Why crafts to go along with reading books just aren’t my style   1 comment


Years ago I was in an educational supply store and saw an activity booklet to go along with the book, Sign of the Beaver, which my son had recently read.  I felt as though I should buy it– I was, after all, in an educational supply store surrounded by materials promising to give children an ‘edge’ in their education.  I certainly did not want my son to miss out on some great opportunity to expand his knowledge– this activity booklet would deepen his understanding of the book – right?  So I bought it and we proceeded to do the activities in it.

While in the process of finishing the booklet – I thought, wait a minute, I never draw maps of the settings from the books I read, build covered wagons out of popsicle sticks or make a huge paper mache map of the country in which it takes place – yet I am able to enjoy a book without feeling that I have to do enrichment activities to deepen my understanding.  A book may spark a desire to read even more information on the subject or prompt me to visit a museum to learn more.   But I can’t say I ever felt a desire to make a paper mache horse after reading The Black Stallion or somehow create a stovepipe hat out of a grocery bag after reading about Abraham Lincoln.  So why is it that I think my children need to all this extra ‘stuff’ to get the most out of a book?  The booklet felt like busy work and my son did it for the sake of doing it.  That was the first and last book activity we did.  Now we just read and enjoy books without adding cutesy, tedious projects to them.  I realize that there are homeschool moms who thrive on these kinds of activities and that is super – but for me, I tend to be more plain, practical and straightforward: read the book, reflect on it, talk about it – done.  No tape, glue or paint necessary, but I’m always up for a museum visit or a movie expanding on the subject. 

I don’t frequent educational supply stores much anymore.  I have learned about what my kids use and what they don’t use, what is productive and what is just fluff (mostly expensive fluff).  It could be said that, I thought of something I hadn’t before, what if education doesn’t come from a store.  What if education means a little bit more.   Gosh, I love Dr. Suess and I’ve never even made a cake in the shape of his hat, or a life size, paper mache cat… what do you think of that?  (I just couldn’t resist)


Posted April 13, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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In response to elaborate on independence   2 comments

This week a friend contacted me after reading my previous post last week on independence.  She said there was something missing from the post and suggested that I also talk about how I helped my kids (so far) to become independent.  So I will do my best to explain a little about what we do.

I’ve never been the kind of mom that cries about the fact that my kids are getting older.  When others are misty eyed because they cannot believe their child has reached a certain milestone or age, I’m ready to move forward with them and not wish for them to still be little.  This attitude is a part of my personality that keeps me from hanging on too tightly.

We do all the normal things families do; chores, money management, babysitting siblings and talking about safety and ‘what if’ situations.  We also experience our share of laziness and naughtiness – I won’t talk about remedying those situations today because there are a lot of great books out there on child rearing by respected authors.   But I think there are a couple of areas that I find aren’t talked about too often in books on child rearing that may stand out as being key to what has helped  my kids to experience a level of independence that is unusual for their age.

I have learned that there is risk involved in teaching them to be independent.  I began sending my children on walking errands when they were about seven years old.  When my oldest was seven, I had him walk to a small store called T-Mart a half a mile away to get an ingredient for dinner.  I gave him a quarter to be able call me from the payphone outside of the store (these were the days before everyone had cell phones) so I knew that he safely arrived there and then I could estimate how long before I could expect him home.   Just last week I gave my current seven year old a receipt that needed to be turned into our church office, so I gave her instructions on what to do with it and had her walk to church which is about four blocks away.  I could have easily given it to one of the older kids to do, but I want to make sure the younger ones also get opportunities to gain independence.

I have the kids ride their bikes or walk around town to the places they need to go such as piano lessons or the library.  They stay home alone when I determine they’re ready, not some agency that sets an across the board age for everyone.  When each child reaches around seven, they learn to start breakfast for the family, by getting eggs with cheese scrambled, muffins made and getting the table set or delegating it to someone.  Of course the person being asked to set the table must oblige, because the one cooking is in charge – even if the one cooking is seven and the one being asked is twelve. 

