When your child doesn’t want to read the suggested book?

In our Charlotte Mason homeschooling, we followed literary-based learning curriculums, learning through recommended lists of living books.

It is inevitable that not every recommended book in the curriculum will appeal to every child, and we have had our share of books that just didn’t “fit” some of us.

Young children and middle schoolers often have a preference for certain gender characters, and my young girls often groaned when I started another story featuring a young boy as the main character.

Some aspects of History don’t appeal. My younger teenagers did not enjoy political history section of their Footprints curriculum.  And although I insisted on their reading every book on the schedule, I realized that they did not connect with the narrative or the information shared through the story.  Because I related so emotionally to some of these stories, I expected that they would as well, and I was disappointed in their unfazed attitudes.  It took me a while to realize that it was a waste of time to insist on the reading when they were uninterested.

Some literary styles don’t appeal. Some children prefer action, others love descriptive passages, and others love dynamic dialogue.  By the time they reach junior high, my children had a very keen sense of good books and they quickly refused poorer literature that they called “schlock”.

There have been books that I absolutely dreaded reading.  The chapters were long and the narrative terribly tedious.  I even fell asleep while reading aloud!  I couldn’t manage to drag myself through the required reading every day.  Eventually, I admitted defeat and put aside the book and looked for alternative ways of covering the subject matter.

From several bad experiences, I learnt that it doesn’t help to plod and slog on through a book when a child or mom has disengaged. It is a complete waste of time. Rather look for different options.

Here are some ways to approach a roadblock book-block ~

  1. Put away the book and look for something similar at your local library.
  2. Find audiobooks but ensure that they are well narrated.
  3. Look for suitable children’s movies or DVDs, especially if you are covering a specific historical era.
  4. Make a curated YouTube video playlist of suitable, relevant videos on the subject or era.  (Always preview and block adverts if you can.)
  5. Find relevant newspaper and magazine articles.
  6. Look up Wikipedia for specific people, dates, events and situations etc.
  7. Find someone who lived through that experience and encourage your children to interview them.
  8. Visit a museum or workshop.
  9. Do a road trip and go on an outing to the actual place.
  10. Look for photos and letters and memoirs of the time, place or period.
  11. If all else fails, simply move on.

Don’t worry about the gaps. We all have them! Even folks studying for their master’s degrees in a subject don’t know everything about their field of study!

Ditch the guilt and look for what your child is really fascinated by and interested in and follow their spark with food that flames their passion. This is what works!

Blessings as you find what works, Nadene

Rewards of Following Rabbit Trails

Recently I asked my 17-year-old daughter, now in her final year of homeschooling, what fun things she loved and remembered most in her homeschooling and this is what she said ~

“I loved learning to count in Japanese!” and she proceeded to count out loud in Japanese!

I was stunned!  This memorable little lesson was learnt while watching a  3-minute YouTube song we found “by chance” in an online search over 12 years ago.  My children loved this hip-hip counting song and it stuck with my daughter all this time.

But more importantly, her reply emphasized again how important it is to plan a wide margin of time to allow the freedom to follow “rabbit trails” or to allow your family to “take the scenic tours” in your themes and topics.

Back then, I was re-using our Sonlight World History core and I had discovered the joy of allowing the schedule to suggest and guide us, and not necessarily feel that I had to stick to their time-frame.  If I can remember correctly, their schedule allocated a mere 2 weeks to the Japan study, but we spent over a month covering all the aspects we found on our delight-directed studies.

Not only did my daughters learn to count in Japanese, but they enjoyed their free time and dressed up in kimonos, complete with make-up and hair accessories, and acted out stories.  They cooked and ate Japanese foods using chopsticks and our Chinese dinner service,  and they practised a tea ceremony.  We all learnt origami and my daughters still make origami in their creative projects to this day.  We tried our hand at ikebana (flower arranging), made fans, wrote haiku poetry and so on.

