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This is the fourth in a series of blogs on what I would define as “Principles of Happy Home Educating Families.”” Find the first blog here.

I remember the morning that I found that one of my daughters had taken a red pencil and scribbled all over the pages of my treasured set of scriptures. My children were ages 1 and 3 at the time, I’m still not sure which daughter was the culprit, but I highly suspect my oldest daughter. I was just about to come unglued and do some “disciplining” when I was stopped cold. As I was turning the pages to ascertain the extent of the damage, I noticed alongside her childish scrawls all of the carefully highlighted verses which I had marked. As my red highlighter fell from the pages…where I always kept it…I never read my scriptures without a highlighter close at hand, I had a thought…a realization…which totally changed me from red hot frustrated anger to…well, a sense of wonder and appreciation. She had only been doing what she had seen me do almost every day! How could I ever discipline her for that? Suddenly I realized that I had been setting an example and that she was doing just what I hoped she would do (albeit at an older age). Today those childish scribblings, rather than making me angry, have become something that I smile affectionately at each time that I see them. They also remind me of a very important principle of teaching.

From the day children are born, they are great imitators. We seem to be hard-wired as children to imitate what we see,  it seems to be the primary mode of learning. Watch a newborn child and his or her parents. Mother smiles, baby smiles. Daddy sticks out his tongue…baby follows by sticking out his tongue. Children are so adept at imitating their parents that you can often match up a child and his/her parent just by watching their mannerisms, their ways of speaking. 

It begs the question, if children learn so much by watching…and following us, then why do we so often try to teach using a “do as I say not as I do approach”? Think about it. What happens with most children about the time they turn 5 or 6 (and younger) in our culture. Most parents send them away at this point and when they get home, they tell them to go and do their homework. It’s not always much better in many homeschool settings. Following the public school paradigm, many parents purchase a curriculum and then tell their children to go and do their schoolwork. But wait…is this something that the child sees the parent doing? Most of the time, probably not.

I began the same way with my own children, but as I’ve watched over the years, I’ve learned that my children learn best that which they see me or their dad doing and being passionate about. I’ve posted about this phenomenon in the past. Beware the Watchers was about how my daughter learned to sew largely by watching me. Teaching by Accident also tells of how I saw my children develop a love of music…again, I think from watching my own passion for music. All of these outcomes, by the way, were totally unplanned on my part. I didn’t realize at the time that I was teaching…or that I was teaching in an extremely powerful way.

A couple more examples:

My daughter had her friend over for a play date. I had left my art supplies and drawing pad out on the counter, and my daughter (ever my best cheerleader) sat with her friend and showed her all of my drawings. I left the room for a moment and when I came back, there they were sprawled on the floor with my daughter’s art set, drawing and painting. Coincidence? I think not.

The most dramatic example of one of my children learning by watching and following a role model is with my oldest son. He was a very late bloomer when it came to reading. At age eleven, he was still struggling with the smallest and shortest of books. At the time he kind of liked the Time Warp Trio books but really struggled with them. These books are very slim children’s books of usually less than 70 pages.

I did everything that I knew how to encourage his reading. We went to the library every week. Our home is filled with bookcases full of books on every level. He had examples in me and in his two older sisters of voracious reading. We  read a lot, and we talked about what we read. We shared books and recommended books to each other. I read to the children regularly. We also had a daily scripture reading time where the children followed along in their scriptures as we listened to an audio being read. This son still struggled even to track the words and keep up with the reading.

I tried to be patient. I had done this before…this was not my first child who happened to be a late bloomer…but he was even later than his sister. I had also studied teaching reading as part of my college education. I knew better than to push. I knew that it was virtually impossible for a child to grow up in an environment as literate as our home and not be able to read…but I was beginning to get worried. I tried not to let it show.

