The Best Advice for New Homeschoolers

With the number of public school pullouts happening this week all around me, I thought I would pose a highly relevant question to those of you who correspond with me by email. (If you read my blog and would like to be part of this group please sign up by entering your email address in the space to the right of this blog.)

What advice would you give someone who confided in you that she was pulling her kids and beginning homeschooling tomorrow? This is a woman who does not believe she has time to read about homeschooling – she has to jump in right away. What would you say to her? 

The responses were great. There was such an outpouring of the wisdom of the homeschooling crowd, it was fantastic to see.

Here are my favorite responses:

“Just pick something. It’s not going to be perfect – no curriculum is – so, just get started. You’ll never know what does and doesn’t work without doing SOMETHING first.

“Don’t worry about stumbling through things that don’t work in the beginning. Modify what you can while you find what fits you and your child(ren).

I’d also drop names like Susan Wise Bauer and John Taylor Gatto, and suggest attending a homeschool convention in time (if only to peruse the exhibit hall.)” – Stefani from Dallas, TX

“I would share my own experience of pulling my 6-year old out of first grade. It was four months into the school year and I didn’t have a clue about how to homeschool. I just knew it was what was best for my child. I had one homeschooling friend so I watched her in action.

Mostly, for the first few weeks, my son and I visited the library often and we took a lot of nature walks and we snuggled up together with books. During this time I read up on different philosophies. I was drawn to unschooling or letting my child take the lead.

One thing I would emphasize is to not even try to keep up (or down?) with what the public schools are doing. It’s simply not worth it and it’s completely unnecessary. Even if the child eventually re-enters public school, chances are they will be ahead of their peers in many areas and considered behind in a few areas but in the end it honestly doesn’t matter! I have 3 kids in college now to prove it.” – Camie.

“I would say that you shouldn’t start right in on your kids where they left off in school. If there was some sort of rush to get them out of a bad school situation, they probably need some downtime to recover. Even if there wasn’t a bad situation, everyone could use a break.

Your child will not be behind forever if they take a month off to get used to a new routine of being at home and responsible for their own education (with your help). You are more likely to last if you read the books as many as you can.

Talk to other homeschoolers or unschoolers if you can. Read their blogs. Then put it all away and live your homeschooling/unschooling life, which will not be perfect, which will change over time, and remember not to get so wrapped up in “schooling” your kids that you lose sight of their wills, desires, and personalities. Adapt your method to your child, don’t try to force your child to conform to your method.” – Cheryl.

“I would first recommend them looking into their state’s laws to see what requirements their state has set forth for homeschoolers and to see what organizations are available for their state. (For Texas it is THSC – Texas Home School Coalition that will give the help that can answer many of the legal questions they may have). If I have just a few minutes to talk to that person, this would probably be the primary advice I would give. All states are different, and have different legal requirements for homeschoolers.

If their child is older and is planning on college I would suggest they talk to their colleges of choice to see what specifics they require in terms of transcripts, etc.

I would also give them the list of the resources I have found locally. For example, the homeschool opportunities at the local library, museums and groups I know about.” – Amy.

“First, I’d say go spend the days together doing whatever comes to mind! Have fun! De-school yourselves! Write down all the things you see your kids doing everyday and learn to see that through an unschooling lens. Learn to translate that in your mind into educationese. Then RELAX, because you are going to see a wealth of education and growth happening without you, mom. 🙂

Then I’d tell them to work through the book Educating the Whole Hearted Child  that has some workbook aspects inside to help them craft some of the important things in their homeschool. It will jump start them quickly in the right direction that lends them to the path to those awesome other titles: a baby step that helped me get on the path that doesn’t recreate school at home. ” – Laura.

“When I decided to homeschool,  it became evident that I was crossing into/over some imaginary line that either I believed was a wall or it was just a line.  Along the way, I discovered that every book, everywhere will guide you it will tell you best approaches, best curriculum, grade levels, etc.  But the bravery lay in creating the best homeschool that fits not only familial dynamics but also your children. Because if homeschooling chose you and not the other way around, it gave you freedom to explore all curricula, all schools of thought.

“My favorite idea is taking a year off especially if they’re used to school and the routine.  You will never replicate school in your home.  Simply, home is home.  Life happens at home.  Messy, complicated,  life. School happens at school, structured, ruled school.  

“I took the year to discover how all this fits in to my life and my child’s. That not to say we did nothing.  I knew he likes science so, I found hands-on lessons, lap books, until I found my footing and my confidence. It is a marathon. Slow and steady.” – Candace.

