Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

12 Reasons to Teach ASL in your Homeschool this Year

1. You will be able to communicate with the Deaf and hearing-impaired.
Did you know that there is a whole Deaf culture right under the very noses (or ears) of the hearing world? It is a true culture, complete with its own language, history, social customs, art, literature, and humour. Go ahead, google Deaf culture and you will scrape the surface of a culture that you didn’t even know existed. Learning American Sign Language is the first step to exploring this world

2. In some areas, it will satisfy the high school foreign-language requirement.

Check the requirements for a high school diploma in your region. In many states, ASL is recognized as a foreign language for this purpose. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Ontario. Click here to sign the petition to have the Ontario Ministry of Education assign ASL course codes for the OSSD.

3. Your kids will have an exclusive secret language.asl

Fun, right? My boys call ASL “American Spy Language.”

4. It trains your brain to work visually and kinesthetically.

Visual and kinesthetic learners will have the easiest time picking up this new language, but it is also a great way to challenge your non-visual, non-kinesthetic learners (like me) to stretch themselves in these areas. I have had to learn to pay close attention to visual stimuli at a much faster pace than I am accustomed to, and my proprioception is also greatly improving. People on the autism spectrum may benefit from this challenge as well.

5. It can help you learn other languages.

I have a smattering of French, but I have never been successful at passing this on to my children. My attempts at immersion met with blank stares and glazed expressions, leading me to switch back to English just to make myself understood. I didn’t have the fluency or vocabulary to keep it up.

Now, I have a foothold for teaching French. I simply teach them the French vocabulary for the signs that they already know. “Donnes-moi tes chaussettes, s’il vous plait,” I say, and then I can slow it down and sign it. It keeps them from giving me that deer-in-headlights look. They understand what I am saying by the signs, but they can keep their brains working in French without mentally switching gears to English. Fluency and automaticity are much more easily acquired when one can prevent the mental translation of the new language into the native language.

6. It’s a Family-Integrated course of study

When we began learning ASL together, we were all at Level Zero. We started out with Baby ASL videos on Youtube, and had a lot of fun practicing and stretching our vocabularies together.

Once everyone starts signing around the house, even Daddy will begin to pick up some signs (whether he intends to or not)!

 7. Your children can “talk” with their mouths full without being gross.

How great is that?

8. It’s a fun way to mix up the normal family dynamics.

My middle, Shiny Boots (4), is our most proficient finger-speller, and is very quick at picking up new signs. She just loves having a subject where she outpaces her big brothers, and it’s great for her confidence. The middle child often needs just that kind of boost.

9. It can help solve the Homeschooling-with-Little-Ones scheduling dilemma

I know what you’re thinking: This sounds great, but I just don’t have time for another subject in my homeschool day. I’m already swamped teaching Bigs and Middles while trying to keep the Littles out of the Math-U-See blocks!

But ASL could actually help you solve the Homeschooling-with-Little-Ones dilemma. Here’s how:

I used to have each of my Bigs “teach” my Littles an arts-and-crafts class to keep them busy, while the other Big had one-on-one instruction. This met with success for some time, but as the novelty wore off, I wore myself out making sure the arts bin was always fully stocked with interesting new dollar-store activities. And that’s not even taking into account the mess they left for me! (My Bigs are really still Middles.)

Sending one of the Bigs to practice ASL with the Littles is another matter entirely. No messy materials, no planning on my part. They simply engage in a fun and top-secret “spy language” conversation.

10. You can tell your children to sit down and be quiet in church without saying a word!

This was a completely-unforeseen perk of learning ASL, but has become one of my favourite benefits. I can tell my child to “turn around, sit down and be quiet” without making a sound. Okay, so maybe you can do that with a Mom-Look. But show me the Mom-Look for , “Pass your brother the blue notebook in the diaper bag, give me the receiving blanket and please don’t drop your Bible on the floor again!” And when you have a small child who is really doing a great job keeping still, you can give some positive reinforcement without whispering yourself: “Good girl, Annie!” If you do family-integrated church, this is priceless.

