Monday, November 3, 2014

Unschooling With A Curriculum

I've been looking forward to writing this post for a long time, but I have so much to say I've had to put in a lot of thought to condensing it and making it simple. I have a tendency to digress, so I've divided this up into a 5 part series. Hopefully this wont be too long and hopefully I'll get to some other topics dealing with how we homeschool.

First I just want to point out the reason for turning a typical homeschooling plan into an unschooling plan. For some, we have to provide some sort of daily plan for our school boards, or have to do it for our own sanity, or have to do it to ensure our kids don't get "too far behind" before standardized tests.
So then why unschool? Why not just use the curriculum you have?

I really believe, especially for young children, that unschooling is the best method of teaching them. As my kids get older I fully expect that I will have them participate in more traditional schooling, perhaps become active in study groups, spend more time researching, although even then I will probably be more open ended with it than most people.

To look at why unschooling works, we really have to start at infancy. The pre-school years are full of intense learning for children, but almost none of it is directly imposed by adults. Think of the talents an infant will develop over the next few years. She will learn to sit up, walk, talk, use utensils, dress herself, manipulate objects, learn about object permanence, and on and on. Is there some kind of instinctual driving force that makes children across the board learn these things? Nope. It is self motivation to participate in their world. That's why an emotionally and physically absent parent can create such havoc on a child's developmental process. Without witnessing others demonstrating activities, children don't develop motor skills, the ability to talk, or even control their bladders.
Toddlers are known to be so ornery specifically because their desire to learn is so intense. A two year old having a meltdown because they aren't allowed to pull the boiling pot of water all over themselves is not an unusual sight. "What's wrong with you child! You'll burn yourself!" But for a two year old, the desire to explore trumps every thing, even moms' and dads' wishes.

So why do we think that learning takes a hike when a child turns five? A desire to learn is still very present and very important in a five year old. Allowing them the freedom to experience their world is much more valuable than sitting them down to begin working on abstract thought. This is becoming more and more clear as we learn about the developmental processes that take place in infants and children. Piaget's pyramid of development is slowly being whittled away by neuroscience as we discover children are capable of advance thought at younger and younger ages. For example, babies as young as six months (and animals, including insects) have been found to understand basic math principles,even so far as to be able to do simple addition and subtraction. Of course, they are not able to use the abstract representational figures of number and symbols. The experimenters would cover an object with a blanket, add another object under the same blanket, and lift the blanket to reveal....six objects! The babies showed clear signs of confusion and distress. They did not when the blanket was lifted to reveal 2 objects, the correct amount based on the information they received. The babies were not saying, "Hey! 2 plus 2 isn't 6!" But they still understood that too many objects were there and could not understand how this principle of the world could be broken.

Knowing what we do about children's development then, schooling in the early years shouldn't focus on the more "adult" pursuits of writing and math on paper, but allowing children to really ingrain and enforce those basic principles of the world that they are already aware of.

For example, the other day my daughter took her box of science supplies, put on a pair of goggles, grabbed a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass, and sat on our hill pulling apart pinecones. She'd pull individual seeds off, inspect them with the magnifying glass, and toss them aside. When only the inside stem was left, she rubbed the small feathers on various body parts, and tossed it. She did this with pinecone after pinecone.
While she was doing this I was busy repressing two urges: To do the parent thing and scold her for "playing" with her expensive school things, and to do the teacher thing and join her while explaining what the different parts are, maybe looking something up on the computer, watching a Nature clip on pinetrees, and doing a project.
Instead I did nothing. I realized that if I were to do the parent or the teacher thing her interest level would plummet to zero. Adults are REALLY good at spoiling children's fun. Instead I allowed her interest and engagement to play itself out. That day, she did not "learn" in the traditional sense anything about pinecones. But she did have a valuable experience with pinecones. Some day she will be reading a book or watching a program or listening to a conversation or be sitting in on a college lecture, and the subject of seeds will come up. Instead of hearing an impermanent bit of information she has to memorize, she will hear the words that confirm what she already knows about the world.
Allowing children to experience on their own terms does not force them to ingest intangible information but instead sets them up for information to be a confirmation of what they already know.

This is why great literature or poems can be so breathtaking. You read them and you say, "Yes, yes, Yes! I know! I have felt that way but never could express it!" (want to read a great explanation for the need for these kinds of experiences, read John Stuart Mill).

