The key to useful and accessible homeschool library: Good organization. If you want to wrangle your book collection into a well-organized library, you’re going to have to get hands-on. Here’s how.
We recently found a homeschool group that my kids love. The problem: The moms are super clique-y and not very nice. Is it worth continuing in a group where I’m miserable, even if my kids are happy with it?
Well, the question you need to ask here is, “Does it matter if this group is a good fit for me?” It’s possible that it doesn’t — you may have your own group of friends and a strong support network, and you can view this group as a social outlet that’s just for your kids. In that case, treat it as you would any activity waiting room: Bring a book or catch up on your phone calls or work on a knitting project, and grab a seat where you don’t have to deal directly with the not-so-nice moms. Smile and say “hi” when you arrive, wave “bye” when you head out, and don’t give any of your emotional energy to the situation beyond that.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible that you’re looking for a social outlet for you as well as for your kids. If that’s your situation, you may want to give these moms a second chance before writing them off. It’s possible that you misread their cues on your first outing, and they are really more welcoming than you thought. Sometimes what seems like shutting other people out is really just a group of people being so excited to catch up with each other that they forget there’s a world outside their group. If you jump into the conversation, they may welcome your participation.
If you’re dealing with a real mom clique — and they’re out there — assume that you aren’t the only mom to get the cold shoulder, and look for other parents on the fringe of the group. Strike up a conversation with the mom who always shows up with a book or the dad who spends the hour working on his tablet. And warmly welcome newcomers who show up, like you, hoping to find a piece of their homeschool community in the group. You may discover that the clique is only a small (if salient) part of the overall group.
If your best efforts still leave you feeling lonely and on the outside, it may be that this just isn’t the group for your family — even if your kids seem to enjoy it. New homeschool groups sprout up every year — you could even start one yourself — and finding one that’s a good fit for your clan can take time and effort. Sometimes moving on is the best way to deal with a snooty group of moms.
This Q&A was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of HSL.
My daughter wants to study Latin—which is great, except that there aren’t any home- school Latin classes in our area, and Latin is—well, Greek to me. Is it possible to succeed in teaching a subject when I know almost nothing about it?
As you move into middle and high school, you may find yourself with a kid who wants to take classes outside your knowledge base. It’s totally, absolutely, 100-percent okay to outsource those classes, either by using a plug-and-play curriculum that gives you step-by-step guidance, signing up for online or in-person classes, or joining a co-op where another parent can take over. The older your student gets, the more important outsourcing will become in your homeschool life. But don’t think outsourcing is your only option: You can teach a class you know nothing about—and teach it well.
The key is to drop the mantle of teacher and put on the mantle of fellow student so that you and your child become learning partners. For this to work, you’ve got to tackle the topic together. How do you do this? It breaks down into three simple steps:
Be upfront with your student: “I don’t know much more about Latin than you do, but I’m excited to learn about it with you.” It’s important to talk about this with your student and to really listen to what she has to say— maybe she’ll be thrilled to continue your learning-together tradition, or maybe she’ll be concerned about whether your Latin adventure will adequately prepare her for the college classics classes she wants to take. Don’t let your ego or your desire to teach everything get in the way of what’s right for your student—if she’s looking for an academically rigorous course and you aren’t confident your plan will deliver it, consider other options. Making the choice that works for your particular kid always counts as successful homeschooling.
Be prepared for a big commitment. Self-directed learning can be invigorating and exciting, but it isn’t easy—expect to spend a lot of time and energy resources in pursuing an unfamiliar subject. For this kind of learning to work, you can’t expect your student to do anything that you’re not doing yourself, from memorizing vocabulary cards to working through translations. You want to keep pace with your student, but you also want to set the pace for the class so that you’re progressing. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours a week working on your own for this class, in addition to the time you spend working with your child.
Choose a simple, straightforward program with a workbook or lots of exercises to give you plenty of practice with concepts. (We use Ecce Romani for Latin, which I really like.) It’s scary to think about taking on an unfamiliar subject in your homeschool, but if it’s something you’re interesting in learning about, too, this kind of learning together can be a homeschooling win-win.
