Tinkerlab for Your Child’s Creative Mind

With my boys almost grown, I don’t often have activities for the younger crowd on my radar. But this book caught my eye and I am so glad it did.  The author, Rachelle Doorley, has some of the best ideas I’ve seen for engaging young children in creative play. We’ve all heard that a child’s work is found in his play. This book does an excellent job of creating an environment that encourages exploration and discovery that will delight your young learner.

The first section of the book outlines the steps to take in preparing your Tinkerlab and equipping it with a vast variety of supplies to encourage creativity and learning.  The author discusses what things to consider when setting up your creative space. She gives attention to things like organization, controlling clutter and handling messes.  She then gives recommendations for what supplies to include in your space and includes lists of suggestions in several categories. The next section is a wonderful discussion of how to create a “creative mindset” that will encourage your child in exploring and venturing out on his own.  Doorley concludes part one of the book with some thoughts on the idea that everything can be an experiment. She says, “A habit of experimentation is good for many reasons. Experiments teach children that there are multiple ways to approach a problem. When children solve self-designed problems, they learn how to think for themselves. Experiments also remind parents that they are co-learners who don’t have all the answers. The spirit of experimentation, exploration, and pushing boundaries is at the root of innovative thinking.”

Part two of the book is where you’ll find the fifty-five experiments the author has gathered. She divides these activities into four groups. The first group entitled “Design” is all about creating with paper, glue, paint and other art supplies. The second group called “Build” focuses on creating three-dimensional projects with a variety of elements such as straws, toothpicks, string and items from your recycle bin. The third group is called “Concoct” and includes activities you can do using common household ingredients such as flour, water, vinegar, and baking soda and soap. Some of these experiments are even edible. The final section is entitled “Discovery” and expands the activities to exploration outside the confines of the creative space you have set up. It includes activities such as examining nature, scavenger hunts and experimenting with light.

This book is aimed at an audience up to the age of six but I can see older kids finding plenty to hold their attention.

Teaching Time Management to Your Homeschool Students

Study Time

One of the most important underlying lessons we should be teaching our children is time management. They need to learn to pace themselves and to prioritize their activities. One way to do this is to have a daily deadline. This is easy to do by giving them the responsibility of daily chores. They also need to learn the life skill of planning their activities in a larger time frame. If they are required to meet a deadline every day for everything they never learn the discipline necessary to accomplish tasks that can’t be done in a day. They need to learn not to procrastinate. One way to do that is to have weekly, and sometimes even longer, deadlines on some things. This teaches them that they have a responsibility to make steady progress on a task that no one is going to see on a daily basis.

For my boys, we have always had four regular school days and then Friday was a catch-up day. Field trips or other special activities were also planned for that day. They knew that their weekend activities would be at risk if they weren’t done by Friday evening. Recently this has worked well for my high schoolers because they have an older brother living on his own who invites them to spend the night on the weekends if they have their work done. This works wonders!

I think that a certain amount of distraction and just dawdling is to be expected from children and it will help them more, in the long run, to learn to manage this themselves instead of having someone nagging them to stay on task every minute. It makes for a more self-motivated student and employee in the long run — a skill sorely lacking in the general population these days.

Talk with your child and come up with a plan that works for them. Some children are naturally more motivated than others. I had one son who wanted me to just hand him a folder with his assignments for the whole month and leave him alone. He paced himself and got his work done with no problem. Another son needed his assignments broken down into daily lists and sometimes only wanted to know one task at a time. Even a daily list of assignments overwhelmed him. We had to work much harder to get to the place where he could monitor his own progress without being overwhelmed and shutting down completely.

Now that my youngest students are in high school, we have a very relaxed homeschooling environment. They know that they are required to complete their work on a regular basis but it has become their responsibility to make that happen. They know they are required to have at least four math lessons completed each week. When they do those lessons is up to them. Younger students may need daily goals for things like math but can begin to take responsibility for other assignments. Reading and writing assignments are a good place to begin setting longer deadlines.

