Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

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

“I admire you…but I could never teach my own child.”

I think that every home educating parent hears this at one time or another. It’s probably among the top 3 most often heard statements that I hear from people whenever homeschooling comes up in conversation. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this statement from otherwise sane parents and friends. After all these years, I have yet to come up with a polite response to such a statement…so I usually just smile or nod, say nothing, and change the subject. “…ummm nice weather we’re having aren’t we?”

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t understand the underlying fears behind this statement, it’s just that to a thoughtful home educating parent, such a statement is as ridiculous as…and even akin to saying “I could never parent my own child.” There…I’ve said it…the thing that I’ve wanted to say so many times but was just too polite to say out loud.

What parents really mean when they say this.

I think that usually there are one or both of two things that parents are thinking when they make this statement. Sometimes these are even voiced by the parents who think that they could never teach their own children. The first is that their child would never listen to them. They already struggle with getting the child to do his/her chores and can’t stand the slog of trying to help them with the homework that the teachers send home as it is. The second is that they lack the confidence or the knowledge to teach their child particular subjects…usually high school subjects like algebra, but often even elementary subjects.

If you can parent your own child, then you can teach your own child.

But think about it…think what such a parent is really saying. “I don’t think I can discipline or teach my own child”…? Of course you can! You’ve been doing so from the day your child was born. You’ve been building a relationship with this child. You know this child better than anyone else. You are, may I say it, divinely positioned to teach your own child. And frankly, it’s a lot more fun than helping your child to complete homework assignments and worksheets sent home by a teacher who is worried about test scores and keeping everyone busy. It’s so much fun to home educate your own children. And frankly, it’s also easier once you get the middle men out of the way and you and your child start directing his education. There are so many options out there…so much to choose from. If you find that something isn’t working for your child, you have the freedom to change it up…make if more interesting, more fun, more relevant to his/her life! I never could understand “I could never teach my own child.” “I don’t want to teach my own child”…maybe, but not “I can’t.”

What about Algebra? What if my child wants or needs to learn something that I don’t know?

As for the fear that you lack the knowledge to teach them certain subjects…two thoughts. First thought: if you lack the confidence to pass on to your child the very things you were supposed to have “learned” in your own schooling, what does that tell you about the system you were schooled in? Does it really teach confidence or competence in the subjects taught?  And if you really think that these “subjects” are important for your child to have learned to succeed and be happy in life, then perhaps you ought to set the example and learn along with them.

Second thought: If there truly is a subject that your child needs to learn…and you don’t have the knowledge and understanding of that particular skill or subject…and don’t desire to, then can you not still point them in the right direction, help them find a mentor, or the materials or classes to meet that particular need? Of course you can…you do it all the time with piano lessons, soccer, karate… The formal school “subjects” are no different. There are so many resources out there for learning today. Just google any subject you’re concerned about and see what you find. See what your local library has to offer. Network.

“Expert” mentality.

We live in a society of “experts”. We go to an expert for everything from repairing appliances in our homes to…well, teaching our own children. Somewhere along the line, we have been taught and/or bought into the assumption that our competence is limited, that only those who have been “professionally trained” have the right and capacity to engage in certain tasks. This mindset results in dependence for myriads of families as they outsource nearly everything…including the education of their own children. This expert mentality is also the thinking that is at the root of myriads of systems and “programs” to take care of (seemingly) our every need.

Sometimes even homeschooling families get caught in this mentality and end up simply duplicating the public school system in their own homes, or they think that they must buy into detailed programs…one size fits all, boxed up and ready to go…just like the drive through. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with some of these programs, just be sure that you are choosing based on your individual child’s needs and not cropping the child to fit the curriculum.


So the third “habit” that I would stress for a new or veteran homeschooling family is Trust.

Trust yourself. You are the parent of your child. You have intimate information about your children that no one else has. Trust that you are able to provide for their needs better than anyone else. You can teach your own child. You already do. I like to say that all good parents home educate their children…homeschoolers just do more of it…they do it full time. And whether you home educate your child or not, you are not off the hook for their education. Your child is still and always your responsibility. You are their advocate. Trust yourself to know and meet their learning needs.

