Saturday, November 18, 2017

Seeing Outside Our Own Windows

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter O. 
What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing: 

Seeing Outside Our Own Windows
Swimming lessons, basketball practice, family holiday plans…Which science curriculum should I use? Did Scott finish his math homework? Did I pay the water bill?...

Sometimes it is very easy for us to get so busy in our own little world that we lose sight of the big world around us. This is especially easy when we are homeschooling, because so much time and energy must be centered on our children and our home.

I urge you, however, to recognize the importance of seeing outside your own windows and investing in the lives of others—not only for yourself, but also because of the awareness it creates in your children!

It is more comfortable and less messy to hunker down at home and only focus on our own family’s needs, but life is not all about us! This is a very important life lesson our children not only need to hear, but also need to experience.

See the value of others.

I know this may seem hard to comprehend, but everyone does not do things the same way your family does! 

Although I am being a little bit facetious, our homeschooled kiddos do need to realize that this is actually a fact of life. The world is full of unique people, from many walks of life, who have different abilities, backgrounds, and interests.

They need to be taught that all people have value—no matter what their ethnic background, financial standing or physical abilities may be.

We can “talk teach” these lessons, but experience is a much better tutor! 

My cousin’s family spends a week each summer volunteering at a homeless shelter in the city so that her teenage girls can get a hands-on view of life and understand how blessed they truly are. Last summer, the girls actually asked to spend an extra week at the shelter, instead of going on vacation, because they wanted to help the people they had gotten to KNOW over the years!

See the needs of others.

How can your family reach out and help those in your neighborhood? In your community? Around the world? How can you actively meet the needs of other people? 

Here are a few ways our family has found to reach outside our four walls:
  • donating non-perishables to the local food bank
  • saving up coins to fill baby bottles for the local pregnancy center
  • collecting supplies for our town’s homeless shelter
  • packing Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes
  • shoveling snow for an elderly woman in our neighborhood
  • cutting a shut-in neighbor’s grass
  • making meals for sick family members and friends

What are some ways that your family has found to meet the needs of people around you? 

The richness that comes as we reach outside of ourselves cannot be produced through a book or a movie. It must be personally experienced. In order to raise compassionate adults, our families must be others-centered, not just home-centered. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

When Your Child Doesn't Know How to Write

Little Lady also has a hard time putting her thoughts into written words. Whenever she is asked to write a thank you note or a paragraph it is as though her mind, eyes, and hands do not work together smoothly. She can tell me everything she wants to say, but when it comes to actually writing it out, it becomes quite overwhelming to her.

This hit home recently when I sat and observed my girl writing with a young friend (who is also in third grade). They were writing stories together, and her friend quickly filled the page with words. In that same amount of time, my daughter wrote three sentences, and ended up drawing a picture. I could sense her frustration and asked about her story. The words poured out of her (and a good story it would have been!), but the process of writing completely stifled her ability to share it.

A reading teacher recommended that I approach creative writing in two stages, instead of just one like most of us do.

See, I can think and write simultaneously. I do not have to think about how the letters are constructed, which direction they should face, which side of the paper I should start the next line on, what size the letters should be... 

Things that I take for granted become a huge barrier for many children when they are trying to write. Often, they will lose their ideas or train of thought, become frustrated with the process and just quit. 

It can be very helpful to some students to communicate their ideas FIRST, and then work through the process of writing them. 

This can be done through the use of graphic organizers, dictation, and voice to text apps. You could encourage your child to develop story boards for their ideas, drawing pictures for each scene that they will be able to refer back to later. Using outlines, key words, and bullet points can also be helpful ways for your student to work out the thought side of writing before they put pen (or pencil) to paper. 

Typing can be an excellent tool for your struggling writer because it can help them combine the creativity of writing without the stress of writing mechanics. I would highly recommend that you teach your child to type fluently at an early age. I am a huge proponent of handwriting instruction and feel that it should have a key place in the student's learning. However, for some children, they need the freedom to communicate their thoughts and ideas without the hindrance of thinking about how to write. Typing provides this freedom. (Besides, in this technical world we live in, it will not be a skill that is wasted!) (I really like this idea to teach hand placement to beginning typists.)

We each use tools that help us in our daily life—glasses, alarm clocks, mnemonics, hearing aids, calendar reminders, bookmarks…. My desire is to help my daughter fill her “life toolbox” with as many tools as possible so she can become the learner and communicator that God has created her to be!

