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

Posts tagged ‘home school’

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.¬†



How we home school: keeping it really simple

Our “school” does not use a curriculum. This is because I haven’t found one yet that, a) I can easily afford AND that, b) actually suits our family. In other places on this blog I’ve discussed the various talents, challenges and learning styles that make us who we are, so I won’t go into all of that here.

Instead, what I’ve chosen to do is to distill the essence of what I believe the girls need to get from education – and their preparation for adulthood.

That “essence”, for our family, can be summarised thus:

  • I believe my children need to love learning, and have the ability to learn by themselves.
  • I believe that the ability to read is paramount. No door to knowledge is ever closed when once you’re able to read.
  • I believe that a strong foundation in Maths is key to success. Maths is everything and everywhere.
  • I believe that a sense of where we fit in time (history) and space (geography) gives us an indispensable sense of perspective, and the tools we need to make wise decisions.
  • Above all, I believe a thorough knowledge of the Bible underscores all truth, wisdom, hope, meaning and comfort.

These five simple values form the bedrock of our home school experience, and we flesh them out as follows:

Every morning, we start with a devotion. We love Keys for Kids, so the girls read the passage given (in their King James Bibles – good English starts young!), then I read the story. We discuss it, and then we pray about what we’ve read, and for the day ahead. Theoretically, we also have memory verse time, but since I’ve been sick (which is its own post), we’ve slacked a bit on learning our verses. I’m very pleased to say that they still know the fifty-odd verses we’ve learnt already this year, so that’s a start.

After Bible time, we take a brief look at the day before’s reading, and identify the parts of speech. Sometimes we do this as a game instead: “I say a noun, you say an adjective to go with it, then it’s your turn to find a noun”. Or else, identify four verbs you can see around you right now. Enchanted Learning’s Parts of Speech Wheel has been an invaluable aid in this part of our day.

Next up, we usually have French. This is just because we’re all snuggled up together on the couch anyway, so we may as well do all the “together” bits right away. We either work through the French flip cards on Brainrush, or we watch an episode of the JeFrench channel on YouTube. (After school, I listen to 20 – 30 minutes of native French speech to get my ear in, and that has been very useful).

Finally, while we’re still together, we often watch something fascinating online. recently we’ve been watching the Pale Blue Dot series, by Carl Sagan, the Crash Course in History series, or the Creature Feature on National Geographic.

All of this takes about an hour and a half. After that, I sit with the girls individually and work through 4 – 5 exercises on Khan Academy while the daughter I’m not working with reads a book (Goldilocks is working through “Breverton’s Encyclopedia of Inventions“, and “Red Riding Hood” is about a third of the way through the first “Harry Potter“. We’re also all big fans of “Information is Beautiful“). ¬†Then we switch.

Before school, beds are made, dishes washed, and the house is cleaned and tidied, and after school, the girls help with cleaning up their school stuff and hanging out the laundry.

By this time, it’s usually about 09:30, and Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood are more than ready to go and play. They’re allowed to play computer games between the end of school and 1PM, and often that includes self-taight (and very good) graphic design, spreadsheet manipulation, and updating their blogs. I catch up on work until 11:30, when we all make salad together. While we eat, I read stories. Three days a week, I read a history story (we’re busy with An Island Story right now). On the other three days we read what the girls call a “STORY story”. At the moment, we’re reading “The Princess and Curdie“, “The Swiss Family Robinson“, and “The Blue Fairy Book“.

Every afternoon (since the doctor told me to), we go for a walk. On the way, we talk about everything. We discuss philosophy, religion and morals. We talk about driving and walking and cycling and sustainable transport. We discuss the plant life we see, and keep a sharp eye out for animals and birds. (This week we were lucky to have a decomposing blue snake to walk past a couple of times, and watching the process was fascinating). Often, we stop halfway and the girls will draw or dance or chat – or all three. We talk about which way we’re walking and from which direction the wind is blowing. We discuss the seasons, the weather, the sun, moon and stars. Then we go home.

Most afternoons include a playdate with friends, and that is when I get most of my work done. Red Riding Hood loves to design and build dams and irrigation systems at the moment, so she’s often completely brown by the end of an afternoon. Goldilocks is more interested in architecture and inventions, and a lot of her free time is spent on those subjects. Theoretically, the girls help with supper and the dishes, though often I let them have a relaxing bath while I cook. While we eat, we talk about health and food and friendship and work and school and faith and anything else that comes up. Officially, we encourage questions, but in our house that simply means “being in the same room”. Questions are never far when the girls are around. Sometimes during dinner we’ll watch a movie (usually something rollicking and full of moral gravitas and adventurous fun), or we’ll play a board game. After supper it’s story time, and then they’re off to sleep.

