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

Posts tagged ‘education’

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?


Why the “core values approach” to home education really works for us

Yesterday I discussed our philosophy and some of our methods when it comes to home education. It occurred to me after I’d posted it that I utterly neglected to mention the weekly baking we do, how much the girls help with shopping (especially at the Farmers’ market), and all the fun, crafty things we do. Ah well, now you know. We bake, we shop, we craft. ūüôā

There are so many reasons that this approach is effective, that I would suggest that every person who is home schooling their children, or who is considering doing so, should first make a list of everything they hope to give their children from home education. That list will probably be a long one, and it should be refined and distilled until it’s a simple and clear (and achievable!) as possible. Once that’s out of the way, make a decision about curricula and methodologies is so much easier. You’ll be able to spot what you want – and what you don’t – at a glance!

For us, this really works for three reasons:

  1. I am sure that my children are learning what I believe is essential to becoming well-rounded adults.
    Because I have identified what I believe is most important, I can focus on those things. This process was done in consultation with many others, mentors, parents, pastors, home schoolers and (of course) Papa Bear. It was also the result of deep personal reflection and hours of research. I believe that our approach will deliver capable, resilient, well-rounded adults, ready and able to take on the world, and equipped with all the tools they need to face an ever-changing future.
  2. I know that I am not missing anything, since the net is fairly wide and covers the most essential bases.
    Most of what we learn in formal schooling is a series of facts. Why? When everything is available to us at the click of a mouse, why does it matter whether or not you know when the battle of Hastings was fought, or the scientific name for the Cape Swallow? I propose that it doesn’t matter. Of far more worth is a sense of the sequence of events (in History) and the ability to find things out for yourself. Spoon-feeding and regurgitating facts is a recipe for the learnt helplessness we see so prevalent in young people today, who seem unable to think for themselves, or take care of themselves, or make a valuable contribution to society. I am training young adults who will be able to make a positive impact.
  3. This approach supports my children’s learning styles (and my teaching style and need to work).
    My kids are unique. No one who has spent more than five minutes with them has ever doubted this. In fact, many of them have announced it to me within moments of meeting the girls, just in case I myself hadn’t noticed! Thanks, but we already knew. Between ADD and Tourette’s and what looks a whole lot like Asperger’s Syndrome, not to mention high IQs and sparkling wit, these two do not fit into any conventional boxes. Now, they don’t have to. And as a result, they have become so much more confident and self-assured. They’re ready and willing to interact with a wide range of people of all ages and races, and they no longer worry that, without their preassigned pigeonholes, they don’t have a place in their community. We also no longer have to battle feelings of failure and worthlessness because they don’t happen to be part of the eight percent of children who think and learn in the way that schools teach. We learn¬†their way.

And of course, a key factor for us is the simple fact that we can afford it! Cost was one of the motivators for switching to home school, and since most of the material we use is either online (for free), at the library (for free), or in the head of a loving, engaged and doting grown up (for free!), we spend very little on education.

We may pay for outings, books or DVDs, or we might buy equipment for inventions and experiments, but I feel that these things are a much better investment than sending the girls to a school where the main thing they learn is to hate and fear learning. Now, let’s be really clear: I do not mean that all schools squash the love of learning in young minds. I do not mean that all teachers ignore the uniqueness of their learners. I know many, many children who love going to school, and who thrive there. And every teacher I know personally is a dedicated, passionate, involved individual who gives everything she has to elicit the best from her pupils. All I mean is that school doesn’t work for us.¬†


Parenting the tactile-kinaesthetic learner

Involve me and I learnWe’ve recently evaluated our family’s learning styles. While there is a fairly balance between visual, auditory and tactile, I have not a tactile/kinaesthetic bone in my body, being strongly verbal-linguistic, and slightly visual. Goldilocks, on the other hand, is highly tactile, with very little verbal-auditory processing. Moreover, I am slightly tactile-defensive, meaning that I neither like to be touched, nor enjoy touching certain types of things (anything dirty or germ-ridden, for instance).

For Goldilocks especially, and slightly less so for Papa Bear and Red Riding Hood, that is how the learn and interact with the world.

Mom-de-Plume (DeeDee and Dexter’s Topical Writer Mom) is a lot like me, while her kids are a lot like mine, so we’re working on a curriculum for teaching gifted tactile-kinaesthetes. Well, I say we, but I mean her. I am an avid cheerleader at this stage! I may perhaps get involved in the design side in days to come. I’ll keep you posted.

In the mean time, this quote from Benjamin Franklin is becoming my mantra as I try to navigate new and uncharted territory:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.¬†Involve me and I¬†learn.”

