2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Let’s break this down in how it fits a lifestyle of homeschooling.

Fear. That’s where I’ve lately been residing. Driven by fear like a dear in headlights. Afraid to move forward. Afraid to try. What if the kids don’t listen? What if they don’t respond? What if they think my hard planned lessons are stupid? What if they still don’t learn it? What if I’m failing them? What if other moms think I’m too relaxed and not teaching enough? What if I don’t fit in to the group?

Timidity. Yep. That too. Blinded by fear and unwilling to step up and share what I know What if my words are all jumbled when I speak? What if I’m doing this all wrong? Blinded by fear and unwilling to step up and share what I know.

This is not what God wants. For God has not given me a spirit of fear and timidity.
Instead, power, love, and self control.

Power. God empowers me to do what he called me to.

Love. God’s love shows in my actions when I keep my eyes on Him. This love should drive my interactions with my children and other moms.

Self control. It is a fruit of the spirit that enables me to be about the business that God has set before me. That business is primarily raising, educating, mentoring, and loving my children. It is also to mentor younger moms who are now walking the path I’ve walked for the past 11 years.

This is where I need to live daily. I’ll admit I struggle with it. I’m so incredibly glad God’s mercies are new every morning. So today, I get up and try again.

I encourage you to do the same.

Kung Fu Punctuation (or Protecting Yourself from Bad Grammar)

I am convinced that learning punctuation cannot be fun for anyone, but the most fun way we found to work on it was with “Punctuation Kung Fu” There are lots of resources online for this great idea including the one we used.  We cleared out the living room and learned the moves first. The kids thought I was crazy at first, but after they got into it, they had lots of fun learning swipes, punches, and kicks that symbolized periods, commas, quotation marks, and lots more.  The next step was to apply what we learned to some sentences. We started with oral sentences that they would repeat while inserting their kung fu punctuation. The final step was to use the moves (and the written marks) to complete sentences on a worksheet. It sure made the worksheet more fun! And they learned a lot about punctuation. Check out the link and try it for your kids. I think you will both enjoy it!

The Not So Delightful Stuff

How do I handle the not so delightful lessons? I do it with focused learning sessions that we have a few times a year. They usually last about four to six weeks at a time.

Some things we have learned in focused learning sessions:

Grammar:  I teach grammar twice. The first time is around fourth or fifth grade and then again in eighth grade. I use a good grammar workbook like Abeka. Any book will do as long as it has proper grammar usage. I have seen some cheap workbooks that had improper grammar. Be careful about this. For six weeks we plow through the lessons, and after this we are done. In eighth grade we repeat with more depth. The rest of the grammar they learn comes from reading books, speaking with proper language, School House Rock, and writing activities. The purpose of the focused session is to put names and proper usage to things they have already been using.  All grammar lessons outside of the six week sessions are taught casually. It works for us.

State Capitals:  We memorized the state capitals over about four weeks. We played a game using a PopTart box that was labeled on each side with a state. We tossed the box back and forth and we had to name the capital of whichever state was facing us when we caught the box. At first I allowed them to check the map if they were not sure, but by day two they did it by memory. Every other day we changed the six states that we were working on. We did twelve states a week this way, and I quizzed them each Friday and again at the end. This hands on learning made it more fun and effective. They still know their state capitals.

Spelling: I don’t teach a lot of formal spelling, but I have done some spurts of Sequential Spelling for a few weeks at a time. Instead of doing one list a day for the year, we do several lists a day during our focus time. To save time, I skip to the words and patterns they need to work on. I usually start this around fourth or fifth grade and go back to it as I see the need. This helps them make some mental connections and greatly improves their spelling. We use chalkboards, tablets (to type), dry erase boards, spelling bee style, drawing words in the carpet, etc. Most of their spelling is still learned from reading books. (This may not work for my very tactile 10 year old. I may have to find something else for her.)

These are just a few of the types of lessons we learn in spurts. It works for us because we can be very focused on it for a short time and then leave it behind for something else more interesting.

What Does Delight Directed Learning Look Like? (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about delight directed learning in high school. Today I want to write about the middle school years. I am especially fond of this age, and, in fact, used to teach fifth grade. I would have to say, however, that my home education does not look much at all like my classroom teaching did. Maybe that’s because I’ve grown and learned new things. Maybe it’s out of necessity as I try to keep up with three different groups of learners in the same day. And maybe still it’s that I’ve learned that I can relax and that the kids do still learn what they need to learn.

Okay, so what does delight directed learning look like for my middle school aged children? It looks somewhat different for each of them, but has the same goal in mind. That goal is for them to love learning and to become independent learners. We spend more organized learning time than in the high school years, but much of their learning is still driven by their own interests.

Our scheduled learning time happens a few times a week usually and varies in content. It gives me an opportunity to expose them to things I think they need to know. This time rarely lasts more than two hours on any given day. Sometimes we read from Story of the World while the kids play with play dough or string beads or cut up paper. As long as their hands are busy, they can sit and stay tuned in. When we are finished reading for about thirty minutes to an hour, I have them draw and shortly write about four different topics that they remember hearing from the story.  Of course I may find other books to read to them like Magic School Bus or Magic Tree house or Sarah, Plain and Tall or… You get the idea. But the routine is the same. I read while they fidget, then they draw and tell about it.

After our reading time, they each have some individual lessons like copywork and math. They really don’t like this time, so I keep it short. Short, efficient lessons get the job done. My goal is to develop a love of learning in them.