It’s wise to allow your child to help set the goals for his own activities.  If he is allowed ownership of his goals he is much more likely to follow through and complete them. Set up a system where they can see what things need to be done daily and what things need to be completely weekly or even monthly. One way to help them figure out how to pace themselves would be to break down assignments in smaller chunks. If they have to have a book completed in a week help them figure out how many pages they need to read per day to keep up.

Letting them set their own goals must be combined with the understanding that they will over- or underestimate what they can accomplish in a given amount of time. Trial and error are the best teachers here. Let them try and help them figure out what they need to do differently when they fail to reach their goals. Let them know that falling short is okay and help them learn from their experiences and move on.

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s more important to teach the life skill of time management than it is to have every assignment completed exactly when you expect it to be.

Here are a few other resources you might find helpful.

Teaching Time Management Skills to Teens

How to Teach Kids Time Management

Teaching Children Project Management

Avoiding This Common Homeschool Trap May Save Your Sanity


We all want to see our kids excel. Whatever the reason we decided to homeschool, the bottom line is that we felt it would be a better education than what was offered in the government school system. That being said, we are compelled to make that a reality.

How do we do that? We find the best curriculum. We look for the greatest extra curricular opportunities. We try to take advantage of every possible experience that could enrich our child’s home education. We want it all. We want it for our kids. Our motives couldn’t be more pure, right?

But in the process of doing this wonderful thing for our kids, we can also become dangerously close to a trap. I call it the “Super Achiever Trap.” I’ve seen this countless times in my 23 years of homeschooling. I’ve seen the high school student who was  involved in an unbelievable number of activities just so they could put them on his transcript. Some of the activities were things he wasn’t even interested in but would “look good” on his transcript. Another family I worked with had a first grader who was studying more subjects than most high school students. She studied Latin, Spanish, History, Science and Bible in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, every day. Add phys. ed., private music lessons and art lessons every week. This child was exhausted from memorization and recitation on a level that we wouldn’t expect from much older students.

What was the problem with both of these examples? The parents, in their zeal to provide the most amazing education, were in overdrive. They didn’t want their child to miss a single opportunity or experience so they crammed it all in at the same time. I have no problem with exposing children to all kinds of experiences but the motive shouldn’t be so it “looks good” or because the parent can’t wait to experience a particular subject with their child. Sometimes in our excitement to see our kids learn, we go way overboard.

There is plenty of time for that first grader to learn all those subjects. She doesn’t have to do it all at once. And high school students need to have opportunity to experience many different things, but maybe they should be allowed some input as to what those experiences look like.

Falling into the Super Achiever Trap causes much more harm than the good  we think we are doing for our children. They can become so achievement oriented that they lose the joy of discovery. They become machines that crank out products but miss the chance to just sit for a while and marvel at the amazing world we live in. Sure, they may do fabulous on the SAT and they may win all kinds of trophies and contests but do they love learning or are they just exhausted?

And we haven’t even talked about what this trap does to the parent. When we fall into being a super achiever parent, we find there is never enough time. There is always something that seems to be compromised or forgotten. We are constantly running from one thing to the next and we never really get to enjoy any of the things our kids are doing since we are already looking to the next event or activity. We end up just pushing, pushing, pushing with no end in sight.

Here are some ways to help avoid falling into the Super Achiever Trap:

* Have a conversation with your child and find out what his passion is. Does he love sports? Is she excited about literature? Does he have an insatiable desire to learn about science?

* Help your child to focus on what gets him excited. Find ways to use the subjects he’s passionate about to propel the ones that are not so exciting by making his assignments relevant to what he loves.

* Remember, especially with elementary students, that you have plenty of time to expose your child to many wonderful experiences. You don’t have to do it all in the first year. That goes for older students too. If you are just starting to homeschool when your child is in the 8th grade, resist the temptation to jump in with too much too soon. You don’t have to make up for lost time in the first year. You have plenty of time. Take a few deep breaths and just enjoy the opportunity to be with your child!

