E is for Exercise

Continuing with the NEWSTART acronym, we run along to the letter E which stands for exercise. My family is on vacation right now, a wonderful relaxing trip to the beaches of Florida. Even though we didn’t bring any school books along, homeschooling is life, so it continues. Discussions, historical sights, science lessons in nature, and definitely PE! Our favorite beach to go to is in New Smyrna because it has an outdoor racquetball court that we always take advantage of before diving in the ocean. Of course, there’s ball playing and boogie boarding and walks along the beach — all great exercise and loads of fresh air.

Having an active only child has ensured that I get my exercise. I have been his playmate all his life. Never one to excel in sports, anything having to do with a ball suddenly became my new life. Countless hours at the baseball field, hockey in the driveway, football at the park, and various games in the yard keep me in shape. In fact, as he gets older and plays more with his friends, my body shows it. Luckily for me, when he doesn’t invite me to the game of kickball, his friends do! Obviously, I have never had any trouble fulfilling the PE requirement for him for homeschooling!

How do you incorporate exercise into your homeschooling day? Towns often offer sports programs that homeschoolers can join. But, if your child isn’t as sports minded as mine, there are plenty of other options. Nature or neighborhood walks and bike rides would be at the top of the list. Many homeschoolers get together for park days or even hiking clubs. Audubon or local parks often offer programs that will get your child moving and experiencing nature at the same time. Fun activities like sledding, skating, or skiing are great in the winter. Have your child join you in exercising along with a video, and then join him in scootering around the block. The possibilities are endless for exercise!

My favorite part of the homeschooling journey is that we are traveling it together as a family. Enjoying exercise together is not only fun but good for every BODY! So, let’s get moving!

Benefits of the Outdoor Classroom

Here in the Netherlands two organizations worked together to promote going outside for learning by organizing an outdoor school day. They challenged schools to do at least one lesson outside on this day. We decided to join this special day with our homeschool, and we spent the whole day outside. In the morning, we went for a walk in the forest with three other homeschooling families. The afternoon we spend working and playing in our garden.

Both my children, but especially my son (three years old), love to play outside. My son often asks me, “Can I play in the garden now?” — even before breakfast or after dinner. I simply can’t say no to this. Being outside has so many benefits.

Today I want to share with you some of the benefits of playing and learning outdoors, particularly for preschoolers.

In the book Child Guidance, sister Ellen White shares with us:

  • “Next to the Bible, nature is to be our great lesson book,” Testimonies For The Church 6:185.
  • “To the little child, not yet capable of learning from the printed page or of being introduced to the routine of the schoolroom, nature presents an unfailing source of instruction and delight. The heart not yet hardened by contact with evil is quick to recognize the Presence that pervades all created things. The ear as yet undulled by the world’s clamor is attentive to the Voice that speaks through nature’s utterances. And for those of older years, needing continually its silent reminders of the spiritual and eternal, nature’s teaching will be no less a source of pleasure and of instruction,” Education, 100.
  • “The fields and hills — nature’s audience chamber — should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten,” The Signs of the Times, December 6, 1877.

So, let’s use the outdoors for learning. The course of SonLight about the ‘ten principles of true education’ also emphasises the importance teaching in nature.

“Homeschooling is meant to be done in a natural surrounding where children learn naturally.… Teaching outside tends to quiet hyper students. At first there may be moments of distraction, but these moments will pass, or can often be turned into lessons.… Teaching outside will improve the five senses. Students will become more sensitive to seeing detail, hearing quiet sounds, smelling fragrances, feeling breezes and changes in temperature, and tasting nature through its smells. This will help develop in them a sensitivity to people, their needs… In their time of trouble to will be the little things that will help them to know how to respond to a friend or an enemy. Teaching outside offers time for personal prayer, thoughts and meditation. It offers opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak gently to students through nature.” https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1d_dY0vFt8ffm1wVjFNQ25tUWFsWFFnT1RnZ3hCbWhHcDdodkhBZW82akg0dERfcFpDbDg?amp%3Busp=sharing

There are also multiple health benefits from playing and homeschooling outside:

  • Sunlight: the sun supplies us with vitamin D and helps with sleep-wake cycle.
  • Fresh air: indoor air is more toxic than outdoor air.
  • Exercise: it strengthens muscles and bones, and it prevents obesity.
  • Healthy eyes: spending a lot of time outside in natural light protects against nearsightedness.

And, last but not least, the influence of being outside on mental health:

  • Better cognitive performance
  • Improved attention spans
  • Better behavior and mood
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved memory
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Playing together with other children encourages social development like sharing, and how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

Adult controlled play, such as in organized sports, and free play are not interchangeable, although both are valuable. Children learn better when they regularly spread their attention or can pause.

