April 1, 2014

The Importance of Art in our Homeschool

by Belinda Letchford

The importance of Art in our HomeschoolAs homeschooling parents, how we see or view something as important will affect how our kids are exposed to that.  I am strong in language and the humanities, and not so much the sciences.  This is reflected in our kids because I’m the one who has spent the most time with them.  If Pete was homeschooling them then they would have been exposed to more science.  Not to say that they would have been strong that way, because you also have your kids own bents come into play, but they would have been exposed to more.

What is your perspective on art and craft?  How you view this will affect how your children are exposed to creativity. In our adult world, art and craft are considered hobbies, and we don’t have a great deal of time for our hobbies, so we can take that attitude into our children’s lives and not give them time for creative expression.  We can also be limited because we don’t see ourselves as very creative so we don’t know what to give our kids, or how to encourage them, so we just don’t.

I see giving our kids art experiences is an important part of their development.  I believe that we have been created in God’s image – which means we reflect the different characteristics of God.  God is Creator – and we have been given the ability to create from the resources we have at hand.  We have been placed in a world where God has used colour, shape, movement to create beauty – and we have been created with the abilities to not only appreciate (with our senses) that but also reflect that in our own works.  I want to help my children be able to use every gift and ability they have been given; I want to educate (teach and train) the whole child, and this includes creativity.

It is easy to be cynical and see the primary school art lessons (which we are all familiar with) as just time fillers.  Or we think only those with arty passions are able to teach art.  Or we struggle with the mess.  But drawing, painting, making stuff are activities that are packed with important learning lessons for our kids.  They learn things like:

  •          How to make decisions and solve problems (will I use this?  Or will I use that?  Will I do it this way?  Or that?)
  •          The ability to take what they see around them, think about it and recreate or interpret it
  •          The ability to reflect on their work and self-evaluate (I like this, I don’t like this)
  •          The confidence to put themselves and their work out there for others to assess as they show their parents and others their efforts (And a big lesson here for parents is to tred respectfully and be encouraging!)
  •          Fine motor skills – holding pencil, paint brush, working with play-dough and glue all give opportunity, fun opportunity, for our kids to use their fingers and hand-eye co-ordination
  •          The opportunity to try new things, and to try again when they don’t work
  •          An alternative way to communicate their thoughts and feelings
  •          They learn that there is more than one way to do something, though they can also learn to follow instructions
  •          They learn to finish a project and clean up themselves, to be orderly
  •          Gives them something to do in their ‘free’ time – if they have learnt how to use art products without creating mess, and have learnt how to pack up, and then art is a great use of their free time.

And one other biggie, that is one other aspect that homeschoolers can overlook, is simply that to a child it is fun.  We do need to be careful that we don’t fill our children’s lives with ‘worthwhile’ activity giving them no time to simply enjoy colour, shape, mess, noise, energy.

In education speak the purpose of ‘The Arts’ is to help children explore and express ideas, feelings and experiences through their different senses and capabilities.  They typically categorise art into three different fields: Visual Arts, Drama, and Music.   I think seeing these three categories have helped me to see how some of these aspects are already happening in our family life, like exposure to various music genres and using various materials to make useful or decorative things.  But on the flip side, they help me see a gap in the things I could be exposing my kids to like drama and using our bodies to communicate.  Seeing these three fields have also helped me see that my kids can and will favour one over the other, and that is okay.

I think it is helpful for us to pause sometimes and ask –What do I believe about this? Why are we doing this?  What is the benefit?   When we see the reason behind the things that we do, or think we should do, then those reasons give us value for that activity.  Once we have a value on something we will push past the difficulties or roadblocks because we now hold this as important.

I believe it is important to help our children grow in every area of their life:  Art is one such opportunity to prepare them to use every gift they have, it is important in their physical muscle/co-ordination development, it gives opportunity to grow in their critical thinking and in their character.

Have you considered the importance of art in your homeschool?


While thinking about Art in your Homeschool – you may also like to read Getting over my Mess Phobia

March 27, 2014

Life Lessons learnt from Reality TV

by Belinda Letchford

life lessons learnt from reality TV

Over the years our family has watched a few Reality TV Shows and I have been surprised with how much my kids have learnt from these. Now Jess has already teased me, saying this blog post is simply a justification for watching such stuff (though she watches it with me!) but there really have been lessons we’ve learnt. Of course the point isn’t to get you to watch these TV shows – each family will have their own idea of what qualifies as valuable for their family – but since these shows intend to reflect some sort of reality then you can find these lessons in real life as well – you just need to keep an eye out on what is happening around you.

