We Teach Life, Not Just School

I am a big proponent of using life to teach academic skills. It takes some creativity sometimes to incorporate school into our lives, and our lives into school time, but it’s possible and hugely beneficial! So many times we hear from our children (and have said it ourselves) that they do not understand how what they are learning will apply to them in the real world, how it will benefit them in their adult life. Let’s show them… Make it real for them!

I believe in allowing our children to explore their passions, to explore their interests, to try and fail, but to get up and try again. These are essential life skills. We should teach our children how to make wise decisions, to know when to persevere and when to move on to something new, to honour their commitments, and to be responsible for their choices. I believe these things are just as, if not more than, important as book learning.

Sometimes this means we do weird things. We make strange mistakes, we fill the calendar, we step out of our comfort zones.

Our school board is hosting a science fair in March. TLC decided last year that he wanted a snake; actually, he’d wanted a snake for years, but last year he convinced his father to allow a snake to live at his house (our lease forbids it from living here). Waffles, as the snake is called, has been a fabulous experience for TLC. He’s had to learn how to care for it, feed it, clean its habitat, and buy food. This has increased his sense of responsibility and money management. It’s also been a source of science projects. He had to research how to care for a snake before he was allowed to get one. He had to save up the money for it and buy it himself. He has to buy the food for it and know what to feed it. Waffles will be his exhibit and project for the upcoming science fair, and one of the rewards for doing it will be that Waffles can come live at our house the week before the fair.

He gets a reward because the science fair is far out of his comfort zone. That’s okay, because one of the responsibilities of parenting and teaching our children is to push them out of their comfort zones. It’s hard for TLC to be outside of his comfort zone, and one of the signs of his maturity is that he is starting to recognize where the comfort zone boundary lies. Now he will learn that he can safely, successfully, and enjoyably step past that boundary. In order to achieve his goals and dreams, he’s going to need to be past those boundaries. It will not benefit him if I allow him to hide, to remain in the box. None of his dreams are in a box; he has huge dreams! He’s never lived his life in a box, and I refuse to allow him to build one around himself now.

Let’s teach our children — not only to read, write and do arithmetic, but to step outside the box, to explore past their comfort zones, and to persevere when things are hard in order to achieve their goals!!

A Love of Reading

My children are finally discovering for themselves, at ages 14 and 11, the pleasure of losing themselves in a book. I still read a novel to them at bedtime, as it’s a great family bonding activity, and we still have audio books for the car, but along the way I have also invested in books that peak their interests. TLC has all the books and all the series of 39 Clues, and has recently started to read his own way through them (we’ve previously read through them and listened to them a number of times). It’s such a joy and privilege for me to watch him discover the joy of reading for himself. It’s a new experience for me to need to tell him to put the book away for sleeping, chores, conversation, etc., but I really like it.

I’m an avid reader. Since the earliest I can remember, I have always had my nose in a book. My mom was constantly trying to get me out of my books to participate in activities. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really understand how people cannot enjoy reading; it’s one of my greatest pleasures and passions. I love getting lost in someone else’s story. I used to despair that my children struggled to learn how to read — they both learned how to read late, ages 8 and 9 — yet both have developed a love of books and stories. It turned out they both have reading difficulties, likely dyslexia. In my concern, I shared my love of reading with them. Along the way, I’ve learned it’s not essential for our children to actually read for themselves, they can develop a love of reading and books through us. I am convinced that if I had pushed them to read for reading’s sake earlier, they would not now be discovering the joy of reading for themselves.

Since they were very young, I have read aloud to them, and not just childhood books like Dr. Seuss. (Though there were plenty of those!! They are very fun!) We read the Chronicles of Narnia when they were just 7 and ;, there are many other novels suitable to children. In addition to reading aloud to them, I also invested in audio books, often borrowing them from the library. We traveled the world and explored lives while driving around the city or on road trips to grandparents and/or friends. We have read classics, modern literature, novels, true stories, fictional recreations based on history/Biblical stories, and more. We’ve read and listened to books that were my interests, as well as books of their choosing. We’ve come across books none of us enjoyed, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised with books we came to love unexpectedly.

