You've pulled your child out of public school, you've purchased a curriculum for hundreds of dollars, and you've hung a dry erase board on your dining room wall. You've filed all the necessary paperwork and even picked out a name. You're excited to do this school-at-home thing!
The first day went by great, and why shouldn't it? Your child was ecstatic to do school in his pajamas! She was so happy to not have to get up at 6:30 a.m. for the school bus. The second day went okay. By the time the fifth day rolled around, your child was fussing about something, you lost all the dry erase markers, and the cat puked up something indescribable on the new curriculum. You couldn't figure it out.
You had carefully planned out eight hours of instructional time. Sure, they ended the school day at five p.m., but they started at 10 a.m.! And would it be too much to ask if they'd sit at the dining table to do their school work? Is it asking too much for pants to be worn?
Whoa, there, Mama. The real reason your homeschool isn't working is this: comparison. You're comparing your homeschool to public school, or your homeschool of one week to the homeschool veteran of 23 years down the street. You know the one: you had talked with her on your daily break to get the mail. She had asked how it was going and you started sobbing about dry erase markers, cold coffee sitting in the microwave, the dining table looked like it had been ransacked by the entire dwarvan cast of "The Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit," and the week's worth of groceries was gone in 2-1/2 days.
Your homeschool is just that: your homeschool. It's not "school at home." Homeschool is supposed to encompass so much more than building volcanoes, diagramming sentences, or learning one-school philosophy, Socratic-method style.
You stopped reading at "diagramming sentences," didn't you? No, you don't have to teach diagramming sentences...unless you want to.
What works in my homeschool will not work in a homeschool thirty miles from me, or three blocks from me. What works in my homeschool is tailored for my almost-ten year old daughter. We don't teach from a full-box curriculum. It's patchworked-together based on her level and how much she wants (read: needs) to be challenged.
When you pull kids from public school and start homeschooling, you almost need to go through a period of de-schooling. This strategy is for both children and parents: unlearning what it means to "do school." Unlearning what that looks like. For example, instead of doing school sitting at the table, why can't you go to the couch to read about the Spanish-American War? Why can't you write your spelling words laying on the floor in front of the fire? Why must we be physically uncomfortable while learning?
Say you read a novel laying in bed. You enjoy it, don't you? You're warm, comfortable, and you're engaged in the book. Don't you want your kids associating warm, comfortable, engaging thoughts with learning? I know I do. Learning is not relegated to straight-back chairs and dry-erase boards (although I do have -- and use -- a dry erase board, and an old-school chalkboard). Using tools like boards and computers and YouTube on a screen is not a bad idea, and certainly doing schoolwork at a table has benefits too. We almost always do math at the table as we go over problems on the chalkboard. I'm just saying -- comparing your day or how you do homeschool to how it's done in public or private schools, or even other homeschools, robs your family of the joy of the homeschool experience.
How do you de-school? You have a conversation with each other about everyone's expectations are. What do you want your homeschool to look like? Do you want to homeschool in the morning or afternoon? Or throughout the day? Do you work outside the home, maybe switching shifts with your spouse? So maybe the kids split their academic time up. Do you homeschool and work in the home, as I do? So you trade off homeschool and work time in a delicate balancing act. There's no one right -- or wrong -- way to homeschool. You have to do what works for your family and not what the expectation of "school" means.
Listen: homeschool is as much a place of learning as public or private school. It's just a different style and place of learning. And no one has the right to tell you any different. Ultimately, these are your children; you are responsible before God and the State to take care of them, and if you have chosen homeschool as their academic path, well, Grandma and Aunt Millie and Uncle Bob and Brother Don and Sister Lucy have no say at all in the matter. Period. Bam.
It's totally up to you to decide what schedule fits best with your homeschool. In our house, homeschooling doesn't end at 2:30 p.m. In the morning, it's get up by nine, breakfast, meds, get at the dining table by 10 for prayer, Bible, spelling, and math. Then we have a 20-minute break. We grab the history and science books and go to the couch, and read a chapter. We talk about it. We may watch a YouTube video (I make a homeschool list of videos to watch the coming week) on the historical subject we're learning about, and we watch and talk about it together. We then read the chapter in science. A video may or may not be watched for science, too. Then, she goes back to the table to answer questions for history and science. Usually it's time to run errands or go to doctors appointments or clean the kitchen. Laura has chores every day to do: feed and water the cats, unload the dishwasher, pick up the living room, etc. She usually helps with meal prep for dinner. We're trying to get out of the habit of collapsing in a heap on the sofa after dinner to watch television, and instead reading, playing board games, or something as a family. Our homeschool rarely goes past 2 p.m. Our homeschool rarely goes over four hours (and that is totally okay).
(You want to know a secret? With behavior corrections, meetings, assemblies, lunches, specials, working with kids, managing parental communications, and dealing with administration -- a public school day never has eight complete hours of pure instructional time. Never).
The biggest reason your homeschool is not working is you're trying to replicate the public school experience you just pulled your child from. If that had worked, your child most likely would still be at that school. Listen: if your child was bullied, there are no bullies in your school. It's safe. If your child has special needs and the IEP or 504 plans weren't being followed, there are no IEP or 504 plans in your homeschool because homeschool by definition is all about individualized educational plans. Stop comparing and trying to replicate your school and make it into a school where your child will not just succeed, but excel.
If he is interested in trains, by all means let him learn all about trains. That encompasses reading, math, engineering, science, history--everything. If your daughter loves all things horses, then let her learn about horses. Again, reading, math, science, history, even physical education if you can find horseback riding lessons.
A word about reading: if you want to homeschool your pre-K or kindergarten-level child, please know that children are pushed into reading before they are ready, in public schools. It is very much okay if a five year old doesn't read well, doesn't write well, or shapes allude him. Buy some shape toys, colored toys, books, and simply get in the floor and play with her. Build things. Build a fort under the table and get under it with a flashlight and a stack of books, lay on your backs, and read to him. Playing and reading with and to your child will teach him more than worksheets ever will at that age.
Be encouraged, parents! You can do this! Extend grace to yourself, clean off the dining table, and start fresh and new, tomorrow morning. You can do it!
(C) 2020 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her youngest daughter. Married to her husband Greg, they have four children, all of whom have special needs of varying degrees. Terrie is a follower of Jesus Christ and tries to glorify God in all she does. To read more about her testimony, click here.
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