Trust your child.  Trust that each of your children will grow and learn in the way that is right for them. Trust their hopes, their dreams, their preferences, and their time tables for growth and learning. Know…and trust…that the answers for you child will probably be a bit different than the answers for every other child. 

Humans are internally hard wired for learning! We really do want to learn. We’re geniuses at it! We often even do it unconsciously. Your job is to provide the environment…just as you did when they were small…just show them the way.

And finally, Trust in God…or in a higher power, the universe…whatever you choose to call that source of knowledge and inspiration. Trust that you will find or be given the answers for each child as you need them. Trust that you will be inspired as to what is right for your child at any given time. And when the answers come…trust it and move forward.

Trust…my third habit for effective home educating families.

Next habit…Lead out.

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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 husband came home the other day and mentioned a program he had heard on the radio which featured an unschooling family and we had a conversation about it. The concept of “unschooling” was new to him, and he wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. I remember the first time that I was introduced to this concept. I remember how an acquaintance, the mother of an older homeschooling son, mentioned that her family was an “unschooling” family. She didn’t structure her son’s learning at all. She didn’t tell him what to study or when. I listened with mixed horror and intrigue as she explained that when the need arises for him to learn something,  he will willingly put forth the effort and time needed to learn that thing and that it is not her job to dictate to him what to learn or when. As I said, there was a part of me which was very intrigued with the idea of so much freedom in education…but then another part of my brain recoiled in horror at such a thought. This was really early in my homeschooling experience (and yes, I would call it home “schooling” at that time). The concept of so much lack of structure primarily left me feeling quite uncomfortable, and so I continued with my very…not just structured, but rigid way of home “schooling” at that time.

Over the years, and after numerous paradigm shifts, I have come to look upon “unschooling” with a whole new set of eyes and I mentioned to my husband in our conversation that there were even at least periods of time when I would have to define what we do in our home as “unschooling”. I know…shocker, huh! In fact, the title of my blog is decidedly an attempt on my part to get away from the word “schooling”, but perhaps I will get to that later.

“I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I’ve thought about this idea of “unschooling” though. It is not easily defined and most of us who are new to the term have no real idea of what it really means. (I’m thinking of a line in the movie ‘Princess Bride” where Inigo says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

What most outsiders to unschooling,  and even some homeschoolers, picture when they hear the term “unschooling” is a family where students are not learning anything. They are perhaps just sitting in front of a TV all day….or (horror) just playing all day. And maybe for some families who unschool, this would be true…it may also be true of some families who public school their children, by the way. But for the vast majority of people who take this term upon themselves, I suspect that this is not the case at all…or at least it is not the whole picture. In fact, unschooling, like homeschooling, doesn’t fit into a single box. It’s more of a continuum, with less or absolutely no structure on one end and increasing structure as you move along the continuum. But notice that I used the word “structure” and not the word “learning”. I’ll bet a lot of you pictured something that looked more like the word “learning” when I said “structure” just now, didn’t you. Yeah. I used to do that too.

Let me explain. How much one learns is not a direct corollary of how structured things are…in fact, at times these two things may even be inversely related. A child who sits in a highly structured classroom may be learning a lot…or that child may be learning almost nothing except the invisible lesson of how to hate “learning”. And, conversely, a child who lives in a very unstructured home education environment (the one who is just watching TV and “playing”) may be learning almost nothing…or that child may be learning and thinking a vast number of things which are not immediately apparent to the outside observer.

Right Brain/Left Brain

Lately, I’ve been studying and thinking about right brain learning. I have at least two children who are very strong right brain learners. I believe that my husband is also strongly a right brain learner. I’ve learned that the left brain (or least that part of our thinking that we call left brain) likes a lot of structure and is most comfortable in very structured environments. Conversely, the right brain portion of us thrives in a much less structured environment. The right brain needs space, time, freedom, and might I add play. The left brain is the information center; it stores, analyzes, compares and values information. On the other hand, the right brain has become known as the creative part of ourselves. I think that in great measure, it is also the processing part of our minds. Fortunately, most of us were born with both sides of our brains and not surprisingly, most of us use both sides, but some of us seem to favor one side or the other. And some of us nurture one side to the exclusion of the other or grow up in systems which do this, when in fact, both sides work together and both sides need nurturing.

What does it look like?

