Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

No shortcuts to good education

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Caitrin High School Graduation 2014Caitrin’s High School Graduation, 2014

Whether you are homeschooling, unschooling, or even supervising a traditional brick and mortar education, you are critical to your children’s success.

There are no shortcuts.

There shouldn’t be.

Study after study proves that involved adults (particularly parents) produce smarter, better educated kids. The goal isn’t independence from you. The goal isn’t for kids to be so self-taught, you become unnecessary.

The goal is singular and true for every educational model:

Prepare children to be capable adults.

Adult-life is an interdependent system of self-reliance and bartering/purchasing services you need. Adults read, learn, attempt, do it themselves, take classes, and then either ask friends for help or hire others to work for them. I don’t provide my own medical care—a doctor does it for me. I pay. I do make my own meals and shop for my own food. I know adults who hire chefs or eat pre-packaged foods. Both work. No one is self sufficient in every area.

This notion that kids have to be “independent” is an illusion.

Adulthood is about becoming responsible for yourself—knowing your strengths, respecting your limits, evaluating options, making quality choices.

Parents/adults model the activities of responsible adulthood (or irresponsible adulthood) every day they are with children. The invested, active parents seamlessly participate in their children’s educations. They aren’t “pushing for independence” as much as they are supporting their children in discovering what it is they need, and then in finding (and sometimes paying for) resources that meet their kids’ needs.

A concrete example helps.

Public school students may give the appearance of independence; they go to school, do homework, study for and take tests away from their parents. But they are not independent of adult interaction around the subjects they study.

A literature class will include 25-30 other students reading the same book with a teacher guiding the discussion, providing context, using literary vocabulary, and issuing instructions for activities that help the students understand the book on multiple layers. The classroom context is designed to facilitate a student’s investigation of the topic so that he or she develops a literary vocabulary.

A homeschooled high school student does not have that opportunity (to sit with an instructor who has prepared a lesson, to listen to the commentary of peers). The homeschooled high school student has parents. The discussion necessary to grow the mental agility to analyze literature must come from somewhere—must be provided. Short of online classes or co-ops, there is one person who can provide that richer context for learning—the parent.

Unschoolers do this naturally (the good ones). The conversations, interactions, and shared learning opportunities may not be on a calendar, but they are happening. Isolation is not good for education. Even if a student shows the ability to read thoroughly and deeply, a child will not glean the subtle layers or the vocabulary of analysis alone with the book. The child cannot see his or her own limited thinking without a dialog partner. These are modeled to the student through reading additional materials, online discussion with others who’ve read, and especially with parents (if possible).

If you can’t provide your teen (or any child) with that level of support—being available to help that student make the cognitive connections necessary for development—it’s your job to ensure that someone is.

Students can learn a lot online in conversation with other adults and teens (discussion boards, blogs, gaming, MOOCs, Kahn Academy, our Boomerang Book Club, etc.). If you aren’t available, turn teens loose to find dialog partners.

Consider rethinking the idea that independence is the highest good for teens. Quality interaction with invested participating adults is the best curricula for high school. The aim? To help teens become well informed, rhetorical thinkers who take increasing responsibility for their own lives.

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It’s okay to take it easy

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Two of a kindImage by aussiegall (quote added cc)

You know that day where everything is going along swimmingly?

This one:

  • The older kids are quietly finishing pages of math and handwriting.
  • The toddler is happily covered in dress up clothes.
  • The baby is napping.
  • The pre-reader is sounding out the words easily, conquering Frog and Toad.
  • The right library books for the unit study arrived!
  • The most exciting chapter in the read aloud is next.
  • Bodies are healthy and fed. Showers and baths may have been taken in the last week.
  • All the machines and various household systems work: cars, AC, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, refrigerator and ice maker, all four computers, the DVR, the TV, your lawn mower, plumbing, and gaming consoles.
  • No one’s fighting. No one’s complaining. Maybe dinner is already planned.
  • You and your Significant Other are getting along—good conversation, good sex.

Sit in this vision for a moment. The vision of well being—of the stars, planets, and Cheerios aligned.

Can you see it? Feel it?