To put it another way, early education gives you the experiences which you will learn the words for later in life. This has been shown many times to be how we all learn, or at least learn things in a significant way. Think again to the little baby. Long before they are able to say the word "apple" they experience an apple, tasting it, playing with it, understanding the nature of an apple. Without the apple for reference, what would the word mean to them? Nothing. And it would not be part of their vocabulary, just as lychee isn't a part of my children's vocabulary, because they've never seen one. The same thing is true for letters and numbers. Any child can memorize these but any child psychologist will tell you they mean nothing to them because until age 5 or so children aren't able to connect the ideas of abstract representational figures with actual numerical numbers. They can memorize the names of number, and can understand basic quantities, but they are not capable of connecting the two.

This loosely follows the ideas of the trivium. You begin with grammar, the basic understandings of the world, founded on the senses. It is followed with logic and later rhetoric. Modern education is way too focused on bringing logic and rhetoric into a young child's world. That's really the foundational idea of Common Core. However, it flies in the face of modern research that shows things like reading early do not predict a better comprehension of language in high school. You know what does? Deferring reading until the ages of 8-11, so children are allowed to develop a better understanding of verbal communication. As much as we like to try, often the ancients were much smarter about things like education than we are today.

Reading and Math seem to be two of the biggest hang ups for parents wanting to unschool or even homeschool. We seem to think that unless our children are actively taught these things, they wont learn them. Most children who grow up in lower class, middle class, or upper class homes will learn these things though, for the same reason that they learned how to dress themselves or turn on the TV when they were toddlers. Reading, writing, and math are so important to our modern society, and so commonplace, that it would be harder for them to NOT learn how to do it, than it is for them to learn it. This is not necessarily true though in very lower income families, the ones that do not have access to books, computers, or hear proper grammar. Schools were started as a place where children who commonly didn't have access to these kinds of things would, and to learn about them. In our modern world though, not only has the average home caught up with the kinds of resources schools have, they have often surpassed them. Schools are really struggling to catch up with the modern influx of information, printed media, and complex computational math that is necessary for people to have in our modern society.
So don't worry if your child isn't a good reader by age 6, 7, 8, 9, and on. The main reason schools focus so intently on young reading isn't because it's necessary to their development, it's necessary to a teacher's ability to manage 20-30 children at once. A third grader has to be a good reader because otherwise they would fall behind on their worksheets and independent reading.

Read how we accomplish our unschooling homeschooling here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Finding Our Homeschool Niche

Ohmygosh it's august! 
Which means it's time to start reflecting about last year and setting some new goals for this school year. Our first year of homeschooling was really all about figuring out what in the world we are doing. I think I may have mentioned before on here about our choice to go with K12, the online public school system. The curriculum was ok but I was more relieved just to have things planned out for me, a system to hold me accountable, and a teacher who could help keep track of our progress. We're continuing with the program again this year, mostly because not having to pay for curriculum and all of the discounted field trips are so nice but next year, as we go into 3rd grade, I think we'll probably venture out on our own.

You see, as we've gotten more and more accustomed to this kind of lifestyle we're starting to figure out the best ways that we as a family learn. After all, when you have two children you're trying to teach simultaneously, it's not just about how each child learns, it's about how all of you learn together. Which is why homeschooling specifically seemed so ideal for us. Now, as we're starting to adapt, shift, and evolve, we are leaning more and more towards not just homeschooling, but unschooling. 

