Archive for July, 2009

An Ace Up Your Sleeve

When old west gamblers would cheat, one of several approaches was to keep an ace up their sleeve- a card which could be slipped out surreptitiously and added to an existing poker hand at a critical juncture in the game in order to win. As a homeschooler did you know you have an ace up your sleeve?

No, it’s not cheating! It’s absolutely legal in fact. When everyone else shows their cards at the table of education every homeschooler can pull an ace out of their sleeve to make a winning hand. What’s the ace? It’s the inherent efficiency of tutorial education. I’ve said so often that even if you’re bad at homeschooling, your children will likely do just fine.

Working one-on-one with your children gives you an ‘unfair’ advantage in education. In a survey conducted a few years ago classroom teachers were asked how much time they got to actually spend with each individual student making sure they understood the material and answering any specific questions they might have. The answer was less than two minutes each day per student! That’s right- less than two minutes.

So if you spend two hours of one-on-one time with your 6-year-old, that’s more individual attention than they would receive in two months of classroom interaction. You’ve got an ace up your sleeve and you play it every time you kneel down next to your child and work with them individually. You win. They win. The game’s over!

A few years ago children were asked what they wished for most from their parents. What do you think the answer was; a new Playstation, skateboard, bicycle or pony? Nope. The most common answer was that children simply wished their parents would take time to play a game with them. Now I’m not suggesting you play poker! But why not play one of your child’s favorite games: Candyland, Monopoly, Apples to Apples or Risk? The game itself doesn’t matter; it’s the time that you spend doing something that’s important to them that matters. Take a break from your homeschool routine today to play games with your children.

Talk with your children about Hebrews 12 and the passage that talks about us competing to win in the important race of faith.


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All Hat, No Cattle

Perhaps you’ve heard this old saying. It refers to a cowboy wannabe who wears the ten gallon Stetson but doesn’t own any land or cattle and doesn’t know the first thing about ranching. The wonderful world of homeschooling is filled with people who are all hat, no cattle.

These are people who have all sorts of ideas about what’s wrong with homeschooling, how homeschooling ought to be done, the risks associated with “socialization” and the importance of a standardized education. None of them has ever spent so much as one single day actually homeschooling. Their opinions are about as valid as the opinions of any man on the topic of childbirth- not worth much if you’ve never actually been there and done that.

Unfortunately, even within the homeschooling community itself there are landmines created by people who are all hat, no cattle and they’re just waiting to blow up in your face. Lots of what passes for “homeschooling curriculum” was created by people who’ve never homeschooled. They have simply repackaged classroom curriculum and labeled it as “homeschooling curriculum” in hopes of cashing in on this growing market. The chances of it working well for you are about as likely as the odds of your pet canary falling in love with dog food that’s been relabeled “bird seed!” Classroom education has very little in common with the world of tutorial education- also known as “homeschooling.”

These products generally make several destructive assumptions; first that you have 9-11 hours available each day to devote to each grade level or subject and second that you have to throw mountains of “facts” at students because there’s no time to dialogue with individual students and see what they actually understand. How helpful- NOT!

You need to balance your many roles: homemaker, wife, mother, teacher, church volunteer and more. In most cases you have more than one grade level student and you can’t possibly spend hours planning lessons and delivering material. And while you don’t (and never will) have that kind of time available, you DO have time to get to dialogue with each student at a deeply personal level. You have time to interact with each student rather than simply burying them under an avalanche of disconnected facts and information in hopes of having some of it stick.

Choose a program like Five in a Row that has been developed by someone who has actually walked in your shoes successfully for a number of years; a program that takes into account the need to balance your many roles and which maximizes the opportunities you have to dialogue with each student. Then use it the way it was intended to be used until you have developed a good reason to deviate from that proven pattern.

Let’s have some fun today with the wonderful world of cowboys. If you’ve got any boots or hats around, make them into “cowboy boots” and “cowboy hats” today! Stick horses are fun, but a broomstick works just as well and is a great way to burn off lots of youthful energy as students gallop around the yard: Yeehaw! Watch a little rodeo action on television or youtube. Sing a few cowboy songs together and fix a cowboy lunch, which could be anything from a can of pork and beans to some bread and bacon. (Improvise and your kids will never know the difference!)

