A Plea to Homeschoolers: Do it!

“I hear you are one who really does homeschool”, someone in my community told me in a casual conversation.

“Oh, really?”, I replied. “How do you know?”

“Because Vi told me you do it,” she returned.

“How does Vi know?” I asked.

“Because she’s your neighbor. She should know.”

“Well, I don’t know how”, I laughed. “She sure hasn’t come to sit in on my homeschool!”

This conversation left me disturbed and pondering. It brought to mind a similar conversation three years earlier when an acquaintance introduced me to her visiting mother. “She’s one who really does homeschool”, she had said to her mother in reference to me. When I asked her what she meant by that, she explained, “Everyone that I know that homeschools really doesn’t do it. They just take their kids out of school and then don’t teach them. I guess they use them for babysitters or to do their housework. Or maybe they think they will teach them but never get around to it.”

This woman was a very nonjudgmental person and it surprised me to hear her make such a statement. Of course, I felt defensive! I felt like coming to bat for all my fellow homeschoolers. Then I looked around and realized that her experience with other homeschoolers had certainly formed her opinion. She had seen homeschooled children at church, not able to read at eight, nine and ten years old.

Mothers, may I plead with you to do it! If you choose to homeschool, make the commitment to be devoted to making sure your children get a better education than they could get at public school. This type of devotion means that homeschooling must take priority over the phone, drop-in visitors, meetings, appointments, personal projects and housekeeping at least for a few hours everyday. My purpose in homeschooling is to ensure that my children are taught the truth. At the current moment, there is not a lot of truth being taught in the public school. If there were, it may be a good option. But if my own efforts to teach my children are so lacking priority that I cannot help them learn to read until it has become a burden and an embarrassment to them, then I will contribute to the bad name that homeschooling has become to many.

Yes, homeschooling is a tremendous task! It takes the best of what I have to give every single day. It keeps me from doing much shopping, cleaning house and socializing. But I feel so very blessed to be very good friends with my children and to be the one to give them the keys to understanding their life. Education is a marvelous liberator! When you teach a child to read or do math or in any other way to make sense of things, particularly with a Christian perspective, you give a precious gift. In the process, you become soul-mates. Enjoy that blessed opportunity!

“Subject of the Day”—Simplify Your Homeschool

Does homeschooling feel overwhelming to you? So many subjects to teach . . . so many different age levels . . . such a frantic rush to get it all in?

If you are feeling this way, you may want to try the “Subject of the Day”. This plan is simply to choose one subject per day of the school week. I like to alternate fun subjects with more intense subjects, ending with a social activity or field trip on Friday. Plan it however you like, but post it on your fridge or wall, so that everyone has a sense of order.

Here’s one plan to give you an idea:

Monday: History
Tuesday: Literature Discussion
Wednesday: Science
Thursday: Fine Arts (music appreciation, art appreciation, drama)
Friday: field trips, or socializing with other homeschoolers

Each day, you know where you are headed, and that alone is a huge accomplishment.Teach all your children the same “Subject of the Day” as a group lesson, varying assignment difficulty according to each child’s abilities.

There will still be studies that are done daily like phonics, math, music practice, and journal writing. But, all-in-all, just having one teaching topic for mom to focus on each day reduces the overload feeling quickly! This group time can last from 45 minutes to a few hours and can include discussion of reading assignments, giving reports, looking at pictures in books together, watching a video clip, reading aloud, and doing projects, or experiments. Having just one subject allows in-depth study, and time to really absorb and explore the topic together and enjoy!

Recently, in my homeschool, we studied the topic of Weathering on our Science Day. We are following an Earth Science course. You can teach the same topic to all age levels at the same time with just a little modification. We read about and discussed the effects of the elements on the earth: how wind and water wear away and crack rocks, and reduce rock eventually into sand and soil. We studied pictures in textbooks and library books. We saw photos on the internet of how statues have had their details worn down by weathering. We talked about the Delicate Arch formation created by weathering. We searched for examples around our own neighborhood: flaking bricks, cracks where plants have grown in a sidewalk, potholes in a road, root pry from a tree breaking up a fence. We could visit the cemetery and look at the details on old graves, how their engraving is being worn away by the weather. This is fun!

