When Did I Become an Unschooler???

I went to public school for my education. It was a rural school with Kindergarten through twelfth grade all in one rather small, three-story building. The teacher-to-student ratios were fairly low, since most classes rarely exceeded twenty students. Most of the teachers used traditional methods of oral lectures and reading assignments.

I remember feeling detached from the rest of the class, because I was either way ahead of the teacher or way behind. In Kindergarten, I could already read enough to know what the workbooks said, and I could tell when my teacher was changing those directions and leaving out the parts that I thought sounded like more fun than what she wanted us to do. I had to sit and wait and sit some more, surrounded by a roomful of enticing learning toys that could never be touched. And my teacher insisted that sitting quietly and listening quietly were the best and only suitable ways to learn anything.

In fourth grade, I knew nearly all of the spelling and vocabulary words before my teacher wrote them on the board, but she often mispronounced them. I had my very own personal dictionary in my desk, something I loved to read more than any of the storybooks on the classroom shelves. I pulled it out one day to show my teacher what the correct pronunciation of a certain vocabulary word was, because I thought she would want to teach things accurately. Instead, she just got upset. For some unknown reason, we didn’t get along for the rest of that year.

In sixth grade, I had a very old, very worn out teacher. She had her methods that she had used for decades, and she expected them to work forever and for every student. She also had certain subjects that she didn’t care to teach, so she glossed over them with the same three words for every assignment: “Outline the chapter.” I learned nothing from geography that year, except that I could not possibly produce an outline to her satisfaction.

Occasionally, a random teacher would allow us to do a special project as an assignment, but it didn’t happen more than once every few years and never in more than one subject. Any project was also limited to about a week in length and still had to meet that particular teacher’s expectations. The year I prepared a typical Medieval meal for my World History teacher, I thought he was going to have a stroke right there in the classroom. He seemed very concerned that I had smuggled some beer into the school building, until I whispered to him that his tankard contained cream soda as a visually-similar substitute. Despite all my research into the types of foods, serving utensils, and customs common to the time period, he didn’t know how to grade my beef stew and fake beer. He was much better with salt-dough castles and cardboard armor.

All in all, I hated school. I hated the teachers who treated me with contempt for daring to want something other than outlining the entire geography textbook and droning through random passages from Shakespeare read aloud in class. I hated the endless repetition, year after year of boring textbooks that all said the same boring things. I hated it all.

Once I had my own children, everything changed. I loved watching my kids discover the world for the first time. I loved the expression of recognition on their faces each time something new began to make sense. We played games, we played house, we played dress-up, we played everything we could play. We made forts, we made cookies, we made make-believe. We read stories and more stories until we knew them by heart, and then we recited them together when the books weren’t close at hand. I read them simple stories, pointing out the details in every picture. I read them chapter books beyond their years, allowing them to meet brave explorers like Christopher Robin and form pictures in their minds of what “heffalumps” and “woozles” must look like. I read them the lyrical poetry of A.A. Milne, Edward Lear, Robert Louis Stevenson, and countless others. And then suddenly they were old enough for school.

When I sent my children off to public school, they fit into their classrooms just as well as I had in mine, which is to say “poorly.” They wanted to play with the hundreds of wooden blocks at the back of the classroom, instead of sitting at the teacher’s feet as she did yet another mind-numbing counting-to-ten exercise. They had to endure adding 1 + 2 + 3, being told it was difficult and challenging, when they had already figured out how to do 2-column subtraction in their heads. They had to sit and wait and sit some more, surrounded by a roomful of enticing learning toys that could never be touched. And their teachers insisted that sitting quietly and listening quietly and reading quietly were the best and only suitable ways to learn anything.

When my husband and I made the decision to remove our children from public school to begin homeschooling, I used the traditional school model of textbooks and worksheets, simply because it was the only thing any of us had ever known. There I was, ordering boring curriculum, assigning boring lessons, and grading boring worksheets, doing all the same things I had hated all through my own school years and boring my own children with every step.

My students began stumbling over what I called “potholes”—missing portions of vital information that their former teachers had failed to impart. My 5th-grader was delighted to discover that anything she hadn’t understood at public school could be re-studied at home without penalty or ridicule, and she provided me with a list of math concepts that she wanted to master, including fractions, decimals, percents, and measurements. Specialty workbooks helped us fill in those gaps, but actual practice in real life experiences gave the concepts purpose. We measured dozens of things around the house, maybe hundreds of things. We converted the measurements into fractions and decimals. We converted the fractions and decimals into percentages, until it was apparent that the different forms were just “nicknames” for the same amounts. Manipulating the numbers became fun, and math lessons became less intimidating.