May I encourage any mom who is battling with a child or children don’t want to learn or participate, to get creative and look for other ways to find your fit.  Not only will your reluctant child rarely learn anything when she is nagged, urged, bribed, cajoled, or even punished, (and, yes, I did all this in my first few years of homeschooling when I was ignorant and idealistic), but this negative energy and relational conflict will rub off onto everything else.  If your children show signs of boredom or flat-out refusal, don’t force the issue.  If the lesson doesn’t work, then mom, please, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s happiness and their learning joys, look for something similar that might work.

Try a different approach.  Look for a video or song or hands-on activity instead of plodding on through a book and tailor-make their learning experience.  Remind yourself that homeschooling is actually like offering a learning buffet and you should allow your children to decide what and when they want to eat something.

I have learnt never to underestimate the value of those wonderful, almost magical rabbit-hole learning moments.  Sometimes, these happy discoveries may forge a lifelong fascination and enthusiasm for learning.  They are the whole reason we homeschool and it may be the one thing that they will remember for a lifetime!  I know that this is what works!

Blessings as you give yourselves extra time to follow those rabbit trails, Nadene

All the photos featured are the origami gifts that my daughters have made.

5 Things to do when you start homeschooling after a break

The start of a new homeschool year is just weeks away for many of my readers.  Here’s What Worked for us when we started homeschooling after a long break ~

1.Prepare

Start with a basic overall year plan for each child.    I like to plan my year with a page for each month, listing each subject and I break down the themes or topics for each month.  This plan also serves as my record of work.  

Print out your notebook pages, copywork pages, and/or lapbooks.  Store your topics and pages  for your work in files ready for each child.  Copy or create an index page for each subject or topic or lapbook activity to go with your overall year plan.

2. Practice sleep and wake up routine

A good morning starts the night before.  Re-establish simple bedtime routines a few days before schooling starts.

3. Pace

Gently ease into your schedule.  Start with the most exciting aspect of the course to ignite everyone’s enthusiasm.  Usually this is the Core reader or spine of your curriculum.  But don’t overdo it.  It is far better to start with short, sweet lessons and stop, leaving your children begging for more!  Short, sweet lessons serve as a wonderful motivation.   Kids love to feel that they can master their work and eagerly look forward to the next day.  Include quick, fun games in your school day.  The Amazing Arrow game is fantastic!

4. Perfect one area before moving on

Focus on one skill/ habit/ subject until it is mastered.   Break down each subject into manageable skills and encourage your child through each step.  If your child feels anxious or overwhelmed with the full schedule, work on just one new subject for about a week before adding another subject.  Sometimes, we focused on just one subject for a whole week to get to grips with the subject matter, the new skill or the lapbook or hands-on project.  Don’t worry about “falling behind”.  Simply focus on the lagging subject for a few days, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can catch up and flow into a new routine.

5.Read Aloud

Read alouds are the superglue of homeschooling and build a sense of unity and a focus.  Read alouds are relaxing, yet, with a child listening attentively, provides enormous learning experiences.  When in doubt, when if your kid has a melt-down or when mom feels burnt-out, stop, snuggle together and read aloud.  All will be fine.  They will learn.  Trust the learning journey through living books.

I hope these tips help you work through your transition days when you start your new school year.

Blessings, Nadene
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Mix Structure with Freedom

What Works! 

Homeschooling, like all things in family life, requires balance.

Some folks love the carefree and loosey-goosey approach to homeschooling, while others perfect a strict routine and discipline with a school-at-home approach. Some folk wake and start school early, while others flow lazily into a relaxed, informal day.  Some families work in a classroom environment, while others love to learn everywhere, anytime.

Whatever your homeschooling approach is right now, it should fit your family lifestyle. I encourage you to find the way that works for you and your children in this season of your life.

If you’re a mom with lots of young children, then I encourage you to create a simple  predictable routine for their day.  Mix in free time for unstructured play and exploration.