It takes just the same amount of teacher preparation to teach all the kids as it does one child. Older children can be assigned more in-depth reading and reports. Young ones can do easy projects. The whole family can learn together and it really does take the pressure off mom with the “Subject of the Day”!

 

First, a Relationship

First we have a relationship, then we have an educational method.” —Karen Andreola

And so it is.

As homeschool moms, we sometimes get involved trying to figure out what philosophy to follow, what type of teaching we should do, or what curriculum we should select. We eagerly read books, buy curriculum, and “try on” educational methods as if we were shoe shopping. But no “shoe” fits until we have a relationship. No method can make up for a strained relationship with your child, your student. Until the relationship is working right, the educational approach doesn’t really matter very much at all.

So, instead of focusing on what educational philosophy or curriculum you are going to use in your homeschool, think instead of how you are going to build your relationship with your child. Brainstorm ways to reach each child’s heart. Co-operation and a desire to follow you will come naturally when the relationship is strong! As you bind your children’s heart to you in love, you will be creating the very best environment for learning, no matter what method you end up choosing.

Here’s some ideas for knitting your hearts together:

*Listen and give eye contact when your child talks to you.

*Take a walk and hold hands.

*Give a sincere compliment.

*Smile.

*Lay on her bed and talk while she is getting ready to go somewhere.

*Look at what he has put on his bedroom walls and comment positively.

*Say “yes” whenever you possibly can.

*Give her a shoulder rub when you are sitting together.

*Ask him to cook with you, and let him choose the meal.

*Sit on the floor next to your child while she is building with legos or playing dolls.

*Tell another how capable (or kind, or helpful, etc.) he is—loud enough so he can overhear you.

*Resist the urge to set something straight (his hair, his room, the way he set the table, etc.)

*Actively encourage your child in following his special interest by getting him the necessary supplies, mentor, books, and opportunities.
(This, more than anything else I have done, has spoken “love” to my eager, curious sons.)

*Read aloud together.

*Remember your child is young and trying to figure out life. Be forgiving.

*Go swimming together.
(Sometimes we moms are a bit reluctant to get our hair wet or to put on a swimsuit, but it really is a playful, bonding time.)

*Don’t criticize ever. If he needs instruction, do it privately and kindly, reassuring him of your love.

*Make something together—a candle, a skirt, a clay sculpture, a pizza . . .

*Listen.

*Listen.

*Listen.

Just Wants to Play

Question:

I’ve just started homeschooling, and I’m having a horrible time with my 6 year old son today. I’ve said he had to do the lessons before going outside, but playing outside is all he wants . . . what do I do?

Answer:

Easy answer: Go outside with him!

Six years old is pretty young to “do lessons before going out”. Why not make going outside part of the lessons? There is a lot to learn from the real world, and the lessons will really stick when he experiences them in real life, hands-on, rather than on a worksheet!

Start off with your devotional for sure. Every child needs that. Then do chores or breakfast or whatever. Now, when it is time to begin school, have a little “ceremony”. Flag salute, sing a song, check the weather and temperature and mark it on a graph. Put a sticker on the calendar and say the date. Have a prayer. Recite the memory verse or poem aloud together. That should all take about 15 minutes.

Take a little walk together and observe clouds or look for bugs or collect leaves, or etc. When you do go inside, put the leaves into big books to press, or look up the bug you found together on the internet, or read a library book on clouds, etc. Learn together and enjoy it! Plan ahead and do one science unit per week (insects, clouds, seeds, leaves, trees, etc.), getting library books and craft books and experiments lined up ahead of time, and make the most of being outside, observing nature and collecting things.

