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Picking a Writing Program

(written by the late Dave Marks, the creator of the award-winning Writing Strands series. This essay is excerpted from Writing Strands: Essays on Writing, National Writing Institute, Denton, Texas.)

When I talk homeschooling parents about teaching children to write, they often mention how hard they find it. It’s like there’s a huge empty space out there called “Teaching Writing” and there are no clear rules written anywhere to explain how to do what they know has to be done.

After 30 years teaching writing in schools and 15 years working with homeschoolers, I’ve been exposed to a few ideas that work and many ideas I know don’t. There may not be just one way to teach anything, but there are some ideas which, when examined, are ineffectual.

Acknowledging that teaching writing is very complicated, you’d have to agree that a simple solution to such a complicated problem can’t work. This should eliminate in your mind all those programs that tell you learning to write is easy or it’s simple to teach kids to write. It’s not.

There are some teaching programs it might be wise to ask questions about before you adopt them:

1. You should look at the ideas that suggest kids can teach each other to write. In public school they call it peer reviewing, or group learning or co-learning. Examine the principle carefully before you adopt it for your children. What it says to you is if you take two or more children who don’t know how to write and have them help each other, they’ll learn together. The big question is, of course, where does the expertise come from?

The children who are older or more experienced or better at writing might be able to tell the younger, less experienced children some things, but who helps the older ones? What experiences do the older children have at teaching that will assure the right information gets passed on? Do the more experienced children give to the younger ones their misconceptions and mistakes, thereby compounding problems? And, why aren’t all children entitled to the help of adults? Each child trying to learn to write needs the careful consideration by an adult in the evaluation of the effort.

2. You’ve heard the proposal that kids should have the fundamentals of language before they begin to write. You may have read that it’s like a foundation for a house: “If the foundation isn’t sound, the house won’t be strong.” The problem with this idea is you’re not building a house, you’re teaching a child to put his or her thoughts on paper for someone else to read. The analogy to building houses just doesn’t work.

There’s much research on the place of grammar in the training of children to write, and all of it shows the naming of the parts of speech doesn’t help. I like to use an analogy that makes this clear.

Suppose you were to want to teach your child the complicated skill of riding a bike and you were to use this principle of starting with a foundation—like it is suggested you do in teaching writing—and you were to decide your child would first need to learn the foundations of bikes. You would say to your child, “I’m going to teach you to ride a bike. So, the first thing you have to learn to do is to identify the right peddle by underlining it with one line in these pictures of a bike, and when you get really good at that, I want you to draw two lines under the left peddle. You’ll do this with all the parts of a bike, and this will teach you where those parts go on a bike. You’ll learn about sprockets, spokes, peddles, frames, axles, gears, wheels, rims, brakes, grips, bearings, nuts, washers, and you’ll even learn to spell the parts. Then you’ll draw a diagram of all those parts of a bike, showing where each part fits. You’ll memorize the definitions of the parts. Then I’ll put you on a bike and you’ll be able to ride like the wind.”

You recognize that would be silly, but this principle used with the bike is the same one used with the study of grammar with young writers. Kids know the grammar rules that govern the language they use or they couldn’t talk and make sense. What they don’t know are the names of the parts of speech, and they don’t have to know them to write well.

Your children must learn to use standard English, but that is best taught in conjunction with their writing and not in abstracted exercises in grammar workbooks.

3. Some programs might present you with the idea that there is such a thing as a three-sentence paragraph, a five paragraph essay or a seven sentence story. Before you buy such an idea, think about the concept. How many sentences are there in a story? Are these people talking about a plot line, the structure of a paragraph or a paper outline? Everyone knows stories don’t have seven sentences. They come in all sizes. All storytellers take a different number of words to tell a story. There are no formulas for this. This may be an attempt to tell you that a very complicated concept and process can be taught with a simple means. It doesn’t work.

Sure, sentences, paragraphs and stories have structure and so do essays, but they don’t have a specified number of sentences. That’s just not a reasonable way to teach children how to think about communicating ideas.

4. There are people who might propose a program that suggests if kids keep journals they’ll learn to write. Journals are useful for two situations: Professional writers use them to record scenes, characters, situations, experiences or thoughts they want to save for future use, and professionals use journal writing to break out of writing blocks. They force themselves to write every day in journals until the words flow smoothly again.

