Storytelling, Murder and what that has to do with Homeschooling

Above is a photo I took in the upstairs of the log house at the William Harris Homestead.  Oh, what those walls could tell us if they could talk!

There is nothing I love more than old, family stories.  I have written a few of my grandmother’s stories for the Barrow Journal, and recently I wrote a story about the Harris Family, whom I am related to through marriage.

My Great Aunt Jesse Harris wrote down a story about her husband’s great uncle, who committed murder in 1841 very near where I live today.  It was a heinous act that makes a fascinating story all these years later, and if you’d like to read it, click here.

But what does this have to do with homeschooling?  For that matter, what do stories have to do with homeschooling?  Everything, I think!

The word “story” is such a buzz word for me.  Within that one word, I think about life, lessons, wisdom, writing, creativity, entertainment, history, and the story that is mine ~ my life as it unfolds.

In The Wonder of Boys, Michael Gurian writes, “Kids of all ages, adults too, often learn more from listening to the tale and its in-depth interpretation than they do from a lecture by a parent, mentor, or educator.  Stories ‘speak to their souls’ in a way nothing else can.”

I want to teach my children where they came from by sharing with them the stories their great-parents passed down to me.   They’re not going to learn only the names of their ancestors, but they’re going to hear these stories and anything else I can remember about my grandmothers and other family members.

I want to teach them about their local history as well as their world history by sharing with them, for example, tales from the Harris Homestead, or visiting locals museums and reading the local literature.

With these stories and with other stories, whether real or made up, I want to teach my children about life.  I truly believe that stories can help us make wiser decisions as we piece together the stories of our own lives.  Children may see themselves in the characters they hear about, and they can evaluate for themselves whether or not those characters made good decisions and see what the outcomes were for those characters.

I want to teach my boys the value in oral storytelling and how it has informed many different cultures and religions about their own identity.  As we do this, we will be helping them create their own identities.

I had the privilege of knowing the late J.J. Reneaux, an award-winning storyteller and musician.  In the short time that I knew her, she taught me much about the value of stories, and because of her urging, I went to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN.  It’s one of my goals to take my boys one year when they are old enough to appreciate it.

Last but not least, stories are a wonderful way to teach children the basics of reading, writing, language and even math and science!

I could go on and on about stories, but I won’t.  Please tell me what you love about stories, any resources that you might know about, or share a good story that kids might love to hear!

Meanwhile, here are some interesting links/resources that I have found relating to storytelling and teaching:

Tell Me a Story by Chase Collins ~ a book recommended by Michael Gurian in The Wonder of Boys.  I have ordered myself a copy, so I’ll be sure to write about it someday.

National Storytelling Network’s Overview ~ lists some good points on why storytelling is important

Using Stories In the teaching of Life Lessons by Hermann A. Peine, Ph.D.  (PDF format)

Stories as Teaching Tools: The Humane Society of the United States


Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

The Best Part of Homeschooling: the Field Trips

The best part of homeschooling is the field trips!  There are countless venues and opportunities out there where children can explore and do hands-on learning.  Once I met a homeschooling family that went only one place for their vacations.  Though there’s many places I could visit again and again, it baffled me that they would do that while homeschooling.  There are so many places to take kids, if you are able!  As homeschoolers, especially, I believe we should take advantage of historical sites, national parks, and the wonderful venues that cities offer us.

We are very lucky that we live within driving distance to a large city.  My in-laws are visiting right now, so last week we all went to the Georgia Aquarium.  My 4-year-old is obsessed with ocean animals.  Though it’s an expensive venue, we have been able to get some very good coupons in the past, so we’ve taken him a few times.  With my in-laws, we realized it might be a better deal to go ahead and get a family membership, especially since we are thinking of taking my son there for his upcoming 5th birthday too.  (Shh!  Don’t tell!)  So it wasn’t planned, but we took the plunge.  They also offer some homeschool classes there, so I’m hoping we can take advantage of those next Fall.

I do my best to visit free places, but when my child loves and is so interested in something like this, I think it’s worth it.

My four-year-old was in heaven.  He had to go to the area where he could touch sting rays, sea urchins, star fish and other sea creatures about three times!  I think my 20-month-old is finally at an age where he could benefit from the stimulation too.  It was a fascinating experience for all!

Where are your favorite places to take your kids for some fun, learning and wonderment?

Homeschooling a Preschooler, Part 2

As promised, here is the second column that I wrote for The Barrow Journal on homeschooling a preschooler. In it I write some specific examples of what I do to teach my son, such as activity books, games, puzzles, and some of the arts and crafts we do.  Next week I’ll post the third column, which focuses solely on the online resources that I have used with him.