As I’ve observed my own learning, I’ve found that there are times when it is “information in”. Times when I am reading and studying a lot…I’m acquiring, storing, and analyzing the information I’m taking in. And then there are times when I am just sort of “incubating”. I’m thinking about, playing with, and mulling over the information I’ve taken in. And do you know what it looks like from the outside when I am in my “right mind”? Yep, it looks a whole lot like I’m just sitting in my hammock chair gazing at the trees in my backyard. It looks like I am “doing nothing”…a very socially unacceptable thing to be “doing”…especially if you are supposed to be home “schooling”.

I grew up in the public school system. I did very well, but I don’t think I learned…or retained…very much. On the other hand, my more right-brained husband did a lot more poorly in school and yet I am so amazed at his vast store of knowledge of so many different things. As I’ve pondered on why this is, I think that it is in great measure because our public school system focuses pretty exclusively on left brain sorts of activities and learning. While I was able to “make the grade” but learned or retained little, my husband did more poorly in school, but has a brain like a sponge which soaks up all kinds of relevant information in all kinds of situations which may or may not be classified as “learning environments.” The interesting thing is that the education we received served neither one of us very well.  It’s pretty obvious that a highly structured left-brain focused school system would not be best for a primarily right brain learner, but it was also less than ideal for the primarily left-brain learner. Both sides of the brain must work together.

My education was pretty much exclusively “information in” and no real processing of the information occurred for me, so less of it has been useful to me. Using Charlotte Mason’s terms, I never really made a “relation” to the things that I was supposedly learning. Information which does not connect, or relate, to anything in your life or experience is usually not very well retained.

Right brain learning so often looks like “doing nothing”, and in our scientific measure-everything world, the sorts of activities that nourish the right brain are just not considered valid. The results cannot be seen, or touched, or measured. And yet, it is precisely those types of activities which are so important for any real learning to take place. It’s also critical for any real problem solving or creativity to occur. In fact, I think it is only in a culture which has learned to nurture the right brain part of ourselves that we have art…in the truest sense of the word. It’s also only in these environments that we have the innovation which is sorely needed in our world today.


I’ve heard many homeschoolers use the term “detox” to describe the necessary period of time when a student is transitioning from the very structured public school environment to the ideally less structured home education environment. The recommended activities are usually to let the child simple explore whatever interests them, make sure that they have time for play, and give them the time and materials to be creative. Don’t structure heavily. Usually, what needs to happen is for the child to regain their innate curiosity, their questioning mind, and their zest for learning new things. It’s usually a really difficult concept for parents to grasp and it’s even harder for them to let go and stay out of the way. I know…I’ve been that parent.

I’ve experienced this need to detox after a very structured learning environment myself. I’ve always loved to read. In fact, I think that this is in great measure how I got through the mind numbing public education which I was given. Not much was expected of me, and so I took a book with me to each class. At every moment when there was nothing left for me to do, I read. In college, though, I was very busy reading a great number of books for information. After three somewhat intensive years of this, I was finished and again had the freedom to read whatever I wanted. But I found I had become unable to really enjoy reading. I had to re-learn how to sit back and just read for the pleasure of reading without trying to extract every bit of information that I could find and catalog it in my brain so that I could regurgitate it for the test. I had lost touch with my right brain part of myself.

The thing that I’ve found so wonderful about home education is that it is so much easier to nurture and value both sides of the brain. My own experience with learning is much more natural as I move back and forth between the two modes of thought on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. I’m still making the paradigm shift from my total left brain upbringing. I still get nervous when I see my son wandering through the trees in the backyard during “school hours”, but I’m learning to value those un-schooling “doing nothing” moments more and more as time goes on.

Unschooling Summer and Holidays

A few years ago, I attended an annual used curriculum sale at the end of the “school” year. At this sale, home educating families bring in their used curriculum and materials to sell and at the same time purchase materials from other families. In this way, these materials get “recycled” and families can spend less on some wonderful items for their upcoming year. This particular year, I came home with a few boxes of things for the upcoming year. My children were so excited and wanted to delve right in and start discovering what was in the boxes right away. My first instinct was “No, this is for next year, if I let you have it all now, what will we do in the fall”, but I quickly recovered my sanity and plopped the boxes in the middle of the living room floor and let them at it. They were each soon busy with something that I had brought home in those boxes. After they were finished going through it and claiming what they wanted, I left the remaining items in a box in the living room all summer long. And as I watched them I discovered something wonderful…when the pressure is off and you’ve supplied a rich environment of things to interest your children, learning happens whether you intend it to or not. To me, this is what unschooling is. The parent provides a rich environment and then gets out of the way.

