Remembering Our Footprints Journey Around South Africa

Wendy Young recently asked me on Facebook to share our year-and-a-half Footprints journey around South Africa.

Our journey began in 2007 when our lives had changed drastically.   We had just sold our farm in Bronkhorstspruit and we were free to travel.    I had bought the Footprints On Our Land curriculum to use for all three children and when it arrived I was initially slightly disappointed.  The package seemed so small compared to Sonlight’s!  It all fitted in a Xerox box!  But its size was a blessing, because we had to put all our furniture and belongings into long-term storage while we searched for our next farm, and all our homeschool supplies could fit neatly into a small, onboard-sized suitcase!  Yay for a compact curriculum!  Also, its size is deceptive!  It is a huge curriculum in its range and presentation.

We first moved to the Western Cape and stayed in Carlitzdorp, in the Karoo, in an authentic Cape house, faithfully restored with historical furniture & decor.  Although it had running water, it was off the grid, which lent an even more authentic experience.  Its thick walls, thatch roof and clay finish kept it cool in the hot, Klein Karoo summer.  When we visited Swellendam‘s Drostdy Museum we instantly recognised the smell of our house!  We then stayed with my parents-in-law in Witsand on the Breede River estuary and then travelled to Cape Town for a few weeks.  We visited the Castle and fed squirrels in the Company Gardens, where I had a miraculous encounter, suddenly meeting with my brother who I had last seen 8 years previously before he was transferred to Nigeria.

We relaxed in the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.  My youngest child swam with the penguins at Boulders and Simon’s Town.  My hubby had done service in the Navy and took us to some military towns and places in and around Cape Town.  We had planned to visit District Six Museum, take the cable car up Table Mountain and take a boat trip to visit Robben Island, but I had had surgery and I was forced to take things easy for a while.

We then travelled up the Garden Route and fell in love with Wilderness where we rented a house for 5 months, right on the beach, at the Touw River estuary.   We bodyboarded daily and we spent a lot of time outdoors.  We hiked and paddled canoes in Wilderness Nature Reserve.  We joined another homeschool family and built rafts with driftwood logs which washed up on the shore after the 2007 floods, and the kids sailed their rafts up the Touw River.

We visited the Dias Museum in Mossel Bay, which made a huge impression on my young children, who had enjoyed the book “Caravel to the Cape”.  They fed elephants in the Knysna Elephant Park and boarded a naval vessel docked at Knysna.  We walked in the Knysna forests, bringing our book “Circles in the Forest” to life!  We enjoyed walking along some of the Outeniqua Choo-Choo railway line right along the coast.  We spent a marvelous weekend at Storms River Reserve and enjoyed walks in the forest and walking across the suspension bridge.

Next we took a trip up to Kwa Zulu Natal.   We visited friends in the Natal Midlands and family in Durban.  We visited historic places mentioned in the Great Trek, went to British & Zulu war fields and visited the tiny, but lovely Weenen museum.  My kids all loved Phe Zulu on a day outing to see Zululand.  It was typically touristy, but nonetheless provided a rich experience of the Zulu culture, music and way of life.  Our family loved Durban’s U’Shaka and the Aquarium, and they especially enjoyed the dolphin and seal show.

Our next trip was to Gauteng.  On our way our car broke down and we were towed back to George, but we finally hit the road again.  We stopped at Kimberley‘s Big Hole museum along the way, which was an excellent experience.  Funnily enough, my kids loved searching through the gravel for garnets more than going down into the mine museum.

In Pretoria, my hubby’s father, a retired Airforce man, came with us to the Airforce Museum and Airforce Memorial at the Waterkloof Airbase, as well as the actual military base and accommodation.  We found Uncle Myles Moodie’s name on the memorial plaque.  Having Oupa with us who actually lived and worked for the Airforce, and knowing someone who died in service, made the museum tour very personal.  The Voortrekker Monument was a good outing, and my young and energetic kids raced up all the stairs to the very top!  What a view from there!We had planned to  travel to the Lowveld (Mpumalanga) on our next trip.  We had hoped to visit the Kruger National Park to look at the wildlife, pan for gold at Pilgrim’s Rest, visit waterfalls in Sabie, follow the story of “Jock  of the Bushveld” in and around Baberton and view the stunning Blyde River Canyon views from God’s Window, but our real life decision to buy a farm in the Klein Karoo became our reality, and we moved to our current farm near Uniondale instead.

Here are some questions people have asked me ~

What if we don’t have time for long trips?  Not every Footprints family has the liberty of extended time to travel as we did, but I would recommend taking time off for some seasonal trips or to plan your family vacation and try visit different regions of South Africa during your studies.  Simply start in the areas near you.  Travelling is always a wonderful experience when shared.  Try to plan your trip with another homeschooling family or good friends.  Learning and experiencing the journey with others forms bonds and memories that children never forget.

