The Easy Way Out

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Once in a while I write about things that help get me through difficult seasons, that remind me easier days are (most likely) coming.  Today I realized that I don’t often write about tools that make educating my kids easier, and this is weird because helping them learn is such a huge part of my life.  I’m correcting that now.

Books/reading material we love:

Solid Joys daily devotional (online);  I love these thought-provoking snippets.  They’re easy to access and take about 10 minutes to read through.  They help the kids and me focus our minds and hearts on God and have become an essential part of our day.

101 Famous Poems, by Roy J. Cook;  Anyone who knows us well can tell you that we’re all a little crazy for poetry–yes, even the boys.  This book is a one-stop shop for many of the great poems and it’s helping us to sample words widely and well before starting more formal studies in the morning.

The Chronicles of Narnia;  You know how sometimes you just need to reread books that bring back good memories and make you feel safe?  We know that feeling.  This winter I’ve been rereading the entire Narnia series aloud, book by book, to my giant teenaged kids, not because they can’t read for themselves, but because doing so both reinforces positive feelings in all of us and doesn’t take much effort on my part.  We need these good vibrations because Algebra.

Educational tools that are transforming everything:

Pimsleur Spanish CD’s;  I’ve mentioned before that I was a German major in college and lived in Vienna, Austria for a time.  Later I moved to India and learned to speak Hindi both through hours in a classroom and with informal conversation practice.  But nothing has helped me or my kids learn to speak a language faster or more easily than this set of audio CD’s.  By following the program’s (somewhat intense) thirty-minutes-a-day speaking practice we’re netting huge language gains in this house.

Code Academy;  My middle son wanted to learn to code.  My idea of awesome computer skills was learning how to insert links in my blog posts.  This free website is serving both of us well.  He can teach himself (easy!), and I can remain a semi-Luddite.  Win/win.

Pandora Radio;  I talk about Pandora a lot, I just realized.  Whatever.  I’m a cellist so, naturally, music is important to me.  But I want my kids to learn to appreciate a wide variety of musical styles and artists without my having to work hard at it.  Almost nothing is easier than creating a variety of genre stations on Pandora and playing them while we go about our day.  I don’t have to create big “music appreciation” moments.  If my kids have questions about a piece, they look at the TV (where we play our stations) and read the provided information.  If they want to know more, I help them find it.  They know so much about music these days–and I haven’t broken a sweat.

The longer I homeschool my kids, the more convinced I am that not everything has to be so darn hard.  Sometimes easier is better.

 

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The Hardest Part of Homeschooling

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Over at Simple Homeschool, parents are writing about the hardest thing about homeschooling their child(ren).  As I think about this topic I realize my answers to that question have changed over the years.

Once, the hardest thing was coordinating nap times so that I could grab uninterrupted reading time with an older child.

Later it was dealing with constant distractions and short attention spans.

Then it was homeschooling in a foreign country and having everything I relied on for routine and structure stand on its head for months at a time.

Now, with so many of those little kid (and traveling-while-homeschooling) scenarios becoming increasingly distant memories, I’m in a different place.

Now?

The hardest thing about homeschooling is dealing with my own self–my lack of motivation and my general sense of fatigue.  It’s not my kids’ squirming or attitudes or sleepless nights due to power outages that give me pause.

It’s me.  I’m tired, and sometimes–can I be honest?–a little bored.

This isn’t what I expected five years ago.  I thought that after ten years of teaching my kids, of having endless conversations about ideas and the world around us, after years of browsing through museums, of setting timers for wayward math-sheet-fillers, I’d get to a place where everything fell into place and we breezed through the years.

But it turns out that just when this path gets easier in one way, it gets harder in another.

I’m not sure how to the solve the problem of my own self.  I know that this educational choice is still the one that works best for us, so I want to get out of my own way so that we can go the distance.  So far, I’m trying to help this mother out by

  • spending extra time in the morning reading, praying, writing, and thinking.
  • working on a few personal projects that are mine alone, ones that have nothing to do with my kids and everything to do with the person I am outside of Mother.
  • spending time with women friends when those moments present themselves.  (I need to be encouraged and refreshed by other people, though of course there are times when they drain the life out of me, too).
  • doing the types of “educational” things with my kids that make all of us happy, like re-reading favorite books together.
  • exercising with the door shut while listening to my favorite music.

One thing I know is that this season will pass, too, and with it a host of good and some not-so-good memories.  But that would be the case no matter how we managed our educations.  I’m not as naive anymore when it comes to thinking through what I want my kids to have gleaned from this homeschooling lifestyle.  But I’m not a cynic, either.

This journey, like all journeys, is a patchwork quilt of moments, and some squares are more tattered than others.  Still, I’m trying to remember the big picture, the warmth of the whole, rather than picking at flaws in the fabric.

To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool (That’s One of the Questions)

Have you considered homeschooling your kids (if you have them)?  Homeschooling is the fastest growing educational trend in the United States for a lot of reasons.  I came across an article detailing several solid reasons to homeschool–and a few not-so-good reasons.  I thought I’d pass it along for those interested in going this path less travelled.

