Boredom: The Enemy of Learning

IMG_3372Are your students bored? Are you bored?

As a homeschooler for the past 22 years, I can tell you of many times when both students and teacher have been bored out of our minds. Why? There are many reasons for boredom in the homeschool environment. Many more in the school setting, but we’ll leave that topic for another post. How homeschoolers become bored and ways to combat boredom is where we’ll focus.

First, how do we become bored? In a general sense, boredom is caused by the loss of interest. That sounds pretty obvious but when you think about it, you can have interest in something for a while and then become bored with it. How did it hold your interest in the first place and what changed that made you lose interest?

When you begin an activity with your student you may find that he has a high level of interest. It may be curiosity that has fueled his interest. He may feel compelled to find out the answer to a question or really want information about a subject and that makes him interested. He may spend hours looking for information and never realize how much time has passed. He certainly isn’t bored. But then, sometimes quite suddenly, all interest is lost and you find your student doodling on his paper.

Ways boredom can set in:

relevance – Sometimes you must learn information that you see no use for. It is easy to become bored when you find no purpose in your efforts. If your student is finding it difficult to relate what he’s learning to real life, he may shut down and become bored with the whole subject. One of my sons was that way with math. He just saw no use for what he was learning and we struggled for a long time. He didn’t really “get” math until he got a job as an older teen in a field that required using math for measurements and calculations of building materials and it all began to make sense. Now he has no trouble with math. It has become relevant.

Pace – Perhaps the pace of your learning is too fast or too slow. If it’s too fast you don’t have time to process the information and if it’s too slow it may not challenge you enough to keep your attention. If your student is finding the material he’s trying to learn too fast, all you have to do is slow it down. All the standards about what students are supposed to be learning at a particular age are all averages. There is no reason to try to keep up if the end result is that learning really hasn’t taken place and your student has shut down.

On the other hand, if it’s not challenging enough, you can always just speed things up. This is where the strict adherence to textbooks is a mistake. There is no reason your student has to do every exercise and every problem.  If he gets it, move on. If he has momentum and you insist that he slow down to finish every single activity he may lose interest. He  isn’t being challenged and he becomes bored.

Routine – While a certain amount of routine can be a good thing, it isn’t a good idea to let the structure of your routine become the dictator in your school day. Perhaps just changing around the order in which your students complete their subjects will shake some of the boredom from the tasks. Who said math had to be the first subject of the day, every day?

It also helps to vary the activities. Easier activities follow more challenging ones. Quiet activity followed by more active subjects.

Learning Style – If you are teaching a student whose style of learning is more hands-on and the work he is expected to complete is all in book form, you may end up with a bored student on your hands. It’s a good idea to try to determine what style works best and then take advantage of that method. While it isn’t always possible to teach every subject in their preferred learning mode, if you can make sure that there is a mixture of methods used that include as much of your student’s learning style as possible you will help keep boredom at bay.

The best lesson I learned as a homeschool parent was that I didn’t have to do it the same way as anyone else. I could tailor our homeschool to my particular students needs and interests. I learned that I didn’t need to be afraid to toss the plan I had for the day and go with what was of interest to my boys at that moment. They eventually learned everything they needed to know, but it didn’t have to be in a boring, structured way that stifled their enthusiasm.

 

 

 

Christmas Gift Ideas for Middle Schoolers

gift17I’ve found a few interesting gift ideas for the middle school crowd that don’t involve electronics. They might actually encourage family time as well! So many families are not in a position to afford the many expensive new gadgets advertised. If you are looking for something a little different and easier on the budget, look no further. Here are just a few ideas that might get your kids playing again. Why encourage them to play? because playing is still learning, even for middle school kids.

Ivan’s Hinge

 

 

Ivan’s Hinge -A great compact puzzle that can go in a pocket or backpack. Encourages problem solving in a creative, fun way for ages 8 and up.

