Rhythms, Routines, Rituals

Rhythms, routines, and rituals help us stay centered and on track as homeschooling parents. They enable our children to relax and feel secure because they know what to expect each day. A thoughtful routine allows us to focus our energy in one area at a time, knowing that other essential areas will not be neglected. Establishing a rhythm removes some of the guesswork, giving us a ready answer to the question, “What comes next?”

It may take some time to uncover the rhythms, routines, and rituals that work best for your family. Once you have some ideas, post them someplace visible in a form that everyone can understand (with simple words or pictures for younger children) so that the whole family knows what to expect.

Here are some ideas as you seek to find and refine the rhythm that works for you:

Morning: 

Observing daily rituals and following a routine helps to center and calm us as we begin the day. It can be as simple as first opening the curtains to let in the morning sun, feeding the cat, preparing a cup of something delicious, and then sitting down in a favorite chair for a contemplative moment before the day’s work begins.

Modeling a morning rhythm for our children by having one for ourselves is a powerful example. Some children wake slowly, while others greet the day with every ounce of exuberance. How can you support your child’s inner rhythm and incorporate it into your expectations for the day?

Circle time is a time-honored tradition in Waldorf-inspired education and is part of Oak Meadow’s curriculum for younger learners. Some families begin with an opening verse, read a poem, share a song, do a fingerplay or game, and end with a closing verse. For some families, this will feel just right. For others, circle time may need to feel very different — shorter and more active, or more fluid and less structured, or with completely different elements. The exact content is less important than the act of sharing a ritual to focus your attention together as you start your day. Some families incorporate stretching or yoga into their morning circle. Some find other ways of sharing and connection. With some trial and error, you will figure out what works for your family.

Daily and Weekly: 

What is your family’s energy like on Mondays? Some families like to jump in and start the week with a burst of fresh motivation. Others regularly need post-weekend transition time and hit their peak productivity mid-week. Does it work best for you to work intensely and then rest thoroughly, or sprinkle learning and play together in a more spontaneous way?

Three young children reading on floorDaily routines are one way to ensure that everything gets done and nothing is forgotten, which can be a great help when there are many tasks and needs to keep track of. Housework can be done with the children’s help. When everyone is working together as a team, it can help motivate participants who might be reluctant.

If your family is quite busy with outside activities during the week, consider blocking off one day each week in which you all stay home. If there is a day when nobody has to go anywhere, it allows the opportunity for uninterrupted down time and relaxation. You might even declare this a “pajama day” to honor children who prefer their pajamas and would love a celebrated reason to stay in them once in awhile.

Are your weekends different from your weekdays? Do you have any recurring components to your weekend, such as a late brunch, a family activity, or the observance of faith traditions? If your week already has a predictable basic rhythm, start with that and build around it.

Homework, Housework: 

When are your children most focused and ready to learn? When do they seem to need rest or down time? When do they burst with physical energy and need to play outside? When are they drawn to be quietly independent?

Keep a thoughtful eye on the emotional state of the household and be willing to be flexible. You might find that the order of activities matters most, rather than the exact start time of a recurring activity. The best routines are the ones that can sway and stretch as needed to accommodate the shifting needs of the family.

Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed with flexibility in mind. One lesson can be completed in a week if desired, but there are other approaches that also work well. Some families spread lessons in all subjects evenly through the week. Others choose to do “block scheduling,” which might mean focusing on one subject per day or one subject per term. One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is its inherent adaptability to the needs of those involved.

If you have multiple children, you may need to arrange your day so that they get your one-on-one attention at different times. You may be able to arrange for older children (or another helper) to engage with one child while you work with another.

Can weekly chores be scheduled for a predictable day? It may work best to start (or end) your week with a family effort to tidy up the house. It can be helpful to pin a weekly activity to a particular day (such as Tidy-Up Tuesday). Another example of a chore that can be simplified with a recurring weekly theme is meal planning. The less time you have to spend thinking about what comes next, the more easily you can dive in and accomplish it.

