Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Strategies for Your Homeschool

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Are you thinking about homeschooling this fall?
This is the time of year when many families begin thinking about whether they want to reenter the local elementary school and get a bit skeptical about all that goes on there.

Anyone who thinks that the homeschool lifestyle is just too much hasn't really looked at their relationship with their child's school! PTA, teacher meetings, conferences, bake sales, bussing, packing lunches, purchasing supplies, checking homework, struggling with lessons at night, forgotten things at home, school events, etc...  Having your child attend a public school is just as much of a commitment as homeschooling is. And visa versa.

That's not the point of my post and I'm still not removing it. 

For those families who are considering homeschool or who have decided to take the plunge, I have a few pointers for you. I am here to share that journey that our family has taken and to encourage you on the one that you are about to embark on with your own group.

Getting to be a great homeschooling parent takes time.  During that first year of homeschooling be prepared to go to bed each night with some fear in your heart.  Fear of messing up the very kids you are trying to free. Fear of failing your most beloved children. Fear of being inadequate. Fear of forgetting things. I remember feeling anxious much of the time those first twelve months of homeschooling.

It took me about a full year before I realized something comforting... we were homeschooling.  We were doing it!  (We had been doing it all along!)  Feeling confident and strong in homeschooling comes with time. I promise!

As much as you wish that there was, there is no silver bullet for homeschooling a child.  An important part of parents choosing to homeschool our kids is often knowing that each child is unique and wanting to preserve and celebrate that uniqueness.  So why do we think there should be a known, prescribed way to teach our children?!!!      
(good point, eh?)
One of the best things we can do, as parents, is recognize, support, and love the uniqueness of our children.  In homeschool or not.

