This week, May 6 through May 12, is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I would like to show my deepest gratitude for the very important role all of you are performing. Whether you are the main home teacher, a co-teacher, or a provisional teacher, you need to be acknowledged, honored and thanked. You are sharing an amazing gift with your children/students!
Parenting and teaching children may be two of the hardest jobs ever experienced. It’s not always easy to share knowledge with enthusiasm. It’s not always easy to provide guidance with inspiration. It can be difficult to promote self-confidence when we may not be feeling completely confident in ourselves. It can truly be challenging to instill the love of learning and to offer wisdom while helping to prepare children for living to their fullest potential.
Journeys are never completely easy. We will be challenged with hard times and frustrating moments. However, amid the challenges, we will also experience those shining moments of complete joy and satisfaction. If we approach our teaching skills by developing a quality relationship with our students, then we will be approaching our teaching as a positive, transformative journey for all who are involved.
Not only do we need to honor our role as teachers, we also need to honor our children, for children can be our greatest teachers. They allow us the opportunity for personal growth. Children help us to remember our dutiful role in continuously providing the best and offering the most we can in every learning moment. We need to find that crucial balance between a loving heart and a determined mind. Being the best teacher is not the goal, because we are all humanly imperfect and incapable of such a title. However, if we strive to do the best we can, then we are being the best teacher possible in that moment. This striving is a strong testimony to the Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy of the process vs. the goal.
In all my years of teaching and guiding students, I have discovered that the most important lessons we can instill in our children is the joy of learning, the balance of life, and to never give up just because it’s hard.
I was recently reading through Oak Meadow’s guidebook, The Heart of Learning, written by Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams. It offers such amazing insight, inspiration and guidance. If you haven’t read it lately, I highly recommend perusing it. If you don’t own a copy of the revised and updated 40th Anniversary edition, it is available through the Oak Meadow Bookstore.
“Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” ― Alvin Price
For many students, the first semester is finished and the second semester begins the advancement towards the end of another school year. For parents and home teachers, this is a perfect time to look at ourselves and our behavior. We might ask ourselves: How can we resolve to be a better person, parent and home teacher? As homeschooling parents and the primary influence of our children’s lives, it is especially important for us to foster good self-esteem. Bonnie Williams, co-founder of Oak Meadow, shared some thoughts on the appropriate way to do this in her archived article, “The Opportunity of Children”.
As homeschooling parents, we are in the position of primary influence upon our children’s lives. We can therefore insure their self-esteem is not damaged in childhood. In turn, we can feel confident that our children will grow to be happy, contributing members of society. Good self-esteem leads to responsible behavior.
We learn to love and accept ourselves when we are loved and accepted by those closest to us. Children who must compete with their peers and sit in a classroom of 30 children every day very often do not learn to love and accept themselves, but rather learn to judge themselves harshly. This in turn can lead to crime, anti-social behavior, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety, and disordered thinking. When we are starved physically or emotionally, we do desperate things. Most children (and adults!) have a tendency to look for external factors to resolve their desperation. Drugs, food and other abuses arise out of this internal experience of emotional malnourishment. In addition, a child with low self-esteem often hides this lack of self-confidence behind a mask of bossy and aggressive behavior.
We can see, from the effects noted above, the absolute necessity to protect our children’s self-esteem. I would like to suggest two things that we, as homeschooling parents, can do to help our children maintain good self-esteem:
Teach age-appropriate material in a manner suited to the individual learning style of the child. If your child is not yet ready to read, don’t panic and try to drill him or her. This will only cause your child to feel like a failure. Trust in your child’s innate intelligence and curiosity, and know that he will read when the time is right for him. The same is true for math. Some children take longer than others, but as adults, nobody will ever ask them how old they were when they learned fractions! In addition, if the material that you are presenting does not seem interesting to your child, try presenting it in another manner. Many, many children learn best through doing rather than reading.
When we find a quality in a child that we are unable to accept, it’s important to ask ourselves why this quality disturbs us so much. Is it a quality within ourselves that we don’t accept? For example, a child may be hyperactive and drive us crazy. If we were able to focus patiently with that child, would he find it easier to focus? Is it our own inability to focus comfortably that makes us so impatient with our child? When we criticize him, are we really chastising ourselves? Perhaps the child is unable to express his feelings positively and bursts into expression through temper tantrums. We have to look to see how well we express our own feelings, then ask ourselves if we encourage the child to express his. If we don’t express our own feelings positively, then we set an example for him that ultimately drives us crazy.
