Twelve Homeschooling Tips–All Twelve Tips!

                                   The Best School Year Ever!*
                                        “Twelve Homeschooling Tips for 2012”
                                                                       By Donna Reish

*Note: This was recently published on this blog in increments of twelve in keeping with our “Twelve for 2012” theme (and in The Homemade News, the newsletter of Fort Wayne Area Homeschools, in two parts). Here I have compiled all of them in one place! Thanks for joining us.

This fall marks the beginning of our twenty-ninth year of homeschooling! Twenty-nine years ago, with an almost-one-year-old in tow, my husband and I began our homeschooling journey by homeschooling my then-junior-high little sister. At that same time, we began helping those who wanted to homeschool in Ohio (our next-door-neighbor state) but needed a “covering” to report to according to their state law during the early eighties.  I did not know much about homeschooling in general and teaching specifically at the age of twenty-one years old (despite an elementary education degree followed by master’s work in reading education), but I dug in as best I could. Little did we know that this adventure would become a way of life for us—a parenting and educational method that has brought us countless joys, challenges, and fulfillment.

Here we are nearly three decades later—still homeschooling and still helping others in their homeschool endeavors. Today I bring you tips that we have discovered on our journey—tips to make this “the best school year ever”!

 

1.     Get Teacher Training and Support

I could go on and on about how little support, scarce materials, and few homeschoolers there were nearly thirty years ago—but I don’t want to be accused of describing how we homeschooled “walking uphill five miles in waist deep snow without shoes,” so suffice it to say that we are immensely blessed to have the support, training, and freedoms that we have today. (For instance, we had “home visits” from the local superintendent, principal, and social workers during our first year of teaching my sister!)

Take advantage of the opportunities available for training! If you are unable to attend physical conventions, learn all you can online, in webcasts, virtual conventions, and more. Read websites and books. However, do not get overwhelmed! Stop reading and researching when that reading and research becomes burdensome rather than helpful.

Additionally, get support! We have enjoyed support groups, networking, and small parenting groups throughout our tenure of homeschooling. One of the best things to happen to me concerning support is the formation, nearly twenty years ago, of a little four-mom parenting/homeschooling support group. We met with our “littles” at McDonalds—and since I like to have a purpose for everything I do, I labeled our group the “MAC” group—Mother’s Advisory Committee, who met at McDonalds. We have taken parenting classes, done marriage videos with our spouses, gone through Bible studies, completed video teaching with our entire families/kids, field tripped, played, prayed, planned, and more.

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding like-minded parents to take this journey with. When one of us wondered why in the world we were doing what we were doing (in parenting, homeschooling, or life in general), the others were there to remind us. It wasn’t uncommon at all for one of us to call another and say, “Okay, Josiah is still in the high chair from breakfast, and he is still screaming and throwing his spoon. Remind me again why I shouldn’t just give him his own way and go on with my day!”

 

2.     Solve Discipline Problems Ahead of Time

If you have heard us speak about parenting young children, you have probably heard us say that we did not believe in starting “school” with a child until he was obedient most of the time. Thus, the reason for many of our children not starting formal education until age eight! Seriously though, the time to deal with discipline issues is before you begin school, if at all possible.

Our theory behind “don’t start school until the child learns to obey” is a valid one: If a child will not sit down at the table for dinner, brush his teeth when told, or clean his room, why do we think he will sit down and do his math, finish his school independent list, or do his science?

This is not to say that you will not have discipline problems as you homeschool. One of Ray’s favorite lines about homeschooling and character problems is that “We have the opportunity to see all of our kids’ faults and discipline problems—and the opportunity to correct them.” Our goal before beginning formal instruction for each new pupil was that the child was “characterized by obedience.” That is, he was known for obedience more often than not.

Obviously, we cannot just not do school this year if our kids are undisciplined. However, we would have a much better year if we really zeroed in on discipline issues and handled them as opposed to going through the motions of school while allowing these problems to continue. There are many excellent books about parenting to help us. There are seminars and video courses. We have the tools available to us to learn to parent biblically and train our children in obedience and character. (See the sidebar for some resources that we offer to help you in the area of Christian parenting as well as a couple other recommendations.)

