Reinventing your homeschool is just part of the process, but this six-step process will help your homeschool grow in the ways that work best for your family.
Recognizing when you get stuck in a negative mindset may be the first step toward changing your thought patterns for the happier.
Who knew that putting happiness on your priority list could increase your homeschool's joy level so significantly?
It’s not that homeschool parents don’t want to be happy—it’s that we trick ourselves into believing that we should only get to be happy when we’re doing it all just right.
Every child has a dominant learning style, a way that he best absorbs and processes information, explains Kristin Redington Bennett, Ph.D., assistant professor of education at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Some kids may fit obviously into one learning style; others may straddle a few different styles. One of the great perks of homeschooling is that once you identify how your child learns best, you can tailor your lesson plans to your child’s strengths—a strategy that can reduce stress and boost happiness in your homeschool.
Kinesthetic Learners (a.k.a. Body Smart learners)
Kinesthetic learners need to move to learn. Kids who are kinesthetic learners concentrate better and retain information better when they are moving around.
Signs your child may be a kinesthetic learner
- You joke that your child has a permanent case of the wiggles because she’s always squirming in her seat, bouncing up and down, crossing and uncrossing her legs, or tapping her feet.
- He has a great sense of balance and co- ordination. He’s also good at activities like sports and dance.
- She talks with her hands, using lots of gestures and moving around when she’s telling you a story.
How to teach your kinesthetic learner
- Push back the chair, and encourage your child to stand up or balance on an exercise ball when he’s working.
- Take regular 15-minute breaks to toss a ball, build with Legos, or practice your Just Dance routine.
- Teach your child to make letter shapes with her body, and let her practice spelling words with movement instead of on paper. Grab the abacus when you’re solving math problems together so she can move the beads as she’s counting.
Visual learners (a.k.a. Image Smart learners)
Visual learners absorb information best when they can see information, usually in the form of pictures, charts, or diagrams.
Signs your child may be a visual learner
- He loves doing puzzles and solving mazes.
- She’s good at following directions for things like playing a game or putting together Lego structures.
- He’s very particular about how his space is arranged. He needs to have everything set out just the way he wants it before he’ll start an art project or a game.
How to teach your visual learner
- Buy lots of different colored highlighters, markers, and pencils for your child to use for schoolwork.
- Encourage him to draw things out, whether it’s a series of pictures for a creative writing assignment or groups of shapes for math problems.
- Send her out with a camera to take photographs of different colors, shapes, plants, or other objects.
Logical Learners (a.k.a. Number Smart learners)
Logical learners are natural mathematicians, but they also use pattern-recognition and mental organization skills to approach other subjects.
Signs your child may be a logical learner
- He solves math problems in his head faster than he can write them out.
- She frequently comes up with ideas for science experiments and enjoys conducting them.
- He likes drawing patterns and playing strategy games.
How to teach your logical learner
- Look for puzzles and computer games to help her reinforce skills like spelling and computation
- Start with big picture issues (“What do you think this book is about?” or “Tell me what the solar system is”) before drilling down to details (“Tell me the characters,” or “Name the planets”)
- Help your child learn to organize his thoughts using outlines or lists.
Auditory Learners (a.k.a. Word Smart learners)
Auditory learners have a knack for memorizing things because they tend to think in words.
Signs your child may be an auditory learner
- He loves rhymes and word play.
- She has no trouble repeating back some- thing you told her several days ago and can tell you what’s coming up next in a book you’ve read before.
- He’s really good at trivia games.
- She frequently comes to you to tell you about what she’s doing when she’s work- ing or playing on her own.
How to teach your auditory learner
- Encourage her to make up songs with tricky information to make it easier for her to remember.
- Focus on the people and stories in subjects like science and history.
- Make up stories about math problems to help your child figure out how to solve them.
- Read out loud to your child to help her cement information in her memory.
Your mission this week: Observe your child, and pay attention to how he absorbs and retains information. Try a few new teaching or play strategies to see how he responds.
Part of this post is reprinted from the HSL Toolkit.
Mothers are the only workers who never get time off, said Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and that’s doubly true for homeschooling mothers, who cheerfully derail dinner prep to look up a particularly strange beetle in the bug guide and listen to impromptu poetry recitations while they’re in the bathroom. (Maybe that’s just me?) But time off every now and then is essential to maintaining your homeschooling mojo. While your books may be neatly shelved and your plans for the coming year ready to go, your homeschool soul could use a little nurturing. Whether you can spare a whole weekend or just a long afternoon, it’s worth the effort to make time for a homeschool retreat.