Friday, September 8, 2017

When Your Child Doesn't Want to Write

As mentioned in previous posts, my daughter loves to read and is a story girl. One area of struggle for her, however, is in the area of writing and thought organization. 

Ever since she was little and first learning to write, she has reversed her letters and numbers. There was a time when my husband called her his "little Leonardo da Vinci" because she would write everything in perfect reverse order. You could hold her papers up to the mirror and read them like a secret code. 

Although she has improved greatly in this area over the past few years, she still has to work very hard to communicate in writing. I have been concerned about this as she is now entering third grade and will be required to write more and more in her upper elementary years.       

The Lord recently connected us with a woman who has been a teacher for many years, and who frequently works with children that struggle with reading and writing.  After many conversations with her concerning my girl, I am filled with hope and have a plan to help her not only improve in her writing, but also equip her with tools that will help her become a more confident communicator. 

I have been working to implement many of Mrs. Harris's suggestions, as well as reading and researching more ideas on my own. 

My daughter will completely shut down if she is faced with a page that has a lot of required writing on it. She instantly begins to whine about how "she can't do it, it's too hard, she can't write that much..."  Since she has to think about which direction the letters face and how to write them, writing is harder for her than for some children—as though she has to add an extra step in to the process. However, writing is also a life skill and will be something she has to do for the rest of her life. As her mama, I want to enable her to approach writing positively and confidently. 

If you have a child who struggles with visual perception, easily becomes overwhelmed when much writing/reading is required, or has a hard time putting his thoughts into clear sentences, perhaps some of these ideas will be an encouragement to your student as well. 

Here are three tools that we will be using throughout the year to help in this area:

1.   I love this idea from If you scroll down the page, you will see a section entitled "Bite Size Pieces" that suggests cutting a file folder into sections that will allow your student to only concentrate on a small section of the work at a time. So often half the battle is in the mind, and this tool immediately helps a child only focus on a small part of the task at a time. 

2.   Little Lady also struggles with spelling words correctly and she will frequently ask me how to spell the words she needs. Although I do not mind being her walking dictionary, I will not always be with her and I want her to become a more independent writer. Mrs. Harris suggested that she start her own personal spelling dictionary where she can put the words that she often uses, but cannot remember how to spell. I found this printable student dictionary that I really like (especially because it has several versions from which to choose). 

3.   As simple as this sounds, another suggestion for struggling writers is to use pencil grippers. Sometimes children who do not write easily become tense and grip their pencil too tightly, which can cause cramping and sore fingers. This makes the writing process all the more miserable for them. There are many different styles of grippers on the market. This may be a small thing, but if it can help even a little bit, I will be thankful!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Teaching Their Heads AND Their Hearts

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter H.
What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing:
Teaching Their Heads AND Their Hearts
The basic types of clouds
The dates and leaders of WWII
Nouns, verbs and adjectives
The fine arts… 

The list of what we can teach our children seems limitless. Combining the “required” subjects, our children’s insatiable curiosity, and all of the things we want them to learn and explore to be well rounded individuals…there are simply not enough hours in childhood to cover that much information.

So, does that mean we have failed? Since we cannot teach it all, will we let our children down?

I answer with a resounding NO!  It is not about how much we teach our children, but rather the way we teach them that will bring success. 

Focus on deep learning  Our minds absorb information in many different ways. We have short term memory and long-term memory—skills and knowledge we work with on a regular basis and information that we may never think about again. It is crucial that we provide a balance for our students as they learn and study.

Although facts and figures will fly through their minds all throughout their schooling years, sometimes we must also provide opportunities for them to slow down, dive in, and immerse themselves in a topic. Sometimes our children need time to learn a new skill or truly appreciate an aspect of creation.

Do not be afraid to dwell on a specific area for a while. Allow your children the opportunity to learn in a deep and satisfying way.

Encourage independent learning  When our children are small, we are fully responsible for feeding them. Not only do we have to prepare their food, but often we have to spoon feed them and make sure they get enough food to be satisfied. As they grow and become more capable of feeding themselves, we encourage them to eat independently. 

Learning skills must be taught in much the same way. We should not always ‘spoon feed’ our children information or sit by them offering bite after bite of knowledge. As they mature, they need to begin to approach learning on their own.  We need to create opportunities for them to learn and grow- both in their structured school lessons and in everyday life.

