4 Moms: Our early years of homeschooling

4moms35kidsThis week the 4 Moms are answering the question,

What did homeschooling look like when your oldest was 5?  How much time?  What subjects?

When my oldest was 5, I had a 4yo, a 2yo and a baby.  I may also have been pregnant and suffering with severe morning sickness, depending on exactly when in the course of that year we are looking.  It was not an easy season in life, but I was a  control-freak very disciplined and organized person.  I was feeling seriously challenged, but I had not yet given up on the idea that I could do it all.

I placed a lot of emphasis on having a firm and predictable daily schedule, and this actually worked reasonably well for us in that season.  I had to build in plenty of time for diaper changes and other interruptions, but the toddler learned that school time was high-chair time, I could nurse the baby with one arm, and that just left 2 “older” children to teach, so we were able to do most of what we planned to do each day.

Part of the reason were able to do this is that we were organized and I was disciplined, but another reason is that I kept my expectations reasonable.  I didn’t try to do a full 6 course curriculum with the 5yo and a separate Preschool curriculum with the 4yo while wrangling a baby and a toddler.  Instead, we used Five in a Row, and even then we didn’t follow the instructions exactly or use every single idea in the book.  We made it fit us, rather than making our day fit the book.  “School” mostly consisted of reading a fun, favorite, familiar picture book, followed by discussions about math, science, history and whatever other lessons might lie hidden within.  It is a learning technique that we later used with Sonlight, and still use when reading with and to little ones.Five in a Row (Five in a Row): Volume 1

You may be shocked to learn that not one of my children has read proficiently before the age of 6.  Most have been 7 or 8 when they really take off into books.  I know most children are capable of learning to read at earlier ages, but in our experience it comes much more easily when you wait for them to reach developmental milestones.  The concept that they struggle with at 4 or 5 or even 6 can simply “click” overnight when they are ready, and I suspect part of the reason my children enjoy reading so very much is because we waited until the learning process was relatively painless.

How do I know when they are ready?  I wait until a child expresses interest in learning to read, and we start lessons.  If you are reading interesting books aloud to your children, they will want to learn to read for themselves.  If they struggle with reading lessons, we back off and wait a while, then try again.

Our oldest was a brilliant baby.  I know every parent thinks that, but she used over 150 words by her first birthday.  In 9 three-minute sessions she learned the sounds of all the letters – at the age of 19 months!  Nonetheless, she was not ready to read until she was 6 1/2.  Once she started, she was reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis within 6 months.

I tell you this because I don’t believe that school for a 5yo needs to consist of intensive phonics, penmanship, spelling, arithmetic, history, and science every day.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it this way if it suits your family and your child, but it certainly isn’t a necessary or indispensable part of a very young child’s education. We are less structured now than we used to be, but even in our more structured days homeschooling for our 5yo more closely resembled educational play than institutional-style school.

Instead, it is important to know and remember your ultimate goal(s) in education, and self-consciously work in that direction.  We know ours.  Do you know yours?

From the other Moms:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • July 26 – What do you do when the children need to learn things you can’t teach (a foreign language, dissecting, trig, etc)?
  • August 2 – How do you handle bossy older sisters
  • August 9 – Q&A

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4 Moms: Homeschooling in a rotten mood

4moms35kids Q&A with the 4 Moms: dealing with comments on your big family, weaning babies, going from 1 child to 2   and beyond!I’m going to assume this week’s topic refers to the students’ mood, because I am never in a rotten mood.  Especially not now, even though my older children are old enough to sit themselves down to school when told and my younger ones know that late morning is OUTSIDE PLAY time.  When they think I’m in a rotten mood, it usually means I’m correcting them because they are being disobedient.

Oh, wait.  We were supposed to talk about our own mood?  Oh.

Well, the short answer is we don’t homeschool when I’m in a rotten mood – or at least, we shouldn’t.  Just like we shouldn’t run errands when I’m in a rotten mood.  For that matter, we shouldn’t do anything at all when I’m in a rotten mood because the very first thing on my to-do list should be, “Repent.”  It’s often easier said than done, but moods have a powerful trickle down effect, and a cranky mom will quickly find herself with cranky children on her hand.  Attitude correction only becomes a bigger and bigger project when you put it off.

Maybe this is where it’s good to keep in mind the goal of homeschooling.  Academics play an important part, but they are not the end goal.  We are preparing our children for adulthood, teaching them to serve Christ in every area of life.  If mom is in a rotten mood and just spreading her mood to the people around her as she tries to teach her little ones the 3 R’s, we are heading in the wrong direction.

We need to leave our gift at the altar – or our schoolbooks at the table – and settle offenses.

At this point, if my kids read my blog they are staring slack-jawed at one another, shaking their heads in disbelief.  “If she really believes this, why does she walk around being crabby?”  Because I am sinful, prideful, and I like to blame my bad attitude on the sinners around me.

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  ~Romans 7:15-24

If we try to do school when attitudes are amiss, we are teaching and learning exactly the wrong lessons.  We are teaching our children that sin is acceptable in ourselves, and others need to just live with it.  While it’s true that we are all sinners and will always have sin in our lives, we should also be vigilant to put down our sin nature whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.  Just because it is in us doesn’t mean we should allow it to camp out on the front room sofa and offer it a big glass of iced tea.

