Homeschool Activities From a Connection Perspective: Removing the Power Struggle

In my professional work I encounter parents and children who are sad, frustrated, resentful, and feeling hopeless about a positive and fulfilling relationship with their child. “Parents are the bad guys” or “I’m not supposed to be my child’s friend” are often phrases I hear. When it comes to managing children’s behaviors, the focus is often on the compliance of the child, regardless of the emotional or relational cost.

It seems that parenting comes down to a battle of the wills: “You will do what I say.”

When I dig in my heels and refuse to collaborate with my child on desired expectations, we both lose. The child feels marginalized, unheard, and angry. The parents feel ineffective, frustrated, and like they are failing as a parent. Dr. Dan Siegel talks extensively about the research associated with the brain and development in his book, The Whole Brain Child. We as parents are the mirrors from which our children learn how to act appropriately. If their mistakes are met with criticism, anger, and blame, they will react with anger, mistrust, and defensiveness. The approach he recommends is the idea that children need us to help make meaning for them out of their daily activities.

When I think about how I approach the process of educating my child at home, I recognize that children cannot learn or retain information if they are living in chaotic environments, worried about their next meal, or dealing with other detrimental environmental factors. When I apply this to the home setting, it would seem that my child cannot engage in growing and learning if they do not feel accepted or cared for, or if they are worried about parental reactions/punishment. This doesn’t mean indulgence or lack of discipline, however; nor does it mean the parent isn’t in charge. It simply places the relationship in a position of cooperation vs. dominance. As a parent I am on a continual quest for balance between connection and correction. If my child feels connected and I am in tune with their needs, then they will naturally want to please me more than if I am acting or reacting with anger and punishments.

Here are three things I’ve found helpful in addressing my child’s behavior:

  • Modeling grace: If I make a mistake I say so, I own it and say “uh oh,” and clean up the mess or apologize.
  • Meeting anger with understanding: If my child is upset and emotional, I acknowledge that whatever they are feeling is valid and hard for them (even if its seems silly that they can’t find the right shoes).
  • Redirect with whimsy instead of demands: Singing instead of talking, making a game out of the expectation, and assuming they will follow through by helping them start the task — all are positive encouragements.

A New Journey

The idea of homeschooling never crossed my mind as a positive engagement for me, the parent. Besides, our firstborn has special needs, and we relied heavily on the public school system’s early intervention program to engage his development. Once our son was born, I gave up my career in higher education to raise him. Soon three siblings followed, and even though I adore my children, sending them to school was a welcomed relief.

Our middle girls, now ages 10 and eight, began to exhibit some undesirable behaviors, and we slowly noticed a change in the way that they spoke to each other as time progressed. Teachers gave them insane amounts of candy, and they constantly engaged in name-calling and were disrespectful to each other. My 10-year-old is also an introvert, and struggled to make friends as the only brown child in her classroom. We wanted to enroll them in our church school, but my role as a stay-at-home parent limited our financial capacity to do so.

At the beginning of 2016, we began to pray for direction, and for many months I applied for full-time jobs so that I could afford to send my two girls to our church school. After I turned down my fourth job offer, I realized that full-time employment meant that for the first time in their lives, my children would have to be raised by hired help. They also begged me to continue to say at home. Still blinded in self-doubt, we continued to pray for direction, and then one day I reached out to another parent at church, and asked her how she could afford to send her daughter to our church school. That’s when she told me that she was homeschooling her daughter.

The next day I met with her, and we discussed her experiences, the pros and cons, and all of my fears of homeschooling my two daughters. I was inspired by their sacrifices, confidence, and most importantly, resolve to invest in their child so that she would have a Christian-based learning experience. From that moment on, my husband and I spent hours talking with our daughters, who, surprisingly, were excited about the opportunity to learn at home. And so, our journey begins. We are stepping out in faith, relying heavily of God’s grace and guidance as we do this together. We want my children to experience a faith-based academic journey, and I am willing to do whatever it takes so that we can take this journey together. Please pray for us.

*Yolanda is a guest blogger and a member of the SDA Homeschool Families Facebook group.

Homeschooling on the Move!

Homeschooling is a little like driving: you can study and prepare for months, but nothing prepares you for getting behind the wheel. Add a cross-country move, two toddlers, and a dog to the mix, and you have the recipe for a whirlwind of an adventure.

In August my husband and I accepted an offer on our home we were selling to move from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to Riverside, California. We were to close September 8. Let me now add that our drive includes towing a camper. Sounds like fun, right? And so, my homeschooling journey begins.