How do I approach the journey and outings?  May I humbly suggest you approach your travels with a relaxed, informal approach?  I was too “teachy” during our trips because I wanted my kids to get the most out of their experiences, and I dampened their natural love to learn by forcing constantly encouraging them to “learn this”, “look at this” and”listen to that”.   They have since literally hated any talk of going to a museum! Sigh. …. Relax moms …  Let your children learn naturally, make their own connections, form their own experiences.

What was your homeschool routine like during the 18 months?  There were times when we were not on the road and we settled down to days or weeks of “normal” homeschooling.  Surprisingly, I found that despite serious disruptions like road trips and car break downs, we didn’t actually “fall behind”.  We simply pressed a pause button on our schedule and experienced real life on the road instead.  I highly recommend you give yourselves more time by extending the 1-year course over 18 months to give yourselves a wide margin of time to enjoy all the scenic tours and unplanned, but wonderful stops along the way.

How do I plan my trips?  Parents may wonder if they should plan their trips around their Footprints schedule.  It sometimes helps to have read the book before visiting a museum or place so that the outing is connected to the story and becomes real.   Likewise, if your children experience an outing before the book is read aloud, they have a wonderful base to attach new knowledge discovered through the reading.  It doesn’t actually matter, so don’t worry if your journey is not chronological to your curriculum.

What do I need for these outings?  When you travel all you need is a journal, a basic supply of colouring pens and pencils, glue and scissors.   Because space was limited, we shared one set of pencils and felt-tipped pens between us.  Give each child their own zip envelope for collections of ticket stubs, pamphlets and odd finds.  When they have a moment to sit and think later, encourage each child to journal their wonderful memories of their outings in their journals.  Encourage younger children to dictate their thoughts to mom or dad.  My teens are tickled when they read their childhood journals years later!

How did you use the Footprints Map?  Our Footprints map became our lasting visual memory of our travels and experiences.  I pasted all the story book discs, as well as photos of friends and places we visited, in their geographical positions as we travelled.  We charted our travels in different coloured pens around South Africa and the map gradually become full.  I wrote each child’s review and evaluations of their Footprints experience at the top of the map.   I then had the whole map laminated at a printer shop to preserve our memories. Footprints On Our Land was a perfect fit for our family because we could homeschool all three children on the same curriculum at that particular stage of our homeschooling.

Footprints’ living books are marvelous, and the literature-based lessons are so beautifully interwoven in a rich, wide, yet flexible program.  Footprints is full of South African history, culture, nature and geography, and offers a hundred platforms for outings, excursions, museum trips, exploration and real hands-on experiences.

I wish any Footprints family every blessing as they make their own footprints on our land!

Read Alouds Solve A Lot!

We all have seasons of tough times in our homeschooling.  Read alouds solve almost everything!

If your homeschool days are in the doldrums, start a new read aloud.

If your kids are sick, just read aloud to them.  Find something special they will simply enjoy.

If your days are filled with interruptions, find a moment and read aloud together.

If you are stressed, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Just cuddle together and read aloud.

If you have lost hope in your homeschooling, start afresh and read aloud to your kiddies.

If your child is finding school work too difficult and wants to give up, let him find refreshment and hope in a good read aloud.

It is the glue that holds homeschool together.

