The secret to transitioning to high school isn't so secret: Just keep doing what you've been doing, and trust that you've gotten to know your kid's academic abilities.
Making the transition from elementary to middle school can feel intimidating, but try to see it as a dress rehearsal: Here’s where you lay the groundwork for high school and your child’s learning future, whether that includes heading off to college, mastering a trade, or starting her own business. These are the years when you’ll try lots of different materials, projects, and methods—go in knowing that some of them won’t work. You will fail sometimes, and it will be okay. If there is one overriding message for your middle school years—for you and for your tween—it’s that messing up is just part of the process.
By middle school, your child probably has mastered his educational basics. He can read. He can add and subtract, multiply and divide. He knows some history and some science. He can write a paragraph on a given subject. If you look at lists of what a 6th grader or a 7th grader needs to know, you won’t find a lot of traditional skills listed. Instead, you’ll find an emphasis on analysis: The middle school years are when knowledge takes on meaning—messy, open-to-interpretation meaning—and encouraging your child to question, analyze, and critique the world around him is one of the most supportive things you can do as a homeschooling parent. Here’s what to consider as your child moves into middle school:
Look for outside classes. The tween years are an optimal time for kids to test-drive different kinds of teaching styles and evaluation methods. Different teachers with different expectations give your child the opportunity to discover her strengths and weaknesses in a safe space—and that self-knowledge will play an important role in her future learning.
Don’t drop physical education. Even more than little kids, tweens need active time. Between ages 9 and 16, kids develop their lifelong attitudes toward exercise: Kids who get regular exercise now are more likely to exercise as adults. Regular exercise also gives kids a healthy way to cope with the emotional overload of adolescence and can develop the parts of the brain that help them learn—and remember what they’ve learned—more effectively.
Hand over the reins. If you haven’t already started giving your homeschooler decision-making power about what and how he studies, now’s the time. If you’re committed to covering certain subjects every year, stick with your plan—but let your tween weigh in on how you cover those subjects, and give him space to decide what outside classes or other interests he pursues. While you’re at it, hand your tween her own calendar, and let her start to handle scheduling her activities and keeping up with homework and deadlines. Let her practice keeping (and keeping up with) notes and materials for her classes. Yes, your child may muck up an assignment or miss a meeting, but she’ll be learning how to organize and manage her time while the stakes are still low.
COURSE OF STUDY
Be ready to nitpick everything because that’s where your tween’s academic inclinations will point him. Middle school is all about taking things apart and looking at them from different perspectives. Don’t be surprised if your child is quick to latch onto other perspectives, especially those of his friends.
Language arts: Steer your student toward the nonfiction section of the library. Biographies make a great starting point—the Childhood of Famous Americans series or the DK Biography series include a wide range of historical figures. Encourage tweens to look beyond the story in fiction, considering topics like character, setting, plot, and theme.
Middle school writers should start to practice the art of revision. A good writing book, like The Elements of Style or How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, can help this process, or consider a writing curriculum like Cover Story [Editor's Note: There are a few traces of religion in Cover Story, most notably in the section on conducting interviews, in which the example interview is one with a missionary in Sudan, and an occasional Bible verse as an example of sentence construction. Religious references aren't the only examples, and there's no proselytizing or anything like that, but you should be aware.] , which guides kids through several different types of non-fiction writing, or Moving Beyond the Page, which is a practical option for kids and parents who want step-by-step guidance.
Learning how to find, use, and correctly cite sources is important now, too. (The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a handy online guide to help cite sources—from personal interviews to webpages— correctly.) Research papers that combine original thinking and opinions with thoroughly researched information from a variety of sources are a key achievement of middle school language arts.
Math and science: Your tween will make the leap from memorizing facts to analyzing data during middle school. Expect him to get familiar with scientific notation, charts, and graphs, as well as tools like calculators, protractors, and compasses. In math, you’ll be moving beyond the basics into algebra and geometry, including solving lots of word problems, getting a grip on the concept of negative numbers, and figuring out fractions, decimals, and percentages. Often, this is when parents start to feel insecure about our ability to teach math—if you’d like a program that does the teaching for you, consider Teaching Textbooks, which delivers lessons via DVD, or an outside math class. (But keep in mind: a smart math curriculum can also give you back the math confidence your own middle and high school math classes may have taken away.)