Don’t dump lots of paper work on him. He is young, and so much of learning can be done hands-on, even math. Boys need lots of big muscle action. I keep a chin-up bar in my school room doorway, and most of my children still swing on it while doing their memory work. You actually learn better when you are moving! I can vouch for that bit of research!

One child of mine had trouble doing bookwork, so I took his Saxon math lesson, and pulled out legos and crayons and toy cars, and taught the concepts that way. I remember one lesson that focused on learning the ordinal numbers (first, second, third, fourth, etc.). I got out toy cars and lined them up. I wrote numbers on little papers. I asked my son to line up the numbers in order. Then I asked him to park his cars, one on each number. Now, we practiced: what color is the fourth car? Which car is first? How many cars down the line is the 6th car? It only took 10 minutes for him to master to concept that he would have grueled over on a math worksheet.

My Happy Phonics reading program is all games. I created it because my young son just needed a fun way to learn.  Little boys can be restless creatures!

You don’t have to sit at a desk and push a pencil to learn. In fact, a 6 year. old probably cannot tolerate much of that. When it is time for history, read him real stories of history aloud, with lots of pictures. Make some hands-on craft, like building a little fort out of twigs, or popsicle sticks. Look in my catalog or in my curriculum guide (free online) for ideas and resources. There are lots of great hands-on craft idea books. Add historical videos to your list of fun things to do.

I am not saying that children don’t have to do their “lessons”. I am just saying, “make it fun!”. Let him go outside, and teach him all about the marvelous world. Do what you can to help him realize that learning is deliciously fun.

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.

A Moment for Memorization

My little Julianna, at the age of 9, came home from Sunday School excited about the fact that they were going to be expected to memorize lots of Bible verses that year and that the teacher had a reward in store for whoever could do it. She also expressed disbelief that, except for another homeschooled girl in her class, the other children were mortified at the prospect of having to memorize so much. “I guess homeschoolers just like to memorize things,” she surmised.

Many homeschool families make memorization a daily affair and reap great benefits from doing so. I recently met a homeschool mother of 11 outstanding children, and I was amazed at how much memory work her children did. From the time they can sputter out a few words, this incredible mother has them learning and reciting little poems and scriptures.

I was pretty impressed, so I attempted to teach my children to memorize things also. Every week in my homeschool, we work on a memory verse taken from our assigned Bible reading. I search out the best verse, hopefully one that describes an eternal law and its accompanying blessing. I dictate this passage of scripture to them, and they write it and then correct their work as an English lesson. They keep this in a section of their notebooks where they can refer to it for memorization. I also write this verse on an index card and stick it to the bathroom mirror where it is seen often. My children work daily on memorizing it, with the goal of passing off their verse by Friday. As you can imagine, children can accumulate quite a bundle of Bible verses in their memories, which I know will make them better people.

I love to hear children recite excellent poetry. I think it exercises their brains and gives them worthy things to think about. One of my favorite poems is “I Love You, Mother,” and I have only to start the first few lines when we are having a problem getting chores done and everyone knows exactly how I am feeling and can finish the poem themselves. It gives us a common bond of emotion and experience.

I Love You, Mother

“I love you, Mother,” said little John.
Then forgetting his work, his cap went on
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother”, said rosy Nell,
“I love you more than tongue can tell.”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
’Til her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother”, said little Fan.
“Today I’ll help you all I can.
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep.”
So she rocked the baby ’til it fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she fetched the broom
And swept the floor and tidied the room.
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as a child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?

An excellent way to get your children to learn a lengthy poem without much effort on your part is to make a recording. You can read the poem into the recorder or you can have a child do this. Then listen while you run an errand, and the children will learn it easily with enough repetition. Some of my favorite poems that would be good for this purpose are:
“The Spider and the Fly” (a great lesson on temptation and vanity!)
“Paul Revere’s Ride”
“Hiawatha” (parts of it)
“Work”
“Trees”
There are so many others that I love. These are just a few common ones to get you started.