Is there risk involved in these things?  Of course, but life involves risk.  Sure, someone could point out all the red dots that represent those people charged with a sexual crime that reside near the route my kids will ride their bikes and ask how could I let them ride near there?  My response would be that sexual predators have been around – and in the same numbers- for generations.  The difference is we now have a way to track them and instantly look up their whereabouts at home on our computer – making us believe the world is more dangerous today.  Our parents and grandparents lived near these same kinds of people – but they just didn’t realize it because they didn’t live in an age of instant and abundant information.   This abundance of easily accessed information about crime and criminals adds to of our fear of ‘what ifs’.  With 24 hour news channels available, it is instantly broadcast across the nation when a child is abducted by a stranger – which is extremely rare.  This makes us believe that strangers are lurking around every corner to steal our children and our irrational fear keeps us from allowing them any freedom.

The area I think has been most important for gaining independence is that I make my kids feel needed in our home, not just wanted.  Most parents love their kids and make them feel wanted, but in today’s world the family doesn’t really need their kids as they did in the past.  There was a time where the literal survival of a pioneer or farm family depended on the work of every family member.  Children knew they were needed and that gave them a sense of purpose.   I let my kids know that the work they do is genuinely needed and not just a chore for the sake of a chore.  They have learned to climb ladders, clean gutters, and blacktop the driveway at around age 11.  Patch leaky roofs and chimneys at age 14.  In any work that is needed from housework to outside work, I have had them work with me and have let them know that their contribution is invaluable. 

I think their level of responsibility grows when they know they are being counted on and trusted to come through.  When my 15 year old stays alone at his grandparents’ cabin he knows his life could be in danger if he is careless – such as not leaving a note on the counter indicating on which trail he plans to 4 wheel.  If he got injured on the trails, no one would know where he is.  My parents count on him to be careful with the wood burning stove and outdoor fires – and because they count on him and entrust him with their property – he comes through for them.   Because he has been taught at a young age to handle himself (which involves risk) and that his contributions to the family are vital, he has now reached an age to be completely trusted with these things. 

So for me – I would say the ‘how’ in gaining independence for my kids has been stressing two main areas and the first is accepting that there is risk involved in allowing kids freedom and the second is letting them know they are needed in the family.   The way I see it, there is greater risk in being overprotective and hanging on too tightly – and that is resulting in having older children who are overly dependent on their parents for too long or ones who ‘bust out’ because they want independence but were never taught how to handle it and then they make poor choices.  Our culture sees the result of this much more often than we see kids being abducted by strangers.

Posted April 9, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

The Goal is Independence   1 comment

image from Coaching with Horses


I have always listened carefully to those who are a little farther down the road than I when it comes to parenting and homeschooling.  I have tried to learn from their successes and mistakes.  Many years ago, when my kids were small, a friend who had adult and teen children told me about her experience in raising teens.  She wanted her teens to be independent and be making their own choices about their lives with her being there for guidance if they needed her.  I liked what I saw in her kids – the way they interacted with her on an adult level, they informed her about where they were going – but not asking like a little kid.  They always looked me in the eye and spoke to me like a fellow adult – not with mumbling and downcast eyes like I see so often with teens.  I wanted teens like that, so I followed her advice.

This was very different from my experience as a teen.  I was still very much a little kid – having to ask my parents permission to do anything or go anywhere, I didn’t have a job because my parents believed I had the rest of my life to worry about work (that’s a subject for a future post).  My life at 16 was not much different than when I was 10 – I went to school, my parents took care of everything and I wasn’t being well prepared for life outside of my childhood home.

I began putting my friend’s advice into practice.  My goal was/is to have my kids, by their mid teens, be prepared for life on their own.  They basically decide how to spend their time, how to manage money, how to hold a job and deal with people at that job.  This sounds pretty obvious, but in reality I think many teens aren’t given enough responsibilities and their parents are still running the show – and doing their laundry – when they hit 18.  

