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

Posts tagged ‘Crafts as School: An alternative approach’

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.


An Unschool Adventure

Last week was billing week, and exam week. Neither of those is a particularly simple or carefree time, and facing both at once proved – ahem, challenging.  Admittedly, I did have some say in the matter, and better planning would have resulted in a better week for all of us.

Even so, the trials we faced last week were eye-opening, and allowed us to realise and begin to address some issues.

Most glaringly, and the focus of this month’s “fix-it”, is Goldilocks’ approach to school. She’s doing much better than she was, and enjoys most of it. But when we have a challenging week, we tend to butt heads and each bit of learning has to be injected by force, it seems.

So, after some serious thought and prayer, we’ve decided to do a one month unschool experiment. I’ve blogged about unschooling before here, and now I’m ready to wade in and do some field research. I’ve agreed to a one-month trial. We’ll keep some of the basic school day structure, like Bible, Maths and Copywork. We’re also probably going to help a friend of the girls’ with his reading and art, so we’ll include those in every day. But most of the school day (and as much of the rest of the day as she likes) will be dedicated to learning about the things that interest her. Apparently we’re starting with woodwork and plastic injection moulding.

I, for one, am waiting in anticipation of the results.

Coco Mojo

Yesterday was a good day. Full of energy and accomplishment, it was the kind of day I wish every day was. Having worked until nearly 2AM the night before, when I had put my house in order by 7AM, I was disinclined to do any billable work. (Funny, that). So instead I “supervised” the girls as they sorted out their room. This process was made both more and less difficult by their best friend spending the day with us. She helped a lot, but the three girls can never spend more than a few minutes together without collapsing in giggles, and I didn’t have the heart to unleash Mean Momma on their hilarity.

We only started “school” around 9:30!

"Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild" has great special features, including an art lesson!

“Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild” has great special features, including an art lesson!

BFF (Tinkerbell) was visiting because she’d begged her mom to let her come and try a day of home school with us. We started by hacking open a coconut*, moved on to reading, made coconut milk, studied the Bible, made coconut ice-cream, then took a break. After lunch Papa Bear helped them to make hovercrafts to study the effects of air pressure, then moved on to an art lesson. Since we’re currently looking at identifying the shapes within objects, we decided to use the “learn to draw” part of the Stuart Little 3 DVD for today’s lesson. We drew Snowbell and Reeko, but by Stuart we were pooped. Although Goldilocks was up to the challenge of creating the little mouse, and did a good job, too.

I made the left over “dessicated” coconut into arguably the worst macaroons in the world, although they were better after I rebaked them, having dried out a little the first time around.

Papa Bear played tag with the girls out front while I made supper. They laughed and played and frequently declared, “Daddy needs to be disciplined!” This out burst was followed by well-intentioned beatings with a miniature yard broom, rendered utterly jelly-like as a result of mirth-overdose.

Dinner was delicious, despite Tinkerbell’s absence (she’d already gone home), and everyone relaxed in front of an animated movie afterwards. *Bliss*.

Why can’t every day be like this?

*More on the coconut to follow.

Sinking feeling.

This week we’ve been studying boats. There are different kinds, serving different purposes, and reflecting different levels of civilisation and technology. Using a boat for any purpose requires trust that the boat will do its intended function. The boat, therefore, needs to be trustworthy.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re studying the unit on TRUST, so this stuff is relevant.

Finally, to wrap up the bit about boats, I set the girls a project. I gave them a simple brief (preparing them for projects now and ad agencies later):

Make a poster that displays different kinds of boats, then write a bit about each boat. Make the poster colourful and beautiful, but more importantly: make it accurate, informative and descriptive. This is NOT an art project.

The result was a very colourful collage featuring something they assure me is a canoe (even though it has a keel); a sailing ship (I am encouraged to see bright red sails, not bright red balloons, despite the shape and colour), and of course that most important of all ships: a Pirate Ship. This last, at least, bore some resemblance to the ships in story books.

