Sunday, August 28, 2016

Quick Tips on the Gentle Art of Learning

Quick Tips on the Gentle Art of Learning
At the beginning of this school-year I'd like to offer you encouragement. I've shared this list with some of you who've written me. To most, these tips will not be new. But perhaps one or two will particularly speak to your present need.

First, here's an illustration that helped me during my years of home teaching. Still today it helps me put "first-things-first."

Baby E. wearing what Grandma knit (spring photo)
For arranging lessons. Place an empty jelly jar on the table, an imaginative one. Then gather a couple whole walnuts. And a handful of little shelled peanuts. The walnuts and peanuts represent subjects and activities of your day or week. Now, place these nuts into the jar. You will discover that the only way they'll all fit is to put the walnuts in first, with the little peanuts filling in the spaces around them. If you place the nuts the other way 'round, you won't be able to fasten the lid. Those things you find most important in your schedule (the walnuts) put into your time-table first. Arrange the other subjects (the peanuts) around them. On different days you might have different subjects be the walnuts.

1. Children are on loan to us from God. Hannah of First Samuel is our beautiful example. We really do have them in our care for a short time.

2. Beware of comparing. With Facebook and blogs we have an open door to knowing what our friends, or extended family, are doing daily. They might be touring Europe in designer clothes while you're potty training between math and phonics, and haven't been out of an apron since daybreak. It doesn't help to continually compare our situation or teaching choices with that of others. Follow the path of your personal conviction. All education is divine. That is, the Holy Spirit comes along side us in all subjects, to guide, and enlighten. Focus on your particular blessings. Home teaching is kingdom work. Never give up.

Study Hour by John George Brown

3. Use books - don't let books (or curriculum) use you. A good book isn't boring. It has the literary power to open the door of a child's mind. It may be full of facts - the same facts found in a standard classroom textbook - but they are presented in a palatable and memorable way. If you decided to try a new book, lay a lifeless one aside without any qualms.

4. Children will chatter. Like tapping a sugar maple for its sap, the home teacher can take advantage of this talking resource. Ask your student to tell in his own words (narrate) what he has observed or read. If a quiet child says little ask “what else” and “what else” again. This is laying the foundation of composition, naturally and without tears.

5. Learning is not limited to sitting immovable at a desk. Get outdoors. Observe nature, keeping a record of your “finds” in a Nature Notebook, where science, composition, and art join hands.

Landis Valley

6. Cultivate an appreciation for what is beautiful in art and in music simply. Now and again display a picture from a famous painter, play a CD of a noteworthy composer.

Our zinnia in the front garden.
7. Look for heroes. The Bible, biography and historical fiction can supply inspiring heroes whose virtues and character qualities your child may choose to esteem and emulate. Children will catch the "scientific spirit" through biography, too. Tracing the paths of discovery, experiment and invention they will follow (what Miss Mason called) "the rise and progress of an idea."

8. Build good habits one at a time. Lay them brick by brick. It is remarkable what the quiet discipline of routine and the practice of good manners do for the home atmosphere. Prioritize and strive to be consistent. Life brings its interruptions. You will get back on track when you can. In the meantime Providence may be offering us an unexpected soul-lesson.

Moss in the shaded part of our driveway. I like moss. 
9. Keep lessons short in the beginning years. Ten to 15 minutes of math seems ridiculously short if you come from a public school background of one-hour lessons. But tutoring one-on-one is wonderfully efficient. Lessons can gradually be lengthened. The more mature the student is the more independent learning he will accomplish - during which time you can be tutoring a little one.

Friendship Star quilt made for the wall of the family room.
10. Homeschool pioneers have fought to win us legal freedom. Therefore, let's use our Mother's Prerogative. What is it that you'd like to teach? What do you want your children to know? My high school students would join me for "prerogative studies" after lunch. As long as there were children in the house - even adult children - I chose to read aloud to one - or all, somewhere in the schedule.

11. Information and knowledge are two different things. Rote-memory is only an exercise for memorizing data. Children are persons not parrots. Give children, too, all kinds of odd and interesting books and experiences and with narration they will gain the kind of wisdom-knowledge that goes into making a person.
Garden behind a picket-fence, Landis Valley

12. Curiosity is to education what a wick is to a candle. Children are born with God-given curiosity – until it is schooled out of them by constant testing, working for the grade, and peer-pressure. Asking, “What is it my child would delight in knowing more about?” safeguards curiosity. There is no better place to accomplish this than in the home school.

13. You are a person, too, who needs to keep growing. To prevent burn-out, read your Bible, dabble in domestic arts, take a nature walk, and/or any number of interests. To refresh the soul, blossom with fruits of the spirit, and polish character, we need our daily bread - the bread of life – Jesus. Taking a little time for Mother Culture, to grow yourself, is not a self-fish thing to do. The advantage does not end with yourself. When our cup overflows it spills over into the family circle – which importantly includes our husbands.

