It’s so nice to be old.
I hardly remember when I was a fresh homeschool mom, and I am so glad that’s behind me, now.
My youngest children are so lucky. They don’t have to deal with a very stressed out, slightly obsessed with curriculum fairs and online homeschool resources mother.
They don’t have to deal with overscheduling and over doing it because back then I was stressed that I wasn’t doing enough.
And now, it’s fun. It’s relaxing. It’s pleasant.
Homeschool, by Mudspice (click the pic for her website)
And the older children are extremely thankful that I grew out of the frazzled stage.
I finally laughed at myself about ten years ago. I was being so ridiculous. I was a frantic, high strung educator.
Looking back, I can see how much I should have just relaxed.
So for the benefit of you moms out there who are homeschooling who sometimes wake up at 3 am in a panic wondering if you’re doing enough or if that math curriculum was worth it, or if your children will end up alright, I am going to share some of the things I’ve learned since letting go of the stress and worry and guilt that used to accompany me daily as I walked the homeschool walk.
Here are some things about homeschool that you may not hear often:
1. People who are pro-public school don’t have to be your enemies.
No, really. It helps when we are kind and understanding of others who see differently than we do. That really goes along way. And, people who don’t necessarily agree with you and think you have lost your mind can still be considered non-enemies if we are tactful and generous in our thoughts, words and actions.
Also, homeschooling does not necessarily have to take over your life as a quasi-religious-political belief system. It can actually be something you believe in without being fanatical about it.
2. More money spent does not equal a better education.
This is really a big problem in our society, even among homeschoolers. As a culture of consumers, we all have a tendency to believe that if there is a problem, throwing money at it will improve it.
Beyond the basic school supplies and a library full of good books, there is very little more needed for a world-class education.
For example, in the first 10 years of our children’s lives, the only textbooks really used are for mathematics, and that only after they turn 8.
By the time they are twelve, they are interested in devouring the best information on whatever subjects they have an interest, and that is when we purchase college level textbooks for them. Used. For a very low price.
We find our dictionaries, thesauruses, writer’s references and other reference books at thrift stores.
We have used our money to have a library in our home. Well, at this point, our library has taken over our home.
And even then, it’s a fraction of the cost of what I would have spent on curriculum resources and methods and ideas.
…Or A Successful Homeschool!
Basically, very little is needed to make a happy life, or a successful homeschool.
3. Your children are extremely capable of learning on their own.
Given the right tools, your children can learn on their own at a remarkable pace. I found early on that my children were dependent on me as much as I allowed them to be. Part of me enjoyed them being dependent on me, because I could “teach” them and “help” them and then I felt good about myself.
I realized after I had my third child and was pregnant with my fourth that this would not work. At some point, I realized that I was doing a huge disservice to my children by “helping” so much. I was completely holding them back and I was often wrong in my estimation of their abilities.
Once I stepped back, and after the months of whining because they missed being able to use me as a crutch, my children took hold of their own educations. The guilt I felt daily was gone and I was a much happier, better rested momma.
4. Your children are not going be able to compete at being socialized, so just don’t worry about it. When other people worry about it, feel free to tell them that you aren’t worried about it, so it’s okay.
I don’t know if anyone has noticed it, but our society is somewhat confused when it comes to being social.
Our society at this point is voyeuristic and a little stalkerish. Not only do we not hold anything sacred or believe in human exceptionalism, there is nothing private.
Everything is an open book, or a YouTube channel, or a post or a tweet. We don’t even stop to think if it’s a good idea or not first.
Privacy is a good thing. Some things are better left not known to the world–or even your 742 closest “friends” or “followers”.
Quiet contemplation is a good thing. It’s not the sign of being unsocialized.
I have noticed that homeschoolers tend to understand privacy and its value.
So, they seem “anti-social,” when really, it’s more like they subscribe to the antiquated notion of some sort of social etiquette.
No, they will be independent thinkers, careful with their thoughts and more likely to think before they post something on Facebook or Instagram.
They will get along with children younger than them, they will enjoy their siblings, and they will respect older people.
So, I guess they won’t be socialized, but they will be able to be social in real life.
They will probably not verbally use 1984 Newspeak (or toddler sounding) terms like “LOL” “BRB” “cray-cray” or “totes adorbs”.
Maybe they will, but they probably won’t if they are like most homeschoolers I know.
5. Don’t feel guilty when life interrupts your perfect homeschooling plans.
Storms Will Come.
When a crisis happens in your life, realize that homeschooling will look different. And, this is one of the best parts about homeschooling, anyway. When my daughter died, it was such a relief to be close to each other and not worry about school.
In the process, our children focused on the things that bring them the most peace. One child focused on math, others wrote books and essays, while others created artwork and read a lot. It was still school and they were still being educated, but it looked different.
And there were days when they weren’t learning academic skills, but they learned compassion and how to go through grief and how to love each other, which is just as important.
Life will happen. It will be alright.
So there you go. A few things I have learned. Hope it can help other homeschooling moms to realize it’s not a race to the top, or to college, or to anything, really…education is (or should be) a lifelong journey with no finish line.
It’s been a long time since I was where you are. Even then, 20 years ago, I was the oldest of ten and had been homeschooled, so it had always been part of my life. But, you, you are a pioneer.
You knew public school wasn’t right for your children. It may be right for some, but not yours. But now, you are wondering if you will be able to make it.
I noticed you at the homeschool support group, looking at a veteran homeschool mom and almost pleading with her to tell you what you should do–what curriculum for writing, how to get them to do physics by the time they are seven, what to do about extracurriculars…
Because you are excited, but I see the tremors. I see the scared woman in there wondering if she can do this.
Schools seem so official and home, well, home…isn’t.
And deep down, you know that home is a sanctuary and can never be so austere as a government building.
But you also know that while schools may seem official and authoritative–you just know–that home should be the most authoritative place on earth for the family.
And your choice to homeschool isn’t really about your philosophies or your political leanings. It’s about your family.
And you are trying to reassert your authority. And it’s scary.
You wish there was a way that you could leave it to someone more “qualified.” But, they have their hands tied. Tied to testing and racing and politics and heavy-handedness and corporations.
And, you, you’re just a mom who sacrificed her whole soul to bring these beautiful little people into the world.