PrismaColor Colored Pencils

PrismaColor colored pencils and Dover Coloring Books – These pencils and coloring books take coloring to a new level. Not the simple pictures you used to color with crayons. These drawings are detailed and beautiful.  And PrismaColor pencils are high quality and work well for this type of coloring. Coloring is for any age!

Dover Coloring Books

There are dozens of coloring books to choose ranging from geometric shape designs to nature and history. Something for everyone.  The Victorian House  is my favorite.

 

 

 

Chronology Board Game

 

 

 

 

Chronology Board Game – This game covers 2000 years of history that players organize into timelines. Each game is a new learning experience. A great family game for two or more players that reinforces the timeline of history. For ages 14 and up, but younger kids can work on a team with an adult or older sibling.

 

Morphology

 

 

 

 

Morphology – Think Pictionary with a twist. In this game you use a combination of everyday items to create models of objects which team members must guess. Sometimes players are asked to create with one hand, or with their eyes closed adding a hilarious dimension to the game. For ages 13 and up.

 

 

 

 

 

The Science Chef

 

 

The Science Chef Travels Around the World  Fun food experiments and recipes for kids. Combines science, cooking, and cultural studies in one resource that brings fun and learning right into your kitchen. For ages 10 and up.

 

 

Do you have other suggestions that you could share? If so, leave a comment telling us about them.

 

Is the Goal of Education the Process or the Destination?

IMG_0657When we have preschoolers, we can’t wait to see them reading for themselves. When we have elementary aged children, we can’t wait for them to be able to express themselves in their writing. We have similar goals through out our children’s lives. Milestones that tell us that we are indeed progressing in the right direction.

But sometimes education, and life itself, can become a series of benchmarks that push us along to a destination where we finally feel like we’ve accomplished something important. We’ve “arrived.” But somewhere along the way, we’ve lost something important. We’ve lost the opportunity to enjoy the journey.

Watch this thought-provoking video that compares education to a musical composition.

One Secret to Success

I have a couple of pet phrases that my boys tease me about. One of them is “Do something productive” and the other is “Find something constructive to do.”  I use them interchangeably, often when I am heading out the door, leaving one or more boys at home.

It’s not that I’m a slave driver, never wanting them to have an idle moment to themselves. It’s just that I seem to have an increasing awareness to how much time we waste. And I’m not pointing fingers at my kids as the only ones who are affected. I can be a world class time waster without any trouble at all.

And I don’t have anything particular in mind when I declare that they should do something of value, but I do have some idea what qualifies and what doesn’t. For instance, watching a program on TV can be productive while surfing the channels for twenty minutes is not. Of course, not all TV programs are created equal, and that’s a topic for another day.

Since our homeschool is what I would call relaxed, it’s harder to measure what is productive and I’m the first to admit that some days my list of accomplishments is rather sad. And while I can’t account for every minute, and would probably go crazy if I tried, I do think it’s important to be intentional about how I spend my days. I only have a limited number of them and it seems that they are going by faster all the time.

I try to get my boys to think about how they’ve spent their time each day. They would like to spend it gaming on the computer or sleeping or texting. I would like them to spend it reading and learning new skills and helping others. It’s a challenge to steer them in a direction away from themselves and in a manner that will give them a shot at a successful life in the future. You know, building character and all.

I saw this video and thought it was a great way to visualize how we spend the days that God has given us. I plan to tell my boys to “Do something constructive…watch this video!”

Homeschooling During the Holiday Season

How does your family manage your schooling schedule around the holidays? We’ve tried different methods over the years. Here are some of them.

Keep the same schedule as the public schools. Take just the few days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day off and keep to a normal schedule the rest of December. It works okay, I guess. But there always seemed to be way more activities that we wanted to experience but just didn’t have time for.

Take the days from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day off. While that sounded great at the time, it really was hard to do. We had to work harder the rest of the year in order to pull it off and we had a hard time getting back to work in January after such a long break with little structure.

