There are lots of reasons you might decide to start homeschooling in the middle of the traditional school year, but it usually boils down to the fact that you’re ready to start homeschooling Right Now.
On the home/school/life Facebook page, a reader named Liz said she was new to homeschooling and would like to hear how other families approach their academic goals. Do they set daily goals, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals? I thought I would begin by trying to explain how I set academic goals for my boys, and then I invite you, other homeschoolers, to please explain how you do this in your homeschool. Hopefully it will help Liz and many other homeschoolers starting out on this journey.
My boys are still young, but so far, I would say that I have set certain priorities – one or two academic goals – for each year. In order to do this, I have to remember that my boys have a long education ahead of them, and we don’t have to teach everything at once. If I were planning to put them in school, I might have to change tactics, but even while focusing on a few core subjects each year, I don’t abandon all other subjects, so that’s still not much of an issue. Let me explain…
By focusing on just one or two subjects each year, I give myself plenty of time to experiment, try different resources and see what works. And it alleviates the panic I might feel, if I were trying to teach every subject in depth. By giving myself a whole year to, say, make sure the study of art is part of our homeschool, it slowly becomes part of our weekly routine, so the next year when I’m going to focus on incorporating more Spanish lessons, I’m not worried how I’m going to do art. That’s already there. I’ll explain more about this later.
Before I did any of this – before I even began homeschooling “officially”– I sat down and considered what my priorities would be for my boys. At that time, they were only five- and two-years-old.
What surprised me is that this list of priorities is still my core priorities. It has given me something to come back to when I worry about a bad day or week. It reminds me that in actuality, I have created a daily life that incorporates all these things, so even on the worst homeschooling days, we’re still doing pretty good.
Here’s that initial list I made:
Imagination/Play/Motion– Let them use their imaginations and be in motion as much as they need to be.
Literature – Immerse them in books and storytelling.
Exploration/Nature – Let them explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.
How to find answers – Encourage them to ask questions and teach them how to find answers.
Spend quality time together – Use our time wisely. Don’t over schedule the kids or myself. Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.
Teach responsibility– Explain why we (mom and dad) need to work and why we all need to take care of our home.
This may not look like it covers many academic goals, but it does. When you create an environment where learning is part of your daily life, and exploration, questions and creating are honored, your kids will cover many points in a typical course of study by themselves. For those homeschoolers who choose to unschool, this will meet their goals very well. For homeschoolers like us, who don’t unschool, I find it fairly easy to fill in the gaps with a few hours of formal lessons each week.
Here’s a few examples of how I’ve prioritized our learning each year:
When my eldest son was six, seven, and even eight, my first priority was helping him learn how to read. This doesn’t mean that I pushed him. On the contrary, I went at his pace, but we worked on it first and a little bit everyday. We also studied math, science and various other subjects. (My son loves science, so it feels effortless to learn a lot about science.) What I’m speaking about is that I put more of my efforts into finding the right resources for reading, which didn’t come as easily to my son. Now that he’s nine, he’s reading quite well. I think it’s because he was ready to read, but it helped me to make that my focus. I wasn’t panicking trying to teach everything at once.
Before my eldest turned six and my youngest three, I didn’t do any formal art lessons with them. My boys are very creative, so they had fun painting and doing projects of their own, but I wanted them to learn the fundamentals of art and also about the most significant artists. So that year, I decided to build it into our schedule by making Fridays “art day.” I spend just a little time “teaching,” and then we make some art. Right now all I require of them is to listen to me for a few minutes and look at some artwork online. The art making is completely optional. However, they usually want to make art, and even if they choose to do something of their own design, I’m very happy that art is now a regular part of our routine. We’ll continue to use Fridays as the day we delve into the arts in a formal way. Over the duration of their entire education, I know we’ll cover a lot of ground.
Now that my son is reading well, I’ve decided my priority this year will be math. Again, it’s not that we haven’t already been working on math, and he is not behind in math, but I am putting more of my efforts into math. I started this summer. I made a list of math games we would play, I found art lessons that incorporated math, and I checked out some math books from the library, such as The History of Counting and Mathematicians are People Too. Since the new school year began, I have done math lessons with my son everyday, and we do more of it too. (I used to do it two to three times a week.) If I’m going to spend time researching strategies to teach, it’s going to be on how to teach math, and I’m not going to worry as much about the other subjects. (But remember, we already have a good footing in reading, and we have literature and art embedded into our schedule. And science is covered because it’s my son’s first love. We also get a lot of social studies through reading, watching documentaries, and going on field trips.)
For my six-year-old, my priority this year for him is teaching him how to read. I’ve started the same program with him that I used with my older son. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll try something else. I also do math and handwriting with him, but we usually do reading first in case he has an off day, gets grouchy, and loses concentration. I don’t push. But by keeping reading as his priority, I feel certain we’ll at least accomplish one significant thing this year.
This year I am also making more effort to do Spanish lessons. This is mostly for my older son who wants to learn another language, but my younger son benefits by listening in when he wants to. Like the year I incorporated art, this priority is just about making the effort to carve out a little more time in our schedule. Now that my son is nine, he seems ready to take on more. So this is another benefit of doing yearly priorities – the ones that my son hasn’t been ready for usually slide to the back burner.
I can see ahead where I will have a year when we study writing and grammar more in depth, and another year when we will focus on history. Maybe one year when my son is older we will take on a more rigorous and systematic curriculum in science, especially if he is going to continue in this direction for a career. Though we’ve made strides in all these areas, by putting my focus on one or two subjects each year, I feel good that over time, we’re incorporating a wide variety of lessons. And just because we shift focus, that doesn’t mean we are abandoning all other subjects. It’s just a subtle shift and a little more concentration in one area, and once we gain momentum in one subject, it’ll be that much easier to continue with it.
