Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Archive for the ‘Home School’ Category

Train Your Brain! (And Your Children’s Too!)


photo by Matija Barrett

So, I am working on another degree/ certification and I came across a fact that really hit a nerve as I watch my grandchildren go through a school curriculum that is less rigorous than I, or my children, went through.
Glial cells in the brain remove unused synapses between neurons.
While these cells do a few other interesting things, one of their jobs is to get rid of brain connections that are no longer being used.
So why is this important information?
Because we are teaching less varied material (no cursive writing etc), and thus forming less associations between neurons, and our current school aged children will frequently say things like, “I don’t need to know that anymore, I already took that test,” meaning they have forgotten the information and are no longer using those pathways. Thanks to the glial cells, those pathways will no longer be there if that portion of the brain is not stimulated! This means that there will be no long term memory and that the brain will get used to a lower level of functioning, as it will maintain less connections. (You are essentially training your children to be less intelligent!)
As older adults, we also need to be stimulating our brains in as many varied ways as we can to maintain our own neural plasticity (a fancy way of saying that we can use our brains well and quickly, not taking a long time to figure out what someone is talking about, and remembering things better).
As older adults we are told to do crossword puzzles etc to keep our brains in good shape. And we believe this. Crossword puzzles are essentially useless in daily life (they do not make the house cleaner, or bring in more income), but we acknowledge they are good for us, like exercise is.
But when it comes to our children, sometimes we have a different attitude, and the schools seem to have adopted this. Instead of thinking that it is good to exercise the brain in many, varied ways, we are dropping cursive writing out of the curriculum and telling our children that we have never needed algebra in our adult life, so it isn’t necessary for them to do well. We are also teaching to the test, meaning the children are memorizing things instead of developing a deep understanding and then forgetting them, as the test is over so they feel they no longer need the information. This is just training the brain to destroy, rather than preserve neural connections- not a good way to develop individuals who have a lot of information at their fingertips! (Do you want your doctor forgetting most of what they learned in medical school because the test is over?!) What I have noticed in my children (7- all in very different jobs as adults) is that what they learned did not matter as much as how they learned. Learning many varied things, especially things that were difficult for them, to a level of mastery, meaning they actual knew it and could remember it later, long after the test, gave them the ability to learn effectively and remember things they needed for their jobs later in life. Skills such as cursive writing, algebra, music, art, and even physical activities develop skills in different ways and improve the brains neuroplasticity, meaning the brain is able to function in many different and varied ways well. Holding a child to a high, but achievable, standard, in many varied activities, as well as expecting them to remember those things in the future, long after the test, is the best way to train the brain not to overuse the glial cells, so the synapses formed by the initial learning will remain, and not be destroyed.
Use it or lose it! (This is also why it is difficult to teach some old dogs, new tricks!)


A quick guide to celebrating Esther’s feast for Christians.

The holiday of Purim was established in the book of Esther by Esther and Mordecai. It is fun to celebrate with children, and a great way to teach them their Bible.

1. Traditionally the book of Esther is read on Purim. If you have young children with short attention spans, you may read a children’s version.
The children are given noise makers. During the reading they are instructed to make noise whenever Haman’s name is to be read, so loud that his name is not heard, and thus not honored.
2. The children dress up. They may dress as Esther (a queen), the King, Mordecai (a Jew) or Haman (an evil man). (The adults may dress up too.)
3. As a Jew, Mordecai would have worn a prayer shawl. Learning to tie the fringes of the shawl, the tzitzit, as instructed in scripture can be a fun family activity. (Google tzitzit for instructions.)
4. There are many recipes for Purim. 3 sided cookies, called Hamantaschen, are common and represent Haman’s hat.
5. Games of chance are also an excellent way to celebrate Purim. But emphasize that the point of Purim (which means lots) is that there is no chance; God is in control.

How In the World Did We Get Into This Mess? Additional Links

Here are some additional links not mentioned in the unit study that may be fun, or helpful when added to any World History curriculum:


Weird Asian News


Rick Mercer Explains: The Canadian Government on You Tube

Amusing, but not all encompassing.

Canadian Government on You Tube

Very good, but contains a picture of the middle finger, twice. Why? I don’t know. 

