This series of posts on homeschooling is a conversation about homeschooling methods. When I started homeschooling three years ago, my former teacher skills and thoughts heavily influenced our choices. Some of them have been helpful, but I'm learning that homeschooling takes it's own form.
Three Factors That Influence Your Method:
1. Your student(s): The first thing to consider in making decisions about homeschooling is your child–his personality, interests, strengths and learning style. Sometimes we look at the material in front of us and think about needing to teach multiplication and third grade language and this whole book of reading. The bigger picture is that, as we school our children, we’re nurturing them as they are on their way to adulthood. We’re helping them grow into mature, responsible, self-motivated learners. When you think of schooling a person instead of simply teaching material you’ll be more intentional, but the teaching process also becomes more natural because it’s simply an extension of parenting.
Parenting has already taught you how uniquely each of your children has been designed. Each child is a whole new discovery, it’s so much fun to learn to know each person and help them grow and develop their abilities and character.
Just like in parenting, in homeschooling you learn to understand your children individually which helps you find unique ways to help them grow to their potential. All of our children love verbal affirmation, but I’ve noticed lately that Ian really wants to grow when he gets affirmation. Like one day he spilled a drink and cleaned it up without me reminding him. I always try to encourage this kind of habit, so I said, “Hey, Ian, I’ve noticed that you’re growing up. Just now when you spilled that drink you cleaned it up without me even telling you to do it. That shows me you’re becoming more responsible.”
He was really happy with the praise and since then has been trying even harder to clean up after himself. Today I heard a bowl clatter on the floor and soon he was telling Steve, “Mama said I’m becoming more responsible. Did you hear something falling down? But do you see it on the floor? Do you know why? Because I picked it up!”
I’m sure you notice the same kind of patterns in your children. You see when you explain something, and it just clicks with your child. You notice how interested he is in patterns or night skies. You might see that his brain seems to freeze if he has to sit still for too long, that he likes for life to be extremely predictable and orderly, he remembers his chores better when he has a visual reminder of what he still needs to do, or if he memorizes words put to music super quickly. These are clues to your child’s makeup, and you simply use them as a guide in teaching your children in a method that makes learning natural for them. You can use what you already know about your child to help you understand how he might learn best. So far I’ve mostly been working with Zachary, so we could customize everything for him. As we add more students to the mix then we’ll need to adjust a little, I’m sure.
Each person’s personality will influence how they study best, and most people generally have a preferred learning style (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic–just do a google search if you’re unfamiliar.)
Some students can’t concentrate when there is other noise in the room. Some students might not understand a math concept until they can see a drawing or graph(visual) or they might not be able to think of the answer to the math fact on a flash card until they hear you verbalize the fact (auditory). Some students might need to form letters with clay or draw it in the sad to help them remember the how to write it (kinesthetic). They won’t know to tell you this, though. You get to uncover the mystery. :) A kinesthetic learner (not as common as the other two) would learn much better with a homeschool method that is hands on and explorative such as Montessori. Incorporating all the learning styles into school is helpful no matter which method you choose. Some methods incorporate a variety of learning styles more easily than others.
Even though a curriculum or teaching style is excellent, it may not work for your child. That’s okay. Even if other moms are raving about this amazing program, it doesn’t mean it is the right fit for your student. This makes homeschooling confusing at first (because you can’t expect the exact formula to work for you as works for another mom), but it’s freeing once you learn to know your student(it takes time–sometimes more than a school year, so give yourselves lots of grace), put together your own collection of ideas and teach in ways that work for your students. One of the advantages of homeschooling is that it is extremely customizable.
If school is a daily struggle or frustration, it is less likely to be a behavior problem and much, much more likely to be a disconnect between the teaching style and the student. If school is frustrating or difficult most of the time, maybe you could find someone to help you understand what you could change. The hardest, best choice I’ve made so far was scrapping curriculum I’d spent $$$ on less than halfway through the school year because it was not working.
