Against Overcomplication: Keep Teaching Simple

We have an awkwardly designed kitchen from the 50s. At least, that’s how it seems to us who live in the 21st century. I have to turn around 180 degrees to go from the stove to the counter.

There is very little that is streamlined. Often, my husband will watch my awkward attempts at serving dinner and bring the pot of food to the counter to fix things.

Against Overcomplication

Why do I mention my kitchen habits? For the simple reason that my clumsy cooking habits, no doubt created by my kitchen, often find an echo in some odd teaching habits I see around me.

I have already written about how some will pick a curriculum just because it’s difficult. But here I want to write about  we tend to overcomplicate teaching some things when the truth is we need to keep it simple.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Simplification is the essence of teaching. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The problem is sometimes we do – we do understand it. But we want to explain it four different ways to make sure they understand it.

I suggest we stop. Pick one way that you think is easiest and explain it. If, and only if, it doesn’t make sense that way, try another.

This is especially true in math. But it is equally true in history.

In our Common Core culture, we rush to give multiple ways of solving math problems, multiple narratives of history and a thousand perspectives on what happened, depending on where you were standing.

This is often unnecessary and complicates things.

Keep it Simple

Especially in the younger years, when we’re dealing with the grammar stage, keep it simple. The time for nuance and multiple perspectives will come with the logic and especially in the rhetoric stage.

Just stick with the facts for now, and keep it simple. If something can be learned through play or simple concepts, don’t rush to make it academic.

In other words, if it works, leave it alone. Keep teaching as simple as it can be and no simpler.

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Best Education Related Stories of the Month

It’s been a good, full month of education and homeschooling related news. So instead of my weekly news and views, I thought I’d do a “best of” feature.

These were the news stories that got the most interaction on Facebook and elsewhere.

On to the news…

Unschooling was mentioned in Good Housekeeping in March, a sure sign that it’s going mainstream.

A post that got quite a few comments on Facebook was also this one where scientists claimed that learning styles are essentially nonsense. See if you can read and agree or – as some of my readers did – completely disagree.

Also in news this month, not directly related to education but interesting from a family’s point of view, a coded text and how a dad chose to respond.

And if you’re a stay at home mom, you must, must read this rebuttal of the common idea that you’ve wasted your education.

And more news!

On the more personal front, I’ve done very little reading this week. But I have a very good reason for it. Here it is.

Ta-da!

Now you can pre-order my new book Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum: A Step by Step Guide and have it delivered to your Kindle when it is released in May!

If you’re one of those who likes a paperback copy, that will be available in May as well. If you would like updates on that as well as be entered into giveaways in the future, get on my mailing list here.

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Rituals and Habits in Homeschooling

How you drink your tea or coffee in the morning might tell you more about your homeschooling habits than you think.

What are your habits?

I ask that as a genuine question, not to be flippant. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to give up drinking coffee. We were trying to solve some inflammation issues and thought we’d see if giving up coffee resolved them. (As an aside, they didn’t and we were miserable, so we’re back on our favorite bitter beverage.)

While we were experimenting with tea, however, I noticed two things about us. These two things were central to how we functioned as a family and so they directed everything including our homeschooling, especially our homeschooling.

Habits Shape your Homeschool

… or they should anyway. In my new, upcoming book Create Your Own CurriculumI mention how it is very important to consider the little rituals, daily habits and personality of your family. This is because homeschooling is extremely personal and unique to every family

Standardized education in public schools has led people to think that they can replicate and copy systems, structures and methods of teaching. We can not. It is our personalities that are the most important thing in our homeschool.

What our Family Does Might Not Work For You

So how do you drink your morning beverage? This is a ritual for many, including me.  Zak Slayback has a very interesting article about how and why he likes to spend ten minutes every morning making coffee. Now that would never be me. I don’t like spending much time on it. I like the taste of it but I don’t care for the ceremony of it.

It’s the same with tea. I have friends who love the ceremony of it. They adore the tea infusers and store ten different kinds of tea in glass jars. They use tea kettles. I use tea bags and heat my water in the microwave oven.

