This week I was talking with a retired public school teacher. She told me that over her 40 years of teaching the most disturbing change in the public school philosophy and curriculum was the decreasing emphasis upon training children to develop workable skills, and a failure to instill productivity and personal responsibility. She said that over the last 15 years young adults graduated with no clue as to what they would do next, so they did nothing but “play on the computer or hang-out.”

Sadly, I have observed the same trend among homeschoolers. Ten years ago I sent out an appeal for homeschooling ideas. I was riveted to the letters as I read the wonderful, original and fun approaches to instilling initiative and resilient working skills in children. That was about the time Mike had a heart attack, so in the drama I forgot about my treasure stash of ideas. This past summer, after reading so many letters, and hearing the frustration of homeschooling mothers, my attention again turned to the need to share our best home schooling ideas with frustrated mothers. So I dug out the file of 10-year-old letters and sent out a fresh appeal for the latest home schooling ideas. The contrast was shocking. Something has happened in the last 10 years. Mothers are either burdened or rigid in their prepared, traditional approach to teaching children at home. I am reluctant to call it home schooling. The contrast 10 years later is a wake-up call.

Do some of your children hate school? If so, it is probably because what is being taught does not translate into real life; it is not favorable to producing creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, nor does it provoke kids to love work and assume responsibility. My upcoming book, Homeschooling Winners, is a collection of the most impressive ideas I received, as well as what I have learned in teaching parents how to prepare children to hit the road running. And it is coming soon, but not soon enough for my liking. So I decided to include some of the ideas in this magazine. The ideas are 10 years old, which means the children in training are now successful business owners. Be sure to read “Camera Hogs” (below).

You will find the old ideas listed below. Remember these ideas have been tried and proven to be wonderfully successful. So, go and do likewise. But, be warned. Your children will probably be heard begging, “Hey, Mom, please, can we do school?”

Camera Hogs

Camera HogsWhen I only had three small, bickering children, I stumbled upon an idea that changed our lives. I pulled out the movie camera one day and showed them how ugly they were when they fussed and fought. It did shock them, but it also had an unexpected effect—it made them want to make movies.

They started out just talking or telling stories. We soon gathered a large box of wigs, costumes, and other props that included stuffed animals. I would read a Bible story (now we use Good and Evil) and they would decide who would be which character and then dress up for the role they would play. I manned the camera. We got very imaginative telling stories like the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the rich man in hell. They basically acted out the whole life of Moses. (They were shocked to learn he killed a guy.) The story of Samson and Delilah was interesting and hard to explain, but they loved doing the Last Supper because each of them played more than just one character. We used a flashlight under the bed for dark drama. A single story would take the whole afternoon to film and a week or more to prepare for. Sometimes I just narrated the story and sometimes they created their lines.

Over the years we have covered an enormous amount of Scripture, and the children know a wealth of Bible history. They learned drama, memorization, and how to perform in front of others. They became skilled at camera work, lighting, and sound systems—all the parts of production that make a movie interesting. They quickly learned film editing, which involves more than anyone could imagine. They have long since left me behind. Now we have a huge library of dramas that they enjoy watching when we need a big laugh.

It is fun to watch the children grow up in these films. All my children are gifted actors, and any of them are capable of stepping into a job behind a camera or behind a computer, editing. Their friends’ parents stuck by the books so they could have a complete education, but now these grown kids have no marketable skills. As I write this, I think back and bless the day I first picked up the camera to show them how naughty they were acting.

Grandfather’s Gift of Change

Grandfather's Gift of ChangeEven though I am only 15 years old, I want to tell you how my grandfather got the idea of spending money wisely across to me. I was just 12 years old when he took me to the grocery store and handed me the grocery list and money to pay for the food. He told me that I had to get everything on the list with the money in hand, but whatever was left over I could keep. Looking at those twenty-dollar bills was so exciting until I started down the aisle of the store with my calculator, adding up the items. Several times I had to go back and find a lower-priced item, which meant I could not buy name-brand goods. Until that day, I had never even noticed name-brand prices being so much higher. Finally, I finished my list. I carefully went back over it to make sure I had everything. As I unloaded my cart at the checkout, I was very happy to know that I had some money to spare. It was just a little change, but I had managed to buy everything. Now, three years later, I don’t remember how much change was left from that first shopping expedition, but I do know that what I learned was priceless.

Thanks, Grandpa.

Solar System

Solar SystemWe made a solar system model out of lightweight foam and painted it with reflective paint. I fashioned a night sky to put on the ceiling, and then hung the sun, planets, and moons in place. At a yard sale, I found a clock that has a very dim, moving night sky so when the main lights are out, the tiny, star-shaped lights cross over our planets, and the reflective ceiling adds to the whole scene. It is the coolest thing possible. When I tuck the kids in bed, I tell them my own “Star Wars” story about God’s throne with the flashing lights and a crystal floor as it’s described in Revelation. I tell about the angels being huge warriors sent to help us, and about the four beasts with the giant wings standing around the throne, saying, “Holy, holy, holy,” and they love it.

