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!

The world-changing gift of languages

The world is bigger than us!

The world is bigger than us. 

That should be obvious, but sometimes we live with cultural blinders. What I mean is that we go through our day, thinking thoughts in our own language within our own culture.  And we don’t really pay attention to the reality that there are multitudes who think thoughts in another language in another culture.

I have some experience with this myself. When I traveled to Europe with my father in 1971, I remember standing at Piccadilly Circus in London and watching a young salesman handling several international customers at a time—each one in a different language.  I was incredulous that anyone could speak that many languages, let alone use them in rapid-fire succession!

My second experience was when I traveled across the U.S. with a Youth With a Mission team to the Montreal Olympics and then to Boston.  It was there, in Boston, that I met an Egyptian who spoke English with a perfect British accent. It was fun to chat along in English about our shared experiences, and it felt like I was speaking to someone from Great Britain. But, when he turned to an Egyptian friend and spoke in Arabic, it was absolutely shocking to realize that English was not his native language! I could barely grasp the fact that these two Egyptians really understood each other as they chatted along in Arabic—it seemed to my very American ears to be a very difficult language.

Prague Rooftops Right about then, I came to the life-changing discovery that lots of folks speak and think and live in a language other than English.

The lesson was that learning someone else’s language is a gift—and a responsibility. It opens doors and expands horizons between people and nations. And it very efficiently helps to remove those cultural blinders that Americans so easily wear.

Dear ones, there is a huge wide world out there to serve, and learning a foreign language is great preparation. Perhaps more potently, it will better equip our children to change the world!

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Balancing Character and Academics

When it comes to character, we are the textbook our children are reading.

I love new days, new years, new opportunities!  There is an invigorating freshness when we start new, isn’t there?  All things are possible.

And, for homeschool parents, this is a great time to bring fresh eyes to this age-old challenge: how DO we balance building character and academics?  After all, academics is a big deal. It’s half our job title: Homeschool (Parent). It occupies most of our waking hours and we think about it through many sleepless nights.

How do I teach Sally that 2x2=4? 

When will Bobby finally read on his own?

Should Jessica take the pre-SAT tests this year, and have I taught her everything she needs to know?

This makes sense. It is logical, measurable, and students can win awards with this stuff.  

Character, on the other hand, is not so much taught as caught.  What I mean is that, if we read a book on generosity to our kids, for example, will that make them generous? Obviously not. . .  If only it were that simple!  

In many ways, our kids will pattern their character after us.  If they observe our honesty, if they see that we highly value honesty, and if we lovingly call them to the same standard, honesty will become foundational in their lives.  And, contrarily, if our kids see us lie and cheat, they will learn that character lesson from us.

The somewhat uncomfortable truth is that, when it comes to character, we are the textbook our children are reading.  What a good thing that it is a NEW YEAR and we can have a fresh start!

Okay. So, we have logical, measurable academics and the real deal of our kids learning about character from us.  Now, how do we balance the two?  Do we spend 4 hours a day on academic lessons and 4 hours a day on developing character? What do real people do?

To answer this, let me ask you a question:

How do you balance eating and sleeping?

It’s obvious, isn’t it?  You eat when you’re hungry and you sleep when the lights go out.  You aren’t puzzled about this.  You seldom sit down to a meal and wonder, “Oh, dear, should I eat or sleep?”  The situation (and your body’s needs) give obvious clues to what is appropriate.

In the same way, academics and character-building provide obvious clues. When Mary asks, “Mom, what is a preposition?”, you know that what is needed is an academic explanation (and maybe some fun “Preposition Charades”).  When Jimmy says, “Mom, Willie took my truck and won’t give it back!”, you know that it is time to talk with Willie and Jimmy about respecting one another’s property AND sharing.

You are good at this!  You’re the mom!!  Enjoy the journey!!!

This is one of my articles from The Homeschool Minute. Here's where to subscribe: www.TheHomeschoolMinute.com

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Slow down and enjoy this time

Family walking through a winter garden

Have you ever noticed that your kids keep getting older. . .and bigger? Amazingly, the longer you parent, the older your kids will become. And, in the blink of an eye, they suddenly become adults. 

Just yesterday I had three little kids, and today I have one applying for a Ph.D. program, another applying for a Master's degree, and one walking through the unimaginable grief of losing a child. I had no idea that life would happen so quickly.

If I could go back to the beginning of the journey, knowing what I know now, I would make a few significant changes.

I would slow down and savor the relational time.

I would not yield to the "hurry, hurry" pressure.

I would remind myself that this moment, this day, this season is where we can enjoy life—I must not put it off till later.