 

SIDEBAR:

Christian Parenting Help             

Reb Bradley books and articles

Kevin Leman books—we began with Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours

Our parenting/homeschooling book: The Well-Trained Heart (read first chapter at www.tfths.com)

Our parenting seminar: Character Training From the Heart (call to host one in your church or area—260-597-7415)

 

Parenting seminar: Parenting Is Heart Work

Our parenting blog—over 500 articles with topical index on the home page: http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/   (Positive Parenting 365—also available on FaceBook)

 

 

3.     Understand Learning Styles and Readiness

My first “homeschool purchase” for our own children twenty-eight years ago was the complete set of audios of “Your Story Hour”—Bible, true life, character, and history stories of the “Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue” venue. I remember clearly running my fingers over the cassette holders, smelling them, and being so happy to have such a quality product to help me teach Joshua. He, on the other hand, was more interested in playing in the box that they came in. Then along came Kayla, one of the smartest little girls I had ever seen, yet she couldn’t write her name for years and years. Both Joshua and Kayla showed me right away what their learning styles were—those audio cassettes, along with daily lengthy read-aloud sessions with Mom, were their avenues for learning for many years, for they could learn nearly anything (except how to write their names!) by listening. Along came our third child, and if it didn’t have pictures and she couldn’t snuggle close, her learning didn’t seem to transpire so easily. (The exception to this is when we began getting Ken Ham audios. She was mesmerized by his voice and wanted to listen to him every day!) Cami was anything but an audio learner. She loved workbooks and activities—the more, the better. We understood early on that we were homeschooling in order to provide the kind of education that we wanted for our children—and the kind that each child needed. Thus, we learned about learning styles and purchased materials accordingly. We used multi-sensory materials and definitely had our non-auditory learners still listen, but focused on their learning styles in the areas of math and reading, especially. There is a wealth of information out there about the three primary learning styles (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic), as well as how to determine how your child learns best.

 

 

Along with learning styles, we also learned early on—through my elementary education studies, my master’s work in Reading Specialist, and then later from Dr. Raymond Moore’s (one of the pioneers of the Christian homeschooling movement)—that readiness does not come at the same time for all children, nor at the same time for each gender. We learned about a phenomenon then called “Integrated Maturity Level”—the level at which many aspects come together for a child and he or she is ready for more formal instruction. This often takes place between the ages of seven and ten. And we set out to wait on it for each of our children—in an effort to make learning easier and to develop a love for learning and homeschooling in them.

Until the time of readiness for formal learning arrived for each child, we taught informally, all of the time. And our kids loved school and loved learning. We even adjusted our school to allow for late bloomers without labels: kindergarten began when a child was six years old by September first; first grade began when a child was seven years old by September first. No pressure—on the children or on me. It was an absolutely blissful way to teach young children. (It also allowed us to focus on obedience and character in those who needed a little more time!) The research is out there! Sure, some kids learn to read at ages four, five, or six. I think that would be fun—I’ve just never experienced it. And that is fine. Every child is different—and remember, that is one reason we chose this approach to education. The point isn’t to wait and wait for formal education. The point is to do what is best for each child in your family.

 (For more information about readiness to learn to read, check out our audios, including, “Beginning Reading Instruction.” For more information about readiness for learning in general, start with Dr. Raymond Moore’s book, Better Late Than Early.)

 

4.     Prioritize Your Life, School, and Home

This point is a three hour mini-seminar and audio series in itself, but I will try to summarize it in a couple of brief paragraphs! When we began homeschooling many years ago, even with only one little son, we found ourselves overwhelmed by activity. Ray and I were both working on our master’s degrees. We were active in church. We were homeschooling my sister and helping others homeschool. We lived close to extended family who needed and wanted our attention (including younger siblings at home). One day we sat down to solve our time and activity dilemma, and we made a list of all of the things that could/did fill our evenings—things we needed to do (meetings, etc.), things we should do (visit elderly grandparents), things we wanted to do, and things that were automatically built in (overtime, church services, etc.). When we examined our list, the total evenings that could potentially be filled came to sixty—if we did everything we could/should/would! Armed with that calendar and prioritizing help from marriage and family teaching we had received, we learned how to prioritize. We looked at the things that we wanted to say yes to—and said yes to them. We looked at the things that we could say no to—and said no to them. We applied the mantra that “when you say yes to something (or someone), you are saying no to something (or someone) else.” We asked ourselves who we truly wanted to say yes and no to—and determined early in our marriage that we did not want to say no to our immediate family (our children and each other) just because we were saying yes to someone else. 

 

Specifically, in the area of prioritizing and time management with homeschooling, when we meet new homeschoolers, we often ask them what their days (especially mothers) are like (before beginning homeschooling), and when the mom tells us how busy she was with part time work, volunteering, and other obligations, we ask her what she will cut from her day to make time (three to six hours a day, depending on the ages and neediness of the students) to homeschool. Homeschooling is not something that you can add onto an already full day. It must be prioritized—and put into the schedule before other things of lesser importance. One of the reasons that I am thankful that we started “homeschooling” when Joshua was a toddler is that I never knew of life with daytime hours that were not already earmarked for school. In other words, my days have always been spent schooling. I didn’t have to add it onto other things that I did during the day. Prioritizing school—the hours that it truly takes to educate and oversee our kids’ education—makes a huge difference in the success of a person’s homeschool.

