It's that time of year for resolutions, reflections, and revisions. Regardless of our degree of intentionality, most of us to one degree or another will take stock in our personal family circumstances, evaluating both the "good" and the "bad" elements that need to be addressed for either continuation or correction. As homeschoolers, we are also tuned in to how things are going at this traditional break from the middle of our school year. So, how are things for you and your family? For the Christian family, vision is about specifically working through that question and taking Proverbs 29:18 to the practical level of daily living.
Creating a vision statement is a significant point of emphasis I cover in the first chapter of The Balanced Homeschooler, encouraging families to revisit it every year to make sure things are still on track for your family. Note that the vision statement should not mention "homeschooling" but is, instead, a statement that covers what the personal and spiritual goals are for your family as a whole. Thus, this is the statement that should remain fairly static over the years, though your strategies, like homeschooling, to achieve it will vary from season to season.
So, here are some simple ideas to employ if this is a new concept for you and your family:
For more instruction and guidance on this topic, feel free to refer to the steps and samples outlined in the first chapter of The Balanced Homeschooler. For specifics about mentoring your own teen to create their personal vision statement, check out The Balanced High Schooler.
Several years ago, I realized that moms are either off-the-charts excited for the school year to commence or they view it with dread and trepidation. I have yet to meet a mom who was in the middle! So, if you take a typical summer break between school seasons, consider employing a “preview week” before your official launch date. It will either add to your excitement level that is already on a high or it will at least enable you to feel prepared while managing your nerves!
Implementing this approach enables not only your student(s) to orient themselves to their new books and tools, but it also gives you additional grace to address issues prior to starting your full schedule. For example, you may realize that you lack some basic school supplies, forgot to prep certain materials, or experience an issue with a DVD program or other technology-related tool. By easing into school a week prior to your full start date, you and your student(s) can enjoy the transition more by having a lower level of anxiety and a higher level of confidence. So here is a suggested schedule to use for "preview week" when reviewing new materials and tools with your student(s).
At the end of the day, such preparation efforts not only ease tensions but also sets proper expectations. By demystifying what the first school week will look like for student(s) and mom alike, it will smooth the way to a successful launch, setting the right tone for the entire year. As always, remember to ENJOY the journey and preparation is part of the journey!
On this day, we celebrate the empty tomb. Jesus has overcome the Enemy and we who place our faith in Him possess the promise of eternity. A choice was made on the cross to remove death’s sting and dispense the gift of salvation through grace to all of mankind. It is an awesome, unparalleled gift that both lifts our hands to the heavens and lowers our knees to the ground. The Christian joy produced from the gift of Easter founded in Christ’s self-sacrifice has no equal.
Yet some of us also mourn an empty Easter basket. For the past five Easters, Evan’s yellow basket has stood empty: no chocolate, no Legos, no coins, no eggs—nothing. It is a day like all other days where the complete and total absence of our son is right here with us and yet it is different than other days since this special day was so deeply loved by him with many memories of past Easters. It is an acute reminder that empty tries to overtake the fullness of life—his empty chair at the dinner table, empty photo books, and empty journal entries. Empty is hard to take. Nothingness is often deafening. Absence leads to loneliness.
Even so, I want to encourage my friends and others who are missing their son or daughter this Easter to know that we can have joy in our daily walk, pursuing the positive in the midst of our new normal, while still protecting our justification to miss and love our children. Though experts refer to the “grief process” as though it finishes after a final step of acceptance, grief is not linear or even cyclical. Rather, it is a collection of experiential elements that create a new, permanent companion. This companion demands we live with it and make space for it for the rest of our lives. Yet, as Christian parents, we can place boundaries on this companion, forcing it to serve our emotional and spiritual needs in a healthy manner rather than allowing it to inflict unending pain and destruction.
One of the best ways I know how to do this is to pray through the promises of God, which remain unchanged and completely reliable. Gone but Not Lost: Grieving the Death of a Child by David W. Wiersbe was very helpful for me, pointing me towards crucial scriptures and their related promises. For these promises reinforce the nature and character of God while also reminding us how He promises to guide us, teach us, correct us, and cherish us for His glory and our good. Focusing on His promises also reminds us that even when God is silent, allows tragedy, or answers, “No”, He is still God, and He makes a path for us through difficult days, including holidays.