Masterchef: Of course we were inspired to be in the kitchen. We tried new foods and were aware of how food looked on a plate. Even those generally reluctant to try new foods started to give things a try.

The Apprentice: (this show had lots of language, and I often previewed before my kids watched it – and we skipped whole episodes so by no means does this show come with a complete recommendation!) This show was about completing projects, thinking creatively and working as a team. We had lots of business type discussions after most episodes: project planning, managing your time, working with a team, finances

The Block: We get inspired with the way these teams create beautiful spaces for living, though it is unlikely we’ll do anything along the same lines.

But most of our lessons have been in the areas of leadership, relationships and character. It is as we watch people handle challenges – both of real life type (like relationships) and contrived situations (like the challenges that I’m sure the producers intentionally set-about in order to create conflict!)

Some of the lessons we’ve learnt and talked about:
• Leaders don’t have to do all the ‘big’ tasks – they need to use their team according to ability and experience. In fact the team often works better if the leader is pulling it all together instead of actually doing the big tasks
• It takes effort to maintain a relationship – you have to nurture your relationship if you are going to come through tough times.
• Be bold if you believe in your project (and you should believe in your project), but don’t be arrogant – most character traits have a counter-balance
• Take personal responsibility for your mistakes – don’t blame others, and certainly don’t blame the boss!
• Accept authority’s decisions, and if you must, raise your concerns respectfully
• What does a work ethic look like and how do people respond when you work hard – and how some people look busy but aren’t really (these are character issues of diligence, thoroughness, initiative, responsibility)
• No relationship is ever perfect, there will always be glitches, but the key is to know how to talk about your differences, and to apologise (and accept an apology) – conflict resolution skills are needed whether in personal relationships or professional.

In the book, Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris, talk of three pillars to success in a person’s life, or to a person doing hard things – Character, Competency, and Collaboration. When we assess a competitor’s strengths or weaknesses, it is very clear they do fall into these three categories.

Watching TV, reading a book, seeing a movie, even people watching down the street is simply observation – it is as we talk about it, process it, and weigh it against our own value system that the kids can start to see these things as life lessons that would benefit their own lives, and not just a drama.


Linking with:



March 18, 2014

Don’t let Homeschool Curriculum Rule your Life

by Belinda Letchford

dont let curriculum rule your lifeOnce we buy a curriculum – either for a single subject, or one curriculum that covers it all – it is easy to let it become our master.  But our curriculum or resources should serve our objectives, not become our objective.  So how to keep it in control?

  1.  Know what your overall objectives are – if you have a plan for the whole child, then you start to see where the subject matter that the curriculum covers fits into your plan rather than the curriculum being your plan
  2. Plan your days based on your goals for your whole child, not just academics.  This way you can say I have ….x…. amount of time to study, and in this time I’ll use ….x… curriculum.
  3. Accept that curriculum writers have different objectives than you do therefore you’ll complete the work at a different rate than they talk about

There is so much that we want to do with our children we have to be very intentional about the things that we allow to take up our time.   Guard your time with your children fiercely.

  • How much time does your curriculum require you to prep – do you have that time, is it working for you?  I used to prep a bit for Five in a Row, but I saw the fruit of my prep.  When I chose a math or history course, I didn’t want to prep.
  • How much busy work is required?  How much paper work that doesn’t extend my kids thinking, writing, creativity?
  • How much time is wasted looking for links online?  Online resources are great but we have poor internet and sometimes something that is a great idea, just becomes a waste of time (and frustration) because of internet service.  We are learning to accept this situation, and just miss the internet links.  If this is going to be a problem with using the curriculum successfully then we need to let it go.

Once we buy a curriculum we tend to feel a sense of loyalty to use it completely.  We feel responsible to use what we’ve spent our money on, we feel a sense of commitment to a decision we made.  And yet, not all decisions we make are going to be the best ones.  Sometimes we need to accept that this curriculum is not all we had hoped for.  We may have to:

  • Tweak it – use bits of it, adapt how it is used in your family.  This is okay.
  • Delete it – Simply not use it.  This is also okay.  There are options to resell to another homeschool family – just because it didn’t fit your family doesn’t mean it won’t fit another family.  Don’t feel bad about selling it on as 2nd hand item.
  • Refer to it – Some resources can be used as a reference book where we dip into it when we have a specific question or researching a particular subject.  We used one history curriculum simply as a resource to provide a reading book list, and another resource to find out what topics to read about.

