Life Skills for Homeschoolers

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Where do I go from here?

You’ve noticed that your child is having problems with reading or math. Perhaps your child seems a bit distracted and lives in a dreamland. Maybe you pulled your child out from church school or public school because they were just not thriving or were having some behavioral issues. Whatever the reason, you are stressed and trying to figure out what to do now.

When my son was first given his long list of labels, the first thing I did was ask myself, “What did I do wrong?” It is very common for parents to blame themselves for something their children are living with. Sometimes it is genetic. Sometimes, issues may come up in our children due to our choices. Sometimes there is no discernible reason. Blaming yourself will not help your child or yourself. After you get past the blame/shame and guilt, then you can start down the road to finding a new normal.

When I work with parents, I always encourage them to seek out professional labels. But, labels are only to be used as tools rather than a box. Certain labels like dyslexia will help you as teacher know where to look for help. For instance, there are specific reading and spelling programs that are designed for this particular challenge. If a child has ADHD/ADD, then there are other resources to help, starting with diet. If a child is gifted, then there are additional resources to help parents understand their special challenges.

Depending on the challenge, a parent may need to seek outside help, such as a personal organizer to work with a child who is challenged with organization. If a child has hearing/vision problems, the local Disability Action Center may be able to point to local resources. The DAC is a great resource for the older teen that may need help transitioning to independent living.

Other resources available across the country include the following: Assistive Technology offers financial assistance for people who may have vision/hearing/mobility or even communication issues; Disability Rights organization (different name in various states) offers free resources when a parent/child’s rights have been violated; NAMI offers support for mental health issues; Federation of Families offers free training for parents with special needs children; and Parents Unlimited offers resources and training for special needs children. Each of these is available across the country, but they may be under another name.

When it comes to schooling, I had to throw out everything I had been taught for my teaching degree, and allow God to be my instructor. I had to allow myself to not follow the crowd. I had to allow my son to grow and learn at his own pace and in his own style.

Take some time to write down what you want your child to be able to do once they leave your home. Will he or she have any problems learning those skills? If so, what modification needs to be done so the skills can be learned? Is it necessary for your child to be able to recite from memory all the bones and muscles? Or, is it more important for your child to be able to do the basic math to keep a checkbook and figure out a budget?

Remember, you have plenty of time. Focus on the skills needed for living independently first. Then add the layers to the cake after those skills are mastered.

This is part one of a series. Please join me each month as we delve into life skills for homeschoolers.

The Power of Play

 

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It’s that time of year again! There’s a slight nip in the air, the leaves are beginning to turn, and stores are displaying school supply lists and aisle after aisle of colorful notebooks, crayons, and backpacks. It’s back-to-school time! It’s that time of year where homeschool parents check and recheck their curriculum plans for the year with excitement and some trepidation. Many thoughts run through my head this time of year. “Did I plan everything? Are we doing enough? Am I ready?” As homeschool parents, we gladly accept this task with gusto, but we can also put undue pressure on ourselves — especially when we are first starting out! We look into the eager eyes of our little preschoolers and early elementary kids and think, “I am going to do this right! I am going to fill your little mind with so much knowledge, and I will prove to all that I can do this homeschooling thing!”

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But, then we notice something changing in our little learners’ dispositions. After a few days or weeks or even months of worksheets, sitting, and instruction, that excitement begins to fade. Maybe they become reluctant to learn; they might begin to cry when you pull out the beautifully glossy colored workbook. You begin to think, “I’m a failure! What am I doing wrong? I can’t do this!”  But, you can! You just have to remember that sitting and worksheets has a time and place in education, but your children are young and need to play!

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I believe that play in education is falling by the wayside as something no longer important when compared to academics. Our educational system seems to be focusing more and more on increasing academic pressure at an earlier stage. Isn’t this one of the reasons we chose to homeschool in the first place? We want to teach our children outside of the “standard” educational box. Play is key to a child’s development, health, and long-term success in learning and in life. Play builds a competence across many domains. When children are playing, they are solving problems, inventing scenes and stories, and working through social problems. They delve into their own interests, which drives and motivates them into deeper thinking, creativity, and language. Research shows that children who engage in unrestricted natural play have better language and social skills than non-players. They have more empathy, more comprehension of others ideas, and more imagination and creativity. More often than not they have more self-control and are less aggressive. Children who play have also been shown to have deeper levels of thinking.

