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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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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Teaching Tip 6 — Storytelling

Teaching Tip 6 — Storytelling

 

The art of storytelling has been valued for millennia. From tribal peoples to Hollywood producers, telling a good story is one of the most powerful means of teaching the next generation.  Stories well told capture our minds, inspire our hearts, provide a model, and occasionally tickle our funny bone, don’t they?  

Stories exists in fiction and fairy tales, in real-life adventures on land and sea and air, in all countries and cultures and languages, in times past and times present. Stories can be written, filmed, painted, danced and spoken.  But if we were to go back to the earliest people, the keeper of collective memories, of oral traditions, and of remembered history would be the storyteller.  

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Need more time for homeschooling?

Need more time?

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

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

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

Stop and smell the rosesSo, what do we do? How do we find more time for learning? Well, I’m going to share a radical suggestion: Instead of pushing harder, stop and smell the roses. Surprisingly, this produces HUGE educational benefits.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

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

Our Objective: Learn more about President Grant.

Truthfully, though, it grated on my nerves to leave the interstate for this slowly winding road. As time kept ticking, I became more and more anxious. . .until, finally, around one more curve, we arrived. And, it was literally breath-taking—gorgeous, stately, historic, a survivor from a different century.

At the local Tourist Bureau, we found someone who explained why this place looked so amazing. He said that, prior to the Civil War, Galena had been the site of lucrative lead mines, resulting in lots of wealthy people with lots of money for spectacular architecture. And, unlike most places in America, this mid-1800s architecture was not torn down to make room for new styles. When the city was unable to afford to dredge the river, business dried up and most folks moved away, abandoning their mansions. This was, essentially, an elegant 1800s city, frozen in time.

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

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

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

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

If you would like a curriculum to help you with this exploration and discovery, with engaging your students, and making learning both memorable and fascinating, here's a place to start:

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