Remembering

In Canada, November 11 is the day we celebrate Remembrance Day. It’s the day we honour our war veterans and those still fighting in wars. It’s a solemn day of reflection.

Their great-great-grandfathers memorial – Remembrance Day 2016

It’s important to take note of past events, of historical memories, of horrible atrocities and terrible actions. It is only in remembering the devastation they caused that we will find healing and pursue a different path. We need to view current events with an eye to historical events in order to make better choices for our future. We, as homeschoolers, must not ignore the difficult portions of history, the ones that make our country look bad, or the ones that make our hearts cringe. We must face these difficult topics head on, explore them fully with our children, and help them to critically think through the cause and effect of history and current events.

We make a big deal out of Remembrance Day in our home. My great-grandfather is buried near Flanders Field, and my grandfather fought in WWII. I firmly believe that by teaching my sons the history of war, they can learn to critically think through current political issues. I believe that by teaching our children even our most horrible history, we are taking a step towards preventing it from being repeated.

But, the  most horrible history is not always war. It is not always political. Sometimes, it is personal. The war between good and evil is just as real and needs to be told just as much as political history. We must speak of the hard topics.

Along with remembering those who have served and died in war on Remembrance Day, my family also remembers those who have lost the fight against evil. Remembrance Day falls between the birthdays of my siblings, both of whom are deceased. My brother died by suicide. My children know this family history. We discuss it regularly for a couple reasons: 1) so they can know a bit of who their aunt and uncle were; and 2) because they need to know suicide is not an option, that there are better choices.

Speaking of suicide has not opened the door to the option for my boys. Rather, it has opened the door to the conversation. With an ongoing discussion about the hard topics, I hope they can critically think through depressive periods in their lives and make a different choice than my brother did. I know they will experience depressive periods. Varying levels of depression can and do attack every person; no one escapes. We must open the door to these tough topics before they are relevant for our children.

Before another political leader tries to take over the world like Hitler during the time my grandfather fought in WWII, we must recognize the warning signs and say “no.” We must not allow it to happen again.

Before we lose more children to suicide, we must open the conversation, recognize the warning signs, and say “no, this is not an option.” We must not allow it to happen again.

Please open the conversation with your children. It’s tough, but it’s important.

Brain-Body Connection in Learning

Part of my career I spent time supporting children in school settings. I observed the challenges that the school staff, the students, and the family faced each year, in helping students with disruptive behaviors in a school setting. I also implemented and supported many cognitive related interventions. I tried many different ways to help these students think their way out of the problem. When there was no change in disruptive behaviors, or disruptive behaviors increased, I wanted to know more about what could be happening for students. 

This led me to study more about the sensorimotor connection to behavior. If a child is not getting enough movement or sensory input, then they will act out in ways that will help the brain get what it needs to develop. If there are any other underlying mental health needs or trauma experiences, these needs could increase the disruptive behaviors or intensity of emotions the child expresses, resulting in the increased need of adult support.

I also noticed some behavioral patterns. In the midwestern state I live in, there were seasonal patterns. Up until the beginning of November, teachers and students were often able to make the learning relationship work. After the cold and rainy or snowy weather started, disruptive behaviors increased. The level of support these students needed was at a high level until spring break, when behaviors began to moderate, and by the time warmer spring weather arrived, it was only the most disruptive who needed the high level of support I provided. As I was struggling to understand how, with even therapeutic intervention, students were still demonstrating disruptive behavior, I kept searching for ways to support these students.

Pivotal information on learning and disruptive behaviors came for me when I read Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. “Real learning — the kind of learning that establishes meaningful connections in the brain [emphasis mine] for the learner, is not complete until there is some output, some physical, personal expression of thought.”

This helped me to see the connection between the brain and the body for young learners, especially young learners that demonstrated impulsive actions, lack of focus, or disruptive behaviors. This helped me to re-frame some of the behaviors from symptoms of mental illness, to the student attempting to integrate what he/she was learning. In fact, from Smart Moves again, “we tend to relegate muscles to the domain of the body, not the mind. But it is through expression that we advance and solidify our understanding.” Looking at disruptive behavior as an attempt to learn changed how I assessed behavior at the beginning. I began to ask different questions. Sometimes behavior was related to mental illness or trauma, sometimes behavior was related to lack of activity, and sometimes behavior was related to acting out mature movie themes.

My experiences from those years working in a school has changed how I view my children’s behavior. Raising two boys, we are prone to see disruptive behavior as well. These are some of the steps that I’ve taken to help our boys manage their activity and support their learning.