Off the Great Wall on YouTube


The True Cost of the Royal Family Explained on You Tube

The United States: 

50 Great Facts About the 50 Great States by Mental Floss on You Tube

College Degree by 18 Pitfalls

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

I have four children who have graduated from our home school, and three more to go. Over the years I have seen many different home schooling trends, and one that crops up frequently, and is very appealing to many home school families is the idea that home schoolers can get their college degree, or at least a few college course, out of the way while they are still in high school. And it is true, you can do this, but there are some things you need to be careful of before you waste a lot of time and money…

1. Some courses will not count towards your student’s major.
Course like Algebra and Trigonometry are expected to be taken in high school. Yes, they are offered by many colleges for those who need a refresher, but they may not count towards the major your student is pursuing. For example, if your child wishes to go into an engineering field, they will be expected to take Calculus their freshman year. It will not be necessary to have college credits in Algebra for this degree. Check to see what your child will need, and do not enroll them in courses that will not count towards their major, unless you are unable to teach it yourself. By paying for this course you may be throwing money away.

2. Some courses do not transfer to other colleges.
In the New Mexico state college system all courses transfer to all other colleges in the system, but the grades for those course do not. If you are looking to bolster your student’s GPA by taking courses elsewhere, this will not help. Further, many colleges will only except transfer credits for general education course (gen. eds.) and you must take most, if not all, the courses for your major at the college you plan to graduate from.

3. Some colleges do not recognize the accreditation of the college your student enrolled in.
Colleges do not have to accept courses from another college. Make sure the courses fully transfer to the college of your choice before you enroll.

4. Some colleges limit the amount of transfer credit they are willing to accept.
Your student may have 30 hours of college credit, but if the college only recognizes 15 of those hours, that is what they will receive credit for.

5. Some degrees are only recognized by certain organizations.
One of my friend’s children received her teaching degree from a Christian college. This degree was not accepted in the state they lived in, and was only good at Christian schools that recognized this college as having a valid program. This limited her daughter’s options for employment.
Another friend’s child received his degree in ministry at 18. He will be pursuing his masters and is hoping to become a pastor. This is good. Most pastoral search committees are only interested in your knowledge, and not where your degree came from. Unfortunately some Bible colleges are not recognized by other Bible colleges, and you may not qualify for their master’s program, or to be hired as a professor (even if you have obtained a PhD) if you do not have a degree from a college they approve of. Many colleges who allow a student to start college as a freshman in high school have a tendency to not be recognized by other colleges.

6. Having enough credits to make you a ‘junior’ does not mean you will graduate in two-years.
Every major has certain requirements that must be met before you graduate. Most courses taken in high school will not fulfill these requirements, even if the college accepts them for credit. Many students enter college having paid for a boatload of credits, only to find out that their courses only count as gen ed, saving them the equivalent of a semester’s worth of course work.

7. Most majors you can graduate with at 18 do not result in ‘real world’ jobs.
Challenging majors require challenging pre-requisites in high school. Most children beginning high school do not have advanced math and science courses under their belt and will therefore not succeed in these majors. Majors that do not require a lot of math, or science, or even advanced writing skills often do not have much of a market for employment.

8. Even if you have a degree, there may not be employment for an 18 year old in that field.
Police officers must be 21 to apply. Social workers, pastors, military officers etc are also people who are expected to be older. Medical, dental and law schools also dislike accepting students who are very young (though they will make exceptions for really high scorers on their placement exams). At 18 years old there are few people who will hire you. If your child is not planning on a masters or PhD in their field, early college may just result in a frustrating job search.

9. The reason many of us home school is to teach our values to our children.
Teens are just beginning to understand mature concepts. This is the time for them to explore their faith. By placing them full-time into a college environment they will be spending more time exploring the beliefs of their professors than they will learning those their parents’ believe in. While I do believe in exposing my children to many different ideas, I also believe in teaching them well what I believe to be right as a foundation for future learning. Depending on what college you choose, this may not occur.

Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages to obtaining a college degree early. Dual degrees are impressive. (I graduated with two under-graduate degrees and a minor before going for my masters.) But, they are also costly if you do them over the course of eight years. (Receiving a dual degree because you took the maximum number of credits each semester is different since colleges typically charge a flat fee for full time students who, when I attended could take 15-23 credits per semester.) An early masters or PhD, or dual PhDs is also not a bad idea, if your child can handle the course work.

So, if your student is truly a protégée, then go for it! Why hold them up in life? If you have the money to invest in their education, and do not feel you can teach more advanced high school courses in your home, your local college may be a better option than your local high school. But, if you and your children are like most of us, graduating early may only place them in an awkward position, and may cost you more in the long run than you planned to spend.

(If you do have questions, call the college’s admissions office. They are there to help!)



Here are some links you may find helpful!

Bible Studies for Children:

Four Soils

Sticky Situations

The Picture Smart Bible

Bible Studies for the Whole Family:

Walk Thru The Bible

More Challenging Bible Studies for Teens and Adults:

Precepts Upon Precepts by Kay Arthur

Disturbing Trends in Home Schooling

I am old. I have seen home schooling evolve. When I was young there were very few options. And even the options that were available have changed. Home schooling was a challenge. It was not socially acceptable, but the children that came out of those few home schools did exceptionally well, so many followed.