So, I again think of Jesus’ empty tomb and Evan’s empty Easter basket, and I have no other choice but to look upon both with joy. Though I selfishly want Evan with us, he is with the King of Kings on this Resurrection Sunday and every day. He, his younger brother, and the Lord’s other young people who have gone home before us have accomplished a destiny in their short time on this planet that we strive towards throughout the course of our whole lives—to be with Jesus for eternity. Though the chasm that separates us now from our children is great, it is not permanent because Jesus bridges that gap. As Evan professed after yet another medical trial had failed, “I’m so glad I know Jesus and that I know where I’m going. I feel sorry those who don’t know Him. I wish everyone knew Him.” I wish that too, and I also wish all to know that it is because of the empty tomb that I have peace about the empty basket.
I am pleased in this New Year to announce that the 2018 TBH edition is now available!
Every chapter has been updated to include new and changing information and, overall, the program has been expanded to include over 550 pages and 375 references and clickable links. The transcript section has been dramatically overhauled and college admissions information significantly expanded. In addition, the curriculum discussion section has been updated to include many of the newer options available to families, and the "Four C's" curriculum selection criteria has been sharpened. These are just a few of the many updates made to keep in mind when you consider your investment in or upgrade to the 2018 edition.
If you are a current TBH mom, you may receive your updated program via PDF by signing up or renewing your TBH Premier Membership for $29.99. Are you new to our program? Check out the purchase options for the tool first and then consider our Group Mentoring sessions which include one year of TBH Premier Membership for free!
If you wish to self-study the program, you have the e-Manual option that is only $39.99. A self-study Kindle version is also available on Amazon. However, please be advised that the Kindle publishing tool has limitations in its ability to keep the provided links live.
Sandwiches and Scripture don’t seem to mix. However, the “sandwich” style of writing can be seen throughout the gospels as a regular an effective method of communication. While many Christians may be aware of the “Markan Sandwiches” and may be even more familiar with the Apostle Paul’s “praise sandwich” of communication, we may not realize that we have an opportunity to adapt these structural ideas in our modern parenting priorities on how to best build our sons and daughters up in the process of guiding and correcting them.
Using Philippians as an example, Paul first praises and encourages the recipients (1:3-6). This is considered the first piece of bread. Then he shares the difficulties of his own status in advancing the Gospel, addresses the hardships of “living in Christ”, gives directions and corrections on living with purpose, and challenges the people to persevere in all circumstances (1:7 - chapter 3). These points comprise the meat, lettuce, etc. of our sandwich. Chapter four then closes with thanksgiving, praise, and encouragement. Now we have the second piece of bread. This model alone can be helpful to remind us that delivering constructive criticism is often best received when it begins and ends with praise.
Taking this idea a step further for parenting purposes, however, we can think of our communications with our children in terms of not just a “sandwich” but as a “Praise-to-Criticism Ratio”. In 2013, the Harvard Business Review published a telling article about workplace productivity that essentially concluded the following three conclusions. High performing teams praised each other between five and six times compared to every critical comment. Medium performing teams praised two times for every critical comment. Low performing teams praised only one time for every three critical comments.
While concerns have since arisen about the data collection on the research cited in this article, I wonder how we can all potentially benefit from employing a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative comments in our home. So ask yourself, “Am I close to a 6:1 ratio of positive vs. critical comments, or is it more like 1:6!”
When giving praise, make sure to consider these additional elements of practicality to achieve the best result possible.
