As many of you know, Steve and I took the ‘little’ girls with us to Cincinnati last weekend for the Midwest Homeschool Conference. Because this is our first year homeschooling and our first conference to attend, we were a little afraid at what we might find. Since we’re only taking two of our children, will they believe we even homeschool at all? If we ask around for a good brewery, will we get kicked out? Are denim jumpers required? But we were pleasantly surprised. There were all kinds of different people there and most seemed, for lack of a better word, very ‘mainstream’.
I knew from the outset that I wanted to go to EVERY last one of Susan Wise Bauer’s talks. I love all her books and feel certain that without her curriculum (The Well-Trained Mind) and without her history program (Story of the World), I could not enjoy homeschooling as much as I do. I would most certainly lock myself in my bathroom more often than I have. So, we went to almost all of her sessions and I finally got to introduce myself to her. I gushed on profusely about how amazing she is and how she has become my new hero. She said to me, “I do think you are my number one fan.” Yes, I’m highly excitable and I’m most certain that I invaded her personal space. But she was very warm and ever so friendly in person and I would drive five hours anytime to hear her speak. She was inspiring and encouraging and I left there with a renewed sense of why we have chosen this ‘less traveled’ path. Some of the highlights from her sessions:
1. Relax. If your children say to you, ‘Mom, are you mad?” very often, you probably have this worried look on your face all the time. Have fun with it. They ARE learning. Alot more than you think. And they are safe and being protected from many outside influences. Relax. Just relax and breathe. (Those last 2 relaxes are for me).
2. Avoid the common mistake of compartmentalizing school. Don’t say (which I said daily in the past), “Hurry and finish school and then we’ll…..”. Learning is a lifestyle, not something to be done before other more fun things can be done. Instead, it should more like, “Let’s do your math and then we’ll go for a walk….then we’ll read some and then we’ll have lunch…..then we’ll go to ballet and then we’ll plant some flowers. Don’t use school as punishment.
3. Educate Yourself. If you’re embarking on trying to educate yourself (like I am, using her book The Well Educated Mind), don’t be discouraged. Just because you can read the newspaper doesn’t mean you can easily read great works of literature with ease. Be patient. Even if you can only get through ten pages of Plato, that’s better than no pages of Plato. Just keep turning the page.
4. Surround your children with great books. Buy books for gifts. Read to them. Read yourself. Have them read to you. There is no substitute for great books. Keep them everywhere.
5. Sing. Dance. Laugh. Enjoy the fact that you are blessed enough to be able to stay home with your kids and teach them. If you enjoy it, they will too.
6. Don’t ask your children repeatedly to do tasks that are highly frustrating for them. If they cry everytime you ask them to narrate or write something, there’s probably a reason why. Break writing down into tasks. Have them narrate back to you verbally what happened in a story and you write it down. Then separately have them take dictation of short sentences. Eventually they will be able to do both steps together but this was a lightbulb moment for me. I have a child who cries everytime I ask her to narrate. But I do it anyway, thinking maybe she’s just being lazy. SHE DOESN’T HAVE THE SKILLS TO DO IT YET ALL AS ONE ACTION! Oh, thank you for this tidbit Ms. Susan. You will save us many tears.
7. If they’re crabby, feed them a sandwich. If that doesn’t work, have them take a nap. Children are physical beings and most of their melt downs are related to physical needs. Don’t neglect the physical needs while trying to push harder with the mental tasks. The brain needs food and rest.
8. Establish a regular ‘rest’ time. Even if they’re older, they can go to their room and read. When you’re with your own children all day, you all need a break from each other. Even mom. Especially mom. Susan says she has kept this up even as they get into the teen years. Her mother (who homeschooled her) would say, “Don’t talk to me from 1-3, unless you’re seriously injured”. I think this is wise. We must pace ourselves. This is a long, hard but rewarding road.
Another highlight of my trip was visiting one of my favorite stores ever….. IKEA. And I’d like to thank the Creation Museum for that. We were so looking forward to going to the museum and were sure we’d need more time than just one day. I think the concept is good and I happen to agree with the main theology points of the museum (God created the world in seven days, young earth etc) but there was something lost in the translation I think. I’ll summarize by quoting Steve, “It’s like a bad mixture of Dollywood and Jesus 81″. Enough said.
And last but not least, I got to meet Darcy from Lifewithmy3boybarians. This was certainly one of my favorite bloggers to meet. Sadly, the picture of the two of us did not turn out well. Of me at least. I had just had my hair colored and it was a sort of orangish-yellow. So I’ll spare you the fright but I will tell you she is a beautiful, strong, kind woman who you should meet if you get the chance. She is DARLING in person and I feel so fortunate to count her among my friends in real life now.
I forgot to add one of the key things I learned:
9. Think LONG and HARD before you join a co-op. I was contemplating Classical Conversations and after hearing her reasons for not joining, decided to postpone it indefinitely. Co-ops can be very time consuming, especially if you’re required to teach. Spend that time preparing for your own kids instead. They also can foster unhealthy peer groups which is probably at least part of the reason you’re homeschooling to begin with. I think co-ops that are just for field trips might work for us, but we’ve decided against joining one for now.