I am not saying that there should be no boundaries or guidance! Just as we would not set a full course meal in front of a ten-month old and let her have at it, we need to set up safe learning experiences and train our children how to have discernment. We must teach our children how to learn for themselves! 

Equip them for lifelong learning Just as we want to train up independent learners, we should also want to encourage our children to be interested in learning throughout their entire lives. Three ways we can do this is through—

READING: Encouraging a love of reading is a great way to prepare our children to be life-long learners. If they are willing to read, they can learn about anything they want to know.  As Theodor Geisel once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (You may better recognize Geisel by his pen name: Dr. Seuss.)

ENCOURAGING THEIR CURIOUSITY: We are all born with a natural sense of curiosity. (Just spend a few minutes watching a baby crawl around a room and you will know what I mean!) Too often, our curiosity becomes stifled by the busyness and pressures of “grown- up” life. True learners ask questions. They want to know how things work or what is happening around them. Although this sense of curiosity can seem overwhelming to us at times (all those questions), we should encourage our children to search out answers to their questions and to learn as much as they can. This may take extra effort (and patience!) on our part, but it is an effective way to encourage a desire to learn within our children.

USING A HOOK: When you are fishing, what do you use to catch a fish? A hook with bait, of course! The same concept works with teaching. Learning occurs when there is disequilibrium between what someone knows and what they do not know. Exposing students to new concepts and information can cause them to want to know more, thereby restoring their sense of mental equilibrium.   When we introduce something new to our child, we are baiting a hook. Whether it  is a brief overview of material they will study in more depth later, or a way to grab their attention concerning information being taught now, teaching our children to work through the frustration they feel (the disequilibrium) when faced with new information and the pleasure of mastering that new concept (restored equilibrium) will help them not shy away from learning in the future.

Make heart learning a priority As parents and teachers, we must also reach the hearts of our children—not just their heads! It is not enough to fill their minds with mental information, life skills, and experiences. We must also encourage them to grow emotionally and spiritually.

The most important things we can teach our children are to “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [their] God.” (Micah 6:8) A person who is full of knowledge, but possesses poor inner character, is a poor person indeed.

Our intellectual knowledge should enhance the relationships and service opportunities with people around us, not isolate us from them. It is crucial that we spend the same quantity of energy and quality of resources on training the hearts of our children, just as we do their minds and bodies.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Know Thy Child

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter C. How well do you know your child(ren)?

What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing:
Know Thy Child

My brother and his wife have six sons. One of the joys of living near our family again is being able to spend time with my nephews. It is so fun to be an auntie.

One of the things that has surprised me is how different the boys are from one another. Here they are, having the same parents, the same home life, the same upbringing, and yet they are each so unique in their personalities, interests, and abilities.

One of the delights of homeschooling is the flexibility we have to tailor our child’s schooling to meet their needs.

My son is a numbers whiz. He breezes through math and rarely comes upon a concept he does not understand. (He is just like his dad in that way.) The math curriculum I chose for his kindergarten year was great. He excelled at the lessons and loved doing math each day. It was a wonderful program and I assumed we would use it every year until both of my children graduated.

Then my daughter started kindergarten. Those same exact math lessons were torturous for her (and me)! By Christmas time, she was crying every time we worked on a lesson and could not seem to retain concepts from one time to the next. She began to complain that she was “terrible at math” and say that she “wasn’t smart enough to do math.” My mama’s heart was breaking. What should I do?

This had worked so well before, but it was definitely not working now.

I am so thankful that the Lord brought another, more experienced homeschool mom into my life that year. She reminded me that what worked for one child’s learning style and strengths may not work as well for another child.

 And the beauty of homeschooling is that I get to choose how to handle each subject for each child! She encouraged me to start a program that had worked well for one of her sons (who had similar struggles) and thereby help my girl learn using an entirely different method.

That was a turning point for usnot only in math, but in my approach to schooling my children. I no longer worked off the assumption that what was good for the one would be just as beneficial for the other.

I realized that God had made each of them differently and they may need to absorb information through different avenues (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), at different speeds, and with different amounts of review and engagement. (And two years later, if you were to ask my daughter what her favorite subject is she would tell you math!)    

  • In what ways are your children different from each other?
  • Can you recognize their learning style differences? 

Take time this week to watch how they interact with the world around them. Do they touch everything in order to “see” it? Do they talk through their ideas or spend time quietly listening to what others have to say? Do you catch them people watching or observing how to do something before they will try it for themselves? 

