Over the past week I've tried a different approach to our homeschooling routine. While it's definitely been better, it's not yet what I'd consider ideal for LD. He still has moments where he wants to stop and walk away. For the most part I try to let him tell me when he's done. Today we combined two days worth of stuff into one so that we could have tomorrow off. It was a little much. I also noticed that the structured, traditional lessons really aren't working for him. He loses interest and gets frustrated. It made me stop to think deeply on what this whole thing is. I'm just trying to figure it out, what the best way is to encourage learning, to make sure he ENJOYS it, to make it something HE wants to do every day - even when we aren't formally having school.
Looking back over the last few weeks of time dedicated to homeschooling, I began thinking. And, it's rather a rambling thought process. There'll be no pretty pictures of clouds, construction projects or bovine escapes. There'll be no food or recipes shared. There'll be just two parts to this – Parenting and Homeschooling. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, this isn't nicely organized into two distinct parts. I just started typing out what I was thinking. My apologies in advance if you're left scratching your head wondering what the heck I was thinking....
I'm sure a lot of people will read parts of this and shake their head, being certain that I've lost my mind, don't have a clue what I'm doing and a hundred other, more unflattering, things about what I'm "doing to" my son. Yes, someone actually asked me, “do you realize what you are DOING TO HIM by not putting him in school?” yes, doing TO him... Like I was locking him in a closet and sliding stale bread and water under the door. And “putting” him in school? What the heck does that mean? Like I'm boarding a dog while I go on vacation?
There's also a lot of parenting that goes into homeschooling – like it or not. When I say “anyone can homeschool” I really mean it. BUT.... ONLY if you are willing to give up certain behaviors you now have. This means homeschooling may not be for everyone. It's not saying that you can't, but let's face it, old habits are really hard to change.
It means you have to get REALLY involved. If you are ready to get involved, I mean REALLY involved, then you CAN homeschool. Even if you have a full time job and more than one child. A lot of people will say, “oh I'm really involved already.” By this they mean they are in regular contact with their children's teacher(s), they volunteer at school, attend PTA meetings, back to school night, open house, help with homework every night etc.
I mean, you have to be involved with EVERYTHING EVERY DAY. This doesn't mean you have to hover and watch every move your child makes, but it means you have to be aware of everything they're doing and know when it's time to step in and redirect things. You have to learn to see when things aren't working and recognize that it's ok to STOP using stuff that doesn't work. That's one of the really great things about homeschooling – you use ONLY what works instead of being stuck with stuff just because it's what there is to do, or what's been assigned.
When you decide to homeschool, you have to step back and think about SO many things. WHY, HOW, WHEN, WHERE, WHAT? Ok, you get the idea. It may seem really complicated and overwhelming and you may have no clue where to start. In reality, once you've got the basic questions answered the rest sort of falls into place and you realize that these questions have NO SET ANSWERS!! Or, at least that's how it seems to feel for us right now. I'm hoping that by writing this some of you who've pondered the option of homeschooling and gotten frustrated will be able to make a decision, or at least feel like you can still think about it.
The only thing you have to pay attention to are the state requirements – there are requirements for grade levels, “graduation” and minimum number of instructional days. But, bear in mind that the most important thing should still be the learning process, and to keep it engaging, making sure your child still WANTS to learn.
Before you even answer any of the questions, you have to ask yourself what is really important? Do you want your child to jump through hoops, get good grades and go to college? Or, do you want your child to develop a lifelong LOVE of learning? And, maybe even go to college later? Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the public school system. I acknowledge that there are a TON of reasons why you'd place your child in public school. However, this is NOT about public school. This is about homeschooling. And, college isn't necessarily the desired goal. There are LOTS of things your child can do as an adult that do NOT require them attending college. And remember, college should NOT be something they think they MUST do – back to the whole being forced thing. They should do it IF they want to.
The first thing you have to do as a parent is to address your fears. Will my child learn? Will my child have friends? Can I teach? How will my child learn to deal with criticism about their "education" both from people they know and from strangers? How will my child get into college? The list goes on and on. These are all very legitimate concerns.
And then there's the BIG one - the S word.......Socialization....Seriously??? I cannot tell you how many times I have had people ask me, "what about socialization?" or “Aren't you worried that your child won't have a social life?” Um what does that mean? What's a social life? Are you talking about interactions with other people? Are you saying that because he doesn't GO to school he has no interaction with other people, that he won't learn how to be respectful, responsible and social? Are you saying that he needs to develop the social skills that he can ONLY learn in school?