Remember that in all areas of life, including our “Praise-to-Criticism Ratio”, we are modeling. So, be intentional and improve your pattern. If 6:1 is too dramatic of an initial shift, start with at least 2:1 or 3:1. Ask yourself how you would eventually counsel your adult children on this issue within their own home. If you would guide them to fulfill this differently with your future grandchildren, make the changes now to send an even more powerful message. As values are caught more than they are taught, taking actions to change now will mean more to your children than regretful advice that you may give to them later in life. Stay intentional in your words so that the power of perspective works to both uplift and correct your child’s spirit for a lifetime and not just a moment.
in Admittedly, I am a nerd. I like data, statistics, reviews, proofs, and logic. Understanding how an endeavor is doing, assessing strengths & weaknesses, planning improvements, and implementing changes are all efforts that motivate me to “make things happen”; especially when the end goal is something of significance. So, what happens when a nerd like me homeschools? I assign grades.
Now while many may be cringing right now, there are still others who may be curious to know why I believe formally assessing our children’s progress is a positive goal, worthy of consideration. Even when children are younger, I find value in this process, both as a teacher and as a parent.
But first, let’s consider the common objections to assigning grades. Grades are pointless since my student and I already know how they are doing and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Grades are not helpful since it becomes about the letter or percentage and not about what was really learned. Grades are hard to assign to subjects like writing, reading, and history unless I do formal testing. Grades are not necessary since it creates busy work.
While such objections are common, I do not agree with the perceived drawbacks to grading. So what does grading look like in the Gary household? In the younger years, just keeping a portfolio of the student's best work is sufficient. However, between third and fifth grade, it is useful to still keep a portfolio and to start assigning formal grades annually. By high school, we add to this process the need to assign credits. Once we begin formal grades, I do not simply list subjects and assign letter grades. Instead, I begin with a definition of what the letter grades mean.
Here are the definitions of each letter:
I do not define grades to be lower than a “C” since that indicates a problem with how I am teaching (and parenting) more than it reflects my student’s progress. In practice, however, I do not even assign grades lower than a "B" since we teach the points either to mastery (i.e. for language and math skills) or to a proper amount of exposure (i.e. the humanities like art, science, history, and literature). So, they receive good grades not because I am their mom but because we teach to the point that they have achieved the stated goal!
Now while these grading definitions may at first appear too broad to be useful, there are some essential points to keep in mind about how to assign them, what they mean, and what benefits result. So let's explore these five major areas of how grades, when thoughtfully issued, benefit the student, the teacher, and the family as a whole.
For access to the full version of this ~2800-word article including grading samples, contact Carol Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and join The Balanced Homeschooler today! TBH moms may use our private Facebook group to access full articles, such as this one, templates, and many additional resources.*
*Current TBH Moms - https://www.facebook.com/groups/thebalancedhomeschooler/ The full version of this article, originally posted on 6-14-17, is currently available in the "Files" section and ready for you to read on our private Facebook!
In my role as a mentor in the homeschooling community, I have observed an increase in recent years of homeschooling families and leaders who underestimate the importance of respecting copyright laws. So, while it can be a delicate subject for some, addressing it in a number of informative venues, such as blogs, articles, and homeschool meetings, is a great way to bring attention to this important matter. Copyright considerations represent a three-fold challenge at the student, teacher, and local leadership levels.
First, students are often not properly taught how to research and/or cite sources for papers that they write. So parents need to be equipped on how to formally teach this often-forgotten skill rather than just assuming their student will intuitively know what steps to take when researching a topic or citing sources. In our modern day of Internet resources, it's all too easy to cut and paste information verbatim rather than take notes, synthesize resources, and summarize properly. Recently in Arizona, the seriousness of plagiarism and its consequences was sharply highlighted when an ASU professor was accused of violating copyright law in more than one resource that he had either published or presented as his own work. Even more so in our culture of social media sharing, students need to understand how to research the root of a source to the original author. Sources that cannot be traced to a reliable source should not be used.