Churches began advocating for home schooling. It became the ‘good Christian’ thing to do, and some girls grew up aspiring to become home school moms. (I’m glad we made it look so appealing.)

But home schooling is hard work, and somehow we failed to get this across. Maybe because we were having so much fun doing it, and didn’t mind the work. Maybe because we saw it as so important, and didn’t think to complain. Maybe because we enjoyed the time and company of our children. Maybe because we were too afraid to fail. Maybe because we were already those odd home schoolers we stopped judging each other, and relaxed in each other’s homes so we actually formed close friendships and allowed each other to be unique. (And I loved my friends who lived on farms during this time. After my children saw what farm chores looked like, what I asked them to do looked easy!)

Today when I talk to a new home schooling mom the first few questions seem to be, “How can I home school without doing much work?” and “How can I home school and still have the perfect house, body, and lots of free-time etc?” The truth is, to do it well, you can’t. The key to home schooling success is for the children to realize that mom (and dad) takes this serious, and considers their education important. (This is also the key to school success, by the way.) Sure, you can put your child in front of a computer, or send him to classes for home schoolers, but it is not the same. Parental investment is what made home schooling work.

“But I don’t know how to teach Algebra?” So, neither did many of the moms who home schooled years before, so they learned. Some learned along with the child, some studied on their own, and some took classes. Why? Because teaching their children was important. And the truth is, a home school mother needs to know a lot of stuff. If you are young and your goal is to be a home schooling parent, then you should be paying more attention in high school, not less, and plan on going to college, and studying, rather than trying to land a husband. (The husband will come in its own time, and being a hard-worker who is serious about raising good kids usually lands you a better one!) The better educated the parent who will be in charge of the home school; the better educated the children. But that does not mean you have to have a college degree. Many awesome moms did not. BUT, they were willing to work. They learned so their children would learn. They may not have done it when they were younger, which would have made it easier on them, but they did do it. And they are now grammar nazis with red pens, math mavens who can do times tables in their sleep etc. (They also know how to turn learning into fun, don’t get the wrong impression here.)

Home schooling is a wonderful thing. The children who have been home schooled are typically kind, unique individuals who are generally happy in life. This will not continue to be so if home school becomes a ‘chore’ for mom, something she obviously does not want to do because it interferes with other things. It will also not be done well if mom keeps saying she ‘can’t’ teach, because what will be taught is that it is okay to give up and not do the hard stuff. I hate writing this, because I love home school and home schooling families. Everyone is unique, and generally wonderful, but I fear for the future as more and more young Christian girls demonstrate that they did not pay attention in high school and are not going to college because they are going to be home school moms. And then, when their children arrive, they look for ways to get out of teaching them because they need to keep the house clean and do not feel competent to teach. Let me put it this way- if you are going to home school, you are going to sacrifice. There is only so much time in the day. When the children are little there will be clutter, as they get older they will learn to help and it will get better, IF you invest the time in teaching them to do so. (I have actually met home schoolers who do not know how to cook and do laundry. Since they stay at home with mom, how did they miss this? They should be at your knee helping, as they are able, with everything you do.) There will be less time for mom to go to the gym by herself, but more time for mom to join in on whatever game is going on in the backyard, which is not as calorie burning since you must not run over the little ones. BUT, your example, of hard work, of turning work into fun, and just plain enjoying the investment you are making in the lives of your children is what results in adult children who enjoy what they are called to do and know how to cherish people, even when it is not convenient.

I recently read a Ron Paul article on his new curriculum. (I wish I could find the exact one for you.) In it he says, in typical Ron Paul style, that if you do not like how he is doing this, teach your children yourself, as many other home school families have in the past. It seems that even Ron Paul acknowledges that his curriculum is second best to the parent actually teaching the child themselves. I am not saying that you can never use outside resources. What I am saying is that you must be involved. Listen to what is being taught, and comment on everything, good and bad. This is how you pass down your values and how your children get to know you. If you want to educate your children in the way they should go, then they need to know what that way is. (And you need to model it.) If you are not teaching them, then who is? And do you fully agree with them? And if you do, are you teaching them to listen and repeat what someone on a video says, or are you discussing it so they learn to think critically and understand why you, and the person on the video, came to these conclusions. This is your job. Teach your children well, and you will be proud to call them yours when they are adults.

Things Great Home School Co-ops Do

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

Now it is always easier to identify the mistakes (yesterday’s post), and it is good to avoid them, but there are a few things that make a co-op great.

