Tips and Tricks from an Old Dog

by Doreen Blanding

There are a few things I’ve learned over the past two decades of homeschooling six very different children.  I would love to pass some of this knowledge along to other homeschooling moms and dads.

You’re not very smart

I’m no longer insulted when my junior high student says, “Mom, I have a math question, I’ll go get the answer book,” or worse yet, “I can’t finish my math because I have a question that you can’t answer. I’ll just wait for dad.” But the worst is when they say that and end it with, “I’ll just wait for Jason.” Jason is my math genius.  He didn’t get that from me, but from his dad.  He is still living at home and going to a local college where he is setting the curve in his math classes.  I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. That boy sure did teach me a few things and one of them is not to be insulted because I don’t understand something. I still remember when he took his geometry test book (in which he was behind a couple of days) and took the test in five minutes and didn’t miss a problem. I knew then that he was way beyond me.

Drummer drum

Jason also taught me that kids march to the beat of their own drum and sometimes that’s literal.  When he was a little kid he couldn’t spell the simplest of words and it was driving me crazy.  He would have a word memorized one minute and then ten minutes later not know how to spell it.  One day while drilling him, I saw his foot tapping the ground in perfect rhythm.  I told him to stop it, it was driving me crazy.  How could he concentrate on spelling if he was tapping his foot? He stopped only to start tapping his finger on the table. I told him to stop and so he switched to the other hand.  I almost left the room screaming, but instead I took a breath and said a silent prayer, “Dear Lord, help me not to beat this child.” My answer was, “This child needs to move in order to learn.”  That was the beginning for him. He took off like leaps and bounds because I let him move his body while he was studying.  He would jump on the rebounder (a little trampoline), or skip rope, or tap his foot or his fingers.  A few years later we bought him a drum set and he loved it. He still drives me crazy when he taps his finger or pencil while studying, but I just bite my tongue and remember that he is processing something very important. I learned that sometimes a quick prayer gives us the right answer. Sometimes we have to let our children learn in unorthodox ways.

Give ‘em a minute

I just love it when my kids say, “Mom, how come you marked number 15 wrong? It can’t be wrong; I went over it and over it.”  I remind them that I correct a lot of different papers throughout the day and I don’t recall what “number 15” is.  They usually catch me while I’m making dinner or busy with something else and yet they want me to stop and help them.  Instead of dropping everything, I have them verbally walk me through the problem.  Nine times out of ten, they stop mid sentence and say, “Oh, I see what I did wrong.” That tenth time, I will walk over and say, “Show me.” It is while showing me that they usually discover where they went wrong. Sometimes all it takes is for them to take a minute and try to explain their problem to someone else.

The teacher always learns the most

Another trick I have found is to answer their questions with this: “Teach me.”  The teacher always learns the most. This works very well with kids of all ages.  I’m a busy mom and sometimes I’m very pressed for time so I will have my kids read a chapter of a science book and then teach us what they learned.  I also use this trick when the math problem they are asking me to solve is something I would need to brush up on. I have them teach me how to multiply fractions or how to solve a geometry proof.  The other response I have is “Prove it.”

Show and Tell

There is nothing wrong with show and tell.  When my children were very little we did a show and tell almost nightly for dad. First I did it to prove to him that I was teaching his children, but later I had them do it to see what they learned and what they missed from the day’s lessons.  My college son told me one day that he wished I would have given him more tests and grades.  I told him that I tested him almost daily. “Remember how I had you tell dad each night what you learned? That was a pop quiz.” I did give the kid tests and grades. He just didn’t ever see them.  My children are a bit old for show and tell, but I love listening to them discuss some pretty heavy topics around the dinner table.
Family Home Evening

I had been homeschooling for only a few years when a fellow homeschooling mom confessed to me that they didn’t do Family Home Evening on Monday night.  She said, “I feel like I’ve done family night all day long and I’m just so worn out that I can’t do one more lesson.”  I thought a lot about that statement.  She was right; I spent a lot of time doing Family Home Evening type stuff all day long and doing it one more time when everyone is cranky was a chore.  But then I thought of the blessings the Prophets had promised us when we hold Family Home Evening.  I couldn’t leave blessings on the table so I did “one more lesson” every week. I soon noticed that the kids looked forward to it as much as I did.  I also noticed that this was the one lesson where dad was with us and if we planned ahead he would even teach the lessons.

It has been about fifteen years since that conversation and I look at what weekly Family Home Evening has done for my family. We are a stronger family because we did that “one more lesson.” My kids know the gospel and if they have questions, the know where to find answers. They know how to teach a lesson because we take turns.  I honestly don’t know where that other mom is or how her kids are turning out. I’m no saint, but darn if I’m not seeing the blessing of holding “one more lesson”.

Finally, I have time for one more tip: be willing to let the Spirit guide you. Every one of the tips I’ve shared here, I learned because I was taught because I was flexible in the teaching moment and willing to let the Spirit take me somewhere different. If you remain open to promptings then I’m sure you will discover many tips of your own.

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Doreen