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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:



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.


Smart #3) Musical Intelligence

Does Music Make You Smile?Does music give you a bounce in your step, a smile on your face, and the zest to do your to-do list?   Have you ever felt like you are dragging through the day. . .UNTIL you put on music? If so, the energizing effect of music is one great indicator that you are  strong in the Musical Intelligence.

Music is one of the most amazing gifts of this life. Regardless of our age or culture, there is music that will stir our heart—reminding us of happy or sad moments in life, and everything in between. Whether folk songs, classical, country-western, hymns, or the latest movie soundtrack, music can connect us to old memories, it can evoke powerful emotions, and it can help us to worship. Profoundly, music can help us communicate the very depths of our heart, whether joy or grief.

And, this “smart” is not limited solely to people who create music. Anyone who enjoys music—at any level—is exhibiting a Musical Intelligence.  Since music adds such a depth of richness to our everyday lives, it is certainly worth spending time and money to cultivate this in our families!

With that in mind, let's take a peek into this "Music Smart" intelligence (excerpted from my book, Reaping the Harvest).

“People who are strong in this area enjoy listening to music, as well as making music. They might be instrumentalists, vocalists, percussionists. They could make instruments; they could play instruments. They might like classical music, country-western music, Polynesian music, jazz music, rhythm and blues, folk music, opera, twentieth century music, African music, Renaissance madrigals, or Japanese music. They might like woodwinds, brass, strings, or percussion. They could play Sousa marches on the CD player to do chores, or a Bach violin sonata to help them write an English composition. This intelligence has to do with rhythmic tapping, soft humming, original composing, guitar strumming, tuneless whistling. Someone strong in this area might very well "sing for their supper" and for any other opportunity that comes their way!

“An example of a person strong in this intelligence would be Johann Sebastian Bach. He was a church organist who composed original church music on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, many of the people of his own time hated it! Too many new ideas!! However, many years later, Felix Mendelssohn discovered Bach's manuscripts and shared them with the rest of the world—which led to an astonishing growth in popularity of this music, which was composed for the glory of God!”

For budding musicians, get them music lessons!If you or any of your kids are strong in this intelligence, step outside of the box! That means, you can look for opportunities to sing your way through subjects. For instance, you can actually learn the countries of the world by singing them. . . And, though this might be obvious, let me say that for these learners, take the time, trouble and expense to get them music lessons if they are interested.  The benefits are numerous—not the least of which is that they will have the opportunity to SHINE.

P.S.  I LOVE music!!  I love to hear it, work with it, sing it, play it, compose it, perform it. That’s why we created the fun of learning American history through its folk music in Experience History Through Music books/CDs. And, it was also delightful to add music into my History Revealed world history curriculum.  We not only learn about music during each chapter (the elements of music, church music, and famous composers), but there are also opportunities for students to create and perform music within their history studies.  We also have a lot of fun with it—as you can see from the example below (part of the Recapping exercise in Unit 2 of World Empires, World Missions, World Wars):

In a small group, decide what the Industrial Revolution would have sounded like to the people of the day (crowded cities, railroads, machinery, telegraph, etc.). Once you have chosen the type of sounds that will best reflect this revolution, organize your team to make a rhythmic and discernible set of sounds, paying attention to rhythm, loudness, and pitch. Can onlookers identify your sounds?


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Smart #2) Naturalist

Why are some people incredibly good with animals?Meet my dear friend, Paul Rushworth, a senior zoo keeper at Werribee Open Range Zoo, in Melbourne, Australia. In this pose with an African serval, Paul demonstrates the trusting relationship he has built over time with this lovely, wild cat.

Why are some people incredibly good with animals? And why are some brilliant when it comes to plants, beaches, mountains, the ocean or rivers—you know, the great outdoors?

Naturalist is a way of being smart, one that we might not pay much attention to in our culture of concrete buildings, offices, apartments, and highways. Yet, for the folks who are gifted in this way, it is a key to opening the doors of opportunity, self-motivation in learning, and fantastic careers. (The following is excerpted from my book, Reaping the Harvest.)

"The Naturalist intelligence could be described as being 'Nature Smart.' It is the ability to recognize varieties of trees and bushes in the woods (and which of them provide food); to observe the clouds in the sky and know what weather is coming; to spot birds in flight and know what manner of bird it is (along with their songs, colorings, nest building habits, etc.); to "read the rocks" when looking at a geological structure; to cultivate an award-winning rose; to navigate the ocean by the stars; and more. This intelligence is used by gold prospectors, farmers, sailors, zoologists, botanists, geologists, oceanographers, lion tamers, rodeo cowboys, mountain climbers, amateur gardeners, veterinarians, hunting guides, and anyone else who works with animals or in the great outdoors.  In many cultures and time periods in history, this was the "make it or break it" intelligence—without it, you had no food, no warmth, got lost in the woods or on the ocean, and died.

