On raising and educating children…
“If you expect what is good, and are not shocked by the reality of the faltering footsteps toward it, you will be well on your way to leading.” Susan Schaefer McCauley, For The Children’s Sake
On raising and educating children…
“If you expect what is good, and are not shocked by the reality of the faltering footsteps toward it, you will be well on your way to leading.” Susan Schaefer McCauley, For The Children’s Sake
One of the easiest mistakes to make when beginning the homeschooling journey is to model our homeschool after our local public schools. Each of us has our own reason for choosing to homeschool, most often that reason includes the thought that we want more for our kids than our local school offers, or we want something different than we experienced when we went to school.
Where we run into problems is that when we begin to think about homeschooling we go back to what is familiar. We think about desks, supplies, curricula, and how to set up a classroom in our home. We structure our days to resemble a typical school schedule, and for all practical purposes, we have just moved the location of our child’s schooling, but we haven’t really transformed their education into something new.
None of this is particularly bad, it’s just not what it could be. When we begin to homeschool we have the opportunity to transform our child’s education into something richer and deeper than what can be offered in a large group setting. Take advantage of the unique opportunities we have to do things differently.
Here are a few thoughts to challenge you. You don’t need to change everything at once, jumping into homeschooling can be challenging enough without leaving everything that is familiar behind. But small changes add up, and as you gain confidence in your ability to nurture your child’s mind, you can continue on the journey to truly transforming your approach to education.
So here are three simple things you can do to make the most of the uniqueness of homeschooling. (more…)
On a typical homeschool morning it was a major accomplishment to have all the kids up, dressed, fed, and chores done. Then we need to start school, which often went something like this. Math first, except child # 2 can’t find his book and child #4 broke his pencil. After 10 minutes of searching everyone has a book and working writing instrument. 5 minutes later child #1 needs colored pencils, which we can’t find. Child #3 thinks they are in his room and runs off. And so the morning progresses with stops, starts, hunts, and frustration.
Often being a Mom of 4 boys felt like wrangling monkeys in a home filled with black holes.
In order to save my sanity, I hit upon a method that eliminated a few of those black holes. So often the best solutions are the simplest, that is definitely true of this tip.
At the beginning of one school year I got each of the boys a box with a lid large enough to hold all of their school books and supplies. It worked so well I did it every year until they were in High School. (In high school, they were responsible for their own supplies.)
The system was super simple, and only effective if the rules are followed without exception. When the school day started each boy pulled out their own box and everything they needed was right there. At the end of school everything was returned to each box, the lid popped on, and there was no opening it back up until the next school day.
This solved the obvious issue of having to hunt for books, pencils and other miscellaneous items, which was a huge help in keeping frustration to a minimum, but the school box solved a few other things I hadn’t foreseen. (more…)
I wanted to share some of the podcast that I listen to. These share insights into homeschooling with a bent toward Classical education, Charlotte Mason, Schole, and educating being about developing and directing our child’s affections toward the true and the beautiful. Hope you enjoy checking them out.
If you find a great episode, let the rest of us know in the comments, so we can all listen and discuss.
This first podcast is about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. I’ve linked to the first episode which gives an intro to the method.
This next podcast is about using Schole in your homeschool. Too complicated to explain quickly here, but the concept will be like a breath of fresh air for those of you who feel stressed to always to more and more as you school.
As many of you know, over the summer I’ve been working on getting my website up. Part of doing that has been listening to a TON of podcast to learn all I could about the process. In a Podcast by Michael Hyatt, sort of a platform building guru, he talked about the 7 C’s to developing confidence, and I was struck by how great they would be when tweaked to talk about homeschooling.
Borrowing from his idea, here is my take on how to set yourself up for success this year. (Oh, and note, that not one of these C’s is curriculum….we become obsessed with choosing the right one…but that is not the key to success.)
Why are you doing this? What are your goals? What do you hope to achieve this year?
You have to start here. There are going to be rough days ahead, some times you will feel like quitting. On those days you need to come back to your WHY. Why are you choosing to homeschool? If you have a good answer for that, it will give you focus on the rough days.
With clarity will come confidence. When we are unclear and unfocused we feel vulnerable and doubts seep in. You will doubt yourself unless you get focused on why you are going to pursue this path, and what you hope to accomplish.