Not only are we in the position of being able to foster good self-esteem in our children, but we are also able to recover ourselves in adulthood. As our children push our emotional buttons – and they always will – we cannot send them off to school for a respite every day. We must live with our children 24 hours a day. Therefore, it is a little more compelling to find ways to resolve some of these personality conflicts that exist between ourselves and our children. This is “recovery of ourselves in adulthood”. We must take this opportunity to discover more about ourselves and the state of our own self-esteem. Do we love and accept ourselves, are we free to love and accept our children, or are we still reacting to the way in which we were parented? Is it time for us to make new decisions about how we want to parent? These new decisions will flow forth as we become aware of our old reactionary patterns that are no longer appropriate. Each of us deserves the opportunity to create our family unit as a work of art, adding colors of our choice and not somebody else’s!
A seed of love, when planted in the tiniest of hearts, can grow to lead a life to that which happiness imparts. – Unknown
It is important to recognize that one of the major tasks for a home teacher is to create an atmosphere in which real learning can occur. Such an atmosphere exists where the children are nurtured and supported to explore their own personal interests, as well as the world around them. As we are all well aware, this best happens where there is a warm, loving relationship between the child and the parent.
Sharing love is like sharing a treasure. Whether it be through expressing warm thoughts towards one another, opening up and sharing feelings with each other, or just spending some pleasant moments together, it is the essence of the learning process. In a loving relationship, we also discover that communication becomes greatly enhanced. When communication comes from the heart, be it verbal or nonverbal, it allows the opportunity to better understand and accept the thoughts, ideas and actions that are shared with each other. This form of communication may come through a special hug, a quiet conversation, a wonder-filled nature walk, or even in the sharing of a favorite art exercise or baking activity. Whatever the form may be, grabbing these wonderful opportunities will truly aid in deepening the bond in our relationships.
When we are sharing these treasured times together with our children, we are spending true quality time with them. Quality time certainly does not mean planning a special activity at a particular time, but rather means experiencing quality moments that are unscheduled and spontaneous. All of us, as parents, have had our children rush to us with enthusiasm and bright faces saying, “Come quickly! I have to show you something!” How do we respond to our children’s excitement? Do we reply, “In just a minute.” Or do we say, “Later, I’m really busy right now.” Or do we not even hear them because we are so absorbed into our own work? If we could just keep in mind that, when we give our complete attention to these unexpected and unplanned moments, we are also acknowledging how important they are and how wonderful it is to be a part of the joy in their lives. If for some reason, you can’t drop everything and attend to your child’s request at that very moment, you can still express your eagerness: “I can’t wait to see it! First, just let me _______ (finish making your sandwich, hang up the phone, take the sleeping baby to bed, etc.) and then I’ll come right away.” Of course, then you have to do that, as quickly as possible.
I once asked my sweet little seven year old friend, Anna, “What do you think of when you think of love?” She replied without any hesitation, “My family.” This immediate response would be the same answer for most children. Family plays a very integral part of life for the child, which is certainly another valid reason why family-centered education will flourish most in a healthy, happy environment.
As your family ventures through homeschooling, please remember to keep in your heart that when you clear time and space to focus completely on your child’s lessons, when you teach the lessons with personal interest and enjoyment, and when you introduce the new material with sensitivity towards your child’s skill level, you are sharing love that will provide not only a sense of fulfillment for your child, but will also give you great satisfaction for your own teaching endeavors.
“The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.” – Fra Giovanni
The following article, “Homeschooling and Joy”, was written by Oak Meadow co-founders, Lawrence and Bonnie Williams. It was sent in a newsletter to the Oak Meadow teachers and staff in October 1991. After personally experiencing a joyful occasion with homeschooling families, friends and fellow colleagues at last month’s Oak Meadow Open House, I am reminded of the true value of the message in this archived article. Twenty-six years later, these words of wisdom are definitely worth repeating and sharing with all of you.