By way of text, two clouds were cut out and pasted into the sky, one for each type of boat in the picture. The cloud about canoes says:


are made buy islanders.

Made with:

tree trunks

lether leather

somestimes leafs

The cloud about sailing ships says:


Are much the same.

But bigger and more
sails and made everyone.

When I pointed out that perhaps more data could have been helpful, and after all the project was intended to educate the viewer about what boats are, how they look, and what they do, I was met with bewildered silence. “But – it’s beautiful!” (this is true). “And – there are mermaids!” (So there are. When, pray tell, did we cover this in our studies?)

Later, as they were putting the final touches on their project, secure in the knowledge that I could not hear them as I was “working, I overheard this gem from nearly-7-year-old DD#2:

“But WE make boats that are from our IMAGINATION. Mom just likes us to do boring boats that someone else thought of before”

So there you have it. Clearly I’m doing something wrong, though what exactly that may be eludes me. Or perhaps it’s something so right it’s gone all the way around and just looks wrong because we’re seeing it from the other side. Here’s hoping …

Gospel Gourmet.

Let me start by admitting that I’m exaggerating with the title here. This is neither Gospel, nor is it Gourmet. But it is food, and it was inspired by the Bible, so that’s got to count, right?  We’ll call it blogger’s license and leave it at that.

As we continue working our way through the unit on Trust, we’re studying the life of Elijah and how he clearly modeled faith in God. Konos recommends using well-written biographies of the characters being studied to help children learn about them in a deeper and more permanent way than a single paragraph on Wikipedia might offer. I’ve struggled to find good biographies that I can read to my girls as Family Reading books. Granted, I’ve only looked in our local library, and that could be the reason behind the struggle. However, I love to write. The girls both would like to write to some degree some day, and certainly need all the practise they can get. So I considered, and decided that if we wrote our own biographies, we’d learn so much:

  • Lots about the character in question.
  • Lots about the process of writing a story.
  • Lots about actually writing: grammar, spelling, sentence construction etc.

And I’d let them illustrate the books, of course, so there’s Art, too.

We’re starting with Elijah. Instead of a quick overview we’re studying his life in depth, making notes, creating spider diagrams … it’s fun! One of the stories we read this week was about Elijah staying with the widow who has only a small jar of oil and a handful of flour left before she and her son would expire. Elijah encouraged her to use that to make a cake – for him! And another for her and her son, of course. And he promised that the flour and oil wouldn’t run out, which it didn’t. I loved how Elijah trusted and obeyed God without question, and how the widow trusted and obeyed Elijah without question. In each case, they did not surrender their ability to reason, nor their autonomy and self-respect. They simply obeyed, and were immensely blessed for it!

Interestingly, we were in a similarly frugal state as I was reading that so I was inspired to try my hand at a similar kind of “cake” for the kids’ lunch. I cheated a it by adding a little milk, some water (there was a drought in the story, remember?), some herbs, salt, and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese on top. (Yes, I do see the irony of having Parmesan in the fridge when we’ve used up the bread, but there were Extenuating Circumstances). I am hopeless at pancakes so I crafted some herby crumpets and the girls loved them! They really enjoyed seeing what the food could have been like, as well as just really enjoying the taste, too.

It actually led me to another train of thought about Bible food, but I’ll cover that somewhere else, I think.

The recipe is here.

TGIF. Well, nearly.

Yesterday I said I’d share the girls’ Peaceable Kingdom drawings, and I forgot. Fail. Although in fairness, they did only finish them today, so I guess that’s as good a reason as any not to share. In fact, I’ve been feeling guilty about how little art we do generally, and now I come to see that: a) when we “do” Art, it can take up to a week to finish any project, so only having 20 pics to show for the year is actually about right; and b) when we “don’t” do Art, we actually end up with a lot more creative expression: paintings, collages, sewing projects, clay projects, 3D jungles … the list goes on and on.