Unschooling, if you're not familiar with the term, is the idea that in a rich environment, children will learn without actively "teaching" them anything (somewhat similar to Montessori but with a greater emphasis on learning from life rather than being in a classroom.) Of course, "teaching" and "learning" are such vague terms. I would say that any time you share information you are teaching but in this instance I am using the term "teaching" to mean the kind of instruction you typically find in a classroom. Unschooling, at it's basic level, is more about doing than abstract learning. In our modern culture it does seem that people sometimes lean on traditional forms of learning, when very few people learn that way. I just read this funny story in one of Dave Ramsey's books: 
"A friend of mine made $40,000 selling in one summer. Upon returning to class in the fall, his marketing professor gave him a C on a sales presentation he did in front of the class. My friend, being immature, asked the professor what he made in a year. After some goading, the professor admitted to an income of $35,000 per year. My friend walked out and, sadly, he quit school. He will be okay, though; his income last year was over $1,200,000."
 I know Dave Ramsey isn't anti-school, but his point is well taken. You don't necessarily need a finance class to be successful in finance, or whatever else. Unschooling doesn't necessarily equal homeschooling. The Sudbury school in Mass. is a brilliant example of what school can be. If you have a free half an hour please please please go and watch Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk. It's the most viewed TED talk of all time and for good reason. And if you then have even more time I would suggest reading Peter Gray's new book Freedom to Learn. There are a lot of people (including my husband) who are a bit skeptical about this but if you just look at anetdotal evidence around you you'll see ample examples. Whether it's someone who loves gardening so they learn all they can about it, how babies learn to walk without parents needing to teach them, how all teenagers can type and work on computers (and even hack huge protected databases) without taking a computer science course, or the famous experiment of Indian children who had free access to a computer, where there is incentive (like everyone else can do it), an interest, and a little bit of encouragement, children are capable of learning as much as is available to them.

I would never conclude that unschooling is for every one, just as I would never suggest homeschooling is right for every one either. I have an aunt who homeschools as more school-at-home and her children are wonderfully well-rounded and intelligent. I've also met people whose parents did very little teaching in their homeschool lessons and they all were very smart and have created successful careers for themselves. And of course there are many people who went to public or private schools.
The point is, you figure out what it best for your family and your children.

We have a little boy who is...quirky, to put it nicely. At this point in his development, there is about a zero chance he could sit in a classroom-like environment and be successful. Earlier this morning I said something about school and he gave me a worried look and said, "I'm not doing school am I?" and I said of course not, while laughing maniacally inside thinking about how often he "does school" when he has no idea he's actually doing it. It's like hiding vegetables in your kids food.
He gets hyper-focused on things and especially like tinkering. He can spend all day fiddling with things, playing on the computer, or planning out and digging a baseball stadium in his sandbox. He likes math and will sit and work through math problems with me. We spend a lot of time playing language games where he tries to guess how to spell a word or where we look up all the ways to say a certain word in other languages. This is what he is good at doing and it would seem like, "hey, he sounds pretty smart. why wouldn't he do well in school?" Simply put, he does not like people. Or at least doesn't get them. He hates when people do unpredictable things and wouldn't go to his swimming lessons because the babies in the pool could do something hazardous like splash. School would be a huge cage full of loud noises and crazy people with no one he can trust around. I can feel a meltdown coming when I just mention school. We have daily struggles managing his anxieties and it is virtually impossible to force him to do anything, especially anything that he sees no purpose in doing. He needs a lot of quite time away from other people to learn.

My daughter on the other hand would probably do fine in a regular school environment. Or at least she would be the kind of child teachers love...quiet, placid, polite. She's flexible and amiable and ready to please. Unfortunately, she really struggles with thinking for herself. We took her out of the classroom for the opposite reason most people do; not because she couldn't succeed but because she could succeed too well. She's very good at parroting, at giving people what they want, but in many ways I find she is less mature than her little brother. She is daydreaming and doesn't enjoy focusing on anything. Things float in one ear and out the other so, as I said, I think she would do very well in school but would probably be in for a rude awakening when she graduated. With her, I work on having her do things herself. I don't help her figure out her hand positions in piano, I don't help her figure out the fastest way to add two figures, and I will wait as long as it takes for her to sound out a word by herself. 
Unlike her brother, she doesn't tinker or mull over things, she plays. I would say she easily needs twice as much time to play as he does. It is simply how she learns things. We spend a short amount of time on school and then she plays the rest of the day. A lot of the play is based on things she's learning, especially since we learn about whatever she's currently interested in, and it helps things stick in her head in a way listening to someone tell her about it never would. 
I totally get it cause I was this way too. I played with toys until the end of my freshman year of high school (yes, that is true), and even continued to play imaginary games another year or two after that. For both of us it takes forever to do the smallest task because we get caught up playing. Sweeping out the garage becomes mucking out the barn for our horses. Changing the sheets on the bed becomes being a Sherpa hiking up Everest. I remember so clearly doing those things when I was little. I would take little toys with me every where and hide them in my desk at school where I would create little houses and play when the teacher wasn't looking. In high school I would design elaborate floor plans for imaginary buildings while half-listening to lectures. I have to play to learn.