This Q&A is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.
You put a lot of effort — and sometimes, a lot of money — into choosing the right curriculum, so it’s not always easy to let one go. But sometimes moving on is the right thing. Here are a few tips to help you figure out whether it’s time to say adios to a curriculum that isn’t working for your homeschool.
Consider your timing. Maybe the curriculum is great — just not right now. Your child might not be academically or emotionally ready for a particular curriculum—in which case, putting it back on the shelf for a few months or years may be all you need to get the perfect fit.
Tweak the assignments. If a curriculum has too much writing or too few hands-on activities, you can easily change some of the writing assignments to oral presentations or add a few experiments. An okay curriculum can become a great one with a few strategic tweaks. But if your tweaks end up rebuilding the curriculum from scratch, you might be better off letting that curriculum go and forging your own path.
Use it as a guide. If you like the content a particular curriculum covers but not its methods, you can always use the syllabus as a starting point to create your own curriculum. Similarly, if you love a curriculum’s method but wish it covered different topics, you can use its methods to inspire your own curricular creations.
Recoup your loss. If a curriculum doesn’t work, don’t let it glare at you from your schoolroom shelves. Resell it, and use the money to invest in a program that you love. Chances are, that not-right-for-you curriculum is perfect for another family, so you’ll be helping someone out and getting rid of a problem in one swoop.
This was part of our Problem: Solved feature in the winter 2015 issue of HSL, along with other ideas for teaching math when you hate math, writing your own curriculum, getting organized for high school, and more.
Now that my daughter is in middle school, I want to start giving her real grades on her essays and papers—but I am really not sure how to decide whether an essay should get an A, B, or C. Do you have any tips?
You can make yourself crazy trying to grade essays because there are so many possible components to consider. So make it easy on yourself, and determine the purpose of your essay upfront: Is your essay an analysis of a story? Then your grading should focus on how successfully your student analyzes the story. Is your paper a traditional research paper? Then your grade should focus on how well-researched and organized the paper actually is. This does mean that you’ll be mentally shifting gears with each essay assignment, but that’s really the key to thoughtful essay grading. Beyond that, here are some practical tips for grading essays that will help keep your grading consistent and helpful for your student:
Know what makes a good essay. It seems dorky to write a rubric for a single student, but you really should. Write down what differentiates an A paper (all sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a B paper (most sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a C paper (most sentences are well constructed but have similar structure and length). If you’re new to rubric-writing (and most homeschoolers are), this example from readwritethink.org is a good starting point that you can tweak as you go.
Let your student know your method. Say “For this book report, I’m going to be looking mostly at how well you explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book. You can use the plot to help support your argument, but you don’t need to summarize the plot for me.” If you make a rubric for grading essays, you should definitely share it with your student.
Don’t play copyeditor. Your job isn’t to correct every misspelling and grammatical gaffe in your student’s paper—this isn’t a manuscript, and you aren’t an editor. Pick two or three grammatical concepts to focus on per paper (using quotes correctly, for example, or including citations appropriately), and limit your red-penning to these specific concepts. Look for patterns rather than specific instances—it’s more helpful to say, “I notice that you’re having trouble trying to squeeze too much information into one sentence, and you’re ending up with a lot of run-ons and hard-to-read sentences” than to mark up every awkward sentence. If your student seems to be backsliding on a grammatical or structural issue that should already be old hat, return his paper and ask him to do the grammatical revisions before returning the paper to you. (“It looks like you didn’t break this essay up into paragraphs—why don’t you fix that before I grade it?”)
Look for things the writer is doing well. I think you should always try to point out two things your writer is doing successfully in a paper, even if they feel like small or unexceptional things to you. It’s not that you want to cast faint praise or give a participation ribbon to your kid, but young writers need to know what they are getting right as well as where they can improve.
This Q&A was originally published in the winter 2016 issue of HSL.
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.
When Holly Rauser announced to her family that she would be homeschooling her first child, her mother was horrified.
