What essential tools do you use for success in your homeschool? Curriculum, living books, lesson plans, textbooks, laminator, spiral notebooks, unit studies, lapbooks, art supplies, organizers.
Over time, I am discovering the most essential tool I have as a home educator is conversations with my students. Sound too simple? This tool cannot even be bought at a homeschool convention. Don’t discount the value of this simple tool for both character and academic instruction.
It’s no surprise that the middle school years are full of transitions for the homeschool family. These transitions can prove difficult for everyone
in the family, and they entice mom’s heart away from a place of rest.
Using conversations intentionally can provide help with the transitions in this potentially difficult stage. Conversations promote independent
learning, foster parent-child relationships, and ease the gradual shift toward adulthood.
You can intentionally create a culture of conversation during this challenging season. You just might discover that conversations cultivate rest in your own heart as you persevere homeschooling through middle school.
In order to use conversations as a tool for academic and character development in your middle school student, you can create a conversational
environment, resist the temptation to talk, and consider your sentence purpose.
Create a Conversational Environment
The first step to using conversations as a tool for middle school education is to create the environment. Creating a conversational environment begins with the attitude of mom and dad who will build moments for conversations and create a treasury of topics to discuss.
Is the environment in your home conducive to meaningful conversations?
Slow down to be available, attentive, and approachable.
I am a task-oriented person. I love my people, but there are times I focus more on the tasks rather than the people in front of me. Yet, I am convinced that who we are as parents is more influential in our children’s education than what we do. In order to talk with rather than at our children, we should determine to slow down to be available for a conversation, attentive to their words, and approachable when they are ready to talk. I recently set up a conversation nook: two comfy chairs and a little table. It’s a magic conversation area. Whenever I sit, one of my children always sits in the
other chair and just starts talking. You too can make this choice to be an available parent.
Build conversation moments into your daily routines.
Simple moments can lead to meaningful conversations. Simple routines can create habits for doing the little things of life – even talking. You probably already have this type of moment built into your days. These are opportunities for conversation and have potential to slowly transform your
homeschool. If your homeschool needs a reset, try consistency with one of these simple moments – especially with your older students. Morning time,
tea time, family meals, read-alouds, bedtime and morning hug.
Create a treasure trove of conversation starters.
Once you focus on building conversation into your routine, you need a topic to discuss. What should you talk about? Fill your home with a treasury of topics: books, newspapers, magazines, art and games. Years ago, we created a jar of conversation starters for our family dinner time. You know, the silly types of conversation starters: If you could be any type of sandwich, what would you be and why? Those silly conversations have built an environment around our table. As our children grow older, the conversation topics are maturing with them.
Resist the Temptation to Talk
Thinking before we speak is often a challenge, but perhaps it is most difficult when we are dealing with our children whom we dearly love. Our hearts’ desire is to support and guide them, but our natural response with our young teens might not be most effective if our goal is to cultivate conversations with them.
Is your mouth prone to speak before your ears are diligent to listen?
Listen to the ramblings and the gushings.
Sometimes, our middle school kids just need a safe sounding board to pour out their hearts. They need us to be that place of safety. Sit, listen, pat their back, stroke their hair and allow them to talk and talk and talk. Our presence can communicate far more than our words.
Suspend judgment and the urge to problem-solve.
As parents, we have a keen awareness of our children’s weaknesses and faults. When they begin to pour out their troubles to us, it is easy to respond with either judgment (pointing out their faults) or solutions (solving the problem for them). Either will shut out our opportunity for meaningful conversation.
Allow silence during uncomfortable moments.
Yes, silence. Yes, this is hard. Yet, allowing silence creates an opportunity. Silence opens a space between us and our children. If we can be self-controlled long enough to allow silent space, our students might feel safe to reveal the hidden thoughts that lie deep in their hearts.
Consider Your Sentence Purpose
As homeschool teachers, we tend to think of sentence purpose in context of grammar worksheets where we assess whether our student identified the
purpose correctly. Sentences can be declarative (making a statement), imperative (giving a request or command), interrogative (asking a question) or exclamatory (expressing strong feeling).
Have you considered the purposes of the sentences you use in conversation?
Increase your use of interrogatives.
As we assess grammar worksheets, perhaps we should also assess our use of sentence purpose in conversation with our students. If you kept a four-column tally on a typical homeschool day, which purpose would win? All purposes are essential in our work as parents. (Exclamatory sentences do keep toddlers alive!) However, as our children mature, we must adapt with them and move beyond a majority of imperatives and declaratives. Asking questions helps them learn to think well.
Practice the skill of asking good questions.
My favorite education book, The Question by Leigh Bortins, transformed my view of conversations. As a college student, I set goals at the beginning of a semester to ask one question. I just wasn’t quick to think of what to ask. This book revealed that asking questions is a skill that can be learned. To increase our use of interrogatives, we need to practice asking good questions. Discussing literature is the perfect training ground. Who, what, when and where naturally grow into how and why as our children mature.
Communicate in your student’s primary language.
We must remember that purpose in our communication extends beyond words. Communicating our love is essential for our young teenagers. We need to consider if they are receiving the message in a way they understand? Think love languages. How does this child most easily receive the message of your love? In addition to interrogatives and declaratives, they need us to converse with quality time, touch, acts of service, gifts, and words of affirmation.
Will you add conversations to your teacher tool belt?
Try one suggestion from above. Just one. Consider one small step to be a huge leap forward as you add conversations to your teacher tool belt.
You can promote a restful homeschool during the early teen years as you cultivate conversations with your student. Decide today to consider the
purpose of what you say, resist the temptation to talk constantly, and create an environment in your home conducive to conversations.
Watch for the opportunities that will unfold for you and your middle school student as you intentionally use conversations as a restful educational tool.
Which suggestion are you going to try with your middle schooler?
Aimee Smith, second-generation homeschool mom, lives daily in the tension between God’s seemingly contradictory calls on her life. He has called her to a trench as wife and mom to four (ages 14, 12, 10, 8). This trench is a place of purpose, work, and battle. Yet, He also calls Aimee to rest as
His daughter – just as He invites each of His children to rest in Him.
You can join Aimee in pursuing rest in the midst of our trenches at www.restinthetrench.com. Learn some simple Seeds of Rest for Moms to cultivate a restful heart in the midst of daily mess. Hold on to hope that we can receive rest by clinging to Jesus and His promise of victory.
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