Without that push for independence, my boys would have never been able to experience their road trips to South Dakota on their own when they were 16 and 12 and then to Gettysburg and D.C. when they were 18 and 14.  For the last year, my 15 year old often stays alone for days at his grandparents’ cabin enjoying solitude and an environment he loves – the woods.  Last summer, when the boys were 18 and 14, I entrusted our then 3 and 6 year old girls to them for five days while I went on a church trip with my 11 year old (my husband is a truck driver and is gone most of the time).  They took them Geocaching, to the fair to see the animals, and let them stay up late watching Little House on the Prairie DVD’s.  I look at the level of independence my boys have and think I never could have done those things at their age – I was not prepared to. These experiences have enriched their lives and have helped make them capable and strong.

When my oldest was 17, he started college – after getting himself there.  He knew I was available for questions if he needed help filling out applications and financial aid, but I figured he was the one going to college – not me, so he needed to be the one to do the work.  After getting our tax information and asking my husband a few questions about it, he completed everything and got himself to college.

We are a culture of performance.  We want our children to get A’s, do sports, do dance, do theater or whatever.  Those things are great, but in the quest for performance we may forget that they need to learn how to be independent.  It’s wonderful if a kid is the swimming champion in his state while keeping up a 4.0 average – but has so much energy gone into those things that he can’t make a meal (without using the microwave), balance a checkbook, be trusted with the family home and siblings, do home repairs or change a flat tire?  When those life skills are not taught they are not getting a well rounded education so it should not come as a surprise that when they near their late teens  mama is still holding their hand and washing their socks – and believe me – you don’t want to anywhere near socks after they have been worn by a teenager.

Are you qualified to homeschool?   Leave a comment

I often hear it asked, “What makes homeschoolers qualified to teach their children?” This question reminds me that we live in a society that has professionalized every aspect of our lives from birth to death.  This was not always so.  Births happened at home and were tended by midwives or other women in the community.   The dead were prepared at home and often laid out for their wake on the dining room table.  Sicknesses that cause people today to flock to walk-in clinics or grab over the counter medication, were once cared for with varieties of herbs and salves mixed and prepared by women who were taught how to use them from the generations before her.  If parents were literate, learning to read and write often began at home.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for birth centers, funeral homes, clinics and schools, but we have professionalized all these areas of our lives to an extent that we either don’t know how to do them on our own or that society does not allow it anymore.

Many years ago, a woman I know often asked me how our homeschooling was going.  She was a professional woman with children much older than mine and she always commented that she didn’t think she was smart enough to homeschool.   I always got the feeling she was really trying to say, “If I don’t think I’m smart enough, what makes you think you are?”   

I think people envision that homeschoolers are knowledgeable in every possible subject that their children study.  After all, teaching is a profession and education is a complex system run by professionals.  That is what happens when we professionalize our lives – it complexes life and we forget that there is beauty and ease in simplicity.  What is often happening in homeschooling is not a teaching/learning process between parent and child, but a co-learning process.  I learn alongside my children.  If my twelve year old is reading about the ancient Middle East, I’ll  sit with her and ask her to tell me about it or we may read some of it together.  I don’t have to teach it to her – the information is right there in the book. 

The main thing that I teach my children, is how to learn, not what to learn.  My 15 year old son is in the process of building a wind turbine to put on our roof to generate electricity and he is learning about how to make biodiesel.   I did not ‘assign’ him these projects, nor do I know anything about these topics.  But his childhood experience has not been him passively waiting for someone else to feed him information, but to pursue what he is interested in and how to go about gaining that information. 

So then, what makes a parent qualified to homeschool?  A couple of states say that a bachelor’s degree is required.  Let’s take a look at that.  Thirty-five year old, parent A wants to homeschool her children as does thirty-five year old, parent B.  Parent A went to four years of college paid for by mom and dad, saw dorm life as one big party and had barely passing grades.  Parent B joined the workforce after high school, saw the need for a higher education in their life and paid their own way through a tech school for an associates degree.  According to these states, parent A is the only one qualified to homeschool.  I would conclude that this requirement is not an accurate assessment of a ‘qualified’ homeschooler.

