How to Help Your Kids Love Learning Again

Are your kids tired of “school?” Does learning seem like a chore to them? It’s probably not their fault. We’ve been trained to rely on textbooks as authorities of what our children must know, and persevere through them faithfully.

Oh, the tyranny of the textbook! Each subject is presented as separate and distinct, stripped of its vitality and laden with seemingly irrelevant facts. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or, to them? How can we teach the love of learning when it isn’t exciting to us?

Textbooks are useful as a resource. But if you want to teach without quenching curiosity, I think it’s best to keep it as one of several resources.  How about bringing subject matter into a real-life application? Instead of merely stuffing your memory with isolated facts,  you can refocus and create a living lesson!

It is true that advancement in understanding needs a foundation of basic information. Children enjoy memorizing lists and basic fact families from a very early age. This can be done through songs, games and challenges. The grammar stage is when they are hungry to know and identify items in categories. But if these facts do not become connected to a deeper meaning, by the time they hit 9 or 10 years old, their interest will evaporate. There is no reason to wait until they are on the verge of losing interest, either. Knowledge should be applied to bring understanding. They need to move from “the what” to “the how” and “the why.”

Several curricula make use of the library, experiments, and field trips. Even an occasional interview with an expert (or a video clip of one) may be included to add interest. These are a great help! But we still lose something when we strive to separate subjects from each other. Real life isn’t like that. It doesn’t seem natural. Meaning and significance are lost.

How can the four core subjects of math, reading, history/geography, and science come together in one lesson? What about Bible, spelling, handwriting, and literature? If you are following a distinct sequence for each subject, it wouldn’t be easy. But not all subjects need to be taught in a particular order. So, question the table of contents!

This week in history, we have been studying the Pilgrims meeting with Squanto. Here are a few associated topics that could be melded together fairly easily: in science –  germs and infectious disease, hygiene and food preparation, weather, horticulture, and physics (buildings and ships).

Science crosses into math when discussing navigation tools and means from the age of discovery, compared to today. Geography also plays a part both in routes taken and cultural differences. Bible lessons flow from the desire of the pilgrims to worship freely, their treatment of the natives they encountered, and their determination and work ethic in persevering.

Besides matters of faith, the Mayflower Compact touches on sociology, economics, and law. Vocabulary can be taken from this document and sections can be copied. Discussions of the moral rightness or wrongness of settling there against the king’s wishes can be discussed and even debated, with evidence brought for each position.

Math, Science and Reading can also be implemented as your children use original recipes and prepare Johnny Cakes (corn bread) or meat pies from early colonial days. If you double or triple the recipe you not only practice liquid and dry measurement but also add and multiply fractions. The nutritional value of the food available to the Pilgrims is another interesting topic.

Unit Studies make an effort to bring all the disciplines together and many of them do a good job. But again, a curriculum that someone else wrote can be limiting.

I encourage you to be spontaneous from time to time and talk with your children as you help them develop life skills. Let the questions that rise from real work inspire some research and reflection.

One other benefit of this type of learning is that your children see wonder in the world around them. Knowledge does not seem so difficult to attain. Ideas in isolation are soon forgotten. When the creative mind and the senses become engaged, they gain understanding of subject matter and transition into wisdom as knowledge is applied to their lives. There are plenty of mysteries to be discovered. Be free of the tyranny of the textbook. Let learning be a joyful adventure for you and your children!


Economic Life Lessons For Kids

While math concepts may seem obscure, kids have no trouble understanding money; at least the spending part! The more difficult concept is the true value of money. Each dollar spent represents someone’s work and time invested in what was purchased.

So, how can we teach kids to appreciate the value of money? From a very early age, we can begin by not automatically replacing what gets broken through carelessness. The child should work to earn its replacement. Though this is a hard lesson, it is best learned early.  If they break something of someone else’s, they should work to earn the replacement item, without receiving any other compensation. This will teach them respect for personal property.

Private Property 

In order to be consistent with this, children must be allowed to keep treasured items (such as a new birthday present or special toy) only for themselves. If forced to share, the lesson of private property’s value is undermined. Sharing only really counts when it is from the heart anyway. Doing so always brings a risk.

The Scriptural lesson, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” means that we need to honor their things as we hope they will honor ours.  But will children ever learn to share this way?

As they see our example of generosity in giving and of sharing our things with them and with our friends and taking a risk that the item may not be returned or may be broken – we can also teach that a heart of love will share, not expecting anything in return. This is what love does. However, you cannot force love. For our part, we will always either return what was borrowed or replace it, because it is the right thing and the loving thing for us to do. Leading by example is much better than forcing them to share their things and possibly causing the opposite effect than you desire.

Thankfulness for gifts and for opportunities to earn money should be taught very early. Seeing the world through eyes of gratitude can transform the character of a child. Our example of gratitude both to God and to others that bless us can guide them.  “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.”   1Thessalonians 5:18.