The other moms are talking about it, too.  Here’s what they say:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • May 31 – teaching children to cook
  • June 7 – How did you know you wanted/could handle a large family
  • June 14 – Q&A
  • June 21 – How do you keep up your energy?
  • June 28 – favorite freezer meals

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Living the Answer Essay Class Review

Posted By: Kittykait

When people ask me about learning to sew I always say “Try it! Practice makes it easy, fast!”, and it always seemed silly to me when they returned with something like, “I couldn’t do it like you.  You’re just naturally talented!”.  But I always felt the same way about writing.  Deanna and Megan could always just write well, with little effort.  But I couldn’t and practice wasn’t going to change that.  As it turns out, I just needed a pattern to help me along with my practice.

Several weeks ago Mom told Lydia and I that she signed us up for an online essay class, which didn’t excite me at all.  It made me nervous. I’d never done something like it before and I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I found out there were in-class assignments!  And a teacher!  And worst of all, grades!  I may have acted like a silly unsocialized homeschooler for a while.  The upside to my nervous pessimism is that I’m usually pleasantly surprised!

The teacher is funny, entertaining and comprehensive.  He uses a lot of quotes from famous literature to illustrate whatever aspect of good writing he’s talking about.  He also uses some more lighthearted quotes. One week he pulled bits from both The Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride movie, which won me and Lydia over for good.

The in-class assignments, which were my greatest fear going into this, are extremely helpful, because you get criticism on the spot.  That way we know if we properly understand the concept that he’s going over, before the actual (graded) assignment is turned in.

The class is for five paragraph essays, which is a bit of a rigid format, but the principals carry over to most types of writing. After all, every bit of writing should have a bit of an introduction, and once you’ve written and intro you have to say something about the subject, then of course, you never want to leave a reader just hanging so you must wrap it up!  Besides structure Mr. Vogel has plenty to say about keeping your writing from being choppy, making it interesting, engaging your reader from the beginning, and using different styles to aid you in whatever type of writing you are using to communicate.

The class is nearly over now, and I’ll be sorry to see it go.  I like being forced to practice new things every week, which is a big deal.  I used to be the kid that had emotional breakdowns over writing.  Ridiculous.  The skills I’ve gained from his class have given me a lot more confidence in my writing.  Hopefully I’ll have the self-discipline to keep it up on my own, but for now I’m incredibly grateful for all that Mr. Vogel has taught me.  I highly recommend it for parents looking to boost their emotionally incontinent writer’s confidence. Who knows? Maybe they’ll end up enjoying it.

P.S. If you ask *really* nicely I might post a few of my assignments.

4 Moms: Homeschooling through pregnancy or chronic illness

4 Moms, 35 Kids

This week, we four moms of many are talking about how to homeschool through chronic illness or pregnancy.  If your morning sickness is bad enough, the two may sound and feel like the same thing.

If we’re talking about things that bring daily school to a screeching halt, we could also add interstate moves to the list.  We had a beautiful daily schedule when we lived in Ohio, and I had 6 children under 10 at the time, expecting #7.  Once we moved, things were never the same again.

I expected our move to change things, but I did not expect the change to be permanent.  For this reason, I spent several months waiting for our lives to fall back into order naturally.  It didn’t help that I was in the midst of my worst pregnancy ever, with non-stop vomiting, suspected gestational diabetes, little or no control over my diet (we were not living in our own home at the time), and several other major and inescapable sources of stress around us.

When our lives didn’t quickly and naturally slip back into something resembling the old order, I spent several months sinking into a slow motion panic, afraid that the brains of our children were turning to mush while I watched helplessly from my miserable place on the sofa.

See?  Pregnancy isn’t always a breeze for moms of many.

But I learned something along the way.  I learned that not all education happens at the table with a pencil and a textbook.

It doesn’t even always involve a book, though it almost pains me to say so.

As long as children are not spending their days plastered to the television, immersing themselves in video games, or otherwise indulging in wanton purposeful brain damage, they are probably learning new things.

That’s not to say that you should let them quit school and do what they want for the rest of their days.  Just don’t panic if school isn’t happening the way you envision it while you are sick.