 

5.     Teach Your Children How to Learn

Homeschooling affords us the amazing opportunity to teach our kids how to learn (among a myriad of opportunities to teach many things!). There are many aspects of teaching a child how to learn, one of which is working to increase our children’s comprehension. When people have good comprehension, they can learn anything, anywhere, anytime. There are three primary ways that we have worked to increase our children’s comprehension: (1) Discussion with parents and those more knowledgeable than the child; (2) Good questions following reading or discussions; and (3) Provide a rich background of experience.

The first two of those go hand-in-hand. Discussion of everything with our children from very young ages has given our kids experiences in areas that they would normally not have experiences in. It gives us the opportunity to teach all the time—and gives them learning hooks that they create with the discussion material to bring into other learning situations. Good questions, not just rote questions, help the student think more deeply about subjects and allow you to observe his thought processes and help them along. Lastly, a rich background of experience gives your student the edge in learning any subject. Like discussion, it gives a child more knowledge, more background, more information to bring into future learning scenarios.

I am adding some information about teaching children how to learn, good materials, links to articles, etc., in the sidebar of this article for those who would like to study this further. Just being aware of always teaching our kids how to learn, how to study, how to research, how to further their understanding is a big step in teaching kids how to learn. An awareness that it is our responsibility, and we can do it gradually all the time, goes a long way.

 

 

 

 

 

SIDEBAR….

                        Tips and Links for Teaching Children How to Learn

 

~People often ask us what we would have done differently in our homeschool. One of the things I would have done differently is that every child, every year would have done a thinking skills book of some sort from the Critical Thinking Company: http://www.criticalthinking.com/index.jsp?code=c

 

 

~Dozens of articles on reading instruction, readability, creating an environment conducive to reading instruction, choosing readers, and much more! http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/search/label/reading%20instruction

 

 

6.     Be Efficient in Your School Day

 

With six children in school for many years (and a baby or toddler too!) , I have been on a personal quest for efficiency in my school day! I have learned so much about time management and efficiency through homeschooling. I will give four primary tips for efficiency in this article, but we have many, many ideas in our audio series, “Helps for Homeschooling Moms: Prioritizing, Organizing, and Scheduling Your Life, School, and Home.”

First of all, I used multi-level learning whenever possible. This included doing unit studies for content areas (history, science, health, etc.) using a bus stop approach to teaching. In the bus stop approach, I started out with all children present for our studies and began with the easiest materials I used. Then as the materials increased in difficulty or decreased in interest for the little ones, I would “drop them off at the bus stops” (i.e. release them to go play, have room time, do chores, etc.) and continue on with higher level material. As the session progressed, little ones would “get off the bus” and go to other things until at the end of the session, I was covering more challenging material that might only interest or pertain to older ones. (We always allowed littles to stay and learn with us while playing Legoes, etc., for the “trickle down effect,” if the child desired!)

Secondly, I grouped students together whenever possible. Our daughters all took high school biology, sewing, and Spanish together—even though they were in grades six, nine, and ten. It was efficient, and they enjoyed studying together.

Third, I always used grading time wisely. I would sit down with the child’s English or math and grade with him or her beside me. As I found an error, we could go over it right there. It was teaching time at its best—teaching directly from the student’s mistakes.

Lastly, we made our students as responsible for their education as they could possibly be at each age. We began early on using daily chore charts and independent school lists. The latter were lists of tasks that each child needed to do every day by himself in school. Thus, any silent reading, handwriting pages, cd roms, and other activities that the child could do without Mom were listed in the order that the student was to do it—and he could just go down the list and do it every day without needing any input or help. This gave me the chance to work with other kids—and I knew that everybody was busy when they were not meeting with me.

 

 

7.     Learn to Teach Like Jesus

Many years ago we were introduced to the concept of teaching like Jesus taught. We have since delved into that further, realizing that Jesus was not only a model of how to teach concepts to our children, but he was also the epitome of relationship building with people. This has helped us in our parenting and discipling of our children in general (not just in “teaching” or homeschooling).

One of the things that has stuck with us the most is the concept of time in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught all the time! He taught Nicodemus late at night; he taught during meals via the last supper and other “potluck” style opportunities. This reinforced the concept in Deuteronomy 6:7 of teaching our children all the time—as we do everything—as we live. Along the lines of different time frames, we also noted that Jesus taught varying lengths of time. Sometimes he taught short and straight to the point (the woman at the well). Other times he had lengthy teaching sessions, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes he taught so long he went right on through meal times! We, too, need to be aware of our audience—and their time limitations, our scheduling needs, etc.