"An excellent example of this intelligence is displayed in George Washington Carver, the celebrated African-American who revolutionized farming in the southern states through the cultivation and use of the peanut. Through his genius in this naturalist intelligence, he recognized that the peanut would restore nutrients to the depleted soil and invented dozens of commercial uses for this lowly legume.”

Here’s a question for you to consider. Are you—or any of your kids—energized by going outside? Do you have an animal lover in your family? Each of these are good indications of a strong naturalist intelligence.

Are you energized by going outside?If you have children who delight in being outside, consider whether they like to play with plants, climb trees, dig in dirt, climb rocks or run at the beach. Do they like to hike, to go camping, to climb mountains? If so, then open the door and go outside! Walk in the woods, drive to the park, wander to the beach, take a hike. . .

If you have children who love animals, is it house pets (like a cat or dog) or farm animals (like a horse or cow) that have captivated them?  Is it wild animals (like you find at a zoo), marine animals (like you find at an aquarium), or birds (in the garden, the aviary, or the raptor rehabilitation center)? Next, consider how to open this door.  Perhaps they can volunteer to muck out stalls at a stable down the road, or work at the rescue shelter, or get a dog. If you are saying, "But I don't WANT animals!! They are messy, noisy, smelly, and require maintenance!!" I know. But, it’s a small price to see them thrive.

Simple advice: Go outside. Get a pet. And watch your Naturalist kids flourish!

Here’s one outdoor Naturalist activity in the Recap from Unit 8 of Ancient Civilizations & the Bible:
Go outside with a group of family or friends and designate a small creek or other natural boundary to be the Rubicon River. Each of you take turns as Julius Caesar. Will you try to convince your followers to cross the Rubicon with you? Or will you lay down your weapons, considering the ramifications of this fateful step? Share with each other what it was like to have to take a physical step which would result in a complete break with the Roman government.


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Teaching Tip #10 — Talk Together

Talk Together

Let’s talk about talking, shall we?

Have you noticed that some people are “natural” talkers? They effortlessly put together words and ideas whenever the opportunity arises. For these people, whether young or old, discussion is easy, free-flowing, and not always deeply considered. They simply say whatever comes into their minds

There are others who find it harder to talk at the drop of a hat. They need time to process their thoughts, consider the issues, ponder the possibilities. Though they do not speak up as quickly in a discussion, when they do eventually engage, it is often with profound insights and reasoned thoughts.

You probably have both types in your home—and it may have been challenging for you. If you find it easy to talk on any subject, it may seem like your less verbal child is not trying—not engaging—when it comes to discussion. And it’s frustrating! If, on the other hand, you need time to think before you speak, it may be difficult to enjoy the chatterbox in your home. Either way, you may be tempted to “fix” your child to make them more like you.

I know I did.

As one who is endowed not only with the gift of gab, but with a need to process things verbally, I struggled when some of my children required more time to consider their answers. Why couldn’t they all just jump into the discussion at hand? Talking is easy, right??

Over time, though, I began to recognize that those who took more time before answering often brought a depth of understanding that was far beyond my expectations.  And that helped me gain a deeper appreciation of the value of “internal processing” for these children.

So, when it comes time to discuss what is being studied, it is helpful to create a welcoming and appreciate atmosphere that honors both approaches. Teach your kids to not talk over the quieter ones, but to graciously wait for the insights they will bring. And, enjoy the spontaneous talkers in your midst. Both types are incredibly valuable—they will enrich our lives, our homes, our communities, and, eventually, our world!

foster a sense of curiosity and wonderFor those using my History Revealed curriculum, when it comes to the Talk Together section, give your students the opportunity to look through the discussion questions beforehand. Then, let them choose which question (or questions) they would enjoy discussing together. Good discussion at this point can foster a sense of creativity and wonder as students actively engage their own thoughts and opinions about the time period.

Here are some ground rules for students in the class discussion: take turns speaking, listen to each other carefully, don’t use sarcasm or demeaning language towards someone with a differing opinion. If we give each other a chance to speak without fear of ridicule, we may hear some treasures! If someone’s idea is not clearly stated, respectfully ask questions until the meaning is understood.

Here are some ground rules for parents/teachers in the class discussion (excerpted from the Teacher’s Guide, Page XVI):

See yourself as the moderator of the discussion, seeking to keep it positive, interesting, and creative; allowing students to interact; encouraging further thought without giving lengthy answers. In pursuing this activity in the Introduction Phase, we are still developing a sense of wonder that will propel the students through the rest of the Unit.

And now, Talk Together!!