Their learning styles will come out naturally as they play and explore their surroundings. How wonderful it would be if we could incorporate some of those same methods into the way they learn for school!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Seasons of Life

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter S. What season of life are you in today? 
What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing:
Seasons of Life 

Spring, summer, fall and wintereach season has its own beauty and trials, reason and reward. What would life be like without beautiful spring flowers, long summer days, a full autumn harvest, or a quiet winter night? 

Each season has a different purpose and allows for different activities, hobbies and productivity.

Life also has a variety of seasons. Based on our age, ability, income, and responsibilities, we will experience many different seasons throughout our lifetime.

Much like the seasons we see in creation, seasons of life have different purposes and allow for different activities, hobbies and productivity. 

Each life season has its own beauty and trials, reason and reward.

It is easy for us to get frustrated with the season of life that we are in, or to long for a season that is past. 

Do you ache for the sound of toddler giggles in your home again? 

Do you long to have a whole day all to yourself with no interruptions? 

Maybe you crave nights of uninterrupted sleep or the freedom to travel and pursue personal hobbies. 

Perhaps you are dealing with illness, caring for an aging parent, or adjusting to a job transition. No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, it can be tempting to wish we were experiencing something else.

Sometimes as mamas and teachers, we can feel impatient during this season of life. 

The days of schooling seem endless, the list of to-do’s is long, and the minutes are few.

Let me encourage you today. Just as God has promised that nature’s season will continue to cycle, so too will the stages of life and motherhood! 

Babies will eventually sleep through the night, your children will help with the household chores rather than just create new ones, schooling will one day be over…. 

Whatever season of life you are in will not last forever. Like all other seasons before it, it will pass by and you will find yourself in a new place, fulfilling a new role, impacting new people.

Let us determine to be content right where we are and enjoy this season of time. 
Who knows, perhaps someday we will miss it too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Effort Is Not Wasted

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter E. I hope these thoughts will be an encouragement to your heart. 

What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing:
This Effort Is Not Wasted

Teaching is hard work. I spent several years teaching in a classroom setting and now many years teaching my own children here at home. Sometimes it can seem that we do the same tasks over and over again. Sometimes progress can be so slow that it hardly seems there has been any improvement at all.

But I am here to tell you that the time and energy you are putting into your children is not in vain! Your effort is not being wasted! 

The hours you spend together, the choices you make concerning your school day, the life lessons you teach will have long-lasting value.

There are many things we do each day that have practical value. I need to clean the toilets and wash the dishes so that my family can be healthy and have something on which to eat. The clothes must be cleaned, dinner will be cooked, and the floors swept.  

But will these tasks mean anything in 20 years?  Will my spotless house and organized closets help my children be more successful as adults or help them build meaningful relationships?

 Although we have to maintain the practical side of life, we cannot lose sight of our main priority—our children’s hearts, souls, and minds.

Time spent speaking into our children’s lives is never wasted.
I encourage you to keep on keeping on. Do not get so overwhelmed by the busyness of the days that you lose sight of your long-term impact.

You have been specifically chosen by God to train your children and prepare them for the life He has for them. 

Do not lose heart, Mama! The hours of thought, prayer and effort you invest into your children will influence them for the rest of their lives.
Now that is a noble venture!

Friday, June 16, 2017

We Were Mamas First

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter M. I hope these thoughts can encourage you on your own homeschool journey. 

What I’ve Learned About HOMESCHOOLing:
We Were Mamas First

I am known by many names: Mrs., Auntie, Sis, Beth—but one that is beyond precious to me is that of “Mama” (even when I hear it 20,000 times a day). Ever since I was young, I dreamed and prayed that one day I would be a mother. My journey to motherhood was not an easy one. There were many tears and times of great fear as we wondered if we would even become parents. However, God has blessed us with two beautiful children and I could not be more grateful.

Those days of babyhood, now long past (they are currently eight and ten years old), are sweet memories for me—baby snuggles, first steps, silly songs, bedtime stories, all those moments we spent simply playing together... How could time have gone by so fast? 

Now that my children are older, it is easy to forget to cherish this time we have with each other. This can be especially true when it’s time to do our schoolwork. 

See, I am a Type A, list-driven kind of girl. I love the feeling of marking things off of my to-do list as I go throughout the day. Sometimes I find myself in this “get it done” kind of mode when it comes to our school day. I feel an urgency to move onto the other items on my list and I don’t want to linger over our school lessons.

