Homeschool FAQ

Q&A: Moving When You're Homeschooling

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?

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.


The Modern Homeschoolers' Guide to Dealing — Politely — With Rude People

The modern homeschool parent’s guide to dealing—politely—with rude people

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.


Homeschool Myth-Busting: High School Edition

Common myths about homeschooling high school -- busted!

Once upon a time, homeschoolers were more likely to turn to traditional schools when high school rolled around—fewer than 17 percent of the 210,000 homeschooled kids reported by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001 were high school students. There are lots of reasons parents may choose not to homeschool their teens through high school, but don't let false fear be one of them. 

Myth:  High school is too difficult for the average parent to teach.
Fact: You don’t have to teach everything.

In many ways, homeschooling high school can be much simpler than the early years because your teen is capable of independent study. Just be honest with yourself: What are you capable and willing to teach, and what do you need to outsource? Maybe you love the thought of digging deeper into history, but the prospect of teaching trig makes you want to break out in a cold sweat.  Outsource subjects you don’t want to tackle—co-op classes, tutors, community college, online classes are all great options. As your student advances, your job will shift from teacher to educational coordinator—listening to him and guiding his class choices and extracurricular activities to prepare him for the college or whatever post-high school path he's interested in. It also means keeping track of classes for his transcript, staying on top of testing deadlines for standardized and achievement tests, and helping him start to hone in on the best people to ask for letters of recommendation. 

 

Myth:  Homeschoolers can’t take Advanced Placement (AP) tests.
Fact: Homeschoolers can take AP tests—whether they take official AP classes or not.

AP is a brand-name—like Kleenex or Band-Aid—which means the College Board gets to decide whether or not you can call your child’s course an AP class. (The College Board has a fairly straightforward process for getting your class syllabus approved on their website, and few homeschoolers run into problems getting their class approved.) You can build your own AP class using the materials and test examples on the College Board website and call the class “Honors” or “Advanced” on your transcript—and your child can take the AP test in that subject as long as you sign him up on time and pay the test fee. (Homeschoolers have to find a school administering the test willing to allow outside students, which may take some time. You’ll want to start calling well before the deadline.) If you’re nervous about teaching without an official syllabus, you can sign up for an online AP class or order an AP-approved curriculum. And remember: just because you take an AP class doesn’t mean you have to take the test.

 

Myth:  It’s hard for homeschoolers to get into college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids may actually be more likely to go to college than their traditionally schooled peers.

This myth may have been true 20 years ago, but not anymore. Researchers at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) found that 74 percent of homeschooled kids between age 18 and 24 had taken college classes, compared to just 46 percent of non-homeschoolers. In fact, many universities now include a section on their admission pages specifically addressing the admissions requirements for homeschooled students. In 1999, Stanford University accepted 27 percent of its homeschooled applicants—twice the rate for public and private school students admitted at the same time. Brown University representative Joyce Reed says homeschoolers are often a perfect fit at Brown because they know how to be self-directed learners, they are willing to take take risks, they are ready to tackle challenges, and they know how to persist when things get hard. 

 

Myth:  You need an accredited diploma to apply to college.
Fact: You need outside verification of ability to get into college.

Just a decade or so ago, many colleges didn’t know what to do with homeschoolers, and an accredited diploma helped normalize them. That’s not true anymore. (In fact, you may be interested to know that not all public high schools are accredited—only 77 percent of the high schools in Virginia, for example, have accreditation.) What you do want your child’s transcript to reflect is non-parent-provided proof of academic prowess. This can come in the form of graded co-op classes, dual enrollment courses at your local college, SAT or ACT scores, awards, etc. Most colleges are not going to consider whether your child’s high school transcript was accredited or not when deciding on admissions and financial aid.

 

Myth:  A portfolio is superior to a transcript.
Fact: The Common App makes transcripts a more versatile choice.