It’s the same with our homeschooling for the most part. I don’t stand on ceremony. I take a pretty practical approach to it. As I have written before, as long as the children are learning, I don’t care how they learn. I don’t care about the ceremony of schooling if they’re getting an education.

So spend some time thinking about your homeschooling habits and those of your family. You might find that they give you clues to how best structure your efforts at education.

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Reading Slayback’s “The End of School”

School took me away from the learning I wanted to engage in and made me focus on things I didn’t want. I loved learning; I just hated school. – Zachary Slayback

I came across a delightful book a few months ago. I think every homeschooler / unschooler ought to read it, especially if you have older children.


Another reason to read it even if you have little children and are perhaps only taking the first few steps toward homeschooling? To form a conviction about college and be able to guide your kids appropriately right from the start.

Now, before you form any opinions for or against college, let me say the book is not an argument against college as much as it is a plea to do something better or at least go there knowing what you want.

Slayback makes two great points:

  1. A college education was never the panacea to poverty and helplessness as preached by most today. It was simply a correlation of the prosperity that occurred post World War II and not a causation of it.
  2. Even if you are in favor of a college education, there is no reason separate it from work in the real world. When we create and enforce this artificial barrier between the two, it makes us think that work is just a necessity and not essential. Education and work are both important and when we don’t compartmentalize the two, they have a much greater impact on our lives. In his Slayback’s own words, “Studying Bertrand Russell’s philosophy of work can be great when you aren’t working, but it can have life-altering impacts when you are working. Getting a good grasp of economics can appear valuable in the abstract, but it can mean the difference between staying in your current job and launching your startup when you are working.”

An excellent book well worth your time. Get it here.

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Homeschoolers Are Not Above Peer Pressure

When was the last time you heard about socializing your children? There used to be a time, from what homeschoolers who have been pioneers tell me, when that was the question on everyone’s lips.

Not so any more. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.

After all, we know what “socialization” means. In a lot of cases, it simply means peer pressure, unhealthy peer pressure at that.

But just because you are homeschooling does not mean that you are above peer pressure. Yes, I’m talking about you.

A Confession

When I see what other homeschooling parents are doing, my initial reaction for far too long has not been Oh, I’m so glad that works for you but a gnawing worry about if I should be doing what their family does.

Why the second guessing?

I know what we do is right for us. I know it beyond the shadow of a doubt. Heck, I wrote a book about it! And yet, the questions nag.

Home Grown Impostor Syndrome

I’ve come to believe that this nagging doubt that I am somehow not doing this right, that other people know better, are doing better, know more and have it all together is not unique to me or to homeschooling at all.

It is, in fact, a well known phenomenon called “impostor syndrome” and affects even those who are the best in their respective fields.

Impostor syndrome is a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement. While these people are highly motivated to achieve, they also live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds. – Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes

Remember that there is evidence of achievement here. That evidence is your biggest defense against feeling this way.

And then…

If, like me, you experience doubt and uncertainty in the face of wild success, remember what you’re feeling is a push to socialize in the worst sense of the word.

What you’re experiencing is peer pressure. Rise above it.

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News and Views of the Week

It’s been a mixed bag sort of week for homeschoolers. Lots of interesting news to delve into. So let’s get right to it!

First the News…

Should you trust learning styles or shouldn’t you? If you’ve watched your children’s personalities and taught them as they learn best, you know what works with them. But scientists are now saying there is no such thing as learning styles.

A wonderful collection of pictures of homeschooled children also caught my eye this week and reminded me of much of our homes. Some of these are great.

An argument for why kids should start academics later rather than sooner was covered here. In the same vein, I was glad to read in a mainstream news outlet that we make children sit still for way too long in schools. The solution may not what we want (yet) but it’s a start.

A coded text and how this family uses it to protect their children also made the news this week. I so love this idea!

Then the views!

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had much of a chance to read. It is at times like these that I grab the shorter books so I at least have a sense of completion. I save the longer ones for when there’s time to delve deep.