Now talk with them about the saying “all hat, no cattle” and explain to them what it means to go around talking big about something you really don’t know anything about. Remind them that humility is always more becoming than being a “know-it-all” even if you do know what you’re talking about!

Read and discuss these Bible verses about pride and humility…

Proverbs 11:2

Proverbs 15:33

Philippians 2:3

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Payment Past Due

Do those three words make your heart skip a beat? Why do three such simple words have such a profound physical affect on our body? We can even feel sick to our stomach when we see that phrase. It’s certainly not the words themselves, or even the arrangement of the words. It’s the cascade of thoughts which those three words unleash.

Suddenly we have visions of ruined credit, losing our car or even our home, embarrassment in front of friends and family, uncertainty about our family’s future and so much more. For some of us who grew up in economically unstable households it may bring back an avalanche of terrifying memories from our childhood; of turned off utilities, living with relatives or worse. Words have tremendous power over our lives- even power over our physical bodies.

And just as some phrases can strike terror into our hearts, so too can some words cause our spirit to soar and give us hope, courage and nurture peace in our soul. All of us need those words of encouragement if we’re to survive the long journey of homeschooling. I can tell you that I’m proud of the sacrifice you’re making as a homeschool mother. I can tell you that your contribution is changing a generation for good. And that will help- a little. But ultimately you need someone directly involved in your life to speak those words of blessing.

If your husband or parents or siblings aren’t speaking hope and Life to you, then get with your “Spit and Whittle Club” I talked about last Friday and encourage one another. Words can cause your spirit to soar and refresh your soul just as surely as the phrase “Payment Past Due” can cause your hands to tremble and your heart to race.

And guess what. Your children need those words of affirmation too. Look for opportunities today, and every day, to speak blessing and encouragement to your children. I understand that they didn’t make their bed for the 10,000th time or that they got a 53% on their spelling test. And those things need to be addressed. But they also need to hear words that cause their spirit to soar and cause them to hold their chin a little higher.

Make a list of 10 things about each of your children that you feel good about or are proud of. Make a plan to tell them so. If you were raised in a negative, critical environment growing up you may need to “schedule” positive comments just as you might schedule dental appointments or dishwashing chores. Yes- it’s that important!

And begin to teach your children to speak hope and encouragement to one another too. Children can be cruel and hurtful to one another; even siblings. But they can also be best friends and speak Life to one another. And the habits they nurture now will shape the way they raise their own children someday.

Proverbs 18:21

Psalm 57:4

Psalm 71:24

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The Spit and Whittle Club

When I was a boy, growing up in the 1950’s, I would often visit my grandfather who lived near a small Missouri farm town. We would go “to town” where we would visit the grocery store,  post office or city hall. Next to city hall was a small city “park” which was really nothing more than a vacant lot with mowed grass and 2 or 3 park benches. There were always several old men sitting on those benches talking. My grandfather referred to them as “the spit and whittle club”- a name which evoked glamorous images of glistening multi-blade jack knives and getting to spit in public with no one to criticize your behavior. In truth- I don’t think I ever saw any of those old men spitting- or whittling.

Instead, what they did was sit and talk about the past, the present and the future. I’m sure they reminisced about what life was like “back in the day”. I’m sure they also worried about the uncertain future of American in the far distant future- the 1960’s, 1970’s or even the almost unimaginably futuristic 1980’s. And they shared stories. They talked about the loss of a beloved wife of 50+ years to cancer. They talked about their own health woes, their financial troubles and the problems their children and grandchildren were going through. In short- it was a time of fellowship and life-sharing.

