Back when my mom began homeschooling, I was the eldest child and a junior in high school with lots of prior experience in public speaking. I was in drama club in middle school, in student government in high school, and even a part of the cheerleading squad for a year. So when I was offered the opportunity to give a speech at our regional homeschool support group’s “Promotion Day” (also my high school graduation), I was not only comfortable with the idea, I couldn’t wait!
The other graduates who gave speeches that night did an equally impressive job. I was so confident that homeschooling — and not being locked in to the grade-level, age-restrictive life of a traditional schooler — had increased my public speaking skills. I saw the evidence with my graduating peers. I even gave a persuasive speech about it for my freshman year Oral Communications class in college. I got an “A” on that speech.
So when I began homeschooling my three daughters in 2010, it never occurred to me that public speaking would not come naturally to them once they were freed from the confines of grade-level peer pressure. When I found out that my new local homeschool support group offered monthly group presentation days, I couldn’t wait to get involved and see my girls “shine” while getting some additional social time.
On our very first elementary group presentation day, I was surprised and caught off guard when my middle daughter (2nd grade at the time) stared at the floor and mumbled quietly the entire time. No eye contact, no confidence — no sound! This isn’t what we practiced at home, I thought. What happened? My fourth grader did a fine job — presentation poster, note cards, rehearsed script, and an audible voice. Why didn’t my little girl, who’d never expressed feelings of shyness at home, feel comfortable presenting in front of her friends?
My eldest Audrey was a pro at presentations “my way”
Then she told me she would rather not give a presentation at the next meeting. That was so hard for me to hear! Of course I allowed her to skip and watch the next time, but I felt sad that she didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I thought she would — or as much as the other kids (including her older sister) did.
Fast forward to 2013, and I’m so thankful that we stuck with it! Yes, my presentation-shy girl did sit out for a few presentation days. Eventually, though, she decided to get back up there. Soon, she even started looking forward to it. And finally, she became so excited about it, she began writing skits and creating little mini-productions just for that day.
Claire practicing a skit for a recent presentation about the scientific properties of water
Recently another veteran homeschooling mom in our support group said, “I can’t believe that’s Claire! Where did that little actress come from? She is having so much fun up there now!”
She was right: Claire is like a different girl up there now. And I don’t credit myself for being particularly skilled at helping her overcome her presentation fears.
Here’s why I think group presentation days make a difference:
- Consistency: I decided early on that even if all of my girls opted out of presenting, we would attend elementary presentation day. For one thing, it’s entertaining: Some of the kids are simply charismatic and fun to watch! It’s also educational: We’re always learning new things! We’ve taken recipes home, replicated science projects, started reading new authors, and more simply because we heard about it at presentation day. In the end, I decided it was not just about my girls performing, but the educational experience we could share.
- Practice: Although I didn’t recognize it at first, there are so many activities we can do as part of our homeschooling daily routine that can help prepare our children for public speaking. Reciting memory verses at the school table. Reading aloud to mom or a sibling. Sharing a lapbook with dad or a friend. We did all of these things at home, and I never thought about them as “practice” for presentations until the day Claire chose to recite a favorite picture book from memory at presentation day. It was a book she’d read to her younger sister so many times, she knew it by heart. She amazed everyone with her recitation. At the next meeting, she recited the 23rd Psalm from memory. From that point on, I saw a significant shift in her feelings about presentation day. Who knew?
- Freedom: Although there are times when an assigned “topic” is offered (for holidays or for older students), most of our group’s presentation days are unrestricted by topic or presentation type, as long as the student speaks for three minutes or less. This turned out to be a huge game changer for my once-shy presenter. That very first presentation day when she wanted to disappear, I had set her up with what I believed was expected for a quality presentation: Poster board, note cards, outline, etc. Turns out none of that works for her! She is very kinesthetic and has great memorization skills, so she thrives at “skits” with props and audience participation, as well as recitations on passages she feels very connected to. Once she realized that her presentation didn’t have to include white boards, poster boards, and note cards, she thrived!
- Opportunity: There are many curriculum choices out there (including the Trail Guide to Learning Paths of Exploration we now use) that encourage presentation practice as part of your lesson plan. Even if that’s not the case with your curriculum, you can still find ways to encourage your children to practice all the core skills that lead to comfortable public speaking, such as narration, read-aloud, presenting lapbooks, memorization, etc. However, I do think it also helps to have at least one opportunity that you participate in outside your home to solidify those skills. For us, it’s our support group’s monthly presentation day, and it’s become one of my girls’ favorite activities.
Group presentation days have been an important part of our homeschooling life, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to participate in one through my local homeschooling group. If your local group or co-op doesn’t offer a presentation day, I think it’s a great idea to propose because it requires very little preparation and coordination other than an agreeable date/time and location. You might even think about hosting one. Even if it’s just you and another homeschooling family, it can still be a valuable learning experience for your children — and fun social opportunity for the participating families!
Do you participate in a “formal” presentation day with other homeschoolers? If not, what have you found to be helpful in giving your children the opportunity to practice public speaking? What activities do you incorporate into your homeschool lesson plans to help equip your children with speaking skills? We’d love to hear what you’re doing in your homeschool!