Learning Together in Your Homeschool

The longer I homeschool, the more benefits and delights I find come along with this choice. I cherish all the time my kids play games they made up, because they have the time to imagine. I love watching the near constant clay, painting, and sewing projects that happen around the house with all the “free time” they have. Little do they know that this is actually learning! Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

I love that my oldest daughter can get up at 5:30am to start her school, just because she likes getting done early. (I, on the other hand, have a rule that I don’t help with school until 8 am!) But the thing I treasure the most is the closeness my children share with one another. My children could not be more different from each other. They have opposite passions and interests. One loves to read and writes papers for fun. She is the perfect rule follower who needs to be taught to think creatively. The other wants to do everything her own way. She feels stifled by following directions, but can create the most amazing crafts just by looking at a picture.  These two both drive each other crazy in one moment, and then in the next beg each other to play a new imaginative game they created. If they went their separate ways, to different classrooms all day every day, I know they would not be close. They wouldn’t have the chance to build relationships, and be forced to compromise their ideas day in and day out.Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

I see so many benefits that living life together gives us. But it also leads me to value unity in our homeschool. Just as I don’t want each child to go his or her separate way to a classroom, I want to keep my homeschool on the same topics to get all the benefits of the kids learning the same things together. I want to hear my kids share the cool things they discovered in their history books, or joining together to admire each one’s science experiments. Although homeschooling doesn’t have to be this way, I love seeing our home atmosphere be one of learning together.

Although some subjects, like math, needs to be done at specific grade levels, the humanities provides a perfect opportunity to bring our homeschool into the same topics. When you learn history, literature, geography and write reports on the same time period it makes learning fascinating. This also gives me, as the teacher, a much simpler task of only preparing for one topic, rather than many!

Envision the delight that comes with having everyone on the same historical topic, while combining subjects. The older student gets to go in depth on the reasons behind the Revolutionary war, while reading a literature book from that era, and writing a paper based in those topics. Meanwhile, the younger ones are reading age appropriate books and doing lots of fun revolutionary war crafts. The third grader is learning to write paragraphs, while writing about the Boston Tea Party. The discussion around the dinner table is lively, as even the first grader eagerly adds the things she learned this week. The third grader feels quite pleased with himself when he shares a fact his older sister didn’t know about the Revolutionary war.Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

With all the kids on the same time period, you only have to prepare once to keep up with everyone. You will no longer feels pulled in so many different directions, but can simply direct your focus on keeping everyone on their appropriate learning level. Another benefit is that this kind of plan works no matter the age gap between your kids. If you have a high schooler and a kindergartner, they can learn the same topics at their own learning level. It simplifies homeschooling without sacrificing the quality for the older ones. It inspires the younger ones to work toward what their older siblings are doing. Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

With the simplicity of this way of homeschooling, Dad can even join in the discussions. There are wonderful resources that provide a history overview on audio for Dad to listen to on the way to work. We love Pop Quiz, Story of the World, and many others. Dad just has to listen to the time period the family is studying and he is will be included in what the kids are learning. This also enables him to lead conversations around the dinner table and check on how well his kids are retaining what they have learned. When Dad is engaged in homeschooling, the children benefit so much.

I have loved to see the wonderful benefits that have come from keeping all my kids on the same time period! The benefits our family receives from homeschooling only increases when everyone is learning subjects together.

If you are interested in homeschooling together, check out Tapestry of Grace. This curriculum provides all that you need to bring a unified approach to teaching the humanities in your family. We love how Tapestry of Grace gives you the tools you need to keep the whole family together in the humanities.

Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.
Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

8 Simple Ways to Make History Come Alive

History is a perfect subject to help take school from something your child has to do every day, to showing him the delights of learning. Because it is a subject based on stories, it is a easy subject to help bring fun to learning and schoolwork. Here are some wonderful ways to make History come alive for your students

  1. Read great books. Don’t just settle for any work based on history, aim for quality. Read wonderful biographies, beautiful picture books, and well written historical fiction. A wonderful story brings characters and settings to life. A well-written history book should do that as well. our family loves books like the “choose your own adventure” type book, or the beautifully illustrated stories by the D’Aulaire’s. We love well written biographies, and classics like Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are so many wonderful choices!
  1. Study people who intrigue your child. Encourage your child to learn more about a character who interests them, even if it does not follow your school schedule. My oldest has fallen in love with the stories about Florence Nightingale. She will read any book about her she can find. Although for school time I have assigned history reading that helps her learn history chronologically, I also encourage her to pursue people that interest her to help make history even more exciting.
  1. Allow them to pursue aspects of history that excite them most. Does your child get super excited about fashion or machinery? Help him look at the history of those things while they study events and places. Boys often get excited about history when they reach the battles or weapons of each time period.  Looking at history through a specific lens can help students develop a deep love of learning. That love will naturally lead to learning other subjects, like science, engineering, or math. All this leads from being drawn into a true story.
  1. Combine your history study with geography. Understanding where things happen, and how the geography plays a part helps bring to life the time period you are studying. I have learned about the battle of Gettysburg for most of my life, but when I went there and got to see the actual lay of the land, so many details that I had learned made so much more sense to me.  Which leads to number 5….
  1. Visit historical places. I think every homeschool parent knows the value of field trips. But I think that we can make it more complicated than it needs to be. Kids learn so much just from a simple field trip. Last year at our county fair, we watched a local blacksmith work with metal. This was a wonderful teaching moment to talk about colonial life. When we visit a farm, we talk to them about how people used to grow their food for hundreds of years. National Parks have a wonderful Junior Rangers program that you can sign up for at the welcome desk that gives your kids questions to answer and things to look for. This helps them learn more from the displays at a national park. If you think creatively, you will be amazed at what you can come up with for good field trips!
  1. Watch documentaries or historically based movies. For the older students, there are so many high quality documentaries that expand the things they have read. A well done movie set in a particular time period (think a movie like Pride and Prejudice), typically hires a historian to make sure the setting and costumes are accurate to the time period. Ask your kids about what they notice. For younger kids, cartoon stories like Liberty Kids can teach them a lot about a time period. In addition to a well told story, movie time is usually a treat and a great option on a sick day!
  1. Reenact scenes from history. Kids love pretend play. They love to inject themselves into a story and act out the characters. The fun of telling the story forces the students to think about what they are reenacting. They will notice details or ask different questions than they will when they are just reading from a book. For an older student, have them write a play or fiction story based in that time period. Using different learning styles helps implant those stories in their heads.
  1. Make crafts that show different parts of life from history. Some of our favorite crafts have shown the differences between the time period we are studying and modern day. To ensure we actually do them, another mom and I get together once a week to do a co-op. One week, the kids made a model of the Nile river and then flooded it to show how crops would grow. Another time, they made quill pens and the kids had to try to write with them using ink. They discovered how difficult it was to write with a feather and not smudge the paper! Another time, the kids “panned for gold” in a large tub of water to show what the Gold Rush of California really meant. Sometimes the activities don’t work though. One week we made hard tack to show how tasteless the food was for the Civil War soldiers…The kids loved it and requested it for a snack!

Helping your kids love to learn is about finding that thing that will spark their interest. When they have that interest it is so exciting to see them pursue learning on their own! I personally love Tapestry of Grace because it weaves all these elements together. If you want to see how Tapestry of Grace works, see our samples here.

Color Your Way Through History!

Do you ever feel frustrated during reading aloud time? For me, once I have finally gotten everyone together to listen to our wonderful history or literature book…the squirming starts!

Allow your young student to color while you read about history! See samples at the bottom of the post.

There are so many wonderful options for those times, like Lego’s or Play-Doh. But sometimes I want something that directly connects with the topics we are studying. I love to be able to pull out these activities books. My girls pick a picture that we are studying, and start coloring. Allow your young student to color while you read about history! See samples at the bottom of the post.

The activity books were originally written to go along with the Tapestry Primer curriculum, but since they are chronological, they go well with the full Tapestry program, or any chronological history program. The pages include a number of different activities, including map work, mazes, matching, simple writing, and famous people.

