Making Your Homeschool Tick
- Lori M. Henry Contributing Writer
- 2007 29 Jan
I remember my daydreams about what our school at home would be like before we started homeschooling...
I imagined I would greet excited, smiling faces every morning who would ask, Mommy, what do we GET to do today? Instead, my children moaned when I said it was time for school.
I thought we would read our school books nestled together under the maple tree in the back yard on sunny mornings. The first day I tried that, my son was so distracted by the birds and the cars passing and the neighbor's dog barking that we never tried it again.
I dreamed that we would perform amazing science experiments in the kitchen or act out historical scenes in the driveway. Then the sweet cherubs would rest quietly on the sofa devouring every book I could bring home from the library. Instead, my kids would rather play on the computer than read a book.
Too soon, my homeschool mantra became, It doesn't have to be fun; it has to be done. My goal became simply getting one entire day of school finished before 8:30 p.m.
This is not the way I wanted it to be! I would shout aloud to God, I wanted homeschooling to be about family, and learning, and memories, and values, and togetherness, and fun!
I couldn't admit I had been daydreaming, and made myself miserable because I couldn't make it a reality.
We teacher-mothers want our children to be excited about learning. We want them to be able to explore the subjects that make their heart beat faster. We want them to discover their unique blend of talents and gifts.
On the other hand, we don't want them to miss anything that they are supposed to be learning. We don't want them to do poorly on standardized tests or miss out on the opportunity to attend college or pursue a career. We know that sometimes school is just dull, but that some things (like laundry and grocery shopping) just have to be done, and it would be nice it everyone could just have a decent attitude about it!
Let's think about the tick, tock of the clock for a minute. As the pendulum swings, it moves all the way to one side, then all the way to the other. That movement turns the clock mechanism and is how the clock keeps time. If the pendulum gets stuck in one position, then the clock is broken. I think that sometimes, our homeschool pendulum gets stuck in one position.
If the swing of the pendulum on one end represents fun, interest-driven activities and on the other end represents face-down-in-the-textbook learning, for our homeschool clock to keep time, our pendulum needs to swing back and forth.
I use textbooks. I need the structure they provide. I know that colleges look for the standard requirements on high school transcripts with names they can recognize, such as Chemistry with Lab, U.S. History, or British Literature. It is an important skill for students to learn to glean pertinent information from their reading, to be able to answer questions, and to take a test in a certain period of time. I could never cover all the material that is required to fulfill a high school credit without using textbooks. I wouldn't even try.
However, I have never found a textbook to be stimulating reading. If your home education is simply about textbooks, workbooks, and the like, it is probable that your children are complaining that their school is boring, too hard, or worse. Your pendulum is stuck.
We all dream of providing the world with the next Wizard of Menlo Park (i.e. Thomas Edison). As homeschoolers, wouldn't it be wonderful to afford our children the opportunity to develop their own particular genius? To read the books they found mesmerizing, to do the experiments that answer their questions, to let God lead them on the path they should go?
Personally, if I'd have let my kids off to follow their interests, they would have never learned to multiply! And not much of anything else for that matter! But if your kids refuse to touch a subject or a topic that doesn't interest and delight them every minute, then your pendulum is stuck. Your homeschool clock is broken.
Making Your Homeschool Tick
To make your homeschool tick, you need to keep the pendulum swinging. There must be textbook times, and there must be times when our interests take the stage. If you find that you are spending too much time in one side of the swing, then schedule time for the other. If the kids are bogged down in their history book, then take a few daytrips to local museums to see something they are studying. Put down the text and pick up a biography. If you find that interest is waning in a particular area, go back to the textbook and begin a new chapter.
Let me give you an example. For instance, right now we are studying plants in our biology textbook. I will allow 2 or 3 weeks to cover this material.
First, I read the chapters in the textbook and highlight the important terms and sections in my teacher's manual. The textbook has determined the topic we are going to study, but I decide what and how much we cover. If it is extraneous busywork or something we've already done, I skip it. (If you have more than one child, use the oldest child's textbook.)
Next, I go to the public library. Our library has a fantastic selection of videos and DVD's and I will select a few on our topic. Then, I visit both the children's section and the adult section for books of interest. I make sure to get some experiment books and some field guides. Lastly, I may look in the biography section for famous people in the field. After this, think about any local gardens, nurseries, greenhouses, state parks, or other community resources that might be available for field trips. We also live near a major university that has an Educational Resource Center on campus. When I am feeling adventurous, I will also check out the ERC for additional resources.
This is the MOST important step and it is not to be skipped. When you get back from the library, lay all of your finds out on the kitchen table and muster the troops. Ask your kids to tell you which books, videos, DVD's, experiments, biographies, activities, or field trips interest them. This guarantees that whatever you do with your kids will be something they WANT to do, and it gives them things to look forward to doing together. You incorporate their top picks, suggest some of our own, and write down a plan of action.
For me, following through is the hardest part. But, our plan has gotten the kids excited (or at least willing) so they pull me into it. The first day or two will be spent reading the textbook, and maybe doing work pages. The next day we might watch a video. The next day we visit a nursery and try to identify some of the plants we see with a field guide. While at the nursery, I buy some green bean seeds to plant. The next day, we plant the green been seeds and maybe do a couple more plant experiments. The next day, we work on another section of our textbook. On this goes until we have covered the material and explored our interests in this area. Swing, swing the pendulum.
So, the next time it seems that your homeschool clock has wound down, take inventory. Is you pendulum swinging? Are you finding the balance between work and play, free time and study time, school and learning? Remember, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is described as being full of grace and truth. And to accomplish our goals, we need to be striving for the same balance in our lives and the lives of our children. We'll be happier, and so will our children, when we learn to make our homeschool tick.
Lori M. Henry is married to a very supportive husband and is mom to three terrific teenagers. She has homeschooled her children since kindergarten and graduated her eldest in May 2004. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education and has taught in many settings from public and private school classrooms, to homeschool co-ops, to one-on-one instruction at home. Her articles can be found in Christian Woman, The Gospel Advocate and Guideposts for Kids on the Web. You can reach Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org.