As a homeschooling mother, I frequently find myself explaining to other parents that we do not attend certain other schools in the area – we homeschool. This usually comes up as the parent is complaining about issues with their schools – teachers losing a child’s paper and then berating the child instead of accepting responsibility, teachers accusing high-ability children of cheating, state tests which cover too much material to study in one semester, 2 – 3 hours of homework nightly for 2nd graders, bullying by students or teachers – the list goes on and on. However, when I suggest that the parent “could always homeschool, if public school is a problem,” then I get blank stares. I’m certainly no genius, so there must be some “trick” to it. How do you homeschool?
Looking at our success, even though I have a child who has special needs, I am amazed when I hear parents of children with no health or emotional issues say that they could never homeschool their children. I have many more problems than they will ever face (thankfully! I love my daughter, but it is difficult working with a child who needs more than the usual attention), yet I am able to do it. Even with a child without the difficulties my daughter has, I would recommend starting the way we started – slow. If your child has ever been in public school, s/he will need time to “de-school” – to get out of the school-mode.
When you homeschool, you shouldn’t just carry home what they are doing in public school – your focus should be to teach your child what they need to be able to be a successful adult. They need to read, write, solve basic problems, and think for themselves. Researchers are now saying in 10 years the number one career has not even been invented yet. That means our kids need to know how to adapt and learn new things. Keep that in mind when you decide the plans for your homeschool. Flexibility is the key.
The first two weeks of every public school year starts with the teacher teaching procedures – how life will be in a particular classroom. In your homeschool, begin with 2 goals - go to the library once a week (later, it can be changed to every other week, but you should plan on going at LEAST 2 times per month) and take a field trip once per week. The rest of the time, allow your child to direct himself or herself.
For most children who have been in public school, directing their own actions and interests will be very difficult! It will not take long before they are coming to you, as though you are the social director on a cruise ship, asking what they can do. “I’m bored,” will probably be a phrase you will hear a lot these first two weeks. My suggestion is to create a “Job Jar” and fill it up with slips of paper with various chores. Every time they come to you for suggestions, direct them to the Job Jar (give yourself permission to be a "broken record"). Remember – you are establishing habits that will continue as long as you homeschool. You DON’T want them to come to you for the rest of their lives every time they are bored! They will either start to love doing chores (yeah for you!) or they will learn to think for themselves – something they cannot learn in school with 20 – 35 students in every classroom.
At the library, give your child some guidelines of what to check out and then give them freedom of choice. For example, my daughter is allowed to check out 5 items, but no more than 2 of them can be videos. Yes, I allow her to check out videos. At the beginning, I also checked some videos out, and all of mine were the educational kind that looked interesting as well as educational (including “How to Draw” videos and lots of non-fiction videos designed for children). She very quickly started checking out these videos for her 2 choices, so I changed and started checking out one entertaining video so she didn’t feel like she had to if she wanted one for fun. The rest of her items to check out are books. If there are particular books for school we need, I check those out. She is freely able to choose the books she likes. This encourages her to enjoy reading, and it has been one of the best things we have done. She now loves to read or to have me read to her (I used to read to my students who had no special needs, and I fully support anyone who reads to their children, even as older teens). Read, write about it (journaling or writing an essay), then discuss it. Even if that is all we do during the day, I know we have progressed. When we began to homeschool, she had no interest in books. Now, she loves them!
Field trips are vital to any educational program, and the fact that schools are cutting back field trips show how out of touch they are with documented research. We now have 2 family passes to area attractions – the zoo and a local science museum. If we cannot go anywhere else during the week, we go to one of these two places. At the beginning, there were days when I could not get her to sit down (all kids have these days). On those days, we stopped fighting and took extra field trips. Those who don’t understand how kids learn say that we are just playing on these weeks with extra trips, however, playing IS how children learn, particularly children under the age of 12. Not only has my daughter learned about our city’s local heritage, but she has also learned about many things from various museums in the area.
So, what do you do with the rest of your time? Assign chores (a necessary life-skill), then let them have time to explore their surroundings. This includes reading, playing with their toys in their rooms, playing outside, riding bicycles, talking to friends, and so on. Play board games with your children.
Conversation and experiences are the most important things you can build in these early days – and later on, too! Computer time is good as long as it is an educational activity and time is limited. The brain needs to make connections, but those connections are limited if the format is digital. You want to allow your child to explore topics that he or she is interested in and to learn to do things he or she finds valuable to learn, and you will find yourself buying “toys” that are more educational, and your kids will find themselves looking forward to playing with those more than others. This will encourage your child to love learning.
Finally, keep lessons short. If your child’s attention span is wandering, take a break. Even better, look at what your child is supposed to learn and find another method to learn it. Pencil-and-paper work should only be done after a child has learned a particular skill, not at the beginning. Check on the internet or in books at the library for other methods to teach a particular skill. Let your child help you look – they need to see you learning as an adult, too! Even the most distractable kid can focus if they know they only have to do it for a short period of time, so pay attention and stop if they are mentally done.
Go to the library, go on field trips, and discuss everything you do. This is the basic formula for a successful homeschool that will help your child become a productive, self-assured adult. Stress does not mean a child is learning, but success does. Remember, you CAN teach your child, if you only decide you want to!