Here are some of the main family events that should follow some form of predictable routine ~

  • Morning wake up, washing & dressing
  • Making beds
  • Breakfast
  • Start homeschool time – circle time or Bible story, songs & prayer
  • Short, sweet seat work lessons
  • Tea time and short outdoors play time
  • Core and read alouds and other schooling or learning
  • Lunch time
  • After lunch nap or quiet play
  • Free afternoons
  • Clean up & pack away toys from the day’s play
  • Bath time
  • Supper
  • Bedtime

Habit-training is a vital part of creating an easy, stress-free day.  Work on your routine, focusing on one aspect at a time for several weeks until this is established. (Start with the routine that causes you the most stress and frustration in your family.)  Once your children can cope with that routine, move on to focus on the next area that causes you the most stress.

Many new homeschool moms have very high ideals and expectations.  Most new homeschool moms struggle to maintain a formal, strict regimen every day, and they can easily burnout.  May I suggest that your homeschooling plays a minor role in your day when you are teaching young toddlers, pre-schoolers.  If you are working with multiple ages, focus on the most needy first and then focus on the rest.

Truth be told, you can’t do everything with every child every day!

Especially when children seem bored, frustrated or aimless, look to switching the rhythm and approach of your homeschooling.

  • Change the routine and start with subjects that you normally do later in the day.
  • Change your homeschool room or learn somewhere new/ outside/ at a library
  • Change your approach and make things fun
  • Switch to a new activity such as a lapbook or project instead of reading a read aloud that just doesn’t “fit” you or your kids.
  • Do drills or physical movements instead of seat work.  This works really well if a child is struggling with a subject like maths or spelling!  Rather do jumping or skipping or ball tossing or jump on a rebounder while doing skip-counting or times tables, spelling,  etc.
  • Leave the workbooks and find hands-on activities instead.

Charlotte Mason perfected this switch of rhythm with her principles ~

Structure and discipline (Seat work lessons)

  • Short, sweet lessons
  • Perfect / excellent quality work
  • Attentiveness and discipline
  • Memory work and copywork

Informal and unstructured approach (while still requiring focus and attention)

  • Narrations
  • Fine Arts
  • Poetry
  • Nature Study

I found that having one FREE DAY worked for our family.  Although I say “Free” it was rather an INFORMAL day where we focused on Fabulous Fine Arts Fridays.  These days made the rest of the week feel better and help prevent burnout and stress.

What works for your family?  Please share in the comments below.

Blessings as you find what works for your family, Nadene

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Prepare for High School exams

What Works! 

I often say to new homeschool parents,

It doesn’t take 12 years to prepare for Matric/ final exams.”

https://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/4955e-310882_285912091448900_996350184_n.jpgMany new homeschoolers worry about homeschooling through high school and how their children will cope with formal exams.  As a result, and very sadly, many new homeschool parents opt for strict curriculums that require regular tests and exams to ensure that they cover their bases.  It is really a shame to waste early homeschool years of a love to learn by following a strict, rigid, formal, school-at-home approach.

Tests and exams are used to evaluate what the child has learnt and remembered.  It is often the means to prove that the teacher is good at her job and so that parents can see specific results to show how their child is progressing.  With large classes, it is often the only way a school teacher has a good idea how each child is learning.  Homeschooling is a one-on-one approach and, especially with daily narrations, parents can immediately assess their child’s knowledge and skill set.

Over the past 20+ years of homeschooling I have used a Charlotte Mason approach for https://i1.wp.com/kibabiiuniversity.ac.ke/library/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/kibabii-exam-papers.jpgall my children until they decided how and what they wanted to do to graduate/ matriculate.  In 2013 my eldest daughter opted for a NSC Matric (National Senior Certificate = South African nation-wide public school matriculation) and she used a curriculum that required regular portfolio assignments and quarterly exams at done under strict exam conditions at home.  She only wrote her first external, formal external exam for her Prelims exams (the exact version of the final exams in the same exam venue) and these prelims helped her prepare for formal her formal exams more than anything else!

