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Prescription for the New Year

Welcome to January, 2013!!

Now, unlike homeschooling moms in the southern hemisphere (who are just getting ready to start school — it is mid-summer there!), you are probably facing a wall of inertia at the moment.  I mean, didn’t you just give every ounce of energy into creating a fabulous Christmas experience for your family??  Not only that, only a few months ago you launched a new school year for your kids!  Whew!!  No wonder an insurmountable Wall of Inertia—sort of like the Great Wall of China—is looming over you.Great Wall

 

So, what’s a mom to do?  Here are three suggestions that come from my own struggles to get through that wall, particularly when January can be so grey and tedious.  Here’s the list:

 

 Inspire  
Analyze
 Energize

First of all, Inspire.  When facing obstacles of any sort, it has been remarkably helpful to read someone else’s story about how they overcame the odds, broke through the wall, and achieved their goals.  Inspiration provides that first step of getting our hearts to believe that it is possible to keep going.  That is why we love stories of people like Joni Eareckson Tada and Corrie ten Boom, because they remind us that there is incredible blessing on the other side of our pain.  So, I want to encourage you to read or reread another family’s story of homeschooling, one that will inspire you!  (If you aren’t sure what to read, check out my Once Upon A Time ebook, part of our downloadable collection.)

Gladys AylwardOne inspirational story that I think of often is the story of Gladys Aylward. Gladys was convinced she was supposed to go to China to serve as a missionary.  Unfortunately, her lack of academic ability—they told her she was too dumb—caused her to be dismissed from missionary school and rejected as a candidate for missions.  This setback, however, did not change Gladys' determination to do what she felt God had called her to do.  In 1930, after saving up her wages as a servant, she bought a ticket to travel to China by train—across Russia!  What was she going to do in China?  It didn’t sound profound, because her opportunity was to become a servant, a helper, to an aging missionary, Agnes Lawson.  But in this position, Gladys learned to speak Chinese and to love the Chinese.   In 1932, after Mrs. Lawson’s death, Gladys was appointed "foot inspector" for the Chinese government, as a new imperial law was decreed to eliminate the practice of foot binding—and no one else in this region was as suited as Gladys to radically break with cultural tradition.  This amazing job gave her an opportunity to share about Jesus with villagers all over this province, something no one else had been able to accomplish.  Later, when the region was invaded by Japanese forces, she led one hundred hungry, tired, and frightened orphans across the mountains to safety.  Gladys did many other amazing things that you can read about in Geoff and Janet Benge’s biography of her, part of the YWAM Publishing Christian Heroes: Then and Now series.  Her story is just one among many that remind us that God never calls us without providing the strength and resources we need to accomplish that call—including homeschooling!   

The second step is Analyze.  Take some time—alone, with your spouse or with an encouraging friend—to ask yourself specifically what factors are weighing you down.  Are you the Type-A driven homeschool mom who can never say “no,” and who thinks that if maxing out is good, then adding a few more pieces would be even better?  (I can speak from experience on that one:  simplify, simplify, simplify!)  Do you have a child who is not thriving on that expensive curriculum, but you are determined to wring every bit of value you can out of it?  (Simply put, which is more valuable, your child or the money you spent on the curriculum?)  Are you suffering the exhaustion of trying to keep up with the the Joneses — homeschooling style?  (Ah, dear one, NO ONE keeps up with those guys.  Did you know they don’t really exist?)  Write down the specific issues and then prayerfully and carefully consider your options.  What can go out with the trash????

Cute KidsAfter you've decided what to toss, take some time to map out the rest of your school year.  I'm not talking about a rigid schedule, just a framework to help you captain the ship more effectively.  (After all, your homeschool may look a little different without that curriculum that takes 5 arguments and 6 hours to finish every day!)  I find routines with flexibility are incredibly helpful to enable kids and moms to relax.  Somehow, knowing generally what is happening next, gives a family a sense of stability and comfort.  If you are already a schedule type and your family is overwhelmed by your military-like transitions, you can map things out too–just remember your challenge is to schedule time for fun and relaxation!