In our last post we discussed the importance of allowing children to read books that are too easy for them. If you missed it, you can check it out here. Today, we are going to explore another mistake we make when it comes to our child’s reading level.
The oldest of my sons was slow to read. He was also highly intelligent, had an expansive vocabulary, and loved learning. When he was in early elementary school I began checking out options for history and science. Mind you, this was before Homeschooling had really taken off, so my options were limited. A friend suggested I check out a popular Christian Textbook publisher. I was VERY disappointed in the material.
The history text was stories about community helpers; firemen, postal workers and police. It was cute and boring, so boring. The reason…the book was written for a 6 year old’s reading ability, and so the content had to be “dumbed down.” I couldn’t see my bright son being even slightly interested in the book.
My solution was to work on his reading everyday for about 20 minutes…and the rest of the time, I read to him. We explored all sorts of interesting people, concepts, places, and art. With me, standing in the gap, he was able to pursue information about anything that interested him. At the time the Ninja Turtles were huge, and so he poured over Art books about Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and DaVinci.
Tim was a sponge. He could sit for long periods with books, even when he couldn’t read them. He would come to me with questions that illustrations had sparked and ask me to read sections.
During these years of struggle with reading, I was determined to keep his love of learning and books alive. While he may have made halting progress with phonics, in every other subject he was leaping ahead. When his reading skills eventually caught up I knew he would have a strong foundation and mastery of words and concepts to build on.
At the beginning of his 3rd grade year he was still sounding out most words, and reading quite slowly. Then, seemingly overnight (although it had been years of steady work) it clicked. Boy, did it click. By the end of 3rd grade he was reading at a 9th grade level. When his reading skills synced up with all of the other learning he’d been doing he was capable of reading and understanding just about everything he picked up.
Even if your child is a whiz at reading, more than likely, in the early years, their comprehension will be greater than their reading ability. Don’t limit their science books to only those they can read on their own. Don’t limit their enjoyment of literature to graded readers with limited vocabulary. Read to your children all sorts of books! Their busy minds will love being fed a steady supply of fresh ideas, and their love of learning and books will continue to grow. They will want to become better readers because they will know, through you, the magic that books contain.
I had another student who was severally dyslexic. After years of testing and work, the conclusion was he was always going to struggle. You might think this limited him educationally, but it absolutely didn’t. His mother, and a younger sister read him all of his books. In High School I taught him Shakespeare, Chemistry, Biology, and History. He did great in each course.
He was able to enjoy the language and beauty of Shakespeare through others standing in the gap for him. (And he built me an amazing reproduction of the Globe Theater) He excelled in the sciences. He had the science series in an audio format and would work ahead so that he could do the experiments, work out all the kinks and do them in class for the rest of us. It was awesome.
I was so proud of him when he graduated. He hadn’t ‘just’ made it through high school, he’d thrived. With his family’s help, he’d received an excellent, well-rounded education, because his mom hadn’t let his inability in one area determine what he could study in other areas. She played up to his strengths and stood in the gap to help him in his weak area.
The point I’m trying to make is that, all children will probably experience a time when not all of their skills will sync together, growing in perfect harmony. This does not mean they cannot continue to excel and grow in every other area of their education. With you, helping to bear the burden, they can continue to progress while you work on their weaker areas.
I’ve witnessed far too many students who have difficulty with reading, or a learning disability become stalled in every other area of their studies. Not being able to read well meant they did poorly with history, literature, and science. Not being able to read, could stall our student. They could be limited to remain at their reading level…but they don’t have to be.
No, we don’t want to do the work for our child, but there are certainly times where we can bear the burden with our child, and stand in the gaps so that they can continue to grow and enjoy their school years.
This doesn’t just make academic sense, it makes emotional sense.
A child who is slow to read can experience severe damage to their sense of self. They can feel stupid and less than their peers. I know adults who have never recovered from being in the ‘slow’ reading group in elementary school. At a young age they internalized the message that they are not intelligent, not good at school.
For most kids, that’s a lie. The problem is we expect children to all develop at an arbitrary rate, to learn in a steady progression upwards. For a percentage of kids that works, but for most they learn in a stop, start, 2 steps back, 1 leap forward individual pattern. Each child has their own strengths, their own areas of intelligence and giftedness, it’s our job to nurture those areas, and work steadily where they struggle.
