Friday, April 21, 2017

My 5 Best Homeschooling Tips

We are in week 28 of our 36 week homeschool year.  In a much, much bigger picture we are in the 14th year of our homeschooling journey.  And a journey it's been.  I don't know who's learned more - the kids or me.  Actually, I hope it's the kids.

Seriously, though, I have learned a lot about how to handle the homeschool day, how to homeschool with littles under foot, how to make it through all the lessons in a reasonable amount of time.  And here are five of my best tips to help your homeschool day go a bit smoother.

Get the most from your homeschool day

Homeschooling Tip #1 - Know your limit for outside activities.

Unlike the word suggests, homeschooling doesn't have to take place at home.  As the number of homeschoolers increase, so do the number of awesome educational activities available.  Homeschooling support groups and co-ops are popping up everywhere.  Each has its own unique flavor and emphasis.  It's tempting to sign up for multiple email lists and FB groups.

Standing Rocks homeschool ski day
The messages start coming in with invites to museum visits, skiing adventures, rollerskating parties, tours of tree nurseries and cheese factories, group guitar lessons, community service projects....are you feeling overwhelmed yet?  They all sound so interesting, so educational, so necessary to provide the much questioned, peer socialization.

In my experience larger communities have endless opportunities.  Travel time might not be an issue, but packing in too many activities might be.  Rural homeschoolers have their own challenges.  With less nearby opportunities, travel time naturally increases as we search out activities in other communities.  And if you have more than one child, chances are their interests differ.  The desire to meet everyone's needs can take a toll on your sanity.

Here's my story:

Many years ago when we were a family of six (now we're nine), Wednesday was our day.  Violin, guitar and piano lessons were scheduled - different teachers, different places!  And since we were in town and had time between each lesson we stopped at the library and grocery store.  Imagine shopping for 6, with 5 people.  There were lots of hushed, "stop touching your sister", "quit hanging on the cart", "no, we are not getting the super size box of cosmic brownies."  By the time we loaded the van with groceries, household needs, and people the van was literally bursting at the seams.  And then we made one final stop at the feed store for multiple 50 pound bags of food for the chickens, dog, horses, and birds.  Every time we got home, I said, "I'm never doing that again."  Then six days would pass and I'd do it again.  We packed so much into every Wednesday that I started dreading the day on Tuesday night.  Fuses were short, tempers flared - mine and the kids'.  Two of our kids still rehash an especially difficult day when I dropped them off at the mailbox (we have a 1/4 mile driveway) and made them hold hands while walking home.  I was determined to squelch out their attitudes before it wrecked the entire day.  I needed a little breathing room, too.

Eventually, I realized packing it all into one day was really taking a toll on my sanity, so lessons were rescheduled and kids were left home to babysit the youngest (Sam at the time).  I was still running, actually, more than before, but now the time spent away from home at one time was less and so was my stress level.

It took a while to figure out my limit for outside activities.  Who am I kidding?  I still don't have it figured out.  I over extend at times, but I'm more aware of protecting our home time now than in my early years as a homeschooler.  We reassess activities each year depending on the ages of our kids and other outside commitments.

Homeschool Tip #2 - Keep Your Daily Homeschool Schedule Simple

I've tried many, many different ways of scheduling our homeschool day.  I've color coded blocks of time for each child, homemaking tasks, meals, and outside play.  That was too restrictive.  I've used laminated wall charts for each child.  That was ok.  But what's works best is to form a routine.  In our family it goes something like this:  morning chores, morning time, seat work, outside play, seat work, lunch, more seat work if necessary, room job, free time.  In general, if the kids are marching (or strolling) through the day, I figure all is well.  It's normal to have children who get right to the task of school, finishing up by 11 a.m. and others who will still be asking for grammar help at supper time.  For the most part I'm ok with that, as long as their list is completed by bedtime.  I fit my work in throughout the day, offering guidance when necessary to the more independent learners and spending one-on-one time with the younger ones for reading lessons.

