Titus’ birthday balloons became an instant color lesson for my little girl. I let her play with colors and I helped her identify them. She’s still a long way from getting it, but these balloons provided a great hands-on color lesson. Homeschooling toddlers is so much fun!
This morning, I taught the kids how to make Popsicle puppets. We used cut out pieces of colored paper, pasted on goodly eyes and drew smiles, made pipe cleaner curly ears, and stuck everything together with double sided tape and voila! The kids had a blast with their cousins making up stories and putting on a show for me. I was thoroughly entertained! It was definitely a fun way to teach communication and language skills.
I have often heard other moms talk about how difficult it is to get their sons interested in writing. Well, now I am one of them. My 9 year old, Elijah, is an incredibly intelligent boy but writing is his least favorite activity.
Last Friday was one of those days when he resisted an assignment I gave him. He was asked to write a short story using the vocabulary words he learned and he was visibly upset about it. Sigh. In my heart, I was wrestling with my own rising irritation. I watched him bury his face in his hands, yank at his nose a zillion times, and then stare at nothing. We sat like this for about twenty minutes and he wrote zero sentences.
One of the amazing things about homeschooling, however, is that it is a character education for me, too. So I prayed and committed not to lose my temper. And I didn’t, but he heard me say that I was frustrated. (Oops)
He started tearing and said, “I feel bad because you are mad at me.”
I replied, “I am not angry or mad.”
“But you said you were frustrated.”
“I did say that and I am sorry. I was frustrated, but our relationship is more important to me than your writing assignment.”
To reassure him, I gave him a big hug and held him for a while. Yet, the teacher mom in me knew that Elijah had to learn to write. I couldn’t let him remain negative towards this skill. It was an important ability that he needed to develop. And while I believe in allowing children to learn at their own pace, I also believe that they can be lovingly encouraged and challenged to do hard things.
It wasn’t just about doing a writing activity, it was about overcoming self-doubt and self-imposed limitations and negativity. I knew that Elijah could write and that I wasn’t asking him to do something beyond his capacity. But I was asking him to do something that wasn’t comfortable or easy for him. The question was, what strategy would work to motivate him?
God gave me an idea…
I continued our dialogue, “I need to ask you something. Do you think there is anything you can improve on? Do you think your heart is right?”
He shook his head to mean, “No.”
“What do you think is wrong?” He admitted that he didn’t like writing and didn’t want to do it.
“Do you think it’s okay that you have this attitude toward writing?”
He shook his head again. Another, “No.”
At this point in our conversation, I knew that he recognized his aversion to writing. He knew it was not good or right.
When I saw him soften up a little, I said, “Okay, I want you to repeat after me…”
I don’t like writing but I will try my best for Jesus. I asked me to say this several times until it became somewhat comical and he started to smile. There is my Elijah! I thought to myself. Breakthrough.
It was my opportunity to try again.
“How about we do this. Choose 10 of the vocabulary words to use in a story and you can write about a topic that you like. You can also use my computer to do it.”
“Can I choose my own font?” He asked.
Prior to this, his assignment was to write a story using about 20 words and he had to use them in the order they were dictated. This was stressful for him. But when I changed the mechanics of the assignment and gave him enough space to be creative, he was excited. I also said, “Afterwards, you can play the educational game about countries on my IPad.”
“Thank you, mom! This is more motivating.”
I left him to work on the computer and when I came back, he composed a wonderful piece. Mission accomplished!
Here is a copy of what he wrote: (Re-printed with permission from Elijah)
One day there was a commotion outside the house. There was a booth that allowed you to get free plane tickets that let you go on an expedition anywhere in the world! There was a long line when I looked out the window. There were about 150 people waiting to get tickets! A few days later we got tickets and we chose this place called Adventure Islands.
Once we got there, we first went into the subterranean cave. The next day we reached one of the precipices. We climbed up to the top, and I saw an eyrie below us and an ingenious invention flying above us. We also went to one of the mystery places. I was flummoxed by how the place looked. Soon we saw some menacing, dark rain clouds overhead. We settled in an uncanny place and it was a bit eerie for a while, but soon we fell asleep.
The next day it was time to go home. Three days later we got home. I looked out of the window and saw that the booth was gone. But soon we might go on another adventure…..
After I read what Elijah wrote, I immediately said, “This is fantastic, son. You are such a good writer!” He was quite happy with this encouragement. And I meant it. He was able to use difficult vocabulary in the right context. For a 9 year old who seemed mentally constipated an hour earlier, I was very pleased with his output.
This experience was a confirmation that academic goals are achievable even if I don’t follow the cookie-cutter approach to teaching. I customized my son’s learning experience. And customization is a key benefit of homeschooling.
The reality is that a teacher educating thirty kids will not be able to customize assignments for each of the children she teaches. Yet many times customization is exactly what a child needs to be engaged and motivated to learn. When children are engaged and motivated they do not need to be coerced or pleaded with to learn or try their best. In contrast, when they are uninspired, getting them to do their work feels like pulling teeth…teeth that won’t come out!
Therefore, my challenge as a homeschool mom is not getting my children to do their work but inspiring them to do their best and to love learning. It requires me to adjust (which is not always easy or comfortable or me) and it requires a whole lot of prayer for grace, wisdom, and patience, but the results are worth it!
We’ve got more writing assignments to deal with this coming week, but I am looking forward to how God will move in the heart of my son and help us get through these challenges.
Betty, a friend of mine, sent me the link for this video of Sir Ken Robinson on Ted Talks. He makes “an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.” Let it challenge your thinking on the education of your child.