Reading it like this makes it sound like a lot, but it really and truly isn’t. The bulk of the more “formal schooling” is done before 10AM, we do a bit around lunch time, a splash in the middle of the afternoon, and some evening stuff, which I am sure is what every family does. We certainly always did the evening stuff we do now before we started home school.

How do you home school? Do you follow a set curriculum, or do you work around a set of core values? If you use a curriculum, which one do you use? And do you prefer any specific philosophy of education, or is yours (like ours) more of a “Philosophy Stew”, mixing the best of a number of views in proportions that suit your families tastes and needs best? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line in the comments below.

Read about the benefits to this approach in tomorrow’s post.

Education at home: distilling what matters

We had a lot of reasons to start home schooling our kids, but at the end of the day there were results we wanted to see in our adult children, and what was happening in the classroom each day bore no relationship to our family goals.

We’ve tried a number of curricula and a range of course material, and this is what we’ve distilled:

I think that they will enjoy anything if we make it absolutely gripping. I also see no harm in starting with stuff they DO like. Eventually,¬†they WILL be interested in everything. Here’s what I care about right now, in order:

  1. Do they have a strong concept of RIGHT and TRUE, and can they navigate their own lives based on this concept, without my help?
  2. Do they passionately LOVE to learn?
  3. Do they love to read, and take any and every opportunity to do so?
  4. Are they competent at Maths and able to grasp the concepts, extend them and, above all, APPLY them to the real world?

Beyond that, everything else is superfluous. I fundamentally believe that with these in place, the rest will come. They will eventually be curious about aspects of the world that may not old their attention now. And one day it will click together and they’ll be filled with wonder.

Considering that this happens to me more and more as I get older, I am not worried about them not completely grasping certain facts so early in life, because for me the facts are merely the vehicle taking them to the goals I’ve mentioned above. As long as the books I use to teach the facts serve my purpose, I will continue to use them. When they don’t, I’ll find ones that do.

We put a lot of energy into making sure there’s laughter in our household. Trying not to sweat the small stuff, laughing whenever we can, finding the lighter side of life. It’s not always easy but it’s already paying off, so in the long run I am very optimistic about the future.


Ironing out the kinks: growing a small business, dealing with health challenges, and making home school work.

juggling life's priorities is a full time job

Juggling life’s priorities is a full time job.

Wow, two and a half months since I posted anything on here. I’d planned to post something every single day this year – or, at the very least, a few things a week. Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men and moms, I suppose …

Life has been busy.

My time has been split along three clear lines this year. Number one has been establishing my business. Now, I know that as a home schooling mom, that perhaps reflects poor priorities on my part. However, as the breadwinner in our family, I really don’t have a choice. It’s pretty simple: I don’t work, we don’t eat. And if I don’t have an effective, successful and efficient business, with a team of busy staff, then we’ve got nothing. So, some days the girls just get along with their education as best they can while I work out the kinks of a growing agency.

Number two has been figuring out our various health issues. Goldilocks’ Tourette’s Syndrome has been wreaking havoc with her ability to speak recently, and the effect on her confidence has been marked. She’s a deeply empathetic child, and has been battling more and more with bouts of what she refers to as being “down in the dumps”. Little Red Riding Hood has her fair share of challenges, which will form the subject of other posts. Suffice it to say that she’s needed a lot of attention recently. And of course, my dear old body just isn’t playing along. I really need a strong body, able to lift heavy weights and meet challenging deadlines. I need to be able to go for days at a stretch without paying too much attention to the every last gram of poison on my plate. Unfortunately, I have no such thing. Aside from digestive concerns, which sound petty but can be debilitating some days, my back decided to fight back against the chronic abuse inflicted on it by years of poor posture. The result was two days of excruciating agony in which I could hardly walk. Thank God for physiotherapists (and the means to afford one!). On top of it all, my skin has only once looked worse than it has these past few months. This makes client visits a real challenge, despite the fact that these form the basis of my business. (I may have a solution at last, though. More on that to follow).