Think back to your days of public school - what kind of social skills did those days teach you? I saw bullying, peer pressure, judgmental attitudes and name calling as just a few of the social skills I'd rather my son NOT develop. I learned that it was more important to fit in and be "cool" than it was to be an individual. That you often have one group of friends for school things and another for stuff that happens outside of school and the two groups RARELY mixed. Individuals were teased, criticized and made fun of. Sure, you learned how to function within a large group - and it was often frustrating, scary and embarrassing.
Learning should NEVER be any of those things. If asked, a lot of children will tell you they like school. But, I bet that even those who say they LOVE it can name at least one thing that goes on there that they don't like. Something that gets in the way of REAL learning. Why else would most high school and even jr. high kids HATE going?
I'm not advocating 100% protecting your child from unpleasant things. Everyone needs to develop coping mechanisms for the times when life doesn't go their way. What I'm trying to get at is that IF we want our children to ENJOY learning, it can't be forced and it will not happen WELL in an environment where they worry about what everyone else thinks. I'm not saying it won't happen when you force it, but I can guarantee that it won't happen well, and the love of learning won't be a part of it.
BIG MYTH #1– Socialization & a “social life.” Don't assume that your child NEEDS to have social interactions with kids their age every day or even 5 days a week. Alone time is a good thing – every person, child and adult alike, even babies, needs their alone time. Having grown up as an only child the environments created by siblings was an odd thing for me. At the age of 15 I suddenly had step siblings. I was totally unfamiliar with so many aspects of it – blaming others for things you did, needing the interaction of another person in order to entertain yourself, not being able to spend time by myself etc. I ran into this again as a step parent. My daughter was 4 and my step sons were 9 & 11. The boys found it unbelievable that my daughter would WANT to spend time alone. She found it annoying that they always wanted to do stuff together. The advantage as I saw it was that she could both spend time alone AND interact with the family group. The boys, having never had any importance placed on alone time, were unable to spend time by themselves.
If your concern is that your child will not have a social life if they don't GO to school, I think I can show that you can relax. Does your child play in the park with other kids? Do they play after school with neighborhood kids? Does your teen play online games where they interact with other people? Does your child have an extended family that they interact with on a regular basis? Does your child participate in extracirrucular groups like sports, scouts, dance etc? Well folks, these are ALL social opportunities. So, instead of thinking your child will miss out, recognize what they DO have going for them, before they ever set foot in a classroom. Utilize those opportunities to nurture POSITIVE social interactions. Just make sure that the activities are things THEY want to do rather than things you think they should do because it's “expected.” Not every boy wants to do boy scouts. Not every girl wants to do ballet.
Right & Wrong Answers. There's no such thing. Just accept it - don't argue with me here - just follow what I'm saying: An answer is only right or wrong within a set of circumstances based on a given set of definitions or criteria. Given another set of circumstances it could be just the opposite. Right and wrong are subjective given a particular situation. The part that has always bothered me is the emphasis by traditional school that is placed on WRONG answers for the situation, instead of praising the correct and quietly practicing till things are acceptable. Sure 2+2=4. If a child says 3 they're immediately told NO, YOU'RE WRONG. Instead of something like, "almost!! let's try again." Even the best of teachers can slip into this.
In first grade I distinctly remember a disagreement with my teacher about 1 minus 1 and what the answer was. To me, the answer was NONE. If I have one apple and you take one away, I have NO apples left, hence NONE. The teacher could not grasp that NONE was the SAME as zero. And she never took the time to explain WHY I had to use zero to represent none. She was just adamant that the answer HAD to be zero. Instead of teaching me the concept of zero and what it does for us in the world of math (holding the place), she only succeeded in teaching me that my independent conclusion of the equation was WRONG - and that I shouldn't think for myself. Thus began my "education" about public school and traditional education systems. Looking back now, I'm sure this has a LOT to do with my decision to homeschool now. Ironic huh?
Once you've addressed your fears, you have to take a really good look at HOW your child learns. Every minute of every day they are learning something. It happens all day long, it even happens when they dream. It happens and you have NO clue it's happening. It goes on happening every day of every person's life, no matter how old they are! The task for you as the parent is to recognize that everything you do , everything they do, these are all learning opportunities. Capitalize on simple things – like cooking dinner. Let your child pick a recipe. If they can't read yet, let them tell you what sounds good for dinner. Once you've decided on it, let them help in any way that is safe for them to help. Presentation is NOT the goal – so what if it's supposed to look one way and turns out another? The point is to get them involved.
Cooking can practically encompass a whole day's learning! And, you could turn it into a whole week's worth depending on how in-depth you get with the subject.