Jesus also used various types of teaching. This reminded us that some kids need a certain type of instruction while others need something else. In Matthew 18:12, Jesus asked the question, “What do you think?” This has become a common mantra for our parenting/teaching. We have wanted to allow the kids to tell us what they already know or what they think—and then we could build on that. Asking open ended questions is a super method for academic training—and for heart training.

Of course, Jesus also taught one-on-one (again, Nicodemus and the woman at the well); small group (twelve disciples); and large group (five thousand). There have been many things in our homeschool that were perfectly suited to one-on-one instruction. Other things were great for small group—and we used unit studies and other “small group” instruction situations with our kids together. Some things were truly best suited to a larger group, such as speech and debate, drama, and choir.

Jesus used storytelling extensively. He used God’s word to tell stories. And he used nature to tell stories—pearls, fish, trees, water were all object lessons. We have taken his concept of using nature to heart. We have used animals via Answers in Genesis materials, zoo trips, etc. We have used Character Sketches books for twenty-nine years to teach character and Bible—half of each book is using nature to teach character! Sometimes we just look at the snow, clouds, stars, ocean—and an instant lesson in spiritual truth presents itself!

Jesus taught in unusual places—which we have found extremely effective and fun—for the kids and parents! Jesus taught in a boat, by a well, on a hillside, in a garden, on the water, under the stars. Kids love surprises and unusual things. And we have enjoyed providing surprises and unusual places to learn—zoos, parks, sleeping at the top of the jungle gym at Science Central, camping out on the “bunks” at the fort, and more have provided us with unusual and enjoyable learning opportunities.

Lastly, Jesus had characteristics of a superior teacher—that we homeschoolers should model after. He knew his audience—and he taught accordingly. He was teachable, even as a teacher: “I only do what I see my Father do.” He had his priorities in order: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).  And he didn’t “just teach”—he discipled: “Come ye after me” (Mark 1:17). Wow, “to be like Jesus”—to teach like Jesus! Now that would make me a successful homeschooler!

 

 

 

Tip 8: Develop a Love for Learning in Your Children

 

We have entire articles and multi-part workshops on how to develop a love for learning in your children., so writing a few paragraphs about this topic is a challenge! (To read the many parts of a lengthy article called “Creating a Love for Learning in Your Homeschool,” go to http://ati.iblp.org/ati/family/articles/teaching/loveforlearning/ .)

 

First of all, though, I will say that a love for learning is usually not developed in a child who is pushed to learn things for which he is not ready. Period.  It just makes sense. Of course, if a child struggles and struggles to learn to read, and we push and push day after day—even though reading readiness has not been realized, that child will grow to hate reading, learning, and oftentimes, school and homeschooling.

 

Secondly,  model a love for learning for your children. Your children want to be just like you! They might not say it. They might say just the opposite at times, but the fact is, they want to be just like Mom and Dad.

 

The beginning of teaching our children any skill is to model that skill for them. I remember in teacher’s college when the trendy topic was SSR—Sustained Silent Reading. The goal of SSR was to set aside ten or fifteen minutes each school day to have every student reading. The superior teachers were the ones who didn’t grade papers or file their nails during SSR; they read too. The idea was that if the teacher modeled reading for her students, they would follow her example.

 

The same is true for homeschooling parents with modeling a love for learning. Do you force-feed your children what they need to learn, but remain stagnant in your own learning? Do you act as though you already “know it all,” so there is nothing else for you to learn? Do you seek out information about topics you are interested in learning more about?

 

Several years ago when we took a family vacation to Disney World®, I was able to put this “modeling a love for learning” to the test with our children.  I carried (well, whoever carried the backpack actually carried) an eight-hundred-page volume titled, The Unofficial Guide to Disney World®. I pulled it out as we traveled to each park, reading aloud about the best viewing spots for the afternoon parade, the worst hamburgers in the place, and the longest time one has to wait in the mid-morning to ride “Space Mountain.”

 

At first the kids teased me merciless (okay, I did have over a hundred sticky notes of various colors and sizes protruding from the sides of the book—you’re not allowed to highlight in a library book), but then they began asking me what “my book” said about this or that. Eventually, we were fighting over the book during tram, monorail, and bus rides!

 

On the last night, the kids insisted that I cover myself in sticky notes, scatter my “charts” around me (oh, I made charts too), and have my picture taken with my precious book. They saw firsthand how learning new information makes for a great vacation; they came to see the method to Mom’s madness—and I guarantee not one of them will ever take their kids to Disney World without that book! Modeling a love for learning for our children works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip 9: Develop a good schedule

When homeschooling moms hear the word “schedule,” they either cringe or celebrate. It seems that there is a division of camps when it comes to scheduling. While those who “celebrate” the schedule might be guilty of micro-managing their children and maybe even putting undue pressure on them, those who ‘cringe” when confronted with the idea of scheduling might suffer from a lack of productivity due to their disdain for schedules.