Finally, I’m working out the kinks in home education. Really, the main problem is that Ambleside just seems too easy. We read stories, draw pictures, watch opera, dance to medieval music, and race through easy maths (involving multiplying Roman numerals!). We sew fluffy pink horses, draw butterflies and newborn hamsters, and circumnavigate the globe using Google Earth. And we fastidiously and meticulously neglect to complete a single timeline of any kind. It seems to go too fast, yet too slow. Each day’s school work takes around 3-5 hours, which is a tricky amount of time to budget accurately. For now, I’m focusing on giving the system a chance to take effect. Next week is exam week, which promises to be very revealing.

Ambling along through Ambleside.

I must be doing it wrong. That’s the only possible explanation. Because we’ve been using Ambleside Online to guide us through the Charlotte Mason approach to home education for two weeks now, and it just seems too good to be true. We get MORE done in LESS time, we’ve all learnt masses, and we are all loving it.¬†“School” takes between two and three hours a day, and every week we do art, handicrafts, nature study, history, map work and music – things we could never fit in before. And in more detail! How can it be?

The girls think better, play better, spend more of their free time making things, are kinder to one another and more involved in life generally. They both love and excel at Maths.

And I am getting work done, and even meeting some of my deadlines, all the while, baking cookies and muffins and complicatedly delicious pies for dessert (with no grain, nuts or sugar Рor even money, frankly). Can it be real?

Our house has remained a picture of neat-and tidy order, with things beautifully arranged in their places. People now seem to enjoy cleaning up (surely not!), and no one complains when asked to help. Not that they even need to be asked – I sit down to teach and find my charges eagerly awaiting me, books at the ready, stationery neatly laid out – and then swiftly put away afterwards.

In addition to the 40-odd scriptures we’ve committed to memory, the girls now know half a dozen poems apiece, too. And they perform their poetry with eloquence and feeling. Both read better than ever – with our youngest reading books at a Grade 9 reading level, despite being only 7. Granted, she needs work on her flow, but that’s hardly cause for complaint.

Hand writing is legible, letters to us are far more frequent Рand neat Рand correctly spelled! At least half of the mornings find the girls happily reading books in their pyjamas, waiting for breakfast, having gotten dressed, straightened their room, made their beds and cleaned their teeth. They play far less on the computer than they did a month ago, and watch TV once or twice a week Рwithout complaint!

Goldilocks relishes in making dolls and accessories for her sister and friends Рfabric ones, sewn by hand! And Red Riding Hood helps with meals and flower arrangements and table settings before I even think to ask.

It’s as if we’re living in the dream world of “what home education¬†should be”. I wonder if I’m imagining it, if it will last – but not long enoough to mar my thorough enjoyment of the right-here-and-now!

Incredible “Illusions”

Goldfish by Riusuke Fukahori. The bowl is real, the rest is painted. Seriously.

Goldfish by Riusuke Fukahori. The bowl is real, the rest is painted. Seriously.

As we’ve been studying optical illusions through the Trust unit of Konos, we’ve been blessed by family sharing their finds with us on the subject. Today my sister directed me to this site, featuring the work of extremely talented Japanese artists Riusuke Fukahori. Using a complex process of painting layers of resin then allowing them to dry, he creates the most phenomenal 3D goldfish I’ve ever seen. (Okay, the¬†only 3D goldfish I’ve ever seen that haven’t actually been goldfish). If I hadn’t watched the video, I would never have believed they weren’t real goldfish! (I still have a way to go on the whole¬†trust thing).

Click here to read the story and especially¬†watch the video. Seriously, don’t miss this one.

Times of Refreshing.

Acts 3:19b “…¬†the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”

Yesterday afternoon, DH, both DDs and I headed out to Karkloof, just past Howick, to spend some time with the Oikos team. I must admit that I was not in the best frame of mind as we headed up there. For one thing, I was pretty sure I was on the wrong track with my approach to home school education¬†(thanks, Greg). I imagined that there was a LOT more planning to be done, and with my already crowded schedule I couldn’t imagine how I’d fit in¬†more work. As I may have mentioned previously, I’ve been frustrated by the ¬†feeling of¬†aloneness on this journey, and I foresaw an¬†embarrassing impasse at best.

What a pleasant surprise it was, and how lovely to have been so very wrong.

Sonja, Greg, Pam and Dave were kind, gentle, welcoming and encouraging. They gave us guidelines for every aspect of our home educating journey, from casting the vision for the family, to divvying up the work, to managing the practical aspects of day-to-day family life.

We came away feeling encouraged, refreshed and refocused. And hopefully we can now create a way forward for our family that actually¬†works. I’ll keep you posted!

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