I want to encourage you if you have a late reader. Your children can still discover a love of reading; you can give it to them with patience, determination, and a little creativity. I’ve had my children tell me they don’t like books, and I can remind them they do, just maybe not reading for themselves yet. They love the stories books bring them! There is more than one way to enjoy books. I’m already seeing the fruits of that knowledge. They know they can listen to a book, they know they can read one. They’ve discovered a joy of books as a family activity, and, now, finally, are discovering the pleasure of reading for themselves.

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.

Holidays Bring Opportunities

Thanksgiving holidays are over for Canadians. We’re gearing up for Remembrance Day and Christmas already. If the snow hasn’t flown yet, it will soon and winter will be settling in. For those in the States, Thanksgiving and Christmas are rolling up faster than you can imagine.

Life presents so many opportunities for discussion. One of the advantages in homeschooling is that we can direct difficult conversations — we can answer questions, or pose them when applicable. We can help our children form their own fact-based opinions in these areas. We can help them discover their thoughts, their own ideas. We can help them think through all the options and information. Sharing what others believe, what we believe, and the reasons why helps our children to critically think through the issues and form their own opinions, which will last longer than if we insist they take only hours.

One of the life opportunities I’m grateful for is Halloween. It’s also just around the corner and, even if you don’t celebrate it, we can’t ignore it. We don’t celebrate Halloween in our home, and I’m grateful my boys don’t question that; they don’t enjoy Halloween or any of the decorations. We can’t bury our heads in the sand, and we can’t ignore the celebration of Halloween when it is all around us.

Halloween has been a time of less media because we don’t enjoy shows that highlight Halloween. It does however, open up many conversations. Some of the conversations revolve around vandalism and lead to respecting other people’s property. We live in the city and during Halloween there are houses TP’d, graffiti increases, and things are destroyed. We have conversations about God vs. Satan, the war between good and evil, and how we must choose which side to be on. We discuss healthy eating, even during holidays — showing self-restraint when the temptation is all around us, even being pushed on us. It’s an opportunity to respectfully engage others in conversation, to be kind even when people disagree with us.

Every opportunity is one for education, for improvement of character. Let’s not miss any simply because we don’t like the holiday or event at hand.

Exploring a New Year…

 

The most frequent response I get when I tell people I homeschool has been, “Wow, I don’t have the patience for that,” or “You must be a very patient person!” My answer is that it takes a lot of patience to parent. Homeschooling isn’t that different, just extended.

One thing that has really helped me to be patient in our homeschool has been to remember my children are people first. When I remember that they are people, I can be more compassionate. Jesus told us to “let the little children come to Him” in a time when children were thought to be a nuisance and in the way. Things haven’t changed much in that aspect. Adults tend to want children to do what they are told, when they are told to do it, how they are told to do it. In fact, when I was a young girl if I was told to jump, the reaction expected was to ask “how high” as I was starting to jump.

One of the blessings of homeschooling our children is that they are able to develop their own sense of identity…except we don’t always appreciate that independence when it comes against us. It is possible to harness that independence, to use it to enhance their educational experience.

I don’t want a carbon copy of me. It would certainly be easier to predict their desires, interests, and actions, but it would be boring. My sons have different interests, different life goals, and they are still discovering them. My job is to help them discover their path in life, to discover God’s calling on his life. When I remember this, it puts life, and school, into perspective.

Our homeschool journey includes exposing the children to many different options. Sometimes we do weird, crazy things to explore those options. We’re often researching topics of interest, no matter how strange they may seem to be. You can use all of those options to teach all of the subjects needed. We’re stepping into junior high this year, and that makes it a transition year… It’ll be an interesting journey as we move forward.

My advice as we move into a new school year: Don’t be afraid to throw out the books sometimes and explore the weird things in life. Let the kids find their own passions and use those passions to teach what they need to know to succeed in life. Get hands on, and discover what’s available in your community to reach your child’s interests. Forget about the path you had planned, and let them discover their own.