“We have four children who are home schooled, 5, 7, 9 and 12, we also have two older 12 and 17. The older two, our 12 year old daughter, (the princess!) is off to an all girls high school which only accepts gifted and talented children. The 17 year old has always been mainstream schooled and now enjoys his 6th form freedom. The four home schooled children are helped with their learning by my wife and myself, together with our excellent network of home schooling families and groups.

So, on to your question, if home schooling was mentioned, our children would prick up their ears and excitedly tell you all about it, what they like, how they like to learn, how its great to learn through just looking around, experiencing life, expressing their feelings and opinions and recording all these by taking pictures, writing stories, doing research and creating their files and diaries which they can read later and remember their life experiences.

My wife or myself would share the joy of our children learning without boundaries, living their parents’ values (rather than someone we don’t even know), having the freedom to learn without the constraints of a some brand of learning for their age, not feeling pressurized to do things they object to, not just learning during the week and being too tired to even communicate at weekends – but, instead realizing life experiences are all around and through them anything can be understood, learnt and used to equip our children for a successful and rewarding future in life.

Sometimes however it becomes stressful, persuasive tactics don’t work and it seems like your not getting anywhere. These are the moments when your own determination, commitment to ensure your children ‘are the best’ and your love for them wins – and perhaps a glass of red wine, hehe! – Michael.

“If I were to meet someone in that position I would say, take it one step at a time, don’t be too hard on yourself or your children. Research on the go, if you have to. Don’t be afraid to change resources as you see fit. It’s not about completing any set amount of work or meeting any requirements, but your own.

As long as something positive has happened that day, that enriched your child as a human-being, that day has been productive. And soon enough you’ll see, you’re on a roll! Oh, definitely there are those horrible days, self-doubting days, I-can’t-seem-to-be-able-to-keep-up-with-the-house-work days, but truly homeschooling is the most rewarding experience between parent and child!

I could go on for a while yet, but suffice it to say that our kids are little for a short time only, I for one prefer to spend maximum amount of time with them, instead of sending them away for the largest portion of that time, to be conditioned in the hands of strangers that other strangers have told me I should trust.” – Name withheld by request.

“The most helpful advice I’ve received so far is to deschool for a good length of time when you pull your kids out of traditional school. It was suggested to deschool 1 month for every year your child was in traditional school.

I was not homeschooled so it is a new mindset for me as well as for my son. A little background – we adopted our 13yo son in December and withdrew him from middle school on the last day before Christmas break. Our motivations are as much or more so about building attachment as they are about academics. We gladly took the advice to deschool and get to know each other better and go on field trips, go to the library, enjoy the outdoors, etc.

It’s also given me time to read about various homeschool philosophies and methods and observe how my son learns. We’ve tried some things out, but we’re staying flexible, keeping things light and fun as we develop a rhythm of schooling that will serve us best.” – Susannah.

“I have given this advice many times to moms who are pulling their kids from school. You have TIME. More time than you realize.

Once you pull them from school, take a few months and get to know your child(ren).  Start developing a routine for living at home together all the time. It will be an adjustment. Spend time at the library, the zoo, the park, in the backyard, etc. If they can read, encourage them to read a lot.

Your child needs to de-school. You can use this time to start educating yourself on homeschooling philosophies and ideas. After a few months off, maybe introduce one subject at a time and get to know how your child learns. Pacing yourself is the best thing you can do to ensure success in homeschooling. Finally, and maybe most importantly, find a community of homeschooling moms near you that you can talk to and get together with from time to time. You will need the support and your children will love the time to play with other homeschooled kids. You have TIME.” – Meredith.

“Take your summer break now. Relax and enjoy time with your kids. Talk about what they know and find out what they want to learn about next. Go to zoos and museums before the summer crowds and without the field trip mentality. Play board games and have fun worth each other. Read books together. A strong relationship with your kids is foundational to successful homeschooling. And then you’ll have time to research a couple months and make a plan. Start homeschooling when you and your child are ready. There’s no rush or reason to follow the traditional school schedule.” – Christa.

“I’d have to say to that mom that she can absolutely do it! And, she needs to know that every doubt she is having, the public and private school teacher has also had at the beginning of her career.

Know without a doubt that you can provide AT LEAST as good an education for your child if not a significantly better one!  I speak this as a former public school teacher with 3 grown children who attended public and private schools and a 7-yr-old who I now say will be sent to public school only when you pry him from my cold, dead hands! Yes, I’m a bit dramatic about it! I’ve experienced the inside of public school as both a teacher and a parent.

