1. Allow him to hold a favorite object during lessons, especially if the lesson doesn’t include manipulatives or other hands-on aspects.
2. Allow plenty of free-play time with manipulatives before the lessons begin, so that he becomes completely familiar with the objects and will be less distracted by them during the lesson. The tactile learner will discover amazing things about spatial relationships, length, width, perimeter, area, volume, and balance just from grouping, regrouping, stacking, and lining up the pieces. You can supply the vocabulary words later.
3. Use manipulatives for every possible subject: letter tiles for spelling, phonics, vocabulary, or reading practice, number tiles for math problems, jigsaw puzzle-maps for geography, and whatever else comes to mind. Combine the pieces from several board games, and use them for sorting by color, shape, or size. Then challenge your older students to figure out the percentage of pieces that are red.
4. Allow him to partake in experiments and demonstrations. Getting his hands involved will help him learn the most.
5. Incorporate textures into manipulatives by using sandpaper, textured scrapbooking papers, textured craft foam, etc. Give those curious fingers plenty of good “reading material” – his brain will remember the facts connected to the textures. (Include the student in choosing the textures, since tactile learners’ fingers like some textures and dislike others.)
6. Build 3-dimensional models (whether with Legos, a shoebox diorama, or a snow fort) instead of 2-dimensional diagrams. The tactile learner benefits most from seeing all sides of a model, not just a flat representation. (Precisely accurate scale and colors are not required.)
7. No matter what it is, let him touch it and take time to handle it. Whether at home or in public places, your tactile learner needs to touch and feel and run his hands over any surface that interests him. And he’ll be learning. (Frequent involvement of hands and fingers on a daily basis means he will be more understanding of the admonition to not touch everything at the next special outing or museum.)
8. Let him experiment with alternative writing materials to find the most desirable combination of writing implement and writing surface. A whiteboard and dry-erase markers offer an entirely different feel from paper and crayons.
9. Keep his hands and fingers busy to help his brain absorb information. If his hands are empty and his fingers can’t move, he’s not going to learn. Think of it as though his fingers have just become deaf and blind, and you can appreciate the information his fingers absorb.
10. Give him experiences in the other 3 styles to improve his overall learning abilities
1. Allow him to hold a favorite object during lessons, especially if the lesson doesn’t include manipulatives or other hands-on aspects.
- Adapt daily. What didn’t work today can be changed for tomorrow. Life seldom follows a routine, so why should your lessons be exactly the same, day after day? Life provides very important lessons, and we can learn from everything and everyone.
- Remember that the teacher may not always be right. If the student can present his/her case in a valid and logical way, he/she may convince the teacher to skip portions of a lesson, try a different book, branch off to add a side interest, go on a field trip, etc. (But that argument must be presented with facts, not whining.)
- Network. If you’re stuck on a subject, try getting ideas from other homeschoolers, no matter what their kids’ ages. You might be able to adapt their methods to suit your child. Multiply the number of homeschooling parents (teachers) you know by the number of their children (students). The result is how many ways there are available to you to teach any given concept. Teaching methods can vary greatly with learning styles and family preferences. (Now consider all the other homeschoolers you just haven’t met yet, whose ideas can be found online!)
- Admitting defeat can be your first step toward success. When you’re pushing the wrong method, both student and teacher will always be on the verge of tears. The right method will be like gasoline to a flame—you’ll need to jump back out of its way! I’ve tried both, and I much prefer playing with fire.
- Play. A genius sees everything in life as a game to be played or a puzzle to be solved. Help your kids see learning as a game, and you will be nurturing genius, creativity, imagination, and much more!
- Entice. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (old proverb) However, a wise, old farmer might tell you to just put a little bit of salt in the oats! If the lesson comes in the form of irresistible fun, you won’t have to cajole your students to get involved. (See #5)
- No one ever learned anything good through boredom. No one. Ever. Work your students’ interests into their lessons to grab and hold their attention, whether than means relating math story problems to Missy’s doll collection or teaching Sonny sentence structure through writing about sports.
- Watch your words. Be careful how you explain “learning styles” to your students. I overheard a boy once comment to his friend, “My mom says I’ve got to be doing something all the time. She says I always have to be moving and making noise.” So he dutifully made sure she was always right: he refused to sit still or remain quiet, just so his mom wouldn’t be disappointed. What his mom noticed as his consistent behavior and learning style, he seriously took to be an assignment. Our goal as learners should be to “learn how to learn” in every way possible, not lock ourselves into only one formula, so help your students strengthen their weaker learning styles through increasing exposure to other methods.
