Reading as a Base to Learning

reading 1We’ve officially been a homeschool family for more than two decades. Each of our nine children have been homeschooled since their birth or adoption. While I consider a full spectrum of subjects to be very important, I have noted that each of them hinges on one very special skill — reading.

Reading skills actually begin at a very early age, with listening and responding to others, usually parents and siblings. These conversations are so important that research has noted that babies raised without them, such as in many orphanages, will have a more difficult time learning to read as they progress.

reading 2We continue to encourage reading by reading to our children long before they are capable of reading on their own. Reading to young children and developing their ability and love of reading has an integral effect on learning. A child who is a skilled and confident reader will find learning new material much easier and enjoyable.

While these building blocks are important in building strong readers, they also contribute largely to other skills, including learning. We’ve found with our own children that strong readers find learning in any field easier. A child that struggles with reading will often have difficulty learning new material in other subjects.

I’m not suggesting that a poor reader cannot learn; some of our adopted children have reading issues, but have shown abilities to learn certain subjects in other ways. There is a strong correlation, however, between strong reading skills and ease and enjoyment of learning.

We parents will note that some children just do not like reading, even if they are good readers. The correlation remains; when they are ready to learn new material, the reading skills will enable them to learn more easily.

read 3Does it matter what a child reads? I believe it does. God calls us to seek that which is good and avoid that which is not. Reading uses multiple senses to integrate what we read into our brains. What a person reads becomes imprinted into his brain, good or bad.

Will reading a story such as Beauty and the Beast be detrimental? Not necessarily. Discuss the positives and negatives. Help the child critique each book and its characters, in an age appropriate way.

When our older boys were reading chapter books, other children their ages were reading a series that was considered scary. I read enough to know that our children would not be reading the series, and it helped that they didn’t really want to read them. Later, some Christian families regretted allowing and even encouraging the series with their children. The books were not occult based, but they did have a slant in that direction and led to the children reading other such books, in addition to watching movies that led them away from God’s ways.

Like so much in life, our choices in books can be addictive. Some find evil compelling and will seek out such choices. Others might find detailed romance novels or other non-Christian stories will draw them.

But, just as negative influences of books and stories can have detrimental effects, stories of hope and of God’s ways can have favorable outcomes. Reading weaves the messages into the brain, and children are most vulnerable to receiving them.

reading 4Reading is the gateway through which so much learning can take place. It’s important to ensure that our children are reading well and reading materials that will bring them closer to God and His ways and His World.

A Lesson Learned in Car Line

I had an epiphany sitting in “Car Line” the other day.

I’m a newbie to the whole schooling world, having homeschooled all four of my children until just this year. I had no clue that Car Line was a thing. Oh, yes, my friends. It is a thing! In fact, after I became aware of it, someone posted a meme on Facebook about the RULES of Car Line!

Car Line 02The first day that I took Ethan to school and saw the line of cars snaking their way through the parking lot, moving slower than a toddler on full-distraction mode, I knew that there was no way I was going to participate in that particular ritual!

First I tried the “Drop and Run” method. I would approach the turn into the parking lot as if to join the fun, but then as traffic would slow for the turn and perhaps even stop, my son would hop from the car, allowing me to avoid it at the last second! And best of all, I wasn’t interfering with anyone since the flow of traffic was naturally stop and go.In fact, I would build up goodwill by allowing one or two unfortunate saps, those turning across traffic into Car Line, to go in front of me before I drove straight past the lot!

After a few days, one of the teachers monitoring the parking lot — I affectionately refer to them as Car Line Nazis — asked my son if he were being dropped off, and proceeded to chide him for walking between the cars in Car Line, forcing the cars to stop.

Forcing them to STOP. You gotta be kidding me! Even if he laid down in front of one of them and played a hand of Yahtzee, he wouldn’t slow that line down even marginally!

Ethan and I rolled our eyes at one another and proceeded to method #2: Pull Over and Drop.

This was similar to method #1, with the exception that I drove past the lot entrance, pulled over onto the sliver of shoulder on the road, and Ethan would hop out and would walk around the Car Line, not impeding their lightening pace.

