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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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I just dropped my sons off for their high adventure with our church group. They will be gone for a week backpacking. They have to carry everything that they will need. They’ve been preparing for weeks for this outing; packing their packs, weighing, readjusting, taking things out, adding things they almost forgot. As I dropped them off, the bishop commented on the weight that they are able to carry. This is not their first trip…they had a shake down hike a few weeks ago. Yes, my boys have grown into strong manly-type boys, I said. When did it happen? I really pondered on this as I drove home after dropping them off.

I remember when they were born. How I loved my babies! I loved the weight of their small bodies as I carried them in a little bundle. I used to love the way they snuggled and suckled contentedly as I nursed them. I used to wonder at the miracle of it. First I wondered at the miracle of their little bodies that I carried within me, feeling joy and wonder each time they moved and kicked. And then I wondered at the miracle of their growing bodies on what my body continued to provide for them. Oh how I loved nursing my babies…particularly those early or late hours when they would wake and it would be just the two of us and I really had time to enjoy my baby and the wonder of it all.

I loved it when they were toddlers. It is so much fun to watch a child grow…to joy in each new thing that they learn. Oh…they were exhausting, yes! I call that chapter of my life my the “Chasing Nathan” years. I remember the day that I found my (three? or four? year old) son on top of the refrigerator. How on earth did he do that? How did he do that so quickly while my back was turned? Never a dull moment!

I remember how one son used to leap from the floor to the top of my kitchen counter tops in one jump. No warning, no running jump, just a quick movement and there he was! How many times did I get after him for that? I’m so glad he finally did stop doing that!

Just a few days ago, they were playing with their trucks in the backyard sandbox; building mounds and tunnels, making all of those boy noises that boys make without being taught. …and I know that it was just yesterday that I glimpsed my oldest son in the backyard with sticks (no…swords and daggers) in every conceivable place in his clothing. He had sticks in the back of his pants, sticks in the front. He could reach behind his head and pull a sword from out of the back of his shirt…or pull a “dagger” out of his shoe. He was prepared to fight the foe; anywhere he reached, he would be able to grab a weapon to vanquish the enemy. He was quite the ninja! Oh how I had to smother my smile.

The other day, I had both boys go with me to the grocery store. As we headed off across the parking lot, I noticed how small I suddenly felt. Suddenly both of my boys were much taller than me. I remember feeling safe and protected with them. If someone meant us harm, they would defend me. Odd thought…as if there were danger on the way to the store. But a mother takes joy in her tall sons just as she does in her small ones. I never knew. Something inside me always cried out a bit as they grew up and I could no longer nurse them, as they passed each stage, I was always so sad to see it left behind…even as I took new joy in each new stage of development…and in the person each son was becoming. I guess I’m still doing that.

I remember watching them work alongside their dad…astonished at the tasks that my small boys were able to do. Today they are hard working boys. I watch their strong, young bodies as they chop wood, lift and haul, working hard taking care of the yard and the garden.

I remember bathing their little feet and soft downy heads…and then in later years, washing their very dirty feet from hours in the sandbox and scrubbing hard to get the sandy grit out of their hair. Now I wonder what happened as I see their big hairy man-legs, their extra large feet, and the stubble that is just beginning to grow on their chins.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was reminded that though my boys look like…are…tall responsible young men, sometimes they are still boys on the inside. They had a moment when they were not getting along with each other. Each wanted his own way with something trivial and an argument had ensued. I sat them both down and we had a discussion about how we should treat others, about pride, about wanting one’s own way and about giving way for others, about thinking about how the other person must feel…about character…about maturity and how a man behaves when confronted with frustration and about how a child behaves. It was a long talk…moms are good at that. I was frustrated with them both. Later they each came to me and apologized…and I heard them apologize to each other. This morning, they had a surprise for me. In the midst of their getting ready to go…at 4am…they had cleaned my kitchen for me…working together (yes!!). They even scrubbed out the sink. They wanted to make up for…and cheer me…from my frustration with them the day before. Yes, these boys of mine really are growing into fine young men. Oh how I love them!

