Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Charlotte Mason’

Read Alouds Rock

I love to read. Everyone in my family, and everyone in Papa Bear’s family, loves to read. In fact, at the heart of my philosophy of education for eat least the last three decades has been the firmly held belief – nay, conviction – that when you’ve once learnt to read, no sphere of knowledge will ever be closed to you. There’s nothing you cannot know. And in this age of Google and online EVERYTHING, once you’ve mastered the ability to read and research, you really never have an excuse for ignorance.

For this reason, we have emphasised reading above every other educational discipline, since before the girls ever attended school of any kind. We were warned not to teach them to read too soon, as this would annoy the teachers and result in the girls being targets of their educators’ ire. This was terrible advice and I strongly advise you never to follow it if your children are still young enough to be imprinted with a love of reading. Start early, and never stop.

Even though our early efforts were focused more on a love of words and books than a love of reading, we nonetheless have read stories to Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood since they first came into existence – many months before they were even born. We’ve never stopped reading to them, and now reading stories makes up a significant part of our home school day.

Charlotte Mason’s method relies heavily on the use of what she calls “Living Books” for its success. These books are well-written works of art, written by individuals who took part in the even being described, or who have studied it so thoroughly that they can describe it as if they were there. We have been using books like this to study history, geography, literature and even some aspects of science. We read books about ancient mythology because they interest us, and morally uplifting tales like “What Katy Did” to build character (without the otherwise-necessary intervention of a faulty barn swing and four years of paralysis!).

We are very pleased with the results. While the girls are less avid readers than I’d like, they’re both fluent and capable readers. They love to hear and tell stories, they have rich imaginations, and they have remarkable powers of concentration and retention – especially taking into account the genetic challenges they’re supposed to face.

Jim Trelease is a dad who has discovered the joys of read alouds in his own family, and has created a whole site dedicated to getting it right. You can find out how to get the most out of reading aloud with your family, which books to choose, and the answers to most of the questions people usually have on this approach to education. Read more about what he has to say on the matter here.

Does reading aloud work for your family? What methods work best for you?

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Fair’s Fair?

Work hard and be kind - that is allWarning: if you believe in completely fair, just and unbiased parenting, this post probably isn’t for you!

“School” this year has gotten off to a great start. (It’s in inverted commas, because I am convinced that learning is life, and life is learning – especially for children. “School” is a weird place we send kids to teach them to hate learning.) We have structured times of input, and unstructured times of exploration and discovery. The girls don’t always focus on the things I wish they would, but we’re getting a relatively balanced overview of the various facets of the world we inhabit. And we’re not bashing heads at all. (So far ;)).

What has made the difference?

The biggest lesson I learnt last year as far as education goes, was to dispose of limits. The way my mind works, this is not going to be a lesson that I “get” all at once. In fact, based on anecdotal evidence, this will probably continue to be the lesson of my life. But I am learning to let go of artificially imposed structures that limit and stunt our growth.

I’ve been placing expectations on Goldilocks that exceed what she can (or will) deliver, and imposing limits on Red Riding Hood that stunt he growth more than she needs or wants. No more.

Perhaps it would have been easier if they’d been born the other way around, with the academically inclined child first. That way, no one would think it strange when she mastered Grade 7 Math before her sister. Especially since she is only 8. But that is not our lot, and my task is to embrace and enjoy and enhance it, rather than trying to squash into the tiny, poky, poorly constructed box of my own preconceived notions.

So I don’t follow a strict curriculum of topics to have covered (and mastered) by certain times. I trust that a continual exposure to the joy of learning and personal growth, with strategic “formal” intervention points every day (such as Khan Academy, Crash Course and living books), will broaden their minds, feed their souls, ignite their imaginations and pretty much cover the bases. I hope I’m right!

