Welcome to my homeschool blog, which offers insights into loving learning, loving your family, loving history, loving homeschooling, and enjoying your life! With your cup of coffee in hand, take a break to laugh with me, to have your heart refreshed, to be reminded of how cool your kids really are, and to consider the amazing adventure of being a homeschool mom. AND, if you are interested in the History Revealed curriculum, be sure to check out my Teaching Tips!
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Demystifying Education, Part One

Demystifying Education, Part One

In our quest to educate our children, sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees.

You know what I mean.  There you are, trying to manueuver three children (or 1 or 6 or 12) through math (or lit or science or history), and it doesn't look anything like school.  Instead, it is much closer to herding cats—which is next to impossible.  Why did it seem so easy when you listened to that speaker, or read about it in that homeschooling book, or watched that neighbor do it? 

Well, here's the deal.  Math, lit, science, history are all trees.  They are part of your children's education, but if you don't know the size and shape of the forest, you might feel lost.  If only you had a map, or someone who knew the forest well enough to help you make it safely through!  Wouldn't that make all the difference?

With that in mind, can you and I have the talk that I wish someone had had with me when I began my homeschooling journey?  You just might find a whole lot more joy in your homeschooling—enjoying those massive trees—than you knew was possible.

Ready?  Here we go.

Demystifier Number One:

Children are always learning.

They may not be learning what you had hoped, like the date of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. It may be that they have just learned how to appear as if they were studying diligently while they enjoy a bout of daydreaming. Or, perhaps, instead of learning that 3x3=9, they learn that math is something to be dreaded because Mom gets upset if they don't finish on time. But they are learning something, either way.

The truth is that people -- young and old -- are wired to learn. Learners range from people eagerly scanning the morning newspaper for the latest football scores to a con artist learning a new way to do an online scam. It could be a microbiologist looking for a new virus or a surfer looking for a better beach. Learning happens. We are all constantly learning something we want or need to know.

So, the question is not, "How do I get my kids to learn?" but "How do I get my kids to learn the things that will benefit them?"

8 Kinds of Smart & Learning Styles

Two of the most powerful answers to that question are 8 Kinds of Smart and Learning Styles. When we begin to discover some of the unique ways our children are wired to learn, we can offer educational opportunities that are right up their alley. A basic understanding of the 8 Kinds of Smart and the 4 Learning Styles will become invaluable tools you can use to choose curriculum and adapt the curriculum you already have.

For instance, if you have (as I did) a child who is constantly moving, fidgeting, twisting, jumping, running, etc., and it is time to teach multiplication, then offer that one the opportunity to MOVE while learning 3x3=9. When my son was offered the chance to do jumping jacks while learning multiplication tables, his eyes lit up, and his body literally jumped for joy. He was not only jumping, however, he was learning. In a much shorter amount of time than I would have thought possible, this Body Smart learner memorized his times tables. (Also, check here for the Sensor Learning Style.)

Or, ask yourself, "Do my children love to be around others, play games together, dialogue and discuss?" If so, then provide educational opportunities for these People Smart learners to be with people while they are learning. This might be at a co-op, at a learning party you host, on a field trip, with a neighbor. . .the possibilities are nearly endless, as long as there are people within shouting distance, especially yourself. It can make all the difference for these kinds of learners! (And, check here for the Feeler Learning Style.)

On the other hand, do they prefer books, numbers, orderly schedules, and knowing exactly what is expected of them? If that is the case, your Logic Smart (also called Number Smart) learner will enjoy a well-planned lesson assignment—where they can see from start to finish what will happen and what is expected. This kind of organization will assure them, and can set them free to love learning.  (This also corresponds to aspects of the Thinker Learning Style.)

Or, do you have a child who is always coming up with new ideas about how to get the job done? This is the Intuitor Learning Style, which could show in any of the 8 Kinds of Smart. . . For instance, your child might suddenly decide to put on roller skates in order to take the trash out, or they might figure out how to spell "encyclopedia" by composing their own rhythmic melody. Invite these creative learners to be part of the process of deciding what educational opportunities might fit your family. If State history is on your schedule, your Intuitor student might brainstorm this plan: first, read aloud a library book on the pioneers of your state, and, next, to make a board game called Wagons Ho!—with miniature horses as the game pieces. It might seem impractical to you, but if you set these learners free to intuit their way through learning, the result will be delight and motivation to learn more.

Whatever you do, make it your quest to teach them in such a way that they can love learning.