While I have been away from home and the kids, I have had time to do some research on education. My curiosity was piqued when I found out that many of the top higher learning institutions in the U.S. are using a blended learning software to make lessons and lectures accessible to students anytime and anywhere. This means that students have a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to learning. It sounded a little bit like homeschooling to me – at least delivery wise, where the learning is made more suitable to a student’s needs.
As I researched further, I chanced upon a lecture given by educator, Ken Robinson. In case you are wondering who in the world this guy is, he is “an author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
Anyway, his talk was fascinating. He threw out concepts like, “Why in the world do people still believe the best way to educate children is to segregate them by age?” Children, according to him, have different strengths and abilities often beyond their age group but they are forced to learn subjects according to the pace of their class.
Another thing he pointed out is that divergent thinking is an ability that people lose as they go through the educational system. Divergent thinking is the ability to conceptualize multiple ways of arriving at a solution (just think of the word, creativity). People with the capacity for divergent thinking may not necessarily have high IQ, but they are highly creative. Which just supports the fact that IQ is no longer the only standard for intelligence.
For example, if a person was asked, “how many ways can you use a paper clip?” A person who is good at divergent thinking might come up with oh, 200 ways of to use a paper clip! Hmm…this sounds a lot like the way children think when they find a crazy number of ways to use toilet paper, or boxes, or a favorite toy.
In fact, children are the best at divergent thinking! According to a study that Robinson presented, children ages 3 to 5 scored 98% for divergent thinking. Sadly, the percentage dropped significantly. By ages 8 to 10, they scored 32%; by ages 13 to 15, they scored 10%; and by ages 25+, a dismal 2%. What do these results say? As children move through school levels their ability to think creatively decreases. The most likely reason is they tend to follow more conventional thought processes as taught in schools. And by adults, taking the most logical route to solve a problem is the norm, and exploring multiple scenarios or ways is not. This is probably why organizations often need to schedule brainstorming sessions which can take hours!
Do we even need divergent thinking? First, I believe that the greatest minds in history were divergent thinkers. They invented and discovered new ways of doing things and persevered to see their ideas become reality. They didn’t think like everybody else. (Steve Jobs is a case in point). Thanks to divergent thinkers’ willingness to dream, take risks, think outside of the box, and persist in the pursuit of their ideas, they have changed the world. Okay, so there is such as a thing as divergent thinking gone bad. Let it be said that if divergent thinking does not ultimately serve the common good or fail to bring glory to God then there is no value in it.
Second, organizations and corporations need divergent thinkers who can brainstorm and propose unconventional ways to solve real life issues and problems. For example, if a company needs to find ways to cut costs and have exhausted all known logical means but have not been able to solve their problem, they will need to apply some divergent thinking.
Third, divergent thinking is a gift from God that should not be robbed from children. God has given each child the inherent capacity to imagine, invent, dream and believe in impossibilities. I see this in my own kids. One of my sons loves marbles. He can play with them all day. Marbles are not just round, shiny objects to him. They are pocket treasures, bouncy sound makers, things that can fit into small holes or other odd containers, they can be hidden in different locations around our house, they can be rolled in many directions, they are math manipulatives, tools for making craters in Playdough, and sometimes, they are company under his pillow at night. I don’t tell him how to play with marbles. He creates these options on his own. I hope marbles will never just be marbles to him.
So how do we help preserve this divergent thinking in our children? Here are some suggestions:
- Allow your children to ask questions. Encourage them to make inquiries and find the answers.
- Give them time to reflect and think. Children don’t need to be constantly entertained or amused.
- Involve them in brainstorming for family projects or activities.
- Have open sharing of ideas without criticizing them. (This will also give you insight into what’s going on inside their hearts.)
- Ask them questions that don’t always have obvious answers.
- Let them keep a journal where they can chronicle their thoughts and draw their ideas.
- Do art frequently.
- Encourage them to learn a musical instrument. “Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that musicians are more adept at utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and more likely to use divergent thinking in their thought processes.” (Thank you again, Wikipedia)
As a last thought, divergent thinking is most productive when it leads a person to contribute to greater good and when it glorifies God. Wisdom should always trump any kind of thinking. God exercised creativity when he made the universe, but his creativity was full of wisdom. The Bible says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
If you are concerned about your children losing the joys of creativity because of schooling, then why not consider homeschooling? Homeschooling gives lets children exercise divergent thinking, but allows you to guide their creativity with the wisdom of God’s word.
Science is always more fun when it is hands-on! Elijah spent about an hour and a half putting this project together. The time passed quickly and I helped him a little but he kept working till he finished. This kit was from China but I am always on the look out for science kits that are sold locally. Kidz Labs are a great option and sold for relatively inexpensive at Toys R Us or Toy Kingdom.
The kids played with these wire racks from the kitchen and turned them into toys — spinning tops. I just love seeing the boys invent games with household items.
Kids really don’t need high tech or expensive toys. They are quite simple and can find ways to entertain themselves. I think it is us, as parents, who complicate things.
We dropped by Hobbes and Landes this afternoon and the kids picked out a 3-D puzzle set of famous architectural structures. They spent several hours finishing each one of the puzzles and really enjoyed themselves.
Ever since our eldest son, Elijah, said he wanted to be an architect we have tried to be intentional about the toys we buy. And so I was really thrilled when I saw this one at Hobbes and Landes. I did not expect the boys to finish putting all of the structures together today, but they did!
At least there are several boxes of these 3-D puzzle sets being sold at Hobbes and Landes. I might have to go back and get another one soon! For a little over P400 pesos I thought it was a good alternative to TV or computer games.