The Reluctant Homeschooler: Seven Secrets to Survive & Thrive While Educating Your Kid At Home

I never intended to be a homeschooler. But as with COVID-19, sometimes life hands us surprises. Instead of grumbling about it I decided to do what I do best (research!) and help my family survive and even thrive in this new season.

—– Disclaimer: The perspectives and opinions expressed in the following article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of Modern Brain Journal and/or its affiliates. The resources and links included do NOT provide any kickback or benefit to MBJ or the author and are uniquely based on the author’s personal experience and viewpoint. —-

I’ve come across those families before…uber-conservative, or crunchy-granola, or artsy-fartsy types who don’t line up with public education principles. The make-up-free mom wears a skirt and plays violin, while the dad spends his evenings playing chess with the children. And the kids…well, lets be honest, they’re just kinda weird. So polite and respectful, astute in conversation, skilled in arts and music, these kids read for hours a day, with little concern for trendy memes or online influences. I mean, who really lives like that?

Oh. Yikes. When did we become that family?

Okay no, I prefer workout leggings to a skirt and couldn’t play violin to save my life, but with the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve definitely decided that eyebrow-plucking is overrated and lipstick is entirely irrelevant. My husband doesn’t play chess, yet he insists the kids “earn” screen-time with hours spent outside, reading, and helping others (yes, household chores count). But truth-be-told my kids are definitely getting weirder every day, as the hours spent reading actual books outnumber the hours reading social-media.

The coronavirus quarantine of 2020 changed the fabric of our lives, and forced us all to become homeschooling families, reluctant or not. And it also changed the perspectives we might have had about home education. Parents who once said, “I could never homeschool my kids” are now opting to keep kids home and healthy, avoiding potential exposure to the coronavirus epidemic. With the current call to be “safer at home” and exponential growth of online resources, home education has never been more available, appropriate, and applicable.

Confession: My youngest kids have been in traditional school since kindergarten, and so the transition to homeschooling this past year was a challenge. But truth-be-told, I spent twelve years as a reluctant homeschooler prior to that. My firstborn had a ton of medical challenges, so after a devastating kindergarten experience, home education was literally a lifesaver. I homeschooled him all the way through, and he went right into the University of Colorado after 12th grade. (Yes, he’s doing great, and is 25 now!) I’m sure you’re doing the math and wondering how I still have little kids at home; we’ve got 9 kids (plus 3 grandsons), some by birth, some by adoption, and our youngest is a second-grader. The older crew was homeschooled but after my first son graduated I was glad to enroll the younger kids in a small local school. Over the years I tried a variety of different perspectives and methods. We started out very structured, and became more flexible as I grew to trust the process and get familiar with different curriculum. So even tho I’m right there with you in this COVID-19 transition, I’ve probably got a few more years of experience with home education than the average mom.

Without further ado…here are Seven Secrets to Survive and Thrive While Educating Your Kids at Home:

1) Take The Leap

Transitioning from brick-and-mortar school to home education doesn’t have to be as scary as you think. And it doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment! Give it a try with the perspective that if it’s too much torture for your family life, you can change plans next semester. You just might be surprised to discover that the homeschool lifestyle offers a freedom and new family connection you love! Here is a great comprehensive resource to get you started:

https://edpolicy.education.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID19HomeschoolingResource.pdf

2) Make It Legal

Most states require that you register to homeschool with your local school district. Because of COVID-19 this has never been easier. In many cases it can be done online, or by signing one simple form. Give your school district headquarters a call to find out what is required in your area. This is a vital first step so that your child is not marked “truant” for mandatory school attendance. This website is a great place to start: https://hslda.org/legal

3) Create Space and Structure

An excellent way to get kids involved and excited about schooling at home is to revamp a space in your home dedicated to accomplishing lessons. You don’t need to spend a fortune or add a new room; just designating a corner of the dining room can do the trick. An inexpensive canvas bin to hold school supplies, a study lamp, and trifold cardboard to create focused space will do wonders…and can be whisked away for family dinnertime. It’s also important to create structure, so that kids and parents can plan, know what to expect, and achieve goals. A great way to design your own schedule is to first pick an end goal (i.e. finished with semester work by Dec 15th) then plan backwards from there. That way you don’t end up fussing with school through a desired holiday break, and you can create intentional times of work, play, and rest for your week. Here are some resources for fun, practical and simple homeschool space and structure ideas:

Homeschool Room Tour 2020 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6acae-ROO2U
https://raisinglifelonglearners.com/organizing-your-homeschool-in-a-tiny-house/
https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/16/health/homeschooling-during-coronavirus-wellness/index.html

4) Relationships First

For most families, homeschooling creates a new relational atmosphere. It can be challenging for kids and parents to adjust when mom or dad becomes teacher, coach, and principal! Try to ease into it, give yourselves lots of grace, and remember that your relationships with one another always trump curriculum or education goals. When tempers begin to flare, take a break with unscheduled recess or rest time – even 10 minutes can allow frustrations to cool so that you can step back into the schooling process without tears or anger. It’s also important to dig in and really get to know your child’s personality bent, learning style, and natural energy flow. Some kids focus best early in the morning, while others are slow to start and gain energy toward midday. Likewise, the introverted kiddo who struggles with auditory processing and has a visual-based learning style needs vastly different tactics than the extravert who learns kinesthetically. Check out these resources for learning styles and personality:

https://teach.com/what/teachers-know/learning-styles/
https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/
https://www.psychologyjunkie.com/2018/03/01/recognizing-myers-briggs-personality-types-childhood/
https://www.drdaviddaniels.com/article/typing-and-children