You’ll be amazed what reading aloud accomplishes –

  • Amazing learning!  Kids learn and pick up so much through living books.  Themes, topics, facts, ideas and character qualities become life-long lessons. They will learn about great minds, great thoughts and good morals and values.  They will often live it out, act it out, and try it out.  No textbook can ever hope to inspire what great books can inspire!
  • Increased vocabulary – Children love learning new words, and listening to read alouds enlarges their vocabulary, especially with toddlers!  Because new words are heard  in context (in sentences with clues to their meaning), children can express and pronounce new words correctly, fully understanding its meaning.
  • Unity – Nothing brings a family together quite like listening to a great book.  The story brings everyone together and takes them on a journey of exploration, discovery and delight. If your family have ever listened to a radio drama or audio book in the car on a long journey, it is the same experience!
  • Humour – When your homeschooling seems to have hit a wall, start a Roald Dahl or some other funny book .  Nothing revives dulled and dreary souls more that some good laughs!  It will bring the spark back to your family time!  Humour learnt from our read aloud books became an underlying comedy line in our family’s humor.  My kids still quote funny lines from books I read to them when they were young.  And my children, now young adults, still giggle and tease me for my ridiculous Italian and deep Southern American and Spanish accents I used when reading aloud!
  • Continuity – Pick up the story where you left off last, maybe review the last moments,  read on, and the journey continues.  Despite disruptions, delays and interruptions, read alouds hold homeschooling on track.  Even if your children don’t do any seat work (3R’s such as Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) for days, even weeks, they will not fall behind.  If you continue to just read aloud to them they will learn.  I promise that this is true.  I have proved it over and over during my 20+ years of homeschooling.
  • 3rd voice – A read aloud acts as a 3rd party and helps parents “speak” with their children about difficult topics and themes.  This is especially helpful with teens.  A book presents ideas which both the child and parent can talk about without feeling trapped or shy.  Books about purity, modesty, money matters, personal hygiene, logic and reasoning, divorce, death, faith, dangers of social media, etc. deal with tricky issues in an open and non-threatening way.
  • Writing excellence – I have never ever taught my children creative writing lessons, but, through living books and great literature, they have all become incredibly gifted writers.  They imitate what they are regularly exposed to and develop a keen idea of how to write well.  They have a discernment for what is “schlocky” or “trashy” books, and what is good.  I have spoilt my children for cheap, rubbish paperback books for ever!
  • Oral narrations work – If you read aloud to your children and ask them to listen carefully and narrate (tell you back in their own words) what they have just heard, they will make it their own in ways that defy memorizing facts, or learning dry, dull information.  A child who thinks about what she has heard and understood, should express those ideas clearly and simply.  Older children should aim to remember at least 8 things from the reading and try express them in as similar a style as the author penned them.  This is advanced learning that requires focussed attention, massive mental connections and personal interpretation.  It is not easy!  It doesn’t matter if you have “nothing to show” for lessons narrated orally.  Your children will learn well!
  • Keep going – read alouds are for young adults too!  Don’t stop when your kids become teens!  We still read aloud, often at the dinner table, or when we are sewing and doing arts and crafts.  Expand the types of books to read aloud and cover a diverse range of books and topics.
  • Ongoing – Children who enjoy read alouds learn to love books and often develop into bookworms!  Homeschool children who have continuous exposure to books learn to love to read,  and they will keep reading for pleasure and information long into their adult lives.
  • Make it special – Read aloud time is a special time!  We looked forward to joining each other on a cuddly couch after all the seat work was done.  We would gather in a sunny spot with hot chocolate or mug of tea and cookies in winter, or lie in the shade under a tree on hot days with some bubbly water for our read aloud time.  We all had a sense of relief for this time together.  There was no sense of pressure or strain.  Young toddlers are welcome to play quietly nearby, absorbing the story and being part of the learning moments.  Even Dad coming into the house for a tea break, or my young adult daughter, long since graduated, sometimes joined us because our read aloud time was so intimate, and so wonderful.

Start with the easy stuff = read alouds.  Cait at My Little Poppies  shares why you should start your day with the easiest thing.   Begin your day reading aloud and you will accomplish much and solve everything … well, almost everything!

Blessings, Nadene

Artworks inspired by great literature which we sketched and painted .

Best Homeschooling Decision #1 More Time

Take. More. Time.  This is the best advice I would give any new homeschool mom.   Don’t rush through your homeschool curriculum!  You don’t have to stick to the schedule.  Use the schedule as your guideline, and add a wide margin of extra time to your schedule.

Extend any curriculum by 3 to 6 months.  Or simply add an extra week to each interesting topic or theme.  Give yourselves this time to include extra activities, outings, games, books, projects, lapbooks or experiences to your suggested program.  You are looking for your children’s spark of interest or delight and that is where you invest in extra time.  https://i1.wp.com/www.phtravelexpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Cebu-City-3-Day-Itinerary2.png

Imagine going on an overseas tour and rushing through because someone else planned the itinerary? It is awful to rush past a city or scenic stop or not have time to shop for bargains because the tour bus is leaving! You are your children’s tour director. Give them more time to explore and enjoy their experiences.

Imagine joining a banquet dinner and the Master of Ceremonies rushes everyone through their courses?  No time to chat and enjoy the food. No time to sip and savour the delicious tastes?  No time to marvel at new foods and combinations? No second helpings? You’d end up with indigestion, right?  So why do we do this to our young homeschooled children?

Just because an educational professional decided how long each chapter or lesson should take, does not mean that is your only option.

18 months. That’s my magic formula instead of 1 year.  We have always kept to a 4-day school week and yet we have never “fallen behind”.  I have never regretted extending a curriculum … ever.    I have used and re-used each curriculum enjoying a slow, enjoyable experience rather than rush and race to keep up with the schedule.

Don’t worry if some subjects slide slightly out of sync.  Simply take a week to catch up with any subject or reading that has fallen behind.

You are the tour director for your homeschool journey.  Tailor make their experience and enjoy every minute!

