Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

20 Years Later: Things I Would Do Again and Things I Wouldn’t

Things I would do again (and often wish I could)-

  • Read about home schooling, home schoolers, and education theory in general.  Talk to people who have been successful.  Get involved.  Learn enough to have a wide overview of my options- and then choose wisely.
  • Laugh.  A lot.  Find the humor in the hard days, the struggle, and the joy.
  • Find families that have great teens and ask how they got there.  I am so grateful to those willing to share with me.  (Great teenagers do not just fall from the sky that way.)
  • Have absolutes.  No double standards.  Your children will spot hypocrisy a mile away.  It is confusing and frustrating for them.  Help them learn what you value before the world has a chance to rewrite their value system.  Live what you preach.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Create learning experiences out of them so that your family can be comfortable knowing that it is okay to mess up.  The problem is being unwilling to work it out.
  • Limit screen time.  For years, our television lived in the closet.  It came out for special occasions, surgical convalescence, and holidays.  The computer was for academics.  It is easier to focus when the distractions are limited.
  • Put a stop sign on the front door.  Ignore the phone during academic hours.  Take the time you have with your children seriously and those around you will learn to as well.
  • Limit the junk.  Life is full of time-wasters, distractions, and wasteful options.  There are not enough hours in the day to waste them on things that do not build, feed, encourage, or edify.  Mere entertainment in not enough.
  • Remember – you are the model your children will follow.  You are the adult with whom they have the most contact.  You must choose to handle stress, the unexpected, the wonderful, the negative, and the shocking, with grace and control.  If you don’t, how will they learn to do so?  (I learned this a number of years into our family life by watching my children be “me”.  Not pretty!)
  • Identify the learning styles and personality types of your children.  We used the information we learned to not only “school” more effectively, but to help communication within our family.  Not everyone sees the world in the same way; recognizing the way others see it is a tremendous tool.  We learned to relate to each other better and be more patient with each other.
  • Have a schedule.  Success is much more likely if you are flexible within a framework than if you have no guidelines or expectations.  People are inherently lazy- adults and children alike.  Self-mastery comes from meeting expectations, having discipline, and consistency.  That applies to the parents as much as the children.
  • Have annual goals: Academic goals, spiritual goals, service-oriented goals, life and skill-related goals for each member of the family.
  • Begin the day with group time.  In our pjs.  With hot chocolate.  (Okay, get dressed if you must.)  But seriously, starting the academic part of the day together with an opening devotional, reading literature and history together, doing drill and memorization work as a group was such a great experience.  Sometimes it lasted for an hour; sometimes much more than that.  Having time with my children every day to discuss things, hear their thoughts and ideas, and just enjoy each other was brilliant.
  • Find a phone buddy.  Having a calm, supportive, and friendly adult to talk to on hard days helped me laugh at myself, see the humor in the struggle, and be a better mom to my kids.
  • Have my teenager’s friends in my home.  Do units in the summer with public school and home school kids.  (We did a few of these and they were SO fun.)  Bake cookies.  Host group date activities.  Feed them.  Even more fun, teach them to cook.
  • Take time for your marriage.  When the children leave home, and they eventually will, it is important to know how to spend time together as adults and communicate.  Nurture each other.

Things I would Not do again-

  • Get caught up in worrying so much.  You are the parent.  Be one.  Take the best from each idea or method you come across.  Leave the rest.  It’s your decision.
  • Spend so much on “stuff”.  I am a home school junkie.  I admit it.  If I had only found companies like Timberdoodle and books like The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (great resource lists) I could have saved a bundle!
  • Begin without any organization.  I overspent and duplicated too much by not knowing what I already owned.  You don’t need things to be perfect, just have a framework, a few ideas, and somewhere to put things!
  • Avoid things I disliked in school.  As I stopped feeling intimidated or disinterested in things, I found I love history, and really enjoyed art.  I can think scientifically.  And my children were more willing to try as they watched me learn with them.  Home schooling has given me a second-chance at my own education.
  • Tell another parent they should be home schooling.  I love to teach people how to do what we have been able to do, but I have learned to wait until asked.  Home schooling takes commitment, time, money, and patience.  It is not for everyone!  As we support others and the choices they make, our children will learn to appreciate and celebrate the differences in people.  What a great lesson to learn!
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Finances, Homeschooling

Differences in curriculum

Confession: I am homeschool catalog junkie.  As a mom, I created our curriculum each year.  With very limited funds, we used what I could find second-hand or on major markdown, create myself, borrow from the library, and request from Grandma and Grandpa as gifts.  No apologies for what we did.  It worked well.  All my children went to college.  They were offered multiple scholarships, and both daughters graduated with honors.  (My sons have not completed their university educations, but are both at the top of their class and thriving!)  Each of them are contributing adults in the communities in which they live.  I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Now they are beginning their own families, and I am the Grandma.  More catalogs come in the mail than when my children were younger; there are so many more choices now.  I love it!  The games, curriculum options, and diversity of ideas is exciting!  As I watch my grandchildren grow, and work with other moms on curriculum planning, I am discovering these things all over again!  One reality I find most interesting and fascinating to explore is each child needs different things, and any budget can be effective with proper planning and focus.  There is no single perfect curriculum which is ideal for everyone.

