Category: homeschooling

Homeschooling: Cheap and Easy Way to Teach Kids to Read

I’ve never used a formal Phonics curriculum with any of my children and 7 of my 10 children read well or are well on their way.

I say that for only one reason: educating children doesn’t take much money or a teaching degree.

Basically the way I  have taught all my children to read is to begin sounding out letters when they are around 5 or 6 years old, depending on their interest/frustration level. (Of course at this point, they’ve been read to since they were born.)

I do this with simple books and with a pencil and paper, pointing out or writing letters and helping them first identify the letter name and then learning the letter sound. (I don’t even teach my children the ABC song, although they end up learning it somehow.) I may only spend a few minutes a day at first on this exercise. Very laid back, no “you’ve got to learn to read now” approach.

After they learn basic letter sounds, I have two, old laminated letter blend charts that I teach, (tr, sp, fl, gr, cl, etc.) also in a laid-back fashion.

Today I found a super-easy and fun way to teach them.

Since we’re in wedding mode right now and the little girls are excited about being flower girls, it was perfect. I pointed out the first blend and asked, “Which two letters are getting married?” The child answered, “s and p.” (The younger ones are watching on with great suspicion too, and consequently, are learning their letter sounds by mere exposure.)

So with a silly voice and my two index fingers held at a distance, one finger said, “I’m s” and the other finger said, “I’m p and I’m going to marry you.” Then I made the “s” sound with one finger and the “p” sound with the other, and as they got closer, the sounds got closer, until the two fingers finally kissed and made the “sp” sound.

My reading child thought this was fabulous and wanted to do the rest herself, which she did, and it worked beautifully!

So go marry some letters and relax–they’ll learn to read!


Teaching Vocabulary is a Waste of Time

When I taught high school English I couldn’t understand why my students didn’t love their vocabulary workbooks. I mean here it was: WORDS and LISTS all on in place. How could you not love that? And so I would make up games to pique interests but in the end, some of them memorized enough words to pass the test and most of them forgot all the words afterwards.

“Teaching” vocabulary is a waste of time, in my opinion. Learning vocabulary isn’t. I’m a huge fan. But our understanding of the way words are learned is crucial if we want to make the best use of our time.

Vocabulary is learned the same whether you are 2 or 24. We learn words by hearing them and reading them in context. Even when the words are too hard to understand, over time, they become a natural part of our vocabulary if they are a regular part of it. (Conversely, trying to memorize words that are not used regularly will be forgotten. Ask anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language without practicing it regularly.)

We would do well to continually revisit the way a baby learns. It’s so natural and none of us stresses about it (until the latest hogwash propaganda about “learning readiness”). Then someone convinces us that even though we were brilliant at learning when we were babies and toddlers, we lose that ability at 5 or 6 then someone has to come in and rescue us to keep us from becoming idiots.

Language builds upon itself. With a rich environment of reading and mature conversation, the formal study of vocabulary pales as a rival.

This is fantastic news for homeschooling parents. Vocabulary doesn’t need to be a separate subject. Instead, we need to grow our own vocabularies, use them in our daily conversations, and make sure our children are reading rich literature instead of twaddle.

Because we learn vocabulary through what we hear the most, other things that profoundly affect a child’s language development are peers and media. Most children are with peers for the majority of the day and so their vocabulary reflects that. As a homeschooling parent, be aware of the numerous opportunities in the day that you are teaching just through dialogue.

And make sure those opportunities aren’t being robbed by the constant distraction of media. Conversation will not take place unless it is given space to happen.

If your own vocabulary is lacking, I would suggest learning a new word each day as a family. Write it on a chalk board or prominent place in the house and then challenge everyone to use it as often as they can.

Learning language is phenomenal and yet quite simple. Save your time and put away the unrelated lists of words. Instead, weave them into the fabric of your life.

I Didn’t Notice School Had Begun (Relaxed Homeschooling)

The school bus passed yesterday and it reminded me that another school year had begun. School doesn’t begin at our house. But it doesn’t end either. I don’t have any opposition to starting school or new notebooks and new curriculum. But for us, learning is too intertwined in our lives to mark it with stops and starts. That’s just the way we roll. And it’s fine if you roll differently.

