Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Survive Homeschooling/Parenting

Today I am taking time out from the normal routine because of a spasm in my back. It isn't fun at all, but it gives me time to write this down, which I've wanted to do for days.

As you all probably know from my "about me" section of my blog, I have homeschooled for over a decade. We started in 1998, when Josh was going into the second grade and Amber was in kindergarten. Back in those days, I felt very much like we were playing school.

By the time I got around to homeschooling, Josh had already been to two years of preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade, all in a public setting. The first day of homeschool I felt such a let down when he told me that homeschool was "boring".

I had written out lesson plans and had great ideas of what to teach them. At the time of being told I was boring, I was lecturing, using a globe I remember. I felt like I wanted to cry and spank him all at the same time.

Instead, I gathered my wits about me and did what I'd felt inspired to do before but hadn't put it into practice: use unit studies.

So, the children and I agreed on a topic of study: animals, and we left to the library to get books on the subject. The kids had a great time, and Josh even commented once that "I bet we are the only school learning all about animals."

During these unit studies, my children learned about the geography: climate, what plants grow in that area that the animal eats, (specifically that tigers come from Asia and lions from Africa among many other things) science: what makes an animal a mammal? a bird? an amphibian? a reptile? a fish? As we found skeletons of animals (we lived on a farm in the country & found all kinds of things) we would look carefully and try to figure out what animal it once was; if we found the skull, we would pay careful attention to the teeth to figure out if it was a carnivore or herbivore. We learned a lot and the kids LOVED it.

We also studied flowers, birds, trees and just about anything else that we could, out of our Audubon Field Guides.

In fact, I remember one day after getting our field guide on wildflowers, we took a walk to our mailbox (about 1/4 mile down our dirt road) to get the mail. On the way we picked all of the different kind of wildflowers that we could. Now this was in rural Kentucky where wildflowers abound, so we found myriads of different species of flowers; the kids loved it! When we got back, I announced that we were going to identify our wildflowers; the kids weren't quite so excited to do this, but were curious to know what flowers they had accumulated. Then, in their science notebook, I had the kids draw a picture with colored pencils of each flower we found and label it with its name. After finding some Sweet William flowers, I told the kids that we were going to send a Sweet William flower along with a letter that they would write to three Williams that we knew: Grandpa, Uncle, and a Williams family that we were friends with. That is when the kids were just about sick of those darn flowers, but they persevered. I think that Grandpa and Uncle both saved their letters from that project.

Look at how many things were taught by that day in school: p.e., writing, research, science, & art are the subjects that leap out at me, and probably more if I stopped to think about it for more than 30 seconds.

Now, I'm sure that a licensed teacher could teach me a thing or two that I don't know, but I am sure that I could teach them things they were never prepared for in college. For instance: How do you keep the school clean while having myriads of children that never. ever. leave. AND when there is no janitor? How do you cook lunch while teaching math? What do you do when the two year old dances on the same table that your students are studying at? and many, many more areas of expertise that seem to need a more profound word than simply "multitasking".

A homeschooling mother juggles more hats than anyone else on the planet. Guaranteed! She has less time for herself than just about anyone else I've ever met, yet she must be ready for anything that comes her way. It is no wonder than these women burn out so early in the game if they don't learn one simple trick: delegation.

At our home, chore charts were revered just about as much as the scriptures. It was the only way to make order out of the chaos. Now please, before we go any further, please be aware that I have lots of chaos and lots of disorder (or disorders, but that is a subject for another day.) I am not perfect, nor do I know any perfect people. I have some friends who are perfect with children, but their house cleaning skills aren't quite perfect, and I know some friends whose houses are perfect and their children drive them crazy. It is a balancing act. No one is perfect at all things. AND, please be aware that you do *NOT* have to be perfect. You have to be YOU. The best you you can be, but you nonetheless.

In my home, when order rather than chaos reigned (and we've had it both ways, to varying degrees), it was only because the children helped. My children were expected to help with housework and babysitting just as much as they were expected to get their school work done.

I organized the house into sections that the children could clean; usually it was by room according to the child's abilities. They were expected to clean that room every day. They were expected to clean up other people's messes and take their toys/clothes to that person's room. That was the biggest complaint I ever heard: "So and so left their doll/truck in the living room (kitchen, hallway, etc). I think that they should learn to clean up after themselves." And the child had a point.. but we still made them clean up what was in the room anyway. Another variation would have been to have everyone go through the "public rooms" (as compared to bedrooms) and pick up & put away everything that belongs to them and *then* have the kids do chores; it is what works best for your family. Before they could go out to play, their chore had to be completed and checked off.

I also assigned a big kid to a little kid. I had the older child help the younger child to get dressed, tie their shoes, hold their hand when we went to the store, etc, etc, etc. I only assigned two children together who got along. This is not the time to teach two kids how to get along. Far from it! This is how you will keep your sanity, especially if you have a big family.

I have gone so far as to have an older child tutor a younger child in school if I had to work with another child in depth or if I had a baby to nurse. I always checked to make sure that the older child was teaching correct things, but it was good for the older one to help the younger because it cemented the information in the older kid's head too. It is true that the best way to make sure you know something is to try to teach it.

The kids had to have their school work done before they could be finished and go play "for good" during the day; I make the distinction between letting them go play for recess and go play "for good". Everyone needs a break, or several breaks, during the day, and homeschooled children are no different, but before they could go play at a friend's house or go play for an extended time, chores and schoolwork had to be finished.

I also don't lecture very often anymore. I set the kids to task with a "textbook" and then check up on them/have them come to me with questions. By the time a kid gets to be about 4th grade, they know exactly what is expected of them and just *do* what they are supposed to do.

I have kids check their own work or their sibling's work. They are on the honor system to not cheat. I usually give them a marker or pen and make them put down their pencils so they aren't tempted to change answers. If it is something they are struggling with, I won't have them check their own work because oft times I will make them go back and redo problems and I don't want them to remember the answers; in these cases, I will have a sibling do it or I'll do it myself.

On this vein of thought, I make my kids get an 80% or higher on their work to be able to move on. If they get less than an 80%, I will make them do corrections on the problems they got wrong, working and reworking, until they *do* get an 80% or higher.

Even though I only have 1 child that I am homeschooling now and who needs help doing things, I still stick by my methods.

I feel very strongly that children should learn to be an asset to the family, not a liability. They should be able to "earn their keep", and they will find self-esteem in knowing how to clean a house, babysit & think of another, and knowing what is expected of them.

I had a child tell me the other day that I should be paying them to do their chores; I raised my eyebrows and said that perhaps they should be paying rent then. Their answer was "point taken" and a smile.

It doesn't hurt a child to learn responsibility and to learn that they *do* cost money and that they *should* be helpful; I believe that if they don't learn that, they will be a taker from society and not a giver, and they will expect things to be given them without putting in the hard work.

To truly have self-esteem, a person must truly feel their worth, and the only way to feel your worth is to do things of worth.


  1. Love this! You are awesome and your children are very blessed that you've pushed them and 'called it like it is.' Kid's need this!

  2. I loved reading this Melody.