  1. Limit screen time.
  2. No movies and TV shows with fighting, threatening harm, or scary scenes.
  3. Agreed upon indoor physical activity during inclement outdoor weather.
  4. Introducing reading, numbers, and writing as the boys express interest.

Reference:

Hannaford, C. (2013). Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head. Alexander: Great River Books.

Taking Care of Everyone…But you?

As we begin a new homeschool chapter, I have been chewing on what my first blog post of the year should focus on. I have many ideas for the future, but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this — how is mom holding up?

Some of us are “seasoned” homeschoolers, whatever that means. Some of us are just starting out. I think I am in the “half-baked” stage — not done yet, and so I still need some more seasoning. So much to learn, and at times I feel like I need to unlearn some things so that I can have more flavor in our school. Life would be pretty boring if every family school consisted of the same ingredients. It’s something to chew on.

But, as we begin a new year, I am reminded of mom. Most likely, you are the principal teacher in your homeschool. I realize there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to exclude anyone; if this applies to you as dad, grandma, or whomever, then take it to heart. I know it applies to moms.

As teaching moms, we get excited about new projects, new curriculum, methods of teaching, craft supplies, fun field trips, and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? We drive our troops to music lessons, practices, clubs, counseling sessions, play dates, Bible studies, birthday parties, service opportunities, jobs, and Grandma’s, not to mention the hours at the table, in the garden, reading on the sofa, or in the woods taking nature walks. And then, there’s often a husband who has needs and expectations too! But, what about you, homeschooling mom? How do you meet your needs? How do you avoid burning the midnight oil to get everything done? How do you avoid burning out because you’re so busy doing good for everyone else that you forget about your own needs?

As I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reminding myself to guzzle more water to battle a nagging UTI, I just want to encourage you — not because I have it all together as a home educator, but because I see a genuine need in all mothers who tend to take on too much. My words to you are these: It is not selfish to take care of your own physical needs. Your family needs you, and you are very much aware of that. But, they need you healthy. They need you cheerful, and that’s very difficult to pull off when you’ve stayed up until midnight again. How do I know this? Well, because I’m living it! We are instructed to teach our children cause-effect relationships. But, we have to be real with ourselves and realize that bedtime is not just for babies; our bodies need water; and a little exercise and fresh air will do wonders for our attitudes as moms, just as much as for our children.

Home educating is no joke! It’s not a tea party, and despite what some will think, we do much more than just sit around and do crafts with our children! We have real stresses. We worry about our children’s attitudes and characters — a LOT! We wonder about their futures, and wonder if we are doing it all right, because we don’t have a second chance. Often as we take on all of those unknowns, we find ourselves running around to grab at any perceived learning opportunity, maybe even to the detriment of our peace of mind.

So, what is the answer?

I can only share with you what I am learning myself on this enjoyable, yet, exhausting road. These tips are not in any particular order, except for the first one.