When it comes, when your life hits that magical moment—what do you do?

Here’s what some of us do:

We toss a home made hand grenade into the center of the living room. We reject our ordinary happiness.


Because some of us are under the impression that things of value only happen when we’re working hard.

So, when everyone is happily completing pages, reading, and skip counting, when the home is humming and our relationship is peaceful, some of us experience an involuntary panic.

This material is too easy. She must not be learning.

He whipped through that passage too quickly. He must not be challenged.

This book is fun, so it must not be that educational.

I better take in the car.

I’m going to ask ________ about why (he or she) doesn’t _________ more often.

We move into “anticipate the next crisis” mode. To avoid the surprise attack of the next crisis, we create one—one we can control!

Instead of staying home enjoying this (surely temporary) peace, we take the show on the road—adding the challenge of managing lots of kids out in the world.

Some of us buy brand new curricula so that everyone is suddenly thrust into the learning curve of “new” rather than enjoying comfy and familiar. We can’t appreciate the joy of mastery—we only esteem struggle to learn the next step/process.

Some of us look around at our friends (in person or online heroes) and decide that what they are doing is better, and judge our happy peace as undisciplined or, conversely, not free enough.

We refuse to allow the feeling of happiness to “settle in,” because it might mean we are not being conscientious enough about educating our young.

What if we were to while away the hours without diligence and pain and struggle and effort? Would that mean we were irresponsible parents/partners/home educators?

Time for a sip of coffee.

That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working.

That happy completion of pages, the successful reading, the repetition of skills learned and now mastered? That’s the sound of education taking root.

No one wants to struggle with a new challenge every day. Some of the joy of learning is getting to use the skills cultivated. It feels great to copy a passage without any struggle whatsoever. It’s awesome to rip through a set of math problems, knowing you’ve got it! You get it! You can bury that page with accurate answers and even show your work.

Kids who find their daily groove and rhythm—knowing what is expected and then being able to live up to that expectation—are happy kids.

Don’t wreck it! Enjoy it!

This is the life you are shooting for! Problems will find you again, without you even trying. So for now, celebrate the modest joy of ordinary happiness and success.

Let yourself off the hook. It’s wonderful if everyone likes the curricula, finds it a bit “too easy,” and successfully moves through their work with skill. Even professional athletes repeat the same drills at age 30 that they learned in Little League—mastery relies on practice and practice is all about repetition of skills, not struggling to learn new ones all the time.

You are doing something profoundly right when you feel that whoosh of peace in your home. Pause to notice. Inhale. Then…

Exhale and smile.

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Never enough, never enough

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Panning for GoldImage by Amber Strocel (cc)

I had this odd little homeschool habit. See if you can relate.

If my kids and I found something wonderful to do in a day, and if that wonderful activity wasn’t already on the calendar for a week or more prior to doing it, and if that something wonderful dawned on me out of the blue—a fresh, bright idea—and we acted on it that day (not scheduling it for a future date so that I could put it on the calendar first), I felt guilty counting that experience toward “school.”

In other words—spontaneous education felt fake (like I was getting away with something, like I was not a serious educator).

I imagined that most homeschoolers had schedules and plans and knew what was coming each week. Certainly school teachers must never lecture on the fly or succumb to inspiration of the moment rather than inspiration that led to a “plan” for some time later.

The cycle looked like this. We had our routine—the practices we usually did each day. Then I’d get internally, unconsciously fed up with the daily predictability. We’d be studying some cool topic like gems or fingerprints or Vietnam. Bam!

Let’s go to Little Saigon!

And off we’d go. Dropping everything. We’d have a fabulous, learning immersed day.

That I didn’t count.

Because it wasn’t planned.

Because I hadn’t thought about the learning values in advance; because good teachers don’t string together a bunch of inspiring moments and call that learning; because the event/activity/outing wasn’t a part of an integrated unit of study—it felt hap-hazard and too dependent on my flights of fancy.

