Posts in Homeschooling

Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks “authentic” English expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the electronics and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. Expand your vocabulary as you read them aloud to your children on a blanket at the beach or park. After all, how often do holidays come around?

 

Take Time to Make Time

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Our son celebrated his bar-mitzvah this past Shabbat, which included reading aloud in synagogue from the weekly Torah portion. His portion began with the words,  “If you walk in the way of my laws,” Leviticus 26:3.  The obvious question is why the Torah uses the word  ‘walk’?  Ancient Jewish wisdom says that this phrase is referring to Torah study.  How is walking part of studying Torah? 

We can learn an answer to this question from the behavior of King David.  David, like mothers, had many competing demands on his time.  He was the king of the nation and had national, political and military decisions to make.  He was also a Jew who carried his own personal obligation of Torah and self-development.  How did he balance the competing demands? 

The answer is that each morning instead of just waking up and starting to tackle his to-do items, King David would go to the Torah study hall to gather his thoughts.  There, in the study hall, he would organize his schedule for the day and decide how much time to devote in each part of the day to each of his responsibilities.  By making these scheduling decisions in the inspiring atmosphere of the study hall he was able to prioritize more effectively and leave more time for Torah study in his day than he would otherwise have had.  So in essence, walking to the appropriate place to plan his schedule led to more spirituality in his day. This is one of the reasons that walking in the ways of God is the introduction to this section of the Torah.

You and I probably can’t go to a study hall as we plan our day each morning with our cups of coffee.  But we can learn not only the importance of planning our days and schedules but doing it within the context of a spiritual connection. This will help us align our priorities correctly and schedule accordingly.  For me, spending time each morning, not just praying, but taking a few minutes in my room for what my children call, “Mommy’s private prayers,” gives me a chance to connect to God, orient, and center myself, and think through my day with my head in the right space.  When I come out from my private time I feel more prepared to tackle the many items on my calendar for the day wisely and well. 

We can all learn this lesson: taking the time to plan our daily schedules within a context of connection to God will enable us to focus on what is truly important to us and must be in our schedule, and which items can be dropped or delayed on each day.

Helicopter Mom – Me?

April 22nd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 5 comments

If there is one thing that, until now, I have never been accused of, it is being a helicopter parent. If anything, more than a few of our children’s friends’ parents thought that my husband and I allowed our children too much independence. One of our daughters was incredibly upset that we did not sign her up for SAT review classes or care enough about her grades once she attended a ‘real’ high school.

Yet, as homeschooling increases in the United Kingdom, one British columnist has labeled me, by association and after the fact,  a “militant,” “arrogant,” and “controlling” mother who homeschooled to “dominate and diminish” my children. Wow!

To be fair, the author, Janet Street-Porter is willing to debate home-schooling mothers she knows and works with. Her strong language seems to more headline-grabbing than actually insulting. However, I think it is worth analyzing and rebutting her arguments.

While homeschooling has become rather mainstream in the United States, that isn’t so for much of the rest of the world. It is highly regulated in some countries and illegal in others, most notably Germany. When I was teaching my children, the most frequent accusation hurled at us was that we were hampering their socialization skills. That was laughable If you knew our outgoing children and the many friendships and relationships they had, but that tired allegation didn’t even make it into this article.

Instead, the article’s slant is the damage caused to British society in general and their  children in particular by parents take them out of the system. Ms. Street-Porter contends that those who don’t feel the school system is satisfactory from an educational point of view are  selfish to care only for our children rather than working within the system to improve academics for all. I admittedly am not familiar with British bureaucracy, but if it is anything like America, we’re not talking a fix that will be accomplished within the schooling lifetime of any student today.  Things are that bad and the status quo is too entrenched. I know many homeschooling parents who actively work to improve education on a community and national level. Doing the best for one’s own child doesn’t mean that you don’t care about anyone else’s.

Another accusation hurled at homeschooling parents in this article was a reluctance to embrace the necessity of discipline. Again, unless British schools are complete opposites from American ones, most homeschooling families are far more disciplined than classrooms, not less. Parents who are disorganized wimps can scrape by when their kids are out of the house for many hours a day. When the kids are always home, structure and routine usually co-exist with learning and play.

As for the recommendation that children must learn to handle bullying and that homeschooling to avoid it will reduce children’s resilience and ability to get along with others, I think that is completely misguided. Most parents that I know who homeschool in response to classroom, school bus and schoolyard bullying start out as reluctant homeschoolers.  They have worked with their children, the teachers and administration to try to solve the problem, all to no avail. They are making a difficult decision not to sacrifice their children’s emotional health.