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There is so much learning that happens when a child plays. Play helps a child learn cognitive thinking, social, and motor skills. The process of play develops the connections between nerve cells. This helps with fine motor skills, such as being able to hold a crayon or a pencil. Jumping and running are forms of gross motor skills that are developed during play. Play allows children to learn social skills and how to express proper emotions.

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When we follow a child’s interests, it means we are taking the time to observe them. To a child that means they are important to you. By observing them you are able to see what they are trying to teach themselves, and can provide materials or activities to expand their learning environment. Kids learn so much through play, and when they are interested in a topic they will dive in to learning with enthusiasm. A child’s interests also help them make meaningful connections between the things they are learning, and this helps their newly attained knowledge stick!

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So while you want to make sure you start your children out on the right path of learning, make sure that path includes lots of time for unrestricted, interest-led, natural play. If you look closely, you will see that during these times are when children are learning the most!

A Leap of Faith

Leap-of-FaithSeventeen years ago I was pregnant with my first child, and thus I embarked on a journey that would take me through some of the highest highs and through the lowest lows emotionally — through trials that made me feel like the biggest failure, and mountain top experiences where I felt like my heart would burst from pride or happiness.

One might expect that I’m talking about motherhood, and, while it’s true, it’s not the whole story. I also embarked on an adventure called homeschooling before my first child was even born.

You see, I didn’t have happy experiences in school. In public school, I had academic success, but socially – as an Adventist who couldn’t participate in most extracurricular activities – it was a disaster. In Adventist school, I fit in socially; however, I found my academic experience to be sub par.

The very minute I found out I was pregnant, I had an educational crisis: WHERE am I going to send him or her to school?!?!

Someone pointed me to the Moore Formula, and after reading, researching, and joining email groups, I realized that maybe I could do this homeschooling thing!

My husband and I made the decision with fear and trembling. It was a complete and total leap of faith! We knew no one who homeschooled, although once I began talking about it, I found a family or two in our church who homeschooled. But fundamentally, I had no idea what I was doing and no one who could mentor me or reassure me that my kids would be okay.

Because of various experiences, classes taken, and daily interactions, my intent to homeschooling using the Moore Formula shifted to covert unschooling. When asked questions, I would obfuscate by saying we were “eclectic,” and eventually shifted to outright, loud-and-proud, radical unschooling — unapologetic unschooling.

I had a community of other homeschoolers – even if they were only on my computer initially – but none who followed the same unstructured learning that we did. Later in my homeschooling journey, I had friends who began homeschooling that I was able to mentor and encourage to allow their children a more natural and curiosity-based education.

But, to say that I was confident in the outcome? To say that I knew that my children would “succeed” in college? Oh no! Again, it was faith-based homeschooling at its most pure.

Parents who follow a curriculum and teach their children in a structured fashion know that their children will at least be familiar with the form of our educational system. I had no such reassurance.

There were times when I had to talk myself off the proverbial ledge. There were times I found myself practically hyperventilating because of concern that my kids weren’t learning … or weren’t learning enough … or weren’t learning in the right way. Oh, the stress! And, I would try this or that to cajole or manipulate my children into learning age- or grade-appropriate materials. It would last maybe a day … maybe two. It just didn’t feel right.

Faith-based homeschooling. Homeschooling by faith and not by sight. Scary thing it was.

And then Ethan, my first-born for whom the decision had been made to homeschool, announced that he wanted to go to school.

At which the hyperventilating began in earnest!

How would he integrate into a structured classroom? What if the teachers were nasty and judging? What if they considered us “homeschooling train wrecks,” as I’d heard my teacher friends refer to homeschoolers who weren’t up to par with traditionally-schooled kids on whatever level: social or academic?

My worst fears seemed to be coming true as I dealt with a counselor at the local high school. Without having laid eyes on us, he was condescending and already judging what Ethan was and wasn’t capable of, what we had and hadn’t done as homeschoolers. I was as honest with him about our unschooling method as I would be with anyone! I wasn’t going to try to hide anything! But what a miserable experience.

Then I remembered a charter school that a friend had told me about. I made the call and what a difference! The registration director was amazing! Helpful! Plenty of ideas! Open, honest, caring!

For the first time in days, I began to breathe again.

Ethan began school a week late, but that wasn’t a big deal as all they’d been doing were team-building activities. He fit in immediately, socially impressing the teachers with his willingness to jump in and exchange ideas in class. In short order, he had everyone charmed down to their tippy toes. This held no surprise to me. The looming hurdle was the academics.