- Work toward your students’ strengths to grab and hold their attention, while you slip in subtle experiences in other learning styles. Be aware that they learn different subjects in different ways: spelling is a visual concept, but handwriting is kinesthetic. Pre-readers and early readers still live in an auditory world; watch for subtle changes in how they learn as their reading ability increases.
- Don’t use calculators for math until algebra (playing with a calculator is okay, just don’t use it for daily lessons). The mental skills must be fully in place first, and then the calculator can be used for saving time. Note: Don’t assume a problem has been done incorrectly just because your answer disagrees with the answer book. Re-do the problem carefully several times—I have found several mistakes in math text answer keys. Also, I accidentally hit one wrong key on my calculator during a college math final, didn’t notice it, and didn’t check over my work. That one stupid mistake spoiled an otherwise-perfect score—a huge lesson learned the hard way.
For further inspiration, see these articles:
Homeschool moms, especially new-to-homeschooling moms, can easily fall prey to some nasty myths. These myths, as with any myths, are simply not true. Read, learn, and be encouraged.
1) School requires 7 hours of carefully-planned-to-the-minute instruction. If your child doesn’t respond well to 7 hours in a chair at a desk, the answer isn’t how to fix him or how to fill 7 hours. The solution comes from realizing that schools spend up to 75% of each day in non-instructional activities: waiting for silence, waiting for eye contact, waiting for the slower students to catch up, counting who’s there, counting who’ll be eating lunch, counting noses again after moving from here to there, standing in line after line after line—you get the idea. Seventy-five percent! Three-quarters of their day! My kids could go off-topic eleventy-dozen times and still get all their work done in less time than they would have spent at school.
2) School requires homework beyond the lesson. Some new homeschool parents wonder how much homework should be assigned after their students complete each subject’s daily lesson. My answer is none. Schools assign homework because there isn’t enough time left in their busy day to actually complete a lesson. We did lesson work as part of each subject’s “class time,” so there was no need for further work after the class was done. (Bonus: Homeschool kids get to do the practice work immediately after learning the lesson, rather than struggling hours later to remember what to do and how to do it.) Reading was our only exception, and that was because I never held reading class once my kids were reading independently—I just let them go off and read on their own time. We called it pleasure reading, instead of considering it as another academic subject.
3) It doesn’t really count as homeschooling if:
- We didn’t learn it during school hours. (Sometimes the best lessons happen on the weekends or in the evening or while you’re away from home.)
- We didn’t learn it from “approved” curriculum. (Sometimes the best lessons happen out-of-the-box and away-from-the-books.)
- We didn’t plan to learn it. (Sometimes the best lessons happen spontaneously.)
- None of our friends are also studying it. (Sometimes the best lessons fit your personal, immediate needs, and not the needs of anyone else.)
4) All children progress according to an age-based “scope and sequence.” Pfft! Children don’t all begin crawling at the same age (some prefer scooting, and others just stand up and take off), children don’t all begin talking at the same age (or with the same vocabulary), children don’t all learn to use the potty at the same age, and children don’t all learn reading, geography, and trigonometry at the same age. Age actually has very little to do with learning ability. And while we’re on the topic, when was the last time you saw a scope-and-sequence for learning very important skills of when and how to rotate tires or change motor oil, cooking an entire meal and getting every dish done at the same time, sharpening a lawn mower blade, changing a newborn’s diaper with one hand while holding onto a toddler-Houdini with the other, or being able to tell the difference between chicken pox and a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to medicine? Sometimes education comes on a “need to know” basis—when you need to know it, you’ll learn it. Life is its own scope and sequence, and the scope and the sequence are different for each person.
5) There’s a better teacher out there somewhere. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the ideal teacher to come along to take your kids under her wing and set afire their love of learning—the right teacher. You feel a little like the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, who guarded the Messiah’s chalice for 900 years, waiting for a new knight to come and relieve him of his post. However, that ideal teacher, the “new guardian” of your children’s education just might end up being you. We were fervently praying for our daughter, Jen, to get the right public school classroom and the right teacher for her 5th grade year, when God showed us Door #3: Homeschooling. He disregarded both of the options in her public school and guided us down an entirely different path to the school and the classroom and the teacher He had chosen for her needs: Mom. Our son, Nathan, needed a teacher for 1st grade with a personality that would accept and appreciate his boundless sense of humor, since his Kindergarten teacher had kept him on the Time-Out Chair for nearly the entire school year. Again, Door #3 led to Mom being selected as the ideal teacher for him. The ideal teacher you’re waiting for, the ideal teacher your kids need is in all likelihood staring back at you from the bathroom mirror.