Last, but not least, Energize.  As a Homeschool Practitioner, I am going to write you a prescription for beating the winter blues.  If you are not someone who typically exercises, insert a 15-minute walk into your day.  This will actually release endorphins that help improve your mood and clear your mind!  Read a chapter of Proverbs every day.  I believe that there are thirty-one chapters for a reason!  Proverbs will give you the wisdom you need in the moment that you need it.

CatanFinally, make lots of room in your heart, your mind and your schedule to add in great doses of humor, fun and games!  It will provide an energizing zest for both you and your children, making each day easier and more profitable for all.  Some games that promote logic and strategic thinking are "The Settlers of Catan", "Risk" and "Monopoly".  Some fun word games are "Boggle" and "Scrabble" (check out a variation of Scrabble called "Take 2" that is faster paced.)  For younger kids, an interesting game that isn't too tedious for parents is, "Snorta" and little children can usually play "Toss Up" if they have good counting skills.  With the possible exception of "Snorta" these games can be integrated into your school day without guilt because of the skills they teach and your kids will love it!

I hope these ideas will encourage you, and don’t forget, you can get a HUGE dose of encouragement from my “Encouragement for Homeschool Moms” collection, which is 100% downloadable and is on sale for the next 5 days!

Remember, stay relational.

 

Need more time for homeschooling?

Need more time?Time.  Don’t you wish there was more of it in your life? Time to accomplish more, rest more, read more, laugh more, play more? Especially when your life is filled to the brim with to-do’s? I have written about this before in Slow Down and Enjoy This Time, Intentional Living, and Give Yourself a Break.

But, when it comes to homeschooling our kids, how do we find more time? After all, they’re kids, not robots! They don’t just sit and absorb endless amounts of data. And they have this habit of going off on tangents, don’t they?

Poof! There goes the schedule. . .and your stress levels.

Stop and smell the rosesSo, what do we do? How do we find more time for learning?  Well, I’m going to share a radical suggestion:  Instead of pushing harder, why not let them stop and smell the roses.  Surprisingly, this produces HUGE educational benefits.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

Years ago, as we were driving cross-country for the umpteenth time, my son saw on the map that we were not far from Galena, Illinois, home of President Ulysses S. Grant. This held a special fascination for Michael, because he had just recently learned that he shared a birthday with this famous man. Though we were under pressure to get to the next homeschool convention, we decided to drive the extra hour to Galena. After all, it’s not every day that a teenager wants to learn more about history!

Our Objective: Learn more about President Grant.  

I must confess, though, that it grated on my nerves to leave the interstate for this slowly winding road.  As time kept ticking, I became more and more anxious. . .Finally, around one more curve, we had arrived. And, it was literally breath-taking—gorgeous, stately, historic, a survivor from a different century.  Honestly, we’d never seen anything like it before!

At the local Tourist Bureau, we found someone who explained why this place looked so amazing. He said that, prior to the Civil War, Galena had been the site of lucrative lead mines, resulting in lots of wealthy people with lots of money for spectacular architecture.  And, unlike most places in America, this mid-1800s architecture was not torn down to make room for new styles.

The reason? To be able to export lead from the mines, the river had to be dredged regularly—an expensive task.  But when lead lost its value with the change of weaponry in the Civil War years, the city was unable to afford to dredge the river.  Business dried up and most folks moved away, abandoning their mansions. This was, essentially, an elegant 1800s city, frozen in time.

Remember our one objective? In taking a few extra—and incredibly fun—hours to visit Galena, we learned so much more than we had planned:

• the geography of northwestern Illinois, its topography and river systems;
• river-dredging on a tributary of the Mississippi;
• river transport;
• flood gates and river levees;
• lead for military weaponry;
• architectural styles popular among the wealthy in the early to mid-1800s;
• economics of town planning, and of housebuilding;
• U.S. Grant’s home (yes, we did get there!);
• U.S. Grant’s presidency.

All that learning, and we had a fabulous adventure, too!