Here are a few that we have observed:

Handle problems early and firmly:
No one likes confrontation, especially a busy home school mom who already has enough to do. But, if you want your co-op to run smoothly and not be a place of drama and chaos there are a few things that need to be nipped in the bud. Tardiness, a habit of no-shows, talking behind people’s backs, not doing your job etc are all things that cannot be tolerated if the co-op is to run smoothly.

Be Up Front About Your Expectations:
One co-op I attended reviewed Matthew 18:15-17 before the beginning of each co-op session. The leaders then explained that, if you had a problem with a person the Christian thing to do was talk to the person, not your friends. If the problem could not be resolved then the board was there to help. Under no circumstances should one parent be complaining to another parent about someone else’s behavior. This was the best co-op environment I have ever experienced, probably because we were continually reminded of this rule!

Be Organized:
If the co-op is not organized the parents do not feel the need to be organized either. The best co-ops are run in a way that impresses people when they arrive. New people then strive to be all that they can be as well.
Reward the People Who Work:
While most co-ops have every parent doing something, not every job is the same. Typically the person teaching and the board members do the bulk of the work. Make sure they are thanked and rewarded. It does not have to be much, just make it special. This is where those moms who make awesome homemade cards, crafts or bake come in handy!

My favorite co-op handled things this way:
If you taught, you did not have to clean up and your children were able to sign up ahead of parent’s children who did not choose to teach.
My least favorite co-op handled things this way:
Every job was the same. Bible study was a job. They had almost every mother trying to sign up for Bible study and had to beg for teachers each session. Since every job was the same there were no thank-you’s etc for teaching, but if a parent in the Bible study complained the board was right on top of it since the women in the Bible study had bonded, while those who taught had been busy taking care of the kids. Do you see the problem?

Have Time for All the Parents to Bond:
Good co-ops have activities that are just social on a regular basis so the families may get to know each other. What you do is not as important as how you do it. Make sure the new families get to know the older families and you will do well. Field trips, park days, and parties fill this gap. Just make sure to remind the older members not to group up and leave the new people feeling left out.

Set Up a Way for New Home School Families to Talk With More Experienced Families:
Some co-ops have meetings designed for new families to ask questions, but in my experience these are poorly attended. The most successful ‘mentoring’ I have seen occurred in a co-op that rotated classes (three classes in three hours with multiple classes to pick from each hour). Every hour there was also a ‘prayer and fellowship’ room. In this room we prayed for the co-op, the families, and any specific needs, but we also talked and shared our lives. Every new person spent one of their hours in this room, which enabled people to get to know them. The older moms could then choose this as one of their hours, or not. Board members too were required to be in the prayer room for one of their hours to answer questions, and to be available should a board member be needed.

Set up a System to Deal With Parental Absences:
Since every parent has a job when a parent is unable to attend something will be left undone. There must therefore be a system in place for people to fill in. There are many ways to do this. Parents in prayer can know that they may be pulled out to help should the need arise. Board members may be ‘unassigned’ so they may fill in as necessary, or there can be a meeting before each co-op where jobs are ‘shuffled’ as needed so everything gets done.

Have a System in Place for Dealing with Misbehavior:
Both parents and children are capable of doing things you wish they had not. Instead of acting like this surprises you and floundering around wondering what to do about it make sure there is a set plan in place that everyone knows about. This will eliminate any confusion as to what will be done if the behavior continues, and will let the other mothers know that you are not being arbitrary or unfair since everyone was aware that this would happen. Also, document what has occurred. One a board member’s job became recording what time a certain mother pulled into the parking lot. She was in charge of the nursery, did not want to move positions and frequently arrived up to an hour late. You cannot leave little children under-supervised that long…

Accountability is needed if a co-op is to run well.

In one co-op one of the positions was ‘clean-up supervisor.’ This woman checked the rooms after they were cleaned to make sure nothing was missed. Nothing was ever missed, likely because people knew the room would be inspected. This was not the case in other co-ops we have visited. If you wish to keep using the space you really need to leave it better than you found it, because any mess remaining after you leave will be blamed on you. Plus it is just good stewardship to help when you can, especially if the space is free.

Even If the Space Is Paid For, Bless those Who Provide It:
A giant thank-you card from the children, homemade snacks, a cash donation, or volunteering as a group to help in some capacity are all ways you can thank the people who allow you to use their facilities. Thank-you’s and good stewardship go a long way in keeping your co-op in the space you have, and cover any ‘mistakes’ or inconveniences caused by your group.