Evening: 

sisters studying togetherDo you have a ritual for gathering the family for dinner? This might mean having children take turns setting the table, lighting a candle once everyone is present, and observing a quiet moment of gratitude before beginning the meal. Some families enjoy a tradition of word or number games over dinner, and others take turns telling what they learned or enjoyed about their day. Even young children can take pride in helping to clear the table after the meal.

In the evening, do you foster a sense of calm as the day winds down? What would that look like in your home? In some families, evening can be somewhat chaotic, with a parent arriving home from work, older children going to and from evening activities, a kitchen flurry that hopefully results in a good dinner, and everyone’s energy in fragments after the long day. As parents, we steer the family ship. Ending the day on a calm shore is a gift we give our children and ourselves.

Making It Happen: 

Experiment with what you imagine might work for your family, observe the results, and make adjustments through trial and error. Ask your children for their ideas and suggestions. If you get stuck, consider a Homeschool Support consultation with Oak Meadow’s experienced teacher.

There are no right or wrong ways to do this. Continue to embrace the things that work, and gently let go of the things that don’t. By incorporating routines and rhythm into our homeschooling lives, we help ourselves and our families remain centered and keep our homeschool plans running smoothly throughout the year.

14 Tips for Working from Home and Homeschooling

Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:

1. Maximize Flexibility

When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.

2. Embrace a Relaxed Homeschooling Style

Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.

3. Expect The Unexpected

Oak Meadow budding scientists doing experiment Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.

4. Manage Interruptions Proactively

How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!

5. Offer Your Attention & Presence Whenever You Can

When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.

7. Give Your Child Tools To Use When They Must Wait For Your Attention

girl with crown on couch readingBe clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.

8. Help Children Learn How To Help Themselves

As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.

9. Divide Household Responsibilities

Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.

10. Keep Craft Materials, Games, Books, & Toys Within Easy Reach

Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.

11. Work Smart!

Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.

12. Lean On Others

Oak Meadow kids exploring stream, navigating working and homeschoolingNegotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.

13. Take Good Care Of Yourself

Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!

14. Remember Why You Are Doing This

You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.

And remember that Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed to be customized to fit your family, not the other way around. Keep calm, and carry on because you’ve got this!

Finding Community as a Homeschooler

If you are new to homeschooling, at first it may seem like there are no other homeschoolers around at all. But chances are very good that they are just hidden in plain sight!

Families in many areas have established homeschool groups that meet for field trips, projects, playtime, and even parent-run classes. Finding them can be the hardest part. Some homeschool groups maintain a low profile to respect or protect the privacy of their member families, so it can be challenging to make that first connection. But homeschoolers, in general, are very resourceful and well-connected, and once you’ve found one local homeschooling family, you may soon hear about others. Have you wondered about how best to find a homeschool community in your area? Here are some suggestions for where to look:

Ask at the Library

Most homeschooling families develop an active relationship with the local librarian. He or she may be able to connect you with other families.

2018 National Honor Society inductee Katie Pheysey 2Put Out The Word!

Let supportive friends and family know that you’re in search of homeschooling connections. They may not know of any local homeschoolers, but they may know someone whose Aunt Martha has a neighbor whose son homeschools in your town. It’s worth a try.

If you want to go beyond word of mouth, put up posters at the community center, grocery store, town office, or other places where homeschooling parents and children are sure to see them. Your poster could say something as simple as, “Do you homeschool? We’d love to connect!” If your community has an online bulletin board or a local newspaper, you might be able to publish a classified ad or notice. Advertise a playgroup, potluck, or not-back-to-school picnic and see who responds.

Seek Out Kid-Friendly Venues

Family of three children looking at fish in a big aquariumGo to the park, indoor playground, or other local kid-friendly venues during school hours on a school day. If you see another family there with school-aged kids, ask them why theirs are not in school. With luck, their reason will be the same as yours!

