Making Homeschooling Work in the Real World
Forgive us if we laugh, but that is the number one question asked and always when we were out in public! And it is the easiest "real life problem" to solve. (We don't believe it is a problem).
Usually this is asked because the person has assumed that the institutional school setting is essential for the socialization of children. But when was the last time you were in a room full of same-aged persons interacting on a mono-themed topic and expected to react in a pre-determined pattern? That's not reflective of real world life.
Homeschooled does not mean home-bound, isolated with a library card and a few books. The front door does "swing both ways."
Most of the real fun was after institutional school anyway. All those clubs, sports, volunteer work, etc. (Remember, you were suppose to be focused on your school work not chatting with your friends in class?)
Homeschoolers have built large networks to provide socialization outlets for their children, and individual families become involved in all sorts of clubs, sports and community work. (See our Event Calendar and Directory of Support Resources and Directory of Activities, Classes and Programs. )
Homeschooled children are socialized in the real world and interact with a broad range of ages within the family and community. They have the time to connect deeply with relationships and learn to interact with adults and children alike.
The adults in their life have time to closely mentor them, one-on-one, to guide them, correct them, build deep relationships with them, and enjoy them!
We at the CHOC Board believe this is a more realistic and beneficial pattern of socialization then the common experience of being "socialized" in an institutional setting with a large group of same-aged children often behaving questionably under the loose oversight of one adult who is more of an acquaintance than mentor.
Many new homeschoolers worry about the aspect of "juggling" all the schooling lessons with general life when small children are in the household or there is a mix of ages.
However, talking with large homeschooling families will assure you that lessons do get done. The challenge is more often about spending the time to work out character development, especially between siblings. But that's the positive too!
It is important to remember true education is full-life discipleship. Because your children are at home, these personality issues come to the surface in your presence where you can deal with them and then learn through them (as opposed to happening in the institutional classroom or playground far away from attentive and wise adult interaction). Your family grows stronger (and closer) as you work through each challenge, and each child matures in character as well as their academics.
There are some key elements to helping things run more smoothly, and you don't have to be an organizational guru to achieve them.
- Everyone who is able should have a job to do to help run the home, and try to have a place for things to go that even the littlest can reach (if appropriate)
- Morning hours are usually the best for focused learning, use afternoon hours for fun activities (or naps, including yours)
- Make schooling fit your life pattern--don't try to immitate institutional school--true education is life learning and learning about life
- Learn to control unneccesary distractions (use that answer machine and don't answer the door)
- Expect obedience from your children (and enforce it)
- Have special toys and quiet activities that are only brought out when you need to focus with an another child
- Combine subjects and work thematically as much as you are able. (Usually reading and math are individualized, but science and history can be thematically approached at multi-age levels and taught on alternate days.)
- Ask for help when you need it! Older children can play with a younger child while you work with a middle child. Older children can help teach younger. Grandparents can help. Co-Ops can provide reinforcement.
- Keep a sense of humor and trust God to provide an answer
Christian Homeschool Fellowship has a good article by Tamara Eaton entitled "
Multilevel Homeschooling" that is helpful regarding all these issues (follow the links within "Multilevel Homeschooing" for answers to the additional questions).
If you are asking this question, chances are you have a kinesthetic/hands-on learner who will not be happy if they are taxed by oodles of workbook pages, heavy reading assignments, or long hours at a desk through a very traditional educational program (something of the square peg in a round hole syndrome--and your little square peg will dwaddle, bounce, fiddle, whine, go off onto tangents--to your and his exasperation).
Most younger children (often up to age 9 or 10 as a generalization) fit this category to some degree. Also, predominately more boys figure into this category and for a longer time--no political incorrectness meant--just a common observation by most mothers of young boys!
Be aware we are not referring to blatant rebellion or laziness, which all children will at some time try to "pull" on a parent to avoid their lessons, but a true need to move and groove to burn off all that excess energy.
Also, we recognize some children with learning challenges will need special attention to help them focus and progress with their studies. If you believe your child may be beyond the "normal" limit of childhood activity and distractfulness, we encourage you to seek wise and godly counsel. Some organizations we know of are listed on our Handy Links section under
Many programs--especially non-traditional "delight directed," "Charlotte Mason," "real books," and unit or theme style programs--take a child's energy into consideration particularly for the earlier grades which is why so much of early learning looks like "play."
Most children do outgrow this stage eventually, and all should, to a certain degree, learn how to learn in a more academic style as they grow older, but we've discovered instead of fighting this bent it is better to channel that energy into a way that helps him grow and learn.
A wise parent understands a child's need for movement and will help the child release that pent up energy constructively so his mind can focus.
Thus, when schooling, be sensitive to your child's maturity and activity level when planning your day and choosing your curriculum. Over-fidgetiness often means an ambitious parent is rushing a young child too quickly or has planned their day poorly. Learn to slow down and let the child grow at his pace! Be sensitive to his energy levels and natural learning patterns.
Balance academic (workbook or reading) time carefully with read aloud and fun craft or hands-on activities. Some children will require a lot more hands-on time than others. When teaching, keep your lessons shorter with physical play breaks in between, your point simple and clear for each lesson, and learn to be creative with the presentation of concepts using as much hands-on/real world activities as possible.
However, never feel you have to be a one-man circus show to appease your child or bribe him to learn, nor should you feel that you must let your child "run wild" throughout the day before he will settle down and obey you for a couple of lessons. Pray for God to reveal reasonable goals for your child at each learning stage, keep a sense of humor, set some clear limits for his behavior, then let the games begin.