What is your experience with the outdoor classroom? Please share how you use your outdoor classroom and how it benefits your children.

P.E. for Lifelong Health: More Than Just Another Subject

When I think of physical education, the first thing that comes to mind is organized sports and jumping jacks. There is nothing wrong with either of those things, but I was not eager to “go there” in our homeschool. However, it recently dawned on me that P.E. is more than learning the rules to softball or perfecting “sit and reach.” Teaching our children to live active lifestyles sets them up for better health and a more balanced life. Contrary to my previous belief, P.E. is actually a critical part of the homeschooling equation.

It’s no question that an active lifestyle is important to keep our bodies fit and to increase circulation. It’s also key to give our bodies a chance to move, especially when paired with many of the sedentary jobs (including school work) our modern world requires.

The key is finding a way to help our children build the right habits that will make an active lifestyle easy for them to maintain throughout their lives. It’s more than just blocking off a class period. It’s about building healthy habits together as a family. Here are a few tips to help you and your family integrate P.E. into your homeschool routine in lasting and effective ways.

It starts with you

It’s one thing to tell your child being active is important, but to watch from the sidelines while she plays sports or runs that obstacle course you set up in the backyard. It’s a totally different ball game when you set a good example by the way you live your own life. So, how is your physical activity? How do you want to show your children that exercise is important in your life? You don’t have to run a marathon; a daily after-lunch walk is a great place to start.

Include the whole family

Any time you can work on physical activity together as a family, it will help build momentum and keep everyone engaged. My husband’s family are all runners. He and his siblings and his dad will get together for races. It’s fun to hear them all talk when they are training together, even though they are spread out all over the world. My son has started riding his bike with my husband sometimes when he goes for runs, and before long he will be ready to run the 5K while my husband runs the marathon or half marathon.


Maybe your family enjoys biking, swimming, playing a team sport, or even hiking or backpacking. You can even get creative and work on little challenges together like jumping rope, keeping track of who walks the most steps in a day, or more. If you go to the playground, run around and hang on the equipment with your kids. Doing activities that include the whole family also gives you more quality time together, and that’s certainly a plus.

Replace a passive activity with an active one

There are so many passive things we can do in our families. If we can replace even one of those activities with something more active, even once a week, that may make a big difference. Can you walk or bike for one errand each week instead of taking the car? Think about doing some stretching or walking in place while you listen to a book on tape. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and power walk to the store. Take a family walk in the evening instead of sitting around the house together. You can even practice spelling or vocabulary words or study for a test while moving. By simply replacing one passive activity with an active one, you can make a big difference in building an active lifestyle for your family.

Get outside on the weekends

It’s harder to be sedentary when you are outside. You can go for a walk, play frisbee — even blowing bubbles can get you moving. Make it a goal to get outside every single weekend, even when the weather is no fun. Then, get moving with your kids. My family loves spending Sabbath outside. We usually go for a really long hike. We don’t go fast, but just stretching our legs and getting out there in God’s creation does something amazing for the soul.

Take Active Breaks

When you are sitting or doing a task that requires sedentary focusing for long periods of time, get in the habit of setting timers for you and your kids. Get up and take a 10-minute walk around the house or jog in place. Whatever you do, make it active. Don’t simply move from the desk to the couch and “veg out.” Be intentional and get moving. Shoot a few hoops, toss a ball in the front yard. It doesn’t have to be something long or involved.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. You may notice that the more active you and your family are, the easier it will be to be more active over time. I truly believe that by integrating activity throughout your life and not just having a 30-minute class period in your school schedule (though that’s not bad either), you will be setting an example and putting the right habits in place to help your kids be healthy and balanced for life.

Keepin’ It Real

Let me just start by saying that this is not at all what I had planned on writing for this post … but a few things happened sort of all at once: the washing machine quit working, our van broke down, and my husband’s computer went kaput. Ouch!

So, what do you do when a lot of big expenses need your attention? Start with the one thing you need the most and make do with the rest. In other words, since we are a one-car family, and my husband makes a living doing computer work, a new washing machine will wait.

How does one do laundry for five people without a washer? Thankfully, we had been preparing for this day awhile back when the washer was down for a bit, and we knew it was just a matter of time until it died for good. Praise God we had the equipment to do our laundry somewhat efficiently by hand already. (By the way, if you ever try this out, a spin dryer is a wonderful thing!)

October_Outdoor_2You may be wondering what this has to do with homeschooling. Well, as we began hauling buckets of water, washing, spin drying, and hanging the laundry, I realized we had enough to keep us busy for the entire day. It reminded me of the Little House book where it talks about each day having its own proper work: “Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday…”

I started thinking about how great it was that we were still meeting our goals of being outside, getting our fresh air, sunshine, and exercise by doing meaningful labor. We had purpose. We had to work together as a team to meet a common goal, a basic necessity not just for each individual’s benefit but for the whole family. We all got in on the work, even the toddler who loves to plunge the clothes in the buckets — and get drenched in the process.