Here are some ways to keep educating your children even when you can hardly crawl out of bed:

  • Read to your children, and encourage them to read.  Read together in your bed, if that’s where you spend most of your time.  That is where reading lessons happen in my house even when I’m well.
  • Make sure you provide plenty of good literature and nonfiction, and not too much “brain candy.”  Children who read twaddle will quickly come to crave it just like the child who has been raised on breakfast pastries will crave that morning dose of sugar.  It sometimes takes self control and extra effort to develop a taste for what is best for us.
  • Have your children narrate back to you when you read aloud to them.  Encourage them to tell the story in their own words.  Very little ones often show a desire to do this naturally, like when your toddler wants to “read” you her favorite book.  I have also let the young ones narrate to each other to help “catch up” when one misses a chapter of a book we’re reading together.
  • Encourage the independent pursuit of hobbies and interests.  Urge your children to dig deeper into what interests them, and to learn fun or interesting new skills.
  • Talk to your children, and with your children.  This is huge!  Explain difficult concepts, even if you think they’re too young to completely grasp what you are talking about.  You are planting seeds and concepts.  Answer questions.  Ask questions.  Include them in discussions, even if they’re too young to really participate.  Engage.  Don’t sell your children short: everything is fair game at every age.
  • Use videos judiciously.  Work hard not to create an atmosphere where videos are the default method of entertaining children or killing time.  Non-fiction and educational videos abound.  Use them as a basis for discussions rather than just time-fillers.  Let the kids watch a familiar/favorite video but require them to use the foreign language track rather than English.  My kids groan, but never decline.

So much learning can be self directed and self motivated, but often our children miss out on that aspect when we are strong and healthy enough to hover over them and manage all aspects of their day.  It’s not  good to leave a child to himself (Proverbs 29:15), but I do think that we are sometimes inclined to manage their days a little too closely.  The inability to do so can sometimes provide new opportunities for growth and learning that our children might have missed otherwise.

Here’s what the other 3 moms say:


Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • May 3 – Cooking with leftovers
  • May 10 – Favorite frugal tips
  • May 17 – Q&A
  • May 24 – Homeschooling when in a rotten temper

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4 Moms: teaching our children to write

4 Moms, 35 Kids

Since the 4 of us are bloggers, you might think this part was easy.  We’re natural writers, right?  So writing must come easily to our children as well.

Can you feel the sarcasm dripping like honey from Pooh’s bee tree?

First of all, writing doesn’t come easily to me.  I remember asking for more writing work in school because it was one subject that I never thought I was really good at.  I knew all the technicals of style and composition, and I got good grades.  I was good enough, but never felt that I really had any spark in my style.

After 6 years as a blogger, I have to admit I still often feel that way.  You know that funny lady that can make a bad day sound so hilarious you almost wish you had the same day?  That’s not me.  She may live in my head, but we don’t see each other often.  I’m the quiet, boring woman who gives an amused little snort at the funniest parts of the movie when everyone in the room is falling on the floor with laughter.  I’m always a little surprised when I review old posts on my blog.  I wrote that?  Hey, I’m good!

Learning to write takes a thorough knowledge of the technicals, followed by lots of practice.  It’s a long process, never mastered but always improving – if you continue to work on it.

I learned the technicals by taking a few short writing courses and writing endless essays for my dad.  I gained more practice writing letters to friends and family and to one young man who initially had very little interest in returning them.   Later, I practiced even more by joining the internet world in this crazy thing called blogging.

Our children have followed similar paths, each in her own way.  Some really do have a spark in their style.  They may not have mastered the technicals entirely, but you really could say writing comes naturally to them.  Even so, they have work to do.  Talent may give them the style that some of us must work so hard to gain, but they still have to work to master the basics.

I just spent a long time not answering the question, didn’t I?  But I am a homeschool graduate myself, and I think I am one example of an answer to this question.  My children are another.

We teach our children to write first by teaching them to read.  They are encouraged to read a lot.  We try to steer them toward truly good writing: literary classics and more books by modern masters of the written word.  We love to collect books and have built up a rather respectable library over the years.

Filling their heads with good examples of great literature gives them a solid start in learning to write.  I have always been fascinated at how easy it  can be to deduce a child’s current favorite author by the evolution of her writing style.

Over the years, we have also required them to write something daily.  It may be a journal entry, a letter, a blog post, or a few paragraphs on an assigned topic.  It may be a short story, summary of a book they read recently, or a poem.  It may be copywork for the younger ones.  This met with strong resistance at first, but they quickly adjusted and learned that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed.  The more regularly we required this, the better they did.

But a thorough mastery of the basics really does build both confidence and competence, and right now we have enrolled Kaitlyn and Lydia in an online interactive essay class with a live teacher.  I mentioned this in another post, and after a few more weeks they are as challenged and inspired as ever.  I know that I could probably do for them what he is doing if I took the time to create or follow a course, but I haven’t done it in such a structured way yet and it’s helpful for me to see his friendly critiques and praise of their work as well.  He does an impressive job of balancing the two.  It’s also helpful that they can see the other students’ work and the instructor’s notes on their work as well for comparison.  It doesn’t hurt that he is funny, and has quoted The Princess Bride and other family favorites in his lectures.

Kaitlyn is working on a post that details how the class works and what she likes best about it, so watch for that soon and have your questions ready for her!

How have you taught your children to write compositions and essays?

The other moms are talking about it today, too.
  • Smockity Frocks
  • Common Room
  • Raising Olives

  • Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

    • March 8 – (food related topic)
    • March 15 – How to save memories without being overrun

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    4 Moms share encouraging verses and stories

    4 Moms, 35 Kids

    This week the 4 Moms are talking about Scriptures and/or stories we rely on for comfort/encouragement as a homeschooling family.  I saw this subject on our collective spreadsheet months ago and again a few weeks ago when I added it to the list of upcoming topics.  Nonetheless, right now I’m saying, “Huh?  What are we talking about?  Whose idea was this?”

