I have had the privilege of working with moms all over the country who are helping other mothers do a better job. These women have written and spoken on just about everything mothering.
A few years ago, Jenny Wise wrote an article for my homeschool site on how to help kids enjoy writing. Enjoying writing is essential no matter how your children are being educated. As a mom of seven, I had a few that weren’t keen on writing, and Jenny’s ideas would have been helpful.
No matter what age or writing skill set, your child is, age-adaptable exercises refine communication abilities. Here are five creative writing methods children will enjoy while honing their writing talents. You can use them when traveling in the car while on vacation, for family activities, or on a rainy afternoon. Summer is a perfect time to begin honing writing skills for the upcoming school year. If you have no-tech time in your home, which is a good idea, then that open space is the perfect time for some creative writing. : )
1. Prompt Them to Think Critically Present a unique situation to your child, have them analyze how they’d act in the situation, and ask them to write down their thoughts regarding what they’re presented with. Use writing prompts that ask children questions such as, “If you were a superhero, what would be your kryptonite? Why?” challenge them to evaluate their personal life and effectively communicate it to a reader. Thought-provoking questions paired with writing exercises may also incite positive behavior changes depending on the question.
2. Have Them Feature Characters They’re Familiar With Have your children write a story starring their favorite movie or television character. Stories could range from a “day in the life” tale, to a letter written from that character’s perspective back to your child. Another option is for your children to write a narrative featuring multiple characters they’re familiar with and have them describe their interactions.
3. Use a Word Jar to Spur Ideas Put dozens of age-appropriate words into a jar. Choose three at random, and have your children write a story that is inspired by and must use all three words. You could also segment multiple jars with different word categories, such as people, places, and objects, and choose one word from each jar to use.
4. Get Them a Journal
More than 20 years of journaling research reported by The University of Texas at Austin found daily journaling about emotions strengthened immune systems, generated better grades, and improved mental health. Journaling may also benefit working memory, decrease anxiety and enhance sleep and social connections. Shop together with your children so they can pick out a journal they want with lines that allow them to write comfortably. Guarantee its confidentiality and empower them to write outside the confines of reality and explore how they imagine their future.
5. Put Them in Charge of the Tale Search for popular titles of films, books, or songs your child has never encountered, and ask them to write a story conveying what the title is about. Encourage creative expression through various methods, such as poetry or songwriting. Play them instrumental music and have them write song lyrics based on what they’ve heard.
Participate in these activities with your children, so they have a supportive, creative writing mentor as they’re working. You could also create stories together, taking turns adding to the narrative. Remember, creativity is the focus. While pointing out errors such as spelling and grammar can be beneficial for accuracy, consider spotlighting the creative elements to encourage them to have fun and embrace creative writing as a hobby that benefits their education.
Make a place in your family activities for writing and help your children
For many families, school has begun in earnest. Whether you are using the public system, a private system, or homeschooling, September usually means we are deep into it. Some years back, I wrote an article about how to help children remain lifelong learners, to become lovers of learning.
As I reread it, I was reminded of the value of helping our children love learning new things, to not be intimidated by what they do not already know. We don’t have total control if we use the public system or a private system to educate our kids. However, we always have control over what happens in our homes and between our children and us.
Homeschool parents are not immune to things that can take away a child’s love of learning. So often, there is the pressure to make sure our kids are up to par because parents may feel the need to prove they aren’t ‘ruining’ their kids. I have homeschooled, and I know that pressure!
I feel the information is as pertinent today as it was when I first wrote it. I hope you enjoy the read and that it gives you an idea or two that you can institute into your home to help your kids become lifelong learners by choice.
“But I must again repeat it, that the great secret of education lies in finding out the proper means of making young minds fall in love with useful researches…”
-George Turnbull, Observations upon Liberal Education, written in 1742
This is an interesting premise. If we can discern how to help children fall in love with learning, they can receive an excellent education because they want to.
I believe this love of learning comes naturally to children. I’m sure you have observed how children learn. Just watch a baby learning to use their hands. They are not discouraged by how long it takes to gain mastery over the hand. They just keep working at it. No one tries to help a baby learn to use their hands. We just watch them and encourage them and let them work it out. The same goes for learning to hold a spoon, walking, putting on a shirt, etc. We provide the spoon and the shirt and support and encouragement, but basically, let them work it out.
Watch an eight-year-old building a fort. They are dogged when it comes to a project like this and, if left to their own devices, will figure it out and enjoy every bit of the process. The finished product may leave a bit to be desired in our adult minds, but the child will be thrilled with his effort.