Ice-cream with glass bead "sprinkles" -gift of a friend. My rag doll likes it. 
14. Little things do make a difference. Little steps taken with daily faithfulness take us far. The home teacher strives to sow seeds of ideas in the hearts and minds of her children – rather than fill in holes. Children seemingly learn and grow in spurts and lags. Though, not evenly matched to the teacher's planner, seeds are sprouting, children are learning. Given the right food and atmosphere, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” (Gal.6:9) What is done out of love is lasting.

Thanks for visiting.

Karen Andreola

If you are reading this on your telephone you will have to check a full-size computer screen to see my email address in the side margin. I place it there to help eliminate spam mail. You can also contact me through Facebook message. Write anytime.


  1. This is a wonderful list and reminder! That garden photo behind the picket fence is just lovely, Karen! Thank you. Hope you have a blessed week! Amy

  2. Good morning, Karen.

    I have a sister-in-law who is still teaching children in her home. She was telling me just the other day about some new curriculum choice that is now all the rage. She was lamenting the pressure put on her by other home teaching mothers to use this particular resource. Happily, she is of sterner stuff. We took a few moments to recount all the "in" things in the homeschooling world that have come and gone in the past twenty years.

    I am particularly grateful for your reminder that God's Spirit leads us.

    Happy end of August to you!


  3. How I continue to appreciate you sharing the homeschooling journey you experienced with your children. It helps to feel supported in looking to the ONE who has gifted each of us with the wisdom and knowledge HE desires for us to have to do HIS will while we are in our "earthly lives" - May you and your loved ones continue to feel GOD's presence in your lives - Julia

  4. Dear Karen,

    Thanks you so much for your post. It has been a blessing to me today. Last year when my daughter was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, we stepped out of the long distance, accredited homeschool we had been a part of since kindergarten. We were advised to focus on reading books. And we did! I worried that we were not doing enough. But when we had a portfolio review at the end of the year, I was surprised at how much we had accomplished, doing our little bit each day. And the teacher who reviewed the work was pleased, too. Not only that, but my daughter was able to pursue some interests, like crochet, that we had never had time to do before. There is continued sickness to deal with this year, but we are trusting God to help us again. Your post is a great encouragement to me! Thank you!

    Love your quilt! You are quite accomplished with your needle and thread, as well as with your words!

    God bless you and your family today!

  5. I am beginning our 15th year of homeschooling next week. Thank you for your encouragement all along the way. I am thankful for each year we can be home together, even though it has often not been easy. This blog post is a nice bird's eye view of "what to do and how to do it." God's peace be yours!

  6. Dear Karen, although these tips may not be "new," these life-giving ideas are finding a lodging place in my heart today. Reminders of the rudimentary principles of education are never unneeded. Sometimes we (I) make things more complicated than they need to be and we (I) need the reminder to keep life and joy in our studies. (Yes, even in the high school years.) (Perhaps especially in the high school years!)

  7. Thank you, Karen. I printed off this list - even though I've been doing this for 16 years (since I first read your book), I need reminders. And, as always, your gentle words are just the boost I needed. Simplicity and consistency in the little things. Which aren't so little in the long run.

  8. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never commented...just to say THANK YOU! Thank you truly for ministering to us mamas who are seeking to teach our children with this beautiful "gentle art of learning." (In my neck of the woods a CM home teacher seems to be as rare as a summer snow!) I look forward to your posts most expectantly and am never disappointed. As always, this post leaves me feeling as if a warm arm is around my shoulder with a gentle squeeze of encouragement! Blessings in Christ to you and yours! ~ Amy

  9. I am so happy to know that I've been of some encouragement because this is my aim. Thank you for sharing, Ladies.

  10. Karen,
    Your post was so on point, thank you. What brought tears to my eyes though, was reading the other mama's comments. I feel so alone in walking this Homeschooling path, with 4 under 8. I'm flat wore out. Yet, I know that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other for the Glory of God. Thank you for the encouragement.

    Thank you and God Bless :)

  11. Karen, as always your posts are timely. We are beginning our first last year of homeschooling. This is our older daughter's senior year, yet I am still learning after all these years. This year I have intentionally slowed things down. Your books, blog, and FB posts have helped me so much. I just finished reading Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn. I reread them at the start of each year; I find them so helpful in putting things in perspective. Thank you for your inspiration. You are such a blessing to the homeschooling community. I wouldn't be where I am today without your gentle guidance.
    Here in Texas, the days are getting cooler and the flowers are bringing forth their last blooms of the season.

  12. Karen, I want to encourage you to continue" higher up and further still" in relaying gentle instruction and wisdom for homeschooling families. It is very needed.

    Oh, and now since I can hang out my "grandmother sign", I love your photos of grandchildren and sweaters you have lovingly knitted.

  13. My girls are bigger now (teens) and we are still loving homeschooling. But, reading this brought back so many memories of the days when they were small, everything was new and so much fun. Such sweet times!