Here are some tips to prepare your children to write formal exams ~

  • Complete the work~  It seems obvious, but it is vital that you ensure that your child completes their course material and portfolio projects.  Marks given during the year are a very important part of the final mark, adding to the exam marks.
  • https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/38/0b/84/380b845b4f227133d16ca6795d3eabcf.jpgSummaries~ Teach your child to make good, clear summary notes for each subject.  Show them how to simplify summaries with mind maps/ drawings/ labels or numbers or first letters of each main point in the margins.  Use colored markers and highlighters.
  • Use past papers ~ We downloaded past papers for each subject and printed them at a printers.  It cost a bit, took up an entire box file, but it was an excellent investment.
  • Exam memorandums ~ Ensure that you include the answers to all these past exam papers. This is a vital component!  Allow your child to work through an exam under exam conditions (timer and no books or notes) and then they need to work through the results. Check the mark allocations and ensure they do not miss steps that would cost marks.
  • https://emergencypedia.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/90-0019-2.jpgUse a timer~  This is a vital skill = to first check through the whole exam and look at the mark allocation and then work out how many minutes per section.  (You can find an example here.) Do this will all past papers!  It is vital to prepare your child to keep on track in exam situations.  Many exam centres have a clock on the wall, but if your child sits far from the front, they may struggle to keep their eye on the time. Many exam centres allow the entrant to use a small clock on their desk.
  • Prelims~ Prelims taught my daughter how to write matric exams!  Read the post here. Everything was learnt in this experience = from a good night’s sleep the night before, eating a good breakfast, time needed to travel to the exam centre, comfy clothes, the necessary identity and other documents, her stationary, meeting other exam candidates, to the exam room protocol and the actual exams.
  • Manage stress ~ Exams are stressful. While studying, eat well, take breaks, exercise, stretch, meditate, write motivational notes and messages to yourself, take extra nutritional supplements and herbal nerve support.  Teach your child slow, abdominal breathing.  Pray together.  Write out faith-building scriptures and promises.
  • Join the group~ Learning with others in a study group is important, especially for isolated homeschoolers.  It may help to join some other exam candidates for an early coffee and chat to discuss issues, fears, and share important tips.  It somehow helps to know that others fear and feel the same as you!

In the end, I believe that these exams are NOT about information my highschooler may have learnt. Exams are simply a life skill = learn how to complete the course work in the prescribed format.

Dear moms with young children, enjoy a simple, relaxed homeschooling journey.  Take your time.  Enjoy your child and their unique learning styles.  Focus on these delicious years of freedom.

Wishing you and your child writing the 2016 matric exams the very best!

Blessings, Nadene

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3 things to avoid in art lessons

What Works! 

Art is about creativity and inspiration, but many moms avoid teaching art in their homeschool because it is often seen as messy and unpredictable.

Here’s what to avoid in your art lessons — with helpful practical hints to do instead ~20160607_143154

Too focussed on the end product

Inexperienced moms and insecure children often look for a “cookie-cutter” approach to successful art lessons.  Typically these art lessons give step-by-step instructions which always result in similar outcomes.  This often kills creativity.

Always look for an opportunity to teach important art concepts, techniques, or history, and find ways to tie as much learning and personal choice as you can into every project you do with your students.  It is important for the art teacher to know what to do and how to do it, but it is more important to allow the child to discover and create and enjoy the artistic process without feeling afraid that it “won’t come out right”.

20150831_152347Too Formal

A gentle, informal approach to fine arts is really effective!  After years of teaching art, I found that most real creativity is often spontaneous and requires a sense of freedom.  Avoid tedious technical lessons, or using mediums that require great skill and ability or processes that frighten and exasperate children.  Rather let the child practice with a new medium or process on scrap paper and then apply this to another process.  This encourages exploration and discovery and will increase the child’s artistic skills.

Too Time-consuming

Plan art lessons in manageable  time frames.  Young children need shorter lessons, while older children can work for longer periods.  It is always difficult to pack away art and try restart the process another time.   Homeschoolers can devote a whole day to fine arts and complete rather complex art activities, if they want.

Plan and schedule art and do it with your children!  It is a wonderful way to build relationships and grow in creativity together.

What have you found works in your art lessons?

Blessings, Nadene

3 Things to avoid in handwriting lessons

What Works! 

