The Benefits of Service Learning from an Early Age

I have always loved learning and believe that education is a community effort.  As an elementary teacher, I continually sought out service learning projects that enabled my students to become involved in the community while simultaneously complementing our classroom lessons and skills.  As a parent, I want my children to grow up with volunteering as an integral part of their lives.

My children and I began volunteering together in the spring of 2006 when my daughter was 3 ½ years old and my son was 15 months.   We volunteered as Living History Interpreters.  We dressed as homesteaders near Prineville, Oregon in 1880 and interacted with the public as they visited our homestead.  In this role, we utilized our knowledge of the region’s history to educate the public about the past.  With the exception of the winter months, we typically volunteered one day a week for approximately 5 hours.

We also worked with the Adopt-An-Animal program, whereby donors provided financial support for the care of the animals at the museum.  In turn, we sent the donor a thank you letter and a packet of information specific to the animal they selected which included an animal fact sheet, a certificate with a color photograph of the animal, a decal, and an activity sheet.

The children helped me by finding the necessary photographs and thereby learned to identify the names of our native wildlife.  They also learned about why the animals are in our care — all were unable to survive in the wild, typically because they were injured or became dependent on humans for food. Specific needs of the animals such as diet, habitat, and medical care provided great learning opportunities as well.  We typically worked 1-3 hours a week throughout the year.

While we no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to involve the children in a variety of activities around our community.  We collect trash and pull non-native, invasive weeds along the river when we go for walks.  We donate canned food for the local food banks.  During the holiday season, we donate gifts for children in need.  Last spring, we began a garden to grow a few organic vegetables for our table.

Each service learning endeavor helps the children to think about what it means to take care of our community, animals, and the environment.

Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what sort of volunteering made sense for young children. In selecting activities, I take into consideration the interests and concerns that each of my children have developed.

One of the least expected outcomes was recognizing how the children have discovered themselves.  When we started, my daughter was a little timid and slow to talk with adults. In a short time, she learned to interact with the staff and other volunteers as individuals, carrying on conversations and discussing her thoughts openly.  On the homestead, she was always eager to show visitors how to pump water for the garden and can easily identify the vegetables we grow.

It is already clear that their life experiences and these service learning opportunities have helped to ensure that they will be self-assured and outgoing.

Top 10 Reasons to Homeschool

Families choose to homeschool for many reasons. The choice to homeschool is also difficult. Those who have chosen this lifestyle can attest that while there are obstacles and challenges, the benefits far out weigh the negatives. Today, I share with you my Top 10 reasons to homeschool.

  • Love of Learning 

Learning is a natural process for a child from the moment they are born. As parents, we naturally teach our children all sorts of skills. We teach them about the world around us. When my oldest turned five, I really got serious about my role as teacher to my children. Gathering all the books I could find and I began my research. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to “do school” but to teach naturally as we went through our day.  Making regular trips to the library, zoo, OMSI, parks, and errands around town I used each moment to show my kiddos the world.  Often, while in the car, we would call out numbers on the speed signs and find different letters and say their sounds. In the early years, I relied on our surroundings as our primary curriculum. Learning became a lifestyle.

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  • Flexibility 

Homeschooling allows much flexibility. Since the state of Oregon doesn’t require notification until age seven, you can wait until your child is ready for formal schooling. I discovered most boys, and some girls, are not physically ready until they are seven or eight or beyond. Students are required to take standardized tests at grades 3, 5, 8 and 10th in math and language arts. This gives you, as the teacher, incredible liberty to teach what is important to you and interesting to your child. My kids learned the life cycle of a butterfly by finding a caterpillar in the backyard. They set up a terrarium and created a notebook.  Using a field guide for reference, they drew the stages as they saw it. Hands on learning at its best. For people who prefer more structured learning, the curriculum choices are plentiful, but that is a whole other post.

  • Class Size

You may chuckle, but if you think about it, where else will your child get a teacher student ratio of 1:1, or even 1:3 (depending upon the number of siblings)? The child gets the attention and the assistance needed to be successful. We have two in our school, but we have always been in a learning co-op where we study topics such as art, geography, and science. This gives them the class atmosphere some think they are missing. Other opportunities in the homeschool community include sign language, field trips, classes, ski and swim lessons, which vary in attendance. Many students are involved in Scouts, Awana, National Honor Society, Speakers for Jesus speech club, and various service projects that build social skills.

