Archives For Melanie

Before I launch into part 2 of this series, a quick reminder . . .Give Yourself Lots of Grace! – As I’m hearing various mothers speak about their recent (challenging!) experiences as new homeschoolers, let me just begin by re-stating a point that’s very central in my heart!    If you are new to homeschooling, due to Covid-19 or your own choice, then what you need to remember right now is to give yourself a break!! Have compassion on yourself – you are in a difficult place of transition.  I promise things will get easier over time, but right now, remember to take lots of deep breaths and be very patient with yourself and your sweet children.  Homeschooling is a new way of life, that I believe you’ll come to love.  But it will take time to find your new rhythms and figure out what works for you and your children.  It’s a journey for sure, but one that can be full of joy and blessing – so try to relax and enjoy the ride! (For more encouragement to be patient with yourself, see my post: New to Homeschooling? – Part One .)

What is the purpose of education? – Fourteen years ago, when I was a brand new homeschooling mum, I was given a piece of incredible advice.  Simple but profound. I have failed many times at implementing it (as I so often fail in so many areas!) but I have hung onto it tightly and done my best to let it shape my homeschooling. What were those words of wisdom that I was given: Make it your number one goal to see to it that your children LOVE to LEARN.

Looking back on my own education, it’s sad but true that much of what I learned has been forgotten (calculus or physics or grammar anyone??). In light of this, I would like to suggest a controversial point.  The goal of truly excellent education should not merely be to transfer information from the brain of the teacher to the brain of the child. If that is the goal, then most education is quite a pointless exercise! Historians are not certain who authored the following profound quote . . . but here it is: The real aim of education should not be to fill a brain/pail/vessel, but instead to light a fire!

Your children will never remember everything they learn in school.  But if deep within them they have gained a permanent appetite to learn, to know, and to discover . . . if their imaginations have been captured by things that truly matter, then they will be very well-equipped for life! So how do we kindle this flame in them? I know that whole books have been written in answer to this question.  But let me offer a few of my own thoughts.

How do we kindle the flame? – 2 Simple Suggestions . . . And one thing to avoid

Story! – If you want a very simple, very powerful way to “light the fire” in your children – read, read, read stories to them!   Picture books, longer chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry . . . any books!  (Of course, be sure to pick engaging, life-giving stories.) Human beings are intrinsically drawn to stories – we live in stories ourselves and look to stories for inspiration and comfort and guidance.  My number one recommendation if someone asks me “how” to homeschool, is to spend lots of time reading aloud together. And don’t stop when your children can read for themselves! Research shows that through the simple act of reading aloud, you are accomplishing multiple incredible things all at once.  Reading aloud results not only in massive educational benefits, but it stirs up a love for learning and also strengthens family bonds in beautiful ways. Plus it’s just pure fun!  How much more enjoyable to read an exciting story about a Danish family hiding Jews from the Nazis (see Lois Lowry’s awesome book Number the Stars) than to wade through a dry textbook explanation about World War II. We have seen reading aloud achieve beautiful things in our home over the past 14+ years of homeschooling and I can’t urge you strongly enough to make this part of your family culture! Reading together builds bonds, it changes lives and it kindles the “love to learn” flame!

NOTE: If you are interested in finding out more on this topic, I highly recommend the wonderful book, The Read Aloud Family, by Sarah MacKenzie.  She also has an amazing podcast called the Read-Aloud Revival (available on iTunes) and a brilliant website full of recommended books for all ages and occasions.  Soooo worth checking out!

Quote from Sarah Mackenzie: “Books are powerful. Sharing those books together is like jet fuel for our family bonding and our kids’ academic and social and emotional success.

Time Outdoors – Another very simple but very powerful way to “light the fire” of your children’s love for learning is to take them outside! God’s creation is packed full of things to stir up wonder and awe in your child’s heart – essential ingredients for loving to learn. From the vastness of space to the gorgeous spring blossoms and flowers . . . from teeny tiny bugs to massive lightning bolts.  Nature not only delights those with eyes to see, but it inspires us to know, to learn, to discover.  When do we as human beings stop learning? When we stop asking questions! When we stop wondering and appreciating new things beyond ourselves. We get bored with the every day. I believe we are all born with an innate desire to know, to explore, to learn and to experience new things (that fire that fuels all true education). Our modern lives have sadly extinguished this flame in our hearts. The abundance of screen time plus the fact that we just don’t walk from place to place anymore, means most people naturally spend very little time outside.  Can I encourage you to let your children explore and exercise outside as much as possible – and go out with them! Go for long walks, let them dig in the back garden, plant flowers and veggies (in pots if you have no dirt patches!).  Find the nearest woods or other patch of nature and visit often!  Observe the seasonal changes.  Learn the names of trees and flowers. Make simple observations as you spend time with your children.  Appreciate the beauty. If you are a Christian, soak up the love and power of God with your children as you spend time in his creation.