Another way to keep the homeschool schedule simple is by combining subjects and grade levels.  This year our 9th and 12th graders are doing Chemistry and Geography.  They work as lab partners and we can correct assignments together, saving valuable time.  I gather the younger ones for science, handwriting, art, religion, just about everything except reading lessons.  A solid 30 minutes and we can knock out handwriting practice and I can get them going on an art project that will keep them engaged while I fold laundry or prep lunch.

Homeschool Tip #3 - Require Concentration

In the age of handheld electronics, this can be a tough one.  Those iPods and phones can be slipped into pockets and played with under the table.  Even the most observant mother can be fooled.  I can't call it a hard and fast rule, but I am known to confiscate devices for 24 hours if used excessively during school.  I also block their internet access.

Siblings also love to distract each other.  Years ago we moved away from the dining room table to individual tables because "so and so is shaking the table when they write".  That was a never ending battle destroying any hope for concentration.  Again, learn your children's strengths and weaknesses and set up your homeschool for success.

Homeschool Tip #4 - Expect Greatness

Even though we homeschool, our kids have plenty of friends who don't.  And those kids often say things like:  You're so lucky!  You can just lay around in your pajamas all day watching TV?  OR Do you even have to take tests?  And then my kids say something like:  You don't know my mom.  She makes us work. OR Yes, we take tests.

Expecting greatness is a tough one.  On the one hand, a benefit of homeschooling is a more relaxed day with room for hobbies and other interests.  However, on the other hand, too much of a relaxed atmosphere can breed lethargy.

I've found the best way to expect greatness is in the way my children dress for homeschool.  Here's an example:  If I put on a prom gown to clean the bathroom, worried about damaging my dress, I'd do a shoddy job at best.  Likewise, if I wore bleached out sweats, baggy t-shirt and hair in a messy bun to the prom, you wouldn't find me confidently stepping out on the dance floor.  Our clothes really do help put us in the mood for a particular event.

In order to expect homeschool greatness from my kids, I require them to "arrive" in clean, comfortable clothes, hair combed and teeth brushed.  If we're going out and about (representing homeschoolers at large) then clean and matching is the requirement, sometimes even a collared shirt for the boys.  It just seems to me if they are dressed for success, they succeed!!

Another part to expecting greatness is giving your kids a chance to show off what they know.  For the earliest readers, reading super short stories to their siblings and earning signatures to trade in for candy is a big hit.

I also like to create tests based on what they're learning.  This year I created tests for both Chemistry and Geography.  Once my highschoolers knew a test was coming, boy did they ramp up the studying.  I made the test hard, but manageable.  I wanted them to succeed.  I wanted them to have a chance at memorizing info and regurgitating it for a test.  Not because I believe that's true understanding, but it helps them feel ready for college because there will be tests in college - GUARANTEED!

Each homeschool is unique; find ways to encourage greatness in your homeschool.

Homeschool Tip #5 - Leave Room for Fun & Conversation

Now after all that seriousness of clean clothes and tests, let's talk fun and conversation.  It seems like a no-brainer to leave room for fun and conversation, but it's easier said than done.  Conversation - that's pretty straight forward.  I've written about this before.  Being together every day, all day allows for plenty of opportunities for conversation.

But, FUN.  This is the area I struggle with the most.  I'm always looking for the educational value.......in everything.  It takes effort to allow myself to watch a nonsense YouTube video my kids want to share with me.  They're all like Mom, you should watch this, it's so funny.  I don't want to (wasted time, stupid nonsense, unneeded distraction, yadda, yadda, yadda) but, I oblige.  I start out rolling my eyes, then a smirk starts off, and then I'm all like alright, that there's funny. 😄  Link to a nonsense, yet funny video.  Amber and I were just laughing about this again last week.

4-wheelin' country kid fun

Stretch your mouth out, make a fool out of yourself kind of fun.

That's how inside jokes start.  And who better to share an inside joke with than your kids.  If you're not used to leaving room for fun then make a conscious effort to make room for fun.  You'll be glad you did.

Your Best Homeschool Tip??  Why not share with the rest of us in the comment box.  Thanks.

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