My educational drive came from behind. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with a unit study about the the gold rush until we were knee deep in Levis and fool’s gold. I felt my way. The ideas would come as we read. How could we read about panning for gold and not pan for gold? So we abandoned all our other school work and planned a “panning for gold” party. The kids even tried to build a sluice (failed, but the effort was awesome!). The fake gold collected was traded for sarsaparilla and licorice. That party project sidelined math, science, read aloud time, and copywork for a month.

It was big and disruptive and unplanned. Not in a single one of my books. Just a moment of following this nagging thought: How can we read about the Gold Rush and not try it?

Similarly, I didn’t know what to do about the solar system and my kids—books didn’t quite get it. Small pictures about unimaginable sizes. Once we were reading, though, the scale of the numbers related to planets blew my mind (space is huge!)—I wanted to blow my kids’ minds. I called my next door homeschooling neighbor to help me. We went outside into our cul-de-sac, and attempted to replicate to scale, the space between the planets and the sun. Discovering we’d have to send the youngest child more than a mile away to approximate Pluto’s relationship to the rest of us ended that project—and made its primary point.

And eliminated math pages, phonics, and handwriting time. And nap time. And laundry.

That night, still on a solar system high, my kids and I drummed up the idea to host an impromptu planetary tea party (at night! with the stars!). Our neighbors joined us, and the oldest girl surprised us, dressing up like Jupiter! (Red blotch over her eye.)

But was this learning? I worried about it. I hadn’t made a lesson plan in advance. Were parties and field trips and impromptu experiments enough?

Back to the workbooks and planned curricula we’d go.

However, no matter how many days we logged in the workbooks and planned activities, I couldn’t tell if the kids were making the kind of progress they should be making. I had no measuring device to reassure me. Eventually we’d get bored or restless or the flu would visit and all semblance of the routine would go out the window.

After a holiday, I’d regroup and start again.

What I couldn’t know then that I do know now is that it is MORE than enough and life looks like this stitched together variety of practices, habits, and flights of inspiration. Taken together, you work your way around the circle of learning (planned activities, lessons, incremental worksheets for skills, field trips, parties, spontaneous crafts and experiments, wasted days, child-led days, parent-led days). All of it comes together.

It’s both enough, and never enough.

Learning doesn’t have an end point—you know that because you are still learning almost as much as your kids are while you educate them. Don’t you sometimes wonder how they let you out of college when you can’t remember a stitch of information about Manifest Destiny or the Pacific theater in World War 2 (and you were a history major!)?

Because of your natural home educator neuroses, you will cycle through these various educational styles over and over again, attempting to “hit” the target that keeps moving backward from you.

That’s how it is supposed to be and is. Even the least “schooly” among us are still standing by, alert, seizing those moments when they can support and honor the natural curiosity of their children.

When you feel the anxiety of “never enough” creep up, remind yourself that every day—no matter what you do—your intention is the good of your children and their educational advance. Research and buy curricula, plan amazing experiences, follow your flights of fancy, be inspired by your children’s curiosity and ambition to try things, provide resources, set up a routine…

…and trust the process.

In the end, it’s all learning and it all counts and it’s enough. Your kids will take what you give them and expand it beyond what you ever imagined. They will know how to do that because you will have modeled so many different ways to learn right in front of them for their whole lives. They’ll be comfortable with structure, freedom, exploration, testing, routine, inspiration, abstraction, practical application, curiosity, expertise, practice, performance, and achievement.

The subject areas are merely opportunities to show your kids what it is to learn through a variety of means so that they can continue that journey on their own after they leave home.

So hats off to you! On the calendar or not, it all counts. It’s enough.

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Managing multiples

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Daddy and His Little Shadow GirlsImage by Pink Sherbet Photography (Sepia tone applied cc )

Grade levels are designed for schools, not home. Children similarly aged (not necessarily similarly skilled) are put into bunches and taught by one teacher, using materials designed for that group.

Home educators typically start their journeys with grade level products. They buy the entire slate of materials for Kindergarten or First Grade. As the oldest gets older, younger kids slide into the K or 1st position. By the time the oldest is in 5th grade, there may be three or four kids who are school aged, all with individual sets of products not necessarily coordinated in any meaningful way for you, the teacher of multiples!

The question becomes: “How do I teach all these levels simultaneously?”

