Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More Advice for Homeschooling Families Just Beginning the Journey

So a couple days ago, I posted some first thoughts (from our personal experiences) that families who are considering homeschooling might benefit from knowing as they get started.  Again, we are still in a state of learning how this homeschooling thing works ourselves and we've been at it since 2006.  I hope those who are reading these posts do understand that most of what you learn won't come from advice posts like these or books or other websites; most of what you will learn about the process of homeschooling will come by way of doing the process.

That said, I'm hopeful that these posts will help reassure some of you that homeschooling is possible and for many of those who decide to take the leap, homeschooling will be an incredible blessing in your lives and family.  There will be a lot of mistakes and re-evaluations of your goals along the way, but as sure as we're still here today getting ready to take on an eighth year of educating our children ourselves, you can be successful, too.

Pray often.  Have great supports in place to lean on, from whom to seek advice and feedback and who will encourage you regularly.  Extend grace as often as necessary (and mostly, that's to yourself).  Be open and willing to learn along the way so you can increase in your own knowledge and therefore, your ability to teach others. 

Seek wisdom.  Seek understanding.  Seek out educational opportunities in the mundane, everyday activities of life, as well as in the great adventures that come along now and then.

That being said, I'll begin this post with something else you'll want to start collecting: ideas.


What kind of ideas?

1.  It depends on your family. Think about your family's priorities, interests and resources.
  • The priorities might be recognizable in the homeschooling goals you've decided upon (remember these are never permanent and may evolve as you learn more about homeschooling), but they may also encompass other considerations.  For example, if your family's priority is to spend more time at home during the weekdays doing school and not to focus on education over the weekends, you'll be thinking of ideas that can be done during the week, at home.  For us, personally, we tend to use the weekdays for the classroom work, but as much as possible we enjoy educational activities outside of the house all week long.  If there's some cool event on a Saturday (and many of them are), we have no issue with calling it school and marking it down as a day of attendance in our record book.
  • The interests do not have to seem connected with education per say.  Education can be found in all kinds of interests.  I mentioned our son, H, who thoroughly enjoys playing with Legos.  Before our homeschooling days, those were just toys.  But since then, Legos have become manipulatives and learning tools, as well as a theme for other learning (Bible learning, for example).  So does your family like skiing?  Does your family like animals?  Does your family like food?  Go with what your family (or individuals within the family) really enjoy and start thinking up creative ways to utilize that interest to generate educational opportunities.
  • The resources include financial, material, environmental and even emotional.  There are some weeks when I am just a bundle of get-up-and-go energy.  I'm focused.  I'm energized.  I'm ready to take a bunch of rowdy kids (and often, my niece or nieces) out into the world to discover stuff.  But there are other weeks when I can barely get out of bed (eh-hmm, lately there have been more of these, but I'm working on that).  Those high energy days are great for tackling a trip to the aquarium, while those "please let me stay in bed a little longer" days are probably better served staying home and utilizing those educational DVDs we all keep on hand for sick days (or Netflix or whatever).  It also goes to say that if you live in the desert and it's summer, you may not have the resources to go snow skiing for P.E. credits.  Or maybe you live in the mountains and it's wintertime, but you just spent hundreds of dollars on Christmas and a day skiing in the mountains is just not fiscally responsible at this point.  Nor do you own any ski equipment (material).  Resources are important to consider before you come up with any grand ideas.
 2.  Even good ideas may sometimes go awry.  Work with it.
  • Maybe this one is obvious, but even before homeschooling, have you ever taken a trip to anywhere and suddenly you or one of your kids gets sick?  Well, at that point maybe you go home or maybe you stay (depending on the kind of sick), but certainly the focus of that outing is going to be a little different.  If you plan a trip to the zoo and then your kid falls down and really scrapes up his knee, he's not really going to focus on the treasure hunt provided by the zoo for educational purposes.  Instead, maybe that day -- if you don't choose to go home -- can just be about practicing observation and not about finding specific written details.  Or if you're really creative, maybe you'll make a unit study about gravity or how the body heals itself after the fact and use the fall as an object lesson.  Hey, why not?
  • I remember this one time when my husband was really excited to show the kids how potatoes contain electricity and could illuminate a light.  Well, try as he might (I think maybe he was going by memory and not some specific science book), those potatoes just wanted to be potatoes and they were happy leaving the life of a battery to Duracell.  He tried 14 different ways to get those potatoes to turn on the tiny light bulb.  But eventually, he grew impatient and irritated and they threw in the towel on that lesson.   It doesn't mean that nothing valuable came out of that lesson.  I'm sure the kids learned several things that day (you mean, Dad really doesn't know everything?), some of them educational and some were not.  But hey, he spent a good three or four hours with the kids teaching them about perseverance.  Nice.  I'll take it!
  • So I guess the point I'm trying to make is that when you have a great idea and then everything swings to the left and things don't seem to be working out according to plan, there may be another lesson to be had.  Be flexible and open to the way God wants to direct your day because good lessons are often veiled in those well-intentioned flops of an idea.   
 3.   What seems like a good idea for some members of the family but not all, might actually be a good idea for everyone anyway.  Or not.