2. Your Personality and Abilities: Some of the teaching styles appeal to my ideals and some to my reality. I’m learning that I need to be realistic about the strengths and limitations I’ve been given. One of my strengths is that I’m flexible and don’t need things clearly defined to feel successful. One of my limitations is that I do not have much physical stamina and sometimes need to teach from the couch. Also, I am a terrible record keeper.
Although I love the structure and discipline a school style or classical education style of teaching would give, I am finally realizing that while I could teach in that way, it would always be a struggle. It would always feel hard for me to put that much organization into school while also running a house and being a mom to children who aren’t in school, yet. For a person who loves order and schedules, having that much structure might be the key to keeping her sanity, er, thriving. Looking at your parenting style might give you a clue about what kind of homeschool style would work best for you.
Your level of comfort with teaching will be a factor in whether you use a method that is super-teacher involved where you put together your own materials or if you choose a method with a curriculum that spells out some to all the instructions the teacher should give, or even virtual schooling where you mostly monitor your students. Even if you don’t feel confident in your ability to homeschool, if you want to teach and are willing to learn you definitely can teach your children.
A factor we needed to consider, of course, was my health. I still have days where I am teaching from the couch. I needed to look at a method of teaching that gave me the flexibility for those days–where it didn’t matter if we couldn’t get through five pages of a lesson every single day. Leaning more toward a Charlotte Mason style means that we spend more time with all three of the boys and I cuddled on the couch reading together which is perfect for us.
Sometimes I still feel so lost in how best to teach and sometimes I worry a lot that we’re missing something important either educationally or with character development. Homeschooling really stretches you and shows up your inadequacy. It takes more patience than you have stored, more wisdom, more love, more studying and hard work than you feel you have strength to give. You sweat, you cry, you rant–sometimes. But it comes back to this–God chose you to be your children’s parent and He’s equipped and prepared you for this step. Just like in parenting He can use our inadequacies to help us realize how much we need Him and to make us more like Him. He is also so gentle and will lead us through each stage and each question and guide us to find the answers we need.
3. Your Circumstances: So you’re considering your child’s needs and your own abilities then there are a few other things to throw into the mix–your location, your family size and stage, your state requirements, and whether you’re homeschooling for a year or two then integrating back into a school or if you’re likely homeschooling long term.
A few things that have weighed into our decisions–we live in a city, we have not yet developed a local homeschool support network, Steve and I both have teaching experience, we have long term health issues, Steve works Tuesday-Saturday, our state laws require we have 180 days of school lasting at least 4 1/2 hrs. per day (not a problem! I’m not sure how people finish by noon).
Having access to a great library system is significant in making living books an affordable option. Some homeschool methods rely heavily on whole books vs. textbooks, and we can more easily use that kind of method than if we didn’t have access to good books. Living in the city also makes it more difficult to do extensive nature studies, but we have access to great museums of historical locations.
When I taught Zachary kindergarten, I had a fussy newborn, I wasn’t feeling great, and I was potty training. hahahahha. Yeah, I would not do that again. If I knew then what I know now, I’d know that there is no rush to get through the books. (And, I’d do my best to be okay with lots of people suggesting that I should have started officially schooling even earlier) I’d do a lot more learning through play, keep reading books, and wait until things settled down to start doing workbooks. If I had another baby, even if it was in the middle of the school year, I’d take off a whole month at least, and school later into the summer.
This advice from a friend was perfect for me when I was trying so hard to make school-at-home work:
It took me a few years to find what works for us. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to explore and get out of your comfort zone.
The teacher in me had a really tough time being okay with some methods not testing each subject every 1-4 weeks. I gulped hearing that textbooks might not educate as sufficiently as well-written biographies and non-fiction books. These were the kinds of things that took me out of my comfort zone, but now I’m so glad for the nudge to probe options beyond the obvious.
The next post will begin exploring the methods. Stay tuned.