11. It’s time well spent.

You will learn something that you will never forget — (can you say that about Charlemagne or Champlain? I really hope so, actually. We spent a lot of time on Charlemagne!) And you may even open a door towards an interesting option for career opportunities for your children.

The year that you began learning ASL is a year you will look back on as one which really expanded your family identity. You are creating fun, laughter-filled memories, as you all experience each other in new ways.

12. It doesn’t have to cost a penny. 

We started with Signing Time and My Smart Hands videos on Youtube, and then moved on to Lifeprint courses with Bill Vicars. These are all great resources. Bill Vicars offers a full introductory 15-week course for free on his website.You can really learn a lot without spending a penny on curriculum.

**I am not an affiliate, simply a happy consumer of the material above.**

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Institutional School is Not the Default

We have this idea that institutional school is normative, and that homeschool is an aberration from that norm. We sometimes feel that to be successful homeschoolers, we must have our children sitting at the kitchen table doing seatwork all day, with regularly scheduled breaks. Perhaps even with a kitchen timer for a recess bell!

photo credit: chrisjtse via photopin cc

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that timer, nor is there anything wrong with sitting at a desk or table for school. If that works for your homeschool, more power to you and your egg timer. 

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with raising our hands to speak, and wearing a school uniform.  But these things are part of classroom management, developed to assist a teacher in maintaining discipline and control over 25 same-aged charges. You have two or three (or four or five or more) students, of varying ages, and a baby or toddler or two thrown in, just to keep things interesting. There is no need to rigidly adhere to a formal way of doing school that was intended to help a teacher in a very different situation. You’re at home, after all. So make yourself at home.

Let’s stop homeschooling on the defensive, as if we have something to prove:

  1. some feel a need to prove how much like school we are;
  2. others feel a need to prove how much better than school we are; and
  3. still others are out to see how unlike school we can be!

The problem is that all of these are measuring their outcFinlay - HWT DLBBomes by the institutional yardstick, with the presupposition that school is normative.

What if we backed up a step or two? What if we started from the realization that there is nothing more normal than you, as a parent, educating your own child. After all, you teach your children to walk and talk, and to recognize their colours, letters and numbers. You don’t need send them to experts for that, do you?

Of course not. You are an expert walker and talker yourself. You know as many colours as the average adult needs to. You know the whole alphabet, and to top itDSCN0437 all off, you can even count. So why send your children to “experts” for preschool?

It is also completely natural to continue along that arc. Just as you are an expert in preschool skills, consider that you are an expert in childhood skills as well. You can add, subtract, multiply and divide. You can ride a bike, throw a ball. You can write, spell, and diagram a sentence with the best of them. (And, if you can’t, you can certainly read a lesson ahead of your child in any textbook.) As for history and science, if you don’t remember the material from your own school days, well, what does that say about the long-term success of institutional education? If you don’t remember it, let’s discover it together, parent and child, learning side by side.DSCN0306

Let’s put away the guilty feelings, that perhaps, in this busy season of diapers and breastfeeding, we aren’t doing it as well as that other homeschool mom, or even as well as we did last year, before the baby was born. Let’s put away the feelings of inadequacy, and just rediscover the joy of learning.

Step away from the paradigm, and find out how your family best does school. I guarantee you it won’t be the same as your neighbourhood institutional school — it won’t even be the same as  the homeschool family next door (or next blog over).

featured photo credit: chrisjtse via photopin cc

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Homeschooling With Little Ones Part 2

In my imagination, I am the perfect teacher: knowledgeable, patient, fun.  My children are the perfect students: eager to learn, capable, never have to be told twice. We sit together at our backyard table (for some reason, my idealized homeschool vision always has us outside in perfect weather), and we are joyfully engaged in whole-family learning.
Everyone — even the baby — is hanging avidly to every well-chosen word that drops from my smiling (always smiling) mouth. I give a well-received lecture or reading, and then we act out some major historical event. I am secure in the knowledge that my children will always remember everything we’ve learned, because of all the fun we had learning and acting it out.