Homeschoolers come from all different backgrounds.  There are religious, secular, politically-left-leaning and right-leaning homeschoolers, and those in nearly every economic bracket.  This article is written from a Christian perspective, but many of the takeaways can be applied to those thinking of homeschooling who come from a different background.

Pressing Through the Middle Years of Homeschooling

I’m a writer who likes fresh beginnings and well-timed endings.  Middles?  Not so much.

When I think about the middle of, say, a novel manuscript, I imagine a hammock creaking under the weight of a couple of lemonade-sipping kids or a dad who really ought to be mowing the lawn.

Creative writing instructors refer to these in-between pages as the dreaded “saggy middle.”

They teach rookies and published authors alike how to push through their own saggy middles with enough energy and forward momentum to keep readers engaged until the end.

– See more at: http://simplehomeschool.net/middle-years-homeschooling/#more-35332

The Real Reason I Homeschool

IMG_00011Look, there are a lot of reasons people have for teaching their own kids.  Many of them are good and compelling.  But, for me, most have faded over time.  I see my kids growing up and I think, They were always going to be OK. 

And, anyway, homeschooling is hard and can suck the life out of a person, especially a person who used to carry a planner.  Our warm educational fuzzies have grown a little threadbare during these middle years, and the tender platitudes that used to spur me on now find me with my fingers in my ears and, you know, maybe rocking in my bathroom.

But, so help me, there is one thing that hasn’t changed–and that is my need to go slow through this life.  It turns out that a poet crawled into my head and, having rattled around there, came back and wrote a poem that exactly describes my Actual Real Reason for doing this life the way I do.

To wit:

Leisure

by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That’s my reason, folks.  What’s yours?

In Defense of the Copycat

“Mom! Tell him to stop copying me!”

It’s a phrase mothers everywhere hear at least once on their parenting journey, and probably homeschooling moms hear it most often of all. Children are natural copycats. As early as infancy they mimic the sounds around them, especially the speech rhythms of their mothers, in order to communicate and comprehend. It is intuitive to parents who have watched their babies for any length of time that children acquire language fluency first by repeating sounds, then small words, then phrases, and finally, full sentences.

Moms and dads understand that the more they talk to their babies the greater the chance that their children will develop robust vocabularies. What they may not realize, however, is that this copycat impulse in babies and young children is valuable for learning a variety of skills, extending far beyond the initial acquisition of a mother tongue. Copying is, among other things, the key both to learning to play an instrument and to writing well.   iStock_000009943158Smallhelping_your_child_become_a_musician_wrXUdyWHYc_l

Though not homeschooled as a kid, I trained classically as a cellist from a very young age. I studied the Suzuki method, one built on the idea that copying the experts is the key to mastery. My instructor gave me recordings of perfectly performed musical pieces and instructed me to listen to them again and again in order to absorb their structure, style, and phrasing. Then I tried to make my sound match theirs.  It was slow-going at first, but in the end, it worked.

Of course, at the time I didn’t understand the significance of what I was doing because I was only three when I began taking lessons (yikes)! But Suzuki’s philosophy was that any child can learn to play an instrument, and play it well, by first listening to, and eventually copying, perfectly played pieces of music. By hearing the music over and over I was able to capture the flavor of it, eventually understanding what I needed to adjust in my own playing in order to match it. This copying allowed me to follow in someone else’s footsteps, again and again, until I no longer needed to rely on them.  It’s a method that has worked for tens of thousands of children worldwide.

Similarly, learning to write, like learning to play a musical instrument, requires the student to develop an “ear” for good writing, and then to be able to sort the good from the bad. This is particularly true in the beginning stages.

In recent years, mainstream educators have suggested that children learn to write better if they are allowed to write about topics in which they are interested without worrying too much about elements of style and structure. Today many children are taught to write what they know without practicing the crucial first step of imitating excellent writing.  These children may struggle to write well because they haven’t internalized the rules of good writing.  They might be creative, but they aren’t proficient.

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It has not always been this way.

For hundreds of years, children first learned to write not by indulging in navel-gazing or flights of fancy but by copying passages from Scripture, the classics, even poems.  Two hundred years ago children were not expected to dig deep inside their souls to come up with interesting things to say without first parroting what the literary greats had already said and how they had said it. Instead they were taught to imitate writing that had already withstood the test of time until they had largely absorbed the essence of good composition. In fact, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write well by copying paragraphs of articles from discarded newspapers. This method was stunningly successful because it capitalized on the way children learn best, by following in someone else’s footsteps.

Apprenticeship

In an age where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd, parents should not despise the copycat impulse in their children. Instead, educators (traditional and homeschoolers alike) would do well to encourage their students to copy examples of excellence before expecting them to produce excellence of their own.  Originality of thought, turns of phrase, or musical interpretation must not be pressed on our children as an ideal, particularly when they are just beginning to learn to write or play.

Too often we praise what we perceive to be creativity in our children while assuming that copying someone else’s work in order to gain skill is an intellectual or artistic evil.

Instead, we should embrace the copycat in our children, encouraging them to walk before they run by treading the worn paths of those masters who came before them.