Now, please, share how you approach your academic goals. Because one size never fits all. :)
One of the moms at our regular park day wants to turn every learning-related conversation into a competition where her kids are smarter and better than everyone else. How can I politely shut her down?
If you started homeschooling to get away from competitive education, you may be out of luck. For every chill, laidback homeschooler who’s never looked at her child’s test scores, there’s a homeschooling mom who watches her — and your — child’s academic progress like a hawk. Your son loves Harry Potter? Her daughter just finished War and Peace. Your daughter is finishing up her math workbook? Her son found that particular curriculum way too easy. Your son loves his new art class? Her son is repainting the Sistine Chapel. Whatever you’re talking about, the conversation always seems to veer to how smart/talented/superior her child is.
Before you get grumpy, consider the fact that this mom may be facing criticism from her family or insecurity about her own abilities to be a successful homeschool parent. She may be aggressive because she feels like she has to convince other people that her child is doing well. While that knowledge won’t make her behavior any less irritating, it can help you deal with it politely, says Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. For starters, resist getting drawn into specifics: The more details you give, the more ammunition she has for comparison. Be vague: “Oh, we’re always reading, but I don’t know what’s on the list off the top of my head,” or “We’re doing pretty well in math right now, but I’m afraid if I talk about it too much, I’ll jinx it.”
If she keeps pushing, it’s perfectly acceptable to let her know you’re not interested in the conversation: “All we’ve done is talk about school stuff! I’d love to know more about that farmers market you were talking to Susan about” or “Jordan’s reading list is under control, but I’m looking for something to read myself. Have you read any good books lately?” And if your polite diversions don’t have any effect, you’re well within your mannerly rights to excuse yourself and relocate your blanket to another part of the playground.
Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.
One of the things I want to be sure to do as a homeschooler is to keep my kids plugged into what’s happening to the world at large. Are there any great current events resources you recommend?
You’re wise to introduce current events early in your homeschool. Students who participate in elementary and middle school current events classes are more than twice as likely as their non-news-informed friends to follow politics and world news as teens and young adults. Finding the right resources is just part of the plan, though. To really engage kids in current events, you need to find opportunities for them to interact with the news, says Thomas Turner, Ph.D., a professor of education at Tennessee State University. Let your student come up with opening and closing arguments for a controversial news case, engage in family debates, or put together your own newscast of the week’s most important stories. Older kids can follow a story across different media to see how the news changes depending on the outlet and whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, or television broadcast. You can certainly use your regular newspaper and nightly news programs to study current events, but if you’re looking for a kid-friendly introduction to the news, these resources (most of which take summers off) fit the bill:
CNN Student News :: A 10-minute daily newscast covers the day’s top stories. Maps, background-information articles, and discussion questions help put the news in context.
Student News Daily :: Thoughtful discussion questions help kids make sense of the day’s news. This is a good resource for introducing the idea of media bias and helping students recognize bias in reporting.
PBS NewsHour Extra :: Get current news stories organized by subject. Smartly compiled lesson plans help kids build an understanding of how news affects history, geography, society, and more.
Scholastic News :: Age- appropriate current events are pulled from Scholastic’s print magazines.
Time for Kids :: The pop culture vibe of this magazine-related news website may appeal to news-reluctant tweens.
The New York Times Learning Network :: In-depth analysis of recent news stories teaches kids how to approach news. The site also taps into the Times' extensive archives to illuminate historical events.
Tween Tribune :: The editors of this middle school news resource have a knack for choosing news stories that appeal to younger readers.
Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.
Now that my son is in sixth grade, he’s doing work that requires him to really dig in and focus. He’s doing good work, but he’s so easily distracted, and he has trouble concentrating. Is there anything I can do to help improve his focus?
Learning to focus can be hard even for adults, but most of the time, all you need to boost your concentration is a change in your routine and regular practice, says Michael Coates, M.D., chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Try these easy-to-implement actions to help your son improve his focus.
Set a timer. Something about an established time limit — “Work on this math for 15 minutes” — inspires focus, so don’t hesitate to break out the kitchen timer when you get to a subject you know taxes your son’s concentration skills. Start with small increments of time, and gradually increase time spent until you reach the amount of focused time you’re shooting for. This works best if you don’t rush — you don’t have to increase the time every day. Instead, give your son a chance to really adjust to each increase before adding more time.
Check your sleep habits. Around sixth grade, some kids start making the shift to adolescent sleep habits, which means their bodies naturally want to stay up later and sleep longer in the mornings. Kids really need at least seven hours of sleep a night to concentrate during the day, so if your child’s sleep patterns are changing but your schedule isn’t, it may be time to try something different. Even just starting an hour later in the morning may be enough to improve your son’s concentration.
Practice mindfulness. If your son starts to drift off during reading assignments or conversations, it may be that he’s spoiled by the everything-now nature of video games, Wikipedia, and Twitter. To help him shake that I-could-be-doing-10-other-things-now feeling, encourage him to pause and wiggle his toes or snap his fingers. That moment of focused concentration will help his focus settle back down.
Have a glass of water. A 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that being as little as two percent dehydrated — such mild dehydration that your body doesn’t even feel thirsty — can negatively impact concentration. Pour your son a big glass of water before his next intensive focus session.
Jump around. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve focus, so take plenty of action breaks to walk around the block, kick a soccer ball in the backyard, do jumping jacks in the living room, or play a quick round of Wii Sports between subjects.
Bottom line: Don’t expect your son’s concentration abilities to develop on their own. Help him sharpen them over time by test-driving different focus-boosting techniques.
Originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season.Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we'll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.