Second, in an effort to be frugal, parents will often photocopy materials for their own family's use rather than purchase a new consumable workbook for a younger sibling who uses or will be using the same curriculum. As a young homeschooler, I didn't realize the problem with this practice until I was educated about it from a fellow homeschooling friend and mentor of mine. Also, out of a desire to be helpful, parents sometimes photocopy materials and distribute them outside of their own family. Some families even share electronic materials that were originally purchased only to be used within their own family but then share it out to others who have not paid for their own copy of the resource. If a family wishes to help another in this way, they should instead purchase a physical copy of the materials and gift it to their friend or simply donate their own original materials to them, assuming that they are done with it and do not retain copies of it. In my role as the AZ State Ambassador for the Home School Foundation, our biggest annual fundraiser is via a new/used curriculum sale. So it is encouraging when other families generously pass on materials that they no longer need for the benefit of others. However, it is discouraging when some donations we receive are of photocopied materials rather than originals and all we can do with them is to recycle them in the trash.
Lastly, state or local support group leaders who are often called upon to formally speak to groups of homeschoolers in various settings can fall into a pattern of presenting information as if it were their own; using the work product and quoted ideas of published authors without properly citing or crediting their sources. This issue can also translate to what such organizations publish on their websites. I have personally experienced such improper use of my copyrighted materials and realize that I am not alone in this issue. So leaders should be sensitive to this potential pitfall and ensure that copyright violations do not occur when attempting to help guide and inform home educators in their community. Any such issues that do arise should be diligently addressed with promptness, courtesy, and integrity. Related to this issue is the emergence of the co-op, where parents share joint teaching responsibilities for a group of homeschooled children. In doing so, parents and co-op leaders need to ensure that participating families purchase the necessary materials and only distribute photocopied pages or multiple copies from an electronic source when the author has expressly given the group permission to do so.
When I mentor moms on choosing and using curriculum, we go through a list of selection criteria I have developed called the "Four C's". This issue of copyright violation is a fifth criteria consideration that I call the "Forgotten C". So my goal here is to encourage homeschoolers to place attention on the problem on a meaningful scale. As home educators, we should all take seriously the importance of complying with the law in every way, including copyright law. Yet is often given minimal attention in the homeschooling community in general. So let's all do our part to honor copyrights within our own homes and also help to educate others about this critical issue!
Can you pass the copyright quiz? http://www.homeschoolcopyright.com/copyright_quiz.html
Other helpful links about copyright laws and guidelines:
Recently Quartz, a worldwide digital-only publication for the business elite, produced an article entitled, "The concept of different "learning styles" is one of the greatest neuroscience myths". Are they a myth? Are adjustments educators and, in particular, homeschooling parents make to best connect their student(s) with the learning goal a waste of time?
If after reading the article you are left with a sense of bewilderment, then you are probably not alone. After all, while the article cites the valid difficulty of studying such concepts scientifically, it provides no words on how applying a variety of teaching methods may prove to be useful in spite of the lack of science to back it up. Instead the author dismissively indicates that just because students may have "fun" with the application of different methods, it doesn't mean that such adjustments actually make a difference in the learning process. The vibe basically is that educators are wasting their time with these kinds of efforts.
Am I writing to say that I have scientifically valid evidence to debunk their observations? No, that is not my point. However, I am expressing my concern that just because there are not heaps of scientific evidence in support of the idea of learning styles, that educators are indirectly discouraged from innovating new and applicable ways to reach their students. As homeschooling parents, we can and should actively seek to run our own observational efforts to see what does work best in our own families and variations in learning methods are a piece of that larger puzzle. We all know that families can sometimes have students who work much better in a structured, text-book style approach versus those who need to attach new concepts to some combination of techniques including visual aids, auditory cues, emotions, movement, or interactions with others.
This kind of experiential knowledge reminds me of when our oldest son was fighting leukemia and at one point for many months we lived around the country seeking options for him. For the message we received in each treatment institution was always framed by the maximum of what that particular institution could provide. Phoenix Children's couldn't talk to us about double-cord blood transplants since they weren't versed in it. Seattle Children's could provide transplant details but weren't very helpful when our son faced cancer that would not submit to their typical protocols to get back into remission. The National Institutes of Health could offer a number of novel antibody therapies to attempt remission, but they only had access to their protocols. Similarly, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital could only talk about their one and only treatment option and could not speak to other choices. My point? If we had only gone with what local doctors presented us, if we had only used what was available as accepted protocol in our area, if we had been unwilling to be part of the research process at multiple institutions, then our son would not have experienced the benefits he received from the various options we tried and would not have survived as long as he did. If we had waited for tons of repeatable evidence to come in on every single option we attempted, we would have lost more time with him and he would not have had the good quality of life that he experienced during those twenty-five difficult months. So lack of voluminous data and experimental repeatability in and of itself should not be a deal-breaker when seeking our best options in life.
