More on “The ABCs of Homeschooling”

As the saying goes, great minds think alike.

I recently began sending out a subscription-only series of summer e-mails for homeschool encouragement with the oft-used title “The ABCs of Homeschooling.” Yesterday I learned that Dawn of the homeschool blog 5KidsandaDog has been doing a weekly blog meme with the same title for several weeks. I had no idea she had this series planned when I wrote my articles on the same topic and scheduled them with my email marketing service. It was a coincidence.

I believe that the more we share information with other homeschoolers, the better off everyone will be. In that spirit, I encourage you to check out Dawn’s blog for additional insight into the homeschooling life and to participate in her blog meme, which invites you to come up with your own “ABCs of Homeschooling.”

Do Kids Need More Time in School?

President Obama recommends  shorter summer vacations for U.S. schoolchildren so they can attend school for more days than they do already, because he believes that they’re at a disadvantage compared to students in other countries.

His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says more school hours will “even the playing field” when it comes to comparing our schoolchildren to those in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers excel with far fewer hours of instruction than most public schoolchildren receive. So is it really more hours of instruction that schoolchildren need?

First off, President Obama’s assertion appears to be inaccurate:

Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests – Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Apparently children in the countries that outscore ours in math and science attend school for more days per year but fewer hours per year. So the suggestion by Obama and Duncan that a longer school day results in “gains” (test scores, which do not necessarily equal learning) is not backed up by the foreign countries whose kids outscore ours. They actually have shorter school days.

But if you read the entire article, you find that merely educating kids isn’t really the point anyway. Here are your clues:

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents.

That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community.

Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. “They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”

Do you see it? What we’re talking about here goes way beyond merely educating a child. This is about raising children because their parents have been deemed unable or unwilling. This is about schools becoming publicly subsidized daycare centers for school-age children, even on the weekends.

What it’s not about is how many hours of instruction it takes to educate a child so he can beat the math and science scores of kids in other countries. Homeschoolers have already demonstrated that.

Fasten Your Seat Belts……

Close-Up of Tops of School Buses in a Parking Lot, Brooklyn, New York by Todd Gipstein
Close-Up of Tops of School Buses in a Parking Lot, Brooklyn, New York

 

So here we are. The last weeks of summer already! The months sped past, and now there’s a chill in the air, it gets darker a little earlier in the evening, and there are other signs that fall is on the way.

With it comes a new school year for the neighbors as well as for us. Soon you’ll watch the neighbor kids line up for the school bus while your kids are still in their pj’s, and maybe still in bed. Will you think, “We are so lucky to have this freedom.”? Or will you think, “Oh dear God, help me, I’m not sure I can do this after all!”

I don’t mean to put pressure on you, but I have to be honest: your attitude is going to be a major factor in the success of homeschooling in your family. How you look at this venture speaks volumes to your children.

Imagine you’re seated on a jetliner getting ready to take off across the ocean to Hawaii. You hear the captain calmly announce that the jet is ready to take off. As he makes his routine pre-flight announcements in a practiced, serious, authoritarian voice, you feel as though you’re in good hands.

Now, imagine instead that his announcements begin with him nervously stammering, his preflight speech sprinkled with um’s, er’s and ahem’s. How secure do you feel?

Nothing has changed; after all, you’re still on the ground. But the captain’s attitude can be cause for feeling secure or cause for alarm. How you feel is directly linked to his attitude.

It’s the same way with your kids. They see their friends going to school. Strangers ask them where they go to school. They hear about this school place and all they know is that they don’t go there. How you behave will make them either feel secure about not going to school, or make them worry that there’s cause for alarm.

Does your attitude need work? Are you scared or worried? Have others, parents or friends, made you feel insecure about homeschooling your kids? Better get your act together! You don’t want to doom this school year before it’s even begun.

Think about why you’re doing this. Think of all the things your kids have already learned while in your care: each screaming little newborn bundle of needs has become a walking, talking, bright happy child. You’ve already shown that you have what it takes to raise and teach each of your children. God has given you the responsibility of doing this, and He has equipped you for it.