Trust me when I say that if you have Internet access, a library card, and can find a group of like-minded mamas with kids somewhat close in age, YOU ARE GOLDEN!  The most important of those three, I believe, is the group! If you are pulling your kids tomorrow, I’d say find a group that suits you as soon as possible!  They don’t have to do school the way you do school. They don’t have to have the exact same educational philosophy. They simply need to be supportive and available to interact with on a regular basis. ALL mamas need interaction and support, and the ability to ask questions, share ideas and struggles, and do life together makes all the difference!

If you can’t find a group that fits, start one. That’s what I did 3 years ago, and we now have over 30 families. Several, but not all, meet weekly. We do field trips together. We have monthly Moms’ Nights Out. Our kids love each other, we love each other! I don’t know how I’d make it without them.” – Rhonda.

“Find out what matters most to you and focus on it. Everything else can wait. When we began homeschooling, I focused on character. The kids read, I read to them and we focused on their piano lessons. That’s it. In the next quarter they had outdone years of work at the public school!” – Linda.

So there you have it! The best advice from homeschooling families.

Now, go forth in confidence, new homeschoolers! Welcome!

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Math and the Determined Homeschooler

(Image courtesy of College at Home, published under a Creative Common License) 

I recently sent out a survey to my email list to prove or disprove a thesis of mine about math. All Common Core math discussions aside, it was my understanding that homeschoolers are confident in their ability to teach their children because they know they can teach math and science.

Why? Because any basic anecdotal survey of parents who want to homeschool but feel they will not do a good job seems to suggest that inability to teach math and science lead the hand-wringers.

However, what I found did not seem to agree with the above oft-mentioned, much reiterated, excuse.

Being good at math as a child was NOT a determining factor in the homeschoolers surveyed and was NOT even remotely connected to their confidence in homeschooling. In fact, the most common response was that being able to teach math was not a determining factor in their decision because they knew that they either could learn or get help.

The other question that I found fascinating clued me into why homeschooling works and why homeschooled children tend to perform better in general (as shown in above infographic by College at Home): of the parents who responded to my survey, a whopping 92% said they drew connections between what their children were learning in math and why it was important for them to know. Only 8% said they didn’t draw connections because it was more important to get the basics first.

Of all the respondents, 58% said they struggled with math as children and yet, here they are, determined, learning and teaching.

So much for the typical Common Core response that parents need to “back off” and let the teachers handle the teaching. So much for parents passing on their own fear of math to their children.

A full 77% of respondents either followed a math curriculum loosely or did not use a curriculum at all. You don’t get much more confident than that.

This survey is why I love homeschoolers, whether they’re unschoolers or not. I have yet to find another group as motivated and as confident in what scientists call the “plasticity” of the human brain – their and their children’s ability to learn, to work hard and to get where they want to go.

The purpose of this blog is to inspire homeschoolers. If this post helped you, please share it!

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“Why Do I Have to Learn This?!”

This is a guest blog post by Shell Higgs. She is a freelance writer with many skills up her sleeve. She cannot cook or juggle, but she does specialize in writing about parenting, technology and education.  You can follow her on twitter @higgshell or visit her blog at techeduchat.

To this day, I don’t know why I had to learn long division. While the actual process was taught to me, the motivation to learn and remember it was neglected, so I immediately went straight back to doing division in my preferred way.

We’ve all heard the words “why do I have to learn this?” usually accompanied by a groan. The lesson has struck them as being boring or difficult, and generally not applying to their life at all. This is where great learning goals are worth their weight in stress-free gold.

[clickToTweet tweet=”A clear learning goal answers the not just the what and how, but also the why of the lesson.” quote=”A clear learning goal answers the not just the what and how, but also the why of the lesson.”]

The why is a vital but often missed step. By revealing why the child should learn the subject or skill, you allow them space to assign value to the lesson. It connects the lesson to their world, community, belief and self-knowledge.

By framing your learning goals in a WALT/WILF/TIB format, and displaying them prominently, you can provide children with the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. It should be stated that this format doesn’t limit bonus learning from additional branches of exploration, it merely directs children to the high point of your intention. It might just be a springboard for a whole new project!

Here’s how it works.

WALT: Write learning goals that work. WALT is We Are Learning To…

In one short, snappy sentence, explicitly tell the children what they are supposed to be learning. Make sure to include an action verb.