Learn more than one factAnd, that’s what slowing down and smelling the roses can do for you, when it comes to education. Your kids learn far more than one fact.  With time to explore and discover, they come up with their own questions and find their own answers.   They engage the material. They become self-motivated. Spending this extra time makes learning fascinating and memorable. And, amazingly, they will accomplish more, read more, laugh more, and play more—all while learning far more—than you would have thought possible.  Go ahead, give it a try!

 

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Teaching Tip #5—Different Tastes

Different tastes in learningIf you were only allowed one kind of taste in your cooking, which one would it be?

You’ve probably taught your kids about the four basic taste categories in food—sweet, sour, salt, and bitter.  (Note: There is a fifth and sixth category, too—umami and piquant— but kids may not understand these flavors as easily.)

A dill pickle is easy to identify.  Sour!!  Some love it, while others shudder.

A potato chip may delight everyone in your home, but the taste is definitely salty.

A small nibble of unsweetened chocolate allows kids to understand the taste of bitter.  And many adults can’t live without their favorite bitter drink—coffee!

Sweet is simple. Maple syrup, honey, sugar are all delectable examples, and most everyone will be lining up for this taste!

Makes you hungry just thinking about it, doesn’t it? And, it’s easy to see that some love the sweet cookies while others adore the salty french fries, some would gladly eat dill pickles all day long while others would happily dive into a chocolate fountain.

Now, with all those flavors floating through your mind, let me ask you a bizarre question:  What one flavor would you serve your kids day-in and day-out? Really, which ONE would you choose?

The reason for asking?  Since we know that all four of these tastes are needed to create varied and appetizing food, it’s easy to see how uncomfortable and restricting it would be to only use one taste category.  And, there is undoubtedly someone in your family who doesn’t like it.

It’s not a very pleasant thought, is it?

It is the same for learning as it is for taste.Here’s the deal.  It’s the same for learning as it is for taste. Some prefer hands-on learning while others enjoy group activities, some love to imaginatively create while others thrive on discovering answers.

Just as we don’t say to the coffee lover, “No, no! This is not allowed!! You must only have things that are salty!!!”, so we should not say to a student who loves to talk or move or dramatize, “No, no!  This is not allowed!! You must only sit quietly and study the book!!!”

And, just like in cooking, when we use four different approaches, we provide our kids a varied and appetizing learning experience.

So, that’s what we did. As I described last week in Teaching Tip #4, in the History Revealed curriculum we use a four-week learning cycle—one week per learning style. This means that every student will have the opportunity to learn history in their own style AND from other approaches.

In each Teacher’s Guide introduction, we talk about this four-week cycle. The following is a brief description.

Week #1 will appeal greatly to the students who love the “people perspective.”  It includes listening to whirlwind audio recordings, reading the unit’s article, Scriptures, and other history materials, and discussing with you what they are learning.

Week #2 is designed to capture the interest of students who love knowing the facts. We invite students to choose an interesting topic to explore, see the chronology through a timeline, and learn new vocabulary. Since each one selects which research project they want to do—and how to share what has been learned—there is great self-motivation!

Week #3 allows students that love hands-on learning opportunities to thrive. From making maps and crafting art projects to doing science experiments and cooking food, students will be able to learn about the culture and era. This week also includes exposure to great art, architecture, and music.

Week #4 gives the idea-loving students a platform and an audience for creative expression.  The possibilities include creative writing, journalism, poetry, short stories, political cartooning, posters, illustrating, sculpting, skits, puppetry, music performance, role playing, pantomime, dance, conceptual design, and more. Each student has the opportunity to be creatively involved as deeply or as casually as their interests take them.

 

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Humor at Home

Humor at HomeDo you remember the saying,
"Give me a fish and I'll eat for a day, teach me to fish and I'll eat for a lifetime"?  

It is as true for laughter as it is for seafood!

"Tell me a joke, and I'll laugh for a minute.
Teach me good humor, and I'll laugh for a lifetime."

