Helping Children Love to Learn – Part 2

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There are many tips and strategies for helping children love to learn and love homeschooling. Of course, not any one of these ideas works alone. They represent a mindset—a way of life, if you will—that causes children to love learning. Adapting some of these strategies is a step toward living with that mindset each and every day.

Read Aloud From the Beginning

If you have not been a read-aloud homeschooler, it is never too late to begin! If your students are older (in junior high and high school), you might have to dangle a deeper-colored orange carrot (along with some ranch dip) in front of them to get them to enjoy reading aloud together, but it won’t take long, and it will certainly be worth it!

There are books that explain how to begin reading aloud, give lists of good books to choose at various ages and stages, and more (for example, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease or Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt). I won’t go into much detail here, but if you have boys or older children, start with adventure—other things can come later! The first goal in reading aloud is to make your children love reading aloud. If they don’t love read-aloud time, you will not do it regularly and all of the great goals and objectives of reading aloud will never be attained.

Some people ruin read-aloud time by trying to make it to “schoolish.” I can remember when, fresh out of teacher’s college, I saw every part of my little two-year-old’s story time as a possible “reading comprehension lesson.” I have since learned that those lessons were not true reading comprehension lessons, but rather just “quizzing sessions.” While they have their place to assess or test comprehension, they definitely do not teach comprehension, unless they are followed by discussion. Anyway, my little guy just wanted me to read the story! He didn’t care if he knew the minor character’s name or if he knew the motivation of the major character (a question for a two-year-old!?).

Enjoy the process. Yes, discuss it! Discussion is by far better for building comprehension than simply quizzing your students. Talk about why this happened or that happened, the cause and effect sequences, how the character felt, whether or not his responses were Biblical—but don’t do it all the time and certainly not after each paragraph! These discussions will usually come naturally if your children are enjoying their read-aloud time. The stories will become just like a good movie—everyone discussing them around the dinner table, in the car, or at Grandma’s.

If the thought of sitting still while Mom reads aloud makes everyone feel a boredom attack coming on, consider allowing them to do something quietly while you read. Our older children often quilt, do handwork, enter edits on the computer, or other non-thinking activities while I read. Many times, Dad will do something quietly with the little ones while we read, so that their hands and minds are engaged in something. Our little guys usually do puzzles or build with Lego® blocks. Currently, they are assembling a one-thousand-piece Civil War puzzle.

Make Time for the Important Things

For many home-learning adventures, the difference between success and failure is timing. Fifteen years ago, we learned at one of Gregg Harris’s workshops that the way to be sure something is done in your school is to attach it to something you always do. Of course, his main suggestion here was attaching things to mealtimes, since seldom do we miss that event! Attach your family read-aloud time—or any important learning or devotional activity—to something that is already in your schedule all of the time: rising time, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime are all good choices.

We began following Mr. Harris’s rule of thumb when our first couple of children were little, and soon we had attached everything important to something in their schedule, then had added attachments to our attachments until each day was one big, well, attachment! It was a great rule of thumb for us as new parents, and it provided a stable, scheduled environment for our preschoolers, toddlers, and babies. They always knew what to expect.

For added incentive, you might follow our family’s “More-Often-Than-Not” rule: If an activity is important to us (devotions, memory work, discipleship meetings with children, read-aloud time), we should do that activity more often than we do not do it. If our occurrences of an event do not exceed our skipped times of an event, then it isn’t very important to us after all. For example, if we plan to do something four times a week but only do it once, this shows us that it’s not a real priority in our lives. It either needs to be moved up in our priority list or dropped—and we need to be honest with ourselves when it really isn’t a priority.

This guideline has become especially important to us as our children have gotten older and they are away from home for college classes, music lessons, and other special classes. It is so easy during these years to just give up “family learning together” time simply because it seems impossible with everyone’s busy schedules. More-Often-Than-Not has given us the security that we are, indeed, doing what is important to us, but yet it is not legalistic or burdensome. I might add that many things that are important to us are now done in a moving vehicle, going to and from church, potlucks, debate and speech tournaments, conventions, visiting relatives, and more!

Evaluate Often

A big part of creating a love for learning is evaluating what works and what doesn’t work for your family. For years, I wanted to do everything just like other successful families that I saw. While I believe that copying someone else is the highest form of admiration and that we can learn a lot by emulating others, we cannot get stuck in the rut of doing what others do regardless of whether or not it works for our particular family.

I remember putting a lot of pressure on my husband to get up earlier and do more school with the children, especially Bible studies and character studies, since that is what I saw other families doing. I didn’t consider the fact that he was nearly always up late one-on-one with our older children, discipling and mentoring them. I didn’t think about the fact that he worked sixty hours a week at his job. He wasn’t doing things the way I wanted him to do them and the way I saw others doing them!

