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Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills

As homeschoolers, we all understand the importance of not just teaching the core subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and PE, but also Art, Music, Theater, Sewing, Cooking, Engineering, Programming, and more.  We make concerted efforts to make sure that our children get a well-rounded education, but I feel that, amidst all the other great things, many of us forget to focus on EQ, promoting emotional intelligence and mental health.

I often wonder if everyone understands the importance of emotional intelligence and what some call the “soft skills” like good communication and conflict resolution in relationships, leadership skills, teamwork, networking, and so forth.  I see a lot of that not going too well for many kids, in traditional as well as alternative education settings.

If one googles what ‘soft skills’ people need, a ton of articles come up such as this one from Monster.com, the big online recruiting agency, listing skills that people need in today’s business world.  I would argue they have always been needed and sorely lacking at times, but, finally, businesses are actually saying out loud what skills they’re looking for that no degree will give you.  All of these require high EQ.

According to the Dictionary of Psychology from Oxford University, “Emotional intelligence (EI), also known as Emotional quotient (EQ) and Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EIQ), is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

One of my favorite Ted Talk videos is this one on Hackschooling.  Logan explains how he told someone once that he wanted to be happy when he grew up and they didn’t think it was a good answer to the question of what he wanted to be when he grew up, but that it is actually really important.  As homeschoolers we care a ton about our children being happy, but I think sometimes all the wonderful classes and activities they can be part of, is still lacking in helping them attain true happiness.  We schedule the kids for multiple exciting activities and classes that they are interested in and always want to make sure they are having fun, but do we really check on their emotional health in all areas?  Sometimes parents even need help with that, because we did not grow up in an era where it was encouraged or even discussed.  I know I’ve had a long journey of studying this topic and continue to do so.

I feel that EQ is at least as important as IQ if we want to talk about numbers and that emotional and mental health is at least as important as academic subjects, if not more.  I think that classes such as Communication and Conflict Resolution, Teen Leadership Skills, TED Talks discussions, or Psychology are crucial to helping our children really extend themselves beyond their own world and meet their world with empathy and the tools to connect with others in meaningful ways to advance whatever field of study they engage in.  I absolutely love this Ted Talk on Listening which demonstrates just some of the types of skills that are discussed in these types of classes.  There are a ton of other wonderful Ted Talks on communication, conflict resolution, and other related topics to explore.

I’m so excited that Learn Beyond The Book offers an array of EQ classes, including classes covering the topics I mentioned above.  We also have some teen and tween support groups as well as a support group for parents.  We plan to just keep expanding this very important list of classes, because we truly believe that learning the skills taught in these classes are essential to life and happiness and we hope that parents will join us in making it a priority.

Math – What’s next?!!

As someone who LOVES Math and did all the extra problems in school for homework (just because it was so fun) and now have been teaching it for about 18 years, I’ve learned so much while teaching!  Math came so easy to me, but I learned, while teaching my own 4 kids, that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and when it doesn’t, it can drive a parent up the wall, especially if they don’t understand how kids learn Math and especially if they love Math themselves and are naturally good at it.  I did not realize how much repetition it took, how much time certain concepts would take and initially didn’t have the knowledge of how it all fits together like one big beautiful puzzle.  So it created a lot of frustration.  I feel I owe this article to all the Math-loving parents and non-Math loving students out there!  I hear more about Math frustrations and confusions than any other subject.  The worst part of all?  Everyone thinks they’re the only ones with the problem!  I believe anyone can learn Math, it’s just a matter of time, patience, and the right way of learning it.

I tell my students that Math is a language, it has vocabulary, it follows rules and you can’t learn to write essays before you can write words, so everything builds on everything before that.  If someone is teaching you Math and they don’t understand the flow of how Math builds, it becomes extremely frustrating and no fun, while Math is inherently fun with all the cool patterns and all the amazing things we can do with it.  We put a man on the moon with Math!  But let’s not start there, let’s start at the beginning.

There are 2 types of teachers who teach Math, whether in home schools or in public schools: those who love Math and find it easy and fun and those who hate Math and find it very confusing, frustrating and near impossible to understand.  The latter, once they do understand it, naturally have more patience with students, because they remember the struggle and how hard it was for them, while those who loved it and found it easy, often can’t even remember the order they learned it in, because they just know it all now and can’t remember a time that it was hard and often don’t exhibit a ton of patience, because they can’t even understand how anyone “can not get it, since it’s so easy!”

If you feel you aren’t the best person to teach your student Math, one way of dealing with it is outsourcing it to someone who is experienced in teaching it like the caring teachers at Learn Beyond The Book, where we do Math twice a week for 1.5 hours each time and students can come once or both sessions, combine it with some fun math games each class period and move up to the next level as they reach their math goals.  Students are allowed to work at their own level of Math without being compared with the other students in the class and classes have max of 12 students, in which case we normally have teacher’s assistants in the room as well.