The article closes with this paragraph: “Sadly, too many modern parents want to control every aspect of their children’s lives – monitoring their movements via special apps, calling them every few hours to make sure they are “safe”. Home-schooling is just another form of insidious control.”

One of the easiest ways to monitor your child is to put them in a controlled environment for most of their waking hours. In other words, send them to school. My children and many of their homeschooling peers were far more independent and had a wider variety of activities than their friends who marched in lock-step with twenty or so other children of precisely their own age. Dominating and diminishing my children? I prefer to think of homeschooling as assisting my children in reaching their full potential; propelling them aloft rather than helicoptering over them.

Do You Think?

April 8th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

As parents, we make thousands of decisions for our children’s lives. For a homeschooling mother that number grows exponentially. I think many of us are a bit hard on ourselves, beating ourselves up for choices that, in retrospect, we wish we had made differently. So, it is really rewarding to get positive feedback about something we did and I got just such feedback last week.

On of our daughters is currently studying in a selective and difficult program while earning a highly specialized nursing degree. Last week, she mentioned an advantage she has over her peers in the way that she approaches her studies. As a student in our homeschooling house and then during a year of Bible study in Jerusalem, she was trained to ask questions. She memorized great quantities of material and needed to know many facts, but that was the starting point, not the end goal.

She learned to be constantly on the lookout for conflicting information and anomalies. Studying different approaches to the same topic and then integrating them was a consistent theme. She was encouraged to see the  big picture rather than compartmentalizing information—how did the literature of a certain time and place interact with the history and scientific discoveries taking place? Why is this rare Hebrew word used only in this chapter of the book of Exodus and again in Deuteronomy?  She was encouraged to look critically at ideas and the background of those who made them. 

As our children grew and applied for certain scholarships or schools, we needed to fill out forms detailing what our children had covered in a variety of standard subjects such as English or math. The powers-that-be cared how many hours of physical education they had and whether they were fluent in more than one language. Yet, we were never asked whether our children loved seeking knowledge and if they had tools to do so.

Our daughter’s comment reminded me of the many logic puzzles, cryptograms, ciphers and thinking games we spent time on when they were children. I’m not sure whether I considered those part of “school” or more part of life. Truly, one of the reasons we homeschooled was to blur that distinction. I’m tickled that the benefits of those critical thinking skills are being felt today.

Frustrate Your Child Today

February 18th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

The above words may not sound as nice as, “Do a random act of kindness today,” but they may be just as important. Stick with me as I make a case for following them. First, let me give you a few suggestions how to go about accomplishing this aim:

  1. Make clear that the newest, greatest, best birthday present they ever received will not be available for use until a hand-written thank-you card is ready for mailing.
  2. Respond to the words, “I’m bored,” with a grateful smile and a broom or mop.
  3. Meticulously follow through on carefully thought out statements such as, “Any clothing/shoes/toys/stuff left lying around the living room after bedtime will be quarantined for seven days.
  4. Present an age-appropriate poem to each child (and adult) and pick a date where only those who recite their poems will be invited to a family ice-cream social. Be flexible here and allow everyone to pick his or her poem as long as it meets approval. (The poem Fleas: Adam had ‘em should not be admissible for anyone over two-years-old.)
  5. Have a policy that unless there are the type of extenuating circumstances that occur no more than once a year,  whining never turns a no into a yes, a yes into a no, or a whining child into a quiet one watching a video or playing a game on your phone.
  6. Refuse to complain to your child’s teacher because the work is too hard unless your grandmother would have complained to your mother’s teacher over similar work. (In other words, the 8X table does need to be memorized.)

I think you get the idea.

Life frustrates babies and toddlers. They cannot communicate as well as they would like to and learning to walk automatically includes a great deal of falling and bumped heads. Generally, babies aren’t able to control their lives very much. The good news is that we can’t fix their deficiencies. We can certainly smooth the way by understand their abilities, clearing obstacles from their path, and setting routines in place that help them thrive, but we cannot yell at the pediatrician because our six-month-old isn’t walking or expressing himself in full sentences. If we saw a mother who never let her child try to crawl or walk out of fear of the child falling, we wouldn’t applaud her but hope that she found a mothering mentor. And when, after lots of failed attempts, an upright little one navigates his way across the room or builds a tower of blocks that stands, his beaming face tells us that the reward is a function of the effort.

