Homeschooling Through a Busy Season

I really thought I knew what busy was. Homeschooling four daughters, a part-time job, a little hobby farm, occasionally cleaning the house -> busy, right? Well, this is the thing about me. I crave the perfect balance between having things to do and having time to veg on the couch, watching tv or reading. So when some new opportunities came our way, we jumped in. It’s busier than ever around here, but we still have a nice balance of activity and veg time (because I am not missing This Is Us on Tuesdays!). And although all of our activities are just getting rolling, I’ve learned a few things.

 

 

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Homeschooling Kindergarten, pt. 2

If you missed part 1 of my new Homeschooling Kindergarten series, you can find it here. I talked about what subjects I cover with my littlest homeschool student.

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In this post, I’m going to talk about the public school mentality. Maybe you were homeschooled yourself, so this isn’t as big of a stumbling block for you. But if you attended public school, you probably have a bit of that structure ingrained in you as what school is ‘supposed’ to be. I know that I did when we started back in 2006.

Now don’t get me wrong – there is nothing inherently bad about having a room in your home set up with desks and a chalk board. There’s nothing wrong with a scheduled day and having achievable goals set for your school year. There’s not a thing wrong with workbooks, circle time or the occasional spelling test! The problems start when homeschoolers forget why they’re homeschooling. It’s not just to avoid the big, bad school system. We want to teach our children to love learning. We are not homeschooling to teach our children just to take tests, sit quietly at their desks or raise their hands when they want to speak. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. But we can’t let them be our goals.

Having the freedom to homeschool is a gift that we should not take lightly. Homeschooling kindergarten is not just another year ‘off’ before the real school starts. There is work to be done! The main objective is worth repeating – teach your little ones to love to learn. Teaching a 5 or 6 year old that learning is exciting will serve them well for the rest of their days. Find the topics they are interested in. Make a word list from that topic and have them learn to write and spell from that. Count everything! Research the hows and whys. Take lots of field trips. Let them see how they can enjoy learning rather than just seeing the workbook in front of them.

So how does this look practically? Many states have homeschooling laws that require reports on what your student has learned. So just take good notes! At the end of each week, write down in a notebook or planner what you’ve accomplished. Trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market, field trips, educational television shows, art projects – it all “counts” as learning! Teach them to talk to people everywhere you go, how to carry on a conversation and speak politely to an adult. All useful, needed life skills. There will probably be some workbook pages but there will definitely be lots of life-living in there too. Take lots of notes.

When my oldest daughter was 5 and 6, I would just write the dates on the top of each workbook page as my little ones completed them. Then when I needed to fill out our quarterly reports, I could just flip through their book to see what was done when. As far as history and science, keep a log of the library books you’ve read and the field trips you’ve taken. I also kept track of any large projects we completed. For example, one year we followed the changes in the trees on our street. Leaf samples were glued to poster board. A cross section of the different layers of the truck was drawn and labeled. We made a chart listing how many trees of each species were on our street and took note of when they started turning colors or their leaves started to grow back. We tried to estimate how old the trees were and what the town looked like when they were planted. It lasted all school year and we had a blast.

Did my kindergartener and tag-a-long preschooler learn that year? You bet they did. We continued learning in this style for a couple of years and we enjoyed every minute of it. They learned to read and add and how to cross the street and division and how to finish their work and all the other things we think of when young elementary students come to mind. But they did it while having fun. Listening to them now, as they’re heading into high school and middle school, as they talk about those young years is so rewarding. They loved their little life! And in the midst of all their fun and adventure, they learned. So if you’re struggling with letting go of your public school mentality, let your little one lead you for a bit. Watch them learn to love learning and you’ll see that there is another way. And it’s much more enjoyable. 😉

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Student Independence in Homeschooling: How Much, How Often and How Come

A friend asked me recently to write a post about independence and homeschooling. Should children be able to work on their school assignments independently? At what age? How much work should be independent? If we’re homeschooling, why encourage your child to work alone? I am no expert but it did spark some thoughts on the topic.

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Why teach independence in homeschooling? Is it really important?

In my opinion, yes. Should they be able to do their assignments independently right from the start? No. Young children will need almost constant supervision and guidance while they’re learning to read, write and do early math. I’ve heard it said “Children will learn to read so they can read to learn.” This is so, so true in my limited experience. As a child is learning to read, they need constant help. Not only are they just learning to read and recognize numbers, but they’re learning to sit still, to hold a pencil, to listen quietly, to control their energetic little bodies and hear what’s being said.

I try to think about learning to do independent work like learning to ride a bicycle. When a young child wants a bicycle, they need training wheels. They can’t just jump on and go. The training wheels in homeschool are those first couple of years when a child is learning to read. They need those rails. They need to constant reminders to focus, to pay attention, to complete the task at hand. As a child gets good at riding a bike with training wheels, many parents will take off one of the training wheels to help a child learn to balance on their own. It gives the child some freedom but also a feeling of safety, knowing they can lean onto their training wheel if they lose their balance. This is like a student learning to do some work on their own. Maybe Mom (or Dad!) can go over the instructions for a page of work and then go do a chore, leaving the student to complete the work on their own. It may take a bit longer but it’s good for the student to learn to complete the task.

The next step would be taking off the training wheels and helping the child by holding onto their seat. They’re pedaling. They’re balancing. You’re just lending a little support. In your homeschool, you make the plans and you give the assignments. Maybe a tough math lesson or a special research report needs a little extra guidance but for the most part, your student can take an assigned page or project through to completion. The last step in teaching a child to ride a bicycle is letting them go. When a child is ready to choose their own courses, it’s time for mama to back away and let her baby fly.