- you can cover reading/writing/language arts/phonics (reading the recipe from a book & writing it down, younger children can identify the letters they know, and learn new ones, you can discuss the structure of a recipe as it's written down, how ingredients are listed first etc)
- Math is covered in the quantities and measurements of ingredients – double or halve the recipes for some simple math problems
- Science is covered in how the ingredients interact with each other during the cooking process
- History is covered by later researching where the dish originated
- Art can be covered by allowing your child to illustrate, paint, photograph etc the food you've made
- Music? Seriously? Yes, music can even be worked into this!! If you're going with a decidedly ethnic food, find some music that fits that ethnicity and play it while you're making or eating the dish
Children are natural learners. As a parent deciding to homeschool, your job is to learn HOW to present information and resources in a way that YOUR child can learn, and more importantly, in which your child ENJOYS learning. Is your child kinetic, do they move around and fidget constantly? Well, sitting at a table, practicing writing is probably not the most effective way to teach them to read & write. Utilize their personality traits and individualism to tailor for them learning OPPORTUNITIES, not lessons. Allow them to “write” with their fingers in flour, shaving cream or better yet, pudding!! Use sidewalk chalk and write HUGE letters in the drive way and let them WALK the letters in the same manner as they'd need to write them. Use edible manipulatives (in lieu of writing it out) to illustrate math problems!! LD's favorite right now is mini marshmallows.
Turn their play time into learning time. Nearly every toy that children have and play with has the opportunity to become an educational tool for you as a parent. If they like Legos, well that's an easy one – you can discuss shapes, colors, size, quantity and a number of other concepts. As your child gets older you can utilize Legos to cement other concepts like architecture. Even marbles, dolls and My Little Pony can become tools.
Staying on task. How many times do we hear from a teacher how our child does or does not stay on task. Well.... let me tell you a secret, to the chagrin of teachers everywhere – staying on task is easy and can be done 100% of the time and also can be 100% enjoyable, IF the child is engaged. The problem with public schools is that there are often 20+ students in a class. This means that there are possibly 20 or more different learning styles and interests. What this means, if you haven't grasped it yet, is that the teacher has to teach something that MOST of the students can get most of the time. This means, as I see it, that a certain amount of failure is built into the traditional school systems.
BIG MYTH #2 - “grade level.” What is this thing called grade level anyway? Well, it's an accounting system designed to allow public schools to show where their students are academically performing. When you step outside of public school, you realize grade level means, well, nothing. It's not about passing a test or getting a “good grade.” It's about what did you learn yesterday, what you learn today and what you will learn tomorrow and making sure that those things are interesting enough that they STICK WITH YOU, even beyond the time frame in which you've learned them.
The more I've researched homeschooling the more I realize that I should be thinking in terms of “years” instead of grades. This is our first year – what would be considered kindergarten in public school. What struck me is that if you look at it in terms of “years” or periods of time rather than grade levels, there is no stigma if you don't accomplish a certain amount of progress. Your child can NOT be held back!! It eliminates the fear of failure! The most important thing is what you've learned, not how much.
Truth, Lies and Consequences. These seem like such simple things. However, they're often, from what I've seen, the MOST misunderstood concepts in both education and parenting. The whole do as I say not as I do mantra. Don't smoke, but mom you smoke. Don't hit your brother, but dad you just spanked me for doing that. Value the individual, but Mr. Teacher, you just told Johnny he can't wear that hat because it distracts us.
Physical discipline & consequences: Can you manage an unruly child without resorting to physical discipline? Certainly – but, it takes a tremendous amount of patience and discipline on the part of the parent. Most physical discipline is a result of sheer frustration on the part of the parent. The sad truth is that most parents do not have the time to devote to parenting without a physical consequence – and this ranges the gauntlet from sending them to their room all the way to spankings.
Don't for a minute assume this means I'm saying that anyone who sends their child to their room or spanks their child is a horrible parent – because I'm not. I use time outs as needed – and truly, they're to give me a break more than they are for him to think about what he's done. However, I also make a point of asking him afterwards if he understands WHY he had a time out. If he doesn't understand, we talk about it. I know that there are an infinite number of variable factors which make up each family's situation. Ideally, every parent would be able to spend the one on one time needed with each of their children in order to create a home environment that would operate smoothly and with out the need for the threat of physical punishment. But the ideal is not what we have in our lives.
Everyone says that our son is really a good kid. I agree, though he does have his moments! I attribute a LOT of that to HOW we parent. As I see it there's really only three parts to this:
- Mom & Dad are on the same page. This is often MORE important than the other two and becomes extremely difficult in situations of divorce or separation, particularly when the parents are at odds. While there are times when he will get away with something from one parent or the other, when it comes to the really core issues, we are a united front. There is no going to Dad for a yes when Mom says no – and if he does, there's a check & balance system where we make sure everything is on the up & up. If the parents aren't a united front, you're in trouble!