Are you new to homeschooling or facing a crisis with your child’s handwriting?  Here’s some practical advice ~

Here are 3 things to avoid in handwriting lessons:

  • Boring  laminated chartYoung children want to write real words as soon as they can and find endless pattern pages and those pages featuring one. letter. at. a. time. very boring.  These expensive handwriting books take almost a year to complete and many young children become frustrated and negative about handwriting.   We use laminated handwriting charts to learn to print and write cursive.  It is quick, free and painless, and within weeks your child will be able to start using copywork pages and practice their handwriting in real sentences.
  • Bad form – Everyone struggles and makes mistakeHandwriting arrowss when learning something new.  Some children become extremely stressed when they cannot control their fine motor muscles or struggle to remember how to correctly form each letter, and this adds to a negative attitude towards handwriting.    With my method, children use a whiteboard marker on the laminated handwriting charts which rubs out in a jiffy.  Any mistake is quickly and easily erased and the child feels much more satisfied at the end of their lesson.  To teach correct form, mom demonstrates writing each letter on the chart while talking through each movement and shape and then the child copies on the chart.  Watch carefully for correct starting points, directions of the stroke and when and where to lift the pen.
  • Basicshttps://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/p1070277.jpg?w=300&h=225Practice the basic letter formation.  Learn the upper case letters as soon as they master the lower case letters.  Go on to real handwriting as soon as possible using copywork pages.  Practice daily in short, sweet handwriting lessonsCopywork is an excellent handwriting exercise because your child will use almost all the letters, join cursive letters, combine upper and lower case letters in meaningful sentences.  This also is a great help in learning spelling and memorizing Bible verses. 

Here are some helpful downloads on my Packages Page

Handwriting Tips Booklet (US$R7.00 / ZAR70.00)   This comprehensive 20-page E-book is packed with practical tips and activities covers pre, early and basic writing skills .  It includes helpful activities and fun pre-writing games to build up your child’s gross motor strength, develop fine motor control and develop their spatial awareness.  Important guidelines to promote correct posture and pencil grip for maximum control and minimum stress while learning to write.  I recommend you also purchase the step-by-step guides below for specific guidelines to teach print and cursive.

Teaching Print step-by-step (US$2.00 / ZAR20.00)    An 8-page booklet with practical advice, clear examples and step-by-step instructions on how and where to place letters and how to form each print letter.  I share remedial and junior primary teachers tips, which have proven very effective in our in our homeschooling.

Teaching Cursive step-by-step (US$2.00 / ZAR20.00)   A comprehensive 8-page booklet with practical advice, simple instructions, clear examples, step-by-step descriptions on how and where to place letters and how to form cursive letters.

Pop over to order you handwriting booklets on my Packages Page.

Wishing you every blessings, Nadene

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Oral narrations when a child hates writing

A reader wrote and asked me ~

“How can I help my son?  He absolutely hates writing narrations!  He sulks, delays, refuses and sometimes has a complete meltdown.  I know that he knows the work, but he just hates putting pen to paper.  What can I do?”

Here are some more “What Works” suggestions ~ 

Firstly, ask yourself why he is reacting so strongly.  Stress, immaturity and lack of readiness and writing skills can result in negative emotional reactions.  Take the pressure off and back up and away from any writing.  Go back to oral narrations.   Remember that oral skills develop long before written skills.

Some young children even battle at this stage. They freeze when they have to formulate their own version of the story or theme they have listened to.  My youngest couldn’t figure out how to start.  Or there were chapters which she found difficult to order (sequence) correctly.  My one child didn’t know how to keep to the point and rambled with long, draw-out sentences.  p1150685

Narrations require powerful mental strength! While the child actively listens, he  connects to the story, visualizing, comprehending, synthesizing and then remembering and articulating his thoughts.  He must take all the new information and sort, arrange, select, reject, classify and relate all the intricate details of the selection he heard.