Portfolios used to be the recommended way for homeschoolers to show off their outside-the-box education, but since more and more schools rely on the transcript-style Common Application, portfolios have become a hindrance. (Obviously, portfolios are still important for students studying art or creative writing, where work samples are routinely requested as part of the application process.) In some ways, this format is even easier to manage than a portfolio—you can record high school-level classes your student took before 9th grade and college courses he took during high school in convenient little boxes. And don’t worry that your student won’t be able to show what makes him special: The application essay remains one of the best places to stand out as an individual. Some schools even include fun questions to elicit personal responses: The University of North Carolina, for instance, asks students what they hope to find over the rainbow.

 

Myth:  Homeschooled kids don’t test well.
Fact: On average, homeschoolers outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests.

All that emphasis on test prep in schools doesn’t seem to provide kids with a clear advantage come test time. Homeschooled students score 15 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of education or the amount of money parents spend on homeschooling. That includes college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Research compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics shows that homeschoolers scored an average 1083—67 points above the national average of 1016—on the SAT in 1999 and an average 22.6 (compared to the national average of 21.0) on the ACT in 1997. This doesn’t mean these tests aren’t important—good scores can open academic doors—but it does mean you may not have to worry about them as much you’d thought.

 

Myth:  Homeschooled kids are not prepared for college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids adapt to college life better than their traditionally schooled peers.

This one always makes me laugh. Homeschooled kids probably have more hands-on life experience than their traditionally schooled counterparts. Homeschooled kids are usually more active in their communities, and because homeschooling is a family affair, they are more likely to have everyday life skills—the ones you need to make lunch for yourself or comparison shop for a tablet. Homeschooled teens also tend to be active participants in their own education, figuring out ways to manage their time and workload with their social lives long before they start college. Most importantly, they are able to interact and work with people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures in a positive way, which is really the most important life skill of all. Perhaps that’s why homeschoolers are more likely to graduate from college (66.7 percent of homeschoolers graduate within four years of entering college, compared to 57.5 percent of public and private school students) and to graduate with a higher G.P.A. than their peers. Homeschoolers graduate with an average 3.46 G.P.A., compared to the average 3.16 senior G.P.A. for public and private school students, found St. Thomas University researcher Michael Cogan, who compared grades and graduation rates at doctoral universities between 2004 and 2009.  

This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home | school | life, and we’re reprinting it online in 2016.


Introducing Homeschool 101 — And Enter to Win Free Enrollment!

Awesome online workshop for new homeschoolers. Great info for getting started, thriving, and figuring out the whole homeschool thing, tackles lots of homeschool FAQ. #homeschool

One question I get asked all the time is “How do I get started homeschooling?” It’s a big question, probably because homeschooling can look lots of different ways and every family comes to homeschooling with a different set of experiences and expectations.

That’s why I am so excited about Homeschool 101, our first-ever online workshop for new homeschool parents. The brilliant Suzanne Rezelman and I have worked so hard to put this class together so that it’s authentic, personal, and genuinely useful. Suzanne (who has homeschooled her four—incredibly diverse—children and counseled so many new-to-homeschooling families over the past 15-plus years) has put together five one-hour sessions covering the most common homeschool questions, from how to talk to your mother-in-law about homeschooling to finding opportunities for extracurricular activities to understanding how to make sense of all those different curriculum options. Even better, we’ve set up a totally private chat group for class participants where you can ask all those follow-up questions that wake you up in the middle of the night and bond with other new homeschoolers are just getting started, too. (Suzanne will check in frequently to respond to questions and offer insight.) Think of it as your own private homeschool support group. And your access to the chat room is permanent, so you can keep checking back for months (and years!) to come. 

To celebrate,we’re giving away one spot in this awesome workshop. To enter, just leave a comment here, telling us one of your biggest homeschooling questions. Be sure to check back on Wednesday, May 25 to find out who the winner is! (If the winner hasn’t claimed her prize by Monday, May 29, we’ll draw another winner.) Spread the word to your homeschool-curious friends, and feel free to share this hither and thither—it’s going to be such a great workshop!


Transitioning Back to Homeschool After a Holiday

Tips for getting back into your homeschool routine after the holidays or a long-ish break. #homeschool

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!