Herein lies part of the problem of maintaining a love of learning. The parent might comment on the unsafe condition of the floor or walls; how many nails they used, what of this or that could be better, the pile of accumulated debris. Then the comment, “Here, let me help you with this.” Both teachers and parents must be careful not to damage a child’s confidence in their efforts to help. They also need to be cautious about sending the ‘you didn’t really do a good job’ message.
Sometimes parents have a fear that their child might be left behind, in some way found wanting, or not be able to compete in the adult world effectively. Often, if children march to a different drummer, it makes us nervous. Occasionally a child doesn’t fit on the usual timeline for learning something, such as reading or math.
Our eagerness to help them can sometimes do more harm than good. If we are too energetic in our efforts, we can even cause a ‘hate of learning.’ We often fall into this trap regarding the ‘academic’ subjects or things that cause us inconvenience. School teachers are not immune to these same errors. Pushing too hard and criticism make loving a new skill or topic difficult for kids.
Ten Ways to Foster a Love of Learning
So, what are some ways that we can encourage learning in any subject, even academics, without squashing the child’s own natural desire to learn?
1. Provide a safe and loving atmosphere for learning, more support, less pressure. Safer support would have helped me when it came to math. I loved math, but I was terrible at it. The harder the adults pushed, the more challenging it was to learn. It seemed to slow down my brain. Later, as an adult, I realized that I had a learning difficulty. I wish I had felt supported and safe when it came to math but I, instead, felt judged.
2. Provide inspiring materials. Expose children to inspiring music, great art, good books, etc. When I was of middle school age and into high school, I was teased by my friends because I read all the wrong stuff. That is because my dad had so many great books. I couldn’t help myself. What my friends were reading seemed lame. : )
My mother sang beautifully. She didn’t sing opera, but she played it, and she sang songs from Broadway. I didn’t listen to the same music as my peers. Yes, they did think I was a bit odd, but I had been exposed to the beauty of literature, art, and music. It changed how I saw the world.
If you want help exposing your kids to great art and literature, check out thisexcellent website. The Well Educated Heart (aka Libraries of Hope) is a restoration of stories from the golden age of children’s literature. Marlene Peterson has reconnected the modern generation of parents and children to the classic but forgotten stories that have instilled virtue and character in the hearts of generations past.
3. Read as a family on a regular, consistent basis. Reading as a familyhas great benefits. Even now, when my family consists of three people over seventy, I have written about the huge impact our family reading has had. This one thing will make a difference in your family and your children’s love of learning.
4. Inspire curiosity and then leave them to the wonder of experimentation and self-discovery. My grandson, Ben, loves this! Let them, experiment, fail, make a mess, etc. It leads to learning.
5. Leave plenty of time for thinking, playing, and being with family. Avoid too many lessons, clubs, and classes that adults manage. I have often written of the value of being at home, together, talking, reading, and playing. It takes effort to make this happen in our busy world of technology, but you will be well rewarded for the effort. Gotta put away the phone for at least a couple of hours each week. It takes dedication on a parent’s part, but you can do it.I’ve seen it.
6. Remember that play is the work of children. Encourage your kids to go outside and be in nature. Let them work stuff out together without adult supervision. Experiment with time off from technology. Organized sports and clubs don’t count. When kids are free to play and use their imagination, it does a body good.
7. Be patient with the learning process. I know I would have had a better outcome with math if those who taught me and those at home who felt responsible for my learning, would have been more patient with my timeline. I had a learning difficulty. Back in those days, we didn’t even know what that was. But there was such a push to move me along with everyone else that it became harder and harder to learn.
8. Learn to recognize and respond to Sparks.Sparks tell you what your child is interested in right now and may develop a passion for later. They are usually the things that bug you or make a mess. However, if you follow your child’s lead, you can both have a remarkable learning opportunity together.
9. Enjoy learning yourself. I read because my dad read and made books available. My mom read to us. She played all kinds of music and sang for us. My mom and dad taught themselves to run several brick-and-mortar businesses. They were always learning something new. It helped me be brave and willing to learn new things This example has served me well! Right now, at 71, I am learning Spanish!
10. Share what you are learning with your children. I would have loved to have more conversations with my mom and dad about what they were doing, reading, and learning. I know it would have helped me, but their example was all they could give at the time. So, give your children a bit more. Let them know what you are learning about.
When we safeguard this natural love of learning, we set the child on the road to success when they are ready for deeper levels of knowledge. They will be prepared to flourish in high school and college studies. They will do as George Turnbull suggests; they will seek out an excellent education.
