I recently had a friend ask me some questions about homeschooling because her daughter is not thriving in a traditional school setting and she is considering homeschooling her for a while. With her permission, I've decided to answer those questions publicly on my blog because they are great questions and some of the answers are rather lengthy. Also, I think they might be interesting/entertaining for me to read when I'm a grandma and can't remember anything about my child rearing years.
It is not my intention to offend anyone or try to convince anyone to homeschool. This is what works best for Abe and I and our family.
Here is her request and subsequent questions.
" I am considering pulling my daughter out of school
and homeschooling her for a while. She is brilliant but is getting
further and further behind. I can't figure out why. I've never wanted
to homeschool, never really considered it. However, I've been
struggling and praying about what to do. It seems homeschooling might be a valid
option. Before I take the plunge, I wanted to ask you a little about
1. How did you reach the conclusion that homeschooling was right for
It's funny, I never wanted to homeschool either! When Abe and I were dating and first married I had absolutely no interest in homeschooling. Like most people, my sister and I knew this "weird homeschool" family when we were young teenagers and we swore we would never do that to our children. We thought they'd be normal if they went to school (that's another post altogether). Abe was homeschooled throughout his high school years when his parents started in the late 80's. He had mixed feelings about his homeschooling time and expressed no desire either way about homeschooling or public school for our children. He did, however, have older siblings (who had been entirely public schooled) who were beginning to homeschool their oldest children. I figured I'd better at least look into it so I could defend my choice to not homeschool to his family. As I researched it I found that it was probably a pretty good thing, but I still didn't really want to do it myself. For me the struggle was with being considered a weirdo. Obviously, I've moved past that.
But then I had Clark as my first child and I just knew he would not thrive in school at the tender age of 5. He was an introverted, sensitive little soul. So instead we read animal books all day and he learned his letters by what animal started with that letter. He learned science and learned the continents by what animals lived where. And he did art by drawing and making animals. And he learned to write by voluntarily copying animal encyclopedias. I felt like homeschool was working for him.
Like I said, I didn't really want to homeschool, even though I could see it could be a good thing. Then horror of horrors, I began to feel that it was something that was not only good, but something I should do! I was afraid, but I prayed a lot about it and finally determined that if I felt it was the right thing to do, fear was not a good enough reason not to do something. If God wanted me to do this, he would help me. I feel very strongly that he has helped me and whenever I have had a particular concern about one of our children, I have prayed and been directed what to do.
2. Would you ever advise against it (homeschooling)?
Yes. If both parents were not onboard, I would advise against it. If the dad is not supportive I think it would be extremely difficult. If the mom feels pressured or doesn't really want to do it, but feels there are no other options and this is a last resort, I don't think it would be a very positive experience.
Another unfavorable scenario would be a teenager who is opposed to being homeschooled and is being coerced into it. For me, lack of money, number of children, new baby, demanding calling, fighting children, lack of fellow homeschoolers, are not reasons to advise against it.
3. How do you motivate your children to do their school work?
Ah, very good question. I am not the most structured homeschooler that I know, I have more children than many homeschoolers, and I place a high value on self-direction. That last one stems from my own dislike of being told what to do. I am not really a rebel, rather I am very intrinsically motivated. It would be impossible for me to hound each child all day or sit with each child and oversee them doing their work. From about the age of 8 or 9 (3rd or 4th grade) they must be able to work independently.
At the beginning of the year I put together spiral bound planners with check lists of what they need to complete each day. (Example: Monday: two math lessons, 3 grammar lessons, journal writing, 1 hr. reading, 1 science lesson) They can complete their work in whatever order they choose. They can get up early and get it done so they have the afternoon to play. They can drag it out until 9:00 at night. They cannot play with friends, play a computer game, go get ice cream with the family, go to a birthday party, etc. until they have their work done. They can choose not to do it, but the consequence is unpleasant enough that they usually get it done with very little to no resistance. Sometimes they will get behind in a subject and when I realize they haven't done their work, there is an unpleasant couple of days while they get caught up. The other key is consistency. It is rough to get back into school when we come off of a break (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring). I almost never cut them any slack on doing their work, because it makes it that much harder to get into it the next day. Ooh, I'm such a mean mom!
4. How many hours would you estimate that you spend on a 5th/6th grade school day?
You'd think this would be a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, but this one is tricky. I do very little formal teaching. Elinor (age 11) is in 6th grade and she does almost all her work independently. She does Pre-algebra, American history, an elementary physics and chemistry science course, language arts- grammar, vocabulary, spelling, journal, handwriting, an online beginning computer programming course , piano practice, and swim team several times a week. Her time spent doing actual "school work" is probably 4-6 hours a day. Plus we have family scriptures and read-aloud time (usually in the morning). It's not unusual for her to be finishing up school work later in the evening if she chose to sleep in, or pleasure read in the afternoon, or had activity days, or got involved in a project with siblings during the day. I think all of those things are healthy, good things so I don't necessarily discourage them. She just knows she'll be working on school work later that night. A school day can be 4 hours or 12, depending on the day and her choices or our family's schedule.
