1. Allow him to hold a favorite object during lessons, especially if the lesson doesn’t include manipulatives or other hands-on aspects.
2. Allow plenty of free-play time with manipulatives before the lessons begin, so that he becomes completely familiar with the objects and will be less distracted by them during the lesson. The tactile learner will discover amazing things about spatial relationships, length, width, perimeter, area, volume, and balance just from grouping, regrouping, stacking, and lining up the pieces. You can supply the vocabulary words later.
3. Use manipulatives for every possible subject: letter tiles for spelling, phonics, vocabulary, or reading practice, number tiles for math problems, jigsaw puzzle-maps for geography, and whatever else comes to mind. Combine the pieces from several board games, and use them for sorting by color, shape, or size. Then challenge your older students to figure out the percentage of pieces that are red.
4. Allow him to partake in experiments and demonstrations. Getting his hands involved will help him learn the most.
5. Incorporate textures into manipulatives by using sandpaper, textured scrapbooking papers, textured craft foam, etc. Give those curious fingers plenty of good “reading material” – his brain will remember the facts connected to the textures. (Include the student in choosing the textures, since tactile learners’ fingers like some textures and dislike others.)
6. Build 3-dimensional models (whether with Legos, a shoebox diorama, or a snow fort) instead of 2-dimensional diagrams. The tactile learner benefits most from seeing all sides of a model, not just a flat representation. (Precisely accurate scale and colors are not required.)
7. No matter what it is, let him touch it and take time to handle it. Whether at home or in public places, your tactile learner needs to touch and feel and run his hands over any surface that interests him. And he’ll be learning. (Frequent involvement of hands and fingers on a daily basis means he will be more understanding of the admonition to not touch everything at the next special outing or museum.)
8. Let him experiment with alternative writing materials to find the most desirable combination of writing implement and writing surface. A whiteboard and dry-erase markers offer an entirely different feel from paper and crayons.
9. Keep his hands and fingers busy to help his brain absorb information. If his hands are empty and his fingers can’t move, he’s not going to learn. Think of it as though his fingers have just become deaf and blind, and you can appreciate the information his fingers absorb.
10. Give him experiences in the other 3 styles to improve his overall learning abilities
1. Allow him to hold a favorite object during lessons, especially if the lesson doesn’t include manipulatives or other hands-on aspects.
I’ve often been asked how we raised our kids, by those who are up to their armpits in the midst of the power struggle that parenthood can sometimes be. The answer is one long day at a time, but with the help of some very consistent rules. I should clarify that many of these weren’t unbreakable rules as much as they were our family’s unique customs or our preferred methods for handling specific situations. I didn’t remember having a lot of rules for my kids, but my now-adult children have reminded me of several of them over the years. They recognize behaviors in others that they were not allowed to do and say “You never let us do that!”—and I’m pleased to say they mean it as a compliment. My daughter, Jennifer, has often caught herself watching her friends’ or coworkers’ exploits and thinking “If you were my mom’s child…” She has quoted some of our family rules as if they were The Wisdom of the Ages, only to have the hearer ask “Who says?” “Umm… my mom and I!” is her reply as she realizes that, unfortunately, the rest of civilization has yet to catch up to Mom’s Standards for Proper Conduct.
Some of our rules applied to my children, some to us as a family unit, and some were reminders for me as a parent that good kids don’t just happen. Kids obey best when they understand the reason behind a rule, whether they participated in the decision-making process that created that rule or not. Most rules are made to govern the future as well as the present: “Don’t run out into the street” is for right now, but also for every time in the future that a speeding car promises harm. Whatever rules your family makes, be sure to craft them with one eye on the future, and help your kids understand that the future-aspect is there to help them learn how to grow up into responsible adults. After all, “parent” is a verb, and you can’t expect great results from doing nothing. [“Parent” Is a Verb, linked below]
Overwhelmingly, I used the Golden Rule (Treat others as you wish to be treated—Luke 6:31, paraphrased) to teach my kids appropriate behavior and respect for others’ feelings and property. From toddlerhood on, I explained (in language suited to their understanding) what they had done wrong, why it was wrong, how it made the other person feel, and what their response should have been (the preferred behavior). Once they understood the situation from the other side, then they were able to offer a truly sincere apology, if circumstances required it. Beyond that, the detailed explanations helped those little people learn to think things through and anticipate the cause and effect relationship of actions to outcomes. You should not have kicked your ball into the neighbor’s flower bed. Your ball broke several of their pretty flowers, and they had just bought those plants and worked hard to get them all planted today. You can kick your ball over here where there is plenty of open space, but you may not kick it so hard that it lands near those flowers again. Do you understand the difference? If you disobey and kick the ball into the flowers again, you will be punished. Do you understand?
