The Trouble With Homeschool


Louisa is enthused about the potter’s wheel!

The trouble with homeschool is that there is no start and no finish, no report cards, no deadlines, no “have to.” Of course, that is one of the advantages, but a time of reckoning is a necessary part of any endeavor, including home education. In the working world, employees are given “quarterly reviews” to assess their progress. How are we assuring progress is made in our children’s learning? Maybe we need to do some measuring.

Do you start new ideas for school with a bang and then fizzle out before the project is really done? In my zeal to be flexible, I have been guilty of no follow-through. Perhaps that is because many of our best learning experiences have come about when we got sidetracked. Recently, for my son’s writing assignment, I helped him choose an area of interest on which to do a research paper. The topic he chose was the history and production of magnetic tape (audio tape and video tape). After checking the library and finding nothing, we decided he could probably get information by contacting Memorex company and other tape manufac­turers. He wrote a lot of correspondences and while he was waiting and waiting for replies, the whole project just sort of fizzled out. None of them ever responded and we lost our steam for the research paper, even though it was a great idea and was approached with a lot of enthusiasm.

The cure for losing momentum is setting goals and deadlines with consequences. We have a natural deadline for every day’s work, and that is lunchtime. My children have plenty of time and lots of help from me if they feel stumped or do not understand their work, but they need to be finished before lunchtime, or they have to work after lunch while their brothers and sisters are free. A short check of my child’s assignment page at the end of school time is a good way to help him be accountable and report how he’s doing.

It gives a person a great feeling of accomplishment to return and report. Although I don’t want to make my children dependent on praise, it sure feels good to me to have others notice when I have put out effort to do something well. (Have you ever made a special meal and received no notice of it?) I also talk over whether or not he’s enjoying his school work and what needs changing. A schedule can be a big help. Half of the battle is settling into knowing what to expect. When my children know that every single day they have to write in their school journals, for example, they don’t fight it like they do when I am sporadic in what I require.

Ammon bakes bread!

Ammon bakes bread!

Self-motivation is great in studying an area of interest, but some basics must be done whether you are enthused or not. As a homemaker, if you love flowers and gardening, your own high interest level is sufficient to motivate you to weed, cultivate, plant, water, etc. However, whether you like it or not, at some point you will have to take out the garbage and wash dishes even if you don’t fully enjoy it. For one of my boys, reading is the self-motivated “flower gardening” and math is the annoying “garbage chore”. We approach it this way: you don’t have to love or pursue math, you just have to learn it so that you can function well. Then you will be free to spend as much time as you want reading.

A little planning before the school year begins goes a long way to guarantee success. I like to sit down with each child individually and look over all the possible resources that could be used for this child’s age and interests. For example, for the subject of American Government, my 10th grader and explore together the possibilities—different textbooks, a DVD series, online courses—and set a specific goal. We do this for each subject.

My priority list for my children’s education is:

  • developing a witness of Jesus Christ, and living as good Christians
  • competency in daily life skills (such as cooking a meal, doing laundry, fix-it skills, etc.)
  • reading, writing, and math (the 3 Rs)
  • history, science, music, art, etc.
  • seeking out the talents and skills that will help them make a contribution in life (their career)
  • becoming patriots that are literate in the Constitution and other freedom documents to preserve our freedoms as Americans

After we have chosen the resources we will use in each area, we set goals for the school year. Then as I write up their week’s assignments I can refer back to the year’s goals to make sure we are accomplishing them. From this point, I only have to offer help and check on their work daily. My children mostly steer themselves once the course direction is set.

If you are guilty, as I often am, of no follow-through, homeschool can become quite nebulous. Take the time to set up some expectations and then check that what you and your child agree on is actually done. It makes school a lot more productive and more enjoyable for both of you!


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Gifted Child


I homeschooled my son in kindergarten and then had to put him in public school for 1st grade. They of course tested him and he is “gifted”. I am blessed to be able to homeschool him again next year. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on what I can try with him? The school’s idea was more work—which would totally backfire with him. I know we can probably go at a faster pace but any other thoughts? Also what do you think about sticking to the 2nd grade curriculum (of what’s he’s suppose to know vs. what he’s interested in?)  For example, he wants to learn about the United States geography. Is it wrong to just focus on U.S. geography and not on cultures, government, world history etc.?


What a blessing to be able to homeschool a gifted child! You and he will have a wonderful time together!