On day three of this little experiment called school, as he’s jumping out of the car in front of the school, he tosses out, “We’re doing MAPS testing all day today…” and he was gone.

I had to pull over for the convulsive hyperventilating! TODAY!! Today is the day where everyone will see how badly I’ve messed up! The judgement, the looks. Literally. Couldn’t. Breathe.

Ethan has never. In all his life. Taken a test. Never.

Can you imagine my freak out? Yeah, no. It was even worse than that.

As I picked him up from school, almost before he’d gotten even half his scrawny behind into the seat, I pounced, “Well?? How did it go??” dreading the answer.

“Well, in science I got [meaningless number to me]. So in language arts I was upset with myself thinking I should have done better because I got [another meaningless number]. But then I started talking to the other kids and it turns out that pretty much on everything I scored [between 10 – 30 points] better than them,” all said very nonchalantly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to take a test.

And in that moment. In that amazing, most precious moment …

My faith became sight.

p.s. There are many details to the story that I’ve left out. Information that is pertinent only if you’ve taken a similar route to ours. If you want to know more about what I did for transcripts or anything else, please feel free to comment on this blog, and I’ll contact you. I have oodles of articles and authors who helped reassure me that my children were learning and would be better off for the methods we followed. I’ll happily share them!

Unit Studies for All Ages

Our family uses unit studies, interspersed with other methods. For us, the unit study approach helps keep learning energized, and makes it real. It’s also a great way to take a short break, while still learning.2015-08-15 11.31.38

A fun way to utilize the unit study approach with multiple age levels is to pick a topic that the children have shown interest in, or one that you feel important for them to study, and build around the subject.

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One of my older sons, now in college, recently helped me start a unit study on space by taking our homeschoolers to the Kennedy Space Center. While such a trip can actually span into aeronautics, engineering, or many other lines, I chose the more open topic of space as it seemed fitting with the recent updates on Pluto and the interests of our homeschoolers.

2015-08-15 13.24.24While at the Space Center, they experienced enough in a day to fill the unit study itself. It actually was a springboard to study our history of space knowledge and exploration, the difference between theories and true facts, and a bit of math facts combined with physics, as we continue to study size, distance, speed, and more. I’ve even found a way to incorporate nutrition as we discuss what the astronauts eat while in training and in space.

india satelliteA similar technique to developing unit studies can be used for studying people, cultures, or countries. We recently had the opportunity to dine at an Indian restaurant. The food was amazing with many vegetarian options.

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We could have just looked at a map and discussed the country of India for a short while, but I decided to extend this into a true unit study.

 

India is an amazing country, rich in history with many beautiful geographic locations. There exist many subcultures within this large country; it would be easy to spend an entire year on such a unit study. For us, a week, sometimes two, is a better choice, so we delved into the history, geography, available foods and cuisine.

But then we added in the current population density, the monetary system, and other facts to incorporate math learning. With India, as with any country, social studies of the population and subcultures can be an overview for younger children or quite detailed for older ones.

With any of our unit studies, a journal with photos is expected and a true report might also be appropriate. The journal might be done by each child individually, but sometimes we choose to do a family project.

One major tie-in that always is included is the Bible. There are many ways to bring the Bible in: studying the religions of the region, discussing how God created the universe, and even discussing God’s plans for our own lives.

Unit studies can be part of a structured homeschool program, the center of your homeschooling, or a short break from the norm. They are not our sole method of learning, but they are an important part of our homeschool experience and add an enrichment factor to keep learning focused on real life and God’s many blessings.

Outdoor {Home}School

This is officially our third year of homeschooling. Our time has consisted of many trials and errors, mostly ending up in living life at home and bringing the kids along for the ride, instead of “schooling” as it is traditionally defined. While it may sound good in theory, I realize we need a better routine for smoother days and to have a more Heaven-like experience. Like probably all home educating parents, I’ve studied a lot of theories and philosophies, and while I have my ideal of what a true biblically-based education should be, it has been much more difficult putting that into practice.

Recently I listened to a podcast about an outdoor school in which the kids are outside for the entire day, rain or shine, year-round. It started me thinking about doing our learning outside all day long. Why not? Didn’t God create the first classroom in a garden?

Although I know we’ve probably read these quotes many times, they took on a new meaning to me as I re-read the wisdom from the Spirit of Prophecy in light of considering schooling in a different environment than before. From the pen of inspiration:

“The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all after time. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents. The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor,” Child Guidance, p.294.