  • The age split between our children spans ten years (and I know some of you have a much wider age span!), so sometimes I think what might be a great idea for the younger kids is going to bore the tears out of the older kids (or visa versa).  But the opportunity to do a particular activity with the kids doesn't always present itself at a time where we can ditch the probably-will-be-bored kids and just include the ones who will enjoy it.  In this case, you'll need ideas for occupying the uninterested kids in a way that helps them feel involved and not bored so the other ones can focus.  I'm not just talking about giving little kids a coloring book or their LeapPad (though sometimes that is the best idea depending on the activity), I'm talking about really getting them involved.  Following are a couple real-life examples we've done.
  • Example 1: The Zoo.  Okay, so we have a zoo membership and we visit our local zoo several times a year.  It's my fall-back field trip idea when I can't think up anything new or original or can't afford to do something for which we do not have a membership.  Younger kids love the zoo for the animals, older kids get bored of the zoo because we've been there 20 times in the past six months (slight exaggeration).  So if this month we're learning about Europe, I might have the older kids on the lookout for all the animals they can find that mainly come from Europe.  We can make it a competition (we have three boys, mind you, so competition is a good way to motivate them) and whoever gets the most animals down on their index card wins a Large Slushie at Sonic on the way home (or something). Then the next day at home, they can pick one from their list and do an animal research paper on that.  Meanwhile, I might have the younger kids working on reading the names of animals on the signs or talking about camouflage or behavior or sounds they make or how they are well-suited for their natural environment (fur, scales, kind of eyes, etc.).  Voila!  Zoo trip made educational for everyone.  Mind you, we must change up the ideas for each visit to the zoo or boredom will be resumed by at least one or two of the kids and I'll never hear the end of it.
  • Example 2: The Museum.  Now there are children's museums, art museums, cultural museums, science museums -- we even visited the Telephone Museum in downtown Albuquerque this past school year -- and so on.  Depending on the type of museum, someone is always left with plenty to complain about.  So let's talk about some art museums.  We have been to the International Museum of Folk Art a couple times and all the kids seem to really enjoy the variety and colors of that place, but when we went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, the younger kids were quickly bored.  I had not really planned ahead so they just had to be a little bored that day and get what they could from their time there (later we did an art project based on the artwork there and thanks to a gift shop purchase, I was able to remind them of some things we'd seen so they could get into the art project better -- and they did!).  But on another day, we went to the Albuquerque Museum (of art) and while I thought our youngest two would be bored out of their socks, we brought along some drawing books and colored pencils.  Their assignment was to as carefully as they could, draw out pictures of art pieces that captured their attention and then to write the name of the piece and the artist who created it next to their drawings.  I put no minimums in place and both of them just went to town drawing things as best they could -- taking their time and really examining the artwork closely so they wouldn't miss a detail -- and came home with several great drawings.  It was great.  Meanwhile I was able to have some discussions about the artwork with the older child with us that day (two had other plans at a Star Wars convention) without worrying about the little ones running around, breaking stuff or whining at my waist about their hunger and boredom.  Everyone had fun and everyone learned that day.
  • On the other hand, there will be opportunities when the kids who'd probably get bored quickly (or can't walk as long or are really too young or old for the particular subject-matter) are at a friend's house for the whole day or away at youth camp or whatever and I say carpe diem!  Seize the day!  Use these windows of opportunity to have one-on-one time or three-on-one time (instead of five-on-one, in our case) and enjoy not having to think so hard about how to involve the otherwise occupied kids.  I think it's okay to carry out some of those brilliant ideas we have with fewer kids than usual.  The ones who are there with you will feel extra-special and maybe you'll do that activity with the other kids another time, who knows?  It'll be a new idea to them when you do! 