I realized that my children were benefiting from the hands-on experiences that solidified what the textbooks had to say. When a math problem spoke of so many red trucks and so many blue trucks, and my child wasn’t understanding it, we used colored blocks to illustrate the problem in a way she could do over and over again until she got it. When my daughter couldn’t solve an anagram for her spelling lesson, she took the letter tiles from the Scrabble game and rearranged them until she figured out the word. The enticing learning toys gave the lessons tangibility, and the fingers understood what the eyes had missed.

I haven’t met a spelling curriculum yet that I like. Phonics is a systematic method for learning to read, but why should that be followed by repetitive lists of spelling words that anyone with a decent grasp of phonics could spell without difficulty? Vocabulary words were never much different from the spelling words. If my students could break the word down into its phonetic components and learn to read that word, either they already knew its meaning, or we would look it up in the dictionary together.

As a child, I had loved having my own personal dictionary, which I routinely browsed for new words. That was the basis of my own vocabulary expansion. Using the pronunciation guides, I could learn to read any word I came across, and the definitions, origins, and various forms of the words added even more to my personal studies. My son picked up this habit himself and regularly quizzed me with new words he had discovered, trying (usually unsuccessfully) to stump Mom. Reading material is an excellent source of new vocabulary words – if it’s not, then your students are reading things that are too simple for them. Another personal habit of mine is to keep a dictionary and pencil close by while I’m reading. Any unfamiliar words get their definitions written in the margin of the book. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve even been known to pencil a definition in the margin of a library book, reasoning that if I didn’t know that word, the next reader probably wouldn’t know it either and would be grateful for the notation.)

No matter how many curriculum programs we tried, nothing was a perfect fit for us. The textbooks were too boring and too far removed from everyday life. We supplemented the textbook studies with activities, games, and field trips, and we always found that we learned much more from the extra activities than we did from the textbooks and workbooks. Even the math texts that provided solid teaching were tedious in their repetition-without-application. Board games could always be counted on for practice in the same concepts, but with much more enjoyment. Although we enjoyed a wide variety of supplemental activities, most of the time we stuck to a pretty structured sequence of academic studies. It was only toward the end of our homeschooling journey that I began to research and understand learning styles and see the full value and effect of alternative types of study over traditional methods.

Today, I’m much more likely to recommend family activities, a video-and-discussion session, or a round of board games instead of textbook lessons. How did I get to this point? When did I become an unschooler? If we had it all to do over again, we would probably be more like that eccentric unschooling family we met when we first started homeschooling—their spontaneous and unconventional approach to learning did not fit into my definition of education at all (but they did seem to be having a lot more fun at learning than we were). We would read more biographies from the library shelves, instead of purchasing over-priced textbooks that barely scratched the surface of any remotely interesting topics. We would spend hours dropping Mentos into Diet Coke, instead of just watching the You Tube videos. We would have all sorts of wonderful fun, we would learn all sorts of wonderful things, and we would enjoy journaling all our wonderful exploits, because we would be making and documenting real history instead of slogging through yet another tedious assignment made up by some stranger who knew nothing about us or our interests.

The way I see it, looking back over many years of actively homeschooling and many more years of mentoring homeschoolers, if a student can learn something well by reading it in a book, he doesn’t need anyone’s help. On the other hand, if a student is struggling to learn from reading and struggling to learn from discussions and explanations, that student needs a hearty dose of unschooling methods. Get elbow-deep in an experiment, work out a physical representation of a math problem with some type of thingamabobs, watch someone demonstrate a real-life skill and ask them to help you learn it step-by-step. Going places, seeing stuff, and doing things are much more valuable methods of learning than just reading about someone else going places, seeing stuff, and doing things. If unschooling means leaving the books behind and getting out there to learn from life itself, then I’ll happily call myself an unschooler. I never did fit into a classroom very well.

 

[For a further explanation of educational potholes, see Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School]

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive

A GFHS reader wrote to me, concerned about her student’s lack of interest in doing homeschool lessons, although he showed a wide capacity for learning and retaining facts about sports. The mom was frustrated as to how to get any actual lessons accomplished, since their days were an endless series of disagreements and strife. This is when out-of-the-box thinking can really pay off. Taking the lessons out of the box and away from the textbooks can make a huge difference and ignite the spark of learning in a “reluctant” learner such as this student. The examples given here will relate to football (this particular child’s passion), but you can easily adapt these ideas to wherever your students’ interests lie.