And you miss them.
And you are missing their lives.
And you are tired of seeing them as they rush in the morning and as they come home late, tired and dreading more homework.
And you didn’t go through all of the pain of labor, adoption, IVF, trying to conceive, or the myriad of other battles we modern day women face to bring these beautiful creatures here, just to let a corporation teach them.
You didn’t bring them here to become a marketing demographic.
You just want something–different. More organic. More natural.You want to smell the earth after the rain with them and dig in the dirt and laugh and learn and love and grow and be.
You want to do it without the binding, suffocating schedule that dictates when your family can take a vacation or visit loved ones or just stay home and relax.
So, you have taken the leap. You are on your way, and you sometimes feel like you are falling and you can’t catch your breath.
You are exhausted because you have been up until 2 or 3 am night after night, searching for the elusive perfect curriculum. (It does not exist, by the way. I have been looking for 20 years, and there is no perfect curriculum. So, get some rest. You are not going to find it. You’ll just have to settle for regular, workable curriculum.)
You find yourself overcomplicating things because you are worried you will miss something.
But, if you listen to that same voice that directed you to homeschool in the first place, you may find yourself confident again, and the word “simplify” might come to mind.
Follow your instinct. If your child is under the age of eight, take time to soak in the world with her. Read to him. Teach her to read. Walk. Study together. Soak in the spirit of love and unity that comes from God.
Jake and his mom, Kristine Barnett, author of “The Spark”
“. . . if it came down to choosing between extra therapy and blowing dandelion fluff at each other in the backyard, we went with the dandelions every time. I truly believe that decision was a contributing factor in enabling Jake to rejoin the world . . . .” –Kristine Barnett
I have nearly 20 years of homeschooling experience, and the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to simplify.
Don’t sell out.
Remember what strokes of inspiration you had in the moments in the quiet with no one around about how you were going to homeschool?
Don’t give up on that.
No matter what anyone tells you, no matter how great such-and-such curriculum is, or no matter if all the homeschool ladies at the support group are doing it.
Do what your gut told you in the first place. There are many, many ways to an education. As many as there are people. Just because you are different doesn’t mean you are lacking in any way. Stick with inspiration and search out things that match your gut feelings for your kids. Don’t get distracted with all the other stuff.
Do not ever let anyone else make you feel inferior. Don’t ever let any curriculum make you feel inferior.
Don’t compare yourself to the homeschool mom of seven whose children are all college graduates at age 10. And starred on American Idol. And started a multi-million dollar business in their spare time. And yodel.
Don’t. Because it will make you miserable. The best thing about schooling at home is that it is unique to every family.
Everybody is a genius.
Your amazing job is to uncover the genius in each child. And you are the best person for the job. Who knows them better than you do?
You already have the most amazing tool you will ever need to be a successful teacher: love.
When we truly learn something, we are motivated by love. By passion. By desire to know.
You are love to your child.
You are passion.
You are everything to these little wonders.
You can do this, because they have you. You are everything to them. And if you remember that and stay true to that little spark of divinity in you telling you daily how best to coax their genius out of them, it will be enough.
There will be bad days. Fail days. It’s okay. Just keep trying.
Because, at the end of those days, they will be stronger and braver and better because you walked beside them on this journey.
And somewhere along the way, you will give them the tools and trust them to go further up and further in. And you will merely be an influence, like a warm, golden sun, or a soft, gentle breeze, gently echoing whispers of encouragement in their ears.
Sometimes your children will not know what “the other kids” know. Sometimes they will not “get it.” And that is okay. Let them go and fly and find their genius anyway.
Kristine Barnett can give you courage. When therapists told her that her autistic, non-verbal son would be lucky to ever be able to tie his shoes, when they told her he wouldn’t read, she took him out of school and coaxed his genius out of him. Jake, her son, is now known all over the world as the “child genius” who may someday win a Nobel Prize.
I wrote this book because I believe Jake’s story is emblematic for all children. Though his gifts are unique, his story highlights the possibilities we all have of realizing what is extraordinary in ourselves, and maybe even opens the door to the possibilities that “genius” might not be all that rare. I’m not suggesting every autistic child is a prodigy, or every typical child, for that matter. But if you fuel a child’s innate spark, it will always point the way to far greater heights than you could ever have imagined.
It’s hard to trust your child to find his or her own path, especially when we’re told everyday by professionals that children must fit into rigid boxes. We all want to give our kids the best opportunities we can, which is why it feels like such a disservice if we don’t push them in the “right” direction. Celebrating your children’s passions rather than re-directing them, especially when those passions don’t line up neatly with a checklist for future success, can feel like jumping off a cliff. But that leap of faith is necessary if your kids are going to fly.
One of my favorite women in the world is hosting a link up and I thought I would participate. Thanks, Tristan!
I am sure there thousands of you out there in the internet simply dying to know what works for the J&M Ranch homeschool.
Well, your wait is over! What better way to spend a Friday night than to read a slightly verbose description of my homeschooling week!
The four and six year old are not in a really structured format for school, yet. They love to have a worksheet or two each day to do to feel like “big kids.”
Worksheet Works has been a great resource for everything from pre-writing skills to memorizing multiplication tables. I especially like the worksheets on visualizing multiplication.
I really like the website because it has no ads. It isn’t overloaded, either. I don’t need three million choices–it wastes my time to have to sift through all of it. I can just go to what I need and click and be done.
The other children like to create their own crossword puzzles using our vocabulary words from Robinson Curriculum. I like that I don’t have to worry about them clicking on some sleazy advertisement.
I also like that it is free. That helps.
We Really Like Worksheet Works
This week in homeschool, yours truly reminded herself for millionth time that she really needed to relax. This is not a race, and we would not be winning if it were one. It’s more like…we fell into the rabbit hole and the world is our wonderland.
Race To The Top!!
If I try to make it a race, it’s more like the jolly caucus race than anything else.
It’s better if I realize that increasing knowledge is something we will do for an eternity, and if I take out the stressor of what the public or government or the lady across the street or the random stranger in the grocery store expects my children to know RIGHT NOW! because everyone else is RACING TO THE TOP!! (the top of what, I wonder?), then I am a lot less worried.
