Advice to the New Homeschooling Mom

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Some things I wish I had known when I began homeschooling:

1) Put homeschooling first, for your kids sake

When I began homeschooling, I thought that I would somehow just add homeschool to my  already busy life. It didn’t take long to realize that is impossible. There are only so many hours in the day! I came to the realization that in order to give my children a good education, it would have to be my first concern during “school hours.” I had to commit to the priority of educating my kids. I had to turn off the phone, avoid interruptions, and focus on my children—a very joyful occupation!

2) Consider patience as a wonderful virtue homeschooling teaches

As a new homeschooler, I was excited and wanted to tell everyone about my happy new discovery! People seemed to respond to the subject of homeschooling by commenting that they didn’t have the patience for it.  That puzzled me some, as I didn’t suggest that they homeschool, but just wanted to share my own enthusiasm.  A thought began to form in my head whenever I heard a response of “I don’t have patientce.”  When would I really learn patience, if not now?  If I am striving to have a happy family, it seems like a good idea to begin right now. Patience is a skill developed through practice and homeschooling—being with your children daily, gives you lots of practice.

3) Realize you are your child’s best teacher

It’s a good idea to abandon too-difficult learning tasks until the child is more ready, avoiding trying both of our patience!  Organization and preparation will really diffuse a lot of problems. Even with your best effort, sometimes you’ll have a difficult child.  In that case,  it really helps me to think: “If I feel annoyed— I, who love this child so much, who have his future and well being at heart— how would a school teacher feel? I have a vested interest, he is better off with me.”

4) Routine is incredibly helpful because everyone knows what to expect.

Get organized. We have an opening exercise that begins with a pledge, patriotic song, prayer, fun oral quizzing, and me reading aloud. It feels secure to my children to have school start with the same pattern every day. I don’t try to do every subject every day, nor do I think it is wise to break a child’s concentration by changing subjects every 30 minutes. That is not the way you and I enjoy learning. We would rather pursue our interests uninterrupted until our curiosity is satisfied. If you keep getting interrupted, you begin to wonder if it is worth starting anything interesting.

5) Set some ground rules

Some of ours are:

  • All work must be done before play.
  • Doing your best is required.
  • Sloppy work must be redone.
  • A cheerful, helpful, willing attitude is the most important thing you can bring to homeschool.
  • Don’t interrupt while Mom is working with another child. Go on to something else if you’re stuck and Mom is not available.

6) Learning to obey is one of the most important lessons your child will learn in homeschool

Obedience is a hard lesson for all of us, and yet an undisciplined person is not as useful to anyone—not himself, others nor God. Learning to be the master of your own self (self-control) begins by learning to obey your parents. Homeschooling, unfortunately and fortunately, compels us to come to grips with the issue: who is in charge? God gave parents the responsibility to train their children, and part of that training is to be obedient to parents. I tend to be overly tender towards my children, as many mothers are, but children learn best when we are consistent in helping them mind us.  I do think you need to listen and make allowances. Sometimes children are truly tired and need a break or a change of program but repeated choruses of “I don’t want to do my schoolwork”  can undermine your efforts.

7) Education comes in many forms

Flexibility is so important! We drop everything if there is a sunny day in winter and go hiking by the river instead. There is a lot to be learned from visiting the neighbor horse’s new foal. Working on an Eagle Scout project, a 4-H project, baking or sewing, watching birds make a nest— are all very valid learning experiences.

8) Be gentle as your children adjust

If you are just coming out of the public school system, expect a detoxification period. Usually kids are pretty burned out by the regimentation and busywork routine of school. When I brought my children home, my 5th grader could be turned into tears instantly by the thought of reading. I finally decided to totally forget reading for awhile (for that child) and just read aloud to all the children so he could begin to enjoy reading again. Within a year, he was an avid reader who really couldn’t remember ever hating it.

9) Slow and steady

Choose your activities wisely. You can’t do everything! Field trips can be fun, educational . . . and sometimes overly exhausting. Some homeschool moms seem to try to make up for the lack of public school activities by setting up a dizzying round of choir, soccer, scouts, art, gymnastics, etc. . . . rush, rush, too much time driving here and there. We brought them home because we wanted them home and near us. Remember?

One trip that we do deem important is a regular trip to the public library. I ask each child to consider what they want to learn about and make a list. Once in the library, we go to the computer and get the titles and numbers so each child can get their own stack of interesting nonfiction and fiction reading. I think a child could get alot of his education via the library, just following his interests!

10) Don’t rush into buying lots of curriculum

What to buy first? As a new homeschooler I think I made up for lack of confidence with stacks of books. Now, I try to encourage new homeschoolers to begin with the very basic necessities: a journal, Bible, a hymnbook or songbook, a good phonics program, a language arts program and a math program. Basically, that is all you need. There is so much on the market that really can make homeschool easier and more enjoyable but you can also use library books for reading, history, science, health, etc. and buy other things you may want as you have the money. Take care to choose carefully at the library. Not everything at the library’ is worthy of reading! As your first year progresses, you will see what is working and be able to buy the things that are best for your children.

