School’s Out for SUMMER!

Summer is upon us in the western hemisphere. Thank goodness!

Homeschooling is full of blessings, but it also adds a special kind of intensity to life. You personally have taken on the education of your children — putting them in your presence pretty much 24 hours a day. Families with kids in school face many other stresses, but the care of their children is given up to someone else for six or more hours every day. That gives them a little bit of breathing room. When you are with your kids nearly nonstop, there are constant reminders that you are their primary example in nearly everything. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Besides an emphasis on growth in character, values, work ethic, and relationship with Christ, your days have been full of math, reading, writing, history, spelling, science, penmanship, grammar, languages, and more. For most of us summer is a welcome deviation from the routine. You may do like our family does, and have a revised summer schedule —just Bible and math, in our case; or you may scale back moderately on academics; or you may chuck anything curriculum related entirely. No matter your approach, the change is a break from a full schedule of daily plodding, and it’s a welcome respite.

Our summer has already started with work skills as we begin our home addition, and we’ve made travel plans to incorporate some much-needed fun. There are also plans for outdoor church and summer campouts with our church family. My son wants to do a little bit of math all summer, too, “so my brain doesn’t forget,” as he says. The aura is different, though. It’s not driven so much as elective.

I hope that no matter how you treat your summer break, that you leave plenty of time to refresh both mind and body. Possibly more importantly, parents: Prioritize some time to refresh with God, too — maybe a new Bible study plan, extra prayer time, even something simple like cultivating the spirit of constantly listening to Him. Your academic schedule will be faced with more enthusiasm next school year by both you and the kids if you’ve enjoyed a season of rejuvenation.

The SDA Homeschool Families blog is also going to take some time off to rest and refresh. We’ve had a dedicated crew of busy writers this year. They’ve spent a lot of time sharing information, resources, and personal experiences that they hope have benefited and blessed you. Many of us will be back in the fall, and hopefully we’ll gain some new writers too. If you have an interest in writing once a month, or even less periodically, for this blog, please contact us by sending a Facebook message to LaDonna Lateadah, Susanna Joy, or me.

See you back here in September. Happy Summer!

The Joy of Homeschooling

I’m sharing with you today “The Joy of Homeschooling.” These are based on my own experiences over the years homeschooling my daughter.

I was partly “homeschooled” by my mom. She believed that I should learn Chinese. However, in my country during that time, we had to choose either going to an English school or Chinese school full-time. The term “homeschool” never appeared where I grew up. One day we had a new neighbor, a family from Taiwan. The mom was a former school teacher from Taiwan. We got to know our new neighbor, and she introduced my mom to a correspondence school in Taiwan. My mom enrolled me in the program. So, instead of going to a full-time Chinese school to study all the different subjects, my mom homeschooled me (all my with going to school) until she found an evening Chinese school where she sent me later. It wasn’t easy, as she worked during the day. However, with her love and enthusiasm, I tried my very best to finish my school work during the day, and then after dinner and weekends to study in another “school.”

When my daughter was born, a friend asked me this question, “Will you be sending your daughter to the academy?” My answer was, “I haven’t had any plans, but at present my plan is to homeschool my daughter.” As she was growing up, I kept getting similar questions from families and relatives. Some would tell me that since I only had one child, it would be good to send her to the academy so she would be able to socialize. The words went in one ear and out the other! Before my daughter was born, my husband and I had already planned that we would homeschool as long as we could.

Homeschooling is not an easy task whether there’s only one child or more than one. It takes time to prepare and plan, budget, and meet deadlines. The journey can be long or short. Lots of time is put in, and sometimes there may be tears and frustration. There’s one thing that I especially like: the bonding between my child and me. There are other things that I am thankful for. Here are some tips I’ve gained through personal experience that I would like to share. 