Now for the fun, delight directed stuff!  I have set up our house, and continue to adjust it in order to have the best learning environment. I will share some of the things I see as important.

Books:  There should be good books available at all times. We visit our library at least every two weeks and each child checks out a minimum of 5 books. I also scavenge the children and older children’s sections for read aloud books. We have learned an incredible amount of history, science, poetry, literature, and even math from these books. As soon as we get home from the library I display several of the books across a cedar chest in the living room. When a child is bored, I will often suggest that they see if there are any books left on the chest that they have not read. Some of my kids are late readers. My first two read by the time they were 5, but the next two where about eight by the time they got to reading on their own. That’s just how they worked. Until they are ready, and even later than that, I read to them often.

Science:  There should be science experiment tools readily available to children that will use them responsibly. I keep two boxes full of microscopes, slides, scales, dyes, models, etc in a bottom cabinet. Once in a while I take something out to get them started, but most of the time they go to it pretty regularly and take out more than they need. This of course means that a second child will see it out and start using it as well. My job is to answer questions and ask more to get them to further investigate.

Art Supplies:  There should be a variety of art supplies easily available for when they wish to use them. We have paints, crayons, markers, different kinds of paper, beads, sequins, cans, boxes, how to books and more. It’s  messy, but worth it.

Good Work Display Area:  There should be a place for children to display their good work. I tied up two strings along a wall and put clothes pins on it. Paper art and writing samples go on this string. We also hang on it our reading lists for the 100 Books Club we are working on. My daughter occasionally has art shows for her canvas paintings and the like. We all vote and the winning piece of art hangs in our hallway until next time. My son’s art comes in the form of Lego or knex creations that live on the mantle for a while.

Building Supplies:  There should also be building supplies like legos, knex, dominoes, jenga blocks, etc. My son has especially learned a great deal from knex. He has learned about gears, motors, and all sorts of physics concepts through making roller coasters, robots, cars, and all the stuff boys love.

Computers:  Computers should be available for learning games and looking up information. We love games like JumpStart, Reader Rabbit, Math Missions, and Number Heroes. The internet is a tricky thing for kids. We as parents have to watch carefully what they do with it, but when used correctly it can be a great tool. When they are younger and ask a question, I stop what I am doing and look it up for them. Pretty soon though, they are asking to look up answers to their own questions. I highly recommend filters and monitoring when using the internet, but don’t forget the usefulness of it either.

Musical Instruments: Musical instruments should be available to those children that will treat them responsibly. Dad is a musician in our family, so this one is easy for us. So far, no child except my high schooler plays an instrument, but they do enjoy listening to music and hearing Dad tell the background stories to the composers and their pieces.  We don’t know what God will gift them with, so we set up the opportunity and wait to see if they respond. I say more about this in my high school post (Part 1).

Cooking Opportunities:  There should be plenty of opportunities to cook. Of course this means a lot of supervision, but there is much to be learned in the kitchen from measuring to chemical reactions to health to list making for shopping trips to following directions to responsibility to….

Games:  There should be plenty of board games available and opportunities to play them with a parent. Our favorite learning games are Monopoly, Life, Manhattan, Magic Labyrinth, Ticket to Ride, Chess, Checkers, Trivial Pursuit Junior, Cranium, The Cat in the Hat, and Scrabble. I also love to use puzzles. The kids learn to count money, make careful decisions, new facts, visual memory, reading, getting along, taking turns, and being good sports (this is big).

Classes Outside of the Home:  This can take many forms. For us, in this stage of life, it is dancing. It is an opportunity for the kids to feel some pressure and learn how to cope with it, learn physical awareness and skill, and act with grace whether things are going well or not. This is what my house has to offer. No one day uses all of these resources. Each day is it’s own, and depending on the outside activities and energy level of each of us, I may guide them in teacher led activities or let them run with their own. My general rule of thumb at this age is this: I have work planned. If they come to me with a plan of their own, and I can see the value in it, I will let them run with it instead. One example: For about 3 weeks my son was so involved in learning about gears, motors, and robots that I knew nothing outside of that mattered. I could have made him sit down and “learn” with me first, but instead I let him pursue his passion and watched him learn great things. When he finished, I was free to either guide him into a new idea or go back to our standard work.

Many good days are spent playing make believe as well. They might have a newspaper for which they write stories. They might have a Harry Potter fan club and read the books together. They might have a trading store or a a game tournament. They might spend hours watching science videos and then trying out the experiments.  There are really so many ways to learn!

Starting Over

After a very long break from formal schooling, we are back. We are at the end of our second week. I thought my time as a homeschooler was coming to an end. I thought I had met my match and could not meet all of my kids’ educational needs. I cried many tears over many days and weeks. I called the school board to see about getting my kids back in the public schools. I looked at uniforms at Walmart and Target. I began telling people that I was unable to fulfill this job of homeschooling full time and that I needed help, so I was going to send my kids to school.
Then I decided to give it one last try. Two weeks before public school was to begin, I started out with my kids at home. I was sure we would fail in the first week. We didn’t. I have been so amazed at their effort. I have been impressed by the skills they are learning that they simply could not comprehend four months ago. Today is Friday, and public school starts on Monday. It looks like we will be staying home for school after all.
I know my battle is not done. There are plenty of hurdles to get over. I have had to make some changes. They seem to be working for now. I will try to focus on the end goal of having educated children that love the Lord.
We are starting over.