High Standards and a Nurturing Atmosphere


I am drawn to books and stories about amazing teachers and inspiring mentors who help their students achieve greatness. What are great teachers teaching students along the way?  To love learning. To learn and think for themselves. And to work hard on the fundamentals.   The common thread among many of the inspiring books I’ve read is that great teachers set high standards for all of their students. They believe in their students. And, they help kids believe in themselves.

One of the recent books I’ve read is called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (affiliate link). It’s actually a book about the way people look at the world. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your talents and abilities are set in stone. If you have  a growth mindset, you know that talents can be developed and that great abilities are built over time. Of course, for me as an educator, I was especially fascinated by the sections on teaching (and inspiring kids!)… helping them to see that their own hard work will take them far.  So many of those who achieve greatness (in sports, in the workplace, and beyond) got there not because they were special people, but because they worked hard, learned to keep focus under pressure and stretched beyond their ordinary abilities when they had to. People can learn how to deal with setbacks and find strategies for growing (whether that is athletically, intellectually, artistically, working with others, or whatever.) Here are a few things I gleaned from this book:

Teaching is about watching something grow in our kids… intellect, talent, passion.  We as educators have the challenge of igniting the mind and passions of our kids.  The challenge is how to make that happen?  So much of that happens with the atmosphere that is created.

In that, we homeschoolers have a huge advantage. We *believe* in our children. We *know* our children. We *aspire* for our children. Our children will not be judged unworthy or not up to par.  (Home) school happens in a nurturing, safe atmosphere.  We are committed to our kids — as students and as people.  We know our kids’ weakness and work with the kids to help them build those skills. We learn and grow right along-side our children AND they can see that!   I realized that homeschoolers have an advantage as educators;  we have deep,  personal, unwavering commitment to our kids (as students and as people). But this is not unique to homeschoolers. Carol Dweck writes about

Fare Esquith, who teaches Los Angeles second graders from poor areas:

  • Esquith’s class often met before school, after school, and on school vacations to master the fundamentals of English and math, especially as the work got harder. His motto, “There are no shortcuts.”

And also write about Marva Collins, who taught Chicago students:

  • Collins tells her class, “There is no magic here. Mrs Collins is no miracle worker. I do not walk on water, I do not part the sea. I just love children and work harder than a lot of people, and so will you.”

And other educators such as Ron Clark, Kim Bearden, and Dave Burgess write of the long hours they spend preparing for classes and taking their students on trips (not just locally, but around the country and around the world). Their dedication is amazing.

These teachers help kids discover how much easier things have become because of their hard work, practice and discipline.

Some of the other inspiring books that I’ve read include (affiliate links):

I enjoy reading books like these because I feel that same passion in teaching/homeschooling my kids. (Not every moment, mind you, but much of the time!) I loved reading the books I mentioned above because I definitely need inspiration and motivation along this journey.   Who wouldn’t be drawn in by this plug…   “inspiration, practical techniques, and innovative ideas that will help you to increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator,” the description for Dave Burgess’ book?!  🙂

I’ve re-read Ron Clark’s book twice now because of the inspiring messages I’ve taken away from his book. Right off the bat he writes “Teach children to believe in themselves and don’t destroy the dream.” He goes on to talk about why it is important to see the potential in our kids. It’s a good reminder to me to keep the end goals in mind in our homeschool… it really isn’t about a math skill or history fact… It’s about believing that our children will go on to do amazing things with their lives. Just keep trying, work hard and don’t give up!  That’s the message I hope the kids hear, but also it’s the message that *I* need to hear sometimes too!  Put effort into everything we do, even on the hard days. 🙂 Potential is already there; it is our responsibility to see it (and to help the kids to see it too).

Before I go, I thought I would leave you with thoughts I had after reading Kim Bearden’s book some time ago.  Her book left me inspired by all the possibilities of teaching… the creativity and energy and passion we can pour into our homeschooling!! So, here is that post:

It really doesn’t matter what curriculum you use… anything can be used as your spine… but (for me) education is going beyond the books. It’s all about the passion, the excitement, the hard work and intensity that comes with learning. When you have those moments with your kids/students, you’ll know it!!

I just finished a book by an award-winning language arts teacher called, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. (affiliate link) What an inspiration to read!  Even though we don’t function as a “traditional” classroom/school, this book had so much to offer to me as a parent, facilitator, instructor & mentor.  If you need a bit of inspiration before the school year begins (or even in the midst of your school year!) I highly recommend her book.  It really got me thinking beyond lesson plans & units to how and why we’re homeschooling. So much of what she wrote resonated with me and I wanted to write more about that. The author of the book is Kim Bearden. I’ll just refer to her as Kim because after reading her book, I feel like I know her! ;)

Change it Up; Be Fresh and Innovative:  One of the reasons we love homeschooling is because it allows us to create a joyful learning environment. Kim talked about changing the lessons up and creating a sense of wonder for the students.  I whole-heartedly agree… in fact, that’s one reason we homeschool.  As I think about our units, I spend a lot of time searching for fresh ways to approach the material… So what do I mean by that? Let me give you some ideas:

Math facts getting “dull” but still need work?  Time for Math Monster or other Active Math Games.

Science need a pick me up? Make it hands on, interactive… create a demonstration or science experiment.  Below, the kids showed the heart leaving the heart with oxygen (red tile), traveling to the limbs and dropping off the oxygen (flipping the tile to blue) and returning to the lungs for more oxygen before returning to the heart to be pumped out again… It’s been three years since we did the circulatory system and heart activities, but the kids still talk about Harold (pictured below)!!!