When a child is keenly interested in football or other sports, that can be used as an “in” for other subjects. For instance, put a map of the USA on a bulletin board and have him stick a pin in the approximate places where his favorite NFL players were born. Then have him place another pin in the city where each player went to college and connect the two pins for each player with a piece of yarn. Suddenly he’ll be up to his elbows in a fascinating research project and geography lesson that doesn’t feel like schoolwork to him at all!

Take this in a slightly different direction by challenging him to do some research on the NFL teams, making a chart showing when each team was founded, where it began, and if or where it has moved. Have some of the teams’ names or colors or mascots changed throughout the years? Now he’s found a history lesson that he can really enjoy! Give him more pins for the map (and a different color of yarn) to show the movements of the teams. A little more research can reveal what important world events coincided with significant team events or crucial games for more history, this time linking football to other events. Find inventions or products that were introduced during the years that match up to his favorite events regarding games, teams, or players, and that can bring in some science lessons. Look at how football uniforms, pads, helmets, and other equipment have changed over the years and why for some more science and history.

Challenge him to research the backgrounds of a few favorite players and write “color commentary” that could be used by a sportscaster, and you’ll have a writing assignment he’ll be eager to do! Challenge him to write his own sports “column” or read and critique the sports columns or blogs by professional sports writers, and he’ll have reading material, comprehension studies, and analytical writing assignments that hold his interest. To round out the language arts lessons, focus on his content first, then work on helping him correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar — always examining the rules for each change, not just criticizing his writing without reasons. He may even learn to spot spelling and grammar errors in the professionals’ columns for an important lesson in why accuracy matters!

Players’ statistics can be analyzed for some practical, real-life applications in math. Calculate the total yards of passing or rushing, the percentage of completed passes, or how a player’s averages have improved or declined over his career. Math practice is math practice, regardless of whether it uses random problems on a worksheet or real-life statistics. When the real-life applications mean something to the student, he will have motivation to complete the work. Learning one fact will spur curiosity to learn more facts, and before long, the student will be knee-deep in new information and hungry for more.

The homeschooling mom mentioned earlier took this advice and began adapting lessons to her son’s interest in football. When his curriculum focused on poetry, they searched the internet for poems about football—and were delighted with their results. One poem prompted a discussion, which led to further studies and more topics. This simple substitution transformed a struggle over a single, uninteresting lesson into a day filled with curiosity, researching, exploring, and learning.

Lessons that are based on real-life interests will combine several academic subjects all at once, rather than following the institutional school model of working on each individual subject for forty minutes before switching to the next unrelated subject for the next forty-minute period. Your student can research a given topic, study and analyze the reading material, pursue more research as to the geography, science, or history related to the topic, perform some math calculations to gain better understanding of the data, create a timeline of events, and express his conclusions and personal opinions in a variety of formats. The analysis of the information is conveyed, whether it takes on the form of a formal essay, a news story, editorial column, a poem, song, or rap, or even a personal journal entry. My own student who was reluctant to read assigned stories outside his field of interest became a voracious reader when the subject matter fed his curiosity. (How many adults would waste valuable time reading things in which they have no interest?) Adapting lessons to your students’ interests teaches those students how to learn from every facet of life and sets them firmly on the path to life-long learning.

See also:
The Value of Supplemental Activities
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
How Can I Teach Out-of-the-Box Thinking?
Is Learning Limited to Books?
Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom

Outdated Excuses for Why You Could Never Homeschool

The following article was written by Jennifer Morrison Leonhard, a light-hearted homeschool graduate who believes life is what you make it. What she usually makes it is funny!