In science class, break out the microscope and telescope to explore the micro- and macrocosm. Explore technology and how things work. Pandia Press R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Level 2 may be the best traditional middle school science curriculum out there, or take a literature-based approach with The Story of Science series.
History and social studies: If you haven’t already made current events part of your routine, get plugged in now. CNN 10 (formerly CNN Student News) makes a good check-it-every-day resource for keeping up with world events, and you can find in-depth ideas for exploring current news topics via The New York Times Learning Network.
Your middle schooler is also ready to dig into meatier issues, including social justice, environmental ethics, historical conflicts, and more. Trying to see historical events from different perspectives is a mind-expanding experience.
As homeschoolers, we spend a huge chunk of time preparing our kids to be independent, competent people setting off on their own adventures. But what happens to us when our homeschool days are behind us? With a little forethought and some strategic dreaming, we can plan a next chapter for ourselves as exciting as the one we’re busy preparing for our offspring. Here’s how.
IT SHOULDN'T COME AS a shock, but often, it does: After years of learning at home with our kids, they’re ready to head off on their own to their next adventure, and we’re left not totally sure what to do with ourselves now that this all-encompassing period of life is finished.
Homeschooling defines our kids’ educational experience, but it also defines us and our sense of who we are. We spend a lot of time thinking about our child’s educational and social development, but the truth is that homeschooling changes us as much as it changes our kids. When we sign off on that last high school transcript and see our child off to college or work or whatever next step he’s chosen for his life, we are not the same people we were when we first Googled “benefits of homeschooling.”
“When we started homeschooling, I was this shy, anxious person with a degree in computer science,” says Laura*, whose son left for college in 2010 after a decade of homeschooling. “When we finished, I had started and organized three homeschool groups, ran a local homeschool blog, and discovered that I liked history a lot more than computer science.”
Laura, who went back to college for her M.A. at the same time her son started his sophomore year, now teaches history at a private school. “It’s my dream job, but I never would have known that if I hadn’t homeschooled,” she says. “I loved being a homeschool mom, but I love this new chapter of my life, too.”
Letting go of our lives as homeschool parents is a major transition, and it’s fine to mourn those halcyon days of readalouds and backyard science experiments. But the transition from homeschooling doesn’t have to mean losing yourself—in fact, as Laura and other graduated homeschool parents have discovered, your post-homeschool life can be about finding yourself again.
“For nearly two decades, homeschooling was all I thought about—all my goals were goals for my kids not for myself,” says Janet*, who sent the last of four always-homeschooled children off to college in 1999.
Deci, who started yoga classes when her youngest was in high school, went on to become a trained yoga instructor and now teaches yoga at her own studio. “I thought my life was over when my youngest moved out, but it was really just another beginning.”
TO MAKE THIS TRANSITION as graceful and gradual as possible, start laying the groundwork for your future adventures now. These simple exercises will help you point a path toward your future, whether you’re in your first weeks of kindergarten or prepping college applications.
Give yourself room to explore. Jump in now to join your kids in constructing salt-dough maps of the world or learning how to crochet or studying astronomy. You’ll never have a more welcoming environment for your intellectual curiosity than your homeschool days, so don’t miss the opportunity to flex your own learning muscles now. The happiest and most successful second-lifers are the ones who are willing to invest in their own skills and education—something that homeschool parents may be uniquely positioned to do, says Pamela Mitchell, a reinvention coach. If you’re not sure where to start, try a little bit of everything, and keep a journal to write down your emotional reactions to your efforts. Over time, you’ll start to recognize patterns that identify your interests.
Don’t be afraid to think small. A lot of people hang onto the idea that transitions don’t count unless they are dramatic, but you don’t have to backpack across Asia or become a YouTube celebrity to have a satisfying post-homeschool life. Something as simple as a part-time job at your favorite bookstore or signing up for a watercolor class can be a great first step toward redefining yourself, says life coach Marc Astwell. “Imagining a whole new life can feel really intimidating, but a new life is just a series of small steps,” he says. Your great new adventure can look a lot like your homeschool life did—just shift the focus to yourself and your interests rather than keeping your energies focused on your kids.
