“What if I don’t know what they’re meant to learn?”

When I first started to tell people I was going to homeschool, one frequent comment was something along the lines of, “What if you don’t know what they’re meant to be learning?” Sometimes it wasn’t put in that way. Often it was, “I could never do tha;, I’m not smart enough,” but underlying it all is the assumption that we have to know everything that we are going to teach our kids. I disagree.

Now, full disclosure before I continue: my kids are young. I don’t have any in upper years, but we’re planning to do this right through, so I’ve thought about it a lot. If you have older kids, and I come across as an ignorant fool who has lots of opinions, only because he’s not there yet — please set me straight!

This worry isn’t often about the early years, but for some, it’s there from the start. I remember a mother asking what to do for maths with her five-year-old. The father was going to take it over in two years after he finished his studies, but until then it was up to her, and she believed that she couldn’t do maths, so couldn’t teach her five-year-old. Noone should doubt their abilities like this. If you can function in everyday life, if you can buy milk, if you can serve cookies to your family without a mutiny and cut a cake into enough portions for everyone to get a share, you can do the first few years of maths.

My kids aren’t me. They’ll want to follow academic streams different to the ones I did, and that’s great. But, it doesn’t mean I need to know it all first. I know I’ll have moments of doubt, and here are a few things I hope to remember:

1) The academics they learn aren’t that important.

I believe that the academics I teach my kids don’t matter…in the same way that the mission trips I used to lead weren’t for the communities we went to. The kids we took did it for the community; we did it for the kids to develop a heart for serving and mission. Likewise, there’s a subtext to academics, and most of the lessons our kids will learn aren’t the actual lessons we teach them. When I look back on my schooling, I remember not so much the dates I had to memorise in history, but the overview and how everything influences everything else. When I remember geography, I remember a bit about tectonic plates, but more about being amazed at how huge and fragile our world is. From science, I can remember a few things about the periodic table, but more I remember the beautiful balance that exists in nature, and I notice the laws of physics all around me, even if I no longer can recite the formulas. From economics, I can’t recall the formulas either, but every time I listen to politicians making promises, I wonder at the “real cost”* of whatever they’re proposing. I believe it’ll be the same for my kids.

2) It’s an opportunity to teach them how to learn.

We all had to learn the periodic table in class. How many of us can still recite it? Academic lessons will be forgotten. Instead of worrying about knowing everything my kids need to learn, I’m much more interested in using those things to teach them how to learn. I don’t need to know everything; I need to model how to learn. If they don’t understand how to do something, they need to learn how to look it up, how to find an expert, how to use the internet to find answers, and how to use discretion to know which answers to believe. In today’s changing world there are few academic constants. Planets that we learned about are taken away, holes in the periodic table are filled, new discoveries turn our knowledge of history upside down, and depending on what country you’re in, the history you learn about the same event will be completely different. We’re bombarded with facts both real and alternate, so teaching my kids how to check things for themselves and how to think for themselves is one of the top priorities of their education. We also have a time when most people change careers several times and most of our kids will have jobs that aren’t even invented yet. How can we possibly prepare them with academic knowledge for that? All we can do is teach them to learn.

3) Nobody knows everything.

How many times have you witnessed a stupid argument because someone was too embarrassed to say that they don’t know? I have many times. Being able to admit to not knowing something is valuable. If we can teach our kids that there’s no shame in admitting it and asking others for advice, we’re teaching them humility and how to learn. People love to show off their knowledge. If you admit you don’t know something, people love to teach. Kids minds also have a wonderful ability to ask hard questions and think outside the box. I did well in school, but my oldest, at four, would regularly stump me with tough questions simply because he saw the world differently. We could look up the answers together and both learn something. I love when that happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’d love to hear any of your ideas about how you combat this.

*The “real cost” is whatever else could have been done with the money. Put really basically, if there’s enough money for a school or a hospital to be built, and a school is chosen, then the real cost of the school is that we don’t have a hospital. If a there is a tax cut, then the real cost is everything that money would have done.

Homeschool to Entrepreneur Writer

The love of reading

Katie is the youngest of four children, all homeschooled by their mom. From the time Katie was a baby, she loved books. Her older brothers and her parents read to her every day. Bible stories and Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories were among her favorites. She also loved stories about animals, as well as children’s books such as the Dr. Seuss books.

As her reading skills grew, so did her love of reading. She loved the internet, as it gave her an endless amount of material to read on all subjects.

young-girl-computerDuring her younger years, Katie also discovered she enjoyed writing as much as she loved reading. Although she was quite adept at most of her school subjects, she wrote with great enthusiasm. Her mother noted that whatever Katie’s future held, her writing skills would be a huge asset to her. As a teen, she explored possible career paths, most of which included college. Her mom helped guide her, but Katie was not yet sure what direction to take.

