Monthly Archives: June 2013

How well do you know the Story of a lifetime?

crown of thornsShe listened with rapt attention as I shared the story–a story so familiar to me that I could recite it in my sleep, a story I generally take for granted, a story I’ve told countless times to far less enthralled audiences. She actively listened–inserting heartfelt “ooh,”s “really”s, and “no way”s throughout.

This was the story of my Savior’s sacrifice. A story I know so well that I have lost the wonder of it. Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t lost the joy or the appreciation of knowing that Jesus died for me to pay my debt and to purchase my eternity. But the wonder–I certainly don’t have the sense of wonder that little girl had.

At church events in America, it’s not often that you get to tell someone the Story for the very first time. Most people have heard it before, perhaps so many times that they could tell it flawlessly themselves without much wonder at all. But if this child , who was about nine years old, had heard the Good News before, she hadn’t gotten the message that it was commonplace, boring, or “old news.” To her it was fresh, and it was important. Even though all the other kids were sitting quietly and nodding their heads or being still, it didn’t occur to her to do anything but voice her questions and concerns. She couldn’t believe that people would treat Jesus like that or that He was willing to pay such a price.

It was refreshing to witness the response of someone who was hearing the Savior’s Story for the very first time. Shouldn’t we all have that kind of a response even if it’s the thousandth time? Because it’s a story full of wonder.

What is the best way to teach writing?

Wesley enjoys writing, even on vacation.
Wesley enjoys writing, even on vacation.

Teaching writing intimidates many homeschool parents. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are some good writing curricula available, which make good tools. But the approach I use works whether or not you supplement with a published curriculum.

What do you think is the single-most-important factor in becoming a successful writer? Practicing? Grammar instruction? No. The most important part of the writing curriculum doesn’t require a pencil or keyboard. The best way to become a proficient writer is to read. A lot. Voraciously, even. Read a balance of fiction and non-fiction. Read a variety of genres. Reading well written literature and high quality non-fiction exposes the writer to proper grammar, spelling, and conventions, as well as to the author’s craft. I encourage students to read both fiction and non-fiction daily.

Students also should practice writing each day. They need to write about a variety of topics, including things of interest to them, experiences they’ve had, books they’ve read, their opinions, their hopes and dreams, their frustrations, their fears, how to do things, and anything else that comes to mind. I start by brainstorming a list of things with them. They keep the list and refer to it when they need an idea. I also provide a list of writing prompts they can use. Some days I let them pick what to write about. Other days I tell them the topic. I require them to write a certain amount (for example, a 4-sentence paragraph) and for a certain amount of time (for example, ten minutes). They must meet both minimums. In the example I gave, the student would need to write at least 4 sentences and she would need to write for at least ten minutes. I increase the requirement as skills and stamina develop. Research shows that students need at least 45 minutes of writing instruction and practice daily to make significant gains.

I generally pick a certain skill or technique that the student needs to improve. I teach him that skill and give him some practice. A curriculum would work for this, but there are other options. The Internet has lots of interactive and printable resources, many of which are free. Or you can create your own exercises.

Then I have the student write about the selected topic, being careful to apply the targeted skill. After she finishes, she needs to reread the piece to check to see if she correctly applied the skill. She should underline anything she notices that needs correcting, and make the corrections above the original writing. (It’s a good idea to write on every other line for this purpose.) Underlining, rather than erasing, helps the writer to be reflective and to see growth over time. It also helps you to see how your student has grown. It’s a good idea to have your child keep all of the writing in a binder so you can see the chronology of skills developed through the year. This also can serve as documentation of homeschool progress in Language Arts in many states.

Twice a week I suggest selecting one piece of writing to proofread. I don’t advise you to correct your child’s writing everyday, as this may take some of the joy out of writing. Look over the selected piece, specifically looking at the current skill being taught and any others you have taught. Make corrections to those skills, but not to everything. You don’t want to exasperate your child as a writer. After you have made suggestions and corrections, return the piece and require that it be rewritten. Making the necessary corrections will help your student to learn the targeted skills.

When teaching writing, remember that the goal isn’t perfection, but growth. I have been writing seriously for about 25 years and have had a career in journalism, but my writing still isn’t perfect.