6) Comparing ourselves to other families will show us how we’re doing. Comparing my family to other homeschooling families was not really a good thing to do. Comparing how my kids were doing in their schoolwork to how other kids were doing, again not a good thing. Comparing how my kids were doing now to how they had previously been doing was great! We could definitely see their individual progress from week to week and month to month (sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but they continually moved beyond where they had been before). When I came across a blog where another mom had posted her 12-year-old’s super-aggressive list of books that he’d read during 7th grade, I wanted to poke my eyes out with salad tongs. His unbelievably extensive list (for that one year!) could have passed as the cumulative life-time achievements of a tenured college literature professor. I decided to stop reading that blog. It was a wise choice. Instead, I paid more attention to how my child learned to read words, rather than guess at them, and reading those words led her to read a whole book, which she enjoyed enough to want to read another, which was two more than she’d ever read before.
7) I need “Me” time. When my kids were smaller and needed more attention, I used to feel like I never had any “me” time. But I wasn’t the #1 focus at that time—and I assured myself that “my time” would come later. As my children grew, I taught them skills and responsibilities, which gave me helpers to lessen my long list of to-do’s each day and gave me just enough “me time” to let me think an entire thought by myself and thereby make life bearable. As my children’s abilities increased each year, their ability to help out increased, too, and my free time grew accordingly. The bigger shock came when they had both gone off to college and left me with no more helpers!
8) “I blew it, I made a mess of things, and I can’t undo it.” If you’ve made a big mistake (like pushing your student to the point of tears over conjugating verbs), apologize. Hug each other and promise to help each other figure out the best way to learn this stuff. Your child will respect you more for your role-modeling of humility. Ask your kids for their input on different ways to learn certain subjects—they will have great suggestions for activities to try, and their ideas will help tailor activities to their specific learning style needs. When my kids weren’t sure of how to proceed, I made little reminder signs to decorate our classroom: “One free hug with every hint!” “If you’re stuck, ask Mom. If you’re confused, ask Mom. If you’re not sure, ask Mom.” (Can you tell my students had lost all their self-confidence in public school?) Holding a child on my lap and offering encouraging cuddles was extremely beneficial to both of us. Even during those occasions when you just don’t know what to do next, sharing the love through hugs and prayers will draw you and your students closer together—and that’s the biggest reason why you chose to homeschool in the first place.
9) The teacher must always be right. Wrong. We are fallible humans, and we make mistakes. Textbooks and answer keys occasionally include mistakes, too. I found several mistakes in textbooks and answer keys during our homeschooling career. Sometimes they were typos, and sometimes they were just errors, but regardless of why, the books were wrong. Parents and kids alike will learn from homeschooling, and we learn more from our mistakes than we do when everything goes smoothly and perfectly. When you mess up, admit it; apologize, ask for forgiveness, make amends, and then move on. Be a shining example of how an adult should handle personal goof-ups with grace and humility—they certainly won’t see that in many other areas of life.
10) “I can’t homeschool—I don’t know everything!” That’s the point. Homeschooling parents don’t have to know it all, but they can teach their children anyway and can learn right along with the kiddies. When my kids asked me a tough question and I didn’t know the answer, their eyes lit up when I said in all honesty, “I don’t know… but I’ll bet we can find the answer together.” Kids appreciate honesty, especially from adults, and an honest admission of “I don’t know” is a refreshing change for them from the know-it-all attitude they usually get from the adult world. My kids delighted in playing “Let’s Stump Mom,” and their desire to learn increased with every round, won or lost. No one knows everything, but everyone can learn more. Let learning become a regular habit for parents as well as for children. It’s another facet of that role-modeling thing!