You can also visit local learning centers and attractions such as museums, environmental education centers, aquariums, historical sites. They often have special rates or visit times for homeschoolers, so ask their recommendation on how to connect with other homeschooling visitors.

Explore Alternative & Natural Parenting Groups

Although homeschooling is more mainstream than ever, it has roots in the alternative and natural parenting culture. So if you are a secular homeschooler, you might see if you can find likeminded parents through the local natural foods store or parenting groups such as La Leche League. if your homeschooling focus is religious, your faith community is a great place to start.

Go To Your State Or Local Officials

Sympathetic local or state school officials are sometimes empowered to connect homeschooling families with each other. Inquire with whomever is in charge of homeschool enrollment or registration for your locale.

Attend Homeschooling Conventions & Events

Seek out regional homeschooling groups and homeschool conventions, if there are any near you. Attend any local events you can until you’ve made enough connections to sustain you for awhile.

Look Online

There are many groups, boards, pages, lists, and websites devoted to homeschooling (Oak Meadow’s Facebook page is a great place to start!). Some homeschooling support boards are for members only; others are public. Some focus on particular regions. You may find one local to you, or you may need to post something specific asking for responses.

No matter where you’re looking for your homeschool community, jump right in and talk with people wherever you go! You never know where you might make a connection or get some helpful information. Don’t be shy about seeking connection, and be persistent if you don’t find it right away! Being proactive is the best way to find community quickly.

New MLA Guidelines for Citing Sources

When writing a research report or an essay, it’s important that you know the rules and guidelines for writing a bibliography, using images, or using quotations from research sources. Oak Meadow students are asked to use the MLA style of creating and formatting citations.

Quick Guide to MLA Citations

In 2016, the Modern Language Association (MLA) released simplified citation guidelines, which aim for a more universal, consistent format regardless of the source medium. Most notable are the following changes:

  • No longer include the city of publication for print publishers.
  • No longer include the medium (print, web, film, etc.).
  • Include URL in website citations.
  • No longer include n.d. (no date) if website/article date is unknown .
  • Date accessed by you is optional for website citations.
  • Make entries as consistent as possible in terms of information and punctuation.

Feel free to continue to use the previous MLA style as long as you’d like — it’s still correct. The new style is more streamlined and hopefully will be easier to learn, use, and read. For those who want all the details, read this.

MLA Guidelines for Citing Sources (updated 2016):

For print sources, include the following:

Author last name, first name. Title. Publishing company, year.

Here is an example:

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Dover, 1993.


When citing online sources, use this format:

Author last name, first name (if known). “Title of article.” Website. Organization,
publication date (if known). URL (without http://, brackets, or ending punctuation)

Here is an example:

Bradbury, Lorna. “25 Classic Novels for Teenagers.” Telegraph.co.uk. The Telegraph, 5 April 2012. www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/9189047/25-classic-novels-for-teenagers.html/p>

Website dates are given in this format: day month year. Longer months are abbreviated: Jan, Nov. You can delete the http// from the URL.


When citing an online video clip (such as YouTube):

Author last name, first name (if known). “Title of article.” Website. Organization, publication date. URL

Here is an example:

Schlickenmeyer, Max. “The Most Astounding Fact—Neil deGrasse Tyson.” YouTube. YouTube, 2 Mar. 2012. www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU


When citing a film, here is the format:

Film Title. Dir. First name Last name. Perf. First name Last name. Distributor, year of release.
Note: Dir. stands for director, and Perf. stands for performers. You can list as many or few performers as you like.

Here’s an example:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Perf. Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltraine and Tom Felton. Warner Brothers, 2001.


To cite an image, write a caption that includes “Image credit” and the creator’s name (if you can find it) and/or the original source. If you found the image on the web, try to provide a link back to the source.

Setting Up Your Homeschool Space

Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.

Keep an Open Mind

Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.

Find The Right Work Surface

Oak Meadow books, supplies, and workspaceIf possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.

Prioritize Comfort

Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.