Most teachers who teach journal writing do so because it’s easy and the kids produce lots of paper, and they think they’re teaching the kids to write. Most proponents of journal writing suggest the journals not be corrected. “The students should not feel inhibited by the pressures of form.” So what are they learning about writing? They’re really just reinforcing their errors week after week. They’re learning nothing about techniques of communication. They might as well be copying words out of some novel and calling that writing training. In fact, in many schools, that’s what the kids do; they copy page after page and turn them in. Since their work isn’t graded or corrected, who cares?

In order to learn to communicate, students needs to have goals, an audience, and a person more adept than they are at word use who can look at their efforts and advise ways to improve them. It’s easy to tell your child, “Write in your journal,” but what does it teach your child?

When you’re about to adopt a program for your children to learn anything complicated, you might ask yourself some questions first. The answers to the following questions should eliminate some methods that may not work for your children.

1. What goals do I have for my child in teaching this ability or concept? Do I want my child to be prepared for university work if he or she chooses to attend? If this is the case, you can eliminate those programs that teach things like letter writing and story telling. Colleges and universities won’t ask for that type of writing. They will expect their students to be able to write explanatory and argumentative essays. This means you must choose a program that will teach your children the skills they will need to be able to learn those types of essay writing when they’re in their high school years.

Examine any suggested program for its end results. Make sure you select a program that will carry your child through a complete course of instruction, right up to college or business entrance. A program advertised as a “good way to start and then switch to a program which is more sophisticated” may be just wasting your child’s time and your money.

2. What method does the offered program use to give my child the skills needed? Does the program talk to me or to the child? In other words, who is being instructed? Are you expected to be a writing teacher and teach your child, or does the material assume you haven’t been trained that way and the material gives the child all the needed information?

Most of the textbooks used for both public and Christian schools assume there will be a trained teacher there who will have experience teaching the subject. If you don’t have that experience, use care when selecting those programs. In this case you need a program which contains all the information your child will need to assume the skills taught.

3. What about the process of evaluation? Does the proposed program assume that you’re so well trained you don’t need help with this, or you’re so inept, you need answer keys for checking your child’s writing? You must realize there are no answer keys that make sense when you’re checking for the efficient transmission of ideas in writing. If there are keys for answers, check what your child will be learning and see if it’s in a skill that will be called for.

4. Writing well is very complicated but is one of the most important skills you can give your child. The ability to give ideas to others with clarity and precision is so important that universities tell us that if students have this ability, they will be able to teach them the rest of what will be needed, but if students come to them not able to do this, those students will have trouble in almost all classes.

So, when faced with programs suggesting your child will learn to write by writing reports about other subjects, think about it carefully. Is a knowledge about Egyptian pyramids what your child needs or is the ability to write about them important? Where is the training in writing coming from as your child is doing such a report? What will the child learn about writing from such an experience?

To organize this complicated teaching job is to break it down into parts that make sense. Think about what is involved in communication and how the skills are given to young people. Examine any program carefully before you select it. Do the people offering it give your child identified skills in controlled increments culminating in planned abilities which will be required, or is a fun-sounding idea being offered? DM


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Answer the Phone . . . Speak!

By Emerson Sandow

For some reason unfathomable to me, it has become fashionable to (1) not answer the phone and (2) not return phone calls. This is especially true in business, where somehow, people who make a living from communicating to others and being communicated with, think that they can just ignore phone calls and messages ad infinitum.  Such an ignoring of phone calls places many businesses in a precarious position, since their e-mail programs – not they, themselves — often determine what is “spam” to be rejected — and what is not. Therefore, many people who try to communicate with a business will not be able to do so. I make it a habit to never patronize a business that does not have substantial contact information available and where someone answers the phone, at least on my second attempt. Those who do not answer the phone do not provide proper customer service, so I will not become a customer.

But, this same strange tendency to avoid contact is also rife in personal communications. We all have become so insulated with our little worlds of texting and Internet voyeurism, that we see human interaction as an interruption!

For those of us who grew up in a world of human interaction and personal contact, not only is this phenomenon perplexing, but somehow, it is not fatal. . . the foundation of our personality is built on interaction with other people and often intimate contact with them. However, for the upcoming generation, this intentional isolation may prove very harmful. Imagine if a massive, long-range power failure occurs. These isolated individuals will break out in a cold sweat at the prospect of having to speak directly with someone. They won’t have texting to rely on, so they might actually have to say “be right back” not “brb”. Will they even know how to utter such brief statements? These same people might have to sit in a group without constantly checking their phones for trivial messages and photos of a friend’s next meal. Que horrible!

