Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Category: Travel Fun

Ideas on having fun traveling with a family of any size.

Photo Journals and Photo Pages

As much as I love Shakespeare (the topic of my last several blog posts), it’s time to change themes, at least for today. (Since I’m currently at the American Shakespeare Center‘s Summer Teacher Seminar, you would be right in guessing that next week’s topic will likely be back to Shakespeare.)  Travel is another big part of my life, and has been for my entire life – before, during and after homeschooling. In fact, one of the great things about homeschooling was that we could travel pretty much anytime we wanted, especially in the early years. (As my kids got older, school year travel did become a little more difficult, between co-op classes and the college schedules of my older children.)

Big Family Trips

But we still managed to take some amazing trips along the way – many of them with very educational themes. (Visiting Jamestown during its 400 year anniversary, following the Lewis and Clark Trail during its 200 year anniversary, and many trips to Washington D.C., to name just a few.)

Photo Journals

And then, when the younger children were getting older, we made several trips to Europe. (Those, I have to admit, were both educational and fun.) By then I was publishing books through CreateSpace with a fair amount of regularity. It didn’t take me long to decide that making photo journals would be a great way to remember our trips. (My version of scrapbooking these days.)

        

I made the first journals the way I’ve done all my paperbacks thus far – using Microsoft Word and then saving my final project as a pdf. I have found the results of doing that to be satisfactory, especially when I wanted to do just one or two pictures/page.  Below are samples of pages from a couple of my first photo journals.

Turkey with Dan and Eli

Italy with Dan and Sonia

Using PowerPoint for Photo Pages

Since then I’ve figured out that PowerPoint is easier to do picture pages in. After our recent cruise in Europe, I made my mom several collage pages through PowerPoint, enabling her to print several pages through Walmart’s photo shop.  One option now is to add the jpegs of those pages directly to a Word document for our next travel journal. One nice thing about using PowerPoint to make collages is that an 8 x 10 inch PowerPoint slide converts to a jpeg that will make a good quality 8 x 10 photo. (More on size concerns below.)


Using Canva for Photo Pages

Recently I was going to help a good friend make some photo collage pages. She liked the idea of being able to print them as 8 x 10s, like we had done for my mom. But, much to my dismay, I discovered that she didn’t have PowerPoint. I was stumped. I knew it was one way to make collages easily, but surely there were others as well. So I was off to find her another option. That’s when I remembered all the fun I was having using Canva’s website to make my cover images for my blog posts. Maybe it would work for collages too. Sure enough, there are some great templates on Canva with which to make collages. She was soon on her way to making several pages.

Fortunately we tried uploading her first 8 x 10 collage from Canva to Walmart before making additional ones. We discovered that for some reason those jpegs were not high enough quality to print as 8 x 10 photos. We increased the size of her Canva collages to 16 x 20 and those worked fine. Below are some examples of photo pages I made recently with Canva. Of all the picture pages I’ve made, these have definitely been the easiest!

  

Monday, on my other blog, I hope to go into details about the travel journals that I’ve been writing on and off since a trip from Panama to Massachusetts when I was nine-years-old. Those are a great way to have students involved in family travels. (And to expand on the educational value of such trips!)

Happy traveling and creating!

Cathy

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

The Wonder and Value of Audio Books!

Books on Tape

I’m sure by now most or all of you have enjoyed some form of “Books on tape.” For those of you too young to remember the things that came before CDs (or are even CDs becoming old school now?), my earliest memories of books on tape were when my Dad was in Vietnam in 1970. He read aloud a book for us, recording it on a cassette tape, one chapter at a time and mailing the tapes to us in the United States. My husband did the same thing in 1999 when we were in Germany and he was in Saudi Arabia with Desert Storm. (My dad read a horse story and my husband read Mouse and the Motorcycle.)

Audio Books vs. Read Alouds

Since those times, I have listened to hundreds of audio books, and I don’t think the best narrators out there will ever surpass those experiences. But I will say that many of the narrators I’ve listened to make the power of the written word come alive in some pretty wonderful ways. And while reading aloud to our children should be a regular part of parenting, sometimes it’s nice to be on the receiving side of read-alouds, and not just on the giving side.