We Are Learning To: ‘Explore narrative structures in classic literature’ or ‘Learn about bees and what they do’. If another person asks your child what they learned today, they don’t have to try and uncover the point of the lesson, they know exactly what they learned today.

WILF: Action verbs, explicit statements and links to the child’s world. WILF is What I’m Looking For…

This is your success criteria. How will the child know when they’ve learned the lesson, especially when the goal was to do something unquantifiable, like ‘explore’? What I’m Looking For: ‘Able to draw a narrative structure diagram’ or ‘Able to label a honey bee diagram and explain bee roles’.

By letting the child know exactly what success looks like, they are able to self-evaluate, and clarify their learning if required.

TIB: Learning goals assist students to become invested in the lesson and take ownership of their learning. TIB is This Is Because…

This is your opportunity to link the lesson to the child’s world and what is important to them. If the lesson is about physics, link it to how much they love skateboard tricks. If the lesson is teaching teenagers to be safe online, link it to their desire to connect.

A good TIB statement is a powerful learning tool. Even when you aren’t quite sure how to link it to them specifically, a little explanation goes a long way. This Is Because: ‘Knowing the narrative structure means you can write your own stories’ or ‘Honeybees are vital to propagating plant life on Earth’.

It’s not necessary to write a WALT/WILF/TIB for every lesson, or even change them every day. Some learning goals will carry across a whole week or even a term.


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Teaching Is Not a Performance – It’s a Conversation

I had a friend in graduate school who used to irritate me by asking the professor one too many questions. Usually, the questions were of an open-ended sort.

“Doesn’t this seem a little fatalistic?” she asked of Yeats’ The Second Coming, for example. This grated on my nerves.

“Why do you ask so many questions?” I said. Me, classroom-hater, classroom fanatic.

“Because I’ve always believed,” she responded, “that education is a two-way street.”

We tend to forget that when it comes to educating children, I think. In spite of the constant reminders about educating literally meaning “to draw out,” we tend to sometimes think that just dumping a bunch of information into kids and then seeing how quickly they can regurgitate those facts is somehow teaching them.

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think. – Albert Einstein

I remember being terrified of teaching my own children when we first began to think of homeschooling. Perhaps it was because I tend to be an introvert and the idea of standing in front of a group and teaching them seemed, frankly, intimidating.

It wasn’t until I realized that homeschooling isn’t like teaching a classroom – you don’t have to work hard to get and keep their attention, it really doesn’t take very long at all and it provides you with ample opportunities for your own intellectual stimulation and perhaps a side profession.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Homeschooling works because it is intimate, individualized and introspective. ” quote=”Homeschooling works because it is intimate, individualized and introspective. “]

Homeschooling is Intimate

One of the biggest advantages homeschooling has over a classroom setting is that it is intimate. Like a conversation, it is a shared experience between the teacher and the student, a mother and her child, a father and his son or daughter. There is time to ask questions and have them answered. There is time to read a story, explore the segues, learn something as an accident.

Homeschooling often is learning just by the way, as a side effect, just for the heck of it, just because it is so darn fun!

None of this is possible in a classroom or in a performance.

Homeschooling is Individualized

My son recently moved on to multiplication while my daughter needed more practice with subtraction, so I kept her there. The thing is she’s older than him. This is not a big deal with us because I don’t stress about their grade levels.

In a classroom where they would be expected to be in lock step with their peers, this would be a problem. But who cares? They’re learning to mastery, they’re learning to their interests and I’m giving them free rein where they want it and where they excel.

The same daughter who needs more practice in subtraction is reading way above her grade level. She has practical skills unmatched in children her age. She is creative, curious and incredibly smart. Individualized education serves her well.

Homeschooling is Introspective

I can learn anything I want. In today’s world where information is everywhere and very little stays hidden for very long, it’s not gathering information that counts as education as learning how to process it. Where’s the time to process in a classroom? Where’s the time to think?

One of the tenets of our homeschool is giving the children enough time to be bored, to make their own fun. Homeschooling gives them time to introspect, to piece together what they learned in the day, ask good questions and we even have time to find good answers.

As a homeschooler, I never have to worry about giving a good performance. I only have to engage enough to have a great conversation. Because that’s what teaching really is. And that’s what will always remain the enduring beauty of home education.

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Three Reasons Introverts Make Good Homeschoolers

You don’t need a Myers-Briggs personality test to tell you when you are an introvert. You just know it. You’re not shy, you’re just an introvert.

Here’s why introverts make good homeschoolers.