Allow your young student to color while you read about history! See samples at the bottom of the post.

My kids love to color, and they learn so much by having something to do while I read to them. To buy a set of these pages, visit here. To Download a large sample of the pictures, visit here!

Poetics: A Wonderful Literary Analysis Textbook

“Poetics” used to mean simply “literature.” Aristotle used the word as a title for his book about the history and basic working principles of literature. Aristotle’s book became a classic in his time and ever since, but so much has been added to literature that it is no longer a complete guide for modern students. Poetics is a wonderful Literary handbook for highschool

We searched for years to find a single text that would combine good lists, examples, and explanations of literary analysis tools with a history of the important literary periods. We felt that this would add so much to our Tapestry Literature curriculum. Since we could not find one that fit those things, we asked one of our Tapestry literature authors, Christina Somerville, to write a new Poetics for the modern Christian student.

Because we care so much about worldview studies, we also got permission to include James W. Sire’s descriptions of the basic historical worldviews (from his book, The Universe Next Door) in Poetics. Our literary handbook describes and explains literature-shaping worldviews like Buddhism and Hinduism, Deism, Naturalism (also called Atheism), Existentialism, and more. Poetics is a wonderful Literary handbook for highschool

Poetics covers the whole history of Western literature from ancient to modern. Because it is so comprehensive, our Poetics has proven a useful resource for all of the following standard course titles:

  • World Literature I
  • World Literature II
  • British Literature I
  • British Literature II
  • American Literature

We hear many stories about how Poetics has helped students to understand the difference between truth and artistry, to become interested in literature, to recognize worldview beliefs in stories, and to love the Bible as a work of artistic truth. We are so glad that so many students have benefited from using this volume!

Poetics is a wonderful Literary handbook for highschool

In Homeschooling, Who We Are Matters Most

As a homeschooling parent, who you are as a person matters more than the curriculum you choose.It occurred to me that one role I have as an older women is to share encouragement and perspective (dare I call it wisdom?) with those coming after me. I am privileged to have completed the homeschool journey with six children who are now adults, and have made me the grandmother of ten (so far). As such, I am able to look back on the road from a bit of a height, and with hindsight. And you know what they say about hindsight–20/20 vision is much clearer! So, this post is meant as encouragement from an older woman, who looks back and is able to get above the fray and pick out some major milestones that might be hard to see when you’re in the middle of the journey with only the headlights on your car to guide you through the fog.

Permit me to start with an analogy of how I feel that all of life (including homeschooling) works. Imagine with me a virgin forest: the kind with lots of tall, deciduous trees and not much thorny underbrush. Year after year, this forest is undisturbed by man. Year after year, each spring, leaves appear on the trees. The sun warms them; the rain waters them. They grow. The fall comes; they whither and fall to the ground. The rains come; the snow falls. The sun beats down; the winds blow. In the spring, new leaves appear, and the cycle starts again. After about 70 years of undisturbed cycles, what would you find on the forest floor? Usually, deep, rich humus: fertile, dark soil that has “naturally” occurred. But, what if a forest fire has ripped through about 10 years ago? Then the soil would have evidence of that event. What if humans had come through and done some logging? Their tire tracks and felled trees would have left their mark. Places where animals have wintered would have soils enriched by animal wastes, but also compression from where they had made their homes and laid down, night after night, to sleep. Etc.

Now, you can’t hurry the natural processes outlined above; nor can you hope to exactly duplicate them. Each spring, summer, winter, and fall contribute different characteristics to the overall quality and makeup of the soil that formed. Some winters were brutally cold; others mild. Some falls were wet; some summers brought drought. That fertile soil took decades to form, yet one could say that it was formed by individual leaves, by sticks, by animals, by weather, and by the grand design of God’s creation working silently, at His direction, year in and year out. Change any of these contributing elements or conditions, and the soil would be different. Each of these has a role, but you wouldn’t say that any of them was determinative. The soil is what it is, at its broadest level, because God caused it to be that way.

