Getting Started with Homeschooling
So What Do I Do on Monday?
I attended a session at one of my first homeschooling conferences with the above title many years ago. I think my oldest was five or six and I was panicking about what I should be doing with him. I hoped to walk away from this session with some answers that would make me feel more confident, instead I heard much of the same thing I had been reading, about following your child’s interests. There was my problem, every time I asked my son what he wanted to learn I got no where, he would have an interest here or there that seemed to be sparked by something we did or read and I would try and pursue it with him but all were short lived. I cornered the speaker after the session and told him my problem and asked what I should do. I don’t remember exactly what he said but one of the things he tried to reassure me with was that in a few years I would be able to teach the session. Well it took a lot longer then that to develop my confidence and the interest thing did work better with my other two children who seemed more certain about things they liked but here I am trying to answer the question for you. I hope I can do a little better, but maybe not.
The philosophy I adopted with my homeschooling and still believe to be true is “It doesn’t matter what they are learning as long as they are always learning something”. In the end it evens out. When students get to a certain level if there are gaps in their education that they need to fill to accomplish their goals they will fill them and in an efficient way. If you were to go to 10 different school districts, especially in different parts of the country you would find their curriculums vary widely, at some point they all attempt to cover “the basics” but beyond that it’s not all the same.
So where do you start with homeschooling?
Where you start depends on the age of your child, their previous school experience or lack there of and of course their interests. If your child has been in school you may need to “deschool”. I recommend the book, I Learn Better by Teaching Myself, which explains this concept better then I can, but basically it is allowing your child to heal from problems they may have had in school and get into a different frame of thinking about their future learning. In other words if they left school last week and expect to have certain lessons and bells ringing to change them from one subject to the other at home you may need to back away and just relax, read books, take field trips, etc. and slowly work on a good, flexible learning plan for your family.
What if your children have never been in school or it is the start of a new school year?
Well first, start slowly. Lots of families have found that going on a family trip or doing some other activities during the first week of school in their area is a good idea. Think about news programs the first week at school, there are all the children happy to be back and see their friends and talking about all the positive aspects of school. No one goes back a month later to interview the same children most of whom are now looking forward to their next day off or vacation. Many homeschool groups hold “Not Back to School” events. September is a great time to visit museums and tourist attractions, they are empty – no school trips, few vacationers, you have them mostly to yourselves which often will encourage the staff to give you special attention and let you try things they may not be able to when there are crowds.
If your child is of elementary school age the most important thing you can do is what you have been doing right along. Read lots of books (see some favorites here) . If your child is starting to read or already reads make sure you are reading books to them that are “above their reading level” (I never quite understood that concept”) or outside of the books they would choose. Play games, also a passion of mine and full of great learning opportunities (learn more).
Talk about all kinds of things, I remember when we were still relatively new homeschoolers having a dinner table conversation about convex and concave that started because of the shapes of pasta we were having for dinner and thinking at the time, YES, this is what homeschooling is about. Life is a learning experience; you don’t want to contrive things into learning but shopping, trips in the car, visiting ill relatives, household chores – in short everything in daily life is an opportunity for discussion and learning. You are probably saying, “that doesn’t sound like school, that sounds like what we have always done with our children”, if so you are getting the hang of homeschooling. Remember you have already helped your children learn.
So what about the three “R’s” and more?
Parents feel more or less comfortable with having to do “academics” at different phases of a child’s life and my best suggestion is be open to change. When our children were young we would sit down as a family about every 6 months and evaluate what was and wasn’ t working and come up with new plans as needed. Sometimes more structure is called for, some times less. Some times a more rigid schedule works, some times just trying to get in one or two subjects a day for a certain amount of time, or a weekly to do list. There are no set in stone laws. You certainly can go with a structured curriculum that outlines each day of the week/year for you but for many families this is over burdening and usually not necessary especially with young learners. Remember that what it takes days or weeks to teach in school so that most children in the class will eventually “get it” can be taught very quickly to the average child, you know where your child’s strengths and weaknesses are and how much if any repetition they need.
The average homeschool child spends about one to one and a half hours a day on “school work” in elementary school, one and a half to two hours in middle school years and maybe three or four hours on high school (remember that includes activities such as sports, dance, theater, chores, jobs, etc.). Some families spend no formal time on school subjects but just live their life and use learning experiences as they come along like talked about above. What every way seems right for your family, don’t over do it, remember how much time is wasted in traditional schooling on discipline, busy work and other non-subject relevant learning. Think more like adult learning, where if you want to learn something newm you find a class, get a book, do some research, etc. and practice your new knowledge in an efficient way if you are serious. That is the model for homeschooling, NOT SCHOOL.
So what should you concentrate on?
We already talked about reading, games and everyday activities. Beyond that I used to go to a Teacher’s Store or the teachers section of different bookstores and look for interesting workbooks, self learning tools, etc. that I thought my children were ready for, I didn’t worry about grade levels, just where they were at. Phonics workbooks or a used copy of The Phonics Game are a great way to reinforce phonics. Ask librarians; there are some story books that are specifically meant to teach certain sounds, they aren’t exciting but can be a good teaching tool.
As my kids started to get the hang of reading we would read progressively harder books together, taking turns first with them just reading chapter titles, then every other sentence, every other paragraph, progressing to every other chapter either with a parent or an older sibling. Just an aside, books that had chapter numbers instead of titles we would make up a name for each chapter we had just finished, a good way to incorporate, what they call in the schools, reading comprehension. And don’t worry about age, my middle child, Hillary didn’t really read until she was eight, she is a more ardent reader now then either of her brothers who learned to read at five.
We did similar things with writing, taking turns writing sentences in a story, first verbally with mom or dad writing everything down and as they learned to write, writing every other sentence with them or with several children on a large piece of poster board. Teaching several children at one time is a great advantage in homeschooling. Often the older two I would be working together on a certain book, subject or project and also the younger two depending on the middle’s strength’s and weaknesses. Some families do units where all children are working on the same subject but doing different projects based on their age and ability, where the older one might write a report, the next younger might write a paragraph and build a model and the youngest draw pictures.
So those are some ideas for Reading and Writing, what about everything else?
Again there are a lot of different answers depending on the children’s ages and your families ideas on learning. Math can be done with a combination of workbooks, manipulatives (such as blocks or coins), computer programs, everyday activities such as cooking and shopping and textbooks or videos for older learners. Other subjects with young learners have your children look in the non-fiction children’s section of the library with you and pick some things they are interested in from different sections. There are hands on and simple books on science. If they get really interested in a certain topic, say frogs or planes or anything else make sure to check the adult section for books to share with them on the topic. The same with biographies, start with the children’s but then get extra resources on people who interest them from the adult section and other sources. We did a lot on Harry Houdini and magic when oldest one went though a phase of interest and I remember reading a biography that was way above his level but he gleaned some interesting facts and I enjoyed reading it as well. As your children get older decide on what subjects you want to cover and think of creative ways to cover them. Remember historical fiction, museum trips, good movies and people you meet can be great jumping off points for all kinds of topics.
So now do you feel like I did when I started, I still don’t know what to do on Monday? Relax, maybe it will come to you by Tuesday or Wednesday.