This week, we are focusing on consistency in the basics (reading, writing, and math), and exploring everything else in our “free time.” The basics don’t take very long and afterward, oh! the fun they are having learning and exploring and gazing into the eternity of knowledge that lies before them.
(But we are still crying about improper fractions over here. It was inevitable, I suppose.)
It can’t be helped. In an attempt to make it educational, we watched “Let It Go” in 25 languages. My children were enthralled and now have it memorized.
Does it sound impressive or weird if I tell you that they then looked up and learned the other songs from the movie in Norwegian, because that is the language that they would have spoken in real life?
We spent a lot of time on that this week.
My 15 year old has always wanted to swim with a dolphin. She did just that on Monday.
She was a Trainer for a Day at Discovery Cove where she fed sharks, otters and the dolphins, as well as an anteater and a marmoset. She saw the backstage areas of the park and absolutely fell in love with the dolphin trainer who showed her around.
Oh, and she learned.
Here she is getting a belly ride on a dolphin and racing with Gracie, one of the other people in her group (Gracie’s mom declared it a tie):
She got to do a foot push, where two dolphins push your feet so that you come up out of the water and you go all the way across the lagoon.
My girl is the last one on the right end without the vest.
We got to watch a baby dolphin being trained. It was AMAZING.
Obviously, it’s not every day a person gets to swim with dolphins, but I think the point is that homeschooling opens up doors for us to learn in ways that are very hands on and real–and very personal, every single day. No one else dictates how or where we learn.
It’s all up to us.
Gotta’ love it when it works!
That was today. Trauma.
It was our first official day back to school and before ten this morning I was made aware of the following:
- No one in this family knows how to say anything right. Because of this, no one in this family can truly understand any other person’s feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, tragic circumstances, etcetera.
- Everyone in this family feels that he or she is a complete failure and will never be able to learn anything and will be stupid forever and ever and ever. Also, it’s more than likely my fault because I did not teach them how to say anything right.
- I am not a “real” mom.
- I am not a very good teacher. The actual quote was, “You really don’t know that much about teaching, do you?”
- I am mean.
- I am not able to read people’s minds, a talent that makes me not a “good” teacher.
- I cannot understand “what it’s like” to hate math.
- Cheetos should not be kept in any location where a 2 year old, one year old, and 8 month old can reach them.
- Sour cream, when dropped on the floor from the counter without a lid, displays a trajectory that NASA should research.
- Sour cream feels somewhat gelatinous when it covers a person from head to toe.
- My fifteen year old has proven that it, indeed, can take 12 1/2 hours to finish one problem in a math lesson.
- Scripture study can actually be done completely devoid of anything resembling the spiritual or inspiring.
- Boys and men have hormones, too.
- Children also have hormones.
- When all the hormones get into one room to do school after a holiday, it can be explosive.
I just don’t understand how we could have gone from this at Christmas time:
Christmas: Happy, Sweet Children!
To this sassy, unruly, perhaps-they-belong-in-juvie-with-these-attitudes children:
By three o’clock, things were better, although while we were putting together an IKEA nightstand for my bedroom (which has been sadly lacking in nightstands for several months), my little ones decided to take the power drill in the other room and unscrew the electrical outlets while simultaneously trying to put together another piece of furniture to help me.
I also learned that the Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe is a keeper.
I have never been so happy to be done with a day in a long time, let me tell you.
It was truly a Jonah day, but here is my bright spot, written by the very daughter who took an oath upon her life that she would never talk to me ever again because I do not have the imagination to ever understand her, nor do I take anything she says into consideration.
Her essay on trees:
Trees. Talkative and good-natured, apparently.
Trees are beautiful plants. They are very talkative and good-natured….And they only show their true color in Autumn.
Lots of trees don’t mind if you climb them at all. And they are happy to tell you a lot of their ancient secrets, if you are willing to listen, and if you are their type. Which you most likely are. Also, trees have a lot of living inside them. And one way you can understand trees is to put your hand on their trunk. Well, thank you very much.
Deep, slow breaths and we’ll start again tomorrow.
Thank heaven’s it fresh with no mistakes in it!
By far the question most homeschooling moms ask me is:
How can I homeschool with babies and toddlers?
And, it’s a good question, because there are days when, to be honest, it seems like babies and toddlers have only one ambition:
Mass + Force + Velocity = Laughter
Yeah, they think it’s really funny when they can eject any kind of fluid like little human pressure hoses. It’s hilarious. Or, if they can throw things, like cereal or glass.
Ha, ha, ha!!!
“He Never Said It Would Be Easy…But He Did Say It Would Be Possible”…Elder Oaks, Worldwide Leadership Training
Anyway, it actually is possible to homeschool with babies and toddlers…even if you throw in your own morning sickness on top of all of it!
I hear you with baited breath waiting for the answer to this question that plagues all of you! I know, I know, you have already tried everything already written on blogs way more fancy and official and well-read and cooler than mine. Maybe it has worked, maybe it hasn’t. Maybe it is just that you are too tired to plan all your meals ahead and think of AMAZING! FUN! EXCITING! activities for your three year old.
If that’s where you’re at, then you may appreciate these tips:
#1 How Old Is Your Homeschooler?
I have gotten at least 3 million emails (well, maybe only about 27), wherein moms say, “I am at the end of my rope! I am exhausted, we aren’t getting our homeschool done, my toddler and my newborn are impossible to take care of while I’m trying to do science experiments and geography lessons. I really feel like my oldest is suffering!”
Then, upon further investigation, I find out the oldest is six.
If your oldest is under the age of eight, very little is needed for homeschooling.
I promise. I pinky promise.
I remember when my now sixteen year old son was was eight years old and still not really reading. I was so horrified of him ever being asked to read in public. I stayed up late at night worrying. I cried. I wondered what I was doing wrong as I looked at my lesson plans for Latin being pushed aside for yet another frustrating day of not getting through “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Mockingly Easy Lessons.”
My Sixteen Year Old On the Left: He Now Reads Circles Around Me, And Most College Graduates
He is sixteen now. He reads junior college level textbooks for fun. Sometimes even higher level–for fun. He philosophizes about historical data and I can’t keep up with all the books he has read. For fun, he took the ACT. In logic and reasoning, he scored a 32. Without evening trying. Without studying. Without ever having taken a standardized test before in his life. He just woke up one day and took it.