- Consistency. Period. If you say don't jump on the bed, don't ever let them jump on the bed. Period. Sure it's often hard to remain consistent – especially when you're tired and what they want doesn't seem that bad. If you say no TV after a certain time, and they don't turn it off, walk into the room and turn it off, and allow no amount of whining to change your mind.
- Follow through. If you take away a privilege like TV, and initially say it's for a week, don't let them off the hook 5 days into it because they've been “good.” The whole point of a consequence is to learn from the unacceptable behavior.
This is leading by example. Children are mirrors and reflect how they're treated as well as what they see and observe, and even overhear. They didn't ask to be brought into the world, as parents we OWE it to them to show them that the world can be a good, kind place. The more kindness and goodness you show in your life, the more you'll get back.
BIG MYTH #3 – TV is bad. Sure, if that's all you do, TV can be an excuse to do nothing. However, TV can also be a GREAT reward and invaluable learning tool. Just think of all the really great programming there is out there – you've got excellent kid's shows (like the stuff on PBS), documentaries, cooking programs, how to/DIY, and the list goes on and on. Then, there are just fun things, but even those shows can be turned into learning opportunities IF you have the resolve to do that! Watch an episode of The Office and talk about what makes people act the way they do. Watch an episode of Lost and try to guess what's going to happen next – believe it or not, those are ways to LEARN stuff!!
It's also all about priorities – when you utilize TV as both education and reward and make sure that you're using it appropriately, it's a really great tool. So is the internet. Use it both for school AND play. And, make sure that a lot of that play is learning play. Even video games are learning so don't discount them. Online gaming, both on the computer and game systems, provide really great opportunities for your children to learn cooperation.
Setting ground rules like bedtimes, chores, etc are paramount in importance when it comes to raising a child into an adult who loves learning AND is a responsible person. As your child gets older, the rules may decrease or become less stringent, but the responsibility increases. Find that they can't handle the responsibility? Reduce it and increase the rules again. Eventually both you and your child(ren) will find the right balance and learn the give & take dance that's all part of growing up.
So now those questions? WHY, HOW, WHEN, WHERE, WHAT?
WHY? Why did we choose to homeschool?
Obviously, there's a lot of reasons and I'm sure you can glean many of them from what I've already written. There's also the travel factor – there is no school within walking distance of us or even within 10 minutes by car. This means that LD would have to be bussed the 13 miles to the nearest school – which I admit is not a HUGE distance. However, during the winter I didn't see it as an ideal thing for him to have to stand out in the cold and snow or rain, waiting to get on the bus and then ride on the road to the school – winters here are tough and ICY.
His input was important to me as well. He's been to a structured preschool when we lived in Chico. And, seemed to enjoy it. He's watched the other kids in town get on and off the school bus all last year. But, I really wanted him to feel like he has some control over things. I asked him, “do you want to ride the bus and go to school, like Dalton (the neighbor boy) or do you want to stay home and have me be your teacher?” He took all of 3 minutes to ponder this and said he wanted me to be his teacher. Even with the times he's been frustrated since we started, he's never once asked to go to school instead.
His style of learning – having to stay put and focus on a traditional lesson would NOT work well for him. Does he have ADD/ADHD? If placed in a traditional school setting I'm sure he'd fit the diagnosis. However, because I CAN get him to focus, if given the right circumstances, I'd say the answer is no. This also goes hand in hand with learning being an enjoyable experience. If he was forced to do things a certain way it would likely make him resistant to learning. That's not saying I let him go hog wild, but he gets input in what he wants to do first, second third etc each day. And he gets to say when enough is enough, within reason.
Flexibility – similar to learning style. If something just isn't working, we can try something else! Nothing is set in stone. If I planned to talk about butterflies and he'd rather talk about frogs, we can do that! As long as he's learning, that's what is important.
HOW? How will we homeschool?
What do you mean, how? Well I mean what tools and resources will we use. I'm all about finding it free. Purchased curriculum are fine, but they still sort of box you in, and if you find it doesn't really work for you, you're out the $$ you spent. The internet is probably the single most useful tool you have at your disposal. There are literally countless websites dedicated to any subject you can think of. And, just because it's not designed for teaching, doesn't mean you can't use it.
There's also the different types of homeschooling out there – you can utilize a charter program through your local district, you can utilize an online school, or you can become your own Private School (required in CA after kindergarten age). If you become your own private school, you can use purchased curriculum, packaged online curriculum, make up your own as you go, or even the infamous “Unschooling method.”