This past year I have really been challenged in this area. (Perhaps because my oldest hit the decade mark?!?) The days are passing quickly and I don’t want to rush through moments that will one day be only memories in my heart.

I must never forget that I was a mama before anything else. Before I taught them how to read, before they learned about the Civil War or 2 + 2, long before they had handwriting or spelling—I was their mama.

 As important as being their teacher is, I do not want to lose sight of our relationship as mother and child. I need to make time for those extra questions and tangent moments. I need to relax and enjoy their snuggles while reading together on the couch. 

I want to relish the sound of their voices as they describe the stories inside their heads. I want to be all there, connecting in my heart with these little ones I call son and daughter.

Sometimes we forget to appreciate the great opportunity we have to spend each day with our children—to watch them learn new things, ask us their multitudes of questions, join in as they explore and discover this amazing world, simply being together….

These days of childhood, will all too soon be past, and will only be sweet memories. 

I don’t want to miss a single one!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Opportunities Abound

As we continue in our series of posts using the word HOMESCHOOL as an acronym, we come to the letter O. I hope these ideas will be an encouragement to you and help you brainstorm about options available to you.

What I've Learned About HOMESCHOOLing: 
Opportunities Abound

One of the concerns someone who is thinking of homeschooling might have is concerning extra-curricular activities or areas where they are not knowledgeable. Over the years, I have discovered that there are so many resources and opportunities available for our children—many of which are very low cost or even free. You can pursue the opportunities that are a good fit for your family!

Some ideas to get you started:

Your public libraryNot only can you access many more books than your own bookshelves can hold, the public library can be an amazing resource for educational classes, interactive play, and exciting learning experiences. Our small town library is not very big, but I have been amazed at how much they offer! This past year my children learned how to use Ozobots, Snap Circuits, Lego Education sets, and played with Imagination Playground blocks—all things that we do not have at home. We have also participated in a variety of classes offered at the library, including art, science, reading, music, as well as special programs and live concerts. (The steel drum performance was amazing!) Check out what your local library has to offer you.

Your townOur town has an art gallery and a craft store (both of which offer classes for children), a city band, sports teams, youth field day events, and a city pool. What is in your town? Have you visited your local historical society? What about local festivals and city-wide events? We have thoroughly enjoyed Art Walk on the Block and attending the annual Chalk Walk, where amateur and professional chalk artists participated. Explore your home town and see what delightful things your family can enjoy.

Friends & family membersThe people you know can be a great resource! Our family and church is full of very crafty and skilled individuals. We have carpenters, knitters, painters, musicians…the list is endless. My children are currently building a tree fort with their papa, uncle and dad. My son took piano lessons from an older gentleman at our church. Grammy taught them how to crochet.  An aunt has encouraged their art interests by teaching them new skills. One of our friends ran a baseball clinic; there was children’s choir at our church; we visited family friends who own a working farm…. Think about the skills and talents of those around you and connect your children with people that have similar interests. 

Online resourcesThe opportunities for learning online are so diverse. From online classes, learning games, educational videos, craft activities…resources abound for both the teacher and the student. Pinterest is a great starting point for searching out educational sources. (Check out our Pinterest page for some great ideas.)

Local collegesThis is an often-overlooked treasure trove of opportunity! Colleges regularly offer fine arts performances, sporting events, classes, public lectures and seminars. Many of these activities are free or are donation-based, and can help you expose your child to a vast world of knowledge.

Parks and nature centersOne of our favorite family activities is to explore new parks: local, state and even national ones. We have been blessed to live near some amazing parks with very interesting and informative nature centers. These unassuming places can hold wonderful exhibits of wildlife, teach about the ecosystems and habitats found in your area, and encourage a love of nature within your child. The miles of trails, waterways, and playgrounds can add a richness to your physical science studies, as well. For a list of state parks near you, click here.

Nearby tourist attractionsWe recently moved back to the town where I grew up. Now that I have children of my own, I see this area in a whole new way. I had no idea there was so much here! Who knew that Revolutionary War soldiers were buried in the town cemetery? That there is a herd of 900 wild elk living forty-five minutes north of here? That there is a train car downtown that actually carried President Theodore Roosevelt? Even in small towns, and their surrounding areas, there are often places that you never thought to visit. Get creative and see what you have been missing.