Self-Directed Learning: It’s Time to Clear Something Up…

Ah, self-directed learning. It’s one of my absolute favorite advantages of relaxed homeschooling. There can be no more effective way for children to learn, in my opinion.

In fact, its efficacy is what has enabled me to embrace a simpler homeschool approach for my children. Out of all the “fool-proof” tricks I’ve tried and well-intentioned advice I’ve received, there is no denying the fact that kids (at least, my kids) learn far more successfully and enthusiastically when they themselves are the ones who are given the reins on their education.

However, over the past few months I have realized that there are some who don’t quite understand what self-directed learning actually is, and I’ve found that the most confusion stems from one faulty idea: that self-directed learning is just another name for independent learning.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Continue reading “Self-Directed Learning: It’s Time to Clear Something Up…”

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12 Ways to Incorporate Shopkins into Your Homeschool

I don’t know about your house, but Shopkins™ are a huge hit at ours. Every single birthday, every single holiday, all my littles and middles ask for are Shopkins. I’m certainly not going to complain about this. They’re inexpensive, they don’t take batteries, and they actually require an imagination to play with them.

Watching their delight as they play with these little collectibles sparked a question in me:

Can I find a way to incorporate them into our homeschool routine?

As it turns out, the answer was a big, fat, yes, and they’re a much more valuable tool than I ever thought they’d be! Not only are they a great tool for my younger children, but I came up with several ways to use them with my upper elementary and middle school age kids, too.  Continue reading “12 Ways to Incorporate Shopkins into Your Homeschool”

Lazy Day Links- 7/1/16

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I can’t believe it’s July 4th weekend already. It seems like only yesterday I was thanking my lucky stars that winter was over!

I’m so excited right now because I just came back from shopping for our school supplies. 🙂 The only thing we need are the copy paper and ink we ordered off of eBay. Once those come in, we’re ready to go!

On with the links… Continue reading “Lazy Day Links- 7/1/16”

How to Joyfully Transition from Home to Homeschool

“My concern is not to improve “education” but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves.”
– John Holt, Instead of Education

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At first glance, the title of this post may seem redundant. If my children have never been in school, why would we need to transition into homeschooling? It may, indeed, seem a silly proposal, but hear me out…..

Children are natural learners. Just watch any child that is pre-school age, and you’re bound to see someone who is itching to find out as much as she can about the world and wants to do it independently and immediately. Your child has been learning since birth. Naturally. Spontaneously. Voluntarily.  Continue reading “How to Joyfully Transition from Home to Homeschool”

Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 11- More Time to Pursue Interests

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Well, here we are at the second-last post in this seriesTo be honest, I had so many reasons listed that I thought I’d be writing these until Christmas. 🙂 I can only pray that they have helped you to solidify your decision and have been an encouragement to you.

As I’ve stated in many previous posts, children learn best when they have an interest in what they are doing. While we can certainly take that statement to mean we should get their input on what subjects they will be taking, we can also take it one step further.

Kids who have time to learn about themselves and what they like often find that they have developed a consuming passion for one area or another. Whether it is trains, snakes, karate, or dance, in the right environment, children can take these ‘hobbies’ and turn them into so much more.

Does this mean that your budding ballerina will be the next Anna Pavlova? Maybe…maybe not. While there are a great many people who have pursued careers borne of childhood delights, there are just as many who have not.

Does this mean that the time invested in these pasttimes were a waste? Certainly not. In fact, the more time children are able to spend on those things they love, the more they will learn. These passions that your children have discovered are often the gateway to learning about oodles and oodles of other things.

I wrote in the past about my daughter’s obsession with anime and my son’s love for wildlife photography. These interests have led to so many amazing rabbit trails that, frankly, I would never have even thought of introducing them on my own.

Who would have thought that anime would lead to a determination to master not only the Japanese language, but also the Japanese writing characters? 

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that my son taking pictures at the creek would inspire him to become an authority on identifying the wildlife in our area.