And then something amazing happened. My husband heard about a book called Eragon by Christopher Paolini and became interested in it. This was a book that my daughter already owned and had read, so she loaned it to her dad. He read it. There were many exciting dinnertime conversations about this book over the course of the time that my husband read this book. When my husband was finished with the book, this son decided that he wanted to read that book. Now this book is probably about 4 grade levels above the books that he was already struggling with and about 500 pages long…I figuratively held my breath as he began. Over the next 3 weeks, my son carried that book everywhere he went until he had finished reading it. And then, he started right in on the second book of the series and finished it probably even more quickly than the first and couldn’t wait for the third book which was soon to be published. After that, he was hooked. He continued the habit he had developed reading Eragon and now took a book with him everywhere he went. He used to like to get the small paperback size books and carried them in the pockets of his cargo pants everywhere he went. Reading is now one of his favorite ways to spend his time. He is still never without a book.

I share this story because I think that it illustrates three things about learning. First, sometimes we just have to wait until the time is right. No amount of pushing or bribing is going to make learning happen. Second, example is prime when it comes to good teaching. Third, the role model matters greatly. As his mother, I set the example for reading for my son; so did his older sisters…two of them. But we weren’t the role models that mattered in this instance. The role model that mattered was his dad. And when all the conditions were right, my son learned to read without any struggle at all…it was as easy as the blooming of a flower. It seemed to happen as naturally as breathing for him.

In church one Sunday some time ago, someone gave a talk which really illustrated this whole concept for me. He spoke of the difference between a shepherd (our Savior, Jesus Christ, in this instance) and a sheep-herder. You see, a sheep herder goes behind the sheep pushing and prodding. A sheep herder is just doing a job…just getting the sheep from one place to another. He doesn’t necessarily care for the sheep or have a relationship with them.

A shepherd, on the other hand, knows each of his sheep intimately…as we do our pets or family members. He calls each by name. …and the shepherd doesn’t push or prod the sheep, he leads them. He shows the way…by example…and then he invites the sheep to follow…and they do because they know of his love for them and because they know where to go…the shepherd has shown the way. Of course learning is just like this. The Master Teacher has shown the way.

So the next principle that I would choose to emphasize to any home educator is to Lead Out. In his 7 Keys of Great Teaching, Oliver DeMille calls this principle “You, not them”. (I would call it “You along with them”…or maybe “You first and then them.) Either way, it’s a very powerful principle. Set the example for your children in all things that you want them to learn. And if you can’t set the example…and they don’t have interest of their own, then perhaps you need to do some deep thinking about why that is and change something…either your behavior, or your expectations.

Are you being a shepherd or a sheep herder for your children? Think about teachers you’ve had in your own life. Which have been shepherds? Which have been sheep herders? What has been the difference in your learning from each of these approaches?

So next time it comes to your children’s “schooling”, perhaps instead of saying go and do this or that, perhaps it would be more effective if you said let’s go and do this or that…or even better, don’t say anything at all…just begin yourself and then simply share your excitement and passion. 

 

P.S. After my husband read this post, he sent me this link. If fits. Enjoy.

Oh yeah! They are watching us and learning from us all of the time…whether we think we are teaching or not…

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Oh Summertime, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee for

  • the warmth of the sun-warmed deck under my barefeet as I sit swaying gently in my hammock chair.
  • the coolness of that same deck under those same bare feet in the shade of the covered porch.
  • the gentle breeze which blows softly bringing with it the sweet smell of the freshly cut fir that my tall sons and husband have recently cut and stacked.
  • the evenings around the fire pit with all of my children around me, listening to the popping of the flames, enjoying the fun of s’mores and roasted apples, and then the quiet moments gazing at the embers which glow in the darkness.
  • the smell of the cool evening breeze blowing softly through my open window as I drift off to sleep at night…and again as I wake in the morning along with the sounds of the birds ringing in the day with their many varied songs, and hummingbirds buzzing by.
  • the fresh, sweet, better-than-candy taste of just-picked cherry tomatoes as they fill your mouth with their warm spurting sweetness.
I love thee for
  • thy lazy carefree days. Thy leisurely mornings and un-rushed evenings.
  • thy lying-in-the-hammock afternoons…warm in the arms of my loved one, gazing at the blue and white skies peeking between the leaves of the trees overhead…drifting off for a late afternoon nap and then waking still warm in the sweet embrace of my best loved one.
  • thy beautiful colors splashing merrily out of the hanging baskets around the covered porches of our deck.
  • the day after day mornings of breakfast “in-the-air”…fresh fruit and yogurt eaten in the warm early sunshine and cool fresh air while gazing at the lovely trees in my backyard.
  • the beautiful light shows of sunlight which dance and reflect off of the leaves, changing the leaves on my alders from glowing green to white…and back again.
  • the family dinners spent leisurely, gathered around the table on the deck just outside the screen of the sliding doors to the kitchen. The laughing and teasing of my big almost-grown family.
  • the smell of warm grass and hay…freshly mowed.
  • the warm apple cinnamon smell of my hot herbal tea as I sit in my favorite spot in that well used hammock chair, under cover in the warm summer rain…listening softly…
  • the un-scheduled hours spent locked into the pages of a good book as the sun drifts lazily across the sky.
  • the pink and purple sunset peeking over the tops of the trees.
Oh Summertime…How I do love thee…
RC