Extend Grace:
You never know what problems you may have inadvertently caused, so extend grace when the Sunday school leaves your space a mess, or uses your supplies by accident as well. As long as these are rare incidents, know that your teachers may have done something at some time as well, and extend grace.
When the problems re-occur speak to the person in charge with the assumption that this was not done on purpose and allow them to take care of it.

Keep the Co-op Social and Fun:
Learning can be fun and interactive, and co-op is the place to make that happen. Choose things that children find interesting and fun and keep the home work to a minimum. These children already do school work at home. Going to co-op should not feel like they are being punished for seeing their friends with more work than they can reasonably do. This is not the time to work on a PhD thesis, but a time to learn to learn in a group setting in ways that encourage team building and creativity.

Home schooled children are great in groups as a rule. They do not have the competitive need to be the best, and often marvel at what another child can do. Let them use the skills they have to create and innovate whenever possible. What you will often hear is, “Johnny’s great at art, let’s get him to do the drawing.” “Sarah knows how to make catapults (a common home school skill), let’s see if she can figure out how to get the levers to work.” This is how people should work together in business, and it’s fun to see the children learn to work in their own strengths, and appreciate the strengths of others.

Co-ops are a great way for home school families to interact and learn in a relaxed environment. The key is to keep them relaxed and fun for the adults as well by running them efficiently.

How to Ruin Your Home School Co-op

photo by Matija Barrett

photo by Matija Barrett

We have moved around a bit in the last few years and have had an opportunity to try out more than a few co-ops. Some were awesome, others not so much. Here are a few ideas about what to avoid.

Run your co-op exactly like school.

Make the children sit at desks, be quiet and do their work. Hire professional teachers.
While this may seem great to those of us who enjoyed school, to place home school children next to their friends, who they do not see every day, and then to tell them they may not interact is cruel. They do enough work on their own. Co-op is a time for interaction and interactive activities can be incorporated into learning.

Also, these co-ops tend to develop the teacher vs parent dynamic we see too often in the schools. Paying the teacher encourages some parents to have unreasonable expectations, and teachers (for some reason unknown to me) tend to put parents down based on other unrealistic expectations. And their comments do eventually get back to the parent. While it would be very mature for both to come up along side each other, it rarely happens.

Two of the typical complaints are:

“Johnny is very bright, but do they ever take him anywhere to socialize?”
– Interesting fact: Geeks and nerds, even in school, tend not to have perfect social skills. Why would home school kids be different? But in fact they are. Keeping the children who are typically bullied out of the school system results in greater self-esteem and social ability. Now remember I said ‘greater.’ They are still geeks, but now they see this as a good thing.

“Do you know that Johnny can’t read yet?”
– News flash: Even in school there are children who have trouble learning to read. The advantage to home school is that Johnny now receives one-on-one attention and has all the time he needs to work on these skills.

Be disorganized.

One co-op was so disorganized that they began the year with about three times the children they planned for, and did not have teachers for all of the grades. Some kids made projects that day, while others went home with nothing as the teachers went along with their plans as if nothing was out of whack.

Okay, this was excessively bad, and clearly an exception, but the truth is that if new people cannot easily understand how you do things and what the expectations of your group are there will be dissatisfaction, frayed nerves and chaos. Further, having any system where chaos rules means that the pushy get, while the nice people make up for what was lacking. Then the nice people leave. This is not what you want.

Organization and advanced planning are key to a good co-op. This means that board members must be organized and excited to serve, and that you must hold all of your members accountable.

Be really, really nice.

‘Nice’ co-ops understand when your child is sick, or you just had a bad day. They don’t hold you accountable for feeling like you just needed a day to yourself, and they allow you to drop your child off and leave, even though there is a strict ‘no drop-off’ policy.

Now I am not saying that everyone has to be super-mom, but there is a line, and some people take advantage of the ‘niceness.’ When they do you have a choice. You can either keep making the responsible mothers do more to make up for the woman who needs so much times for herself, or you can hold her accountable.

Here’s a little secret: If you can actually get the mother who needs an unreasonable amount of breaks to do her job, she typically realizes over time that she can too do it and feels better about herself! It’s a win-win.

Now of course there are situations where we must go the extra mile for someone, and that is okay. But there are also mothers who would have everyone else take care of, and school, their children for them if possible. This is not home schooling, and it sets a bad example for the children as well, teaching them to be takers, not givers themselves.

Be overly judgmental.

If your co-op uses the phrase ‘I have to question your walk, commitment to home schooling etc’ you are most likely an elitist group. And that is fine if that is who you want to be, just don’t wonder why some people choose to leave your group. Home schooling by nature is unique and every family should do it differently since no two families are alike. Overly judgmental groups like families who do everything just the way they do. These groups will not therefore be very large, and will have many disappointed families cycle through them feeling crushed when they do not fit.

