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What?! Your Kids Don’t WANT to Homeschool?

I was contacted this week by a beloved family member who, along with his really fantastic wife, has decided to pull his littles from public school this year and give this homeschooling thing a try. I am so thrilled and excited for him and his family and, as ever, pleased to have another family join our ranks.  Unfortunately, my congratulations were not what he was looking for.  He was seeking advice.

Because his kids are being… uncooperative.  And they won’t really tell him why.

Image from theharriedmom.com

Image from theharriedmom.com

I started homeschooling the Littles in their 1st and 3rd grade years of school, so they were close to the age of my family member’s kids.  What did I do to ensure my kids cooperated?  And what should you do if you find yourself at home with littles who aren’t so willing to be homeschooled?

The first thing we did with our littles was establish a clear line between when I was Mama and when I was Teacher.  Granted, we did this by having summer science for 7 weeks before we notified the school of their withdrawal (and so the tradition began).  We told them it was a trial run and if they could learn from me we would continue to homeschool.  But my Littles Wanted to be homeschooled.  So they cooperated. If you have already withdrawn your kiddos from public school and are facing this dilemma, I would try a couple of things.

Establish yourself

First, ask your littles what they like about school.  It can be public school, homeschool, imaginary school, college… Just find out what turns them on to learning. Try to get them to talk about what might be cool about homeschooling.  What do they think would Not Be cool about homeschooling?  Address their concerns.   This can be a conversation as short or long as you want it to be, but use it as a time to let your littles know that when the homeschooling parent says, “It’s time for school,” he or she is no longer Mama or Dada, but a teacher who expects the same respect as their public school teachers.  And don’t just talk, act.  As parents, decide what the consequences will be if your littles don’t show you that respect.  I have to be honest here, when we first started, I utilized the same colored-stick pulling rule as their school did.  Just the threat of being in trouble if they pulled 3 sticks was enough to keep them cooperative and well-behaved.

Also, start out slow.  You have a little time.  So spend a week only schooling for an hour a day, where you are mostly watching for signs of cooperation from your littles.  Let them test you.  Follow through on your consequences.  They will start to see this homeschooling thing is as serious as public school was.  Teach for an hour and a half or 2 hours the next week.  Same deal.  Most homeschool families only school for 3-5 hours a day, so it won’t take you long to build up to speed.

Make a plan

Another good way to garner cooperation is to set a firm schedule for a while and stick to it.  Five years in, the Littles are still up at 7:30 for farm chores and breakfast and in the classroom by 8.  We don’t really waver from that unless someone is really sick.  We have loosened up over the years as to what happens after 8, but that schedule helped them establish that ‘school’ still took place at a certain time.  For the time being, set a time that school is over.  If you are going to allow snack time, do that at a specific time, too.  Kids like structure, and part of their uncooperative-ness may stem from the sudden lack of it.  It’s hard to take it seriously when your mom is in her jammies and you might start school at 9 or 11 or 2, depending on everyone’s whim.

Make a ‘classroom.’ Even if it’s just your dining table or living room floor, designate an area that is for school.  And have school there every day for the amount of time you have set.

Trust me, you can ease up on all of this once you get them in a groove and get them appreciating how much More Awesome homeschool is than public school.

How do you get them to appreciate it?  Make school Fun.

Remember, we are Educating our children, not schooling them in the traditional sense.  We don’t have to teach them like a public school teacher does.  In fact, in some states (including my own), there Aren’t Any Tests homeschoolers have to take.  So we don’t have to teach rote memorization or testing skills the way they do in public school.  We can teach in unconventional ways.

IMG_20150904_100518097

Make learning fun

Most public school teachers don’t have time for reading aloud with their classes, especially by 3rd or 4th grade.  So make part of your school day the sharing of a story.  And make it a story that will engage the littles You Have, not one that someone says all littles should read (even if that someone is me!).  If you lead with this, they will already be accustomed to listening to you and focusing on you before you move on to history or math.

Do tons of projects.  Reading from a book or doing worksheets or notebooking are good ways to help your littles retain information, but building a volcano is a whole lot more fun that writing about one.  Research has its place but–especially while they’re young–they will likely learn more if they are also getting their hands dirty.

Make a craft.  Every day.  Of course it helps with motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but it also gives your littles something tactile to hold onto and remind them of whatever lesson the craft is related to.  And it’s fun.  Way funner than filling out boring old worksheets.

Do experiments.  There are tons of free science experiment printables on the interweb and so many resources for different experiments your head will spin.  So ask your kids what kind of science interests them and Google experiments.  You could do 3 a day for their entire schooling and still never complete all the experiments you’ll find.