My opinion is that the qualifications to homeschool are much simpler.  The first is fairly obvious – parents need to be literate.  All other information can be obtained because of the ability to read.  I don’t need a degree to help my children learn middle school science, but I do need to be able to read so I can learn it myself and help them to understand it. 

The second qualification is not one that can be measured with a degree or exam.  It requires that a parent must enjoy spending large amounts of time with their children.  One can have obtained a PhD in smart-ology with honors high enough to make their nose bleed – but if they don’t enjoy spending day after day, year after year with their children – they are not qualified to homeschool.  Sure, homeschoolers have days that we are irritated with our children and need time alone, but for the most part we enjoy what we do.

When we look past the façade that childhood education must be handled by the so called ‘professionals’, we see that educating children can be done by any literate parent who enjoys being with their children and has the desire to take back a part of life that society has come to believe belongs in the hands of experts.

Posted March 26, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Proverbs 22:6 – is it the way ‘we’ think a child should go?   Leave a comment

One of the most well known verses in the Bible is Proverbs 22:6 which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  We love the promise God has for us in this verse, but often the “train up… in the way he should go” part is confusing as each family and community of believers offers their own interpretation.

When thinking about the phrase, “…the way he should go…” we, as parents, often interpret that to mean the way we think they should go.  To some extent that is so, as in teaching them God’s word and learning the do’s and don’ts when it comes to proper behavior.  But if we look at that part of the text as also meaning, allowing children to grow according to their natural bent and drawing out their God given talents, we see that homeschooling has the potential to provide a great setting in which to carry out this scripture.  

If children are free from an environment that pushes them to perform at a predetermined academic level and conform to the masses, they will be more likely to blossom at their own pace without labels such as ‘delayed’ or ‘gifted’.  They have the time to pursue and nurture their natural gifts without having to live at the frenzied pace that many in our culture do. 

When too much “we” is added to the verse, it is often our own selfish desires coming out.  We want them to follow a certain career path or go to a certain college.  We fear how we may appear to others if they are not on the path on which we think they should be.  We want them to make certain life choices.  When the focus is on having our children meet our needs in this way, we can lose sight of the fact that each child has their own God given bent in which He has asked us to train them up.

Often, this verse is interpreted to mean train them up in a Christian bubble.  Christian friendships and tools, such as books and DVD’s, to help build them up in God’s word are great, but instead of leading them to God, they are often dragged along with vice grips.  There is fear that exposure to anything outside of the ‘bubble’ will keep them from a relationship with God.  This tight grip squeezes the life out of them, leaving them with little desire to want to experience God’s grace.  The result can be rebellious behavior, often times with serious consequences, and damaged relationships between parent and child.

Proverbs 22:6 will continue to keep parents on their toes, but if we keep one eye on God and the other on our children, minimizing the ‘we’ and bursting the bubble – hopefully we will someday see God’s promise that they will not depart from the way they should go.

Posted March 22, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Playdates and early academics interfere with a creative childhood   1 comment

An aspect that solely defines childhood in every culture is play.  No matter where children are found or at what time in history they have lived, children have and will always learn about their world through play.  There have been times in history where the playfulness of childhood had been cut short due to poverty or war.  But in recent times, children’s play has been suffering due to over-involvement from adults.  I believe this over-involvement comes in two forms; the push for early academics and too much structured play, such as a playdate. 

The word playdate actually makes me cringe. It brings to mind images of helicopter moms overly concerned with their child’s social calendar.  I have nothing against children playing together – but I guess what I find irritating about playdates is that it is yet another adult orchestrated child activity.  Many times the mom has crafts and a special activity planned – bless her heart. But what I think children need more of is unstructured, unplanned play and loads of it.  The kind where you throw them out the door and say, “Don’t come in unless someone’s bleeding – profusely!”   

When I started half-day kindergarten in 1973, I had never been to preschool or had any kind of lesson or activity.  I played my days away at home with my sister.  Today, most children attend preschool for a couple of years before they go to all day kindergarten with possibly afterschool care for a couple of hours.  Even before they get to preschool, as babies, they are plopped in front of Baby Einstein videos, with the hope of giving them an academic edge, but in reality it just produces kids who have spent more time than necessary in front of the TV screen. 