Set Up Your Supplies & Materials Nearby

Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.

Consider Aesthetics

Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.

Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!

Make Clean Up Simple

Oak Meadow student learning to spell with titles outdoorsPlace a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.

Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.

Go Outside!

Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.

Consult Your Student

As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.

Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.

Knitting Suggestions

Rhythmic handwork is part of Oak Meadow’s coursework for grades one through three. For this post, K-8 Oak Meadow teachers teamed up to offer some suggestions and simple alternatives that will help to meet the “heart” of handwork, specifically in teaching the technique of knitting.

Meg Minehan: My suggestions are to first try finger knitting, the knitting mushroom, or the wooden knitting star. My children loved those “tools,” and the process was simple, repetitive, and soothing (just like knitting should be). ​For what it’s worth, my son Ian didn’t really take to knitting when it was initially introduced in first grade. However, he picked it up again at age nine and loved it.

Michelle Menegaz: I agree that teaching knitting as an inexperienced teacher can be challenging. I suggest offering the “pre-knitting” activities and really encourage the home teacher to find a knitter to help them, if possible. Also, Sunny’s Mittens is a great book with a story that contains knitting directions right in the events of the tale. I would read a bit of this and knit along with the story. The child would also knit along, if interested. We would read a bit, knit a bit, stop and get our knitting sorted or show what the written directions in the story meant. Very satisfying!

Lesley Arnold: I highly recommend the DVD, The Art of Knitting 4 Kids . If a tutor isn’t available for knitting, then this video is great! Be sure to also check your library, for many libraries have knitting clubs.

Leslie Daniels: Another site that I absolutely adore and share with my Oak Meadow families is called “Knitted Bliss.” It includes story books to inspire future knitters for three different age groups: ages 2-4, ages 4-6, and ages 6-9. The title of each book is a joy in itself!

Meg Minehan: Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of our favorite Christmas books for 6-9 year olds!

Andy Kilroy: My friend Clare, a long-time kindergarten teacher, loves to take yarn into her classroom and just let her kids play with the yarn – wrap it, wind it, tie bows with it, braid it, touch it – just to get the feel of fabric/yarn on their skin. Then when it comes time to knit, they already have the awareness of yarn as a material. I taught my granddaughter to finger knit (she had never done it), and she was very excited at all the possibilities that opened for her! She has also enjoyed exploring loom knitting from kits. Long live fiber arts – let’s not give up on them!

Anna Logowitz: My microschoolers got a great start by making their own knitting needles. They sanded chopsticks smooth, and then glued wooden beads to the ends: nice and simple. It gave them a sense of ownership over their work before they began knitting, which also seemed to increase their frustration tolerance!

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part Two

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.” – Sleeping Beauty

Fairy tales and other traditional stories offer children many chances to witness the struggle of “good” versus “evil.” By introducing this in oral story form, children can connect with the parts that are important for their individual development at that point in time. When told in a matter-of-fact way, and from an adult who believes in the story’s merit and its place in child development, children will naturally relate to the underlying, archetypal themes of the stories. With this approach, the child’s imagination will not be taken to a place that is too frightening or disturbing, or be forced to focus on elements that are emotionally-charged in the adult perspective.

Fairy tales provide a reference for all the fears conjured up in a child’s world. Facing these fears at a young age can help the child to move through different challenges in later years and stages of life. Fairy tales are a way for the child to imagine—in the safety of the mind’s eye—what it feels like to be scared, honorable, brave, selfless, selfish, frustrated, wicked, embarrassed, silly, giddy, left out, confused, and more. This is one of the ways in which social and emotional intelligence is fortified. Many parents feel the need to sanitize stories to remove all the challenging elements, and yet stories that are grounded in archetypal themes can help children grow into strong adults.