Remember, stay relational!

Next week, we'll talk about the 2nd element in demystifying education.

 

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If it's in with the new, then it's out with the old. . .

On January 4, I wrote, “More than any other teacher on the planet, you can be flexible with your lesson plan and schedule.  If you see a sudden interest arising in your student, then make it a priority, change your schedule, and allow it in your lesson plan.”



So, what does that mean? How do we change our schedule, and allow something new into our lesson plan? In other words, if your plate is already filled to overflowing, how on earth do you add something else?



Great question!  To answer it, may we first step away from academics to some tips from a professional organizer?  This person was paid real money to organize people’s homes and offices, and when she offered a low-cost workshop on organizing, let me tell you that I jumped. . .



Here’s the biggest tip of all—it is so stunning that I don’t want you to miss it!!  Are you ready?



Tip #1 to change your organizing life:

When something new comes into the house (or office), then something else of equal size has to go out.



Do you already see the analogy? Or are you asking, “Huh?  What’s that?”



Maybe I should have started with her preparatory step.



Tip before #1 to change your organizing life:

Everything needs a place.  Everything.



Okay.  If we’re going backwards, maybe I should add this little bit, too.



Tip before Tip before #1 to change your organizing life:

You have a finite space, meaning it’s not expandable.  So, room to room, look at each thing you have.  Is it useful to you?  Is it important and worth keeping? Then keep it. Is it worn out, outdated, no longer useful?  Then get rid of it.



Let me set the steps in order so they make sense.



Look at your stuff and decide what you can keep, based on your space.

Assign a place for each thing you’ve kept.

When you bring something new home, get rid of something else.



Now, let’s apply this very common sense approach to scheduling, lesson planning and flexibility.



What is your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly schedule like?

As you look at it, remember that you have a finite amount of time—it’s not expandable.  Do you have enough time in your schedule for having fun, taking breaks, free time, and family time?  If not, it’s too full!



Now, how does the daily and weekly schedule look? 

Did you remember co-ops, music lessons, trips to the library, grocery shopping, housecleaning, and mealtimes added in?  They have to live within the schedule, so if it’s not going to work on paper, I can promise you it won’t work in real life.



When your kids find something compelling to study, something else needs to drop off the schedule.

Whether it’s learning about King Tut (a potential field trip!) or ice skating (a potential physical education class!), if your kids are interested, it is VALUABLE.  Think of it as a Ming Vase coming into your home.  When you know the value of this treasure, you won’t mind getting rid of that $3.89 vase you picked up at Goodwill five years ago. 



It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? 



Your schedule can reflect the things your children consider treasures, rather than looking like an overstuffed storage shed. . . IF you remember that to take in something new, something else has to go out.



Stay relational!



Diana



P.S. If you have a copy of our book, "Things We Wish We'd Known," I highly recommend reading Joy Schroeder's article on this topic, beginning on page 106.



 


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Relationship lessons from. . . Birdwatching?

In my previous blog, I talked about the incredible impact it makes when a teacher knows her students.  But this topic is so essential, so vital to really wrap our minds and hearts around, what I think we need is some good old-fashioned birdwatching.Bill & Paul watching birds at zoo



Yep, that’s what I said:  birdwatching.



Stick with me here, because it just might connect some dots in your life and family!



Have you ever lived with a birdwatcher?  If so, you know that they are a breed set apart.  They constantly listen for birds and watch for a flash of color—with a constant delight in each bird’s peculiarities.  They study the habits, the plumage, the flight patterns, the etc., etc. of birds.  They think nothing of tramping through the woods with a notebook and binoculars to follow an elusive birdcall, jotting notes about what they discover.  They have journals filled with specific dates of spotting specific birds, which they treasure beyond reason.  They take time and trouble to do all of this.  Why?  Because they ENJOY birds.



I know all of this from personal experience, because my husband is a birdwatcher, a man who takes incredible delight in spotting, listening to, looking up, and journaling about birds.  When we were in Australia in 2009, he had the joy of going birding with our old friend—and lifelong birdwatcher—Paul Rushworth.  I went along for the ride, and was amazed at the depth of knowledge Paul has of Australia’s gorgeous birds.  Here are a few photos—mostly from Paul's camera—from that memorable day.