* Be willing to throw out the plans for the day  if some wonderful opportunity is presented to you. You are not a slave to the curriculum. You don’t have to finish every page of every workbook. You don’t have to cover all of a subject in one school year. Relax!

If you want more information on this topic you might find these previous posts of interest:

  1. Is the Goal of Education the Process or the Destination?
  2. Are You too Busy?
  3. The Death of Education, The Birth of Learning


Send Your Perfectionist Packing

BeaIMG_5276I heard a rather bizarre story the other day. A young mom was telling me about another new mom she’d met at an event. They talked about how much of an adventure raising children was. The other mom then proceeded to explain her parenting strategies. She said that she didn’t allow her child who was crawling, to pull up to furniture because she was afraid he’d fall. She didn’t want him to get hurt. She wanted to wait until he learned to balance before she was going to let him begin to pull up and stand on his own.

I tried not to laugh… but my first reaction was “how in the world is he ever going to learn balance if he isn’t allowed to fall?”

Sometimes as parents, and especially as homeschool parents, I think we want out children to learn without having to experience loss, or error or failure. We want them to somehow just absorb what they need to know and then do it perfectly the first time they try. Imagine your child trying to learn to ride a bike without experiencing a tumble or two.

It doesn’t work that way.

Learning is a process of successes AND failures. The famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison says it well. He said, “I did not fail, I found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb.”  If he’d have been a perfectionist he might have stopped after one failure or he might have looked at his odds of succeeding and never tried at all.

I believe that our homeschool environment is the safest place in the world for our children to learn. It is the perfect place for our children to try things out, to fail and to try again. At least it is if we don’t allow our own perfectionism to interfere.

As homeschooling parents, part of our job is to encourage our children to use their curiosity and imagination to learn. But it’s like that new walker we talked about at the beginning. If we keep them in a padded room with no furniture to pull up on, how are they going to ever learn to walk? If we control our child’s homeschooling experience so that they don’t experience failure, how are they going to learn?

I think every parent at one time or another watches their child struggle with a concept and is tempted to step in and say, “no, here is how it is done.” When instead, we should step back, be patient and watch to see how they figure it out. And it’s the same way with teaching them to do their chores. Yes, the floor would be much cleaner if you swept it yourself but is that your primary goal in teaching your kids to help around the house? If it is, you are missing the point. The goal should be more about them learning to do their best and about not giving up when they don’t do it perfectly the first time. Problem-solving skills come from having a problem. If everything is perfect and there are no problems, how will they learn to problem solve?

The only way for this to work is for us to intentionally tell our perfectionistic selves to take a hike.

And this perfectionistic point of view not only squelches your students, it can also paralyze you! You can end up trying so hard to give your child that perfect education that you cram their days so full of structured activities they never have time to discover things on their own. And you and your student are both exhausted.

The key for all of us is to relax and enjoy the learning that happens every day, usually in spite of us! Relax a little and watch them accomplish more than you ever imagined!

Here are a couple of links that you might find helpful.




What to Do When Self-Doubt Invades Your Homeschool

If you have been homeschooling for very long (like more than a week) you may have experienced an invasion of self-doubt. You know what it looks like. When it shows up,  you begin to wonder what in the world ever convinced you that you could homeschool in the first place. It’s those times when the should-have and what-if moments seem to overwhelm you. When you question your methods, your motives, and your sanity. The what-if questions are pretty hard to handle when you’re feeling inadequate and unqualified. But there is hope. Here are some ways to put self-doubt on the run.

Find some support. What happens when a country is invaded? What is the first thing they do? They call in their allies of course. They find those who will support them and ask for help. As homeschoolers, we have many more allies now that when I first began back in the early 1990s.  If you haven’t already done so, find some kindred spirits who will encourage you when you feel like things aren’t going well. You can do this through a homeschool support group or on your own. Look for other homeschoolers in your church or at your local library. Sometimes the children’s librarian will know who the homeschoolers are but they are easy to spot. Just look for families with school-age children who are at the library in the middle of the day!