  • Teacher choices

Often my kids get jokingly asked if they like their teacher. Since they have had me their whole lives they are at an advantage. I know their strengths, weaknesses, methods they have learned by, and what they know. This makes moving easy, too, since they don’t have to changes schools. Since I am not skilled in every subject, I have others teach. My oldest works with a native speaker to learn Mandarin Chinese.  Both kiddos study piano under the tutelage of a local musician.  Teachers are hand picked.

  • Learning Styles 

Each individual has a unique learning style. Visual, Auditory, and Kinetic are three main avenues through which a person obtains information. Formal education is primarily visual. If a student does not fit in this category he/she is labeled and often medicated. My youngest son is definitely a kinetic learner. When learning to read, he would wiggle‚ on the couch by me, read a word or two, run down the hall to the bathroom only to release some energy, not to use the toilet. My oldest, who is able to listen to complex science & history documentaries and follow along, is a strong auditory learner. Instead of feeling dumb, they are allowed to learn the unique way God designed them.

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  • Quality 

I am able to customize the curriculum each year for each child. I can cater to their needs, interests and learning styles. There is an enormous amount of curriculum from which to choose. I can also choose their teachers. In my opinion, this gives them the highest quality education.

  • Developing Talents and Interests 

Do you have a child who is gifted in a particular area? I do. When my oldest was five, she expressed an interest to learn Chinese. It took some doing, but we eventually found an instructor for her.  She can now read, write and speak Mandarin.  She picks it up very quickly and is increasingly passionate about the culture. When my youngest son was four, I noticed he would gently play the piano whenever around one. I vowed never to force my kids to take lessons unless they truly had a desire. Seeing this in my son, and upon his request (“But I’m serious!“), I sought out a teacher. He would practice multiple times throughout the day, because he had the time. Education at home allows time to discover and develop interests.

  • Work Ethic

Last year my kids and I had the opportunity to volunteer at the High Desert Museum. Responsible for leading nature walks and informing visitors about the natural history of the high desert, much was learned. In the past we have also volunteered as living history interpreters, portraying an 1880s homestead family. Home education lends real life opportunities to develop strong work ethic and explore careers, which is invaluable.

  • Family Relationships

I have said many times if you get along with your siblings 24/7 you can get along with anyone! My kids are best friends; it amazes me. They share friends and help each other with assignments.  Through the homeschool environment, the kids learn how to interact with a variety of ages.  They develop a stronger sense of family and shared responsibility.

  • Faith and Character Training

This is only possible through spending time together, consistently correcting and guiding.

Although the reasons are endless, these ten areas influence me the most to continue educating my children at home.

Hoaloha ‘aina Weed Pull ~ Volunteering on Vacation

Ever since the kiddos and I participated in the Let’s Pull Together Community Weed Pull in June they have been asking, “When can we do the weed pull again?” When DH hears them he always replies, “Right now! There are weeds that need pulling in our backyard!” The kiddos do that regularly in the warmer months but it isn’t the same as working together with others to make a difference for the environment.When we decided to spend 2 weeks in Maui, I started a quest to find as many educational opportunities as I could. The Pacific Whale Foundation is a phenomenal resource and with a variety of activities for all ages. One of the links I explored was their Volunteer on Vacation site which provides listings of all the projects that we can take advantage of while on vacation.

There were several that were of interest but we settled on the Hoaloha ‘aina Weed Pull on the Monday before we departed. We met the team at the Kamaole II Beach Park in Kihei and were provided volunteer vests (they didn’t have enough for everyone so I opted to not wear one). There were two distinct areas to choose from… one on shore that involved using power tools to remove an invasive woody shrub that had taken over the bluff.

We opted for the other area… one uphill from the adults in an area that had been roped off and thereby kept Buddy contained within a manageable area.We worked for two hours pulling invasive weeds. In doing so, we of corse encountered many insects. We took a few minutes to observe them closely but unfortunately I didn’t have the camera so no pictures. DH took these photos shortly after we got started – he thereafter departed to do some work at the condo – Yes! He worked on vacation!