Planning/Time – It takes time to plan. Set aside some time before the end of the school year to start planning for the new school year. You may want to do unit studies, plan field trips or holidays. It is good to have in mind what curriculum you want to use or if you want a change. It also depends on the grade of your child. Will there be any other activities like swim, soccer, music or classes? Friends can be of great help. I am thankful to have wonderful friends who share ideas and experiences with certain books/curriculum. Thanks in part to the SDA Homeschool Families blog and Facebook group, I have learned a lot along the way. Talk with your EF if you are with a chartered homeschool. Attend a homeschool convention or fair to get some ideas and see what’s out there. There are lots of offers out there. It is okay to say “no” so you don’t get overwhelmed with too many things. However, it is good to have an open mind. Plan out how you want your schedule to be like. Each child works differently. Don’t compare or compete with another child. In some families, there may be a special needs child who might need extra time. If you are working, you might want to use the time in the evening or afternoon to teach, or maybe the weekends. During the day, your child can work on the things that he/she can do. At the end, it is up to you to make the decision best suit you. Finances can be a burden for some. It is also good to set up financial planning in the family. Books can be expensive. Some lessons like music or tutoring can come to quite a bit. Work out what is needed or can wait. Set priorities. And, don’t forget to PRAY and ask the Lord to guide you.

Support – It is not easy to do it alone. Join a support group (many thanks to the homeschool site on Facebook) so you will not be alone. Don’t be afraid to ask. There are many times I have not been sure of some curriculum or have had some questions in my mind. I have asked my friends, and you will find there are many who are willing to share with you their journey of homeschooling. Don’t let doubt conquer you.

Curriculum – Choose what suits you best. Unit studies, publishers, classical/literature based, etc. I like looking through different publishers to see what is out there. I enjoy reading comments by others (but keep an open mind). Some may enjoy certain publishers that others do not. Don’t let this pressure or stress you. Take time to look through. If you have friends who have the curriculum, you might want to ask if you can look through so you have an idea on what to expect. Book fairs or conventions are a good place to go. Check out the websites of different programs and curriculums.

Socialization – When I was homeschooling my daughter, I had friends or relatives coming to me saying that my child needed socialization. I think my child has lots of socialization — play groups, field trips, Sabbath School, church, VBS, Pathfinders/Adventures, gatherings, moms’ network… If some of this is not available, you might want to plan a play group, tea party, book club, or outing. Sometimes, time may be a problem, but if you can plan ahead of time and let your friends know, it can be worked out. It doesn’t have to be in your home (so you won’t have to spend time cleaning and preparing). You can have it at the park if weather permits. There are some areas where there are co-ops. That’s another way to start off. Participate in some volunteer work if your child is old enough, or take them along when you go for volunteer work.

Field Trips – You can plan your own or join other homeschool groups. I always look out for what is out there to offer. Many places like museums, theme parks, or companies have what is called “homeschool day” or educational field trips. They set aside a day of the week for homeschoolers. Some may be free. There are some where you might need to get a small group or pay a small fee. I love looking for free homeschool days. Plan ahead so that you can add that as a family outing. Implement it as a field trip so when the child comes home, he/she can write a report on their trip and what they have learned. Places like the missions, zoos, or science museum can be part of their studies in science or social studies. The beach is a good place if there are tide pools, or the aquarium where they learn about marine life. Check out county fairs too. Some county fairs have projects where your child can participate, like arts or crafts.

Chores – In between studies, add some chores like housekeeping, laundry, and cooking. If the child is old enough to help, have them help out. Add that to home economics. Have the child learn to prepare the meal for the family (even if it does not taste good, praise him/her for the work done and give positive input so there can be improvement) or teach them to bake. Have them help you when you are cooking or baking. The younger one can help with washing the fruits or vegetables, setting the dinner table, or sorting laundry. Take them grocery shopping and add math into it, like calculating how much items are. Use math for baking too.

Hobbies – In between studies, get into some hobbies. It can be cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, crafts, etc. Gardening is fun. When they see the flowers blooming, or the tomatoes and vegetables are ready for harvest, there is joy. Some places do have homeschool fairs where the kids get to exhibit their crafts or sell them. If there’s plentiful of harvest, you can share it with other families, or have the children earn their own pocket money by selling to friends/families.