To me that means that not only should we pursue an outdoor schoolroom as was modeled in Eden, but that God Himself will be our Master Instructor when we use His book of nature. Praise God for taking the pressure off this mama!!!

“The fields and hills-nature’s audience chamber- should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook….Parents may do much to connect their children with God by encouraging them to love the things of nature which He has given them, and to recognize the hand of the Giver in all they receive. The soil of the heart may thus early be prepared for casting in the precious seeds of truth, which in due time will spring up and bear a rich harvest,” Child Guidance, p.48.

Doesn’t it sound like the hearts of our children will be more reachable and prepared to hear God’s voice through the love of nature? Sign me up for that too please!  Not to mention the numerous Bible characters who spent their time learning in nature … Jesus, David, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Abel, and Adam, to name a few.

Of course nature has many physical health benefits as well. Have you seen the articles proclaiming, “sitting is the new smoking,” based in part on this research? Basically science is catching up with the Spirit of Prophecy, and showing that exercise for a relatively short time each day does not offset the effects of sitting for hour upon hour. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Here’s what Ellen White was inspired to write about it:

“The human body may be compared to nicely adjusted machinery …. One part should not be subjected to constant wear and pressure, while another part is rusting from inaction. While the mind is tasked, the muscles also should have their proportion of exercise,” Fundamentals of Christian Education p.72.

“The benefits of physical labor in the open air have the advantage tenfold to that obtained within doors,” The Health Reformer, September 1, 1873, Par.5.

To put this into practice, my plan is to include time for the physical exercise as much or more than the mental, depending on the age of our children. More to come on our daily schedule in a later post …

Another area of health I’m keenly aware of is eye health and vision development. This one is more personal to me as I have very poor eyesight due in large part, I believe, to intemperate habits of reading and studying early on. I still struggle with turning off the research part of my brain and letting my eyes and mind rest.

My understanding is that our eyes were created in such a way that the muscles are at their optimal length (not too long, not too short) when we are looking at objects about seven feet away. When we are reading, our muscles shorten to enable a sharp near focus, and over time the muscles can no longer lengthen properly, hence creating a need to look through “corrective lenses” that allow the eyes to see at longer distances while the muscles stay in a shortened position. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the problem of the shortened muscles, but rather encourages them to stay short.

Beautifully, God created our world with an abundance of nature scenery to enjoy both up close and afar to achieve that perfect balance. It’s not at all like reading a book for hours on end. In contrast, the scenery of the great outdoors is always demanding our eyes adapt to focus at varying distances. I hope to teach my children that reading is great in moderation, but nature is to be our living textbook.

These are just a few of my top reasons for having an outdoor-based learning environment over the coming school year and hopefully for many years to come. While there are many nature activities and things to study about nature that we will include, my aim is more on how to utilize a living outdoor classroom and purposefully move more often — not just for an occasional nature walk, study, activity, or outing, but as a lifestyle.

After digging for information on how to put this into practice, I came up with very little, and what I did find was heavily influenced by non-Christian themes. So, although I’m no expert in either outdoor living or homeschooling, I will share our experience over this school year in hopes of encouraging others’ love of nature and of nature’s Creator. This will be our attempt at educating with an outdoor lifestyle in an indoor society.

Here are some things we did over the summer to begin shifting our homeschool to an outdoor-based environment. So far we haven’t bought anything extra, so it is budget-friendly, though I do have a mental list of things I’d like to buy when we can.

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

One of our first orders of business was to encourage more outdoor time even in the summer heat by setting up resting and play spots in the shade to entice the kids to enjoy the simplicity of being outside. We also put up a mesh tent over our picnic table to remedy being bothered by mosquitoes and bees while eating.

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Outdoor Classroom1Though we don’t have a very large porch, we cleared off an area and spread a comforter on the ground for a more comfortable learning nook. We also put up curtains made from sheets to block the hot morning sun that shines on the porch mid-morning to early afternoon. We try to wear light cotton clothing, as that helps us stay cool and well-ventilated in the heat and humidity.

Is this type of schooling even possible in this day and age? I believe it is, and I’m bound and determined by God’s wisdom and inspiration to figure out how to immerse ourselves in God’s nature lesson book to keep our hearts receptive to the gentle voice of the Creator and Savior so we can be ready for His soon coming! I hope you’ll join me on the learning journey in this world to prepare our hearts for the glorious new world to come.