Use a more relaxed learning style for the holiday season. This is our current plan and what we have done for many years now. We put the school books aside and instead, use the many seasonal opportunities available as our curriculum. Here are some ideas that have worked well for us.

Math – We get plenty of practice with fractions during all the holiday baking we do. One year we made 140 dozen cookies in 26 varieties to give away as gifts. Lots of math practice there! We also have talked about averages and probability when it comes to whether we’d have a white Christmas. And we’ve worked with budgeting our money as we plan to purchase gifts for friends and family.

Reading51388TDMZWL__SL500_AA300_ There are so many wonderful holiday books available for all ages. We have our favorites that we revisit every year but we’ve always kept our eyes open for new books too. We make time each day to read together and enjoy all the special stories that bring the Christmas season to life.

Language Arts –  Writing Christmas letters, thank you notes and Christmas cards provide practice with handwriting, spelling and grammar. We’ve written our own holiday stories, some based on actual experiences and others completely from our imaginations. There are many new words to add to our vocabulary that we only use during the holidays. And cooking and making crafts is a great way to practice following directions.

Social Studies – The study of the history of traditions as well as investigating how other cultures celebrate is an ongoing part of our homeschooling. During the Christmas season, we try to take time to consider how others choose to celebrate. It often involves research skills, map reading, and even crafts and good things to eat.

Science – There is a lot of sIMG_1762cience that can be learned in the kitchen and we spend a lot of time there during the holidays. We also take time to see what we can learn from winter weather. And nature studies focusing on how the animals and plants survive the cold can be a fun part of our school time.

Those are the core subjects, but we can’t forget art and music.   With all these opportunities during the holiday season, we just don’t have time for textbooks and spelling tests. We have so much to learn and only a few weeks each year to take advantage of it. We love our more relaxed holiday season. We never know just what we’re going to learn but we do it as a family, all learning together.

How does your family combine homeschooling with the holidays?

 

National Novel Writing Month – How Homeschoolers Can Join in the Fun

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If you don’t already know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s a month-long campaign to get folks to write a novel. There is a lot of buzz about it in the writing community and why should homeschoolers miss out on the fun? If you have a homeschool student who is an aspiring writer, give them the heads-up about NaNoWriMo and see what they can do.

So what do you have to do to participate?

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. This website has a lot of ways to encourage writers who make the commitment to write a book in a month. You can track your progress, get pep talks and support, and meet other writers who have taken the same challenge.

Set a goal for each day of November. A common goal is to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. If you write every single day that’s a little over 1500 words a day. But you can write more or less than that, just write!

Don’t worry about editing and proofreading. This challenge is about getting the story out of your head and onto your paper or computer screen. You can make the changes and fine tune your novel later. The goal this month is – just write! Didn’t I say that before?

Give yourself some grace. Life happens, even in November. Some days you’ll find it very difficult to make the time to write 1500 words. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Hey, you are doing something huge here, just write, and have fun while you’re at it. Even if you miss a couple of days, even if you don’t’ end up with 50,000 words, if you have a rough draft of your story you have accomplished a huge goal.

Maybe you aren’t into novel writing. What if you are a blogger and love to write but don’t want to write a book? Well, there’s a group for you too. NaBloPoMo has a website dedicated to bloggers who will commit to posting on their blogs once a day for the thirty days of November.

Even if you don’t feel like you can commit to either group, why not join in the fun in your own way and just see how much you can write in the month of November? You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Even the youngest students can set realistic goals that they can reach during the month. Maybe it’s just a few sentences each day. There are no rules! I’m going to attempt to blog as many of the thirty days as I can. We’ll see how it goes! I’d love to hear what you are doing, so leave me a comment. We can all write together.

 

 

Using Curiosity to Stimulate Learning

As homeschoolers, we have an incredible opportunity to ignite a passion for learning. We aren’t bound by time restrictions like a traditional school and we aren’t bound by a curriculum that dictates how we teach our students. Our curriculum is simply a tool to help us stir the curiosity in our children. Once that curiosity is awakened, the potential for learning is unlimited.