So to sign off that particular waffle, here are the promised and long-awaited Peaceable Kingdom drawings. Enjoy.

Peaceable Kingdom 001 - DD#1 took a lot more care than she often does with this masterpiece.

Peaceable Kingdom 001 - DD#1 took a lot more care than she often does with this masterpiece.

Alright, I know I said I was done with the long bit, but I feel a bit of explanation is in order about what a Peaceable Kingdomactually is, in general, and what these images are about, in particular. Edward Hicks created a series of paintings illustrating the Peaceable Kingdom described in Revelation:

Peaceable Kingdom 002 - DD#2 created a masterpiece, although there's evidence that she didn't appreciate being asked to colour the border.

Peaceable Kingdom 002 - DD#2 created a masterpiece, although there's evidence that she didn't appreciate being asked to colour the border.

The wolf did with the lambkin dwell in peace
His grim carnivorous nature there did cease
The leopard with the harmless kid laid down
And not one savage beast was seen to frown.
The lion with the fatling on did move
A little child was leading them in love.

So here we have, on the left and archer and a canary, a lion ridden by a Wild Girl (I wonder who that could be?), a hawk and a fairy (mortal enemies, as well we know), a mermaid and a shark, and a dolphin and a fish. On the right we have a jaguar and a unicorn (ridden by the Princess), and a bird giving a lift to a worm (which would usually be its lunch, no?). I confess to being delighted in the extreme by these!

Tomorrow, which is actually Friday, we head up North to see my folks for a weekend. Looking forward to it SO much! We’ll probably do  most of our school on the way there and back, and I have no idea what that’ll be like. But I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

On baking.

Gingerbread Men bearing pretty much no resemblance to the ones we made today.

Gorgeous Gingerbread Men bearing pretty much no resemblance to the ones we made today.

I am not a domestic goddess. This is not self-effacing or false modesty. There are many, many things I am good at and that I love to do. Culinary creations don’t feature on that list. (Much like sewing, although that’s a story all by itself).

In my mind, I have an image of the ideal home educating mom: spending all day making clay creatures and painting masterpieces and baking perfections and sewing pretty dolls and practical dresses that will double for Sunday Best. I don’t know why I imagine this, but I really do, and no amount of self-talk will change my perspective. (I imagine. I haven’t actually tried to talk myself out of this delusion yet).

As it happens, there is a fair amount of baking in our particular brand of home education, though this could be the result of the paradigm described above. We’ve baked cakes and cookies and … well, cakes and cookies. Lots of them. We use baking as a three-in-one whammy: home economics, maths (measuring, adding/subtracting, fractions, weighing etc), and language (reading). Plus it’s fun! And really, that’s what it’s all about for me.

So today we baked once again. We’re studying trust and deception, so DD#1 read the story of the Gingerbread Man and the Fox (between cracking eggs and measuring flour and weighing sugar), while DD#2 read the ingredients and recipe steps, also helping with process of measuring and weighing and stirring. We all cleaned up and then I cut out and baked dozens of Gingerbread Men while the DDs watched the story of the Prodigal Son (deceived by people he trusted, not trusting his father – see how it all ties together?).

While I was turning the cookies out to cool I realised why it is that I am so bad at baking. (I really am, it’s totally not modest). There are a number of reasons, and here are some:

  • I have useless recipe books with inaccurate proportions and half-baked (hur hur) methods.
  • I don’t measure properly.
  • I don’t mix properly.
  • I never roll the dough out thinly enough or evenly enough.
  • I don’t bake anything for long enough or at the right temperature.
  • I spend more time worrying about tidying up and washing dishes than I do about the recipe.
  • I don’t really care enough about the end result. As long as what comes out the other end if palatable and looks okay, I feel like it’s an accomplishment.

So now I know why I’m not a good baker, but I doubt I’ll change anything. We have a lot of fun, we always have a clean kitchen afterwards, and there are never any left overs. Perhaps my baking adventures aren’t that bad, after all …

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