The skill becomes the career

While on the internet one day reading some blogs, Katie came across a blog on how to become a blogger. She searched for more information on blogging, then on other forms of writing. Her mom said that Katie was so immersed in what she was reading that she didn’t notice the time. When her mom came in the room to remind her they needed to leave for the youth group meeting, Katie could not stop talking about what she had discovered.

Katie’s mom laughs that Katie didn’t seem to stop for a breath the entire drive to the youth group meeting that night. Her excitement over her new-found career path just seemed to bubble from her.

Katie spent the next couple of days on career exploration centered on an online writing career. She discovered that while blogging was certainly a good possible choice, many other options existed, too.

College at least delayed

Katie decided that she would try a career in online writing before considering college. Never excited about spending time and money on college, she felt an enthusiasm for being able to jump into a career without that expense. Some of her friends encouraged her to consider college now, with them. But, her path was different.

Fast forward two years

While some of her friends chose local or distance colleges, others chose vocational schools, and still others pursued jobs, Katie poured herself into writing. She began with writing articles for others, usually at no pay. She was just gaining experience. Soon, she had offers for paid content.

teen-girl-computerAlthough she already had a computer and basic necessities for writing, she used her income to purchase a few more necessities, and even invested in an online freelance writer course.

One of her favorite memories is when a few of her close friends came home on break from college. While they were quite happy with their chosen college route, Katie’s writing career truly impressed them. She showed them her office, a remodel of her schooling area, where she was able to write. When the reunion was over, Katie quickly made notes about the stories they told of their college experiences. She used those notes to write more freelance articles for pay!

Freelance Entrepreneur

Katie did not truly make much of a profit the first year, as much of the small amount she was paid was reinvested. But, before her college-educated friends received their bachelor’s degrees, Katie’s monthly income was quite impressive. She has decided that the freelance entrepreneur lifestyle is perfect for her, though admits it would not work for everyone.

She credits her homeschool years and the freedom they allowed her to pursue her own path. While she might have found this path from any education, Katie believes that the encouragement from her mom and dad, as well as the homeschool education, helped her refine her career choice. She states that without the reading and writing through the years, her life might be quite different.

Katie recently started writing a book, in addition to her content writing. Now engaged, she plans to continue her online business when married, too. She is sure that it will allow her to homeschool their own children in the future, too.

 

 

Staying Consistent at Home and School

I’ve heard it since I was round with my first overdue baby: “The secret to parenting is being consistent.”

My parents said it. Uncles and aunts said it. The doctor, the grocer, the pastor all said it. To a large degree I see it’s true, but on many days it feels the only thing consistent about our life and parenting is the chaos. This is especially clear now that our kids are old enough to homeschool.

Staying Consistent at Home

Although we often feel like failures in this department, there are a few things we can count on in our house. They may be few in number, but they pack a punch.

  • Sabbath
    We keep the Sabbath in our house. We may be less strict with toys and activities than some Sabbath-keeping families, and more strict in other aspects, but the weekly observance is the same. Our kids can count on the Sabbath. They can depend on church, lunch with the grandparents, and a relaxed day.
  • Discipline
    It may have been a rocky uphill climb, but we have finally landed on a system of discipline that works well for us. We stopped spanking, and our kids do push-ups for disobedience. It really has stopped a lot of behaviors that we were not happy with (including our own). The push-ups give the kids a chance to slow down, calm down, and breathe.
  • Love
    No matter what happens everyday (as I said, we live a hectic life), in our house the kids can count on love — hugs whenever they want them, lots of kisses and cuddles and encouraging words.
  • Nap Time
    Sometimes we aren’t at home for nap time or the kids sleep in the car. If this happens we skip nap time. If we’re home, though, the kids can count on nap time at 2 p.m. every day. This recharges Mom, gives the oldest an opportunity to have quiet time, and gives the two youngest some much-needed sleep.

Staying Consistent at School

Our homeschool is not consistent in any stretch of the imagination, but we’re working at it. At this point in time there is very little the kids can count on, because we just changed our curriculum. Since it’s so chaotic, we try to keep the things that we can as consistent as possible.

  • Rewards and Praise
    We try to reward the kids for school work, both in game time (either video games, or the games on their school program). We also like to use stickers, along with hugs and kisses (which works the best for the youngest two!).
  • Same Time
    I try very hard to have at least some class time at the same time each day. This affords my son the opportunity to think, “oh, it’s time for school,” at the same time each day. It also gives him a special time that’s just his. When the others are old enough to have school daily, I will give them their own time as well.
  • The Subject Matter
    We tried a curriculum that only taught sight words for reading, but realized our son responds better to phonics. We finally chose a system of learning that we’re happy with, so now we are sticking with it. We’re sticking with a curriculum that reflects our beliefs as well as what we learned, so we’re better able to teach them.