In reality, it is never (NEVER) like this. We do homeschool outside sometimes, but the wind blows our papers
022around (somehow, there is no wind in my imagination). In reality, I am juggling the baby on one hip, struggling (and usually failing) to capture the attention of my middles, and never able to go far enough, fast enough for my eldest.

The reality is that it is a real challenge to homeschool with little ones. A grueling battle, engaged in daily — with results that are barely discernable in the day-to-day, but which, over time, really do come to fruition. These are the three most important things that I have discovered over the past few years of homeschooling.

1. Plan for Short Terms

Forget the year plan, the semester plan, and even the term plan. Think shorter. Little ones go through different stages quickly — and 002you need to readjust your schedules and plans accordingly.

The newborn who sleeps and nurses all day actually gives you a lot of time to focus on sit-down school with your bigger ones. Learning to read, for example, can take place cuddled on the couch together while you breastfeed the baby. More active work can be saved for those long naptimes.

But within a couple of months, that newborn has turned into a big baby who may have his own opinion about naptime — and you may find that you need to adjust your schedule around baby. Similarly, there is a time when a toddler begins to take shorter or less consistent naps, and you may need to do some tweaking of the schedule to accommodate this.

Plan for short terms, maybe monthly or bimonthly. It is much less discouraging when you’ve planned to adjust for a change in baby-schedule. If you’ve planned for it, it is not a failure in your schedule, but something you have expected to happen.

2. Plan Classes for Your Big Ones to Teach the Little Ones110907-1427d

Do you have a certain class that’s hard to get done with the little ones around? Perhaps your eldest child really needs some help — and quiet — during Math. Or maybe the middlest needs some extra quiet during spelling. This is a great way to get your older children to help you with the younger — happily!

  • Go to the dollar store and buy all kinds of fun little projects: wooden 3-D puzzles; paint-by-numbers; ceramic figurines and wooden ornaments for painting; little square artist’s canvases; construction paper, markers, glue and a Things To Make book; the messier the better. Choose things that will appeal to your children, things that will be novel, that they haven’t done before — and choose LOTS!
  • Take a big ol’ box and fill it up with all of these treasures. Show the children — but it’s look, don’t touch! The more anticipation you can build up, the better.
  • Tell the children what these treasures are for — it’s for their special time with their big/little brother/sister. Special, one-on-one time. Tell the older child that they will be teaching art class to their little sibling.
  • Schedule a time for each younger child to be kept busy by an older child — your older child will keep the little one busy while you are working on that Math work with your eldest, or tutoring your middlest in spelling.
  • Don’t let this session go on for too long. It has to stay fresh for it to work. Twenty minutes to half an hour, depending on the attention spans of your children.
  • Be sure they are set up outdoors, or in a room where you don’t mind the inevitable paint spills.
  • Keep it fresh — fill up the treasure box regularly, and don’t let your children into it other than during this special art class!

3. Don’t Try to Accomplish too Much

Hudson's first written word -- FED

You need to be flexible in your goal-setting. Homeschooling is most frustrating when you feel that  you aren’t accomplishing what you’ve intended. Sometimes, you just have to adjust those expectations. What is most important for each child? If you get that done, you are getting somewhere, day by day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

We do Math daily, but the other subjects vary from term to term. Reading is important to keep up with, especially with new readers, but once they are reading independently, you have some more flexibility with how you incorporate it into other subjects.

Attempting perfection only leads to burnout. Decide what’s most important, and stick with that.

What tips do  you have for keeping school going while you have a houseful of little ones? I would love to hear!

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Homeschooling with Little Ones Part 1

The question that I hear almost as much as the socialization question is this: How do you manage getting any school done with all those little ones?