    One Bible verse that I think of very often is Proverbs 14:23:

    In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty

    Although we all want to do things “the right way,” it’s generally not necessary to know and practice the very best method so long as we are working steadily toward a goal.  God will bless our honest imperfect efforts to serve Him.  We can take great comfort in this!  This applies in homeschooling as well as other areas of life.

    Another passage that helps us keep our focus is known as the schema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

    4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

    5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

    6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

    7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

    8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

    9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

    This defines our goal and our method.  If we are teaching them to evaluate everything they think, do and believe from a Biblical worldview – and giving them the tools to do so –  we are succeeding.

    I don’t know if this qualifies or not, but I also have a little anecdote I often share with nervous new homeschoolers who wonder if they should be worried when their children are “behind.”

    Deanna was an early talker with a huge vocabulary and an amazing memory.  At 12 months, she knew and used 150 words.  If you doubt me, I can provide the list from her baby book.  She didn’t start putting them together until the thoroughly typical age of 18 months, but by then she had a very nice vocabulary to work with and rapidly became thoroughly conversant.

    I thought she was brilliant, and she was.  However, it slipped my attention that while she was accomplishing milestones with great fanfare and expertise, she was still doing them very much on schedule.

    Because she was brilliant, we started working on reading early.  I made a set of flashcards, and she learned all the sounds of the letters in 20 quick sessions over the course of 10 days – before she was 20 months old.  She was going to read before she was 3.  I was sure of it!

    But when we moved on to putting the sounds together, she just didn’t get it. She wasn’t ready.

    I put the reading supplies away for about 6 months to work on other things, and then we tried again.  Still no progress.

    We repeated this process many times over the following years.  I didn’t try very long or hard each time; I knew there was no concrete rule that a child must read by age 5, and I didn’t want to push too hard.  We had other ways to learn.  I spent a lot of time reading aloud to Deanna and her sisters.  Her vocabulary and communication skills grew.  Her memory was stunning.  She was highly intelligent, but just couldn’t put the sounds together to read.  The point:

    She wasn’t ready until she was ready.

    The ability to read is closely tied to certain developmental milestones, and she had to reach them before she could really make progress.  At 6, it finally clicked.  She went from zero to Tolkien in 6 months, and has been a voracious reader ever since.

    Sure, the right program and a lot of time and effort on both our parts might have provided the crutch we needed to get her over that hurdle ahead of time, but she was able to cross it with ease when she was ready.  I have heard it said about potty training that you can start early and be finished by 24 months, or you can wait til the baby is 2 and do it in a few days.  Our experience with reading has been much the same.

    There.  Are you comforted and/or encouraged?

    The other moms are offering encouragement too:

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

    • February 9 – note to self: check the schedule. Oh, er…hello!

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    4 Moms: Teaching grammar

    4 Moms, 35 Kids

    Welcome back to the 4 Moms weekly posts.  You can welcome me back, too, because I’ve been gone for a few weeks.  I had a lovely break from blogging over the holidays, but sadly I won’t remember a bit of it since I DIDN’T BLOG ANY OF IT.  Ironic, no?

    At least I’m blogging about our recent rodential invader, so we’ll remember that story in years to come, but that’s not why you’re here today.  You’re here to learn how I teach my children grammar.  Because I am a homeschooler, and obviously I teach my children grammar, right?

    Wrong.  Maybe you already picked up on that when I began a sentence with a conjunction.  I don’t teach grammar.

    We are relaxed homeschoolers, so I love it when real life results in lessons learned relatively painlessly.  Texts may be better at covering all the bases in an orderly fashion, but is that approach really intrinsically superior?  Will my children be stunted in “the real world” if they don’t learn all their Important Facts & Concepts at the institutionally determined appropriate age and time?  Will they miss out on job opportunities because I forgot to teach them to diagram sentences?  Will they be less able to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?

    Psst…those were rhetorical questions. The answers are “no,” “no,” and “no.”

    If I’ve done my job properly, they will have the ability to crack a book (or open up google) and learn to diagram sentences should the need arise.  The same goes for conjugating German verbs, identifying the bones of the human hand, and memorizing the names of the early Chinese emperors.  While they are learning, I also want to teach them to learn. I don’t want to simply pour facts into open minds.  I want active minds that are constantly learning, growing, inquiring, and thinking critically.

    I’m not saying these things are unimportant, or that none of my children have or will learn them, but they are incidental to the ultimate goal of Christian education.

    I’m also not saying that there is anything wrong with a more structured approach.  We have used Saxon math for many years.  Kaitlyn and Lydia are currently enrolled in an online interactive essay class to help develop and polish their writing skills.  We have used other textbooks and formal courses on occasion, but they are not the backbone of our curriculum.

    So…how do my children learn grammar if they’re not filling in the blanks of a grammar workbook 3 days/week for 12 years?

