How Not to Be a Smothering Parent

As a homeschooler, I have always been very aware of the cultural trend toward keeping children overly supervised “for their own good.” Because of this, I found myself becoming concerned about letting my kids outside while others were in school. What would people think? Would my kids be in trouble for having such freedom? But then I would think, “how will they ever be independent if I keep them tied so close to me?” It brought to mind that saying we used to hear about being “tied to your mother’s apron strings.” It was considered a negative observation.

I finally decided that I was going to let them grow up. Let them be individuals. But as I watched people around me, not just homeschoolers, but all parents, I saw something unsettling.

The cord between parent and child is getting shorter instead of longer. It used to be that the parenting model was to gradually give your children more and more responsibility and freedom with their own lives. Now it seems that a parent becomes negligent if they so much as let their child walk around the corner out of sight for a split second.

I’ve read many articles lately that discuss the challenges that parents are facing from the general public as well as the legal system concerning what is seen as responsible parenting and what is not. I am a baby boomer and my generation remembers well the freedom that we had as children.

I remember my summers as times to take off on my bike and ride anywhere I pleased in our small college town. I could ride to the local swimming pool six blocks from home, stay for hours, and then ride home on my own. As long as I was home for dinner and then again before the street lights came on, I was fine. I walked to school with just the neighborhood kids, or sometimes by myself when I was in the first grade. No big deal. I suspect that the very idea of sending a first grader several blocks to school alone horrifies a young parent today.

How did we get here? How did we become so deathly afraid of letting them grow up? I know, everyone immediately jumps to the argument about human trafficking and the dangers that exist for a child in our culture. But why has American culture become so fearful?

I recently read an article titled, From Tokyo to Paris, Parents Tell Americans to Chill, that discussed free-range parenting from an international perspective. It seems we are lagging behind the rest of the world in training our children to be independent. Or perhaps it’s that we used to be better at it and have lost perspective.

If you research the crime statistics over the past fifty years you will find that the number of crimes has steadily decreased. This includes those committed against children. It is actually, statistically safer for kids today than it was when I was growing up in the 60s. So why all the hyped stress?

I think we are more fearful today because we have been trained to fear EVERYTHING. We fear illness, having our identity stolen, mass shootings, being injured in an accident, having our home broken into, and having our children abducted. And the list gets longer every day. We spend more money on safety measures than ever before.

And in the process of being more fearful, we have become smothering parents. Our kids can’t do anything unsupervised. So why are we surprised when 20-somethings are still living at home and expecting their parents to make all their decisions for them?

I think the remedy lies in a few common-sense principles.

First, learn to trust yourself as a parent. You know your kids better than anyone. You can judge when they are ready for an increase in responsibility and freedom. Stop listening to the running commentary about how it’s reckless to allow your kids to learn to think for themselves before they turn eighteen. There will be times when you have to trust your gut. You just know that something is good or bad for your child. It must come from inside you, not from the opinions of others. God gave your child to YOU for a reason. I have said this often to homeschoolers that I’ve coached over the years. You are the person best equipped to parent your child.

Trust your children. They are smart. Probably much smarter than you think. They can figure things out if given time and encouragement. They want to feel successful in their decision making. They want to explore their own interests.

One of the most important things I learned as a homeschooler is to trust my boys to make choices. Sometimes I didn’t agree with them at all. Sometimes they went ahead and did something against my advice. Most times, after a while, they finally came around and realized their mistake. They learned valuable lessons from those times.

Give your children a firm foundation of your values and let them learn from their mistakes. They won’t always get it right. But did you? I’m sure you can instantly think of actions you took when you were young that were less than responsible. Maybe they are even embarrassing to think about now. But you still grew into an adult that can manage your life. They will too.

Finally, trust God with your children. He designed them. He has a plan for them. He placed your children in the right environment to allow that plan to be birthed. He can protect and guide our children much better than we can. But He’s chosen to give us the privilege to participate in the amazing process of raising a child. You can trust yourself and your child all day long but if you don’t entrust that precious one to God, you will always be fretting and worrying about their safety, their choices, and their future.

So try to loosen your hold a little and let your children experience childhood. There are so many opportunities that will encourage them to become independent individuals. But they can’t do it if they are still tied to their mother’s apron strings. Let go and see them fly!

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.

http://homeschoolencouragement.com/6-ways-perfectionism-sinks-homeschool-stay-afloat/

http://www.homeschool-your-boys.com/homeschooling-moms.html

 

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:

http://www.education.com/reference/article/similarities-differences-boys-girls/

http://www.education.com/reference/article/brain-differences-boys-girls/

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov04/vol62/num03/With-Boys-and-Girls-in-Mind.aspx

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.

 

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.

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.

Some of our favorites are:

Cranberry Christmas

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Mr Willowby’s Christmas Tree

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

The Birds’ Christmas Carol

The Worst Person’s Christmas

Merry Christmas, Festus and Mercury

Look-Alikes Christmas

Christmas Tapestry

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

IMG_1324

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.

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 every day, 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.

Relaxed Homeschooling

10 reasons to have a relaxed homeschool

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 into the exciting life of homeschooling. It will change you and your family forever. I promise.