Wednesday, January 19, 2011

8 Ways a Mama Bear Can Learn

If Mama ain't learning...ain't nobody learning.

What do I mean?

Sometime in the last four or five generations we have picked up the idea, as a society, that learning happens at schools and universities. It is something that is done to a student by a qualified individual - often against that student's will. One day the student will graduate and then they will get to stop learning, other than occasional professional development or perhaps further education - again done at a school like facility or university.

I am going to assume that if you are reading this blog you at least have a passing interest in home education. Therefore, it is fairly safe to assume that you already know that people can and do learn somewhere other than school. But do you know that YOU can learn still? Do your children know it? Do they SEE it?

Not long ago I mentioned to Princess Doc that I had learned something and she asked "How come you didn't know that already? You're a grown up!" I explained that I am still learning every day and I hope to still be learning every day when I am ninety or more. It was a light bulb moment for her. Suddenly learning wasn't a path to be followed to a destination but an amazing place to be explored every day forever!

Why should we keep learning?

* To set a good example. A child will emulate behavior modeled far more readily than they will follow good advice. If your children see you learning, making mistakes, trying again, researching a topic of interest and completing a project they will learn skills that directly apply to their own studies and their own lives through your example.

* To keep your brain healthy. Research suggests that a good diet, exercise and lifelong learning are our best defense against age related brain disorders and mental illness like Alzheimers, age related bipolar disorder and many other devastating illnesses. If you don't use it you may well loose it.

* To maintain healthy relationships. If you are a homeschooling mother odds are you are home with your children most of the time. It is VERY easy to make homeschooling, mothering and keeping house into an all consuming task. Ask yourself, if your ENTIRE identity is your home and children, what kind of relationship do you have with your husband? What kind of relationship will you have with your children when they leave home? I am by no means suggesting that we should shirk our responsibilities in this area in order to pursue hobbies and selfish interests but I am suggesting that a well rounded mind can help us to be better wives, mothers and home makers.

* To develop our talents. If you are not familiar with the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, I'll encourage you to go and read it.

How do we keep on learning?

OK about now there are women rolling their eyes at the monitor and saying "Great, ANOTHER thing to add to the to-do list!".

It's not about working harder, it's about working smarter! To learn, you don't need to enroll in a Masters program, you simply need to try something new, open a book, read something! Here are a few ideas of how to keep the learning going with a busy schedule.

1 Make yourself a book list. If you look at the top of this blog you will see a link labeled Mama Bear's Reading List. This is a list of books I want to read. I am trying to work through it at a slightly faster rate than I add to it! I read while I feed the littlest baby bear, I read while I wait for a doctor's appointment, I read for five or ten minutes after I get into bed (provided I get to bed before midnight), I read during nap times, I read whenever I get a spare moment and I'm not knitting...sometimes I multi-task and knit too. Compared to my ten book a week habit that I had pre-children it takes me a horribly long time to get through any book but the greatest thing about my learning right now is NO END OF SEMESTER EXAMS! If it takes me a year to get through a book, so what? As long as I am reading and enjoying and learning, what does it matter how long I take?

2 Practice a new skill or craft. I am a self confessed yarn addict. I love to knit and I am also learning to crochet. There is always something to learn with these crafts and I am constantly challenged, frustrated, ecstatic, devastated, intrigued and thrilled with my yarn adventures. Thankfully, this is a portable and easy craft to pursue. I knit in front of the TV, in the car, while I listen to children reading, while I wait for appointments, when I am camping, when I am visiting friends, when I take the kids to playgroup. Pretty much any time I sit down and I'm not reading, I have yarn. Sometimes, I do both. I realise that not all crafts are this easy to accommodate, but get creative. If it is cake decorating, scrap booking, quilting or dress making that boils your personal potato find a way or make a way to do just a little bit each week. You will be surprised how fast it clocks up.

3 Connect with fellow students and experts. When I joined ravelry, a yarn crafter's social networking site, I fell in love with knitting all over again. You can find all sorts of forums, blogs and websites all over the net. You may have a local group or a friend with a shared interest who you can connect with. You need to be aware of your time spent here and make sure that it is adding to your learning, not taking away from your living (as internet over-usage is apt to do!) but it can be worth doing. Barns and Noble run book clubs on their site which can be a great way to find people to discuss what you are reading with you.

