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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Teaching Tip 8—The Spiritual Focus

Teaching Tip 8—The Spiritual Focus

I love seeing whales and birds in the wild, even though it requires a lot of patience. . .and a good pair of binoculars. But, just being in the right place at the right time with a good pair of binoculars does not necessarily ensure success. Why? Because binoculars have to be in focus.

In Focus

Have you ever tried to use binoculars that are out of focus? It's utterly frustrating. . .until you move the central focusing wheel to change what is blurry to crystal clear. Whew! What a relief!! 

In the same way that the binocular’s central wheel brings nature into focus, prayer and Bible-reading bring our lives—our thoughts, our attitudes, our actions—into focused clarity.

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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 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

Artificial Curriculum? Part 2

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?

The analogy

What goes into making blueberry muffins from scratch?

Very few people grow their own wheat, sugar cane, and blueberries, and 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.

The difference

The most important difference is that when I made muffins from scratch, I had the freedom to make better choiceschoices that were not available with the store-bought mix. For better health, I chose 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). Fabulous muffins—created with a reasonable effort—that were eagerly eaten by all.

Homeschool curriculum 

What determines whether our homeschool curriculum is fresh, drawing students into a love of learning, or artificial, ruining their appetite?

Questions to ask about the curriculum:

  1. Is it a pour-out-the-education curriculum—all I add is eight hours per day?
  2. Am I afraid to take a day off for the zoo or a trip to the library—for fear my kids might fall behind?
  3. Does it require my children to spit out prepackaged facts, rather than interacting with the material and asking their own questions?
  4. Do I feel intimidated by what other kids know, regardless of the unique and valuable things my kids DO know?
  5. Does it allow time and opportunity for kids to make their own choices, follow their own rabbit trail, and explore their own interests?
  6. 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?

Choices YOU can make, regardless of your curriculum:

  1. look in education materials—curriculum, books on homeschooling methods, homeschool blogs—to find “recipes" for things like fun ways to learn prepositions;
  2. try something different now and thenwhether a different book, a different activity, a different curriculum, or a different approach.
  3. 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.

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 something new, even if it "fails," will actually provide a large measure of learning for your kids—"Wow, making soap can cause an explosion!" This enthusiasm in learning will carry over into other attempts. (And, yes, I learned from experience that making soap with my high school student can cause an explosion.)

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.

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to look at my History Revealed world history curriculum, which is designed for all your students to be able to thrive.

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Teaching Tip 7 — Comprehension

Teaching Tip 7 — Comprehension

Language 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. How shallow life would be if we were limited to mere grunts and gestures! Can you imagine?

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?

Spoken Words

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.

You can close your eyes to concentrate, or jot down notes, or draw a mind map when words are spoken. (Note: For some students, hearing the words aloud gives more sense and meaning to what is being communicated.)

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Artificial Homeschool Curriculum?

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!!

The story

Some years ago, I was asked to make muffins in a hurry by my mother, using a store-bought mix she handed to me. 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!

The contrast

A 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?

Then 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? 

"Mom!! Those are BEARS!! Look at them!!! Wow, they are AMAZING!!"

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 next time for Part 2, where I'll offer some guidelines and suggestions on how to evaluate whether your homeschool curriculum is artificial or fresh.

Slight adjustments, not major overhauls.

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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