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the family day for my husband’s place of employment. It’s a fun place for my boys to visit because my husband designs tools that are used to build airplanes. The tools and the airplanes are really cool stuff for them to see and to have their dad tell them about…and they love to see just what their dad does at work. In fact, they understand more of what he actually does at work than I do. This time at the family day was one of those moments when I wondered again where the time had gone…only because last time I had gone with them had been so many years ago and there was such a contrast.

Last time, I had my five small children whom I had to watch very closely. The crowd of people was very large and I had spent most of my time keeping track and counting heads…my greatest fear has always been to lose a child. They were small then and easily lost among the crowds.

This year was so different. I again (like the trip to the grocery store) felt small as I walked with my husband and four of my children…only one of whom is still smaller than me…and three of whom (my two sons and my husband) towered over me (my oldest daughter…who is still shorter than me, stayed at home that day). Oh, I still counted heads…mothers probably never stop doing that. It’s just that I needed only to look up. It was so easy to find most of them over the tops of the other heads in the crowd…and it seemed to me that we made an imposing looking group as we toured the factory. As we all walked 3 and 4 abreast at times…I can’t quite describe the feeling…I was surrounded by these tall boys…almost men…I felt that same sense of wonder that I used to feel as I nursed them late at night when they were so small.

I used to be surrounded by my small children whom I was constantly bending over to, constantly keeping track of…much like herding cats sometimes…and suddenly here I was…am…with this family of tall children. …and I really don’t know quite how or when it all happened…

What a wonderful and glorious journey it is to be a mother of sons…and daughters! Small ones and tall ones! I am loving each part of this wonderful journey together.

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Three weeks until the public schools are back in session in my part of the world, but parents around us are already beginning to say it…even practically shouting it out to the world according to some of my homeschooling friends…They can’t wait for their children to be back in school and OUT of their homes. How does one respond to such a proclamation? Sympathy? Dismay? Pity?  Yeah, I’ve been in that situation too. If their children are present, I feel especially bad. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that not all parents are as naturally enlightened as I am  angel smiley #5118 , and not all parents choose or can conceive of homeschooling their children…it’s a societal thing. But celebrating? Really? What’s that about. I’ve always held my tongue. Usually these people really aren’t interested in my thoughts on the matter anyway. But I think that these moms are not only missing something really important, but even worse, they don’t even know it.

I’ve often wondered…why? Why do otherwise sane mothers who waited anxiously for each child to come into their home, who were…and are…loving and attentive to their children…Why do they suddenly feel such eagerness (even joy and celebration) to get them OUT of their homes…and so young. Perhaps I could understand it if the child were 30. But no, these are practically their babies they can’t wait to be rid of for the best hours of the day.

As I’ve thought about it, I have come up with my own theory of how this happens in our society today. I think that there are basically three developments which get short-circuited in families today. But first a little side note. I recently read an article written by an un-schooling mom, Sandra Dodd. I loved her graph! I agree, the amount of time that we generally need to spend with our children is directly related to their age…well, sort of. As they get older, guess what?!…Yes, they need less of our time. Not less of our love, not less of our concern for them, not less of a lot of things…but certainly less of our time. And this is true even if they are homeschooled. In fact, I think that this sort of age/time spent-with-them progression seems to have the best potential of development and happens most naturally in the home educated atmosphere.

Here is what I see happening. You finally come to that long awaited moment…the birth of your child. You gaze lovingly into the eyes of that sweet child and the world revolves around the two of you…well, your world revolves around your child…the rest of the world revolves (for a time) around the two of you. That sweet baby takes up practically every moment of your day…requiring your constant attention. Yes, mothers, we are exhausted, but for the most part, we really don’t mind…after all we have oxytocin helping us out (particularly if we are breastfeeding), and frankly, we are head over heels in love with our own child! Then the child becomes a toddler and life really seems to explode! Now you have a mobile child who really does need your eye on him at every moment…and usually by this time you have less and less of that precious oxytocin to help out…but by then you are hooked, you are fully in love with this child and really, you love his developing “independence” …though exhausting to you.