Oak Meadow boy in a pirate costume readingParents can often be at odds with the fairy tales because the characters are narrowly defined, known for their beauty, cruelty, foolishness, cleverness, or other singular attribute. Their actions are also, to the adult mind, frustratingly stereotyped: a princess waits for her prince, a simpleton loses his way, a wicked person tricks an innocent. While it’s tempting to attach these characters to their genders, orientations, or race, it is important to remember that archetypes speak to the universal traits that all human beings have within: the valiant soldier, the trickster, the loving nurse, the wicked witch, the noble prince, the sweet and caring mother, the beautiful maiden, the knowledgeable father, and the lonely hero. We all are every character inside.

Fairy tales and traditional stories show that good overcomes evil, and provide children with an unconscious sense of empowerment when they face their own personal struggles. It is important for children to have an inner sense that good will prevail. We want young children to believe and embrace that the world is good.

Of course, not every story will resonate with every student or every parent. For this reason, Oak Meadow parents are asked to read the tales before telling them to their child and to modify or substitute when necessary. In addition, you are encouraged to read and choose stories that will meet the needs of your individual child. That’s the challenge of teachers in any educational setting: to meet the children where they are and to encourage them forward from there.

This post was co-written by Oak Meadow teacher, Leslie Daniels, and Oak Meadow Director of Curriculum Development, DeeDee Hughes. 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part One

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” 
― Albert Einstein

Fairy tales and other traditional stories are an essential part of childhood development, which is why they have lived on for centuries as a rich oral tradition and have remained in the Oak Meadow curriculum. Oral storytelling is a flexible art that allows stories to be adapted to the Fairy tales and other traditional stories are an essential part of childhood development audience. Many stories that we know from our childhoods were adapted from stories our parents heard as children. In the same tradition, we encourage Oak Meadow parents to tell the stories in their own words rather than reading them verbatim. This lets each parent make changes that reflect their own values and life situation. This is the true spirit of oral storytelling.

girl with crown on couch readingTelling the stories aloud with no pictures accompanying the story helps children develop listening skills as well as the ability to create the images in their minds. Repeatedly retelling the story allows opportunities for children to join in telling the story, which enhances the personal images and allows them to focus on story elements that have personal relevance. The home teacher can also incorporate into the stories nature, family members, friends, and neighbors as a way of making them more personal and meaningful. The underlying themes of a good story are never gender- or race-based, but embody archetypes that are part of the human experience. Changing superficial elements of a story to make it more relatable will not affect the archetypes of the Nurturer, Leader, Jokester, Hero, Mentor, Innocent, or Villain. Retelling stories, drawing pictures, acting out the stories, putting on puppet presentations, or creating dioramas offer opportunities for children to absorb and reflect the underlying themes.

Another tip for telling an archetypal story is to verbally share without too much of an emotional tone ~ especially the emotions in the home teacher’s voice that might instill fear, anger, resentment, etc. As an adult with a rich history and varied experiences, you will respond to the archetypes in a story very differently than a child will. Telling the story without adding layers of your own emotional expression of the story events will allow your child to filter it through a childlike lens.

It’s also invaluable to allow children to absorb the story without interruption, both during the storytelling and afterwards. Talking with a child about every little detail of a story is an established habit for many adults. In fact, it’s practically a cultural norm now for children to be asked to talk about their feelings, impressions, and opinions. This may originate from the belief that we need to encourage children to be more aware and continually teach and quiz them to “make them smart.” It might stem from the efforts to treat the child as an equal voice in the family to build self-esteem and confidence. When a parent is conditioned to “discuss” a fairy tale’s disturbing images with children, this focus on specific elements unnaturally emphasizes details over underlying themes. Discussing the tales afterwards only brings an adult perspective and awareness to story elements and prevents children from developing and using their own filters, based on their developmental stage. Letting the story rest in the child’s mind and heart, and then asking for the child’s interpretation of the story the next day will be of greater benefit.

Continue to Part Two

This post was co-written by Oak Meadow teacher, Leslie Daniels, and Oak Meadow Director of Curriculum Development, DeeDee Hughes. 