It’s hard to think outside of schedules and calendars and school years when we’ve been so ingrained in that lingo. But if we can ever just stop and look past our time tables and the way everyone else is doing it and just peel back all the stuff and remember what learning is, it gets easier.

And whether it’s Saturday night or Monday morning, we learn. We learn without deadlines to make us grumpy or timelines that compare us to others who aren’t us.

If deadlines and tight schedules are your thing, I think you should keep it. But if it isn’t, and it’s stressing you, you need to know it isn’t necessary.

Not that we don’t have order or schedules or times set aside for learning specific things, but I’ve learned that life is too precious to be crowded out by the expectations of others. Time is too fleeting to let “school” elbow our relationships aside.

I don’t want to be ruled by charts and clocks and tests and grades. That’s not real life. Life is learning about anything and everything all the time, beside the ones you love.

And if you want to know more about this relaxed style of homeschooling we do, I’ve written an book all about it: Think Outside the Classroom: A Practical Approach to Relaxed Homeschooling. I hope it brings you some peace.

This is what a customer wrote me just last week:

“Kelly – I just wanted to thank you for your “Think Outside the Classroom” book. I consumed it just a couple of hours one quiet afternoon last week and could have done cartwheels through the living room as I finished. It was so freeing!!!” -Julie

So Much Good Stuff to Inspire Your Homeschool Year

Homeschooling Myth Busters Series

Part 2: Socialization

Part 3: Sheltering

Part 4: “Proof is in the Puddin’”

Part 5: Academics

Part 6: Only One Way to Learn

Myth Buster Extra: How Do You Teach?

Embracing the Homeschool Advantage: A Living Education

Homeschooling: Help When You Fear You’re Not Doing it Right

How to Homeschool When You Think You Can’t

Homeschool For Free

Homeschooling Preschoolers Naturally

Operation Conversation: The Missing Ingredient to a Great Education

Homeschooling on Accident: Don’t Fret the Interrupted Day

Teaching English Simply

Creating a Lifestyle of Learning


How We Do Relaxed Homeschooling: Life is Our Classroom

Lindsey commented on “Summer Family Happenings at the Crawfords” and asked a question I thought I would answer in a post. Here is her question:

“I know you have often posted about non-book learning being a great education, and I clearly see through your children’s talents that’s working well for you all, but wondering specifics of how to do this. Example, say my son wanted to take pictures all day I’m not sure I would happily say yes as I would feel there are other things in the day to accomplish. Or letting my kids get on the internet…I’m super stingy with the internet and screen time in general. I just would really like more specifics if you ever get the chance.”

For someone not familiar with what I call a relaxed approach to homeschooling, there are lots of posts like “Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, parts 1, 2 & 3” as well as my ebook Think Outside the Classroom, to familiarize yourself with this multi-faceted approach which I won’t have room to fully explain here.

But to answer some specifics about how we implement it, even though there is no one way and every family will look quite different, I offer the following ideas:

  • First, we don’t “take off” from school, though the level of structure may vary throughout the year. Since we embrace the idea that learning happens all the time, school is always in session.
  • We implement some structure while still allowing plenty of freedom for individual pursuits. Our day typically begins with Bible (all of us) followed by a read aloud (the older ones may not stay for this), chore time, copy work, math and silent reading, during which time I may work with a younger child with reading or I may pair up an older child with a younger one. Other than those constants, most of our learning involves reading, hands-on-learning, games, video tutorials/documentaries, and discussion, not necessarily all in one day.

I’ve done different things with different children for our structured part of the day. Some have followed a few subjects through All-in-One-Homeschool. We’ve used a variety of curriculum (I like A.C.E. math) and for the younger ones, we’ve implemented games and real-life activities to teach math. Also, I’ve loved the books in A Math Adventure which offer a creative, literary spin on teaching math concepts. We don’t discredit things like construction for valuable lessons in math as well.

I add things along too, like a simple typing course which I require all my kids to learn before they can start emailing and such.