“I’m not smart enough to homeschool my kids.” A typical answer from me is that you do not need to have the encyclopedia memorized, and you do not have to be a former valedictorian — you can simply learn right along with your kids. You start with colors and shapes and letters and from there you grow one day at a time. Lessons are usually fully explained in their textbooks, so you can read along and learn it all just ten seconds before your student does! It is now 2011, and I could argue that yo’ momma and her smartphone could homeschool your kids. (Bet you weren’t expecting a good momma joke, were you?) You do not have to buy a single book or even own a library card anymore. Like the popular commercial says “There’s an app for that” — whatever it is that you want to know or do. Science? My phone can take my pulse through the camera! Or try Google Sky Map to learn the stars. Music? I have a drum kit on my touch phone, and I’ve never had so much fun with an instrument! Not to mention that Pandora allows me to experience a wide variety of music styles. Learning directions is no longer something you have to do with a laminated “placemat” map and crayon (yep, that’s how I learned when I was still in public school) — now you can use Google Maps on your phone. For teaching math there are applications to teach formulas, offer practice math problems, flash cards, and math games. You can get an application for reading ebooks, search random questions with your browser, and document your findings with a “notepad” application and your camera feature. My mom always told us that as long as we knew how and where to find information, there are very few situations in life that require you have everything memorized.

“I do not have the time to homeschool my kids.”
Yeah, you’re probably too busy telling them to stop texting, get off that computer, and put away that video game. Again, in an electronic age, if your biggest hurdle is getting them away from electronics, you can probably find ways to substitute actual learning into those same gadgets — gadgets that frequently fit into a pocket and go everywhere anyway. It really doesn’t require a lot of time to homeschool. Once you cut out standing in line for this and that, waiting for the other students to catch up, or waiting for everyone to be quiet, you can see that only a few hours of real learning time are necessary. Unschooling is currently popular, so if electronics aren’t something your family indulges in, you can simply learn from Life. You can’t exactly avoid Life, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned each day, with or without 21st century electronic assistance.

“I could not stand to spend that much time with my kids.” Fine, send them to their rooms, and then Facebook friend-request them, and message their lessons to them. No face to face contact needed. They can chat with you when they need individual help, and message back or post photos and videos of their work. You, in turn, can post back their grades using the “Comment” feature, or for pass/fail there is a “Like” button included. The “Like” button would also give you feedback from their peers and other parents if you felt that you needed an outside opinion on a subject in which you are not an expert. Your children can also use the privacy features offered on Facebook to prevent certain friends and family from seeing their schooling, if that option is preferred. The Facebook photo albums are also a handy way to maintain homeschooling records if your state requires a portfolio for legal reasons. There it is: photographic documentation, all neatly packaged, and no fear of fire, flood, or other natural disaster wiping it all out, such as you would have had in the age of paper records only. And it all stores much more neatly, too. For added security, you can back up your files on flash-drives or with Carbonite.

“Socialization.” Did I mention electronic devices? Smartphones? Facebook? I think I did. Oh, and if you prefer actual human contact, go outside. There are still a few people left out there who aren’t busy on Facebook or their smartphones. There may also be some out there that are probably still on their smartphones and Facebook, so please drive defensively.

Family Planning (No, Not That Kind)

Planning is vital — but I don’t mean planning every moment of every day, deciding what lessons you will do when or to which organized activities you will deliver your children every day. The most important thing to schedule is your time together as a family. Set aside an evening for a light supper, then watch a family movie together, with plenty of popcorn and apple slices. Plan a family game night and try your hands at Jabberwocky Scrabble (anything goes, but players must pronounce and define each “word” — be prepared for side-splitting laughs) or a similarly fun twist on any other game that’s been gathering too much dust on the shelf. Reserve an entire day for a family outing: take sandwiches, fruit, and a large jug of ice water and head for a park with a lake or nature trails or playground equipment and spend the day disconnecting from everything and everyone else. Block out a weekend on the calendar for a family get-away and then get away from your normal schedule and routine.

Do only what your budget will allow, and trust me when I say that fun doesn’t have to cost anything. We tramped through the woods, stopped to look at the wildflowers, marveled at the tiny fish or tadpoles at the lake’s edge, or dipped our fingers and toes in the chilly water. We watched the clouds for drago-saurs and ele-raffes, skipped rocks on the lakes, and let the ripples on the water mesmerize us until we had forgotten everything else. Take turns playing follow-the-leader around, over, and through all of the swings and slides, take giant steps or silly, head-bobbing, arm-flapping walks round and round the trees, and let yourselves laugh freely and enjoy the company of the people who matter most in this world. Wander through a free museum or turn a lingering trip through an antique store into a spontaneous walk through history.

Why do these things need to be scheduled? Because if you don’t schedule time for your family first, your time will be scheduled for you by other people, other groups, or by other activities, and your family’s time together will be vaporized into the mist of a busy life. Family must come first, and it doesn’t count if you are all attending a group activity but participating as individuals instead of as a family unit. If this is a foreign concept to you, dare to try a brand new activity where you and your spouse and your children interact together for the entire time. It may take a while for this new bond to develop to fullness, but there is a unique and lasting experience ahead of you, and family is well worth cultivating.