That’s all, folks. A little reflection on my lessons and the impact they’re having on our lives. How have limits and expectations impacted your life, your love of learning? And how do they affect the way you teach your kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

12 steps to homeschool on a shoestring

Teach kids the way they learnIf you’re new to home education, deciding which course of action to take can be overwhelming. The range of curriculae alone seems infinite. And before you even select a curriculum, you need to identify your educational philosophy. Do you believe in schooling at all, or do you prefer an “unschooling” approach? If you prefer a slightly more traditional approach, do unit studies appeal to you, or have the works of Charlotte Mason inspired you? Would you prefer to create your own material for your children, or would you feel more comfortable using prescribed programmes, designed by teams of experts and researchers?

Whatever your preferences, it is possible to give your children education of the highest possible standards without breaking the bank.

Twelve simple steps to quality home education

1. Understand your motives

Why do you want to educate your children at home? We wanted to spend more time with our children, make sure they had the best possible education available, protect them from harm, and address the challenges wrought in our family by food intolerances, scoliosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and other autism-spectrum disorders. I also wanted a safe environment in which to foster faith and enquiring minds.

2. Identify your goals

For our family, our goals are very simple:

  1. Build a thorough grounding in God’s Word.
  2. Inspire a love for learning.
  3. Thoroughly develop the ability to LEARN.
  4. Create a solid grounding in mathematical principles.
  5. Develop a firm grasp of language.
  6. Provide an overview of how the world fits together in both space and time (geography and history).
  7. Delve into how the world works (science and biology).
  8. Allow and support free expression.

That may sounds like a long list, but we have actually distilled all education in these simple principles. Furthermore, having identified what we want to get out of education in our home has given us the freedom to pursue it through whatever means presents itself. We are not bound by a single curriculum. Rather, we have the freedom to take advantage of every new opportunity as it arises, and harness all that it offers to accomplish these goals. Changing course midstream is not disruptive, as long as it continues to build on these principles,

3. Clarify your philosophy

Alright, you know why you’re homeschooling. Not to choose a philosophy (or two – or three – or more …) that resonates with you and, more importantly, that works for your family. We started out with a very simplistic system that used a series of workbooks to take children from one grade to the next. We all hated it and the early days of home education were filled with loathing and dread. From there we quickly moved to a unit-study-type of curriculum based on key character traits. This was excellent and served us well, but it didn’t really resonate with me academically. This year I’ve been researching the teaching philosophies of both Charlotte Mason, who based her programmes on what she called Living Books, and John Holt, who advocated unschooling. What we have now is a loose mix of the two, with some unit study work and a lot of free study thrown in.

4. Determine your children’s learning styles

If you insist on teaching material in a way your child simply cannot grasp, you’re wasting your time. It really doesn’t matter how great your curriculum is, or how well-structured your activities are. Moreover, not feeding their individual learning styles will quench any inclination to learn that they may have had, and may well turn them off learning altogether. We’ve recently invested in the excellent “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” on kindle from Amazon.com. Buy it. Read it. Apply it. Your home education experience will be improved immeasurably.

5. Learning to think is infinitely more important than learning facts

The explosion of the internet has shown beyond doubt that information is virtually infinite. New data is shared online every moment, and there seems to be n end in sight.  With all that is out there for us to know, who’s to say which bits are important? How can anyone decide what information a child absolutely has to know before leaving school, and what information can wait until they’re older – if they learn it at all? Obviously certain facts are not appropriate for certain ages. What I am talking about, though, is not the more risqué areas of science or history. I’m referring, rather, to the sequence and selection of data presented to our children. Do children in Grade 3 really have to know about volcanoes? Can they not learn about them in Grade 5? Or Grade 2? Or never? And if your child would prefer to learn about Titian than Hitler, is that a crisis? I don’t believe so.

It seems to me that structured lessons in airless classrooms, where a teacher’s attention is split between 35 boisterous young people and a rigorous syllabus are the true murderers of a love of learning. That, above all, needs to be fostered in home education. We need to ignite our children’s passion for finding out new things, and give them the tools they need to make those discoveries. We teach our children to ask us questions, look things up on the internet or in encyclopaedias, experiment, test, prove. There are thousands of ways to gather data, and these are what needs to be taught. With a strong grasp of language, a firm foundation in maths, and the ability to learn, no doors can be closed on their potential.

