3 Quick Tips from a Seasoned Homeschooler: Simple Ideas for Learning at Home

It was a dark and stormy night (true). After a long day of battling her miniature t-Rex/ empress (toddler), the exhausted superhero (mom) got her to sleep and disappeared to her fancy office (the kitchen table) to write exquisite literature (a blog post).

Well, isolation isn’t really that isolating when you have 7 kids. It’s actually tricky to find a moment alone, so I haven’t found much time to blog. My luxurious hour and a half I used to have each Thursday to write at a cafe is obviously over. So, like everyone else…re-adjusting.

But as a homeschooler, I’ve been really wanting to reach out and share tips on learning at home with your kids, because so many people have been unexpectedly thrown into having their kids home all day, instead of in school. You might be feeling a lot of pressure and stress, but really, you don’t need to. Kids are amazingly creative and resourceful, and are actually able to learn a lot on their own. Here are a few tips and ideas:

Homeschool Tip # 1: You’re not a babysitter or a clown.

In other words, you don’t need to entertain them all day. They are home with you, but you don’t need your eye on them every second. They might make a mess building a fort or a giant LEGO tower, but that’s ok. Creative, unstructured play is great for learning.

Two of my girls made a Coronavirus vs the good bugs board game with play dough and thumbtacks.

Homeschool Tip #2: Boredom is a good thing.

Say what?? Really, many of the most interesting things my kids have done happened because they were at loose ends and needed to find something to do. So while educational shows and documentaries are awesome and helpful, there comes a time to turn them off, and let your kids figure out what to do next. For example, here’s a few things my kids have been up to lately, while I stocked the cupboards and cooked meals:

1. Putting on simple plays. The other evening, the kids put on a hilarious version of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with costumes and make-up. It was so funny that my hand was shaking from laughter while to tried to film it. It was great to see all their personalities coming out in acting.

2. Practicing music. My 9 year old daughter loves to play piano and spends lots of time composing new songs and practicing her lessons. My 11 year old took ukulele lessons for a few months, and taught her 13 year old sister to play. Now they learn new songs together and do duets.

3. Creative writing. Two of my daughters have been working hard on kids chapter books (their own idea). One is on chapter 6 of her island adventure story, and the other just finished her ballet story, which is 9 chapters. After we comb through and do some editing, we are planning to get some copies printed with Blurb, which is a great self-publishing company. The nice thing is, you can just order as many copies as you like; there’s no need to buy 1000.

4. Mini-Marketplace. The other day the kids came up with a fun game: gathering up things to make little stores for their siblings to shop at, using old postage stamps as currency. They had a great time doing it and kept busy for hours. My friend’s daughters spent a morning making a restaurant at home, complete with menus and meal plans.

5. Creating Cartoons. My kids love to do art, and one fun project is to fold a paper into little squares, unfold it again, then use each one to tell a piece of a story in cartoon. Maybe this seems like fooling around, rather than learning, but actually, literacy skills like planning ahead, creating a cohesive story, and self-expression though different mediums are all there.

6. Making an animal habitat. The kids love to make toys and tunnels for their hamster, so he can have a gorgeous home, and the other day used their interior decorating skills to set up a terrarium for a caterpillar we found outside.

7. Dance and move. We are huge fans of living room dance parties, and with two girls in ballet, they like to practice a lot. We also do exercise videos together, even the toddler. It’s adorable to see her trying to do the plank, with her tiny bottom in the air. Another daughter does Tae Kwon Do, so we practice her latest moves, too.

Homeschool Tip #3: Fill their minds with greatness. Read aloud together.

Filling your kids heads with great ideas might seem like a tall order, but the method is actually simple: read great books aloud to your kids and talk about them together. Think about your favourite childhood books, how much those characters stuck with you, how you changed because of participating in their adventures through your imagination. Lucky you! Now you get to experience them again, through the eyes of your kids.

This shared experience helps build family culture and closeness, and gives a frame of reference when discussing life’s problems. For example, “Remember when Frodo was struggling to carry his burden, but Sam really helped him? Your brother is really stressed…I need you to be his Sam right now.”

You might think reading aloud is only something for little kids, but no; it’s beneficial for everyone, even your teens. Reading aloud gives your kids a chance to hear words used and pronounced properly, to develop more complex speech patterns and vocabulary and to work on concentration skills. Books are not Twitter or Snapchat. They require slowing down, focussing and being quiet. These are good life skills.

You might think it’s too hard when you have little kids who won’t sit still, but try to not get hung up on that. Your baby and toddler might be rolling around on the carpet, but as long as the others can hear, it’s ok. We got through “The Hobbit,” a few months ago and my four year old loved it. He’s super tough so he was ready to take on orcs with his imaginary sword.