I look back now and wish I hadn’t wasted all that time being worried.
If your child is under the age of eight, he or she needs:
- To be taught to read
- To learn to write
- To learn basic math (I mean, you can teach this with a piece of paper, a pencil and some Legos.)
- To be read aloud to in whatever subjects you were so gung ho about spending a lot of time teaching him (for example, read aloud about ancient world history, read aloud in spanish or latin, read aloud about mathematic, etcetera.)
- To be loved, cuddled, and loved some more
- To be taught to do family work and learn parenting skills like caring for a little one
If you feel like that’s not enough, add flashcards. Really. It’s enough. Then, if you have free time, like if by some miracle of Kind Heaven the toddler AND the infant are both sleeping at the same time, do the science experiment or study the globe FOR FUN.
Get it? It can be just fun. Not a curriculum. Not a structure. Just accidental fun. In your free time. After “school.” Do you see how that works?
Whenever you have time to fill them up–maybe on a holiday weekend in some random September?
Okay, so you see where I am going with this–it’s okay to loosen the structure and content a little here. Don’t overdo it. Trust me. More and sooner is definitely not better in this instance.
Except for the reading aloud. Always try to find time to read aloud. It’s magical.
#2 Baby Proof Your Home Periodically
Yes, you thought it was baby proofed, but you have to revisit that every few weeks, you know. Who left the miniature china tea set where the two year old could get it? No one seems to know, but now instead of a 10 piece, it’s a 453 piece set.
Use a baby play yard. I don’t mind using them to keep my fifteen month old occupied in a safe space for 20 minutes while I try to get a few things done without worrying about him flushing apple cores down the toilet. Sometimes it’s better to have them safe in there than wandering around out there. Especially if you are on the couch lying sideways because if you move even 1/4 of an inch, your morning sickness will take over your life.
#3 Bento Boxes and Other Fun Stuff May Need To Wait
Maybe Someday, But Not Today–Okay, Let’s Be Honest–That Will Never Be Me. I Am Just Not That Talented.
In other words, simplify. Paper plates are your friend.
Also, it can be fun to have the children with you while you prepare food. My two and a half year old and one and a half year old always pull up a chair when things start to sizzle in the kitchen, and I basically feed them “hors d’oeuvres” while I cook. (Pickles, apples, whatever’s in the fridge…) They are hungry, and they don’t want to wait for whatever I’m cooking that has too much flavor for them to enjoy anyway. (They still can’t appreciate Thai Curried Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles. What’s wrong with them? They are so not foodies.)
Sometimes I give them some cooked cut up chicken before I “ruin” it by making it into Chicken Tikka Masala. Toddlers and littles really like less flavor. They just don’t know what they are missing. And they don’t want to know. Not yet.
During this time, my older children who still need a little direction from mom with staying on task with their learning can sit at the kitchen table. Thus, everyone is occupied. If the baby is up, hopefully she is happy in the bouncy seat.
(Google “healthy homeschool lunches” and you can come up with some pretty great ideas!)
#4 Make Your Curriculum Do Its Job
I was reading this scholarly article for first year teachers written by experts and it said this about curriculum:
Half a century ago Bruner (1960) wrote, “Many curricula are originally planned with a guiding idea . . . But as curricula are actually executed, as they grow and change, they often lose their original form and suffer a relapse into a certain shapelessness”
That Bruner! What a genius! Did it really take a study to figure that one out?
I also relapse into a certain shapelessness after toddlers/infants/morning sickness/pregnancy and homeschool. But, I digress.
Think about all you have invested into this curriculum. You have really given it your all. You have researched. Prayed. Poured over books, studies, research. You have paid money. You have sacrificed a lot already. You have invested in it.
Don’t you dare do all the work, now.
Let the curriculum do its job. It is supposed to work with your child. You are the wise guide in the background.
Sometimes you need to give a little extra help. Most of the time, you should be able to be near, but not right next to, the student. You are mimicking the Master Teacher, whose Presence is often felt but never overbearing.
He doesn’t do our learning for us, He doesn’t pound it into our heads.
He teaches using stories and example, He gives us the textbook and access to the answer key, and then He steps back and lets us learn for ourselves. Sometimes He lets us struggle, so we can learn something about ourselves–so we can realize we can do it.
But He is always available.
Your curriculum should be such that the student can learn with very little interference from you. Notice I used the word interference, not influence. Your influence is needed and required. Your interference, not so much.
Influence can be felt while you are changing a diaper, nursing a baby, or cleaning an overflowing dishwasher full of liquid soap suds (from when the kids were helping with the dishes!). It’s something moms are actually naturally very good at, you know.
Let your curriculum work for you. If it doesn’t or won’t, then you don’t have a good curriculum. A good curriculum will be what your child needs to learn–a bad curriculum requires mom to do this, mom to do that, mom to prepare every night for an hour. Nope. That’s not teaching.
That’s busy work.
And moms are already busy.
Students aren’t as busy as moms. Let them do the busy work. Let them find 16 pinecones and some dryer lint for something the curriculum is saying. You don’t have to do that.
Let the child learn! Stay out of his way! Go play with your babies and be the influence. If the babies are sleeping, read a book!
#5 Don’t Forget To Dance In the Rain
I love homeschooling and I love having lots of toddlers and babies around. I remember when my daughter, Joy, was two. I kept getting the feeling that I needed to quit being so involved in homeschooling.
I am not that kind of person, to just take oodles of time off of Being The Teacher.
But, my instinct said to do it. So, I did.
For months. I started to get nervous. Through the late winter and into spring and on into summer, I quit trying to “get the toddlers busy” so I could take care of homeschooling the older kids. Sure, the kids were reading and getting some math done, but we were doing an awful lot of playing and frolicking and shenanigans.
It felt like way too much fun for learning to be happening.
I was feeling like an epic homeschool failure.
The children were doing math on their own, and reading things like “Ben-Hur” and “Oliver Twist,” and none of them were even twelve. They were writing poetry and short stories and essays. They were practicing piano. Learning was happening. I was just too uptight and too set in my ways to see it.
l felt bad that I was following my instinct and listening to this voice that was saying to slow down and not be so teacher-y and busy and hover-y.
