a bottom shelf open for your library books. When the library books have a place that they “live” at your house, it is much easier to keep track of them. (Beats hunting for them under the couch.)

What is so marvelous about organizing your home library is that everything is so available and easy to find! I love it! Now when one of my children talks about volcanoes, it is a cinch to just cruise over to the “Science” section and see all the pertinent books just at my fingertips: easy-to-find and use!  And the children can easily access what they need as well. An unexpected result of organizing our family library, is that it helped me see at a glance which areas of our educational resources were lacking. I can see that I probably don’t need one more Art book, but we are seriously in need of Science books!

I began to wonder why I hadn’t organized in this way several years ago. Moving, and never having enough shelf space had hindered progress, but it makes such an enormous difference that it is well worth any effort to create your library! It also meant that I now had a “place” for every type of book to be put away. Educational magazines now belonged somewhere, rather than just on an end table or in a magazine rack.

Naturally, in the process of putting all those books on our library shelves, I encountered numerous books that I hadn’t been able to part with, but hadn’t really found all that delightful either. Setting them right up there next to their kin of the same subject made it easy to see that they were no longer useful. You only need a few USA geography books to do the trick. Any more just takes space and creates educational clutter. Choose the best one or two and sort the rest out. It takes discerning eye to glean out the extra stuff, but it gives your library punch. Only the best. Donate the rest.

I do save some old quaint books just because they are so old that they seem like they come from another era. One example is a Home Economics textbook I have from the 1940’s. It actually has chapters on what to do when a baby cries, how to iron a shirt, and how to make a bed! I also had to save those “Run, Dick, run!” readers that marked the ruination of phonics in America. I have used them to explain to mothers why their children can’t learn to read easily in the public school system. These old treasures don’t go on my shelves according to subject. They are really kept just because of their antiquity, in a spot of their own.

Once I got my library organized, I found that I didn’t need to make so many trips to the library. I also didn’t buy quite as many books. It made homeschooling so much easier. When we were doing an art project, it was so simple to just go to the shelf and look through a few art books to come up with lots of ideas.

You are probably way more organized than I am. But, if your books are stored helter-skelter here and there, maybe a library is just what you need.  Best success!

 

 

An Educational Approach

How does one come up with their own educational approach? Shouldn’t that be in place before you even attempt to homeschool?

When homeschooling mothers ask me these questions, I always suggest that they just jump in and do something—don’t try to decide on an approach or a curricula at first.When you make the decision to move to a new area, you don’t have to buy the house the day you arrive. You can rent or stay in a motel for awhile and check things out and you will make a better decision that way. You don’t have to make decisions on what type of stroller, crib and college education before the baby is born and you see what the actual need is.

The same goes for homeschooling. Just start a daily time together doing whatever comes to your mind. You may want to pledge allegiance to the flag, sing a song, read a story aloud to them (or, better yet, a few stories), chart the weather, play a math game, or take a nature walk. You could do some art, some science experiences. Mostly, enjoy being together. As you get a little routine going, you will be able to study out what works best with your children, what they enjoy, what they don’t like, and your educational approach will be in the making!

“First we have a relationship, and then we have an educational method” is one of my favorite homeschool quotes. Work on that relationship by becoming the teacher in their eyes (plus foremost, their beloved mother). Make a chart and stick it on the wall so that they can see you are in charge and are going to dependably make this wonderful thing happen. I am just going to invent one quickly here for young children, but you do it anyway you like:

“Our Happy Homeschool”

  • 9:00 Begin (come dressed, chores done)
  • Pledge, Song, Prayer
  • Exercise (jumping jacks, windmills, run once around the house)
  • Chart the weather
  • Phonics (games preferably)
  • Subject of the day (Mon: Science, Tues: History, Wed: Art, etc.)
  • Walk or play outside (30 min)
  • Math (hands on is best, teach the concepts with toys, beans, whatever you have on hand)
  • Story time
  • 12:00 Cooking (kids help make lunch)

As you consistently stick with your schedule, you can begin to explore curriculum options based on how your children are responding. For example, perhaps your child finds a lizard outside and shows a lot of interest. Try using library books and finding books on different kinds of lizards, or the anatomy of lizards. Get a documentary or science movie at the library on lizards. Go to a museum or pet shop and see lizards. Explore the topic thoroughly. As you do, you will find what approach works best for your kids (and works for you as a teacher and mother). You will be able to decide how to teach science most effectively. Will the children enjoy the foundation gained through using a textbook? Will they do better on library books with a theme each week? Would keeping a nature sketchbook that they draw in be exciting to them? Is there a hands-on science program that will work for you? This is how you grow into your educational approach.

