This is our 5th year homeschooling. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m now considered “experienced”. New homeschoolers will often eagerly ask my advice when I first meet them. Of course, many of them don’t seem to like what I have to say. 🙂 We use a rather unstructured, almost unschooling approach which I think freaks some people out. But whether you are more structured or more free-form in your approach, I have learned a few things during the last five years which I think are probably helpful for most homeschoolers to keep in mind. So here’s my list of some of the things I’ve learned so far:
1. You have more time than you think. It’s a long way from 8 or 11 or even 14 to 18 years old. In the past I have been prone to thinking that whatever the challenges we were facing were a sign that all hope was lost. Now I’ve learned to remember that we have time to work things out. My 8 year old doesn’t really like to read, but we’ve got another 10 years of schooling to work it out and 10 years is a long time.
2. If you can have your kids work a year or two ahead of grade level in the most important subjects, it really takes a lot of pressure off. Obviously, some kids struggle just to work at grade level, but because our school systems generally expect so little of kids, many children are able to work ahead. I’ve been able to do this largely by deliberately giving my kids materials ahead of grade level and filling in any blanks from skipping ahead in for them as we go. The advantage of working above grade level is that if things get crazy and you can’t “do school” as often as you’d like, you can always tell yourself, “if we do nothing else for another year, we’ll still be ahead.”
3. Often it’s better to do a little bit of work frequently than it is to do a lot of work occasionally. I tend to like to do things in large chunks. It’s more satisfying to me and then I don’t have to do them as often. However, I have found that it’s easier on my kids to do things frequently in small chunks. So now instead of doing an hour and a half of math once or twice a week, we’re doing about a half an hour of math 3 or 4 times a week. Again, it just seems to make it easier.
4. It’s generally better to teach a child facts first and then get into the how’s and why’s later on. For example, I used to be a fan of making sure a kid understood math conceptually. I would help my son wind his way through math as a puzzle to be solved. Now I think it’s better just to teach the facts, make sure they can remember them quickly and know how to perform the various functions. Once they don’t have to struggle just to figure out every answer, the mysteries of how’s and why’s begin to unfold naturally for the child. I am still not a fan of a lot of rote learning in other subjects, but I am now more careful not to get deeper into a subject than a child is able to go. Knowledge first, analysis later.
5. Keep track of the learning your children do throughout the course of a normal day. One of the earliest post I wrote was titled “Mostly I Just Get To Play A Lot” which included a mental rundown of all the learning activities which went on during a day when my son would have said we didn’t do school. Remember, the world is a big place with lots of room to learn without a book or worksheet. Don’t discount those course of the day learning experiences. Taking the time to make a note of this learning can make you feel more at ease with how their schooling is progressing.
6. If you want to use curriculum that’s fine, but don’t feel that you need to. You also shouldn’t think that you need to spend much money. There are many wonderful free resources out there. Those cheap grade level workbooks they sell at Walmart are usually adequate as a skeleton curriculum for kindergarten through 2nd or 3rd grade. Many people sell used books in lots on ebay for very reasonable prices (just make sure they use media mail to ship them!). If you have cable there are many excellent programs on The History Channel, The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, The National Geographic Channel. Also make full use of your internet connection. When my kids have a question about something we almost always walk over to the computer and look up the answer together.
7. Every kid is different, so don’t be afraid to adjust your schooling method to the child. My oldest is like me and struggled to adopt structured learning. He almost forced me into an unschooling approach. My second son is pretty darn sit down with an assignment and just get it done. So his schooling right now is more structured than his brother’s was at the same age. Part of why schools often don’t work is because they are unwilling to adjust their methodology or ideology to accomodate different kids. We shouldn’t make the same mistake. Also, as the circumstances of your life change, you may find that the methods that work best for you change as well. This year has been the calmest year we’ve had as a family in ages – no pregnancy, no infants, no moving, no husband working out of town for months at a time – plus my older son is getting into high school level work and my younger son likes more structure, so we’re doing much more formal work than we did in the past. Life changes and so will your homeschooling.
Now, because new homeschoolers almost always ask, I’ll just share with you what we’re doing for school right now:
Collin (Age 8):
35 minutes of fiction reading
15 – 30 math problems
Copy work or letter writing
20 minutes of non-fiction reading
Rosetta Stone Spanish
Noah (Age 12):
Poetry and Novels using the methods laid out in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind
Rosetta Stone Spanish