Watch this short TED talk about the three rules to spark learning. It is directed at government school teachers but the principles work even better at home. The speaker has found the secret in motivating his students. We can put these simple principles into action in our homeschooling and set our children on a path to energized learning that becomes relevant and usable.

It’s not just about answering test questions. It’s about answering the burning questions that curiosity uncovers and then building on that knowledge to reach even greater heights of education. The questions our kids ask the most are the “why”? questions. We can’t just be satisfied with teaching them to regurgitate boring answers to boring questions.

If we want our kids to learn to “think outside the box” we must first remove the lid.

How to Juggle Homeschooling and a Job

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes things are going along just fine and then without warning, you are faced with big changes, big decisions.

After being home with my kids for 30 years and homeschooling for 22 of those years, I was faced with the need to go back to work. I’d been self-employed as an educational consultant for 6 years when the state changed the homeschool laws and the need for my services diminished.  It was the perfect job, requiring a predictable time commitment that was flexible enough to allow me to teach my own boys and still earn some money. When that opportunity disappeared we thought we could manage without that income.

It didn’t take long to realize that circumstances were not working in our favor financially and I would need to find a job. Fortunately my youngest sons are now in high school and can manage most of their school work on their own. But my decision to go to work meant changes for the whole family.

So can you combine work and homeschooling successfully?  Even just a part-time commitment requires some adjustments but it can be done and can have some surprising results. Here are some of the things that help make it work.

Present changes in a positive way. If you have been home with your children and are faced with going back to work you will need your family’s cooperation. When discussing the changes make it as positive as you can. Talk about the changes honestly, but also try to get your family on board from the start with a positive spin. Help them to see it as a new adventure, an opportunity to pull together and make something good happen. Let them brainstorm with you about how they can be a part of making it all work. Try not to complain but instead find ways to show enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

Establish new responsibilities for each family member. The reality is, you aren’t going to be able to do all the things you’ve been doing and work too. There just isn’t enough time or energy to do that well. This means you must enlist the help of your family. No child is too young to participate in some way and everyone will grow through the experience. If you have older children, they can take on many of the responsibilities that you have been doing. They can do laundry, cooking and cleaning. They may even be able to run errands if they are old enough. Younger children can learn to do smaller jobs like folding laundry, sweeping, and putting away groceries. You may need older children to help the younger ones with their schoolwork as well. Whatever you do, make sure that everyone knows what’s expected of them.

Expect your kids to rise to the challenge. It feels good to know others think they can depend on us. Help your children take ownership of their new responsibilities and be sure to thank them in advance for how much help they are going to be to you. If you expect the best from them they will be more likely to rise to the challenge and take on more responsibility. When you talk to them about doing their part tell them how glad you are that they are mature enough to step in and help out.

Have clear boundaries for yourself. It will help you a lot to decide right from the start that you are not super woman and you cannot do it all yourself. You need time to rest and time to take care of your own health. If you don’t, you and your family will all suffer. You may have to relax the standards you’ve used as a guideline for your household. Focus on what’s really important and let the rest go for now. You will find a rhythm that works as you give it some time.

When you need help, say so. Now is not the time to play that guessing game that moms sometimes play. It’s not the time to work yourself to the bone and wait to see if anyone notices. Now is the time to speak up and ask for help when you need it. You will do no one any good if you are resentful and irritable because of unmet expectations. You can’t expect your family to read your mind and anticipate your needs. You need to be assertive and ask for help.

Life will be different than it was when you were home all day. The changes that come with this new lifestyle can be good for everyone involved. It will take more planning than it used to and you will need to be more organized but you will all grow from the experience. You will also need to get creative. You don’t have to do your schooling from 8-3 just because that’s when the schools are in session. Work your homeschooling around a schedule that works best for your family.