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So, what does that have to do with you and homeschooling?  Actually, it is quite illustrative of what it means to know your students.  Obviously, there is a huge difference between knowing the fiction books your daughter prefers and knowing her own dreams and struggles.  You understand that though you might know your son is not talkative around strangers, it doesn’t mean you know why.  Is he shy or merely quiet?  A parent who watches her children like a birder watches birds will be able to find out these things.  In fact, if we can imitate the birdwatcher in this, we will make it our aim to observe, noting carefully what our kids are doing (mind you, watch with care, not criticism).  It is through the detailed observation that birdwatchers differentiate between birds that look similar. . . it is in your detailed observation that you will be able to see beyond the outer appearance to the inner person.



What is the primary requirement for this depth of knowledge?  What secret can we learn from birdwatchers?  Here it is, in living color:  Birdwatchers know so much about birds because, first and foremost, they like birds.  



Dear one, if you are really going to learn to know and understand your kids, you need to like them.   However, this is not as simple as it sounds.  Parents, who have had children for longer than two or three minutes, know that this can challenge you to the very core of your being.



If that is your dilemma, may I write a simple four-step prescription for you?



First, ask yourself what specific things you enjoy or appreciate about the challenging child.  Second, write these observations down.  Third, look at the list several times per day.  Fourth, add new observations as you see them.



If you will focus on the good, rather than what is currently difficult, it will help you to increasingly like—enjoy, delight in, want to be around—each of your kids.



And, if you like them, it will be much easier to observe them in their habitats, their feeding, their flight patterns. . . In essence, you will be able to know your kids.



Stay relational!



Diana



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Birdwatching in Australia. . .


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Little by Little

You know the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”  Well, thank heavens, I’m not a dog.  Though this tired cliché is often used to describe what we can NOT do, I’m here to tell you that there are specific pathways we can walk in order to love learning, whether little tykes or old fogies.



So, to illustrate this point, let me share a little story.



Some months ago, my dear friend, Bernadette, contacted me from Australia to ask if I might enjoy taking art lessons with her via Skype.  She knew that I was in a season of resting, and thought it might be therapeutic.  Isn’t that amazing?  Don’t you love friends??



There was a bit of a problem with this scenario, however.  For the past 57 years, I’ve been an absolute klutz when it comes to drawing, painting, or anything requiring more than your basic stick figures.  It was more than a little daunting to think of having art lessons with a professional artist, but, since she was so positive about the idea, I thought it was at least worth trying.



So, on the first lesson, once we worked through a few technical computer difficulties, Bernie announced to me that we were going to approach my art lessons in a non-traditional manner.  Though most beginning art students spend a lot of time learning how to draw, she thought that I would be much more motivated if I could do things with color.  So, to my astonishment, she said that we would start watercolor painting in the next lesson.



Gulp.  I assumed that Bernie had missed the memo that said I am not an artist, not a painter, not talented artistically.  But, on the other hand, she was absolutely right about how excited I suddenly became when I found that I would get to play with color!



Our next few lessons focused on painting apples and feathers, in addition to looking at some beautiful art masterpieces, and talking about line, tone and color.  But, in the midst of explaining a bit about color, she happened to show me something she was doing with another class.  It was a half-finished painting of a rainbow lorikeet.



If you haven’t been to Australia, you might not be familiar with this absolutely gloriously-colored bird.  It is so common in Australia that I think most folks there don’t even recognize what a show-stopper this bird is!



Here’s a photo of a rainbow lorikeet, so you can see for yourself.



2007_0625zoo0046-1



When I saw Bernie’s painting, I squealed, “Oh, can I do a rainbow lorikeet, too????”  Though I am sure it was not originally the next step in her lesson plan for me, she recognized that my enthusiasm would motivate me and carry me much further into watercolor.  And, bravely, she said, “Why, YES!”



As we were working together on painting this lorikeet a few nights ago, Bernie told me something revolutionary—at least, it seemed radically new to me.  Painting the feathers of the bird, Bernie said:



“Diana, you know, if you’re in a hurry, you can just drop a bunch of pigment onto the paper.  It’s not as nice, but you can do it.  However, if you want to get a beautiful effect, just take your time.  Take a little bit of pigment and paint a bit, then let it dry.  After awhile, come back to that same spot and add a little bit more pigment.  In this way, as you create the painting, little by little, layer upon layer, it will result in a luminescence and a reality that is not possible when you’re in a hurry.”