  • I give them lots of freedom to pursue their own interests, and I greatly encourage their creativity and productivity.
  • I let them try new things and make messes. Sometimes they’ll ask me if they can do something and my first inclination may be to say “no” just because it seems too hard or they’ll make a mess, or whatever. But more often than not I’m inclined to go ahead and let them. My son who loves machines wanted to try weed-eating when he seemed too young. But we let him try and his determination was enough to help him hold a machine too heavy for him. He learned very early and became good at it. Now he can not only do it well, but at the age of 9 he can also fix the machine. This applies to my girls too, with whatever endeavors they want to attempt. I have found great value in helping our kids figure out they are capable of big things. Whether it’s chopping up vegetables in the kitchen or building a table, I say give them a shot.
  • A huge part of our education paradigm involves a level of trust unfamiliar to the way we were taught to think about education. We’re so geared to the idea of “teaching children” that we forget they were created to learn and do remarkably well on their own. I am always battling my own notions but so far, I can see that there really is something miraculous in a child’s curiosity and his drive to find answers to life’s questions.  Which is probably the best summary of a relaxed-learning approach: raise questions and trust that the pursuit of finding the answer is an adequate education.

For example, I’ve mentioned previously how naturally children learn to tell time, add and subtract, tie their shoes, grow their vocabulary and a thousand other things without much deliberate effort at all. There is great freedom realizing that we don’t have to teach them everything.

  • My disclaimer: I have a child who, though she loved the idea of relaxed learning, preferred more structure. This wasn’t a problem, I simply let her follow that style.
  • The best environment for any education is a rich one, which simply means children have access to conversation, good books and tools.
  • We don’t have gadgets (i.e. phones, games, etc.) besides a computer, which we monitor and try to utilize for educational and enrichment purposes, and while every family feels differently about technology, my thought is to keep as many distractions away that would prevent them from reading books and living life as possible in the growing years. It’s just simpler to me. My older children do have an MP3 player they are allowed to use when they mow grass or do similar work, but not any time they want.
  • We try to give them all different opportunities to create products and sell them, no matter how small the scale. There are great learning opportunities in a business model.
  • We give a lot of room for play time with the younger children, a time when their imaginations are full throttle and they are exploring, problem-solving and creating through imaginative play. We try to keep crafts and toys available that would facilitate that play, but the best kind is done when we are hands-off.

And I think it was my favorite education reformer, John Taylor Gatto who said “we don’t have to worry so much about educating children; a normal child would have to be locked up and away from life itself to keep from learning.”

Life is our classroom. Talk, read, look, listen, discover, make, build, create, play, think, tell stories, write stories–we were made to learn what we need to learn. Education doesn’t have to be so hard.

Top 5 Summer Homeschool Hacks

Homeschooling for us means school is never out. Once we started thinking outside the classroom, our philosophy of education changed drastically and brought much freedom to our lives. Because learning isn’t on a schedule. So we like variety, especially in the summer when other projects are pressing.

Here are my top 5 favorite “homeschool hacks” to make homeschooling simpler and more fun:

1. Neo K12–A huge list of educational videos especially helpful to supplement a subject study. They even have music lessons. Education Portal is another video-learning site. User discretion is advised.

2. Educational Trivia Cards–Professor Noggins Cards make learning facts on all sorts of subjects fun and easy. These are especially good for travel.

3. Nature Field Guides are excellent for accompanying romps in the woods (or park or backyard). Children love discovering and field guides are the perfect tools for making sense of the world around them.

4. Using parental discretion, of course, youtube is a wealth of information and how-to for just about anything one can imagine, as well as providing inspiration for young entrepreneurs. My son who is very mechanically-minded spent two hours recently watching “How to repair small engines” and was inspired to try his hand at a real one. Browse the channels to find what you’re looking for–anything from culinary class to worm farming (our current project!) Master Chef Jr. is the favorite of my budding chefs, and one of my children is learning fashion design from the tutorials there.

5. Games. It’s because we grew up in a desk in a classroom in a school building that we probably don’t think about games as part of our school day. But games often teach in a way that makes sense to kids. Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Chess, and Where in the World are just a few.

So have some fun and remember learning happens all the time!

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