My kids were allowed to repeat certain actions only 3 times and no more. Whether it was running circles around the kitchen table or bouncing a beach ball off the top of my head, they could get away with it three times. Behavior that would have hurt someone or something was stopped immediately, but otherwise let’s just say that they learned to obey the limit. Auditory learners and making noises go together like air and breathing, but the “Rule of 3” taught them to stop the repetitive noises after 3 times and save the remainder for more appropriate situations, such as when playing outside, or when in their rooms and not disturbing others. [My “Rule of 3,” linked below]
Nearly every “rule” we had was an extension of the respect relationship taught through the Golden Rule. Do you want your little brother barging into your room without knocking? Then be sure that you knock on his door before entering his room. The Rule of 3 was built upon respect for others’ personal space, and respect is in itself a Golden Rule relationship. Respect must be earned—it isn’t granted automatically. If you want it, what are you doing to deserve it? [Respect Must Be Earned, linked below]
Family is spelled T-E-A-M, and we are all on the same side. No one here is your enemy, especially not your siblings. Family is not a competition, and we’re all in this together. [Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M, linked below]
Speaking of teams, Mom should not be the only person working while everyone else is playing, because moms like to play, too. Get the household staff working—fill those machines and get them running, so you can feel good about all the jobs that are getting done. Teach your kids that if we get the chores out of the way first, then we can take a break, guilt-free. Work first, then play. [Using Your Household Staff, linked below]
I taught my kids not to interrupt a conversation (especially between adults), unless there was a true emergency involving large amounts of water, blood, and/or fire. I told them that if they stood quietly next to me while I was involved in a conversation that: 1) I would know they had something to tell me, 2) I would not forget about them being there, and 3) I would listen to them at the next appropriate moment. I also taught them to hold up one finger to help them remember what it was they wanted to say (or 2 fingers to remember 2 things—and it really does work). Yes, it was appropriate to wake Mom and Dad from a Sunday afternoon nap to report that the house next door was on fire. It led to very important life-lessons in how to remain calm in a crisis, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how long it takes from the time someone dials 911 until you can actually hear the fire truck’s siren. Good job! (Yes, that really happened, but no one was hurt, and insurance covered the damages.)
Whining, begging, nagging, and asking again and again will never convince me to change my mind. However, if you can present your case with facts and logic and without whining, then I will listen with an open mind. Notice that this is a two-way contract. My part of the agreement was to listen attentively to the logically reasoned case my kids presented, putting aside my preconceived notions about the topic and honestly considering the points they made. The result was that very often I had to reconsider and go with their proposal, because it truly was a better idea. [If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind, linked below]
We discussed “our family’s values” so that each child understood why we do what we do, why we don’t do what someone else may do, and why we hold tightly to our specific beliefs and values. It made an amazing difference in helping our kids make up their own minds when confronted with peer pressure.
As part of understanding our family’s values, my kids were taught to respect the rules and value systems of other children’s parents by not sharing their opinions on whether they thought those rules were correct. When a friend said, “I wish my Mom used your Mom’s rule,” my daughter explained that our family probably also had a few rules that the friend wouldn’t like, so the friend shouldn’t automatically assume that one family was better than another. This also applied to individual privileges, schooling or homeschooling methods, TV or movie choices, church programs, family activities, and just about anything else that could prompt a comparative discussion.
My most controversial rule (as viewed by my peers) was that “authority” figures who had no true authority over my kids (not their parent or police, etc.) and/or who were clearly wrong (meaning they had the facts wrong) did not necessarily need to be listened to or obeyed. This came into play when a bully-parent (one of those aforementioned peers who disagreed with my views, particularly this one) made a faulty assumption about my son, after overhearing a snippet of conversation between my son and another boy at a homeschool group function. That parent attempted to exert her “authority” (just because she was an adult) over the boys because of what she thought she heard, but my son (knowing the full context of the conversation) knew she was in error and tried to explain the misunderstanding. She threatened to tell his mother (me) that he had argued with her, and he dared her to follow through on that, because he knew he wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong. When she gave me her side of the story, it sounded completely out of character for my son, so I turned to him for his explanation (which made her even angrier to think that I would accept the word of a 13-year-old over her testimony). The outcome was that I didn’t destroy a family relationship because of another adult’s misconception. Adults can be wrong, and kids learn to honor truth by seeing their parents recognize that adults are not always right just because they are adults. A parallel rule to the false-authority issue was that if anyone said to my kids “Don’t tell your parents,” that was our family’s code for “Run immediately to your parents and tell them everything!” That was also played out, with the result that my child identified right away that the person saying it was up to no good. Reporting the conversation to her parents was the equivalent of calling in the cavalry and turning the problem over to someone who could stop it from escalating into a more harmful situation. Crisis averted; family relationships secured.