In response, I present to you my Real-Life No-Holds-Barred Post-it-Like-it-is Homeschool Schedule*

*this schedule varies from day-to-day so much, that, in fact, it has never yet repeated itself. But it goes something as follows: 

  • Bible, laundry, memory verses.166
  • Change a diaper, feed the baby, make breakfast.
  • Sing some math songs, mediate a dispute or two, do the dishes.
  • A little reading, a little playtime.
  • More laundry, another diaper change, another feeding.
  • Spelling, grammar, kiss a booboo.
  • Make a snack, do a science experiment, and clean it up.
  • Get everybody outside, listen to an audio sermon while you do some housework.
  • Find some pee on the living room floor, and clean it up.
  • Do some detective work to find the child with soiled pants.
  • Clean him up, make lunch, clean it up.
  • Feed the baby, change a diaper, do some fractions, hunt for bugs.
  • Storytime, naptime, rinse and repeat.


Add in some character training, some history, some household chores, and are you exhausted yet?

The most important thing I have learned is that I am not a classroom teacher, and I shouldn’t try to be. School at my house is going to look different from institutional school. It will even look different from school at your house. And that is okay. More than okay, in fact. It is exactly as it should be.

God made us all different, as different as the flowers of the fields, the birds of the air, and the creatures of the seas. He is a God of infinite variety and creativity. He made a world bursting with life and colour, all things bringing glory to Him in their own unique ways. And He saw that it was good.Cragg & Hudson, best buds

God put children in families, not in orphanages. It is part of His design that we are meant to be different from each other. We are different in how we raise our children, and we should be different in how we educate them.

Every homeschool teacher will choose different methods and different materials to suit very different children in different households. So the way in which I manage my day-to-day with little ones is obviously going to be different from the way in which you manage yours.

In answer to the leading question, then, I really just do the best I can to go with the flow of my particular household — and my best advice to you is just to do the best you can to go with the flow of yours.

That said, if you have some practical tips to share in the comments, please do. I will share some that I personally find helpful in my next post.

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Socialization: Aren’t You Afraid They’ll Turn Out Weird?

If you have been homeschooling for any period of time, you have certainly encountered questions about socialization. Friends and neighbors furrow their brows in consternation and ask: But how do you socialize them? Less tactful friends and neighbors go so far as to ask: Aren’t you afraid that they’ll grow up weird?

To answer this question, consider the definition of socialization:

A continuing process by which an individual:

  1. acquires a personal identity; and
  2. learns the norms, values, behavior and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

Finlay - HWT DLBB1. Is school the best place to acquire a personal identity?

At school, your child will be one of 25 students in a class of peers, selected to be together based on their year of birth. They will all be taught the same content, based on standards set by the government. And the teacher will get to know them as well as possible for 180 days, after which they will move on to another teacher.


023At home, your child is taught by a teacher with all the passion and commitment of the mother — or father — who has given life to that child. You choose the curriculum; you control the method of instruction, based on your child’s own skills, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You tailor your content and methods to suit your child – and you have a much smaller classroom to manage. Even if you’re a Duggar, your homeschool class squeezes in below the average school class size!

Which environment would you say offers the best opportunity to a child for the development of his or her personal identity?

2. Is school the best place to learn norms, values, behavior and social skills?086 (2)

School sets up an environment of peers who are all exactly the same age, and generally from a similar socio-economic demographic. This is probably the only time in their lives that their entire peer group will consist of such a homogeneous sample. Homeschooled children, who have the opportunity to interact in broader society (while their schooled peers are cooped up in the classroom), actually have the advantage as far as being able to develop appropriate behavior for their later social position.

Furthermore, at school, you are entrusting the social skills training of your precious little nose-picking, emotionally immature 6-year-old, to a group of twenty-five other nose-picking, emotionally immature 6-year-olds, with only one adult to supervise. Safe to say you can do at least as good a job of teaching social skills, with their siblings at home, and in the broader community.


So how do you socialize your homeschooled child?