Send these tips along to your friends who have to deal with the pressures of school, any type of school. They will thank you for it. : )
In our district, kids are going back to school only two days a week. WHAT!!That will leave a lot of parents with kids who want to do something fun and connect, as well as learn. Here is something that will help you out! : )
I began teaching and speaking over a decade ago. I focused on a learning tool that, at that time, was called The Closet. The printer said he loved my Closet Mastery Course but had to look inside because he wondered if I was training people to come out of the Closet. It also seemed odd to call this tool The Closet and then tell people they can use a box, a bag, or any old container that they would like – or even no container. So, the name was changed to The Spark Station.
When I began teaching this tool, my audience was almost exclusively homeschooling parents. The Spark Station initially helped kids want to learn so that the homeschool process would be less stressful. However, over the years, I realized what a fantastic, fun, and engaging tool it was for connection. My message morphed and eventually became a book, Becoming a Present Parent: How to Connect With Your Children In five Minutes or Less.
The Spark Station has lived beyond homeschool because
it’s a beautiful way to ‘play’ and connect with kids. This is a boon for adults like me, who are a little play adverse.
Years ago, I created a 13-audio course about the Spark Station. This year I have offered the entire thing to all my readers FREE. It is in its original homeschool format, but all principles, rules of engagement, and outcomes apply broadly across the parenting spectrum. Over the next few months, I will create a multi-part series of articles on the Spark Station to help you use it in your home. It’s WONDERFUL, FUN, and EXCITING for kids! It is useful for toddlers, children, and teens.
The Spark Station – Part 1 What is The Spark Station
I used to say, “So what is the definition of the Spark Station? Simply put, it is a space where parents have put items that they think will inspire their children to explore further and learn.” Then I had a mom tell me she was on audio five before she finally understood what The Spark Station was.
Now I say it differently. The Spark Station is a tool you can create. It can be an actual closet or a box, a dresser, or any other place you can put new items to share with your children. It’s not the same as a storage space where you keep your learning materials, books, and craft items. Its purpose is to create a time and place when your children will be exposed to new and exciting ideas or be able to engage in things that already interest them, and where parents connect with their kids. It’s a time and space where both adults and kids can share what they feel joy or passion in, and what interests them, their SPARKS. I’ll share information on how powerful SPARKS can be.
You can use the Spark Station at a set time each week, say on a Sunday afternoon. You can also use it anytime you feel like it. You can use it as part of your school day if you homeschool. Dad can use it to connect after long days at work. However, it is not to be used by children alone because you want your own time. It’s important to remember that it is a connection tool and that can’t happen if you are occupied elsewhere. Another important thing is that when kids use it alone, it turns into a mess quickly, and then no one uses it. This is one of the five critical rules which I will cover in another article.
What I want to accomplish here is to encourage you to begin listening to the FREE course. If you don’t have time for a 13-audio course, then view this one audio. It will give you enough information to determine if this is something you want to have in your ‘connection’ arsenal. Or you can read each installment of the series of articles titles Spark Station Basics as they are published.
I’ll end today with some pictures of Spark Stations. You will see how diverse they are and how fun they look. : ) You will notice that they are large and small, fancy and simple, for little kids and big kids. They are all different!
But before I show the pictures, here is a letter from a mom who took the leap and gave it a shot.
“The Spark Station and The Spark Station Mastery Course really work! I just had to share my experience with all of you. I finished lesson 5 of theSpark Station Mastery Course yesterday. I went through my home to see what I could find. I cleaned out the entertainment center (that is what we are using for our Spark Station). I was excited but nervous.
‘I found sand in the garage that I forgot we had, rice, material, art supplies, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, math wrap-ups, and the list goes on. I filled totes with the items I wanted to start with. The kids saw me doing this and were anxious to know when they could use all that cool stuff.
‘I dyed the sand; I dyed the rice, and I put the stuff in the Spark Station this morning. We did our devotional, and then we talked about how the Spark Station would work. I was really nervous.
‘The kids immediately went to the fabric and wanted to make capes. Unfortunately, the pieces we had were rather small, so we talked about using those pieces for other things and talked about how much fabric we will need to make a cape (it will appear in the Spark Station soon).
‘Then they found the colored sand, mason jars, and lids that I had in there. They used the funnel in the box to help pour sand into the jars and make beautiful designs with different colored layers of sand. While the older three were working with the sand, I pulled out the rice tub and set it up on a blanket. I had spoons, cups, bowls, etc. in with the rice. I just let it sit there, and as soon as my 18-month-old saw it, he was occupied until The older kids went to play with him when they finished.