The converse of this phone-phobia is true in the worst possible instances — in the customer dis-service that one finds in many retail stores and restaurants. You may be standing in line, waiting to be seated or to pay your bill or to have your purchases rung up, and the phone rings. Now, the employee conducts an animated, often very long conversation with the caller. Or, it may be a business-related call, but that is what the “Hold” button is for. Base-line etiquette dictates that the live people, who were in line before the phone call, should be served first.

Possibly this same sort of issue arose when the printing press made books available to the masses and suddenly, most people began to live in their heads more than they had before. One’s own thoughts can occupy much time within, but reading the thoughts and opinions of others fills the attention reservoir very quickly. It may also contribute to mental health. Too much time “alone” and inside of one’s head can be unhealthy for many people today! Parents have a responsibility to educate their children on proper behavior in these regards and hopefully, at least homeschooled children will not be electronically socialized to the extreme that other children are. . . hopefully. ES


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Turning Vaccine Exemptions Into Class Warfare

Turning Vaccine Exemptions Into Class Warfare


[Ed. Note: This article is from 2012. However, the heated vaccine debate continues, with a piece in the L.A. Times recently, reflecting much of the anger and ugliness Ms. Fischer refers to, that is coming from the pro-vaccine world. We offer the article to you as a service to aid you in drawing your own conclusions. Visit the NVIC website for current news.]


By Barbara Loe Fischer, President, National Vaccine Information Center,


It is getting uglier and uglier out there, as angry, frustrated doctors inside and outside of government, work overtime to foster fear and hatred of parents’ making conscious vaccine choices for their children. The latest political dirty trick is to brand parents, who send their children to private schools, as selfish and a threat to their communities because some private schools have higher vaccine exemption rates.


Take pediatrician and California Assemblyman, Dr. Richard Pan, for example. He is angry that many parents and health care professionals opposed AB2109, a bill he authored and pushed through the California legislature this year. [1] Dr. Pan misled his colleagues into believing that that forcing parents to pay for a doctor’s appointment to beg a hostile pediatrician [2] or medical worker to sign a personal belief exemption form is all about education.


Educated, Articulate Parents Defending Parental Rights


Medical trade associations that helped Dr. Pan lobby the state legislature included the California Medical Association, Health Officers Association of California, California Immunization Coalition and the American Academy of Pediatrics.[3] In public hearings this year, educated, articulate mothers and fathers stood up to these powerful medical groups and defended their parental and informed consent rights.


In a syndicated Associated Press article, Dr. Pan lashed out at families sending their children to private schools and accused them of becoming too educated about vaccination. Dr. Pan said: “In private schools, these are people who have money, who are upper middle class, and they are going on the internet and seeing information and misinformation.” [4]


Vaccine Information & Vaccine Exemptions Should Be Free


Dr. Pan is correct about parents “going on the internet” to learn, for example, how he refused in his bill to allow local pharmacists to sign a personal belief exemption form because he wanted to force all parents to first pay for a medical office visit. AB2109 clearly discriminates against parents, who cannot afford to pay a doctor to sign the form. [5]  Why doesn’t Dr. Pan post information he wants parents to have about vaccination on the Department of Health website so parents can become educated for free? [6]


Instead of admitting his bill is more about coercion than education, Dr. Pan attacked parents, who send their children to private schools. It looks like what doctors and medical trade groups really want to do is bully and punish parents, who hold sincere religious and conscientious beliefs about vaccination, no matter how much money they have or where their children attend school.


Doctors Engaging in Class Warfare


The same week that Dr. Pan publicly played the “class” card, he was joined by vaccinologists Dr. Saad Omer and Dr. Neal Halsey, who echoed Dr. Pan’s bigoted accusation in the same news article. Just like Dr. Pan, Drs. Omer and Halsey put the blame for higher personal belief vaccine exemption rates at private schools, such as the Waldorf Schools, on “wealthy” parents.


Dr. Omer has published a series of medical journal articles profiling parents taking non-medical vaccine exemptions and criticizing state laws that allow parents to take exemptions. [7] [8] [9] [10] According to the

AP article, Dr. Omer said he “surmised that more private school parents are wealthy and have the time to spread five shots over a series of years and stay home should their child get an illness like chickenpox.”