Keep a dream board. Whether it’s a real-life cork board or a private Pinterest board, start a collection of images, quotes, ideas, and other inspiration for your life after homeschool. Maybe you’ll find your board filling up with books you want to read or home improvement projects you want to try; maybe you’ll accumulate novel writing tips or travel destinations. Don’t be persnickety about what goes on your board—if something inspires you, add it to the mix. Later, you may want to look for patterns and cull your board to reflect your plans, but for now, let your mind run wild. You may discover that your board changes over time—that’s perfectly fine. You can remove items if they no longer speak to your interests, but treat this board like a visual brain dump where lots of different possibilities can exist together.
Be a quitter. Many people hang onto volunteer positions long after our passion for a project has faded into a sense of obligations, but this is a sure-fire way to close yourself off to other opportunities, says Mitchell. This doesn’t mean you have to drop volunteer projects that make your kids’ lives better (like coordinating the weekly park day they love even though it’s not your favorite thing on your to-do list), but it does mean that you should start thinking about transition plans for letting go of these projects as your kids outgrow them. “It’s tough because sometimes there’s no one to pick up your slack,” says Laura*, who was sad to see one of the homeschool groups she founded fold when she stepped away from her leadership role. “But at some point you have to drop the rope—and the earlier you start laying the groundwork for that, the fewer stresses and hurt feelings you’ll have to deal with.” Mitchell recommends making a list of your volunteer commitments every fall and circling the ones that you absolutely love. “Look for ways to cut back the time you spend on the ones that don’t feed your soul,” she says.
Look back. For many people, mid-life transformation isn’t as much about discovering a new passion as it is about rediscovering an old one. “Think about the things that you loved in childhood or adolescence, the ones that you put aside for a more practical career,” says Astwell. “For many people, those early passions are still the ones that make us come alive.” So if your garage is full of short stories you wrote before you decided to study accounting or you used to spend every spare minute in the woods behind yourself, a clue to your future passion may lie in your past. “I wanted to be an actress growing up, but I wasn’t a great actress, and my parents convinced me I’d be better off putting my acting skills to work in business,” says Gwen*, who homeschooled her two daughters for nine years. “When my youngest got involved in community theater in high school, so did I—and I still act and work behind the scenes for our local troupe all these years later.”
Give yourself permission to fall apart—for a little while. However you prepare, the actuality of life after homeschooling can hit you hard. You've been extreme parenting for years, using every ounce of your time and energy in a specific direction. To have that pulled away from you, even for the happy reason that your child is now your adult, can be emotionally wrenching, says Jett Parriss, an Oakland, Calif., therapist. You may suddenly notice lots of things you’ve been too busy to pay attention to: health problems, work dissatisfaction, life imbalances. It can be scary and overwhelming, so let yourself be scared and overwhelmed for a short time. In the long run, falling apart and putting yourself back together will serve you better than pretending you’ve got it all under control.
* We use first names only when we reprint articles on the website to protect the privacy of the people nice enough to share their stories with us.
This is a portion of an article originally published in the winter 2016 issue of home/school/life.
We’re trying to sell our house, which means no piles of books or stinky science projects for a while. Any tips for homeschooling while your house is staged?
I am neither an expert on home staging nor on housekeeping while homeschooling, so I asked a friend in real estate for her recommendations. She says the biggest challenge most homeschool families face is returning their home to “normal.” For instance, lots of us use the dining room or formal living room as homeschool central, which can be off-putting to some buyers. If you’re so serious about selling that you’re actually staging your home, this may mean drastically changing your space to make it more neutral. Consider setting up your rooms with a traditional flow—a table and chairs in the din- ing room, an office or sitting area in the formal living room, etc. You probably know this, but declutter- ing and packing non- essentials will go a long way toward making your house buyer-ready. (As soon as you pack up a box of books, you’ll dis- cover that one title you really want is in the box—accept that this will happen, and just plan to hit the library when it does.)