Soon Ethan was accosted by the Nazis again, this time because parents were complaining that I was endangering my child.

By now, I was getting really annoyed. Ethan is 16 AND a half years old. Because of the benefit of homeschooling (and my free-range parenting techniques), he’s particularly agile at avoiding traffic! Especially that which is creeping along at a snail’s pace on both sides of the parking lot entrance because of all of said traffic! It’s not like I’m pulling over on the side of the interstate! And, it’s not like I’m dropping off my preschooler!

Oy vey.

I ended up avoiding the feeder road leading to the parking lot altogether, instead opting to drop Ethan off farther up the road at a traffic light where he crosses from one side of a road to the other, approaching the school parking lot at the far end of Car Line where he can skirt it.

Then came the morning that I found myself in Car Line. It was raining and I had time, so instead of making Ethan walk and get drenched, I joined the masses creeping my way through the parking lot.

I became acutely aware of those who were doing what they shouldn’t do. At least what I assumed they shouldn’t do. Not like I’m an expert! Since my son couldn’t walk between cars and stop progress, I observed someone stopping and letting a child out way earlier than they should. How inconsiderate!

Then there was the person who turned left out of the parking lot despite a “No Left Turn” sign. I tsk-tsked to myself at their audacity.

All this got me thinking. Why did any of those parents who chose to participate in the inanity that is Car Line give two hoots where and how I dropped my child off? Why did it matter whether he walked between two cars inching along with 200 of their closest friends?

All of a sudden, I totally understood.

Because they were following the rules.

And, I was not.

That was eye opening for me! I started looking at all the places where I encountered intolerance in myself and compared it to this new paradigm and realized that it was true!

Whenever I’m obeying the law and someone else flouts it, it makes me mad!

All it takes is for one idiot who decides that they can go riiiiiiight up to the very front of the line if we’re all merging into one lane for my blood pressure to go off the charts! I will always merge over at the most appropriate time, signaling and sometimes with my window rolled down, a questioning look and a wave of thanks.

That’s the right way to do it!

So, when I see Joe Schmoe riding the shoulder, going past everyone else beginning the merge process, I will go above and beyond — even riding the shoulder myself hovering in my place in line — to slow them down and keep them from jumping line!

This has profound implications for relationships all over the place!

Those who have, for one reason or another, placed themselves under the law struggle to abide those who decide that the rules are not for them!

The problem is that following the rules sets us up to feel better because we’re “doing it right,” and to resent those who don’t. The older son in The Prodigal parable is a perfect example of this.

We don’t slow down long enough to think about whether the “rules” are true rules or more a choice or preference. And, even if they are valid rules (like God’s rules), a valid question to ask is perhaps why someone is doing what they’re doing.

The thing that I struggle to come to terms with is that, fundamentally, it’s not my business to feel anything for those doing things differently than they “should” (i.e. breaking the rules) — other than love them and perhaps harbor an understanding that there might be more to the story than I know.

What’s sure is that many times, this attitude keeps us from loving those who might be “breaking the rules” because of pain in their hearts, abuse in the past, or a myriad other reasons that,  were we aware of them, might soften our hearts and our responses.

I’ve been mulling this over since this realization hit, and I’ve determined to have it radically alter my relationship to those who do life differently.

I might even allow Joe Schmoe to blaze past me. Who knows!?

Homeschooling in Alaska

Please introduce yourself and your family to us, and also tell us what country and/or state you are from.

My name is Shoni. My husband is Mike. He is a medivac and a bush pilot here in Nome. My family and I live 10 miles outside of Nome, Alaska. This is the Northwestern part of Alaska on the Bering Sea. Our home is the last house on the grid. The Snake River flows on three side of our home. The kids love the river. In summer they swim and fish and play in it as often as allowed. In the winter they skate and cross-country ski on it. The river also is our source of water for our home. Musk ox, wolf, bears, fox, and reindeer are often visitors. We have lived here for 17 years. Our family is made up of many very special children. We are a foster group home working with Alaska Native children. They come to us from all over western Alaska. We have four children that are our own, two that God blessed us with through adoption, and 300-plus foster children that have touched our lives. God brought us to this place and has guided our journey. 

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How long have you been home schooling?