The push to get children involved in academics does not seem to be producing smarter kids.  My oldest son is in college and I returned to school last year and we are both appalled at how truly uneducated young people are.  We are required to read our classmates’ papers in some of the classes and both my son and I are blown away by much of what we read.  So many cannot express themselves properly in writing; awful grammar and punctuation – one paper I read the person did not know how to punctuate a quotation.   If this is the result of fifteen years of schooling, from the ages of 3 to 18, it’s definitely not working. 

All this structure robs our children of the chance to be bored.  Bored?  I know that you are thinking that being bored is a bad thing, but boredom gives kids the chance to come up with something to do on their own.  No one has scheduled a playdate for them, no Gymboree class to go to, or preschool to fill the time – they have to use their own creativity to fill their days, not just find something to do for a half an hour before supper. 

Of course a structured activity is not bad.  My kids have taken art classes, gymnastics and have been invited on playdates.  But when it’s all put together and most of the hours of their day are orchestrated by someone else, the freedom to use their own creativity and find ways to fill their time is gradually lost. 

Play is the work of childhood.  If we continue to devalue it and replace it with activities, electronic media and academics, I think we will continue to see a decline in creativity and educational performance in our youth.  We need to tell our children more often to… “Go find something to do.”

Posted March 19, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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Curriculums and tests do not always equal education – even at home   2 comments

I am not a big fan of shopping so I guess it would make sense that after all these years of homeschooling I have never been to a curriculum fair – which just seems like it would be an educational supply store on steroids.  Browsing through a sea of curriculum, where many have smiling kids on the cover to help you imagine that your kids will be beaming just as brightly as they cheerfully complete the work, seems like a good way to get a headache and tired legs.  Plus, these curriculums aren’t cheap and if I buy them, I am going to be stressed out about finishing them.  As a homeschooler I am often asked what curriculum I use and my answer is that we don’t use a full curriculum, but we loosely use a variety of books for the basics like Math and Language arts and of course, the public library comes in handy.

We are what you would call relaxed homeschoolers. In fact, only one time in all these years has one of the kids finished a math or language arts workbook and that was last year when my 7 year old (kid #4) fully finished her language arts book.  I take a no stress view about ‘finishing’ – when the good weather comes in spring, it’s time to move outside to work in the garden and play.  My view of childhood learning is that it does not need to be divided up into segments we like to call grade levels that need to be completed, but a continuing, natural process.  Learning to read and do math is just part of the growing up process for my children and I do not want to get burned out trying to finish curriculums.

 When I first began homeschooling I asked myself if a purchased full curriculum was necessary. Elementary school isn’t that complicated.  Many people in the past learned to read and do math at home or in simple one room school houses without access to expensive curriculum or any curriculum at all.  They simply passed on the basic skills of reading and arithmetic to their children.  The three R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic supplemented with good aloud reading to learn about different people and places, basic science and lots of hands on toys such as legos, Lincoln Logs, puzzles and games, seemed good and we’ve been rolling with that for elementary school ever since.  Feeling like I had to stick to and complete a curriculum based upon what my child ‘should’ know seemed forced and unnecessary.  

School is so ingrained in our lives and we have a hard time imagining childhood without it. Most homeschooling parents went to school and therefore, have recreated school at home.  We are in our comfort zone when we act on what is familiar to us.  I like to think that education does not have to require curriculums, tests or a recreation of school, but that it is process in which we learn about the world and gain life skills. School is something that is done and education is something that is acquired.  Sure – there can be education happening when school is being done, but if we really think about our own education in life, I would guess most of us would say our education was something that was not acquired in school or by ‘doing’ school. 

I like to think that when I made the decision to homeschool that I just did not free our children from years of formal schooling through a system, but from the mindset that school – even in the form of a curriculum done at home – equals education.

Posted March 12, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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