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Smart #1) Intrapersonal Intelligence

Are you refreshed by time alone? IntrapersonalToday begins an eight-part series on how God has made each of us smart

Now, you might be thinking, "Oh, well, maybe YOU are smart, but I'm not. . .and I have the grades to prove it!"

Uh-huh.  I understand.

And I beg to differ.

You are smart.  And so are each of your kids.  It's just that most of us have never learned that there are different ways of being smart. We learned a long time ago that "smart" people were good at math or science, and good at using words and taking tests. Those are the kids that got straight "A's", got scholarships, and got degrees. If we didn't happen to fit that mold, we assumed (or were told) that we were NOT smart. We might be nice, good-looking, hard workers. . . but not SMART.

However, more than thirty years ago, a new way of looking at "smart" hit the academic world when Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University published his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner defined intelligence as "the ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings," and after a massive amount of research, he suggested that, rather than a single number (your IQ), intelligence was actually a grouping of autonomous—yet related—areas in the brain. To date, eight intelligences have been identified: Intrapersonal, Naturalist, Musical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Math-Logical, and Linguistic. (Notice that the last two are what most people consider to be the definition of "smart.")

One of the most incredible aspects of Multiple Intelligences is that every person on the planet has all of these intelligences in their brain, with a distinct blend of strengths and weaknesses. You—and each of your kids—are uniquely smart! And, understanding this will make a HUGE difference in the way you approach your children's education.

So, here is the first intelligence to consider—Intrapersonal or Knowing Yourself (excerpted from my book, Reaping the Harvest):

"This intelligence could be described as being 'Self Smart.' It does NOT mean being self-centered, self-absorbed, or selfish. Instead, it is the ability to be alone, solitary, by yourself without being afraid or bored. The ability to spend time alone in God's Word and in prayer requires intrapersonal intelligence. It is to be aware of your own strengths and limitations, to be confident in facing personal challenges. A person who is strong intrapersonally is able to stand against the crowd and do what he knows is right. I hope you are starting to see the incredible value this intelligence plays in our lives as Christians.  People who are strong in this intelligence could be counselors, pastors, philosophers, entrepreneurs, pioneers, test pilots, writers, and people who study thinking (metacognition).

EricLiddellEric Liddell, the Olympian whose life is portrayed in Chariots of Fire, gives an excellent example of the intrapersonal intelligence.  He was able to withstand the incredible pressure of the press and the aristocracy of Great Britain when they tried to coerce him to run his 100-meter Olympic race regardless of his conviction against competing on Sunday.  Instead, he did what he believed to be right and ended up winning the quarter-mile race, an event he had not even trained for!"

Are you refreshed and rejuvenated by having some alone time? If so, that is a good indication you have a strong Intrapersonal intelligence. With that in mind, recognize that one of the most important things you can do for the Intrapersonal intelligence people in your life is to give them plenty of free time for thinking, reflecting, and being alone. Students who are strong intrapersonally will appreciate the opportunity for self-directed and independent study, and may need your support for their creative or entrepreneurial adventures!

My History Revealed curriculum includes numerous opportunities and projects for each of the 8 Intelligences, including the Intrapersonal Intelligence!  You can learn more about the curriculum here. And you can see an example of an Intrapersonal activity here.

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Teaching Tip #9—Pause & Play

How do we engage our kids' self-motivation?Here’s a question for you: How do we engage our kids’ self-motivation?

Do you remember what it was like to walk into a classroom where you were expected to sit still, listen quietly, take notes, read the chapter, and take a test? It seldom actually engaged your interest or invited your ideas, did it?

However, that’s the model. In order to teach 25 children at a time, particularly now that Common Core is the standard in public schools, teachers follow this institutional formula in order to get the job done. But, is it the best way to learn? Does it nurture hungry-to-learn, passionate-to-know students—ones who are self-motivated?

You and I both know the answer is “No, not a chance!”

So, you changed it up. You homeschool your kids (or you are considering the possibilities).  Good for you!!  Here’s the tricky part, though: it’s easy to see what we don’t want to do, but harder to grasp what we can do in order to engage our students and to fire up their self-motivation.

That’s where today’s Teaching Tip fits in. To explain it, I’d like to tell you a short story. . .

In 1999, my family went to New Zealand to attend a YWAM (Youth With a Mission) school. Our teacher one week was a brilliant educator, Rosalie Pedder, who taught us about the different kinds of learners God had created. Her lectures were filled with facts, but her purpose was not to stuff our heads. Rather, it was to engage our hearts and minds. The way she accomplished this was by providing regular opportunities to pause, consider, and play with what we had just heard.