But what happens about the time that this child starts to need less one on one time? He can feed himself, he’s out of diapers, and there are even moments when he really can entertain himself…what happens? We send him off to school…or even pre-school. There he is entertained all day, each moment filled by directed activity. Just when life with your child is getting easier, just when you have some time to breathe, just at the point when children are able to start self directing some of their activity, we ship them off to have each moment directed by a system. They are short-circuited in their developing ability to self direct. Evenings are also filled with soccer practice, homework, music lessons…so much so that many families find it difficult just to have a quiet un-rushed dinner together. And then when school is out for the summer…what happens then? Suddenly the child goes from having every hour of the day directed to pretty much having zero hours of the day directed…but they have not learned to self direct their activities or make choices, and they have lost what ever ability had begun to develop. They are suddenly “bored”…not that they weren’t often bored in school, but this is different. So mom fills the summer with day camp, soccer camp, swim lessons, outings, etc. By the end of the summer (before the end of the summer…maybe 3 weeks before the end of the summer), she is exhausted…and so are the children. No wonder she can’t wait for the children to go back to school.

Another thing happens. The child, removed from the home, begins to lose the attachment to…and ability to get along with…his own siblings. So along with being a summer of running helter skelter trying to keep the kids entertained, moms have children who don’t quite get along most of the time. Yeah…recipe for disaster. I guess I can see why they can’t wait for school to start. But that brings us to the third thing that seems to get short-circuited. Mom never sees that her children really are old enough to self direct their own activities and worse, in her hurry to direct every minute of the child’s day, the best moments are lost.

Yeah, you homeschooling moms know what I’m talking about…those moments when you are just “doing nothing” together; those moments when you really tune in to the wonder and miracle of your child and the person she is becoming. Those un-rushed moments curled up on the couch with a good book together…or even the ones where everyone is busy doing their own thing and there is a sweet feeling of both quiet (…or not so quiet) industry and peace in the home. You watch the seasons come and go together. You feel and settle into the unspoken rhythm of your days…your own natural and peculiar family rhythms.

I think that Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin say it best:

Christopher Robin: I like that, too. But what I like most of all is just doing nothing.

Winnie the Pooh: How do you do just nothing?

Christopher Robin: Well, it’s when grown-ups ask, “What are you going to do?” and you say, “Nothing,” and then you go and do it.

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Winnie the Pooh: I like that. Let’s do it all the time.

(from The House At Pooh Corner)

Sadly, it so often just these moments which are missed or just too infrequent when we send our children away for 8 (or more) of the best hours of the day and bring them home stressed and tired…and with homework to be done. If you haven’t read this sweet little book, I highly recommend it. What follows this little interchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh is such a parallel to what happens in our society when public school systems take over and over-scheduling of our children and families begins.

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m — when — Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not much. They won’t let you.”

You see, Christopher Robin is going away to school. His days of “doing-nothing” are pretty much at an end. I guess that it is this that makes me so sad when I see parents celebrating a little too loudly that their children are going to school. My heart aches for the moments that they are obviously missing (both the mom and the child).

So homeschooling moms, my advice in those moments when you hear someone celebrating just a little too loudly for comfort about their children going away to school…is to just be glad that yours are not. Take joy in what you have with your children around you (even on those hectic days when you almost understand the public school mother’s celebration). Sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that you have not entered your child and family into the rat race we call “school”. In our family, we like to have a “NOT back to school” celebration each fall. So celebrate. And then take joy in the “doing nothing” moments.

And if you are one of those moms who can’t wait for her children to go back to school, then I guess my advice would be to try hard not to let go of every “doing nothing” moment with your children. See if you can at least “schedule” your days so that those precious “doing nothing” moments don’t completely pass you by. And please…don’t celebrate so loudly…at least not in front of the children.

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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.

Trust

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.
RC

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

Once we’ve simplified our lives, we can then begin to look at balance. Most of us can look back and remember when we first learned to ride a bicycle. Remember how you wobbled from one side to the other, even falling down from time to time, until you learned to balance with perfect ease? The time quickly came when you no longer even thought about balance when you got on that bicycle. Homeschooling is much like that. We also tend to wobble from one side to another until we find that perfect balance which works for our family.