Keeping things tidy is vital. If you have clutter-prone areas—our dining room table is our worst offender— make clearing them off a priority. If you aren’t naturally neat, keep a few big laundry bins under your table for emergency get-that-cleaned-up-now sessions— throw a nice tablecloth over the table, and no one will be the wiser. Move homeschool materials to free-standing dressers and armoires so that they don’t clutter closets—buyers will check out your closets, but they’d have to be pretty nosy to rifle through the furniture that’s not part of the house.
As for academics, the selling-your-house period is an ideal time to dive into unit studies or intensive projects like NaNoWriMo (most people do it in November, but you can write your book any time of year). Focusing on one topic at a time makes it easier to quickly shift gears if you need to—and gives you the freedom to take spontaneous field trips during house showings.
This reader question was originally published in our summer 2015 issue, but we’re reprinting it on the blog because Amy happens to be surrounded by mountains of moving boxes right now.
“How you do one thing is how you do everything,” I read on the back of a shirt. The quote has been running through my mind all summer as I’ve been inventorying my life thus far, a process inspired by turning forty and having a child graduate from high school. Milestones have a way of tripping me up and making me look backwards to see what I tripped over.
The quote rings most true when I sit on my back porch and contemplate my garden. How I garden is how I do everything. I plant seeds, add water, and hope for the best. Last May we relocated our garden to a different part of our yard, built a fence around it to keep the dog out, and constructed several low and long garden boxes. My husband installed an automatic sprinkler system, and I planted a variety of seeds and seedlings.
For the first few weeks of summer, I’d go out every morning and check how many seeds had sprouted and how much taller the tomatoes had grown inside their cages. Then I started to notice seeds I hadn’t planted sprouting in between the garden boxes. Some I recognized as edible - purslane, tomatillos, borage, squash - so I left them to grow rather than weeding my rows.
By mid summer, my garden was a jungle. The raised beds were no longer visible. The tomatillos grew taller than me and competed with the cucumbers for vertical growing space on the trellis. The purslane made it impossible to walk between garden boxes, and the borage grew so bushy that I had to hang on to the fence to edge around it, careful not to disturb the dozens of bees buzzing among the purple blossoms. The single zucchini seedling I planted crowded out the bush beans, which in turn grew at an angle, seeking sunlight, and crowded out the beets. The beets didn’t stand a chance when the lettuce in front of them bolted during a particularly hot week in July.
All of this is to say the way I garden is the way I homeschooled. I planted seeds, added plenty of supplies, space and time, and hoped for the best. Some of the curriculum I carefully selected was crowded out by interests discovered by my children, such as the state by state unit study I purchased online which they rejected in favor of collecting commemorative state quarters to fill up a coin collector’s map of the United States.
Some topics popped up out of nowhere and grew with us for years, like the Percy Jackson book we listened to on a road trip which inspired a deeper study of Greek mythology, culture and language. Our interest in geology began similarly, with a single unusual rock found on a walk along the railroad tracks, a discovery which prompted us to collect and study a stack of books about rocks and minerals, go on field trips to mines and rock shops, and spend countless hours rock hunting to amass a large collection of unusual rocks.
Other topics grew steadily, occupying exactly the space we had allotted, never overshadowing other topics, but occasionally surprising us with growth spurts, like the math curriculum we tended to every day, which grew into a solid foundation for my children to advance their math skills when they transitioned into traditional school. My daughter texted me while on break during her first college math class to say, “I finally understand scientific notation!” A seed planted years ago had finally sprouted.
It’s now late summer. As I survey my garden I see ten foot tall sunflowers so heavy with seeds that they’re bent over, their tired blossoms touching the ground. The yellowing cucumber vines have conceded to the tomatillos, which are bursting from their chartreuse green, paper like wrappers. The tomatoes are so overgrown I can no longer see the metal cages which once dwarfed them. It’s time to harvest the fruit, save a few seeds for next summer, and start planning and planting our winter garden.
