Monday, February 23, 2009

Balance: For the sake of your sanity and your child's learning

Mommy Knows Best

Often, parents feel the need to do things in their child's education that just aren't necessary.  This may stem from the perceived family, friend, or public expectations, or what the "experts" say.  

What is an expert? The dictionary definition reads: "a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field."  So, in the particular field of your children, the expert is you! ... Do the authors of Good Books really know more about your children then you do?  Does Scripture exhort authors of Good Books concerning how to raise children, or does it exhort parents?  God has given the job of resident expert to you, and not to a stack of Good Books." (1:16)

Instead of focusing on paper products that "prove" that the children learned something, you can easily evaluate most of their learning by asking them to show or explain it to you. (1:37)  Discussion is one of your best tools!  Just because it's not on paper doesn't mean it doesn't count.  (1:38)

Don't let your curriculum become a tyrant.  You don't have to follow its each and every demand, it's your tool to use wisely at your discretion. (1:17)


Balancing Textbooks and Workbooks with Hands-On Learning

Although textbooks and workbooks serve as a backbone for traditional schooling, they aren't always the best or only ingredients for a quality education. It's easy for parents to get out of balance using workbooks. "Young children understand nouns much better if they go outside and collect 25 in a bag.  They understand verbs much better if they go outside and do 25 verbs, and then write them down.  Workbooks are great for re-enforcing concepts already taught by hands-on methods."(1:12)

Although workbooks may ease some worries because they cover your perceived educational "bases," consider these helpful tips when using them: Stick with only the pages or portions your child actually needs. If children master a concept, move on. If the same thing is practiced in two different subjects, alter their assignment. Don't feel pressured into completing every pages of every book. You are the expert, so determine how much book work is really necessary to avoid overkill. 

"It is so easy to be caught up in completing this textbook or that workbook to the point that meaningful education is pushed aside." (1:52)   Don't pass up rich learning opportunities and special field trips because your children haven't completed their workbook pages! 

Alternately, activity for activity's sake is just as out of balance. Be sure to teach an activity or fieldtrip's application, and include a wrap-up/conclusion. Also, learn to recognize when your child is learning and encourage it. 


Balancing Textbooks with Classic Literature  

Reading great literature stimulates the mind! It enhances children's vocabulary, writing & composition, reading speed & comprehension, and the ability to dissect plots, story-lines & characters.(1:12) For this reason, reading material should be chosen very carefully! Rich, quality literature should be chosen over the many "junk" books and diluted children's material on the market. 

Classic literature can be an excellent teaching tool. Studying textbooks alone leaves subjects dry, abstract, and unmemorable. Classic literature gives its reader a taste of its period in history, but may not entirely replace historical text. "Textbooks provide the bones of the historical period while literature and biographies add flesh to the period.  Activities make the period memorable." (1:12) 

Two terms to be familiar with are Literature Rich studies and Literature Based studies. What's the difference? Literature Rich first teaches the facts, then enjoys a "living book," while Literature Based first enjoys a "living book," then uses other resources to fill in the facts. If you're wondering which one is better, it really comes down to personal preference because you can certainly teach and your children can learn either way. The important thing is balance! The facts enrich your rich literature, giving it context and the rich literature enriches the facts.  You need both the "bones" and the "flesh" to be complete.  Teaching one without the other is a disservice, and leaves the subject incomplete.


Balancing Your Schedule: Keep it Simple

  • Don't try to do "too much" yourself: You may be over-involved in many "good works," stretching yourself thin.  By cutting back, you'll have more time for mothering, teaching and creativity.  Relax and enjoy your family!
  • The other extreme isn't any better.  Don't put all your personal interests on hold, as noble as it seems, in your home schooling busyness.  By doing so, you're withholding who you are from your children, and running on empty.  Let your children know and love your personality.  Besides being Mommy and teacher, you are still your own person.  The key is balance! 
  • Don't take on "too much" for your children academically:  Resist the urge to buy more material then you can possibly use, or cover so much that you overwhelm your child.  In the first few grades, full-blown science and history curricula are overkill.  Instead, provide enriching learning activities in these areas stemming from their reading material, as in Five in a Row. This encourages curiosity and a joy of learning from an early age, as well as introducing them to new, exciting things they wouldn't have otherwise discovered until much later.  All the while you maintain a more relaxed, less intense atmosphere.  Learning becomes something they do, instead of something that is done to them(1:41-42)
  • Don't take on "too much" for your children with outside-activities:  How do you spend the hours and minutes of your day? If yours is spent mainly shuttling children from one place to another to activities dominated by strangers, it's time to re-evaluate. 
  • Simplify your schedule! If your home is more of a pit-stop then an anchor, you're robbing both yourself and your children.  When children receive constant stimulation without adequate unwinding time, they suffer the consequences.  Their short term memory takes a direct hit.  Once the short term memory is rushed and jumbled, their mind can't build the proper connections for good long term memory.  At this point, the brain produces a chemical that disrupts working memory and reduces one's desire to explore new ideas and creatively solve problems. Children benefit more from having adequate free time then a constant, rushed schedule of activities.  They need time to relax, play, read and imagine.  They also need quality, focused time with YOU.  Work to create a balanced schedule.  Look at where your time is spent, and how you direct your children's time.  It may surprise you.
  • Turn off the TV! Most children spend an enormous amount of time watching TV, playing video games, or on the computer.  What's the problem?  It "stifles children's creativity, shortens their attention span, stunts their language ability, deprives them of conversation and questioning, and decreases physical activity."(2)  Children who watch too much TV often take longer learning how to read.  This subject alone could fill a book.  Suffice it to say that TV viewing is generally over-done, and to the detriment of the child in more ways than you'd probably imagine. Read more here.
  • Charlotte Mason recommends the best time for lessons and mental work is in the morning after breakfast, and outdoor recreation in the afternoon. Children need at least an hour outside (weather permitting) in the fresh air and sunshine. Mechanical tasks (like needlework, & drawing) are also good in the afternoon rather than evening. Forcing studies and work too late in the evening doesn't let the mind wind down for proper sleep.


Approaching Learning as a Lifestyle  (1:33) 

  • Break away from the "school at home" mentality, and discover the beauty of true home schooling
  • Try not to be glued to your school room location.  
  • When you visit a new place, check for historic sites nearby.
  • Let your children see you as learners too, not just educators.  Model your passion for learning through pursuing your own interests.
  • More than half of the educational battle is won when your child discovers his own desire for learning.
  • Balance time behind a desk with time in living application
  • Seize learning opportunities whenever they present themselves.
  • Include children in your various projects.  Lessons learned and time together is worth more then the time saved doing the job yourself.
  • Often, a simple discussion is all that's needed to gauge your child's learning, replacing unnecessary testing.  
  • "If your child has struggled academically, it is very likely that his learning style was not compatible with the "read, review, regurgitate" method most common in the school systems!  Discover your child's learning style and you will be on the road to reawakening your child's joy of learning." (1:46)


Works Cited:
1. Bill & Diana Waring, Things We Wish We'd Known: A Guide to Abundant-Life Homeschooling
" (You'll notice that I cite many references to this book. It is a compilation of veteran home schoolers' advice and comes highly recommended.)
2. Cheri Fuller, School Starts at Home: Simple Ways to Make Learning Fun.

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