Guidelines for Home Teachers

Oak Meadow founders, Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, believe that in order to manifest a child’s education successfully, certain guidelines must be followed. Here are detailed homeschooling guidelines for helping in the teaching process.

Oak Meadow student doing assignment outside with leavesClear a physical as well as psychological space: 

Your student should do their schoolwork in a particular spot that is well-stocked with supplies: main lesson book, additional paper for first drafts, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, highlighters, etc. Organize it in a way so that order may be restored at the end of the learning period. Most importantly, make this spot a pleasant place to be and one that is well lighted. There should be a comfortable chair with back support; however, chairs that encourage lounging are to be avoided.

Set aside a time for school work so the student knows not to plan other activities for that period of time. It does not work well to choose the time on a daily basis. The brain needs a rhythm and will come to a focus more easily as the lesson time approaches if it is a consistent time each day. When you are able to clear a physical as well as psychological space for schoolwork, half the battle with the undisciplined mind has been won.

Focus: 

If a student is having difficulty with focusing attention, the home teacher should sit beside the student and act as the “grounding agent” to bring the student to a point of focus. Ungrounded students must slowly be drawn into their lessons. For example, in grade 4 (and higher), a new sense of independence is encouraged in the coursework. However, this does not mean the student does everything independently. At the beginning of a new lesson, the home teacher should ask the student to read a paragraph, then ask the student to share the main idea of the paragraph. Highlight the word or words which are the main idea. Proceed to the next paragraph repeating the process. At the end of each page, the student should read back all the material that has been highlighted. Then putting paper or books aside, the home teacher should ask the student what was just read.

It may be slow and tedious at first, but as the brain stretches, the student will pick up speed. Always emphasize quality understanding over quantity of work done. Perhaps the student only does a fraction of the assignments while learning how to focus and organize the brainwork, which is fine. Accept this and praise the student for the fine progress. The only requirement is that you witness sincere progress.

How long each day should a home teacher focus with a student? At least one hour a day should be set aside for this kind of focused attention. The home teacher should not be in and out, but rather seated with the student for the whole hour without interruptions. Perhaps the home teacher may cover social studies and language arts three days a week and science two days a week in this manner for half an hour each day; and math for half an hour every day. Then the student should be left alone for another hour every day to do the assignment that can reasonably be done independently. This time should be eventually lengthened to three hours a day for a total amount of time spent on school work, with two of the hours being independent learning. More than that would be discouraging for the student who needs lots of time for physical activities.

Caring: 

Children need to feel that somebody cares about their work each day. The home teacher should read over the work and discuss it with the student. Praise and celebration for victories won are very important for all students, but especially the unfocused student. They need constant reminders that they are progressing and doing well. It is important to remind students where they have come from and how much they are accomplishing.

Accept your student with the present abilities: 

Do not present material the student is not ready for. Pressure creates negative stress and causes the mind to shut down. Begin with a review of material the student already knows, to get the mind moving and flowing. Then present the new material.

Remedial Students:

 If your student needs remedial work, choose one thing at a time to work on. For example, when working with reading comprehension and writing, do not be concerned about grammar initially. Then when the student is comfortable with the daily process, add grammar. Work with one grammar rule at a time. Start with each sentence beginning with a capital letter and ending with a punctuation mark. Proceed to capitalization rules, then punctuation, expanding sentences with adjectives and adverbs, then conjunctions, etc. If a student is a poor speller, present five words a week from the Dolch list. Also provide many ways to learn these words. Focus is the key to success.

Physical Activity: 

2018 National Honor Society inductee Katie Pheysey 3Emphasize the importance of daily physical activities to help the integration process. The martial arts are a wonderful tool for integration, as are walking and dance. Studies indicate that academic performance improves with daily vigorous physical activity.