This actually became one of my parenting goals: to teach my kids good humor in the context and safety of home. In the process of learning how to do this, some basic principles began to emerge. I call them my 10 Rules & Regs for Humor.  (This quick list is excerpted from one of the most popular workshops I ever presented, The Hilarious Homeschool.)

1) Don't gain a laugh at someone else's expense—If it makes fun of someone else, don't do it.

2) Snide remarks, put-downs, and demeaning sarcasm  are NOT allowed—Speak the truth in LOVE.

3) Ethnic jokes CAN be, "We belong, they don't!"—Making fun of other cultures and people-groups devalues those made in God's image.

4) Crude jokes are in bad taste—Adults need to be the ones who set the standard for wholesome humor.

Teach them WHY it is funny5) Puns are FOUNDATIONAL—Start with a basic "Knock, Knock" joke, and teach kids why it is funny.

6) Memorize a few good jokes—Give your kids success through tried-and-true laughter makers!

7) Play with language—Try traditional ways, like limericks or "spoonerisms."

8) Home must be safe—Make sure your entire family plays by these rules: demeaning, disrespect, and making fun of others is NOT ALLOWED.

9) Practice makes funny—Take time and make the effort to play with humor. . .Put it on your calendar and in your schedule!

10) Good humor at home uses wisdom—"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Philippians 4:8

According to Proverbs 17:22, "A cheerful heart is good medicine. . ."  And, believe me, you need this kind of prescription!

Remember, laughter is one of the best ways to cheer up a home, especially one filled with fun-loving kids!!

For more explanation of these ten rules and regs, along with some of the funniest stories from my homeschool adventures, check out my Hilarious Homeschool Workshop on CD.

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Teaching Tip #4 — Learning Styles

Can ALL learners thrive?If you think back to your days in a classroom, can you remember the kid that was always fidgeting? And, what about the one who was always talking? You probably noticed the studious types who knew every answer in English, history or science class, and the gregarious types who knew every person in school. In P.E., some kids could run laps without breaking a sweat, while others could barely make it once around the track. In art or music, some made it look easy while the rest tried to not look stupid. There were labels—from top student to teacher’s pet to ADD to daydreamer to troublemaker—whether positive or negative, given by teachers and other students. Do you remember?

Why do some students thrive when they sit at a desk with a book and an assignment, while others struggle? And, more importantly, why do we consider the former “smart” and the others not? Why do we find some easy to teach—dream students—while others frustrate us? These questions are critical to answer because we want ALL of our kids to thrive in their learning experience.

Back in the early 1990s, we were introduced to a concept that revolutionized our approach to education because it created a way for ALL learners to have the opportunity to enjoy their studies. It was called Learning Styles. Based on an adaptation of the Myers-Briggs studies, books we read focused on what kind of approach appealed to a Thinker, a Feeler, a Sensor, and an Intuitor.  In Marlene D. LeFever’s book, Learning Styles, she writes:

“A learning style is the way in which a person sees or perceives things best and then processes or uses what has been seen. Each person’s individual learning style is as unique as a signature. When a person has something difficult to learn, that student learns faster and enjoys learning more if his or her unique learning style is affirmed by the way the teacher teaches.”

LeFever’s book, among others, described how every student could have an opportunity to thrive—regardless of the subject matter—if teachers systematically used a “learning styles cycle.”

So, that’s what we did. When we began creating the History Revealed curriculum, we wanted every student to be able to learn and to enjoy the process, so we utilized a four week learning cycle for the foundational structure of each chapter. Regardless of their learning style, each student will have at least one week that will spotlight his or her strengths.

Four Week Learning Cycle

And, since some families may want to go slower through the material (or faster!), we use the term “Phase” rather than “week” in the Student Manual and Teacher’s Guide. That means you have the freedom to choose your own pace.

Next week, we will look in more detail at how the learning style cycle actually works.

 

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Meeting another Von Trapp!

Meeting a von Trapp!Previously, I blogged about my unexpected introduction to Rosemarie, the eldest daughter born to Captain and Maria von Trapp. You can read it here. But, surprisingly, that is not my only experience meeting the von Trapp's.