So our children are very different and even though the way I teach both of them is similar, it is still individualized. Each is pushed a little bit out of their comfort zone and then allowed to happily retreat back into it to complete their learning process. I think this is the most wonderful part of homeschool. There is no way that they could get such diverse learning plans if they were in the hyper-structured setting of school. Time will tell whether our efforts have paid off. However, the other great benefit with homeschooling is that it can be so adaptive. As they get older I would expect, and will expect, exactly how they learn will evolve as will how we respond to it. They will be expected to handle a more typical adult-like structure to their days. The only difference is that we will wait until they're ready for it instead of forcing it until it eventually clicks. It's like potty training. The "experts" agree that it will happen only when your child is ready for it and so you can either spend a year or two forcing it or you can just wait. Except for some unfortunate children school isn't one or two years trying to figure it out but 12 years of an intense sense of failure.

I've talked with a lot of people who have had very different ways of being brought up. There are very few of them that I would say do not have a good and successful life now. Unfortunately, some of them have had to go through very hard times, especially through childhood and teenage years. The biggest goal in any plan for your family's education, or life in general, should be to figure out how to enjoy life at every point. I hate when people say the end justifies the means because that never has to be true. If you think it's true it's only because you're not being creative enough with your means.

I was telling my sister the other day that while some people complain that everyone these days has some diagnosis, some disorder, I find that to be a wonderful thing. Although we probably shouldn't call them disorders. It's just great that people are really looking into the way they are, the way they learn, their strengths and their weaknesses. And most people find that there is some way in which they are not "normal" (in fact, statistically speaking, it is impossible for you to be normal in every thing. Cue my husband saying, "well I guess I'm just a statistical anomaly then"). 
I sometimes get a bit worried about my son and once when I was going on and on about it my husband said, "You act like somethings wrong with him. He's just a normal little boy," and I was like YES! That's just it! All little boys and girls have trouble adhering to what people say is "normal" in some way. So they are really normal in their abnormality. 
So when you're thinking about your family's niche don't worry about seeming hippy dippy because you aren't normative. You're not being unusual, you're just being smart and realizing that knowing yourselves is half the journey to success. 

Howards End is one of my favorite books and while rereading it this summer I was really struck by this statement by Margaret Schlegel:
"It is only that people are far more different than is pretended. All over the world men and women are worrying because they cannot develop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have the matter out, and it comforts them. Don't fret yourself Helen. Develop what you have; love your child. I do not love children. I am thankful to have none. I can play with their beauty and charm, but that is all-- nothing real, not one scrap of what there ought to be. And others--others go farther still, and move outside humanity altogether. A place, as well as a person, may catch the glow. Don't you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differences--eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow perhaps, but colour in the daily grey."
-Howard's End

Oh jeez, beautiful literature makes me cry. Yep, yep, here come the tears. I'll have to end this here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Five Favorite TV Shows For the Sensitive Child

My son and I are both wimps when it comes to movies...and tv...and books. My husband is kind of sensitive too so we rarely watch anything that isn't a comedy. To be honest I think a lot of people, especially children, are more sensitive than we think we are. It doesn't even have to be a violent movie that leaves you shaky for hours. TV shows with a lot of noise, quickly changing scenes, or hyper characters can leave my children behaving the same way. Children also tend to be sensitive to themes of shows, which is why I try to avoid shows that have siblings that don't get along, or main characters that have a negative attitude towards school. It may seem a bit hyperbolic to do that (although studies have been shown that TV does lead directly to negative attitudes towards those things) but I really feel like I'm helping my children develop a set of ideas that their life will later reinforce.

So here are our favorite TV shows:


The Hive

Little Bear

The Magic School Bus

Martha Speaks

and even though it brings me up to 6, I have to include this one too!

Let me know any of your favorites! All of these shows are available on Netflix or PBS. And thanks to MoxieWife for the linkup!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ruminating On The Joys of Freedom From School

I hear a lot of people say things like "How do you find time to homeschool? I could never get it together enough to manage coordinating that!" But lemme tell you.....

Elementary school almost killed me.