Our family used “Because I said so” as valid reasoning under very special conditions, usually a minor emergency or some similar circumstance. Spoken quietly and surreptitiously, it was another code phrase that meant “Do what I say now, and I will explain the why later, as soon as I have the chance.” Everyone recognized that hearing the phrase “because I said so” meant something was seriously wrong and immediate, unquestioned obedience was required for the safety and well-being of one or more family members. We were careful not to over-use this or use it frivolously, so that it maintained its emergency-situation-only status. In our family, it was used by both parents and children, depending on the circumstances, which varied from “That kid has been mean to me before, and I really don’t want to run into him right now” to quickly leaving public situations that suddenly became uncomfortable or appeared unsafe. The full explanation that came later always assured us that the hasty exit had been completely justified.
The “family whistle” was a signal we used to find each other in large stores, get someone’s attention, or call to each other in surroundings where shouting might not be noticed. We used a unique melody of 3-4 notes that signaled us to “Come now.” We started using the non-shrill whistle when our kids were nearing middle-school age, and it was a wonderfully subtle way to signal each other in large groups. Most by-standers never even noticed.
As with any set of rules, consistency is crucial. As adults, we need to know that other drivers will obey the rule that a red traffic light means Stop and a green light means Go. Kids need the exact same consistency in knowing that their parents’ rules mean what they say. Without consistency, the rules break down, and before you know it, everyone is going, no one is stopping, and chaos is the result. Set your family rules, be consistent in their execution, and enjoy the freedom that results.
See these articles for more complete explanations:
It’s an ages-old debate: should kids be required to do regular chores around the house? My short answer is yes. Mom’s time is too valuable to be wasted on menial tasks. That doesn’t mean that Mom can’t or shouldn’t do them, but it does mean that those tasks that don’t require Mom’s unique talents can be done by anyone, not only by Mom. However, kids will need to be taught how to do a task correctly before they can succeed in it themselves.
Doing chores teaches skills, responsibility, and independence. Some day, for some unforeseen reason, Mom won’t be able to perform all of the household chores and pick up after everyone else. Whether that condition is temporary (such as a case of the flu) or more-or-less permanent (a debilitating health condition… or worse), Mom needs everyone’s help in keeping up. Incidentally, all those things Mom does are things the kids will eventually need to do for themselves in life, so they might as well suck it up and start doing them now to lessen the blow of reality. They might even find that ironing a few shirts provides an ideal time to organize their thoughts, besides making them look sharp at the job interview.
There’s a principle in economics called TANSTAAFL (say it as “tan-stay-awful”), an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” I applied it to home chores as there are no free rides: everybody can do his share. If you plan to eat this food, you’ll willingly help carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away. As my kids got older, it morphed into “Hey, Mom! I’ll do that job for you, so you can do this job for me,” whenever my kids wanted me to help them with a special project (often making a new costume). They would lay out their proposal and then offer to do something for me (often making dinner), providing me with the necessary free time to bring their idea to fruition. Helping (bartering?) in this way taught them the vital concept of earning: you have to give to get something in return. The job-trading offers showed that they understood the most important part: every player is capable of contributing something to the Family Team.
My kids learned to help put toys away as soon as they were old enough to play with those toys. We stored our toys on open shelves in an assortment of shoeboxes, ice cream buckets, small dishpans, and recycled baby-wipes boxes, each labeled with a simple drawing for what items went inside. I worked side-by-side with my toddlers or preschool-aged kids to help them learn to sort out the toys and get everything put away (nearly) every afternoon before Daddy got home. They could still get something out to play with while I fixed supper, but the worst of the mess had been cleaned up. We made clean-up time into a game by calling out one type of toy and getting all of those put away before focusing on another one, starting with the largest items and working down to the smallest. Then as the kids got older and more adept at sorting and multitasking, they could handle the clean-up tasks themselves, freeing Mom to start cooking or laundry or any other higher-skilled task. By the time my kids were both school age, I had come up with a new clean-up game: I would challenge each of them to run through the house and find ten things that belonged to them and put those away. With a little more growing up, that game became known as 52-Pick-Up and was expanded to include anything that was out of place, if they knew where it belonged, not just their own personal items. They learned to appreciate the look of a tidy home and enjoyed the peacefulness that came with it, so it wasn’t difficult to get them to participate, especially because we played it as a game, and I praised them and thanked them for their diligence. Who doesn’t like being praised and thanked for their efforts? No one here!!