Some kids love workbooks and keep things neat and orderly. Others must be doing, moving, handling something to really learn it. I have had children who just wanted to be left alone with their math book and emerged later with nice, neat papers and few mistakes. I have a daughter right now who is so deadened by a math textbook that I have found the best approach with her is for me to take the math book and read over the concept myself and then sit at the kitchen table with her and use whatever is on hand (crayons, paper clips, buttons, etc.) to show her how the concept works and have her handle and do it herself before ever writing down a number. Then, when we do transfer the concept to numbers, I write just one problem in big numbers with markers on a whole piece of paper. After a few of these single problem pages, she grasps it and retains it! This is her learning style and it works very well for her. It did take us quite awhile to arrive at it. But now that we know what works for her, math is interesting, like a puzzle solved. She retains the info, she can do the rest of the problems herself, and we avoid the tears that used to accompany learning math.

So, when it comes to planning the new school year, please don’t pour any concrete yet. Set up your schedule with an ever willing-to-adjust attitude. It takes being flexible and observant to meet our kids needs and make learning a wonderful experience. And as you yield to their learning styles, you will come up with your own unique educational approach!

 

A Way to Grade

My grown kids:  Ammon, Mark and Julianna . . . goofing off!

 

I had heard all the arguments for and against grading your children in homeschool, and had decided not to grade. Going along with the theory that they will learn better when something is interesting to them; I teach them until they understand, or until I completely lose their interest. I couldn’t figure out how to use grades in this form of “school.”

However, like most people, my children weren’t learning self-discipline without any consequences. They had been excellent students, but now they were developing bad school and study habits. As a result, I implemented a grading system that works in their four problem areas:

• Attitude
They complained and fussed about every assignment. Even the “fun” ones. This was getting difficult to deal with as a teacher.

• Completion
If I wasn’t watching, my children would tuck the assignment away without finishing it. Most often, they would not complete their assignments unless I was standing over them. If I left, they put them down and did something else more interesting. I found myself constantly nagging them.

• Speed
My kids love to dawdle. Whether I was in the room or not, they took much too much time over each assignment. They loved the idea of time limits, this meant they didn’t have to finish the page. When I assigned it as “homework” they would not do it without me nagging them (back to the second problem).

• Accuracy
. . . However, when they rush, they tend to be less careful. Without grades, they had no feedback about how they were doing. With this grading system, they like knowing they’re learning and able to do things “right”.

Actually, I’ve used this “system” two different ways. When I started, I used this for every assignment they did. I have a simple little database set up on the computer, that I use as their student logs. At the end of each assignment, I would put in the grade as they watched. They could get anywhere from 1 to 4 points per assignment, and that averaged out for a daily grade. If they got a perfect 4 points for the entire week, we’d give them some type of reward—as a parent, not a teacher.

This was very effective. After using this system for a few months, the kids had really gotten much better. After four months, they were doing so well, I stopped grading them. Ironically, they didn’t like the change. At their request, I started it up again this year, but I only grade them per day. I no longer give them a treat for a perfect 4­— that’s just expected.

Life in our school is great these days— I am feeling a lot less frustrated! We do workbooks for math and language arts, but then we do unit studies for everything else. It has really worked well for us, and my children are excellent students. We all really enjoy school. We have a lot of fun—that’s probably why I think my kids weren’t taking me serious enough. I do the logs for my benefit, more than theirs.

 

Contributed by Carol Johnson
Gainesville, Florida

 

A Spoonful of Sugar: My Philosophy of Homeschooling

I am often asked about my philosophy of homeschooling. I have come to think Mary Poppins knew best, when she told the children that, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in the most delightful way!”

I truly don’t think learning could ever be as nasty to take as medicine, but apparently some teachers seem to dish it out rather distastefully, unfortunately. Think of high school math, chemistry, ancient history . . . In homeschool, we have the privilege of dishing it up deliciously, with a “spoonful of sugar”, so to speak.

I have been homeschooling for 24 years–my goodness! And Ican truthfully say it has been quite fun! We were meant to have joy. Happiness is the design of our existence. Learning is fun! Being with your children can be happy times. Teaching them the truth in every subject–from the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to science to math–brings joy! Watching your children grow and learn and enlarge their talents is wonderfully satisfying.