Those two examples are just a tiny synopsis of the type of learning that occurred while my children were simply doing what they loved to do.

But what about children in school? Although they, like all children, will find hobbies that pique their interest, just how much time do they get to spend doing them?

Admittedly, when I was in school, I was still able to go to dance class 3-4 times a week and participate in a dance company, but times have changed. I graduated in the nineties- before the incessant after-school programs and the introduction of social media. Kids in ‘those days’ (boy, I feel old) were actually able to be kids in the after-school hours.

It just isn’t so anymore.

Between the after-school programs, social media, overscheduling, and- let’s face it- the endless drilling and testing in institutionalized education, kids today are just too tired to do anything worthwhile in their spare time anymorea truth disclosed to me by my daughter recently.

What we, as parents, need to think about is what will be the ultimate repercussions of this?

One consequence is pretty clear from the get-go…children who have no interests will usually end up settling for a job they’d rather not have but have been ‘bred’ to do.

Instead of this nation being filled to the brim with ardent artists, impassioned musicians, and inspiring entrepreneurs, we’ve raised a population of mediocre ‘factory employees’ who do what they have to do to pay their bills and put food on the table, but have no zest for life and certainly no incentive to ever try to better themselves because this is what school has taught them to do.

What would happen if we would give our children the time they need to pursue the dreams they so desire? In truth, the answer to that isn’t a given.

But would it hurt to try?

 

 

A Tale of Ten Homeschoolers- Summer Fun!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another week has flown by, and I’m telling you, I am already so antsy to begin our new homeschool year! There’s a reason for this…after years of doing lapbooking, I finally decided to look into notebooking, and I am wondering why I never checked it out before. It looks like so much fun and will be a great way to transition some of my kids into writing more often. Yay for Jimmie Lanley!

I’ve also been trying to come up with a plan for my soon-to-be 11th grader for history. He’s very hands-on and doesn’t like to read, so I’m thinking of writing a study of World Folklore for him to do for the year. (I can see a beautiful notebook for this!) We’ll see where this takes us, but for now I’m really psyched about it. I’m such a nerd. 🙂

This past Saturday I went to Family Day at my oldest son’s Military Police Reserve unit. It was fairly relaxing since the only “child” I brought with me was my 16-yr-old. It was bittersweet, though, because there was a bounce house, dart games, bubbles, and Batman! (I didn’t tell my younger kids that they missed out on Batman. Ssh!)

 

Sunday was a washout, so we weren’t able to inflate the pool, but we got it up on Monday. Boy, did the kids have fun with that! There was also quite a bit of playing in the dirt this past week, and we found a ladybug larva- I never knew there was such a thing.

We also made some butterflies with paint- thanks for the idea, Mother of 3!

 

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My oldest daughter is in Atlantic City as I write this, getting ready for an anime convention this weekend. She’s particularly excited about this one because, other than it being in Atlantic City, it’s also the first convention she’s been to in 10 months. Believe me, she was more than ready.

As for me, I just received the book With My Eyes Wide Open from UPS yesterday and have already finished it because it.was.amazing. I don’t want to give away too much, but suffice it to say, the faith of this rock star made me take a second look at my relationship with Jesus. Let’s just say that it made me pull my devotional off the shelf and dust it off with tears in my eyes. Look for a review of it in the next couple of days.

Tomorrow my hubby is planning on taking several of the kids to see the World of Warcraft movie. They’re so excited.

That’s about it for this fun-filled week. Leave a comment and tell me how yours has been!

 

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Looking at the Bright Side of Unschooling

Finding balance within your homeschool is the key to superior learning, and some unschooling philosophies can play a key role in that.

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After writing yesterday’s post about our experience with unschooling, I began to wonder if I was able to adequately convey our good experiences with it. I fear that there was a bit of negativity at the end, and I felt the need to clarify myself.