One of the nice things about audio books (as opposed to read alouds) is that they can be listened to again and again without wearing out the narrator (read: parent or older sibling). And they can be enjoyed at almost any time. One of my sons who learned to read late commented recently that he would have LOVED to have had more audio books available when he was younger. (We tended to have enough for road trips, but certainly not near as many as “real” books, so he and other late bloomers were at the mercy of their older sibling’s reading time when they wanted to enjoy a good book together. (Chronicles of Narnia and the entire American Adventures series were popular read alouds.)

Traveling with Children

We tend to listen to A LOT of audio books while traveling, regardless of who is in the car. Obviously the choices of books vary, but the act of listening to books is a common part of road trips in our family. In the early years it was generally CDs picked up from the library or tapes and CDs that we had purchased. Even the one vehicle we’ve owned with a DVD player in it (our 8 passenger Toyota Sienna), involved much more listening than watching. (See the blog post on travelling on the Lewis and Clark trail for more information on how we handled that.)

When traveling with children, I can’t even imagine not having a vast variety of audio books to help fill the hours with fun and education.  As I mentioned in the Lewis and Clark post, we have a special love of Odyssey, Jungle Jam, and Jonathan Park stories for road trips that involve children.

Children’s Books

As time moves on, so does technology. So now, we are just as likely to be listening to a book we’ve downloaded, but in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been an Audible account holder for three years now, and since that account is more for me, than for others, it does contain a lot of books that I got just for me to listen to. But, in the midst of all of those there is still a fairly good mix of children’s books – from Winnie the Pooh and the Little Prince to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (and the Hobbit, if you can include that on a list of children’s books, which I have mixed feelings about). I’ve listened to this particular recording of the Hobbit all the way through twice, and if you won’t think less of me, I’ll even admit to having listened to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (actually I’ll admit to those either way – they were fun books). I have only listened to the beginnings of the other two, but in time, I hope to add those to my completed list. (Maybe I’ll look for an opportunity to share them with my grandchildren.)

Educational Value of Audibles

For children learning to read, the ability to hear a book and follow along on a physical copy can be very fruitful. And for older students, the amount of educational materials available on Audible is quite impressive.  Their collection of the Great Courses lectures series alone makes Audible invaluable. The lectures are aimed at college students and other adults, but with careful use, many of them can also be very useful for high school students.  (More on Great Courses below.)

My Personal Audible List

My listening library is as eclectic as my physical library (and the books I write, for that matter). My interests are vast and varied – and a quick look at my audio library shows that. Many of those books are ones that I sought out for one reason or another, but many others are ones I found thanks to one of Audible’s great sales (their “Daily Deal” being one of my favorites – though sometimes I find they can go many, many days before I see something even worth looking at). One of the many things I like about Audible is that when you have a membership they give you 12 months to decide whether you actually like a book or not. (And when an account gets as backlogged as mine does sometimes, that’s a nice time period.)

With that wonderful refund policy, I’ve actually returned about 10% of the books I’ve gotten from Audible. I usually make returns for one of two reasons – I don’t like the narrator or the bad language is just too much to put up with. Or, thirdly, on a few occasions it was because I just couldn’t get into the story. And it’s nice to be able to return a book for any of those reasons.

And, as a result of their specials, and their generous return policy, I’ve discovered a whole world of Audio books I wouldn’t have known existed.

Great Courses as Audibles

I would be remiss in not mentioning one particular category of Audible books that alone would make my Audible account worth having – the Great Courses lecture series.  Almost every Great Courses series that can be bought as just an audio can be gotten through Audible. At just $10 – $15 (depending on your credit costs), I know of no better way to listen to their amazing array of wonderful courses! (And if you watch the sales, sometimes they are even cheaper than that!) I still buy the occasional video-based course straight from Great Courses, but if it will work as just audio, I buy it from Audible!