If your child practices these techniques–reading fiction and nonfiction daily, writing daily, self-editing daily, and making your suggested corrections twice weekly–you are likely to see him steadily grow into a successful writer.

What Homeschool Curriculum Should You Use?

curriculum_000

As I spoke at a homeschool conference this past weekend, I seemed to get a similar question phrased in different ways: What curriculum should I use? The answer is both easy and complicated. The easy answer is that you should use the curriculum that fits your child best. But, of course, that can be complicated.

Here are a few tips to get you started with curriculum selection:

1. There is no perfect curriculum. No matter which approach, method, or program you choose, there will be times when it falls short. That’s OK. Nothing, including curriculum, is perfect, at least on this side of heaven. So you make adjustments. You compensate. Maybe you pull from various sources to come up with a compilation that works for you and your child.

2. Curriculum is a tool. View it as such. You are the master of the curriculum–not vice versa. You don’t have to do things exactly like the curriculum publisher suggests. You don’t have to do every problem, read every passage, fill in every blank, complete every exercise, and finish every page. You decide what to use and what to leave out. There is one exception to this: if it’s a research-based, direct instruction program designed for intervention purposes, you usually do need to implement it exactly as instructed by the publisher.

3. You may just need to pick something and try it out. Rather than stressing about the differences between a couple of well-respected curriculum publishers, you may simply need to choose one and get to work. Again, the one you choose isn’t going to be the perfect fit, but ¬† the other one wouldn’t be either.

4. You don’t have to have a pre-made curriculum. You can write or compile your own curriculum from the Internet, library, teacher-supply stores, and what you already own. Decide what you want or need to study and start getting things together. Discover everything you can about the subject alongside your children. This provides an excellent model of authentic learning for your child and it’s often more engaging and informative than pre-made curricula.

5. Sometimes it’s easiest for families to buy pre-packaged curricula, especially to start out. Using pre-made curricula generally instills confidence that you are giving your children all they need. You feel like you are on track and that you have a good framework for your homeschool. There is nothing wrong with that. But as you gain confidence as a homeschooler, you may decide that you want to make changes. Either way, remember that you are in charge of the curriculum. It is not in charge of you.

6. If you find that a curriculum isn’t the right fit, it’s OK to abandon it. Consider it a “buying error” and move on. Don’t stress yourself and your child out by insisting on seeing it through to the end. Your relationship and your child’s education are worth far more than the money you spent on that curriculum. Besides, you can resell it and recoup some of the money.

7. You might want to try an online program for some things. You may want to work with your child on the things you enjoy the most, but allow your child to use a research-based online curriculum for things you find tedious, that you don’t feel qualified to teach, or that you find yourself arguing with your child over. Online programs generally are engaging to students and many of them adjust to fit each student’s needs.

8. You are probably not going to mess up your child’s learning, no matter what curriculum you pick. In fact, your child is highly likely to be ahead of his public school peers just because he is getting much more individualized attention than they are. Even if you decide to unschool, this will likely be the case.

9. The best curriculum you can possibly give your child is discipleship. If you are teaching your child to follow in your footsteps and are investing a good deal of time and relational energy, your child is destined for success. Reading and discussing good literature (especially the Bible), serving the community together, talking about life, having fun–these are the things that make for the best curriculum you can provide. The monetary investment is minimal but the time and relational costs are significant. In the end, you’ll find that you won’t regret a second you spent investing in your children.

The Value of Time

DSCF2042Time. You can’t create it. There’s never any more or any less of it. It’s what you do with it that determines whether it’s wasted or well spent. It arguably requires a greater degree of stewardship than money does, because others can give you more money, but it would require a miracle to create more time. There’s no such thing as extra time or spare time when you really think about it. Time is so important that every bit of it is highly valuable.

As homeschoolers, we have more time with our children than most people have with theirs. So what do we do with that time? Even though we have more of it, it is still precious and we need to treat it with care. It is still possible to squander that time with busyness, and I certainly have caught myself doing that! Starting a business demands a lot of time, and I have realized that I have spent far too much time trying to work out the details. So, now it is time to allow the Creator of the Universe to have the control that He really already had anyway. I began this venture in order to have more time with my kids, but I have allowed many grains of sand to slip through the hourglass with them in my peripheral vision.