Blessings, Nadene

Do a little at a time

Don’t try do it all!  It is impossible and it shouldn’t be your goal.  Throughout our homeschooling journey, we have usually taken a few hours each day and only do a 4-day week, and yet we have managed to have a rich, deep and wide education all the way through to graduation.  

Keep your basic lessons short and sweet.  (I’m talking about the 3 R’s ~ Phonics, Handwriting and Maths.)  No lesson should take longer than 20 minutes for primary school children.

Once you master the basics of your curriculum, just aim to do a little bit extra.  I even added “after lunch” so that it was perceived as an extra.  (My children often fitted in this lesson before lunch so that they could enjoy a “free afternoon”.)

My theme of the day saved me from feeling that the complete schedule was too much.

Daily themes 2015

Instead , by allocating one “extra” subject per day, it felt like just a little add-on for that day. With this approach, we enjoyed a wide, varied and rich curriculum.

Don’t underestimate the power of short, informal lessons.  It is amazing just how much children learn and absorb in frequent, enjoyable exposure to all the extra subjects such as Poetry, Nature Walks, Science, Geography and Fine Arts.

It can all be done, most the time. Just do a little at a time.

Blessings, Nadene

Changes I wish I could make

Thinking back over more than 20 years of homeschooling with my daughters, these are some changes I wish I could have made sooner ~

  1. Take off the teacher’s hat.

Def.: have your teacher’s hat on

to be acting as you do when you are working as a teacher, lawyer etc., which may be different from the way you act in other situations.

ea55a13213221ebd3de36dfd7a9c4003Your professional skill as a teacher does not actually help you in those early years of homeschooling,  In fact that “school-at-home” approach kills your young children’s natural built-in joy and delight to learn.  Learn to learn alongside your kiddies and aim to be their facilitator instead.  Let them lead the way and make many more choices!

2.  Not everything needs to educational! 

Every outing doesn’t have to be a homeschool lesson. It’s okay to let life happen without a lesson plan, a notebooking page, or oral narration.  Stop focusing on end results and enjoy life’s journey together.  You will kill nature study, hymn, art and music appreciation if you make it a formal lesson.  Your teens will refuse to go into any museum!  Just trust that a regular yet informal approach will yield enormous results.

4-mother-and-child-in-a-boat-mothers-children-mary-cassatt-360x3603.  Avoid the tears!

When lessons produce tears, meltdowns, even tantrums, leave it alone.  Stop and put it aside or try something different. Tears often have a root of fear.  Find ways to reassure your child and encourage them to try a different way.  Make allowances for tired or sick or stressed children (or mom) and take the pressure off.   Just read aloud, go on a nature walk (but do not make it a formal lesson, see #2) or create art together.  Determine if your child is just not ready and try again in a few months time.  Unschool or deschool if your child has just come out of the school system and fears or hates school.  Offer a variety of opportunities to find their spark and gently encourage them to explore what interests them.

4. Be affectionate.

If your children are super sensitive, insecure or uncertain, give them more cuddles.  Even when you feel like you are wasting time and getting nothing done, just keep hugging.  Cuddle together when you read to them.  Sing together, skip together, get down in the dirt together, lie under the tree together.  (My youngest daughter often told people her favourite part of homeschooling was that she got lots of cuddles.)   Schools and systems don’t allow this physical affection at all.  Even your distant, independent teen needs hugs, or back rubs and time alone with you.  Aim to create a loving environment for your children to grow up and blossom in.

5. Relax and trust.

Just relax.  Your children will turn out great.  Enjoy each moment. Lean into their homeschooling experience without holding your breath, waiting for something to go wrong or trying hard to “do everything right”.  Let me repeat ~ your kids are all going to turn out great. Not just okay, but great.  Breathe … release those fears.  Trust.  Despite your best and worst efforts, they will be great!

mary_cassatt_mrs_cassatt_reading_to_grandchildren_postcard-r2e5db6cb5603484b8186d407360f7508_vgbaq_8byvr_324When we know better, we do better. 

I always tell my children and myself that we can always try again and start over.  When one of us has hit a wall or struggled or things don’t work out, I tell them that we can wipe out the day, like a whiteboard, and try afresh the next day.

The Lord makes all things new.  With this hope, forgive yourself, let it go and choose to do it differently.

What do you wish you had done differently?  What do you wish you could change?   Please share with us in the comments.

In Grace, Nadene

Images of one of my favourite impressionist artists — Mary Cassat

Head Hands Heart for teens

head-heart-hands-conceptLooking for balance while homeschooling your teen through high school?
A balanced view would be to find subjects, skills and activities that inspire, feed and grow your child in Head, Hands and Heart

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”  

-Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

We should look for ways that encourage our teens to grow in every area instead of simply focusing on academics.  But since academics are what most parents consider most important, let’s start here ~ Head.