Dr. Halsey, who I debated publicly in 1997 about informed consent to vaccination, [11] told the AP reporter that “parents who choose private schools are likely to be more skeptical of state requirements and recommendations.”  With that grossly inaccurate generalization, Dr. Halsey attempted to politically stereotype parents filing vaccine exemptions in order to explain why children attending private schools that respect parental rights and health care choices -,like Waldorf schools – have vaccine exemptions.


When doctors politicize vaccine exemptions in order to engage in class warfare, they are crossing a line that reveals more about who they are than the families they are trying to stereotype and marginalize. Dr. Pan, who has assumed the mantle of lawmaker, and Dr. Omer, who enjoys six federal vaccine research grants funded by the CDC or NIH, [12] and Dr. Halsey, who has funding from SmithKline Beecham and the Gates foundation,[13]likely are not struggling to pay the rent or pay for groceries.


Doctors Want Fewer Medical Exemptions, More Power


Drs. Omer and Halsey are now calling for doctors to deny even more children medical exemptions to vaccination because they are unhappy that states with stricter non-medical exemptions have a higher rate of medical exemptions! [14] [15] [16]


So let’s get this straight – what Drs. Pan, Omer, Halsey and medical trade groups really want is for state legislatures to grant doctors police powers to force parents to violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs in addition to doctors having the power to deny medical vaccine exemptions to children, many of whom are already vaccine injured.


That is a lot of power. That is power without accountability or liability.


Could it be that doctors with financial ties to medical trade associations, vaccine manufacturers and government health agencies are lobbying so hard to severely restrict or get rid of all vaccine exemptions because, every day, there are more and more Americans, who know somebody who was healthy, got vaccinated and was never healthy again?


Informed Consent: A Human Right


The human right to informed consent to medical risk taking is a universal ethical principle that should be respected by doctors in every nation, especially in America, where we have a long history of respecting the right to self-determination.[17] Doctors refusing to protect children from vaccine injury and death because they do not want their authority questioned [18] should not be given the legal power to force anyone to violate their conscience or religious beliefs.


Parents, who have witnessed their children regress into chronic poor health or die after vaccination, belong to every class and every race, religion, philosophy and political party in America. Today, they are joining hands with parents of healthy children and fighting to protect medical and non-medical exemptions that it looks like doctors will try to gut or completely take away next year in states like Arizona, [19] Connecticut, [20] Maryland, [21]Oregon, [22] [23] Colorado, [24] New Jersey [25] and many more. [26]


Please sign up to be a user of NVIC’s free Advocacy Portal at and volunteer to work in your state to defend the human right to make vaccine choices for yourself and your children.

It’s your health, your family, your choice.

[1] Richardson D. CA Bill Restricting Personal Belief Vaccine Exemption Heats Up. NVIC Vaccine E-News July 2, 2012.

[2] Wang S. More Doctors ‘Fire’ Vaccine Refusers. Wall Street Journal Feb. 16, 2012.

[3] California Immunization Coalition. Director’s Update: AB 2109 Moves on to Senate. May 30, 2012.

[4] Dreier H. Private School Vaccine Opt-Outs Rise. Associated Press/USA Today Sept. 9, 2012.

[5] Richardson D. NVIC Statement Opposing AB 2109. June 20, 2012.

[6] ONeill S. Bill Would Make It Tougher for Parents to Exempt Their Kids from Vaccines in California. KPCC Public Radio (S. CA). Sept. 13, 2012.

[7] Omer SB, Pan WK, Halsey NA et al. Nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements: secular trends and association of state policies with pertussis incidence. JAMA 2006; 296: 1757-1763.

[8] Salmon DA, Omer SB. Individual freedoms versus collective responsibility: immunization decision-making in the face of competing valuesEmerging Themes in Epid 2006; 3: 13-15.

[9] Omer SB, Enger KS, Moulton LH, Halsey NA et al. Geographical clustering of nonmedical exemptions of school immunization requirements and association with geographical clustering of pertussis. Am J Epidemiol 2008; 168: 1389-1396.

[10] Omer SB, Salmon DA, Orenstein WA, deHart PM, Halsey N. Vaccine Refusal, Mandatory Immunization and the Risks of Vaccine Preventable Diseases. N Engl J Med 2009; 360(19): 1981-1988.

[11] You Tube. Live debate with Barbara Loe Fisher and Neal Halsey, M.D. on ”The Today Show.” NBC March 1997.