  1. We as home educators absolutely need our time with God! I find that I can get so edgy and driven with my children if I don’t have the softening influence of the Holy Spirit for myself! And, praying for my family particularly helps me to look at them differently. Sometimes I wake up late, in a rush, and find that mid-morning, or sooner, I have to go close myself in my closet with the Lord to regain my perspective, and to just cry out to Him for help. Satan will capitalize on any chink in our armor, so putting on the full armor is so important! This is truly the best gift we can give to our children and husbands — a heart that has met with Jesus and surrendered, so that when we deal with them, we will treat them with grace.
  2. Sleep. I can’t say how much you need, but I know when I need more of it! That’s when I get irritable about little things, feel like weeping over trifles, and start to feel fuzzy in my head the next day. I have gone through times when literally every time I sit down to read with my kiddos, I knock out. A little more sleep is needed! For me, practically, this means putting school away in the evenings; logging off of Facebook, even when I am reading helpful, school-related information; and heading to the bed around a half an hour before I need to be in bed. This is because, inevitably, there will be distractions along the path, such as clothes that I need to put away, something I needed to write down, or catch-up with my husband that needs to happen. This is a real struggle for me, but little by little I am seeing that I gain much more than I lose when I get to bed on time. Even Jesus as our Creator didn’t keep going — He rested after creating our world, and He took time away, even though all of the work was not done while He was on Earth!
  3. Water—don’t forget it! That’s pretty self-explanatory, but overlooked. When our brains get dehydrated, they don’t think well, and irritation also pops out! Consider this article on dehydration and mood swings, and this one too. This is one good reason for us to drink water ourselves, and to strongly encourage our students to drink theirs regularly! We drink water before breakfast, and I have to stop and remind everyone to take drinks throughout the day! One thing that works for us is to fill up a large jar with the minimum ounces that I want them to drink; then they have until bedtime to drink it. This helps them to see how much they’ve had so far, and how much more they need to drink.
  4. Time for You!  I don’t mean time away all of the time, because who really can do that, but just little snatches of time that serve to refresh your tired mind. I have a little shelf in our bathroom that I keep a small Bible and two encouraging books. My refresher often takes place behind that closed door! Even just a few verses or half a page during the midst of a busy day means a lot to me. I try to keep a book there that is specifically for me, such as another homeschooling mom telling her journey. It’s a reminder to me that I am not alone, and that there is help for every emergency!
  5. A walk out in nature can also be a great way to refresh, and this is a great way to break up the school day!  We often just stop mid-morning to jog/walk out to the mailbox or pond, and we come back more energized. Sometimes I or my Type A son resist this intrusion into our “plan” of getting something done, but we both need it and are never sorry that we choose to take a nature break.
  6. Pick and choose! No one can do it all! There is no way we can attend every church function, field trip, play date, birthday party, hobby, or music opportunity — or even, dare I say it, every service opportunity! If we are pursuing that quiet, simple life which will do so much for our children’s characters, we are told me must be much at home! This, frankly, is overwhelming to me, and yet freeing!  Overwhelming, because I want to provide many good things for my children; freeing, because I see that the best thing that they need is my love, attention, and time! A weakness in our family is believing that we can do too many things for others, and forgetting that we need to say no to even good things so that we may do our first task by our own fireside. So, we need to pray that God will show us our first priorities, and then add other things as they do not take away from those.

“The family circle is the school in which the child receives its first and most enduring lessons. Hence parents should be much at home. By precept and example, they should teach their children the love and the fear of God; teach them to be intelligent, social, affectionate, to cultivate habits of industry, economy, and self-denial. By giving their children love, sympathy, and encouragement at home, parents may provide for them a safe and welcome retreat from many of the world’s temptations,” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 65.2.

We have a high calling. We yearn for much as we think of our children and their futures! And, we have the promise that God will lead us in every endeavor. With this knowledge, let us as mothers step back a bit and let God do what He has promised He would do!

My favorite Bible text is this one:

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isaiah 54:13.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers, so that you can keep doing the great work that you are called to do!

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.

Public Speaking and Homeschooling

Do your kids love public speaking?

Can you picture your kids being up on stage talking and presenting?

Do you picture your kids being good leaders one day?

How many hours a week, or a month or a year, have you spent in building public speaking skills with your children?

Running a clinic with multiple doctors and staff requires my wife and me to review countless resumes and interview many people. Many people flunk their interview within seconds simply because they were either not able to hold eye contact, were overcome by anxiety, or were not able to think critically under pressure when answering questions.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking, and it is one of the most common phobias in the world. Whether people realize it or not, their career and life decisions are often decided by their public speaking skills. Some people may choose to pursue a career where they will interact with many people daily. Some may choose to do the opposite, where they will work in private, or have less interaction with people. If your kids learn to speak in public today, they can prepare themselves to speak properly in public, and to manage the fears of presenting in front of others for the future. To put it simply, your children’s future careers may depend on these skills.

We all want our kids to do well when they grow up. We want them to be confident enough to be on stage, especially when God opens doors for opportunities to influence others. We want them to be leaders. Our family intentionally decided to invest in public speaking skills and stage presence skills when homeschooling them on a daily basis. I’d like to share some ideas you may find useful in your homeschooling journey.

MEMORIZATION

There are three benefits of memorization. The first is emotional health benefits. Remember that the brain is a muscle that must be exercised. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is in charge of making and keeping memories, and partly responsible for managing emotions. People with Alzheimer’s disease have their hippocampus fail first and severely before other parts of the cortex fail. People with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizoprenia have a hippocampus that shrinks gradually.  The hippocampus also is now known to control the hormone estrogen, which controls emotions and mood changes.

By training yourself and your kids to memorize things, it may prevent you and your children from depression, anxiety, mood changes, Alzheimer’s, and other mental illnesses!  

The second benefit of memorization is, as your children spend time memorizing passages, tables, and poems, they learn to focus. Studies have found that students who were required to memorize from an early age often go on to have more capacity to focus on educational tasks as high school and college students. Researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging have found that adults who went through short bursts of memory training were better able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills, even five years after going through the training. Practicing memorization allowed the elderly adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to 14 years!