Here are some questions you and your teen should consider:

  • What does your state/ country require for highschool graduation?
  • What further study/ career does your teen intend to follow after school?
  • What are their aptitudes?  (Do online tests to find out.)
  • What curriculums/ courses/ credits are available for your teen?
  • What are their learning styles?
  • Do they prefer online studies/ tutors/ peer study groups/ working alone?

Once you have answered most of these questions, you will then need to fine-tune your teen’s high school course, and select the subjects, course material and accreditation methods that best meet your child’s preferences, as well as your state’s/ country’s requirements.

May I suggest that school academics should not overshadow your homeschooling approach.  Please leave large margins around your teen’s schedule and give them space, options and encouragement to also follow their own interests and passions, such as investigating other career options, to read a wide variety of books, or delve into interest-led subjects besides those the state or country may emphasise.  Aim to provide living books that feed their mind and soul, in Charlotte Mason style, instead of sticking to “safe”, but dry, fact-based textbooks.

Now, let’s discuss Hands ~ 

We should aim  to educate our teens in lifestyle and life skills.  All teens should manage to work with their hands, make things, create art, fix and repair things, work safely and effectively with tools and equipment.  Give them opportunities to learn and master life skills from simple chores, to running a household.  Teach them how to do their own washing, ironing, plan and cook meals, as well as baking, sewing, mending, also cover basic car mechanics, etc.  Teach them how to use power tools such as drills, saws, etc.  Include your teens in DIY projects.  Include charities and missions or service to others in some of these hands-on skills, such as mowing lawns, washing windows or servicing cars for neighbours, single moms or the elderly.   Many teens can earn extra pocket-money with these skills.  And who knows, they may even build an entrepreneur business out of this skill-set!

Allow them creatively experiment with arts and crafts, use new mediums, use different materials, copy masters.  Encourage your children to build things, from Lego robotics, to building a treehouse for a sibling.  Again, offer your teen a variety of opportunities to grow and develop themselves outside of “head-stuff” in books, tests and exam results.

Lastly, let’s talk about Hearts ~

Homeschooling your teen is a ministry to their whole person; body, soul and spirit.  Many schools and parents focus heavily on “thinking” and “doing”, but don’t concentrate on who the teenager is “becoming.”  Engage in your teen’s heart.  Build their faith, encourage their prayer life, secure their knowledge of their basic doctrines and allow them to discover and develop their unique calling, gifting and ministry in life.  Again, provide a margin of time in their schedule to attend youth groups,go on church camps, outings, join ministries, support missionaries, go on outreaches, be involved in worship teams, lead children’s groups, and so on, if possible.  Encourage your teen to watch faith-building movies and read inspiring books.  Inspire a relationship with them that allows you to hear their spiritual views, thoughts and hopes.

Homeschooling allows you to tailor-make your child’s education, and I suggest that you and your teen collaborate when planning their high school journey.  And after early years of delight-directed, happy homeschooling, don’t choose a path that is dull, dry or dead just to “graduate”.  Aim for balance.

What aspects do you recommend?  How do you manage to include a balanced, wholesome approach to your highschool homeschooling?  Please share with us in the comments.

In Grace, Nadene

High School – Independence

My confidence as a homeschool mom has been challenged by each high schooler as we navigate their choices, attitudes, approaches and decisions for their final three years of their education.  May I share some of my experiences as I transition through this phase again with my youngest child?

Most teenagers automatically want to work more independently. The shift may be gradual, or sudden. Prepare for this change by gradually handing over subjects, work space and time schedules to your junior highschooler.

20161006_162441 You may find your teenager —

  • prefers working alone in their room.
  • works sitting cross-legged on a bed or lying down(!)  rather than sitting at a desk.
  • prefers to work late mornings or afternoons rather than starting early.
  • seeks out peer support rather than turning to mom or dad when facing struggles.
  • choses to work through the curriculum subject-by-subject rather than lessons across all the subjects.
  • needs to have music playing while doing schoolwork or chores.
  • is reluctant to pretend to be interested in some subjects and may refuse to do certain subjects.
  • wants their schoolwork to be relevant and real, rather than purely academic.  They still enjoy hands-on work, be it practical activities or Science experiments.
  • stays up later at night.
  • wants to work without help, advice or mom’s presence, even if they are uncertain or confused.
  • needs tutoring rather than teaching; coming for specific help with a topic or method rather than having the whole lesson explained.  I confess that I frustrate my daughters in covering and teaching too much!  They just need a little help and then want go back to working independently.  Obviously, if they are really stuck, then I insist on going through the work thoroughly.