Retreats may seem like an old-fashioned notion, but the concept of reconnecting with yourself as a person and as a homeschooling parent is practically radical in these days of plugged-in, logged-on, non-stop presence. But homeschoolers are nothing if not radical (in both the original and now-dated modern sense of the word), and a retreat may be an inspiring way to bring fresh energy, insight, and life to your homeschool.
There are as many ways to plan a retreat as there are to homeschool, so we’ve put together a few suggestions that might work for your retreat or that might just serve as inspiration for your own retreat ideas.
Make your plans
If you’re like me, you have a never-ending list of books you’d like to read and lectures you’d like to hear. Whip out that list and start narrowing down the options. Are you starting to freak out about the prospect of putting together transcripts for college? Maybe it’s time to download that mp3 on homeschooling high school. Do you need help with setting a rhythm for your days? A Waldorf book about parenting young children could be a good bet. Try to focus on a mix of practical information—you want to change up your science curriculum or you need help getting inspired to teach writing next year—and strictly inspirational stuff. (We’ve included some great books and lectures below.) And go ahead and throw in all those awesome curriculum catalogs you’ve been hoarding so you can finally flip through them at your leisure. Try to add a mix of media: You won’t want to spend the whole day listening to mp3s or staring at your computer screen.
Choose a location
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of a weekend of pure alone time probably seems blissful. But if you’re a social animal, you may get more from your weekend retreat if you invite a friend or two to join you. Either way, try to get away from the everyday—it’s going to be hard to give yourself over to recharging your batteries if you’re staring down a pile of laundry or constantly jumping up to refill someone’s cup of juice. If you can, splurge on a location that inspires you to relax, whether that’s a fancy hotel with room service and plush robes or a cozy cabin surrounded by hiking trails. Even an easy-on-the-budget, no-frills hotel room can make a comfortable setting for your retreat if you bring your electric tea kettle and a few candles. If money’s an issue, consider swapping baby-sitting with another homeschooling mom and set up your retreat in a spot with free wi-fi, like the library or a coffee shop.
Whether it’s your first year homeschooling or your fifteenth, you’re your own best inspiration. Start your retreat by making a list of all the things you’ve done right: great trips you’ve taken, fun art or science activities you’ve done, parenting moments where you got it just right. If you’ve been homeschooling, use this time to write down what’s really worked for you in the past, whether it’s starting the morning with yoga, doing narrations with Story of the World, or making Monday your baking day. Not only will making this list of homeschool successes remind you that you’re already doing a great job homeschooling, it will also help guide your choices for the coming year and may remind you of fun stuff that’s worth incorporating in your homeschool plans.
Define your homeschool’s mission
What’s the purpose of your homeschool? Ideally, you have an answer to that question that sums up your homeschool’s philosophy: “To grow curious, engaged children who believe they can learn anything and do anything if they are willing to do the work” or “Our homeschool teaches our children how to find, evaluate, and use information so that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves” are both examples of the kinds of big-picture goals your homeschool might have. Not so much of a mission statement writer? Make a homeschool vision board instead, putting together quotes, images, and other items that represent your ideas of what you want your homeschool to be like in the coming months.
Set your goals
In addition to setting academic goals for your students, consider setting some goals for yourself. Whether you’d like to be better informed about chemistry before you tackle the subject next year or you’re longing to be less stressed about unfinished assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to accomplish personally this year. Homeschooling can be an all-consuming activity, and it’s easy to be so absorbed in guiding your kids that you lose track of your own needs and wants. Use this opportunity to focus on yourself and to make a map of where you’d like to be this time next year as a teacher, a parent, and a person.
Make a little you-time
The purpose of your retreat is to recharge your homeschooling batteries, so build in some time to just relax. Giving your brain free reign inspires new ideas and connections that you don’t get when you’re dealing with the daily grind. You know what gets your creative energy flowing: Maybe it’s a hike up a waterfall, a session with a massage therapist, or an hour of uninterrupted knitting. Treat yourself to your favorite leisure activity, and you’ll be surprised by how it improves your mental clarity.
Write your bad day mantra
Bad days happen, and when you’re doing double duty as teacher and parent, it’s easy to take them personally. Right now, while you’re feeling energized and excited about the coming year, write a message to yourself to read when you’re having a bad day. Think about the words you need to hear when a math lesson ends in tears or you snap at your toddler for making a mess of the science center, and write them down in your best handwriting. Keep this message to yourself close, and pull it out when you need to as a much-needed reminder that you’re doing the right thing even when things don’t go just right.
Ideally, you should leave your retreat with a clear vision of what you want the coming year to look like (and the confidence to change your mind about that vision any time), a handful of new ideas, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the homeschooling fun ahead. But even if you just come away with some good questions, you can consider a retreat time well spent.