5. What other advice would you give a first-time homeschooling parent? Cautions?
Play to your strengths. If you are uber organized, then you would enjoy running a tight homeschooling ship with certain times for each subject. If you love literature, then read to and with your kids all day. If you can tolerate a mess in the name of creativity, then encourage their "projects". If you love science then form a club with other homeschoolers and do experiments. There is no "right" way to homeschool. Some like more structure, some like less. Don't constantly second-guess yourself. Research it, pray about it, pick your path and walk it.
My homeschool is so much more structured now than it was when all my children were younger because it needs to be. There are more needs to be met. Consequently, I don't know that my little ones are as creative as my older were. Yet my younger kids are probably better at reading, writing, and arithmetic than my older ones were at their age.
If it is important to you that your children have other homeschooled friends, then make it happen. Find out what your child likes and form a club by inviting other homeschoolers to join you. A few years back my girls did a dinner club, where we invited other girls their ages and they took turns hosting and making dinner for their friends and playing games. I've hosted a kids book club for years.
Read aloud A LOT! You share the same stories, you learn the same lessons, you increase vocabulary and auditory learning skills. Good feelings abound during reading time. I will be posting a list soon of the books we've read aloud if you want ideas.
CAUTION: Be diligent and consistent, while at the same time not being too hard on yourself and your child. If they have spent a considerable amount of time in a traditional school setting, and you've spent a considerable amount of time time with them out of your hair, it is going to take some time to adjust. Detox time, if you will. You will have really good days and very bad days. Some days they may say they hate you. The feeling may be mutual. You may threaten to send them to school. You may even drive to the school parking lot, only to turn around and go cry in your bedroom. Forgive each other.
CAUTION: Don't allow too much by way of T.V., computer/video games. Darn those electronic forms of entertainment! They are so stimulating. We want them to be bored enough that using their brain for real learning feels good. And running around outside playing or finding shapes in the clouds or digging a big hole in the ground is really living!
CAUTION: Avoid any books on Classical Education. Okay, I don't entirely mean this. Susan Wise Bauer has a great book called The Well-Trained Mind. It's a great resource, but it's intense. I believe it is possible to fully implement it, but it will overwhelm you faster than a tsumani! Talk to other homeschoolers about what they use. Look through their books. Get ideas, but be realistic.
CAUTION: Don't be afraid to change course. If the books you're using aren't working, use something else. You're the boss. If you're child is really struggling and it is pure drudgery-- try something else.
6. What do the little ones do while you are teaching?
I'll tell you what they do not do. They don't watch T.V..
They play. I don't know exactly what they play. They have their own little world that I get to peek into, but they are in charge of it. They build Legos, they look at books, they color, they jump on the trampoline, they make messes, they build forts, they make up games.
Remember, I am not spending hours teaching and doing school with the older kids. Most of my "school time" is actually spent checking previous work and helping them fix grammar or math. The math curriculum we use has a video of a guy explaining each lesson and a book with explanations. The older kids are expected to learn it themselves and only come to me with questions after they worked through the lesson on their own. I don't want it to appear that I just give them their assignments and ignore them. We are around each other a lot and we talk and interact quite a bit. It's just that as they get older, real learning is often a solitary, individual endeavor and my hope is to instill an understanding that their education is just that--- THEIRS.
I feel that homeschooling has benefited each of my children in a different way. Clark is now a very confident, well-spoken, strong-willed young man, but I think he would have struggled emotionally in school when he was very young. Bethany, on the other hand, would likely have done very well early on. She would have been very social and a teacher's pet of sorts. That would have presented a whole different slate of problems for her later down the road. I feel homeschool has helped her to be sensitive to the needs of others and less focused on just "looking good". Elinor is very bright academically but doesn't care a whit for neat work or organization. She is a dreamer with big ideas that I fear might have been discouraged as not being realistic. Faith was a little slower when it came to reading and language arts and she has a high need to move her body. She might have been unnecessarily labeled "slow", when all she needed was a little more time to develop. Cannon is exceptionally social and has excelled in reading very early. I fear he would be bored out of his mind.
Good luck in your decision. I think you are a remarkable lady either way. Abe and I have spoken of you and your husband and how much we admire you. You'll do what is best for your wonderful family. Keep me posted and feel free to ask any other questions. Talking about homeschool is sort of a hobby of mine:)