So turn away from watching the big yellow bus pull up to the line of neighbor kids, face your own kids, and in a practiced, serious, authoritarian voice, say: “Everybody get dressed! We’ve got work to do!” And then set about making another year of learning and memories.

Won’t Be Long Now….

The scent of sunblock no longer gives me a thrill. My pots of flowers look overgrown and a bit dehydrated. The weatherman’s announcement of another day in the high 80s makes me cranky instead of happy, as it did back in May. Yep, slowly but surely, summer is on its way out.

Now it’s the thought of the apple harvest, cooler nights and going back to sweaters that makes me smile. Oh, and new books, new glue sticks and crayons, support group meetings starting up again and a fresh start to the school year.

I couldn’t wait to put away our school stuff a few months ago, yet now I’m eagerly thinking about getting back to the challenges and joys of homeschooling every day.

I wasn’t always like this. Those first few years I homeschooled, I faced each fall wondering if I’d be able to pull it off for another year. Sure, I’d taught my kids to count, to read, to print letters. But that soon seemed like small potatoes. Up ahead loomed cursive writing, fractions, topic sentences, science projects, and someday, chemistry, foreign language……trigonometry!

I’d had some success in the early years, but how would I tackle the big stuff? I faced each fall with trepidation. I’d think, “We’ll try it for one more year, and then decide…..”

And the years passed, and the kids kept learning, sometimes in spite of me. Seemed like I learned along with them, though, and things came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years. Fractions made sense this time. Geography was so interesting. And once they reached high school, I learned that you could sign them up for community college chemistry if you didn’t want to turn the house into a Chem lab. What a relief!

So, are you scared? Or are you excited? Or both? It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that you want to homeschool, you enjoy seeing your kids’ eyes light up when they catch on to a difficult concept, you know where to go when you need help in helping them. The emotions come with the territory. Just keep thinking, “One more year, then we’ll decide whether to keep going.” And before you know it, you’ll find yourself facing every fall with excitement, not fear.

(Looking for some tips to get your year off to a great start? Check out my free e-course, “Top Ten Tools for Homeschooling Parents.”)

The Spice of Life

By now I imagine you’ve amassed quite a pile of books and curriculum as you get ready for another great year of homeschooling. There’s nothing like the sight of all those new materials to get the enthusiasm going.

But the books that look so inviting in August are often less loved by November. The fact is that for both kids and parents, homeschooling can become boring if you just rely on a set curriculum.

It took me a while to figure that out. As I said in The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling,

Like many people, I began homeschooling by imitating the schools of my youth. I bought a boxful of curriculum, divided it into daily assignments, and taught my kids right out of those books.

And there wasn’t anything especially bad about that, except that after the initial excitement wore off, my kids started to get bored. Instead of being excited about doing school, they ranked it right down there with making their beds and setting the table-something we have to do, so let’s get it over with.

That was not in my game plan. I didn’t want them to be bored. I was bored in school, and I still recalled how bad that felt. I wanted my kids to enjoy school.

What I soon realized was that while they might have been bored with school, my kids still loved learning. They enjoyed visiting museums. My daughter read through stacks of books without my telling her to do so. And my son drew beautiful, detailed pictures that were not assigned by me.

I even became bored by the assignments I was teaching the kids, and it must have been around that time that I came up with the idea of playing store. I labeled some items in our pantry (using prices written on sticky notes), then dug up all the spare change I could find.

I became the storekeeper, and the kids became the shoppers. They’d choose an item from the pantry and pay me for it. Often I had to make change for them. Soon they were buying more than one item at a time and figuring out how much they owed me. Before long, they started taking turns being the store-keeper. This became a game they enjoyed for a long time, but I think I probably learned the most from that experience, because I saw that homeschooling didn’t have to be boring, like formal school was for me as a child.

This success led me to become more creative with our homeschooling…..(read the rest of the chapter HERE)

The moral of the story? Enjoy those books, and take advantage of that carefully crafted curriculum. But make sure you don’t spend the whole day with them. Provide your kids with plenty of time for creative learning, independent learning and free play. As the old saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” Keep that in mind, and your children will learn more, and have fun at the same time.