If you are just beginning to walk along the parenting path, there are so many competing voices trying to tell you what to do, what you are doing wrong, what your children should be doing, and how to parent (and homeschool) better than anybody else.

But, if you can take a moment to imagine your little children as fully functioning adults, living outside of your home, you might be able to sort out these "expert" voices for yourself.  Look at your kids and ask yourself, "When they are grown, what will they be like?  What will they be doing? What will they enjoy?"  I can promise you that the seed of whom they will be as adults is living in your house today.

TreesI remember when one son would drink deeply of amazing adventure stories, particularly of people being rescued.  Today, he is an officer in the Navy Medical Services Corps.  Another son would often become an incredible cartoon character as a child. Today, he is an extraordinary theater professional.  My daughter always wanted justice in our family, with each of us doing what was right.  Today, she is pursuing justice on a much wider scale as she researches issues affecting the poor.

It was all there in seed form. But I had no idea how large the trees would grow.

When we grasp the fact that our kids are going to be adults one day, it gives perspective to the choices we make right now.

The take-away is this:  Enjoy your kids in this season of life. Before you know it, they will blossom!

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What brings history to life?

HistorytoLifequoteWhat brings history to life?


A few weeks ago, I spoke to a customer on the phone.  She had ordered quite a few of my What in the World? history CDs—with some duplication—and we wanted to verify that she actually intended to order duplicates. What a delightful call that turned out to be!  The things Alicia had to say about the CDs was so encouraging that I asked if she would mind writing out her thoughts for me to share with you:

"I cannot say enough good things about Diana Waring’s What in the World? series. I am a homeschooling mom of two young children who are not quite old enough to listen to the CDs, but my husband and I listen to them ourselves for FUN. And every person I have shared them with all love them too! I have never before listened to history for the fun of it, but Diana has a captivating style that brings history to life and makes it applicable in a way that none of my school history classes ever did. I now have retained more history than I did in all of my school years combined!"

Which brings up this question, "Why does learning history in school seem so forgettable?"

To answer this, let's consider what normally happens in history class.

School deskWalk in.

Sit down.

Open the textbook, filled with forgettable names, dates, places.

Listen to the football coach drone on about something dry as dust—UNTIL someone asks a question about last night's game. With history easily pushed aside, football enthusiastically comes to center stage.

Take a test on how well you memorized the forgettable names, dates, places.

It doesn't connect to us personally when the information comes as sterile facts.

There is another way to do this, however.

Let's go back to 1975, to an African history college class to see what is possible.

Prior to the start of class, the prof required us to read a fast-paced spy novel set in Africa. Frankly, I LOVE spy novels, so that was not a hardship. A little surprising, yes, but not hard.

On the first day of class, this professor immediately began to weave an amazing story of events in pre-colonial Africa. Class after class, he would tell unbelievable stories of colonialism, independence, and current day events in Africa. . . Mesmerized by what we heard—and fifty-five minutes at a time—the history of Africa came to life for us. And though I do not remember all of the details forty years later, I still remember the gist of what he taught us.

But history is not all we learned in that class: he also taught us how to teach!  His example of how to bring history to life with sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-in-suspense stories became a model for me when I created the What in the World? CDs.

Stories well told. Personal connections. Fascinating anecdotes. All of these bring history to life for students, regardless of age. . .and bring a lot of FUN to the process!!

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Learning Like a Buffalo, Part Two

Gazing at the IMMENSE hole of a buffalo jump in Beulah, Wyoming (as described in the previous post), I suddenly saw a relationship between making it easy to process buffalo for winter and making it easy for kids to learn.

To explain, let me start with a few questions:

Do you remember when you were in school?

      • Were you sometimes bored?
      • Were you uninterested in what had to be memorized?
      • Did it seem that school work was disconnected from "real life"?
      • Would you ask your teacher, "Why do I have to do this?"

If so, you are not alone.

For me, school often felt like being sentenced to twelve years—with no chance of parole! Occasionally, there would be a flash of interest, an insightful teacher, a momentary experience of discovery, but that was certainly not the norm. Mostly, we were shuffled from one class to another, regardless of interest, until graduation.

You may be one of the lucky few who do not relate to this, but thousands upon thousands of homeschooling parents have agreed in workshops that this was their experience.

When we try to teach our own children at home, these school-days experiences can come back to haunt us. Here sit our precious offspring, yawning, their eyes glazed over, and asking, "Mommy, do we HAVE to do this?" Ouch! We understand exactly what they mean, but we don't know how to make their experience different from ours.

Excited to learn!Buffalo Jumps in Learning

In contrast to the yawning, glazed-eye student, have your children ever been totally self-motivated to learn about something? Whether baseball, dead bugs, piano, or how to make fried ice cream, they were eager, rarin' to go, and couldn't wait to know!