October_Outdoor_1Isn’t it kind of ironic that we have all these fancy machines to increase efficiency, but then we have to find ways to fill up our kids’ time with other things that may not be as purposeful? Are we filling our lives with meaningful things, or with fluff to fill in the spaces? If having a washing machine (or any other modern convenience) means the kids will have more time to get bored and need artificial entertainment, then I’ll hand wash clothes all day long. Truly, I believe the challenge is not in finding something fun for our kids to do, but in finding something useful to do and making it fun.

At the end of the day, the lessons we learned from the simple act of washing our clothes by hand was of greater impact than what we could have ever learned from a day spent in books. This is education: out in nature, work to do, real-life problems to solve, serving together for one another, and the sweetness of rest and satisfaction of a job well done after the work is finished. Praise God for providing this life lesson for our family!

“Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God,” Ecclesiastes 2:24 NKJV.

Sight-words Flashcards “Toll” Game

In teaching children to read, building a store of sight-words can give them some quick wins as they work on perfecting their phonics skills. It makes it possible to read some more interesting stories that include words that may be quite common in a child’s world, but not necessarily phonetically simple.

In teaching children to read, building a store of sight-words can give them some quick wins as they work on perfecting their phonics skills. The Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game is a great, fun way to work on this!

For even more fun… play with bicycles!

The problem is that sight-words must be drilled. They must be used. You could label various things around your house — or better yet, let your child help you do that. You could also point out a particular sight-word as you read, and let the child “read” that word. (One of these days, we will go into that in detail in another blog post.)

While these methods can be helpful, on their own, you may end up with a child who is a master of guessing. That works fine for the first few words, but as the variety of somewhat similar words continues to grow? Yeah, that can be a problem.

So, what is a homeschool teacher to do? Flash cards! Now don’t run away too quickly here; we’re not going to follow the same old sit-and-flip-a-bunch-of-cards routine. We’re going to make it fun, like learning should be!

Ready? Here we go!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any time you can manage to mix in fun physical activity with mental exercise, you’re bound to have a win with the children.

One of mine and the young children’s favorite school games to play has been our Sight-Words Flashcards “Toll” Game.

The Cards

To play, you will need a stack of sight-word flash cards. Be sure to use words that your children are ready to learn. Start with a small stack, even just two or three cards if your child is just beginning.

As your child gains confidence, you can add words, and even some phrases.

Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game | SDAHomeschools.org

First, prepare your stack of sight-word flashcards.

The first time you show a new card, tell your child the answer and let them repeat it. (Later, if your child is struggling too hard with a card, you can do this, as well. Don’t let them throw out a bunch of wrong answers. Simply re-state the correct answer, let them repeat it, and move on.)

The Play Space

Once you have your cards chosen and in a stack, you will need a place to play. Indoors is acceptable. Outdoors is awesome.

The most important thing about your play space is that it have a clear path for traveling. That might be around the edges of your living room, or in the path that circles that central wall in your house. It also might be around that small grove of trees in your yard, or right around the outside perimeter of your home.


You’ll have to decide how the children are going to travel in your designated path. They could just walk — but it’s so much more fun to change it up from time to time.

You could call out a change once in awhile: “Walk!” “Run!” “Skip!” “Hop!”

You could let the children decide how they want to go.

Or, if you want to make it really fun? Let them go on bicycles!

As for you … you get to walk … but in the opposite direction of the children.

The Game

From there, it is very simple. You walk around one way, holding your stack of sight-word flashcards. The children travel around in the opposite direction.

Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game | SDAHomeschools.org

Be sure there’s always a card ready to read.

Every so often, you are going to pass each other. Let the children know that when you do, the child has to pay a “toll” to get by. I imagine they can guess what their toll will be: reading the next sight-word flashcard, of course. 😉

If you have more than one child in the game, most of the time you might keep the same word up until all of the children have read it. Sometimes, though, switch the cards before the next child so that they cannot just repeat the other child’s answer without paying attention.

Once the “toll” is paid and the child passes by, immediately switch to the next card.

Always keep a card held up so the children can see it as they are about to pass by. Their goal is to never have to stop.

As mentioned earlier, if a child struggles too much with a particular card, give them the answer. Also, put the card near the top of the stack so they get it again soon.

You can play for a set amount of time (say, 10 or 15 minutes), or through a set stack of cards. However you decide, be sure to stop while it is still fun, and the children will look forward to playing again next time!

►► Do you have a fun way to practice reading sight-words? Tell us about it in the comments!