As homeschoolers, we have an incredible opportunity to ignite a passion for learning. We aren’t bound by time restrictions like a traditional school and we aren’t bound by a curriculum that dictates how we teach our students. Our curriculum is simply a tool to help us stir the curiosity in our children. Once that curiosity is awakened, the potential for learning is unlimited.
Watch this short TED talk about the three rules to spark learning. It is directed at government school teachers but the principles work even better at home. The speaker has found the secret in motivating his students. We can put these simple principles into action in our homeschooling and set our children on a path to energized learning that becomes relevant and usable.
It’s not just about answering test questions. It’s about answering the burning questions that curiosity uncovers and then building on that knowledge to reach even greater heights of education. The questions our kids ask the most are the “why”? questions. We can’t just be satisfied with teaching them to regurgitate boring answers to boring questions.
If we want our kids to learn to “think outside the box” we must first remove the lid.
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes things are going along just fine and then without warning, you are faced with big changes, big decisions.
After being home with my kids for 30 years and homeschooling for 22 of those years, I was faced with the need to go back to work. I’d been self-employed as an educational consultant for 6 years when the state changed the homeschool laws and the need for my services diminished. It was the perfect job, requiring a predictable time commitment that was flexible enough to allow me to teach my own boys and still earn some money. When that opportunity disappeared we thought we could manage without that income.
It didn’t take long to realize that circumstances were not working in our favor financially and I would need to find a job. Fortunately my youngest sons are now in high school and can manage most of their school work on their own. But my decision to go to work meant changes for the whole family.
So can you combine work and homeschooling successfully? Even just a part-time commitment requires some adjustments but it can be done and can have some surprising results. Here are some of the things that help make it work.
Present changes in a positive way. If you have been home with your children and are faced with going back to work you will need your family’s cooperation. When discussing the changes make it as positive as you can. Talk about the changes honestly, but also try to get your family on board from the start with a positive spin. Help them to see it as a new adventure, an opportunity to pull together and make something good happen. Let them brainstorm with you about how they can be a part of making it all work. Try not to complain but instead find ways to show enthusiasm for what lies ahead.
Establish new responsibilities for each family member. The reality is, you aren’t going to be able to do all the things you’ve been doing and work too. There just isn’t enough time or energy to do that well. This means you must enlist the help of your family. No child is too young to participate in some way and everyone will grow through the experience. If you have older children, they can take on many of the responsibilities that you have been doing. They can do laundry, cooking and cleaning. They may even be able to run errands if they are old enough. Younger children can learn to do smaller jobs like folding laundry, sweeping, and putting away groceries. You may need older children to help the younger ones with their schoolwork as well. Whatever you do, make sure that everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Expect your kids to rise to the challenge. It feels good to know others think they can depend on us. Help your children take ownership of their new responsibilities and be sure to thank them in advance for how much help they are going to be to you. If you expect the best from them they will be more likely to rise to the challenge and take on more responsibility. When you talk to them about doing their part tell them how glad you are that they are mature enough to step in and help out.
Have clear boundaries for yourself. It will help you a lot to decide right from the start that you are not super woman and you cannot do it all yourself. You need time to rest and time to take care of your own health. If you don’t, you and your family will all suffer. You may have to relax the standards you’ve used as a guideline for your household. Focus on what’s really important and let the rest go for now. You will find a rhythm that works as you give it some time.
When you need help, say so. Now is not the time to play that guessing game that moms sometimes play. It’s not the time to work yourself to the bone and wait to see if anyone notices. Now is the time to speak up and ask for help when you need it. You will do no one any good if you are resentful and irritable because of unmet expectations. You can’t expect your family to read your mind and anticipate your needs. You need to be assertive and ask for help.
Life will be different than it was when you were home all day. The changes that come with this new lifestyle can be good for everyone involved. It will take more planning than it used to and you will need to be more organized but you will all grow from the experience. You will also need to get creative. You don’t have to do your schooling from 8-3 just because that’s when the schools are in session. Work your homeschooling around a schedule that works best for your family.
So now, at my house, I have boys who are doing nearly all the housecleaning. They also do the laundry and they each take a turn making a meal each week. The older boys help the younger one with his school work if he needs it and they all are taking more responsibility for their own belongings. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect system. We are in no way the perfect family, but we are trying to make the best of a less than optimal situation and we are doing it together, as a family. We are growing together and learning together, just like we’ve always been doing, but with new challenges that stretch us to grow even more.
When my boys were young we had a weekly outing that we always looked forward to. Sometimes we enjoyed it so much we went twice a week. Where did we go? To our local public library. We spent hours in the library. We left each time with bags overflowing with books, CDs, videos and DVDs, and sometimes puzzles.
Maybe it was because the library has always been one of my personal favorite places that I felt the need to make my sons comfortable there. I remember when I was in the trenches with seven boys at home 24/7 and my husband would come home and offer me the chance to get away by myself for a while. I usually went to the library. It was quiet and filled with fresh ideas everywhere I looked. I could spend hours looking at quilt books or gardening books or genealogy books. It was just what I needed to regain my perspective.
My boys learned to love the library too. They were allowed to take home as many books as they could carry on any subject that interested them as long as it was in good taste and appropriate for their ages. Once in a while, I had to veto a selection but most of the time they were pretty good at choosing appropriate books and movies. We tried having everyone use their own card but it got quite complicated keeping track of due dates. The fines began to pile up so we finally decided to have all the books checked out on my card so I could keep track of everything in one place. We took home tons of books. Our library had no limits on how many items could be checked out and our all-time record is 175 items signed out at one time. I often wondered if I should have an insurance rider on our homeowner’s policy. Would insurance cover all those books if something happened to them in our home?