My advice: If you want a more homogenous group then be up front about it so people can make an informed choice. Being blind-sided after your children have made friends by the unwritten rules is hard on a family that does not believe as you do.

Examples of this include: “Our families do not put our children into school sport.” “We do not read books with magic or vampires.” “We court, not date in our groups etc.” …And, if your children are going to do these things then they will not be encouraged to be friends with ours.

Allow the complainers to run the group.

Every complaint is not the same. There are good complaints that must be dealt with, and then there are the others. Some people just like to complain. Typically they are the people who contribute the least; it seems to go hand-in-hand. If you make the parents who teach and contribute jump through hoops every time there is a complaint, no matter how small, your teachers will become nervous wrecks. No one will want to teach, and those who know they are good teachers and have any self-respect will leave. They are not going to work their bottoms off in exchange for abuse.

Set up a system where people who are rarely, or never, at the co-op make all the real decisions.

There are a few ways to do this:

1. Set up a system where the women need a ‘covering.’ So, even though the dads are never there, they sit on the board and decide how co-op is going to be run. The problem: If you ask people to make a decision, they will. But these are people who know close to nothing about the organization… You see how this would be bad. If the fathers are to be part of running the co-op, then they must be part of the co-op, or it will not go well.

2. Allow the elders in church where you meet to be the ‘board.’ Again, these are not people who are intimately aware of how your group works, and the personalities in it. Home school is so unique that it cannot be run from afar, and home school moms are generally compliant, so they will try to follow the ‘rules’ where many other groups feel free to ignore them.

3. Have a ‘front’ board to protect the ‘secret’ board. I only include this because it happened. We thought we picked the board. What we didn’t know is that the church had already appointed a board to do all of the ‘real’ work, and that the board we thought we picked was so the people in the co-op had someone to complain to. Any guess why our board’s presidents quit co-op every year after serving?

Co-ops are relational, so it is important that the people running them are intimately involved. There are so many judgment calls when you are working with volunteers who have obligations to their families that outweigh them coming to your co-op that the group cannot be run from afar, no matter how godly the people who try are.

Exclude the men.

Fathers have a lot to offer and make great co-op teachers and presenters. Since many of them also work, they may need a little more flexibility- say ‘guest speaker’ instead of regular attendee. They may also allow teens to shadow them at work, or set up opportunities for them to shadow their friends.

Social outings and field trips also get more attendance when the men are welcome.

Fathers are great assets and it helps mom when dad knows what is going on. Excluding the men limits your resources, and makes home schooling more of a mom-only thing. If you want husbands on board with your decisions regarding your home school, then it helps if they are welcomed wherever your family is.

We once had a widower who was able to take a year off and continue home schooling his children during that time. He found support in a group of his wife’s friends who were also grieving, and continuity for his children who had already lost enough. (He eventually hired a friend of his wife’s who never married to take over the home school as he returned to work, and three years later they married!) Allowing dads made his transition into the group easy since we already had fathers who could flex their schedules teaching everything from science lab to car repair and gym.

Assume all women are emotional and that women always fight.

Unfortunately this attitude is common in some churches, and because they believe that problems within women’s groups are the norm they do little to fix them. Eoudia and Syntyche’s issues were not ignored by Paul and the church was to help them restore their friendship. (Phil. 4: 1-3) In the same way issues within the home schooling community need to be addressed. People live up to your expectations of them. If it is expected that women fight and do not behave then it is likely they will fight and not behave. This means that the mature women will leave, and you will be left with all of the immature drama queens. Not the best way to raise your children.

So how do you know whether, or not your co-op crosses the line? Look at the fruit!

Does it seem like every time you get a good teacher they leave?
Do the children form friendships that make them want to stay in co-op through high school?
Do the dads feel welcomed and glad the co-op is there for their families?
Does co-op day stress you out, or cause you to look forward to the next one? (Now, let me qualify this. Co-ops are a lot of work, so you should feel tired, but not emotionally drained.)
Does everyone in your co-op help each other, or is there a small group of women who do everything while the others watch?
Do you see people who were good workers begin to be lazy? (This is a sign that they are becoming tired of being taken advantage of.)
Do the children automatically help out when there is clean up, moving chairs or other things to do? (Children ‘catch’ what is being modeled and are a good barometer to measure what you are actually teaching by your example.)
Do the children form ‘cliques?’ (If the parents form cliques and are frequently judgmental you can bet their children will be too.)

Stay strong. Tomorrow I will post about the good things many co-ops do to succeed!