But I kept listening and doing shenanigans and playing and pretending and not being so bossy and worried and overbearing.
Rain in Our Valley
One day, in the spring, after months of winter, it rained. It was the first time it had rained in months and months.
The sound on the tin roof was magic. And the smell! It was heavenly!
We all jumped up from what we were doing and we ran outside, laughing.
Joy was laughing and dancing and singing and we ran around in happy reverence at the miracle of the first rain of spring.
I’ll never forget that.
And when she went back to heaven a few months later, I didn’t think, “Wow, I wish I would have done more math worksheets,” or “Gosh, I wish there had been a way to keep her out of the way more so I could do school with the older kids.”
And my children are no less educated now because we stopped to enjoy the miracles.
They are no less educated now because I learned that the toddlers were God’s way of telling me to interfere less and influence more.
I thank my lucky stars that I remembered to dance in the rain.
And I will always be so absolutely full of gratitude that we were homeschooling that year, because we got to spend every minute with her…and we got to do it our way…and life was sweet and we could hear God.
I guess that’s the biggest tip I can give you if you are a homeschooler with little children and trying to make it all work–always make sure you can hear God and then listen to what He says.
And if you can and do, you will be able to dance in the rain and teach your children and His grace will be sufficient for whatever you feel you might miss!
Back in the olden days when I was a homeschool student, one of the most common fears society used to prey on homeschooling parents was that they weren’t qualified to be good enough teachers to their children.
Oh, and of course, the children wouldn’t know how to function in society.
(Thank you, mom, for being brave enough to stand up to the fear. I will forever be indebted to you for that courage.)
Thousands of students later, homeschool has literally blown away the competition. Our teachers are phenomenal. Outstanding. Incredible. Miracle workers.
Or are we?
In spite of all we have accomplished collectively, as individual homeschooling parents, we still feel, well–inadequate. Not quite up to par. I think this is partly because we seem to think that if our child has not discovered a new scientific element by the time he is nine and our homeschool room does not rival the best Pinterest board, we must be doing something wrong.
This Is Not Necessary To Be A Good Teacher
We seem to believe that if we have bad days and our children aren’t all SUPER HAPPY! and we aren’t EXCITED! and we aren’t spending the day making homemade pinatas and dioramas of ancient Rome then we are bad teachers.
Not so, my friends.
I have been homeschooling for almost 20 years, and can I just tell you–chances are, you are remarkable.
You are a wonderful teacher.
Except for when you are wasting time and resources thinking you aren’t.
Why? Because even professional, scholarly, super impressive studies have shown that all great teachers have a few attributes in common: a great teacher respects her students, creates a sense of belonging in her classroom, and is caring.
No Pinatas Mentioned in Any DoE Commissioned Studies
Never, in any study, were piñatas mentioned.
Guess what? That’s you.
No matter if you can make a scale model of Paris during World War II or not. Even if you are not a “hugger.” Even if you don’t have homeschool co-ops in your backyard.
You want to homeschool, for whatever reason. You are passionate about how much you love your child, and you care.
This already makes you a phenomenal teacher, because most children need this alone to find the drive inside of them that helps them to learn and grow.
So, what about the rest? What else do you need?
The secret to being a great homeschool teacher is not more time, more energy, more lapbooks, more unit studies, more materials, more….whatever it is you think you are lacking.
The secret isn’t more you, either. There is only so much of you, by the way. And you need to have some time to yourself. And not to do a DIY project for the house, or something to help someone else. You just need time to meditate. Read a book. Say a prayer. Sleep. Listen to the sound of your own breathing, for heaven’s sake! So, more of you is not what they need.
Not Needed On A Weekly Basis To Be A Good Teacher
No, what it takes to be a great teacher is something that probably eludes most moms who are homeschooling.
That is less of you.
Yes. You heard me. You are giving them too much of you. You and all your workbooks and handouts and curriculum add ons and activities….and your helping and coaching and…helping.
That’s where you are usually running into problems. That’s usually where the meltdowns and the tears and the burnout and the lonely, why-am-I-doing-this days are coming from.
That’s where the I-am-not-kidding-we-are-so-putting-them-back-in-school-tomorrow days are coming from.
That’s where the mom-is-driving-us-crazy days are coming from.
It’s too much mom and not enough learning.
Because you can’t learn for them.
That’s not teaching.
Oh, that’s what Pinterest and marketing people want you to think. They want you to think that that it is completely up to you to pour this wonderful knowledge in their heads. In fact, I actually found this in an article on a website for professional teachers written by a teaching expert:
Every problem that happens in my classroom is my fault.
That’s what the Department of Education wants you to think and the people who get lots of money from education want you to believe. Because, my, my, my, we have created quite a behemoth–a monstrosity–of epic money sucking proportions out of educating a person these days.
It simply must be difficult. Or else how can we justify the millions of dollars we are spending?
But, in reality, it just doesn’t work that way.
Children learn best when we get out of the way.
Watch any toddler. You see them struggling to take that first step, or to keep walking. They are tottering, about to fall. If you reached out and grabbed them every time they face planted, they would never learn to walk. And there are tears. Some are real. Some are crocodile in nature. But they are all intense and loud and energetic.
We have walked with them, held their hands and we have shown them the way. And then we, as wise parents, let them fall. Even when they cry. Even when they get a bruise. And we let them learn to walk. And then watch them as they run free and far.
How come we can’t see that when we are teaching our children other things?
The most important thing we can do as teachers, we are already doing and doing well!
- Provide for basic needs
- Teach them to read and write and basic math
- Provide love, encouragement and an environment conducive to learning
- Provide educational materials
That is really all a student needs.
Very rarely, they may need a nudge in the right direction on where to find the answers to a problem, but that is all.
Since I began my journey in allowing my children to learn for themselves nearly ten years ago, I can count on two hands the number of times I have actually helped them solve a math problem (or any other problem for that matter).
So, the key to knowing if you are a good teacher is to look and see that you are already a really good teacher: you care and you are passionate and you are providing a learning environment.
The key to being a great teacher is to let go and get out of the way and let your child take responsibility for his or her education.