Click here to read the full column, or you can scroll down to see some related links and photos.

One of the activity books we have used….  It’s probably the most “school like” thing that we do.

My son and nephew playing a game together.  We love games and puzzles, and we use a lot of them.  To learn more about the benefits of playing puzzles, click here. To learn about an easy sight word game I invented, click here.

When I first began to wonder what kind of arts and crafts I could do with my son, I discovered that he didn’t like to paint or draw, but he liked using scissors!  He cut up small bits of paper, so I began to use those scraps to make paper animals.  This is the first one I made.  He calls it his “rainbow fish” after the popular children’s book of the same name.

I try not to spend a lot of money on homeschooling, but not long ago I invested in a laminator.  I got this one on Amazon for about $30, and a packet of 50 laminating sheets for about $11.  The sheets will last a long time.  I’m very happy with it, and I think that it’ll be very helpful over the long haul.

This is one of the projects we did with the paper animals.  We learned all about what kinds of animals live in trees.  On our first day of making the tree, we took a white sheet outside and shook some branches over it.  At that time, the trees in our yard yielded only an ant and a spider, but we knew all sorts of animals live in trees.  We made a new animal every few days.  🙂

Now we have an ocean on the wall.  However, I have not taught my son what lives in the ocean because HE TEACHES ME.  This kid is obsessed with ocean animals, and we already had a full supply of paper ocean animals to fill up our ocean.  (And some of them are not on the board because he likes to play with them.)

For a long time, it was Mama making all the animals, and my son refused to help.  This was a little frustrating for me, but I didn’t pressure him to change (too much), and over time, he started to help make parts of the animals (like the teeth of the saw shark above), and now he will even make the animals by himself!  Hooray!  Sometimes he gets busy making animals while I’m busy doing something else.  Double Hooray!!

I really think having an activity room helps encourage him to create and learn on his own.

This is the first animal he made:  a whipnose.  They are fish that live in the very deep parts of the ocean and have fishing-pole-like noses.

Here is his lion fish.  He likes to look in the animal encyclopedia that my nephew gave him for Christmas for new animals.

And I’m happy to say that he also likes to paint and draw now too!

What kinds of things do you do to help your children soar?!

More Preschool Posts:

How I taught my son his ABCs, 123s, and a little bit of my philosophy too

Soon I will post the second in my series of columns about homeschooling a preschooler, but first I thought it might be appropriate to start at the very beginning….That is, how I taught my son his ABCs and 123s.

I believe that learning happens all the time, and as Maria Montessori said, it begins at birth.  There are the kinds of things we teach ourselves, such as learning how to walk, talk, love and explore.  Then there is the “school” kind of learning:  learning the language our parents speak, our history, math and critical thinking.  Every kind of learning is important.

Of all the things I want to teach my sons, what I hope to teach them above all is to love learning. This world is beautiful, distressing and complex.  I hope to instill in them the desire to discover, and I want to teach them how they can find answers for themselves.  I also want them to know it’s okay to keep asking questions and how to embrace mystery, if need be.

That may sound lofty, but it’s for those reasons that I try to take my son’s lead with learning, especially now when he’s only four years old.  If I push anything on him, he’s going to balk.  As long as he’s inquisitive and thinks what we’re doing is fun, I’m going to roll with it.  (We will re-evaluate this method as he gets older.)

But I don’t sit back and wait for him to pick up a book either.  I show him books, and I introduce new ideas to him.  Usually he thinks my suggestions are pretty cool. After all, he is FOUR.

My eldest son learned his ABCs very early.  By 21 months, he could correctly identify each letter.  That is, I could say, “Point to the M,” and he would point to the correct letter.  I taught my son his letters in a variety of ways, but I think what helped him the most was our lessons in the bathtub.

I bought those letters that you can use in the tub, and we would play with them, and I simply stated the names of the letters as we moved them around.  Sometimes we would line up three letters on the edge of the tub, and I would say their names as I pointed to them.  For a while, I thought that what I was doing was pointless and that he was probably too young to get it, but then one night I asked him to pick up such and such letter and he did it!  And then he did it again!  I was amazed!

Nowadays Daddy usually gives him a bath, but not long ago I did, and that night he wanted to try to “build words” like they do in the PBS show “Word World.”  (I also credit and thank educational television shows for teaching my son the basics better than I can!  If used properly, T.V. is not bad for kids!  You can read a column I wrote about children and television here.)  You can see one word we built above.  I had to assemble it on the toilet because his younger brother kept grabbing and throwing the letters around.

Another fun activity we did was writing the alphabet on the sidewalk outside and then walking along and saying the letters.