Tips for making your homeschool retreat a success:
- Make a schedule to keep focused
- Turn off your phone, log out of Facebook, and don’t check your email
- Set aside time for just relaxing as well as time for being productive.
Food for Thought
- Susan Wise Bauer: Homeschooling the Real (Distractable, Impatient, Argumentative, Unenthusiastic, Non-Book-Loving, Inattentive, Poky, Vague) Child
- The Homeschool Scholar: A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts
- Pam Sorooshian: Unschooling and Math
- Donna Simmons: Talking Pictorially and Living Actively with your Young Child
- Rafe Esquith: Lighting Their Fires: How Parents and Teachers Can Raise Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World
- James W. Loewen: Teaching What Really Happened: How To Avoid The Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History
- Sharifa Oppenheimer: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
- David Mulroy: The War Against Grammar
- Lori Pickert: Project-Based Homeschooling
- Grace Llewellyn: The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Your challenge this week: Figure out a game plan for your homeschool retreat, and write an official retreat date on your calendar.
There are volumes of scientific research on how to increase your happiness, but one little thing can have a surprisingly positive impact on your life’s everyday joy factor: going out to eat. And—bonus!—that little joy booster also makes a great homeschool project.
Here’s one way it might work: Spend a little time researching international cuisine options in your part of the world. (You may be surprised to discover there are more of them than you thought!) Sit down with your kids and start a list of places you’d like to check out, then hit the library to find books set in the countries whose food you’ll be exploring. (For instance, you might read Anila’s Journey in the weeks leading up to a meal at an Indian restaurant, or check out What Elephants Know to get ready for a Nepalese feast.) At the restaurant, be brave and order a variety of dishes—ask your waiter for recommendations, and encourage everyone to try a little of everything. Follow up your dinner out with another trip to the library—this time to the cookbooks section, where you can check out a book to help you recreate some of your favorite flavors from your dinner out back at home. This combo gives you maximum joy: You get the fun of going out to dinner, plus the pleasure of anticipation and the opportunity to savor it when it’s over.
Your challenge this week: Do a little recon to find a restaurant near you that will allow you to sample an unfamiliar cuisine, and start getting everyone excited about planning a lunch or dinner excursion by finding a great readaloud set in the cuisine’s country.
You know how your children can get totally absorbed in what they’re doing so that the hours pass like minutes? Whether it’s making complex Lego creations or writing fan fiction or putting together cosplay ensembles or drawing pictures, they’re purely—and happily absorbed—in their work. You can borrow a little of that happiness-boosting power for yourself by remembering the obsessive activities of your own childhood.
Did you spend hours writing stories? Or exploring the woods? Or taking photographs? It’s probably not hard to think of the things that fueled your passions during childhood—you know, the things that you put aside for a sensible, career-focused college major or the more practical work of adulthood? So often, we lose track of the things we really love because the rest of life gets in the way, but going back to those joyful basics can be a key to opening up a happier now.
Take some time this week to think about what you really loved as a kid, whether it was designing fabulous fashion doll outfits, or reading every mythology book on your library’s shelves, or stargazing at night—focus on the thing that you could do for hours without even noticing the time passing, and start looking for ways to get that back in your life. My friend Liz loved photography and reignited her passion by committing to posting one photo on Instagram every day for a year. If you loved writing, start a blog or write down the bedtime stories your kids are always asking you to make up. If you loved fashion, take a sewing class or learn how to knit. If you loved building, buy your own set of Legos. Don’t worry about how these things will translate into anything else—avoid worrying about what’s useful or practical or a priority in your homeschool life, and just concentrate on how to do what you really love a couple of times a week. Chances are, your newfound passion will inspire your homeschool in ways you couldn’t have imagined, but whether it affects your homeschool or not, it will boost your personal happiness to make something you love part of your life. And trust me, a happier you means a happier homeschool for all.
Your challenge this week: Revisit your childhood to explore the things you loved to do as a kid. You may know instantly, or you may need to spend some time thumbing through old pictures and journals to remember what inspired your childhood. Once you’ve identified a childhood passion, look for ways to add it to your weekly routine—ideally, you’ll find an hour once or twice a week to focus entirely on your passion project as well as small ways to add it to your daily routine.
One of the biggest indicators of professional happiness may be how important your position really is, according to the Harvard Business Review. Lynchpin employees—employees whose work is essential to their organization’s success—felt their work was more meaningful, felt more committed to their work, and were less likely to experience burnout than their peers in less essential jobs. Even with the downsides that come with being essential—a heavy workload and tough decision making—lynchpin employees are just plain happier.