When you finally do this, you will be able to do all the things you want to do as a homeschooling mother and a wife, and you will be a great teacher, because you will respect your students enough to allow them to fall and rise again, and claim the victory for themselves.
And, when that happens, guess what? You actually find that you have more time for the piñatas and the dioramas and all the fun stuff that you were trying to do as part of school. That’s the part that comes after “school” time is over. While the children are self-teaching, you have time to organize the beautiful “morning board” and create a fun lapbook as part of a fun “reward” for a job well done…or plan a unit study and you are not exhausted and staying up til 2 am and IT’S FUN AGAIN!
Here are some great resources which lead to more self-learning:
The Independent Learner (by Dr. Art Robinson. You DO NOT have to use Robinson Curriculum to apply his ideas for self-teaching. I put them here as a resource because I think he has best articulated the idea of self-teaching. It can be applied to any really well-written curriculum.)
Jeannie Fulbright on Self Learning (These are her posts on self learning, which I think are very, very helpful to people who have not heard of this before, although I prefer Dr. Robinson.)
BYU Learning Model (in which students self-teach and then apply what they learn when they come together in class)
Flipping the Classroom (this applies mostly to older learners in group situations, but it helps foster the idea that students should take more responsibility for their own learning)
Come, Follow Me (the new LDS curriculum for youth that is based on the same model as BYU Idaho which involves flipping the classroom.)
Top 20 Benefits of Self-Learning from URTheMom.com
I grew up a homeschooler when homeschooling was still kind of a fringe type of thing. These days, most people have heard of homeschooling, and they even admit that homeschooling is a way to receive an excellent education.
While it can still be a hard decision to homeschool if it goes counterculture to friends and family, today’s homeschool family can find lots of support, sociality and an array of curricula and resources that are virtually unlimited. Even in small rural communities, homeschool groups blossom and thrive.
It’s kind of nice.
Heisman Trophy Homeschooler
We have homeschoolers who have excelled in every conceivable area of academia, who have graduated Harvard at the age of 11, who have won the Heisman Trophy…we have pretty much proven that homeschooling can produce great results.
Homeschooling Gold Medalist
We have studies! We have thousands upon thousands of homeschool graduates who have been successful and done amazing things and are well adjusted adults who have happy families and successful careers–you would think all of us who are choosing homeschool now would be perfectly confident and at ease with ourselves.
But we aren’t.
I get lots of emails from moms who are homeschooling who feel like they are failing.
This fear of failure is palpable when I am perusing homeschool groups to which I belong. It looms in the background of homeschooling blogs I read. And this fear along with the guilt put upon homeschooling mothers and families can be paralyzing. This fear then leads to massive consumerism and endless discontent.
I would guess that at least 90% of homeschooling parents are afraid that they aren’t doing enough or that they are in some way failing their children on some level, when the truth is, you are doing an incredible job. Yet, you still feel like you need to read and re-read the countless articles, books, and newsletters and attend the hundreds of seminars, webinars and courses on how to succeed at homeschool, and you are all still worried. So, I am going to tell you how you can fail. Maybe it will help. Maybe then, you can just check off that you are not doing the fail thing and go on your way and breathe a sigh of relief and relax.
#1 Constantly Worry That You Are Failing As A Homeschooling Teacher
This is probably the number one mistake that homeschooling parents make. I think I may know why. I did a quick Google image search for “homeschool,” and apparently, this is what it is supposed to look like:
Mom Right Beside My Shoulder Dressed Like An Attorney
A Typical Homeschooling Family?
Homeschooling in America?
If you are always taking your temperature as a homeschool teacher, you will never realize how well you are doing, and you will never have time to see how well your children are doing. You will be a mess inside. Your children will feel it.
Sure, you will have some good days, when you look like the photos above. But that can only last for a day or two (in my case, it can last for approximately 10 minutes). Because those photos are from photo shoots.
This is what homeschool really looks like:
Real Life Homeschooling: Sometimes It Looks Like This!
A Typical Homeschool Day…From Growing Home
Real Life Homeschooling
A Typical Homeschool Family Day
So, anyway, if you are offering a loving, nurturing environment, where all the basic needs are met then good on ya’. That’s all they need to become a prodigy.
If you offer them an environment that is conducive to study and filled with books and you teach them to read, then you have given them everything they need to succeed at learning. Good job, homeschooling parent.
Everything else is a bonus. Extraneous. Not necessary. Frills. Strings. Nonessential.
Okay, so to sum up. This is what you need so you don’t fail as a teacher:
- Loving, safe environment conducive to learning
- Basic needs met
- Teach them to read
THAT’S IT! Moving on…
#2 Constantly Worry About Curriculum
Sweet merciful heavens!
Worrying about curriculum is like a part-time job for many homeschooling moms. They wander the internet like lost souls, constantly looking for the perfect curriculum. They read testimonials from other mothers who have tried THE PERFECT CURRICULUM, never realizing that the testimonial was written merely one week into trying it.
(Ask me how I know this.)
Here is something every homeschool parent needs to know: every curriculum package is pretty amazing the first week or two.
The best way to really understand if a curriculum works is to talk to someone who has used the curriculum through graduation–that is a sign that it works. It doesn’t matter how great it sounds to all the ladies in playgroup. They don’t know what the after effects are down the road.
If there isn’t someone you can talk to who has actually graduated someone from the curriculum into a successful life, then the curriculum isn’t proven.
(Unless your goal for a homeschool curriculum does not include a successful life.)
Once you have found that there are people who have successfully graduated real children into the real world with a curriculum and it has worked and you decide on it, then stick with it.
Quit looking for the elusive perfect curriculum.
It doesn’t exist.
I will give you a hint if your curriculum isn’t working. Usually, it’s because there is not self-learning going on and mother is trying to pour knowledge into her children and is trying to “get” them to learn and the curriculum is demanding too much from the teacher and not enough from the student. I like what Dr. Robinson wrote about this:
…will the homeschool movement realize that learning is an individual activity that, at least until the age of 18 requires very little intervention? The academic growth of a student is not a toy for parental self-satisfaction. It is a completely personal activity that takes place between the student and the books. Parents need only to provide their children with high-quality educational materials, a good study environment, and excellent study habits. Anything or anyone who gets between the student and the books diminishes this activity…
So, in order not to fail in this area:
- Spend NO MORE THAN two weeks researching curricula to insure they are legitimate and proven
- Decide on a curriculum that works with your personality, number of children, and personal life circumstances
- Quit looking
- If it doesn’t work after two months, try again employing more self-learning. You only get two chances to change curriculum.