Limit “busy work” – While stories and time outdoors are incredible sparks for the “love to learn” flame, nothing dumps cold water on it faster than “busy work.” By that I mean, lots of fill in the blank type worksheets, excessive practice/problems on concepts your child already knows, or maybe even crafts or activities that are done just for the sake of jumping through an educational hoop. Another way you can possibly identify “busy work” is to observe what work genuinely frustrates your child or squelches their love for learning. Now what I am NOT saying is that all worksheets or schoolwork your child hates are bad and shouldn’t be used.  Children need to learn to do things they don’t like at times (character building being a big one!). And as far as crafts go, some children love hands on learning and that’s great! However, I think it’s always worth asking: Is this activity/resource, worksheet, etc actually fostering genuine learning AND is it kindling delight: the “love to learn” flame.  If the answer is no, maybe it’s worth spending your “school” time in another way.  Now this is a huge subject because really we’re starting to tread into the waters of homeschool style/curriculum.  There are SO many choices out there! And I realise that those of you homeschooling through this time of lockdown probably don’t have much choice of what curriculum you use. But the questions are worth asking.  I think the schools are quite flexible in terms of what work the children need to achieve.  Could you accomplish the same goals in a more engaging way?  Could you ditch the textbook or workbook and read them a historical novel on the subject? How about watching a video together on a science topic or have a conversation about something they’re studying.  Choose education that lights the flame and avoid things that bring boredom, frustration or bitterness to your child’s heart!

You may have noticed that much of what I have written in these first two posts has highlighted the importance of relationships in your home. My last post will dive more deeply into this subject and also include some more practical how-to tips.

A few more resources:

Busy Work Article: Here’s an article I thought was good on the subject of “busy work.” (Note: I don’t know anything about the Book Shark curriculum).

The Charlotte Mason Method: Especially for those of you homeschooling long term, check out this article and blog post series about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling which incorporates my first two “light the flame” suggestions and provides many ways of avoiding “busy work!” This method has been really central to how we’ve homeschooled over the years!

Let Your Kids Get Bored – Covid-19 Homeschooling Tips: I thought this was good advice from schoolteachers!

 

The world has changed so quickly in these past weeks and suddenly, those of us who are homeschooling our children are no longer in the minority! The current world Coronavirus pandemic has forced most of the world into isolation in their homes which means millions of people are now homeschooling their children.

Many mums and dads seem to be feeling quite anxious about the situation and I’ve had more than one request for some advice and tips! While I want to be very clear about the fact that I most definitely don’t have all the answers, (and every family is unique in their characteristics and needs) I thought I’d share some tidbits that have helped us over the past 14 years of homeschooling.  Hoping it might be a help to someone!

First, if you’ve been thrust into homeschooling, I recommend that you stop and take a deep breath.  Give yourself permission to find this challenging (even us veterans have really difficult days!).  Homeschooling is just one of the many changes our families are experiencing at the moment and it’s a lot to face all at once.  Be very patient and gracious with yourself and your children.  Pay attention to their emotions and also your own.  Give yourself and them time to adapt to the changes, including the fact that they will be learning at home.  Let them know you understand the changes are not easy.  There is no rush to find the perfect rhythm! In fact, it doesn’t exist! One of the things I find constant as a homeschooling mum is the continual need to adjust – our schedules and routines, curriculum and everything!  Flexibility is so important.  Under ordinary circumstances, when families begin homeschooling, they often take a period of time called “de-schooling” (which is just a time for the children to get used to being at home and a brand new way of doing things) before actually starting back into formal academics.  Feel free to take a period of time like this if you need it. – guilt free (for whatever reason!)

Second, don’t expect homeschooling to look or feel like normal school. It will take time to find a good routine, but try to create one based on YOUR family’s needs and don’t try to replicate the look or feel of a classroom!  I do believe children thrive with a (flexible) routine but make it your own personal family routine with your own style. Don’t try to force a 9am-3pm timetable (think about how much school time is spent in things like moving from activity to activity, classroom management, etc). I really think that children 7 and under realistically only need a maximum of an hour of formal schooling a day (ie the amount of time they actually sit down at a table and do work). Having said that, all of the rest of their day can be extremely educational!! Board and card games, arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, taking care of pets, stories being read aloud, the list could go on! And of course free play is extremely good for children in so many ways – lego, playmobil (our personal family favourite for fostering creativity!), dressing up and creating imaginary games are so wonderful for their development!