It’s a great question! After all, this is not a one room school house—where children are sent to be away from the home to a teacher in a separate building, while a parent at home makes meals, shops, and earns an income.

Rather, homeschooling families live in houses, condos, and apartments. They have more going on than an education. They’ve got pregnancies to contend with, toddlers and babies, all the necessities of life from food to laundry to dental appointments, and the pressure to figure out how to educate on the fly (very few home educators have any kind of training whatsoever!).

The secret to success is abandoning grade level.

Focus on subject area, not grade level.

You want all your kids learning about the same stuff together. They will automatically perform at “grade level” or according to their skill set. You can talk about Native American tribes with kids from pre-K to 10th grade. All kinds of materials and books can be gathered and used, together. DVDs, historical fiction, personal accounts from living Native Americans, studying maps, visiting burial grounds or Native American landmarks, making foods, weaving facsimiles of rugs or building replicas of their teepees and dwellings—what of this can’t be done on some level by everyone?

The goal is to create a shared family learning adventure. History and science (even literature) can, to a large extent, be studied collectively as you supply skill appropriate challenges within that context. At least everyone will be on the same page in terms of vocabulary, story, and focus. When you learn this way, students contribute to each other’s educations naturally, in conversation, through sharing their work together.

The 3 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) may seem like they are more grade-level bound, but that doesn’t meant you have to stretch yourself thin like a taffy-pull to get them in each day for four or more kids.

Set a time aside for when everyone does copywork. Light candles (one mom literally gives a tealight to each child-they write their name on the candle holder) and tell everyone—this is the time for copywork. You might be amazed that the youngest kids sustain a longer attention span when they are writing at the same time as the older ones. Once a week, kids can pick copywork for each other (knock knock jokes, or riddles, or favorite passages, or quotes from a favorite TV show). A sharing of the burden is possible—perhaps the older kids help the younger ones find passages that they would enjoy. Perhaps the younger ones can offer to decorate the writing of the older kids with stickers or artwork.

When you work on writing, suggest a project and have everyone contribute to it (a family letter, a collective report—each person contributing one page). Conversely, each child can work on producing writing for a family topic (subject area). They will select the kind of writing that matches their skill set, but all will focus on writing about artwork or nature or a response to a Shakespeare play.

Math can be done one at a time, if you need to teach specific concepts. But even then—it’s possible to discuss a math concept with the younger ones that the olders already know how to do. The older kids can demonstrate it in action or they might be partners during frisbee-toss skip counting. They can be asked to work with the younger child in secret and then come back to show off to you, the parent.

Reading time ought to be all together, when possible (memories get made here!). Start with the read aloud novel (whole family), followed by silent reading for older kids and reading library picture books for younger ones.

The idea is to do things together—as much as is possible. When a child needs your undivided attention, pick a time that doesn’t compete with someone else’s similar need. Put your child on the calendar with a date and time—be present. The tendency is to attempt to teach important concepts in the midst of bedlam, and then to wonder why the child isn’t making progress.

If you keep the family together for most of the day, you also build momentum. You won’t be juggling kids who are restlessly waiting for you to help them. There will be productivity happening throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Dinner time will involve talking about the immersion in WW2, rather than each child having a different area of history to discuss and no one to discuss it with!

Home education is about a culture of family learning. Drop your memories of grade level. Focus on shared subject area learning, and group projects when you can.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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The goal of education

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Your job—provide an education.

Your kid’s job—decide what to do with it.

Next year, five years from now, when he turns 18—these are not important today. Today is important.

Today’s task is to be present to today, with your kids. You can’t know how it will all turn out. You can’t decide now, for instance, that you are training your child to be an engineer simply because she’s great at Legos and math. Just because you think your child has a shot at a scholarship via viola doesn’t mean the child ought to play viola.

When we script the future of our children, we miss valuable learning opportunities today. We might focus on ensuring a set of criteria (check boxes of subjects studied) rather than seizing a moment now, right in front of us.

For instance, one mother shared at the Brave Writer retreat about a kestrel nesting box her son and husband built together. The son became so immersed in this project, he learned how to hook up video cameras for live streaming to the Internet and now a birding organization is coming to “band” the family of kestrels that live in it!