Balance is an interesting phenomenon. We seem to think that achieving our goals is all about power (ie: force) and momentum and yet without balance, all that force and momentum have no direction and may even end up as destructive forces which quickly careen out of control. Balance is critical to power. In fact, without balance you cannot have power at all…only force.

I learned a little about balance in my yoga practice. The balance poses all require focus. Focus is critical to balance. But more than that, there is an intangible something else which seems critical to staying balanced in a yoga pose. It is so interesting to me that those times when I feel rushed and out of balance in my life always seem to find reflection in my daily yoga practice…in the balance poses (or asanas).  If I’m feeling rushed, stressed, over-loaded, and out of balance in my life, I can’t seem to balance for beans in my yoga practice either. The balance that we feel inwardly is also reflected in our ability to manage our lives outwardly. There is a trick (no, not really a trick, principle would be a better word) to balancing. The principle which is critical to balance is focus. In a yoga pose, one must focus on one thing with the eyes in order to stay balanced. Focus is critical to balance. Balance is critical to effective use of power and momentum.

So what does this have to do with homeschooling? How do we achieve balance with the education process in our homes? Like everything else with home education, I believe that this will always be an individual thing. There will be no recipe. Each family must find balance in its own way, but I believe that there are principles and guidelines; things that we might think deeply about as we seek to find this delicate balance in our own homes and with our own children. So often in life, we seem to think that if we just use all of our strength and barrel through the tasks we’ve set for ourselves…(That, by the way is a critical element. We must stop and remember that these things are totally within our hands. We set the tasks for ourselves…we choose…and we can un-choose as the need arises.) But where was I?…oh yes…we seem to think that if we just barrel though using all of our strength, then we can accomplish that big long list of tasks. And so we find ourselves careening wildly through each day all force and momentum (both very valuable elements) but little or no balance…no focus. But life…and home education…are about so much more than simply accomplishing tasks.

Work and Play

What in your life needs balancing? May I suggest a few things to think about?Work must be balanced with play. Each is critical to the success of the other. Work is best accomplished when the mind and body have had periods of rest. Conversely, play and rest are enjoyed best when the mind and body have had periods of work. This too is something which I noticed in my yoga practice. Somehow those relaxation poses were so much more…well relaxing after the more strenuous poses which focused on building strength. And conversely, I am always more successful with the strength poses with a little rest between or before them. Do you allow for this balance in your children’s lives? In your own? Is your homeschool all work and very little play? Too much play? Do you go easily back and forth between the two? Or is it all “nose to the grindstone” and then an overdose of play? I think we must all learn to sense when it’s time for a little rest and diversion (it’s seldom the other way around). Often, it doesn’t have to be big. Just consider the schedule you set for yourself and your children. Do you alternate periods of work with periods of pure play? Can you tell when your children have reached their max? Learn to have a break just before that breaking point. Hint: I think that when children are left to themselves in a environment which is rich in learning opportunities, they tend to find this balance almost instinctively with little guidance from us. This ability in children can, however, be quickly crushed by parent or school expectations, or undermined by too much TV and electronic media.

Flexible Structure

Structure must also be balanced with latitude. Living with a very rigid schedule for very long becomes tiresome…but so does too much latitude. It is usually the flexible structure that is strongest. So consider how you choose to structure your day. Have structure, but build in times when there is less restraint, a little more freedom. Build margin into your schedule. Just as the pages of a book have most meaning when there is margin–when things are divided into paragraphs–our days will go most smoothly, be more meaningful, and more productive if we have some space…some margin…in our lives.

Avoid Over-Scheduling

I remember so clearly my first days (and years) of homeschooling my children. One of my strengths is organization, and it can have some pretty bad side effects if I am not careful. I used to organize every minute of our days. Each day was scheduled so tightly! Unfortunately, my early schedules were perfect recipes for quick burn out (on my part and on my children’s). These schedules that I would make would probably last for about as long as the time I spent putting the schedule together in the first place. Very quickly, I would find that we would be “off schedule” and stressed out about it. (Or I would be stressed out about it and communicate that stress to my children.) We didn’t have the freedom (because of my dictatorial schedules) to spend a longer period of time at one subject if we got interested in it. We didn’t have the freedom to take a break…lest we get off schedule. Another thing about these schedules is that they were heavily weighted with table activities and the more academic subjects…a recipe for burn out if ever there was one! For my more right brained children, this was especially painful.