As I was considering today’s blog, I realized that Bernie’s brilliant approach to teaching illustrates some of the most powerful pathways for learning, regardless of the subject or the age of the student.  So, let’s consider what they are:



First, Bernie knows me.  She knows my passion for color, though we are on opposite sides of the world and quite different in our expression of color.  (She creates exquisite pieces of art that are nearly white on white, while I delight in strong colors.)  She also knows that I was feeling hopelessly inept as an art student.



Second, because of this knowledge, she modified the traditional art curriculum in order to ignite my enthusiasm and engage me in painting.  Working with my strength (a love of color) helped me to get past the obstacle of thinking I could not learn this subject.



Third, Bernie was flexible in her lesson plan.  When she saw my excitement over painting a lorikeet, she was willing to change her plans because she knew that it was an opportunity to captivate me with the subject.



Fourth, Bernie taught me to do things little by little.  Rather than requiring me to create a painting in one session, she encouraged me to work on it a bit, come back and do some more, and to take as much time as I needed.



What is the take-away from this little story?



More than any teacher on the planet, you know your kids.  You have insight into what they are passionate about, and what makes them feel inept.



More than any other teacher on the planet, you have the freedom to modify the curriculum in order to work with the specific interests of your students.  Do they love dance?  Then incorporate dance into their studies.  For instance, let them interpret what they’ve learned in history through a bit of choreography.



More than any other teacher on the planet, you can be flexible with your lesson plan and schedule.  If you see a sudden interest arising in your student, then make it a priority, change your schedule, and allow it in your lesson plan.  (Before you run away screaming, “Not another thing in my lesson plan!!!!,” let me assure you that I am going to take each one of these points over the next few blogs and flesh them out for you, so you can see that you will not be overwhelmed or have more added to your plate.  If anything, you will probably find new space in your schedule as you toss some things that haven’t been working!)



Finally, more than any other teacher on the planet, you can give your students the glorious liberty of doing things little by little.  Rather than huge blobs of multiplication tables or phonics or chemistry (which can be daunting for anyone), you can allow them to take things slowly and in increments.  This removes the huge burden of having to do things perfectly, of having to learn things instantly, or of trying to master something when you’re a newbie and overwhelmed.



Believe me, once a student gets excited, then little by little, anything is possible!



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Here's my first painting of a rainbow lorikeet, thanks to Bernie's brilliant instruction. . .


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The Unexpected Scenic Route

So, I have a story.



On August 28, as we were driving to speak to a homeschool group in Ohio, my husband and I stopped at a rest area on the interstate.  There was a prominent sign for tourists at that particular rest area, describing the historic nature of nearby Route 40, which had been part of the National Road—begun as an Act of Congress in 1806, and signed into law by President Thomas Jefferson.  Well, that was enough to get my attention!  Between the history and the scenery, I was hooked.



Unfortunately, we did not have the time to meander off into the historic past on that particular day.  Instead, it was get there and get home as fast as possible.  But I did think longingly of how much fun it would be to have the time for the scenic route.



Fast forward to September 22.  While on a speaking tour in Virginia, I had a flare-up of a medical condition which required me to not only cancel two venues, but also to break our travel home into three short days of driving.  On the second day, we contacted dear friends in western Ohio, to ask if we might stay with them that night.  The gracious answer was "Yes!. . . We're not home, but come anyway!!"



And that is where my real story begins. Unbeknownst to me, Anne had already emailed me to ask if she could come on Saturday to help me unpack my boxes of books as she drove back from a women's conference in Indiana.  When she learned that we were driving west to stay at her house, she drove east to meet us there.



And then she amazed us even more by saying that she would turn around the next day and follow us back to Indiana, so that she could make good on her offer to unpack my books.  There was a certain element of fun in all this driving however—she loves the joy of fresh air as she putters in her convertible, the weather was gorgeous, the trees were turning, and her husband and sons had gone off for some "man time" together.



The next morning, knowing how much I love riding in a convertible, my husband suggested that I ride with Anne back to our house.  Anne loved the idea (as did I), so we quickly gathered our things to begin the trip.  It wasn't until we were a few minutes down the road that the unexpected gift landed in my lap.



"Diana, you know it's a lot more fun to drive the back roads when you're in a convertible.  Do you want to look at the atlas and chart a path home on a scenic route?"



It was at that moment that I realized we were only a few miles from Route 40, the National Road, the drive I had longed to travel.  And now, by God's incredible kindness and much to my surprise, I was taking that drive in a convertible on a spectacular day with a dear friend. 



I just wanted to share that with you.



Thanks,



Diana


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