As parents, and mothers in particular, we teach our children from the moment they are born. How to walk, how to talk, wash, eat, pick up toys and a myriad of other things, all while teaching manners and morals.
Yet sometimes, when our children turn five years old and enter kindergarten, we relinquish the title of “teacher.” We don’t do this knowingly or intentionally–sometimes it just happens. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what little Suzy is learning or how to reinforce it. Sometimes she struggles with a certain subject, and we feel powerless and don’t know how to help. Maybe it is hard to communicate with Johnny’s teacher. Still other times, we are just plain burned out with everything that is required of us, and we can relate to Jen Hatmaker’s hilarious confession about being the “worst end-of-the-school-year mom ever.”
I have felt all of these emotions. Sometimes at the end of a school year, I would feel a little sheepish because I didn’t really know what my children had been learning for nine months.
My family completed four years of public school before circumstances prompted us to homeschool. We have loved the transition, discovering rich resources we previously never knew were available and enjoying enough time together to feel like a real family and not just ships passing in the night. Interestingly, so much of what I have learned about homeschool, I wish I had known when my children were in public school. I would have felt more involved and empowered. My children would have had more opportunities to become passionate about learning and the teachers would have felt better supported.
Please don’t forget–you are your child’s first teacher! That is a very special role that only you can fill. Here are a few suggestions and resources that I have found which can really help you and your children live engaging, educational lives–daily, easily, and inexpensively, without much time or preparation on your part. I have listed them by subject, along with excellent resources that parents can use. Please don’t be overwhelmed with this list! You don’t have to do all of them, or even any of them. Just use this to prompt thoughts on what your individual children could use and enjoy.
Read, read, read! This cannot be emphasized enough. Read fun but excellent books together. If your child doesn’t like to read, read aloud to him or her. Make a movie in your child’s head. Once they become engaged in the story, encourage them to sit beside you and follow along with the words on the page. Once they are fluent, let them read to the family and develop pride in their ability.
Every summer, my mom would bring a bunch of snacks on the trampoline (to bribe us to come listen) and read to all (8!) of us. Even the kids in high school would come listen. We read Summer of the Monkeys, Chronicles of Narnia and many other classics. We loved it, and now that we are grown, we talk about it often. My own family loves to read in the car and even have Mom or Dad read aloud at mealtimes. Also, don’t be afraid of appropriate comic books (graphic novels). There are some great ones based on the classics and also great people from history.
Resources: Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. This is a “must have” for parents! Also look for Illustrated Classics for Children. These are illustrated, individual classics written in an easy to read way. You can find them in most bookstores, Ebay, and even Walmart, sometimes.
Sharing the Joy of Reading Kit. Developed for Power of Moms by veteran English teacher, mom of three, and passionate reader Amanda Hamiliton Roos, this kit includes valuable information that teaches parents HOW to read with their children in order to build and deepen reading strategies.
www.spellingcity.com is a free website that offers games and practice spelling tests. You can input your child’s spelling list and then let them play games–all the while practicing their spelling. This website also offers help with vocabulary and grammar.
Sometimes, this can be a hard one, but there are three keys: kooky, competitive and practical.
1. Kooky: At breakfast, my (very fun) husband will give the kids word problems. For example, “There were ten lions and two baby mice wearing pink tutus. Each of the mice were very hungry. Using their karate-chop ninja moves, the two mice ate all of the lions. If each mouse ate the same amount, how many lions did each mouse eat?” See? Crazy, but the kids love it. You can also use Cheerios, chocolate chips and other edible manipulatives to illustrate math problems.
2. Competitive: When one of my children was having difficulty with the concept of multiplication, my husband challenged the family to count by 3′s to 100 in under 21 seconds. It’s harder than it sounds! After lots of practice, we met the goal as a family and then tried it individually. The record stands at 14 seconds, and each child eventually made it–winning an ice cream cone as a result.
3. Practical: Help kids to see why math matters. Take kids grocery shopping, round the numbers and add them to stay within budget. Build a fort or tree house, using measurements and angles. Order a pizza Friday night and figure out which percentage or fraction each person gets to eat. Double or half a cookie recipe to multiply or divide fractions.
Resources: The Life of Fred by Stanley Schmidt. This is a storybook series about math, going all the way to calculus. It is a very silly series about a five-year-old math professor and how he uses math every day. My eight-year-old son takes this to bed with him. Crazy! The titles are a bit confusing to know what order to get them in, but they go in alphabetical order. These are excellent for teaching theory, if your kids don’t understand a particular concept.
Khan Academy.org. This is a great resource for really any subject, but it has teaching videos for math as well as practice problems. Kids can earn badges and avatars to help motivate them to practice more. And it’s free!
Go on a nature walk. Observe plants and animals and have them keep an art notebook or journal about what they see. Whenever your kids ask “Why?” or “How does that work?” find out! If you can’t do it right then, keep a paper with these questions on it and look them up together when you have time. One easy way is to get on the Internet and google it. Watch “Planet Earth,” “Discovery Channel” and other great shows for family movie night. Also for birthday or Christmas gifts, instead of the latest Marvel themed action figure, get them a science experiment in a bag, robotic kits, mechanical engineering kits, or other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) themed toys and games.
Resource: Timberdoodle.com has some great science gifts and toys for kids.
History is really important to my family because it is a way to look at the whole human landscape and see the cycles and consequences of human nature. We also use it for character development and to help my children to see past the here and now of Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber and to see the value of a life well lived.
Movies: We watch a lot of character movies: Gandhi, Cromwell, A Man for All Seasons, Chariots of Fire, Sargeant York, Luther. We pause and talk a lot about why these people made the choices they did, who did these choices affect, and the eventual outcome. Did they make the world a better place? We also give a brief explanation at the beginning to help the kids understand the time and circumstances these movies are taking place in. Though some may think that these movies are “too boring” for kids, you may be surprised at your children and how they get pulled into the lives of these exceptional people. (Some of these movies are not for young children, however.) Liberty Kids is a cartoon designed for young children to teach about colonial America. It can be found on Netflix and other venues.
Resources: Well-written biographies are excellent. We like Diane Stanley’s gorgeously illustrated books about famous people in history. They are engaging and beautiful to look at.
Remember to have fun! Just pick a subject your child is interested in or needs a little extra help with. Just start with half an hour a week. You will find a new dimension to your relationship with your children, see them in a different light and your kids will relish this time with you. All of you will learn something new and your life will become richer. When you strive to make education, and not entertainment, a way of life, there is a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes that is unlike any other.
QUESTION: What approach do you take to help your child academically? What resources have been the most useful?
CHALLENGE: Please share your favorite resources below!
Image by Microsoft Office Images.