I have since learned that while I can gain much from observing and modeling after others who are successful in areas of parenting and homeschooling, if it doesn’t work for our family due to time constraints, job restrictions, or the ages and interests of out children, then it just isn’t for us. I don’t have to make my husband fit into a mold of what I see someone else’s husband doing. I don’t have to schedule my school day just like another mom schedules hers, and my children do not have to be just like other children.

We need to evaluate often. Ask yourself: Is what we are doing here really working? Is this causing our children to learn—and to love to learn? Would something else work better? Am I trying to make my school like someone else’s—even if it is not the best for us? Of course, part of that evaluation may be observing another family, asking questions, and trying something new that you think will work. However, if it doesn’t work, be willing to reevaluate and try something else.

Skip the Good to Do the Best

Along with the evaluation process, comes making the decision of what to do once you have evaluated an area. It is learning to skip the good in order to do the best. Twenty-one years ago when I began homeschooling my sister, homeschooling was in its infancy in Indiana. We attended the first state convention with just a handful of us. We could only get materials from Dr. Raymond Moore or leftover curriculum from a Christian school. You whispered the answer when someone asked you where your children went to school. We had visits from the people most Hoosier homeschoolers never see today—social workers, principals, school counselors, and more.

There were many positive aspects of those early days of homeschooling—deep camaraderie among the few brave homeschoolers who existed, long days at home without dozens of activities screaming for participation, a more laid back approach since there was no “parental peer pressure” to be or do more and more. Even having a small number of choices wasn’t always bad.

Today, more than ever, it is vital that we evaluate our school, extra curricular, sports, church, youth, and music activities. We could easily spend every day running only a couple of children to activities, much less the six I have in school this year! We can easily “school” until five or six each evening, trying to fit in all the wonderful materials available.

I realize that this evaluation process is highly personal; however, we have found some methodology to our evaluation process that others (especially large families) may benefit from as well. We have a series of benchmarks that help us evaluate what is best for our family and our children.

Does this activity enhance our relationship with the Lord?
One of our first benchmarks for evaluation is, of course, our relationship with the Lord. Obviously, there are many things that must be learned that do not have much spiritual content, such as math and foreign languages. If those things do not interfere with our walks with the Lord by consuming too much time away from Him or our family and they fall under another criterion we have developed (such as preparing for the future), then, of course, we include those things.
Does the activity benefit a large number of our family members?
I realize those with fewer children may not need to ask this question, but for us, when we had six children ages twelve and under, each child got to be in one thing (basketball or piano, at that time). Beyond that, we did things the whole family could do, such as family roller-skating, field trips, and hospitality with whole families. It was a wonderful time for our family that I look back on with fond memories. Now, with older children, we are somewhat divided in this area. We still try to do things altogether whenever possible, but we prefer to do many things that at least our three teenage daughters can do together or that our three young sons can be in together.
Does the activity build or tear down family unity?
This goes somewhat with the second benchmark and may not have a lot to do with a love of learning, but it has always been an important benchmark for us. Too many outside influences, too much peer interaction (especially too early), and too much busyness away from the family seems to pull our children away from us and their siblings. We need to watch out for these things.
Does the activity prepare our children for a future we think God is leading them into?
A few years ago, I jumped on the musical bandwagon. Our daughters all played piano, and each of them took at least one more instrument. Now, don’t get me wrong. Learning to play instruments is great, but it is definitely not for everyone. I saw successful families around me all playing instruments together, and I thought we had to do the same thing. We spent a lot of time and a lot of money pursuing something that the girls really weren’t interested in. This activity did not prepare them for their futures; it didn’t give them an area of education they really needed; it didn’t increase family unity; it didn’t help them spiritually. Our daughters are writers and speakers. We now put our time and effort into those areas because we feel that those things help prepare them for the futures God has for them. For others, the important areas will not be writing or speaking, but they may be in music.
Is this activity something our students are interested in?
I know for us, our children’s love of learning has always increased when we studied things they were interested in learning. Every family’s priorities and circumstances will be different—and each family’s “good” and “best” activities will be different, but we all need to be in the evaluation process at all times. Here at the Reish home, we often find ourselves immersed in “good” things instead of the “best” things. Our evaluation benchmarks help us narrow down our curricula, activities, family life, and more to be focused on the best!

Used by permission.

Donna Reish

Donna Reish and her husband, Ray, are homeschooling veterans of over 20 years. They have seven children between the ages of seven and twenty-two and have written two language arts curricula, including Wisdom Booklet Language Arts for ATI families.

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