So, be aware of where your child struggles, get them assessed and helped if they need it. But also, don’t allow those areas to limit their education. Stand in the gap with them to be the bridge to the information they need while they develop the tools to build that bridge for themselves.
Oh, by the way, my son Tim graduated from college with an English degree and is now a High School English teacher.
If you’d like to check out the other posts in this series, here are the links.
We all want our children to be good readers. We want them to love books! A child who loves to read has a huge advantage in life.
But there is one common mistake parents make that can quickly turn your child off to reading. That mistake, pushing them to read harder and harder books.
I see this all of the time in bookstores and at the library. A mom is standing with her 8-10 year old child and the child has picked a book. The mom looks at it and says, “No, this is too easy for you, go pick another one.” Or the parent picks a book and shows it to the child who says, “No, there are too many words on the page.” Sound familiar???
It seems obvious that if we want our children to get better at reading, we should push them a bit to read harder and harder books. Let me explain why this backfires.
In order for your child to enjoy reading, they have to be able to follow the story. I’m hoping you have all had the experience of becoming lost in a book. The world around you fades away, and you are living in the story. This is a wonderful experience, and it’s addicting, in a good way. If we want our children to get addicted to reading they need to have this experience.
Now imagine yourself reading that fabulous book but every few words you have to stop and struggle to sound out a word. With determination you make it through the page, but because you have been reading in stops and starts, you could never really enter into the flow of the story. Your enjoyment, no matter how fabulous the book was, would be limited. More than likely, your comprehension would be less than perfect as well.
I’m hoping you are seeing the problem. If a child is always pushed to read at the top level of his ability, he will never be free to enjoy the book. The result is that your child will not see reading as enjoyable but as work. For some kids, if they are constantly pushed, they will begin to feel frustration every time they pick up a book, this frustration can quickly turn into statements such as: “I’m not a good reader.” “I hate reading.” or “I’m stupid.” (more…)
Let’s take math. Our child needs to learn mathematical concepts, so we choose a math program. Then, almost universally, we become focused on the curriculum instead of the student.
Have you ever become hyper focused on your child finishing that day’s math page. We hound them by saying, “Pay attention, we have to finish this!” We threaten and bribe to keep them on task.
The shift is subtle, but the math lesson is no longer about the child learning the material, it’s about getting the lesson done. After all, our accompanying teacher’s manual says we need to do 4 lessons a week, with one day for testing! The curriculum has become our focus.
Completing the lesson, or the entire book, is of no value if your child didn’t master the concepts in the lesson. This shift in focus is sneaky, we don’t recognize it happening until 3 months down the line we realize our child is hopelessly lost.
As parents, we are not the only ones who get caught up in this trap. Our students are even more likely to commit this mistake. Unless you have worked hard to convince your child that the purpose of the lesson is to learn the material, and they have bought into the idea, they will likely rush just to finish. Most kids work as quickly as they can so they can be done.
Your job, as a parent and a teacher, is to help your students see that finishing is not the goal, learning is.
I understand the anxiety that comes when we know we won’t ‘finish’ in a timely manner. However, the world will not end, your child will not be a failure if they don’t finish their 4th grade math program while in the 4th grade. What will create problems is your child being pushed through a curriculum ‘on schedule’ but with little comprehension of the concepts they needed to learn.
Our focus needs to constantly be evaluated…are we developing our child’s understanding or working to finish a program. We need to stay focused on the purpose of education. Our child is the focus of our educational efforts. Their development and understanding is what matters.
Don’t allow the curriculum to become the mini dictator in your school day. Use the curriculum as you would any tool, to aid you in accomplishing your task, but don’t become so focused on the curriculum that you inadvertently switch from teaching your child, to teaching your curriculum.
When we really grasp this concept and apply it to our homeschool, it can change everything.
The pace that is pre-set in a curriculum is, to a certain degree, arbitrary. It will work for a percentage of children, but there will always be those who are bored because they are not challenged, and those who are frustrated, because they can’t keep up. As homeschoolers we can relax a bit. We can slow down when our child is struggling with a concept, and speed up when they are ‘getting it’.