We all need that sort of comraderie. So do our kids. If you don’t have a “spit and whittle” group where you can be yourself, talk honestly about your hopes and fears, remember the past and discuss your successes and failures in homeschooling- you’re missing out. You need at least 2 or 3 like-minded souls who will listen to your thoughts and dreams and allow you to process your feelings

And your kids need to be able to talk too. In the case of younger children, it’s likely YOU who will be their sounding board. They need to be able to ask questions about the past, present and the future- and get meaningful answers:

“Why did grandma die even though we prayed for her?”

“What if daddy never finds another job?”

“Jimmy said if I’m not a Catholic (or Methodist or Charismatic) I’m going to go to hell. Am I?”

“What if I’m not smart enough to get into college?”

“When will I have a best friend?”

Those are the kinds of questions that kids worry about. And they need a “spit and whittle club” where they can ask ANYTHING and get an honest answer. An important part of your teaching day needs to be just talking with your children. Often, what happens during this time will prove to be infinitely more important than what happens during geography or penmanship class. One of the beauties of Five in a Row is that it deals with life and life’s uncertainties. It provides so many natural opportunities to talk with your children about important life concerns- a sort of “spit and whittle club.”

Invite your children to make a list of the ten questions they’ve always wanted to ask- but been afraid to voice. You may be surprised by what pops up. Some will be silly, but some may be life-changing. Now think about writing down a list of ten questions that you’ve always wanted to ask but been afraid to voice. They may be questions for your own “spit and whittle club”,  your husband- or simply honest questions for God. Ask them. You might be surprised at the answers you receive.

Read Luke 24:13-24 with your children and talk about it. Discuss what the disciples must have been thinking. The Bible says they were walking along, talking about all that happened. They were discussing the hopes they had, the fears they were experiencing, the uncertainty about the future and the despair in their hearts. They were having a “spit and whittle club” talking about important heart issues- when suddenly Jesus was walking along with them and all of their questions were put to rest.

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The Two Major Myths of Homeschooling

There are two major myths of homeschooling. The first is that you have to be brilliant, well-educated and a certified teacher to facilitate homeschooling. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the greatest privileges of homeschooling is that as often as not the teacher is learning right alongside her students. Some of the best days you’ll ever have are days when one of the children asks, “Why does thus-and-such happen?” Likely you’ll reply, “I have absolutely no idea. Where would we go to find that out?” and then both parent and student will go on a learning adventure together.

Well if the need for impeccable education, professional training and raw intelligence comprise one myth of homeschooling, what do you suppose the other myth is? The second major myth of homeschooling is that it’s easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s life changing and it’s perhaps the greatest journey you’ll ever go on. But it’s not easy.

Homeschooling well requires dilligence, humility and plain, old-fahsioned hard work. It means preparing lessons, interacting with your students, being flexible and being willing to admit you don’t have all the answers. And sometimes it means not getting the instant “oooh, thank you mother” that you had hoped to hear. It means juggling your roles as wife, mother and tutor and it means being willing to put up with the foolish, insensitive and downright rude comments of friends and family sometimes.

Let’s have some homeschool fun with “myths” today, shall we? Talk with your children about myths. Here’s a definition for you to start with: A traditional or legendary event, usually concerning some being, hero or event.

Together with your student, research some of the most famous hero-based myths: Casey Jones, Paul Bunyon, Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill. Which ones were based on a real person? Which ones were purely myth. What are some of the myths or tall tales associated with these four famous names? Can you think of other myths? Perhaps your children would enjoy making up a myth of their own in the form of a story, song or play.

You might research some of the famous names from Greek and Roman mythology: Achilles, Apollo, Zeus, Hermes, Hercules, Atlas and Zeus. It’s important for children to be familiar with at least the most famous of the mythological “gods and goddesses” by the time they’re in high school as part of a well-rounded education. To find themselves in college and have absolutely no idea what a professor is talking about when he refers to a “a Herculean task” or “carrying the load of Atlas”  or someone having an “Achilles heel” will put them at a distinct disadvantage!

2 Timothy 4:4

Acts 14: 12-13

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All the News That’s Fit to Print

A newspaper’s job is to print… well, what’s new! Yesterday’s events aren’t interesting anymore, let alone last month or last year’s events. Homeschoolers are kind of like that, aren’t they? It’s so easy to let every new curriculum, every new theory of education, every new organizational plan and every new website cause us to lose interest in what was working yesterday, last month and the year before last. We just want what’s new!