I’ve noticed this same wonderful phenomenon in our home on the holidays. I have a secret recipe for my children’s gifts at Christmastime. In retrospect, I think it goes along with and probably originated with Charlotte Mason’s admonition to each day be sure that your children have something or someone to love, something to do, and something to think about. So for Christmas at our house, each child must receive a book (or two) that they will really enjoy, and also something to “do”…something they can build or put together, or a craft, art materials, a musical instrument or music books…you get the idea. I also try to choose one or two things which can help our family to connect with each other; I always try to make sure there is at least one new family game (that’s getting harder each year as the game cupboard fills up) and a puzzle or two. And guess what! I notice the same wonderful thing! For hours each child is busy with something new and “learning” is happening right under our noses, without any real effort or parental structure on our part at all, and on the holidays of all things. As I’ve watched over the years, I’m convinced that some of the very best learning happens in the summer and on the holidays after I’ve provided a rich environment and then backed off.

If you are unsure…as I was…about giving so much educational freedom to your children, then you might just give it a try over the Summer…when you have nothing to lose…and so much to gain. You don’t have to call it “unschooling” if you don’t want to, because no one will know the difference!


For more reading on Right Brain learning, check out these links.






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After a very wet Spring, we finally got the seeds in the ground in our family garden. It was a beautiful evening for planting. My husband had previously rototilled the soil and the children had all hoed up the soil into rows and hills all ready and waiting for the seeds. Today the children put the seeds in the ground and covered them with the soft freshly tilled soil while I kept track of what had been planted in each row and hill; noting in the garden planner the date we planted, the variety of the seeds, and how many days until harvest.

I love this time of year. I love the smell of the freshly tilled soil with its neat little rows and hills. After we got the seeds planted, I sat in the hammock not far from the garden and just gazed contentedly at the little patch of dirt…trying to put my finger on what it is that I love so much about a freshly planted garden. I feel the same feeling when I drive past the freshly plowed farmland near our home. Maybe I missed my calling and I should have been a farmer. I’ve voiced these thoughts to my husband on occasion, but he is always quick to remind me that there are things that I definitely would not love about being a farmer…and he is right. Most years I struggle to keep up with the garden once it is planted; keeping it watered and weeded and then canning vegetables and fruits in the fall; although now that my children are older, it is not so hard as it once was to keep up.

So why, then, do I love the freshly planted garden so very much? Many people would look at my garden right now and think that it is nothing more than a rectangular patch of dirt. And yet this is not just any patch of dirt; this is a patch of dirt which contains a promise…and a hope…a secret…hundreds of little secrets. In a few days or weeks, we will see the telltale signs that these seeds are growing; already the tomatoes we planted a couple weeks ago have blossoms and tiny little tomatoes. In time, this garden full of hope will produce for our family most of the fresh vegetables which will nourish our family this summer; and many that we will continue to enjoy long after the snow has fallen and our little garden has been put to bed.

This year as I watched my children plant our garden, I thought about the parable of the sower; and then I remembered another very short parable which comes after it; also a  parable of a sower, albeit a less well known parable. This parable is found in Mark 4:26-29…four short verses.

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.


I certainly see this truth at work in our little garden. We plant the seeds…and then for a while we…do nothing really. We might water the soil, we remove weeds, but when it comes to the plant itself…we have absolutely no control over that…growing is the seed’s job. It is not ours to make the seed grow. The seed grows, as the parable points out, we know not how! And when the growing season is over, we enjoy the harvest.