Kestrel nest building, live Internet streaming, and banding take real time away from Latin roots or grammar books or the study of ancient Greek political thought. Not only that, just because this son became a mini expert in one aspect of birding doesn’t mean he is destined for ornithology as his career choice.

The experience of caring about kestrels is quite independent of scope and sequence, college entrance requirements, and grades.

Yet it is inextricably bound up in all the elements of learning—reading, study, planning, construction, caring, pondering, mulling things over, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, anticipation, predicting, sharing results, interacting with real organizations that care about the same material (in this case, birds), and the eventual satisfaction of “mastery” or accomplishment. That meta-experience (meta—meaning, the experience as template over the actual activity) of learning is what IS the education. This child is teaching himself how to learn, he’s teaching himself about the power of invested, sustained, self-directed attention in the direction of his interests and innate powers.

What couldn’t this boy do next?

And who’s to say what that will be?

There’s no need to telescope and think that the content is what mattered here. In fact, the opposite is true. What happened in this activity is that the child moved one step closer to knowing that when he wants something, he has all the powers within to make it happen.

THAT’S the goal of education. It is not the result of most traditional educations. It IS the result of many home educations, when we pause to acknowledge and value what is happening in front of our eyes.

That said: my kids never built a single thing we could photograph and frame. It’s difficult sometimes to see what’s being built.

Maybe your kids are “building” a social network online. Maybe they are “building” a mastery of their favorite book series having read it 13 times.

Maybe they are “building” muscles and skills for soccer.

Maybe they are playing chess or Wii bowling or Settlers of Catan and within each of those games, they are discovering the power of game strategy, calculated risk, the importance of details, the ability to imagine someone else’s perspectives through the possible moves they will make…

Perhaps they use one area of interest as a means to an end in another one (our favorite example: a cookie business to pay for space camp—Jacob did this at ages 11-12). He is not involved in either baking businesses nor space now.

What did he learn? That when he wants something, the power lies within him to find the means to make it happen—as he’s demonstrated through the steady stream of scholarships and opportunities he’s created for himself in his career aim to work in international human rights.

The interest of today is tied to tomorrow’s next step by virtue of the fact that that learning is stored inside a human being. That human being compiles experiences and learning opportunities into the cluster of skills necessary to flourish in the world.

The best way to prepare your child for tomorrow is to care completely about today’s happiness and interests. You do that by smiling, asking good questions, asking for permission to participate, and narrating back to the child the skills you see emerging from the investment being made. For instance, “Your dedication to beating that video game level is impressive. You’ve been steadily focused, willing to try again after repeated defeat, and you kept your cool. Wow.”

Learning is not about getting your child to a preferred future.

Learning is about your child becoming a person who can choose a future for him or herself.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Pavel Semenov |

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It’s the process baby!

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 1Johannah and Noah attending a Vintage Dance

Repeat after me: process, not product.

“Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” –Charlotte Mason

Let’s notice what Charlotte did not say.

She did not say:

“Education is meeting the requirements of the Common Core.”

She did not say:

“Education is the successful achievement of degrees—first high school, then college, then graduate school if you have a TRUE education.”

She also did not say:

“Education is mastering Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.”

Moreover, she did not say:

“Education is what someone does to you by teaching Important Information through tests and grades.”

Instead, Charlotte tells us to take our eyes off “end points” and to focus on creating a rich life through shaping the atmosphere (environment), through discipline (intentionality—being conscious of learning opportunities, creating them, acting on them), through life itself (the process of being alive is our best classroom).

You are on the right track when you get off track and focus instead on the feel of your home and family vibe. Ensure that people feel heard, loved, and that their dreams and hopes matter (can be achieved).

You’re on the right track when you ebb and flow—some weeks making a “course of study” a priority in a systematic way, other weeks learning as you go guided by curiosity and enthusiasm.

You’re on the right track when you see all of life as your classroom—that the conversation about recycling plastic bags over bagels at breakfast is as important as the math pages completed before lunch.

No one “arrives” at an end point: Time stamp—EDUCATED.