First, by keeping them out of a classroom that stifles their personal identity. Second, by keeping them from developing the norms, values, behavior and social skills of that artificial classroom world.

Perhaps you should turn the tables on those who ask you this question: How do you socialize your institutionally-schooled child?


Posted in At Home, Blog, Little Boots

A Compassionate Heart

Today, I had one of those beautiful parenting moments when my heart was just filled with love, praise and thanksgiving for the beautiful children that He has given me. This time, it was little Safari Boots who set my cup to overflowing. I want to record it here for posterity.

We are combining our Character classes with a curriculum to teach children about their attitudes towards money. We are using the Work-Give-Save-Spend model, and, as we learn about each concept as it related to their little finances, we are studying the character traits of Diligence, Generosity, Self-Control, and Prudence.

The children have been given tasks above their household chores to do as paid commissions. And they have been earning money for these little jobs all week, as we studied diligence. Today, we started learning about generosity. They carefully counted out 10% of their earnings for a Give jar. We looked at the place in India where our sponsored child and sponsored missionary are located. We watched a video on India from Operation World. In the video, we saw a woman who had her hands taken by leprosy. I explained about what leprosy is, and little Safari said, “That’s really sad.”

That’s all he said, but I noticed later that he was sniffling. I asked him if he was crying because of the lady with leprosy. “I’m crying because of a lot of things,” he told me.2012 jasper 3

A few hours later, I was doing my monthly budget, and realized that I had a small amount of discretionary spending leftover. I thought it would be a good opportunity to let the children see that generosity means more than a regular tithe, but it is also discretionary. We went onto the Gospel for Asia website, where they have a list of particular items to which you can donate your funds.  I asked the children where we should donate the money.

Safari did not hesitate for a moment. “Can we give it to the lady with no hands?” he asked immediately.

So we put it to the leprosy ministry. And that’s not all! Safari gave me the money he’s earned from his commissions, and had me put that to the leprosy ministry as well.

I am so proud of my little man. Thank you, God, for Safari’s compassionate heart.

Posted in At Home, At Homeschool, Blog

Homeschool or Housekeeping?

Homeschool or housekeeping? Does it have to be a mutually exclusive choice?

At my home, I am embarrassed to admit that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It is most definitely a choice between keeping the house clean (at least to a “company” standard) and educating my children (to my ideal standard).

I can’t seem to do both. I tend to alternate between the two. When school is going well, and our routine is really working, I look around and realize that it is time to work housecleaning into the schedule. Before I know it, my focus has become housecleaning, and the homeschool starts to decline in quality. Then it’s time for me to create a new homeschool routine. But wait! The house! It’s just a never-ending pendulum.

We were in the homeschool side of this pendulum for the past couple of months, but now that we are thinking of selling,  I have been cleaning and cleaning the house, getting it ready to sell. My husband has been renovating the kitchen, so we’ve been having a lot of takeout. I have been painting walls while I let the children work with less direction than usual. And we have managed to maintain a bare minimum of homeschool studies — Encyclopedia is completely on track in his Math and Spelling, and Safari has somehow managed to progress from a sounder-outer to a real reader over this past month. And we do History together as a read-aloud and discussion, without getting into crafts and messy activities or heavy-duty planning.

And what about the other subjects? Well… what other subjects? We just don’t have time for anything else right now. The kids spend the rest of their day reading…

Hudson reading

…or playing outside…


…or just creating chaos…

Encyclo teaching Shiny how to climb in and out of her crib
The boys teaching Shiny Boots how to climb in and out of her crib

But all this cleaning while my children are otherwise occupied has made me realize that I have failed in teaching my children to help me with the housework. I think this must be the key to keeping house and school running simultaneously and smoothly. I am going to have to work on this — only not while I’m painting. I don’t think they’re ready to help me with that!

How do you manage your home and your school at once? So many people seem to have the energy for both. I see their blogs and their Pinterest pages, and I’m just not sure that they’re the same kind of human as me.