The process of raising children has often been compared to gardening as well. Though not always my favorite comparison, it does have some very valid analogies. It is not ours to make our children grow. We cannot pour knowledge and understanding into their brains; in fact, we can’t always even know for sure what knowledge and understanding they are developing from the formal and informal lessons in their lives. No, our children also “spring and grow up…we know not how”! Our job is to prepare the environment, very much like we worked to prepare our garden for the seed. Long before planting day, we fertilized and rototilled the garden, providing the most nourishing environment that we could for the seeds we would soon plant. And so it is in our home; we also provide a nourishing environment. I came across a wonderful name for this the other day in another home educating mom’s blog. She called it “strewing”! As we place wonderful books, art supplies, building materials, peaceful music, lovely outdoor experiences and fieldtrips, and other such things in our home and where our children will find them, we are quite literally “strewing their paths” with things that will nourish them in so many ways. I love that word…“strewing”!

As we limit and weed out the influence of media and other unworthy distractions in our homes, we leave room for them to take best advantage of the more nourishing things we’ve placed in their paths. And just consider for a moment how creating order (flexible structure) to our days is much like the way we hoe our garden into rows and hills so that everything doesn’t grow all willy-nilly. Though…as I think about it a little more, I must take a moment to point out that things will still grow in a less well ordered garden. When my children were toddlers, planting the garden was an adventure! We would put the seeds in the ground and the children, heedless of where we had just planted, would barrel through the rows in their excitement to join us in our labors, spreading the seeds who knows where as they did. As the seeds began to grow, we found that our rows and hills were not so perfectly straight as we had planned, but the plants grew strong and healthy just the same, and the vegetables were just as nourishing as they would have been in straighter rows. …I think that this can also be a lesson to us as we seek to structure our days and find that things don’t always go exactly according to plan.

I’m sure that there are many more lessons that we could learn from this little parable. It is certainly something for me to ponder on for a while. As a mom with older children, I can certainly relate to the gardener who “sleeps and rises night and day” and then watches as the “seed” springs forth and grows up “bringing forth fruit of herself”…and I realize that really, I know not how it happened. It seemed to happen when I wasn’t really looking. …nor could I really take credit for the growth of those seeds, for just as the sun shines down on my little garden, there is another who is truly the Lord of the Harvest, and I am only his gardener.

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Many, many years ago, I ran across an article in which another homeschooling author detailed her “Rule of Six”. To me, this was a list of items which could be a way to measure the more unseen and untouchable things that we do each day; a way to direct ourselves to the important things in life…the things that really matter most. This was important to me at that time in my home educating philosophy because I was in the midst of changing paradigms; shifting from the oh-so-measurable conveyor belt way to a much more intangible approach to our little “home school”. It very much went along with Charlotte Mason’s gentle advice that we should each day “be sure that your children have: Something or someone to LOVE, Something to DO, and Something to THINK ABOUT. (I still have this little thought posted in my study space as a reminder to myself to focus on what really matters.) I’ve always loved that thought and it’s reminder of the basics in a good home learning environment.
The rule of six inspired me further, and I created my own…only it grew to a rule of eight. I share it with you here along with my list of questions that we might ask ourselves at the end of the day. I’m not saying that we should meet all of these goals everyday, but what a great day it is when you can say that your day has included a majority of these things! And many of them go so easily together! Just think of how many you might include as you read a wonderful book like Laddie with your children (Good Books, Family Time), and then you discuss some of the great ideas that you find there and feel gratitude for the blessings that you also have in your life which are reflected in this little treasure…or for the blessings we have that they didn’t. Perhaps you are enjoying this book sharing moment with your family out of doors while listening to the beauty of the birds singing, or the quiet whisper of a gentle breeze in the trees. Perhaps you appreciate the beauty of the characters in the book and the people in your life who are like them. So many of these little daily goals are synergistic in nature! So, take a look at my goals and maybe consider what your goals might be for your family…are there things you would add or take away?
And P.S. These goals are not for home educating families only…I think it’s just easier for us to fit more of these things into our days.
My “Rule of Eight” for Home Educating Families
Good Books
Family Time
Meaningful Work
Encounters with Beauty
Ideas to Ponder and Discuss
Questions to ask at the end of each day…
1. What good books did we read today?
2. What did we do as a family today?
3. Where did we meet with beauty today?
4. What things are we grateful for today?
5. Who did we serve today?
6. Did we do meaningful and quality work today?
7. What new ideas did we discover and ponder today?
8. Did we go about today with prayerful hearts?

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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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