When we allow students to process in ways they enjoy. . .I remember one day in particular. After a thorough description of the Eight Intelligences, she set up eight different stations around the room. Each station had a way of “playing” with what we had just heard, and she encouraged us to go around to each station and do what it said. She set a timer, and off we went, laughing hysterically at some of the crazy things we were attempting. When we had completed our tour around the room, Rosalie sat us down and explained:

“When you hear something for the first time, it’s important to take a break, to reflect on what you heard, to interact with it, even play with it. This ‘recap’ allows your brain the time to process and review what you have heard. That helps you to understand and retain more of this new information, integrating it with what you already know.

"Some of the stations were easy for you, weren’t they? And, the ones you found hard were easy for someone else. When we allow students (young and old) to process in ways they enjoy, it honors the One who created them.”

So, when I revised the History Revealed curriculum, beginning in 2003, I added a process and review section in the Teacher's Guide—entitled Recap the material with an activity—to each Phase One. Once students have read the articlelistened to the stories on CD, and read the Scriptures, it is time to pause. . . Let them play with what they have just learned using one of the eight intelligence suggestions provided.

NOTE: As homeschoolers, you don’t need to set up all eight stations. Just invite your students to choose which suggestion looks like fun to them. Give them half an hour to do this activity and, then, watch their creative ideas spring to life!

Here is an example, taken from Unit 3—The British Empire & Awakenings— in World Empires, World Missions, World Wars:

Spatial: Either individually or in a small group, create a mind-map of the facts you have learned thus far about the British Empire, including its colonies in Asia, the Americas, the South Pacific, and Africa.

Bodily Kinesthetic: Use as many pipe cleaners as needed to create a representation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, his historic voyage, or the effect his theory had upon the nineteenth century.

Interpersonal: In groups of 3, with one student acting the part of a European colonist in Africa, one acting the part of an African, and one acting the part of a Christian missionary, communicate honestly the struggles each has with one or both of the others.

Musical: In a small group, list four songs, whether secular or Christian, that remind you of some aspect of this Unit.

Linguistic: Imagine and rewrite a different ending to the story of the American Civil War. One option would be to write it from the point of view that a divided America would be the quickest and most sure-fire way to end the American experiment in democracy. Another option would be to write it from the perspective that America was divided into numerous countries, much like Europe.

Math-Logical: Make a prediction of what will occur in Africa if the European nations at the Berlin Congress decide it would not be in their best interests to colonize this continent.

Intrapersonal: In reflecting on the Great Prayer Revival and the stories of God moving among people of many nations and ethnicities, write a journal entry where you ponder what it would mean to you personally, and also to our current culture, should God bring this kind of revival once again.

Naturalist: Choose an Australian animal to represent life in Australia or a New Zealand bird to represent life in New Zealand during this era.  It may represent the indigenous people, the Europeans, daily life in that land or some aspect of being colonized.  Be prepared to explain why this particular animal or bird was chosen.

When we invite our kids to take time to play with what they have been learning (in ways that are fun and interesting to them), it can actually engage their self-motivation. So, go ahead. Give them the opportunity to Pause & Play!


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Teaching Tip #8—The Spiritual Focus

The spiritual focus in homeschoolingI love seeing whales and birds in the wild. Unfortunately, because they appear at unscheduled moments in unpredictable places, they can be pretty hard to spot.  In fact, it is nearly impossible without a good pair of binoculars. But the deal with binoculars is that they have to be in focus in order to see the whales, the porpoises, the eagles, the hummingbirds. . . .

Have you ever experienced, though, the frustration of looking through a pair of binoculars only to find that it is so out of focus that you can’t see clearly? When that happens, you just need to move the central focusing wheel until the blurred image becomes crystal clear. Whew. What a relief!  The experience has now become an adventure.

In the same way that the binocular’s central wheel brings everything into focus, prayer and reading the Bible have an amazing capacity to bring clarity and insight to what we study.

This is true, regardless of what we are studying. I remember speaking at a support group in Chicago one year, talking about the incredible way that praying and asking God for insight can breathe life into what we are learning. In the Q & A that followed, a somewhat skeptical mom asked, “My 8th grade daughter hates learning grammar. Are you telling me that if we PRAY, God will help her start to like it?"

Honestly, I love these kinds of questions!  What do you suppose might happen if we invited our kids to pray with us, daily asking God to help us understand why grammar is important, helping us grasp how we might enjoy studying it? My experience is that, when you bring your questions to God, the sky’s the limit when it comes to His answers!!

The scenario that I envisioned that day went something like this: 

“Okay, so you and your daughter begin to pray and ask God what the big deal is about grammar. . . You tell Him the truth, that it seems pointless to both of you. But, you also ask for wisdom and insight into why it might be worthwhile and how to enjoy learning it.

“A few weeks after you’ve begun to pray about this, your daughter stumbles across the book, Bruchko, by Bruce Olson. She is captivated by Bruce’s story, discovering that he loved languages, that he actually studied linguistics at university before heading to South America. . . And, suddenly she puts two and two together.