Here is a sample of what I have learned.  In our home, we have spelling curriculum from Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff Publishers, and a copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.  While all three are not strictly necessary, there are strengths for each one.  I used the McGuffey…Speller for my children.  It covered K-12, cost me $10, and was effective.  The other two series we have acquired for my grandsons.  Some copies were found second-hand; some we purchased new. I love the Christian Liberty Press books for J, my second grandson who is 5.  He is a dually-exceptional learner and does extremely well with consistent formats and review in logical steps.  Rod and Staff is what the 7 year-old is using.  He is highly gifted and loves that handwriting practice (currently cursive), critical thinking, and spelling are combined in one lesson.  We skip the minimal review sections, test orally, and move on to the next lesson as soon as he is ready.  He is currently in book 3, but will be moving into book 4 shortly.  If we were simply testing his spelling ability he would be in book 5, but because each lesson requires he understand and be able to use each word properly, and encourages a bit of thought, we backed up a bit.

As I expand the companies with which I am familiar, the need to understand how your children learn, and to have a budget seems more and more crucial.  If you have the need and/or desire, you can create your own plan for minimal expense and give your children the chance to soar.  If you are not comfortable creating your own plan, you can look into the myriad of options out there to meet the needs of your child.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and biases in each written curriculum.  World-views differ.  Some focus on traditional learners, while others are better suited for advanced and gifted learners who tend to require less practice, more information, and are able to infer connections differently than their peers.  Many are book and seat-work based, or you can find one which leans heavily on computer-use, or is focused on tactile learning.  If you hunt, the selections are seemingly endless.

The method of education you choose does not need to be dictated by your pocketbook.  Classical education supplies can be purchased in curriculum sets for hundreds of dollars or you can gather your own for much less.   Whether you lean towards child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, or some other method, you can teach for pennies or spend a ton on curriculum and fun stuff.  It is more important that you understand how your children learn, what their gifts are, and purchase (or create) from there.  Teaching your own just gets more and more exciting as time goes by!

My favorite catalogs are Timberdoodle, Veritas Press, Dover Publishing, and Critical Thinking Company.  What are yours?

Homeschooling

Curriculum planning rant

It is that time of year again.  Now is often when homeschool moms get into the books for the coming year, and put an academic plan together.  If you use a programmed curriculum, it is fairly straight-forward.  You buy their books, and use what works with the learning level for your child.  It may require a tweak or two, but nothing too crazy.  Then again, if you are trying to assemble curriculum on your own (as we did), it can get confusing.  Let me explain.

Obviously you need math, language arts, history, science, and some fun stuff for the year.  Add in critical thinking, cultural arts, religious studies, life skills, and a bit of this and that and it can look undecipherable.  Let’s try making sense of it.

Math.  Pretty clear.  You have a text-book, flashcards, and maybe some math songs for learning basic skills.  Done.  But what about games and activities like tangrams, pattern blocks, or other math-related critical thinking options?  Is that math?  Is that critical thinking?  Is it just for fun, and not recorded at all?  Is cooking math, science or life skills?  Hmmm…

Let’s try it with language arts.  This generally includes reading and literature, spelling, vocabulary, penmanship, grammar, and writing.  Oh, boy.  Do you do spelling and vocabulary together?  One list for each?  Isn’t that a lot of writing?  If so, does it also count for writing?  Not really.  Oh.  Okay.  Grammar could be done in your best hand, and then it may also count for penmanship…or not.  Reading.  Simple enough.  Pick a book and read.  Literature means find a well-written, classic work.  Read and talk about it.  Okay.  If we are reading The Door in the Wall, is that literature?  Do we count it as history?  It does provide a great jumping off point for a discussion about life in medieval Europe. If we are reading Bible stories is that literature, history or religious studies, or something else?  If you teach them to outline on the computer, is that writing or computer skills?

Enough of that.  Let’s look at history and social studies.  History- the story of what has gone before us.  Social studies- the lives of people throughout the world.  Sounds pretty basic.  Where do you add geography?  Or is that a subject on its own which deals with different cultures and covers also orientation and map-reading skills?  If you study specific countries around the globe, and include commonly used phrases and a titch of their grammar, has that just become a study of foreign language or language arts?  What about political studies and law?  If you include a study of your nation’s founders, and the creation of your government is that history?  Law?  Or does it get a more specific title such as Government Studies?  Then there is economics.  It generally falls under the social studies umbrella, but does it count for math if you are working on interest rates, checking and savings accounts, and such?  Or do we call those things life skills instead?  Perhaps some of each?  And is the study of art and/music history part of history or cultural arts?

