Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Evolving Homeschool Style

Today, I am excited to introduce you to Laura, a blogging friend who also happens to homeschool.    I met Laura earlier this year through her blog, Freedom at Home and School.  She shares about striving for a simple life, but one rich in adventures and relationships.  Laura's words of wisdom and experiences will encourage both new and veteran homeschoolers.

We will soon begin our sixth year homeschooling our two children.  Lydia is 13.  Lyndon is 11.  I am not a veteran homeschooler, but I have learned what works best for our family at this season of our lives.  When you homeschool, you spend enough time with your children to truly learn what makes them tick.

Homeschooling has benefited our lives in more ways than I can count.  It brought our family closer.  Our children are ahead of their peers in many subjects (and we're not even trying).  I would love to share everything I have learned that makes homeschooling work for our family.  But I was asked to write a post, not a book.  So in keeping with a major theme in our lives, I will keep it simple and share what works for us.

ECLECTIC.  That's our current homeschool style.

Webster's Dictionary defines eclectic as "selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles."  Exactly!  That's what we do.  We try to incorporate into our schooling only that which works the best (curriculum, styles) and toss the rest.

We began homeschooling in 2006.  I was so structured, I could barely move.  Hourly schedules, daily schedules, weekly schedules, annual schedules, schedules, schedules.  Good grief, I was so rigid.
I used the Sonlight curriculum for a couple of years.  (Sonlight, by the way is a super homeschooling resource.)  Sonlight's scheduling notebook is huge and it is full of schedules; hourly, daily, and weekly.  I took great comfort in this structure when I first started out.  If I didn't have the Sonlight scheduling notebook to hang onto during those first years, I might not have had the courage to seek out different formats that work better for our family today.  Those highly structured years helped train me.  I learned so much about how I teach, how our children learn, and how we work best together when we "do school." 

Today, however, I find highly structured schedules too restricting.  Rigid structure took away from the spontaneity that I find to be such a delightful part of homeschooling. 

Structure is important.  I get that.  But the backbone of how we homeschool is much more flexible today.  We bend deep trying new things, but we don't break.  We are solid on the basic subjects every child should know; math, writing, reading, history....  I know what I want our children to learn each year.  And we get there.

That said, here are a few guidelines that have worked well for us on our homeschool journey. 

*Have fun!  Be flexible!  Enjoy your children.
One of the most difficult things I had to learn as my childrens' teacher was to laugh with them during school.  Somehow I thought if we were silly when we were learning something, the kids wouldn't take learning seriously.  Was I ever wrong!  When we laugh together we bond.   A good belly laugh releases those wonderful endorphins that make life less serious and more fun.  It actually becomes easier to refocus and learn when your heart is light.  "A cheerful heart is good medicine."  Proverbs 17:22

When you're not rigid with your schedule, you can marinate in a subject that catches your childrens' fancy.  Last year we spent an entire day making crystals.  It wasn't planned, but it was one of our best days.  Our study on the Early Roman Empire was put away until the next day because learning about and making crystals is so fun!  We spent the day covering the house with our experiments.  Borax crystal ornaments, alum crystal geodes, and sugar crystal sticks.  We took pictures and videos.  The pages of their science journals were being filled and we were laughing a lot.  I loved that day.

*Be sneaky!  Teach them subjects that you've always wanted to learn.
When you are having fun, your children will have fun.  They will feel your excitement and internalize it.  It will energize them.  Think about a subject that interests you and learn about it together. 

I don't remember learning much about the Civil War in school.  I decided that since my children need to learn about the Civil War at some point, why not now?  From the library we borrowed some lovely coffee table books on the Civil War and left them out for the children to peruse at their leisure.  We dug through letters written by my great-great grandfather while he was a commander in the Civil War.  We watched movies and documentaries.  We memorized the Gettysburg address.  We read novels and biographies.  I loved that time. 

*Be creative.
Any subject can get boring.   When the kids are struggling with a particular concept (often in math), we'll get out our huge eraser board and some colorful markers.  I'll ask the kids to switch roles with me.  They teach me what they know and I try to coach them through it.  Finding a good video online explaining a certain discipline also helps.  The web site is a great resource for just about every subject.

We are not above enticing our children with money to learn something beyond what we are currently studying.  Money motivates them these days (we don't do allowance.)  Once in a while, my husband and I will put together a list of a dozen things the children can learn with a dollar amount attached to each.  The list magically appears on the refrigerator and stays up for just one week.  Once the list is taken down, so is their opportunity to make some extra money.  Five dollars to memorize the name and location of each European country and capital (spelling counts.)  $3.00 memorize the three branches of government and explain the function of each.  Our kids have spent entire evenings devoted to learning from that list in order to earn some money.  No TV.  Just learning.  It's heaven.