I think that our lives are like that forest. Season by season, year by year, we have thoughts, we have interactions with people, we have experiences, we make efforts, we read books, we make decisions, and we hear persuasive words. Some memories are clearly etched in our minds; other things that happened to us–and shaped us–are not things we clearly remember at all. Yet, taken together, these influences and the general gene pool (and spiritual gifts) that we were given form us–almost imperceptibly–year by year. They make up the soil into which the gospel seeds fall, and either flourish, or merely survive, or fail the thrive altogether.

Who can say what makes one soul’s “soil” more fertile than anothers’? Well, there really are basic elements. Loving environments during childhood, educational opportunities, mentorship, opportunities for advancement, and the people who alternately teach us, cheer us on, or trip us up. These all play a part, certainly. But, could any human being duplicate the complex set of factors (inbred and external) that go into shaping a human life?

Americans are “can do” people. We love self help books, lists of steps to success, and the joy of individual achievement. When we homeschool moms start thinking about homeschooling, we naturally ask, “What must I do to be successful?” Seeing the daunting amount of work involved, we naturally want to know, “What do I do in order to journey well?” When looking into curricula, we ask, “Will this one make me a successful teacher, and my child a successful student?”

Here’s the thing that I want to say, in a nutshell: you were not formed by any one influence, and neither will your child be. What I see, looking back, is that my children remember so little of the day to day, nitty-gritty of the academics that we did in our homeschools. That nitty-gritty, daily teaching and learning mattered, but, at the same time, it was just one of the factors that shaped them–and to my way of seeing with 20/20 vision, a minor one. So many other little things were almost as life-changing as were the academic pursuits–things I couldn’t control, like an emotionally painful encounter with neighbor kids, or becoming lost in a grocery store, or winning an important sports match and becoming puffed up with pride. As homeschoolers, my husband and I —who we were and, thus, how we reacted to life’s situations, great and small, happy or sad, challenging or easy–were the biggest single influencers in our homeschooled children’s lives. Our characters, passions, hopes, and dreams have translated, in various forms and in various degrees, to all of our six (very different) children. The things that we did not value, esteem, or promote have secondary places in our adult children’s affections to this day.

So, as you consider homeschooling academic things (like curricula, outside classes, hobbies and electives) consider yourself as well. To begin with, your soul’s “soil” is still forming. God is not done with you yet. Embrace this fact, and put your growth moments on full display. The best single thing you can do for your child is to grow yourself. Grow in godliness. Grow in humility. Grow in servanthood. Grow as a helpmeet to your husband. Grow in repentance, and in forgiveness. Grow in kindness. Grow in trusting God. Certainly, grow in diligence as you learn to teach academic subjects.  Of course, actively instruct your child as you rise up, and as you sit at home, and as you lie down. Do make the effort to find the best fit for this season for curricula. I’m not making a plea for unschooling here! But, looking back, it was how Scott and I grew in all these things, not the content of spoken or written lessons that most shaped my homeschooled children. As a disciple (and homeschooling teacher) it is not required that you present a perfect picture of a Christian to your child, but you do want to present a passionate, pursuing, growing, changing, and ever-more-lovely (meaning, of course, more Christlike) one! If you are growing, believe me, your child will grow likewise! If you are stagnant, your instruction will lack that life-giving spark of authenticity that children need to be inspired to imitate you. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never produced good results as a pedagogical philosophy!

Before you get overwhelmed, let me just say this: God is already at work on this project! God uses your experiences in the season of journeying with your children into homeschooling as part of the mix of your unique soul soil. You aren’t finished yet, and as He equips you to meet and greet the challenges of the homeschool journey, the hills and valleys are all part of God’s rain and wind and drought and sunshine–the elements that He beautifully orchestrates to bring forth the varying expressions of Himself in you and in your children. Like that forest, the process is full of so many imperceptible moments and elements that no one but an omniscient, loving God could ever orchestrate it. But we do have such a God, and He really is at work! Be of good cheer, for, with Paul I can say with certainty that “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (ESV)