So, as you begin this homeschool year, re-orient (or re-center if you use google maps) your teaching, so that your child is the focus and your curriculum is your tool.
If you don’t want to miss the next four mistakes that homeschoolers make, be sure to sign up for my email list. I’ll be sending out links to the other post in the series when they are all up.
In elementary school our children are learning the basic building blocks of education; reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their understanding of basic science concepts and vocabulary are growing, and they are gaining a sense of the flow of history. Make this framework strong and solid so our children have a good base upon which to build advanced knowledge and wisdom.
In high school our children’s studies become more focused and intense. If they have that solid foundation they will be able to move, rather painlessly, into these more focused studies. Students at this age are expected to be able to work independently through material, to read, absorb, and analyze new information. By high school we should be past the ‘hand-feeding’ stage where a teacher is needed at every step. New concepts may well need explanations, but students have come to ‘own’ their education.
Jr. High is a great opportunity to evaluate our child’s progress and to take 7th and 8th grade to fill in any gaps or weak points our child has. If we use a building analogy, in elementary school we are laying a solid foundation and getting the framing up. In Junior High we are making sure that all of that is solid and that the hidden systems, like electrical and plumbing all work seamlessly. If all of this is in place, then the finish work of High School will be solid, we won’t have to tear out walls to repair electrical connections that don’t quite connect.
I like to think of Junior High as an inspection stop. We have two years to make sure our child has all that they need to move on into the more advanced course work of high school. Of course, we will still be moving forward and adding new ideas, but we also have a bit of breathing room to evaluate and strengthen any weak areas.
So let’s examine each subject area.
By Jr. High your child should be reading fluently and comprehending most of what they read. In elementary school it’s important to give your child adequate practice at ‘easy’ reading so that they develop fluency, but in Jr. High it’s time to challenge them.
Think of the reading they will be doing in high school – Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald – you don’t want them to jump from easy reading straight into these authors. In Jr. High ease them into classic authors and more difficult essays. Reading challenging works will improve their critical thinking skills and increase their vocabulary.
If your child is still having trouble with the basics of reading, it’s past time to have them assessed and give them the help they need. You might consider doing an intensive phonics review. I’ve used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with great success with older students.
By Jr. High your child should be spelling most words correctly. Let’s be honest, many spelling errors are nothing more than laziness. If that is the case with your child, crack down now. If there are multiple ‘lazy’ spelling errors in their work, make them rewrite the entire piece. I’m normally all about making school enjoyable, but your child needs to give it their best effort. A few rewrites will usually work a quick cure (not erasing and fixing the word, a complete rewrite).
If the errors are a lack of knowledge you have two years to teach spelling rules and move quickly through a program like Spelling Power, Fourth Edition I like Spelling power because it can be used by any level power. It is more expensive, but it a comprehensive program that can be used from kindergarten through high school. Well worth the investment.
By now your student should be able to write a clear and concise paragraph that communicates clearly. They should be skilled at writing summaries, book reports, letters, and fiction. Most Jr. High students need to improve these skills before entering high school and one of the best ways to do this is to get them writing.
I had my sons writing for 30 minutes a day…minimum. Much of that time they could write what they wanted, although sometimes I would assign a report to focus their efforts. If you use narration in your school day you should be requiring that some of their narrating be done in writing rather than orally.
There are many excellent writing programs if you feel this is not your best subject to teach. I would recommend looking into Susan Wise Bauer’s writing programs. They were designed for homeschoolers and are easy to follow, while holding up a high standard.
I cannot stress this enough, your child’s basic math skills (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, and place value) need to be absolutely solid by the end of Junior High. It is best to stop for a period of time and really master these skills if your child is struggling.
Beginning Algebra or other high school math programs before basic math skills are automatic will cause unnecessary struggle and frustration. A solid foundation cannot be overstated. Every concept they will learn in the coming years will be dependent upon these basic skills.
If there is any chance your child will be moving back into the public school system during high school, you need to seriously consider using a Common Core edition of your math curriculum. Otherwise, the transition will be very difficult. Also, the SAT and ACT tests will be re-configured with Common Core standards as an element. Homeschoolers are often dependent on these tests scores for college admission. I’d recommend looking into Singapore’s Common Core series.