Another way might be to employ a private tutor, which we also offer at Learn Beyond the Book.  If none of those appeal to you and you would like to teach your homeschooled students at home yourself, you might find this information helpful.  I decided to develop a very simple product (cost is $1) that looks a bit like a table of contents, but it is much more than that.  It shows a logical flow of what needs to be taught in terms of Math instruction in the order that is easiest to teach and for children to understand based on my experience from my 18 years of teaching Math. Many parents and even non-math-loving teachers try to teach their students math and use traditional textbooks, but they don’t understand the flow of Math instruction and then aren’t always aware that e.g. teaching fractions when someone has not mastered the concept of division and what it entails, will be very difficult and you won’t get very far and it will end up in frustration for everyone involved.

This product is meant to be used with whatever curriculum you choose to use, but it is to help you sift through where your students are at, help with assessing what they might be missing and where they might’ve developed “gaps” in their math instruction using certain textbooks and help you stay on track. The Math curriculum that most closely follows this approach is Math-U-See, and then the “Key To” series once you reach Decimals, % and Fractions. Used in conjunction with those curriculum, it will be easier to follow this plan and cover all your bases and make sure your students are not getting lost in what could be a Math jungle.

For any questions, feel free to contact me at LearnBeyondTheBook@gmail.com.

Happy Computing!

 

Happiness in Education

Happiness…. What is it?  Most of us will probably define it as something that we all strive for, something that is even listed as one of our “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence – the right to the pursuit of happiness.  The Webster’s Dictionary calls it

a :    a state of well-being and contentment : joy

b :  a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Amidst all the talk about happiness, including countless seminars and books, it appears to me that we don’t always put a high enough premium on it when it comes to the world of education.   It seems we have forgotten that happiness is also an unalienable right of children and not just adults.  So often we see kids dragging themselves to school, experiencing little joy from the process of learning, even though education is one of the most wondrous of life’s experiences!

This saddens me, and makes me very determined to work for a change!  The incorporation of happiness and joy into the process of learning is grossly undervalued in most of our educational systems today.  Our lives are so short; this is a reality I have just recently experienced again with the death of my father.  Why would we spend extended periods of time in self-imposed misery when we don’t have to?  Sadly, most kids don’t have any say in this whole process of imposed joylessness.  They get dragged to school with no choice and the frustration that creates can spill out in the form of a variety of undesirable behaviors.

There are many enjoyable and engaging ways to learn.  The industrialized method that we’ve been using for the past century is, increasingly, not one of those.  Wouldn’t it be more engaging for students to learn through experiences, projects, apprenticeships, and from people with a passion for the subject than to spend an inordinate amount of time practicing for a test?  If an adult wants to learn something, they find someone who knows the subject, spend time with them and learn in a hands-on, experiential way–why is it not the same for kids?  When teachers are saddled with increasingly large class sizes, required to spend many days testing and many more preparing for these tests, and required to cover all subjects, it is virtually impossible to engage every child in the most inspiring way. Putting aside the fact that it takes all the joy out of teaching, there are other problems with that model as well.  If that teacher really is not a fan of Math, do you think it will not come through in her teaching?  If she freaks out when she sees a bug, do you think her Science class will take a hands-on approach, or be the best these kids have ever had?  Of course not!  Everyone has their limitations, and someone who does not enjoy a subject isn’t the best choice to be teaching it.

At Learn Beyond The Book, we have taken many of the problems we’ve seen in traditional schools and created solutions.  Not only are all our classes taught by individuals who are highly passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, but also by kind, compassionate individuals who think of the children as whole human beings, engaging them as individuals and encouraging them as a group.  We see children as resourceful, and value their input as part of the educational process. We create classes where they feel embraced and respected as they actively participate in their own learning, where they more easily remember what they’ve learned, because they were engaged in the learning process, not passive bystanders!

Learn Beyond The Book maintains small class sizes to create an intimate and safe environment where kids can try things, fail, learn from their mistakes, succeed, and celebrate each other’s successes.  What is the result of all this?  Happy kids who can’t wait to come to class!  It’s a win-win for students, teachers, and parents.  All the kids attending are either homeschooled or hybrid schooled, which combines independent learning with several of our classes.  We provide support to homeschooling families and high quality class options to families who enroll in home-study charter schools.  Homeschooling parents love this system because it provides them with some free time and a break from the feeling that they have to become an expert in every subject, especially the ones they do not enjoy themselves.  Many times we’ve even seen parents become more interested in learning about a topic that they previously didn’t find interesting, because their kid has been so inspired by a class and shared their excitement with a parent.  Our teachers enjoy teaching because they have freedom to teach the kids in the way that they best learn, considering all the different personalities and learning styles in their class, and without being bound by stringent testing and grading standards.   Our students have a great time learning and doing it all surrounded by good friends and a supportive, less competitive atmosphere.  It is all so exciting to observe!

In my experience, happy teachers teach more effectively, and happy students are more efficient learners.  Many of our families have remarked about the change they see in their kids when they are learning in our more happiness-inducing atmosphere.  Imagine how your child might blossom in such an environment.

If you are interested in a different kind of learning environment for your children, feel free to check out our website and all of our Fall classes.