Whether you are beginning homeschooling after removing your children from an institutional school or are starting by simply not sending your little ones to preschool or Kindergarten, I can offer you some valuable been-there-done-that advice. File this under “If we’d only known…”
10. The “classroom model” is counter-productive to learning.
Seating students in tidy rows of individual desks is only beneficial if the teacher needs to maintain control over a crowd of students by herself. Ditto for periodic testing. Double ditto for asking permission to speak or to use the bathroom. Let them do science in the backyard; let them draw while lying on the floor; let them read in the treehouse; let them compare prices and quantities as math while grocery shopping. Demanding attention, waiting for silence in the room, waiting for all eyes forward, waiting in line—all are dehumanizing tactics meant for crowd control or to break the spirit of the individuals. These methods are used with new recruits in the military—and in prison. Exploration is the birthplace of genius, but when was the last time anyone turned loose a classroom full of students to randomly discover their hidden genius?
9. Schedules are made for faculties, not families.
Who in their right mind would put constraints on learning? What parent would tell their child “No, I’m sorry, Sweetie, but I can’t let you learn any more today”? Schools insist that learning must take place between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, September through May—and then they are disappointed that the students’ skills diminish over summer break. Homeschooling parents can sneak in “stealth” lessons on trees or flowers or bugs during a family picnic. Homeschoolers can browse an antique store during a weekend outing and turn it into an impromptu history lesson. Homeschooling students can help Dad change the oil or re-grout the bathtub or trim an elderly neighbor’s bushes… and get credit for learning valuable lessons at the same time. Learning opportunities abound every moment and every day. Never stop learning, and never stop looking for the “teachable moments.”
8. Reading and lecturing alone are insufficient teaching methods.
Textbook directions and diagrams only went so far in helping my kids learn. I soon found myself drawing different diagrams (if only bigger or more colorful), explaining concepts in multiple ways, or using borrowed game pieces as manipulatives to illustrate concepts. We did lessons outdoors; we did lessons on the floor; we used board games as lessons; we used videos as lessons. We acted things out; we made up rhymes; we used sign language to help us remember things. We added bright colors; we built models; we made flashcards; we invented games to help in practicing new skills. I had my kids teach difficult concepts back to me to be sure they understood them correctly. We used every possible method we could think of for illustrating and demonstrating lessons—and it worked. It worked very well.
7. Every homeschool is different. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Each family will need to use the methods and materials that fit their own children’s needs. It’s supposed to work that way; it has to work that way; that is why we are homeschooling in the first place. It is beneficial to share with others what has or has not worked and why, but each family needs to run that input through their own filter. Trying to mimic what others have done is a trap destined for failure. Borrow their idea, if you really like it, but adapt it to your own family’s tastes. If it works well, continue to adapt it and keep changing it as your needs change. If it doesn’t work well, either make enough changes that it will work or toss it back and try something else. You have your own preferences, you have your own values—build your homeschool around those, and ignore the Homeschooling Joneses. Two (or more) families can use identical materials, but still use enough variations in supplemental activities that their lessons will look nothing alike.
6. Students need academic success to build their self-confidence.
I didn’t realize that my (former public school) kids would need to see that they were capable of learning on their own… without the collective input of two dozen other kids backing them up. They needed to learn that they could move on to the next concept as soon as they had mastered this one. They also needed to learn that I would not push them to move on until they had mastered each concept, whereas classrooms move on with as little as one correct answer and, at most, one-third of the room understanding. Most of our first year of homeschooling was spent in learning how to learn and learning that they could learn. Once they had acquired confidence in their own abilities, things progressed much more quickly and much more smoothly.
5. The price of the materials has nothing to do with the amount of knowledge your students will gain.
We found used materials at book swaps and garage sales. We used hand-me-down materials from relatives and found great learning games and toys at thrift stores and flea markets. We made our own cheap versions of fancy educational gadgets from cereal boxes and tape and glue. I even made up my own lessons when I couldn’t find suitable materials to purchase. Purchases of popular, highly recommended, expensive materials often turned out not to be a good fit for us. We often learned more from the inexpensive items than we did from the pricey ones. Shiny boxes and high price tags do not automatically equal success.
4. Fit the materials to your students’ preferences and expectations.
My daughter’s former school did not have enough books, and they treated workbooks like textbooks, requiring every student to copy lessons into personal notebooks. One thing my daughter reallyreallyreally wanted from homeschooling was to have her very own personal workbooks that she could write in and decorate with gold star stickers. Done: I ordered a workbook. One thing my daughter reallyreallyreally didn’t ever want to see again was a red pencil mark on her papers. Done: I used bright orange and lime green and sky blue colored pencils to correct her work. Problems solved. Focus on the learning.