School times are not in any way shape or form based on work schedules and coordinating every body in the house waking, leaving, coming, and going to bed at different times wore me to the core. I am not organized in the least when it comes to time management and even as a stay at home mom I completely wilted under the stress of trying to manage elementary school life.
It is nothing like June Cleaver's days of everyone getting up, having a breakfast together, kids going off to school around 9, coming home in the early afternoon, playing before coming home for dinner at the same time as Dad, doing a bit of homework, and going to bed.

It was more like dragging a sleepy child up in the wee hours of the morning,
shoving her out the door so she can make her hour bus ride, then doing all the things teachers expect parents to do during the day (because apparently they aren't able to manage their time either and have children do their schoolwork, not to mention the constant requests to come in the help "supervise" classroom activities and parties (I'm shocked at how many "rewards" children are constantly given in school. Food based rewards. Nothing motivates Sit Still and Pay Attention like telling them they'll get skittles if you do!),
and then waiting for the bus since they have about an hour long window when they may arrive at your house and you HAVE to be there because even if you feel like your six year old is responsible enough to walk 100 yards home the school knows better
and then forcing your grumpy child to do her homework when she'd much rather be out playing since she's already been sitting inside missing out on the sunshine all day
but you know she has to do it now because when Dad comes home you'll eat and by the time you're done she will only have just enough time to take a bath and get into bed so that she's not literally melting into nothingness due to sleep deprivation.

Needless to say, I have a lot of respect for the vast majority of parents who do this. Every day. For years.

We lasted 3 months before I couldn't take it anymore. My child was in school all day but yet somehow the school had reached it's tentacles all the way into my house and strangled my own daily routines.

So what do we do now?

We play in a lot of gardens. Ours or other peoples.

We spend a lot of time taking care of our various pets

And try to meet up with Dad for lunch at least once a week

We can leisurely do our errands...

....and can enjoy painting from life rather than from a picture.

We play dress up

Sometimes as animals...

...and sometimes as nice gentlemen and ladies

We perform plays and make movies (this is a still from Lily's book report on Ramona Quimby Age 8, in which Lily made a commercial to sell the book, just like Ramona did)

And take lots of field trips

We enjoy silly things like playing with light and reflections

And only fall asleep when the house is still and quiet

So maybe homeschooling is a bit more about me than the kids. I am terrible at handling stressful days, I am terrible at forcing my children to do things, and I am terrible at doing things I don't want to do.
I melt into a pile of goo when you throw a bucket of stress on me. But hey, we all just have to do our best with what we have, right?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Making the Most of Your Zoo Trip for Preschool-1st Graders

Finally warm weather means it's zoo season!
Although it's never much fun to have to do "school stuff" when you just want to go somewhere and have fun. I get it. But it's almost impossible to talk to the children about what I want to discuss with them when we go to the zoo. They're too full of energy and excitement to be reflective about what they're seeing.

Luckily we have a zoo membership so we can take fun trips and purposeful trips, without having to attempt to make zoo trips both. 

We had been talking about animal adaptations and classifications, so we took along a little notebook to keep track of the different kinds of animals we saw. Were they mammals, insects, arachnids, birds, fish, reptiles, or amphibians:

This was easy enough that it didn't really distract from the pleasure of observing the animals but we still got into some interesting discussions about how we could decide which category some should go in: Are penguins fish or amphibians or birds? How do we know?
There is nothing more fun than seeing you kids answer an obvious question ("Of course they're a bird!) and then become shockingly silent when you follow it up with "how do you know?"
You watch them silently thinking and trying to figure it out: "how in the world do I know that?? Maybe it's not. Am I sure?"
Nothing like a little doubt to get the gears grinding.

Once we got home we created a chart showing the kinds of animals the zoo has.

We then listed some of the special adaptations animals in the zoo have....

And combined all of them into a new animal: A furry, pouched, clawed, beaked, horned, striped, six-legged...uh, thing. I'm not quite sure if it was given a name. But it did have a child.

Finally, we looked at the adaptations our invented animal had and tried to guess what kind of environment it would live in. Has fur? Must be snowy. Has a beak and claws? Probably climbs and lives in trees.

None of this was the least bit "schooly" for my children and in fact they had a lot of fun coming up with their new animal and its habitat.

Happy schooling!