I am not against unschooling. I feel that some of its philosophies about allowing children to pursue their own interests and using life as a curriculum hit the nail right on the head. I have seen first-hand how much children learn when they have a vested interest in something. In fact, our family still uses natural learning as an important part of our homeschooling routine. Our structured learning normally takes only about two hours a day, while the rest of the day is open for my children to engage in anything they find useful and interesting.

What this has looked like this past week has been my son deciding that he would like to become a wildlife photographer after spending hours at the creek every day taking photos like these:

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Spending six hours a day doing structured school work would have prevented him from committing the time he did towards this project. Is this as valuable as book work? I’d have to say that this holds even more value because this is something he initiated on his own and will, therefore, remember all the better.

Before our unschool experiment, I would have scoffed if he had asked me to go to the creek during the school day every single day for an entire week. I would have lectured him about the importance of getting an education. Unschooling taught me to recognize that this is an education.

It also gave me the ability to see the worth in seemingly mundane things that many parents overlook. Caring for a sick baby bird. Making homemade paint out of sidewalk chalk. Helping the neighbor in her garden. These are all things I would happily set aside school work for in order to pursue.

Does this mean I do not assign value to book learning? Absolutely not. I am a self-professed nerd, and I realize that there are some things that are better learned with some structure- usually some sort of book, but not always.

It all comes down to balance. At the end of the day- at least with my children- there are some things which are best learned when they are taught, and there are other things best left to experience in real life. This is what homeschooling is all about. Finding the balance that is right for your family and allowing the joy that follows to shine through.

For more photos like these, you can follow my son on Instagram!

 

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Natural Learning Vs. Assigned Learning

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Today I’m going to address the third and final question of a commenter on my post My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling. [The comment has since been removed at the request of the author.]

3) It [unschooling] is premised on the idea that people don’t “love learning” if discipline is involved. My experience & observation of others is just the opposite – people tend to come to love those areas of life in which they apply the most discipline – and not just self-discipline, but where adults have taught them discipline.

On this particular comment, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Unschooling takes a lot of discipline- on the part of the child and the parent. The question is, what is that discipline being applied to? Remember that I haven’t always been an unschooler. Our homeschool has evolved from school-at-home to unit studies to eclectic and then finally to natural learning, so I’ve seen the outcomes of all of these methods. With regard to my children, they have retained the most information from topics that they themselves pursued on their own. Pursuing their own interests, in itself, takes discipline, so discipline is certainly not an issue. And whether the discipline is coming from the child or being taught by the parents is not the issue. The issue is what path will their education take? Yours or theirs?

When we were still doing unit studies and would be learning about a particular subject, such as American Indians, they really seemed to have a good grasp of what I was teaching them, and they did have fun doing it. We made false face masks and headdresses and visited a Lenni Lenape museum. They had a ball. Fast forward a few months- I asked some questions about the American Indians unit, and they hardly remembered anything.

Contrast this with a perfect example of my son, Dillon. He loves spiders- especially wolf spiders. I have never covered spiders, specifically, other than that they are classified as arachnids. So Dillon took it upon himself to find out everything he could about wolf spiders- books, websites, documentaries, YouTube videos, you name it. What did he get from all this? I now consider him to be an “expert” on wolf spiders. He can tell you where they live, what they eat, how long they live, how big they get- I could go on and on.

We spent four weeks on that American Indians unit, and even though they seemed to enjoy it, now they remember nothing, other than a few things. On the other hand, Dillon still remembers everything about wolf spiders and has increased his knowledge of them even more since then.

This is not surprising to me. I did the same thing when I was in public school. I remembered what I was supposed to long enough to make the honor roll and graduate in the top 10% of my class…and then I forgot it. It was no longer needed. What do I remember from school the most? The subjects I chose to take- mythology, theater arts, parenting (thank God I remember that, 11 kids later), cooking, nutrition. What do these have in common? My interest.