A child who never learns organizational skills grows up to be an adult who still doesn’t know how to organize or clean—I know because I was one. It is because I have struggled as an adult to learn how to organize myself that I began teaching my kids organizational skills as soon as they could pick up an alphabet block and drop it into a box. We played that first as a game to learn coordination, and then we continued to play it later on as a clean-up game.
Later on, I made each child a picture-chart for the bedroom wall to help them learn how to tidy things up in their rooms. A sheet of paper with simple cartoon-drawings showed a bed with wadded-up blankets and an arrow pointing to a neatly made bed, a jumble of clothes on the floor and an arrow pointing to the hamper, a pile of books on the floor and an arrow pointing to books on a shelf. Simple, homemade, but very effective. Teaching them to make the bed first provided a large surface to use for further sorting duties, again working from largest objects to smallest. My younger child felt it was a rite-of-passage, growing-up milestone when he got a picture-chart for his room—he was a big boy now, and he was old enough to learn how to tidy up his own room. He was still far from reading words, but he could read those pictures!
Yes, it does take longer to do a task with a child than it does to do it yourself. However, the time that is dedicated to teaching the child how to do the task himself will pay off in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. By spending the extra time required to teach my children how to do a task, I was ultimately freeing myself from doing that task in the future. Yes, I can pull a full bag of trash from the kitchen wastebasket, take it to the outdoor garbage can, and replace a new bag within a matter of seconds. Teaching my child to do that chore and walking him through each step could take ten minutes. However, he will get faster with practice, and I can eventually stop supervising and move on to my own tasks for those valuable ten minutes. Even if I only spent thirty seconds emptying the trash myself, that time adds up. If I include emptying every wastebasket in the house and if a larger family means more trash, that can become a serious waste of Mom’s time and talents. More importantly, the children won’t learn to take on the responsibility for that chore.
My kids learned to do many household chores through the years: keeping their rooms tidy; emptying the trash; emptying and filling the dishwasher; sweeping or vacuuming; dusting; cleaning bathrooms; mowing the lawn; carrying and putting away groceries; sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, ironing, and putting away laundry; and many other chores that I can’t remember. Some of these jobs were regularly scheduled tasks, and sometimes the kids were just asked to help out with other tasks. Yes, they needed reminders occasionally—we all do. Yes, there were times when they grumbled—we all do. Yes, there were times when Mom still did the job herself—the object here is teaching skills and responsibility, not giving Mom a life of unlimited leisure while someone feeds her grapes and fans her with palm fronds. Yes, there were times when a job wasn’t done perfectly—but that’s not the point—the point is that they learned how to do these chores, and they learned to own tasks as their responsibilities. Family is a team, with all players contributing something to the team; it is a tremendous help if those players can be interchangeable in certain areas. When everyone knows how to do a certain chore, life won’t ever come to a grinding halt while we all wait for the one, single soul who can perform the required task and get us all rolling along smoothly again.
This process of learning how to do chores is important for more reasons than just sharing in household duties as a child. This process is teaching life-long skills in decision-making, organizing, and taking responsibility. No one wants to live with an adult who thinks that if he ignores things long enough, the Trash Fairy will come and make the mess magically disappear. Or the Laundry Fairy, or the Dirty Dishes Fairy. Moms, if you don’t teach your children now how to do chores and how to take responsibility for doing them, who will? Do you believe that allowing your children to be sloths and doing everything for them will somehow transform them into conscientious adults? I’m sorry if this offends you, but if this is currently the case at your house, you are already being offended by children who disrespect you and treat you as their maid. The new guy on the job who leans back in his chair and rests his feet on his desk is an only-slightly-older version of the preteen who played incessant video games amidst empty soda cans, dirty dishes, and smelly socks, while an overworked Mom cleaned up around him. The young adult who expects to draw a paycheck while texting or checking social media on his cellphone is the same kid who never lifted a finger to help Mom or Dad with anything around the house—and worse, was never required to help.
What you teach your toddlers is what your youngsters will do automatically, and what you teach your youngsters is what your teens will do automatically, and what you teach your teens is what your young adult children will do automatically. It begins with sorting toys and putting them away, then progresses through taking out the trash and shuffling loads of laundry, and grows into someone who notices a task that is not being done and takes on the responsibility without waiting to be told that it’s his duty. I have known bosses who swept the floor because the lower-level employees didn’t think it was their duty to sweep. Sometimes it may not your assigned task, but you do have all the talent required. Teach your kids do look for tasks they can do at home, because it will pay benefits in the long run. As employees in that all-important first job, they will receive more positive feedback from taking the initiative to do a task (or asking if it’s okay to do it) than they will from standing around and waiting until someone else tells them to do it.