“I only know one girl who was homeschooled, and she was weird,” Rauser’s mom protested.
“I know hundreds of people who went to public school or private school, and some of them are beyond weird,” Rauser retorted.
Looking back, Rauser—an etiquette coach who is working on developing a homeschool etiquette curriculum for teens—acknowledges that she might have been less confrontational. But like many homeschoolers, she found herself in a weird social situation where people felt comfortable making very personal comments about her choices. Homeschooling isn’t the weird, crunchy-granola or hyper-religious activity it once was (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it’s still not mainstream enough to be unremarkable. And just as strangers feel entitled to touch a pregnant woman’s burgeoning belly, they can feel entitled to weigh in on your homeschool choices and success. And sadly, even fellow homeschoolers aren’t immune from rude behavior.
There are etiquette books on everything from minding your manners on Twitter to throwing an engagement party, but homeschool etiquette is a brave new field. So we’ve turned to the experts to help sort out the best way to respond to everything from nosy questions to rude comments.
Your child tells a curious stranger she’s homeschooled, then gets hit with an impromptu quiz on multiplication tables or geography facts.
What you’d like to say: “Let’s see how you like pop quizzes. What’s the capital of Madagascar?”
What you should probably say: “You must have loved math when you were in school. Was that your favorite subject?”
Quizzing anyone who hasn’t signed up for your class is just plain rude, says etiquette expert Sue Fox, author Etiquette for Dummies. But the first rule of good manners is not to respond to rudeness with rudeness, so instead of getting snippy, deflect the question by turning it into a conversation, suggests Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. “Ask them about the subject they bring up—people like to talk about what they know, so someone asking your child about the dates of the Korean War may be a history buff,” she says. “Instead of rebuffing that person, engage him.” If you’re quick-witted, humor can also defuse the situation. Saying something like “We usually do a little cardio before our quizzes” lets the question asker know that you’re not comfortable with the quizzing without making a big thing out of it.
Just as important as how you handle these stranger interrogations is how your child handles them. Very young kids can get away with saying “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” but as children get older, they should be able to deal with an unexpected pop quiz using the same bounce-back method you’d use. A smile and a laughing response like “I usually do better on written tests,” will not only refocus the conversation; it will also help dispel the notion that homeschoolers are socially awkward or academic automatons.
If your child does end up blindsided by a self-appointed quizmaster and can’t answer the questions, support him. If you catch the tail end of the conversation, shift the focus to one of your child’s strong points: “Next time, ask him about dinosaurs. He knows more about the Mesozoic Era than I do.” Otherwise, let your child know when you’re alone again that the quizzer was out of line and that his academic work is up to snuff as far as you’re concerned: “It’s really rude to put people on the spot like that. I would have felt really confused and frustrated if someone came up to me and started quizzing me. I’m not sure I would have been able to come up with answers off the top of my head either.”
Homeschooling is going great, but you’re tired of having to defend your educational choices. Every time you get together with your family, someone questions your decision to homeschool.
What you’d like to say: “What we do with our kids’ education is none of your business, so shut about it already!”
What you should probably say: “I’ve listened to you, and I really hear what you’re saying. I am glad you love our children so much that you worry about their wellbeing. But now, I need you to understand that I love them, too, and they are our children. You have to know that I would not do something that I did not believe with all my heart was best for them. And right now, what’s best for them is homeschooling. We have made our decision.”
You can’t really fault a grandmother—or an aunt, or a brother-in-law—for caring enough about your children to express an opinion. After all, you want your family to care about your kids. “But ultimately, they’re your children, and you’re the one who is responsible for deciding what is best for them,” says McKee. Unlike rude strangers, who are best rebuffed by distraction, dealing with family etiquette blunders is something you should tackle directly.