It’s also time to sort through the cabinet full of homeschool curriculum my children have outgrown; recycle the math notebooks, keep a few samples of writing for posterity, and pass along the state by state curriculum, never used, to another homeschooling family. Perhaps I’ll pop the coins out of our state quarter map and pass the map on as well, see which one sprouts interest in their children. It will be like sharing seeds with fellow gardeners, who, like me, grow curiosity.
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 8th grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)
If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?
We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:
Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.
My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)
Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.
We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.
We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.
We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions.
My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.
My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.
Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.
As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)
Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.
I am so pleased to welcome Molly Dunham to the home | school | life blogging team! When we first started homeschooling our daughter, her blog (now archive-only) was such a resource and inspiration for me. I’m thrilled to read her thoughts on homeschool life again—and I bet you will be, too.
We circled the parking lot several times before settling for a parking spot a block away from the library. So many station wagons and minivans signaled that today was preschool story time. It had been years since I loaded my preschool aged children into our Volvo wagon to make our weekly trek to the library, where we’d sit on carpet mats on the floor of the community room to hear our favorite librarians read out loud.
“It seems like just yesterday that we were going to story time, and now you’re driving me to the library,” I said to my daughter as she parked my Subaru.
Times change, cars change, roles change. And just like people tell you when your kids are young, it happens so fast. My little girl is now taller than I am. She has her driver’s permit and has claimed her own set of keys to my car. In a few weeks, she will be done with high school, two years ahead of schedule. In a few months, she will get her driver’s license and begin taking classes at the local community college. If all goes according to her plans, she will also get a job. These are the events she’s been preparing for the last ten years of homeschooling, but it’s hard to believe they’re scheduled on this year’s calendar.
Even though I have one child on her way to college, and another child who has opted to attend a traditional middle school after homeschooling throughout the elementary grades, I am a homeschooler at heart. Some things don’t change. As my kids have grown and chosen their educational paths, our classroom has expanded beyond math at the dining room table, science at the kitchen island, PE at the park, literature via audiobooks in the car, and field trips to historical monuments. Learning together has become our family culture, and I imagine our shared education will extend far beyond their graduation. I look forward to the lessons they have in store for me. There’s so much to see from the passenger seat.
This week most homeschoolers are getting back into the swing of things after a few weeks off for winter break. It’s hard for everyone – adults and children – to start getting up early and getting back to work, so here are a few ideas to make that transition a little more bearable. Please add your ideas in the comments section!
Play Games :: Instead of pulling out the curriculum, pull out your games. Pick the most educational games you have on hand and do it during your regular school time. If you like to get up a little earlier in the morning for your homeschool routine, use the games as a way to ease back into that schedule. It’s much easier waking up for a fun game than spelling lesson!
Plan a Field Trip :: If you spent a good portion of your holiday in your pajamas, sleeping late and watching movies, you might find that planning a field trip will help you ease back into a routine. You’ll need to get up early, get dressed, and best of all, you can plan a trip to a place that will spark someone’s interest. Ask your child to take a notebook and sketch their favorite exhibits or jot down ideas for follow-up once they get home.
Plan a Trip to the Library :: This is easy, and it feels good to watch our kids pick out their own books. While you are there, you might pick up that history book you’ve wanted to read to the kids too. Once you’re home, you have a stack of books that will kick start your new season of learning.
Find a Good Book :: You might not need a stack of library books, but just one great book that pulls everyone together on the sofa. And especially if you spent most of your holiday visiting relatives, dressing up, and being on your best behavior, you might enjoy easing back into your regular routine by cuddling together in your pajamas for a good readaloud. (Click here to check out some books we've recommended in the past.)
Watch a Documentary :: Do you want to do something educational, but you’re still not ready to do much planning? Try getting the family together to watch a documentary. See Family Time: Our Favorite Documentaries for a must-see list of documentaries.
Make Art Your Lesson :: A great first day back might be an art day for your family. Be sure to check all the past issues of home/school/life for Amy Hood’s great ideas on how to explore art with your children. You can read one of her columns online too.
