Are you just starting out with nature study or trying to revive flagging interest? Here are a few ideas to jump start nature study activities with your family:
1. Set out a bird feeder. It is winter in North America and this is a perfect time to set out a feeder and attract hungry birds. If you place your bird feeder in view of a window, you can enjoy your new feathered friends from the comfort of indoors. Don’t forget to also pick up a bird identification book at the library.
2. Start a collection. Leaves, rocks, seeds, pressed flowers, shells, the list is endless. Young children especially love to fill an empty egg carton with their treasures.
3. Get new lenses. A sturdy magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars will entice your children to observe the world around them more closely. How about an inexpensive camera to give you insight into how your children view the world around them?
4. Add to your library. New field guides and nature themed books with bright photos and colorful illustrations are sure to catch the attention of your children. Our family loves the Smithsonian Handbooks series.
5. Appeal to the arts. If your children are artistic, a new pad of paper and a set of paints or watercolor pencils will delight them as they capture the line on a leaf or the wing of a bird.
Please don’t dismiss this last key as a trite phrase. Turning over our homeschooling to God is the most important key when it comes to homeschooling success. It goes without saying that as Seventh-day Adventist homeschoolers, we want to give our children a solid Christian education, however choosing an evolution-refuting science book is not enough. Giving every aspect of our homeschooling to God has to be a deliberate decision. Allowing God to be the superintendent over your family’s school must be a conscious choice. God desires to give us divine guidance in our efforts to educate our children, but sometimes in the excitement of organizing a learning space and ordering materials, we forget to put Him at the center of our planning. Present your budget for materials, the support system you need, even the disapproving family members to God. Spend some staff development time with our Creator becoming the teacher He wants you to be. God wants to bless your homeschool. Let Him.
The famous John Donne quote says, “No man is an island…” That is true of homeschooling as well. We need the fellowship of other homeschoolers for the exchange of ideas, for gentle redirection when we get off-balance and for encouragement. If you are the only homeschooler in your church/area or are facing disapproval from family and friends, it is especially important to make the effort to build a support system. Online homeschool email groups or message boards, homeschooling social media sites, local co-ops or classes are just a few of the places to actively seek out people who can encourage and advise. Your support system might be even be a non-homeschooling friend who is willing to listen over a bowl of soup. If you are more of an introvert and joining a physical group seems overwhelming, try the online support group route. You can stay fairly anonymous and “lurk” until you are ready to join the conversation. Finding your best support group fit might require exploring more than a few options but it will be worth the effort.
Are you a veteran homeschooler? There are so many new families that would love to be tucked under your wing for a bit of mentoring and guidance! Reach out those just starting out with a kind word, a brief phone call or simple email. Doesn’t have to be anything time-consuming or overwhelming. The year of my youngest son’s cancer diagnosis became so difficult that we ended up starting over again in the middle of the school year. I was very discouraged, partly from holding myself to unreasonable standards that I could not maintain in a crisis situation. A very dear veteran homeschool mom gave me just a few words of encouragement that bolstered my spirits to be able to face the remainder of the school year with new courage.
Don’t paint yourself into a corner with an overly strict schedule/routine. Building too tight of a schedule is a recipe for disappointment when the unexpected gets in the way. Lack of breathing room will also increase the chances of early burnout and decrease the chances of spontaneous teachable moments. Plan a little flex-time into your program. Sooner or later, you will need that extra time.
When I am making my lesson plans, I often leave a week open every six weeks or so for catching up or reorganizing if needed. Alternately, I will leave one math assignment open this week, a grammar lesson open the next, and science module open the third week. If we need that unscheduled time for catching up or re-teaching, the time is available. If it is not needed, we just keep moving. Think of the open time slot as a safety release valve. If you need a day off to regroup or catch up on the laundry- just consider it ‘staff -development’ time.
Be Prepared to Un-Learn, Reevaluate and Think Outside the Box
Just because you have always ‘done school’ in a particular way does not mean it should stay that way forever. Be careful of falling into a homeschooling rut simply because you refuse to un-learn old habits. Being open to change can help you to avoid burnout. Year-round homeschooling worked well for my family for several years, and then suddenly it was a struggle. Instead of fighting it, we chose to adjust our school calendar and are much happier and productive as a result. Just as a tasty new curry recipe adds fresh life to your menu rotation, a new way of doing school may add fresh life to your homeschool program.