    They read, and they write.  I read what they wrote, and we talk about what they read and write.  I correct their spoken and written grammar as the opportunity arises, talking about the parts of speech and explaining the difference between objective and subjective pronouns, etc.  OK, so maybe I do teach them grammar, but I don’t know why they call me the Gramminator.

    Learning happens other ways, too.  We play Mad Libs.  I have a book called Eats Shoots and Leaves that I want my older children to read.

    They learn in the course of real life, the way so much other learning takes place.

    The other moms are teaching grammar too.  See what they have to say:

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

    • January 12 – Snacks and appetizers for a crowd
    • January 19 – How to organize, shop for and maintain ALL THAT CLOTHING {linky}
    • January 26 – Q&A
    • February 2 – Scriptures and/or stories we rely on for comfort/encouragement as a homeschooling family

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    4 Moms crack the whip: Teaching Children to be Diligent

    4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesRead to the bottom to see the winner of last week’s giveaway for a new copy of Large Family Logistics.

    It’s Thursday again, and you’re back for more wisdom from the 4 Moms.  This week we’re talking about teaching children to be diligent.  My first tip: don’t wait until 10 PM on Wednesday night to start your Thursday morning post. Planning ahead = good. Procrastination = bad.

    The fact that I was busy practicing fiddle songs with the pastor for our church’s upcoming dance is no excuse. Did you know I played the fiddle?

    See? You want to know how to teach your children to be diligent, and already you’ve learned something: the mom who who is avoiding the subject has diligence issues of her own. Perhaps if I had paid more attention to my own deadline, my children would have more respect for the deadlines I set for them.

    This will be my first time to provide live music for a dance. We plan to play Old Joe Clark, Devil’s Dream, Irish Washerwoman, Boil That Cabbage Down, Blackberry Blossom, and Westphalia Waltz.

    I can tell you what I know, but I’ll be talking to myself as well as you.  I need to take my own advice!  We have our moments of brilliance – some members of our house more than other – and some last for days or weeks, but we have not diligently applied the principles necessary to produce diligence. We are sporadically diligent, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

    I started the violin in 5th grade, just before my 10th birthday. I chose it because I was new at school and my new best friend was in violin class.  It was my last year in government school.

    See? Again I wander. My mind is elsewhere, just like those of my children. Diligence requires the ability to focus on the task at hand. Other subjects may be worthy of interest but we have to stay on target.

    Perry and I have a little mantra that we have our children repeat from a very young age when they are learning to follow the simplest instructions and perform the easiest chores: “What does diligent mean?” They are to reply, “It means quickly, without stopping.”  So the children know what diligence is, but the question is how we can we teach them to be diligent.

    My interest quickly waned when my friend moved out of state, but my parents made me keep playing and required me to practice daily.  Over the next two years, I learned to love the violin and was immensely grateful that they hadn’t allowed me to quit.

    First, we must give them the tools: We must teach them how to be diligent.

    When it comes to schoolwork, one way we help our children learn diligence by removing some distractions but not all. Too many distractions certainly slow them down and frustrate them. But in a house with people – a family home – they must learn to work through a certain level of noise, activity, etc. Otherwise they are vulnerable to every distraction that comes their way.  This can be frustrating at first, but it pays off. A child doing algebra while a 4yo tornado whirls about in the next room is a beautiful sight. This skill will serve her well no matter where she finds herself in The Real World.

    We began homeschooling in my second year of violin, but that didn’t stop my advancement in violin. There were 5 children in the house, 4 of them 6yo and under, but I found a quiet spot to make my noise.  I continued to practice daily, fitting it into the new daily schedule.  Unlike the first year, I required few reminders. When it came to violin, I was good, and I wanted to get better.

    Another way we help them develop diligence is by giving them practice, i.e. work. Childhood should not be all play, and we should not feel guilty each time we require them to work.  The old adage says “Lazy hands are the devil’s plaything.”  All of us need work, and children are no exception.  Read the book of Proverbs if you doubt it.

    When I left government school, my teacher allowed me to pay for private lessons by cleaning house for him and his wife 2 hours in exchange for each hour-long private lesson.  He even provided transportation both ways.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized what a huge favor he was doing for me.  Not only was he teaching me to play better; he was teaching me to love work. I considered it a privilege to work in exchange for more work.

    Second, we must motivate them to be diligent.

    Just being capable of diligence is not enough. We need motivation to use that ability, and for children the motivation must usually be external.
    Motivation can be negative (the proverbial stick) and positive (the carrot). In our house, the stick often means loss of privileges or extra work. The carrot may be verbal praise, an ice cream date, or anything in between.

    After more than a year of hard work and good progress, my struggling parents scraped together the money to buy me my own violin in place of the loaner from the government school.  My teacher sold them a beautiful old instrument from his father’s collection for the princely sum of $150.  It was the best Christmas I had ever known.

    As they grow and mature, they should become more self-governing and motivate themselves.

    In the beginning, my motivation to practice was my dad’s command.  I knew better than to defy him. Later, my own desire to succeed took over.  I found myself in tears if I couldn’t play a new piece to my teacher’s satisfaction – not because the kind old man was a harsh teacher but because I was frustrated with myself.  I knew I could do better.  I knew I must work harder.