And I will go even further to say that, unless you have a need to learn something- and by need I’m not referring to a need to fulfill state requirements, but a need to learn something in order to achieve a goal- a lot of what is taught in schools is unnecessary. In the majority of cases, people will pursue a career in something that they’re drawn to- interested in. Is it really important that an astronomer knows that laissez faire means “hands off”? Does a historian need to know what alliteration is? And who exactly decided what is important to learn? This is why homeschooling is the ideal choice because these things should be decided on a case by case basis. Not everyone is the same. God created us to be unique individuals, and we should nurture that.

Before you jump the gun, let me just interject that I love learning. I’m learning all the time, and it is a good thing to be knowledgeable, but why you’re learning something is as important as what you’re learning. Alluding back to my high school days,- sorry for all the trips down memory lane- I took six years of German. Six. I should be a pro, right? Not so much. I could probably help someone in their first year of German, and it would end there. Why? I haven’t had the need to use it.

Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s great to report to the school district that you taught your third grader Euclidean geometry. It’s awesome to look back at those old homeschooling journals and see that your seventh grader completed a course on quantum physics, but are they going to remember it? Unless they have an interest in those fields, I’d say probably not. Why? Because they won’t need to use it.

This is why it’s so important to let your children’s interests come into play. This time is precious. Let them spend time pursuing things that they’re going to retain and possibly use in their future endeavors. I myself know how hard it can be to realize that our children may not care about the things we care- or think that they should care- about. Let them lead the way. Trust that they have the ability to increase their knowledge in the things that are important to them and that they will have the discipline to do so. That’s the best kind of learning- the kind that they won’t forget.

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Every Week Should Be Break Week

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Looks familiar from last week’s post, right? And the week before…and the week before. I’m telling you, I am so sick of snow. I’m ready to pack up everything and move South. Maybe Louisiana…or Texas…or Australia. We’ve gotten so much snow that our city was completely unprepared. They ran out of salt for the streets, and all the stores ran out of rock salt. Of course we didn’t have any, so I told my husband to sprinkle some cat litter for traction. He did more than sprinkle. He poured so much out front and out back that it looked like we were living on a beach. What a mess. He’s got most of it cleaned up now, and he’s got a plan on how he’ll shovel up the rest. Oy vey.

Anyway…on with the week…

This was our first ever break week since we’ve started unschooling. If you’re questioning why we even needed a break, I wrote about it right here. This entire week has had me pleasantly surprised.
I honestly thought that since I would not be limiting screen time that I would have a bunch of Minecrafting zombies, especially considering the fact that we’ve gotten four new laptops this week. I myself have been spending quite a bit of time on mine. Hey, give me a break. I’ve been doing all my online activity, including writing my blog, on my Android! This is new to me, too!
Looking back on the week, though, I’ve noticed something that did not escape Arianna’s attention either…the kids have been doing more this week than since we started unschooling! This has completely validated my theory that children learn best without expectations.
I found it exceedingly funny that on our second day of break, several of the kids spent hours playing school. IMAG5139 (1) And not just your typical ABC’s stuff, either. I walked into the living room, and Caollin was using our solar system model to quiz the kids on the planets. Then, she had them all sit and listen while she played with the interactive tablet that goes with it. Shortly afterward, I heard music. I looked in on the kids and saw that Caollin had “Fifty Nifty United States” playing on her tablet while the kids sang, and she played guitar! I was so happy, I almost couldn’t contain myself, but I managed to play it cool because I didn’t want to ruin the moment.
If you’ve read my blog before, you probably remember that my kids love arts and crafts, so, of course, these activities played a huge role in our week.
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Yes, she's wearing a bathing suit top in the middle of winter. Choose your battles, right?
Yes, she’s wearing a bathing suit top in the middle of winter. Choose your battles, right?

Summer's always a mess, isn't she?
Summer’s always a mess, isn’t she?