So now, at my house, I have boys who are doing nearly all the housecleaning. They also do the laundry  and they each take a turn making a meal each week. The older boys help the younger one with his school work if he needs it and they all are taking more responsibility for their own belongings. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect system. We are in no way the perfect family, but we are trying to make the best of a less than optimal situation and we are doing it together, as a family. We are growing together and learning together, just like we’ve always been doing, but with new challenges that stretch us to grow even more.

More Reasons to Visit Your Local Library

At the LibraryWhen my boys were young we had a weekly outing that we always looked forward to. Sometimes we enjoyed it so much we went twice a week. Where did we go? To our local public library. We spent hours in the library. We left each time with bags overflowing with books, CDs, videos and DVDs, and sometimes puzzles.

Maybe it was because the library has always been one of my personal favorite places that I felt the need to make my sons comfortable there. I remember when I was in the trenches with seven boys at home 24/7 and my husband would come home and offer me the chance to get away by myself for a while. I usually went to the library. It was quiet and filled with fresh ideas everywhere I looked. I could spend hours looking at quilt books or gardening books or genealogy books. It was just what I needed to regain my perspective.

My boys learned to love the library too. They were allowed to take home as many books as they could carry on any subject that interested them as long as it was in good taste and appropriate for their ages. Once in a while I had to veto a selection but most of the time they were pretty good at choosing appropriate books and movies. We tried having everyone use their own card but it got quite complicated keeping track of due dates. The fines began to pile up so we finally decided to have all the books checked out on my card so I could keep track of everything in one place. We took home tons of books. Our library had no limits on how many items could be checked out and our all-time record is 175 items signed out at one time. I often wondered if I should have an insurance rider on our homeowner’s policy. Would insurance cover all those books if something happened to them in our home?

With all the electronic gadgets available to kids now, it is harder to get them interested in reading. I know my boys aren’t interested in going to the library with me anymore. Yes, I still go regularly! I think it’s important to support the public library in this age of rapidly changing technology. We need to continue to have access to books in whatever form they take but for me, there’s still nothing that compares to curling up with a physical book, one that I can hold in my hand and savor. I do have a Kindle and I have hundreds of books stored on it. I take it with me and enjoy the ease with which I can read at any moment. But I still love the books I get from the library, that I lug home in my well-worn book bag.

Special programs and events. My boys took advantage of special events and storytime activities at the library. We were on a first name basis with all of the children’s librarians. Once the boys were even asked to be in a publicity photograph that was used to kick off the summer reading program. We participated in the summer reading program every year for more than two decades.

Digital and online resources. Libraries are trying hard to keep up with the times. Most libraries have digital books available and our library has just announced that you can sign out e-readers if you don’t own one. You can still get the latest movie on DVD and some on Blue-Ray as well. You can use the library’s computers and access their databases from there or even from your home computer. I regularly log into our library’s genealogy databases. My boys are using the Mango language program this year to learn Japanese and German.

Libraries need your support. There has been much talk in the news about the decline of library patronage. I think it’s important that we send the message that libraries still serve an important function in our society. Some places to become more informed include the following:

Keys to the Whole World: American Public Libraries – NPR series about the value of libraries.

Why Aren’t There More eBooks? – a local library’s take on why eBooks are so difficult to acquire.

Geek the Library – an organization who’s mission is to keep the public library as a valuable asset to American society.

The Future of the Library– Seth Godin explains why librarians are more important now than they ever were.

 

Do you call yourself a library patron? How do you use your public library? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Thinking About Homeschooling or Just Getting Started? Here are 4 Things You Need to Know

IMG_8686If you are thinking about homeschooling or are just starting out, there are a few things that will help you immensely if you learn them now.