Cook together.  We often find recipes related to what we’re reading, studying in geography or history, or learning about in science and spend time in the kitchen learning math and life skills making them.  Then enjoying them.  It usually means trying something new for all of us, so it helps us remember to be open-minded, too.

Take nature walks every day.  Schedule them into the middle of your school time so your littles get that they are getting ‘out of class’ to learn.  Give them a sketchbook and a couple of colored pencils and ask them to record or draw at least 3 things they see on the walk.  It won’t even seem like learning to them.  When you get back to class, get out your books or magazines or tablets and look up their sightings in greater detail.  Have them record the information under their drawings.  You just had a whole class.

Take field trips.  Often.  Once you’ve established with your littles that this is a serious school, you can step away from the dining table and out into the world.  Go to the zoo, the museum, the park, the local historical site, the house of another homeschooling family.  There is only one Civil War site in our state and we were lucky during our American History year that it is only about 25 minutes away.  Take a field trip every week.  That will convince your littles homeschool is better.

What shouldn’t you do?

I think the worst thing you can do with uncooperative homeschool kids is stand over them with a set of textbooks and worksheets and fight them over what they will complete.  It’s a good way to make them hate school and resent you.  Ease them into it by implementing the above ideas, and keep using those ideas to keep school fresh and interesting for the littles.  Middle is in 7th grade.  We still do a craft and a project every day.  Because why not?  He still enjoys them.  Who told public school officials that 13 year olds only learn with strict reading and writing courses?  He or she was wrong from what my experience has shown me.

Don’t get in a rut.  Remember that schedule I mentioned?  Remember that I also said you can loosen up on it eventually?  That.  When math worksheets or books are getting boring, make games.  When attention is wandering, get active.  There is a terrific free resource over at iHomeschool Network to help you get out of that rut or keep from establishing one.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to play with our kids while they learn.  We get to observe each of our children–see what excites them, what makes them tick, how their brains intake information–and we get to put all that together for a learning experience that is fun for all of us.  We aren’t sitting in desks in rows surrounded by 30 other kids who need to keep up or wait on us.  So be playful.  Be joyful.  Hopefully, they will follow suit.

For more advice on scheduling, look here.  If you need help dealing with your fears, check this out. For a bit more information on nature walks, this might interest you.  Here are some reasons to give your littles for why you homeschool.

Love wins,

KT

 

5 Ways to Make Reading Even More Fun in Your Homeschool

I know, sounds impossible, right?  Reading is already So Much Fun, how could we make it funner?!  Well, not everyone agrees with that.  In fact, my beautiful husband would disagree entirely.  So might some of your littles.  So how do we engage them, make them want to follow through on those 24, 240, or 863 pages of Awesome Fiction?  Well, I have some ideas.

Middle pirate1.  Dress up as characters from the book you’re reading.  This one might seem a little hard if you’re reading Watership Down, but c’mon, Mama, a couple of rabbit ears and a cotton ball tail are plenty to make your little feel like a rabbit.  Likewise, if you’re reading Little House a dress and bonnet or a pair of boots and suspenders will suffice.  Get creative.  Look it up on Pinterest.  Google it.  Your littles will truly find themselves more engaged if a little play-acting is involved.  This lends itself to number

littlest Rabbit2.  Choose a character and read his or her spoken lines.  Say you’re reading Peter Pan and you have 3 littles.  You assign your oldest little the role of Peter, the middle little the role of Wendy, and the youngest the role of Captain Hook.  Then whenever one of those characters speaks, that little reads the line.  Kind of like a play, but with prose.  Dare your littles to make their voices like they imagine the character’s voice would be.  You have no idea how much More Fun littles can find this than just reading aloud in the normal fashion.  In fact, my littles would tell you it is the Best Way to read a book together.

3. Include a craft.  And no, I don’t mean just doing a craft at the end of the chapter.  Make the craft While You Read the chapter.  You’re reading A Year Down Yonder and Grandma Dowdel is stealing pumpkins from the Pensingers?  Mama can read while the littles make paper Jack-o-lanterns.  Or let the littles take their regular turns reading as they craft.  It might take a little longer to finish the chapter.  Who cares?  This is fun.  Following that line of thought,

reading & crafting

4. Make a recipe related to the book.  Using the same chapter as an example, scoop out the innards of a pumpkin and roast the seeds.  Mm hmm, you even get a reward at the end of this chapter, so that kind of rocks.  The littles and I read while we’re cooking all the time.  I tell you, it can be done, and it is certainly fun, and (well, I’m going to stop rhyming now), it truly does help them stay engaged.