Mom!!!!  I just read this book, and I figured out that grammar is like the structure of a language, and that knowing it helps missionaries figure out what the structure of an unwritten language is. . .And, Mom, I get it now!!  I want to learn this and become a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators!!!"

Wow. Though that is just my little sketch of what might happen when they prayed, God's answer might be even better—since it would be personally suited to that woman and her daughter. Prayer is powerful. Reading the Scriptures is life-changing. And, it can dramatically affect your homeschool and your kids.

So, what we did in the History Revealed curriculum was to include Bible readings for each chapter (Scriptures that have relevance to that historic era) in the Read For Your Life section, AND, to include in the Teacher’s Guide “Spiritual Emphasis” icons at appropriate places.

Learning becomes a life-changing adventure!The Icon Key at the beginning of each Teacher’s Guide says this about the “Spiritual Emphasis:”

Since this curriculum seeks to understand history in light of what God has done—tracing the history of redemption—and, since the object of the curriculum is to not only gain knowledge of the content but also an understanding of God’s character and nature, there are opportunities in each Unit to engage your students on a spiritual level. This icon can include areas for prayer and discussion, as well as suggestions for activities with a spiritual purpose.

Adding the spiritual focus to your history studies allows the learning experience to suddenly become a life-changing adventure!


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Do you mind if I retire?

Diana Waring is retiring from speaking!At the 2015 Cincinnati Great Homeschool Convention, I made this public announcement:

"As of this weekend, aside from special circumstances, I am going to retire from speaking!" After twenty-six years (27 convention seasons) as a speaker, it is time for an ending and a new beginning. So, today's blog is an introspective trip down memory lane, as well as my perspective on some of the changes in homeschooling since the 1980s.

First, the stats.

Beginning with the 1989 WHO convention in Tacoma, Washington, I have spoken at more than 300 homeschool conventions throughout the U.S., Canada, N.Z., Australia, Korea, Thailand, Hungary, and Scotland. Added to that are more than 150 homeschool meetings, ranging from "fireside chats" to day-long seminars to week-long family camps in such diverse places as London, England; Rotorua, New Zealand; and Hilo, Hawaii. I have spoken in every state except Rhode Island, Vermont, and Kentucky. One year, I experienced the climactic extremes of speaking in Alaska in February (-15º F) and Hawaii in March (75º F)! And, we've seen a huge range of audiences. With our three children, I performed a musical concert for an audience of 2,000 in Orlando, Florida, and, shortly after, gave presentations to as few as four homeschooling families in small towns in New Zealand. We estimate that, in all, I have spoken to several hundred thousand people across four continents in nearly three decades.

Family stats:

The Warings in concertAfter 1989, our three children traveled with us until they either graduated or were close to graduation—including to Canada and New Zealand. (They missed all of the other international experiences, and we missed having them with us!!) From 1993 until 1999, part of our repetoire was to present a family concert—Yankee Doodle Tells A Tale—an entertaining look at American history through folk music. Bill and Diana WaringFrom Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, we performed over 100 concerts in mid-1800s costume to the enthusiastic response of homeschooling audiences.  After 1999, we began singing other styles of music together on convention platforms, including an a cappella rendition of "Java Jive." My indefatigable husband and best friend, Bill, has worked for the past twenty-six years, both behind the scenes and alongside me, at each of these conventions—apart from one in Tampa and one in Atlanta.

Favorite memories:

As I close my eyes and reminisce, the image pops to mind of my family belting out sea chanteys as we set up and tore down our booth at conventions. "Away Rio" was our favorite for this task, and usually had other vendors smiling and nodding in time to the rhythm. It made the work easier, faster, and it was incredibly fun! Honestly, setting up and tearing down has never been the same since we broke up the band. . . Also, having my kids show up again and again at my workshops was delightful, but surprising. When I would ask them why they had come (since they had heard it all before many times), they would say, "Yeah, Mom, but it's so FUN to hear you speak!!" I treasure those comments more than words can express.

Favorite conferences:

Diana speaking in New Zealand, 2009The most incredible experience I ever had as a speaker was in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2009. There was something magical that day between the audience and me, as they laughed uproariously at my jokes and shed tears as I shared my heart. I knew that they had given me a remarkable gift as they openly and instantly responded to every nuance of parenting and homeschooling that I shared.

And, then there was the first national homeschool conference in Scotland in 2005. Since my ancestoral roots are Scottish, I  asked them to consider me their long-lost, strangely-accented cousin. . .and they did! With vendors from four nations, the organizers were thrilled with the audience turnout—and so was I. It was incredibly honoring and humbling at the same time to be the speaker to thirty-five eager and attentive homeschooling parents. And, though the number may sound small, it represented something massive in that nation.