Rather, we have intermittent markers that let us pause to appreciate this new place (graduated, finished a book, learned to read, understood a principle and can use it). The purpose of education, though, is to LIVE a LIFE—not to idolize the mastery of facts, figures, and theories.

That’s why I return to this mantra: It’s the process, baby. If you can let go of your need to match the state’s expectations, or your schoolish memories, or the pressure of your very academic classical homeschool community, or the stringent requirements of some important university, you can surf the waves of learning as they roll onto your shores.

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 3For example:

You’ll feel freer to put Vintage Dance Lessons (and distributing flyers every Monday for three hours in the snow with kids along for the ride to pay for them) ahead of history for that one six months period. The learning is in all of it—the lessons, being with adults, the history of dance, the bartering work to pay for the lessons, the music, being in the cultural center of our local community, borrowing the fancy gown for the ball, participating in the ball, watching Jane Austen films over and over again to see which dances they are performing and which ones are being learned at class, manners, exercise, being paired with a sibling and learning to work together and love each other through it…

Atmosphere: dance lessons, with adults, people who are passionate about preserving historical dance.

Discipline: weekly lessons, must memorize steps and practice, weekly distribution of flyers to pay for lessons.

Life: siblings dancing together, community supplying costumes for ball, family attending the ball to see how the two students mastered the dances, attending rehearsals with all five kids, distributing flyers with all five kids to pay for two kids, watching and learning by being in the room with the dancers, being a family that loved Vintage Dance.


Did dance go on a single transcript anywhere? No. Yet Vintage Dance still ranks as one of our top educational experiences during the homeschooling years. AND no one still dances! The kids moved on…because it’s the process, baby. Onto the next atmosphere, discipline, and life.

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Today’s little unspoken homeschool secret

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 secret: After X years, we all homeschool a little worse than we used to.

The number varies. For some, 4-5 years is the threshold. For others, it takes getting the first one through high school and then the doldrums follow.

The older kids get the benefit of your eager energy and boundless curiosity.

You hope the younger kids get the benefit of your experience, but sometimes they get the tedium of your boredom.

Where you once drew maps of the Native American hunting grounds to help your older children learn about early American history, your younger kids are left to read a book by themselves.

Where seeing the oldest child read was akin to the first time she held her head up by herself, by the last child of six, you worry that it will never happen. You are weary of sounding out. It feels so slow.

You’re not alone. All educators go through dry spells. The creative well runs dry after years of drawing from it. You can’t get to “new” or “imaginative” through repeating what you’ve always done.

It matters that you reset the dial and that comes through a few deliberate choices:

Take real time off.

It’s easy to “sorta school” all summer. You feel badly that you didn’t finish some book or topic during the year so you tell yourself you will “sorta” work on it off and on all summer (math, reading, writing). Then you kind of try to do a little of it once in a while, feeling guilty for not hitting it harder. Perhaps you never get to it and so instead of a rest, you simply slather yourself with guilt like suntan oil. No matter what, you don’t successfully purge the guilt by your half-hearted efforts. What you are feeling (and need) is a genuine break!

Take one. Don’t push any specific subject. Be with your kids in free, new ways. Play games, go to the pool, take walks, do all the arts and crafts you never did during the year, have friends over, go to museums or the zoo. Put the books away.

Get away on your own.

Difficult to do if you have babies, but you can take the baby with you. Go away for a whole day, if you can. Make it a day that revives you: art museum without kids, library, beach, delightful cafe for a yummy salad, nature preserve, indoor rock climbing center, one-session of yoga, a painting class, a wine-tasting, the symphony, a professional baseball game…

You do need this. Time alone should not be optional. If you find a way to put a few hours together every week for yourself, even better.

Notice that it’s warm outside.

Drink lemonade, wear sandals, and paint your toenails. Winter is so cruel. Now is the time to feel the sun on your skin and to notice it. I’ve been trying to sit on my deck for at least 10-15 minutes per day. I put a hibiscus plant out there (pink blossoms, new every day!). Makes me so happy. It’s the little things, right?

Pick two. Make them happen.

Badminton, corn hole, ladder ball, croquet, volleyball, bonfires, s’mores, twinkle lights over the deck/patio.