    We must remember the goal and keep it before our children’s eyes as well.

    Why is it important to be diligent?  Because in all labor there is profit (Proverbs 14:23).  Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we must do it all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).  We must give it our very best, our all. As it turns out, that’s not a bad definition for diligence.

    Many good things have come of my early lessons in violin, and not all are directly related to musical ability.  My character and work ethic were being formed in those long hours, and I am still thankful today for the pressure placed upon that little girl so many years ago.  I am also thankful for the ability to make a joyful noise unto the Lord! (Psalm 98:1)

    The other moms are talking about it too:


    Large Family Logistics book for moms of manyThe winning comment for a new copy of Large Family Logistics is:

    My biggest problem is the clutter.

    Emily, I feel your pain!  I hope this book proves helpful in your battle against the clutter monster.  I’ll email you about claiming your gift if you don’t email me first.  🙂

    Please don’t forget to come back in August and join our linkup as we blog our way through Large Family Logistics.

    Everyone else: if you didn’t win, I hope you’ll still order a copy of this wildly popular book so you can join us too!

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

    • July 21 – Tips for remaining patient when you have a houseful of kids
    • July 28 – Q&A  (please leave your questions on my last Q&A post if you want me to find them)

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    4 Moms Q&A: homeschooling, meal times

    4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesFun, fun!  I love Q&A posts, even though you all ask some hard questions.  I’m especially unsure when answering questions about homeschooling, which is probably why I have been saving them all up for a single post.

    Why am I unsure about homeschooling questions?  Because there are so many ways to do it, and it’s so hard to say that one way is The Right Way or The Best Way.

    That’s not to say that there are no wrong answers and we should all follow the path that feels right, but like creating a menu, there can be many paths to a healthy diet for the body and the mind.  We may share similar goals but have very different circumstances and methods for achieving those goals.
    Nonetheless, I’ll gladly answer from my own perspective and hope that others can glean something of value or at least laugh at how far off I am.

    For homeschooling resources, check out Vision Forum’s current sale: save up to 60% on over 300 homeschool items!

    With that disclaimer and with tongue placed firmly in cheek, here we go:

    Malia asked,
    How do you honestly and truly keep your kids schoolbooks orderly? Does anyone at your house under the age of 13 have the same journal or book journal thry had last year? So is there a consequence for doing your math in your science notebook? Well you couldn’t find it.
    Also, how do you get messy writers become neat writers?? I think you may understand the length and breadth of this question.

    I’ve been teasing Perry lately that he has broken me.  I used to be highly organized, and clung tightly to all the concepts you listed above.  He is a more happy-go-lucky guy, gliding happily through life, shaking his head in bewilderment at why we moms constantly stress out over the details.

    Under his influence, I have gradually relaxed the schedule, the lesson plans and curriculum, the dedicated notebooks and journals, and even the penmanship.

    You know what?  Even without me stressing constantly over school, our children continued to learn.  They still learned new math concepts even when they did their math in pen on an unlined piece of scrap paper.  They still did their other subjects even if they had to spend 10 minutes searching for the book they didn’t put away properly yesterday.  They still filled journals, and their atrocious handwriting improved as they got older and wrote more.
    Speaking of handwriting, one subject in which most of my children have not compared favorably with public schoolers is penmanship.  I know we could change this by spending more time on the subject, but I have a slightly different response.  I think the difference is largely because they don’t spend as much time doing “busy work,” assigned just to fill their time.  Their handwriting improves on a different schedule as they get older and naturally begin to write more.  This realization has allowed me to relax as they focus on other areas, while better handwriting follows in its time.


    Nicki is scared:
    I would love to read anything about beginning to homeschool….I’m scared to death!


    Keep in mind, you don’t have to recreate the institutional schooling experience in your home.  That is a system designed for the classroom, and not at all appropriate for the home.  There are much better and easier ways to do the job and make homeschooling a part of your daily life rather than trying to make life fit around a school schedule.

    A great place to start is Victoria Botkin’s CD, Curriculum Advice.  She gives plenty of practical advice for getting started, but also helps sooth the fear and uncertainty that so many new homeschoolers face.

    Jennifer Dewingo has a question about homeschooling, too:
    My eldest is in 10, so that’s about 3rd grade I think (I don’t use one particular curriculum, so I’m guessing) and I haven’t started her, or the others scholars, on a history and science program. I’m thinking of the history program from AIG that Raising Olives has talked about, but that’s not for another 2 years or so. Do you think this would be a problem or not? We do, of course, talk about history details and basic science knowledge (my husband is a chef, so he enjoys talking about the science of cooking). It’s not like they are clueless about things, just not as saturated with details as their public school counterparts are.


    This is a perfect example of when my way might not be a good fit for you and your family, but I don’t think there’s a need to use a structured history program at any point unless you want to, so any time is fine.

    In the meantime, just make sure your children are reading plenty of books about history and science, and have them narrate back to you what they have read.  Have them write a brief summary of each book.  Read aloud to them, both fiction and non-fiction.  Listen to audio messages about history – our children loved to hear Bill Potter talk about major battles that changed the course of history and how weapons and fighting techniques changed over the centuries.