With all the electronic gadgets available to kids now, it is harder to get them interested in reading. I know my boys aren’t interested in going to the library with me anymore. Yes, I still go regularly! I think it’s important to support the public library in this age of rapidly changing technology. We need to continue to have access to books in whatever form they take but for me, there’s still nothing that compares to curling up with a physical book, one that I can hold in my hand and savor. I do have a Kindle and I have hundreds of books stored on it. I take it with me and enjoy the ease with which I can read at any moment. But I still love the books I get from the library, that I lug home in my well-worn book bag.
Special programs and events. My boys took advantage of special events and storytime activities at the library. We were on a first name basis with all of the children’s librarians. Once the boys were even asked to be in a publicity photo that was used to kick off the summer reading program. We participated in the summer reading program every year for more than two decades.
Digital and online resources. Libraries are trying hard to keep up with the times. Most libraries have digital books available and our library has just announced that you can sign out e-readers if you don’t own one. You can still get the latest movie on DVD and some on Blue-Ray as well. You can use the library’s computers and access their databases from there or even from your home computer. I regularly log into our library’s genealogy databases. My boys are using the Mango language program this year to learn Japanese and German.
Libraries need your support. There has been much talk in the news about the decline of library patronage. I think it’s important that we send the message that libraries still serve an important function in our society. Some places to become more informed include the following:
If you are thinking about homeschooling or are just starting out, there are a few things that will help you immensely if you learn them now.
Resist the temptation to “bring school home.” By that I mean, don’t try to copy what you know from school. You don’t need a school setting to succeed. The education system we have today was designed to help teachers manage a large number of students at the same time. It wasn’t optimal from the beginning, just an attempt to bring things into some sort of order. Children need structure, but not to the degree that is demonstrated in a government school. I’ve seen homeschoolers try to reconstruct the school day in such a way as to even have classes timed to the minute. In school, that’s a necessity. You can’t keep the English teacher waiting to start class because you need more time to explain a challenging math concept. But at home? No one is waiting on you, take your time and help your student understand before you move on to something else. And if you don’t get to English today, who is going to suffer? No one. You’ll get to it tomorrow.
It’s YOUR homeschool. You might think this is making the same point as the one we just covered. It’s not. What I mean is that YOU are the one who knows what your student needs to learn. While it is true that you need to cover certain topics over the course of a child’s education, when and how you do that is not set in stone as the education system would like you to believe. A course of study is something invented to make the progression smooth for many students at once. It just makes things easier. But at home, you have the freedom to do it your own way. If you have a fifth grader and a seventh grader why not do American history at the same time and then world history together the next year? Why teach both subjects twice because your students are in different grades? And you can design your school schedule any way you want to. We school four days a week and work on life skills on Fridays. We cover science on Mondays and Wednesdays and history on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can design your homeschool in whatever way works for you.
Don’t Panic! It’s inevitable. At some point you are going to think to yourself, “I am going to mess this up and ruin my child’s education,” or something similar. You won’t. You will have bad days, you will have lessons that just don’t work, you may even have entire subjects that don’t seem to be working at all. You are still the best teacher for your child. You know them better than anyone else, you are the one who wants them to succeed more than anyone else. You can find ways to help them learn. There are nearly infinite resources to help you with every single question or issue you have. SOMEONE knows the answer to your problem. It may take a while to find that answer but you can find it. Don’t give up. Keep asking the questions. You don’t even have to be smarter than your students. You can find people smart enough in any subject to help you. Sometimes if you sit down with your child, you can learn a difficult concept together. And don’t be surprised if sometimes your children are the ones teaching you.
Books are TOOLS not the finalauthority.There are so many resources available to use in your homeschool. Explore all your options and don’t feel like you have to use a particular curriculum or book. If something isn’t working for you, find something that works better. Don’t fall for the trap that you have to finish every textbook you begin every year. If it takes longer, set it aside at the end of the year and pick it back up again next year. Or better yet, skip the parts your student already knows and only do lessons that present new material unless you feel some review is beneficial. OR skip the textbooks altogether and use real books (you know, the kind you get at the library) instead. Some well-known facts: many teachers don’t finish the book by the end of the year AND the beginning of a textbook is often review anyway, especially in math. Since textbooks are generally designed on a sort of spiral, with information being covered over and over, a little more in depth each time, your student is exposed to the same information again anyway so don’t be chained to the books. We actually don’t even use textbooks at all anymore with the exception of mathematics. We use multiple resources in every subject and aren’t tied to any sort of standard curriculum at all. Learning is boring when it is confined to snippets of information rationed out on some sort of schedule. If your student loves dinosaurs go after that source of inspiration and squeeze every drop of learning out of it that you can.
If you are like me, you want to have some sort of a plan. I can’t just wing it every day, although I know many homeschool families who seem to do that and find great success. I need a framework but beyond that, we just take it one day at a time and see how things go. We have a general plan but it’s flexible and open to drastic change if we find a better way to do things. We also take advantage of new things we happen upon. We have come to view our learning time as an adventure. We may not learn every date in the history book and know every scientific term but we love learning and we know where to find information when we need it.
For more information about experiencing a relaxed approach to homeschooling check out the following.