One of the best tools a homeschooling parent can use for successful teaching is Joy. Joy is as natural to a child as talking and walking. When there is joy and laughter in the home, children will quite naturally want to enter into learning relationships with their parents. Not only does laughter create an atmosphere of receptivity toward learning, it also triggers the productions of chemicals in the body which have positive health effects.
Joy can be expressed through singing, dancing, funny stories, and poking fun at ourselves. It’s very important not to take ourselves too seriously. Life can be serious enough at times without adding our own weight to it. When we are able to poke fun at our own mistakes and idiosyncrasies, children will be more likely to admit their own mistakes and weaknesses – an important first step in the learning process.
At times, however, the challenges of life seem to be too great, and joy seems out of the question. How can we experience joy in such times?
First, it helps to put the affairs of our lives in perspective. Most of what happens to us is not nearly as serious as we make it out to be. What makes it seem so serious is that it shatters our concepts about how things should be. If we can let go of our expectations and just embrace the experience as it is, we can usually find joy hidden in the very heart of that experience.
Second, we have to remember that joy isn’t something that happens to us – it’s something we create. Visitors to third world countries are often surprised to find children laughing and playing games in the midst of oppressive poverty and hunger. Even in the midst of the most crushing circumstances, joy is always alive within us, but it remains hidden until we make a conscious choice to express it. When we do this, not only do we bring it to those around us, but we experience it ourselves.
As we experience more joy in the homeschooling environment, we will find that we have more energy as well. Researchers have found that laughter actually stimulates the adrenal glands and triggers the chemical production of endorphins in the brain. These endorphins act as tranquilizers, which leave us feeling calmer and less anxious about the events happening around us. So we can see that laughter is not only beneficial for us emotionally, but physically as well.
As Lawrence and Bonnie Williams emphasized in their article, a healthy learning environment should be full of joy. Therefore, as each new day springs forth, we need to keep our hearts open to the gift of joy.
Why does homeschooling feel like a good idea? What needs are not being met well in other ways, and how might homeschooling help best meet those needs?
What is my child expecting homeschooling to be like? What am I expecting homeschooling to be like? How do those two things line up?
What areas of learning are easiest for my child? What areas are most challenging?
What are my child’s passions and interests? How will they fit into our plan for homeschooling?
What are my biggest worries about homeschooling? What are some strategies I could use to work through those things if they happen?
What struggles do I predict we might have as we add homeschooling to our parent-child dynamic, and how can I anticipate and prevent them?
How will I meet my own need for self-care so that I am able to give all that my child needs?
What will I say to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers who are skeptical about our decision to homeschool? How will I prepare myself for such questions?
Who are my homeschooling support buddies? Do I have friends, neighbors, or relatives who homeschool? If not, do I know where to find local and/ or distant homeschoolers to share experiences and ideas with?
So I’m reading The Heart of Learning and love it, but I’m also left with a feeling of failure. I feel like I failed my 9 and 5 year olds. My 1.5 year old, too, but I still have time with her. Anyone ever feel like this?
Can you relate?
On your way to a heart-centered approach to learning, has the journey has been long and complicated? Have you have spent years trying different approaches to parenting and/or education before finding one that really feels right? Have the many twists and turns left you, and perhaps your children, feeling frustrated and exhausted?
Start by giving yourself credit for where you are and how you’ve gotten there! You’ve worked hard to navigate the complicated path of parenting. You’ve followed your heart to the place where you are now. Your children benefit from your courage when you open your family to new possibilities. You are not failing — you are succeeding!
It’s never too late to adapt your parenting style in response to new ideas and inspiration. Even partway through childhood, your child continues to benefit from your growing confidence and experience. Parenting skills evolve over time. When your first child arrived, you had no choice but to learn on your feet. Maybe later you had other children whose needs were nothing like your first, which meant you needed to develop new tools.
You tried whatever came to you along the way. Perhaps you followed the model of other parents, the suggestions of relatives, or the advice of professionals. Or maybe you stayed with what felt familiar and made choices similar to those your own parents made. You made use of the resources you had and made the most of whatever was available at the time.