Resist the temptation to compare your children to their public school age groups. It’s really like comparing apples to oranges. The longer you homeschool, the less your children will act or learn like public school students. You may actually be stunting their growth to compare them to those in a school setting. And you likely won’t be covering the exact same information at the same time anyway, unless you use all the same curriculum, so there really is no comparison.

Look at the big picture.  There will be days, weeks, months, even years that don’t go as you had hoped. Illness, family emergencies, new jobs, and schedules all require adjustments and cause disruptions in your homeschool. Around March of every year, I struggle with the feeling that we haven’t really done enough learning and the end of the school year is on the horizon. I used to really panic about this. Some years I felt like the whole year was questionable as far as what I considered valuable learning. But eventually, I learned that homeschooling has a sort of ebb and flow to it. Some years we don’t seem to get much accomplished and other years we go beyond my expectations. It all evens out. I look at my sons now and see responsible men who are taking care of their families and who are succeeding in their careers and I feel so thankful that we persevered through the rough times. There is no evidence of any damage or handicap in their lives because of my perceived shortcomings during their homeschooling years.

Focus on what’s working. Maybe some areas of your homeschooling are really a struggle. The best thing you can do for yourself and your students is to focus on the areas where they are excelling. Find those subjects where you are seeing improvement, where you are seeing excitement for learning, and spend extra time there. It won’t hurt them to put the difficult things on hold for a while. You’ll all find your confidence again and feel ready to tackle the harder lessons after you have felt success for a while. Learning is a life-long process, taking a break doesn’t mean failure. All it means is that you are regrouping and working on a different strategy. Sometimes a little distance from the hard stuff will give you new insight into what may work better.

Finally, remember that you can’t teach them EVERYTHING. Your job is to teach them to learn and to encourage a life-long love for learning. If you do that, then you will have succeeded even if you don’t cover everything in every book you use. God gave you your children for a season. All he expects is that you do your best. He’ll take it from there.

Here are some additional resources you might find helpful. http://www.homeschool-how-to.com/avoiding-homeschool-burnout.html. This article has excellent suggestions. I think you will find the whole website to be helpful. If you just want to see that you are not alone, read this mom’s experience with self-doubt. I know you will be encouraged.

http://www.crosswalk.com/family/homeschool/the-self-doubt-express-1251489.html This website is a group of homeschool moms who share valuable information about all areas of homeschooling.

This article specifically speaks to self-doubt but there are other excellent articles as well.  http://nextgenhomeschool.com/2013/02/15/when-in-doubt-seek-support/

Homeschooling Boys: 5 Things You Need to Know

IMG_4136Homeschooling boys is an adventure. I’ve been homeschooling my seven sons for 22 years and counting. There are some unique challenges that are part of the process. To be successful isn’t hard if you take these five things into consideration.

Little boys really can’t sit still.  Research has proven that from birth, boys are more active than girls. Baby boys kick and squirm more than baby girls. When they get a little older….little boys still kick and squirm more than little girls. Watch a six-year-old boy sitting at a table. Usually, his legs are in constant motion and if you watch long enough you will see that his bottom doesn’t stay on the seat very well. One of my boys adopted the position that worked best for him when he was trying to do school work at a table. One leg under his bottom on the chair and the other hanging over the edge of the seat. Much of the time he was actually standing and not sitting at all. It was as close as he could come to sitting still. He was at least in contact with the chair most of the time. I found if we took frequent breaks, his wiggles calmed a bit.

Fine motor skills are in no hurry to develop.  Boys tend to develop fine motor skills slower than girls. This means that they are slower in figuring out how to make their pencils and scissors work. They’d much rather throw or pound on something. These actions take gross motor skills which develop much sooner.  They’d rather throw the pencil or tap it on the table than write with it. Give them hands-on activities and be patient with the handwriting lessons.