Find out what your kids expect homeschooling to be like. Find out what they do want and what they don’t want. Ditto for yourself and your spouse. Homeschooling should not be about one parent’s dream to play school with desks in a row and maps on the walls (although desks and maps are wonderful learning tools, they should not be the primary focus); homeschooling should be a learning adventure for the whole family. It’s okay to keep some parts of the school model, if what your family really wants and needs is that consistency. It’s okay to scrap all preconceived ideas and start over from scratch, if what your family really wants and needs is an Opposite Day educational experience. It’s also okay to use this method for this student and that method for that student, if that is what they really want and need.
3. Finding gaps in foundational skills is proof of academic success. (just fix ’em before moving on)
I was under the mistaken assumption that I could just begin teaching where the school had left off. I was also naive enough to think that the public school teachers had made sure my kids had understood everything… correctly. I was wrong on both counts. We had been homeschooling for only a few weeks when we hit our first educational pothole. The math book expected my child to work with fractions, and my child was horribly confused about fractions and what to do with them. I ordered some workbooks that focused solely on fraction math and put the regular math lessons on hold until my child was confident in handling fraction problems. These workbooks made fractions very simple to understand, but my child became incredibly angry and frustrated—but not at learning fractions—she understood those concepts very quickly, once they were explained adequately. Her anger and frustration came from seeing how simple fractions were to understand and remembering how difficult and complicated her teachers had told her fractions were.
We found materials to fill in each gap of missing knowledge, and then we moved on. Regular lessons in any given subject were suspended until that particular pothole was filled (the time varied from minutes to days to weeks), but once we could resume the lessons, the progress always came faster. We found numerous potholes during that first year, but by the end of that year, my children were learning with confidence and gaining ground rapidly. Every pothole proved to us that we were learning—if we hadn’t been making progress, we would never have discovered the potholes.
2. Play is learning, and learning should be fun.
Children work diligently at playing, whether they are building sand castles, playing dress-up, or roller-blading on the driveway. Kids wear themselves out having fun, and they learn important lessons from their playtime. They learn that moist sand packs best; they learn that long skirts and high heels don’t combine well with stairs; they learn that balance is very important in skating as well as in life.
Do you remember being eager to get your driver’s license? Do you ever hate waiting for a new movie to come out after you’ve seen the trailer for it? Have you ever called a friend to tell them all about your latest accomplishment? That is the excitement of learning!
What you do in your leisure time is your version of fun, whether that means reading a book or watching TV or painting your toenails or fishing for The Big One. If it wasn’t fun, you would do something else with your leisure time. Now look at what your children do during their leisure time—and find a way to incorporate those methods into their lessons for some really motivated learners.
1. Mom = Teacher = Mom (or Dad)
The first time Mom answers her student’s question, a miraculous transformation takes place: the student realizes that Mom knows stuff. Each answered question builds that reputation, and answering “I don’t know, but let’s try to find out together” increases the thirst for knowledge.
Parents have a unique advantage over traditional classroom teachers, in that parents can admit they don’t know all the answers. Homeschooling parents can use a bunny-trail question as the next teachable moment without disrupting an entire room full of students or getting hopelessly off a pre-set schedule.
Parents have a dynamic relationship with their children that allows snuggling during particularly difficult lessons. Learning to read is a magical milestone that should be celebrated with hugs and kisses and shouting and dancing, not relegated to the far corner of the room and conducted in hushed voices. Parents know instinctively when their child can be encouraged to try one more time and when that same child will benefit most from taking a break. Parents see their children day and night, weekday and weekend, season after season, year after year, on good days and bad days, in sickness and in health. Parents know what their children want and what their children need—and they will move heaven and earth to provide for them
Teachers are motivated by a paycheck and a sense of duty; parents are motivated by love. When a random child acts out in a classroom, the teacher seeks to make the disruption stop, even to the point of removing that child; when a parent’s own child acts out at home, the parent seeks to determine the cause of the problem and remove the problem, not remove the child. No one can know any given child to a greater degree than that child’s parent, no one will love a child more than that child’s parent, and no one can be a better teacher for a child than that child’s parent.
As homeschoolers, the most important thing to focus on is learning. If something is getting in the way of the learning, it becomes a stumbling block and is probably not all that important. Do things in a different order, try another method, or set that material aside for a time and see what happens. Homeschooling should be about learning, not about following in someone else’s precisely spaced footsteps. We made the most significant progress when we focused on what we were learning and stopped worrying about how we were learning it. Focus on the learning, and watch it happen!
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.