How to Do the How-To’s…
Start small—don’t expect your inexperienced teen to understand how to do multiple loads of laundry if he’s never had to hang up a single shirt. If your teen doesn’t know how to do laundry, start by showing him how to fold towels and work up from there. Help him master each crucial step before adding in more complications. It’s never fair or just or right to scold someone for doing a task incorrectly, if he’s never been properly taught how to do it.
Show & Tell—demonstrate the task and explain the critical parts. Example: explaining that a clothes hanger is a substitute for shoulders can teach how to hang a shirt straight. Talk about the various steps of the tasks you’re doing and explain the why’s for each step. Kids are more likely to do it your way if they understand the reasons behind why you do it the way you do it. I fold the towels this way so they will fit into this skinny cupboard. Also, specify which steps are required to be done a certain way and which steps can be done as the child wishes—giving him freedom to make it his job, not yours. It’s also helpful to the Family Team concept to listen to others’ suggestions of different methods. Mom is not God, and Mom can learn shortcuts from her spouse or kids. Been there, done that, changed my ways.
Let him try it—and don’t expect perfection or speed. Re-demonstrate any steps that are really crucial. Simple charts can come in handy here, too, such as how much detergent to put in the washer, what settings to use for different loads, and a reminder to clean out the dryer’s lint filter.
Give reminders—without nagging. No one enjoys being nagged. Set a very basic schedule for repeated tasks, such as “Make sure to empty all the wastebaskets and take the trash out by Thursday mornings, because the trash collection truck comes right after lunch on Thursdays.”
Say a sincere thank you—because everyone enjoys being appreciated. Hey, the trash is already emptied—and I didn’t even see you do that! Thank you!!
Keep it simple for success—even very complicated tasks can be learned one step at a time. Allow your child to keep trying until he gets a task done correctly, but do it by encouraging his progress, rather than scolding him for his failures. We worked for mastery in our homeschool lessons, believing that a concept wasn’t fully learned until a score of 100% had been reached. However, the child got to keep trying and keep correcting his work until he had mastered it. The same philosophy was used in learning chores and other tasks: keep trying until you get it right, keep working until you get it done. My daughter now works in a retail clothing store with many high-school-aged co-workers, and she finds their attitudes of “a just-barely-passing grade is good enough” to be completely unsatisfactory. Her work ethic of “keep at it until the job is done right” shows that she takes responsibility and personal pride in how the store looks and in how she serves her customers.
Teach your kids to be industrious by being industrious yourself—laziness breeds laziness. Don’t treat your kids as your servants by always asking them to fetch-and-carry for you, if you are fully capable of getting up and doing the same things yourself.
Teaching kids to help at home teaches them how to learn from others, something that will be very valuable in their future jobs. Teaching kids to do their assigned chores in a timely manner teaches them responsibility, again a valuable future skill. Teaching them to look for unassigned tasks they can do teaches them to take initiative, the most valuable skill of all. Being teachable, taking responsibility, and taking initiative combine to form an excellent work ethic, whether your child grows up to become a stay-at-home spouse or a corporate executive, and it starts with learning to pick up toys.
See also (in no particular order):
The Importance of Play in Education
Spoken Destinies & Learned Behaviors
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Sorting Toys Is Algebra
I Give One Grade: 100%—But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It
Using Your Household Staff
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Pregnant & Homeschooling (great ideas for delegating, even if you’re not pregnant)
Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit
We’re Not Raising Children – We’re Raising Adults
Respect Must Be Earned (good look at our attitudes toward each other)
Taming the Laundry Monster
- Adapt daily. What didn’t work today can be changed for tomorrow. Life seldom follows a routine, so why should your lessons be exactly the same, day after day? Life provides very important lessons, and we can learn from everything and everyone.
- Remember that the teacher may not always be right. If the student can present his/her case in a valid and logical way, he/she may convince the teacher to skip portions of a lesson, try a different book, branch off to add a side interest, go on a field trip, etc. (But that argument must be presented with facts, not whining.)
- Network. If you’re stuck on a subject, try getting ideas from other homeschoolers, no matter what their kids’ ages. You might be able to adapt their methods to suit your child. Multiply the number of homeschooling parents (teachers) you know by the number of their children (students). The result is how many ways there are available to you to teach any given concept. Teaching methods can vary greatly with learning styles and family preferences. (Now consider all the other homeschoolers you just haven’t met yet, whose ideas can be found online!)