Perhaps my favorite convention in the U.S. was in Orlando, Florida, in 2000, when we spent an evening with Rosemary von Trapp, eldest daughter of Captain and Maria von Trapp (you can read about it here). It was another one of those never-to-be-repeated, magical evenings that live on in my memory.

Changes I've seen:

In 1989, when I began speaking to homeschoolers, the national movement was less than ten years old. Increasingly, though, we were seeing divisions taking place, as people vocally took sides over whether to have "Christian" support groups or "inclusive" support groups. Traditional textbook companies, who had only recently begun to sell to homeschoolers, vied with entirely different kinds of approaches, primarily "unit study" and "unschooling"—and each group had vocal supporters and critics.

In the mid-1990s, some in the homeschool movement were bringing other "outside-the-norm" concepts to homeschooling, including homemade bread, home births, living off the land, owning your own business, and  courtship. You may not remember this, but the BIG news among homeschoolers at the end of the 90s was the fear-based scenario of Y2K. It became a joke on January 1, 2000, when the world as we know it did NOT end—and many were left with odd "survival" foods, like gallon jars of dried celery!

When it came to moms (and dads) actually teaching their children at home, the early homeschool methods—traditional, unit study and unschooling—now added the much older Charlotte Mason approach (from 19th century England), and then, in a race to the past, classical education (drawing from the ancient Greeks, with a nod to medieval Europe). Online academies and even public charter schools made their way into the homeschool market. For those who wanted a bit of this and that, the term "eclectic" was coined. A veritable smorgasbord of educational choices, with an increasing flood of curriculums and materials, was now available to  families. But this did not actually make things easier.

In the past decade, the homeschool message has seldom included the idea that teaching your kids at home brings FREEDOM to enjoy learning, to explore areas of interest, to learn at a comfortable pace, to have free time in which to create or practice or try something new. Instead, we are often told that, in order to succeed, students need to accomplish more, work harder, do it faster, study more subjects than ever before. No wonder so many are finding this overwhelming! And, no wonder homeschool moms are struggling more and more with guilt, fear and failure.

And, yet. Week after week, we have heard first-hand stories of families loving homeschool, of students enjoying learning, of amazing creativity taking place. So, this kind of homeschooling is still alive and well. My hope is that it will grow and prosper!

What's next:

Watch beauty bloom in the gardenGrowing flowers and herbs and vegetables, for starters. I want to play in the dirt with my seeds, and then watch beauty bloom right before my very eyes. (Traveling during spring and early summer each year has definitely had a dampening effect on my gardening aspirations. . .) And, while we're ambling in the garden, I want to watch the birds playing in our backyard. So far, we've counted twenty-six species. . .but I am hoping for more! 

I am not completely retired, however. Though I have finished on the speaking circuit, I am still a writer. Gardening and bird-watching are just hobbies to delight in after writing each day.

So, what will work look like, since conventions are now a thing of my past? Along with continuing to blog about how to enjoy homeschooling, writing for The Old Schoolhouse and Home Educating Family magazines, and doing an occasional online workshop this summer, I am looking forward to teaching a nine-month online history course for high school students with Red Wagon Tutorials (the class is Napoleon to MacArthur), and, finally, writing an adventure book I've been waiting TWENTY YEARS to write. It is one of the most incredible stories I've ever heard, it's verifiably true, and I've got all of the original sources for it. Can't wait!!!

How it ends:

We are planning, with the help of a dear friend, to have a retirement party this September, and, possibly, an online party as well. In the meantime, if you have stories, anecdotes, thoughts, or blessings to share with us as we walk into this entirely new season of life, feel free to post comments here, to share with us on Facebook, or write us at:

Diana Waring
P O Box 1261
Anderson, IN  46015


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Artificial Curriculum? Part 2

Pour-out-the-education curriculum?Last week, I shared the story of making blueberry muffins two different ways. . . And then compared that to homeschool curriculum. (Read it here.)

Realistically, is it possible for our kids to enjoy an appetizing experience in learning, one that leaves them wanting more?  If so, what are the practical steps to take? And, what kind of curriculum assists us in this endeavor?

Well, let's start with the analogy:

What goes into making muffins from scratch?

Farmer in the fieldsVery few people grow their own wheat, sugar cane, and blueberries. Not many own their own chickens or dairy cow. But, you don't have to be a farmer to make good meals!  When I made  blueberry muffins from scratch, I used flour, sugar, salt, oil, eggs, milk and blueberries, all of which were available in the grocery store. I read a recipe in a cookbook written by someone else.

Does that make sense?  My part was fairly simple: buy the stuff and follow some directions.

When you think about it, though, you might recognize that this is basically the same process as making the artificially flavored, store-bought mix—I bought a box and followed its directions.