We started homeschooling when our son was born 19 years ago. It was something we felt was important. Living in Nome there are no Adventist schools for the kids, and we wanted them to have a Christian education. Our first foster babies came to us when our kids were babies. I saw that many of the kids that came to us struggled with life in general. They needed someone to believe in them, so we decided that we would homeschool our foster children too. Some mornings my kitchen table would be full, and other days it would be just us.   

Why did you decide to home school?

I wanted to keep my kids close and learn with them. Learning about God was an important aspect that public school could not offer. I struggled with school and didn’t want to see my children struggle as I did. We said that we would homeschool as long as everyone agreed it was good. Some of our kids homeschooled to college; some went to boarding school when they were in high school. It was different with each child. 

What style of home schooling does your family follow?

Charlotte Mason had a great influence on me in the beginning. Ellen White’s book, Education, also had an influence. I use “Shoni Method.” I believe that every child is different and has their own needs. One of my girls started to read at two and never slowed down. I gave her access to World Books, libraries, and lots of learning books. She taught herself. Now at 17 she is a pre-med math and biology major, and still loves books. Our son struggled with school but loved to rebuild cars, so dad got him a manual and an old truck. Dad told him when he could read the manual, he could have the truck to build. He now owns an amazing truck and is a very good mechanic. He is in flight school now. 

Do you have a philosophy about home schooling?

Learning is fun… Learning is a family life style. 

What kinds of tools, resources, or curricula do you use to home school and why?

Crafts, art, music, computers, DVD’s, lots and lots of books, shop, kitchen. Teaching Textbooks for math from third grade on. Before third grade we use hands-on math learning. Easy Grammar is my favorite grammar book, but I have been known to use other programs too. Story of the World is great for history. We have the books on CD, and the kids love to listen to them. Eyewitness books are wonderful for the pictures; I think we have all of them.  Make it Work books are great for hands-on science and project ideas. I love most any set of World Books. 

Are you the primary “teacher,” or does your spouse or other family members participate with home schooling?

I’m the principle…I’m mom. Dad teaches the kids in the shop how to care for cars, hunting and fishing skills, and airplanes. He reads to the kids most nights, and takes them out to play when Mom needs quiet. The older children help the younger children. A math lesson may be taught by a high school student, or a 10-year-old will help his seven-year-old brother with numbers. The kids learn by teaching each other. A new child in the home will be matched up with one of our own kids, and they work together. Many of the kids are far behind and some have not gone to school at all, so we do lots of basic ABC and 123.

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What does a typical home schooling day look like in your home?

Starts at 7 a.m. with wake up and clean room, we eat at 8 a.m., and school starts at 8:30 a.m. We start off reading a Bible story together and talking about it. Then, the older kids go the their rooms where they each have a desk. I work with them one-on-one, twice a week. They have a weekly assignment sheet that they follow. They work independently most of the time, depending on the student. The younger kids join me at the table. We have three school projects a day. The kids are mainly behind, and they struggle at sitting still. They are assigned a task: math practice, spelling learning game, word puzzles, or reading activity. Sometimes it’s a learning video or an art project for a lap book. They are in groups of two mostly. I work with one and then go to the next. We change task every 30 minutes. We finish at 11 a.m., and the kids go outside or help me with lunch. Lunch at noon, and 12:30 p.m. is nap time for the littlest in the house. The older kids have an hour of their choice of reading. Everyone reads an hour every day. Afternoons are filled with adventures, hikes, outside play, music, and art. Most of the kids that are able will get an afternoon job. Teaching the kids how to work is part of our school. Supper is at 6 p.m., and after supper Dad reads to the kids. Bedtime starts at 8 p.m. for the youngest and 9 p.m. for the older kids. 

What do you love the most about home schooling, and what do you dislike the most?

I love having my kids close around me and learning with them. There are some days it gets overwhelming. One day at a time. God always gives strength.

Is there anything you would like to share about your home school?

God is good. He is always there to help us. He is the greatest teacher and example. 

Bath Time Learning

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Today’s installment is another way to incorporate learning into your daily routine with your toddler.

Bath time is rife with learning opportunities for young minds. It can be an early introduction to science, art, health, and more.