I have found that you do not have to have a love-hate relationship with schedules, but rather you have to figure out which type of homeschooler you are—one who loves schedules and wants to follow one to the letter or one who doesn’t care for them and would do better with a looser type of schedule that still provides some sense of structure.

If you love schedules, then you will probably do better with a moment-by-moment, or at least hour-by-hour one to guide your day. If you are “allergic” to schedules, you might find a block type of schedule in which you do certain things in a certain order during certain time periods to suit your time management style. I used a combination of both—but always had the “block schedule” in mind for even our toddlers all the way through high school. I divided our day up into “early morning,” “morning,” “noontime,” “early afternoon,” “late afternoon,” “early evening,” “dinner hour,” and “late evening.” While I might not firmly make 10:00-10:30 math for everybody, I always knew (and the kids always knew) what to expect based on the block of time it was.

Regardless of what type of schedule you use, there are a few key things to being successful in homeschool scheduling. I will leave you with a few of these: (a) Change the schedule every few months as needed, based on the ages of your children; (b) Write the schedule out and “advertise” it for everybody in your family to see all the time; and (c) Attach things that are really important to you to things that are already in your schedule.

(a)  Change the schedule as needed. I found especially with little ones that I needed to change the schedule to adjust to their needs and my availability. When I had littles, I actually revised the schedule every season—based on how long the baby was nursing at that time; how long the toddler napped; who could do which chores now; who needed longer blocks of school meetings with me; etc. I wasn’t locked into the exact same schedule for the entire school year, but I changed it as the children changed throughout the year.

(b) Write the schedule and “advertise” it. I posted our schedules on the refrigerator, in the fronts of the kids’ binders, on their lesson plan/check sheets, etc., so that everybody could always look and see what was supposed to be happening in our day at a certain time. The lunch person always knew what time he or she was supposed to be in the kitchen; the laundry person always knew what time laundry was to be done each day. By “publishing” the schedule for all to see, I made it more official—and I could even get Dad involved in helping me enforce it if I had a true, posted schedule.

(c)   Attach important things to things that are already in your schedule. We learned this trick (along with dozens of others) from Gregg Harris twenty-five years ago—and have used it every year since then. He said that if something is really important to you to do in your family, attach that activity to an existing one. For instance, if reading aloud to your children is something you really want in your schedule, attach it to breakfast, lunch, or bedtime—times that are already established in your home. We did this with many, many things—attaching things to existing things until our attachments had attachments attached to them—and our day was one big attachment! J

 

Tip 10: Make your marriage as strong as possible

While I know that there are many single homeschooling parents out there, and I applaud them for they are truly courageous (and oftentimes extremely self-sacrificing to give up income and time on another whole level than we married homeschoolers even do), I also know that if you are married and homeschooling, it is tough, tough, tough to “do it all” with conflict between Mom and Dad.

We have had such outstanding marriage teaching in our thirty-one –plus years of marriage that I cannot imagine our marriage without them. We are grateful, together, nearly weekly, for the foundations in marriage and selflessness that were built within us through our mentors and seminars during our early years together.

While a short tip like this is not the place to solve marital discord, I can take this opportunity to encourage you to seek out help to solve any significant marriage problems. Parenting in general, and homeschooling specifically, are hard on a marriage—so many demands, so many needs. We have had low times in our relationship just like anybody else, but we always fought (together!) for our marriage. We always got help. We always surrendered our own wants to the other eventually.

In homeschooling, a united marriage is more crucial than ever. There are more decisions to be made every single week in a homeschool family than if someone else is taking care of your children’s education (and all daytime needs) for you. Try to set aside time to talk about those decisions, child discipline, schedules, attitudes, spiritual growth, and more. It isn’t easy, but your kids are worth it—and your marriage is worth it.

If you have marriage difficulties that cannot be solved simply by talking through them or reading a book, we recommend that you run, not walk, to get help. We have heard amazing reports about “A Weekend to Remember” (marriage seminars by FamilyLIfe by Dennis Rainey). One of the best marriage seminars we have ever been to (and we have been to tons of workshops, sessions, seminars, etc.) was by Dr. Sharon Hart May (author of “How to Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen”). She truly understands people in general and couples specifically. (She does weekend seminars and has private, lengthy counseling sessions at a few locations around the country.)

 

 

Tip 11: Learn to Be Organized

 

While I like to cut people slack whenever possible, it feels like we homeschoolers have become too lax sometimes. Yes, there will be “those days”; however, just like in parenting in general, when we have more of “those days” than we do true learning days, we might be in danger of becoming too laid back. One of the best ways to ensure that we are getting the things done that we need to get done is to get organized.