4 Make use of podcasts, audio books and other techno aids. Downloading a few podcasts into your MP3 player to listen to as you do the dishes or go for a walk, or peg out washing can be a fabulous, time efficient way to add to your learning. Seriously folks, there is SO MUCH out there, your problem will be narrowing it down. Here is a list of 20 places to start just from my own bookmarks and poking around. Can you believe, I am still saving for my MP3 player?

free classic audiobooks
free christian audiobooks
homeschool radioshows

(just as a side note, if your kids have ipods to load up with lots and lots of educational goodies, you may be interested in this page telling you how to set a maximum volume to protect your precious offspring from industrial deafness:

5 Don't be afraid just to dabble. I love to write. My writing consists of sporadic blogging and the grand aim of writing just one sentence per night in my journal. My garden teaches me heaps, but probably only gets an hour or two a week out of me. I love to cook new things, but only try maybe one new recipe per week. If you set your self small, attainable steps toward learning or improving your skills you will be more likely to get it done. ACHIEVABLE is the key word here.

6 Keep a notebook. If there is a particular topic that interests you, start a notebook where you jot relevant facts, ideas, book titles that you want to track down, paste newspaper and magazine articles and make notes as you read books related to the subject. It could be dog breeding, meta-physical poetry, the role of women in the Bible, household management methods or healthy eating. Whatever it is, keeping your thoughts and research in a central place can help connect the dots. It doesn't need to be fancy, it won't be submitted for marking, it is for your eyes only.

7 Link it to the kids school work. You love scrapbooking? Have the kids help you make a scrapbook and call it arts and crafts - or better yet, teach them to create their own scrap book about subjects they are studying (check out these links for more ideas:,, or just google homeschooling scrapbooking). Do you love dressmaking? Have the kids help you make medieval costumes as part of their history and craft learning. I always wanted to learn Latin so guess what we are learning this year? That's right! I can justify teaching Latin lots of different ways but when it boils down to it I want to learn it and it won't hurt for them to learn it too. Kids can make great study buddies! And sometimes, the best way to learn something is to teach it.

8 Take a short course. You may not be able to commit to a Masters program, but perhaps you have time to take an Adult Ed course. Perhaps you can take a course online. I quickly scanned an interesting blog post the other day listing "12 Dozen Places To Educate Yourself Online For Free" and you can bet I have bookmarked that one for a better look. This is something I am more likely to pursue in a season of life when the bear cubs aren't quite so time-intensive, but it's nice to plan ahead sometimes. Perhaps you have a burning desire to learn how to Zumba, join your local gym. Perhaps you want to learn how to throw pots or draw, the local TAFE may well be running a short course. If you can work it in, it can be well worth doing.

So check it out, think about it and get creative with your time. I honestly believe, nobody is to busy to learn.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Much has changed since the original walk through our day so I think it is time for a rehash. We will start off this series with a nutshell look at our day as planned for this year.

This is how we are planning to do things:

7:30-9:30 - get up, dressed, bedroom chores, hang out washing and have breakfast

9:30-lunch time - 15 minute clean up time after breakfast, "table time" where we do our Bible study and any work we can do together like Latin, art activities etc. Then we have independent activities and chair time (this is where Erin does copywork, math-u-see etc. and I spend 10-15 minutes with each child snuggled on the couch reading stories, helping them memorise, working on phonics with my pre-reader and working through our language program. The kids also play in their rooms, outside or find some other way to express their individual creativity and learn independently i.e. make a complete mess. This time is usually peppered with cleaning up toilet training accidents, putting babies to bed or to the breast and general life stuff. By the end of the morning everyone is usually engaged in activities of their own choice. Like hovering over a sibling saying "Look, I'm not touching you!". We are so edjamacational in this house.