The first and most important thing that I made sure my daughter started learning during bath time is safety — #1 was to not put your face in the water and try to breathe. 🙂

Bathtub science is a lot more fun, and wet, than bathtub safety. Splashing is a good introduction to laws of motion, showing reactions to actions. Playing with bath toys introduces the concepts of sinking and floating. Cups in the tub help teach pouring and measuring.

Bath time is a good time to help a toddler learn to identify different body parts. It is also a good time to practice counting fingers and toes.

Bath-time art has gotten more sophisticated than it was when I was young. I thought homemade bath crayons were the pinnacle of bath-time art fun. Now, in addition to bath crayons, there are color drops that change the color of the bath water, and ways to make colored bath bubbles. Bath-time bubble sculptures are a lot more fun when they’re in Technicolor!

These are just a few of the ways I’ve found to incorporate learning into the every day routine of bath time. I’d love to hear other ways in the comments!

How to Grow Healing Foods Without a Green Thumb

Many years back my desire to garden and grow some of our own food began to blossom. Knowing that much of our food has been depleted of essential nutrients was a big factor in my desire to grow healthy food to nourish my family. This was easier said than done. We live in a high desert environment with very poor soil and very little rain. Water is expensive and not in abundant supply. And unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb. When I buy a house-plant, I ask the nursery workers for the plant that is the hardest to kill!

Our first attempts at gardening were abysmal. We could scarcely get a tomato to grow, and the ones that did grow were inedible. With God’s patient teaching, some fantastic resources, and willingness to work hard, the garden has finally become abundant — at least for desert standards. We’re not expert gardeners by any stretch of the imagination. But, we hope what has helped us could also help someone else struggling with making a garden grow.

Additionally, the lessons for the kids on persistence and hard work are priceless. There are so many life lessons to be learned from participating in planting and growing a garden.

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Steps to Growing Healing Foods

For those of you who live where you throw some seeds in the ground and they grow — I hope I can live where you do someday!

For everyone else, here are the steps we took over several years to learn to grow healing foods.

First, we educated ourselves by watching movies, attending local gardening workshops, and joining a garden club. Our favorite movies/clips are How to Grow Healing Foods and Back to Eden. Back to Eden not only introduced us to no-till gardening, which takes very little water, but the spiritual lessons brought out in this film are outstanding. It is free to watch online.

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Next we talked my father-in-law into helping us set up a fence to keep the deer and rabbits out. He also donated a large pile of decaying wood chips to help us get started. We cleared the weeds and laid down newspapers, dirt, and wood chips (about four inches thick). When we made the rows, we added mushroom compost and planted our seeds in the compost. The first year we watered by hand and were not very consistent, which led to tomato end-rot.

The next year we upgraded to a timed watering system which we ordered from DripWorks. The kids and I installed it ourselves and it was not overly complicated. The only trouble was that I didn’t order enough drip tape to cover the whole garden, and had to order more. Their website has lots of videos and demos to help a beginner get started. No more tomato end-rot with the timed watering, and it conserved water as a bonus.

Then we ordered the best thing ever: Garden in a Box veganic fertilizer kit from Little Light Studios. It had all the organic fertilizer we needed for two growing seasons and sea solids. I’ll never grow a garden without sea solids again. This is the magic potion needed to replenish the nutrients in the soil and make your homegrown vegetables way more nutritious than what’s available at the grocery store. The How to Grow Healing Foods video shows the amazing healing power of eating produce grown with diluted sea solids.

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Amazingly, last year my colds were very mild, and this year is the first time I haven’t gotten sick when the rest of my family was sick. Not coincidentally, I’ve also eaten the most produce from our garden of anyone in the family. My two boys eat a fair amount of garden produce, and also get over colds and coughs in half the time as others. They still won’t eat it in abundance yet…but we’re working on that.

Our family has loved having a garden in our desert community. It’s takes time and effort, but the rewards of working together, exercising, getting fresh air, and eating all the delicious healing food are well worth it. Oh, and they’re learning all kinds of stuff, and they don’t even think they’re doing “school.” Spring is coming and we’re getting in gear for another summer of growing healing foods.