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I love going for walks with my children. When they were small, I used to snuggle them into a front pack infant carrier and off we would go. Later, I would put the oldest children into a stroller–but whoever was the infant at time was always in the front pack. They were too small then to keep up with me on our long walks, and so I snuggled them securely next to my heart or pushed them along in front of me in the stroller. Sometimes, I would put them into a wagon that I would pull behind me. Either way, they could enjoy the journey without what would for them be a long and tiring walk–an impossible walk.

On shorter walks–like the one down the lane to the mailbox–my toddlers and very young children would walk for themselves. I would walk more slowly and shorten my stride so that they could keep up. And on longer walks around the neighborhood, we always brought along the stroller or the wagon. Sometimes they would walk part of the way and then ride when they got tired.

Now my children are much older. Going for a walk with them is a whole new experience. I don’t know just when it started to happen, but there came a time when they would run ahead of me. As soon as they knew the direction we were headed, they would run ahead in their excitement to see whatever new thing lay ahead. Oh, they would double back and check in with me whenever they got too far ahead, or sometimes I had to call them back for safety (or “mom security”) reasons; but most of the time on any given walk or hike, a number of my children will be up ahead of me. The older they’ve grown, the further out in front I feel comfortable with them being, but even still, protective mom that I am, I ask that they stay within sight and calling distance on most of our walks or hikes.

On some hikes–the ones that are new to me–I don’t know what is up ahead, and so I insist that the children stay closer and don’t allow as much freedom to run ahead. Other times, I’ve already been to the destination. I know what they are about to discover, and so I simply sit back and watch their eagerness and joy as they run ahead, I know what they are about to discover. I can’t wait to share it with them.

How like home education this is to me! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you.) But seriously–there is such a strong analogy here to what happens in our home with learning.

I think I noticed it first when I would read to my children. Sometimes they would be so eager for the next page (and yet not knowing that the words to the story corresponded with the pages) that they would turn the pages before I was finished reading them. With one particular child, I had to learn to read fast and I deliberately chose stories with only small amounts of narration on any given page so that I would actually be able to get through the text before she turned the page. It didn’t matter if I read every word on the page though. She cared more about the pictures and the joy of simply sitting in mother’s lap than she did about the story. To me this stage is reminiscent of the child snuggled into the front pack on our walks. It was simply the security of being close to mom that mattered for my children then.

Then came the days that might be compared to the stroller or wagon days of our walks. Much like our shorter walks, my children began to read some small books for themselves. Or they would “pretend” to read…which means they would tell the story the way they remembered it…an important step on the road to learning to read independently. And like our longer neighborhood walks, they were not yet able to read novels and longer stories for themselves and so I would read those to them while helping them along with occasional parts of the story, or words here and there, that they could manage on their own.

The time quickly came, much like our daily walks, when they would run ahead of me even with the novels. We would begin a read-aloud with the family and if I or their dad stopped before we were finished with the book, one or two of them would pick it up and race ahead to get the rest of the story. I only needed to get them started and spark their interest. Once they caught on to where we were going, they wanted to be way out ahead. And just like our walks, sometimes I would insist that they stay with the family and I wouldn’t let them read ahead. I must admit that was a little painful for them at times, but it sure kept the interest high. They would plead for one more chapter and, more often than not, we would joyfully give in.

