I have a couple of pet phrases that my boys tease me about. One of them is “Do something productive” and the other is “Find something constructive to do.” I use them interchangeably, often when I am heading out the door, leaving one or more boys at home.
It’s not that I’m a slave driver, never wanting them to have an idle moment to themselves. It’s just that I seem to have an increasing awareness of how much time we waste. And I’m not pointing fingers at my kids as the only ones who are affected. I can be a world class time waster without any trouble at all.
And I don’t have anything particular in mind when I declare that they should do something of value, but I do have some idea what qualifies and what doesn’t. For instance, watching a program on TV can be productive while surfing the channels for twenty minutes is not. Of course, not all TV programs are created equal, and that’s a topic for another day.
Since our homeschool is what I would call relaxed, it’s harder to measure what is productive and I’m the first to admit that some days my list of accomplishments is rather sad. And while I can’t account for every minute, and would probably go crazy if I tried, I do think it’s important to be intentional about how I spend my days. I only have a limited number of them and it seems that they are going by faster all the time.
I try to get my boys to think about how they’ve spent their time each day. They would like to spend it gaming on the computer or sleeping or texting. I would like them to spend it reading and learning new skills and helping others. It’s a challenge to steer them in a direction away from themselves and in a manner that will give them a shot at a successful life in the future. You know, building character and all.
I saw this video and thought it was a great way to visualize how we spend the days that God has given us. I plan to tell my boys to “Do something constructive…watch this video!“
How does your family manage your schooling schedule around the holidays? We’ve tried different methods over the years. Here are some of them.
Keep the same schedule as the public schools. Take just the few days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day off and keep to a normal schedule the rest of December. It works okay, I guess. But there always seemed to be way more activities that we wanted to experience but just didn’t have time for.
Take the days from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day off. While that sounded great at the time, it really was hard to do. We had to work harder the rest of the year in order to pull it off and we had a hard time getting back to work in January after such a long break with little structure.
Use a more relaxed learning style for the holiday season. This is our current plan and what we have done for many years now. We put the school books aside and instead, use the many seasonal opportunities available as our curriculum. Here are some ideas that have worked well for us.
Math – We get plenty of practice with fractions during all the holiday baking we do. One year we made 140 dozen cookies in 26 varieties to give away as gifts. Lots of math practice there! We also have talked about averages and probability when it comes to whether we’d have a white Christmas. And we’ve worked with budgeting our money as we plan to purchase gifts for friends and family.
Reading – There are so many wonderful holiday books available for all ages. We have our favorites that we revisit every year but we’ve always kept our eyes open for new books too. We make time each day to read together and enjoy all the special stories that bring the Christmas season to life.
Language Arts – Writing Christmas letters, thank you notes and Christmas cards provide practice with handwriting, spelling, and grammar. We’ve written our own holiday stories, some based on actual experiences and others completely from our imaginations. There are many new words to add to our vocabulary that we only use during the holidays. And cooking and making crafts is a great way to practice following directions.
Social Studies – The study of the history of traditions as well as investigating how other cultures celebrate is an ongoing part of our homeschooling. During the Christmas season, we try to take time to consider how others choose to celebrate. It often involves research skills, map reading, and even crafts and good things to eat.
Science – There is a lot of science that can be learned in the kitchen and we spend a lot of time there during the holidays. We also take time to see what we can learn from winter weather. And nature studies focusing on how the animals and plants survive the cold can be a fun part of our school time.
Those are the core subjects, but we can’t forget art and music. With all these opportunities during the holiday season, we just don’t have time for textbooks and spelling tests. We have so much to learn and only a few weeks each year to take advantage of it. We love our more relaxed holiday season. We never know just what we’re going to learn but we do it as a family, all learning together.
How does your family combine homeschooling with the holidays?
If you don’t already know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s a month-long campaign to get folks to write a novel. There is a lot of buzz about it in the writing community and why should homeschoolers miss out on the fun? If you have a homeschool student who is an aspiring writer, give them the heads-up about NaNoWriMo and see what they can do.
So what do you have to do to participate?
Check out the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. This website has a lot of ways to encourage writers who make the commitment to write a book in a month. You can track your progress, get pep talks and support, and meet other writers who have taken the same challenge.
Set a goal for each day of November. A common goal is to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. If you write every single day that’s a little over 1500 words a day. But you can write more or less than that, just write!
Don’t worry about editing and proofreading. This challenge is about getting the story out of your head and onto your paper or computer screen. You can make the changes and fine tune your novel later. The goal this month is – just write! Didn’t I say that before?