Finally, being a homeschool parent is not easy. It can be difficult and stressful. Some of us may teaching our children at home, in Sabbath School, and/or in Pathfinders/Adventurers. But, trust in the Lord and pray. Toward the end of each school year, I look back and am thankful. I may not be perfect or complete everything I wanted or planned to do for the year. However, I find a great REWARD and JOY as each school year comes to the end. Here are some of things I see, hear, or experience:

  1. Bonding with my child
  2. Watching her/him grow and learn
  3. Learning together with her/him
  4. Lots of laughter
  5. Some failures (like when the cake did not turn out as we wanted, the seed that we put in the ground never sprouted, field trips has to be cancelled due to a cold/flu or rain or something pops up the last minute, school work did not meet the deadline, etc.)
  6. Family time together
  7. No rushing early in the morning for the school bus
  8. Hearing the child say, “I get to do my school work in my pajamas,” or “Yay, no schoolwork today. We are going to the museum!”
  9. I get some “off” days during weekdays

Hiding Under a Bushel

While we all teach our children differently, I’m pretty sure I can guess some of the things that almost all of us are trying to get across… That Jesus loves us. That while we were sinners God sent his son, Jesus, to save us. That we have good news to spread to the world. That Jesus came for every single one of us. That Jesus came to show us how to live. 

We probably sing songs with our children that help to illustrate some of these points. We sing “This Little Light of Mine” about sharing the good news of Jesus. We sing “I’m in the Lord’s Army” about how we can conquering souls for the Lord. But, is this really what we really teaching our kids? Is this the message we’re giving to the world? Or, are we often saying something completely different?

Verbal communication plays a minimal role in getting a message across. Our actions, the small things we do, say far more than the words that come out of our mouth. Are we aware of what they’re often saying to people around us? I went to an Adventist school for the first 10 years of my schooling. After that, I had to go to a Catholic school. One of the subjects we had was studies of religion, and in my first week at the Catholic school, we had a fascinating discussion. Some of their students were complaining about the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been harassing them. The conversation quickly turned when somebody said the JW’s are bad, but not nearly as bad as those Seventh-day Adventists. The class then proceeded to share all the horror stories they’d had with Adventists — from neighbours who would get mad at them for doing their yard work on Saturday, to people who would only ever talk to them about Jesus and had no interest in how they were going. From the kids whose parents were shopkeepers who got abused by the Adventists because the sale started on Saturday and all the good things would be gone by the time they could get into the shop…to the ones who weren’t allowed to hang out with the neighbours’ kids in case they were a bad influence on them. I sat back, I listened, and my heart broke. I wish this was an isolated event, but I’ve heard many similar things since.

Adventists are a pretty exclusive group. I understand why. Our beliefs are slightly different to the mainstream Christianity and birds of a feather flock together. Usually, when I meet an Adventist homeschooler, I’ll invite them along to some of the activities that we partake in, and the first question is almost always, “Is it an Adventist group?” Most of them are very reluctant to mix with homeschoolers that are not Adventist. But when we do this, what are we teaching our kids?

When we tell our children that Jesus came for all of us, and that we are here to share his good news with the world, and that God is all powerful, but then we refuse to let our children play with the kids next door because their parents are always fighting and swearing and yelling, and sometimes the children act up also, what are we saying? Could the message they get be that the corrupting power of the world is so much stronger than God’s power that it doesn’t matter how much the other kids need stability and love, it’s more important to make sure they don’t associate with “bad” people?

When we associate exclusively with Adventists, doesn’t that negate the power of us telling our children that the gospel is meant to be spread? Because, how can we make a difference in the world when we separate ourselves from it? We are to be in the world, but not of it, but so often we end up just creating our own little bubble and making little difference to anybody else. We become so detached from the real world, from their struggles, from their life, that when we do go out and try to do something, we are making a poor impression like my classmates were complaining of. I have no doubt that everyone they were complaining about was well-intentioned — but were they unable to shine the light to the world because they weren’t a part of it?

How about instead of having a reputation for being exclusive and closed off, we open our homes to the hurting and the broken? How about, in our street, our home is known as an embassy where the kids who have hurting families can escape and know that, though they can’t get away with bad behaviour, there is going to be grace and love? Sure, our kids may pick up some bad habits from them, people at church might criticise us for hanging with the sinners, but it’s then that we’ll be in the company of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want us to raise perfectly obedient children who can recite the great commission at the expense of being able to carry it out. If we believe that God can use anyone, we need to be creating those opportunities for our children to make a difference to those around them.