The time quickly came when they could navigate even those trails, and books, alone–without my or their dad’s help. But even then, I still led them as I suggested and inspired interest in books that I knew that they would enjoy…ones whose trails I had already been on many times myself.

And now the days have  come when they will pick up my books…the ones that I intended for myself. They will sometimes read them before I do. Or they will read wonderful books that I haven’t yet discovered and they will share them with me. Now that I think about it, we have arrived at those days with hiking as well. My sons and daughters have gone on hikes and trails that I have never been on–and they’ve come back to tell me about them.

Yes, home education is so much like hiking with children.  Oh the joys of journeys with children…both in the daily walks, hikes, and trails…and in the life long journey that we take together. And just like the daily walk, these journeys are full of so many wonderful sights and sweet moments along the trail. May we always remember to enjoy the small moments of these precious journeys with our children…

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My 17 yr. old daughter wrote this essay as an assignment for an independent study course she is taking. I loved her message so much that I have asked for her permission to share it on my blog. Oh how great is the importance of desire in learning!

The Colors of Learning

Personal Narrative Paper

by Lydia 

I did not like reading as a child. It was a chore. My mother taught me to read and I grudgingly learned. I remember sitting at the table impatiently waiting for my reading lesson to be over so I could go outside and play. On our weekly trips to the library, my mom would try to show me all the exciting and wonderful worlds waiting for me in the books there. My sister knew about books. She would spend hours reading, leaving me with no one to play with. No matter how I begged or pestered her I couldn’t get her to leave her book. I grew to resent books; they were nothing but trouble. I was tired of being bothered by my mother and sister about how wonderful reading was and I was fed up with constantly being told how they were quite confident that one day (when I had grown up a little) I would see that they were right and I was wrong. I was not going to let that happen; I determined that I would never be caught reading a “chapter book.” Everyone would simply have to learn to accept me the way I was. They would see that I was just different from everyone else. I was going to show them that I could get along just fine without reading. And then… disaster struck.

Our home has always been filled with books and one day I happened to pick one up. It was a chapter book but it had beautiful, full page illustrations. I was looking at the pictures when I happened to read a couple sentences. I was interested and I read a couple more. Suddenly, to my horror I found myself reading. I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door, and guiltily read the whole book. After that I wanted to read, although I wasn’t quite sure how I could go about it without admitting to my mother that she had been right. I saw what I had been missing and since that day I have found countless hours of joy through reading. It was not until I had a sincere desire to read, a desire that came from me, that I began to actually benefit from reading.

Whereas my experience with reading was a sudden discovery, my experience with music was quite different. I always enjoyed music. I played the violin and I loved it. The reason I loved it was not because other people were impressed when I played or because it pleased someone else. I genuinely enjoyed music. It was beautiful and magical. I would spend hours practicing, working hard. I longed to feel my fingers fly effortlessly across the strings and to hear the music the way I envisioned it. I wanted to make music so badly it almost hurt. I didn’t always enjoy practicing, but I did because I had a vision of what I could have if I put in the effort. As I continue to work and progress I learn to appreciate the music even more and my desire to continue and my passion for the music grows.

I’ve never been alone in my education. Learning often begins by seeing the vision of others. My interest in drawing began with tracing paper. I discovered that if I put a piece of tracing paper on top of a picture and traced the lines, I could copy it with satisfying results. I collected dozens of pictures which I would then copy, carefully tracing the lines. At the time, I felt a little guilty for stealing those artists’s work. But now, I look back and realize what I learned from them. The reason I wanted to copy the pictures was because they were so beautiful. I wanted to be able to create that kind of work but I couldn’t at the time, I didn’t have the skills. So I borrowed other people’s work. I borrowed their vision and imagination and I learned from them the feeling of seeing an image come together on a piece of paper. After a while I was no longer satisfied with copying lines and I was able to move on to create artwork of my own. Experiences like these have led me to think of education as an adventure with many different things to discover and explore.

Louis L’amour is one person who has been an example to me of passionate learning; he once wrote “All education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you an education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.”