Maybe those approaches worked, at least for awhile, or maybe they taught you that your child needed something else. Or maybe your instincts were tugging at you to take a different path from the start. Every parent has had the experiences of making a choice that turned out to be less than perfect. Every child is unique, and it can take several tries to figure out how best to meet a particular child’s needs during a particular phase or circumstance.
Even when you’ve discovered an approach that feels like the perfect fit, you may have mixed feelings about switching gears – and your child might, too. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transition:
Explain the changes. One of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to model what it means to be a lifelong learner. If you are making a change that your child will notice and wonder about, affirm their experience and share your reasons for moving in a new direction. If you feel regret that your older children did not benefit sooner from such a shift, acknowledge this, but also make sure they know you tried your best given the information and support you had at the time. Let them know that everyone can learn from their experiences.
Include your child in the process. If a big change is in the works, such as a switch from public school to home learning, ask your children what matters to them. Give their input careful consideration and let them know that their opinions and insights are important to you. Do your best to foster and maintain connection with your children, especially if your earlier approach was less connection-oriented.
Take good care of yourself and one another. Remember that significant transitions can be stressful even when the result will be positive and healthy. Find ways to create and maintain balance for yourself and your children. Spending time in nature can be restorative and healing for the whole family. Finding and following a rhythm in your days and weeks can help keep everyone grounded, especially when new adventures are beginning. Stay present with your child; you are on this journey together.
Take time to feel. If you need to grieve the way things might have been, give yourself (and your child) space for that important process. Be gentle with yourself and allow the transformation in your life the time it deserves.
Acknowledge growth. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s – embrace its unique lessons and gifts.
Remember that the heart is at the center of the parenting journey. It awakens to new ideas in its own time. You can trust that your heart is leading you well. You can do this!
Having studied poetry with amazing teachers in my life, and having honed my own craft at Sarah Lawrence College, it is a joyful and enriching experience to teach poetry at Oak Meadow. What makes poetry so unique is something discussed in our poetry course: Poetry is a universal art form that can be found in all aspects of human life and can hold within it elements of all other art-forms. Poetry is not bound solely to the page. The famous phrase “poetry in motion” is a purpose of graceful fluidity, such that moves with tactful elegance throughout. Abstract, yet direct and completely beautiful to all 5 senses. We live with poetry every single day, even if we don’t have time to pick up a book.
To find poetry in the world, we often look to nature. To try to create an essence or impression of nature in art, we often turn to poetry. In my teaching, I try to teach in a way that takes into account my student’s developing mind as well as their heart, blending the two with their imagination. Poetry is one perfect way to do this. Each student brings their own unique perspective to analyzing a poem and their own special voice to the crafting of their own poems. Poems can be successful in any number of ways, but calling on the senses of our readers is crucial.
What makes poetry even more incredible is that the reader is welcome to read between the lines, to string together their own meanings and ideas, to bring their own working palette of comprehension to the experience of reading. I feel this way with my students in this distance learning course and in the monthly poetry workshops we have created together. In these workshops, students celebrate their classmates’ poems and give them the gift of constructive feedback. It is amazing to see how perceptive each student becomes, how kind and selfless they are in making another poet’s poem better.
Poetry exists around us all, and you can read into that statement all that you want! For it’s not simply an abstract or ambiguous thought, but a truth waiting for us all to discover.
Antony Yaeger received his undergraduate degree in Poetry and Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and his Masters of Science in Education and Waldorf Education from Sunbridge College, New York. Antony spent four years at the East Bay Waldorf High School in Berkeley, CA teaching poetry, photography, literature, and directing school plays. In 2009, Antony graduated once again from Sarah Lawrence College, this time earning a Masters Degree in poetry and creative writing. He encourages students to use writing as a tool forself-exploration and to gain clarity and perspective on world events by examining issues from new angles.
For more information on enrolling in Oak Meadow’s semester-long high school Poetry course with Antony Yaeger, click here.
For more information on purchasing Word: The Poet’s Voice curriculum for independent use, click here (on sale for the month of April 2017 in honor of National Poetry Month!)
As we move through the years of parenting and homeschooling, maintaining our connection with our children is essential. Nurturing this connection is the most important thing we can do as parents. We sometimes hear parents lamenting that they feel they’ve lost the connection with their child and are not sure how to get it back. Sometimes, especially when transitioning from school to homeschooling, we want to deepen the connection but aren’t sure where to start.