Organization, much like scheduling, often falls into two camps—those who know/think they are and those who know they are not (and often feel that they can never become so).  Running a homeschool (and even running a family, in many ways) is much like running a business. A company runs  better when it is organized, and so does our homeschool.

We all have areas in which we are more organized than others; we all have things that we can seem to keep running smoothly—and those things that just seem to elude us when we try to get organized.  A big part of organization is being able to prioritize, delegate, and get rid of (not have in our lives). What I have found—and what I continually tell my grown children—is that you cannot do everything in life well all at the same time. It is unrealistic (and defeating) to think you can “do it all” and do it well. This is why so many people (and I do this still sometimes even though I know the truth!) say, “I can keep good meals on the table and school running well, but as soon as XXX starts (soccer, 4-H, farming season…whatever), it all falls apart. Time is a simple mathematical formula—and too much activity or too many things in the schedule over a twenty-four hour period will use up the time—and leave you with a time deficit, and, in turn, that feeling that “I just can’t do it all.” Because truly, you (and I) cannot.

Since we often speak on time management, prioritizing, organizing, and scheduling, people automatically think I am extremely organized—which I am—in the areas that I am able to handle. My mom used to tell me that I am the most disorganized organized person that she has ever known, proving what I said above. I cannot do it all (and I never act like I can—I just skip the things I can’t do; it’s just the way it is); thus, the areas that I am running (i.e. keeping the plates going) are fairly well run and organized. The areas that I have chosen to eliminate or ignore are neither well run nor organized. For example, we have four adults/teens in two bedrooms upstairs in a small house. I don’t have the time or money to organize it, get more dressers and closets, etc., so I simply do not go upstairs. I’m sure it is a disaster up there, but that’s okay…in order to be organized and prioritized in the other areas that I can handle, some other things have to just be okay even if they are far from perfect.

In summary, and for the purposes of this short article, prioritizing is the first step to organization—getting your life down to the truly important things to you and your spouse and ridding your life of the lesser things (at least lesser to you—some people could never handle knowing the two bedrooms upstairs are disastrous!). Then you have a shot at being organized. Then you have a chance at managing the remaining time and energy needs for your family. For me, I am happier, and feel much more organized, when I pare down my life to a certain number of hours a day in school, work, housework, work, relationships, parenting, cooking, etc. If I try to put more in my life than what the mathematical time formula allots me, I cannot be organized, but only frustrated.

Once you have pared down your life to the things that are the most crucial things, then you can apply all sorts of organizing techniques to it, such as scheduling (see above), chore sessions, tutoring sessions of meeting with your children on their subjects, managing block schedules so that everybody knows what is up during that time period, and much more.

 

Tip 12: Have Fun and Enjoy Your Children

            I know there are so many pressures, needs, and responsibilities in homeschooling, so much so, that it makes it difficult sometimes to enjoy the process. I have few regrets in our life of homeschooling and method of parenting. Oh, there are always some, but not a ton, and I’m so grateful for that. One of the things I do regret is spending so much time on living (i.e. always feeling the need to cook homemade, garage sale organize clothing into huge tubs, make just one more dish for company, and more). There are many of those things that I couldn’t change. As most of you know, living on one income with several children usually forces us to have to spend a lot of time on the areas of cooking, clothing, etc., in order to save money. However, sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to do this or that (and oftentimes it was to meet others’ expectations, I’m afraid) that I stressed myself and my children out. A stressed homeschooling mother does not enjoy homeschooling!

            So my advice to enjoy homeschooling is to not sweat the little things (doing everything perfectly, trying to do extra things that are not truly needed, etc.) and focus instead on the big things. The big things, to me, are the spiritual growth of my children, our relationships, their health and well being, and their education. If I could garage sale enough to clothe everybody all winter or can enough green beans to last us until spring—and do the “big” things—power to me. But if not, I wish I had let the lesser things go sometimes.

            Organizing, disciplining our children in love, developing deep relationships with our kids, having a schedule that works for our family, prioritizing the most important things to us, creating a love for learning in our children, keeping our marriage strong—these things can help you to have “the best school year ever”—and that is my prayer for you.

 

Homeschool Tip #11: Develop a Love for Learning in Your Children

Tip 11: Develop a Love for Learning in Your Children
 We have entire articles and multi-part workshops on how to develop a love for learning in your children. So, writing a few paragraphs about this topic if a challenge! (To read the many parts of a lengthy article called “Creating a Love for Learning in Your Homeschool,” go to http://ati.iblp.org/ati/family/articles/teaching/loveforlearning/.)
First of all, though, I will say that a love for learning is usually not developed in a child who is pushed to learn things for which he is not ready. Period.  It just makes sense. Of course, if a child struggles and struggles to learn to read, and we push and push day after day—even though reading readiness has not been realized, that child will grow to hate reading, learning, and oftentimes, school and homeschooling.
Secondly,  model a love for learning for your children. Your children want to be just like you! They might not say it. They might say just the opposite at times, but the fact is, they want to be just like Mom and Dad.
The beginning of teaching our children any skill is to model that skill for them. I remember in teacher’s college when the trendy topic was SSR—Sustained Silent Reading. The goal of SSR was to set aside ten or fifteen minutes each school day to have every student reading. The superior teachers were the ones who didn’t grade papers or file their nails during SSR; they read too. The idea was that if the teacher modeled reading for her students, they would follow her example.
 