Choosing a good curriculum is tricky – there is so much to consider.  How many children are studying together, their different learning styles, or even learning difficulties, how much time you have to prep, how much time you have to teach, and whether you even understand the subject yourself or if you too are learning.  Then we’ll have different educational philosophies that will direct our choices, different budgets, different confines on the space where we study as a family.   All of these things will influence the decisions we make when buying curriculum.  But once we get that resource into the home, we have to remember that it is only a tool, we chose it yes, but it doesn’t have to rule every other aspect of our family life.

Other blog posts on this topic of Curriculum:

Homeschool Curriculum Questions

Favourite Resources (Primary School)

My Choice, Their Choice

Choosing Resources

Linking with:


March 11, 2014

Running out of Time – Homeschooling Highschool

by Belinda Letchford

running out of timeMy older two finished their homeschooling years kind of accidentally – all of a sudden they were done.  Joshua started his external University course with the intention of that being part time, but before I knew it these studies filled his study time.  Apparently he was done with homeschooling.  Jessica was much the same – all of a sudden we decided she needed to move on.  It seems a bit strange, especially since intentionality has been a key idea for us – but life happens!

The Highschool years are very much about defining the talents and passions of our kids and giving them the skills to excel in those areas.

  • Joshua wanted to go to University and loved history, politics and worldviews.  In his last few years he studied these things from a Christian perspective – that is looking at how beliefs affect society and Biblical principles in law, science, art, medicine, and social environs etc.
  • Jessica said she had no desire to go to University, she was a practical person and she enjoyed writing so her activities involved business, publishing, helping others, and creative pursuits, along with a well-rounded study course of history, math, writing, literature.  She also studied worldview, but more from discussions than reading.

So here I am with child #3 – in year 12 – one year to go.

How am I going to fit it all in? 

  • Know the priorities for this individual child.  Only by reducing and focusing on what is important will we meet our goals.  Allowing other things – subjects that may traditionally be studied, or subjects that other kids around us are studying – can detract from achieving our own goals.  We have chosen to take an individualised education road; I need to finish on this road as well.  Now is not the time to start conforming to other people’s methods.
  • Focus on their talents, passions and interests and develop the skills necessary to be successful in those areas.  We can only make decisions based on the information we have at hand now.  We don’t know what will interest our kids in a few years’ time.  That is okay.  We need to give them the skills for the things that we do see, and we need to give them the ability to continue learning for the things that they grow into.  At the moment we see Art in Naomi, but she is also interested in nursing, so is keeping up with her science studies, whereas, Jessica, at this stage, dropped science and focused on other practical projects.
  • Remember, if they are lifelong learners, what they don’t learn this year, they’ll learn in years to come.  This means that there really is no end to our children’s education.  What doesn’t happen now will happen later if there is a need or purpose for it.  This is the nature of being a life-long learner.  We need to make sure we don’t put an artificial cap or unnecessary rush on their learning, just because their homeschool years are over.

Our focus, as the parent, needs to be how can I help my child be prepared for the next phase of their life?

We may need to make some changes:

  • In our day – As my kids have grown older I have had to curtail interruptions and allow them to focus on study.  I am more particular about the lifestyle opportunities that I allow to take them away from their studies.  When the kids were young they learnt so much from lifestyle opportunities, now though, when they are older we have to be discerning as to what is really a learning opportunity and what is a distraction.
  • In how often we get them to stop and help us – As our kids get older we may have to call on them less, giving them the freedom of extended periods of uninterrupted study time.  This is a good discipline to put on ourselves, as it makes us ask the younger one to do something that maybe the older ones have always done.  This is a good thing, as it makes us train the younger ones as we did the older ones.
  • In how we use curriculum or resources – maybe as time draws to a close for our homeschooling we have to change how we are doing our lessons.  Just this week I’ve released Naomi from notebooking her Art History book, instead she will complete a project at the end.  This is so she can get through it quickly.  The notebooking along the way, has served it’s purpose, now we have a different purpose – namely to finish this book, and to move onto a different subject.  Not that we’ll be rushing every subject, but this is one she does need to move through quickly.

I think it is important though that as I come to terms with the idea that this is her last year homeschooling that I don’t put pressure on her to have it all sorted as to what she is going to do next year.  She has the freedom to take as long as she needs to do these things well – if that takes an extra 6 months or an extra 12 months then that is okay.  I think it is important to help our kids, who are on an individualised plan, to know that if you were just doing school, doing what you had to do to get out of there, then yes, you would want to be finished by a certain date.  But if they are  working towards a goal – a goal that they have set themselves – it doesn’t have to be contained to 12 years of education – it takes as long as it takes, and that is okay.

