Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Win and Bill Sweet are pioneers in the homeschool movement — they began homeschooling their own children over 30 years ago! Now, they homeschool their grandchildren. They are also the authors of an acclaimed parenting book called Living Joyfully with Children.

Answering the Basics for Easier Homeschooling

Answering the Basics for Easier Homeschooling

Q & A with Win and Bill Sweet

Q:  Preschool Curriculum?
What would be a good curriculum for my preschooler this year?

A:  Based on our extensive research into the subjects of development and needs, we would say the best curriculum for preschoolers is PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, independent play where they direct, choose, and most important of all, use their imagination. It is the abundant experience of creativity/imagination that fills the brain with the tools to be able to solve problems, do physics, navigate relationships, etc., later on. Children of the new millenium are going to need their creativity more than any other generation. Premature academics uses brain space that creativity is crying to fill up through imagination and self-direction.

The longer you wait, the more rapidly, joyfully, and stress-free they learn later.

We've noticed the word "boring" is often used when referring to curricula. One reason could be because the curricula are not meeting the development or the needs of the moment.

Q:  Give Teens Flexibility and Choices?
My stepdaughter starting homeschooling this year using an internet-based private school. She is 16 and dealing with some other issues, so we decided to keep something similar to public school with a few changes while transitioning this year. Is this a good plan?

A:  How wonderful to give your stepdaughter the chance to avoid the extreme stress that most high schoolers (as well as elementary, of course) endure in school. We salute your dedication to her best chance (that we know of) to live her teen years as stress-free as possible. Just having a dramatically changing teen body is more than enough built-in stress.

You mentioned "other issues." Could it be that the whole year "off" to do as she wants and directs would be helpful in meeting these issues? Please don't be afraid to give her that. Our daughter had a year off to completely direct for herself. You should have seen her blossom during that time and she never skipped a beat from then on. The benefits were manifold. (See our book, Living Joyfully with Children), chapter "The Rhythm of Readiness.") Children nowadays will probably live to be 100. One year (or even more) invested in this way can give a child a tremendous advantage for the rest of life!

In John Taylor Gatto's new book, The Underground History of American Education, he tells us that if a child did nothing academically for the entire traditional 12-year school time, she or he could catch up enough to get into college in just one year!

Did you know that the average young adult only remembers 3-5% of what she or he learned in 12 years of school? Homeschooling families have an amazing opportunity to eliminate 95-97% of wasted brain energy and use it instead in more productive ways. It's exciting to think about.

Q:  Printing or Cursive?
My son struggles with handwriting and also with reading. The writing is especially hard. Just forming the letters is painstaking.

A:  Carla Hannaford's book, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head, is a good resource for this. She has a great section on writing and why learning to print first creates writing blocks. A body works person told us he is convinced that one of the causes of lower back pain in adulthood is the strain of learning to print way too soon, starting in fingers, going up arm into shoulder and down the back. Just think of the difference in learning cursive writing first, that is, if one doesn't insist it be done exactly between those arbitrary lines. (Should be on a blank page, with at most a bottom shelf.) The arm can be loose and still execute the letters. And the kids love to put that flourish into the ending "tail."

When Ryan first wanted to learn writing, of course, it was cursive that we worked on. We got some chalk, went out on the driveway. I asked him what he wanted to learn to write and not surprisingly he wanted to learn his name. I wrote it on the driveway in letters about 8 feet tall, then we walked the letters, hopping around when a reversal took place. He thought it was great fun. We did this two or three times on different days, then he decided he wanted to go inside and write it on the white board. He ran into the house, I dawdled a bit picking up the chalk. By the time I got inside he'd written it on the white board just as good as I would have. In fact, when Grandpa came 'round he said to Ryan, "Did Grandma write that?" Of course, he beamed, "No,
I did."

I feel the kinesthetic exercise made it all so much easier.

We were off and running on writing then working on it as he wants to. It's fun and absolutely no stress. There's no hurry to learn to write, really. Do kids of 6 need to write in order to survive? When they are ready, it's fun, and they want to do it for themselves, there is no stress on anyone. What a great start in life.

The reading struggles he is having are a clear indication to me that it's too soon for him to even be trying. He's going to live for about 100 years anyway. What difference does it make if he catches on at 6, 8 or 10. Some very wise people say that 11 is a good time to get into reading, writing, academics. This for the sake of preserving and developing creativity, individuality, and true, indestructible self-esteem.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, among others, tell us that academics too early is "won" only at the expense of creativity. Starting early does not net out as a plus in life. I hope you can relax, enjoy your son and life and watch him blossom joyfully.

Just want to make a note here: Cursive writing should be taught before printing. See Carla Hannaford's book, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head, page 85.

Q:  Praise and Criticism?
I encourage my son's writing in an unusual way. I write him thank you notes when he does nice things. I write in careful cursive all of his assignments. I compliment his writing even if the spelling isn't perfect and so on. Should I do more?

A:  This is lovely. Not only to encourage cursive writing, but you are also honoring the True Being that your son is.

We have a principle: comment on what is right, not what is wrong. You are doing that. There's an additional part to that: recognizing with encouragement and acceptance trying, with no judgment.