How to Start Homeschooling in the Middle of the Year

How to Start Homeschooling in the Middle of the Year

There are lots of reasons you might decide to start homeschooling in the middle of the traditional school year, but it usually boils down to the fact that you’re ready to start homeschooling Right Now.

Tips for Setting and Achieving Homeschool Academic Goals

Great post on how to set and meet academic goals in your homeschool. Good ideas for unschoolers and project-based learners as well as more traditional homeschoolers.

On the home/school/life Facebook page, a reader named Liz said she was new to homeschooling and would like to hear how other families approach their academic goals. Do they set daily goals, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals? I thought I would begin by trying to explain how I set academic goals for my boys, and then I invite you, other homeschoolers, to please explain how you do this in your homeschool. Hopefully it will help Liz and many other homeschoolers starting out on this journey.

My boys are still young, but so far, I would say that I have set certain priorities – one or two academic goals – for each year. In order to do this, I have to remember that my boys have a long education ahead of them, and we don’t have to teach everything at once. If I were planning to put them in school, I might have to change tactics, but even while focusing on a few core subjects each year, I don’t abandon all other subjects, so that’s still not much of an issue. Let me explain…

By focusing on just one or two subjects each year, I give myself plenty of time to experiment, try different resources and see what works. And it alleviates the panic I might feel, if I were trying to teach every subject in depth. By giving myself a whole year to, say, make sure the study of art is part of our homeschool, it slowly becomes part of our weekly routine, so the next year when I’m going to focus on incorporating more Spanish lessons, I’m not worried how I’m going to do art. That’s already there. I’ll explain more about this later.

Before I did any of this – before I even began homeschooling “officially”– I sat down and considered what my priorities would be for my boys. At that time, they were only five- and two-years-old.

What surprised me is that this list of priorities is still my core priorities. It has given me something to come back to when I worry about a bad day or week. It reminds me that in actuality, I have created a daily life that incorporates all these things, so even on the worst homeschooling days, we’re still doing pretty good.

Here’s that initial list I made:

  • Imagination/Play/Motion– Let them use their imaginations and be in motion as much as they need to be.

  • Literature – Immerse them in books and storytelling.

  • Exploration/Nature – Let them explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.

  • How to find answers – Encourage them to ask questions and teach them how to find answers.

  • Spend quality time together – Use our time wisely. Don’t over schedule the kids or myself. Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.

  • Teach responsibility– Explain why we (mom and dad) need to work and why we all need to take care of our home.

This may not look like it covers many academic goals, but it does. When you create an environment where learning is part of your daily life, and exploration, questions and creating are honored, your kids will cover many points in a typical course of study by themselves. For those homeschoolers who choose to unschool, this will meet their goals very well. For homeschoolers like us, who don’t unschool, I find it fairly easy to fill in the gaps with a few hours of formal lessons each week.

Here’s a few examples of how I’ve prioritized our learning each year:

  • When my eldest son was six, seven, and even eight, my first priority was helping him learn how to read. This doesn’t mean that I pushed him. On the contrary, I went at his pace, but we worked on it first and a little bit everyday. We also studied math, science and various other subjects. (My son loves science, so it feels effortless to learn a lot about science.) What I’m speaking about is that I put more of my efforts into finding the right resources for reading, which didn’t come as easily to my son. Now that he’s nine, he’s reading quite well. I think it’s because he was ready to read, but it helped me to make that my focus. I wasn’t panicking trying to teach everything at once.

  • Before my eldest turned six and my youngest three, I didn’t do any formal art lessons with them. My boys are very creative, so they had fun painting and doing projects of their own, but I wanted them to learn the fundamentals of art and also about the most significant artists. So that year, I decided to build it into our schedule by making Fridays “art day.” I spend just a little time “teaching,” and then we make some art. Right now all I require of them is to listen to me for a few minutes and look at some artwork online. The art making is completely optional. However, they usually want to make art, and even if they choose to do something of their own design, I’m very happy that art is now a regular part of our routine. We’ll continue to use Fridays as the day we delve into the arts in a formal way. Over the duration of their entire education, I know we’ll cover a lot of ground.