  • Don't pay huge sums of money on materials. Unless you feel it necessary, the first year use your library, your community, your computer. The world is a wonderful place.
  • Pay attention to their current interests.  Use their areas of interest as jumping off points for lessons.  For example, when my son is very involved with Minecraft (and if your child is not involved with Minecraft, please tell me your secret!  LOL) I have used Minecraft examples in math, language, art, and science.  One example is how we made pixilated images for an art project.  He couldn't get enough of creating pixilated worlds.  Another example is drama.  Both of the kids are into drama, especially Lizzie.  For her literature we have read many plays, monologues, and one acts.  From those readings we have learned history, language, geography, etc in context.  Starting some topics "early" with your child, especially when they are already interested in a subject, gives them a greater ability to understand higher levels of work later. 
  • Which brings me to a simple concept. Start topics "early". Don't wait to introduce your child to subject matter that interests them simply because some chart somewhere recommends it for some later age! If your child is interested in the upcoming eclipse, explain the mechanics and physics of that event using correct terminology.  Nothing like giving them "advanced" knowledge in context. NOT living within the context of someone else's schedule is what gives homeschooling it's advantages. Your children are very capable of understanding advanced chemistry if they are interested in it. They will find a way to learn it!
  • Give them independence.  The other day I gave the kids a topic (anthropology) and had them go off and create a project with it.  I heard lots of noise and activity for a couple of hours.  When they came back they had created a video of an interview with Java Man.  Had it been on my head, I would never have thought of that idea!  It was only by giving them an idea and letting them run with it that such a project was possible!  And they enjoyed the freedom to do it as they wanted.  They needed to do extra research, write a script, get make up and props, and rehearse.  It was amazing and they felt great for having used their own talents and imagination to create such a project.  Your child might create a piece of art, design a board game, make something in the kitchen, or write their own short story.  Whatever they do, you will be surprised with their ingenuity!  In my case, it was great having them work together.
  • Say "Yes".  While we are working on lessons together, if (WHEN) John John has a ridiculous suggestion for an activity to supplement what we are learning about, I say "YES".  The other day they wrote and performed a song and dance about Bribie Island.  It was silly, it took awhile to get back to lessons, and I had to have the patience of ...well, a MOTHER, but it was a time they will always remember fondly.  Also, they still break into Bribie Island song.  LOL
  • Move to another location.  This may sound like an awful lot of work, but try picking up and driving to the library or the local park.  There are far more distractions in alternative locations, but there are also more opportunity for exploring something new in a new way. Don't be afraid to put down the book and look closely at something in the moment. In fact, embrace it! For example, yesterday we were at a local park. While looking at an amazing 500 year old tree we saw, at its base, a collection of tiny mushrooms and an ant colony. Just imagine the length of time these life forms have lived together in harmony.  And, while at the library take a chance, reach behind you, grab a book completely unfamiliar. Send your kids out to choose a book on a subject completely foreign to all of you. You never know, that book on clothing from the 1700's might just surprise all of you! You don't always have to have a plan!
  • When in doubt, start with reading aloud together.  Maybe the poetry is absolutely dull.  Maybe the history is Too Long Ago.  Maybe the mollusks are simply too familiar. Reading the material aloud, even in English accents, is STILL reading the material. I know this one first hand. We enjoy reading poetry aloud.  Please use silly voices. My kids remember lots of memorized verse simply because we treated it in this manner. I am certain that had we been serious about it, well, let's just say they wouldn't have it in their heads right now.
  • Flexibility is more than just timing.  It also refers to approaches, materials, teaching styles.  If you find yourself pulling teeth to get your children engaged, perhaps it's time to switch to something else for awhile. You can always come back to Marcus Aurelius. After a quick segue into writing and singing a rap song about him.  Or creating some excellent Greek skirmishes in Lego.  Or try going the Greco-Roman shuffle...  My point is that, for most kids, sitting and studying is tantamount to nap time.  That is normal, truly. Surely you remember being that zoned-out kid... When you see the zoned-out eyes and the somnambulist appearance, switch gears enough to get some cranial fluid moving.  Teachers do it!  Get physical.  I have been known to move the kids from the table to their laptops where they took notes on a Word document.  The important point here, flexibility is a must.  We parents who were "schooled" often struggle to look outside-of-the-box for our approaches and our expectations for our kids.  Also, when materials aren't working, don't grind it!  Get rid of them and find something more interactive and engaging.
  • Getting together with friends for projects is always a winner.  I remember when a friend and I got together and did an earth timeline on toilet paper. Together the kids counted out 35 squares for the Precambrian age all the way down to a tenth of a square for the Industrial Revolution. The comments and light bulb moments with all of the kids' involvement is priceless. Don't forget the idea of co op class! Offering classes to other homeschoolers is always a GREAT idea to get kids involved in something complex or less engaging in an imaginative way.
  • Keep materials in one organized and handy location.  Do you have a dresser?  How about some crates? It isn't necessary to have a homeschool room or shelf as long as there is a single place to return all materials to at the end of the day. We functioned out of milk crates for a long time! There is nothing more frustrating than starting work again and again because you can no longer find pages and books.
  • Let your kids know what work is expected during a given day and let them figure out how to get it done. Time management and approaches might change from day to day, but the lessons involved in figuring logistics out are innumerable. My kids have been known to bring books and materials and keep working even while on field trips or in the car simply because they want to have their work completed quickly. I use a page that I made where I write down work expected for a given day and the kids use that page to refer to in order to get all of their lessons done independently.
  • If you haven't spent any time figuring out your child's preferred learning style, do so.  This is one of the best parts of homeschooling, tailoring lessons to your child, and showing them how to tailor materials themselves. What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Skills and growth areas? I found some free online tests for figuring out learning style.  
  • Additionally, figure out your own biases.  Do you think children should sit and study quietly?  Do you prefer to be outdoors?  Do you enjoy learning games online?  Do you want to read in circle time and then do projects?  Do you find it difficult to do lessons after lunch?  Have you thought about researching these things and then talking about it with the kids???  How informed they will be when they understand their own "preferred" learning methods! Now that's self knowledge! If you are coming from a traditional school setting you will have lots of personal biases to contend with.
  • Use the computer.  Having a computer-literate child is essential in the world today.  Use youtube, pinterest, edlearner, TEDtalks, News Sources, Project Free TV, Khan Academy, Google Earth, Online magazines, online games, wikipedia, and the millions of other resources on the net to keep your children up-to-date on current things.  Learn Power Point, word processing, Google+, typing, CAD, film editing, researching, photo editing, online courses and lectures...  The list is nearly endless.  There is no excuse to not use the computer daily.  It is such a cornucopia of information...I am overwhelmed with it's abundance.  Keep Current!
  • Model a world view.  Pay attention to what is going on in the world and keep a global paradigm going with topics.  Walk a mile in the shoes of people from other times and places.  What better way to learn respect for all people.
  • Forget grade levels.  If you are homeschooling more than one child, chances are you have been or are overwhelmed with trying to do everything for everyone.  I humbly suggest my approach for your consideration.  There is absolutely no reason to "dumb down" materials for a younger child.  We have all seen our children grasp concepts that we have thought them too young to understand.  Let's not underestimate their abilities!  Teach your children as a group.  I bring together my two kids and work on the same material at the same time.  My younger son is almost always able to reach up and grasp the concepts we are working on. If necessary we can go back and bring him up to speed.  For the most part, I have found it very rewarding to introduce "upper level" concepts early.  Some homeschooling parents find this counterproductive.  Try it.  Use it when it works and don't use it when it doesn't.  Simplify, streamline, and encourage discussion!
  • Recognize the need for down times.  Notice when your child is engaged and can put in some extra time.  Also notice when your child needs to quit.  These times may not be optimal times in your estimation, but they are optimal in your child's!
  • Live and Learn.  Don't be afraid to change!
If you are homeschooling, remember, it's not the same as School At Home.  It isn't necessary to be School At Home.  Embrace the freedom and opportunity to celebrate your child and to focus on his or her needs specifically.  And don't forget, we're all in this together!  You have plenty of time to raise these kids.  
Relax and enjoy the ride!

You may also like this post:
Homeschool Strategies   (I think I need some new titles!)


  1. Great advice Karen. I need to relax more with my kids and let them just go crazy with an assignment like sing a song:).

    1. Anna-Marie, you do EXCELLENT Homeschool Mothering!!!

  2. I have been enjoying your blog immensely! I am jumping into homeschooling with a soon to be 16 yo. I have been asking her to do it for years and this year she asked to stay home. Your blog has been the most helpful so far. All if the "canned" programs I've found are religious, not our thing. So upon your advice I have a ton of textbooks in amazon that I'm narrowing down. :) thank you!


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