I still remember when Ryan was much smaller, we got him a golf set. He was thrilled. He didn't even hit the ball on some of his swings, but we'd always say, in the most cheerful voice, "Ryan, that was a great try." He'd always beam; there was no sense of failure. One day we took the set out into the garden and all played. Once, when I missed the ball completely, he said to me in such a lovely way, "Oh, Grandma, that was a very good try."

Q:  Should I force my child to do Math and Grammar?
My daughter doesn't want to do her math and grammar work. Do I push this on her even though this is not what she wants to do or do I just sit back and wait for her to decide that she needs to learn this?

A:  A sure way for your daughter to learn to hate math and grammar is to force her to do it when she doesn't want to. She'll learn it at just the right time for her if you leave the decision up to her. We believe we parents really need to develop trust in our children's own intuition. The cultural pressure, on them that they often take on isn't trustworthy, but their true Self is.

Q:  Computers for Kids?
My young son loves computers. But sometimes I worry about exposing him to the computer screen for too long - I wonder if it is good for my son's eyes.

A:  So glad to hear you are concerned about your son's eyes. They are so precious and must last him his whole life, probably 100 years or more!

Yes, the computer and television are both very hard on the eyes and the brain, because of the almost indiscernible flickering and flashing light emitting from them that signals the brain that danger is present, therefore, it shoots cortisol into the brain. The eyes are strained by the flashing light and the brain is negatively affected by the continual shots of cortisol into it. Cortisol is fine if a saber-toothed tiger is coming at you in the jungle and you have to run. But if one is sitting still the brain just gets more and more filled with it and there's no running to dissipate it. Not good! Not good at all!

It has worked well for us to explain carefully to the children about the danger to their eyes, not being able to see as well then possibly needing glasses, usually irreversible, etc. We haven't gone into the cortisol effect with them yet. That seems too sophisticated for now; they can't relate to it. However, they "got it" with the eyes (which for now also covers protecting from the cortisol effect). They cooperate fully in using the Radio Shack timer we got for them. Whenever they go to the computer, which we don't encourage (it has to be their idea), they set the timer for 7 minutes. When it goes off, they take a walk upstairs (or wherever) for two minutes at least. Sometimes they get distracted and that's the end of the computer. If not, they go back to it for a max of 2 more 7 minute sessions. Then they know that's it for the computer that day and never complain. But then we don't have all the bells and whistles on the computer either, just 2 drawing programs and a typing program for kids.

Q:  When Should We Use The Computer?
I do sometimes wonder if I need to encourage computer skills a bit more - it is the way of the future I suppose.

A:  We recommend holding off the computer as long as you gracefully can. The cortisol factor that we explained in another e-mail (above) is one reason and also children's bodies and brains need lots of movement to grow optimally (Source: Joseph Chilton Pearce and others). In addition, their general development is enhanced with active relationships, especially with people who love and encourage them. Even though the software people try hard to make the computer a companion, it will never be the best kind of companion. When your son personally must use a computer to function as he would like or the way that he must in his life would be a good time to encourage computer skills.

Q:  What age should my kids be reading?
Neither of my kids are reading (they are 5 and 3). What should I do?

A:  Be happy about this. The eyes are not physically ready until about age 8 and the brain is not ready either. There's lots of scientific evidence on this. Did you know that in Denmark they don't start reading until age 8? They seem to know something that few Americans do. Our son had absolutely no interest in reading until age 9, and then because he wanted to know what the billboards on the freeways said. By the time he got our attention, we had passed the sign. He learned to read because of his personal motivation beyond his "grade level" in only 6 months. This without stress, a key consideration. Furthermore, he loves to read. At one point, he was collecting books.

You may enjoy Carla Hannaford's book, Smart Moves. There's a wealth of information in it that can help parents respect and accommodate developmental sequences and patterns that can make a tremendous positive difference in the children's (and family) lives. She also speaks about dyslexia in the book.

Q:  Advice for dyslexic children?
We are interested in learning more about dyslexia since our children (especially our son) are at a higher risk for it. Do you have any suggestions?

A:  Again, Carla Hannaford's book, Smart Moves, addresses dyslexia. The Educational Kinesiology Foundation is also a wonderful resource (800/356-2109, www.BrainGym.org). Carla works with these people too and the founder was dyslexic. In fact, he developed "Brain Gym" to help himself, and now it helps many others. (We use it with ourselves and with our grandchildren. There's a multitude of possibilities for the use of Brain Gym, certainly not just with dyslexia.)

"Brain Gym helps to reintegrate all the flows of information within the brain, removes, blocks, and restores one's innate ability to learn and function at top efficiency." (Quoted from Linda Faste's brochure. She's a certified Brain Gym Consultant and Instructor. Her phone number is

Q:  What is Brain Gym?
I found this info interesting. I would appreciate more info on the Brain Gym.

A:  You won't be sorry to have looked into Brain Gym. It's really wonderful, and could be a great asset for every family. Do refer to the final issue of Homefires that came out in August, 2000. In our column we interviewed Linda Faste, certified teacher. The article is called "Brain Magic" and includes a bit of our experience with Brain Gym and her very good short explanation.

The written material available from the Foundation (info below) is very helpful, and can take one a long way, however, the classes (as in everything) make it really come alive.

The Educational Kinesiology Foundation is a wonderful resource (800/356-2109, www.BrainGym.org) Paul Dennison developed "Brain Gym.