  • Now that my son is reading well, I’ve decided my priority this year will be math. Again, it’s not that we haven’t already been working on math, and he is not behind in math, but I am putting more of my efforts into math. I started this summer. I made a list of math games we would play, I found art lessons that incorporated math, and I checked out some math books from the library, such as The History of Counting and Mathematicians are People Too. Since the new school year began, I have done math lessons with my son everyday, and we do more of it too. (I used to do it two to three times a week.) If I’m going to spend time researching strategies to teach, it’s going to be on how to teach math, and I’m not going to worry as much about the other subjects. (But remember, we already have a good footing in reading, and we have literature and art embedded into our schedule. And science is covered because it’s my son’s first love. We also get a lot of social studies through reading, watching documentaries, and going on field trips.)

  • For my six-year-old, my priority this year for him is teaching him how to read. I’ve started the same program with him that I used with my older son. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll try something else. I also do math and handwriting with him, but we usually do reading first in case he has an off day, gets grouchy, and loses concentration. I don’t push. But by keeping reading as his priority, I feel certain we’ll at least accomplish one significant thing this year.

  • This year I am also making more effort to do Spanish lessons. This is mostly for my older son who wants to learn another language, but my younger son benefits by listening in when he wants to. Like the year I incorporated art, this priority is just about making the effort to carve out a little more time in our schedule. Now that my son is nine, he seems ready to take on more. So this is another benefit of doing yearly priorities – the ones that my son hasn’t been ready for usually slide to the back burner.

I can see ahead where I will have a year when we study writing and grammar more in depth, and another year when we will focus on history. Maybe one year when my son is older we will take on a more rigorous and systematic curriculum in science, especially if he is going to continue in this direction for a career. Though we’ve made strides in all these areas, by putting my focus on one or two subjects each year, I feel good that over time, we’re incorporating a wide variety of lessons. And just because we shift focus, that doesn’t mean we are abandoning all other subjects. It’s just a subtle shift and a little more concentration in one area, and once we gain momentum in one subject, it’ll be that much easier to continue with it.

Now, please, share how you approach your academic goals. Because one size never fits all. :)


Q&A: Dealing with Competitive Homeschool Parents

Great tips for dealing (politely) with homeschool moms who get competitive about how their kids are doing. #homeschool

One of the moms at our regular park day wants to turn every learning-related conversation into a competition where her kids are smarter and better than everyone else. How can I politely shut her down?  

If you started homeschooling to get away from competitive education, you may be out of luck. For every chill, laidback homeschooler who’s never looked at her child’s test scores, there’s a homeschooling mom who watches her — and your — child’s academic progress like a hawk. Your son loves Harry Potter? Her daughter just finished War and Peace. Your daughter is finishing up her math workbook? Her son found that particular curriculum way too easy. Your son loves his new art class? Her son is repainting the Sistine Chapel. Whatever you’re talking about, the conversation always seems to veer to how smart/talented/superior her child is.

Before you get grumpy, consider the fact that this mom may be facing criticism from her family or insecurity about her own abilities to be a successful homeschool parent. She may be aggressive because she feels like she has to convince other people that her child is doing well. While that knowledge won’t make her behavior any less irritating, it can help you deal with it politely, says Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. For starters, resist getting drawn into specifics: The more details you give, the more ammunition she has for comparison. Be vague: “Oh, we’re always reading, but I don’t know what’s on the list off the top of my head,” or “We’re doing pretty well in math right now, but I’m afraid if I talk about it too much, I’ll jinx it.”

If she keeps pushing, it’s perfectly acceptable to let her know you’re not interested in the conversation: “All we’ve done is talk about school stuff! I’d love to know more about that farmers market you were talking to Susan about” or “Jordan’s reading list is under control, but I’m looking for something to read myself. Have you read any good books lately?” And if your polite diversions don’t have any effect, you’re well within your mannerly rights to excuse yourself and relocate your blanket to another part of the playground.

 

Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.