Books don’t have to be long to be good. Poetry, short stories and picture books can be wonderful, too. There’s lots of beauty, truth and wisdom to be found in all of those. My kids and I love the Gregor the Overlander Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. It’s fast-paced and easy to read, but full of interesting content to discuss, from loyalty and betrayal to discrimination and what is just in war. One of the best ways to help kids develop critical thinking skills is to discuss things with them…and since we don’t only want to talk about the news and current events, literature is a great spring board for discussion.

Well, that’s plenty for one day! Soon I hope to make a list of some of my most recommended read-alouds, and talk more about the importance of story in helping our kids learn. Take care everyone, and all the best!

Planning: An act of hope!

Some people take great comfort in planning out their day in great detail, laying it all out in neat time-slots, and ticking off each item with satisfaction. And then there’s me. A clear agenda sheet divided into tiny intervals makes my chest tighten and is more intimidating to me than a blank page waiting for a blog post or poem. As a poet I love to capture spontaneous moments and share them, but I could never get into writing short stories…I just don’t know what would happen next…so much planning!

When it comes to homeschool, I love to have tons of great supplies around for art, drama, reading, baking, geography, learning games, etc, but planning exactly when to use them or in what order is my downfall. With four young girls being schooled, and two rascally boys in tow causing lots of ruckus, planning at all is an act of hope. We end up doing a variety of things, but the disruption of various bad moods, sudden low blood sugar, baby diapers and necessary chores makes planning specific times for each topic seem ludicrous. With children literally climbing the walls, having an exact time for geography seems beyond the realm of possibly. I know there are homeschool moms who are amazingly organized and structured, because this is what works for them. That’s awesome, but just not where I’m at.

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However, I yearn for more peace and order in my day, and think I have finally found a handy resource to help me be reflective and intentional about creating this kind of day. It’s a sheet of question put together by April and Eric Perry, the great husband-wife team of the site http://learndobecome.com/.

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The idea is to quietly read through the 7 questions, ideally before bed or early the next morning, and use them to reflect on what kind of day you want to create. The questions include things like appointments and important projects for the day, but take it further to ask how you will strengthen you family relationships within carrying out those duties, as well as how you will take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Rather than just a to do list, you record a number of important intentions that help set the tone of your day. It’s then up to you to put them into your agenda or up on your white board in whatever order seems best. There is a great 17 minute podcast that goes with the sheet, explains how helpful it is to do this process prayerfully, keeping in mind character goals as well as things to accomplish.

The question that really interested me was “How will I learn today?” Not just how will I teach my kids, but how will I learn and grow as a person today. April mentioned something that she learned at a leadership conference I think, that to be a great leader, you must be a great learner. Of course as a homeschooling mom, like any mom I’m sure, I want to promote a lifetime love of learning to my kids. And the best way is to model it. So I tried to think how I could fit more learning into my busy jumble of the day…and the best solution is to listen to great podcasts about homeschool, happiness, personal and professional development, etc, while I do dishes. It gives me something to look forward to, as well as lots of new ideas to think about, use and share. Hurrah for my iPad mini, now keeping me great company while I’m “stuck at the sink.”

Here is the question sheet so you can try it out, but I highly recommend also checking out the great articles and podcasts on LearnDoBecome site as well!

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Using this template has been helping me, and this morning I included the kids in planning as well. We actually had quite a good day, and did lots of learning, ticking off all boxes but one in our plan. The kids added lots of their own reading and projects as well, like making a Canada clubhouse out of their puppet theatre, and making homemade flags to wave while singing the anthem repeatedly, much to the delight of their loud baby brother, who delights in song and dance.

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So when life is chaotic, remember to P.P.P….Pause, Pray and Plan…even just a little. And don’t forget to hope, which makes everything a lot brighter. I’ll try to remember that myself! My bigger kids making muffins all by themselves today after a number of classes in our Kids Cook Real Food e-course certainly confirmed that little continuous efforts do pay off! 😊

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Small, brilliant humans…

   
 

Today I watched  Do schools kill creativity? It’s a great Ted talk by educator Sir Ken Robinson about the nature of education…or even more so about the nature of children. Robinson believes that all children are naturally creative and original, and that the exceptionally bright children wouldn’t be so exceptional if we didn’t spend so much time drilling the creativity our of all the others. Three ways we do this are:

  1. expecting them all to behave the same way in the class room, and almost always diagnosing difference as a condition to be medicated and ‘normalized’. 
  2. instilling a huge fear of making mistakes, which makes creative originality almost impossible, because one has to be willing to risk being wrong in order to do something new. 
  3. focussing so heavily on the academic areas of math and literacy to the exclusion of other areas like dance, drama, music, etc. 