At a homeschool convention a few years ago, I was presenting History Via the Scenic Route, a workshop about making history come to life using music, geography, science, literature, and more. . . The room was packed out, but, in the midst of all the different faces, I kept noticing this lovely, elderly woman in the back. There was something about her that was striking, and I remember thinking at the time, "She looks like such an interesting woman. . .I wish I could meet her!"

My next presentation would begin only fifteen minutes after History Via the Scenic Route ended, and, because it was in a different room, I had to hurry to get my computer and notes packed up and out the door. As is common, though, lots of folks had questions about the workshop. (Side note: it is not EASY to make sense when you are scrambling!!)

As I was frantically packing the last cord, I heard a warm and cultured voice say, "Oh, you are not leaving yet, are you? I wanted to share something with you!"

I looked up, and there was that charming woman I had noticed earlier. She had such an engaging smile, and I was delighted that she wanted to talk with me—but there was no time. So I asked, "Would you mind chatting as we walk to my next room, as I only have a few minutes to set up for the next workshop?" She graciously complied, and, with her husband, strolled down the hall with me, sharing stories of some of the beautiful things she had seen in Europe—stories that, based on my lecture, she thought I would enjoy.

She had such an engaging smileJust as we got to my next presentation room, as I prepared to reluctantly say goodbye to this marvelous conversationalist, she said, "I have one more thing I would like to tell you, but I am going to whisper it in your ear." This was endearing, and I assumed it was something of an earlier generation's manner.

Imagine my utter surprise when she whispered, "I am one of the von Trapp children. You must not tell anyone here, as there are always publicity hounds in every crowd."

I looked at her with astonishment and delight!

"Oh!!! I met your sister several years ago in Florida!! She was with Bill Anderson, and they came to our hotel room for dinner, stories and singing with my family!!!"

It was HER turn to be astonished. But, yes, she remembered having heard about that meeting a decade prior.

Huge smiles all around. So many things to share, no time left. . .Then, with a quick hug and a gratefully amazed heart, I bid adieu to a second daughter of Captain and Maria von Trapp!!!

Thought you would enjoy that story. . . I cherish the memory!!!

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Let kids MOVE!

Harness that energy!What on earth do we do with those kids who seem to constantly fidget and bounce and doodle and roll and jump and run and dance? Prepare yourself, because this might seem simplistic. The answer to the question of dealing with kids who won’t sit still is: Let Them Move!!

Goodness, why didn’t I think of that?

It took years of having a tree-climbing, hall-running, constantly-in-motion child before I finally realized that trying to force him into the sit-down-and-don’t-move-while-you-study mold was utterly worthless. He didn’t learn, we didn’t enjoy our efforts, and I was weary of trying to hold back the irrepressible energy of youth.

What was astonishing to me was the change that happened when, instead of trying to hold back that energy, I began to harness it. When we encouraged Michael to move, when we gave opportunities to express what he was learning through action, when I opened the door to physical exercise (at least a few times during the day), he began to thrive. Thrive!

Isn’t that amazing? When we work with the natural gifts of our children, everything begins to. . .well. . .work. And, letting kids move can change their entire learning experience.

Let them move!There are movers and shakers, speakers and makers. Potentially, there are budding artists, athletes, dancers, actors, mechanics, musicians, chefs, cartoonists, interior designers, carpenters, and jugglers living in your home, waiting for the opportunity to MOVE!

So, as it makes sense in your situation—when appropriate and in measured quantities—let your children learn while moving, singing, bouncing, acting, jumping, dancing, juggling, acting, running, tumbling, rolling, throwing, climbing, drawing. . . the sky’s the limit.

And, since this does not look like “normal school,” I’d like to gently remind you to enjoy the ride!

BTW, our mover and shaker still enjoys learning—he finished his B.A. and is now applying for grad school.