*Be fearless in the face of a newly purchased curriculum.
After hours spent researching a curriculum and investing in its purchase, I found it difficult to acknowledge that it was not working for our kids.  In spite of our best intentions, sometimes, you and your child will not "hit it off" with a particular curriculum.  If you see your child's eye's begin to glaze over and your child does NOT want to work on that particular subject, then toss it!  Your child does not have to endure a boring curriculum when there are scores of choices available online.  When we end up with a dud,  I have learned to move on quickly.  Resell it.  Give it to a family whose children find it enjoyable.  But move on! 

*Be organized.
It sounds like a contradiction.  Being organized does not equal being rigid or super-structured.  It simply means that we can quickly find what we're looking for.   It saves time.  It makes life less complicated.  I reorganized our homeschool closed this year.  Each shelf has it's own subject.  Each child has his/her own shelf.  There is a special box for their laptops.  We can locate a pencil sharpener and our writing curriculum in a heartbeat.  Less physical clutter means less clutter in our brains.

*When you want to give up.... DO!  (But only for a little while).
When things get hard (and they will), don't be afraid to take drastic measures.  Just quit... for a while.  I don't always take our family's "emotional temperature" before we begin our day.  I may start the day intending to finish a difficult chapter in math followed by a long chapter in history.  But if the kids wake up exhausted from a long week of swim practice and 4H activities, they may not share my energy.  Never be afraid to cancel school for the day, the week, two weeks...  Do something out of the box.  Go see a matinee (when all the other kids are in school!), ride your bike, play a game, hunker down and read books for pleasure.  Whatever caused the difficulty will soon seem insignificant as you wind down and school can begin again when you've got your equilibrium back.  A rested and relaxed child can do twice the work in half the time.

*Don't try to recreate a public school in your home.
We rarely sit at a desk for school.  More often than not, the kids are stretched out in the living room.  We break it up by writing an essay at the kitchen table, doing geography in the master bedroom (we have the world map tacked to our bedroom wall), watching our writing DVD snuggled on the couch together.  As long as the kids know where to find their stuff, they can work wherever they feel comfortable.  Both of my children are kinetic learners, so there is a lot of moving around in our house.  A physical change of location can alter the atmosphere and make learning easier.

*Talk about Him throughout the day.
"You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."  Deuteronomy 11:19

Bad moods?  Arguing?  Take a break, sit down together and talk about what King Solomon said: "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" Proverbs 12:18.   "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." Proverbs 29:11  There are endless moments to bring God's word into your day.  Often we'll just go off on rabbit trails and end up with a Bible study for the morning.  "Who wrote Proverbs?"  "Who was his father?"  "What great feat did his father do as a child?"

FINALLY....  Don't forget the excitement of new school supplies.  Especially in the middle of the year.  Fresh pencils, erasers, and journals?  An inexpensive boost of adrenaline; a renewed excitement for learning.  I don't know why.  It just works.

I love being a homeschool mom.  I no longer cringe when I hear someone ponder about the "waste" of my legal education.  Even on days that I feel like throwing in the towel, I know that I'm doing the right thing and tomorrow will be a better day.  I know that what my husband and I have chosen to do is making a positive difference in all of our lives. 

Time is passing so quickly.  Our children are with us for such a short while.  The world will have them soon enough.  In the meantime, pour yourself and your values into your kids.  Pray for them.  Pray with them.  Have fun with them.  

If you're still reading, you must have a heart to homeschool your children.  You are not alone.  There are millions of homeschooled kids around the world.  Our numbers grow every year.  Why?  Because it works! 

Never, ever give up.  There is always something new to try.   There is always encouragement to be found from a friend or an insightful blog.  There are as many different styles of homeschooling as there are children.  Find what works for you.  You will never regret homeschooling.  Even if you homeschool for a year or two, you will be giving your children a gift most kids never get; time with you. 

Homeschooling is one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made.  We have no regrets.  None.


About Laura:
My husband and I have been homeschooling our two children for six years. Lydia is 13 and Lyndon is 11. We moved to Montana from the big city 21 years ago looking for a more peaceful life. Earlier this year I began a blog, Freedom at Home and School, to journal about our attempts to simplify the very hectic lives we had somehow managed to create.  Many of my posts involve homeschooling because it is such an important part of our lives. I practiced law until our children were born. Now my days are spent taking care of my home and family. I enjoy gardening and couldn't survive without a pile of books on my bedside table. Being a stay at home mom is much more difficult and infinitely more important than my law practice. My husband is a business owner. His work creates a schedule that allows him to spend time with us each day. We love hanging out with our family. We see the speed at which our lives are passing. Our primary focus is God and family. We are blessed.

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