How can we as parents invite and strengthen a healthy connection with our children at all stages of development? Here are a dozen suggestions to foster a strong connection with your child:
Listen to your child with the attention and focus you would give another adult. Be fully present – make eye contact; stop multitasking; concentrate on what they are trying to say. Show with your body language that their words and thoughts are your priority in that moment. If they have a hard time getting words out, let them take the time they need, without giving up on the conversation. Attention is a big part of connection.
Let your child take the lead sometimes. It may mean things will be slower, messier, or less efficient. Give your child the gift of your patience and the opportunity to spread their wings and feel your trust in them. As their confidence grows, so will their effectiveness. Believe in them and they will believe in themselves.
Have fun together. What brings you both joy, makes you both smile, leaves you both feeling great afterward? Find shared interests and spend time doing them together. If you have a hard time finding common ground, start by sharing things that one of you enjoys and hopes the other might like. Ask your child for ideas, and be open-minded about trying them out. You might be surprised by the things you enjoy together!
Support your child in their passions (even or especially when you don’t share them) and invite them to honor yours. Each person in the family is a unique individual, and passions may vary widely among family members. Even if you’re not interested in something for its own sake, learn to appreciate how it is important to your child. In this same way, give them some insight into the passions you have so that they can gain an appreciation for differences in relationships, not just similarities.
Create opportunities for conversation. Car rides can be great for this when children are old enough to ride up front. Working quietly side by side at dishes or yardwork, or a leisurely walk outside, can also set the stage for talking and listening. Allow for quiet and potentially long pauses as you wait for each other to fill the space with thoughts and feelings. If nothing is forthcoming, ask an open-ended question and listen to your child’s response without interrupting or overriding their viewpoint.
Be humble. When you make a mistake, recognize it and own it. Show your child the side of yourself that is a lifelong learner. Embrace the opportunity to show them ways to make things right when you’ve erred. Apologize gently and thoroughly, and allow them to see that nobody is perfect, not even the most capable, experienced, confident people. By inviting our children to connect with the less-than-perfect side of ourselves and see us recover from a setback, we reassure them about their own vulnerabilities and their capacity for recovery.
Be accountable. Hold yourself to the same standards that you expect your child to meet. Hang up your coat and put your shoes away. Clear and rinse your dishes after a meal. When everyone in the family shares and participates in the work of the household, it is clear that everyone’s contribution is valuable. Working together for the good of the group is a bonding experience and helps to keep family members connected with each other.
Allow your child to disagree with you. Children need to feel secure in having their own opinion, and they may need to experience this over and over as they grow. You may need to help them learn to express their differences appropriately, and practicing this with them helps them grow into young adults who can remain connected and secure even through difficult conversations.
Make time for one-on-one. Spend individually devoted time with each of your children, no matter how many you have. If you have many, particularly small ones, this may be quite challenging. Think creatively. Perhaps an older child can ride along with you to an appointment, or one child at a time can walk with you to the mailbox and back each day. Or plan a simple “date” to read a favorite book in a comfortable chair together without interruptions from other family members. Any length of undivided attention lets them know they are important as an individual. That time is precious to a child, and it’s most effective when there are no other pressures or distractions. It is in these moments that a child will be able to open up their heart and connect with you in a way they ordinarily cannot.
Learn your child’s Love Language and find ways to use it regularly. Does your child need physical touch or words of affirmation? Do they thrive on one-on-one time or have a deep-rooted need to receive gifts? Are they most affirmed when someone does something helpful or thoughtful for them? Discovering the nature of your child’s need and how they best “hear” love from others can help you facilitate connection most effectively.
Encourage developmentally-appropriate independence. Every time your child heads off on their own, they will feel the pull to return to you, thus strengthening your connection with each other. Sometimes a little time apart, especially in the case of older children and young adults, helps both child and parent find new perspective to appreciate the other’s strengths and contributions.
Be a thoughtful role model. We model how we wish our children to connect with us, whether we are aware of it or not. If we are present, respectful, supportive, and open-minded in our interactions with our children, they will reflect those things back to us as well.