- If things get rough, DON’T LOOK FOR ANOTHER CURRICULUM. That means you. Don’t look. Stop. Don’t you dare get on Pinterest. Don’t pick up that catalog. Don’t. Work with what you have. Make it work. You can do it. You can. QUIT LOOKING.
(Okay, you can look again if it really doesn’t work. But don’t make looking for curriculum something you do on a regular basis!)
#3 Constantly negate the importance of your role and your time.
There is something that happens to a homeschooling parent that doesn’t happen to a teacher. People think you aren’t busy for some reason. Sure, they say things like,
Oh, you homeschool? I could never do that! You must be so patient! You must be so organized! How do you do all that?”
But two days later they are calling to ask you to head up the ladies book club, or would you mind watching someone’s children, or can you organize the neighborhood rodeo this year, because, well, you’re home.
I think it’s a compliment. Obviously, they like you and think you are kind, but one of the fastest ways to fail at homeschool is to open up the door and say “YES” to everyone. To sum up, here are things in order of priority:
- Your sanity, personal balance and marriage relationship (Date once a week, alone time once a week, sleep at a decent hour)
- Family life and homeschooling come second (schooling in the mornings, wholesome recreation, chores, etcetera)
- Everything else (not much time left for this)
If it helps, don’t answer the phone during school hours.
Don’t answer the door.
Don’t do play time during school time.
Don’t schedule extracurriculars during school time. It will mess everything up. Keep it simple and keep it at home. The younger they are, the less you should leave home. Littles like consistency and sameness. Some days it might seem boring to you. That’s okay.
Another thing that will lead to failure is not realizing that mom is the key to making the whole homeschool thing work.
If she isn’t happy, it won’t work. (This is really the biggest role homeschool dads play in homeschooling, I think. Just making mom happy and confident.)
So she needs time alone to balance herself out at least once a week for a few hours.
Also, because mom is a full time teacher, she doesn’t need to be a full time maid service, so everyone in the family needs to pitch in and help to clean. So to sum up, in order NOT to fail:
- Prioritize your time
- Keep it simple
- Give mom time alone at least 3 hours per week
- Realize that cleaning is not mom’s job
#4 Constantly Confuse Being Busy With Being Important
Okay, well, there really isn’t much more to say on that.
So, in order not to fail, realize that quiet time is necessary. Hurry is the scourge of America, as William George Jordan so eloquently put it.
Hurry always implies lack of definite method, confusion, impatience of slow growth. The Tower of Babel, the world’s first skyscraper, was a failure because of hurry. The workers mistook their arrogant ambition for inspiration. They had too many builders, — and no architect. They thought to make up the lack of a head by a superfluity of hands. This is a characteristic of Hurry. It seeks ever to make energy a substitute for a clearly defined plan, — the result is ever as hopeless as trying to transform a hobby-horse into a real steed by brisk riding.
Hurry always pays the highest price for everything, and, usually the goods are not delivered.
A great way to fail in homeschool is to be so concerned about “success” that we try to hurry our children into “being smart”…we make our children and ourselves too busy with workbooks, extracurricular activities and so very many courses, that we try to transform a hobby-horse into a steed by brisk riding.
It’s tempting because here we have government leaders trying to “Race to the Top” and all of this other nonsense, and learning is a lot like growing something–you can’t make something grow faster than it will grow. You coax it and give it good soil, water and sunlight and then…you wait. And you trust in the Master Gardener and in the potential of the seed to transform itself.
As a mortal gardener, you can’t MAKE the seed become an oak tree or a watermelon, and you certainly can’t arbitrarily decide on a timeline for it to happen. It happens when it happens and you absolutely cannot hurry it.
It’s a great way to kill a plant–to try and force it to grow.
So, to sum up, in order not to fail in this aspect:
#5 Constantly forget that school is in your home
Another way to insure homeschool failure is to forget that you are doing full-time learning in your living space. Adding more stuff to an already very busy homeschool can lead to chaos and irritability. Also, making sure that no one really cleans up the mess is another way to add to the already icky feeling.
For school and home to happily coexist, less is more. Except in the instance of books. More books of good quality are always a plus.
Another good way to encourage homeschool failure is to allow television, movies, video gaming, and throw in junk food and sugar into the mix. This will lead to a very frazzled homeschool day.
So, to sum up. In order not to fail in this area:
- Get rid of the sugar and the corn syrup and the processed food
- Get rid of media during the week
- Get rid of stuff
- Have lots of good books
- Have the children work together to keep the house clean (with mom assisting the littler ones in their chores)
So, there you go. Five ways you can fail at homeschool (ask me how I know!), and five ways to succeed. I am guessing that you, like most other homeschoolers, are doing a pretty great job already and hopefully you can now realize that you don’t really need to worry so much! It’s not as scary and complicated as you might think. You really can succeed!
I will let you in on a little secret regarding getting your child into college.
It’s not that hard.
And here is another secret, one that is slowly but surely being brought to the attention of the general public:
Paying more for a “prestigious” education is, for most people, not worth it.
My husband, who helps run an IT staffing consulting firm, will tell you. About 10 years ago, the majority of applications he saw from near graduating college students were in business or technology. In the past five years, however, that has changed dramatically.
Microbiology. Engineering. Chemistry. Public Relations. The list goes on and on. These are students from a highly rated university.
These are 3.85 to 4.0 majors, too. Our daughter’s friends have had the same problem. She is almost done with her bachelor’s in nursing, meanwhile her other friends who received degrees in other disciplines have been working in restaurants, construction and retail.
I don’t think I am reporting any breaking news, though. I think most of us are aware of what is happening.
Still, however, I see many, many homeschooling moms living in constant fear of whether or not their homeschooled child will be able to get into a good college. None of the moms seem too worried about whether or not their children will do well once accepted–they just worry about getting admitted.