If we tell our children that God loves everyone and that he came to die while we were still sinners, but we refuse to associate with people because we don’t approve of their lifestyle, and we do not show love to those people, what is that we are really teaching our children about grace? If we’re more worried about children learning a few cuss words than we are about how much our neighbours’ kids are hurting, what is that telling our children about love? God can use each and every one of us where we are. As homeschoolers, we have a unique advantage in that there are so many social activities where we as parents can have casual, friendly chats with other parents, where we can actually do life with other families, and if we only associate with our own clan we’re wasting a golden opportunity — both for us to share God’s love, and to show our children how they can let their little light shine.

Let’s not let our home schools become a bushel where we hide the light away from the world. Let’s use our home schools to take that light into places where it’s needed, let’s spend time and break bread with those who have had negative experiences with Christianity and show that we can be people who aren’t just waiting for another world to come before things get better, but are actively trying to make life better for those around us today.

Image by Petar Milošević, Candle (Slava celebration), CC BY-SA 4.0

Homeschool Student Interviews – Part 11

Today we get a three-for-one interview. I got to interview three siblings who are all homeschooled! Per the family’s request, their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

The eldest child was homeschooled for K-3, and then went to a large Adventist school for three years (grades 4-6) where he really enjoyed having lots of friends, as well as being involved with many activities such as the robotics club and organized sports. After the family moved back to a rural area for his seventh-grade year, and he found outlets such as Pathfinders and a youth orchestra to be great places to develop friendships outside of home and church. He says he prefers to do homeschool for ninth and tenth grade because he can take classes at his own pace and concentrate on special skills like the violin and individual sports. 

Max completing a baking assignment for Pathfinders & Home Economics class

The second boy is always building something — a pulley system to his top bunk, a motorized dinosaur, Lego buildings and vehicles, etc. Besides building things, he loves experimenting with music (piano and violin) and playing outside. He can usually be found on a bike, scooter or in a “fort” in the woods. He enjoys Pathfinders, as well.

Jack showing off an insect for his insect collection, a Pathfinder project & science project

This young lady spends many hours drawing and coloring, and enjoys the art projects suggested in the Five and a Row series for developing new skills and knowledge in art. She participates in Adventurers and plays the piano and violin. She has taken to snow skiing and swimming lessons for PE class.

Ella trying out a brass instrument–the euphonium–for a Five in a Row project

1) What is your name and what country/state/province do you live in?

Max, Jack, and Ella: We’re from North Carolina, USA.

2) How long have you been home schooled?

Max: I have bee homeschooled for a total of seven years. (K-3, 7-9)

Jack: This is my sixth year homeschooling. 

Ella: I have homeschooled my whole life [K-2nd grade].

3) What do you like most about being home schooled?

Max: The best part about being homeschooled is that I can read a lot of books.

Jack: The thing I like the most about being homeschooled is recess; I get to play outside every day.

Ella: I’m glad I don’t have to walk all the way to school. My favorite thing about being homeschooled is being read to.

4) Is there anything you dislike about being home schooled?

Max: I do miss seeing my friends every day at school.

Jack: There isn’t anything I dislike about being homeschooled.

Ella: Nothing.

5) What is your favorite thing to learn about?

Max: My favorite thing to learn about is the Bible, and I also enjoy books on history.

Jack: My favorite subjects are reading, math, and history.

Ella: Right now we’re reading about Columbus [Columbus and Sons, by Genevieve Foster]. I like to read and I like math.

6) What are your favorite hobbies or activities?

Max: Some of my hobbies are Pathfinders, snow skiing, swimming, playing the violin, and biking.

Jack: Snow skiing, backpacking with Pathfinders, and swimming.

Ella: Watching birds from the kitchen window is fun. I like to ride my bike, swim, and play the violin.

7) What would you like to do when you grow up?

Max: I’d like to be a pastor when I get older.

Jack: I want to go into engineering when I grow up.

Ella: I want to be an airline flight attendant someday.

8) What is your favorite project that you have worked on for school?

Max: My favorite project for homeschool was a science report on thermodynamics.

Jack: My favorite project this year has been bird watching.

Ella: My favorite project was a charcoal drawing we did after reading the book Lentil, and getting to try all sorts of instruments for music.

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.”

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.