Jumping In Just a Little Too Much
- Monday, January 07, 2008
We recently attended a social at the invitation of a homeschooling family we had just met. As my new friend introduced me to some of the other homeschooling families, one particular mom, whom I will call Amy, stood out to me. Amy seemed to have a peace and calmness about her. As we made our introductions, another mom entered the conversation and asked Amy if she was going to participate in the homeschooling activities this next year. They went on to discuss Amy's noticeable absence at the homeschool activities in the previous year. I sympathized with her as she seemed apologetic, almost fearful that the other mom would think less of her due to her lack of participation. However, her generally peaceful demeanor made an impression on me. Although it is possible that her calm manner may just be her personality, I also wonder if there just might be a correlation between her approach to homeschooling and her calm, peaceful attitude.
For the last six years, I have kept our children's social activities fairly minimal. Outside of church on Sundays and their two weekly Bible studies, we have only sporadically participated in group-oriented field trips, park days, classes, and play dates. I am not sure why I chose to homeschool this way. Maybe it's because we have a special needs child. But for whatever reasons, I am forever thankful to the Lord for the calmness this less active social life brought our family.
Last year, however, I thought about trying something more socially-minded, something different (that's just one of the freedoms of homeschooling). My children are getting older, and I reasoned that maybe it's time to look into enrolling them in more activities. So, a couple of weeks ago I found myself doing the exact opposite of what I had done for so long. I sought classes for my children: tennis, art, Spanish, Hebrew, guitar.
Quite frankly, I will not be surprised in the least if within the next two to three months I--and perhaps the children--are completely worn out. If it were only the class time involved, that would be one thing. But there is also getting all the children ready, travel time to and fro, practice, etc. I also imagine that my children will be somewhat less obedient because of the stress and lack of time spent on character training. Sure, Grandma and Grandpa, the neighbors, and even strangers will think we are the "Super-Family." But at what sacrifice?
The temptation to get overly involved in outside activities is one that many homeschoolers face, whether they're veterans or newcomers. In evaluating whether I had gone overboard, I made up a list of questions to ask myself. If you are feeling like me, these questions might help you, too!
1. How are my days scheduled? If something diverts my attention, do I become impatient and stressed? Do I seem to be always in a rush, yelling "Hurry up, we're late" to my children?
If so, I remind myself to slow down and see what activities and social gatherings can be removed so that life and learning will return to being a joyful and calm experience.
2. Am I trying to fit my school time within a certain time frame? Will it mess up my schedule if something unexpected happens--good or not-so-good?
Early in my homeschooling journey, I learned a very valuable lesson about allowing myself the freedom to change my schedule at a moment's notice. I was doing math with my child, and at the top of her lesson was a Scripture that she had previously memorized to a melody. She stopped and sang this Scripture song, and we were all blessed by it. Allowing for change will help keep peace when my day's activities are delayed by unscheduled events.
3. Are my emotions running from high to low?
Maybe it's because I am not taking the necessary time to read God's Word or pray because of an overcrowded schedule. A peaceful home can only be achieved with God's help. I have to continually check and make sure I am not leaving Him out of the picture. Also, making sure I get enough sleep is important in keeping a grouchy attitude at bay.
4. Am I spending too much time at Drive-Thrus?
When I am spending too much time serving my kids fast food, it's generally because I have planned too many out-of-the-home activities in my day. Developing a healthy diet is vitally important to emotional and academic success.
5. Are my children minding less? Has the discipline increased?
It is very hard and nearly impossible for children to reason through obedience when they are tired or too exhausted to sort out their thoughts correctly. Keep in mind that their frontal lobe, which is responsible for their attention span and reasoning skills, is not fully developed until age 25, and they just aren't as quick as us at "getting it," especially when they are overwhelmed and tired. Your children also need consistent character and discipline training, and too many social events will thwart what you have worked so hard to accomplish.
I realize some moms are very gifted in combining teaching at home with everything else, and can spend hours upon hours in textbooks and schooling while maintaining their house, cooking elaborate meals, volunteering at church, and never missing a homeschool support meeting, class, or park day. However, for most moms, this is just not the case. I know it's not the case for me, and maybe not for you! But I have some great news for moms like us: homeschooling is still the best way to educate and train up your children, even if you are not so gifted at doing everything at once.
I think we all realize that too many out-of-the-home activities can create stress and ultimately cause a sense of failure, but so too can a rigorous in-home schedule. For most of us, our own public school experience has left us with the feeling that we must match the six hours a day of instruction the public schools supposedly do in our own homes. The following findings on how much time a public school student spends in instruction might just surprise you:
- During the average 45-minute class period, a teacher spends 15 minutes filling out paperwork, 15 minutes handling disciplinary problems, and only 15 minutes presenting a topic. The latter 15 minutes of instruction is usually in front of a class of 20 or more students, leaving very likely little to no one-on-one time between a teacher and student.
- A study of the school week in the United States found that some schools provided students [in group format] only 17 hours of academic instruction during the week, and the average school provided about 22.
- Another survey analyzed the typical high school calendar and found that, after subtracting time for holidays, professional development days, early dismissal and parent conferences, field trips, assemblies, concerts and award presentations, and state and district testing, approximately 13 to 18 six-hour days remain per subject in the typical school year.
If we consider the above findings and still allow more credit to the public schools than is due, the average time a child spends one-to-one with a teacher in a classroom is at best five to ten minutes per day. Group instruction varies from 35 minutes to two hours per day. If you think you need to match the public school system, this is the time you can expect to invest--not the six hours per day one would think. I realize now why homeschoolers excel academically. Most homeschool parents can easily see to it that their children get more instruction time than this. Add to this the benefits that homeschooling creates--love, Christian values, character training, and stability--and you have even more value in each minute.
Some families are not aware of the actual time public schools spend in instruction, and subsequently jump into a six-hour (or more if they want to be better) method of schooling at home. For most moms, this is a plan that won't survive the long haul. I had a conversation with a mom recently whose homeschool method is responsible for their title of "ex-homeschooler." This mom shared with me that she could not teach her children any longer. She only got aggravated and "yelled at her children all day." Our conversation turned to focus on their homeschool schedule. This mom shared with me how she had spent the last year homeschooling. No wonder she quit. Her method would lead to failure for 80% or more of the homeschooling moms out there. It was far too rigorous for her and for her young children. I tried to persuade her to try a different method, one that allowed a little more freedom, but she could not come to grips with schooling any other way than the perceived public school way, so she quit homeschooling. I couldn't help thinking that this was such a sad and unnecessary ending.
As you reflect on your homeschool schedule, remember, it's perfectly all right to change your method until you find one that creates peace in the home while instilling a love for learning in your children. We have only God to please, and if you are homeschooling from a Christian worldview, you have already gone far in doing that.
Denise Kanter is a homeschooling mom of four children, ages 11, 9, 8 and 6. She lives in California with her husband Gary, where they operate Considering Homeschooling Ministry, a national outreach with local chapters across the United States. (Learn more and find free resources at www.consideringhomeschooling.org.) The Kanters are also involved in a creation science ministry (www.worldsbiggestdinosaurs.com).
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