St. Patricks Day Homeschool Projects

Yes, St. Patrick's Day was two weeks ago. But I've had my moms birthday present sitting in my garage since August and still haven't sent out all of my Christmas cards so realistically I'm doing pretty well posting this within two weeks.

We are not Irish in any way, shape, or form. If I had to make up our family ancestry it'd be more like
1/4 Peruvian
1/4 German
1/2 British (note, this is different than simply "English")
Yep, no Irish

But St. Paddy's Day is a big day for us. Well, for me and the children it is. I think it's mostly because I love the color green, mostly because I love a good potato, and mostly because I love Irish literature. Mostly.
So every St. Patrick's Day we have our beer pot-roast, Irish soda bread, and boiled potatoes with a lovely chocolate stout cake (recipes here), and fill the day with activities, stories, and movies about dear Ireland.

The children and I cut out various heart shapes and glued them together to make four leaf clovers. Some we punch holes through and wrapped pipe cleaners through. I put them in a vase to make a faux clover bouquet. The rest we gave away to residents at my grandma's retirement community.

We also did one of the coolest experiments I've ever seen. I was absolutely floored by this. Most experiments we do are either anti-climatic or don't work as promised but this did both!

We started with three jars full of water. In one we put red food coloring, another yellow, and another blue. You know, the primary colors. Then we took a sheet of bounty paper towel, folded it, and put one end in the red water. Then we took an empty glass and folded the other end into it. We repeated with the blue and yellow, and continued until we had a circle of alternating water filled and empty jars with paper towels connecting each. (See full, and better, instructions here)

Then guess what happened?!? The colored water literally CLIMBED up the paper towel and filled up the empty jar. Because there were two colors going into each jar the colors would blend and we ended up with a full color wheel of colored water.

It took an entire day for all the water to finish but it was still really amazing to water.
I'm not sure how "Irish" rainbows are but it was still a fun experiments to complete. I don't know what experiment would be more Irish except for cooking a baby (Swift anyone?) but...yeah we're not doing that.

So we ate
did a craft
did an experiment

and finished our day with that wonderful classic, The Secret of Roan Inish

We've got to get Jimmy!!

Hope you have as wonderful of a day as we did!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

8 Steps to Creating a Climate of Learning

If there is one thing I hear from other parents about homeschooling, it's always, "there's no way I could do that. I'm just not together enough for it."

Good news! Almost no one else is either!

Homeschooling accomplished well can be very organized, precise, and run like clockwork. 
Or you can create a climate of learning and just let your children have at it!

So what do I mean by a climate of learning? I don't mean to fill your home with expensive toys from The Knowledge Store or DiscoveryKids, although there is certainly nothing wrong with toys from either of those places. 
I think I can best explain it by repeating something people always tell parents in church. "You can't expect your children to want to read the Bible if they never see you doing it."

All about engineering. Just like Daddy.

In short, it's about being a model to your children of what a life full of constant learning looks like. Creating a climate of learning is about creating a home that is full of exploration. The kind of home that doesn't take "I don't know" for a final answer. The kind of home that is full of "make it yourself" rather than "lets go buy it." The kind of home where ever member is eager and excited to share what they know with each other.
  • Share your job with your children. There is nothing more fascinating to them than where Mommy or Daddy goes everyday. Your job doesn't have to be interesting to you to expose a new kind of worldview to them. If you work as a janitor, explain to them how different kinds of chemicals work best on different kinds of surfaces (ahhh chemistry). If you're a teacher, talk about how children, like them, learn, what's going on in their brains as they develop, what it's like being a mom to so many other children. If you're an engineer, or even just work in the factory, show the kids where you work, what you do all day. Our kids love engineering because of their dad and watch hours and hours worth of How It's Made, as well as pretend they're factory workers. Childhood is the time when things like bagging groceries at the store seems like a worthy career choice, so take advantage of it!
  • Don't just stop at your job, share your life with them. I often see far too many people in families living almost completely separate lives. Of course, you don't have to be the complete opposite and be together all the time. Simply share what is going on in your life. You'd be surprised at how far talking to your kids how you accomplished your raise, not simply buying them stuff with your new larger paycheck, will go at helping them build a successful life for themselves. Please don't limit your conversation to all complaints about your day though. There are a million different things we see around us everyday that pass through our minds. Things children would be delighted to hear. Like how the sun looked purple when you went to work (I wonder why it does that?) Or summarizing something interesting you read. When I see articles that I think my daughter would enjoy, or cute cat pictures, I make a point to save them so I can share them with her later. Not only does it enhance my own pleasure at seeing those things through her point of view but it creates a connection between the two of us.
  • Bring home something interesting. I love watching Dick Van Dyke and every evening when "Rob" comes home he has something in his pocket for his son. It's almost just something small, like a rubber band, that he picked up during the day. Children are marvelous at treasuring the small delights in life (until we kill it off in them with our lavish present giving traditions...ugh) and it is amazing what they can come up with using the most commonplace things. My husband regularly brings home "toys" for the the form of discarded shock parts from work, bumper stickers no one wanted, pennies from his pocket. My Dad used to give me his extra pennies every day when he came home and they went right into my savings jar. When I was 8 we rolled up all those pennies and I had 18 dollars to open a savings account with. Yes, that is 1800 pennies. Lesson about saving the small things: absorbed!