Just a small sampling of some of my favorite Great Courses Audible books (and I’ve bought over 40!):

Other Types of Books I Enjoy

And of course, I do listen to “real” books in addition to the many lectures I enjoy –  both fiction and non-fiction.  Some of my favorite non-fiction books have included more books on writing, more on history (I’m sure both of those surprise you), in addition to more Shakespeare and economics. My fiction books are pretty well mixed as well, though I have discovered that I enjoy quite a few “political thrillers” and “cozy mysteries,” – with Rhys Bowen being one of my favorite, newly discovered authors!

At $10 – $15 for the “full priced” audible books I buy, and $5 or less for the sale books, I get lots of bang for my bucks for the Audible books I purchase.  If you haven’t already given Audible a try, I can strongly recommend it!

Trying Audible

Now that I’m three years and three hundred plus books into my Audible journey, I’m constantly amazed at how many people haven’t tried it. For $15/month, you get one credit (which equals one regularly priced book), or for $25/month you get two credits. (And it probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s an even more impressive/expensive membership for those of us who want to get an average of more than two books per month.

So have you given Audible a try for yourself and/or your family? What are your favorite books to listen to? I would love to hear what your thoughts and experiences with Audible have been.

Happy listening!

Cathy

Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life

I think parents in general and homeschoolers specifically have a tendency to become too focused on the here and now. We tend to worry about when our children will learn to read, whether they’ve finished enough textbooks, and how we’ll get them through high school. But although I covered homeschooling highschoolers in an earlier post, I don’t think even that is where we should be focusing our attention. What will their lives look like when they are adults? What will our relationships be with them then? While they will always be our children, our relationships with them can and should change as they become adults.

As a result, I’m not one that cries at graduations or weddings. I see those as further celebrations of the job that we have done (as imperfect as it may be). Maybe it’s easier for me to think that way, since as of last summer, all of my children are adults. But let me encourage you by telling you, it’s all worth it! All the struggles, all the concerns, all the difficulties along the way to seeing them growing up – someday our jobs raising them really are completed.

I’ve been celebrating the completion of almost 35 years of homeschooling since my youngest graduated last May. I had threatened to dance across the stage at that graduation, but since I was also the key note speaker, I only danced internally.

In July the youngest turned 18, marking the passage of all my children to adulthood. (Even if Alabama thinks that age is 19, we’ll go with 18. I don’t want to wait another year to consider that job done, especially when the “child” in question has already graduated and left home!)

Those were celebrations, to be sure. But I think the final celebration of my work as a “Mom of 12” came when my children honored me with a video for my 60th birthday this past week. I laughed and cried (tears of joy) all the way through the 30-minute video where my children and “bonus children” (my son-in-law and daughters-in-law) shared various memories from the last many, many years.

And while no one will ever doubt that I’ve made as many mistakes as any other parent, I can know that I did my best as I raised my children, and that through it they all not only survived but also thrived.

As I watched the video (multiple times, in fact), I have to say that these are the types of things that bring joy to the heart of a homeschool mom, when she hears the thanks for:

  • Always believing in them when they struggled with learning something
  • Always being there for them (even when we were geographically apart)
  • Being willing to say, “Yes, and…” in support of their ideas whenever I could.

Teaching them:

  • To think outside the box
  • To never give up
  • To be willing to try new things/to be adventurous
  • To be thoughtful
  • To be questioning
  • To do their best (but not stress about the scores/results/etc.)

Several of my children enjoying a game.

Instilling in them

  • A love of Learning
  • A love of Games
  • A love of Travel
  • A love of History

Statue of York in Louisville
Following the Lewis and Clark Trail gave us history and travel!

So, when the homeschooling or parenting path is difficult, and you just want to throw in the towel, remember, they do grow up. (I’ve always heard “They grow up too fast” – but I don’t think I would go that far!) And someday, you too will be developing new relationships with your adult children and just looking back at these days as memories.

In the meantime, enjoy the present, don’t stress about the past, and look forward to that day in the future when you too will be retired from this current job that sometimes seems like it will go on forever.

Happy learning and living!

Cathy

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