Introverts keep it simple

Introverts are exhausted by noise in their environment and tend to be minimalists to a large degree. Noise can be visual or audio or just plain excess. When it comes to homeschooling, this can be a task to get through because the sheer volume of curriculum choices makes it a daunting task.

Introverts by nature will want to keep things simple. While it may be a task you don’t look forward to much, keeping curriculum choices simple is an advantage you can capitalize on as an introvert, especially if you tend to be an INTJ or an INFJ.

As a result of this trait, introverts tend to focus on what matters most. They seem to have an uncanny ability to filter out what does not add to their lives. This is a uniquely helpful trait for a homeschooler.

Introverts tend to be self-reliant

Extroverts like the energy of crowds. And while a like-minded homeschooling community is priceless, an introvert knows that the one person she cannot let down is herself. As an introvert homeschooler, you will be less likely to depend on outside influence and more likely to build a custom curriculum that works for your specific family needs.

Much of homeschooling can be boring to someone who needs more stimulation, but it is perfect for the introvert who sees the beauty of the small, everyday things.

Introverts can spot a mistake a mile away

Susan Cain in Quiet mentions that one of the good things about being an introvert is that you are driven to speak up only if things are bothering you. So unlike an extrovert who is more vocal in general, if you care about something deeply enough, you will be motivated to fix it.

This is an invaluable trait in a homeschooler. Since you are especially attuned to your environment, anything that isn’t working can force you to change. This makes you flexible, which is a good thing.

Ultimately, as an introvert, you are primed to succeed as a homeschooler because you recognize that homeschooling, indeed all education, is not a performance but a conversation.

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Winning at Homeschooling: It’s Not Enough to Plan – You Must Also Prep

The winter doldrums are here. As I wrote in my previous post about feeling some homeschooling burnout, sometimes I really just depend on habit to carry me through.

Habits, I notice, are easier to engage in if you already have in place systems which support those habits.

One most people can relate to is exercise. On days when you don’t have the motivation to work out, your habit keeps you going, but if getting to the gym is too onerous and you haven’t made it easy to get a workout, then you won’t do it. If eating healthy is your goal and you have junk food lying around your house, you haven’t perfected your systems. And you are setting yourself up for failure.

The same goes for homeschooling.

You can have your goals and a list of the curriculum you plan to teach for the year, but if you haven’t done the prep work that comes with homeschooling, it will be much harder to get it done. Not only will it feel harder and take longer, without sufficient prep work, you won’t know if you’re going to get it done on time.

I’m not talking about planning

I love stationery as much as the next homeschooling mom. But I am not referring here to a planner or journal. Filling out a year with what we’re going to accomplish each week just does not work for me.

I enjoy the segues, the rabbit trails, that are part of every good education and I hate walking on a pre-prescribed straight path, even if that path has been chosen by me. There is too much beauty and diversity in this unschooling world to stick to a lesson plan or any such predetermined schedule.

If we let go of the spontaneity & internal motivation that drives our homeschool, we lose control over our education.

So here’s what we do instead.

A strategic meeting

Recently, I was listening to a seminar about goal setting. You know, right, that I love integrating business ideas into our homeschool? Well, here’s one that I thought was pretty straightforward. A sticker chart.

Oh, I hear the groans already. But bear with me.

What is a sticker chart, really? It is a visual motivating incentive given to an individual with the hope of accomplishing a goal.

It is the same as giving yourself check marks on the calendar on days you work out, or having a no-spend week to get back on track with the budget or doing The Whole 30 to jump start your weight loss goals.

So I had a strategic meeting with my children to set some learning goals.

I told them where we wanted to be in 3 months, what actions I needed them to focus on to get us there and what small tasks they needed to accomplish to get us there. Each time they accomplished a task (they had their own options as to how to do so) they received a sticker.

There were small wins and big wins – at the end of a line, say, they received a small party. At the end of the year, they got to pick what we did for the big celebration.

The chart hangs on our fridge. It tells a story within 10 seconds of seeing it. And the children love it.

The planning in our homeschool included learning each child’s gifts and challenges and taking these into consideration when picking books and activities; the prep was giving them free rein over their choices when it came to accomplishing our common goals.

Without one or the other, our homeschool would fail.

Prepping our curriculum, daily tasks and our plan in this way keeps us engaged, motivated and free to indulge in our creativity as we learn. It also teaches us habits of intrinsic motivation and other ways to gamify our education so that it truly becomes our own – habits that will in the future be helpful no matter what the children do.

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