- Admitting defeat can be your first step toward success. When you’re pushing the wrong method, both student and teacher will always be on the verge of tears. The right method will be like gasoline to a flame—you’ll need to jump back out of its way! I’ve tried both, and I much prefer playing with fire.
- Play. A genius sees everything in life as a game to be played or a puzzle to be solved. Help your kids see learning as a game, and you will be nurturing genius, creativity, imagination, and much more!
- Entice. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (old proverb) However, a wise, old farmer might tell you to just put a little bit of salt in the oats! If the lesson comes in the form of irresistible fun, you won’t have to cajole your students to get involved. (See #5)
- No one ever learned anything good through boredom. No one. Ever. Work your students’ interests into their lessons to grab and hold their attention, whether than means relating math story problems to Missy’s doll collection or teaching Sonny sentence structure through writing about sports.
- Watch your words. Be careful how you explain “learning styles” to your students. I overheard a boy once comment to his friend, “My mom says I’ve got to be doing something all the time. She says I always have to be moving and making noise.” So he dutifully made sure she was always right: he refused to sit still or remain quiet, just so his mom wouldn’t be disappointed. What his mom noticed as his consistent behavior and learning style, he seriously took to be an assignment. Our goal as learners should be to “learn how to learn” in every way possible, not lock ourselves into only one formula, so help your students strengthen their weaker learning styles through increasing exposure to other methods.
- Work toward your students’ strengths to grab and hold their attention, while you slip in subtle experiences in other learning styles. Be aware that they learn different subjects in different ways: spelling is a visual concept, but handwriting is kinesthetic. Pre-readers and early readers still live in an auditory world; watch for subtle changes in how they learn as their reading ability increases.
- Don’t use calculators for math until algebra (playing with a calculator is okay, just don’t use it for daily lessons). The mental skills must be fully in place first, and then the calculator can be used for saving time. Note: Don’t assume a problem has been done incorrectly just because your answer disagrees with the answer book. Re-do the problem carefully several times—I have found several mistakes in math text answer keys. Also, I accidentally hit one wrong key on my calculator during a college math final, didn’t notice it, and didn’t check over my work. That one stupid mistake spoiled an otherwise-perfect score—a huge lesson learned the hard way.
For further inspiration, see these articles:
I am no one special. I am just an ordinary Mom who has learned a lot about teaching. More specifically, I have learned a lot about learning, about how to learn, and about how to help someone else learn.
I grew up in a very small community, went to the same small school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and graduated in a class of fifteen. I was always scolded that I was not working up to my potential, no matter how hard I tried or how much I did. My teachers discouraged anything that wasn’t already part of their tried-and-true lesson plans, and as a not-always-by-the-book learner, I did not enjoy school (in fact, I hated school) until I went to college—the second time.
I know first-hand what it is like to feel trapped in public school. I know the ridicule, the bullying, and the torturing, and I know the sinking feeling of helplessness that comes from the inability to change anything, including teachers’ preconceived notions of who you are and what you can or can’t do. Now, decades later, I also know the freedom that homeschooling brings. Through homeschooling my own children, I was able to break free from many of the stigmas that accompanied me through the first portion of my education. I say “first portion” because I now recognize education as a life-long endeavor, and the most recent portion of my education has been acquired through homeschooling my kids. Having done as little as possible through most of high school, I welcomed the chance to try again, and I learned many things right along with my students.
I enjoyed learning creation science with my kids and studying its relationship to God’s Word, something I had never thought about in my school days filled with evolution-as-scientific-fact. I learned much more about history, while helping my kids learn, and was able to connect the random facts I did know into a more accurate timeline of civilization. Reading was no longer a tedious assignment that I despised and avoided, but it became an enjoyable leisure activity for me. I grew to love reading aloud to my children as much as they enjoyed listening to the daily installments.
Back in public school, I’d had mediocre teachers, poor teachers, and absolutely horrible teachers, all of them with overwhelmingly discouraging attitudes. I’d had a few good teachers here and there, but it was not until my second try at attending college that I found some truly excellent teachers, and I attempted to recreate their methods later on when I began homeschooling. They had not rejected questions; instead, they had convinced me that the only “silly” question is the one which a student is too intimidated to ask, and they further convinced me that any intimidation at all is the teacher’s creation, not the student’s personality. These teachers did not criticize incorrect answers or solutions, but kindly and gently showed students the proper methods for proceeding. At a point when I had never even heard of homeschooling, those teachers fostered the teaching techniques that I would utilize years later.