  • Resist the temptation to “bring school home.” By that I mean, don’t try to copy what you know from school. You don’t need a school setting to succeed. The education system we have today was designed to help teachers manage a large number of students at the same time. It wasn’t optimal from the beginning, just an attempt to bring things into some sort of order. Children need structure, but not to the degree that is demonstrated in a government school. I’ve seen homeschoolers try to reconstruct the school day in such a way as to even have classes timed to the minute. In school, that’s a necessity. You can’t keep the English teacher waiting to start class because you need more time to explain a challenging math concept. But at home? No one is waiting on you, take your time and help your student understand before you move on to something else. And if you don’t get to English today, who is going to suffer? No one. You’ll get to it tomorrow.

 

  • It’s YOUR homeschool. You might think this is making the same point as the one we just covered. It’s not. What I mean is that YOU are the one who knows what your student needs to learn. While it is true that you need to cover certain topics over the course of a child’s education, when and how you do that is not set in stone as the education system would like you to believe. A course of study is something invented to make the progression smooth for many students at once. It just makes things easier. But at home you have the freedom to do it your own way. If you have a fifth grader and a seventh grader why not do American history at the same time and then world history together the next year? Why teach both subjects twice because your students are in different grades? And you can design your school schedule any way you want to. We school four days a week and work on life skills on Fridays. We cover science on Mondays and Wednesdays and history on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can design your homeschool in whatever way works for you.

 

  • Don’t Panic! It’s inevitable. At some point you are going to think to yourself, “I am going to mess this up and ruin my child’s education,” or something similar. You won’t. You will have bad days, you will have lessons that just don’t work, you may even have entire subjects that don’t seem to be working at all.  You are still the best teacher for your child. You know them better than anyone else, you are the one who wants them to succeed more than anyone else. You can find ways to help them learn. There are nearly infinite resources to help you with every single question or issue you have. SOMEONE knows the answer to your problem. It may take a while to find that answer but you can find it. Don’t give up. Keep asking the questions. You don’t even have to be smarter than your students. You can find people smart enough in any subject to help you. Sometimes if you sit down with your child, you can learn a difficult concept together. And don’t be surprised if sometimes your children are the ones teaching you.

 

  • Books are TOOLS not the final authority.  There are so many resources available to use in your homeschool. Explore all your options and don’t feel like you have to use a particular curriculum or book. If something isn’t working for you, find something that works better. Don’t fall for the trap that you have to finish every textbook you begin every year. If it takes longer, set it aside at the end of the year and pick it back up again next year. Or better yet, skip the parts your student already knows and only do lessons that present new material unless you feel some review is beneficial. OR skip the textbooks altogether and use real books (you know, the kind you get at the library) instead. Some well known facts: many teachers don’t finish the book by the end of the year AND the beginning of a textbook is often review anyway, especially in math. Since textbooks are generally designed on a sort of spiral, with information being covered over and over, a little more in depth each time, your student is exposed to the same information again anyway so don’t be chained to the books. We actually don’t even use textbooks at all anymore with the exception of mathematics. We use multiple resources in every subject and aren’t tied to any sort of standard curriculum at all. Learning is boring when it is confined to snippets of information rationed out on some sort of schedule. If your student loves dinosaurs go after that source of inspiration and squeeze every drop of learning out of it that you can.

 

If you are like me, you want to have some sort of a plan. I can’t just wing it everyday, although I know many homeschool families who seem to do that and find great success. I need a framework but beyond that, we just take it one day at a time and see how things go. We have a general plan but it’s flexible and open to drastic change if we find a better way to do things. We also take advantage of new things we happen upon. We have come to view our learning time as an adventure. We may not learn every date in the history book and know every scientific term but we love learning and we know where to find information when we need it.

For more information about experiencing a relaxed approach to homeschooling check out the following.

An excerpt from The Enthusiastic Homeschooler by Mary Hood  

Mary Hood’s website Archers For the Lord

You can also do a web search on the words, “relaxed homeschooling” and you will find dozens of blogs by homeschoolers who will encourage you.

So relax and dive in to the exciting life of homeschooling. It will change you and your family forever. I promise.