This is what I’ve been reading this week. If you wish, you can follow me on Goodreads where I list what I am reading as well. My current goal is 200 books this year.

Have a great weekend!

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Teach Kids to Cook: Indispensable Tools

A few months ago, I wrote about a blog post focusing on food and teaching kids to cook. Considering we all love a good meal, our family takes training in such matters very seriously.

Since that blog post was received so well, I thought I would write another one about it. This time I thought I would focus especially on the tools needed to teach kids to cook.

Teach kids to cook: the only 3 things you need

I am not a fan of Master Chef when it comes to cooking although I like watching it for occasional inspiration. Why, you may ask? For the simple fact that it turns what should be fun and experimental into something professionals do. Our everyday food is not gourmet. I seek to teach my children to feed themselves and their families, not enter competitions.

Aprons

With that said, I consider a good apron a necessity. And not just because I wear one. I see aprons as important because when they entered the kitchen first, my children were clearly very bothered by the fact that it was very hands-on. Never mind that they were just playing in the dirt outside. Aprons gave them the freedom to work without worrying about “getting dirty.”


Knives

A good junior knife set is also a great idea when it comes to kids. Although my daughter is extremely proficient with an adult chef’s knife, when it comes to teaching my two sons, I get nervous. There’s just something about the way they hold it that does not inspire confidence. So for kids like them, a junior knife set, either nylon or steel works great.


If you want to get into it, there are all kinds of other fun things like kitchen measures for kids and cookie making tools, but we tend to be minimalist in the kitchen. We don’t like clutter and we like to leave our counters clean, so we steer away from excess.

Recipe books

However, the third thing you should probably get are some great inspiring recipe books they can cook from. When we start out teaching, I have the kids help me make dinner or lunch – one by one, of course, not all at the same time in the kitchen. That’s a recipe for a disaster, pun intended.

But eventually, if they don’t do something on their own, they tend to lose interest. Having them create something from start to finish keeps them interested and learning. (A crockpot meal is usually the easiest first meal for kids to cook because there is no open flame.)


The most important thing while teaching kids to cook is to make it part of the everyday work / play routine and not treat it as something special. We cook, we clean, we read, we play, we sleep. Teach them with that in mind and make them self-reliant.

Happy cooking!

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Ogden Nash Poetry – When You Crave Whimsy

When we come back from our local public library, I can’t get my children to do anything but read. My daughter, especially, will have her head buried in her new discoveries, oblivious to the world around her. And she’ll be having a rip roaring time with the book, too. Laughing and smiling and thoroughly immersed in it.

I miss that. I miss entering a world of fantasy and whimsy. (and let’s admit it – for children learning something new, the whole world is full of fantasy and whimsy!) Oh, these jaded grown-up eyes.

But wait, as they say in those television commercials, there’s more hope.

Enter Ogden Nash Poetry

If picking up your kids’ fantasy literature and reading it is too much for you to imagine, try this on for size. Find some Ogden Nash poetry.

Ogden Nash was a rather prolific American poet who wrote over 500 pieces of poetry.

Here’s one gem.

Oh some people grieve for New Year’s Eve,

And some for the dog days fiddle;

My moment sublime is the restful time

When the month is at the middle.

I stumbled on Ogden Nash quite accidentally. I was reading The Tale of Custard the Dragon to my youngest child – a treat for your mouth, by the way and so fun! – and I began to wonder if this writer had written anything else. So off I went to Amazon to see what else I could find.

And I came away so much richer.



In the evenings, when I don’t want to commit to reading a big tome of a book, Ogden Nash’s poetry is the perfect antidote to tiredness. It’s possibly the only book of poetry I can say feels refreshing. My husband has often seen my laugh out loud while reading it. And I am not one of those LOL people. I’m more of smile-at-a-joke person.  

Here’s another quote to whet your appetite.

Does anybody mind if I don’t live in a house that is quaint?