A Routine

It’s so important to have a routine. Since we’re not in a place to have a consistent routine in our house, we’re at least going to discuss a routine every morning, and that will be consistent. We can call it The Breakfast Battle Plan. This will be a solid start.

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.

“What if they end up weird?”

Disclaimer: When I use “weird” in this post, please see it as “different to the average mainstream” as opposed to any negative connotation. Thanks!

If you weren’t reading this I’d ask you to close your eyes and think of the stereotypical homeschooled kid. What do you see? You probably know a lot of kids who are homeschooled, and see a normal child (whatever that is!), but popular culture has created a rather different picture, and this is what many people see when they think of a homeschooler. They might imagine the family who sews all their own clothes and never leaves their homestead. It might be the kids who are awkward at any social event and have no idea how to act. This was the type of person I thought of.

When I was younger I knew a few kids who were homeschooled. It was still pretty new here in Australia; I believe it hadn’t even been legal for very long. I used to look at these kids and wonder if they were weird because they were homeschooled, or if they came by it honestly, because the only people who homeschooled their kids were weirdos! In retrospect, I think I probably knew more people who were homeschooled, but just didn’t know about it. I also knew a lot of weird kids who went to regular school. Some of those kids have gone on to be incredibly successful; others still walk to the beat of a different drum.

This was one of my fears when I started looking into homeschooling my boys, and it’s also one of the things that people ask me regularly — at least those who are impolite enough, or who know me well enough to get away with it. When people meet a child who is odd, and then they find out that child is home-schooled, they decide that it must be the homeschooling that causes the weirdness. Any “normal” homeschooled kids don’t do anything to negate this, nor does the fact that a lot of mainstream kids are different do anything to make them think that it’s school that’s to blame. When it comes to homeschooling, “post hoc ergo propter hoc” seems to be the rule. It happened after something, so it MUST be because of something. We live near an Adventist college and have a few theology students at our church. This means we have to endure some sermons that highlight the naivety of students learning to preach. Many of the students come across as sheltered; however, for the student who was homeschooled this was obviously the cause. I’m not sure what was to blame for the others!

I won’t lie, there’s a lot of weird kids who are homeschooled. But, there are also a lot of mainstream kids who aren’t normal either! God has made us all different, and I think that’s wonderful. I’m not worried anymore. This is due to a few things. I’ve met a lot of different kids who are homeschooled. In general, I find them not much different to mainstream kids. There are a lot of special needs homeschooled kids in our area. When I was considering homeschooling, I went to a social day that was advertised on a local homeschooling group. The first kids I met were your cliched, stereotypical, running-around-with-no-social-skills homeschoolers. My heart sank, but I saw pretty quickly that these kids had medical issues. Genetics is to blame for their not being normal. Many kids are homeschooled because mainstream would make their lives hell, or they’d slip through the cracks. I have so much respect for parents who homeschool their kids because of this. Homeschooling hasn’t made these kids different; it’s giving them the best chance to survive growing up unscathed by the meanness of school for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. Even if they don’t have these issues, going to a mainstream school forces our children to join a group. To fit into that group they start to lose a bit of who they are to the group identity. I remember sacrificing bits of myself to fit in with the “cool” kids. By homeschooling we can not only give our children a catered education, but raise them to be the people God made them to be — even if it is different to everybody else.

The fact that a child is homeschooled won’t make them weird, but the way I homeschool my child might. If I hide them from the world, only letting them see the people from church, only letting them be exposed to ideas that I’ve sanitised and approved, they’ll never grow. They’ll never learn to think for themselves and wrestle with different ideas. They’ll never have the opportunity for God to use them to make a difference in the world, because I will have hidden them from it. That isn’t raising them to be the people God made them to be, for the purpose He has for them. But, if I show them how to love other people, that different ideas aren’t something to be scared of, that someone who believes differently to me isn’t a bad person just because of that, that God loves a difficult person so much He would’ve sent Jesus to die just for them — if I let that be the filter they see the world through, then I am helping to set them up for God to use however He sees fit. To me, that’s what matters.

Now if I start to worry that my kid is different other kids, I refocus on what’s important. Does it matter? No. God has blessed me with my children. I shouldn’t be comparing my kids to anyone else’s. I should just be doing the best job I can with what God has given me. We’re not all dealt the same hand; not all of us are expected to cure cancer, convert the masses, or change the world. If we look at the parable of the talents, we see that what we’re asked to do is the best we can with what God has entrusted to us. Let’s embrace that. Let’s raise our children to be the people God made them to be, letting their unique light shine. Let’s nurture the special gifts that they have, and teach them to let God use them how He sees fit without looking at what everyone else is doing.

Besides, if I’m really honest, my kids share my genetics. If they’re weird, homeschooling isn’t to blame!