I also used the chalk to teach him numbers.  I wrote the numbers with the chalk on the sidewalk, and I drew dots under each numeral…..1 dot for the number one, 2 dots for the number 2, etc.  Then we would find objects to put under each letter:  2 acorns, 3 leaves, etc.  I think this really helped him to understand what the numbers meant.

These are simple exercises, and they were simply part of our routine.  I did not do any planning.  I just took advantage of the moments when my son was focused and willing to learn.

Moral of the story:  Teach when child is willing and you have the energy!

It should not go unmentioned that my youngest son, the 19-month-old, is a completely different character!  Even if I had the opportunity to spend leisure, uninterrupted one-on-one time with him like I did with my first child, I’m not sure he would learn the same way.  He never sits still.  In the bathtub, he’s a fish flipping from one side to the other, and he chews on the letters.

I have not tried to teach the 19-month-old anything because I just don’t have the time or energy, but I’m not worried about him.  He is vibrant, curious, and he loves books.  He loves nothing more than sitting in my lap with a book and flipping through the pages.  Sometimes he’ll point to the images and say, “ugh!” which means I need to tell him what it is.  He will definitely learn differently than his older brother, but as you can see, he has already taken the lead on how.

If you have any other fun, easy methods for teaching toddlers the basics, please leave a note in the comment section!

Unschooling: Criticism of an ABC News Report

This post was written on April 22, 2010.

The other day I watched this news segment from Good Morning America, “Extreme Parenting: Radical Unschooling.” I could not have been more astonished at such an extremely biased news report.  The reporter obviously did not do her homework, and she seemed more than ready to paint a negative picture of this alternative form of education.

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying that unschooling is good or bad.  I don’t have enough knowledge or experience with it to make that call.  But I have read enough about homeschooling and unschooling to know that it is a worthwhile option to look into.

This report focuses on what the children have not been exposed to as well as some irrelevant issues, in my opinion, like a teenager staying up all night.  Teenagers tend to keep crazy hours, and I don’t think this is going to reflect on what kind of adult they become.  I saw a very short image of many garden plants the teenagers were cultivating, but nothing was said about them, and in fact, the reporter never bothered to ask what the children have learned and what they are ready for.  Furthermore, the interviews with the family seemed edited and their answers were truncated.  There was a short blip about another family who unschools, but in all, I did not get a clear picture of what either of these families look like.  When I listened to this report, I could hear the reporter’s negative questioning much louder than anything else.

The report also indicated that the unschooling parents also used a relaxed structure and little or no discipline with the children.  Though unschoolers may use a relaxed parenting style, I think it should be noted that every homeschooling and unschooling family looks different.  Again, I think these families were unfairly misrepresented, but no one should look at one family and think that every unschooling family does things the same way.

I recently read The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.  It’s just one of many books about homeschooling/unschooling that I would like to read.  From this book and the many testimonies it offers, I know that there are many unschooled children who are capable learners who can effectively live in society.  I would wager that most unschooled children are much more willing and able to do the hard work it takes to accomplish something because they know first-hand why it is beneficial and rewarding to work hard at something.

I was particularly struck by one example in the book of a twelve year old boy who decided for himself that he wanted to try public school when he entered junior high.  (His siblings chose to remain at home and continue unschooling.)  He said he liked the challenge of school, and when he was presented with a group project, his attitude was “let’s have fun and see what we will learn.”  The classmates in his group, on the other hand, had the attitude of “let’s finish this as quick as possible so that we can go home.”

Indeed, I remember having this same attitude in school, and all my friends had it too. My husband, a college professor, is dismayed by the lack of motivation of his students.  Many of his students cannot write, and he deals with a large amount of plagiarism each semester when his papers are due.  He often comments to me that he is unsure these kids are ready for the real world.  In other words, why question an unschooled child’s future when there are so many children in our current system who are not prepared for college or other “real” jobs?

Whether or not one agrees with “unschooling,” we must admit that our current system is losing a vast number of students.  Children begin life believing that the world is an exciting place, and they are eager to learn.  Now that I’m nearly forty, I also know that there is so much out there to explore and wonder about.  What can be done to help children not lose this spark?

At least these parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands.  They are trying something different.  I absolutely believe that if children are given a nurturing environment, exposed to the world through real-life experiences (and not just sitting in a classroom all day), and offered a variety of resources, they will want to keep learning and they will love learning.

I support and admire these families.  They have the right to do what they are doing, and I will look to many more (expanded and unbiased) examples of unschooling before I decide whether or not it is good for children.


For another good post regarding this news report by a father of an unschooled child, click here.