My Priorities Rant

I just read answers to a question put out to home schoolers about when they do chores. The answer was unanimously, ‘before anything else’ in the morning. What?!?!?
I have heard of home schoolers missing co-op classes because the housework was not completed, and thought that this was rare, and nuts. (Who is going to see your house when you are gone?)
What I am beginning to see is that in many homes it is more important to mom for her house to look ‘perfect’ (so her friends think she is wonderful) than for her children to be well educated.
Let me point a few things out:
1. A clean house never paid the bills, but a good education leads to much wealth.
2. If your children do not get a good foundation in school they will find college extremely challenging.
3. By placing housework first you teach your children to over-value other people’s opinions. This makes them a slave to those who emotionally bully people. This is not a personality that does well in life, but is a personality that is prone to depression, low self-esteem and fear.
4. An overly clean house stifles creativity. If you have to worry about making a mess, you will not do the things that make learning fun. Finger painting, elephant toothpaste, raising small animals- all of these hands-on projects have great mess-potential. But they are also the things that children remember most.
5. Being overly attentive to how clean your home is makes mom the house Nazi. This is not a fun position to be in, and does not help your relationship with your husband or your children. It is hard to cuddle up with someone who is always worrying about how dirty you are.
Remember: Proverbs 14:4 “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean, but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (KJV)
Do not keep things so clean that it inhibits productive work. And remember, those of us who were at the beginning of the home school movement, the one that produced those wonderful kids who scored amazingly on their standardized tests and won spelling bees, we had messy homes! (And we visited each other. There was clutter, honest!) Let’s stop being like the world, always worried about being ‘better’ than others, and start being the people God created us to be: kind, caring, and hospitable enough to let the little things slide.

photo by Matija Barrett

How We Home School

IMG_7844Now this is a much more difficult post to write because how we do things has changed over the years. And it needed to. Different children need different things, and what they need, especially regarding structure, changes as they age.

In the beginning, when I was home schooling a second grader and pre-schooler, we sat on the floor a lot. The baby could crawl around and we worked until the child became bored, then took a break and returned. There was no pressure, and we went out and about a lot. My children enjoyed their work, and often sat down with their books and went ahead on their own. (My suggestion for this age is to buy curriculum with a lot of colorful pictures. The more the children are drawn to it, the more they will do. Also, make sure there is not too much on each page. Too many tasks in too little space overwhelms younger children, and some older ones too!)

When we added more children to our home school (7 in total) we woke up at 7 am, had a quick breakfast and got to work. There was a timer set to 30-minute intervals. If you were done with the work I assigned, you got a frozen Juicy-Juice ice cube (for some reason my kids loved this- use what works). If you did not finish the remaining work was put away and was ‘homework’ for later when the other children had free time. After the Juicy-Juice cube another subject was pulled out, and I corrected the papers while they worked on their next 30-minute task. (One of the advantages of home schooling is that mistakes are caught early and corrected.) When all of the subjects were done we had lunch. After lunch the children worked on their ‘corrections’ so there was an incentive to do things right the first time. Home school was not done until Mom was sure you knew what you were doing. Then any work you had not finished was to be done while the other children played, or watched TV. (Another incentive to work hard when you were supposed to.) We also had devotions at night, before bed, so Bible teaching was not considered a ‘chore’ they had to do.

Later the Juicy-Juice cubes and timer were no longer needed. The children had gotten into the habit of working well, so we continued to wake up at 7 am, but I merely sat in the room, available for questions and I monitored the situation. We also did a few subjects together as a family now that our adopted children had ‘caught up.’ We then introduced the concept of doing the work you do ‘alone’ beforehand, whenever you have free time (before bed, waiting for music lessons etc), so you have more time to do other things during the day.

My oldest three children never enjoyed school that much so they needed the daily structure. After they left the house things changed radically. My youngest three now do most of their work on their own whenever they have time. As long as it is done before it is due, I am fine with this system. We have an inbox that I check regularly and I make them a list of their daily assignments for the year before the school year begins. They can even begin during summer break if they would like. As long as they are completing assignments in a timely manner they can sleep in as long as they wish (The perk that drives this awesome behavior.). Or at least until we do the subjects we do together. Last year we gathered together at 1 pm. This meant some of my children slept until then and did their work at night. This was a little too late for my tastes so we now gather at 11 am. We are working on Science, Philosophy and Greek as a group this year. I am working on having them take notes as if they are in a college classroom, so I lecture and use my dry erase board. But it is still somewhat relaxed. If there is nothing to put on the board I sit sideways with my feet on the corner of my desk and the children are free to interrupt and ask questions at any time. Because the setting is so laid-back we explore many ‘rabbit-trails’ in addition to the work at hand.