A little background about myself: I’m a homeschooled high school graduate. I also have much teaching and leadership experience with Pathfinder Clubs, including being the director of a club we took to the 2014 International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Some things I am learning in the process:

  1. States have different laws regarding homeschool.
  2. Homeschooling can be as cheap or costly as you want it to be.
  3. Planning takes a lot of time.
  4. Planning with two toddlers takes a whole lot more time.
  5. Planning to homeschool while moving across the country is challenging.
  6. There is never enough time.

The next challenge is that we are having to move from Wisconsin to California during the school calendar. This has presented some challenges in itself as we work to maintain an overall friendly schedule that will work with not only La Sierra Academy’s calendar, but also the public school systems. Yes, homeschooling provides families with the choices of when and how to teach, but who wants to be in school while everyone else is out? 🙂

School started for us on August 14th. So far we are having a lot of fun with the curriculum and environment. I love the fact that I alone choose what to teach my child. What is even more rewarding is seeing how my student, my own child, is actually progressing. She has always struggled in school, and I’m learning more as to why. This new life will also lead into a great way of guiding her into skills that will be needed in her life after graduation. I can’t stress the importance of this newfound role of mine. I am not just her mom, but I’m her instructor in everything! Trying to still get that to sink in…

Going back to the travel topic… Our journey will bring us to the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally, California. We are excited to add so many new states to our travel interim. Originally from the Florida panhandle, the only states we have visited have primarily been southern states, and those which follow up the Mississippi river. To see all the beautiful country that we call our home is going to be something to remember for a lifetime. We are going to seek out areas we can incorporate into our curriculum as a field trip. We have found that natural history museums, a cool dinosaur footprint bed, and some old town history will be great to incorporate as a family activity and gain valuable knowledge for school at the same time.

I’m pretty sure that keeping the two toddlers out of my student’s way while she studies will be interesting. I am now teaching pre-k studies for the 3.5-year-old, and for the 18-month-old, a good sensory table ought to keep him busy for a few minutes. But, we all know that it’s just a matter of time before those activities wear off and they’ll be tearing down the house once again. It’s a good thing I am a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom!

All in all, this is time I can’t get back. Homeschooling may be challenging for us in the beginning, but in the end, it’s going to be worthwhile! After all, Jesus also says “with God, all things are possible,” Matthew 19:26b.

If you are considering homeschool for your family, take the plunge! I’m so glad I did!

Rock On!

Have you heard of Kindness Rocks? They are hand painted rocks, usually in bright colors, often with affirming words or phrases put on them, that people decorate and hide as random acts of kindness! I had seen them here and there on the internet this summer but didn’t look into it at all.

Then in mid August we found our first rock! We had gone to the library for story time, and found it sitting on the bench outside the front door of the library. Someone was really excited to find it!

It turns out that the city we live in launched their own little branch-off of Kindness Rocks on July 4th. The back of the rock directed you to the Facebook group (that has nearly 2,500 people in it) where people were sharing pictures of rocks they found and giving hints to where rocks were hidden. That afternoon we went out and got ourselves some rocks and some cheap acrylic paints and started making our very own rocks to share.

Serenity picked the colors on the very first rock that we painted and hid. She painted all the pink all by herself. We hid the rock when we made a run to our local Post Office.

The wonderful thing about being in the local rock group is that we get to see every day the joy that our rocks bring to people in our community. Whether it’s through them finding rocks that we decorated or us finding rocks that they have decorated, it’s a treasure hunt that brings joy to all that participate. The local police and fire departments have decorated their own rocks. A fire department rock will get you a tour of one of the fire stations if you bring it back to them. A police department rock will get you a cool swag bag if it’s brought to the police station.

Our local lumber yard has gotten in on the rock fun too. They are selling rocks for $1 per plastic grocery sack full.

I highly recommend doing Kindness Rocks as a homeschool art project. It’s a great way to connect with your community, to teach sharing, and to appreciate the art of others. We have discovered new places in our city that we didn’t know about (even though we’ve lived here for 10 years), discovered incredibly talented artists, and met new people.

Serenity decorated this rock all by herself. She painted it with pink metallic craft paint, and then drew an octopus on it with purple sharpie. (Sense a color theme?)

This is her favorite rock that we have decorated. It was painted by dripping different colors of old nail polish over it. It was finished off with a googly eye in the middle. 🙂

This is one of the pretty rocks we found on our first outing to a new park we learned about through the rocks Facebook page.

Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.