Now back to learning styles. How can homeschoolers respond? We can make sure that we don't allow unhelpful articles discourage us into doing nothing. Keep journals on each of your students. Make notes on when concepts seem to more easily transfer versus other occasions where it is just "not sticking". What tools, teaching approach, etc. do you use to make it all work? Wouldn't it be great if homeschoolers could one day pool their observational feedback and grab the attention of the scientific community; possibly sharing how learning styles and other teaching concepts aren't such a myth after all?
Interestingly, Quartz goes on in a separate article to report that "Most researching findings are false..." and that many science experiments are designed with flaws stating that as much as two-thirds of published research is unable to be replicated. That is a problem, but the article is unsurprisingly light on solutions that will impact us anytime soon. No matter. While any data we collect on learning styles or on related data as a homeschooling community or as individual families might not matter to the scientific community, we can rest in the knowledge that actual benefits were observed and realized at least within our own little corner of the world.
If you grew up in the 70's and have children yourself now (especially boys!), you are probably very familiar with the original Star Wars movies. Standing in a wrap-around-the-building line at the original Cine Capri theater in Phoenix, I waited with my father and brother to watch the premier and didn't even have a clue that Star Wars was to be one of three films, later turning into even more films. I am sure I would have been very confused if future me had told 1970's me that I was really watching the fourth film in the franchise.
Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, our boys watched all three movies for fun; not fully appreciating how lucky they were not to have to wait years to see "what happened next" to all of our galactic favorites. As a young girl, I found Princess Leia fascinating. Yet, as a homeschooling mom, I confess that Yoda is now my favorite...well, Chewbacca too. But since Yoda talks, I'll go with him for now! Little did George Lucas suspect that when he created the character of Yoda, homeschoolers could eventually glean encouragement from his "words of wisdom" so many decades later. For our purposes, we will look at three well-known "Yoda-isms" that help keep us on track during our homeschooling journey.
First, Yoda advises that, "You must unlearn what you have learned." This can mean different action items to different families. For example, if you are a product of a typical school environment yourself, be willing to let some go of those preconceived notions of what a successful school experience looks like. Issues like when, how, and what you should teach are up to you now and not left on someone else's doorstep to decide. Also, if you are bringing your children home from a public or private institution, be prepared to set academics aside for awhile until you reestablish your relationship with your child. I know that some of you are gasping right now, but when we are not with our children day in and day out, we really only know part of who they are. So get to know your child all over again, redefine priorities for them, and connect with them in a new way as both their parent and their teacher.
Another piece of Yoda's legacy is reflected by the words, "Do or do not. There is no try." Often times we are our own worst enemy; shooting down plans before we implement anything or never quite exiting the bondage of our quest for the perfect curriculum. So be willing to "do" many different things before the ideal pattern or balance is achieved. We also must remember that each season our child passes through is but a breath and once they leave each one, we will never get that time back. So "do" more with your children and worry less about what doesn't get done when you are involved in worthwhile "doing".
Finally, Yoda reminds us that we need to "Always pass on what you have learned." Remember that a huge benefit to home education is doing life together and we need to allow our children to witness how we prioritize decisions, handle crisis, and resolve disputes. In many ways, values are "caught more than taught". So allow your children to "catch" your values by enabling them to have a front-row view to the ups and downs of daily living and learning within the context of a Christian home.
Happy learning and "may the force be with you!"
On February 4th, 2014, a historic event took place in Christendom. This is the date that Ken Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis) and Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") participated in a debate about this very issue of creation vs. evolution. Watched by millions, facilitated by Tom Foreman from CNN, and covered by over 70 news media organizations from around the world, the debate lasted for well over two hours touching on nearly every aspect of the subject. The question debated was this...."Is Creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?" You may watch the debate yourself at this link: http://debatelive.org/ or order your own copy through our store by clicking the image below.