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel - Socrates

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel – Socrates

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 risqu√© 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.

How to fit it all in

Almost every day, I’m asked the same question: how do you get it all done? To be clear: I’m no Wonder Woman. Far from it. All I am is a mom trying to have it all – and get it all into a single day. On average, I work between 16 and a half and 18 hours a day. This includes housework and school but even so, there’s not much time for “me time”. Now, I’m not advocating an eighteen-hour day. Far from it! I believe proper planning and focus can allow any of us to achieve our most important goals.

The thing is, some things are important. Investing in my relationship with God is important. Reading to my children is important. Exercise is important. Work is important. The question is, how on earth can anyone fit it all in? 

We all need a planny plan

We all need a planny plan

For me, I find anything I aim to do is far more achievable if I start out with the premise that the thing I intend to do¬†can¬†be done. Because, you see, if it can be done by¬†anyone, it stands to reason that it can be done by me. All it takes is a plan. A planny plan. Here’s mine:

Get your priorities straight

First of all, decide what is important. Be specific. Choose the¬†five things you can’t NOT do in a day. These are your priorities. There are a hundred things I’d like to get done each day. Only a handful of these is non-negotiable, however. For me, that handful includes, in no particular order:

  • Housework and meal preparation
  • Home education
  • Time with God
  • Billable work
  • Research, management and non-billable work

I’ love to include exercise, arts and crafts, and long walks with my kids in my list. I wish I could find time for charity and home visits, and time to invest in making my Sunday School classroom appealing. But I have to be realistic. My work happens every single day of the week, and if I don’t prioritise, I’ll end up out of control and in chaos. Which does happen from time to time!

Get up early

It’s only a clich√© because the truth of it has stood the test of the ages. The Bible speaks of the value of an early start. Idioms and sayings from around the world explain that

“early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Take time to recharge

Take time to recharge

The reason we all know these sayings is because they ring with truth. Little beats the productivity I find myself able to tap into when I’m up early. Before the rest of the family is up, I get my thoughts in order. I get myself ready for the day. I spend time with God. And even if I get nothing¬†billable done, I get a little of that precious¬†me time that seems so elusive in our frenetic lives. It is so important to get that time to recharge, and if we don’t make a concerted, intentional effort to achieve that, we are robbing ourselves of a significant source of energy and well-being.

Get up before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, and sort out your lists. List the three things you absolutely¬†must achieve today for today to be labelled a success. More than that is a bonus, less than that is a disaster. Three important things should be a manageable goal for any day, so be sure you know, before the day starts, what your three things are. I don’t mean choosing three of your priorities. I mean, within the confines of those priorities, what three items simply cannot go undone today? This simple act will give your day focus, your work purpose, and yourself energy.


Conflicting studies discuss the pros and cons of multi-tasking. Theories such as Critical Chain explain the negative impact multi-tasking can have on productivity, pointing out that if we focus on one task at a time, not only do we finish all the tasks at least as quickly as we would have had we attempted to do them all at once, we also perform better in each task individually, and report lower levels of stress generally.

That’s fair enough, and in fact my on research supports this view – for the most part. However, there are pockets of “dead time” in our days that can be better utilised. For instance, I have a mild back condition as a result of exceptionally low muscle tone and very poor posture. If I don’t do at least 200 intensive abdominal crunches each and every day, I am soon in so much agony, I can barely walk. Even sitting becomes painful and, needless to say, my productivity plummets. However, fitting that amount of exercise into an already full 18 hour day can be a challenge. My solution?¬†Multi-task.¬†When I wash my hair in the morning, while I wait for the conditioner to do its thing, I do my crunches. (The added benefit here is that the bath water provides my back with the support it needs!) I do calf raises and lunges while I fry the eggs for breakfast. I do tricep dips on the kitchen counter while I make supper. Once you get used to it (and make it a priority), it’s really not that hard to do.

We do the Bible Time and History segments of school around the breakfast table in the morning. I incorporate English language studies into History by printing out the day’s text and creating a treasure hunt for verbs and adjectives and predicates and those other faithful friends of the fanatical word nerd (guilty!). Art happens organically and continually with my creative brood. Geography is the very natural spin-off of a rich history curriculum, with us looking everything up on the globe and the girls spending hours poring over the atlas. At dinner, we’ll watch great movies to do with our literature, or play games that secretly stimulate learning – and friendly family competition.

Work is work, but if I work in a central space I am always available to my children, my clients and my staff. It can be distracting, but it is also necessary. After all, this is the life I chose, and the only way I’ll succeed at living my dream is to make it all fit together, rather than squashing things into ill-formed boxes.