Recipe Books

Recipe BooksMost libraries have a “for sale” room where you can obtain (either free or at a very low cost) out-of-date cooking magazines. I pick up a few each time we go to the library. As we get the magazines, we look through them and mark with different-colored paper stickers recipes that catch our eyes. A gray tab means it is a main-dish recipe that has meat in it, yellow is for beans, green for salad, pink for dessert, etc.

The children have new photo albums that they are using to create their personal cookbooks. Once a month we go through our magazines, cutting out a few recipes and pictures they like best to add to their own photo books. One child is making a cake cookbook, the other a salad cookbook, and the third, a cookbook for meat dishes. This year the children are making recipe books that they will give as gifts to someone special. They really love doing this because they see me using my recipe book that we built together last year.

They also see that I am always adding recipes or taking out recipes that I no longer like. Once a month each of the children chooses a recipe to cook for the family (with my help). If we all like the dish, then it is a keeper for the family recipe book. If not, we pull the recipe out of the picture slot and discard it. My children are becoming good cooks while making great memories. And the recipe books they give as gifts to Grandma and Auntie will be their legacy.

Know Your Child

Know Your ChildYesterday I had a wonderful day with my 7-year-old son. I drove two hours to my parents’ house and dropped off the other children for their once-a-month night over. Usually their stay-over coincides with a time their truck-driving daddy is home, which allows us to have a date night. But this time Dad was on the road, so I told my son this would be his special time. I had never done this before, but I had noticed my son seemed to be getting distant and short-tempered, and he had come to hate homeschooling. His growing bad attitude set off my alarms.

When we got back to our town, we went straight to the library for books that I could read to him that evening. We stopped by the grocery where I bought fried chicken and biscuits, and we shared a picnic at the park. Afterwards, we played on the swings and slides and just chased each other around, laughing, until it was almost dark. Even though it was evening by the time we got home, we did his school lessons together. He really loved working one-on-one, especially since it only took a short time with my undivided attention. Then we sat together in the big chair and read all the library books he had picked out earlier in the day. He said he wished he had checked out a hundred!

Deb says, Look into your child’s eyes, to show your love for them.

At bedtime, I lay beside him and told stories of when he was little, and then stories of when I was little. Sometime during the evening he started talking. He told me everything he could think of and some of it twice. I really came to know my son as a human being. He wasn’t just my baby, or even just my son; he was an individual who had ideas and dreams. Finally we prayed together and I climbed over into the other twin bed. I heard his long, contented sigh, and then he said, “This is the best day I ever had. Thank you, Mama.” I have to say that I cried.

So many times I have taken my children to this exciting activity or that great learning event or even out to a fine dinner, but just to spend the time being a one-on-one mama had escaped me. So, yes, this is my best homeschool idea.

The Making of a Doctor

The Making of a DoctorOur 9-year-old son wants to be a doctor like his grandpa. Grammy takes his hopes seriously. She took his picture, had it blown up to life-size, glued it to cardboard, and cut it out. She mailed it to him and told him to hang it on his wall because she would be sending him schoolwork every week. And she does.

Every week in the mail (he loves getting mail) he receives a learning page about a different body part as well as a picture of the body part to color and pin on his cardboard cutout. This week she sent him a line drawing of the brain that he colored and taped over his head. She also sent a page telling how the different sections of the brain function. After reading this page, he taped it up beside the picture of his head and ran colored strings from the page to the brain.

What makes a doctor? A grandmother who believes in dreams and makes them happen. She is homeschooling a future doctor from afar. We email her an updated picture each week, and she loves that.

Blind-Folding Mommy

Blind-Folding MommyI wanted to teach my children how to give good directions, so I took them on a tour of our house. Just like in a tour, I talked them through as we walked in the front door and through the rest of the house. Then I gave each one a starting place and told them to write directions that would lead to the kitchen table. When they were finished, I had them put a blindfold on me and I began following their directions as they read them aloud. I ran into walls, missed steps, and basically never made it to the kitchen table.

The next day they tried again with a reward going to the one who could get me to the kitchen table without any mishaps. Each week we stretch out a little farther in learning to give directions—first in the yard, next in the neighborhood, and then in the city. We bought a world map and started “traveling” everywhere, and our directions began to include ships and trains, hours and time changes, etc. Now my children are all tremendous at giving directions and have a great deal of confidence about it.

At church the other day, a lady was trying to give directions to her friend regarding how to get to the upcoming school play. My 10-year-old son politely said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Arnold, but if you turn right, you will be at Hardees. The correct directions are…” Both ladies stared with expressions of utter surprise and then looked at me, obviously impressed. “Where does this boy go to school?”

He looked up at me sweetly and then answered for me, “Oh, my mom homeschools us.”