Having had experience with two homeschoolers who are almost finished with college, I will tell you something that should help you feel better.
The secret to getting into a good college is a good ACT/SAT score.
If you don’t have that, the alternative way is to start taking community college classes, do well, and then transfer.
If you don’t have that, you can get on the job experience and work your way up.
I use a curriculum that focuses heavily on preparing students for the ACT/SAT, so I don’t have to spend my time trying to figure out how to prepare them myself. What a relief not to have to sift through curriculum catalogs, pay for testing tutors, or spend my precious time with my children worrying.
So, Robinson Curriculum comes through with shining colors if you are worried about getting your child into college.
But, that’s not what I am mainly concerned with as a homeschooling parent.
I want my children to be educated.
I want my children to have a love for increasing their knowledge and wisdom.
I want my children to understand not only how to take a test, but to live life in such a way that the world is lighter and better and safer and more beautiful because of their presence in it.
I want them to have these feelings and characteristics spring out of their own hearts and be part of who they are–not something they do because I am making them or bugging them or nagging them.
To Love A Good Book…
I want them to love good books, to see the divine in the natural world around them, and to be spiritually connected.
How has Robinson Curriculum done with that? Can any curriculum actually manage that task?
I have been using this curriculum for almost a decade, and I have worked very hard to follow Dr. Robinson’s experiment as closely as possible.
We have, for the most part, nixed sugar in our home.
We have worked together with our children to help them be part of the choice of rejecting the siren song of video gaming and television.
We have not allowed our little ones to get on the computer, even when things are “educational.”
We have restricted the use of electronic devices (including e-Readers), until they are closer to the age of understanding computers that Dr. Robinson recommends (he recommends 16, we start around 14). In that vein, I find it humorous to notice that I end up buying paper books because the majority of my children find the e-Reader annoying for some reason.
I wonder if they know something intuitively that we adults don’t. We seem to love convenience and free stuff far too much.
“Oh, the e-Reader has a built in dictionary that will tell you what words mean without you having to look it up.”
How is that a plus for a student who is learning? There is something very virtuous and good about getting up, going to the bookshelf, pulling out the dictionary and “looking it up.”
We have done our best to let the children learn by themselves without interfering in their learning process.
We have stuck hard and fast to Saxon math even though there have been many, many times that I have been tempted to go with something easier.
What are the results?
Well, I will tell you what happened when, about a month ago, I came down with the ear infection that turned into spinal meningitis and a serious brain infection that nearly killed me.
I will tell you that during this time, my children have absolutely proven that this curriculum has delivered in every aspect.
My children have done their studies consistently, daily (even on Saturdays), and the older children have gently reminded the younger ones to do their studying. The older children have continued where I left off teaching our Abby how to read. They have helped edit each other’s writing assignments, and they have encouraged each other.
They have cleaned up after themselves, made dinners, lunches, and breakfasts, changed diapers, taken on responsibilities and divided them up in a manner that is mutually agreeable to everyone, and have read their scriptures and said their prayers daily.
They have had little to no bickering, they have allowed their father to work from home and visit me, and now that I am home recovering, have let him take the time to continue nursing me back to health.
Meanwhile from my room, I hear them voluntarily practicing the cello, violin and piano, reading aloud to each other and playing pretend.
I hear them remarking that someone is a “vagabond” and how my daughter tends to enjoy feeling like she is has an “august presence” when entering the room in their daily conversations–even the five year old uses the vocabulary words in her usual speech, because my older children do.
I have often wondered if the Robinson Curriculum is too demanding–the no sugar thing, the rules regarding electronics, and the overall philosophy of not interfering, even when it is difficult for the child to grasp some concept.
I don’t wonder anymore.
If anything, I have looked at this little experiment and cannot help but compare it to my own life and my relationship with the Master Teacher. He has rules–some of them seem quite stifling and unreasonable. He gives me hard things to accomplish, and sometimes, I feel like He isn’t helping me enough. In my foolishness, I cannot see that He is allowing me to gain the victory for my own and that helping would not really help. And, His love is always near to encourage me.
He often seems to make sure that things are inconvenient for me. Whenever He prompts me to help others, it seems to be at the most inopportune times. But, He is a Master Teacher and knows that it is important in my character building to do things that are inconvenient out of no other motivation that because it is right. The only way I can learn that is to do it.
To be honest, I think most curricula will work to educate children as long as the principles that Dr. Robinson espouses are applied. These are just good, solid true principles of character and virtue that, unfortunately, are a mystery to most parents. Even good ones.
It is far too easy for even good parents to get caught up in the zeitgeist of our permissive, all-for-convenience, instant gratification, how-much-can-I- get-for-how-little society.
I think Dr. Robinson’s curriculum helped me to stay on track of the culture of greatness, while at the same time, allowing me to spend more of my resources on being a great mother because he already gathered the needed resources for my children to “get into college.” I guess I just needed the extra reminders and the example of how to apply it that his curriculum gave me.
Of course, we are not perfect. My children are far from perfect. We all have our moments. But we are on the right path, and they have been educated in the culture of great books, beautiful, beautiful words, hard work, service and love. We are, at the very least, on our way to something amazing.
Even Our Littlest Ones Would Rather Read…
I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give. -Thomas Jefferson
My daughter was in a great groove with math (something with which we have always struggled), and I was so excited until the day she started the chapter on multiplying three digits by three digits.
It was just beyond her. She just could not keep everything straight and constantly got herself mixed up in the middle of it.
That’s when the crying started again. And, I had foolishly hoped that it was finally behind us–the crying, the sobbing, the hours of saying “I can’t do this!”
I looked at the instructions, and realized that while Mr. Saxon was kindly trying to teach students some really great shortcuts, all it was serving to do for my daughter was to confuse and vex her.
So I took a deep breath and said a little prayer that I would know how to proceed.
And it actually came to me! I needed to color coordinate! I think it took so long to figure out how to help her because I would not have thought of it myself. But, here is what I did.
I used one colored pencil for multliplying the ones column, a different color for tens, and a third color for threes. In this way she didn’t lose track of what she was doing:
Color Coordinate Place Values
It really works for her, and I think it might also work for other kids when they first encounter this concept to help them understand that we are multiplying different place columns each time.