And what better way to believe in the strength of levers (in a Simple Machines Unit) than by lifting Mom!! (See more Lever Activities here.)


And once the weather is cold, there are always indoor games to play, lapbooks to make and experiments to be done!

Magical Learning: One wonderful idea that I took away from Kim’s book was suspending belief — making learning magical. I don’t want to share her ideas (go read her book, it’s wonderful!), but I realize as I look back on the past year or so, that there are so many ways I can stretch our imaginations and take us far away from our homeschool room…

I see SO much potential

  • I could set up different scenes for our German lessons… a day at the beach, a restaurant, a store-front
  • historical dilemma – Now this particular activity I’m about to share is not appropriate for my six year old… but when I taught history at a private high school, I taught a popular elective on the Holocaust.  It was very challenging (emotionally), but the students and I really explored some issues deeply.  One particular lesson stands out. I had prepared cards ahead of time with different roles… We spent time role playing. Then jumped out of the conversation we had that day was
    • “You are a mother of two young children.”
    • “You are shopkeeper. You live about the store. Your store is frequented by government officials and SS officers.”
    • “You are a father whose teenage son just joined the Hitler Youth.”
    • “You are a 15 year old Jewish teenager. Your parents disappeared. Approach the friends (former friends?) of your parents and see if they will hide you from deportation.”
  • mock trial – Again, when I was teaching high school, my colleague and I designed a number of lessons… holding mock trials of historical figures (like George Washington) complete with witnesses, a judge and jury.  I haven’t ever done anything like this with my kids, but they are now old enough that we could do a simplified version.  (Do you hear the wheels and spinning with excitement turning in my head?!!)

Goal Setting: I think it’s important to point out that when you look at a blog like mine with various idea or read a book like Kim’s with all her extraordinary ideas laid out for you that I point out that we highlight the successful, memorable activities and experiences and don’t dwell as much on the days where we let the kids read all day or just trudge through the basics because someone is sick or we had a handful of errands to run all day.

We don’t do extraordinary science experiments, activities, crafts and scenes every day, but I always have a goal in the back of my mind… To be honest, one reason why I (continue) to blog is because I have set goals and have activities I hope that we’ll get to… Knowing that I can/will share that on the blog is sometimes enough to get me off of my duff and actually DO IT.  There are times in the semester where pulling together the materials we’ll need sounds nothing short of exhausting. Then I push through and do it anyway.  Anyway, I just share that so you know that you (readers) help to motivate me… I bet there’ll be times when you need outside help to motivate you as well.

For example, when the kids were in preschool I tried to set up a theme time table once a week for five weeks… or did a science experiment 2-3 times a week for 3 weeks… or set up tot-trays with activities with one quick activity per day.

Now as the kids get older I plan out units and have a half-dozen hands-on activities we *could* do along with the unit. My goal is to try to do something interactive at least every other day (rather than *just* the basics), but it doesn’t always happen.

Anyway, all that was to say, don’t get stressed out by Pinterest or homeschool and educational blogs with a gazillion ideas. Just pick a few fun goals and try to fit those in when and where they work!

Remember: Some of the good lessons become phenomenal with time.  Spend time, not only creating memories, but sharing and embracing those same memories.  When we were learning about the digestive system, we did an activity to show how small nutrients pass through the intestines into the blood stream… We still talk about squeezing and twisting a pair of panty-hose to make oatmeal “pass through” our digestive system… it looked gross and was a sticky mess.  We all laugh about the activity… and have cemented that lesson by talking about it so much after the fact!

Here’s another example… About a year ago, I took the kids to Antietam (now it has been two years!), where thousands of soldiers died during the Civil War.  The kids and I STILL talk about the powerful moments we spent at the graveyard there.  This is what I wrote at the time…

I have lots more pictures of what we saw that day, but honestly the most wrenching part was the cemetery. The kids and I were the only ones there.  Because of that, it was silent and somber.  I became very choked up (and honestly writing about this I have tears in my eyes) when I realized what DD was doing. She (and then ED also) went from grave to grave whispering quietly, “I’m sorry you died…” over and over and over. Oh my goodness, that was just heart-wrenching.  We all were very overwhelmed… and DD leaned on me and cried quietly at one point.  It was stirring and horrible… and touching all wrapped into one.

We ARE making a difference, even on our bad days! I actually stepped away from this post (and had major surgery–last year, that is–you can read about that here-I’m Going Deaf.). Now I’m coming back two weeks later and lost my train of thought… but one of the ideas I had jotted down in my writing notebook was about not being discouraged.  It’s important not second guess every decision, bad day, or bad lesson. When things go wrong, learn from it and then let it go.  We have to remain patient with the kids AND with ourselves.  In the larger scheme of things we are

  • making them feel significant
  • instilling positive messages
  • planting seeds
  • walking beside them
  • instilling a sense of wonder
  • supporting them
  • modeling a strong work ethic
  • making them feel appreciated
  • caring
  • teaching manners and grace
  • believing in them
  • showing them how to be polite and respectable
  • disciplining
  • smiling
And above all, I loved the message Kim shared throughout the book… to remember that positive energy is contagious! It’s up to us to set the tone and encourage positive thinking rather than complaints.  That’s true as a parent as well as an educator, right?!!
So with that, I’ll bring this post to a close.  A huge thanks to Kim Bearden, author of the inspiring book,  Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. (affiliate link)
If you have any thoughts, we’d love to hear from you hear or over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page! ~Liesl
Disclosure:  Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.

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