I understand that many parents wish to avoid Common Core altogether, but you need to be realistic. At the very least, educate yourself about the changes and how you can prepare your child for these future challenges.
Hopefully, your child’s elementary school years were filled with exploration and wonder as they discovered the world around them. A nature walk, gazing at the stars, growing a seed, all provide a good foundation for high school science courses.
Curiosity is one of the marks of a great scientist, and all children are curious, so science is a natural subject for them to enjoy. This exploration should continue in Jr. High, supplemented with lots of hands on experiments and field trips. A carefully chosen text is helpful…just be sure you remember you are teaching a child, not a textbook. Adapt the textbook to fit your studies.
Very soon students will not have a choice and will have to work through a Biology or Chemistry book from start to finish…but for these years you still have a lot of freedom, take advantage of that. Personally, we moved into the Apologia Jr. High books. They provided a nice bridge between the exploration of elementary school, and the more stringent work of High School.
Often, even with our best efforts, history is a mish-mash in kid’s minds. While they have studied different periods, they are likely still fuzzy about where everything they’ve learned fits. Jr. High is a great time to lay out a framework to organize all the knowledge they have been accumulating.
I would suggest making a timeline and laying out some of the key moments in history (there are a few excellent ones that are bound into books like the Homeschool History Book of Centuries: A Portable Timeline for Charlotte Mason and Classical Education Students (Real Life, Real Books, Real Learning Series) (Volume 2) ). Taking some time out to construct a time line and add in what they already know, including scientific advances, famous artist, writers, and composers will give students a better grasp of the flow of history.
Taking a few months to work on a timeline is well worth the effort.
My goal was that by Jr. High my sons would possess the skills to work independently. I wanted to be able to give them an assignment, and leave it to them to do. More and more the goal was for them to manage their own time, and when things were due.
If your child is still dependent upon you sitting with them as they do their schoolwork, it is time to wean them off of your presence. Our goal is to have independent learners who will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. In High School, in many subjects, I gave my sons a syllabus, much like a college professor would do, and left them to it. Of course, I checked in, but I no longer micro managed their school time.
If this is new and/or difficult for your students start small. Give an assignment that can be done in 15 minutes, make sure this is an assignment that they won’t need you for, and tell them they have 15 minutes in which to finish. Giving a time limit does a couple of things, it gives them an ending time…they know they won’t be sitting there for hours…so they are more willing to focus their attention, and it lets them know that they don’t have time for staring off into space, sharpening their pencil, or texting a friend. Gradually increase the amount of their day they are working alone, offering encouragement and support when they need it.
Often we overlook these basic skills that are going to be a key to success later in life. Our kids need to know how to study and how to discover information. Again, this topic deserves it’s own post, but for now let me just point out that your child needs to be doing their own research. Specifically assign projects that will require research, point them in the right direction, and let them do it. This is a crucial skill for life, too much help at this juncture will cripple your students later on.
Your greatest asset during these years is your child’s curiosity and desire to argue…yes, argue. During the Jr. High years your child begins to develop a sense of self outside of family and they begin to question…well, everything. Oftentimes this can come across as argumentative, and while I’m not suggesting you should allow your child to be disrespectful, I am saying that this questioning is a natural part of their development. It is also a powerful learning tool; play devil’s advocate, make them defend their positions, and get them used to using those critical thinking skills.
They will enjoy expressing their opinions and having them heard. Engaging with them in this way develops their skill at expressing themselves, thinking logically, and lets you know some of what they are thinking.
Have you been teaching a Jr. High student? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!
Most of us want to jump straight into ordering curriculum, but there is some important work to be done before that. Arrange for some quiet, distraction free time and grab your notebook and pen. Go to a park, the library or Starbucks and think through the following:
2. Make an ‘overall’ plan.
3. Purchase Curriculum
4. Plan for the next 3 months
5. Enroll your child in any additional classes, music lessons, sports they will be participating in.
6. Join HSLDA. Just do it. Even if you never need their services, you are supporting other homeschool parents who are fighting for their rights to homeschool…and those cases protect your rights. (For those who don’t know HSLDA is the Home School Legal Defense Association. Your membership is basically legal insurance. The attorneys at HSLDA do a phenomenal job fighting for the rights of homeschoolers. Check them out.)
7. Set up your ‘homeschool’ area
9. Find a support group