Start by doing one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do: Just listen. Let your mother-in-law obsess about the perils of non-school socialization, let your dad worry that your weak math skills will make it impossible for you to teach your children math, let your sister obsess about how hard it will be for your kids to get into college. Resist the urge to counter with facts or opinions of your own—just listen. When your mother-in-law is done expressing her concerns—and only then—calmly and simply explain your own perspective: “You know, I was worried about socialization, too, but I find that my kids have even more opportunities to socialize with other kids now that we’re homeschooling and they aren’t stuck behind a desk all day,” or “I definitely hope my kids will be better at math than I am. That’s why I’m using this really great program that walks us through everything step by step. If we ever reach a point where I feel like I can’t teach them, there are some great homeschool math classes I can sign them up for.” Don’t get into too many details; you want to address the concern without falling into the trap of justifying your choices, explains McKee.
It’s unlikely that whatever you say—however intelligently reasoned or expressed—will change your mother-in-law’s mind about homeschooling. Like politics or religion, homeschooling can bring out strong opinions that aren’t easily shaken. You don’t have to change your dad’s mind—and good manners dictates that you shouldn’t even try, says McKee. Instead, you should focus on making him feel like his concerns matter to you, even if you don’t agree with him. Let him know you’ve heard what he has to say and care about it, but you’ve made your own decision. Then, resist the urge to get pulled back in. If the topic comes up again, say “I know you feel that way, Dad, but we’ve made our decision.”
If your family member just won’t let it drop, you’ll need to take a firmer position. (It’s best for the person who’s directly related to the worrier to handle this since these conversations can be tricky, says McKee.) Say, “I understand that you don’t understand our decision. But I ask that you respect it.” Repeat this whenever the topic comes up, and eventually you’ll quell the commentary. And take heart: While your words may never convince your mother-in-law you’re doing the right thing, your results may win her over in time. Rauser spent years asking her family not to second-guess her decision to homeschool. “Now my mom is proud to announce that her grandchildren were homeschooled because they turned out so well,” Rauser says.
You’re having a perfectly nice conversation with another mom on the playground when you mention that you homeschool. “Oh, wow, I could never be around my kids all day,” she says.
What you’d like to say: “I could never be around your kids all day either.”
What you should probably say: “I love the new landscaping they’ve done by the pavilion. Are those tulips?”
When another mom makes a comment like this, your immediate response is to feel embarrassed and flustered. Are you weird because you don’t mind hanging out with your kids all day? Is she weird because she can’t imagine hanging out with her own kids all day? Before you start stammering an apologetic explanation about how homeschoolers have hard days, too, take a deep breath. When someone makes a comment like this, she’s not usually looking for a response at all, says Rauser. If you smile and change the subject, you’ll defuse the moment before it even has a chance to become awkward.
If ignoring her comment feels too rude, McKee recommends acknowledging the other mom’s perspective without going into lots of details about your own. Say, “Well, there are some days where I would agree with you, but for the most part, it’s a pleasure.” Then switch the subject. While you may feel like this mom is putting you on some kind of Super Mommy pedestal, if you try to respond to her comment with a lengthy explanation of how great your kids are or an uneasy treatise on your failings as a mom, you’ll make both of you uncomfortable. Treat comments like this as off-hand remarks that require minimal response on your part, and you’ll be able to continue your conversation comfortably.
You mention to someone that your kids are homeschooled, and he immediately asks, “Why do you homeschool?”
What you’d like to say: “None of your business!”
What you should probably say: “Why do you ask?”
Some homeschoolers want to shout their educational choices from the rooftops, but for other families, the decision to homeschool may be more personal. Knowing why someone is asking you about homeschooling is the key to answering this question politely, says McKee. “People who are just being nosy deserve a minimalist answer—‘It just feels like the right thing for our kids for right now,’ is true and nonspecific—but you may be surprised by people’s reasons for asking and want to give a different answer.” McKee speaks from experience: More than once, a stranger has asked her reasons for homeschooling only to admit that she’s considering homeschooling herself.
“This is one of those situations where you can really be an ambassador for homeschooling,” says McKee. “Someone might have a good reason for asking, and you might be able to help point them in the right direction.” And if someone’s just prying? Well, you can smile and give a brief answer before changing the subject.