Here are some tips on how to break down oral narrations ~

  • Prepare your child before you read.  Tell them, “I want you to listen carefully to the read aloud and after I have finished reading, I want you to tell me back what I have read to you.”
  • Paragraphs ~ Only narrate short stories or selections about one paragraph long.  Read a simple story such as a nursery rhyme or an Aesop’s fable.  By eight or nine years of age, a child should be able to narrate several paragraphs, and only at about 10 years should a child be able to narrate a chapter.  This would apply to all subjects.  Until your child manages to convey detailed, accurate oral narrations at this stage, he is not going to manage any written narration.
  • Prompts ~ Instead of telling back the story, use questions to focus on a specific aspect of the story such as:
    • What is the main event?
    • What did the main character do/ say/ or discover?
    • Why do you think the main character did ….?
    • Can you think of your own ending to this chapter?
    • Can you list at least 5 main points in this reading?
    • Can you sequence (put into order) the events that happened?
    • Give a very detailed description of the place/ season/ weather/ surroundings in this reading.
    • What action or character’s reaction impressed you?
  • Pictures ~ many young children find looking back at the illustrations in the story very helpful.  As they mature, they will learn to form and remember  their own metal image of the reading.  Looking at a timeline,  a natural science life cycle or illustration is absolutely fine.  Gently encourage your child to develop this mental process and ask them to look and then tell without looking.

Don’t worry if your older child spends longer developing these oral narration skills.  Keep working on his mental processes and articulating his thoughts clearly before moving towards capturing written narrations.

Some children may have the necessary verbal skills, but have writing issues.  It may be the stress of physical mastery in actually writing print or cursive, or fear of spelling errors or fatigue when trying to capture everything on paper.  Again, break down the problem and use alternatives.

Here are some creative variations ~ 

  • Record the oral narrations – on a smart phone/ on the computer/on a tape recorder/ use a dictaphone/ use a video recorder.  Play it back and let him edit or re-do it if he is not satisfied.
  • Be his scribe and write out/ type his narrations for him word-for-word as he speaks.
  • Dramatize the narration if it is possible.  Some children lacking verbal skills may more effectively mime and dramatize their thoughts.  Act out a scene from the story/ create the introduction or ending of the chapter.

I wrote “What Works ~ Teach Creative Writing Without Lessons” post after my eldest graduated from homeschool and I can absolutely guarantee that narrations, first oral, then dictated, and written, have given my children all the writing skills they have ever needed for high school.  Not only that, but they are exceptional writers!  (Pop over to this post to read examples of their essays and narrations!)  They are eloquent, creative and highly skilled writers … without ever teaching them creative writing!

Narrations are the foundation for all learning!

Hope that these suggestions help you bring the relief and joy back to your narration sessions.

Blessings, Nadene

 

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Perseverance

Another “What Works!” Post ~ 

After more than 14 years of homeschooling I have found that despite all the ups and downs, fears and failures, tempers and tantrums, (yes … we had had all of these!)  it is only a success if you persevere.

Simply stick to the goal … work around and through the glitches … and keep on going … all the way.

“Do a Dory” (from Nemo) andjust keep swimming … just keep swimming…”

Homeschooling is our choice that has never been “cast in stone“, but it did require a flint head at times.

There have been years when it was a slog and we just “did school”.  Sometimes it was simply easier to keep going and maintain a forward momentum, rather than stop and start.  Just by doing read alouds, we did our school work when everything threatened to fall apart.  Reading aloud was the glue that held us together!  Other times we just did our disciplined studies; short, sweet little 3R lessons, then abandoned the books for time outdoors and nature study or a leisurely art appreciation lesson … thank you, Charlotte Mason!

There were seasons when my young teens were unmotivated and unwilling.  Some of my Charlotte Mason subjects became “boring” and my teen kids refused to do them, I felt like a failure.  Their choice to move to textbook approach made school dry and dead.  But we kept on.

Worse, we used a curriculum provider for high school that did not provide, but with no other real options, we had to make it work. Impak Education became my “means to an end”.  Boy, did I learn about perseverance!  They did not post my eldest daughter’s books, then “lost” her study materials and portfolios in the post.  When they finally emailed me the files, which I then still had to print, we were far behind schedule. I had to pray hard for a strategy to fit 25 portfolio assignments into 2 weeks … and not lose my head!