20170209_111803Your homeschool role will shift to mainly facilitation, administration, accountability, advice and encouragement.

  • As your child approaches high school, you and your teen need to collaborate on what they want to study and how they prefer to study.
  • While some children know what their future hopes or career may be, others may need to do online aptitude tests to help determine their best options for career and purpose.  This is a stressful and uncertain period in a young teenager’s life.  These test results can help your child chose the best subjects and courses to graduate highschool with the credits needed to study further.
  • Depending on your child, you may need daily or weekly checks where you check their work, and assign new work, or sign off work.
  • Use a Google calendar where your teenager can sign in to their account to view their schedule, or use Homeschool Tracker or some other program where they can upload their assignments and log their work.  A good old-fashioned timetable or printed out schedule works just fine too!
  • Give your teenager time to work through different options, trying each out to find what works best for them.  My daughters all prefered to work with ring binders, but some subjects work best in hardcover books instead.  Some prefer to type and print their work on the computer, others prefer to work online.  Give them time to try and maybe change their minds in the first few weeks.  Then stick to the best option and make it work.
  • Set the standards and encourage your teen to raise their standard to meet the requirements for high school.
  • Be firm about how their work is presented or how detailed their notes should be.  Phase this in as they start their new work.  Encourage them to improve as they master the basics.
  • Prepare a school work and storage space in their chosen study spot.  You may need to find a storage box or basket, bookshelf and stylish table or desk that suits their style and their room.
  • Encourage your teen to make the work their own.  They should put their best into their work.
  • Add relevant extra subjects and skills to prepare them for life.  Cooking, learning to drive, washing & ironing, mending and sewing, fixing and repairing, accounting and budgets, volunteering, and working part-time jobs are all vital experiences at this stage.
  • Stay out of the way!  It is a time to learn to stand in the wings.  This has been hard for me and I have struggled feeling that I am not effective in my homeschooling and I not in control at times.

Our study/schoolroom is now a craft and creative space.  Our notice boards and educational posters are packed away and I hung up a pretty, decorative mobile instead of our educational ones.  Our current art is up and the relevant books are still on our bookshelves, but the room has “grown up”!

Moms, at this stage, you will have more time on your hands.  This is a perfect time to develop and grow yourself too!  You can include some creative hobbies, private work and new interests and goals to your days.  All too soon your teen will be independent and may leave the nest.  This is the season for you to prepare to be complete without your “homeschool mom” role.  As my last child enters this final stage of her homeschooling, I am aware of my days expanding to include things other than homeschool.  It is a new shift and change and it is good.

All in grace, Nadene

Homeschooling a toddler?

Many new homeschool moms seem totally stressed out and A.F.R.A.I.D.  Most the questions I read on my  Facebook groups seems filled with anxiety and nervous excitement.  Just take a moment and R.E.L.A.X.  You are going to do fine! And despite your best and worst efforts, your child will learn and grow up to be really capable and educated!

Especially for your child’s early preschool years you don’t need to buy a curriculum or do school-at-home.  Don’t think “lessons”, but think “life-learning” and aim to focus and facilitate where your child is most enthusiastic.
Recently a reader wrote and asked ~
“Dear Nadene
Last year August I decided to stop teaching and take care of our toddler.  I wanted to know if you did ‘preschool’ home schooling with your toddler or if you only did primary and high school with them?”
I thought back to my precious early years of homeschooling and wrote ~
Like you, I stopped teaching to be with my young child.  A few friends from our little church group started to meet one day each week for play dates with our young toddlers.  They simply played together.  Every now and then a mom introduced a fun activity like shaving cream or finger paint or play dough.  It was short, just a few hours in the morning, and included a little snack or lunch before we all went home for naps.

Over the years, we developed a very informal, yet precious preschool-type approach.  During our weekly get-together we planned our next week.  Each mom suggested an activity or volunteered to lead an activity.

During our weekly homeschool/playdate we would teach them a song, read a Bible story, do an arts or crafts activity, play outside, introduce ball or jungle gym activities, go on outings and play games.  It was a very special time in our homeschooling journey.  Our focus was to “teach” for a very short while and then let the kiddos play!  Again, it was just a short visit, from about 10:00am to 12:00.