Just as everyone was finishing up, an adult discovered the nest of a young Wedge-tail Shearwater (ua’u kani). It was presummed that all of the fledglings had left for open water by this time. We all got a chance to observe the fledgling closely before returning him to his nest, recovering it with vegetation, and closing off the area again. Admin note: Please follow this link – it is a very interesting bird!
When DH returned, we immediately took him over to the area where the nesting burrows are located and told him of our discoveries. The kids were delighted. The next day, we received our Volunteering on Vacation t-shirts as a thank you from the Pacific Whale Foundation. The smallest size is an adult small – so of course, they are huge on the petite 6 year old and a 3 year old – but the are so proud of their shirts!

 

An Egyptian Party

When my daughter turned six, we were in the depths of a thematic unit on Ancient Egypt. It was of no surprise, therefore, when I inquired what kind of party she desired her response was, “Let’s go to Egypt!”

The Invitations

I thereby set out to put my creative energy and amateur cake decorating skills to use.

The Pyramid of Gisa Central Oregon

As Halloween is just a month after her birthday, I found the perfect costume online.

The Pharaoh Isis before her guests arrived

Together, we converted an old appliance box into a photo prop.

The Young King Tutankhamun

She told me during the party, “This is the party I always wanted! Thank you, Mom!”

A Delighted Mummy

I made a stencil with a graphic I found online (the same graphic I used on the invitations) so that the kids could create custom Egyptian themed t-shirts.

Party guests modeling the take-home gift (t-shirt) and fashionable mummy attire.

The kids had a blast wrapping one another in toilet paper.


In addition to the activities pictured above, party guests also made necklaces with their name written in hieroglyphics on shrink film… some turned out, others did not.

They danced to the Bangles’ Walk Like An Egyptian and enjoyed playing a homemade version of Senet, a game popular with the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

Snacks available included tabouli, hummus and pita chips, a veggie tray, and falafels. Other than a few chips and the cake & ice cream, of course, I’m not certain the kids even tasted the food. Also served with the cake & ice cream were crushed Pecan Sandies (to simulate sand).

Sons of Norway Picnic

We attended the Sons of Norway annual picnic yesterday afternoon and had a wonderful time. Just the kiddos and I as DH had made plans to fly RC planes with his buddy. He has also told me that he is expected to socialize, mingle and work with people as a part of his job… on the weekends and evenings, he is very tired (his job is intense and stressful) and prefers to just relax, do whatever chores need doing, and invest his free time in his family and personal interests.

I understand what he is saying… where he is coming from. He is a very social person. When we are together, I rely upon him to get conversations started. I am generally very quiet in large groups… I’m really quite shy when I don’t know anyone. It is actually beneficial that I attend these functions on my own as it forces me to open up and engage others in conversation. The only drawback is that it is difficult to do this when I must also watch the kiddos.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet everyone – I know only a handful of the other members. One woman I met today, Priscilla, is originally from England. When we returned home and I was glancing at the lodge newsletter I discovered that she is a marathon runner and was recently inducted into the Distance Runners Hall of Fame. She won the Boston marathon in …. and hold many Masters records. I wish I had known this at the time I met her – I would have loved to talk more and even to ask for her autograph! I will certainly seek her out at the next gathering.

When we first arrived, Sweetie had brought along a cross-stitch project she had just started. She got to work on it right away and many of the older ladies were intrigued and impressed that Sweetie was doing it on her own. One woman asked her her age and Sweetie said she would be 6 next month. “Oh. You’ll be starting school soon. Where will you go?” The woman inquired. “I homeschool.” The woman smiled and said, “You are very blessed.” Sweetie replied, “Yes. I am lucky.” The woman then looked at me and with a smile asked, “So I would guess she is at the 3rd grade level?” I answered, “In some subject areas, nearly so.” Sweetie announces, “I love math! I’m starting a 2nd grade book soon!” Shortly after everyone had eaten, the games began. The social committee members had done a spectacular job organizing everyone and getting everyone involved. I was impressed with not only the variety of games but also with how everyone participated. The games were very simple and brought everyone to riotous laughter.

The games started with a Water Balloon Toss. The kids loved this and soon, the adults were joining in on the fun. It turned out to be a great way to get everyone up and motivated as it was a rather humid afternoon. The group was then divided into two teams. Between the teams were two sawhorses with a 2×4 laid across the top and secured with vise-grips. Each team then took turns attempting to strike a nail with a hammer while holding it with just one hand (the little ones were given an exemption from this rule). The first team to get the nail all the way through was declared the winner. We played several rounds of this game (I’ll call it Hammer Relay) – it was a huge hit!

