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Things I Learned in My First Month of Teaching

alec vanderboom

1) Do the Housework First (Or Less Fun Tasks First, School Second)

I'm housework challenged, so this may only apply to me. (If you picture handing your 4 year old a sponge and squirt bottle and watch her stare with dismay that those crusty bits remain on the countertop dispute minutes of vigorous scrubbing you get a sense of my level of competence in this area.) We spent a few tupsy turvy weeks as I plunged into full teaching mode and disregarded my weekly laundry routine. Somehow, I felt that now that school "counted" my teaching tasks were far more important than lowly vacuuming time. Things got pretty miserable in our house, pretty quickly.

Now, I've made a commitment to be a housewife first and teacher second. If I make a commitment to get the laundry done at 8 AM, there ends up being tons of moments in the day to work on fun school projects. If I flip the order around, there is NEVER a spare moment to spontanously tackle the laundry pile.

I'm slowly making my peace with the epitaph on my gravestone not being "Levitating Contemplative Prayer/Brilliant Home Educator" or even the dowdy "Amazingly Accomplished Lawyer", but the plain title of "Wife, Mother, Family Laundress." Me and Saint Clare, tackling the smelly laundry pile every day, all day!

2) Let Your Kids Practice Talking

More important than reading and writing, kids need to refine their oral communciation skills. One of the big shortcomings of school is that little kids have to spend most of their day quietly listening to their teacher. As John Holt says "In School, the teacher who needs the least practice talking is the one who gets the most time to talk!"

For me, home education, is one long conversation with my kids. Tangible lessons like “clouds” or “the Titanic” are just new things to talk about with one another. Because there are so many distractions during my “regular” life (there always seems to be at least one serious question every time Mimi has a diaper explosion), I use my school time to focus on intensive listening to my older kids.

Teaching is much more about asking big questions, listening with focus and patience, than sharing my own knowledge. This month, I’ve noticed a huge growth in Alex and Hannah’s vocabulary, their ease of conversation and their joy of “presentations.”

3) Use Dad

Dad is the principal of our little school. His job is to calm down the teacher (me), review and praise student work, handle the scary public school evaluations, and teach difficult subjects. Hannah and I got ourselves lost over phonics. My husband graciously stepped in. He now gives her “private” lessons for 20 minutes after dinner. Hannah laps up the extra attention. My husband loves being an intimate part of her education. I wash the dishes in total happiness knowing that I get to cherry pick only the “fun” educational subjects to teach my kindergartener.

4) When a Kid isn't paying attention to something important, start teaching his younger sibling

Little Mimi is my best student. She loves to sit in the school chairs everyday. She loves to draw with her crayons. If I'm not getting anywhere with math or phonics with my older kids, I'll just start explaining the concept to Mimi. I initially just started doing this to make myself feel better (see, someone cares that I said 19 + 1 = 20 and not 110), it works every time. The older kids are drawn in like magnets. They want to be included in our fun. They also like to be "the teacher" and give lessons to their little sister.

5) Use Drama and Food to Teach History

Yesterday, we had corn beef and I launched into a history of the Irish Potato Famine. We do the Boston Massacre whenever we eat Baked Bean for lunch. We pretend that the Red Coats are Quartering in our house. We imagine immigrating to Boston as a poor Irish family. I usually throw in a dash of ethics. We talk about the uncharity of forcing the Irish to switch religions for a bowl of soup or that the “unsinkable Titanic” didn’t have enough life boats to save the Dads. (Yes, my children will be the ones passionately arguing “THAT’S NOT FAIR” in the State Social Studies Fair.)

6) Kids need lots of down time

Most of our day is spent in play. We take naps. We mess around with toys in the bathtub. We dig in dirt. We play on the monkey bars. We spend WAY more time watching movies than my kids’ pediatrician allows. (We are such movie buffs. Thursday was Annie Day and Today was Superman. I’m thinking that maybe I can rename this home-school thing the Benjamin Film Academy just to get out of the 1 hour of screen time thing.)

7) Model Your Own Learning

The best thing that I'm doing is modeling my own commitment to improve my spelling. Pick a subject that is a weak spot, and model your improvement to your kids.

8) Pray about Home Education everyday with your Spouse

I keep praying all the time to Our Blessed Mother and Saint Anne. The uncertainity and the impossibility of the home teacher role, is actually its strength. You have to turn it over to our Mother. You have to trust. You have to trust your child. You have to trust yourself. Most of all, you have to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you on this adventure together.

Hope everyones October in Home School Land is also Hopeful and Happy!