 

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Teaching Tip #3—The Connection

Making the connection is vital!Last week in this blog series, we considered the importance of a first impression when introducing our students to an academic subject, or, in this case, a historical era. We looked at how to make this initial introduction through an auditory, visual, and kinesthetic experience, and how this brings a sense of eye-opening FUN to the students.

Today, let’s delve further into this idea of an introduction, and talk about what happens when students begin making connections. . .

So, imagine yourself in a room full of new people.  Your host briefly introduces you to an elegant, yet mysterious, elderly woman—and you’d love to get better acquainted.  All you know so far is her name, Eleanor, and your first intriguing impression. What’s the next step in getting to know her?

Normally, you would begin asking surface-level questions, like:

"Where are you from?"

It is in these first few questions, that you begin to connect.  If she answers, “I am from Vermont,” and you lived as a child in Vermont, you have an instant connection with her. There is a place of familiarity, things you have in common.  And, from there, it’s much easier to remember her AND to begin building a relationship.

It’s the same thing in learning.

Brain researchers tell us that when we are presented with new information, our brains look for associations to connect the new concept with what we already know.  If we are going to hold on to the new information—and deepen our understanding of it—this connection is vital.  

Just like discovering what you and Eleanor have in common helps imprint her on your memory AND deepens friendship, so considering what you already know about a subject you are about to study opens the door to deeper comprehension and greater retention.

This is the second level of introduction, the place where student make connections between what they know and what they are about to learn.

And that’s what we’ve done with the Key Concepts in each Teacher’s Guide in the History Revealed curriculum.  Immediately after the Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic introduction (discussed in Teaching Tip #2), you will find an open-ended question to ask students for each of the Key Concepts, along with a quick summary.

Keeping in mind that the point of this exercise is to let students discover any connection they already have with what they are about to study, let’s look at one of the Key Concepts in Unit 8 of Ancient Civilizations & the Bible. The following Key Concept, with its Question and Explanation, is found on page T254 of the Teacher’s Guide:

Key Concept:  The Engineering Feats of Rome
Question: “Has anyone seen photos of Roman arched bridges in Europe or of the aqueducts they built to bring water down from the hills to the cities?  Can you describe what they look like?”
Explanation (summary): “Though previous empires had constructed highways, such as the Royal Road of Persia, Rome’s accomplishments in this regard were far greater than all who had come before.  In fact, beyond the quality and durability of Roman roads was the immense quantity of them: by AD 300, they had over 53,000 miles of major paved highways. When you add to that the smaller roads branching out from the main roads, the mileage total was in the hundreds of thousands!

Along with roads, the Romans built aqueducts to bring clean water from the high hills down to the cities. With the ease of access to clean water for thousands of people, coupled with the ease of transporting trade goods (especially food) on the Roman roads, cities supplied by these aqueducts and roads began to grow extensively in many places of the Empire.

It is astonishing to consider that the Roman roads and bridges were so carefully constructed that many are still in use today—2,000 years later! Truly, the artistry of Rome was evidenced in the practical, durable, efficient construction of roads, aqueducts and bridges.”

Pique their interestRemember, discussing the Key Concepts is NOT the same as exhaustive learning.  It is merely an introduction—a chance for students to share what they know and to have their interest piqued concerning the information they will encounter through the rest of the Unit.

Feel free to choose a few of the concepts to discuss, or even if the discussion is interesting, focus on only one. The students will be introduced to all of the concepts as the Unit progresses.

Next week, we will talk about how Learning Styles can make all the difference!

 

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Why engage your child’s interests?

What interests your child?A mom recently asked me about the idea of following our kids interests. After reading Why Quit Homeschooling, she wrote, “I ended with the same question that I often do when I read about moms who've 'ditched' the textbook method and are allowing their kids interests to lead in homeschool.  My question is "So how do they make sure that the appropriate math and language arts gets learned by the end of the school year?". . .If I let my kids' interests lead our homeschooling, my 12 yr.old son would play with Legos, do science experiments (with no writing involved), and read G.A. Henty history books (and don't ask him to summarize chapters either!).”

These are excellent questions, and I love her obvious  hunger to give her kids the best.