Games for Active Learners
For ideas we did with our active learners please go to our article
. Also check out the wonderful educational coloring books by Rod and Staff. We got a lot of learning time done with our children's hands busy coloring on the topic we were discussing.
In our Handy Links!
page we've listed curriclum publishers that carry hands-on materials--one of our favorites is Timberdoodle.
Homeschooling, as is true with any worthwhile task, requires perseverence. If you are feeling burned out and in despair, don't be tempted to simply give up in a fit of frustration and look for the nearest public or private school enrollment form. First, take some time to get rested and refreshed, both in mind, body and spirit, before you make any permanent decisions. If that means taking a couple of days off from homeschooling, then do it. We all need a break sometimes. Consider it a teacher "in service" day and spend time in prayer as you refresh. Spend time as a family having fun together rather than just always schooling together. Often, this alone will alleviate much of the discouragement.
Then, if you discover something is truly amiss, analyze with your spouse what doesn't seem to be well with your homeschool. Is it bad attitudes? A troublesome strong-willed student? Lack of motivation? Lack of discipline? (Examine your own as well as your children's.) Frustration with curriculum? Lack of support? Lack of direction? Too many distractions? A feeling of burn out? A subject that has completely bogged down? Define what you are feeling and attempt to get to the root of the feeling...not just what you are feeling. Be sure to count your blessings during this time of analysis as well to keep a proper balance in your perspective.
It is very important to recognize you are going to need affirmation from others as you homeschool, especially if you are in the midst of a troublesome period. That is okay! Seek support from God and family members and homeschooling friends. It may sound trite, but perseverance does work joy in its time. Don't give up easily. Press on to the mark that God has set before you.
Typical discouragement sources are over-commitment to outside duties, a crisis in the family (health or finances), weariness with constantly fighting a strong-willed child, badly fitting curriculum, lack of focus and direction, poor prioritizing, coveting another family's successes, obsessive need to over achieve. Many of these issues are addressed in our "
The Pitfalls to Avoid" article.
Remember, there is no shame in seeking alternative sources for a particular subject if that subject is truly necessary for the student and the family homeschool cannot supply it at the time needed. (All homeschools go through unique seasons.) There are many creative solutions because homeschooling is ultimately parent-directed schooling and can be shaped and fitted to the needs at hand. Seek help within a co-op, academy class, private tutor, online curriculum source...the list goes on and on. (See our
Directory of Activities, Classes and Programs for a starting point.)
Continue to analyze and shape your homeschool as your children grow, recognizing each season will present its own challenges...and rewards...as you remain committed to what the Lord has directed you to do. As veteran homeschoolers will attest, the joys we reap are abundant and beyond measure.
What about Assigning Grades?
When or whether to assign grades is obviously a personal decision that will vary from family to family and often from child to child. There is no "right or wrong" answer, just personal opinion.
While grades can be a good tool for assessing a students progress, if used non-critically and tied to real educational achievement, overall, we at the CHOC Board are not a fans of grades, especially in the years before high school.
We preferred a "percentage system" which will be explained below. For high school, we did feel compelled to assign grades for the purpose of the transcript, but the grades were more for the transcript use and less for the student use. We still emphasized our "percentage system" rather than a grade system.
So why our aversion to grades? Well for better or worse, grades do tend to "brand" a child with more than a letter. While not as severe as the infamous Hawthorn's "Scarlet A," every public school classmate knows kids in the class rate each other's intelligence by the grades they received. Those that are "brainy" get the "A's" while those that are slow or "dumb" get, well, definitely not "A's."
This is unfortunate as I repeatedly see in my tutoring services that those students who are not receiving the top grades, especially in grade school, are often the ones that have wonderfully creative minds that just don't fit confinement into a 10 by 20 classroom for 6 hours of so much blah blah blah by the talking head at the front. (No disrepect intended to those hard working teachers talking at the front of the classroom.)
On the other hand, I've also witnessed that those who score high grades (and even high standardized test scores) as their end goal not only often have an over-inflated opinion of their abilities but also end up with a terrible education. Students will rush to look good but do not take time to understand the bigger concept, and honestly aren't concerned with getting a real education. I hear parents lament that they spent a lot of time, and were under a lot of pressure, to get high grades but basically just studied for the test and learned very little in the process.
Unfortunately, our upper school system (ie. colleges) traditionally uses the high school transcript with its list of grades to filter students for admission. Notice this doesn't indicate how well a student will actually do in college, nor what the student actually remembers, but rather it is a quick assessment tool for busy admission counselors which may or may not indicate actual performance. Many colleges are going away from the transcript because the value of grades can varying so much from school to school. One school's "A" may be another school's "C." But for the time being, I think we are largely stuck with grades and the transcripts for college admission unless you can talk a counselor into taking more time to scrutinize a portfolio and personal interview
The Percentage System. We at the CHOC Board prefer a straight percentage system with no grade attached. The goal of teaching is for mastery of a subject rather than unintentional intelligence branding. A student can see that when they achieve a 90% correct score, it means they missed 10% of the material. I remind students a 10% deviation from the goal can mean, and often does, that the bridge still fell down. Those who achieve a 50% score realize they have learned half the material. Yippee, now let's focus on the rest of the half. I stress to all students that the goal is 100% mastery. When assessed, we rejoice in what we've accomplished but accept with thankful humility that which we still need to learn.
We've also used a reward system tied to a "school store" stocked with fun things to "purchase" as a motivational system for those students who begin to work the percentage system knowing they will always have another opportunity to complete the work to 100% correction tomorrow. It is important to do our best effort first, and this can reinforce that concept.
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