Another good way to get make memorization easy is to use recordings that have educational songs. My children learned their multiplication facts this way, as well as the capitals of the United States. It is tough to forget anything set to song. I still can’t flip through the New Testament, looking for a verse, without singing to myself, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John . . .” taught to me 30 years ago at church!

Memorizing freedom documents and quotes is a way to understand the Constitution and our country’s principles of liberty. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”  is an inspiring, short work perfect for memorizing. I also have my children memorize the preamble to the Constitution and quotes of the patriots.

A friend of mine hosts a Poetry Festival each year, inviting grandparents, relatives and church teachers to a performance where their children recite poetry from memory. The children dress up to act the part and enjoy a chance to be in the spotlight. This is a great idea and gives the children a good reason to learn something challenging.

One leader recommended the use of hymns to dispel bad thoughts and temptations. He advised people to memorize the words to a hymn so it could be sung when there was a need for help. That is what is so useful about memorization: many a time the words to a song or poem have come into my mind when I needed some wisdom in making a decision or needed an enlightened perspective. Consider the truth so beautifully portrayed in this poem:

Not In Vain

by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Try memorization in your home school. It is amazing how capable children are of remembering things with a little practice. It gives them a wonderful feeling of achievement and satisfaction. They are going to memorize things anyway (such as jingles, TV commercials, lyrics to songs, etc.), so take the opportunity to instill your values into their receptive minds through memorization of inspiring Bible verses, poetry, etc. They’ll reap the benefits for years to come!

 

Want Cooperation?

My sister came for a visit from out of state and, by her example, reminded me of a principle that I had sort of forgotten. And how powerful it is! It works with everyone, young and old, but it is especially effective for getting cooperation from children.

My sister asked my teenage son to tell her about his interest, which is botany. I heard them in the kitchen discussing all the things he planted this year in his garden, and which varieties were unusual and how Spanish peanuts have a bright orange-colored blossom, how his kohlrabi should be harvested when it is 3-4″ in diameter, and other details. He got out his seed packets and explained each one to her. I mentally worried that he was boring her.

Was she interested? In botany: no. In my son: yes. She listened, asked questions, gave full focused attention. It took a 1/2 hour of her time, but that investment always pays back a hundred-fold. She did it because she cares, but the result always amazes me. Even though she didn’t do it to get his cooperation, cooperation and devotion are always the fruit of sincere interest and listening to another person.

If you have a teenager that is dragging her feet, or a preschooler that doesn’t want to obey, the natural tendency is to strong-arm them a bit via lecture, threats, loss of privileges or other means: “if you don’t get your dishes done, then you won’t be going to the party!” That approach just increases negative feelings. The direct route to cooperation is building the relationship, giving your time and attention. It takes time, maybe time we feel we don’t have to spare. But in the long-run, it is so worth it. The pay-off is enormous!

 

An Assignment Chart for Young Homeschoolers

My younger children enjoy having a wall chart of their assignments so we can both see at a glance what they have to do for school the day, and see their progress. It makes schoolwork seem more manageable and as they check off each subject, they can see just what is left. I used a large 12 x 18″ piece of butcher paper and wrote e

assignment chart

ach subject next to a blank box. Then I cut up index cards in squares to fit into the blank boxes.

On each square, I let my child choose and place a sticker. Then we laminated the chart and the sticker squares. We use “sticky-tack” to put the sticker squares in the box next to the subject as it is completed. I can quickly see who is done with their schoolwork or how much each child has left to do. At the end of school, we move all the sticker squares back to the bottom of the chart so it is blank and ready for the next day’s school assignments.

The chart shown above is our reduced summer schedule.

During the school year we add Math Facts, English (or Phonics for young ones), the Subject of the Day (Science, History, Art, Health, etc.) and Typing practice. The winter chart is on the reverse side, so we just flip it over and move the sticker cards to the other side.