(NOTE: The availability of screens will most definitely squeeze out these creative and highly beneficial activities! If children have a choice, they will always choose the screen.  This isn’t the place to write about the immense damage to the brains of children being done by screens and the addictive nature of them but I’m confident you won’t ever regret limiting the access your children have to them! Remember, there might be an adjustment period while your children are getting used to being at home all the time. If screens are not a constant option, their creativity will eventually blossom and you will find that their “boredom” motivates them to try all kinds of new and creative play. If you resist the temptation to use a screen as a babysitter, it will temporarily mean less “free” time for you as a parent.  But in the end it will pay off! And the brain and heart of your children will be protected.)

Thoughts on routine:

  • Children are usually much more able to concentrate in the morning.  So try to do the subjects first thing that they most need their brain power for (ie maths and English and for older children, science, etc).  Afternoons can be free for things like reading, read-alouds, crafts, outdoor play (if possible under the current rules!), cooking, lego, music practice, projects, etc.
  • If you have multiple children of different ages, I have found it helpful to work with the youngest children first.  They will be more fresh first thing in the day, and will benefit having your attention (it fills their love tanks!) before you get involved in helping the older kids.  I find my little ones have always been much happier to go off and play by themselves if they’ve had time with mummy first. If they are not school aged, you can read them stories, play a game or with toys with them  – try letting them pick what they would like to do with you! It will make them feel special and show them that you have time just for them.
  • When a child is about 6 or 7 years old, I have found that making a daily list of school work for them really helps them to learn responsibility and self-motivation.  They can tick off the items themselves and it stops you having to constantly be telling them what to do. (Of course they should know they can come to you for help if they need it!).  Older children can have a weekly list, rather than daily, which teaches them to manage their time and decide what needs to be done each day.
  • Having a routine is so helpful but don’t become a slave to your routine.  Give yourself permission to throw the math lesson out the window once in awhile and make play dough or cook something together or whatever.  Embrace joy!
  • Include in your routine a time in the day where everyone goes to their own little corner and does something quietly alone (screen free if you can!).  With everyone being together in the same space for long periods of time, it’s super healthy to get a break from each other! It’s also very helpful for you as a mum or dad to take some time to rest, nap, read or call a friend.  We all need time to rest and recharge our batteries!
  • Another essential part of a homeschooling routine is a regular time or times for tidying up. More people in the house for more time means more mess! Choose regular times where everyone in the house participates in bringing some order back to your home.  We have a time before we eat dinner where everyone has a job to do.  And we have after meal clean-up jobs too.  And then deeper cleaning jobs on the weekends.  In one sense we have an advantage in that we have a big family and therefore more hands to help (but more people in the house means it gets messier more quickly too!) Doing chores (or contributions as we call them) is absolutely part of education for children too and teaches love, kindness, responsibility and working as a team. It takes effort for a parent to organise the jobs, teach them and make sure they are getting done.  But your children will grow up with invaluable skills and hopefully some wonderful character traits!

Remember, your family is unique and wonderful! Some families like to do a lot of art and craft, others love music and dance, and still others love science and nature.  Maybe you love them all or something else entirely! But please, please try not to compare yourself to other families.  They are not you and you are not them.  Go with the interests of your children and remember you don’t have to imitate other families or live up to anyone else’s expectations. Keep things simple and remember that your family relationships are vastly more important than academic success.  You are teaching precious little people, not school subjects.  Value them as people – mind, heart and body.

This has gotten very long and I still have quite a lot more to say! So I will come back with part 2 (and maybe 3) in the next few days. I hope to write a bit more about the “how to” of homeschooling and the things I believe are truly important to prioritise as we are educating our children. As well as resource ideas.  Stay tuned! And do let me know if you have any specific questions you want me to address.

Recommended listening/viewing

Melanie —  February 14, 2020

Have you seen The Chosen yet? Our family watched the first two episodes last night and we enjoyed them so much.  It’s a multi-season television drama based on the life of Christ.  It impressed upon me the desperation of the biblical characters (Mary Magdalene in particular) and the way that Jesus changed everything when he broke into their stories.

“THE CHOSEN is designed to live in perfect balance between faithful biblical storytelling and imaginative exploration. The show contains incredible historical, biblical and theological accuracy while still maintaining a sense of wonder and creativity.” (quote from this review from MOVIE guide).  The project is crowd-funded and you can watch the first ones free with an app.  After that, when you pay to watch, you fund the making of more episodes (can’t go wrong with that!).

I listened to a fantastic podcast on the goodness of God in suffering, with Joni Eareckson Tada.  I highly recommend it for anyone suffering any kind of physical pain, sadness or distress in life.

And lastly, are you single or do you know any single people looking for a godly spouse? This is a wonderful message from Gary Thomas on Finding a Godly Spouse.  He outlines the reasons that most people in the world get married and how these reasons are so different from why we are Christians choose to marry.  They also lead to vastly different outcomes in marriage.

**Both of the above podcasts are on iTunes (first one: JourneyWoman podcast and second one: Focus on the Family Broadcast podcast)