Friday, March 28, 2014

7 Tips to Thrive While Homeschooling

I'm been homeschooling for seven years now.  That makes me a guru, right?  Ha..not! But it does at least qualify me to give you some totally free, unsolicited (hopefully at least somewhat useful) advice. 

So, I may not be a guru, but I have learned a thing or two or seven that I thought I would share with you.

1. Forget about preschool.  Look...unless your kid is asking and begging to learn, you can pretty much forget about anything academic before age 5. can.  Three and four year olds don't need to know their letter sounds or how to count or write their name.  They don't need phonics drills.  They don't need to learn Spanish or the names of the planets or the states and capitals.   They need to play...preferably in dirt.  To be more precise, here is what a four year old needs to know. 

2.  If something is too hard...back off.  Not to say that you should never challenge your children, but I'm firmly convinced that certain academic skills (like reading) are just as developmentally varied as learning how to crawl or walk or talk.  In my experience, all the phonics drills in the world aren't going to teach a child who isn't yet developmentally ready to read, how to do so.  And, when a child is developmentally ready....reading just takes off and it's easy.  Some kids are ready at age 4 and some aren't ready until age 7 or even older.  And, that's okay, because as long as you have a lot of books in your house and you are reading a lot TO your child..they WILL learn. Not to mention, that in the elementary years, just about everything comes back around.  If your kid doesn't get what a noun is in second grade, rest assured, he will have another chance in third grade and fourth grade. 

3. Relationship is more important than school.  Some days will be a struggle, but if you find yourself yelling and screaming and pulling your hair out through every lesson, something has to change.  If schoolwork becomes a battle of wills or a constant fight and struggle, something has to change.  It's not worth it to gain your child's mind if you lose their heart.  I don't know about you, but a big part of the reason why I homeschool is to help keep my relationship with my children strong.  Yelling and screaming and making threats and doling out excessive punishments does nothing but hurt your relationship.   That doesn't mean that you don't expect hard work...but it does mean that you don't let the work get in the way of your relationship. And, if there is too much of a clash.....change something. 

4. Get organized. I'm not naturally an organized person...but homeschooling has forced me to be (somewhat) that way.  We need a schedule.  My kids need to know what to expect.  Things go much better if they know what time we are doing school, what subjects we are doing and even in what order we are doing them.  And, feel free to have an atypical schedule.  There is no rule that says you have to school M-F, Sept-June, 8-3.  We school-year round, typically only doing 2-3 days of school at home/week.  For us, that works so much better.  Some families really need that summer break, but I prefer to take shorter breaks throughout the year, rather than cram everything in during the school year and then take two months off completely. 

You also need to get organized with your space. I invested in one of those organizational carts...and we keep all our books organized by subject.  This has been a life-saver. All the religion books are in one drawer, all the history books in another, handwriting books in another.  It has saved us countless hours searching for missing books. 

5 Listen to your kids...and keep searching until you find what they need.  If your kids are asking for a change....give it to them.  My 6th grader has been asking and asking and asking to do more "online school" or "computer" school. At first, I dismissed her...saying that most of the programs are too expensive, would tie us down too much (there is no way I want to sign my child up for a class that required we are home every M and W at 9:30 AM.  I need to have freedom to go on field trips, join coops, etc.).  But, I knew I needed to do something.  She will be in 7th grade next year, enjoys working independently and really needed something *more* than just me teaching using books or a curriculum.  So, I kept looking and looking and finally, found something that I think will be awesome for her.  Anyone have any experience with the recorded classes from Homeschool Connections?  It's affordable, they have really awesome selection of classes and everything I've read so far is really positive.  Any of you guys have any experience with them?

6. Join a coop. don't have to do this if you aren't the coop type.  But, we have benefited *so much* from being part of coops.  Since I've started homeschooling, we've been part of 5 different coops (several years, we've done 2 at a time) and they've all been awesome.  Honestly, in my mind, it doesn't even matter what classes my kids take....the point is they aren't taking them *from me*.  They are getting the experience of being in a classroom, having another teacher (sometimes even having homework).  We all get a break from each other and it's just overall been a great experience.  Yes, it's tiring having to teach or assist in a class, but I try to make a point of not teaching or assisting in any classes in which I have a child (with the exception of nursery or toddler classes).  That break is just so helpful. 

