My favorite nuggets of advice when we began the homeschooling journey were:
“You know your weaknesses, so pray.”
“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
I’ve relied on those treasures of wisdom for thirteen years now! There were a few years where I modified the second one to “If I’m not having fun, we’re doing something wrong.” Your home may be different than ours, but our reality has been that sometimes the kids do not look at homeschooling as anything more than drudgery. I still believe the love of learning that often launches we parents into homeschooling will be ‘caught’ by our children—but there are definitely days they will not have that love!
This week, as we struggled through two very difficult courses high school courses, (read that, ‘difficult for me’) the laughter in the midst of perseverance reminded me how very right this has been!! I was the Valedictorian of my class; a nerd who felt bad if I did not have an “A” in every subject. Even then I knew that there was merit to lesser grades and fuller lives, yet I could not quite grasp that concept for myself. Praise God, my husband, children and our home education journey have taught me better. Lest you think we do not take grades seriously, we do. The children demonstrate a competitiveness in grades and a desire to excel that I appreciate. Yet we have learned together that the deepest lessons of home education transform our character. My heart rejoices that laughter sweetened our hard work. I want that to be a lesson the children apply the rest of their lives. Balancing a chemical equation and efficiently utilizing a compass for angle re-creation are beneficial; a right attitude in hard times is priceless.
This is a truth we have lived for several years. Math struggles faced by my son taught him more about perseverance—and his capabilities—than soaring through his Bible lessons. The college-level Counseling program my daughter is taking (in her sophomore year of high school) instructed her in the value of talking through confusing topics to deepen understanding. For most of our years, academics have not been a struggle from the ‘parent’ perspective. I must admit, though, some of our high school courses reveal how much I did not really learn in my own years of education. While those times are weaknesses, they are not failures. In fact, those things which I know well are sometimes the most difficult for me to teach. I cannot give a process when it is something I just ‘do.’ Beyond that, I do not expect my children to learn things I am unable to learn. Therefore, my weaknesses allow me to set the example and persevere with them. I suspect that the subjects we work harder at will be the content they remember best. I know the attitude we approach our difficulties with will be part of the legacy of our homeschool.
Discipline. It really is not a word we like, but it is one of the most important words in our homeschooling vocabulary. It is a character trait that increases in importance as we age. My body demands far more attention to stay healthy as I near fifty than it did at twenty! Most worthy activities require discipline to see them to completion. An efficient homeschool demands discipline from students and adults.
The most challenging aspects of homeschooling—in my experience—have not come from the academic side of the education equation. The greatest difficulties stem from ‘people’ issues. I believe life will show that the greatest blessings of this homeschool effort will show forth in the ways our character (all of us in the family—child and adult) has been transformed in the process. Let’s take a moment and look at discipline in particular.
In the early years of homeschooling, discipline mostly looks like: PARENTING! Truly, home education IS simply parenting on steroids. Instilling discipline in young children is an absolute necessity for parents who intend to home educate. Back-talk, disobedience and open rebellion prevents learning. Proverbs admonishes us as teachers to choose our words wisely—and instruct in the nature of our child—but it also has much to stay about a teachable spirit. We do much to help our children learn to be teachable when we teach discipline (through obedience). Cooperation from our young ones is a definite exercise of discipline for them.
On the parenting side, discipline looks like doing what you really don’t want to do—or putting off what you would rather do. (It is not much different than the child’s issue, is it?) That great sale at the grocery store may tempt us to slide the dreaded math lesson off another day. Learning to make school the priority and refusing distractions is our part of discipline. Helping family and friends understand that school IS a priority is a discipline in itself—and a topic we will tackle on another day. We teach discipline by example.
Are you seeing the beauty of discipline? As we practice it, it will become dear to us. The accomplishments ARE worth it. Watching our children discipline themselves to press on for a goal is a joy. Seeing them become Disciples of Christ—willing to endure hardship for His glory—requires a character that embraces discipline. Every challenge we face in life demands the practice of discipline. The homeschool experience provides us teachable moments daily for this important characteristic. Point to the great good that comes with slugging through hard times in Algebra…don’t argue about whether a particular ‘fact’ will ever be needed. Simply direct your attention (and your child’s) to the deeper truths being practiced—and instilled in the character. Discipline is only one of many character traits enhanced through home education, but it is a vital one.
Most homeschooling parents I know are book lovers! We can’t imagine not reading and long for our children to enjoy the same. Truthfully, in 13 years of home education, I don’t think any ‘lesson’ has brought me greater joy than watching the light-bulbs come on with reading. One of my children picked it up so easily I couldn’t believe there were any illiterate folks in the world. The other child struggled. Years down the road, the one who struggled is a voracious reader and the other will read if there is no other option. Interestingly, the child who learned to read the words found comprehension far more complicated. This is just a brief little piece to encourage those of you in the throes of reading instruction.
When difficulties present themselves in reading, vision is the obvious first concern. While there are some ‘eye tracking’ activities that can be done at home, a visit to the optometrist is a good idea. With physical considerations out of the way, Phonics is the next building block. Many excellent programs exist to teach the basics of decoding the English language. There is no magic bullet or simple short-cut. Time and practice – and continually seeking ways to make the learning fun are critical. Involving different senses is always a good technique. Cut letters out of play-dough, sand paper or even carve them with soap. Use crayon soaps in the bath-tub, write words with blanks to fill in and draw little critters inside animal words. Whatever will make your child smile and keep trying is a major aspect of reading instruction.