Zen and the art of home maintenance

Housework is my least favourite task, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone here. A sinkful of dishes has the effect of a dementor on my soul, sucking every happiness from my being and leaving me cold and terrified. I find that there are two solutions to my sense of joyless dread, namely The Sneak Attack approach, and the wilful application of Zen.

The Sneak Attack approach

This is my own personal legacy that I am bequeathing to the world. Seriously, it’s genius. If other people are doing this, they sure aren’t talking about it. And they should, because it works. It’s brilliant. It goes like this: when I face a task I loathe, (or just don’t prefer), I tell myself not to do it. I reason that I don’t need to do it, and shouldn’t have to do it, since I already do so much. I let myself off the hook for that task, and take all the stress, guilt and urgency out of it. I turn around. Then, when my mind isn’t looking, I sneak in and do it quickly before I realise what’s going on. I’ve effectively removed the sense of burden from the task, and made it almost naughty to go ahead and do it. It’s artificially-applied¬†fun, and it works! I’ve been doing this for years, but only recently discovered that this is actually a scientifically documented productivity tool called Structured Procrastination. Try it – I dare you!

Now, sometimes the task at hand takes longer than it takes my brain to catch on to my sneaky trick. Then I’m in trouble, because the overwhelming drudgery of the task at hand seeps into my consciousness and saps my will to live. Or at least my will to keep doing what I’m doing. This is where the next part of the approach kicks in:

The Wilful Application of Zen

I have learned to sublimate the mundane , to elevate the banal to an art form. I honestly believe this is one of the most useful and effective uses of one’s time. Because, let’s face it, the dishes must be done. The laundry must be folded. And if not by you, then by whom? You’re it. So it’s important to find ways to grow and bloom in these minor trials, rather than giving housework the power to make us unhappy. Take back that power! Housework most certainly does not deserve that kind of a hold over your life. Instead, recognise that time alone at the sink is¬†time alone. It’s that “me time” you’re hankering after. And you get the privilege of changing things for the better – making them clean and shiny and ready for use – without having them complain about your interference.

In fact, the simple acts of folding laundry – instilling order in chaos – and washing dishes – creating hygiene and health where before there were only germs and disease – are very therapeutic. It’s necessary work. It can be fulfilling work. It’s a great opportunity to get your thoughts in order, and the necessity of the situation creates a virtual bubble around you. No one can demand frivolous things from you while you’re busy with these¬†important things. You learn, grow and rest in the mundane busyness. Enjoy.

Take breaks – productively

And finally, take breaks and get rest. But use these wisely. A break is not the time to check texts and catch up on emails. Those long walks I said I wanted? Now’s the time to take one. Step away from the computer. Get outside. Read a page of a well-written book. Grab a cup of bulletproof coffee or some refreshing tea. Spend time talking to your kids – or drawing with them! Build a fort. Go for a run. Wash the dog. Even doing filing can be good, because it is so soothing to instil order in your chaos.

And make sure you get the sleep you need. If worry is keeping you awake at night, supplement with Vitamin D, Zinc, and CalMag. Get regular, mild exercise. And talk to the One who promises to take all your worries, because He cares for you.

These are my secrets for a successful and effective day. What are yours? I’d love to hear how you fit everything into your day. And if this was helpful to you, let me know! I really hope I can make your life a little easier, and a little happier.

With love,


The power of partnership

Papa Bear and I have a relationship that makes me feel blessed on a regular basis. It’s true that we have our differences – some serious. There are times when we’ve had enough of each other and times when we can’t recall how we came together in the first place. Some days I’m sure each of us wonders if we’ll be able to last through the tough times, or if walking away from it all is the better part of valour.

But we never do walk away. Our partnership is based on our¬†faith, first and foremost, and that is what makes it strong. It really isn’t about us, at all. I know that I am very lucky to have a man who loves to read, who gets my jokes (and makes his own), who laughs at life’s trials with me, and who adores our children. He is supportive and involved. I am very lucky indeed, but even without all of those things, I believe God hates divorce, and that keeps me with my man in the tough times.

More than that, we can parent as a team, and that is also based on our shared faith. We’re pulling together. Ultimately, our goals for parenting and educating our children have very little to do with how much Shakespeare they can recite, or how fast their mental arithmetic is. For us, what matters most is raising children who are firmly rooted and grounded in the Word of God, saved and able to make wise choices. We care about their discernment, their understanding of biblical precepts, and their unwavering faith. Everything else comes second and so, no matter what route we take in any area of their lives or our own, we¬†pull together, because we share our faith.

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