So what does this have to do with homeschooling? Well, homeschool parents are lynchpins, though we often fail to recognize that fact. Not convinced? Here are three criteria for determining whether your work is “lynchpin work:”
- The work produced by lynchpin workers is essential to the organizational mission. (Whatever your reasons for homeschooling, you became a lynchpin worker the minute you opted into homeschooling.)
- Lynchpin workers cannot be replaced or substituted easily. (Any homeschool mom who’s ever tried to take a day off can attest to how hard it can be to find someone else to cover your homeschool to-do list.)
- The work of an organization would pretty much cease immediately if a lynchpin worker stops working. (Even classes that you outsource might slow down or stop if you weren’t around to run car service and homework support.)
I think most of us would have a hard time trying to argue that we don’t fit that criteria—so why is it so hard for homeschool parents to recognize how important we really are? It’s so much easier to hone in on the things we’re not doing well, the places where we miss the mark, our weaknesses, than to accept our basic essential-ness. And the more we fail to acknowledge how important we really are, the more we miss out on a major opportunity to be really happy in our homeschool lives.
Your challenge this week: Don’t be modest! Grab a journal, and jot down a list of all the things you do for your homeschool that no one else could do. Read through it slowly, pausing to remind yourself “yes, I do this, and it matters” for every item on your list.
Who knew that blue skies could actually make you happier? People who spent time exposed to the color blue reported higher confidence, reduced stress, and greater overall happiness than those who didn’t soak up the blues in a University of Sussex study. It’s not clear why blue hues are such a mood booster for people—some researchers have theorized that it harks back to humanity’s early days when evening meant food, rest, and a little peace—but it’s clear that the literal blues can be a good way to shake off the figurative blues.
A sky-gazing project is the perfect way to incorporate a little everyday blue time into your homeschool routine this summer: Keep a cloud chart to record the different kinds of clouds or sky colors you see each day, do sky square paintings, knit a sky scarf, make a point of tracking the cycles of the moon, or just look for interesting cloud shapes while you’re nature journaling. Choose a simple activity that will be easy to do whatever else you have going on this summer, and embrace the happiness-boosting power of the color blue.
Your challenge this week: Choose a way to incorporate some sky-gazing into your daily routine.
I love Facebook as much as the next mom—my friend Stephanie’s feed makes me smile pretty much every time I look at it—but if you’re feeling burned out, incompetent, or unhappy in your homeschool life, logging off social media may be just what you need.
The sunny selfies and highlights reels of other people’s lives can make us feel worse about own lives, especially when we’re in a bumpy patch. According to a study in the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, spending just one hour on social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter correlates to lower life satisfaction. It’s not hard to see why: When your kitchen’s a mess, your kid has spent a whole year studying multiplication without managing to learn a single fact, and you’re just plain exhausted, those beautifully staged pictures of clean and happy children reading in clean and sun-drenched rooms can make you feel like a complete failure.
The solution: Take a social media break. Sure, it’s hard to cut the connection when you’ve gotten into the habit of logging on every day, so start by checking in once a day and giving yourself a time limit—say, 20 minutes. Spend that 20 minutes catching up with people you care about, leaving a quick comment instead of just clicking “like,” and speed scrolling through your feed. Gradually reduce the time you’re spending on social media until you’re on a full social media break—ideally, one that lasts at least three weeks. As you detox from social media, focus on finding joy in the moments of your everyday life without the pressure to capture them on camera or with the perfect quippy caption. Be in the moment with yourself and with your kids.
After your social media break, ease back into online life with the knowledge that you’ve gained. Most of us aren’t going to want to cut the cord completely, and that’s fine—but maybe there are people whose posts we probably shouldn’t follow so closely or limits it makes sense to make on how much we’re consuming other people’s lives. The idea is to make social media something that boosts your happiness—that connects you meaningfully to the people and things you care about—and not something that makes you feel less than.
Your mission this week: Pay attention to how much time you spend on social media and how it makes you feel to be on different sites—and how you feel afterward. (It may help to keep a log—most of us spend more time on social media than we realize.) Set a specific goal to spend less time on social media in the next week—you might want to limit the number of visits or give yourself a time limit. Be sure to set a goal you can live with—there’s no “right amount” of social media consumption, just an amount that’s right for you.
What’s the purpose of your homeschool? Believe it or not, figuring out the answer to that question can make your homeschool a happier place.