[12] Saad Omer, PhD, MPH, MBBS. Grants.

[13] Johns Hopkins Advanced Studies in Medicine. American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference Satellite Symposium Oct. 17-22, 2011. Activity Faculty: Neal A. Halsey, M.D.

[14] Moyer CS. Medical Vaccine Exemptions for Children Not Always JustifiedAmerican Medical News Sept. 10, 2012.

[15] Stadlin S, Bednarczyk RA, Omer SB. Medical Exemptions to School Immunization Requirements in the United States – Association of State Policies with Medical Exemption Rates (2004-2011). J Infect Dis Aug. 29, 2012 (published online).

[16] Salmon DA, Halsey NA. Keeping the M in Medical Exemptions: Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Children. J Infect Dis Aug. 29, 2012 (published online).

[17] Fisher BL. The Moral Right to Conscientious, Philosophical and Personal Belief Exemption to Vaccination. National Vaccine Advisory Committee May 2, 1997.

[18] NVIC. Vaccine Freedom Wall. Public reports of threats, coercion and sanctions for making informed choices about use of one or more vaccines

[19] Fehr-Snyder K. Immunization Exemption Rates on Rise Among Arizona Schoolchildren. The Republic Sept. 12, 2012.

[20] Cuda A. Vaccine Exemptions on Rise in State. Connecticut Post Sept. 3, 2012.

[21] Asaithambi R. Time to get tough on vaccine refusal. Baltimore Sun April 11, 2012.

[22] Seaman AM. More Oregon Kids on “Alternative” Vaccine Schedules. Reuters June 18, 2012.

[23] Anderson J. Religious Exemptions Tilt Immunization’s Balance. Portland Tribune. Feb. 16, 2012.

[24] Stobbe M. Colorado Second in Vaccine Refusals. Associated Press Nov. 28. 0211.

[25] Berk H. Vaccine Exemptions for Religious Reasons May Face Stricter Guidelines in New Jersey. Parentdish Mar. 16, 2011.

[26] IDSA. Increase of Religious Exemption to Immunization Requirements in New York State. IDSA Conference Poster Presentation Oct. 20, 212.


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Unleash the Genius in Your Child

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SkaZooms – Great Toys for Your Home X-Games From JAX!

141 Cheshire Lane

Minneapolis, MN 55441


Phone: 763.449.9699


By Janet Esposito


We affectionately refer to my youngest son as The Safety Inspector. If a toy has some kind of structural defect, he will find it within seconds and break it. It is an incredible process to watch, mostly because of his speed, but it forces me to become a toy repair specialist and glue connoisseur. He loves toy cars, so I have a box of teeny tiny wheels, which of course, are neither interchangeable nor traceable to their car of origin. He loves skateboarders, but the boards alone do not interest him and the ones with figures are never balanced correctly. He loves action figures, but I also am the proud owner of a box of toy heads, arms, and other body parts that have obviously failed to pass the Safety Inspection. In my search for a solution, I found SkaZooms.


SkaZooms are a line of new toys that encourage both imaginative and active play. Each unique character comes with its own custom helmet and board that easily snap together. They glide quickly over any smooth surface, without batteries or those tiny wheels that constantly fall off. The entire toy is incredibly well-made, especially when compared to similar toys on the shelves. These are sturdy figures that are ready for real kids who love to play.


The graphics are different than most commercial toy products, but retain the “cool” factor necessary to attract kids. Since the characters are not gender-specific, SkaZooms appeal to boys and girls – any child that loves to play with toy cars, toy skateboards, and action figures will immediately fall in love with these toys. Kids can collect all 10 funky, fun characters: Strawbs, Sarge, Blu, Gurge, Brownu, Grungy, Didgi, Gronk, Bot, and Skully. And all their accessory pieces are interchangeable, allowing kids to create their own personal combination to express their inner SkaZoom.


Skazooms glide effortlessly across smooth surfaces, so prepare for some epic racing. You can host the Grand Prix on the hardwood floors of your living room for hours of fun, or take them outside on the patio to create a more challenging course. One must-have accessory for little speed-lovers is the Zoom Launcher. Unlike similar car launchers, it is easy to operate and actually works every time you launch. The little characters pop into place within their board, eliminating the problems of balance and tiny parts breaking off. And with the line of other accessories available, you can take playtime to another level of fun.