5. Encourage discussions. Middle pointed out to me that his favorite thing about our read-aloud time is when we come across a political or social issue in our book.  Because we don’t just keep reading, we stop and talk about the issue.  Sometimes for a minute or two, sometimes for half an hour with props.  We get pretty into our politics and philosophy in this house.  It took us a really long time to read Johnny Tremain, as you can imagine, but Watership Down was almost as bad.  The point is, if an interesting issue comes up, don’t ignore it.    Your littles will appreciate a fuller explanation and the chance to offer their opinions.

Do one, some, or all of these things to get your littles engaged in reading.  When I create a novel study for our read-alouds, I offer these ideas and more.  Some of them don’t translate well to accompanying the reading, so we do them after we finish the chapter.  And we Always enjoy reading together.  You and your littles will, too.  So have fun.

Love wins,

KT

Breaking… Bad

Have I ever told you about the time my glasses broke?  No?  You’re going to laugh at me.

That’s ok.  Go ahead.

Notice how the arms are two different colors

Notice how the arms are two different colors

See, I haven’t worn glasses for very long.  Well, I take that back.  I’ve always had astigmatism and needed glasses for it, but it never affected my ability to read so I Didn’t Wear my glasses.  But about 3 years ago I received a magazine in the daily mail.  I cuddled up on the couch to read it cover to cover.  I opened the magazine to the first article.  I couldn’t see the words.  I moved the magazine closer to my face.  It got worse.  I held it at arm’s length.  That was a little better, but have you ever seen how small the font is in a magazine article?  Yeah, I noticed it that day.

So back to the eye doctor I went.  Turns out I had become far-sighted.  Like, bad.  I had been compensating for I don’t know how long by holding books at arm-length, making the font bigger on my Kindle… If it hadn’t been for that magazine that wouldn’t come into focus no matter what I did, I might never have realized something was wrong with my eyes.  But I did, and I got the glasses.  They were a miracle.  Of course, I can’t walk 10 steps in them but I Can Read Again.  So since I only needed them for reading, I bought a cute little chain and wore them around my neck like any good librarian would.  And I cuddled up on the couch to read again.  And I didn’t have to guess what the words were again.  And I Loved My Glasses.

Until they broke.

I learned something about myself that day.  You’re about to be let it on it.

I was sitting in a chair in the living room.  My beautiful husband was in the chair next to me.  My littles were playing loudly in another part of the house.  I was working on the computer, planning school work.  I looked up, and removed my glasses from my face, intending to let them dangle on their cute little chain.  Dangle they did.  From one arm.  Because the other had broken.  Off.  It was on one side, the rest of my glasses on the other.  Dangling.

When the main part of my glasses hit my chest, I looked down and gaped like a fish.  I swear, I wouldn’t have been more shocked if one of my fingers had spontaneously fallen off.  I just stared for several seconds with a completely shut down brain.  My internal feed went something like this:

That doesn’t look right.  (I think my glasses just broke.)

Um, what do I do now?  (I think my glasses just broke.)

What the hell just happened? (I think my glasses just broke.)

I can’t see.  I can’t see without those.  (I think my glasses just broke.)

Oh. my. god.

My glasses just broke and without them

I CAN’T READ.

At some point during this inner diatribe I had jumped to my feet, a piece of my glasses in each hand.  I faced my beautiful husband.  I must have looked like a mad banshee.  My mouth moved but no sound came out.  I held out the broken pieces and…

Burst into wild, wracking sobs.  I am not kidding.  I am not exaggerating.  I bawled.  Martin did not know what to do with me.  “What is it?” he asked.

“I can’t read without them,” I wailed.  I honestly had to run to our bedroom, close the door, and have a few minutes to myself to get under control.  And as I took those deep breaths and pinched the bridge of my nose to stop the tears, I had to also face the truth I had just told myself.  It wasn’t about broken glasses.  It was about the importance of books.

I wondered if it wasn’t a little bit psycho, this reaction to losing my ability to read.  I can drive down the street without my glasses.  I can read facial expressions and body language without them.  I can fish a pond, watch a sunset, enjoy a picnic, all without my glasses.  I just can’t read without them.  And when they broke, you might as well have locked me in a dark room for the rest of my life for all the good my eyes would do me.

Franken-glasses

Franken-glasses

It’s kind of a deep thing to learn about yourself.  A life-flashing-before-your-glasses kind of a thing.  Because before that crazy moment in time I knew reading was important to me but I had no idea it was That Important.  Life or Death Important.  Crazy Obsessed Important.

But I’m not ashamed. haha  In fact, I hope I am encouraging others (especially my littles) to be as insane about reading as I am.  And I’m grateful to my beautiful husband for taking apart another pair of glasses and temporarily fixing mine until I could replace them.  Because apparently the idea of not being able to read, even for an evening, is too much for me.  I hope it’s too much for you.  I hope reading is that important to everybody.

Otherwise, I’m not sure what it says about me.

Love wins,

KT

Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,

KT