Sight-reading—basic memorization—is the next block to stack into your reading efforts. Flash cards, more word pictures (i.e. draw eye-lashes on each of the e(s) in eye or ears on the c of cat). Gradually the words will be recognized without the add-ons but the fun will help the time pass until that happens. Offer little ideas to prompt the memory—point out that ‘h’ looks like a chair and when your student reaches ‘the’ and can’t remember say, “oh my I like THE chair.” You may repeat your hints a few times but the message eventually gets through. Stay patient, stay persistent and know that reading will come.
Finally, reading comprehension can be a hidden challenge. Students, like my oldest, may be able to master all the basics and read most anything put before them—but never really ‘get it.’ Utilizing reading comprehension workbooks did not reveal it for us. Diagramming sentences did not avoid it. High school level reading unveiled the challenge to us. In hind-sight, using story-boards and webs would probably have helped us avert the difficulty. Our remedial program included hard work with creating questions for text-books as the reading took place—rather than waiting until the end of articles. Encouraging immediate access of the dictionary for unknown words (rather than just reading on) became standard. Writing summaries of assigned readings, discussing passages orally and regular progress check-ups brought our son’s comprehension to the level he needs to function well in high school.
Final suggestions are what you already know. Read all the time. Read books to them, let them read to you or encourage reading to their pet (or favorite stuffed animal). A number of reading incentive programs abound in most areas. The local library will be a great ally in your efforts. The Pizza Hut Book It program (free pizzas for goals met) was a favorite for our children. A state-sponsored program in our home state provided great recreational opportunities in conjunction with reading. Check out the options available to you and your students and ENJOY the worlds books open.
- Billie Jo
Sometimes the easiest things become the biggest stumbling blocks to a smooth school day. “Where’s my pencil?” “I need an eraser.” “I can’t find any notebook paper.” As homeschool families we LIVE in our homes far more than most. The piles of busy-ness can easily become a cluttered mess. Spending just a bit of time to create a homeschool supplies area will bring smoothness to your days that will bless immensely! Probably it has been on your to-do list for months. If so, may this be just the encouragement you need to create your spot today.
No doubt you already have all you need to create a homeschool supply nest. A desk, book-case and/or filing cabinet dedicated to homeschool necessities easily prevent the time waste of searching. The most important resource: a simple pencil box and a sharpener in a readily accessible place. This will prevent the greatest number of school day delays. The contents of the ‘nest’ vary with the ages, courses and interests of your students. Honestly, for me, it usually requires three or four consecutive days of “Where is….” before I catch on to the need to update the supply area, but the relief is immediate.
Some timeless necessities include:
- An age-appropriate dictionary and encyclopedia; perhaps a thesaurus. (I know Wikipedia and spell-check are popular but… Also, sometimes the computer simply offers more distraction than assistance. )
- That wonderful pencil box mentioned earlier (with a sharpener)
- Basic art/project supplies such as: scissors, markers, tape, glue and colored pencils
- Math supplies: protractor, compass and scientific calculator
- Whiteboard and supplies for the teacher to draw out some of the concepts
Don’t let those ‘little foxes’ throw a wrench into your school days. Avert the difficulty before it pops up.
Flash card drills. Math fact tables. Do they matter? With so much to learn is it really necessary to drill the same things over and over again? Well, opinions may vary but I would give a whole-hearted, YES! Simply put, fact mastery makes all the higher level learning smoother. While math is the obvious focal point for memorization, it is useful in every discipline: bible verses, grammar rules, science tables and more.
Education from Kindergarten through graduation involves incremental learning. In many ways, each year is a review of the previous year with exciting expansions in content and application. Understanding the basic system encourages us to instill deep learning in our students. Rote memorization is a foundational tool that allows us to build a terrific academic structure. Now that offers motivation for we teachers, but how do we keep our students attentive and interested?
Learning through play is definitely one possibility. Wonderful books on incorporating games into learning sit in the library waiting to share their secrets. Hopscotch math was a favorite when our children were young. Rolling over-sized diced to get the numbers and hopping out the math fact made for laughter and learning. Old-fashioned board games, hand-held math fact timers and computer programs with spaceships offer diverse ways to prevent boredom in learning. Instilling a love for learning begins with fun in learning. Get all the senses involved as often as possible and get their bodies moving!
Music is a definite aid. Put facts to music or rhyme. Teach silly acrostics to help memorize disconnected pieces of information. ROY G BIV and “My Very Educated Mom Just Taught Us about Neptune” are nonsense words that keep great information accessible. Clapping or other rhythmic motion may keep the attention of a very kinesthetic learner. Very young children have learned the entire genealogy of Christ by putting it to song. The power of music and movement is a great asset in learning. Use the things that speak to your student’s heart and help them take nuggets of knowledge deep into their minds.
Finally, grab every teaching opportunity! Life is learning. Opportunities to practice math facts at the grocery store begin with counting tomatoes in the package and progress to unit pricing and family budgets. Calculating the miles per gallon of gas and the cost for every trip to Wal-Mart may just change your own spending habits—while your student practices multiplication and division. Reading grocery labels, learning new words…even foreign words is possible on nearly every trip. Listen to the interests of your students and look for lessons in those arenas.
As home school parents, we have the potential to design curriculum that fits the hearts of our students. It is a high and holy privilege. Use the opportunities life presents, use the personality and preferences in your home…and enjoy the learning adventure!