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Students in Classroom

If It Ain't Fun, Forget It!

Six Steps One Family Took
to Make Their Homeschool Fun
Sally Marshall

Published in "Homeschool Magazine"
June 1998

The absurd motto on my husband's T-shirt declared, "If It Ain't Fun, Forget It!" It was laundry day, and I added it to the colored pile with a snort. What an outrageous slogan! Almost indecent. After all, some worthwhile things in life are just dull by nature, right? "If It Ain't Fun Forget It!" Why, if I obeyed the message, I would never be found washing that shirt again, or anything else. As a matter of fact, I'd walk out on fully half of life. Long ago I would have quit school, and right then I would have quit homeschool."

I did a double-take, startled at my own thoughts. Quit homeschool? Yes, I had to admit I was a frustrated homeschool mom. Neither the kids nor I were really enjoying it. It was a duty. An obligation. It definitely wasn't fun. On top of that, even though I have a degree in education, the kids weren't retaining what I was teaching. In many ways we were just spinning our wheels.

My negative thoughts were interrupted by another voice. Shouldn't learning be fun? Doesn't God intend it to be joy? Isn't the inquisitive seed planted by the Creator? Tykes are so curious they never quit asking what and why. But when learning becomes formal and pushed, the flame gets snuffed. Light leaves the eyes, and wonder leaves the heart. Enthusiasm is replaced by disenchantment, and learning becomes a drag. That's what happened to me.

Suddenly I realized I was brain washed. I attended public school, graduated from college with a degree in education, taught public school, decided to homeschool because of the advantages I could see in it -- and then promptly began in homeschool to mimic my own public school experience. Course content, scope, and skill level all were determined by my predisposed standards. To me, proper learning behavior was attentively studying a text or swallowing the currently fed lecture. To not see a course through to the end was reproachful. To read only part of a book - indolent. Five days a week, nine months a year. To break the routine was sacrilege. I was treating most of education as necessary but definitely not fun. I was doing this to my kids. My children were getting the subconscious message from me that learning was a dull, routine duty you had to fulfill before you could enjoy life. They weren't looking forward to school; they looked forward to the end of school. Learning wasn't fun, and so they weren't learning.

Momentarily, I was shocked with this revelation. I felt like I had let my children down -- and my Lord. I realized I believe God means learning to be not only fun, but perhaps the most joyful experience of life. Changes were overdue and I began to relish the thought of facing them. I felt like a pioneer, adventuring into the unknown. We were going to make our homeschool fun.

I talked with the kids, confessing my frustration with the past and my desires for the future. I said things were going to be different. This was needed to start a shift in their attitudes. They were set on school being dull. Without being primed, they might subconsciously sabotage any improvements. I didn't want that.

Then I got started on my reform. At first, I confess, my traditional mind would not let go of propriety. "Fun" was almost equal to "decadence." Visions of partying danced in my head. With a feeling of abandon, I forced myself to be more open. My goal was to keep a learning atmosphere but to make it enjoyable. I wasn't instantly hit with lots of optional "fun" ideas, so I decided to experiment. If, in any way, I was unsatisfied with some part of the learning situation, I tried some changes. If the changes worked, I kept them. If they didn't work, I forgot them. You might think those changes would interrupt things too much and make a child feel insecure. But on the contrary, mine enjoyed me looking out for their interests. They began to get in the swing of it themselves, and soon they were giving me ideas. Gradually our homeschool changed. And learning became fun.

Now with the passage of years, I think I've got it under control. Maybe I ought to homeschool my grandchildren, so I can do one batch right from the start. Or maybe my own children have learned from my mistakes and will start out better than I did. As I look back on time, I can list 6 of the most important changes. Some were changes in my mindset. Others - actual changes to our activities.

EVERYTHING IS LEARNING - Books and lectures are necessary and wonderful, but huge lessons are learned without them. Everything from riding a horse to sweeping floors -- shopping, restaurants, outdoor activities, play, chores. All are part of the learning experience. And without education in these things, children enter life handicapped.
















WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH - QUIT! Learning is not an endurance test. Sometimes kids have slow days like we do. Why push it? Sometimes my children's curiosity on a subject is satisfied sooner than mine. They don't want to know that much! After all, they can learn all they need about Hitler, without having to read the whole book. If there are no signs of interest in continued pursuit, I let them quit and go on to something else.

3 + 1 + 1 = FUN - My boys were tired from the prospect of the week before it even began. Five days was just too much. I know mature adults in the work world can do it, but I wasn't so sure immature children should. So I got sneaky and changed 5 days to 3, plus 1, plus 1.
3 days - Basic academics only -- often we can double up on lessons.
1 day - Town - shopping - restaurant - library - drama, gymnastics, or skating lessons.
1 day - Extras - music - art - educational videos - special projects - field trips.
Now, 3 days is a breeze for all of us, but actually nothing much is changed. They're getting as much as they used to or more. The only difference is they like it. But that's a huge difference for all of us.

BASICS - As teacher, I believe I have to be present for the "basics." No self-teaching here; supervised learning instead. My criteria for choosing "basics" are three main questions.
1. Is the subject necessary for social or economic survival?
2. Is it necessary for the ability to self-teach?
3. Is it necessary for the ability to communicate?
Of course the three "R's" are included here, but the above questions have caused me to modify our program elsewhere. I consider some things basic that most schools leave out, like speaking, listening, and other relational skills. Other standard "basics" like much of history and science I leave out, because my children self-teach in those areas without my help.

FLEXIBLE LESSONS - Sometimes we cover 2 or 3 lessons a day. Sometimes we hit a snag and take 2 or 3 days to cover one lesson. I don't worry about not getting through the book by the end of the year. I worry about feeding it fast enough so it's exciting and slow enough so they really learn. If they already know it, too much more is boring busywork, and if they don't know it yet, they need to feel they have all the time in the world to get it right.

CUSTOM-MADE EDUCATION - The challenge should be to find the passions. We are like detectives looking for clues to the God given spark that makes each child so special. Experimenting with all sorts of books, activities, and pursuits will, in time, unearth the hidden jewels. What do our children really like? Where's the hot button? If we can find that, they'll grab it and take off. They'll never stop learning. Just watch them fly.

Years ago homeschool was a drag. Now we look forward to it. I realize I don't have to operate a scaled down version of public school. Together we can change it 'til we like it. We can make it fun. That's my biggest piece of advice to any homeschool parent who is not enjoying the experience. If it's not fun, make it fun. Learning sticks better when it's fun. Teaching is more effective when it's fun. God created us to love learning. If we don't, we need to find variations, or make modifications. In the homeschool department at least, my husband's outrageous T-shirt was right. If it ain't fun - forget it!

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