The idea of “more work” sounds like a prison sentence for being gifted. I would set his basic core work, same as for any other child, such as math, English, etc. that can be done in a hour or so. Then I would give him lots of freedom to pursue his own educational interests! If he wants to learn about USA geography, I would provide every means for him to just run with that subject. Go to the library and load up, go to the internet, get videos; buy atlases, maps, games; find mentors that he can talk with—do whatever would do the job to satiate his interest. Let him at it and encourage him in every way. Give him a chance to present his findings to Dad or to the family, or to teach other kids.

After he has delved into geography, he may satisfy his curiosity and move into another area of interest, or he may go deeper in geography and find one aspect of it that really intrigues him. As his mother/teacher, your job is to facilitate learning and encourage him follow his wholesome interests. You can use his interest in geography as a springboard for other subjects. I think a nicely drawn map would more than qualify for art class. A paper written about some aspect of geography that he likes (such as longitude and latitude, or highest and lowest elevations of the USA) would be an excellent way to learn to write better, provided you coach him when you edit his writing. Delight and interest are motivators that we all seek to help our children do their schoolwork, so if your son already has an interest, he is already motivated and you are fortunate!

My advice: don’t worry a bit about making him learn the 2nd grade curriculum. If he is doing his basic 3 R’s each day so he keeps up on math and reading/writing skills—his own interests will educate him far beyond what a 2nd grader needs to know. Over a few years of homeschooling, he will exceed any requirements. I have found this with my own non-gifted children. If they love to learn, and you encourage their interests, the sky is the limit.



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A Way to Grade

pen-162124_1280Here’s one mother’s clever way of motivating her children to do excellent work!

Contributed by Carol Johnson
Gainesville, Florida

I had heard all the arguments for and against grading your children in homeschool, and had decided not to grade. Going along with the theory that they will learn better when something is interesting to them; I teach them until they understand, or until I completely lose their interest. I couldn’t figure out how to use grades in this form of “school.”

However, like most people, my children weren’t learning self-discipline without any consequences. They had been excellent students, but now they were developing bad school and study habits. As a result, I implemented a grading system that works in their four problem areas:

• Attitude
They complained and fussed about every assignment. Even the “fun” ones. This was getting difficult to deal with as a teacher.

• Completion
If I wasn’t watching, my children would tuck the assignment away without finishing it. Most often, they would not complete their assignments unless I was standing over them. If I left, they put them down and did something else more interesting. I found myself constantly nagging them.

• Speed
My kids love to dawdle. Whether I was in the room or not, they took much too much time over each assignment. They loved the idea of time limits, this meant they didn’t have to finish the page. When I assigned it as “homework” they would not do it without me nagging them (back to the second problem).

• Accuracy
. . . However, when they rush, they tend to be less careful.

Without grades, they had no feedback about how they were doing. With this grading system, they like knowing they’re learning and able to do things “right”.

Actually, I’ve used this “system” two different ways. When I started, I used this for every assignment they did. I have a simple little database set up on the computer, that I use as their student logs. At the end of each assignment, I would put in the grade as they watched. They could get anywhere from 1 to 4 points per assignment, and that averaged out for a daily grade. If they got a perfect 4 points for the entire week, we’d give them some type of reward—as a parent, not a teacher.

This was very effective. After using this system for a few months, the kids had really gotten much better. After four months, they were doing so well, I stopped grading them. Ironically, they didn’t like the change. At their request, I started it up again this year, but I only grade them per day. I no longer give them a treat for a perfect 4­— that’s just expected.

Life in our school is great these days— I am feeling a lot less frustrated! We do workbooks for math and language arts, but then we do unit studies for everything else. It has really worked well for us, and my children are excellent students. We all really enjoy school. We have a lot of fun—that’s probably why I think my kids weren’t taking me serious enough. I do the logs for my benefit, more than theirs.



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Getting Kids to Do Their Schoolwork


Louisa and her cat

Okay, Moms. This is the crucial point.  You can have the best supplies in the world, but if you can’t get the kids to open a book, it isn’t going to do much good.  So the challenge is getting your kids interested so they are begging for more. And finishing their schoolwork eagerly each day!

Although not every subject is all fun and games, we can do a lot to make learning a delightful excursion into new ideas. Creating motivation is one of the greatest challenges of homeschool (and parenting!) I consider it my job as teacher to find the best materials to teach the subject so that it will be interesting and intriguing to my children. I also want to motivate my children to keep themselves focused, and to complete their work.

“The art of teaching consists in large part of interesting people in things that ought to interest them, but do not. The task of educators is . . . to invent the methods of interesting their students.”