Image result for sorting and countingI began regular preschool sessions when my daughter was about 5 years old.  We would sit together and read aloud.  I would then spend a few minutes to teach counting, phonics and/ or one other activity spread over the week such as matching, sorting, fine-motor activities, gross-motor games, creative play with different materials and art mediums.
You do NOT need not purchase any curriculum for preschool!  I used some educational games I had already and gradually added a few more each month or so.  There are tons and tons of ideas on the Internet!  You could spend a few hours looking for games and activities!  Don’t get overwhelmed!  Be careful whenever you hear “should have”.  Simply do what you can, as you can, when you can.
You may find a list of skills a child should manage at each age a good prompt for the kinds of activities and skills you may introduce, but be led by your child’s readiness and your lifestyle.  Read some ideas here, here and here.
Do be careful not to try “do school at home” instead of naturally flowing with life and learning, following your child’s nature delight to learn and learn!  They love repetition!  They want the same songs and stories over and over!  They love to redo a skill until they master it, so don’t rush on to the next thing.
Take your time.
Enjoy the small moments.
Live life fully with your child and don’t be under any pressure to “do” the “right” things.
Wishing you every blessing in your precious journey with your child.
Blessings,
Nadene

 

Unrealistic Expectations

2014-02-18-05-10-37I don’t know about you, but my kids cried a lot in my first year of homeschooling, mostly due to unnecessary stress that I caused .   I also found myself floundering under the weight of my lofty ideals and unrealistic homeschooling expectations.

Today I want to encourage new homeschool moms how to plan and prepare so that you don’t burn out, feel discouraged or think that homeschooling doesn’t work for your family.

Plan Big

By all means, plan your homeschooling with lofty goals, aims and high hopes.  Then pray, and break it down and hone in on just one area at a time.

Introduce new routines, skills, subjects or approaches slowlyGradually encourage your children to learn and master these before adding another.

Practical Preparation

I love being practical!  (You get my blog name, right?)  I have found that if I express  my expectations the night before, my children do better the next day.  This is especially important if there is some level of anxiety about the coming activity or event.  Children can visualize themselves and plan how they will respond and react.

Here are very normal, everyday suggestions that can help elevate your homeschooling routine and prepare your family, especially after a break, illness or life interruptions:

  • Explain clearly how the next day will unfold and what will happen and how you want your child to respond.  Answer any questions and discern if your child needs to talk about their fears or anxieties.  Reassure your child with gentle encouragement.
  • Set up a specific routine for your day the night before.
  • Ease into good meal times, bedtimes and daily habits so that your days flow more smoothly.
  • Lay out breakfast and the school area ready for the new day.  Nothing throws good plans out like early morning chaos and confusion.
  • Avoid your cell phone, social media, answering phone calls or accepting interruptions.  These kill smooth, flowing, productive  homeschooling.
  • Use a timer.  Keep lessons and chores short and sweet.
  • Use music.  Nothing sets the tone of the activity quite like music.  Use soft, sweet background music for quiet times and activities that require concentration, and music with a beat for action and fast activities.

Be Specific

  • Habit training is your best friend!  Train your children in their routines, chores and activities so that your days flow smoothly.
  • Explain the details of your expectation, e.g.:

In 5 minutes, when the timer rings, we are going to pack up your toys and get ready for bathtime.”

Set the timer and prepare for bathtime.   Then, when the bell rings, help your child clean up with a song (we loved Barney’s ‘Clean up’ song) and quickly move on to the bathroom.  Moms, you must be ready and available to execute the routine with your children until they can do this with a simple prompt. Your expectation should be gradual, but you are aiming to eventually give a one word prompt like “Bathtime” and set this in motion without explanations, repetitions, remonstrations or refusals.

This will work for school too.  “

“After breakfast and morning chores, I would like all of you …. on the couch for storytime/ … at the school room starting …./  …. dressed and ready for ….”

  • For schooling, explain the activity and then show them exactly how to do it.  This is vital for handwriting, maths, spelling and new skills.
  • Help and encourage then through each step.  Repeat and work on the same activity for several days before expecting your child to do it with more confidence and independence.  For some children this may take a long time, especially in some subjects.  Put your mind at ease and simply continuing tutoring and gently urging your child through their fears.  (I had to tutor my junior high schooler side-by-side through almost an entire year of maths, but when she started her next grade, she worked independently and only called for help when she needed it.)
  • At first each subject requires your hands-on, detailed approach, but gradually your child will learn and master the work or activity and only need your quiet presence next to him/her as they learn to work more independently.

Build up

I recommend you do not start your homeschooling expecting to do the whole package.  Ease into the full curriculum gradually adding one or two subjects each week over a month.

  • Grow your expectations gradually, e.g.: if you want your children to do their work independently, first start with a hand-in-hand approach and do it with them.  Then tell them that the next time they will do it on their own, but that you will be there with them.  Only when they are working correctly and with the correct attitude, can you back off and allow them to work independently.
  • Whenever your child hits the wall or has some block, go back to where they last mastered the work and try another approach or substitute another method.
  • If your child is fearful, stressed or uncertain, take a break from the written work and do something practical, concrete or hands-on.
  • If you or your kids keep failing to achieve the goals you had in mind, stop and ask whether your children are ready and mature enough for the expectation.  If not, ease off and start at the point where they can master the activity.