My advice is simple: If it’s not broken- don’t fix it. Five in a Row, for example, has been a proven success for homeschool parents since 1994. The earliest children who used it are now out of college and have families of their own. Perhaps 100,000 children or more who used it are now in college and doing well both academically, and spiritually.

There are a number of proven homeschool products that fall into the same category it seems. But like pigeons chasing stale breadcrumbs in the park, homeschoolers rush hither and yon in search of whoever is tossing out new and exciting crumbs. What we often end up with is empty checkbooks, closets of full of promising curriculum that never quite worked, and children who have educational whiplashes from being jerked around from one educational philosophy to another.

Just imagine if we handled our dietary needs in the same way. No more bread or meat this week. Now we’re eating only raw foods. Next week it’s only Indian foods. The week after it’s only sushi, then an all-meat diet followed by a 100% juice diet. Both our bodies and our emotions would soon become unstable from the dramatic and persistent  changes in our diet. The diet for our minds works the same way. As I mentioned last week- homeschooling is a long obedience in the same direction. It’s about consistency, stability and the confidence born of building a recurring pattern of success.

Do yourself, and your children a favor and pick a well-balanced educational diet, one that’s not the latest fad, but has a long, proven track record of success over several hundred thousand students. Then stick with it; master it and make use of it.

Let’s have fun this week in our homeschool by creating our own newspaper. Assign your children different stories as reporters. Let them interview dad, neighbors, grandparents or siblings. Let them do research. Have them write news stories, human interest stories, humorous stories and moving stories. They (or you) can put their stories into a simple Word document template or otherwise “lay out” a family newspaper. Then print out copies and give them to aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends.

See if you can go on a tour of a local newspaper. Whether it’s a large metropolitan daily, or a small local shopper tabloid, your kids will find the rapidly disappearing newspaper industry fascinating. You can absolutely bet on the fact that by the time your children are in college- there won’t be ANY newspapers left in print and they can tell their grandchildren someday about what they learned when they toured an old-fashioned newspaper plant way back in 2009.

Take a look at Acts 17:21 and discuss the Athenians fascination with all the latest ideas, trends and news. Talk with your children about how we can all become too intrigued with only the latest fads and ideas and the value to be found in building strong, proven traditions.

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Learning the Ropes

Ever wonder where that phrase originated? When a young lad went to sea as an apprentice sailor, one of his first jobs was to climb up into the masts and rigging and begin learning which ropes controlled which sails and in which ways. To “learn the ropes” was to learn the basics about his new career.

If you’re new to homeschooling (meaning less than two years) you’re still “learning the ropes.” You’re still in the process of discovering what happens when you pull on various ropes in your new career as a teacher/tutor. And that’s just fine. Nobody starts out knowing it all. It takes time for you to become an effective teacher and it takes time for your students to become effective learners. Fortunately, as I said in a blog entry last week- time is on your side.

Which ropes cause your students to sit up and ask questions? Which ones cause them to slump down in their chair and despair? Which ropes cause their eyes to narrow and the wheels to go round and round in their young mind? And which ropes cause their eyes to glaze over and make them yawn? You need to be “learning the ropes” and journaling your discoveries. Find out what works- and what doesn’t. And take notes. You don’t want to be caught in a storm and have the captain shout up to “reef the main sail” and have you unfurl the spinnaker by mistake.

Let’s have some fun with ropes today. Take a look at this website that teaches basic knots and sit down with your children today and learn at least three basic knots:,

Learn the clove hitch, the bowline and the sheet bend. You’ll be amazed how often you’ll use those three knots. If your children are having fun, learn several more later in the week.

Talk about these quotes and what they mean…

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

“Give a man enough rope and he’ll hang himself.”

Now take a look at these Bible verses:

Read Acts 27 and see how often “ropes” come up in this story a ship caught in a storm at sea.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

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