Q&A: Teaching Current Events in Your Homeschool

Great resources for teaching current events in your homeschool.

One of the things I want to be sure to do as a homeschooler is to keep my kids plugged into what’s happening to the world at large. Are there any great current events resources you recommend?

You’re wise to introduce current events early in your homeschool. Students who participate in elementary and middle school current events classes are more than twice as likely as their non-news-informed friends to follow politics and world news as teens and young adults. Finding the right resources is just part of the plan, though. To really engage kids in current events, you need to find opportunities for them to interact with the news, says Thomas Turner, Ph.D., a professor of education at Tennessee State University. Let your student come up with opening and closing arguments for a controversial news case, engage in family debates, or put together your own newscast of the week’s most important stories. Older kids can follow a story across different media to see how the news changes depending on the outlet and whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, or television broadcast. You can certainly use your regular newspaper and nightly news programs to study current events, but if you’re looking for a kid-friendly introduction to the news, these resources (most of which take summers off) fit the bill:

CNN Student News :: A 10-minute daily newscast covers the day’s top stories. Maps, background-information articles, and discussion questions help put the news in context.

Student News Daily :: Thoughtful discussion questions help kids make sense of the day’s news. This is a good resource for introducing the idea of media bias and helping students recognize bias in reporting.

PBS NewsHour Extra :: Get current news stories organized by subject. Smartly compiled lesson plans help kids build an understanding of how news affects history, geography, society, and more.

Scholastic News  :: Age- appropriate current events are pulled from Scholastic’s print magazines.

Time for Kids :: The pop culture vibe of this magazine-related news website may appeal to news-reluctant tweens.

The New York Times Learning Network :: In-depth analysis of recent news stories teaches kids how to approach news. The site also taps into the Times' extensive archives to illuminate historical events.

Tween Tribune :: The editors of this middle school news resource have a knack for choosing news stories that appeal to younger readers.

 

Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.


Q&A: How can I help my student focus?

Great tips for helping your homeschooler develop better focus.

Now that my son is in sixth grade, he’s doing work that requires him to really dig in and focus. He’s doing good work, but he’s so easily distracted, and he has trouble concentrating. Is there anything I can do to help improve his focus?

Learning to focus can be hard even for adults, but most of the time, all you need to boost your concentration is a change in your routine and regular practice, says Michael Coates, M.D., chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Try these easy-to-implement actions to help your son improve his focus.

Set a timer. Something about an established time limit — “Work on this math for 15 minutes” — inspires focus, so don’t hesitate to break out the kitchen timer when you get to a subject you know taxes your son’s concentration skills. Start with small increments of time, and gradually increase time spent until you reach the amount of focused time you’re shooting for. This works best if you don’t rush — you don’t have to increase the time every day. Instead, give your son a chance to really adjust to each increase before adding more time.

Check your sleep habits. Around sixth grade, some kids start making the shift to adolescent sleep habits, which means their bodies naturally want to stay up later and sleep longer in the mornings. Kids really need at least seven hours of sleep a night to concentrate during the day, so if your child’s sleep patterns are changing but your schedule isn’t, it may be time to try something different. Even just starting an hour later in the morning may be enough to improve your son’s concentration.

Practice mindfulness. If your son starts to drift off during reading assignments or conversations, it may be that he’s spoiled by the everything-now nature of video games, Wikipedia, and Twitter. To help him shake that I-could-be-doing-10-other-things-now feeling, encourage him to pause and wiggle his toes or snap his fingers. That moment of focused concentration will help his focus settle back down.

Have a glass of water. A 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that being as little as two percent dehydrated — such mild dehydration that your body doesn’t even feel thirsty — can negatively impact concentration. Pour your son a big glass of water before his next intensive focus session.

Jump around. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve focus, so take plenty of action breaks to walk around the block, kick a soccer ball in the backyard, do jumping jacks in the living room, or play a quick round of Wii Sports between subjects.

Bottom line: Don’t expect your son’s concentration abilities to develop on their own. Help him sharpen them over time by test-driving different focus-boosting techniques.

Originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season.Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we'll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.