If there was a formula that could guarantee homeschool success, I think I'd have found it by now.
I've tried several homeschool methods and dozens of textbooks and programs. Because I'm a Type-A personality easily obsessed with lists and detailed plans, I've looked rather exhaustively for a comprehensive curriculum that would address all of my children's learning needs. And I was, understandably, exhausted.
Why weren't my kids making the kind of progress the books told me they should? Why weren't they as fascinated with the subject matter and as eager to do projects as the advertised curriculum promised?
What was wrong with me that I couldn't teach my own kids?
What was wrong with my kids that they couldn't perform to my expectations?
It took a few years to realize that there was nothing wrong with me or my children. My expectations were flawed from years in a traditional classroom with traditional textbooks and teaching methods
The solution was to "deschool".
This is scary for a Type-A person who wants plans laid out in great detail years in advance. I was suddenly "going with the flow" of my children's needs and interests, which were all completely different. I was adapting curriculum instead of following the instructions, making lesson plans only 4-6 weeks in advance instead of the entire year. Sometimes I forsook textbooks and programs altogether and just heading for the library so my kids could indulge themselves in whatever they wanted to learn.
But I still needed a tether - something to act as my homeschool North Star. A home base from where I could make adjustments, ensure I was providing a well-rounded education for my kids, and also manage to take their individuality into account. A very tall order.
Over the years I made the checklist below. It has helped me make better decisions and stay out of my old homeschool rut.
Now I'm sharing my list with you - if you think your kids aren’t making progress in accordance with their abilities, the curriculum you are using isn't delivering as promised, or you just feel stuck, review the questions and suggestions on this checklist and see where you need to make adjustments.
Do the curriculum, programs, and other resources you use:
- Have all their pieces/parts and work properly? Few things are more time consuming or frustrating than spending time looking for missing elements of a course or game.
- Explain how to incorporate them into your homeschool? A program might be wonderful, but if it takes hours or days to figure out how to use it, or it was designed for a traditional classroom, you and your kids may become too stressed out to enjoy it.
- Present new concepts clearly? Concise instructions and helpful illustrations are necessary for kids to grasp new ideas and skills.
- Is there enough review for adequate practice and solidification of skills, but not so much as to cause frustration or boredom?
- Do your children show a preference for:
- audio-visual presentations
- reading and studying text
- being outside
- hands-on projects and experimentation
- mathematical formulas and logic puzzles
- talking things out and working in groups
- listening to music while studying
- introspection, learning in quiet isolation?
Do you give your kids room and resources to learn according to their preferred methods and environment?
Do you allow your child to play to their strengths and interests? Use what kids love to inspire them and help them gain confidence.
Do you encourage your children to use learning strategies such as:
- paraphrasing and summarizing
- visual imagery
- paired association
Is there physical space for kids to have books and workbooks open, and room to write comfortably? Even if you don't have a dedicated school area, the choice to homeschool also means you've chosen to make space for learning in your home. Do what you need to do to reduce clutter and organize belongings and give your kids elbow room.
Is there proper lighting for reading and writing? Eye strain can seriously impede a child's ability to learn.
Can your children sit or stand comfortably to read and write, or work at a computer? Give your kids breaks to move around, get a drink, eat a snack. Standing desks and stability balls can help kids who learn better when they can comfortably shift their weight and change position.
How do your children receive reminders of behavioral and academic expectations? Give your kids a calendar with learning goals and checklists of rules for behavior so they know what is expected of them.
Are there opportunities for your kids to work in groups and build a spirit of teamwork? In large families, this is easier to do. In any case, joining a support group, co-op, book club, 4-H club, or sports team can provide your kids with the chance to learn in a group setting and practice collaborating on larger scale projects.
Is your home reasonably free of stress and distractions? Even if you have young kids running around, schedule quiet times so children can focus on their work. Don't allow friends, family, or neighbors to interrupt your homeschool - expect others to respect your schedule and your children's need to concentrate. If necessary, turn off ringers and put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door.
If there are other stresses - financial, health, or family conflicts, homeschooling can be very difficult. You may need to seek help from a mentor, pastor, or a professional counselor. It's better to ask for help and ensure your child's education than suffer in silence while they fall between the cracks.
How often do your children use what they’ve learned in practical ways and every day situations? Without practical application, information is just black squiggles on white paper and interesting pictures. In as many ways as possible, let your children put what they've learned to good use.
Set goals for effort, persistence, and progress. Make sure your goals are age appropriate for each child, and increase in difficulty incrementally. Ask your kids what goals they'd like to set for themselves. Reward consistent effort and celebrate when goals are reached.
Do you allow your children to advance at a pace consistent with their physical and mental development? It is tempting to compare your children with others their age, or with how quickly their siblings progressed - but your kids need to be able to relax and learn at a pace that allows them to master material instead of temporarily perform on a test.
Do you encourage your children to do their best, and not focus on ‘grades’? Effort is as important as the result, because it isn't likely that one will achieve the desired results without hard work. Don't get so focused on grade point averages that you neglect to acknowledge the effort your kids are putting into learning.
Is character building (integrity, work ethic, courtesy, self-control, compassion, endurance) part of your homeschool? A well-rounded education is not just learning about the world, but about one's place in it. Character is essential to that process.
Are your children invested in their homeschool? Parents are invested by default, and sometimes this means that parents take over and do too much work, robbing kids of the opportunity to become engaged in their own education and invested in their future.
How much do your children participate in making choices about their education? Investing implies ownership, and ownership means encouraging kids to make course and curriculum choices and help chart their academic objectives and career path.
Does your family seek out and nurture relationships with people that support and encourage your homeschool efforts? Positive influences can be major motivators, and teaching kids how to maintain healthy relationships is just as important as any topic they would learn from a book.
Do you maintain proper boundaries of respect with those who don’t support your choice to homeschool? Negative people can drain our emotional and mental energy, and not only do we need to protect our kids from disrespectful people who want to deride and derail our homeschool, but you need to protect yourself. Your kids will know when you feel depressed and doubtful about your choice to homeschool, and this kind of uncertainty is contagious.
Do your kids have opportunities for personal development inside and outside the home? Home is a comfortable, safe place to learn, but pushing a bit outside of that comfort zone is necessary so kids can exercise their interpersonal skills and apply what they've learned.
How do you express your support for the subjects and activities your children find interesting? Your kids may not be interested in your hobbies, and it's certain they will develop hobbies of their own that you won't enjoy. However, unless their chosen interest is immoral or illegal, you should set aside your indifference or dislike and fully support them. It may mean allowing them to start and stop music lessons, foreign languages, sports, art projects, etc... This is not always laziness or indecision, but a desire to try new things. With your guidance and encouragement, they will eventually latch on to something that ignites their enthusiasm and they will stick with it.
Do your children feel that they are valued members of your family, church, and community? Too many children hear their parents express feelings of exasperation within their child's hearing. Kids are sometimes punished for simply being clumsy or immature. You should remember the definition of 'child' means that they are going to be immature. Instead of treating them as an annoyance or inconvenience, give them affection, guidance, and respect.