Ask Your Child How to Begin :: Finally, if your child is just not transitioning well, or even if he is, but you want to make the transition fun, ask him what he’d like to do to get back into the swing of things. How about research a new subject? Make a poster. Make a film. Or do a puppet show? You might kick start a whole new project!
There are emails in my inbox from my children this morning. My son has sent a link titled, “Best Worst Game Trailer Ever,” and my daughter, the middle kid, has sent an email titled, “How Utah Solved Homelessness,” and “TV Return Dates.” My latest email exchange with the oldest is titled “21 Things you can do in London that are Free.”
This habit of emailing each other throughout our day has grown, I think, from something my husband started. He sat down a couple of years ago and made a list of things he heard the kids bring up in conversation often. He created a list of Google Alerts for himself with keywords based on those topics and the alerts became fodder for email exchanges with the kids (and me — he outlined my interests, as well). At first I was perhaps a little skeptical of his motives, but I soon saw how often those exchanges started spilling into our conversations, sparking exchanges we might not have otherwise had, and how many times an idea or concept picked up in this manner turned into a whole family dialogue.
Even better, the kids began responding in a similar fashion. When they came across something they found amusing, enlightening, or curious, they’d send an email titled, “What do you think of this?” or “Something we should consider.”
It’s become another way for me to peek inside their universe at an age where kids are often accused of being less accessible. I may not know every detail, but in this small way I think I am gaining a greater understanding of what captures their interest and imagination. I don’t always understand what draws them to the things they are drawn to, but these glimpses have opened my eyes to things I might not have noticed on my own. I learn a little something with each note and what evolves into conversation helps me understand where a topic ranks in importance.
Many of these exchanges burn out quickly, while others have become subject of daily conversation between a few of us and sometimes all. I like the point of contact that fits between schedules that are increasingly filled with job and school obligations, something our lives were free of for so long.
These email exchanges are indicative of our changing roles. We serve as the primary resources for our children less and less with each passing day. More and more, they are teaching us, showing us the things we need to learn to keep up with this ever-changing world.
The jet lag is tough. Four days ago we flew home to Great Britain, after a long holiday in North America where we visited friends and family. We’ve unpacked the suitcases, thrown several loads of laundry into the washing machine, been to the supermarket, and are now trying to get back into the groove. Well, almost.
Taking a holiday has always been an opportunity for my family to reevaluate our rhythms and routines. Stepping away from our various projects and commitments, leaving behind the pile of homeschool books and resources, is a chance to think about what we want for our family. Usually we don’t discover new goals, we simply come back to our family’s core values. Time together. A love of learning. Curiosity. Discovery. Fresh air. A concern for nature and our fellow human beings. Helping others. Love.
It’s not so much that we stray from these values and need to come back them; more that I forget that they’re there, and they become buried beneath the making-breakfast-practice-the-piano-where-did-you-put-my-shoes-ness of daily life. I like it that I get wrapped up in the everyday, because to me that means I am present to my family. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose sight of what we as a family believe because I want everything in our lives to draw us closer to our core values.
To that effect, I apply my mind every summer to thinking about what we do and how we do it. Do we still want to have family games night on a Wednesday? Do our agreements about screen time still make sense? What direction do our projects seem to be taking, and how could I tweak things to better support the children in their work? Are we socializing enough, or perhaps too much? And the question of questions: are we happy?
Family life changes over time: babies become children who learn to read. Those children become teenagers: all limbs and mobile phones. Husbands turn grey and take up home brewing. For me, life seems too busy and I find myself hatching plans for how I can retreat to my rocking chair with my crochet. It all sounds like a slightly skewed Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the point: what worked for my family last year may not ring true for us now. Though most of us hold in our heads the idea that things are static, in fact they are in a constant state of flux.
The idea is to embrace change. I work at seeing it as my friend. I ask myself what I can change to lead us toward a greater experience of happiness. I attempt to make those changes. Sometimes they work. Other times we go back to the way things were and chalk it up to experience. Change can be hard to swallow and for the change-averse needs to be gradual and ever so gentle. But if the alternative is to be stuck in a rut, I know what I’d choose. Right now, we are figuring out where our ruts are.