As your family grows and changes, it is important to revisit your goals, strategies and curriculum to make sure you are meeting the needs of your children in the best way possible. Sometimes a particular curriculum works well for younger children, but loses its effectiveness with older learners. We parents may have strong opinions about the materials our children are using, but have we asked our children to share their thoughtful evaluations? If its not broken, there’s no need to fix it, but at the same time there is no harm in re-evaluating what you do to find new ways to learn. It may be helpful to include an evaluation time in your calendar at regular intervals to specifically discuss with your family how to make your homeschool the best it can be.
The best learning opportunities don’t always come in a textbook. Look for ways to learn
something new away from home. Botany can be studied by joining a gardening club. Sign up for a plein-air watercolor class as a way of learning nature journaling. Why not take a chance and move outside of your comfort zone? Try something new. You might discover birdwatching or stargazing or geo-cacheing to be not only educational, but truly enjoyable. Perhaps you never thought you would do a literature-based unit study or try a computer-based curriculum. Give it a try, you might like it! Check with your family members, friends or fellow church members who might jump at the chance to teach your family something new. Don’t make changes solely to keep up with the homeschooling Joneses, but to move yourself and your children to new heights.
Did you miss the first key to homeschooling success? Check out our blog’s recent posts.
Join us each Tuesday this month as we share 5 keys to having a successful homeschooling year. We pray that these posts will both encourage and inspire as you endeavor to educate your children this school year.
Find Your Fit
It is easy to look at what other families are doing and get discouraged. Does your friend create fabulous in-depth unit studies for her children that leave you feeling envious? That’s okay, she is not making the adjustment to caring for an elderly parent in your home like you are. Go ahead and purchase the unit study kit you’ve had your eye on and enjoy using it. It really is okay if you never ever write your own curriculum or make a lapbook!
I remember a mom who proudly announced that she never used workbooks – as if workbooks were the lowest form of education. I had just bought a stack of workbooks for my 4th grader and it was very hard not to take her statement personally. I had to remind myself that her conviction was for HER household. I had a newborn baby and was doing what I could handle at the time. If your child is excited at thought of a new workbook, then go ahead and give your child a reason to smile. Don’t forget some new colored pencils to go with the new workbook!
Your household structure, your child’s learning style, the support systems in your area and other factors will all combine to create a your family’s unique homeschool. Prayerfully work towards doing what is best for YOUR family. If you are a square peg, don’t try to fit in a round homeschooling hole.
We are a homeschooling family. That statement will evoke a variety of responses from family, friends and even strangers. Many people will be happy and supportive of your choice, but others will immediately respond with criticism and negative comments. How do you deal with the negative reactions and comments? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
Keep it Simple. You do not have to give a detailed summary of how you came to choose homeschooling. You do not have to support your decision with the latest research or long quotes. The choice to homeschool is private family business and it is not rude to keep it as such. A simple “After much thought and prayer, we are homeschooling our children.” is a perfectly sufficient response. Do not feel obligated to share more if you don’t want to do so.
Keep Motives in Mind. It is helpful to consider why the person is being negative. Is the person doubting your ability to homeschool? Are they concerned about the financial impact of one parent staying home? Is it jealousy or plain curiosity? Is the family member concerned about what others will think? Does the person just want to understand homeschooling more clearly? When you consider the motivation behind negative comments, it helps not take them so personally.
Remain Positive. You are happy with your choice, and leave it at that. Don’t make negative comments about the local church school or public school. That invites negativity towards your choice. It also invites the temptation to gossip or spread rumors. It is better to leave the local church school or public school out of your response. How can you expect to gain support of a public school parent if you are denigrating their choice?
Agree to Disagree. You may come across someone who is set in his/her mind against homeschooling and has no intention of changing his/her opinion. That person may even share the latest homeschooling horror story that’s in the news to bolster his/her opinion. That’s okay. Breathe deeply, send up a quick prayer, smile and let those comments float away. Don’t engage in debates or arguments because there will be no winners. You have more to lose than to gain by letting a conversation become heated. Diffuse a potential argument by stating that you agree to disagree. Then change the subject or leave the conversation completely.
Let time bear witness to your prayerful efforts of homeschooling your children. As you strive to follow the True Education principles laid out in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, the blessings of your work will become evident to all. God will honor your efforts to be a homeschooling household of faith for Him.