Research suggests that people who set goals are happier than people who don’t—and really happy people set big, overarching goals as well as smaller, measurable, day-to day goals. This summer is the perfect time to focus in on your goals for your homeschool or to revisit the goals that you imagined back when you first started homeschooling to make sure they still reflect the homeschool you want to build.
If you’re not sure where to start, think about what you want your homeschool to accomplish: Do you want to cultivate a spirit of curiosity and engagement and raise children who believe they can learn or do anything they’re willing to put hard work into? Or teach your children how to find, use, and evaluate information so that they can achieve the goals they set for themselves? Imagine that you’ve successfully homeschooled your children through high school: What kind of education have they had? How do they feel about learning? What are they ready to do now? If you’re having trouble articulating your mission statement, make a homeschool vision board instead, putting together quotes, images, and other items that represent your ideas of what you want your homeschool to be like in the coming months. It’s possible that your mission statement might change over time (which is why it can be helpful to revisit it regularly), but having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish gives you something to strive toward—which boosts your everyday happiness quotient.
But don’t stop with the big picture. Working toward smaller, measurable goals reduces negativity and frustration, so come up with a few goals you want to tackle in the coming year. Your goals may be for you—don’t jump in and rescue projects at the last minute, spend more time outside—or for your student—really catch up in math, write a research paper—but whatever they are, they should be simple, direct goals that you can easily measure your progress toward. The simpler and clearer your goals are, the stronger their happiness-increasing power.
Your mission this week: Block out some time to think about your homeschool’s immediate and long-term goals. Write your homeschool mission statement, and come up with a short list of specific, measurable goals for the coming year.
Even if you’re a year-round homeschooler, late spring marks the end of lots of regular activities and is a great time to throw an end-of-the-year celebration for your homeschool.
Here’s something you might not know: When it comes to your homeschool life, dealing with big problems is much easier than dealing with smaller ones.
The truth is that little irritations—a particularly stubborn attitude toward a math lesson or a kid who totally slacks on his history work—can take a bigger toll on our happiness than big crises. That’s because big challenges encourage us to rise to the occasion and often come with built-in social support—your kid gets diagnosed with dyslexia or needs surgery? You’ve got this, and your community rallies around you. Dealing with a kid who refuses to work on his handwriting or who always grumbles his way through math? You’re going in with less patience and likely to garner less sympathy from people when you try to discuss it.
So how do you deal? Acknowledge that little frustrations take a big toll and figure out coping mechanisms to help you deal with them as they pop up. Think about the things that tend to irritate you in your homeschool life—and don’t be embarrassed if they’re small things that you know you shouldn’t really let yourself be annoyed by. Part of the reason small things can grate so sharply is that we try to convince ourselves we shouldn’t be affected by them. Make a short list of small gripes—when your kid interrupts your readaloud so many times that you read the same sentence over and over or your child’s dramatic sighs that accompany every writing assignment, for instance—and come up with a mantra or action to combat them. Maybe you tell yourself: “I’m lucky to have a curious kid, so I’m going to close this book right now and let him follow some rabbit trails” or you’ll head to the kitchen to start lunch prep when you give your writing-averse student a writing assignment. You know better than anyone what is likely to defuse your frustration, so take the time to think it through. And when you’ve got your plan, write it down—research suggests that writing things down is one of the most effective ways to make a change in your habits.
Your mission this week: Think of the little thing that gets on your nerves, and write down a plan to combat it. You can opt for an action—leaving the room, taking a walk, changing subjects—a mantra (“I’m thankful that we have plenty of time to practice handwriting, and I’m not going to get caught up in feeling like a failure because we’re not doing it today”), or a combination. Next time your irritation strikes—and we know it will!—use your combat method to cope.
OK, bear with me here. I promise I am not trying to sell you on the idea that your life will magically be a happier place if you get on top of the housework. I mean quite simply that making your bed in the morning—and asking your kids to make their beds—will make you a little happier every single day, even if it is the only housecleaning that gets done that day.
Making your bed is just one little thing—it only takes a few minutes to do, but it makes a big difference in the way your bedroom looks, not to mention the way it feels at the end of the day when you retreat back into your bedroom to relax. When your kids make the bed, their rooms look less messy, and they’re less likely to lose their shoes and whatever books or electronics they took to bed with them the night before. Because it’s so easy and you do it before your day kicks into high gear, it also feels totally doable—making your bed doesn't require a lot of extra energy or brain power.
Even more than the easy neatness factor, though, is the way that making your bed gives you a feeling of accomplishment—hey, look, I did this!—every morning that you do it. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that morning bed-making is consistently one of the biggest happiness boosters for people who do it for this very reason: It lets you start every day feeling like you’re an organized, productive, efficient person.