So, let's consider her statement about: "moms who've 'ditched' the textbook method and are allowing their kids interests to lead in homeschool".

There is one view of homeschooling that marches down that path without flinching, and it's called "Unschooling."  Though there are folks who are devoted to unschooling and its philosophy (pioneered by John Holt), I have never been comfortable with this as an overall approach.  The reason?  Because I also had kids, who, if left to follow their own interests, would have built Legos full-time and never written a paper!

Engage a child's interestThere is another view of homschooling, however, that has a different foundational philosophy.  I call it "Education That's Relational." Rather than simply following a child's interests throughout the day (and hoping they someday want to know about grammar!), education that's relational seeks to engage your child's interest in the course being learned, in each academic subject they are studying. And it works with every age and every grade.

NOTICE: This second approach requires some initial preparation on your part, but because it helps students to become engaged and self-motivated, it will save you time (and tears) later!

There are three major components:
#1) Be careful to observe. Watch, listen to, and pay attention to your child—to his/her interests, challenges, passions, struggles.  Does she LIGHT UP when you pull out a book?  Or not?  Does he come to life when he gets to go outside?  Or not? Does she struggle with the worksheets that her sibling loved?  Does he shut down when you ask him to tell someone outside your family what he just learned?  All of these things are powerful insights, clues to what makes your child tick.

#2)  Become equipped. Learn about Multiple Intelligences and the four Learning Styles. (I've linked to my DVD that describes this for homeschoolers. There are many other resources available!)  They will be the key to unlock the door to your child's interest in each subject.  So, for instance, if you have a student who is always on the go, always moving, always into things, they have a strong  Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. When it is time to learn multiplication tables, instead of making Johnny sit quietly to memorize it (good luck!), instead, invite him to practice jumping jacks as he shouts out each part of the times table:  "2 x 2 is 4, YAY!!!" This equipping on your part will make a difference in the ways your children can learn and engage with every subject.

#3) Be flexible. Having a planned schedule is one of the best ways to navigate the demands of both teaching your kids and caring for your family.  The key to being relational, though, is to be flexible. For instance, if you have a plan that Suzie will learn the differences between nouns, verbs and prepositions on Friday, but she is really struggling to understand the concepts, then take a few steps back.  Set your schedule aside temporarily, and take the time to do some hands-on work with these parts of speech.  After a refreshing weekend, you might have Suzie touch the nouns you name (chair, door, shoe), act out the verbs (jump, sit, run), and dance the prepositions (under, over, between).  On Tuesday, have her touch the nouns SHE names, act out the verbs SHE says, and dance the prepositions SHE chooses.  Though the schedule has to be adjusted, Suzie just engaged with her own learning. And, suddenly, it makes sense!

Being educationally relational in these ways will allow your kids to thrive in their learning experience.  And, as an added bonus, your job gets a LOT easier.

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Why quit homeschooling?

whyquitIf you are a homeschooler, may I ask you an honest question? Here it is:

Have you ever wanted to quit homeschooling? 

I think if we could all sit around a table and talk together, we would be surprised at how much we have in common when it comes to this question!  We would laugh with deep relief as we discovered we weren’t the only ones harboring thoughts of an easier path. . . And, once we felt the freedom that comes from being real, once we knew it was okay to admit we had those thoughts. . .THEN we could think honestly about why we homeschool and if it's worth it to continue.

For me, my decision to homeschool came when I was pregnant with our first child. A friend handed me a book about homeschooling, and I found the whole concept utterly entrancing!  Pictures of perfect days with perfect children danced through my head. . . You probably know how long that image lasted!  Yes, it popped just after a few days of teaching my kindergarten student at home (with two younger ones who kept things hopping).  Though the dreams had been perfect, the somewhat painful reality was that kids learn differently than I expected, they struggled with things I enjoyed and they enjoyed things that were outside my comfort zone.  