The same is true for homeschooling parents with modeling a love for learning. Do you force-feed your children what they need to learn, but remain stagnant in your own learning? Do you act as though you already “know it all,” so there is nothing else for you to learn? Do you seek out information about topics you are interested in learning more about?
 
Several years ago when we took a family vacation to Disney World®, I was able to put this “modeling a love for learning” to the test with our children.  I carried (well, whoever carried the backpack actually carried) an eight-hundred-page volume titled, The Unofficial Guide to Disney World®. I pulled it out as we traveled to each park, reading aloud about the best viewing spots for the afternoon parade, the worst hamburgers in the place, and the longest time one has to wait in the mid-morning to ride “Space Mountain.”
At first the kids teased me merciless (okay, I did have over a hundred sticky notes of various colors and sizes protruding from the sides of the book—you’re not allowed to highlight in a library book), but then they began asking me what “my book” said about this or that. Eventually, we were fighting over the book during tram, monorail, and bus rides!
On the last night, the kids insisted that I cover myself in sticky notes, scatter my “charts” around me (oh, I made charts too), and have my picture taken with my precious book. They saw firsthand how learning new information makes for a great vacation; they came to see the method to Mom’s madness—and I guarantee not one of them will ever take their kids to Disney World without that book! Modeling a love for learning for our children works.

Homeschool Tip IX: Teach Like Jesus

 Twelve Tips for Homeschoolers: Learn to Teach Like Jesus


Many years ago we were introduced to the concept of teaching like Jesus taught. We have since delved into that further, realizing that Jesus was not only a model of how to teach concepts to our children, but he was also the epitome of relationship building with people. This has helped us in our parenting and discipling of our children in general (not just in “teaching” or homeschooling).

One of the things that has stuck with us the most is the concept of time in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught all the time! He taught Nicodemus late at night; he taught during meals via the last supper and other “potluck” style opportunities. This reinforced the concept in Deuteronomy 6:7 of teaching our children all the time—as we do everything—as we live. Along the lines of different time frames, we also noted that Jesus taught varying lengths of time. Sometimes he taught short and straight to the point (the woman at the well). Other times he had lengthy teaching sessions, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes he taught so long he went right on through meal times! We, too, need to be aware of our audience—and their time limitations, our scheduling needs, etc.

Jesus also used various types of teaching. This showed us that some kids need a certain type of instruction while others need something else. In Matthew 18:12, Jesus asked the question, “What do you think?” This has become a common mantra for our parenting/teaching. We have wanted to allow the kids to tell us what they already know or what they think—and then we could build on that. Asking open ended questions is a super method for academic training—and for heart training.

Of course, Jesus also taught one-on-one (again, Nicodemus and the woman at the well); small group (twelve disciples); and large group (five thousand). There have been many things in our homeschool that were perfectly suited to one-on-one instruction. Other things were great for small group—and we used unit studies and other “small group” instruction situations with our kids together. Some things were truly best suited to a larger group, such as speech and debate, drama, and choir.

Jesus used storytelling extensively. He used God’s word to tell stories. And he used nature to tell stories—pearls, fish, trees, water were all object lessons. We have taken his concept of using nature to heart. We have used animals via Answers in Genesis materials, zoo trips, etc. We have used Character Sketches books for twenty-nine years to teach character and Bible—half of the book is using nature to teach character! Sometimes we just look at the snow, clouds, stars, ocean—and an instant lesson in spiritual truth presents itself!

Jesus taught in unusual places—which we have found extremely effective and fun—for the kids and parents! Jesus taught in a boat, by a well, on a hillside, in a garden, on the water, under the stars. Kids love surprises and unusual things. And we have enjoyed providing surprises and unusual places to learn—zoos, parks, sleeping at the top of the jungle gym at Science Central, camping out on the “bunks” at the fort, and more have provided us with unusual and enjoyable learning opportunities.

Lastly, Jesus had characteristics of a superior teacher—that we homeschoolers should model after. He knew his audience—and he taught accordingly. He was teachable, even as a teacher: “I only do what I see my Father do.” He had his priorities in order: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).  And he didn’t “just teach”—he discipled: “Come ye after me” (Mark 1:17). Wow, “to be like Jesus”—to teach like Jesus! Now that would make me a successful homeschooler!