I recently asked my son, who is a freshman in college studying engineering at a very competitive college, if there was anything we could have done to better prepare him for college. He said ‘no.’ He pointed out that the freedom of home schooling taught him how to budget his time better than his peers, and that he seems to have more self-confidence than many of them. He did say that his ability to sit through long, one-sided (no discussion) lectures could have been improved with practice, but he believes he would have learned less if we had used this method.
The biggest problem the home schooled children we know have upon entering college is just remembering to put their name on their papers. (Mom usually knows whose is whose*.) and they don’t all know how to open those silly little cardboard milk cartons in the cafeterias that still have them.
*With seven children ours did need to put their names on most things. My three youngest children developed their own unique signatures for this purpose. Their professors will just love this… (sarcasm)

On extra-curricular activities:

We have always done a lot outside the home. We participate in a home school co-op, but do not consider these classes to be part of our core curriculum. This is ‘fun’ learning. We are involved in whatever our church, and other churches our friends go to, offer. (We do not limit ourselves since they have many friends through co-op who go to different churches, this gives them extra time together.) We also play, and usually invite others to come along. We do the normal things like bowling, hiking etc. but also explore new things like cake decorating and pottery classes, or going to the opera (which we discovered most of us enjoy).

When all seven were home this was our week:
Monday: Co-op/music lessons/boyscouts (This started in the afternoon so school work was done before we left.)
Tuesday: Home school skating at a local roller rink then karate lessons
Wednesday: Wednesday night church school for all ages (more fun than it sounds)
Thursday: Home school gym and swim then bowling league
Friday: Karate lessons
Saturday: Youth group/ boy scout activities
Sunday: Sunday school, church and night service at church (again more fun than it sounds, the children have age-appropriate classes)

As the children grew they became involved in their own activities and/or worked. Some of them joined sports teams and occasionally played for the local school, which is allowed in New Mexico. Some could also drive, which helped. (Driving age is 15 in New Mexico, which, for a home schooling family, is awesome.)

There were also field trip days- lots of them. What I do to accommodate these days is two-fold:
1. I schedule lightly on Fridays so I can flex work onto that day if necessary.
2. We have a ‘half-day’ plan. If I say that today is a half-day then they do 1/2 of any problem set, and read the passages assigned without doing the questions. (Mom can spot check to make sure you read.) Labs are moved to the next day, and the assignment for the next day is done today. (Unless you want to do the whole thing on Friday.) Most of the time my children finish their assignments in the car. (We often have to drive a distance to get to these events.)

And then there are chores:
My motto (once the kids are old enough) is that I did not make this mess, so I am not going to be the only one cleaning it up. That being said, here is some of what we did:

When the children were younger there was a lot of clutter so we picked up as a family and vacuumed as needed every night before bed. They also had individual chores.

When the children were old enough to want money we allowed them to sign up for chores. The more they did, the more they earned. Some chores were one-time events, while others were daily or weekly. They fought over who got to do what at times, which is not a bad problem to have!

They also did their own laundry at a young age. This was not my plan. My husband decided to take over the chore and then quickly delegated it to the kids!

As they became older, and there were less of them in the house, we cleaned well once a week. Sometimes we worked as a team and other times we picked rooms that each was responsible for and got them done. Some rooms are tougher than others, so they each took a heavy and a light one, or one room counted as two. When they picked rooms Mom did not have to clean. This was the perk they decided on since the system allowed them the flexibility to do things in their own time, which they enjoyed. So we either cleaned as a family, with Mom helping, or we picked rooms. If the rooms were not done well, then the next week we cleaned as a family because obviously you need Mom to supervise! So while it was never as clean when they picked rooms as I would have liked, there was a limit to how bad it could get.

We then hired a cleaning service. (Many of the children had jobs and other things that kept them busy.) Now they rotate doing the dishes. The dishes are ‘theirs’ until they do them. If they ‘forget’ on their day, the dishes pile up and they do more. We try not to nag and badger them, but rather we allow natural consequences to take effect, in this case, the longer you wait the more dishes you will have to do. They also each have an individual chore and can be asked to pitch in and do anything when needed, including cook a meal.

One of the things I have learned is that it is not good for me to be ‘super-mom.’ Super-mom does everything for her children and makes sure everything is ‘perfect.’ Children then learn to be lazy. (At least mine do.) If they do a poor job, or wait long enough until Mom is sick of the mess, she will do it for them. She may nag, but this is a small price to pay for getting out of the work. This is counter-productive to raising adults who are competent people with servant’s hearts. Not being ‘super-mom’ also allows me to have some free time too. (Hence this blog…) Enjoy!

Photo by Matija Barrett

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