Enjoy the journey! Homeschooling  is a wonderful lifestyle!

 

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Homeschooling Myths

Ammon makes a souffle!

I was talking to a young mother that was considering homeschooling her little family, especially her oldest, a very bright 4 1/2 year old. As I discussed her concerns and questions, her ideas sounded very familiar. I realized that I had said those same things and thought that way a long time ago! New homeschooling moms often have the same questions and some of the same ideas. I pondered our conversation for a long time afterwords—what happened to those ideas of mine? How had my homeschool evolved to where it was now, in the years that I’ve been teaching my children? There were definitely myths that had to be dispelled, as well as some good ideas that really worked.

Myth #1: Cooking for Math

I usually hear the enthusiastic comment, “We could do cooking for math!” from those new to homeschoolng. I thought that too when I began. Now that my oldest is 23 years, I want to vouch for the fact that cooking for math is a sweet idea, but it just isn’t complete enough. Yes, it is fun to cook, and you do get familiar with some fractions (1/2 cup, 1/4 tsp., etc.). You can double or triple a recipe (multiplying by 2 or 3) or even increase a recipe to fit the number of eggs you have (proportions). You can figure out how much a meal costs, or learn which can of tomato sauce at the grocery store gives you the most for your money (unit price). All this application of math to cooking takes a lot of masterminding by Mom. My kids were more interested in getting the cookies in their tummies than figuring out fractions while we cooked. Cooking is a wonderful and essential life skill. But cooking is not math, and does not prepare your child for the real world as far as math skills go. Not in the least!

Myth#2: One Room Schoolhouse

Ammon & Louisa at the Statue of Liberty

Ammon & Louisa at the Statue of Liberty

Another quaint idea is that we can run a “one room schoolhouse”. I like that idea. It sounds warm and cozy and a lot like Little House on the Prairie. In reality, you can do some fun and exciting unit studies together with children close to the same age or understanding. But little ones get very restless and older ones are bored and feel they are wasting their time if you try to teach them all the lessons. You can keep the family on the same topic. If you are studying Greece, the young ones can learn about it as well as the older ones, but each level of understanding must be enriched and challenged with age appropriate information for real learning to take place. If you don’t have textbooks doing it for you, you are asking for a lot of lesson preparation and research.

Myth #3: Older Ones Teach the Younger Ones

Wow, that always sounded like a dynamite idea to me because I have lots of children and not so much energy and time. This idea has merit in the fact that the teacher often learns the most when a lesson is presented, due to the preparation time and effort. However, teaching is a skill (as we who teach homeschool know too well—when our own teaching is less than dynamic.) It takes maturity and understanding the level the students are on to be able to teach a good lesson. When I have my older children teach my younger children, I do it for the sake of my older children. I assign it so that the older children will learn to teach children well. It takes them a long time to prepare. They do not have the experience or ability to judge well how long to make the lesson, how much material to prepare, and how to catch the interest of the younger children. Older children can also become quite frustrated (just like Moms do) if their students don’t pay attention, don’t participate, or misbehave. So, it becomes a lesson in teaching and the topic of study is not the issue. From my experience, don’t count on the idea that older children will be surrogate teachers and give you more time. It takes me more time to help prepare my older child to teach, than it does to teach it myself. But it is a very valuable way to help your older ones learn, and the little ones enjoy a change of pace too.

Areas where an older child can be very helpful are: listening to a younger child read aloud, correcting a math facts page, playing a math game or doing a puzzle with a younger child, or watching a piano piece played to make sure it is done correctly. In all of these activities, unless your older child is advanced far beyond the younger, some mistakes may be overlooked: the teaching is not very thorough.

Myth #4:  Write Your Own Curriculum

I remember vividly my first visit to a Homeschool Counselor at her store. She outlined a program for my children, listed and stacked the books and added up the total. I appreciated her advice, but when I saw the total price, I flipped. I figured I could do it on my own, using library books, shopping yard sales for books, and writing my own custom-fit curriculum for my children. Looking back, I now realize I would have been far ahead had I bought those books that seemed so costly and started my children on a ready-made program. Until I had much more experience.  It would have given us a wonderful jumping-off point, and as I learned what my children enjoyed, I could (and have) customized their curriculum.

You can write your own curriculum. Anybody can. It just takes years of homeschooling experience and teaching experience and knowing children—what is age appropriate, what they are interested in and enjoy at each stage, how to motivate them, and what they will need to know for life.

When I began homeschooling, I barely understood these things for my own self, let alone for my children. I spent a year or two of homeschooling trying to do it without textbooks or a program. I thought up topics and made up worksheets spending many nighttime hours. I made long library trips, trying to gather materials, gleaning a few pages from each book. It took major preparation time and it seemed the children could whip through the assignments I created in a fraction of the time it took me to pull them together. Mothers are busy! Trying to create my own curriculum was more than working a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up with my other duties and try to create a custom-made program, inexperienced as I was.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate using textbooks for homeschooling and ready-made programs even if they aren’t perfect. Some things I have created by myself, but only if I could justify the time spent by sharing them with others who are homeschooling. It only makes good sense to use the things that other experienced educators have written that have stood the test of time.