Bottom 10 Worst Parts of Homeschooling

Seriously.

We all know that nothing could be as consistently rosy as the way magazine photo-spreads try to paint homeschooling or as unfailingly cheerful as the above-average homeschooler’s daily blog entries.

For those who are genuinely investigating homeschooling for their children’s education, I would be remiss if I did not caution you in advance about the uglier moments of homeschooling: the dark days that inevitably occur and that no one wants to confess. Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saying goes, so take this list to heart and prepare yourselves as much as possible to prevent these stumbling blocks from stopping you in your tracks.

10. Sibling warfare. It will happen, and it will happen when you least expect it and are least prepared for it. From making faces at each other to kicking under the table, from stealing pencils to full-on hurling books… or worse. It may be momentary or it could be an on-going problem. Even in the calmest of families, even in the most serene households, even between the best of friends-as-siblings. It’s a consequence of the day in, day out continuous routine that causes boredom, weariness, restlessness, and disillusionment. A closely related side-issue is whether or not students will cooperate with a parent-teacher and a mixed-ages homeschooling atmosphere, particularly if these students have previously attended “real” school.

Coping strategies: Take breaks as often as necessary to break the negative patterns before they gain a firm foothold and to refresh everyone’s heart, mind, and body. Use multiple study areas, if possible, giving your students enough physical separation to allow each one to focus on his own work. (Siblings as Best Friends offers a more in-depth look at conquering this trouble spot. Also be sure to check out Respect Must Be Earned, Disrespectful Kids, and Troublesome Students.) Chores can be interspersed with learning to provide quick exercise breaks while maintaining productivity. This can be extremely helpful for separating restless siblings — send one off to do a chore or two while the others continue to work at lessons. A strategically chosen task can make sitting down to a lesson much more attractive! And while we’re on the subject of chores…

9. Chores. Taking out the trash, cleaning the bathrooms, tidying the living areas. Feeding the dog, sweeping the floor, shoveling the front walk. Did you remember to do your job? Did you finish every step? Whose sock is that? Did you brush your teeth? Did you make your bed? Whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher?

Coping strategies: Use reminder lists or charts to teach your children the responsibility of getting things done without prompting. Mom, you have more important things to do with your time than constantly reminding your children to do their jobs. My rule-of-thumb was to save my energies for the higher skilled jobs that only Mom could do, and get over my perfectionist tendencies relax my standards so that anyone else could do the lower skilled jobs. Use The Biblical Model of Discipleship to ensure each person knows how to do their chores, then walk away, and let them handle it. Tell yourself as often as necessary: it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done.

8. Housework. Cook, clean, wash, iron. Meals, dishes, laundry, vacuuming. Buy the food, freeze the food, thaw the food, cook the food. Gather the dirty laundry, shuffle the loads through the laundry process, restock the cleaned laundry. When is there time to teach? Plan a lesson? I’m supposed to plan lessons???

Coping strategies: Lower your Suzy Perfect Homemaker standards enough to allow your family members to help with all of the daily work. Treat yourselves to quick, easy meals on paper plates when your schedule gets crazy. Spread out the responsibility for chores and share the duties (re-read #9 above). Lessons don’t need to be planned down to the tiniest, word-for-word details. Spontaneous lessons will often be the most memorable ones. (Using Your Household Staff contains practical tips for squeezing more out of your busy, busy day. A Day Without Lessons shows how education lurks in the most unlikely places.)

7. Clutter. Books, books, and more books. Workbooks, worksheets, test papers, and writing assignments. Textbooks, teacher’s manuals, reading books, reference books. (When you envisioned your ideal homeschooling set-up, you didn’t picture this extensive home library, did you?) Pencils, erasers, scissors, rulers, markers, crayons. Art supplies, craft supplies, math manipulatives, maps, charts, and posters. Where can you possibly put it all, and how will you find what you’ve got when you need it?