Another game involved teamwork, as pairs had to work together to move two planks across the playing field. This game was appropriately called Troll Feet and illustrated upon the planks were the painted red toes of a troll. The highlight of the day, though, was undeniable a Rubber Boot Toss whereby participants, divided into two teams, raced one another to fling an adult man’s rubber boot through your legs and up and over your backside (you had to bend over to do this). The goal was to get the boot to go forward ahead of where you were standing, but this took a little getting used to. My first attempt sent the boot about 20 feet behind me which set my team back a huge margin. We managed to catch up but were not able to make up the difference in time.

We all had a great time – particularly the kiddos. We look forward to future gatherings. I would like to get more involved – we’ll see what opportunities may develop.

How Did We Get Here?

When I was teaching in NB, I thought about homeschooling only on a few occasions. One of my husband’s colleagues, a hospital pharmacist, homeschooled his children. A few years prior, I had had the opportunity to interview him for a paper I wrote in college. I had only a vague understanding.

There were several families that had enrolled their children in public school after educating them in their homes for a number of years. The ages of the children, the number of children in the family, and the number of years they were educated at home varied amongst the families. However, the one thing they had in common was that all the children were excited about learning, were responsible and well mannered. Model students, really. I became intrigued.

When Sweetie was born, I knew immediately that I would stay at home with her. In the beginning, this transition was very difficult. I struggled with my decision to be ‘just a mommy’… I struggled with my identity.

My plan was to return to the classroom when my own children started school. As those years got closer, however, I began to think about our options. Other parents were comparing elementary schools, considering private, magnet or charter schools. The common questions I heard were, “Where is Sweetie going to preschool? Have you thought about Kindergarten, yet? Will she go to your neighborhood school? Are you going to try to get into Amity Creek or Westside Village? We are on the wait list at High Lakes.” Words that could have been scripted for a movie! She is only 5 – what does it really matter!?

I started to pull away from all this discourse and began to really give thought to educating my own children. I asked several of my teacher friends about their opinions and they stated the typical, “What about socialization?” The one argument that I thought the most about was, “Your strength is science. How are you going to teach the areas in which you are less comfortable? Their education won’t be as well rounded because they won’t have been taught by a variety of teachers with varying strengths and weaknesses.”

Sweetie’s birthday falls just 2 weeks after the cut-off. She would thereby not start public kindergarten until 2008. In April of ’07, I had registered her for preschool for the fall. However, as September approached and as we began to do projects for the fair, I knew she was ready for kindergarten. Her best friends and her cousin were starting kindergarten and she wanted to as well.

Another colleague of my husbands, coincidentally, another pharmacist, homeschooled their children through junior high. I asked them everything that crossed my mind. The idea of homeschooling became more fascinating to me. I started doing a lot of research. When I discovered Charlotte Mason and her approach to education, I knew immediately that I wanted to give homeschooling a try. 2007-08 became an experiment. If it worked – we’d continue. If not, Sweetie would start Kindergarten in the fall. No loss.

For Sweetie, I want to homeschool because she is bright and perceptive. I want to challenge her and not hold her back. I want her to continue to have the opportunity to explore areas of interest to her – living history, crochet and needlework, archeaology, nature study, and art. I want her to grow to be an independent, confidant young woman. I fear her self-esteem could be wounded – her true self altered to please others.

For Buddy, I want to homeschool because he is active and spirited. I fear that in the classroom setting he would be labeled as ‘attention-deficit’. He has Congenital Nystagmus and I don’t want others to judge him as my brothers were. I want him to have the opportunity to explore areas of interest to him – animals, construction, and nature study.

To my delight, homeschooling has been a challenging and very rewarding experience. We begin our 2nd year more knowledgeable. More connected. More prepared.

How about you? Whether you homeschool or enroll your children in public or private school… how did you come to your decision? Leave a link in the comments and I’ll add you to the list below. All participants (excluding me, of course) are eligible for a prize – see my Friday Freebie #3 post for more details.

Click on one of the following links to read similar posts by other families:

Are You Going to Kindergarten? by Teacher of One
Our Adventure in Homeschooling by Alex
A Rocky Start to Homeschooling, Then I Found the Path by Barb
How & When Did We Decide to Homeschool by Neely
When and How Did You Start Homeschooling by Cellista