5) Trust The Training

Your kid might argue and whine, but they know, and you know they know, it’s got to be done. A simple eyebrow-raise can do wonders for unraveling the slew of objections to learning those math facts. Instead of justifying and arguing, say what teachers have been saying for years: “this is what you need to do, so get it done.” If your child has spent any time at all in a traditional school setting, they have had some training in the art of education. Sometimes it is helpful to interrupt the conflict by asking, “how did your teacher help you work on math facts last year?” Get your kiddo to share how it went in the classroom, and then you can come up with new homeschool ideas together to facilitate study and progress. Here are two articles that might help encourage and support your process:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_reduce_the_stress_of_homeschooling_on_everyone
https://www.design-your-homeschool.com/homeschool-discipline.html

6) Learn to Learn

The most impressive outcome of homeschooling is seeing my kids learn to learn instead of just memorizing facts or preparing for tests. This has been a new revelation since having my 3 youngest kids in traditional school, then back home again. My older kids who spent most of their early years in home education transitioned into traditional school with surprising ease: they were top of the class, had great study habits, and were generally eager to learn (like I said, homeschool kids are weird). But the three traditional-schooled youngest were focused on tests and outcomes far more than learning, and we had to really work on learning to learn instead of worrying about scores. I remind them that a test score is simply an assessment of what they have mastered and what still needs work, and isn’t a reflection of their smarts or ability to learn. Many people refer to this as a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Home education offers a unique opportunity to strive for learning instead of worrying about how test scores compare. Most home school curriculum requires mastery before moving on while brick-and-mortar schools don’t have the time or space to allow for such individualized education. My older kids are absolutely thriving in college and higher education because early on they learned how to learn. This may seem like a vague concept but trust me – it makes all the difference! Here are some articles and videos about the subject:

https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ (Carol Dweck, Growth Mindset TED Talk)
https://www.edutopia.org/article/guiding-students-to-be-independent-learners
https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/29-steps-toward-more-self-directed-learning
https://www.edutopia.org/article/guiding-students-be-independent-learners

7) YOU Decide What Home Education Perspective Fits Best

There are SO many varying styles of homeschooling, and you can learn more about these from two great resources; https://www.homeschool.com/homeschooling-methods/and https://homeeducator.com/getting-started/types-of-homeschooling/.

Personally I think it comes down to three general perspectives; 1) school-at-home, 2) flexible home education, and 3) un-schooling. Just as they sound, these perspectives range from most to least structured.

The idea of school-at-home is to bring the organized curriculum of a brick-and-mortar classroom into the home. In fact there are many free online public-school-at-home programs to do all the work for you. This is a good fit if you don’t want to do a lot of teaching or managing, and are simply looking for clear direction, feedback, and grading from a structured online or print curriculum. These programs are generally comprehensive, which means they cover all academic areas for each grade level, with easy or automatic grading as your child progresses. Here are some great resources:

https://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/k-12/online-elementary-school/
https://www.onlineschools.org/elementary-school/
https://www.k12.com/online-public-schools/homeschool.html
https://astravo.org/online-academy/enroll
https://www.liberty.edu/ms/online-academy/
https://www.connectionsacademy.com/

If you want a little more flexibility, and are willing and able to do some individual teaching, you might like a curriculum that loosely directs your child but doesn’t offer the structured feedback and grading of an online or digital curriculum. With flexible homeschooling you can combine a variety of resources to use what best fits your family and each child. For example, you might use a workbook for language arts, a digital program for math, and online video-based resources for science and history. Then you can freely include additional education in arts, music, sports, social skills, home economics, or whatever suits individual needs. Check out these resources for some ideas:

https://www.homeschool.com/top-100-homeschool-resources-2020
https://www.learningrx.com/
https://www.aop.com/
https://www.khanacademy.org/
https://www.howtohomeschool.net/homeschool-guides/best-homeschool-curriculum-products-2020
https://www.verywellfamily.com/best-online-homeschool-programs-4842632
https://www.techradar.com/news/free-home-schooling-apps-and-websites

The un-schooling movement is the least structured of all home education perspectives, and is similar to the origins of Waldorf education. Un-schooling is the perspective of functional education that occurs during day-to-day life, apart from age, grade, or setting. There is no structured curriculum and learning is based on the child’s internal delight-led motivation. In other words, reading and writing are taught when the child expresses an interest, instead of at a designated age or presumed grade level. Math lessons develop naturally as a function of life skills such as cooking or shopping. You can learn more about it here:

https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/unschooling-101
https://www.mamasaysnamaste.com/functionaleducation/
https://www.time4learning.com/homeschooling-styles/unschooling.html

My Personal Perspective

After almost two decades of homeschooling with eight very different kiddos, and having tried varying perspectives, my family landed somewhere in the middle with a flexible homeschooling plan. I favor a structured schedule that varies each day based on my workday, kids’ extracurricular activities, and family events. We do about 2.5 hours of lessons before lunch, and another two hours in the early afternoon. My top pick for core curriculum is LifePac from Alpha Omega Publications (https://www.aop.com/curriculum/lifepac), while I use a variety of online resources (https://www.khanacademy.org/) for history and science. Each of the kids participates in at least one sport and music/art extracurricular activity where they appreciate social interaction and creativity. And we remain flexible to spontaneously take advantage of a uniquely perfect-weather-day with a hike in the woods, picnic in the park, or afternoon in the snow. Some of my homeschooling friends feel we’re too strict, others think we’re too lax. But it works for us.

Every family is different, each child is unique, and so your home education will look vastly different from another’s. Do the research, get creative, and then embrace homeschooling. While we may be stepping into this home education transition reluctantly, my hope is that we will all be pleasantly surprised with how well it turns out!

blog post by MBJ writer Terissa Miller, MS Psy
August 2020

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