6. Map out your day

children are not a distraction from more important work.Once you know why you’re doing it, and you have an idea about how you’re going to carry it out, you need to address the when. If, like most of us, you work for yourself, juggling a full-time job, housework, and home education can be – let’s call it challenging. It’s very important to prioritise your children’s education. You only get one shot at this. A career can happen at any time. Your clients are adults and they can handle a little wiggle room. But a moment missed with your child is a moment gone forever. Don’t waste it.

For us, we find that first thing in the morning is by far the most effective time for structured education. This is when we do our Maths, Bible Study, and reading. Our “school” day rarely takes more than three hours, and we’re usually finished between 9 and 10AM. That may not seem like a lot of time, but the results speak for themselves: the girls are years above their grade level in both reading and Maths. They have a thorough grounding in history and geography for their ages, and both draw and paint beautifully. Even my tiger mom inclinations are satisfied by their progress.

7. Mix it up

Outings and crafts make the school year more interesting. Any subject can benefit from an outing that supports what is being taught. Everything from camping and hiking to museums and galleries can inspire a growing mind and entrench a lesson learnt. Art, crafts and play acting go even further, providing both kinesthetic and tangible reinforcement of concepts. Furthermore, these activities build their own set of valuable skills and strengths. A routine offers a number of benefits for learning, but occasional deviations act like oases, providing refreshment to wearying souls.

8. Be flexible

Your children are not like you. They don’t process things the way you do. They don’t see the world the way you see it. They are unlikely to learn the way you do. This can be the hardest part, but we need to be flexible. We need to accommodate our children’s uniqueness. We also need to accept the bad days. Some days, it’s hard to be present for teaching. Some days one of the kids will be having a bad day. Something unexpected could come up at the last minute. The key to success in home education is learning to roll with the punches.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail

As Thomas Edison famously said, I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways it doesn’t work. That’s a great attitude, and one that can help both our children and ourselves. In the beginning, especially, it can be hard to have the confidence to make a decision in the face of a sea of options and little advise. My advice is to plunge in, do your best and see what happens. Never stop refining; that’s the only ay to keep improving. It’s not over until you succeed. So if you haven’t succeeded yet, it’s because you’re not done.

9. Free is not cheap

We don’t pay for educational materials. As far as possible we follow Charlotte Mason’s “Living Book” approach in selecting our materials. Many of the books recommended by her are public domain and downloadable from Gutenberg.org. Even more  have been given to us over the years by loving family, generous friends and a raging book addiction. For Maths we use Khan Academy. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s resulted in a marked improvement in everyone’s numeracy around here. These resources have cost us no money (if you don’t count bandwidth), yet they’re proving to be the most effective tools around.  Just because they’re free that doesn’t mean that they’re not excellent, so don’t turn down an opportunity because it lacks perceived value.

10. Double up for extra oomph

For History and Geography we use Living Books. Right now, we’re working through “Our Island Story” (available free on Gutenberg). Not only do we use it for history and geography, it provides our reading practice, copy work, and language skills. And story time! That means that in one half hour session, using just one book, we get a whole lot of learning done!

11. Lifelong Learning

The two most important things you can teach your children as far as “school” goes are a love of reading and a love of learning – along with the tools to feed those loves. Facts change. Information increases. We can never teach our children all there is to know. But if we teach them how to find what they need to know for themselves, we have done them a great service.

12. Have fun!

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just take every day as it comes, squeeze every ounce of gladness out of it, and relish in the unique opportunity you have to invest in the future.

Some days are magic.

Col. 3:15 "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."

Col. 3:15 “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

Today is one of those days. Everything is in order. (Well, bar a couple of clutter pockets. And the Garage – looming large). My brain is in order. I have a much clearer idea of what to do with the kids next week. My man is wonderful: thoughtful, funny, hardworking, off to bring home bacon. He’s been gone for half an hour and I miss him already!

