Learning Is Better Together: Fostering Strong Sibling Relationships

A note from Jamie: I’ve been thinking about this post lately while riding the waves of sibling rivalry. Can you relate? For many of us, the hope of close sibling relationships is one of our reasons for homeschooling. These words from Stefani remind us why. This post originally published on May 5, 2010.

One for all and all for one!

That was the solemn promise of the Three Musketeers.

It’s the unofficial motto of Switzerland.

It is also one of the driving ideals behind many homeschooling families’ decision to learn at home.

Homeschooling is a promise that we, as a family, are in this thing together–all of us championing each individual, and each individual giving his best for the family.

Each day of living and working alongside each other in a home learning environment, our children are learning to empathize, to celebrate the achievements of others, to respectfully disagree, to encourage, sacrifice, and lead. Beyond academics–they are also learning how to be parents, spouses, professionals and citizens.

Let’s face it though, when we are educating children of different ages, personalities, needs and goals, we often find ourselves running in six directions at once–a far cry from the unity-building that we dreamed of.

So how can we honor the individuality of our children and at the same time foster family togetherness?

It helps to be intentional about creating an atmosphere of brotherhood. In the same way that we surround ourselves with good books that inspire a love of reading, we set out to create an environment that is rich in opportunities to grow loving relationships.

Here are some of the ways that we make family unity a core subject in our homeschool.

Party Down

We celebrate each other’s accomplishments. When one of our boys has mastered his “times 3” facts, added a new specimen to his beetle collection, or learned all the letters in the alphabet, we are quick to honor the occasion with a special meal, a kitchen dance party, or a construction paper card.

The lesson: A brother’s victory is a victory for us all.

Edify

We catch each other when we fall. When a music performance doesn’t go particularly well, an experiment goes awry or a “contraption” doesn’t work as intended, we help our boys to find real, concrete ways to help their brothers get back up and press on.

The lesson: A brother’s defeat is a call for reinforcements.

Show and Tell

We talk to each other about our goals and ideas, and we involve each other in our efforts. Even our littlest family member learned early on that a brother is a powerful ally in learning endeavors.

When he began learning to read he would say, “Brothers I’m going to try to read now, come and watch me!” The older boys listened with baited breath while he sounded out “c-a-t…. caaaaaaat.” When he finally pronounced “cat” the room erupted with “You did it! That’s great! Do another one!”

The lesson: It is always easier to gather up the courage to tackle a difficult task when you know that your brothers are beside you.

Viva La Difference

When our oldest boy has a karate belt test, we are all there to grip our seats and will him through it, even though none of us understands a word of korean or knows if he’s doing his moves correctly.

The lesson: I care about what you care about because I care about YOU.

Put Your Backs Into It

We work toward common goals. Plant a small garden together. Work together to put on a variety show for family or friends. Tape up a big piece of paper and, together, draw a new world. Put on gloves, grab some trash bags, and clean up a favorite hiking trail or park.

The lesson: We are strong as individuals, but we are unstoppable as a team.

Practice Trickle Down Education

Often, as a homeschooling mom, I feel like the full weight of my children’s education rests squarely on my shoulders, when in truth I have strong young men to help me bear the load. Once a child learns a new task or idea, we encourage him to share it with his brothers.

An older boy can read to a younger one. He can teach his little brother to set the table, count by fives or play chopsticks on the piano, and in doing so he comes to understand that his knowledge holds real value not only for himself, but for his family.

The lesson: Each new bit of wisdom gained is a treasure to share.

Cherish

My older boys are having a blast reliving some of their greatest hits in homeschooling through my youngest. They love seeing their old easy reader books come out again. I often hear, “Oh I remember that one! I loved that one!”

They reminded me when our youngest was learning the letter B that it was time to make butter again, just as they had done at his age. We put cream in jar and shake it in a B shape while singing, “B is for b b b butter!”

When we are working together to help our youngest learn something new, my older boys are learning that childhood is precious, short and worth cherishing. They are learning that having a younger person around is a real gift!

The lesson: Our siblings multiply our opportunities to savor the best parts of growing up.

“Help your brother’s boat across, and your own will also reach the shore.” ~ Hindu Proverb

How do your foster strong sibling relationships in your homeschool environment?

About Stefani

Stefani believes that beyond "I love you," one of the most valuable things she can tell her three young sons (and herself) is "take your time." Homeschooling has afforded her the awesome privilege to say it often and with conviction. Stefani writes about her journey to mindful parenting and her learning adventures alongside her boys at her blog, Blue Yonder Ranch.

Comments

  1. beth lehman says:

    thanks stefani – my twins are doing a lot of arguing – these are helpful, manageable ways to help everyone work together (when my tendency is to separate).