And, being a novice homeschooler, I had simply followed the model of school in my head.  We had a desk, an apple, an American flag. I knew when we would have reading, writing and recess. I had all my ducks in a row at the beginning of the school year, but my son wasn’t a duck.  He was a little boy with all kinds of ideas and interests that were outside the kindergarten "curriculum."

After a month of struggling with increasing difficulties, like making boring textbooks palatable, I was struck by my son's doleful question:  “Mom, do we HAVE to keep doing this?” I realized that I didn't like it any more than he did. So, I quietly put all the kindergarten books away, and discretely went back to doing the things we had been doing before:

Enjoying Everyday Lifereading books, playing with play dough, taking walks, cooking together, playing with music, and enjoying everyday life.

It took three years of trying this start-and-stop approach to homeschool before it dawned on me that he loved learning a LOT more when we quit doing artificial, fill-in-the-blank, desk-bound school.  When he had a chance to really engage with material, to freely ask as many questions as he wanted and dig into answers, and to follow his interests down the rabbit trails, my son loved learning.

Which brings me back to the idea of quitting.  In the three years that I tried to force him into a narrow educational box, I felt like quitting every day. It was hard, it was distasteful, and I was failing miserably as a “teacher.”  But, to my utter surprise, when we finally discovered the freedom to learn in ways that were appealing to my son, homeschool became an adventure and a joy.

And, who wants to quit when you love what you’re doing???

 

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Teaching Tip #2—The Introduction

The Introduction MattersIf you’ve ever watched the Food Network show, Chopped, you know that one of the most important elements the judges consider is presentation. Without that, your tasty dish loses some of its value. And, yet, a tomato tastes like a tomato, regardless of how it looks, right?  So, why go to all the trouble to make it look “just so”? Why does presentation matter?

The truth is that the way it looks will either heighten one’s appreciation or lessen one’s desire for the food on the plate.

It’s not just about food, though.  Have you ever heard the phrase, “dress for success”?  Why do employment books advise this when looking for a job? It’s because “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and “the first impression is the lasting impression.” Regardless of your skills, your appearance will affect how potential employers consider your job application.

There is something about how we are wired that makes the introduction to a food or a person significant. In fact, it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to being well-received.

When it comes to learning, the same principle applies.

Do you remember ever walking into school, to a class in which you had no interest? There were rules—pay attention to the lesson, read the text, answer the questions, take the test—yet none of it made a vibrant, meaningful connection to your life?  I’ve pondered this for nearly half a century, and have come to the conclusion that it’s not the fault of the academic subject.  It’s the way the material is presented, even in the way it is first introduced.  You see, the introduction matters.

HappyInstead of, “Sit down, open your book, outline the chapter, and BE QUIET!”, what happens if we introduce students to a new chapter in history, for instance, through a lively tune, a fun game, and a movie trailer?

Inviting them into a new world of learning, welcoming them through an auditory experience, a kinesthetic activity, and a visual connection, creates a first impression that draws them in with exuberance!  I mean, who doesn’t like to PLAY?  That kind of introduction to the subject is a great beginning, and it jump-starts motivation.

So, that’s what we did in the History Revealed curriculum. On the first page of each unit in the Teacher’s Guide, we provided the introduction to the era of the time through an auditory, kinesthetic, and visual suggestion. Yes, it takes a little bit more time, a little bit more effort on your part. But, remember the presentation and the first impression make a BIG difference!

To give you a taste of this, here are my suggestions to introduce the Napoleonic Era, from World Empires, World Missions, World Wars: (page T17a of the Teacher’s Guide):

For the Auditory Students: To capture their attention at the very beginning of class, consider playing a recording of “La Marseillaise,” the French National Anthem.
Sailing ships

For the Kinesthetic Students: Have the students play “follow the leader” as one volunteer takes them through physical actions to represent traveling from England to India at the end of the 1700s (a sea voyage and then an astonishingly different culture at journey’s end).
 

For the Visual Students: Play a trailer from the movie Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce.

Can you imagine the ways students will perk up, start asking questions, and have FUN through this simple start?

Next week, we will consider the powerful impact of helping students to connect the dots.

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