My daughters are delightful. All morning they’ve been sweet and helpful, playing together, quietly reading stories to each other and themselves, tidying up, helping out. I am truly blessed today. I have all that I need and so much more.

Yesterday I was researching Charlotte Mason’s methods and came across a post about how she would organise her day. It really inspired me and I am going to aim to do something similar. Here’s my version: I’m going to divide my days into realistic blocks of time, namely, Before Breakfast (BB), After Breakfast Before Snack (ABBS), After Snack Before Lunch (ASBL), After Lunch Before Snack (ALBS), After Snack Before Supper (ASBS), and After Supper Before Bed (ASBB). Then each block of time will have one or two major goals to be achieved or priorities to be taken care of.

I still need to list the priorities that I’ll fit into each week, but for now they’ll cover things like gardening with the girls; Sunday School and school prep; time with my man; play time with the girls. In fact, that’ll just be my list. Oh – and “blessing my house” in some way each week. (I really like this concept: each week, what can I do to make my home a better, more welcoming place? One project each week – be it large or small – will make a big difference).

Obviously mornings will be school time. Around supper time we’ll (hopefully) start having family walks. Before breakfast is workout time – both spiritual and physical. And then the rest of the day is work, and even there I’ll pick the two or three most important work items and focus on doing those to the best of my ability.

I started thinking about this last night (well, at 2:45 this morning!) before I went to bed, and I really think I’m on the right track. I feel so calm and even excited about this new, organised, productive life I’m gooing to lead. Wish me luck!

Operation: GET SORTED!

Operation: GET SORTED is well under way - and delivering results!

Operation: GET SORTED is well under way – and delivering results!

I am a creature of habit. I crave order, discipline, checklists. I LOVE to be organised.

However, I don’t often achieve this. When I am extremely busy or feeling terribly indulgent, I let things slide. Perhaps the girls have been extra cute and very good, so I “go easy” on them tidying up. Or I have a million deadlines screaming at me all at once, and I’m just happy to be left alone to get on with it. On those days, I don’t care about how neat the house is as long as no one’s breaking their neck tripping over toys! (We’ve had some close shaves).

The problem with “going easy” is that I can’t operate in chaos. As my environment gets progressively less organised, I get progressively less productive – and so does everyone else. Eventually, I snap. and nothing gets done at all. I stare at the walls in panic, exuding the faint, glowingly peaceful hum of one who has passed through hysteria and is travelling the calm, terrifying waters on the far side.

If I have a PLAN, though, then I can cope. And until now, I had no plan. I didn’t know what to do next, nor had I any idea how to do it. I couldn’t picture how to fix my mess. Where should stuff go? Where should I start? How should everything be organised?

Some time ago I shared a link with a friend of mine who is just embarking on her very own home education journey. I liked the ideas and principles on this site, but there’s a lot to read there, so I’d never taken it further. Besides, I rationalised, I have a system – one that I paid for. That must, surely, make it better. Right?

Now don’t get me wrong. I like what we have and it has worked so far. But not well enough. As long as I feel adrift in panic, the system isn’t working for us. It was time for a change.

And that’s why, as of next week, we’re switching to pure Charlotte Mason teaching, using Ambleside Online as our reference point.

Clearly, making this decision was the catalyst I needed. Since then, we have become more neat and organised than ever! I have completely sorted all but the office and garage (aka well of lost plots and disaster centre of the known universe). I’ll do those two on the weekend (if I can restrain myself!). I have also vowed that we will all stay this tidy FOREVER. I realise how optimistic and unrealistic that sounds, but I think everyone can see a benefit this time, because we have so much more structure, because they all helped get us to this wonderful, uncluttered place, and because I have promised to throw away anything that I find out of place!

It feels so good to have an ordered space, and a way forward.

I’ll keep you posted.

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