‘When they bored with the rice, my older son pulled out the art box. He found cupcake liners in the box. Immediately the girls wanted some too. They asked me what they could use them for, and I told them anything they wanted. They seemed unsure; I told them I could see making a pretty flower. My son immediately said he wasn’t going to make a flower; he thought his would make a great head for a lion. They glued their cupcake liners to the paper and used the chalk in the box to draw the rest of their pictures.
‘I just sat there and grinned the entire time. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Why was I so afraid of this, it’s not scary, it’s incredible? I now have a…tool at my fingertips that gives me the perfect way to my kids. I can’t wait for tomorrow, and neither can my children.” Stacey S.
Please take a look at The Spark Station Mastery Course; it’s FREE.
Does your family have a good way to connect and do you use it consistently?
How would it impact your family if you added this one thing – consistent family play for connection?
Focus on what ties you together and your family can never fall apart. family.lovetoknow.com
Deciding to homeschool a special needs child can be challenging and rewarding. My granddaughter, Maggie, has severe cerebral palsy. Some of Maggie’s CP symptoms include – she can’t verbally speak, use her arms and hands well, walk, move on her own, or express herself in words. That can be challenging when it comes to homeschooling her along with her siblings. Despite the challenges, when Maggie was 5, her mother decided to teach her at home.
Maggie’s now 12 and attends a regular middle school. She still has all of the same physical difficulties that she had when she was five, however, schooling at home for a number of years was one of the reasons that Maggie was able to transition so well into public classes.
During those homeschooling years we learned some things that made our efforts more successful:
• Be patient
• Let them do everything they can even if the results don’t meet your expectations
• Help as much as they need, they will still feel accomplished. Sometimes, Maggie needs a lot of help. However, at the end of any project, even if she has needed a great deal of help, Maggie smiles as if she did it all by herself.
• If your child is non-verbal develop a system so they can answer questions. (Maggie can point to one of two or three fingers to answer yes or no questions and even more detailed questions. For example: Do you want to color the shirt in red, blue or something else?)
• Remember, they are just like any child in their need to do and learn.
• They are interested in the same things as other children their age.
• Don’t be afraid to let them try. They aren’t afraid to try!
• If possible, find others who can help you a day or two a week.
Here is an example in one of those early at home, school days with Maggie
One of the things that increased the success level for Maggie was finding her a special friend who would come and help one day a week. This gave Jodie a break or allowed her to work with the other children. Cindi Walker was a neighbor and went to church with Jodie and her family. She became a good friend and then transitioned to being a very special friend to Maggie.
The photos and example below occurred when Maggie was six, her brother Jack was four and her sister Mary was 2.
A homeschool day for Cindy and Maggie
When Cindy came she had learning activities that she could help Maggie do despite her physical limitations. She included Jack and Mary if they were interested. Sometimes they were but Maggie was 6 and so many of her activities just didn’t hold their attention.
On this day Maggie was learning about the letter “M”. Her lips do not close like most children’s so it was an
extraordinary challenge for Maggie. We hoped she would eventually be able to say this important letter. (Maggie is still non-verbal but the effort to teach her to speak was fun for both her and those of us who worked with her. She does say the letter I perfectly.)
In order to practice using the ‘m’ sound Cindy helped Maggie make a collage of many different pictures all starting with M. Cindy had pre-cut the pictures but helped Maggie use the glue stick and stick them on the paper. When the collage was finished Cindi would say the M word and then Maggie would give it a try.
Next, they read a darling picture story about “Mary, the Mouse with Measles” which Cindi had written. Maggie loved reading the story and so did her siblings, Jack and Mary.
Cindy and Maggie were putting a “Learning Journal” together. Cindy would help Maggie hold a pencil and write. On this day they wrote about the trip that they all had taken to the Utah School for the Deaf when Maggie’s had her ears tested. Here is what they wrote together: “Jack and I had our hearing tested. We can hear.” (Cindy asked Maggie, “Do we need a period or an exclamation mark?”) Then they practiced saying “We can hear” with emphasis!
While Maggie was busy learning Jack was all over the table and chairs
blowing his train whistle, eating cookies and making comments. He also turned the popcorn popper lid into a Darth Vader mask. Cindy is VERY patient with Maggie and all her siblings.
Maggie drew some “M” pictures with special crayons. She loved and still does, working at holding on to things with her hands and seeing the result.
Of course, they ended their “m” session by eating marshmallows. Maggie enjoyed that the most!
To finish off the day Cindy read to the children from the classic “The Secret Garden”. This book did NOT appeal to Jack or Mary but Cindi remained patient with their wiggles and giggles.