However, rather than review the debate and provide you my opinion about it, I would like to encourage you to consider why it is important to incorporate discussions about this topic within your own home school environment.
Co-authored by Ken Ham with data provided by The Barna Research Group, "Already Gone" shows that if you look around at the youth in any typical church in America, two-thirds of them are "already gone". In other words, though they are physically present, they have already mentally "checked out".
Why is this happening? By and large it is due to the fact that by 5th grade or so, children have begun to unconsciously categorize church as a place you go to feel good and listen to stories about the Bible. Apologetics is mostly ignored as the principle tool to teach youth about Scripture and so the Bible is not viewed as being reliable or relevant to them by the time they reach junior high school. Students start to realize that they attend church to build relationships and learn principles of living a respectable life but they go to school to learn facts and truthful accounts of history and science; all of which seem to contradict God's Word regarding the same matters. As Christian parents, we must be alarmed by this and recognize that we cannot and should not rely solely on the local church to "bring them up in the way they should go".
So what does this all have to with the debate mentioned above? The Ham/Nye debate is a powerful reality check for all Christians to realize that we must take all of Scripture in the literal way in which it was written. While there are certainly poetic and allegorical aspects to the Bible, most of it is clearly written as a historical account. In other words, we need to take all of the Bible and not just some of it for its plain-sense meaning. God's Holy Scripture must not be changed into our own version of "Holey" Scripture.
The debate and the entire focus of the Answers in Genesis organization, for that matter, focus on the historical accuracy of the foundational scriptures of the Bible, particularly as found in Genesis chapters one through eleven. When we begin to allow areas such as the creation account, Noah's flood, and the Tower of Babel dispertion to be spiritualized, we being our journey down a slippery slope of "what ifs".
Here are some dangerous concepts you have probably heard before....
I could go on, but you get the picture. Once we begin questioning the authority of God's Word; saying that it doesn't really mean what it says we open the door to question everything else in Scripture...
You can see how disturbing it is when we allow ourselves to begin spiritualizing God's Word; convincing ourselves that Scripture does not mean what it says it means. We run the risk of picking of choosing what to believe rather than taking the all-or-nothing approach. However, many Christians have unknowingly fallen into a belief that we can believe in both the Bible and the world of secular science when it comes to the subject of historical origins and still be consistent in our Christian walk.
Therefore I challenge homeschooling parents to do three things:
1. Be informed. Understand the issues clearly and resist the urge to say that we don't need to concern ourselves with such things because we just need to have faith. YES, faith is necessary. Yet we also need to be prepared to understand how to articulate the foundation of our faith which must include a full understanding of the foundational points of scripture. Part of being informed also requires us to understand that conflicts related to science and the Bible have to do with historical/origins science and not observable/repeatable science. We all have the same evidence to consider. Yet Chrsitians interpret it through a Biblical worldview versus a secular or humanistic one.
2. Prepare your children. Students who eventually leave home to enter the work force or attend college will be faced with the debates about creation vs. evolution. They will be questioned about the seeming inconsistencies with science and the Bible. They will be challenged in every turn about various points of their faith. So equip them with tools that support their faith and help them stand the strain that the culture will place on them. Answers in Genesis is an excellent source of resources regarding these matters, as I have already mentioned. Lamb and Lion Ministries is another good one that stands on the authority of the plain-sense meaning of Scripture in the face of today's cultural issues.
3. Evaluate your church's programs. Take a look at your church's children's and youth programs. Most programs claim to "come alongside the parents" in their quest to spiritually raise their kids. But is this what they are really doing or are they merely softballing Scripture and entertaining them? In other words, don't give away pieces of what you are doing in the home by allowing them to be surrounded by others who do not take the Gospel seriously or interpret it correctly.
Homeschooling since 2000, Carol shares in her blog observations, confessions, information, and musings that help provide perspective and inspiration for homeschooling moms.