Shock parts. All over our house.
  • Be an example. Let children see you try to figure out something. Let them see you engrossed in a book. Let them listen to you hum along to music. Those kinds of things often seem fruitless but when children grow and begin to form habits that will last for the rest of their lives, those kinds of examples suddenly reappear. I never used to be a morning person but I knew my parents got up early even on the weekends. They would talk about the pleasure of seeing the sun rise. About how much work they got done in the quiet morning hours. As an adult, I've grown to love mornings for all those reasons they always said. Same thing with classical music. I used to listen indifferently as my Dad played it. Now, I play it during the day for myself. Childhood is the best time for creating those little examples of what adult life should be like.
  • Allow boredom. When the kids are bored I don't stop what I'm doing to entertain them. I don't turn on the T.V. I don't give they a snack. They grumble, I ignore, and they come up with some of the most ingenious games I've ever seen children play. There is nothing like boredom to really get the brain flowing. But part 2 of getting creativity flowing is....
  • Get out of their way. After the boredom bug has passed and some brilliant idea has popped into their head, I can't stand there and say "no, don't do that," "don't make a mess," "don't you have something better to do?" I have to stand back and watch as, like they did this morning, they dig through the recycling bin and begin cutting and gluing and coloring until they had their very own robots. Robots that required imagination to work yes, but they were still adorable, used creativity, and strategic thinking about how a real robot that did a given task might have to look. None of which would've happened if I had placed something to do in front of them, whether it's a movie, a book, or a chore. Sometimes the best thing you can do to help learning is to just leave your children alone.
  • Sometimes, they just need to do it on their own. My oldest child is getting to the point where hand walking her through things is more detrimental than helpful. She can learn by herself and often does better by herself than with me guiding her. Almost all children will reach this stage, some earlier than others, and the goal is to allow them to constantly be testing their abilities. At a young age it may be as simple as telling them to figure out how they should sort their laundry or the best way to add two figures. As they get older it can advance to having them fix their car themselves instead of taking it in or researching on their own the best way to approach a job interview. Children need guidance to lean on but the freedom to stand on their own. Nothing creates learning faster than necessity. One of my favorite parts of going to the Air Force Museum is seeing how different aircraft from WWI to WWII are. Necessity spurs learning.
  • And finally, create some family interests. It can be educational, like you all enjoy star-gazing and so you buy a telescope and start checking out stare charts and take vacations to desolate areas. Or it could be sporty, like biking together. Or it could be community based, like volunteering regularly together. Or it could be something couch based, like all getting together to watch a show. Really anything, as long as it's something that you all can enjoy together. It doesn't have to necessarily be something you would choose to do on your own, but creating a communal interest in your home not only helps your children learn to work in a group setting, but it also helps them to learn to see passion in other people, to take advantage of strengths and weaknesses in each family member, to learn to love something because it makes those around you happy. All of which are valuable lessons to be learned.

Not every child is home schooled. Not every parent has a lot of free time. But as people always say, learning starts in the home, and to be honest, I don't think it ever really leaves the home. The home is the place where children develop interests, learn the most important things in life like how to love, how to care for, and how to balance a checkbook, and home is the place where children develop the habits that will last the rest of their life. Take advantage of this. Share your life with each other.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
-Deuteronomy 11:19