Create space in your busy life to have intentional conversations with your children about their school work or the books they are reading. Rather than endless chit chat about nothing, purposefully ask questions of your children. Taking just a few minutes each day while your hands are busy to engage your children’s minds will multiply your limited time as a homeschool mom.
Here’s what these intentional conversations can’t do
These intentional, yet causal, conversations sound so simple you may be tempted to make them the cornerstone of your homeschool program. Yet, they are a little too casual to replace actual school work. Don’t use them to replace:
- sitting down with a math book and pencil
- completing a science study guide
- making flash cards
- writing out spelling words
- crafting an essay
No matter what, with lots of pencil in hand, hard school work must be completed. There’s no getting around that if you want a well educated child (which you do). So pick your essential elements of a great school day and continue to make sure your kids complete them. These intentional conversations are an excellent way for a busy and overwhelmed mom to check in on what is going on with all the kids in a deeper way than checking a math lesson.
Make a distinction between narration and intentional conversation
The simplest definition of narration I can think of is: telling what happened. A key point is that the narration be accurate. When you’re asking your kids to narrate as part of their school day you should expect the events to be placed in their proper order. Your children should remember names, dates, or locations mentioned in the reading selection. A narration should immediately follow the reading so that it includes all the details. Listen to your children’s narrations with the open book in your hand.
In later years book reports, essays, or science study guides take the place of oral narration. These all require that same accuracy and precision.
On the other hand intentional conversation is a discussion. Including names and dates is great. However, in a discussion you can expect to hear a big picture view, or a summary of a book’s story line. A conversation might also include your child’s opinions of what happened in the story. A discussion is a great time for either you, or your child, to make connections to prior knowledge or current events. You know the conversation is going well when someone says, “This reminds me of…” Suddenly you’re off on a rabbit trail and things are about to get fun. Neither you nor your child need the book in hand for this discussion. Have fun and see what they remember.
To sum up, I see narration as precision and detail in retelling a reading selection. I see an intentional conversation as a big picture view and a personal reaction. Conversation is casual and relaxed and can happen anywhere.
Four purposes of intentional conversation
If you’re a busy homeschool mom – and I know you are – maybe you are disappointed that you can’t replace actual school work with a chat you have in the car. However, having intentional conversations with your kids can help you in several significant ways.
1. Connect with each of your kids
Intentional conversations give you a way to check in with each of your kids. There are different seasons in a homeschooling life. In some seasons some children are able to do a lot of work by themselves. That’s a blessing when you’re teaching phonics, changing diapers, and editing an essay. Then suddenly you wonder what your fifth grader, who is working independently, learned today. Sure you glanced at his math corrections. But what did he read about? What did he think of it? Take a couple minutes in the car or while you cook supper to talk to him and find out. Check in with every child every day if possible. You would think being in the same house all day every day would guarantee you’ve connected with all your kids. But you know it doesn’t automatically happen. Intentionally take a few minutes to connect with each kid.
Discover areas your kids need a little extra help
Intentional conversations may help you discover an area your child needs a little extra help. For example, your high school daughter has read the science module and completed the study guide. In the car on the way to music lessons you ask about the chapter. It was on the structure of the cell. You ask a couple probing questions. Finally she admits, “Well, I didn’t really understand the chapter.” Aha! She’s not in trouble. Now you know that tomorrow you need to carve out a few minutes to help her with this science concept. Don’t overlook these gaps and press on without understanding. Instead, take time for mastery level learning.
3. As an emergency measure
Every once in while your normally hectic life becomes downright crazy. Whether it’s illness, or six dentist appointments in a day, or an upcoming move, there is no time in the day for you to sit down and do school with your kids the way you usually do. If you have an “emergency” school plan in place you have a plan to keep the kids independently busy on these crazy days. But there’s no way the normal narration or guided conversation you usually do is going to happen. But maybe you can squeeze in a few minutes to talk to your kids about what they read all day. This is an “emergency” way of checking up on them and making sure they got something done.
4. Enjoy books and learning together
These intentional conversations are a fun way to talk to your kids about books. Not their school reading assignments. Instead, ask about the books they’re reading for fun. It’s okay to share some thoughts about what you’re reading also. Maybe even share an idea that stood out to you in your Bible reading that day. Enjoy the world of ideas together.
Finding time for intentional conversation
Relaxed and casual discussions can take place in any pocket of time. You just need a few minutes when the younger kids aren’t running wild through the room. Since the subject matter is literature, history, or science you don’t need privacy or one on one time. All you need is enough peace that you and your child can speak in complete sentences. Use your time intentionally when you are:
- folding laundry
- working in the yard
- doing dishes
- riding in the car
Notice, all of these activities are relatively mindless. I can’t discuss literature with my kids while I am grocery shopping. My mind is busy choosing fresh produce and remembering the two items that never made it on the shopping list. Look for times when your mind is free to focus on the conversation.
Intentional conversation around the dinner table
The best time of day for these discussions is when your family sits down to supper around the table. If your husband is home from work and can join in, even better. For most of our marriage my husband has worked occasional evenings. Whether he joins us or not, I try to have an interesting conversation going while we eat.
When you have the whole family together, try to guide the conversation so that everybody gets a chance to say something. You can ask older children to share something they learned that day. Or ask them to tell the family what book they’re reading right now. Toddlers can tell the family about the toys they played with or which story mom read to them. If you train your kids to be respectful when someone else is speaking, even Dad and Mom may have a chance to talk for a minute or two. Kids love to hear about something Dad did at work that day. They’re learning about real life.
Another great reason to have an intentional discussion when your husband is around is because you can steer the conversation to his strengths. When my kids are learning about economics or government, my husband can have a much better conversation with them than I can. He pays attention to news stories about minimum wage laws and can relate that back to economics. My husband always remembers the date Pearl Harbor was attacked and likes to pull out Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address and read it aloud. When the kids spend all day with Mom, they pretty much know what you think about everything. It’s nice to change things up and hear from someone else.
Be intentional today
Try having a couple intentional conversations with your kids today. Ask one of your kids to join you in a task or an errand. Then start asking questions about the books they are reading. Keep things light and fun. Remember, it is a conversation not an interrogation.
When you begin, you may need to discipline yourself to use your time this way. It may feel hard or awkward. As it becomes a habit, you’ll have these kinds of conversations with your kids without giving it any extra thought. Knowing and enjoying these amazing little people is one of the chief reasons you homeschool. Make the most of the time you have with them!