Boys tend to think in “things” and not words. Boys are more spatial than girls when it comes to language. Girls think in words where boys think in objects. Boys are much quicker to understand directions that involve a demonstration while girls can read or listen through a list of instructions and get it. Again, the hands-on activities will be much more effective with boys.

Boys’ attention spans are shorter. It seems boys much work harder to concentrate on what they are doing. Actually, boys brains have been proven to still be growing until nearly age 30. It just takes longer and more energy for all that growing. They need to change activities often in order to stay engaged.

Boys can be reluctant readers. While this is not true for all boys, many times it’s hard to get a boy to be a willing reader. They would rather do things with their hands. They aren’t so interested in words. They can’t sit still and focus for long periods of time. All the things we just talked about contribute to this problem. One thing you can do is read aloud to your boys. I still read aloud to my boys at times when there is something I believe we need to cover and I know it will be like pulling teeth to get them to read it on their own. Since my youngest is now in high school, we can experience some rich, deep discussion about something we’ve read together. That wouldn’t happen if I handed him the book and expected him to read it on his own.

If you are teaching both boys and girls you will want to take these things into consideration. That way you will be able to adapt your expectations to their developmental stages and strengths. And of course, it is also important to see each student as an individual and leave room for adjustments that take into consideration their unique strengths and weaknesses. Every student can excel at learning in a homeschool environment. It is a custom designed experience that will bring out the very best that they have in them.

additional resources:




Ways to Get Dad Involved in Your Homeschool

IMG_5308My husband was all for homeschooling when we started in 1991. He was also trying to get his own business started and trying to help me deal with my mother’s terminal illness. He had his hands full. Very full.

I was the primary teacher from the beginning, partly because I had a degree in education and my husband felt like I would be more qualified to teach than he was. But mostly because of the time constraints already on him. He was interested, but not really participating. I wanted the boys to see that Dad was a part of what we were doing so I found ways that included him when he was able.

Here are some ways you can get Dad involved without overloading him with teaching responsibilities.


Show and Tell. Conversation at the dinner table about what was learned is always a great place to start. My boys were excited to talk about what they were learning. Dad was good at asking leading questions to get them talking. And when
Dad traveled, the older ones could send him emails telling him what they were doing. Email was a good tool since my husband traveled a lot for quite a few years. He was able to read and respond when he could focus and the conversations were very rewarding. And today, kids can use things like Skype to make it even more personal.

Involve Dad in well-planned projects.  I was always looking for ways to get the boys some hands-on time with Dad. Since they were all in 4-H it was a great place to get Dad involved in helping with their projects. We also did projects connected to our science and social studies that worked well as a “dad-time” activity. One year we did a unit on architecture and took pictures of different styles and even build some models of homes. Dad helped with this and then we made a big display of all we had learned and invited the grandparents over to take a “tour” of our homes.

Tap into Dad’s favorite activities. My husband is a woodworker. You can be sure that he was always glad to have a young helper in his shop. He spent many hours teaching woodworking skills to our boys. Whether your husband’s interest is in car repair, electronics, motorcycles, cooking, or something else, it is a perfect place to involve your children and create a learning environment with their dad.

Involve Dad in the actual teaching. If your husband really enjoys writing or history, look for ways to include him in those subjects. He could read essays and comment. He could take the kids to a history museum and share his knowledge. He could also take on a particular subject and teach that on a regular basis. Maybe he’s the mathematician and you aren’t. Let math class be Dad’s domain, even if it’s just a couple times a week as he is able. You can fill in when he is unable to teach.IMG_3239

I know there are families where mom and dad can share the teaching responsibilities. The fact is though, that most homeschool families have one parent working and the other home with the responsibility to manage the education for the family. It is primarily, but not always, the mom who is home. But most dads are open and even excited to be involved in the learning process. Sometimes as moms, we try to manage it all alone and Dad feels excluded or even clueless about what goes on every day while he’s at work. Why not find ways to get Dad involved and make it a family adventure? You’ll all be glad you did.


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 – 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.