    If your children are reading good books that bring historical figures to life for them, you’ll be shocked at how much they learn and retain, and you may feel less of a need for a structured program when the time comes.

    sarfisch has a really tough question about homeschooling:
    I have a schooling question. My baby is 9 months old and I am already stressing about preschool. I live in a large city where there is immense competition to get into the best public schools and even greater competition to get into the best private schools.

    My husband and I are seriously considering sending her to a private religious school, but we would have to send her at the age of 3 to secure a spot so (on top of the tuition cost – I won’t even tell you because the cost would make you sick) I am hesitant to “ship off” my baby at such a young age.

    Now, getting to my question. I am a working mother, so I have never considered homeschooling an option. Let’s assume I continue to work (I understand your feelings/convictions on mothers’ working), do you believe homeschooling is an option? And if so, how can it be done?

    Yes, I think homeschooling is an option for a 2 income family, but why?  If you are a Christian – I think you have mentioned in the past that you are – it seems to me you need to examine your goals and ask yourself how you are working toward them.  Which is more important: your job, or a Christian education for your daughter?  Which type of education moves your family toward its goal: homeschooling, or a private institution that must have your baby from the time she’s 3?  If one goal hinders the other, you’ll need to prioritize and make difficult choices.

    It’s theoretically possible for a 2 income family to homeschool, but it would be very difficult.  I know you can’t possibly provide all the relevant details in an email, but the way you describe the situation seems to set your job at odds with your daughter so that you must give up either her (by shipping her off as a 3yo) or your job for the sake of her education.  I know that’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s a hard situation for you.

    The question here must be, “What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?”

    For us, the answer is that God created each of us to fill a special role in life, and the woman’s role is to be home-centered.  A big part of that is child-rearing.  While the Bible never specifically prohibits women from working outside the home (some of what the Proverbs 31 woman is outside the home and she is praised for her industriousness), a career outside the home would be a huge roadblock to fulfilling her primary role as a wife and mother.

    I think you are beginning to understand the tension between parenthood and an outside career as you wonder how you can give your daughter the upbringing and education you desire for her, yet keep your job.


    From: Joede Fleming
    First I want to say that I love the way you write.  You always seem “real”, not worrying about how other might perceive you. I love that, which is probably why I felt compelled to come to you instead of someone else.
    I don’t know many homeschoolers.  We have a group in our “area” which is about a 50 mi radius, but they have dropped me as a member because I couldn’t afford the $20 membership fee. Those that I did have contact with at one point were very tight lipped about how their days flowed and how I could help my children learn things they so hated.
    I have 6 children, 1 graduates high school this year and hopefully will attend a community college next year to obtain a teachers aide certificate (I know I don’t sound encouraging about this, she has Down syndrome and are hoping the college will grant her access to their classes), an 11yo son who wishes to go to public school much to my chagrin, and those I will homeschool (as of beginning of my official school year) are ages 7, 5, 3, 2.
    My will be 7yo does not read yet, and is completely uninterested in anything work related.
    This is my first full year schooling so I really need some help in how to teach my 5yo to read, as well as ways to encourage my 7yo.
    I just feel lost honestly. We cannot afford to buy new curriculum, my hubby has been out of work for 2yrs and is unable to work due to back problems. I am however going to try and purchase Explode the code as I have heard it is wonderful and also Teaching your child to read in 100 lessons.
    I do not have internet access and right now no computer as the video card has gone out.
    What can I do to continue educating my children?
    I have prayed about this and thought that I was being given signs to return my children to public school but have had nothing but utter anxiety about that thought, which is why I am convinced they need to be home.
    Any ideas or thoughts would be appreciated. I hope I haven’t made this seem like an overwhelming amount of pressure on you to give me the “right” or “best” answer,becasue those are all individual and I will use what you say as advice and not as what is right and concrete.
    God Bless you! Your blog has encourage me, made me smile and given me hope when I needed them all!!


    You’re in a difficult and scary situation, but I applaud your determination to homeschool!  Remember that your goal is to raise Christian adults, and for this you don’t necessarily need a lot of curriculum or shiny electronics.  The Robinson Curriculum is built almost entirely around good books.  There’s no need to buy the curriculum itself.  With the booklist in hand and a good library, you could almost educate your children for free.

    A good library will go a long, long way.  Read to your children and with your children, both fiction and non-fiction.  You can cover history, science and civics this way without spending a dime.   Look for Five in a Row
    at your library to get a taste of what you can do with a few good books, then try to expand the concept on your own.  You may find that your children enjoy the approach far more than typical textbooks, too.

    Read Bible with them every day.  We like to gather round the breakfast table and divide up a chapter of Proverbs, with each of us reading a few verses aloud.  Then we break up for more private reading.

    Have them write something daily – a letter, a short story, a journal entry, a summary of a book they’ve recently finished, copy a poem or a passage of Scripture.  Correct their work for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Spectrum makes inexpensive math workbooks that we like for younger children, and I have even gotten several of these for free from Paperback Swap.  Supplement with homemade flashcards.