When learning is difficult and a student is asked to spend more than three hours struggling through without help, it leads to burn out and the student shuts down altogether. Balance is very important. After each hour, the student should get up and do something physical. The student should not be allowed to get up and go outside and get involved and forget the schoolwork. It should be more like a fifteen minute recess with an expectation that the work will be continued until the work for the day is completed, even if it is short of the assignment in the curriculum. (If enrolled in the school, Oak Meadow teachers are always willing to work with a student who needs a reduced load.)

Learning Styles: 

Become aware of your student’s learning style. Some people learn auditorily, others visually, and some are bodily kinesthetic learners. The best teachers use all three modes of teaching. If your student is a visual learner, drawing pictures or diagrams will help to remember information. If your student learns best through hearing the information explained, share an hour each day with your student and explain the material being covered. Make up songs and jingles to remember key points. Some students learn best by teaching it to somebody else. Be a willing student and let your student teach you the material. Skits are great for learning. Purchase a lap-size white board with marker (fruit flavored without the toxic fumes) so your student can draw, diagram, write jingles, and teach. Use it daily and you will be amazed at its effectiveness as a teaching tool.

I hope these guidelines will be helpful in making your home schooling adventure a very successful one. Wishing you all the best for an exciting year of learning!

How to Take Good Notes

Admit it, you’ve been there—a test or essay deadline approaches, and you scramble to gather notes using what you think is the “best” or “most efficient” note-taking method. But what is that method? What is the best way to study and keep good notes? Allow me to let you in on a very important secret: there is no “best” note-taking technique!

Note-taking is all about how your own unique brain processes information. A note-taking system that works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you, though it’s always worth a try. As a high schooler, you are frequently asked to take your learning into your own hands. Identifying a note-taking strategy that works well for you and developing your own independent study skills is a great place to start.

Note-taking is a visual representation of your mind at work, and the mind is often messy, especially at the beginning of a learning experience when you’re diving into something unfamiliar and new. Some people like to fit new knowledge into a familiar box in order to comprehend it. Others need to muck around in the unknown more ambiguously first, before they discover a frame for their new knowledge.

Whether you are defining complex terms in biology using flashcards or analyzing a character’s actions in literature by writing a diary entry in their voice, writing out content in your own words is a crucial first step toward true understanding.

Whatever your approach to note-taking may be, remember that there is no single best method for how to study, but there can be a study skill that turns out to be the best method for you. It may take some time to discover what that method is, so don’t be afraid to try new skills and explore!

Here are a few note-taking techniques several Oak Meadow high school teachers recommend. Try them out, pass them on to a friend, or see what new techniques they help you think up on your own:

K-W-L Chart (Know – Want to Know – Learned)
A great tool for guiding you through a text, KWL Charts demonstrate your prior knowledge of the topic, set a purpose for your reading, and help you monitor your comprehension by brainstorming everything you already Know about the subject; generating a list of questions of what you Want to Know; and answering those questions about what you have Learned. Find a blank chart example here.

Statement-Turned-Question
Check your own reading comprehension by turning a topic or title, i.e. “The XYZ Affair” into a question, i.e. “What were the effects of the XYZ Affair?” then answer it fully in your own words.

Cornell Method
One of the most popular note-taking strategies out there is the Cornell Method, a structure for organizing different kinds of information on one subject clearly and efficiently. Find an example and guidelines here.

Two-Column Method
This note-taking method, pioneered by Landmark College, stimulates active reading and can help you parcel out main ideas in one column with specific details in the other. Read about it here and give it a try!

Graphic Organizers
Education Place has a treasure trove of printable graphic organizers for all subjects and approaches. Find one that works for you here!

Annotation Technique
When reading for a class, write margin notes that help you organize different strands of thought. Use question marks for passages that confused you, exclamation points for important plot points, underlined text for passages you enjoyed, and highlighted text for passages relevant to your writing assignments. Write thoughts in your own words in the margins to jump start ideas for your essays.

Talk to Your Mirror
Whether you are practicing the same text over and over with the goal of memorization, or in need of a strategy for explaining concepts in your own words, find a bit of private space and talk it out with your reflection.

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