As our children get older, their frustrations come less from the tremendous physical and physiological growth they are undergoing and more from character, intellectual and self-discipline development. Yet—and this is true for adults as well—without hitting limitations, being frustrated and overcoming those hurdles, they and we do not grow.

A thirteen-month-old crying in frustration raises our sympathies or, at least, our understanding. For the most part, we can deal with him. We can distract him or hold him or put him in his crib to fall asleep. Assuming a healthy child in a healthy atmosphere we can be pretty sure that today’s challenge will disappear over the next few weeks.

An older child yelling in frustration often scares or angers us. She may blame us for her unhappiness or demand that we fix things. After all, no one else’s parents demand written thank-you notes rather than a quick text, the other teachers let their students use calculators and everyone else her age is allowed to own a smart phone. We are the problem.

Responding in kind by yelling back and threatening punishment or, alternatively, complaining to her coach or teacher may provide temporary relief, but long-term damage. Clearing the roadblock by letting her drop a class or even by arranging prematurely for a tutor, teaches that she cannot help herself and find her own solutions. It sets her up for a life of passivity and failure rather than the joy of accomplishment.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that frustrating your child should be the sole guiding path in your parenting. But in a milieu of love and support, staying out of the way and letting our children fall down, bump their heads and get up and try again can be one of the kindest actions we take.

Book Recommendations: Navigating Early and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

February 11th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I am rather excited at finding not one but two books to recommend for pre-teen and teenage boys. Girls will enjoy these books too, but I find that a disproportionate number of fiction books cater to girls and frequently many boys aren’t interested in them.

I assume that I picked up the first on someone’s recommendation, because the title would not have enticed me. I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was so I could direct my appreciation their way. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster might be a title that you too would overlook, but in my opinion it is worth serious perusal.

Jonathan Auxier crafts a gripping story that is, in his words, “a tangled knot of fantasy and fact.” He inserts the legend of the golem—a creature brought to life by Rabbi Loew in 1500s Prague to protect the Jewish community from vicious anti-Semitism—into the life of a young female chimney sweep in Victorian England. The book provides fertile ground for a homeschooling unit study and I hope you will consider it as a read-aloud that might spark numerous important conversations with your child.

The second book I heartily recommend is Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. While all children are different, my teenage grandson who read this on his own did not enjoy it while his younger siblings (ten and up) who heard it as a read-aloud by their mom loved it. I can’t stress often enough how a well done reading aloud experience can transform a complex, sometimes confusing, story into a gem. Like Sweep, Navigating Early inserts serious topics, in this case, autism, resilience, and appreciating those who are different into an adventurous tale.

Though both these books touch on important issues, they are enjoyable reads that include wonderful story-telling and language. I’d love to hear what you think of these books and whether you agree with me that they deserve a place on your bookshelf.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

 

Do I Know You?

January 18th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A Your Mother’s Guidance teaching by Rebecca Masinter:

In Exodus 6:2, God appears to Moses to send him on a mission to speak to the children of Israel. Moses should introduce God to the Jews as the One who will redeem them from the slavery of Egypt and ultimately lead them to the land of Israel.  However, before Moses can get to that part, God gives His introduction: “I appeared to the Patriarchs, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I made promises to them and I made a covenant with them to give them the land they dwelled in…”  Why does the Jewish nation need a history lesson now?  Why can’t Moses just say, “God appeared to me and He will redeem you!” 

I think that perhaps God is giving the Israelites an important message:  He’s saying, “I know you don’t really know me yet very well, and we don’t have much of a relationship as of now, and a lot is about to start happening very dramatically.  You may feel unsure about all of this and about Me, but here’s the thing: I had a close relationship, a relationship and a binding covenant, with your grandparents.  We have a strong history together and whether or not you realize it on your own yet, we have an intact and foundational relationship that goes back generations.  Everything that will come, the Plagues, leaving Egypt, the splitting of the Reed Sea, and settling the land of Israel is building on the relationship I forged with your fathers and will forge directly with you, “I will take you as mine for a nation and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). 

When parenting our children, they need to know that we have a deep relationship with them before we do things together, before we ask things of them, and before we try to teach them.  Before any parenting can happen, our children need to feel that they are in an intimate, eternal relationship with us, their parents.