Homeschooling a special needs child can be a successful adventure. It is worth giving it a try. If your child comes to a point where they need more than you can give them at home, their time at home will be a great foundation.
How do you make homeschool work for your special needs child?
I learned two new words that relate to online schools, asynchronous and synchronous.
Asynchronous classes allow students to work without a live instructor via materials, lectures, tests, and assignments that have been provided. Synchronous online classes are when students and instructors are working together live.
The topic came up during a conversation I had with Adam Hailstone, CMO and Director of Leadership at Williamsburg (https://vimeo.com/195837948) I was asking him about the school because online schools are such a hot topic right now and I wanted to know more about how they work, the value to students and about Williamsburg in particular. I learned a lot!
I loved the fact that at Williamsburg https://www.williamsburgacademy.org/ they have mentors rather than teachers; the fact that students and mentors see each other and interact during class via a chat option; that they use a ‘smart whiteboard’ (this is sooo cool); they have students from all over the country and mentors from all over the world.
If you have been considering an online school for your middle school or high school age youth let me share what I learned About Williamsburg and it might help you make your decision.
Mentors rather than teachers
At Williamsburg, teachers are called ‘mentors’, because they do more than just dispense knowledge––they inspire, challenge, listen to and guide students as they learn how to learn. They help youth learn how to lead themselves and others.
Mentors spend a lot of in-class time with the youth. Students have access to mentors live in office hours, via email as well as in live classes. They can receive live feedback on assignments.
What intrigued me was that mentors, because they teach in a virtual classroom come from all over the world. Mentors at Williamsburg (https://vimeo.com/195837948) live in the USA, Europe, and many other countries. Last year they had a mentor from Nepal. How cool is that!
This idea of worldwide teachers is certainly 21st-century style learning. Because teachers are not locked into a geographical area the school can vet or head hunt from anywhere in the world. This makes it possible to have world-class mentors.
One last bit of information that I gleaned about mentors at Williamsburg, they are able to give students more one on one time than they might get in a brick and mortar building. That can mean the difference between doing OK and thriving for some youth.
What and How Youth Learn
Williamsburg (https://vimeo.com/195837948) focuses on teaching youth how to think not what to think. It is a liberal arts program coupled with a leadership program. The culture is not just academic but is larger in scope and includes helping young people determine how to live a meaningful life and how to reach their full potential.
One of the things that I considered a perk at Williamsburg was that kids can do most of what gets done in a brick and mortar school. They can talk live with their mentors and with the others in their class. They can get almost instant feedback.
Mentors create breakout rooms during live classes so that students can collaborate in small groups. They participate in group projects, peer presentations, student government, simulations, engaging videos and readings, challenging projects and assignments, and oral, written, and project-based assessments.
Williamsburg https://www.williamsburgacademy.org/ works to create a culture of thinking and problem solving through the wise use of mentors, dynamic classes, and in person social engagements which are designed to lead to a meaningful purpose.
Classes run 50 minutes but not all learning time is screen time. There are plenty of reading projects and all sorts of assignments to help kids learn to think and to accomplish.
There is a lot going on inside every virtual Williamsburg class and just in case your family has to be away every class is recorded. This gives individual families the flexibility they need.
What About The Social?
We all know that kids want to be with their peers so how does that work at Williamsburg? (https://vimeo.com/195837948) Socialization is part of a larger learning culture with punctuated social experiences rather than day to day socialization. They have what they call ‘in person’ social engagements.
A few times a year students gather live to learn, work, and interact with each other. This can be in the form of summer camp, conferences, travel adventures, etc. Recently students went to Germany to learn about WWII. This summer students will be going to Guatemala and this fall to Nepal. What a way to spend time with your peers!
The need for social interaction with peers is also satisfied as students work in teams and classes on projects on-line each year.
I was amazed to learn about a recent project that a group of 6th graders completed. They had heard of a charity that wanted to provide a school for a village in Bolivia. However, after some research, they realized that without a water pipeline kids wouldn’t be able to go to school. This was because children spent much of each day carrying water from a lake to their homes. There was no time for school.
The pipeline was going to cost $11,000. The sixth graders decided to raise $4000 of that cost. So they came up with a plan and put it into motion. They used what they were learning at school – creating a website, writing, e-commerce skills, working as a team, leading, reaching out for donations using rhetorical skills, and so forth.
When the project was finished they had raised $19,000 which paid for the pipeline and part of the school. These were sixth graders!
These kids really got to know each other. They spent real time and virtual time together. They learned that even young people can do powerful things across the world.
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017