Is science any easier?  Are we simply working on a specific branch of science such as physics, or biology using reference materials and experiments?  What if we begin studying about Newton, and Darwin?  Is that still science?  Has it just become history?  Or if it is a classical work they have written, are we now doing literature (which is language arts)?  Do we teach evolution or creation science as science or do we create a comparitive study of them as a critical thinking exercise?  Is growing a garden and preserving the surplus considered botany and chemistry, or should you call it life skills?

You get the idea.  In all seriousness, Mom, don’t over-think this!  The answer to these questions if YES;  you can place this material where ever you see fit.  Set your goals.  Choose your materials.  Put your plan together, and get to the exciting business of learning as a family!  If you have high-school age youth who will need a transcript, you may find it helpful to use more diverse labeling for their studies in order to include what they will need for college admissions.  (Just ensure that you cover enough information to be able to claim completion of that subject!)  What matters most is that your children receive a broad, well thought out, and challenging education that provides them with the knowledge base, discipline and study habits to serve them throughout their lifetime.  However things were categorized when they were children, they will remember it as part of their education.  Isn’t that what really matters?

Parenting

The Art of Consistency

The church bags were packed, and ready for each of the boys Sunday as we entered the chapel for meetings.  Each grandson had a couple of books and a quiet activity or two in their own “Sunday bag” with their name on it.

Church bags

As the meeting progressed, they worked through the books, the coloring pages, and the quiet activities, each pausing to sing hymns or fold their hands for a prayer when appropriate or to help with a baby for a minute or two. All-in-all, a quiet meeting.

How do three young boys, ages 7, 5, and 3, learn to sit reverently?  The same way they learn to make their beds each morning, complete their schoolwork, and empty the dishwasher each day.  All are required, and are consistently attended to by the grown-ups in their lives…the very tired, but determined, grown-ups.

Children do not fall from the sky with discipline, good manners, or the ability to follow-through.  (Actually, many adults seem to struggle with those things too.)  Positive behaviors are learned, and then reinforced, when the rules don’t change and the boundary lines are firmly set.  As the parents and grandparents, we make a request or give an instruction one time, and then get on our feet if the child needs help completing the task.  They know the expectations, and the results for obedience, or a lack thereof.  No guessing games, just certainty that gives them security, and allows the adults to be clear, and calm.

Are we perfect in this?  Nope.  Is anyone?  Not that I have met.  But I do know that the more we are consistent, the better the day goes, and the more we enjoy being together as a family.  When did we start living this way?  When we realized the Lord works this way with us.  No screaming from the heavens.  No random consequences as a result of our actions.  Just clear guidance (from the scriptures, and the Spirit), and then the chance to learn from what we do right or wrong.  Why would we parent any other way?

Parenting

Toddlers and obedience…really.

Aren’t toddlers great? Little people developing right before our eyes; and personalities learning to express their uniqueness in so many different ways!  Often conversations at the cottage move in the direction of teaching good habits, and obedience.  When contemplating ways to help our children learn to obey quickly, here are some basics to keep in mind.
Children learn what they live. If we are consistent, they will recognize that consistency and come to depend on it. If we are not, they will learn how to “play” on our varying moods to their advantage. With my own children (and now with my grandchildren), I find it most effective to only say something once. If I have to repeat myself, I am on my feet moving towards them. Not to use corporal punishment; I am not an advocate of spanking. Just to physically assist them in following through with my instructions. Example: You see your child heading for an outlet or the garbage can and call for her to “stop” or “come to Mom” or “turn around” and she doesn’t. Okay. As you call her name again you are already on your way to her. Turn her around, perhaps give her a toy or book as a distraction and as she changes direction, tell her how great it is that she is obedient. She needs you to be engaged and with her. She is not old enough to follow multiple step instructions on her own. Do tasks with her. Reinforce positive behavior-prompted by you or, better still, self-directed. Yes, this takes energy and focus on your part but the pay-off is great. As she gets older, she will better understand expectations and proper habits will be ingrained. It is wonderful-eventually. Give it time and limit poor options as much as you can. Impulse control takes time and learning it is a process, one that a lot of adults haven’t mastered. Keep at it. (The bonus here is that any younger siblings watch and learn.)
It helps if you will pray to see what you need to recognize to help redirect them. Are they easily bored and needs multiple good options to keep them busy? Are they working to get your attention?
Remember, Mom, their self image and understanding of what a parent is will come from you. If you act with kindness, patience and clarity you will give them the opportunity to feel secure in their world and to know they can be successful in he best ways.