The Bounce Park, Stunt Bowl, and Ramp Ride enable your SkaZoom to perform all sorts of death-defying stunts. The characters jump, flip, and bounce easily with all of the accessories. These accessories offer the ideal space to perfect tricks or execute complex aerobatic maneuvers. Kids can compete, battle, or invent their own games for hours of engaging play. And just like the characters, each accessory is solidly made and ready for fun.


These accessories can transform any area into a skateboarding paradise. The Bounce Park is like a complete, portable skate park that allows kids’ imagination to run wild. Use the Stunt Bowl to compete against friends and perform the craziest stunts your child can dream up. Your SkaZoom can grind along the rails, launch off the kicker, and then aim your character to hit the target in the middle of the Ramp Ride. With both the Bounce Park and the Ramp Ride, there are slots along the rails to store your boards, and they both include a sheet of stickers to personalize the accessories.


And one accessory all parents love – the Clip Case, a compact carrying case with spaces for each SkaZoom, along with its helmet and board, to fit in snugly. Not only are the toys in their own container, but you will never have to worry about misplacing accessories. Each Clip Case securely holds up to 3 characters, including their 3 helmets and 3 boards.  For more information on all the SkaZooms and to begin collecting them for your little ones, please visit their website at J.E.


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by Barbara Frank

When our family first began homeschooling, I wanted every day to be chock-filled with discovery and wonder for my children. I pictured incredible, mind-blowing unit studies, fascinating books and curriculum, and countless field trips, to get them out of the house a lot. I intended to provide so many worthwhile educational opportunities for them that they would never be bored.

To me, bored children signified failure on my part: Failure to hold their interest, to keep them engaged in learning about the world around them. I had often experienced intense boredom as a child, trapped in a school room. I did not want my children to feel that way.

But no matter how carefully I chose learning materials and opportunities, I couldn’t always find something that interested everyone. Sometimes, someone got bored. After all, people have different interests. To make matters worse, there were also times when we weren’t doing school that they were bored. I dreaded hearing someone exclaim: “Mom, there’s nothing to do!”

I felt it was up to me to keep them occupied and entertained, even though I had so many other responsibilities. When we first began homeschooling, my older children were five and six. We did school in the morning, and in the afternoons I ran myself ragged working at home as a free-lance editor, while keeping the house running and the kids busy. We had recently moved, so I also needed to unpack and organize everything.

This went on for about six months, and then I got sick, and not just for a day, either. I was sick for nearly three months. I had developed a chronic medical condition that was aggravated by stress. I put my editing job on hold, and my husband took over my household duties at night, after work. As for the children? They were forced to entertain themselves, and they did.

It was certainly messier than when I was on my feet, but they would dig out craft supplies and make their own projects. They invented games that they would play for hours. Sure, there were times when they were bored. After all, I was sick and couldn’t take them anywhere during the day. But after a bit of  complaining, one of them would come up with something to do, and then they were off.

At least once a day, they would get tired of each other. Then my daughter ended up in her room reading or playing with her dolls, while my son drew very elaborate drawings, some so large they were more like small murals.

While I was sick, they learned to take ownership of their time, to make their own decisions about what to do instead of relying on me. The boredom they experienced was so much more productive than the boredom of being trapped that I experienced as a public school inmate. Since then, the free time homeschooling affords has allowed them to grow so much that now, as young adults, they don’t have enough time to do all the things they’d like to do. They have many varied interests, and are always open to new experiences, too.

As for me, I am no longer the Entertainment Committee, and that’s good, because we now have two more children and a home business. My younger children learned to entertain themselves much earlier than the first two did, because I wised up. My older two children taught me a very important lesson:

Kids must be allowed to get bored. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? What’s worse than a bored kid? Whining, following you around, not doing anything productive or I.Q.-raising. Why on earth would you want a bored kid around the house at all, much less make a habit of it?

Most parents don’t want their kids to be bored, ever. Today’s moms and dads spend many hours and dollars keeping their children busy with sports, music and art classes after school. Homeschooling parents often see the field trips and classes offered by homeschool groups as necessities. They’re afraid to have their kids in the house with nothing to do.

But kids who are allowed to experience boredom occasionally will survive and even thrive, for several reasons:  Boredom forces children to be creative. Sure, at first she pouts, complaining there’s nothing to do. But then, out of desperation, she makes up a game using her imagination, or finds scrap fabric and creates a doll quilt. Would she have done that if there’d been a class to go to where the teacher would tell her what to make?