The more we get into this the more I think unschooling is what we'll end up doing. It's not a free for all where you call it school and just let your child play and watch tv all day. What it really is, is finding the learning in everyday things. Remember the cooking example? Well what if this raises questions about where Pasta comes from? There's a lesson all set for you about Italy, the history of pasta etc. And, the best part of unschooling is that it allows your child to direct the learning to what THEY find interesting. If it's butterflies, you have them cut out pictures of butterflies and use them for math! It's all about just thinking for a few minutes about how you can turn every day stuff into school. And, when your child is interested, it's guaranteed they'll learn!
WHEN/WHERE? When and where will we do school?
Initially I thought it would be good to try to start our day with school. I still think this is still a relatively good idea – mainly because it leaves us the whole day – if he gest frustrated we can take a break and come back later. Right now, school work is done at the kitchen table. Eventually we'll have a dedicated area for it – with shelves for our supplies, a computer, printer and all the stuff he'll need to physically “do” work.
The best part about being your OWN school that I can see is that you're not limited to locations. If you utilize a district program, you're often restricted to having to complete the work IN the district or county where the program is housed. If you're your own private school, you can learn when you take road trips or vacations. Everything and everywhere become your classroom!
This section also includes how you'll schedule your school year. Traditional calendars have summer off. However, if you've paid attention to this style of school, you'll notice your child can “lose” some, or a lot, of what they learned over the summer. This means you have to do some informal homeschooling during that time even if they go to public school! Guess what? This means you already have some of the basic building blocks of homeschooling under your belt!
CA requires 180 days of instruction over a 12 month period. If you schedule your learning year round, you get breaks, which you, and your child, will desperately need. You get to decide when & how long Christmas vacation will be and you can plan school to either coincide with vacations or to allow you and your family to take a vacation without school! Your child can ALWAYS have their birthday off from school even if it falls on a Wednesday! Year round schooling also allows you to take a week long break here & there on a regular basis. On average, our plan is to do school 4 weeks with a week off, a couple weeks off for Holidays and about a month off during summer. It ensures that we're never overwhelmed. Another great thing about homeschooling is that your schedule is not set in stone, so long as you get in the required 180 days of instruction a year. This means that if you plan year round school, you have a LOT of wiggle room.
If this is your first year of non structured homeschool, meaning you've done public school or used a district homeschool program before or are just starting out with your first year of school, you'll likely be best served by ramping up to being unstructured – as funny as that sounds! Try 2 weeks, then a week off, then 3 on 1 off, then 4 on 1 off, until you can go 4-6 weeks of instruction without a break. Just make sure that you are allowing yourself (and your child) a full week break in between sessions of learning. It seems like a long time off but it really is necessary to allow you to regroup.
WHAT? What will you teach?
Well again, this can vary and all depends on how you're approaching homeschooling. What you SHOULD teach is what interests your child the most – then utilize that to cover the other areas – back to the unschooling approach. Worried about the “three R's?” Well, don't be. You can incorporate them into the subjects and just make them another part of what you're doing without having to do repetitive writing or rote memorization. These things can be useful, as long as your child is willing to do them. But remember, the moment they start resisting, time to change tactics.
Some closing thoughts:
- Learning is a natural process. When it is happening the right way, it's effortless, it's easy and it's fun. If you find that you or your child is not having fun, or you're struggling, that's when it's time to stop and try a different approach
- Don't assume you MUST get a certain amount of work done in a given period of time. Forcing things does not make it better or ensure that your child will learn anything.
- Let your child direct their learning. This not only gives them a feeling of control, which they have very little of, but it also guarantees that they'll remain intersted in what they're doing. When you find they're losing interest, well just change gears. Making sure they're exposed to a variety of things is key to giving them the ability to find what interests them.
- Don't let your fear dissuade you – just because you think “I can't do that” doesn't mean you can't.... The really nice thing is that because homeschooling is completely legal, you can, at any time you like, pull your child out of public school and give homeschooling a try. The only suggestion I have is to make sure that you and your child give it an honest try – don't do it for a week and give up cause it's “too hard.” Commit to give it a month at the very least. This way you get a feel for the way it works and you have ample opportunity to try out different methods.
- Too busy? If you think you are, think again. Homeschooling is incredibly flexible and versatile. Obviously, if you work LONG hours away from home, it will be exceedingly difficult to implement a successful homeschool plan – particularly if you have young children who cannot be home alone. But, it's still possible.
- Think you can't? Think again. Start looking up homeschooling groups, talk to other parents you meet who homeschool. You'll be amazed at how people make it work despite thinking that they can't.
Never say never, and Can't is just a word.