Because, for one thing, quaint houses are generally houses where plumbing ain’t,

And while I don’t hold with fanatical steel-and-glass modernistic bigots,

Still, I do think it simplifies life if you live it surrounded by efficient pipes and faucets and spigots.

So if you catch yourself watching your kids gleefully enjoying a book and wish you had some good, light reading, pick up some Ogden Nash poetry. It’s just plain fun. And a lot of his books are now available for just a penny!


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Why Homeschooling is Hard (And How to Simplify It)

Let’s face it. Some days, we don’t see the horizon. Some days, homeschooling is hard. We begin to do something, then have to do something else and another thing. We gain no momentum. And at the end of the day we feel burnt out and worse, jaded against the whole idea of homeschooling in the first place.

Does it need to be this way? No, of course not. But in our daily lives, it can often seem this way. How can we get over it?

Let me introduce you to the power of the template.

The Power of the Template

A few days ago, I gave up drinking coffee. The caffeine was interfering with my ability to think and leaving me feeling worn out and jittery, so I decided I would be better off without it.

The results were not good, of course. I distinctly remember feeling like I carried around my personal fog with me. Everything seemed gray. The feeling was accentuated by the rainy days we were experiencing. All I wanted was sleep. In fact, I sat down at one point only to wake up an hour later. I had in fact fallen asleep without meaning to!

The Good News

The great thing I discovered that day was that the only thing that went off without a hitch was our homeschool day. Homeschooling was not hard!

I have written before about how I organize our homeschooling day and also have a few videos I have made about it on my Facebook page, but today I’m taking a step back from a schedule to talk about a template.

(Article continues below form – scroll down to continue.)

Oh, by the way, I’m releasing The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Creating Your Own Curriculum in May 2017. If you’re interested in the book, be sure to sign up for my mailing list below to receive updates and to be entered into the list for giveaways!

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Sometimes when you mention a schedule, people balk. I do, too. If you plunked down a few tasks in front of me and said, “Okay, so do these in the same order every single day until you don’t have to think about them!” I probably won’t know where to start.

So don’t start – yet. The trick is to figure out the template before you start.

Think about it. The weather has a template – summer, fall, winter and spring follow with regularity. Night follows day. Recessions follow expansions. What are these but templates?

A Rhythm for Homeschooling

Figure out your rhythm, your template for homeschooling before you create a schedule and you will do far better.

How do you do this? Take a good look at your day. Don’t think of the ideal day, think of a normal day. Don’t try to change it or idealize it. Simply observe it and note it down.

Then figure out out what you can include in your day or how you can arrange it to fit you and your family best. If you don’t like working out first thing in the morning, don’t! If your children would rather do their work at night and leave the day free for play, let them! There is no one size fits all approach in homeschooling.

The trick of course is to figure out your personal template. Every spring day is not the same, nor is every night or day. Add your personal signature to the template after you’ve refined it.

And simplify your homeschooling.

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News and Views of the Week

First the news…

It’s been a bit of a slow news week, especially on the homeschooling front except for the big news in that unschooling is probably going mainstream. No way to tell for sure, of course. But this article in Good Housekeeping sure seems to point in that direction.

On the national front, President Trump is cutting funds from the Education Department by 13.2% – what has been referred to as a dramatic downsizing. You can read all the details about that here.

A new study released this week shows the benefits of actually writing things down with pen and paper as more helpful to learning than typing with a keyboard.

And here’s proof of why homeschoolers & unschoolers are better learners as adults: teaching others is the best way to learn, according to this article.

Then the views!

I’ve been continuing my study in the Greek classics – which I briefly mentioned in my post yesterday: The Real Tragedy of Education Today

I had a chance to read some very exciting books this week, which I will have posts about in the upcoming days but I wanted to mention one in particular that is excellent: Grit by Angela Duckworth. It is a fascinating look at what makes grit and the real surprise I found was that she sounds a lot like an unschooler when it comes right down to it. Do yourself a favor and read it!


Well, that’s it from me this side of Friday. Have a good weekend!

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