Don’t try to “cover everything”.

One more thing that I started out doing…and have to continually guard against…is the suggestion that we must “cover” a certain amount of “material” or a certain number of, or particular subjects. We live in a day and age where there is a monumental amount of “information” which could be studied. Information can be useful, but it doesn’t usually translate to knowledge or the wisdom needed to live by–or recognize–principles which lead to happiness. Ours is the task of weeding out the significant from the insignificant. Choosing what to teach…the focus…comes before choosing how to teach. Remember what happens with force and momentum with no focus and balance? We must be thoughtful and careful as we choose what to teach. We must consider exactly what it is that we hope to give to our children. We must also consider what it is that each individual child needs. In order to do that, we must first know our children very well. (A great book to help one begin to know and  individualize for the child is The Student Whispererbut more on that in another post.) Do you truly listen to your child, observe them, watch what they do, consider what is important to them and why, spend time with them? These are the beginnings of knowing a person.

Relax.

I’ve learned over time to relax…a lot. I learned to let my children help decide what they wanted to learn…and when. I’ve learned that it is best to set small, obtainable goals. I’ve learned that Rome cannot be built in a day, and I’ve learned to recognize that perhaps it isn’t Rome that I’m really seeking to build. We come to home education with a lot of ineffective and faulty paradigms from the public school systems which most of us were raised in. We must remember why we chose home education, and we must be careful that we do not duplicate the public school system in our homes. Just like riding a bicycle, we tend to wobble a bit as we begin homeschooling. It’s a new paradigm for most of us. But just like riding a bicycle, when you find that perfect balance, you will know it, you will feel it…and you and your children will feel the freedom and exhilaration of moving forward with focus toward all the right goals in your lives. When you find that place…trust it. And that brings me to my next “Habit of Highly Effective Homeschoolers”…Trust. Next blog.

RC

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Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. We are both home educated moms. We’ve both been home educating our children for quite a number of years now. My oldest child is 20 and her oldest is 16. We’ve both home educated our children from day one. In our conversation, we talked about some of the things we’ve learned along the way…some of the things we learned the hard way…some of the things we would go back and change if we could, and also those things that we did or are now doing that we have found effective or important. During the course of our conversation, my friend wondered what a “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers” would look like. (A concept inspired of course by Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You may also be familiar with Oliver DeMille’s Seven Keys of Great Teaching.)

The “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers”….hmmm….what would be on such a list? We recognized immediately that this list would look different for each thoughtful home educating parent, but that these different lists would likely be of some use to families who were just beginning the journey.

As I considered this concept, my mind immediately took me on a thought journey of epic proportions as I considered the years behind and the years ahead and thought about what I would put on my personal list of “Seven Habits for Highly Effective Homeschoolers”. This conversation with my friend took place while I was waiting for my daughter at her piano lesson, and as soon as I was off the phone with this friend, I started writing and quickly had a list of seven habits…the last one came later. Yes…my list went just a bit over and has become the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Home Educating Parents”…or maybe nine, but who’s counting? Here is my list. Thank you Christy for getting me started. I plan to publish each “habit” in a separate blog over the next days/weeks. Enjoy! And other home educating families, please add to my list by commenting. What would you put on your list?

 

The First Habit: Simplify

Anyone who knows me very well at all will not be at all surprised that this was the first thing to come to my mind and the first to go on my personal list. There are some good reasons for this…the first of which is probably that this is one of the premiere lessons that I’ve had to learn myself.

