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in response to: “how do you get them to learn things they don’t want to?”

learn-mine1This is my second year doing Leadership Education, and there are many things I don’t do well yet. But one thing that is going well is what the DeMille’s call “Kidschool” or the “Mine” where I, as the mentor, share what is mine to share. Since we are all unique, each family’s Mine will be different, so perhaps it’s fun to see how different approaches can be successful and lead to great education. Here’s how I prepare and carry out Amber’s Mine (in Fall 2012, anyway):

At my weekly meeting with Steve (our “Companion Chat”), we talk about what we’d like each child to explore that week, and I add the general ideas to my planner in one of the buckets listed below. Let me note here that for the most part, Steve is a bump on log when coming up with ideas for what the kids need to be inspired to learn, so mostly I just vet my thoughts about it and he says “sounds great” with a silent sigh of relief. Just being real, folks. He has more to say when we’re covering our six-month inventories than for the weekly planning sesh.

The Mine Buckets:

Monday – Math focus
Tuesday – Tapestry (Tapestry of Grace, which we use as a framework for history and some lit)
Wednesday – Science focus (and Technology and Engineering)
Thursday – Orchestrations – the arts, music and writing (about something from the other days or creative writing)
Friday – Project Day (they design and execute projects of their choice)
Saturday – Family work and play day
Sunday – Spiritual focus

So, we might say we’d noticed they’d been designing bridges with craft sticks and hot glue and they’d also used “Cargo Bridge” or “World of Goo” on computer to make bridges. So I might decide to fan that interest by doing Wednesday’s Mine about the types of different bridges and build a few models out of paper, then that evening we watch some video about what modern civil engineers do.

After such a day, I notice an increase in the breadth and depth of the kids’ explorations. Maybe their artwork turns to designing bridges on grid paper, maybe they broaden to seeing how tall they can engineer the Jenga blocks into skyscrapers, maybe their Lego ships start being built with the principles they learned. These things become “learning time” events that are not guided by me at all.

A few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to give the kids more arrows in their arithmetic quiver, more than just the standard algorithm or mental regrouping. So after my weekly meeting with hubby I looked up YouTubes and found the Lattice Multiplication method as well as a fun Waldorf finger multiplication method. I taught them both for Monday Math Mine, and Elias (7) has been begging everyone to give him math facts to work on his hands, while Noah (10) has been designing and solving his own lattice multiplicaton problems on grid paper all week*.

I don’t plan the Mine content more than a week out, with the exception of the Tapestry day, where I order library books to go along with the era we’re studying and I have a couple months’ topics penciled into my planner. These topics are adjusted (we skip a week, combine a week) as needed but I like having a history forecast in the back of my mind.

I should note that while the Mine falls into certain buckets, the kids still do all sorts of learning each day, not just math on Monday and such.

Digging in the Mine

When I wake each day, I say a prayer that I’ll share what God would want the kids to know, then I read scripture to support that prayer and place a bookmark if I find anything I want to share directly with the kids. This is the step I wouldn’t leave out for anyone who wants a successful learning time. Then I run on my treadmill while the kids get ready for the day and do about half an hour of family work.

When the kids are done with their morning routine, they head upstairs and write on their planners. This is enough of a routine that there is no pushback from the kids on this — outside of the occasional gentle reminder (“move along, please, I want to start Mine in ten minutes…”). Pushback would be a Core phase issue, I think, so all three of my kids are in Love of Learning phase this year and that’s what I’m describing, a Mine with LoLers.

I join them with my planner and we say an opening prayer. Then, we talk calenders, then I share any spiritual thoughts I have and we discuss things.

Then I launch into what I want to share. Sometimes this is as unplanned as looking at the resources next to my chair and picking the book that feels right. Maybe it’s Thursday, so I grab “Writing Magic” by Gail Carson Levine and flip through, read aloud the chapter on noticing details, chat about details in our learning room, reminding them to notice how things look, sound, feel, even taste and smell! Then I invite them to pull out notebook paper from their binders and we all (me included, or not) write a paragraph focused on sharing sensory details in the written word.

I want to add that I think success in the Mine includes keeping useful resources at hand, both the kind that sit next to the mentor’s chair and the kind that are constantly being added to her own mind through personal study and exploration (Leadership key #7: You, not Them). For example, if I hadn’t spent time searching for great writing resources (or, in the case of the writing specifically, had a long history of studying writing for myself) I would have empty hands and a frantic mind when Thursday came. Instead, I often feel excited and full of ideas to share. I have studied and I love learning and so they are loving learning and studying.

I try to keep the Mine to an hour or less so they can also pursue their own studies. And hey, if I’m feeling really blah or behind on my own stuff, it can totally be as short as this:


Prayer, scripture thought, reminder that today is a __________ focus day, so here are a few ideas…

Does anyone need to sign up for time with me today?

Okay, go to, learn, create, value, impact!

During the Mine, we also sometimes (especially Tuesday) discuss what the kids have studied on their own. Noah, particularly, inhales a lot of historicals and historical fiction so he adds a lot to those discussions. Grace adds a lot to the natural science discussions because she reads field guides and animal encyclopedias. Like, for fun.

But, to be clear, this is not a time when I quiz them on what they’ve read, nor on math facts or anything test-like. We do bean jar game with Dad in the evening for fact quizzing and we do dinner-table conversation as well as private Mentor Meetings for study reports. The Mine is more for open discussion. Even Math Monday, if we work some story problems, we are doing it together with volunteer answers. I don’t want to create an atmosphere where they feel pressure to perform. Instead, the Mine is a meeting where they can come with open minds and hearts and know they’ll be refilled and refreshed with good ideas from someone they love and trust.
I feel like this post is kind of like trying to explain how to ride a bike. I’m making it sound overly complicated, and, yes, there are a lot of steps involved in making it work well, but when they all come together, the whole thing goes off smoothly and we’re just enjoying the ride. The thing I’ve learned is really this: every ounce of effort made in the noble pursuit of helping your children educate themselves is WORTH IT. Whatever we have to give, we give, and it’s enough. I feel lucky every day that I get to be a student of TRUTH alongside the people I care most about in the world.

Live, Learn and Play – it’s Worth it!


* Actually, it looks like the multiplication Mine has had far-reaching effects, particularly for Noah, who has brought up repeatedly the realization that he is actually strong in math… something I’ve told him often, but was hard for him to believe because public school had told him the opposite for four years.