    • Stefani says:

      Oh I hear you! We have our moments of tension and strife and my first instinct is to separate too. I try to see those moments as opportunities for growth though… like relationship training wheels. You don’t just put the bike away when you fall down, you get back on and go again.
      When my boys find themselves in conflict it’s just another chance to see that reconnecting with someone you love is worth the tough and sometimes self sacrificing work that it takes to get there.
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  2. Tara says:

    Beautifully written post. I will take much of these words with me today as we navigate through the world of homeschooling. Thanks.

  3. rae says:

    beautiful post, stefani!

  4. I love your beautiful way of reminding us what the homeschooling lifestyle is really all about, Stefani. Thanks for sharing your family lessons with us.
    .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s last blog: Teaching the Curriculum of Generosity =-.

  5. Aimee says:

    Are these your boys? They are just precious. Thank you for this thoughtful post– I particularly love the encouragement on how we can be unstoppable as a team. So true!

    My to boys (2,4) are best of friends and it’s wonderful to see them growing up and learning shoulder to shoulder. They have a lot of the same daily rhythms, despite their age difference, and I think this brings a sense of camaraderie.
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: How to Have Peace, Serenity AND Breakfast in Bed on Mother’s Day (Recipe) =-.

  6. Kara Fleck says:

    “I care about what you care about because I care about you” – YES!

    Nothing much better than my oldest yelling, “Mom, Mom! Come Quick! Max just wrote an ‘M’ I saw him do it!” and her being as excited about the new accomplishment as he is :-)

    Fantastic post, Stefani. Thank you!
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: Showcase: Link Love =-.

    • Stefani says:

      There’s nothing better than that! I always thought that I’d love homeschooling because I’d be there to see the light come on… I’d witness that moment when letters turned into words in their mind, when a poem moved them, or when they made a connection between history and present day life. I had never even considered how cool it would be for them as siblings to witness these moments in each other’s lives as well.
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  7. Andie says:

    Beautiful post. Such great thoughts, and it sounds like your boys have a wonderful relationship with each other.
    .-= Andie’s last blog: Knobless Cylinders . . . =-.

  8. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this. Very encouraging :)
    .-= Rachel’s last blog: I hate binding! =-.

  9. Virginia says:

    This is a wonderful commentary on the true meaning on brotherhood. My kids are two years apart and they are best friends! I don’t homeschool, although I’d really like to, but I really love your articles and advice. We apply these things to our weekend explorations.
    .-= Virginia’s last blog: { Catching Up with Stitching } =-.

    • Stefani says:

      If I’ve learned one thing as a homeschooler, Virginia, it’s that there are many many ways to love and inspire a child and grow strong families. I feel like we have a little more time and flexibility in our relationship building because we homeschool, but I really do believe that mindful parenting can and does happen regardless of school choices!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  10. Linds says:

    Wonderful post! As we have just added a 3rd child to the mix I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Love your thoughts. Thank you!
    .-= Linds’s last blog: Favorite Children’s Books =-.

  11. Aimee says:

    I like “A brother’s victory is a victory for us all”. So many times my children can allow their siblings “victory” to be an opportunity for jealousy or comparison…this reminds me to teach them that as one wins, we all are strengthened!
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Raising Chickens =-.

    • Stefani says:

      Absolutely! This is not an easy lesson to learn, but I feel like it is such an important one. Understanding that another’s good fortune does not diminish your own worth or experience is such a valuable truth in all sorts of relationships – - as neighbors, husbands, professionals, etc. we all have to learn (and relearn) to let go of comparisons and embrace contentment and selflessness. Nothing is ever gained from bitterness or jealousy and yet it is so easy to fall into that kind of thinking, even for adults!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  12. Lise says:

    Oh, I love love love this post! So much better than the competition fostered in most schools. This is what I want for my children, too. My baby is so lucky already–the older children in my home-based early childhood program celebrate her every achievement and come running when she needs help and are thrilled to teach her things. I look forward to the day when she can share that with a sibling.

    • Stefani says:

      Isn’t it the best watching older children notice and celebrate little ones?
      It moves me every single time I see it and heartens me to think that wherever they go, they will always have each other in their corner.
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  13. It is always a pleasure to read Stefani’s posts (and use her Book of Days)! I love the ways you support one another and the fabulous ways in which you do it. Thanks for sharing!

    ps Your pictures are wonderful!
    .-= Molly Hyde-Caroom’s last blog: Spring Celebration =-.

  14. Maya says:

    Wow – what a poetic post.

    I love the message.

    My girls share a lot of their accomplishments. We have little celebrations strewn all through our day. Our “happy dance” is the favorite.

    I love the pictures – are they all your own?