Recently, I watched my younger children playing with their neighborhood friends in our back yard. At first they were content to swing and slide on the play set, but after a bit they got bored with that. They asked me to take them to the park, but I was in the middle of a project and couldn’t leave the house. So they moped a little bit and paced around the yard a while, until someone came up with the idea of being pirates. Soon the play set became a pirate ship, and six kids spent almost two hours using their imaginations and having fun.

Boredom can make a child desperate enough to read. Some children love to read from the time they are small, but an active child has a hard time sitting still long enough to discover the joy of reading. He will only read if there is nothing better to do, and when that happens a few times, he will discover how fast time passes with a good book, and how pleasurable reading can be.

Boredom helps children become more observant of their surroundings. A child rushed from one activity to the next becomes oblivious to her surroundings, but a bored child is looking for something to do, and will pay more attention to her environment. I remember as a child wandering around my grandfather’s garden one day, bored because he was busy, and so I started looking at the different plants. While he worked, I asked about them, and learned a lot that day.

Boredom teaches patience. When my children were small, they took afternoon naps. I learned to use that time to do something just for me, like reading or sewing. (Sometimes, I used it to sleep.) Once the kids outgrew naps, though, I didn’t want to give up my “peace and quiet” time. So we started calling nap time “rest time”. The kids didn’t have to go to sleep, but they had to stay quietly in their own rooms until the clock reached a certain time. They learned to occupy themselves by reading, playing or drawing, and they also learned to be patient until it was time to get up.

Boredom didn’t hurt us when we were kids. Back in the mid-20th century (doesn’t that make you feel old?), we didn’t have the plethora of television shows, toys, and electronics that exist today. Did it hurt us? Not me. Some of the hobbies I have today, like sewing and gardening, are interests that I developed during childhood.

Boredom doesn’t necessarily cause kids to get into trouble. One argument I hear often for putting kids into as many activities as possible is the “It keeps them off the streets” theory. And I agree to a point: If you combine a bored kid or two, an empty house and some matches or a liquor cabinet, you are asking for trouble. But when you homeschool, there is usually at least one adult around, and the environment is usually safe and wholesome, and the responses to boredom are naturally restricted to approved responses.

Boredom allows time for introspection, for getting to know oneself. This is the best reason to allow your child to experience boredom. A child with nothing to do is forced to think about what he likes or dislikes, and where his interests are. He’ll learn to do things because he wants to, not because his mom signed him up to do something, or because a friend was doing it. Boredom gives him time to think thoughts that teach him about himself.

(Sometimes I wonder if people my age have mid-life crises because they jumped into the hectic pace of adult life without ever having time to really get to know themselves and what they wanted to do with their lives. The high school-college-work progression sucked them in too quickly.)

So how do you bring boredom into your child’s life without inciting mutiny? And what about the little ones? How can they be trained to entertain themselves constructively?

It starts with your attitude. As a homeschooler, you’re already “educating” your children, and that’s a full-time job right there. You can’t do that well and keep up with the house and other family responsibilities if you’re the Entertainment Committee, too.

Begin when they’re young. Babies can be taught to entertain themselves in their cribs. Don’t run in when the baby first wakes up. Unless he’s hungry or crying, let him lay there for a few minutes. Keep some baby toys and board books in a little plastic basket in the corner of his crib, where he can find it and dump everything out of it. When your child receives new toys for birthdays and holidays, spend a little time together playing with them. Then pack some away for a rainy day. They will seem like new to her when she sees them again.

Be sure to have art supplies available at all times, especially for older children. We have many books about arts and crafts, and they serve as springboards for ideas. Keep Legos and other building toys handy, too.

If you put time limits on electronics, there will be time left for other things that require more active participation.

Finally, make a conscious effort to limit your children’s organized activities, like sports, Scouts and art classes. We found that one activity per child per year worked well, as it allowed each child to have something of his own, but still left us with enough time to have a family life, and each child with plenty of downtime.

My husband knows I tend to take on too much, and he taught me to weed out the good pursuits and to only go after the best, leaving more valuable time for family dinners and spontaneous learning, and other good things that come to the homeschooling family.

By allowing my children to experience boredom, I have seen them find their creative sides and develop interests in depth. The two kids that taught me the value of boredom are now grown up. Between their jobs, their social lives, and their other interests, they are always busy, and it is hard to recall them saying  “Mom, there’s nothing to do!”

Copyright 2014 by Homeschool


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