How much work should a student be able to do alone and at what age?

I think this completely depends on the student. Some students will be able to read well at an early age but have a harder time concentrating so they’ll need an extra training wheel for a bit longer. Some will struggle with reading and will need both training wheel in place. Some will naturally just balance without training wheels and take off with learning on their own. Each child is a unique creation and each child will be different. I know with my three, nothing has been the same when it comes to how they learn. They are each so different! And that’s just how God made them. The frustrating part for homeschool moms is figuring out how to best lead each student. The wonderful part? God has an infinite amount of wisdom that He will impart to us when we ask. Pray about how to teach your children. He will answer you.

How often should I be working with my students?

If your student is in the one training wheel stage, you’ll probably have to work together a few times a day. For my daughter that’s in this stage, I still review her math, phonics and spelling each morning. We do science and history together, as those are usually harder texts and topics. I’ve found that this can vary based on learning style as well. One student may thrive on the independence while one may comprehend better when read to rather than reading their own textbook. No matter what the age though, I find myself checking in with my daughters several times a day. They’re just learning independence, they’re not completely functioning in it just yet.

How come I should work towards independence? Don’t we homeschool so we can be together?

I don’t think that many people really need an answer to this question. Teaching independence is crucial to a child maturing into a productive member of society. It will serve them well through high school, college, summer jobs, careers and eventually parenthood. The aim is not to teach independence from Christ but dependence on Him while being able to move through their responsibilities with confidence and order. We do homeschool so we can be together and even when a child is doing their work independently they are included in home life. It’s a great balance!

What do you think? Should homeschool students work independently? Or maybe you have another homeschool questions you’d like to hear my thoughts on. Leave a comment or email me – info@oneredeemedmom.com.

Bullies, Mean Girls and Homeschoolers

I’ve recently returned from spending time with extended family, as many of us do around the holidays. And like some of you, we are the only members of our extended family that homeschool. As the kids run around, the dads watch the game or head outside to do manly things – the moms chat. Work, life, houses, clothes, teenagers and eventually school are all topics up for grabs. Sounds familiar, right?

The thing that struck me this time around was the similarities rather than the differences. We still do math in our pajamas a few times a week, don’t get me wrong. But when it came down to the struggles our children faced with bullying, mean girls and cliques – it’s all pretty much the same. I think I shocked some family members when I told them that we have dealt with such things. Well, we do. Maybe your homeschool family does not but from my limited experience, I’ve realized my children will learn right along side their public school counterparts how to deal with mean girls, mean bullies and their reactions in these situations. Most homeschool families are no longer living in a bubble and because of that, our children face many of the same struggles that public school children face.

bulliesWe attend a wonderful homeschool enrichment program. It’s run by amazing, self-sacrificing people and staffed by volunteers. But every Friday this crazy thing happens. Over one hundred sinners fill the halls of our old-elementary-school-turned-church to attend the Friday School program. Sinners! Can you believe it?! People from miles around have the audacity to send their little sinners to a homeschool enrichment program! And as I hang my head in shame, I’ll admit to being one of them. I believe that we are all born sinners. Jesus Christ died a very long time ago to save us from our sins. But as children are growing, they learn how to control that sinful nature. In that learning, good and bad choices are made. Sometimes it’s your children making the good choices and being the victim of another’s bad choices. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But I can say, without a doubt, that when a bunch of children that are still working on controlling their sinful nature are gathered together, no matter what the environment – there’s a good chance that some bad choices will be made.

It’s easy to stand outside and look in, making assumptions about what’s going on ‘over there.’ I think that’s what happens with homeschoolers and public schoolers. We are so busy judging each others’ educational decisions, we forget that we are all parents. Parents that love our children and are trying our very hardest to raise children that serve the Lord, function as members of their communities and are generally pleasant to be around. Even though our educational choices may be different, we can still encourage one another to keep on moving forward with this hard thing called parenthood.

So as a parent that happens to homeschool, it may be surprising for a public school parent to hear me say ‘I understand’ when she shares a difficult situation about bullying. But the sad reality is that we have experienced bullying. My daughters have felt the sting of cliques and the hurtfulness of mean girls. They have been the bully or the mean girl. We are all raising sinners – whether we choose to educate them at home or in a school setting – and pretending that one is relationally easier than the other only creates dividing lines that do not need to exist.

The best thing a parent can do to prevent bullying or mean girls is to teach at home. I’m not talking about math or science (although you can email me if you’re curious about how that works!). I’m talking about teaching kindness, empathy and compassion. A strong sense of self and the courage to stand up for what they believe to be right. The kind of character qualities and expectations it seems our society has lost in so many ways that are written throughout the book of Proverbs in what many call an outdated, ancient book. Those qualities are what will change the world, the bullies and the mean girls. No new programs. No new curriculum. Simple, old fashioned, God given wisdom.

It’s time to stop pretending that homeschool students are immune to the struggles that face public school children. We have all faced bullies and mean girls. We have all been hurt by the sting of cliques – even long after we graduate from high school. And if we’re completely honest, we will admit that bullying doesn’t end when you graduate. Now is the time to teach our children how to break down the walls cliques erect, to silence the bullies with words of strength and kindness, to calm the mean girls with demonstrations of compassion and self worth. It has nothing to do with where they’re educated. It has everything to do with building in them the character and strength that will make them the kind of person that won’t tolerate such things.