Give yourself some grace. Life happens, even in November. Some days you’ll find it very difficult to make the time to write 1500 words. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Hey, you are doing something huge here, just write, and have fun while you’re at it. Even if you miss a couple of days, even if you don’t’ end up with 50,000 words, if you have a rough draft of your story you have accomplished a huge goal.
Maybe you aren’t into novel writing. What if you are a blogger and love to write but don’t want to write a book? Well, there’s a group for you too. NaBloPoMo has a website dedicated to bloggers who will commit to posting on their blogs once a day for the thirty days of November.
Even if you don’t feel like you can commit to either group, why not join in the fun in your own way and just see how much you can write in the month of November? You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Even the youngest students can set realistic goals that they can reach during the month. Maybe it’s just a few sentences each day. There are no rules! I’m going to attempt to blog as many of the thirty days as I can. We’ll see how it goes! I’d love to hear what you are doing, so leave me a comment. We can all write together.
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.
I was excited. This school year looked to be starting out just right. About the only thing we do that could be considered traditional is our start and end dates. We “traditionally” begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. It just works easiest that way. We feel like we’ve had a full summer and can get down to business.
So we started this year on Tuesday after the long holiday weekend. We were ready. I felt the boys were taking their learning seriously and just knew that attitude would carry us well into the year, if not through the whole school year. Yeah, wishful thinking, I know.
Our first week was pure joy. Each day we accomplished more than I had expected. It was a short week, we only do school Monday through Thursday anyway and we’d already missed Monday so we had three really good school days. The first week was a success. And I went into the weekend thinking about how to build on our momentum.
Then I got a phone call. On Sunday afternoon, I was informed that my grandfather had fallen and I was the only one able to drop what I was doing and head to Florida to take charge. So that’s what I did. I dropped everything, including our school schedule, and spent the next two days driving from Iowa to Florida. I took one adult son to help with the driving and my youngest to keep him company while I spent unpredictable hours at the hospital. The two of them would be fine together.
I brought school work for my student to do on the trip and left instructions for my other high school student who would be staying home because of his part-time job. I tried to imagine that our perfect start to the school year would continue seamlessly over this hump in the road. Of course, that was more of that wishful thinking. While they made an attempt to do some of their work, very little was actually accomplished.
So, what do you do when your well-laid plans for school don’t go as smoothly as you would like? Well, after twenty-two years, I can say that it happens every year. Our very first year included my mother’s death from cancer. After that, there were babies being born, job changes, illness, surgeries, vacations, houseguests, financial setbacks and a cross-country move. You name it and we’ve homeschooled through it and around it.
I used to panic that my boys wouldn’t be well educated because of all the interruptions. How could we possibly do a good job with all the distractions? But year after year I dealt with the issues as they came and we seemed to do just fine. I remember thinking that we’d just had a bad day and things simply had to get better. Then there were times when we had a bad week or month. A couple of years I realized that we’d just had a bad year and that was all I could say.
I watched my boys and realized that even with long stretches that seemed to me like wasted time, or marginally productive at best, they kept learning anyway. Sometimes, the most valuable learning took place because of the other issues we were dealing with.
There are several things that I learned through these times. Things that have molded how I view our homeschool efforts and have helped me to relax.
Homeschooling is much more than book learning. We always hear that homeschooling is a lifestyle. This truth is never clearer than when we are going through something that upsets the regular flow of our school day. We learn to adapt and flow with life, using every opportunity to allow learning to happen along the way. Each experience teaches life lessons you can never find in a book. The book learning has to happen at some point, in some way, but it isn’t the most important. Building character and life skills is so much more valuable over the course of a lifetime. On our recent Florida trip, my high school son learned a lot about making sacrifices for others and about life and death. He learned patience and had the opportunity to learn some priceless life lessons from his final conversation with his 96-year-old great-grandfather. I’m so glad he wasn’t home reading a textbook.
Students can overcome all sorts of obstacles if they are motivated to learn. The thing that has helped us the most is that I’ve made it a priority to teach my boys how to learn on their own. They don’t need to be spoon-fed, so they can learn large chunks of information in a short time all on their own when they put their minds to it. When we have setbacks of weeks or months when things aren’t going as planned, they find ways to keep learning anyway. I used to think we were so far behind we’d never catch up and then I would remind myself that we aren’t trying to keep up with anyone. We are just moving along at our own pace which is all we should be doing.
You can homeschool anywhere. The idea that we have to be in a schoolroom or at a table or desktop computer for optimal learning to take place is a myth. We have done school in airplanes, in cars, in bed, in the backyard on a blanket, at the park, at the library, at church, in a hotel room, and at other people’s houses while on vacation. Sometimes we use books, sometimes we use laptops and sometimes we just use life.