Homeschool Tip VIII: Be Efficient

Back to School for Homeschoolers—Tip VIII: Be Efficient in Your School Day

With six children in school different years (and a baby or toddler too!) , I have been on a personal quest for efficiency in my school day! I have learned so much about time management and efficiency through homeschooling. I will give four primary tips for efficiency in this article, but we have many, many ideas in our audio series, “Helps for Homeschooling Moms: Prioritizing, Organizing, and Scheduling Your Life, School, and Home.”

First of all, I used multi-level learning whenever possible. This included doing unit studies for content areas (history, science, health, etc.) using a bus stop approach to teaching. In the bus stop approach, I started out with all children present for our studies and began with the easiest materials I used. Then as the materials increased in difficulty or decreased in interest for the little ones, I would “drop them off at the bus stops” (i.e. release them to go play, have room time, do chores, etc.) and continue on with higher level material. As the session progressed, little ones would “get off the bus” and go to other things until at the end of the session, I was covering more challenging material that might only interest or pertain to older ones. (We always allowed littles to stay and learn with us while playing Legoes, etc., for the “trickle down effect,” if the child desired!)

Secondly, I grouped students together whenever possible. Our daughters all took high school biology, sewing, and Spanish together—even though they were in grades six, nine, and ten. It was efficient, and they enjoyed studying together.

Third, I always used grading time wisely. I would sit down with the child’s English or math and grade with him or her beside me. As I found an error, we could go over it right there. It was teaching time at its best—teaching directly from the student’s mistakes.

Lastly, we made our students as responsible for their education as they could possibly be at each age. We began early on using daily chore charts and independent school lists. The latter were lists of tasks that each child needed to do every day by himself in school. Thus, any silent reading, handwriting pages, cd roms, and other activities that the child could do without Mom were listed in the order that the student was to do it—and he could just go down the list and do it every day without needing any input or help. This gave me the chance to work with other kids—and I knew that every body was busy when they were not meeting with me.

Those Attending School–Tip VIII: Good Morning Routines


For Those Attending School (and homeschoolers!)–Tip VIII: Establish Good Morning Routines*

“Our children are not going to be just ‘our children’—they are going to be other people’s husbands and wives and the parents of our grandchildren.”
Mary Steichen Calderone

I think of the quote above often when I am working with my eight to eighteen year olds on “life skills.” All of the character, skills, routines, relationship abilities, work ethic, and education that they develop now will follow them all throughout their lives—and will have a profound influence on the kinds of spouses, parents, workers, citizens, and Christians that they will be as adults. Every life skill that we teach our children—and better yet, model for them—has the potential to help them be successful in many areas of life—even the morning routine.

If you find yourself chasing your preteen around with a toothbrush and hair brush or following your teen around, helping him find his shoes and stuffing things in his backpack every morning, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! Again, a huge part of successful parenting is being a problem solver. We can continue chasing every morning, or we can implement routines and schedules that help us “prevent” that morning chaos.

Here are some tips for developing morning routines with older children (beyond preschool):

1. If your family has been of the mindset that chasing, stuffing bags and backpacks, cajoling, etc. are part of Mom’s job description, you will want to change that way of thinking quickly! Allowing our children to be irresponsible because we feel guilty if we do not do everything for them is not going to help us parent our children to become independent.

2. Partner with your older child to decide what he needs to do each morning. Let him suggest a doable list with your input.

3. Make a chart or list on the computer—or have your older child do that, so he can monitor his own progress on accomplishing his morning goals.

4. If mornings are extremely hectic now—with older kids on the computer, rising late, etc. and part of the family waiting in the car beeping the horn, etc., you will want to be firmer about establishing the morning routine and what order things are done, etc. We have done this for so many years that our boys, for the most part, know that this is what you do in the morning. When these items are done, I can do something else I want to do, start my school, etc.

5. If your children go to school, I recommend just putting in the morning routine those chores that pertain to that child, such as making his bed, straightening his room, putting his pajamas away, cleaning up messes he made, etc. Save other family chores for after school or before bed. (More on chore charts, appropriate ages for various chores, etc. in upcoming posts!)

6. If your older kids are poor prioritizers, you will want to use this opportunity to help them learn the art of prioritizing. If they consistently make bad choices when it comes to getting things done, you might have to “bring in the boundaries” some and give them step-by-step instructions on what to do for now. Once they gain responsibility and diligence, you can broaden that and give them more leeway. For example, if they get on the computer, text friends, etc. instead of getting their routine done, you might have to institute a “no electronics” rule until they show themselves more faithful. Remember, this entire process is a teaching opportunity—and some of our older kids need more lessons than others!

*Re-print from 2010.

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