No feedback was given … for anything.  We couriered away huge portfolio assignments and never heard a word.  Nothing. The curriculum provider did not mark a very important final assignment and after about 15 emails and desperate calls, I think, hope, pray that the portfolio was re-marked.  I felt like we were flying in the dark. Blind.  My daughter wanted to give up, but I held the goal in mind and we persevered.                                                      

When I prayed to the Lord in desperation one day, I clearly imagined what the end of my eldest daughter’s homeschool would look like.  I saw her standing with me, with the blue-green sea gently rolling behind, and her long viscose dress and loose hair waving in the summer breeze.  We were clinking our champagne glasses together in a toast.  She was thanking me and I was congratulating her.  Although it was winter when I had this vision, it warmed my heart and I shared it with her.  Somehow, this goal kept us going.

Just a few weeks ago, after her final exam, our family surprised her with a celebratory lunch at our favourite beach-side restaurant and toasted her success with pink champagne!

This week we will receive my eldest daughter’s matric results!

Many homeschool moms swap, abandon and doubt their packages. Many moms watch as teenagers leave homeschooling in favour of public schools, and they secretly, deep down, doubt their decisions.

Your homeschool journey may take its twists and turns, it may have a few delays, punctured wheels and unplanned detours, but if you keep going, you will reach your destination

While it is complex, sticking to your homeschool goals may require desperate perseverance.

All I can say for my experience is that it is truly worthwhile, because these decisions are important.

In the end I gratefully praise God and say,

“Thank you Lord.  It has been a privilege to be on this journey!”

Blessings as you persevere into 2014.

Much grace,

Maths Matters – What Works!

Another “What Works!” post ~ 

After tutoring my eldest daughter through her high school maths course all the way to graduation, and now working with my junior high daughter in her maths course and doing middle school maths with my youngest, I know that maths matters … but it also can bring tears and the mutters!