    • Stefani says:

      They sure are. My boys have grown awfully accustomed to having the mama paparazzi around :-)
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

      • Maya says:

        Beautiful beautiful pictures! As moms I do think we have a special eye to capture our own kids – I do photograph my own kids a lot …but the words and pictures in this post weave together beautifully.

        Do save the post for their future. They will cherish reading it when they are all grown up!

  15. se7en says:

    This is such a great post!!! I really think that in order to grow up close they need to spend time together… Hours and hours of time spent idling up a tree or throwing stones in a pond… whatever. I want my kids to grow up and want to dash back home to dinner round our table rather than all going their separate ways into the blue yonder!!! In any relationship it really is the idling time that helps you stick together and I intend to give our kids heaps of idle time just so that they have time to “be” together!!!
    .-= se7en’s last blog: Alex Toys: Games To Go… =-.

    • Stefani says:

      I agree so much. I feel like our greatest blessing as homeschooler is TIME and I protect it fiercely. For all our well wishes and great plans for learning and loving, they are nothing without real face to face, play in the dirt time, you know? This is one of the biggest reasons that we decided to homeschool. My older boys, only a year apart, were best buds. I just couldn’t wrap my head around sending the oldest off to kindergarten to spend so much time apart from his best bud.
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  16. We also go with a team approach. We encourage the kids by pointing out that when one member of our team is strong, it benefits us all. Conversely, when one is weak (or feeling sad and left out, etc) it’s a detriment to the team. Such nice insight in your post, and the comments are full of wonderful thoughts!

  17. Rae says:

    “Put Your Backs Into It” makes me smile. The cardboard box image is especially great. My sister-in -law has 3 young boys and will really appreciate reading this (I will send her a link).

  18. Nancy says:

    what a great post–I love what you have to say about siblings getting along.

    I paid a recent visit to a very good friend, and we were talking about sibling rivalry–and she told me very firmly that she felt that too often parents give up on this issue as “just the way things are”–the natural course of events–so she said she has put tremendous effort into teaching her kids that they are each others’ first and best friends, and that they stand together as a family. It has paid off.

    I think in Po Bronson’s book Nurture Shock he talks about the importance of sibling relationships–that this is where kids learn how to treat people outside the family.

    thank you for sharing this important idea so eloquently.
    .-= Nancy’s last blog: Wetlands walk. =-.

    • Stefani says:

      I have not read that book but will definitely look for it. Thanks for the tip!

      I really do believe that they relationship skills they are building now will affect who they become and how they relate to others in later life.

      I know a handful of families in which the kids just really don’t get along and I know how hard that is on the parents and the kids. You are right though, I think that while it would be so tempting to just do whatever it took to make it through the day – separating them, for instance – it would be such an opportunity lost.

      We all have to learn in life to deal with people who are very different than us. It can only be a good thing to develop those skills early in life with your own siblings!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  19. Danielle says:

    Valuable lessons for any family with siblings; homeschooling or not.

    Thanks.
    .-= Danielle’s last blog: Project 365 – April =-.

  20. MB Squared says:

    I especially like the idea of “Trinkle Down Education”. Last night, my 5 year old pulled up a chair in the hallway and read her reader to her two year old sister while I was giving her a bath. It doesn’t get much better than this.
    .-= MB Squared’s last blog: A Simple Twist of Faith =-.

  21. Shannon J says:

    This is such a sweet post. I really enjoyed reading it and the reminders. thanks.

  22. GayleK says:

    I just want to thank you for articulating these lessons so clearly and for the fresh perspective. My daughters and I often talk about being a team, but this post really put into words what that means. Last night, when my 9yo sulked because her 7yo sister was excited about a new game she had just received in the mail, I seized the opportunity to encourage her to celebrate with her sister. She gave it a try, and they both ended up having a wonderful time with the game and each other.

    I’m not a homeschooler, but this blog has encouraged me to be more creative in finding ways to strengthen our family and generate excitement around learning — in spite of being a single parent who works full time outside the home. Thank you so much!

    • Stefani says:

      What a great moment! It can be so tough to make that mental leap from self focused thinking to having real joy for others, but it really is so much better for everyone involved. I definitely think it helps when kids experience that it’s a two way street – if they can see their own fortune as a blessing to be shared than they are a lot more willing to see other’s fortune as something worth celebrating. It takes work to cultivate that attitude, but it makes a world of difference. A person who thinks that way is far and away happier than folks who are just looking to get their own. You know?

      And let me just say that I applaud you, mama! I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to raise a family on your own, but it sounds to me like you’re the kind of thoughtful, involved, caring mother that can come through it with grace and style. I think that you’re going to reap some wonderful rewards for the hard work that you’re doing every day!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Learning Together =-.