 

 

Why I love homeschooling and hybrid schooling as much as I do

As this calendar year draws to a close, my appreciation for homeschooling and hybrid schooling (a mix of school at home and outsourced classes)  keeps growing.  As new students attend classes at Learn Beyond The Book, I feel so grateful for the opportunities we have, especially where we live.  An individualized education for each kid is possible!  It takes work, but so do most things that is worth anything in life.

Here are some things I love most about homeschooling/hybrid schooling:

  1. Kids can learn at their own pace and in their own style!

Everyone is so different!  As adults, we all know it, accept it, and even appreciate that about each other, but in schools there is so much pressure to conform to a certain standard and all at the same age.  When you homeschool or do hybrid schooling, you can truly customize education!  Then it’s not a one-size-fits-all education, but a have-it-your-way education!   It’s the way of the future!

If you, for example, feel that your child is advanced in Math, you can put them in the skill level class that you feel they need to be in by either getting the curriculum for that level or attending a skills-based Math class at Learn Beyond The Book or signing up for some sessions with a great tutor.  If you feel they’re a little behind in Reading, there is a class for every level.  If they’re really interested in Science, there is a class for that as well!  Homeschooled kids are so used to kids of all ages that they don’t even bat an eye if an older or younger child is in their class or on their level.  We always stress in all our classes at Learn Beyond The Book that you can only know something if you’ve learned it, so we make sure no-one ever has any comments like “You don’t know that?!”  That way every class remains a safe learning environment for everyone to be in, on an emotional level as well as academically.

On the other hand, if your child is extremely interested in Technology, why not build their education around their interest? Why not sign them up for a Minecraft Science Modules class if they are a Minecraft fan, or help them learn how to program their own Video Games?  If they love History, focus most of their learning around their interest and see their love for learning blossom!!  We love to provide all these different kinds of classes to homeschooled kids so that they can excel in their areas of interest.

 

  1. Homeschooled kids, especially as they get older, have more time to themselves  – no unnecessary busy work and homework that leads nowhere. Teens tend to know themselves better, because they have more time to focus on what drives them and what they like to do when no-one is telling them what to do.  This leads them to discover what their passion in life is or just what they enjoy doing and it could lead to a future career.  When some of my children were in high school, they took a lot of community college courses and even with a pretty full load they still had hours more per week to themselves than their public school peers.

What did they do with their time?  The one spent hours a day practicing singing in the band he was in, then moved on to spending hours on a flight simulator and starting to read airplane manuals, watching countless documentaries, reading books about people he admired, which all lead him to his desire to study Aerospace Engineering.  The other spent hours a day playing video games and hanging out on Skype with his friends after learning some special effects video editing, with which he has earned some money and he developed his art.   Then he dabbled in Filmmaking classes, learned all about lighting, editing, Photoshop, multimedia art, and more at the local community colleges. Now he studies concept design for the entertainment industry and uses, as he told me the other day, every single thing he ever delved into, even the map building software that was linked to a videogame he loved as a teen.  The focus was not on getting him to stop playing video games, because that would’ve been futile, but to make sure that he doesn’t just play but use it in some creative way, which I asked him to do every day at some point and he usually happily did that, because it was still linked to his big love of games.  He has now learned within days a complicated game development software and started building his own game while using his own concept design art for it, using all the skills he acquired in that time when many might have thought he was just wasting his time on games.  One interest leads to another and as long as we are helping to guide things to a healthy place, eventually they find who they really are.  If they are told constantly what to do and when, they barely know who they are, end up with years in college for a degree they aren’t that interested in and thousands of dollars in debt later, they end up in a career that they don’t love and when midlife hits, there is a crisis.

 

  1. The fact that homeschooled students have more free time than kids in traditional schools usually also allows them more time to spend with family and friends and as a result they develop really deep and meaningful relationships that often last a lifetime. Bonds between siblings are very close if nurtured properly by the parents, because they spend a lot of time together.  They are also often a little less influenced by what their typical teen peers and society would think is “cool” and enjoy simple wonderful things in life.  Because they are used to being around their parents and other adults, they appreciate parents more than most school kids who are gone from their parents for almost all productive hours of the day.  As they grow, it often becomes more important for them to have a little more independent time with friends, which is when nurturing classes and group social events come in handy (like the ones at Learn Beyond The Book), because they have healthy interactions with friends with the guidance of a compassionate facilitator.  All this make for kids who are socially very well adjusted because they are so used to interacting with all different ages from adults to younger kids with the mixed ages of families, classes, parkdays and social events.  They aren’t just used to interacting with their exact age peers.  As the excellent movie, ‘Class Dismissed’ put it, there is no need to group kids “by date of manufacture”.  I love that term!

In our classes at Learn Beyond The Book, all students are treated with the same respect we would give an adult, so all their opinions are treated as valuable and it makes such a big difference in how they perceive themselves and their fellow students, no matter what the age.

I can keep talking for much longer, but these are my top three reasons for loving homeschooling and hybrid schooling as much as I do!  More in my next blog, thanks for reading!