Without colors, what’s the point of a coloring book? The information is nothing without the meaning behind it. There are so many things to learn and there is so much understanding to be gained. I have found that when I am motivated by the expectations of others I lose the opportunity to experience the beauty of what I’m learning. I learned how to read but I never appreciated it until I understood the purpose of books.

Once I began to catch the vision of why people write books, I saw the ideas and imagination of someone else and the new and fascinating worlds that a book contained. After I discovered this, I had a meaningful reason to read.  I began to see the value in the things I was studying and I began to get a glimpse of the purpose behind the information.

I have learned that in order to succeed, I need a sincere desire to learn and a curiosity for life and learning. I’ve heard it said that education is not just filling your mind; it’s learning how to think; and I would add that it is learning how to see. There are so many things to discover if I can just let go of my pride or self consciousness and learn to discern what is worthwhile. As a girl I discovered the worlds, the ideas, and the beauty that can be found in a book. Reading was no longer a dry old chore but an exciting adventure. As I continue to search, new things continue to open their doors to me. I begin to see the music hidden in a bunch of dots and lines, the vision behind the brush strokes of a painter and, as I discovered as a child hiding in a bathroom, the pictures and stories behind the words of a good book.

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I have raised a family of children who are all book thieves. It is a fairly frequent occurrence to hear someone complaining “Who stole my book?” …at which the offending person either gives a sheepish smile or responds with a defensive “I just picked it up…You weren’t reading it.” We’ve even had to make rules in our family about book stealing. I have no one to blame but myself. This is a behavior that I inadvertently trained in my children. It’s a bad side effect of what used to be a good policy on my part.

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You see, I wanted to encourage my children to read good books and the library was a regular stop for us. In fact, the first thing I had to check out when we moved to our current city was where the library was. We visited it and got a library card before we even moved into our home. We regularly checked out lots and lots of books. I allowed each child to get their own library card as they became readers. Being presented with their first library card was sort of like a coming of age ceremony in our family, a graduation of sorts.

Our library has no limit to the number of books you may check out, so we’ve always checked out a lot of books…large baskets full at a time. With that many books, it was pretty important to be able to find them all when it was time to take them back to the library. So we have always had a shelf in our home that is set aside for the library books. We used to have two shelves for this purpose, but as my children have gotten older, they are responsible enough to keep track of their own books. So now we have one “family” library shelf with a basket next to it for the books that we are finished with and ready to take back to the library and each child keeps track of their own books on shelves in their bedrooms. The family library shelves were the second and third shelves from the bottom…so they would be at about eye level for my children back then. Okay, so that still does not explain how they all came to be book thieves does it?

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Well it happened like this. My oldest child, shortly after receiving her first library card, became somewhat enamored with a series of books called The Babysitter’s Club. I should clarify…when I said that I wanted my children to read good books, I didn’t just mean entertaining…I meant quality books. And I didn’t consider The Babysitter’s Club to be a quality book. In fact, I considered it, to use Charlotte Mason’s term, “twaddle”. But the more I tried to steer her away from The Babysitter’s Club, the more she wanted to read that series of books, independent child that she is. One of my ways of solving this challenge was to allow my children to choose only a limited number of books from the library. But Mommy could check out as many books as she liked. (In time, I told them that they could check out as many books as they were years old…but that wasn’t until later.) So while they checked out whatever caught their eyes, I would check out all the wonderful books that I thought they would really enjoy and that were well written…quality…books. The Little Princess, The Little House on the Prairie, Ramona the Brave, and also books on topics that just looked interesting. And THEN I would just put them on the library shelf…or sometimes I would casually place them in strategic places around the house where they were sure to be found…but usually I just placed them on the library shelf. It worked famously! They would often go to the library shelf and pick up what I had checked out and become interested in it. In fact, they got so that they were soon reading the books that I checked out for myself! …a very unexpected side effect! As they got older, I would tease them about stealing my books, but they would just laugh and say, “Gee Mom, I thought you checked it out for me…it was on the library shelf, after all!”

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Truth be told, I’m happy to have a family of book thieves. I love that we all share a love of books. …and it’s so much more fun when your children are reading the same books that you are…then you have someone to discuss the book with!

And now…I sometimes steal their books!

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