Staying connected with children throughout their childhood and into adulthood takes commitment, patience, and an open mind. It is worth the effort and will go a long way in making your family’s homeschooling experience enjoyable for everyone involved.
Does the idea that homeschooling parents need to be naturally artistic or compulsively creative stop you from trying? Don’t be fooled! Although there are plenty of parents who enjoy doing arts and crafts with their children, there are plenty who don’t. You can foster your children’s creative and artistic streaks even if you’re not sitting down at the table and eagerly leading the way. Here are some ideas to get you started and keep you moving forward:
1. Provide a variety of creative materials. Start by stocking up on basic, kid-friendly, age-appropriate supplies.
2. Establish a comfortable, easy-clean area for creating. It’s ideal to have a separate area with a table and nearby storage if possible. But if you don’t have abundant space, a vinyl tablecloth can protect any table or floor area from creative messes. Just shake or wipe down the tablecloth and put it away for the next round of creativity. Good lighting is also very helpful.
3. Store most materials in an accessible, kid-friendly way, with the important exception of anything you want to supervise. Some materials, particularly messy ones, might be available to young artists only “on request” until you’re sure they can handle the responsibility that such materials require. Even more important than making materials easily accessible is making it easy to store them away when the creating is done.
4. Remember that you do not have to teach your children how to create! Children are inherently creative beings. If you are not the sort of person who wants to patiently teach the proper methods, it’s perfectly fine to explain any safety points, and then just get out of the way and let your children figure things out for themselves. You might be surprised by what they come up with.
5. Open-ended situations allow for the widest range of creativity. Offering a variety of basic materials that feel good to use can bring about much more creativity than a preassembled kit for making a particular end product. You might encourage your children to think up new ways to use what they have at hand by saying something like, “Lots of people only paint with a paintbrush; can you think of any other good ways to apply paint to paper?”
6. There is no wrong way to be creative. Keep your own preconceived ideas out of it! Your child should be the one to decide what they will create and then explain to you in their own way what their creations mean. When your child inevitably asks, “What should I make?” follow it with, “What do you feel like making?” or “This is your project, so I can’t decide for you. What do you think you should make?”
7. Look to nature for variety and inspiration as needed. Go scavenging outdoors as a family, and bring natural materials back to your craft area. Encourage your children to incorporate them into their creations. Ask them to draw or paint or create a likeness of something they enjoyed seeing outside or make a mobile with their found objects.
8. Less can be more! One tool. One color. One type of material. Keeping it simple can help prevent everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having all possible materials staring at you at once can stop you in your creative tracks. If that happens, let simplicity be your guide. “What could we make if we only had paper and tape to work with?”
9. Be proactive about managing stress. Messy projects can be stressful for those who have to help clean them up! Set up your creative space for easy cleanup by keeping trash/recycling containers, a broom and dustpan, and a sponge handy. Keep smocks and/or aprons nearby. Cafeteria trays can also be helpful for containing bits and pieces. For projects with huge mess potential, consider setting up a creative space outdoors for easier cleanup.
10. Figure out your own challenges with creativity. What holds you back personally from feeling creative? Can you identify why you don’t feel like a creative person? Acknowledge your reasons, but don’t pass them on to your children. There is no right or wrong way to create. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel inspired to pick up a piece of modeling wax or put crayon to paper yourself, go ahead and see what flows.
11. When in doubt, follow the rainbow. It’s helpful to own a rainbow’s worth of colors of materials when possible: paper, crayons, paint, modeling wax. Sometimes all colors will be used, but sometimes choosing just one color at a time to explore with your child can also be very freeing. “How many different ways can we think of to create with the color red?”
12. Remember that the joy is in the process! Many decisions are part of a creative experience, from choosing materials and colors, to predicting the outcome of an action, to deciding how to respond to the results partway through, to deciding when a particular project is finished. Creating can also be a highly sensory experience, allowing a child to integrate sight and touch, and in some cases sound, smell, and/or taste. It can also be extremely imaginative – you may find your child narrating their creative process or creating a story about their creation. Be open to the value of the process itself, and don’t worry if the project gets abandoned before it is finished. One of the best rewards of fostering a creative experience is hearing your child say, “That was fun!”