Coping strategies: We started with a “cigar” box for each student’s personal writing supplies (my pencils, etc.). We purchased build-it-yourself bookcases and storage cupboards as our needs (and budget) increased. We added a few inexpensive plastic multi-drawer units to help control the growing collection of arts-and-crafts supplies. Basically, you’ll want to adapt each year as your needs change. I found a week at the start of summer to be a good time for sorting out what we wanted to keep from the past year and a day or two at the end of summer to be a good time for re-evaluating our needs for the upcoming year. The kids and I worked together to sort and toss and discuss what we had all learned, then rearrange and make plans and get prepared and excited for what would come next. Working together was key for us: the kids often had great ideas to try in our small porch-turned-schoolroom. Plus, the longer we were away from the public school atmosphere, the less we felt the need to separate his things from her things, and the more we felt the community, teamwork, and sharing spirit of family. (See Homeschool Gadgets: An Investment in Your future or a Waste of Money? for a unique look at what you do or don’t need.)

6. More clutter. Salt dough castles, vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, and eggshell mosaics. Oatmeal and salt box drum sets, tin can telephones, and paper plate clocks. Butterfly and moth specimens, leaf and wildflower collections, and rock and mineral displays. The educational value is undeniable, but does it need to occupy the entire kitchen table?

Coping strategies: Remember that a photo can be kept in a much smaller space than the actual salt-dough castle took up (or stashed invisibly in a computer file). My children were much more willing to take apart their fantastic K’Nex creations once we had taken photos of them. Digital cameras were not a part of our early days of homeschooling; now they seem like must-have equipment! Above all else, remind yourselves that the learning is the most important part of education, not the meaningless handprint art, not the endless worksheets filled with twaddle, not the vapid writing assignments given solely for the purpose of creating time-consuming busywork. Some lessons are learned at the first reading or the first explanation, freeing both student and teacher to move on to the next thing with no further ado. (People LIVE in This House offers encouragement to those of us who do not live inside magazine pictures! I Give One Grade: 100%–But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It points out that learning is learning, no matter how long it takes.)

5. Most clutter. Mounds of clean socks and underwear that haven’t yet been sorted. Last season’s clothing that needs a place to live until the weather changes back again. Outgrown clothing and that nagging pile of mending.

Coping strategies: I used my own chores as times to wean my students off of my constant attention and teach them to teach themselves. You work on this lesson while I go sew these buttons back on your shirts, and I’ll come check on you when I’m done. Kids can learn to do most household chores and be able to help out when needed — remember, many hands lighten the load. As for storing out-of-season items, you may want to consider adding storage shelves in the basement or garage, or evaluating which things really need to be kept. Teaching my children to donate good, usable items to thrift shops created a habit they have continued as adults. (Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves will give them more confidence and independence in their own lessons and give you a bit more time for switching laundry, starting supper, or visiting the bathroom… alone!)

4. Desperation. There will come a day around February or March when every member of the family has coughed, hacked, and sniffled his or her way right out of your heart. And that may also have been accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Mother Teresa herself would have been ready to throw in the towel, if it meant she could escape your home’s infirmary to a peaceful oasis free of sticky dishes, stinky laundry, smelly diapers, and drippy noses, even for a mere eight hour shift of answering someone else’s telephone, shuffling someone else’s papers, and just plain dealing with someone else’s dilemmas.

Coping strategies: Calling off school for a few days or a week can give everyone a blessed relief as you all try to recuperate. Get your strength back before you try to pick up the books again. Even if the latest virus is not to blame for your collective malaise, a day or two away from lessons can perk up spirits. Do a little spring cleaning, indulge in some retail therapy, declare a family game day, or call for a video marathon – whatever it takes to clear your heads and jump-start the enjoyment again. (See Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup for tips on perking up your schedule. Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions offers welcome relief from the nagging feeling that you can’t stay home from homeschooling.)

3. Regrets. I shouldn’t have yelled. I should have been there. I should have left earlier. I shouldn’t have grounded him. I should have done a better job. I really should go. I should have taken them a casserole. I should have called her. I didn’t do enough. I did too much.

Coping strategies: Remind yourself that no one is perfect, then Do the Best Job You Can and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest. Giving yourself a few moments to think before you make each decision can really improve the quality of those decisions and help you on the way toward Living Your Life with No Regrets.

2. Isolation. The other side of the socialization coin has to be endless days of seeing no one but your own family members. Tempers will flare without warning, boredom will soar to new heights, and lessons that seemed relatively simple will go misunderstood for no apparent reason. You will find yourselves waiting eagerly for a glimpse of the letter carrier’s face, delightedly anticipating a trip to the grocery store, and chatting like a giddy madman with total strangers in check-out lanes, just because you are amazingly grateful for the sound of another human voice and a new face to gaze upon, if only for a few seconds.