 

Earning Opportunities for “Wants”

Chores do build character, and some should be done without pay. Certainly, those that have to do with the child maintaining their own room and hygiene should be. But if they work for someone else, you have the option of giving them some income from it. If they have a wish list, they can begin a savings account and watch the balance grow toward their short-term goals. It’s best to start with shorter term goals so they can have the satisfaction of seeing them achieved. It will inspire savings again. As they get older, they can handle longer term goals.

Entrepreneurship

Finally, they can start up a small business of their own. Our homeschool group has had “market days,” where the kids bring in crafts and creations and baked goods they make, to sell. Everyone brings their spare change or dollars to take turns seeing what all their friends have made!  Lemonade stands, mowing lawns, pet care, babysitting or housecleaning for a neighbor – are all good early jobs for kids. Encourage them to track their expenses as well as their income, to see what the profits are. How can they improve the profit? Advertise? Cut costs? Improve the quality of their product so more will sell?  All these questions help children to understand the value of money and see how time is exchanged for it.

Allowance or Stewardship?  

I don’t like the idea of allowances. Many people do give them, but to me, it smacks of entitlement. If you do delegate a responsibility that requires funds, that is different. A stewardship is something that will need to be accounted for later and brings good lessons with it. If your child is able to do what has been asked of them with the money provided and has some left over (because of wise choices – not from purchasing low-quality things), they may be allowed to keep it as a reward for a job well done. Handing over some household management in purchasing (as they are getting a bit older) is also a great way to help them develop confidence. Stewardship is a Biblical concept that can be reinforced through this practice. We are given much by our Heavenly Father to manage here. When we do well, He will say “well done,” and reward us. We can be imitators of Him in this way too, as we train our own children.

Negative and Positive Numbers


Negative numbers may seem an obscure concept, until you bring in examples from life. The best one I know of is the example of debt vs. savings.

Use the following method using both a number line and a balance sheet (such as a checkbook log).

It works this way. Explain that if I have no money at all, and owe nothing, I am at zero in my bank account.

If I owe you ten dollars, but have no money in my pocket, the scale would read –  negative 10. It may help to write the negative numbers in red ink, showing that you are “in the red” by so much.  If I have $10, and owe $10,  on a number line would move forward ten, then back ten, showing a total of zero at the end.   Use different values to practice addition and subtraction on the number line.

A negative/positive number exercise  that is  quite effective, uses real money. Having your child physically add or subtract the amount from their own “bank” by earning or spending (keeping their own funds in a shoebox that says “bank account”) and paying you dollar by dollar for purchases, makes quite an impression.  Not only will they understand the concept of positive and negative numbers (and balances), but it may motivate them to become more frugal!

Another way to emphasize this concept is to have them work off a debt (of a reasonable amount) after buying them a small item (on credit). They didn’t have the money to pay for it themselves so they owe it and have a negative balance. After paying it off fully, they may expect to have money in their pocket, but will realize that they have only gotten back to zero, and need to work more without spending it, to have a positive balance!

This is a hard math lesson. Not because the numbers are difficult to compute, but because reality is hard!

Mastering Simple Math Through Games, Part 1

Very young children may recognize and name digits on paper without understanding the concept of number. Or, they may be able to count aloud but have not associated the spoken number with a written one. You may find a child counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… while looking at three items. This is to be expected as really understanding a number is a process.

A preschool child will associate a quantity with its corresponding numeral. A first grader will begin learning “fact families” to add the numbers or items of things, together. One way to solidify this skill and help a child to internalize the number, understanding it fully, is to play a guessing game with items in a fact family. I put together an easy game when my own children were small, called “Math Beans.” (It works well with M&M’s too.)

Let’s say you want to teach a combination of facts for the number 7. Take 7 beans (or M&M’s or another item of interest to your child that you can easily hide in your hand). Ask them first, to count the beans.

Once counted, put the beans behind your back and take some of them out of one hand, putting them in the other hand. Bring out both hands and show them what is in one, leaving the other hand closed. Ask them to figure out how many “beans” are in the closed hand. This is a fun game, and after playing with the 7 beans, using several combinations – they should begin to answer more quickly or know immediately. Once they have mastered all the facts of 7, show them what these facts look like on paper.

7 + 0 = 7
6 + 1 = 7
5 + 2 = 7
4 + 3 = 7
3 + 4 = 7
2 + 5 = 7
1 + 6 = 7
and 0 + 7 = 7.

This would also be a good time to explain the Commutative Law for Addition (though you don’t need to name it yet). It doesn’t matter what order you add the numbers.
2 + 5 will give you the same number of beans as 5 + 2.

By playing interactive math games with your children, they will not only master the material but enjoy doing it. Learning that is enjoyed is remembered.