A reader was thrilled to start homeschooling but finds the adjustment period harder than she expected.
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.