Worked wonders in my homeschool!

Summer Skills Maintenance

Summer time, and our kids’ brains go on vacation. At least, that is what it seems like when we start up school again in the fall!

I have always been amazed that math textbooks are written so that the time period of September through Christmas vacation is “review” to try to help the children remember all the skills they forgot over the summer! As a homeschooler, if you finish a Saxon Math book mid-year you can go immediately into the next Saxon Math book at around lesson 40 and never miss a beat because lessons 1-39 do not teach any new concepts but just review the previous math book. You can get ahead fast in math this way, if you don’t take big breaks of summer forgetfulness!

So, instead of letting those brains veg all summer, how about a daily bite-size? Just enough to keep skills sharp!

This is how my friend Kathy runs her summer homeschool. When summer begins, Kathy makes “Summer Packets”. These are just a few pages stapled together and put in a folder with the child’s name on it. Every morning her children come after chores and breakfast and get their Summer Packet. The work is fun, can be done totally independently without Mom, and takes about 20 minutes. Each packet has a short page of math review, an English page, and some project page that sends them off on a science experiment or nature collection. The children also do their daily free reading. This way the 3 R’s are covered. Kathy buys workbooks and rips the pages out to staple into her Summer Packets. When school starts again, their skills have been maintained, and she can jump right in where they left off. Summer no longer takes a big toll.

At my house, I make each child a chart that must be checked off daily. Louisa’s chart has a column for each of these ‘daily do-’s”: Chores, Scriptures, Journal, Math (10 problems), Piano, Secret Service, and Free Reading. (She has a lot because she is older and used to this system. If you are just starting out, 3 or 4 items on their charts are enough!) I ask each child what is important to them to set as a summer goal, and we add those items too. (I make myself a chart also, and stick it right up on the wall by the kids, so they see I am working on goals every day too).

Each day, before any kind of play, the charts must be complete and checked off. This is just as much a means of keeping me, their mother, on track as it is training them to do some daily maintenance! It is amazing the difference you will see in your kids if you do a little every day!

Using Muscles for Memory

Wiggles! Kids seem to be full of them and they can make sitting still, learning, focusing, and concentrating extra hard!

If you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em. Time to use those big muscles to help kids learn!

I have a chin-up bar hanging over a doorway near where we do homeschool. Over the years of raising lots of wiggly, restless boys (and girls), I have found the chin-up bar to be worth its weight in gold! Tape a scripture or poem to the wall in view of the chin-up bar, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those children can memorize while they swing.

One mother I know told me she taught her very active son his phonics sounds by placing big flashcards around her large family room and having him run, jump, hop, crab-crawl, somersault, and otherwise use his big muscles to retrieve the cards, making the phonics sound as he went. Pretty creative. Pretty hard to forget information taught that way!

Ammon, my son, was a very wiggly little boy—so restless in fact that he had trouble holding still during school. (He is the one who caused me to write Happy Phonics, a game-based phonics program to teach wigglers to read!) Whenever I tried to go through flashcards with Ammon, he would end up upside down on the couch: his head touching the floor and his feet sprawled up in the air. Rather than spending my time lecturing him, I learned to work with it. I think Ammon learned to read upside down! (He is a studious, intelligent 15 year old now, who can sit still and concentrate longer than I can!)

“Thanks to advances in brain research, we now know that most of the brain is activated during physical activity—much more so than when doing seatwork. In fact . . . sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch ‘reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue’ . . . [resulting] in reduced concentration and, most likely, discipline problems. Movement, on the other hand, increases blood vessels that allow for the delivery of oxygen, water, and glucose (‘brain food’) to the brain. And this can’t help but optimize the brain’s performance!” (More Movement, Smarter Kids by Rae Pica)

So, if you are having a tough time getting your kids to hold still and learn, how about getting them to move and learn?