lunch time - after lunch is made we sing a hymn and have lunch and I read aloud whatever other reading we are working on (Monday - history (Story Of The World), Tuesday - science(first term this year books about space exploration and astronomy), Wednesday - poetry, Thursday - (first term this year astronomy), Friday - River Cottage Family Cookbook)

after lunch we have another 15 minute clean up, I read a chapter of our "for fun" read aloud and everyone goes down for a 30 minute rest (Erin usually works on a yarn craft like french knitting or long stitch or reads, the boys and Anna just read)

after rest time we MAY do a little more stuff depending on how I feel and what is in the planning file (plaster fresco, for example, may be best done while the little ones are still asleep!), but for the most part this is when we do a bit of cleaning up and housework, get tea under way and I deal with any other projects I want to get done like perhaps a bit of sewing while the kids get turfed outside or in the bath or watch terribly educational things on TV (YouTube is an excellent resource and so are pages like this: and lets be honest, Bob the Builder is brilliant and Vegetales rock.)

We usually eat somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30 then everyone has their teeth brushed etc. and the boys get into bed while the rest of us sit on the floor and we have our family devotions. Then the girls shoot off to bed and there you have it, our day in a nutshell

Teaching Farm Boy to Read Part 2

Sorry about the cliffhanger there! I have been meaning to get back for weeks, but Christmas, renovations and life happened all at once.

So, how did we go from letters to words? Once Farm Boy was fairly confident with the names and basic sounds of all the letters I found my trusty index cards. Seriously folks, don't homeschool without them. On each card I wrote a single word. I made a card each for the words that he knew how to read in the reader and then I added some words that I knew he would like to read - like his name, his siblings names, the word "cow" seeing as he loves all things cow related etc. Then after we read his reader, we played the sentence game. I put out some words to make a sentence that he would be able to read (for example: The cat sat on the hat.). When he had read it, I praised him up and changed it putting in a few different words and removing others. It helps if the sentence is funny, something like "The cat sat on Farm Boy" or "Tool Man sat on the cat". Four year olds have a fabulous love of the ridiculous and I use this to keep Farm Boy interested.

As time goes on we added some other words and play the sentence game for a few minutes after we read. Some days we mix it up and I will write whole lot of "body part" cards and as Farm Boy reads them, he can stick them on himself or me (a game I got from a Peggy Kaye book called "Games for Reading") or we will walk around the house labeling things, people and pets. Farm boy gets to choose some cards to compose sentences for me to read too. It is invariably the case that a few of the sentences won't be grammatically correct and this is a great teaching point. First I will read the sentence exactly as it was composed "At the cat on sat" for example. Then I will screw up my face and exclaim "That doesn't make sense, that's SILLY!" After a giggle I encourage him to help me change it to something that DOES make sense.

Why do I think the sentence game is so important? Because it stops a child thinking they can read simply because they memorised a reader then getting frustrated when they find they can't read the books in their book shelf. Mixing it up, seeing the words in different contexts, experimenting with formulation of correct sentences and trying out the meanings of words really gives reading ability a good work out. Knowing that C-A-T spells cat in the reader AND on the card is a big step in learning how to read. I believe in making our resources for this game together because I can tailor make it to the child. Phonetically, cow is way beyond where Farm Boy is at but because I know he loves cows it makes sense to use it now. So I wrote it and explained that O and W fight and say 'OW!' and it is one word he can always read. Because it comes from what he loves. Princess Doc had body parts and medical terms and I suspect Tool Man will want cars and tools. A child will want to read about what they are passionate about and will put the work in to learn if they see it as worthwhile.

A Note on Writing:

I do not believe a child should be required to write until they have shown an interest in learning OR are a proficient reader. Writing requires the mental knowledge of letters, what they mean and how to put them together. It also requires fine and gross motor skills that many early readers simply do not possess. When Princess Doc wanted to learn to read I used a popular text to start her off and it required that she write a little each day. My training had taught me that you teach letter formation at the same time as you teach the letter. Away we went and I found I was killing her love of reading. She hated having to write the letters because she simply did not have the fine motor skills to do it "properly". And if you know Princess Doc at all, you know that "properly" is very important to her. So I let it go and we just read - and today I have and confident novel reading six year old who is just now perfecting her letter formation. Sadly, many children are prevented from surging on with their reading at school because they haven't learned to write well enough yet. I personally see this and a linked but separate skill which may form at a completely different rate.