My favorite math-facts resource, still, after 25 years of homeschooling!

My favorite math-facts resource, still, after 25 years of homeschooling!

Math-it was my first curriculum purchase. I have used it in homeschooling my 7 children and it has saved me countless hours. It would have been foolish to try to reinvent such a useful program for teaching the math facts.

Having children who have “graduated” from homeschooling has greatly altered my perspective. Now I see the short years of homeschooling as precious time that I don’t want to experiment with. I use only the best resources and budget money for the homeschooling materials just like I plan money to purchase the healthiest food. Children can only learn or eat so much during the years you are setting it before them. It should be the highest quality so they will have the best growth.

Myth #5: They Can Still Keep their School Friends

Maybe this works for some homeschoolers, but it hasn’t worked very well for us. My first 3 children were in public school when I decided to do homeschooling. I just assumed that my children would continue in their relationships with their school friends. In fact, because they could get their work done within school hours and had no homework, I thought perhaps they would have more time to play and be able to increase their friendships.

That didn’t work for us, not with one of my children. Why? Because public school is a mini-society that consumes the attention of the children who attend. Everything revolves around who said what on the playground, which teacher is hard, the fight at recess, who is having a test on Friday and the activities and sports—which pretty much leaves your homeschooling child out of the conversation. As they grow up, homeschooling children may find less and less in common with their public school friends because their values often diverge.

We are working hard to teach our homeschooling children values, virtues, manners and religion. Our values are reflected in every lesson, whether science or English. But even good Christian children get a worldly flavor in the public school system: being taught the details of AIDS and same gender attraction, copying the clothing fads, going to rock music dances, feeling pressure to wear immodest prom dresses, racing for the highest grade rather than valuing true education, and more. These experiences create a very different child, and the divergence is more apparent year by year. My 5 to 7 year olds play happily with the children who go to public school. By the time they are 8, 9 or 10, the rift is becoming too great and my children enjoy friendships with other homeschooling children the very most.

Myth #6: Community Classes Will Provide Social Life

It sounds like a good idea, but most of the children who attend community classes also attend public school, and so the same differences I just discussed will also plague your child’s involvement in community classes. Besides, kids need some relaxed and unstructured time to talk and get to know each other and most often, every minute of a class is pretty busy and occupied and talking is usually discouraged. Another drawback: many children take a class with a friend so your child may be a third wheel. Over the years, my children have been involved in many types of lessons: dance, gymnastics, choir, drama, science workshop, swimming lessons and more. They are friendly and talkative.  I’ve taught them to reach out and be the first to strike up a conversation and be a friend.  I’ve seen them in action.  But, attendance at all these lessons never did truly foster a friendship.  You need frequent hours together to create a friendship.  I am not saying that a friendship couldn’t result, but if the class only meets for an hour once a week, it isn’t as likely.

 

Looking for what works in homeschooling? Read Homeschooling Ideas that Work!

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Jump In

ammon_cornstocks2010My son is making goals. It gives him a lot of satisfaction to think and plan about the goals he wants to set. It almost makes one feel the satisfaction of accomplishing something, doesn’t it?—just to dream and plan about it.

But planning to do something is not doing it! It is just thinking about doing it!

So often, this can be the case with homeschool. A malady can set in for homeschool mothers—the “I-Need-to-Plan-First” sickness. Now, I don’t think there is a thing wrong with planning. Things go very well when there is pre-planning. But if the need for planning is delaying actually getting started doing something, then I would advise you to just “jump in”!

Jumping right in and doing something is somehow magic. Just taking action has power. And when we jump in and do something, the desire to do it well sets in and replaces inertia and procrastination.

I wanted to teach Louisa real art. She loves art and I thought that ceramics, sculpting, watercolor painting and working with other media would be exciting to her. I bought some clay and mentally planned to do a unit on ceramics. I could see the outline and lesson plans in my mind. First, we’ll learn about the origin of clay. Then we’ll do a simple pinch pot. Then a coil pot, then slabwork, then sculpture. . . . As usual, it can get pretty grandiose in my plans!

jumpin1Well, as it turned out, I was still in my nightgown when Louisa got the clay out and showed a lot of interest in opening it and making something. I wanted to say (and probably did), “No, no, no! Not now. I haven’t got it planned out yet!” She was eager and what ended up happening was that the clay got opened, and we ended up making slab pots (still in my nightgown). This was not how I wanted it to happen, but it was really fun. And doing the more advanced slab work first helped me to be realistic, simplify and mentally organize. Spontaneity is a good thing. Procrastination and inertia are our enemies.

Don’t let the desire to “do it right” keep you from acting. Weeks and months fly by and looking at it now, a slab pot made without any planning is a lot better than no pot at all! Besides, we got hooked and made pinch pots soon after. Now we are planning to paint octopi on them, like the Minoans did. Louisa carefully looks at our history book photos of artifacts and sighs with new-found understanding, “How did they make those pots so big and good?”

Glad inertia didn’t stop us!

jumpin2

Ancient Minoan ceramic pot

Jump in!

 

 

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