  23. What a lovely post. It is wonderful to see my children bonding through various homeschooling experiences–our nature walks especially are creating some wonderful memories for us to share. I am happy that my children are sharing these “school” memories with their own siblings, with whom they will be friends for life, instead of with other children who would likely go out of their lives after a while.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: Green things growing. =-.

  24. Leslie says:

    Beautiful post! I have four boys very close in age so sibling rivalry is an issue that is always top of my list. I feel like it’s something I’m constantly working on with my boys. It’s really hard and I’m always on the lookout for advice, ideas and thoughts on the issue. I really liked your thoughts here, especially from another momma of boys!
    .-= Leslie’s last blog: peacemakers =-.

  25. I echo everyone in saying…wonderful post! I love this blog because the ideas are concrete, but not complicated! Truly simple homeschooling. Thanks for reminding us about one of the most important things we can teach our children, it is easy to forget!
    .-= Paula@Motherhood Outloud’s last blog: School, Intentionally =-.

  26. kiley says:

    I loved this post and agree with every bit of it. I love the “life lessons” summing up each point. My three boys are each other’ best friends and my heart melts when I see them loving, caring for, and encouraging each other. If the past 10 months has been any indication, our daughter will be just as loved and cared for as well. I may link your post to my blog if you don’t mind?!

  27. Elaine Canaday says:

    Stefani – your words are inspiring. Although my boys were never homeschooled and 2 of the 3 are out of high school I treasure the photos and the lessons you have showed about how a family can learn and treasure what makes even the most trivial of things a celebrated event. I can also relate to it as the oldest daughter of three girls. As we have gotten older my sisters have been my rock and they are a beautiful reflection of who I want to be… I want that for my boys as well. Thank you for your post. :0)

  28. Kerry says:

    Hi Stefani, I miss your posts, I keep checking Blue Yonder for new ones. Will you be back there?

    Love this post. I needed this reminder to stay positive and work through the kids arguments with them. And I realize now, my tone has been all wrong when convincing the girls they need to come to their brothers baseball games lately. Instead of bringing up that he had to go to their dance/gymnastics meet/whatever girly thing, so they have to go to his game, I should be telling them how much our support means and encouraging a positive lets have fun and get excited feeling.

    Thanks

  29. Heidi says:

    Thanks for this awesome post! You have such a way with words and present it in a way we can remember it. I’ve written about sibling rivalry on my blog too, but not in the way you have addressed it. Love the pictures too :)
    Heidi’s latest post: Ohio Home School Laws and Information

  30. Anne says:

    Beautiful post! We strongly desire this oneness. Not all days meet our goal but this is encouraging to read and gather the vision again.
    Anne’s latest post: BATTER UP!

  31. I’ve found that traveling together also helps us form strong family bonds. We are all together for two or three weeks and build many, many memories that we share often with each other.

  32. Kristen says:

    Love this post! My girls (3 and 5) are best of friends and truly love and care for each other. I feel so lucky. However for the first time, we are seeing the seeds of rivalry with the oldest. My youngest is learning a bit faster than my oldest did and since there is only 20 mths between them, it often means that they are learning similar material. Thats hard for the oldest whose always viewed her sister as little. We try never to compare and to celebrate each one’s victories and accomplisments individually. So far, we’ve managed. If their learning patterns continue in this way, I hope that we can continue to foster both of them in a way that keeps their relationship strong.

  33. nanny says:

    11 year old and 8 year old brother and sister: He can do things much faster and efficiently than her sister because he is older.
    How do I help them play as a team?

  34. Catherine says:

    My boys are 10, 8 and 5 and I have a 2 year old daughter who is the apple of her brothers’ eyes. We don’t homeschool yet (will be homeschooling my youngest son starting in the fall), so summers are very important to us. People often ask, “What do you do with 4 kids all summer?” and I say, “Nothing!”. What I mean by that is we don’t do structured sports, activities or camps in the summer. My kids spend enough time apart during the school year…summers are when we can all be together every day.

  35. Emily says:

    Those are great ideas. It’s hard not to wish that my parents had done a better job of fostering the relationships among their kids.
    Emily’s latest post: Ten Ways To Boost Your Metabolism

  36. rachael says:

    beautiful post – I am about to start homeschooling my 5 year boy old this fall and will have my 2 year old boy along for the ride.

  37. Amykinz says:

    Great article! Thanks for posting!
    Amykinz’s latest post: 10 Tips to Control Gestational Diabetes without Medication

  38. Some time ago, I did need to buy a house for my firm but I did not have enough cash and could not buy anything. Thank goodness my brother proposed to try to get the loans from trustworthy bank. Therefore, I did so and was happy with my car loan.

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