So often we try to do things in grandiose ways…the bigger, the better, we seem to think….or the more the better. But bigger is not always better. In fact, sometimes bigger is nothing more than pomp and circumstance with no real substance. And more is sometimes simply more…and usually it translates to less of something else. More time running from music lessons, to soccer practice, to karate, to church activities will ultimately translate to less quality time together as a family, less time to sit around the dinner table laughing together and discussing whatever comes up, less time for family read-alouds with everyone sprawled comfortably together in the living room. More is so often less of what matters most.

It seems to be only when we simplify that we find the real essence of life and of happiness. So my first habit is to simply simplify. Simplify your life. Simplify your schedule. Simplify your goals. Get rid of all the “stuff” that gets in the way of your true happiness and family success.

Are you really happy when you are running 10 directions at once…or even two? Are your children? Is your family? No? Then what can you let drop out of your life? Yes, I know that a lot of the things on your list are “good” things to do, but they are ultimately keeping you from enjoying the “best” things, are they not? Then let them go and feel the joy and peace which ultimately comes with a real focus on the things that matter most.

And how about all the physical “stuff” in your life? All of our stuff not only takes up space, but it also uses up our energy as we spend time organizing and caring for the material stuff in our lives. The question to ask is not how much, but how little can you get by with? What things do you spend a lot of time maintaining that you could do without? I used to have carpet in the heavily traveled areas and in the dining area of my home. I spent hours and hours each week keeping that carpet clean. The area that went from the front door to the back looked like traffic went directly from one point the other…and often times it literally did. I vacuumed daily (sometimes more than once daily) and the carpet cleaner was an intimate companion…no, I won’t say “friend”. When we built an addition to our home, I determined that we should place hardwood floors in the kitchen, dining area, and the heavily traveled areas of our home. It is no longer such a disaster when the children come in with muddy feet. This is something that can be much more easily managed…and usually by the child herself…or himself as the case may be. That one thing has made a huge difference in how I spend my time each week. We still have carpet in the family areas, but vacuuming has become a weekly affair and carpet cleaning a yearly one at most. I can now spend all that time that I used to spend vacuuming on the things that matter most in my life and in the lives of my husband and children.

How many goals have you set for yourself and your children? Pull them out and take a good hard look at them. Put them to the “perspective test”. Are these the goals that will matter most in one year? Five, ten, fifty years, a hundred? Ultimately, what is really going to matter? Stick with those goals that will really matter over time and consider what goals can be tossed or drastically modified. Focus on the goals that really matter. And while you are considering those goals, take a look at the less tangible things that you’d like to accomplish. Hint: Usually it is the less tangible goals that are going to matter most when put to the perspective test.

Here is an example from among my own experience as a home educating mom: In the early years, we used the Saxon math program and I had my children do every…single…exercise. Why? Because the program stated that all that repetition was important to mastery. As a result, math dominated the curriculum in our home and most of my children learned to hate it. I had always liked the subject, but I didn’t love the way it dominated our curriculum any more than my children did. My children would get so burned out that they would end up not finishing the course by the end of the year. In the fall, I would have them take the placement tests again. Year after year, they would place in the next textbook anyway. I figured out that the first lessons in the book were primarily review, so I had the children either skip those chapters or just take the chapter tests each day until they reached a point where they obviously needed to begin to do the exercises. I also stopped having them do every single problem. Instead, they did odd number problems on odd days and even numbered problems on other days. Sometimes we skipped the problem sets altogether and just did the practice sets. I purchased alternate math curriculum for some of my children. I let them choose what math programs they wanted to use. There are even periods of time when one or more children (gasp) leaves math off of the daily “to do” list altogether. Originally it had been my goal that my children would complete the Saxon Math series in its entirety. Over the years, I recognized that this goal was not meaningful to some of my children. Some of them didn’t need Physics and Calculus in their home education years. Some of them might never need it and would only need basic math skills.  Their passions and interests are in other areas and they need their time for activities relating to those passions. Not only that, but if the time comes that they need those courses, they can take them when they are ready to do so. Home education in our family improved greatly when I stepped back and began to simplify the goals that I had for my children. We now have a lot more time for the things that really matter most.

When it comes to home education and family life, look for the small and simple way.

My first habit…simply simplify.

Next habit…balance.

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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