It’s taken the older kids some time to get used to Minecraft on the PC since they’ve always played the pocket edition. They’ve really learned a lot, though, and Dillon has been as diligent as ever in researching mods. He was so excited today because he learned how to make a portal using obsidian and a snowman using a pumpkin. (I have no clue.) IMAG5158
Arianna made her own lipstick with Crayola Crayons (she learned it from a makeup tutorial). She said it worked well, but it was really hard to pour it into the little containers.
I was checking my emails today when I heard Caollin using my phone to learn French on Mango Languages. I’ll tell you, out of everyone, Caollin has surprised me the most this week because she’s the one who’s spent the most time doing nothing but petting the cats. As I alluded to earlier, even Arianna has noticed the difference this week. She mentioned to me last night that we should always have break because everyone’s been so much busier…and happier. A very wise observation, I would say.
I bought my first digital camera today (yes, my 14 year old has a DSLR, but I’ve only been using my Android to take pictures). It’s certainly not a DSLR, but, hopefully, today will be the last day I have to post blurry pictures. I’m really excited about it because when you have a lot of kids, you tend to forget to do things for yourself once in a while…so this is my present to me.
Tomorrow we’re planning on finding a pantry for our kitchen because we just don’t have enough cabinet space. Saturday we’ll be having our first family portrait taken in three years. I was so afraid that Brendan, my 20 year old, would have to work, but he’s coming, too! Afterwards, the 13 of us will be taking my mom to Denny’s for her birthday. (Kids eat free! Ahem. They’ll love us.) I’ve already reserved the entire back room. We only take the kids out to a restaurant about once a year, so they’re usually very well-behaved. We shall see…

What’s your week been like?

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Maybe “Educational” Should Be a Bad Word

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Calm down…I know what you’re thinking. To clarify myself, I am not against education, just society’s definition of it.

Just what exactly is considered to be educational by most people?

– Something that fits neatly into a  school board-approved subject- i.e. English, Math, Science, etc.

– Something which is learned out of textbooks, then tested and graded

– Anything which is covered in standardized testing and the Common Core

Makes sense, right? It’s all very straightforward…

…or is it?

An important question here is who decides what is considered to be educational? That’s easy….school boards and the government. Oh, boy. That’s a problem for me. Our government can’t handle running the country- the job we hired them for. Why would we throw something else at them for them to control, particularly, our children’s futures? I don’t know about you, but that’s a problem for me.

This brings me to my next point…what about the interests of our children that don’t fit into a neat little box? For example, Arianna loves watching makeup tutorials. This has evolved into her using my other kids as canvases for her own theatrical makeup experiments. She’s also turned it into a business; she charges a quarter for face painting. More recently, she’s started recording her own makeup tutorials and uploading them onto YouTube. Would the school board or NEA consider this to be educational? I can’t speak for them, but I doubt it. Has she learned through this? Absolutely.

You see, my problem with the word ”educational” has nothing to do with learning. My concern is this: shouldn’t anything that our child immerses herself in and surrounds herself with be just as important as any mainstream educational objective?

Another issue is something I may have caused myself with my children. Since I was always so concerned with fulfilling state regulations, I was constantly focusing on those schoolish subjects that my children had no interest in and devaluing their true interests because I thought they weren’t educational. There’s that word again.

Being a product of the public school system, I had these same views so ingrained into me that I contributed to my children believing that the things they most wanted to do weren’t worth it.

Thankfully, I’ve come to my senses. If a child is learning while they’re doing something, anything, it is educational.

Last week, London and Caollin were playing ”restaurant” for hours- making menus, taking orders, setting tables- the whole shebang. They were having so much fun.
The last straw came when London, who’s eight, came up to me while playing and said,
”Mommy, is this educational?”

I was floored!

What have I done? My little girl was more concerned with that than with enjoying herself. That’s when I decided to never use the e-word in front of my kids again. (2016- I do use that word now, but less frequently!)

Are my kids learning? Every single day. But that’s not what I want to focus on anymore. I want to focus on living.

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What are your thoughts on this subject? Join the conversation!

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