So when you hit your own detour or delay in your homeschool journey, try to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is a temporary obstacle. You can recover. You can find ways to continue the learning process in spite of the issues at hand. Remember, homeschooling is a lifestyle and that means it happens while you’re just doing life, no matter what that entails.
This time of year I am always reminded of our years in 4-H. When my boys were young we had a 4-H club that met in our home for nine years. We started with about eight members and when we moved to Iowa the club had grown to over sixty. This week our club back in Ohio is experiencing the exciting culmination of a year’s worth of hard work. The county fair is just winding down and well-deserved ribbons are being proudly displayed. It’s such a special time. I remember watching my boys putting on the finishing touches to all their projects, some details coming together much too close to the deadline for me! And now my grandchildren are getting old enough to experience 4-H too. They have actually joined the club we started so many years ago.
I believe that my boys are strong leaders today because of their participation in 4-H. It was in 4-H that they learned leadership skills but there was much more to it than that. They also learned something useful with each new project they took on. They learned to follow through and put in their very best effort. They learned to work in cooperation with others. They also learned to cook and take care of animals and to build with their own hands. 4-H was an important part of our homeschool experience. We incorporated the projects into our regular school day and learned things we might not otherwise have gotten around to.
The 4-H program begins with a group called Cloverbuds which is aimed at early elementary students. At age nine a child can become an official 4-H member and even run for an office. From there, students can remain members until they turn nineteen. There are dozens of project areas to explore. You can choose published projects that include all the instructions you need or design your own projects. The projects all easily work as unit studies that can be as simple or as in-depth as you desire. The opportunities available through 4-H are so extensive I can’t cover all of them here. You will find all the details at the National 4-H website.
4-H is available in all fifty states and many countries around the world. To find your local 4-H community check out the Find 4-H page. 4-H is way more than shearing sheep and growing crops. If you think it’s just for farm kids, look again. You’ll be glad you did.
I guess I may have a bias where it comes to standardized testing. It may be the reason most of my seven sons have never taken a standardized test at all. The oldest ones did, when I was a new homeschooler and lacked confidence, but it still went against my principles. My younger children have never even seen a standardized test.
Why am I so skeptical of these tests that our education gurus seem to think are the answer to our broken education system? It’s because of an experience I had in college. Yes, that was several decades ago and I’m still not happy about it.
My last semester of college I was carrying a 3.8-grade average. I was almost finished and happy with my accomplishments. I was studying to be a special education teacher and during my last semester, I was required to take a course on utilizing standardized tests in the classroom. The class was rather boring at best. All about statistics and numbers and correlations. I knew I wasn’t doing well. I had a hard time understanding the purpose of all that information. I was training to teach children who already had disabilities and had trouble learning. What good was this talk about tests anyway? My students would likely never do well on any sort of test.
I knew my grade in the class was hovering around a C. If I earned a C it would be the lowest grade I’d received in my four years of college and in my very last semester…and in a course that didn’t seem to be helpful. Then the final day of class arrived. We sat and listened to the professor sum up what he’d been teaching us in the preceding weeks. His final comment? “Test results are not reliable.” What?? You mean to tell me I got my lowest grade (Yes, I got a C) in a class that I worked hard to convince myself was of value and now you tell me everything I learned isn’t really that useful anyway?
So if the results aren’t reliable, why do we spend so much precious learning time teaching students how to pass the tests? I hear you saying, “Yes, but your experience was 30+ years ago. Things have changed.” But have they changed for the better? I don’t think so. I think classroom teachers, as well as some homeschool teachers, spend so much time teaching to the test that they miss the opportunity to instill a love of learning in their students.
And I think that the test results are more likely testing whether the child ate breakfast or slept well. Or whether they had a fight with their sibling or forgot their lunch. It might also test the tension in the home. Are the parents fighting, are the cupboards empty, or is someone in the family sick? All those things are reflected in the test scores as well as the level of anxiety of the student with regards to testing in general. In 2002 it was reported that the Stanford-9 test came with instructions on what to do if a child vomited on the test booklet since there were so many children suffering from test anxiety. Is this the best way to see what a child has learned?
All students learn differently. It never made sense to me that you could design one test that could accurately assess all those learning avenues at the same time. It isn’t even logical. I’ve never used exactly the same plan twice. My boys have all done their schooling in their own unique way, using different materials and different methods. It was about what worked for them and not about how they measured up with each other or with the zillions of other students all taking the same test.
So there’s my bias. But I won’t attempt to force you to agree with me. Here is an excellent website that does a great job of giving you well thought out pros and cons on the subject of standardized tests. Read through it and decide for yourself. And then come back and leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think.