Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kicking off a new school year, and what to do with toddlers while homeschooling!

First, let me say to all of you who have just begun a new school year -- way to go! I remember when we first began homeschooling, you know - back in the LAST century, we kept the kids inside during regular school hours so that folks in the surrounding area wouldn't call the truant officer. The beginning of a new school year meant that we had to move our daily adventures indoors for a good part of the day, so launching a new school year took some creative convincing that this was going to be a great year!

In addition to our topics of interest for our studies, I learned to allow room for IFTs - Ideas from Television - favorite shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and ZoomKids kept providing all kinds of great things to investigate, build, and try out. I'll never forget the time when they were working on an experiment that was demonstrating the ability of a plant to seek sunlight even from far inside of a dark box. The experiment called for a box with corrugated inserts (to create a maze for the plant to grow through to find sunlight) - and the best that I could find was packing boxes from the liquor store! Those boxes had great inserts that created the perfect mazes for the experiment. However, the external printing on the boxes was a bit disconcerting to the pastor when he dropped by one day and saw their boxes stacked up on the sunny end of the front porch! :-) His eyes were big round circles as he turned when I answered the door. As I recall, we were his first exposure to homeschooling, too!

Our three children cover a ten year age span, so I know just what it means to try to keep a VERY active toddler busy while the older kids are studying. I learned to plan our school day around the toddler's nap schedule. When he slept (or was supposed to be sleeping), I worked one on one with the older kids with subject areas that required individual attention with each child. When the toddler was up and roaming, and yes - he was a very VERY busy toddler - I learned how to entertain him while we worked on unit studies. He might be busy with building blocks or rearranging magnetic letters on a cookie sheet, or he might be enjoying a math lesson with an older sibling from books like "M&M Addition" or "M&M Multiplication." Matchbox cars were constantly zipping across the floor during reading time, as he couldn't sit still for long, but he would quietly send the cars flying across the room or around the Hot Wheels track! I learned to remove many of these toy cars and only leave a few out at a time - recycling them so that there were always a few he hadn't seen in a while.

I also made sure that some of our school projects included things for him to do - whether it involved log cabin construction with popsicle craft sticks or creating Plymouth Plantation using modeling clay on the kitchen table. After teaching several ages at once, I learned the importance of keeping a toddler involved with the big kids - better learning opportunities for everyone. And memories more precious than gold, with plenty of pictures to keep us laughing for years to come.

This is a great time to be homeschooling - there are so many opportunities to share and learn, and people are much more encouraged about homeschooling families. When I am on the road speaking at conventions, I am often asked about what I would differently if I could do it all over again - and here's my list:

1.                  Have less textbook stress, more individualized focus.

2.                  Focus on the child, not the information lists

3.                  Expand the family's horizons – as individuals and as a family

4.                  Listen more, talk less – avoiding the "transmit only" mode

5.                  Encourage more often, instead of being judgmental or comparative

I wish I had known to relax and enjoy the time together as a family more. In the beginning, we were so nervous about covering everything, using all of the workbook pages, filling up the plan book ahead of time and sticking with it rigidly. So much stress, so little long-time learning, and so little enjoyment of the educational process.

The more we homeschool, the broader our interests become. No longer pursuing narrow, society-defined topics alone, we enjoy the freedom to investigate topics like horticulture, sports fitness, glass painting, business and economic concepts for kids, personalized pursuits of art, music, and so much more.

You will never be able to completely fill their minds with absolutely every bit of available information – but you CAN teach them or learn WITH them about how to FIND all kinds of information that they might need to know – research skills are vital for this next generation.The overabundance of information on the internet is so overwhelming, and at the same time – provides priceless access to things that we could never have found through a local library. Give them the gift of thinking skills and research ability.

Remember, homeschooling is not just about learning academic materials. It is about opening the envelop of each child's imagination with wonder and awe – feeding their desire to learn more, to investigate, to discover and pursue their unique God-given gifts and talents. I think that Leonardo da Vinci had a good point when he said:

"Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in."

What do I know now that I wish we had known when we first started homeschooling?

1.  The things that count can't be counted.    
2.  Time goes by too quickly to worry about or obsess over small things, like whether or not my child can read by the time they are five years old, etc.    
3.  Keep the big picture in the forefront – getting from point A (beginning homeschooling) to point B (finish homeschooling) – remember that perspective is key to success. While we might miss algebra for this week due to family illness, we will still focus on the desired outcome – a well-rounded and enthusiastic learner by the time high school is complete.

I hope you are encouraged - and know that I believe in YOU!

Amanda B.

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