That, my friends, is a Buffalo Jump. Your student's natural hunger to discover and learn is one of the most powerful forces that you will ever find! The trick is to recognize it when it is happening (or to offer opportunities for it to happen), and then allow the full "weight" of their curiosity to propel them deep into whatever they are learning.

Here's an example:

Twenty-two years ago, after we had moved from the West Coast to South Dakota, my nine-year old son asked me, "Mom, why do steel ships float?"

Nowadays, this would be a no-brainer. An iPhone, a quick Google search, and an answer. But not in 1992.

Why do steel ships float?With out a single steel ship in sight, I was sunk.

But then, I did what homeschoolers used to do all the time. "I don't know the answer to your great question, Michael, but I know where we can go to find out!"

And, with great expectations, we sailed off to the library. When the librarian was asked, "Excuse me, do you know why steel ships float?", she looked around in dismay. Evidently, that question was not real common in South Dakota.

"Hmmm... Try this book." It was a college level book on boat building, and way beyond me. I slunk out of the library, kids in tow, still clueless.

Never one to give up, my son kept asking the question: "Why do steel ships float?"

We looked through other books at home. We looked high, we looked low. We looked through every book we thought might have the answer. Still clueless.

It got so we were asking everyone we met, "Excuse me, but do you know why...?"

After two weeks of searching, late one night I remembered a box of books in the closet. "Mmmm. I wonder..." I sprang from the bed to the box, found a book on how things work by Reader's Digest, and quickly turned to the index. Incredibly, I saw this listing, "Why steel ships float". EUREKA! Our answer was at hand.

As the whole family learned about the principle of buoyancy, about surface tension, and about the ancient scientist/mathematician/inventor Archimedes, we thought up several creative ideas for experiments with lead fishing weights. We pounded and dropped and observed and recorded. By the time it was done, Michael's curiosity about why steel ships float had motivated the whole family to jump into exploring with him, learning things beyond our ken and certainly beyond our lesson book!

Opportunities Abound!

Many, many dinner table discussions have resulted in perusing encyclopedias, requesting library books, searching internet listings, and questioning experts. Questions have come up during mathematics that were totally off the point but worth pursuing nonetheless. Ideas have been generated during car rides that require lots of thinking and discussing. There have been on-the-spot opportunities to learn while having an x-ray (How can you tell if my finger is broken?); while eating at a Chinese restaurant (What was your home like in China?); while visiting a cattle ranch (Where did those brands come from?).

These moments, when someone wonders, "why?" or, "when?" or, "how?" or, "who?" or, "what if," are the Buffalo Jumps. They present the perfect opportunities to use the tremendous force of natural curiosity to propel a student into interesting, meaningful learning.

BuffaloJust as the buffalo jumps were used as an effective, efficient means of procuring meat for the tribe, so are the buffalo jumps of learning a very effective, efficient means of getting knowledge into a child. Rather than the few inches of refuse found in normal archaeological sites, the buffalo jump in Wyoming provided archaeologists with more than twenty feet of "stuff"! In the same way, learning that is motivated by a hunger to know—where the student rushes headlong into it—is far more productive; it leaves far more evidence of knowledge acquired than the normal method of "read the chapter and answer the questions in the back."

"Okay, okay. But will our children, on their own, EVER fall into one of these educational buffalo jumps?"

Motivating Them

Good question! The buffalo, ambling along on their own, wouldn't have just fallen in. The Plains tribes skillfully used their knowledge. They knew where the buffalo were and the location of the jump. All they needed was to move the herd in that general direction, and at the appropriate moment, "motivate" them! The natural law of gravity took care of the rest.

So, in buffalo jumps of learning, the parent is the one who knows where their students are in skill level, in experience, and in ability. A parent, spying out the land, will also be aware of what sorts of things really interest their children, whether it has to do with inventions, or biographies, or sports, or crafts, or hands-on experiments, or drama, or whatever it might be. What the parent can do is to begin moving the students toward a possible area of interest, and, at the appropriate moment, motivate some excitement into that area (in other words, activate their natural curiosity.)

Here are some suggestions:

  •  find a fantastic book in the library and read a few chapters out loud (like Carry On, Mr. Bowditch);
  •  watch a YouTube video which shows how cathedrals were built in the Middle Ages (like "Cathedral" by David Macaulay);
  •  take a field trip to see a sculptor sculpting;
  •  visit a veteran who fought in a war;
  •  go to a symphony performance of Peter and the Wolf;
    and much, much more.

These motivating moments, that you help provide, will get those children stampeding right smack into real learning! Then all you have to do is stand by, ready to assist.

That, dear friends, is learning like a buffalo!

Remember, stay relational.

Diana


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