         —Mortimer J. Adler, the chairman of Encyclopedia Britannica

coins-116465_1280We have tried a lot of different ideas to help our children be eager for homeschool. One that held some excitement for a longer while than most, was the “Dime on Time” game. I wrote the name of each of my children on a separate little baby food jar and put 5 “insurance” dimes inside each one. Every child that came to school on time, meaning dressed, student planner on their lap, sitting on the family room couch at 9:00 AM (precise), got a dime from me to add to the others in his little jar. If he was late, he had to give me a dime from his jar. At the end of the week, the children could empty everything out and keep the money (except 5 dimes as insurance to pay for being late every day for next week—avoids arguments and saves time!) Obviously, this works best with children that don’t have a money-earning job. Since I was struggling with stragglers at the time, it was worth 50¢ per child per week just to keep my sanity and start school on time!

Signing in and out of school works great with teenagers and older elementary children that are eager to get their work done and are aware of time. I have used a form taped it to the wall of our schoolroom. As the children began their schoolwork daily, they signed in just like an employee punching a time clock. If they needed a break, or had spent some time goofing-off, they checked out and back in when they were ready to get back to serious study. At noon (the end of our school day), they needed to have 3 hours completed and all their work finished. (I am careful to give them each an appropriate workload.) They quickly learned to manage their time and not spend the entire 3 hours just diddling through their math. If they didn’t finish all their assignments having put in 3 hours of study, it had to be made up sometime before Friday’s dinner time. (This kept our Saturdays free.) Older children will be honest and exacting on themselves when they can see it in black and white. This worked very well for us, and seemed fair to the children. It has also motivated them to put in some time early morning or evening so as to be free when they wanted to do something else. They knew exactly what was expected of them. A bonus: I noticed that my now grown children carried this practice over into the work world. If they talked to another employee for 10 minutes, they would mark it off their time card. That is honesty!

AmmonsChartFor younger children, I use a simple wall chart to help them see just what is expected and feel motivated to finish each day’s work. Together we draw up a colorful chart using stickers and making check-off boxes next to each subject. Then the chart is laminated and hung in our schoolroom. Each day as the children do their work, they are eager to check off each subject and know exactly how much more is required. When their work is all done, they not only have a sense of accomplishment but I can see at a glance that they are finished, or that I need to listen to them read or whatever else they might need to finish up. Having a chart also prevents me from shortchanging schoolwork just because of other demands. The chart reminds us that we do need to work on our math everyday, and reading, and etc. even if the doorbell rings or other distractions come up.

Although I was relieved to be rid of grades when we began homeschooling, I have since realized that some sort of grade or assessment does something positive for a child. I wish we all had enough internal strength to choose the right whether or not there was a punishment or reward, but such does not seem to be the nature of human beings. If you evaluate your children strictly according to their own abilities and against no one else, you give them something to reach towards. I would never give a child a low grade if he was trying his best. Effort is what I want to grade, not intelligence. In homeschool, we know our children well enough to know if they are truly trying, but without an accounting, it may be hard to feel for children to press on and work hard day after day. That is what interviews and employee reviews do for adults: it gives them an assessment that they can use to improve.

Charting progress makes us feel accomplishment. I learned this accidentally by having my children record the number missed on their daily math lessons. They kept them in their planners so no one else really saw, yet just having to write down their daily score suddenly made them want to improve. My daughter, Julianna, felt so motivated that she would work extra carefully hoping not to get even one problem wrong. She set her sights on 100% on her own. I had no part in inventing this, but I learned a lesson: everyone wants to feel challenged and see progress in their daily work.

piano-362251_1280Every child needs to be educated and literate, but take special care to nurture talents. Children are persistent in seeking out their interests, so if Mom just cooperates, their gifts can be developed. I know that in spite of any effort on my part to the contrary, at 15 years old, my son Mark would take engines apart and fix them. At 18, he practiced the piano constantly hoping to be a concert pianist. That was the driving force in his life! All I had to do is give him some time and cooperate with his need for opportunities.

One thing for certain: homeschool evolves constantly with the changing needs and ages of your children. It cannot and should not be static. Some years I have a baby whose needs prevent me from considering starting school at the same time everyday. Other years I have several older children who need the structure of an exact starting time. Sometimes a child is struggling and easily frustrated by a subject, and needs some “time off” for a few days or weeks, until he can approach it with new vigor. Catering homeschool to our children’s needs is a very fluid thing. As they change and grow, we have to motivate them in different ways.

Learning together is exhilarating! I love being in the company of my children. What a perfect chance to become each other’s best friends.My baby’s first steps taken, my 5-year-old’s first words read, my 10 year old’s first sewing project completed, my 15-year-old son’s first success at fixing an engine, my 18-year-old’s first musical composition: this is the best of life, and I am thankful to be in the thick of it.



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