One thing I had learned during my public school education was that students didn’t matter. Students who didn’t immediately grasp every concept as first presented were being purposely dense and stubbornly making the teacher’s job more difficult. The teachers could only be bothered to explain tings once, and if you didn’t understand right away, there was something wrong with you. These were the required subjects that must be taught, and if you didn’t find them delightfully interesting, there was something wrong with you. These were the few elective courses they had the resources to offer, and if you didn’t find them endlessly fascinating, there was something wrong with you. A student who dared to object to the standard fare or dared to suggest possible alternatives or dared to desire anything more interesting was met with horrified gasps. The professional educators knew what was best, and they were in charge. End of discussion.
And then I met Mr. Benbow. Mr. Benbow taught engineering, math, and programming classes at the community college, but Mr. Benbow taught me so much more than just trigonometry. He could elicit a response from even the shyest, most introverted student, because he eagerly waited for and listened to that response. It was as if everyone else in the room disappeared when he spoke to you, and you knew he was truly, genuinely interested in your opinion on the subject at hand. He didn’t seem to want to leave the room without hearing your thoughts and having the opportunity to discuss them with you and ask another question or two for clarification. Your response, no matter how tentative, no matter how ill-prepared, was important to Mr. Benbow. And after only a few weeks in his class, you began to feel that maybe you were important to more than Mr. Benbow.
I recall a rather under-achieving student who described an incorrect method for solving a particular math problem. I was groaning inside, realizing he was wrong and feeling sorry for the humiliation I thought he was destined to endure as his error was pointed out, ridiculed, and corrected. But Mr. Benbow didn’t do that. He listened to the student’s entire explanation of how he’d arrived at his wrong answer, and then Mr. Benbow thoughtfully considered each misstep and gently replied, “Well, you could do it that way… but think about this… If we go back to this step, and instead of what you did there, we do this…” and he went on to fully detail the correct method, step-by-step, arriving at the correct solution, while keeping the errant student’s dignity intact and giving the rest of us a beautifully practical lesson in humility.
Every Wednesday, Mr. Benbow began class with a quiz—always just one question or just one problem, but it always reinforced what we’d just learned. Every Friday, he began class with a joke—it was his way of starting the weekend with a little fun. Any time someone asked him for help on an assignment, he gave that student his complete attention and always hinted at the answer just enough to help the student discover it for himself. Mr. Benbow knew that telling a student the answer outright taught nothing, but guiding the student on the path to discovering the answer taught much more than the answer to that single problem.
I eagerly signed up for Mr. Benbow’s introductory course in computer programming. It was required for my degree, but I knew that he was capable of teaching anything to anyone, even programming language to someone who had never seen a computer before, and I knew he would make it a fascinating class. When my first complex program failed to run as intended, I sought his help. He quickly read through the cryptic steps, smiled with that intriguing little twinkle in his eyes, and simply said “Computers are stupid. They are machines that can only do exactly what we tell them to do.” And there he left me, both feet firmly planted on the path to discovery. Obviously, he meant that my program was telling the computer to do the wrong thing. More precisely, as I soon discovered, my program had not told the computer to do the right thing. Mr. Benbow’s programming hint became a life-lesson for me. It’s as important not to do the wrong thing, as it is to do the right thing. When teaching and training my children, I have tried to remember to show them what not to do, as well as what to do.
All of Mr. Benbow’s excellent teaching methods influenced me heavily. When my children asked questions or gave answers to my questions or offered their opinions on random topics, I tried to give them my focused attention, as if their ideas mattered—because their ideas really did matter. When I listened to every little thing my 7-year-old son wanted to tell, he learned that Mom cared, that his thoughts were either funny or thought-provoking, that he could make people laugh, and that he was important, and he mattered. My kids learned to give answers with confidence, knowing that if they happened to be wrong, they still weren’t subjected to ridicule, taunting, or shame. Any incorrect assumptions would be gently but thoroughly straightened out, until they had a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.
If I expected my kids to learn, I knew they couldn’t feel intimidated. Our classroom had to be a place where they felt safe enough to ask any question and discuss any concept that they didn’t fully understand. If I wanted them to learn, I had to find an eleventh way to explain or illustrate or demonstrate what my first ten tries had failed to clarify. Their lack of understanding came from my failure to teach, not their failure to learn. In order for my kids to learn, I had to find better methods of teaching.