Here’s 12 maths principles that I’ve seen work ~

  1. Maths needs daily exercise – much like having to walk the dog!  My kids do 2 pages of maths exercises every day except for Fridays. We mix it with maths drills, times tables practice or word problems.
  2. Use manipulatives. Maths comprises of abstract concepts. Young children especially need to work with real objects.  When teaching any new concept, start with real objects and teach with examples. Use blocks, Unifix cubes, real measuring jugs and scales, work with tape measures and rulers. Use number lines, pie pieces, apples and oranges.  Whatever works, use it.  Keep trying until you find the “one thing” that clicks with your child.  Let your child practice with these objects. (Pop over to my free Maths pages for these manipulatives.)
  3. Take your time here at the physical level.  Don’t rush.  Make sure the child understands the concept well and is confident before going back to the books.  If your child forgets, revise with manipulatives.  If they get stuck, go back to manipulatives.  This is vital.  Confidence is a huge factor in maths success.
  4. Encourage mental maths muscles.  Train your children to think maths problems. Exercises with number order (what comes before/ after a number), bonds (adding numbers to each other) and times tables are essential.  This follows the manipulative stage. Train them to get the answer quickly.  Speed and confidence here will make the rest of problem solving and other exercises a breeze! (Check through my mental maths pages here.)
  5. Do drills.  Even just 2 minutes of drills (oral, physical fun or mental maths pages) daily will help ‘cement’ the maths skills.  Do this before the maths book work.
  6. Make it physical and fun.  Do fun physical workouts when ordinary drills and manipulatives are not working to combat tears and tantrums. Recite the tables while jumping on a mini trampoline, while skipping with rope, when bouncing a ball, clapping hands, doing hopscotch … it is fun and it stimulates the brain!  Use playing cards and dominoes for fun maths drills and mental maths.
  7. Maintain the course ~ if it works.  Stay on the same curriculum if it works. Don’t switch around too much.  Each curriculum has been designed to follow concepts. Some conceptually spiral, each year developing the concepts to the next level.  Jumping from curriculum to curriculum may cause your child to stumble across ‘new’ concepts without having the introductory work.  Many moms I know have shelves of maths books and courses and still haven’t found a good ‘fit’.  May I suggest that you choose the best of the lot and supplement here and there with other exercises or examples.
  8. Tutor high school maths.  If you or dad can tutor, great. It worked for me and my daughter.  If not, find a friend, student, retired teacher or professional tutor to help your child.  This is especially important with high school maths.  Don’t let maths tantrums and upsets cause you to ditch homeschooling!  Often a 3rd party person makes a huge difference in a teenager’s attitude. The student must report regularly to the tutor and be accountable for the work they understand and the concepts that they struggle with.  Often tutors are great for pre-exam revision.  The tutor can prepare the student for the type of work to focus on and the questions to practice.
  9. Practise the skills.  Many maths books give an example, lay out brief explanations and then go on to the exercises.  Generally most students need to practice with the introductory examples several times to completely understand the new concepts.  When the child starts a maths problem, they have some doubts and questions.  When they manage the examples and the initial, easy problems, they gain confidence.  But they need to establish this process with a few more similar problems before moving on to more difficult sums.  Where maths books progress too quickly, or provide too few similar problems, children lose confidence.  If they haven’t “got it” with the easy work and then struggle with more complex problems, they become afraid.  Fear forms into frustration which then manifests into anger.  Supplement your child’s books with examples or go online to find similar work.
  10. Do maths early, when your child is most awake and fresh.  Maths requires mental fitness and this is most often early in the day. My teens often put off their maths lessons because they didn’t enjoy it much, but when they finally had to do their lessons, they were tired and they struggled more. I advised them to do it first and get it over with for the day.  For young children, maths and handwriting should be done at the table, early in the morning.  We do our seat work (or disciplinary subjects = those 3R’s) first and then go on to read alouds and narrations.
  11. Estimations are essential skills!  Along with mental maths and confidence, the most important maths life skill is to estimate within range.  I only discovered this as an adult, but I find that it is perhaps the most underrated skill at schools.  Teach your children to “guess” quickly and then “prove” their guess.  It is fun, quick and it builds enormous confidence in their maths ability.  This can be done as “living maths”; in the kitchen while cooking and baking, in the garden when laying out vegetable beds and planting seedlings in rows, while cutting material, making dresses or designing woodwork patterns, while packing away toys, doing hobbies and crafts, or travelling on road trips.
  12. Many children will always “hate” maths.  Their brains are just not wired to excel in maths.  However, maths literacy is vital and will greatly improve their independence and confidence in daily life.  Stick to the most reasonable maths program and assist your child to at least master the basics. My artistic, creative daughters have been unhappy about maths for years, but I have not negotiated with them that they drop maths until at least grade 10.  For matric, maths or maths literacy is a compulsory subject and your teen will still need the above skills. Our South African maths literacy course is excellent.  It is real, relevant and within the ability of a ‘non-maths’ student.

I share this all with this background ~ My early childhood years of insecurity with maths made me literally throw up with fear, especially in high school!  Then, when I was a student teacher, I was once assigned to a school’s maths teacher for all the grades 3, 4 and 5 maths classes.  I spent hours and hours on my lesson preparation because I was terrified that I couldn’t teach maths.  It quickly made me realize that the best method to preparation and understanding was lots of “scratching of pencil on paper” and using several different textbooks to see the different approaches to teach the concepts.

A brilliant mathematician does NOT necessarily make a great maths teacher!  In fact, the teacher who may have struggled with maths may make a more compassionate teacher and will know exactly how they learnt the maths skills through practice.

When I tutored my high schoolers, I did the maths work for them (with them sitting watching and listening), then with them, and finally I sat next to them as they worked.  If they were stuck, I would try another approach or break it down differently.  Even though I taught these lessons, I didn’t always have time to prepare before hand, and so the two of us figured it out together.  We battled, struggled, sympathized and encouraged each other as we went along.  It was the one place in their independent studies that we were vitally connected!

Mom, you can teach your child maths!  You just do not need to be a maths whizz!

Blessings,