Maybe with you it’s not a business. Maybe it’s Facebook. Maybe it’s curriculum planning. Maybe you spend too much of it on household chores, phone conversations, or an addicting app on your phone. Whatever it is, stop and evaluate its importance and weigh it against the value of time with your family. Oh, and don’t forget time with the One who created time. That actually comes first.

Time. Is it time for a change in how you spend it?

Casting a Vision May Help Homeschoolers Stay on Course

vision 1The decision to homeschool is one to which most parents devote a generous amount of time and prayer. There are many reasons people decide to homeschool. They may want to disciple their children full time in their faith. They may feel that the academics in their local schools are sub-par. They may have children with special needs that are best met one-on-one. Their children may be highly involved in a sport or pastime that makes it difficult to spend seven hours at school each day. Whatever the reason–and there are many others–parents who choose to homeschool generally have invested much thought into that decision.

Deciding to homeschool is one thing; implementing that choice can be quite another. There are a variety of potential obstacles to a parent’s resolve. Well meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) friends, family, and neighbors may question, or outright disagree with your decision to homeschool. Your child may be uncooperative. You may earnestly long for some time alone and some peace and quiet. These and many other distractions may cause you to doubt your decision.

So how can you increase your chances of success? How can you strengthen your resolve, even before you are tested?

By casting a vision for homeschooling.

Cast a vision. Decide what it is that you really want for your family. Why are you homeschooling? You invested time, energy, and prayer into that decision. So invest a little more into getting your reasons and your vision on paper. Be specific. What Scriptures backed up or led you to that decision? What factors of your situation make homeschooling the best option? What is the most important thing you want to accomplish with your children? Write these things down. Then, when you feel like loading all the kids up on the large yellow vehicle that rumbles down your street each morning, get out that document and remind yourself why you’re educating your children at home. When your neighbor says she thinks only certified teachers should homeschool their kids, and you wonder if she’s right, get out that paper and remind yourself that God called¬†you to teach your children. Whenever you’re discouraged or uncertain, read over your vision and test it to see if what you wrote down is still true. If it is–and it probably is–you’ll most likely regain your resolve. But if you haven’t recorded your vision, it may be difficult to recall your original intentions when discouragement, frustration, or uncertainty set in.

A vision document also may be helpful if you are considering changing your approach to homeschooling. You can measure that choice against your vision.

There may be times that you want to make adjustments to your vision. As your children mature and your circumstances change, it may be beneficial for you to do some tweaking.

Whether you question the decision to homeschool or you simply need to be reminded of your original reasons and plans, a vision document can be a powerful tool for your homeschool and for your family.

An Often Overlooked Essential of Homeschooling

Homeschooling - Gustoff family in Des Moines 020
Homeschooling – Gustoff family in Des Moines 020 (Photo credit: IowaPolitics.com)

Effective classroom teachers know that one of the secrets to having a good school year is establishing order and respect with their students. In fact, in many schools, classroom management is the curriculum during the first weeks of school. Academics take a back seat at this point. Why? Because there will be no effective teaching or learning taking place unless students follow directions and procedures. Students have to respect the teacher, or the school year will be a disaster.

The same principle applies to homeschooling. Even if you only homeschool one child, that child has to be obedient if he is going to learn. If you homeschool multiple children, each one has to follow your instructions and rules. If even one child refuses to respect you, all of your children may suffer.

I know this from experience, both as a classroom teacher and as a homeschool mom. In one class I taught, things were going pretty well in my classroom. Kids knew the routines and generally did what I said. Then a new kid entered the scene. This student wasn’t used to following directions at home or at school. He came in and disrupted my entire class. There wasn’t much learning taking place for awhile.

Looking back on my original homeschooling experience, I can say that this was the missing ingredient. I felt so pressured to complete the academic work that I overlooked the absolute necessity of first-time obedience. I got frustrated, nagged, lectured, and got headaches, but it never occurred to me to simply stop. Stop working on academics entirely. Stop and focus on making sure my children obeyed me. If I would have spent whatever time it took–even if it was a whole school year–to establish first-time obedience, I believe I would have continued to homeschool.

So here I am, beginning this journey again. This time I’m taking a lesson from my classroom teaching experience. This time I will focus on first-time obedience before we ever pick up a pencil or open a textbook.