Coping strategies: You may need some fresh lesson ideas. See 10 Ways to Improve a Lesson and Back to Homeschool with New Ideas. Or it may be time to recognize The Value of Supplemental Activities. If you are forcing yourselves into isolation because you think you are required to spend every school day from 8am to 3pm indoors with your noses in books, please read “Why Aren’t You in SCHOOL?”

And finally, the absolute worst, most discouraging facet to homeschooling—

1. Lack of guidance. Parents who remove their children from institutional schools will feel this more acutely than any others. How do I learn how to homeschool? What do my children already know? What do they not know? How can I tell the difference? Which math program is best? How well does he read? What about grammar? Should I teach history chronologically, geographically, or alphabetically?

Coping strategies: No one can (or should) give you a blanket summary of buy this program and it will fulfill all of your educational needs forever, since each of your children is different from the others, and they each have varied learning needs and academic interests which may change somewhat over time. Careful observation and good Mommy-instincts should tell you when a student is struggling to understand and when he is just plain bored and ready to move on because he already understands this material and it contains no challenge for him. Simple supplemental activities can adapt your present curriculum to your students’ learning styles, enabling each student to learn the lessons through his unique processing abilities. Answers to all other questions (well, many of them anyway) can be found here at Guilt-Free Homeschooling. Start with these articles:
So You Think You’re Not Smart Enough to Homeschool
Questions from a First-time Homeschooler
Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling After Leaving Public School
Curriculum Choices and Shoe Shopping, an Analogy
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom
10 Ways to Ease into Homeschooling

Despite these downside aspects, homeschooling is absolutely the best thing you will ever do for your family! The intense contact of homeschooling will not just benefit your children, it can strengthen the entire family unit. Don’t let a few negative things keep you from trying the biggest positive of all, putting your children’s education on the right track.

Teaching the Satisfaction of a Job Well Done

Have you ever noticed that cooking is much easier to do if the counters are clear, and the dishwasher and dish drainer are empty? I think a clean kitchen is a pleasure to be in and to work in. A sparkling clean bathroom makes me feel more like I’m vacationing in a nice hotel room than enduring yet another ordinary day at home. When my family all pitched in, and we cleaned the house super-fast for short-notice visitors, I always marveled aloud at how nice it looked! I wanted my helpers to feel appreciated, but I also wanted them to focus on what they had accomplished and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The big question on your mind may be how to get your children to pitch in and help. Should you bribe them? If you routinely reward them, will they always expect some tangible payment for helping? And would a regular reward really be any different from a bribe? A bribe is something promised in advance in order to obtain a desired result. A true reward should be a surprise given after the fact as a bonus for desirable behavior.

I gave my children occasional rewards for cooperation and patient endurance after a grueling day of errands or shopping. You did a great job of helping without whining or complaining, so now you can pick out a treat! Usually, the rewards were simple things like a candy bar or a small toy, nothing to break the budget, but enough to say Thanks — you’re appreciated! At other times, when our children mentioned a more expensive item they might like to save up for, we made them a surprise gift of it, as another unexpected reward for being a good, cooperative, and helpful member of the family on a regular basis.

My kids tidied up their own bedrooms as one of their normal duties, but about once each year I would help each of them with a thorough overhaul. We went through all of their clothing, culling the outgrown or damaged things. We deep-cleaned the closets and corners that usually got ignored. We rearranged the furniture to suit their latest whim or growing-up needs. That much work often took more than a single day, but when we were finished, I had helped each child see the benefits of all our progress: more floor space for playing board games, new bookshelves for organization, or a desk in their bedroom for a private work space. Many of the decisions along the way were left up to the child in question, so that they had a true sense of ownership in the reorganization process, and along with that came the satisfaction of having things the way they wanted them. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to part with a favorite shirt when the child can still get into it (sort of), but the feeling of moving on to a few new clothes (and making some new memories) will be well worth it. Completing this laborious task should be marked by several moments of admiration and recognizing the satisfaction in a job well done.

There is satisfaction to be found in even mundane tasks. Emptying the kitchen trash can is hardly anyone’s favorite job, but once it has been done, it is much easier to toss the next item in! Nothing falls out and slithers to the floor, you don’t have to cram the pile down to make room for anything else, and you won’t be reminded (again) that the trash still needs to be emptied, and it is still your turn to do it.