So, what is the difference?

The most important difference, resulting in radically different outcomes, is that when I made muffins from scratch, I had the freedom to make choiceschoices that were not available with the store-bought mix. For better health, I chose raw cane sugar and whole wheat pastry flour. For better quality, I chose fresh blueberries.  For better flavor, I added freshly grated nutmeg (which isn't in my blueberry muffin recipe) and topped the muffins with a raw sugar/cinnamon mixture (a trick learned from another recipe).

  Fabulous muffins—created with a reasonable effort—that were eagerly eaten by all.

Now, use that concept for homeschool curriculum. What determines whether it is fresh, drawing students into a love of learning, rather than artificial, ruining their appetite?

Ask these questions:

• Is it a pour-out-the-education curriculum—all I add is eight hours per day?

• Am I afraid to take a day off for the zoo or a trip to the library—for fear my kids might fall

Does it require my children to spit out prepackaged facts, rather than interacting with
  material and asking their own questions?

• Do I feel intimidated by what other kids know, regardless of the unique and valuable things
  my kids DO know;

• Does it allow time and opportunity for kids to follow their curiosity and interests?

• Am I pressured to do everything in the curriculum? Or, can I make choices, make 

  substitutions, to cater to my children's needs and interests? 

Finally, let's talk about some choices YOU can make when it comes to homeschooling, regardless of your curriculum:

• look in education “cookbooks"—curriculum, books on homeschooling methods, internet sites—to find “recipes" for things like fun ways to learn prepositions;

• stock your shelves with good materials—fascinating books, audio CDs, DVDs, art supplies, math manipulatives, curriculum you like—and have a willingness to let mess happen;

• try something different now and thenwhether a different book, a different activity, a different curriculum, or a different approach.

Elementary grades requires easy efforts—looking at pictures of butterflies and then visiting a butterfly house, using modeling clay to make colored balls for homemade math manipulatives, or reading one of the Little House books outloud and then making a recipe for one of the dishes described.

High schooled homeschoolers could stretch to moderate efforts—interviewing professionals to better understand possible career choices, working as volunteers at a zoo or garden, making homemade soap from lye, or creating new games based on history. You may find sometimes that you've bitten off more than you can chew because an attempt is too difficult, but even then, your kids are experiencing the fun and the interest of something new.  The enthusiasm generated by trying a new "recipe" will actually provide a large measure of learning for your kids—"Wow, making soap can cause an explosion!"—and this enthusiasm in learning will carry over into other attempts..

BlueberriesWhen you make healthy choices—where you are free to cater to specific needs and interests, where you are given the freedom to add some of this and change some of that, where you are in control of what actually goes into the mix, when the curriculum is your servant rather than your master—your children will become far more motivated to learn.

They will actually say, "Mom, is it time for school yet?" because, when the muffins taste better, they are eager for seconds.


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Teaching Tip #7 — Comprehension

Written words open doorwaysLanguage is one of our greatest gifts, showering us with a richness of communication, of thoughts and ideas, of new horizons and ancient peoples, of beauty and tragedy, of redemption and deliverance. Can you imagine how shallow life would be if we were limited to mere grunts and gestures? How would you convey your appreciation of a spectacular sunset—much less your deepest thoughts on the meaning of life—if there were no words available?

When we speak words, we communicate with our tone, with our hands and posture, with our loud enthusiasm and our quiet musings. When you listen to someone speak, you find cues to the meaning of the sentences, and you can often ask the speaker to clarify anything that you did not understand.

Comprehension is a skill that takes time to learnWritten language is different, isn’t it? We may be reading words written centuries ago, words written in another language and translated, words from a culture that is so foreign to us that we misunderstand the heart behind it. And yet, written words open a doorway to places, people, events, discoveries, and ideas that lie far beyond our day-to-day lives. Language in written form is a priceless gift, one that we seek earnestly to pass on to the next generation.

And that is where today’s teaching tip begins. To comprehend what we read is far more than merely being able to identify each word. There are meanings in words, concepts in sentences, significance in paragraphs, over-arching implications in books, essays, and poetry. Authors, whether living or dead, mean something by what they have written. And being able to comprehend it, to process it, to argue with it, to be inspired by it, to change your life because of it is a skill that takes time to learn.

So, when it is time to read each article in my History Revealed curriculum, be with your student. In order for them to comprehend the meaning, it may be best if one of you reads it aloud. That allows opportunity for words to be explained, concepts to be discussed, questions to be tossed back and forth, as you read together the written words. For high-school students, they may prefer to read it to themselves, and then dialogue with you regarding the issues and questions that were raised. Growing the skill of comprehension is worth the time and effort, as your students begin to think deeply about everything they read.

From Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries, here are the opening paragraphs from the article at the beginning of Unit One.
The Rise of the Church & the Fall of Rome:

In the distant Roman province of Judea, the Roman procurator authorized the execution of a man whom local rulers had accused of treason, saying that He called Himself “King”—against the authority of the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Rebellions in the Roman Empire were swiftly put down, as indeed they needed to be, if the far-flung empire was to function as the controlling government. Thus, the execution of one man was, to the Romans, both the accepted fate of a rebel and far more efficent than the destruction of an entire nation—which might have been necessary had He not been silenced.

It caused no stir in the center of the empire—at least, not in the very beginning. The small band of disciples in Judea was a mere drop of water in the vast Roman ocean, and they were now leaderless. All their hopes for a restored and mighty Kingdom of Israel were as ashes; all their courage had fled with the arrival of the mob. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, the long-awaited One who would right all wrongs. To their horror, He had been killed—mocked by the crowd and crucified as a common criminal. It was hardly the future they had envisioned while following Him down the dusty road toward Jerusalem. All that remained for them was to wearily and mournfully go back to their old lives.

If we could step back into that moment, not knowing anyting of the next two thousand years, we would be as bereft as were the disciples. The might of Rome was in place to serve, not the needs of conquered people, but the interests of Rome, especially those of the emperor. Power, fame, and the accumulation of great wealth were as motivating to people of the Roman Empire as they are to people of today. They served various gods through assorted religious rituals, hoping that they might incur the favor of those gods and deflect their anger, much as people do today. Poverty, hunger, disease, and oppression were rampant among the majority of people, without any hope of change. Life was bleak. And for the few who had heard and believed Jesus, hope for something new had died with Him on the cross. Do you see it? Do you grasp the utter hopelessness and despair? It lasted for three agonizingly long days.

St. PeterSuddenly, in a moment, an event rocked the cosmos. It turned the disciples’ utter mourning into rejoicing and set their hearts on fire. . .

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Artificial Homeschool Curriculum?


Here's a homeschool riddle for you: How are a muffin and a curriculum alike?

Answer: Whether or not we devour it!!

To explain this odd concept, I have a story. laugh

Some years ago, I was asked to make muffins in a hurry by my mother, using her store-bought mix. Since I enjoy cooking, I was glad to help her out. Unfortunately, I licked the spoon when it was over.

Mistake. The taste was awful!

BlogHomemadeBetterA few days later, I was to speak to a group of homeschoolers, so I decided to create a taste test in order to highlight the connection between muffins and curriculum.

I made a batch of store-bought blueberry muffin mix (with artificial blueberries), and a batch of homemade blueberry muffins (with fresh blueberries). The assembled folks got to sample a bit of each, and were then asked to comment on the flavors. Would you be surprised to hear that they each loved the homemade muffins (eagerly eating every morsel), and wouldn’t even finish half of the artificial-blueberry-store-mix muffin?

Why is that not a surprise? Obviously, nothing can compare with fresh, quality ingredients.

Quality in, quality out.

The same is true in education. To see this for yourself, try this experiment:

Offer a child a worksheet on bears from a textbook you know is boring, and watch his level of enthusiasm. Did it drop like a brick?

Bears at Indianapolis zooThen offer the same child a trip to the zoo to see bears. What happens to enthusiasm in the second scenario? It skyrockets, doesn’t it? 

I know what you’re thinking:

“No way!  I can’t entertain my kids all day long.”

“No one taught me that way, and I did pretty well.”

“The real world isn’t like that, and they better learn now that
 life is boring.”

“How on earth would I keep up that kind of schedule?


"How on earth would I teach all the subjects?”

“How on earth would we get anything else (like laundry) done?”

Did I miss your comment??? Though most of you wish that it were possible to give your kids fresh, quality ingredients in their education, you may have resigned yourselves to the necessity of an artificial, boring, standard curriculum.

But—what if it were possible?

Suspend your arguments for a moment and ask, “How much more would my kids enjoy learning if it were fresh and interesting (like making muffins with real blueberries)?"

Then ask yourself, “Could my kids enjoy learning if we tailored it to their particular tastes and interests (like making muffins with apples instead of blueberries)?"

If you are willing—for the sake of a satisfying educational experience—to break out of the box, then join me for Part 2 (posting next Monday), where I'll offer some guidelines and suggestions on how to evaluate whether your homeschool curriculum is artificial or fresh.

Btw, I don't subscribe to the you-have-to-do-it-all-by-yourself style of homeschooling—where you need three Ph.D’s to create detailed lesson plans for self-designed curriculum for every child, printed on your own printing press with paper you made yourself—in order to give them a “fresh” quality in their learning. Instead, I am talking about making some slight adjustments that could have your children eagerly asking, “Mom, is it time for school yet?”

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