The third benefit is increased confidence.  When a child learns to do something difficult, they earn a great sense of accomplishment. This is especially true where plays or presentations are concerned; children often receive praise or even applause after they recite a poem or act in a play, which increases their self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

Start with a simple task such as memorizing short Bible verses. This is something you can even do with a two-year old. Ask them to do it while standing up before meals and during morning and evening worship times. Ask them to keep their eyes focused on you and to speak clearly with a smile on their face. I make it more personal and understandable by modifying some of the Bible verses so they can understand the meaning of them. Here are 12 simple verses that you can use for each month of the year or the first six months of the year (two verses a month, depending on your child’s ability to memorize):

    1. Numbers 6:24 The Lord bless you and keep you.
    2. Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
    3. Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world.
    4. Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey Mommy and Daddy in the Lord.
    5. Matthew 28:20 Jesus said He is with me always.
    6. John 10:11 Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd.
    7. Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
    8. Psalm 136:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.
    9. Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.
    10. Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    11. Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid, I will trust in Jesus.
    12. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Some kids who are kinetic learners will find it easier and enjoyable to memorize Bible verses while doing an activity such as running in circles, hula hooping, dancing to a song, doing signs or hand gestures, etc. Make sure to repeat these verses daily during dinner time or worship time.

Older kids can start memorizing a whole chapter of a Bible or a long passage. Have them present to you during morning or evening worship, or in the middle of homeschooling session in between subjects. Even better, parents should also memorize these passages and maybe even do a competition with the older kids!

This will not only help them understand important spiritual lessons, but also help their brain cells to handle large amount of information which improves their cognitive functions. Here are a few ideas of important Bible chapters or passages that older kids and adults should memorize:

    1. Numbers 6:24-26
    2. The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-17
    3. The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-12
    4. The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-15
    5. Psalm 23 & 46
    6. 1 Corinthians 13
    7. Romans 8 & 12

REGULAR GIGS, AWARDS, AND REWARDS

As mentioned previously, when children receive applause and praises, their sense of self-worth and confidence are also increased. Even better, treat them with rewards or awards every so often.  

  • Have them present what they just learned from science or history lessons in the morning to the rest of the family during evening meal.  Ask them open-ended questions: “What did you learn about amphibians this morning? What did you learn about the Egyptians today?”  
  • Morning and/or evening worship times are perfect for them to present a Bible verse or chapter.  
  • Have the kids present what they memorize in front of church as part of the worship program or Adventist Youth program.  
  • Challenge other kids in their Sabbath School class to memorize verses and passages as well, and have them present during church service.  
  • Have your kids present their school project or what they learned this past week to their grandparents or family friends when they visit.  
  • Make a calendar with goals of which passages to memorize for the month and for the rest of the year.

USING VISUAL AIDS AND PROPS

Just like with a science presentation, help your kids with their speaking presentation using visual aids and props. I have been invited to be a judge at the local schools’ science fairs, and it’s always interesting to watch how some kids with average project can shine because of their public speaking skills, while some kids with average or amazing projects end up not winning because of their presentation skills. Younger kids can start with simple objects, while older kids may use slideshow software or props.  

Have your children be involved in a play at church or school where they get to do speech as a character. Preparing for a role, and preparing visual aids and props — both of these activities teach them to be prepared for their presentation in advance, which will help lessen their anxiety.

JOINING A PUBLIC SPEAKING CLUB

Toastmasters International or other local groups are often found in local libraries or churches. Look up Toastmasters International to find a local chapter. You’ll be surprised how much you and your older children can benefit from attending this weekly meeting of various people from all walks of life who simply want to improve their public speaking skills.  They will give you constructive criticisms, and they will help you to be a better speaker.

Our children at the time of this writing, are eight and four. They do fairly well being up on the podium or on stage with other kids at church or at a dance recital.  However, they still have some stage fright when they are up there by themselves. They are getting better at it, though. The oldest one actually recently asked when she could do special music all by herself. And, both of them enjoy doing mini presentations during evening dinner from what they learned in the morning.

I hope this article is helpful to you and your little ones. We have the responsibility to train our children to be pillars of the church and to be leaders wherever they go in life. Leaders are not necessarily bosses. Leaders are influencers. Everybody is a leader when you can influence others around you.  With the Great Commission as our task, we must equip our children with public speaking skills to reach others and to spread His love.

Maranatha!

Arthur P.