Because my early teachers had turned “Go look it up” into a discouraging punishment, I was determined to transform educating my children into a delightful challenge, an eager race for knowledge, a dare of discovery that they couldn’t help but pursue. Whenever we came across something of uncertain meaning, I looked my students in the eye with the most intriguing twinkle I could muster, then I dashed to the bookcase to grab the dictionary or whatever reference book might hold the answer. They enthusiastically joined me for a cheek-to-cheek search through the pages, as we found the answer together. Before long, they were the ones dashing off to find the answer, proudly beating Mom to it, but still generously sharing the moment of discovery as we read and discussed the treasured facts together.
To encourage my kids in their learning, I made up examples and story problems that were personal to them, I involved them in the illustrations and the demonstrations, and we worked together to build the models and create the learning aids that finally made the concepts clear. We converted our board games to use the facts and skills they were trying to learn and played the games over and over to practice their new knowledge. As Mr. Benbow had done, I used impromptu questions now and then to prove to them what they had just mastered (instead of shaming them for what they didn’t yet know), and I made time during our classes for an abundance of jokes and silly stories and amusing tricks, just to keep life fun.
Learning is encouraged when fear is removed and confidence takes its place. Learning is encouraged when the student sees each question as a game to be played, a challenge to be attempted, a goal to be conquered. Learning is encouraged when the student is intrigued to the point that he does not want to walk away without knowing the answer. Learning is encouraged when the examples are personal, when the problems become tantalizing puzzles to solve, when research begins an exhilarating bunny-trail adventure through a hundred twists and turns, and when every question opens another new door to wonders yet undiscovered. If learning is not fun or exciting or satisfying or rewarding, who would waste a single moment in its pursuit?
For more tips on getting your students interested and encouraging their learning:
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
Looking for the “Hard Part”
My Student Is Trying, but Just Not Learning as Expected
The Know-It-All Attitude
Learning to Walk — Seen as a New Lesson
Sitting around a campfire can be a time of great encouragement as you share thoughts and stories with your friends, so we’re here to share some encouraging thoughts with you. And what Summer Camp experience would be complete without a craft or two? Don’t despair if you’re not the crafty type–we’ve done the hard part for you. All that’s left is the coloring—the fun (and therapeutic) part!
Below are some of the “mottoes” that helped us through the darker days of homeschooling, those days when books disappear, memory banks go blank, and everything you touch seems to turn to dust and fall through your fingers. Those days. These are the lines I found myself repeating over and over in those talking-to-myself “Parent/Teacher Conferences.” These are the lines that I shouted in defiance at the discouraging “voices” that were playing on repeat in my head. These are the lines that reminded me of what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what a difference I was making in my kids’ lives.
Click on any image, save it to your own computer, then print it out in whatever size you prefer. Color it yourself or invite your kids to color it or decorate it in any manner, and place the finished product in a location where you’ll see it often. Make as many as you need! Put a small one on your bathroom mirror; put a big one above the kitchen sink; keep several in your planning notebook; make individual ones for your kids (they need encouragement, too); share them with your friends around the campfire (or anywhere), and share the homeschool grace. Listed below each graphic is a link to an article pertaining to that topic, just for a little more encouragement.
Summer doesn’t have to be either a full-on homeschooling schedule or a completely idle break. Summer is a great time for Mom to do a little planning ahead for the coming school year and think about what could be tweaked to make homeschooling more interesting, more efficient, and generally better for all concerned.
Kids who need some extra time to finish out their year can work through summer while still having a break by doing only half a lesson each day. Reading and math can be practiced without being tedious: read fun stuff; play games that use money or that require score-keeping (let each player keep his own score) or that have questions to be read aloud.
Summer is also useful for the student who wants to get ahead, not just for those who are trying to catch up. When my daughter was nearing her senior year of Homeschool High, she was planning to take a class at the Community College in the Fall to supplement her homeschool classes. Not knowing how much work that course would require, she spent the summer getting other classes out of the way. She read through an entire history textbook (a big, fat one), just so she wouldn’t have to deal with that class during the coming year while doing homeschool and college at the same time.
Maybe you’d like to try adding a few more supplemental activities. Maybe you’ve been intrigued by some unschooling ideas. Maybe your kids need a break from the formal curriculum. Maybe you’d like to indulge in an activity during the summer break that deserves more time than you could spare during your regular schedule. Maybe you’ve been thinking about a specific field trip that would work better in summer weather than from Fall through Spring. Maybe you or your students have a special interest that could be explored for a day or a week during summer break.
Explore some new ideas in the articles below and brainstorm the what-if’s of how your homeschool schedule might be different. Whatever your interests, remember that summer is an opportunity for learning, not a reason to stress yourselves out by doing too much.
The Value of Supplemental Activities
The Importance of Play in Education
“Stealth Learning” Through Free Play
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
A Day Without Lessons
Homeschooling the Neighborhood