7. Make yourself comfy and enjoy. It sounds simple, but it really does help.  When I teach my kids, I sit in my favorite, comfortable recliner chair, sip a nice relaxing cup of hot tea and take turns working with them on math or reading or spelling or whatever we are doing. The chair is big enough for a kid to sit on it as well and we can read together or go over math or discuss religion...whatever we need to do.  The toddler can even fit up there too.  Being comfortable helps me to be relaxed and being relaxed helps me to be more patient and being more patient makes everyone happier.  Plus, it gets me away from the computer so I don't have *that* distraction.   And, I try to enjoy homeschooling. I read aloud books that *I* like. I try to find curriculum that we *all* find interesting.   And, I try, really, really, really hard not to get too stressed over math. 

(Linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary for 7QTF)
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  1. I so needed to hear this today. I keep stressing myself out about starting to get more academic with my four year old. I am going to go read that link right now.

  2. Brava, Amelia. Excellent advice for newbies, and a great reminder for those of us that are more experienced.

  3. Great list! Thanks for sharing that.

  4. Personally, #1 hasn't been true for our family this far. My oldest son's behavioral struggles and discipline issues have been largely resolved THROUGH the discipline of sitting down each day, printing, along with learning math, phonics, and reading, and we started this at age 4 because he was interested, capable, and in need of a more structured day.

    Educational activities can enhance their playtime, even time spent in the dirt. It may not be the right time for everyone's child, but I wouldn't recommend simply skipping the challenge all together until they hit five, because some kids thrive in the structured environment of preschool and early-K learning challenges.

    1. Oh, I definitely agree that some kids are ready before age 5. And, if a kid is asking to learn, I would never suggest not teaching them. And, I agree that structure is good for pretty much all 3-4 year olds...but it doesn't necessarily have to be academic can be things like chores, work, etc. I'm not super into Montessori, but I do like her ideas about young kids doing "work" at young ages. Not to say that academic structure is bad for kids who are ready for it and or are asking for it.

      I just know that with myself, I started trying to teach my oldest when she was 4 because that is what everyone did and it was major, major, major struggle. She was not ready for reading or writing and it was majorly frustrating for both of us. With my 2nd, I started much later...she was about 5.5 when we started formal schooling and it was much smoother, starting later. And, my second isn't behind at all because I started later, she actually just picked things up faster.

      I just think that for many people, because preschool is so wide-spread, there is this huge push to start kids on academics younger and younger. It used to be that kids didn't start formal schooling until they were are at least 7 or 8 (think Little House on the Prarie). When my mom was growing up, kindergarten was not standard and many kids didn't go to kindergarten. When I was growing up, everyone went to kindergarten but preschool was really only for working moms. Now everyone goes to preschool and it's just so common. I wouldn't be surprised if by the time our kids are having kids, it's standard for kids to start "school" at age 2 or even 1

      Again, structure is good and educational activities can certainly be good and some young kids ARE ready. And, certainly if a kid is playing in the dirt, and you show them how to make a circle with a stick, there is nothing wrong with that, that's a good thing. But, I do think we have to be careful not to "push" academics too early, unless the child clearly needs it and is asking for it (and some certainly do).

    2. I'm in the same place with my oldest - he thrives if I give him *more* "school-like" activities to do, and I keep fighting it because it's extra work for me, buuuuut he really does a LOT better behaviorally, and worksheets are incentives for him! I think it's all about knowing your own child and knowing his or her needs, and I think that's the wonderful thing about teaching your own child at home, you're constantly seeing growth and learning processes that you wouldn't see if they were at school outside of the home.

      Also, I know WAY too many kids who DO start "school" at age 2. Or 1. It's really just glorified daycare and I don't understand why it's called school... An excuse to charge higher prices?

      Great post, Amelia!

  5. The Montessori curriculum for a young child is very much based on using your senses to learn, using your muscles to move, learning Grace & Courtesy....many times a young child picks up writing and reading effortlessly (while growing in independence, confidence, ability to do REAL things, etc). If that child just happens to be one of the oldest in a large homeschooling family, isn't that nice? He or she can read to the younger children, learn on his or her own, read the signs at museums, read instructions for complicated craft kits, create his or her own scrapbook, write letters to Grandma--all sorts of stuff. I have always been a fan of Montessori for large homeschooling families for this reason, but also because of the diagnostic value of the approach. In other words, you can tell early on whether a child may be dyslexic or have a vision or hearing problem. Many times I have met older homeschooled children who have never had the benefit of early intervention because signs were missed early on. And then if a problem is detected the Montessori materials often are very helpful in a special ed sense, too.

  6. Just one last thought: many homeschooling parents struggle with "what to do with the younger ones while I am teacher the older ones," but the real work (cleaning, preparing dinner, folding laundry, etc) that is part of Montessori curriculum takes care of this "problem."


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