Where do I get these ideas?

Hopefully, your brain has a few ideas of its own kicking around (and you'll learn to identify more and more good ones as you find out what works or doesn't work for your family).  However, maybe you're just not naturally an idea generator or maybe you are lacking inspiration.  Here are some start-up ideas to help you generate more of your own.

1.  Check your curriculum.  (We'll get back to the whole topic of curriculum in another post.)  Most curriculum packages offer a section on additional enrichment or ideas about how to dig into a topic a little deeper.  These ideas might suggest additional projects, field trips or even just other books or websites to get a deeper understanding of whatever subject or lesson.  Sometimes the books themselves will offer suggestions about other ways to get more information.  So if you have a kid who truly falls in love with reading about sharks (like our J) while studying ecosystems and the ocean as part of your science curriculum, you'll be able to enhance this child's learning experience with suggestions of taking a trip to the aquarium or watching a particular Discovery DVD or reading "these" six other books together or doing some kind of shark art project (I'm just coming up with these as I type, so you know, they may not all be classic ideas).  For the other children who were done with the topic of ecosystems and oceans the minute you flipped the page, that's okay.  They'll find other interests and you can help them gain further enrichment later.

2.  Know your local museums, parks, theatre and factory tour options.  This goes for those in your local area and neighboring communities, as well as the ones nearby wherever you are vacationing.  I mentioned that we go to the zoo a lot.  Well, our zoo membership gives us reciprocal discounts at zoos nationwide (many, not all), so we find it to be so much fun to visit a different zoo.  It's fun to work on comparing and contrasting, while we enjoy a different collection of animals from the ones we know by heart practically in our own local zoo.  So when you're planning to travel, find an hour before you depart to do a little research online or in your travel brochures to see if there is anywhere educational that you might like to incorporate into your time visiting wherever.  Our kids end up knowing a lot about California history because we've been to a variety of history museums and other locations there when we visit Disneyland or extended family who live there. And just for the record, we love factory tours.  We've been to Ben and Jerry's, Hershey's, Sweet Candy Company, Jelly Belly, Stonyfield Farms, and many others.  I think everyone likes the delicious samples at the end.  But even locally, I know some grocery stores and restaurants that offer tours.  You may need to call up some friends to join you if they have a minimum group size, but it's worth doing it!  At the very least watch some episodes of How It's Made with your family -- sometimes the process of creating the most ordinary products is really interesting or complicated.

3.  Ask other homeschooling families or go online and seek out ideas globally.  I just now Googled "homeschooling ideas," and got links for more websites than I can count.  But here are a few that look good upon first glance:
Homeschooling Ideas
The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas (I have this one)
A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling
Successful Homeschooling
And thousands more like these

4.  Turn routine into a learning opportunity.  Why does mowing the lawn just have to be about cutting the grass?  Could it not be a lesson in estimation about how many passes it'll take to completely cut it?  Why does a trip to the grocery story have to be about buying food?  Could it not be about weighing a variety of fruits and vegetables and working out hypotheses beforehand about which will be heavier: an apple or a tomato?  Why does going to the park have to be only about P.E. time?  Could it also be about graphing how many swings are at each park we visit or mapping out the layout of the park?  Why does cleaning out the fridge just have to be about getting rid of old leftovers?  Could it also be a lesson about the calendar and expiration dates and food nutrition labels?  Why does a drive through main street have to be about kids arguing over who touched who first?  Could it also be an ABC game or a logo reading game or somebody's turn to direct the turns to see if he or she can remember the way to WalMart or wherever?  See where I'm going with this?  I hope so.

5.  Ask your kids.  Kids are great idea generators.  Not everything they'll think of is practical or doable, but you'll be surprised sometimes by their unique way of thinking about the world and sometimes those ideas turn out to be real winners for everyone.  Or at least they might make you think about harder to come up with your own ideas in the future before asking their opinion.


Okay, so again, hopefully this is somewhat informational and followable.  I'll be back on another day with more and we'll talk about curriculum and stuff.

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