We moms often find ourselves expending all sorts of energy to get tasks done, but we need to save a little of that energy for praising the job well done and bestowing our satisfaction in the accomplished task. You worked a long time on that! It feels good, doesn’t it, to have it finally done! And you did a good job, too — I can tell that you put a lot of effort into your work! Who wouldn’t like to hear that? Even when no one else had helped me with my own large or time-consuming tasks, sometimes I still exclaimed aloud over a finished job and expressed how nice it looked or felt to have it completed, just to inspire my children to look for satisfaction in the completion of their own tasks.

You can bribe a student to complete a lesson on time (or ahead of time), or you can surprise them with a reward for the lessons they finish quickly under their own motivation. The latter will be less stressful and more beneficial to all involved. When the child is surprised with a reward, he feels satisfaction at knowing his accomplishment was appreciated by others. When he has been bribed, he feels relief that the distasteful task is now out of his life and (perhaps) a greedy glee that he tricked someone else into paying him to do said distasteful task. A student who learns to enjoy satisfaction as its own reward does not need constant tangible gifts, as the object of bribery does. Teach your children to find satisfaction in doing their best and completing their tasks in a timely manner. It will be a lesson they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Becoming a Successful and Proud Quitter

[This article was written by Jennifer (Morrison) Leonhard: Guilt-Free daughter and homeschool graduate.]

My mom (your usual Guilt-Free Homeschooling author) and I recently spoke at a homeschool conference. In one of our workshops, a mother commented that although she and her husband know the school system in which their child is currently enrolled is failing their child in several subjects, they did not want to pull him out to homeschool until the following fall because they do not want to set a bad example for him of quitting.

***Let’s take a reality check time-out here. By leaving the child in a school system that is not teaching him, or that is teaching him incorrectly, what you, the parent, are teaching him is that quitting is not ok, but failing is awesome.***

One of the most important lessons that we learned during our first year of homeschooling was that sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do for your family. This is not to say that quitting is always the solution to a bad situation, but as a society we shun the idea of quitting as if it were a sign of failure. However, if you are already failing, sometimes it is because you have not quit something that you should not have done to begin with.

For example, at one point our family was a part of several homeschool groups at once, and we were going to every event, meeting, play date, field trip, and class day that came up in every one of them. We were over-committed, frustrated, and undernourished in good old-fashioned study and family time. Realizing that we didn’t have to be at every event, or a part of every group in the area gave us more time to concentrate on what parts of education were important to our family — and honestly, sometimes the best field trips are the ones you find yourselves on topics your family is interested in, and in a time frame that works best for, again, your family.

This idea transitions to real, grown-up life, too. I have grown up to be a manager in several retail environments. I was a sales leader in my company and was promoted to management, and when I changed jobs, I was asked to be a manager again after a very short time of being an average joe. After nearly a year and a half of being a manager at the second location, I found myself frustrated that I was never seeing my husband, since we were both too involved in our jobs. I was not getting enough time with the rest of my family — I had to hire my brother and invite him to live with us just to be able to see him once in a while (huge blessing, although it took a little transitioning). And my focus in life was just not where I wanted it to be in the big picture. However, I felt pressure from my bosses that to leave my position for any reason beyond moving away or finding a more profitable job, would be failure. One weekend, filled with tears because it was the first time in 6 weeks that I had much time to see my husband, under huge pressure from work to spend extended hours at the store on a rare weekend off, and under the looming deadline of the homeschool conference that was really a highlight to my year (but for which I had no time to even delight in its proximity), I made the decision that would best benefit my health and my family — I had to quit. At first I felt shame, that I had failed, that I was a “quitter.” I wondered how my friends and extended family would view this decision.

Looking back on my life, though, I saw a lot of situations in which it had benefited our family that we had quit something. Whether it was a textbook that was not suited to our needs, an activity or group that did not fit our schedule, or a day that simply was not going well and we all just needed a day off before diving back into the normal routine, there were many times when quitting was the best thing we ever did for our family. Since having left my position a little over a month ago, I have such a joy that cannot be compared. It was the right decision for my family — and sure, my bosses thought it was a mistake, but it felt really good when they asked me to rethink my decision. They did not think I was a failure, they asked me back because they felt I was a success. There are many times in life when quitting may be a bad decision, having one bad day may not constitute a valid reason for quitting, but there are other times when it can lead to great freedom and joy, and even other opportunities that are better for you and your family. Do not let the word “quit” scare you away from a different opportunity that may equal success.