    Listen to Curriculum Advice, above.  You’ll be encouraged!  You can do this, and God will bless your desire to please Him.

    Anna asked,

    How do handle mealtimes with self-feeding babies/toddlers? I have 3 children, the youngest is 12 months, and each one has loved to feed themself bite size food as soon as they are able. This makes it very convenient for me to do other things (like feed myself) while they eat, but afterwards we’re left with a ginormous mess. I debate whether it’s worthwhile to just save myself the 15 min clean up afterwards and feed them myself. What do you do?


    I love that you used the word ginormous. We love that word in our house!

    I let my babies and toddlers feed themselves most of the time.  We have dogs.  There is no mess under the highchair in our house.  It’s probably the only floor in my house.  I highly recommend this method.

    They would lick the kids clean too if I let them, but I prefer to just do a quick wipe-down or even a bath.  If you think about it, a bath for a baby or toddler need not take much longer than a diaper change.  I don’t even bother to plug the drain.  Just strip them down, swish them around a moment with the water running and a wash cloth in my hand, and the job is done.

    Oh – don’t forget to put a diaper back on when you’re done, or you’ll have worse messes to worry about.

    The other moms are taking questions too:

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  • May 19 – 4 Moms try to lose the baby weight
  • May 12 – 4 Moms practice hospitality, and YOU are invited!
  • May 5 – 4 Moms talk about you-know-what
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  • April 21 – Large families & church, part 2: keeping them quiet
  • April 14 – Eating inexpensively on the road
  • April 7 – 4 Moms teach history
  • March 24 – Large families & church, part 1: getting there on time
  • March 17 – Bread baking linky
  • March 10 – Spring cleaning
  • March 3 – Books for early readers
  • February 24 – 4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more
  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
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    4 Moms: homeschooling the challenging child

    4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesWell, I did it again.

    We’re at the beach having a fun and wonderful couple of days with lots of sun, surf, good food and family, and I left my brain at home.

    I stayed up late Tuesday night working on my 4 Moms post so that I could be ahead of the game and have Wednesday free to play, and guess what I did: I did the wrong 4 Moms topic.  So now I’m really ahead of the game because next week’s post is ready, but I can’t go play with my friends until this week’s chores are done.

    le sigh.

    We’re going to tell you a little about homeschooling the “different” or challenging child.  We don’t have any diagnosed disabilities in our household, though I have to admit I wonder every now and then.  Is it really that hard to keep your bedroom clean?  Maybe they do have a problem.  Is there a name for a disorder that prevents one from seeing a mess and cleaning it up, like the opposite of OCD?  Cleaning Preventative Syndrome?   Oblivious Disorder?  I think we have that.

    But while we don’t have any official learning disorders, I do suspect that at least one of our children is mildly dyslexic, and some have simply been ready later than others.  We have dealt with this mainly by relaxing.  There is no need for them to learn on a schedule, so long as their minds are active and growing.  If a child is struggling with a concept, we put it aside and work on something else for a time.  That “something else” may or may not be related to the struggle, but when we are ready to revisit the struggle, we often find that it goes much differently.

    This has been the case with reading for several of our children.  None have read before the age of 6 1/2, and some have not read fluently until 9 or 10, but all so far are voracious readers.  It’s important in these cases to read aloud with and to the child so that learning can continue and his/her vocabulary can continue to grow – audio books are wonderful too –  but in our experience no damage has been done by waiting a bit until she’s ready to fly when it comes to reading.

    Another thing I have learned over the years is to work with a child’s learning style rather than forcing her to conform to my own.  The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias was very helpful to me back in those early years, and now I am constantly analyzing my children in terms of learning style.

    When a child learns very differently from her teacher, I think this can sometimes be perceived as a disability rather than just a difference.  My mom, who homeschooled 14 children, thinks this has a lot to do with why so many boys are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.  They are simply more active and have a different learning style than girls, which makes them harder for a female teacher to deal with.

    As one small example, Mom found that a particularly high-energy brother of mine did much better on his school if she allowed him stand next to the table rather than making him sit.

    With one of my more active girls, I found that her memory work came much more easily if I allowed her to fidget or even stand on one foot as she recited.  After initially trying to make her stand still like a proper young lady, I asked myself why I was making it harder for her.  She knew how to stand still when it was necessary; why not let her work the way that her brain preferred?  She no longer does this, but remembers those times as fun rather than frustrating.  I like that.

    My most talkative children learn best if they are allowed and encouraged to use their superpower (talking), and I don’t fight that.  We try not to let them be disruptive to those around them, but we allow them to talk about what they are learning, realizing that they process new concepts better while they are chatting away.

    Math is another area where learning style has a huge impact on how they learn.  Some children need to understand how and why a process works before they can effectively use it, while others just want to know what to do next.  Once they have the steps down, then they can begin to understand what is happening and why.  It took me years to admit that both approaches are valid and stop forcing my own learning style on my students.  Some of us are born speaking math, while others struggle long and hard to learn the language.  🙂

    And now, I’m off to the beach.  Over and out.

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