He told an anecdote of a little girl in the thirties who couldn’t sit still in class. She was always fidgeting. Her mother was called in to discuss her trouble at school. After speaking with her and her mother, the teacher, or perhaps it was the principle, asked the mother to step out of the room for a moment with him. Before leaving he switched on the radio. They looked at the little girl through the glass window in the wall. She immediately was on her feet and moving to the beat. 

Your little girl isn’t learning impared. She’s a dancer. Please take her to a dance school.

That was the best advice the mother ever had. Her daughter flourished at the Royal Academy of Ballet, and went on to make millions producing shows like “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” 

And yet we tell kids…don’t bother with music or dance…you can’t make a living at that. Instead we have said for so long, “Be smart and get a degree. Then you’ll be guaranteed a job.” Sir Robinson says we have created a kind of academic inflation, where degrees have become so common that they mean almost nothing, and now a PHD is required for jobs that used to only need a bachelor’s degree. He joked that much as he likes university professors, having previously been one himself, he doesn’t think we are all meant to be professors!

I won’t give away the whole talk…about educating the whole person and not just the head…but you should really watch it because besides being interesting, it is also funny. Being British, Sir Robinson has that fantastic dry sense of humour, and I kept laughing so hard I woke up the baby sleeping on my lap! 

The whole talk made me feel that we need to consciously redefine our view of educating children…that ideas like the blank slate to be filled with ideas, or the small uncultured creature to be civilized are so far off. Perhaps a better definition of kids would be small, brilliant humans, who are unafraid to share their brilliance with others, and with the world. Let’s encourage our kids to keep burning brightly with all their wild and crazy ideas and funny inventions so they that don’t fall into becoming typical adults: large dim humans who are so afraid of making a mistake or displeasing others that they won’t try anything different or new, cause better safe than sorry!

  

Homeschooling Keeps Siblings Close

One of the nice things about homeschool is that you can always be with your favourite “friends.” Everybody, no matter how big or small or imaginary, is included.

One of my favourite things about having the 5 kids learning at home is how close they are…and how the kids of difference ages interact, include and care for each other. They are not artificially separated into age groups and a myriad of separate activities, so they don’t forget how to play together. Many homeschool activities can be done together, like reading and discussing stories, learning about things from animals to waterfalls, doing art, putting on plays, singing, dancing, doing nature walks and running outside.

Playing hairdresser for drama class charades

Nor do the kids get easily bored. They are quite happy to turn the living room into a giant block tower and Duplo city while I get the dishes done. Or to build endless forts with blankets and upturned furniture. Of course all this teamwork means there is also an organized team effort to drive me crazy, but happily I’ve already been crazy for a long time!  Comes with the territory! 😉

Laying the Foundation for Homeschool

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This summer I’ve been busy working to organize our home and lay the foundations for homeschool. While I prefer a flexible, creative approach to homeschool, rather than a workbook only style, I realize that having an orderly environment where we know where all our great books and supplies are is conducive to achieving this. So in this spirit we’ve been clearing out our junk (over 7 garbage bags have gone to the thrift store, not to mention all the garbage and recycling we’ve cleared out). And we’ve been organizing our homeschool books and supplies. My oldest daughter has had lots of fun helping write labels for them.

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She is actually, unlike some of my other kids, quite naturally orderly and loves all this house beautifying. We spent one morning hauling apart our overcrowded kids book shelf, giving away or recycling some, and putting the rest back in categories like stories, French books, reference books, science books, pre-school, arts and crafts, etc. After I took this picture we got out our dollar store labels and wrote all of these and put them on the shelves.

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My 8 year old was very satisfied:
“I’m so proud of us, Mama! Here, tell me to get a science book.”
“Ok, grab a science book.”
She ran and got it and showed me.
“See, we look at it and then we put it back where it goes!”
I’m so glad she gets excited about this; as order is not my natural forté it helps a lot!

We labeled our binders with partitions for our different subjects, too.

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I recently read a great post on the blog “Capturing the Charmed Life” about homeschooling:

The Art and Science of An Education

It’s a beautiful testament to the benefits of a flexible education tailored to your own children specifically. I like her broad vision of education as something that helps us learn how to live, not just how to pass certain exams. Definately worth reading for anyone interested in education or child-rearing.

Here’s a wonderful quote by John Taylor Gatto she included in her piece:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges: it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing; wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die”.

This is what I hope to do: expose my kids to great works of art, literature, science, etc and help them to develop a life-long love of learning. I also want to teach them to think for themselves, to care for others and to become the best people they can be. It’s a big goal; wish me luck!