Just for the record (for myself, for Naomi, and for anyone interested) here are the priorities we have listed for Naomi for ending her homeschool years:

  • Have some self-management skills well established
  • Complete a study of Art History – and complete a project referencing Art through the years
  • Learn digital art software:  Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator
  • Complete a worldview course – The Truth Project or similar
  • Read 3 Classic Novels, and discuss character, plot and lessons to be learnt
  • Continue with her Bible study, Math, Science, Writing, for as long as she is homeschooling
  • Be ½ of the way through her Duke of Edinburgh Award (Gold)
  • If she wants to go to University she’ll then need to complete a Uni-prep/bridging course (this will be started next year if that is what she chooses to do)

I don’t know if this can be done in one year or not – maybe, maybe not.  But at the moment, these are the goals we are working towards.


Linking to:

Let’s Homeschool Highschool blog hop

Hip Homeschool Moms blog hop


March 9, 2014

Weekly wrapup 08/03/14

by Belinda Letchford

Last Saturday we went to a debrief of sorts as our friends, who had spent a year in Uganda, shared their experiences with the Christian community of our town.   It was a great night of fellowship as we shared a meal and listened to them talk through various slide presentations.    And for a little lighthearted fun we watched the Jam Dance – and then those brave enough gave it a shot.  Each of us came away thinking about how we give to other people.  The catch phrase that we continue to think about is: Be vulnerable.  And the question we are asking ourselves: Am I prepared to be vulnerable even here in my town.

We were on the roster (with another family) for morning tea at church – the girls help whenever they can to get the baking done, if the three of us cook one recipe, double it, then we have plenty for church and a little left over for us and our freezer.

Sunday was our 23rd Wedding Anniversary.  When the kids were younger we celebrated by talking about our wedding and our marriage.  We would often look at the photos or the video.  None of that happened this year.

Monday was a public holiday – and though when our kids were young we worked on anyway (kids didn’t know about public holidays) but now they are older, their friends are all excited about a day off school we tend to change our plans too.  But plans changed much bigger than expected when friends asked Peter and I to join them on the river.  Peter wasn’t able to change his plans, but I jumped at the chance, sorted things here at home and then I was off!  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride up the river – just taking in the views.  We pulled up under some shady trees for lunch, and made our way back home.  Peter and the kids joined us and they went biscuiting while my friend and I had a cuppa on the banks.

We went from there to the Homeschool Concert.  Every February we kick start our co-op activities with a family concert – this year our planning was running late so we held it Monday night.  It was the most entertaining concerts we remember – the kids put in great effort – as did the parents!  There was humour, drama and a little music!  For the first year ever, I told my kids they didn’t have to perform.  Nomi hardly needs the practice, and Daniel is working on other things.  But Peter, Naomi and I helped Jess and her girls (that she tutors) with their little skit of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

Tuesday would have been a good day to get into our studies – we’ve had a bit of  break lately with an extra long weekend – but the girls had haircut appointments – which I usually make for the afternoon but could only get in this week in the mornings.  So while we were in town we did a little shopping and running around chores.  It was lunch time by the time we got back – so much for study!  Daniel worked through his study programme while we were gone, and Nomi had Girls Bible study and Choir on in the evening.

Wednesday – yay!  we completed a study day!  Plus Naomi started soccer, and Daniel went to Taekwondo.  A good day.

Thursday – another good day.  Girls had Mainly Music and went for their swim.  Daniel did his gardening work, and then Media Studies, I also spent some time on his money-book-keeping with him, before he went into young men’s (teens) Bible study.

Friday – another day at home!  We studied Tolerance – and brainstormed different character traits that would help us be tolerant.  Our living math geometry lesson ended up talking about short/long days and the rotation of the earth.  The rest of the morning was spent with the kids studying independently and me working on a project.

Saturday was a busy day as Peter organises a men’s breakfast, I went to quilting for the morning, the boys had Taekwondo sparring, the girls stayed home being creative.  Peter and I went out in the evening to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary.  This couple are long term residents, they have most of their adult children raising their family in town too –  so it was special to be a part of their celebration and honour of marriage.

Weekend Links:

Teaching my kids dictionary skills:  Often when I’m browsing Pinterest I come across a skill or concept that I wonder if my kids get.  This week it was dictionary skills – the non-digital type.  These lessons are for younger kids, but it gave me a jump start to making sure I have this skill covered.

One of my hobby horses – kids need to touch type – and they can do it from a young age, without a lot of fuss and bother.  Why Johnny can’t Type

I always get distracted – so many to choose from – when deciding which Bible Verses to memorise.  Here’s a list: 50 Most Important Bible verses to remember

I’m looking forward to hearing Sally Clarakson talk about learning, and the atmosphere in our home:  Home Centered Learning (Tuesday morning for us here in Australia).


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