Attitude Adjustment

Real parenting and homeschooling work is in addressing your child’s attitude.  This is by far the most draining, difficult aspect, and will require grit and determination to stay on point, encouraging and admonishing their best attitude and response.

Many of my homeschool days seem “wasted” with character issues that we addressed.  Often parents feel that this is a burden too hard to bear, and they feel like a failure.  But it is ultimately is our responsibility.  It may seem easier to “send them to school” than to work on the underlying issues, but this is the most important reason we chose to homeschool!

Poor attitudes may only rear its ugly head in your child’s teen years, but always address attitudes while your children are still young.  Do not accept their bad moods, negative talk and sulks and tantrums.

State your expectations in the positive,

“Next time we do (whatever activity) … let us be really positive/ cheerful/ and do our best …  / or … Next time this work makes you feel really (name the emotion) …. call me and I will come and help you and we can work on it together … /  Tomorrow when we start … we are going to (be specific and positive)  …. “

Again, in my first year of homeschooling, I disciplined my children far too much and  I expected immediate changed hearts and attitudes, but found that this didn’t happen.  I quickly realised that I needed to pray for Godly wisdom, search for alternative approaches and find the underlying causes for negativity or rebellion.  Parenting is done on our knees, isn’t it?

Fresh Beginnings

You can always start again.  When we had epic meltdowns, or fail days, I would encourage myself and my kids that we would start again the next day.  More than once, we simply stopped our work and we cuddled together to read aloud from our favourite reader, or went on a nature walk or did some Fine Arts instead.  Most new days start with hope.

The Lord is so gracious and meets us with fresh mercy and grace each morning!  Begin again in hope.  Just start small, work slowly and keep moving towards your expectations.  Don’t give up!

In Grace, Nadene

Standing in the Wings

img-20160513-wa0002A precious friend and veteran fellow homeschooling mom of young adult and teen children shared her thoughts about her changing role in her children’s lives as

“Standing in the Wings”

It is such a lovely view of a homeschool parent of young adults and teens, that I thought about my own shifts and changes from this new perspective …

No longer stand centre stage

When I started homeschooling my toddler, I enthusiastically led our homeschooling  with dynamic activities and creative ideas .   I was very involved, very focussed, and very much in the spotlight.  My children, although the stars of the show, moved according to my directions, followed the scenes I laid out and progressed according to my timing and planning.  It took a few meltdowns, both theirs and mine, to learn to relax and follow their lead and let them learn at their pace and in their own way.

By the time they started primary or middle school I learnt to ask my children what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to present their learning — to tailor-make their learning.  I moved out of the spotlight and enjoyed seeing them make their learning experiences their own.

This is vital when raising teens.  They want their parents to fade into the background and not be centre stage.  It is a humbling experience to realise that our best efforts are sometimes intrusive and offensive to emerging adults.

Back off gracefully and yet be present and available.  For me, this is a humbling and sometimes uncertain role.

Stand in the wings

 As we move off centre stage we find ourselves standing in the wings.  I realized that much of what makes a play a success is due to the people and their roles out of sight, behind the curtains.  How does this apply in homeschooling young adults?

Lighting …nothing on stage can be seen without good lighting, and lighting often adds to the mood and tone of a scene.  The Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  We should share the Word with our children.  As parents we have a better overview and can guide our teens through their turbulent changes and decisions.  We can be effective sounding boards and encourage our teens to hear from the Lord themselves.  I have learnt to answer their deep and probing questions with, “What does your own heart tell you?”

Prompt … Someone who knows the script is standing ready to whisper the forgotten lines or cues to an actor who may flounder on stage.  We back up our teens with prompts to prepare for exams, take the time to help them practice skills needed such as driving lessons, or preparing for job interviews.  We back them up and champion them in their endeavours.  They should always know that we are there for them unconditionally.

Props … all those items needed to set a scene or provide reality to the acting.  We should provide the opportunity for teens to shine in their own abilities, to discover their talents and passions.  Give teens real life skills and provide the necessary materials, lessons, experiences, and opportunities.  Give teens the tools to learn to bake or build a computer, start an online business or venture into an entrepreneur projects, learn to drive a car or sew with a overlocker … these are valuable skills and experiences that can open options for a job or a career.

Our children are the stars of their own lives.  Homeschooling teens is sometimes challenging, yet absolutely amazing!  I stand in awe of who my young adults are becoming!  They are emerging and developing into beautiful young women!

I am so grateful for the mentorship of fellow veteran homeschoolers, dear personal friends, as well as wisdom gained from those who share with others via the Internet.   What advice can you give parents of teens and young adults as move towards independence?

In Grace, Nadene

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