I can’t think of a richer, fuller, more fun and joyful lifestyle than to have your precious, impressionable children as your best friends who prefer your company. What better daily work could you choose to be involved in than learning about God’s world and his laws and how to grow into a righteous influence for good among mankind on this earth? I think this lifestyle can bring us to say that we live “after the manner of happiness”.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t often feel overwhelmed as mothers, or feel the burden of our enormous task before us. It is a challenge to homeschool your children, but it can be fun and most rewarding. All homeschooling families have that day that never seems to get started, and there are days when math frustrates my teenager to tears. But, as parents we have assurance that there is no job as meaningful, or as worthy, than to be committed to doing the best for your children so that they have what they need to develop into righteous men and women prepared to go forth and make a difference in this world!

There is tremendous joy in moving steadily forward to the realization of this goal. There can be joy and fun in every day of homeschool. 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 stories 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 enjoying the homeschooling lifestyle, which is just really another name for “close family life”.

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. My friends are 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 be bumped, unless there is an emergency. Interruptions 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 from their teacher and companion. That companion is most ideally you. Spending your time with them is how they become like you. If you aren’t perfect, then you can point to the Savior, foremost, and then to all history’s great heroes 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 on the face of the earth is practice. No other is equal to it. R. 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 Deuteronomy 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 thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”.

We listened together to the original book of Pinocchio in the car as we did our errands one summer. This is nothing remotely like the Disney version. This is the real 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, 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 repent to his puppet-maker 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 heard my children exclaim while we were driving and listening, “How can he be so dumb?!” 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.

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 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, because children grow up. I want the healthiest, most life-giving food for my children’s growing bodies. Even so, I want the best quality food for their minds.

I’d like you to imagine that you 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 choose to learn from many interesting things: a CD of Chinese singing, a costume from China, a video, a doll in Chinese dress, color photos of the Great Wall of China. “Let’s try these chopsticks and Chinese food for lunch.” Excellent resources makes learning so much more effective and joyful. (See my recommended resources in the “What?” section of this website!)

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 much urging 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 a 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 the day starts with scripture study. They know that they do chores while breakfast is prepared. They know that after breakfast, they bathe and dress and come to school. They have wall charts in the school room that show the younger 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. This job is best begun at birth, and finished by 8 years old.

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 and what their special part will be. Busy work isn’t the way to do that.

I want to tell 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.

I begin teaching my children to write when they are about 4 years old, starting with their name. By 5 years old, we are ready to start a school journal. I start by having my child tell me a sentence that he wants to write in his journal and I write it down for him. Then he draws a picture of what he said. I progress to writing the words in yellow felt pen so that he can trace over the letters in pencil. As my child matures and learns to write his letters, I help him spell and write his own sentence. Incrementally, year by year, tidbit by tidbit, he learns the mechanics of writing: letter formation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, good sentence structure, writing a paragraph, and other English skills.

This writing is meaningful. At the end of each year, we take these journals to the printer to be bound. I remind my children as they write, that their children and grandchildren will read it someday, and learn to know them through their journals. I often remind them of how delighted their children will be to read all about their life and adventures. It helps them feel motivated to do neat work. We also share their finished journals with grandparents and friends.

I find my children making lists of important things they want to remember so they can write them in their journal. This journal is becoming an important family history for generations to come, and my child is learning to read and write as well. 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 for our posterity, for example–then there is a greater chance for joy in learning.  (See my Journal and Language Arts program.)

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 child is born 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 being better Christians. . . perhaps we wouldn’t feel so bad about the hard times. We are in a family to learn. 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 pat answer is, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for that”. I have found myself wanting to answer back to them (although I don’t!), “Just when did you plan on developing the patience with your family? Better now than later. Do it until you get it right.”

7. Look to Truth

If we are looking for joy, we must look to the Lord. I have never experienced greater joy than when I feel that warm, clean and full-of-light feeling that comes from the Lord. 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 Biblical principles 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!

I am a structured homeschooler. I 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 also teach them the “law of appeal”. I want them to obey, but as long as they move to obey, and are respectful, they can “appeal”. So if a subject is not interesting to them as it is presented in the book or program I have assigned, they are welcome to ask respectfully for something of more enjoyment to them. And I try to accommodate. We want to enjoy this learning time together!

I do hope that you can add a “spoonful of sugar” in your homeschool, and that homeschooling will be a great joy for your family. Joy comes from the companionship of the Lord, the company of your precious family, and being useful in raising intelligent children that love the Lord. There are few comforts so sweet as to know that we have been an instrument in the hands of God in leading someone else to safety. It has been an incredible blessing to me to homeschool my children, and I thank my Father in Heaven for the privilege often!