How can we do this today?  For today, let’s follow God’s example and share with our children the history of our love for them from the beginning.  Show them baby pictures of you holding them tight, tell them how happy you were at their birth, and share with them, (even your teenagers!) the adorable things they used to say and the activities you used to share together when they were little.  We need our kids to know that our commitment to our relationship with them began way back at the beginning and will continue forever just as God introduced Himself to us with the same information.

The Tuttle Twins – book recommendation

January 14th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

When the Bible and Vladimir Lenin agree, it’s time to pay attention. One of Scripture’s recurring themes is teaching and shaping the next generation’s views and beliefs. As for Lenin, he said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

If you are shocked by the way college students are embracing socialism, you haven’t been paying attention for a few decades. Of course, this is a result of many factors, but one that is less frequently discussed is that few of us focus on economic education even when taking responsibility for our own children’s education. After all, when was the last time you discussed inflation with your seven-year-old? Talked about competition and market regulation with your pre-teen?

Fortunately, the Tuttle twins have stepped into this void.  A series of entertaining books featuring the fictional twins present complex ideas with clarity and simplicity. Whether the twins are running a lemonade stand, enjoying themselves at camp or hanging out with neighbors and classmates, basic societal and economic principles intertwine with their lives.

I have frequently undertaken the job of warning you to beware of books that might undermine your family values. Often, the agenda in the books is hidden. If you don’t pre-read them, you will probably never know about the message on p. 63. In contrast, these books openly have an agenda: a defense of what my husband calls ethical capitalism. The author, Connor Boyack and illustrator, Elijah Stanfield, take concepts from thinkers, economists and authors such as Henry Hazlitt, Ayn Rand and Frederic Bastiat, and turn them into appealing and informative stories.

Judging by my test panel’s response, ranging in age from eight to fourteen, children will enjoy reading these books, which would be a worthwhile result in itself.  Even better would be if parents and older children read them as well, sparking an opportunity for family conversation and for more advanced reading for the older group. As parents, we ideally have more than four years to inoculate our children against the harmful ideas and mistaken beliefs that will bombard them. I heartily recommend that you add this series to your tool kit.

The Tuttle Twins

The Patience Pitfall

January 7th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 5 comments

If you homeschool your children, you have probably been on the receiving end of this statement: “I think what you’re doing is wonderful, but I just don’t have the patience.”

Nine times out of ten, the correct response is to smile and change the subject. Your conversation partner doesn’t actually think that what you’re doing is wonderful; she actually thinks it’s insane. Never for one minute has she considered keeping her children with her at home. School is working well for her family.

Every once in a while, though, those words express a plaintive cry for help. They come from the depths of the soul of a mother who worries that school is damaging or short-changing her child but is terrified at the idea of being a full-time parent and teacher. Endowing you with saintly levels of patience allows her to rationalize that she couldn’t possibly do what you’re doing. After all, she wasn’t born with your supernatural talent.

Here is my dirty little secret. I homeschooled not because I had overflowing reserves of patience, but because I had very little of it. I had absolutely no patience for helping a child with inane, boring and convoluted homework. I had no patience with being nominated as the homework police.  I had no patience with placing family priorities behind the (understandable) demands of an institution. I had no patience with waking a sleeping infant in order to drive carpool. The list goes on.

Here is what I discovered. Reviewing multiplication tables, reminding people that the words ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ mean different things, and rarely having an uncluttered kitchen table did require patience. It was the same type of patience needed to help little ones remember not to drop their clothes, toys and shoes all over the house and to say please when making a request. In other words, being a teacher was an extension of being a mother. The more I worked at one identity, the better I got at the other.

If you need time to recuperate after getting everyone out the door in the morning; if there are constantly miserable hours of ‘witching time’ between school and dinner; if getting the kids to bed is an exhausting, nightly performance, some homeschooling lessons might be exactly what you need. Because (for healthy moms) homeschooling encourages you to hone your mother skills.

Phrases like, “I can’t wait for school to start,” and “If winter vacation lasts one more day I’m going to go out of my mind,” aren’t accolades to schools. They are reminders that things in the home need to change because they aren’t working well. There is only one reason for children to go to school. That is because it benefits them.

The child who heads off in the morning knowing that his mother would rather spend the day with him, but sacrifices the opportunity for his well-being, is a child ready to make the most of his studies. The child who suspects that school is an excuse for his mother to get rid of him learns an entirely different lesson.

Differentiated What?

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read. 

Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.

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