Happy life results.

Simply acknowledge: I’m exhausted! Then have a little guilt-free fun.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © |

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When kids are bored

Monday, June 30th, 2014 © |

Boredom does not automatically create the conditions for creativity. More often it creates conditions for poking, tickling, nagging, arguments about the TV and computer, and needless fuss-budgeting. Don’t be trapped by this myth that if you leave kids alone long enough, they’ll turn into mini-Steven Spielbergs producing films in your backyard!

Creativity is catalyzed by materials that inspire the imagination. Children are concrete thinkers. That means they need tactile involvement (not ideas to contemplate). They don’t create ideas from the thin air, up inside their brains. They create from a pile of Legos, or sticks, or watercolor paint brushes. If they can’t find the tools, if they are told to go get the tools, if they are asked to put in the effort to create the conditions for creativity, they will often give up before they start.

Perhaps you’ve noticed: If you tell a child, “How about painting? You love painting” and the paints are hidden in a cupboard, no painting is going to happen.

Rather, you might notice a bored child and wordlessly walk to the cupboard, remove the paints and brushes and blank white paper. Set them on a cleared table in the same room where you are. Fill a glass with water. Sit at the table and begin to paint. Say nothing. You only have to paint for 2-3 minutes. I promise. Within that time, someone in the bored cluster of children is going to join you. Once that happens, you are nearly there—boredom is about to wave the white flag. When you see the energy rise to take up this activity, you can then separate yourself by a short distance (stay in the room, ooh and ahh, offer suggestions, be enthusiastic about all attempts, add brownies or snacks). You may be able to resume the work you were doing once the engine of creativity gets rolling.

1. When in doubt, add water. © |

Painting is nearly always a winner because it involves one of the three secret boredom busting weapons: Water.

Water play changes everything. Toddlers can be tossed into a bath tub or a literal tub. When I lived in Morocco, we used to use wash tubs for play. You can do that with a small wading pool. Put it right in the middle of your kitchen floor. Fill it about 6-8 inches deep. Dump all your measuring spoons and cups into the middle. Add sponges, squirt bottles, squirt guns, rubber ducks, and if your kids are grimy, a little bubble bath liquid. Swish with your hands.

Indoor water play is magical—on a waterproof surface, under your watchful eye, you can be in the kitchen/family room space doing what you need to do while small ones are happy.

Older kids also love water play. Invest in Super Soakers or sprinklers. Pull your car into the driveway and supply your kids with all the tools to wash your car. The key to making this fun and not a chore is being sure there are cool products to use on the car that soap it up, that squeegee the windows, and so on. Loud music and friends make this activity more fun too. Reward with a trip to an ice cream shop.

Naturally, painting furniture/pictures/flower pots (rinsing brushes in water), writing on the driveway with water and paintbrushes, swimming in a pool, washing windows, Slip n Slides, wading in a creek, walking in the rain with umbrellas, splashing in puddles and curbside gutters… These are all magnetic experiences for kids.

The key, though, is being sure to start the activity wordlessly—you start it. You do it. Say NOTHING. No suggestions, no telling the kids to go outside and play with water. That doesn’t work with bored kids. They need to see the option in action and you are the person to do it! Get it started, then see what happens.

2. If water is not an option, creating hidey holes usually is.

Couch Cushion FortImage by willholmes (cc)

Blankets, sheets, towels, cardboard boxes, small pieces of movable furniture…

The second surefire boredom buster is creating forts! Think outside of your usual “sheet over a card table” idea. You might create one on your deck. Tack a blanket or sheet across the hand railing in a corner (the blanket will be triangular over the space). Put cushions underneath with soft throws and a little low side table. Include a basket with books to read. You might even create a private entrance based on how you arrange the top sheet.

Forts behind couches, in the corner in your kitchen, behind a big recliner in the living room, in the basement, in your master bedroom (feels special to be in there! Never forget that). Bring snacks once it’s created.

3. A treasure hunt!

Treasure HuntImage by Joe Green (cc)

The most overlooked surefire boredom buster creates more work for you. I suggest you prepare this one ahead of time and save it for the day when you are at wit’s end and need something that will absolutely change the tone of the home.

To get the cards in place is the trick because your kids can’t watch you. So you may need to distract them with food/TV/or sending them outside (you can say, “I need you to not come into the room where I am because of a top secret mission. I will tell you when it’s safe to return”).

Any use of the word “Secret” will yield you big time trust points with your kids.

The treasure hunt can be as lengthy and elaborate as you like, but easy clues and simple treats work just as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Put the clues on notecards. Keep a list of the clues and where you will hide them so that you can help kids who get stuck finding the next clue.
  • The clues can rhyme but don’t have to. For small children not yet reading, a sketch or photo is just fine! They can match the picture to the next location. Another idea is to use word scrambles for the clues. Another idea is that the clue is a task they must complete before you will give them the answer for where to look next. For instance, you might have a clue that says, “Hop on the left foot 10 times then I’ll release the next clue.” Or you might have one that says, “Get the mail from the letter box, bring it to me, then I’ll give you the next clue.”
  • Be careful not to use this activity as a disguised way to get chores done (kids are smart!). But you could include a mixture of silly activities (reciting tongue twisters, looking up a famous saying online, doing a back bend) with household benefitting activities (put away three pairs of shoes, brush your teeth, return the DVDs to their right cases).
  • You want more than 3-5 clues (ends too quickly). Kids do great with 8-10 clues. Too many gets wearying, especially if the clues are difficult to solve.
  • Consider treats midway through the treasure hunt. It’s fun to get partway there and then know that you have been rewarded for that. A plate of grapes, a pair of stickers, a pack of gum, a super ball or pick up sticks make good midway treats.
  • The final item to be found ought to be worth the hunt. I recommend a brand new board game—something no one has played yet. A new DVD works, as does any artsy-crafty activity. Maybe a new water gun (cycling back to the #1 boredom buster)!

To review: When kids are bored—

1. Water
2. Forts
3. Treasure Hunts

See how it goes! Remember—the secret to success is your involvement in the initial phase without ANY words. No words. No urgings, no suggestions, no lectures, no explanations, no hints.

Start the activity on your own and see who joins you. Even the treasure hunt—you can pull the first index card from a pocket and say, “Hmmm. I wonder what this means” and read it aloud. Then see who joins you to solve it.

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Announcing the release of my Brand New Book!

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A Gracious Space_Fall Edition 500x650CopyrightAll rights reserved

50 Daily Readings for Fall

Homeschooling can be a lonely road. You are at home with children, embarking on a task that changes every year (sometimes every month!) as your children grow and mature. The ability to sustain that commitment comes from sheer grit, idealism, faith, and trust. When in doubt, where do you turn? Some of us rely on close friends, homeschooling support groups, and Internet communities. These companions are important and must be nurtured and cherished.

In addition, though, it helps to refresh your philosophy of education and parenting. How do you renew your faith that you and your children will know what to do when you face challenges and obstacles to a harmonious home education?

A Gracious Space is a non-sectarian compilation of fifty essays about homeschooling and family life designed to encourage you, the homeschooling parent even on your worst day. Read an entry with your morning coffee or tea to help you focus on the principles and ideals that undergird your homeschool.

Essay titles include

  • It All Adds Up!
  • Content, not Conventions
  • Know Your Kids as They Are
  • Less is More, Really!
  • It’s the Relationship, Sweetheart
  • Prophecies of Doom
  • In Defense of the Disillusioned
  • How You Say it Matters
  • To Plan or Not Plan Your Lesson Plans
  • When Your Kids are Unhappy, What Can You Do?

This collection of essays currently comes in two formats: PDF and ePub (for iBooks). You will receive both of these formats when you order.

Purchase Price: $9.95

Order Today!

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If educational methods make your child miserable

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

I hate homeworkImage by Jessicizer (cc)

Three things you can do:

1) Contend for your theories of education—explain/share them with your child, and why you think they will work.

2) Offer empathy to your dispirited child. Accept and honor the child’s experience.

3) Use creativity to trouble-shoot. Somewhere between these two points of view (yours and his or hers) a solution will emerge.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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