3 Tried and True Ways to Guarantee Homeschool Failure

I recently realized I have been homeschooling for 12 years — Preschool through junior year in high school.  While I know this doesn’t make me an expert (only you are an expert for your family,) I have found some ways to guarantee failure in homeschool.  I know these work because I have tried them out myself.

1.  Allow chaos to reign at home.  Yes, these are real pictures of my house.  I’m sorry.  Sometimes life just happens and it looks like it all happened in my house!  What really happens, usually, is I schedule too many fun field trips and other activities, and no one is home with a minute to put away dishes or pick up their clothes.  Does this happen in your family?

Well, allow me to reassure you that no one can do their best work in such an atmosphere.  I know, I’ve tried.  Yes, it’s important to allow the mess.  But when the creativity is over– stop, clean up a little.  You don’t have to make it spotless.  No one wants to eat off your floor.  You don’t even have to mop.  You just have to get the chaos under control.  Then — go back to school.  Whatever learning you had planned can even wait until tomorrow if necessary, and everyone learns lessons about self-control, neatness and priorities that will help throughout life

2.  Schedule every minute.  Please tell me you’ve done it, too.  You know, the schedule that looks like this:

7 a.m. to 8 a.m.  Breakfast and shower

8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Piano lessons

9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Teach math to Lucy, then Max.  Do laundry

10 a.m. to 10:45 English with Eden.

10:45 to 11:15 Math with Brett

11:15 to 11:40 . . . . you get the picture

I have done this more often than I care to admit, and it is a trap I still frequently fall into. Demanding too rigorous  a time frame guarantees you will not enjoy your homeschool day.  Schedule in some “wait I didn’t understand,” time, and a little “Mama needs to breathe for a second(and use the bathroom),” time.  More learning will be accomplished and the whole family will be happier.

3.  Expect Rome to be built in a day.  You mean there is a 6-year old on your block that is already reading at a 6th grade level?  Your sister-in-law’s nephew is 14 and entering college?  Your cousin’s son is 8 and starting Pre-Algebra?  So what?  That doesn’t have to mean anything for your family.  Relieve a little pressure by looking at the long shot, the whole picture.  What you do today will not shape your child’s entire future.  It’s the life course that really matters.  Look at your learning over the  course of weeks, months or years, and ask yourself, “Is my child turning into a young adult I can be proud of?”  If so, congratulate yourself and don’t compare with the accomplishments of others.  Learning takes time, and you have the time to take.  Enjoy it.

While I am sharing this “expert” advice with you, I am also trying to accept it myself.  Do you have expert advice you’d like to share with a new homeschool mom?  How about with a veteran?  Please leave me a comment below?


Are you ready? Homeschool Scheduling

As we begin August, most homeschool families are in the final throes of scheduling for the coming school year.  For some of us (unschoolers?) we are planning what we won’t schedule, but for the rest of us, we are sorting out how long it’s going to take to teach the things we want to cover, and deciding how we will lay out our days.

Like a road map or a trail guide, a good homeschool schedule helps you determine how to get where you want to go, without being too strict about the timing.  You’ll want to linger at a viewpoint, stop for a snack or to fix your shoes, and hurry along some of the less scenic parts.  Like a good hike, the best schedule will probably leave you hurrying along the last stretch so that you can cover the ground before dark, and wishing to do the hike again just to see anything you missed.

Our schedule this year starts slowly.  Because the kids have done a few math lessons during the summer (keeping their hand in,) we are starting off with only our history and science plans.  These were the areas that felt neglected at the end of the last school year, (we were hurrying right along,) but we want to put them to the forefront this year.  We are working on finishing up Story of the World Book 3, and it is a good time to linger as we explore the west along with Lewis and Clark and read a little Shakespeare.  Our science year is going to start out with a bang as we do a couple of field trips, significantly a field trip to a local cave, to give us some good ideas to use in our work.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to lay out all the Math and English lessons for the year.  This helps me to know if we are staying on track.  I schedule lots of off days, but we don’t take off unless we are doing something fun, so that some years we finish these curriculums significantly earlier than our planned May 15th end of school.  We rarely take a day off for illness–we’re healthy folk– but we dash out for an unplanned hike, a quick vacation, or just a play day.  These work into the schedule.  We also have some months that we have big projects planned — we like to spend extra time in our ministry work in March, so we schedule that time in at the first of the year.  I schedule all Mondays free of Math and other big projects, because with music lessons we just don’t have the concentration time for that.

The combination of scheduling with flexibility has worked for me for about 12 years now.  How do you start the year?  Do you have a full year plan made now, or just a first week plan?  Please leave me a comment below.

The Case for Book Ownership

I have a guilty confession to make.  I know a lot of you are becoming “e-readers”, some of you especially because you don’t want to accumulate more “stuff.”  While it might make me appear materialistic, I have to tell you, I disagree.  I am a bibliophile in every sense of the word.  I don’t just love the words on the pages, I love the pages themselves.  Why just today, I ordered six more books!  We check out books by the dozens from the library, but even the large library where we pay for membership in a neighboring city doesn’t have many of the older books I love.  Or, if they have the books, they are lacking the original illustrations that make a book really beautiful.  This is another reason I don’t love e-books.  The illustrations often make the story.

Another reason I love book ownership is that everyone in the family can read the book at his or her own pace without running out of renewals.  We often buy books that we want to read aloud as a family — the pressure to read it in the 6 weeks allowed by the local library just isn’t worth it.  We buy books that we want to use for school, and we often buy cookbooks (Eden and I just made the first Tres Leches cake from the new Pioneer Woman cookbook today) because we want to be able to take them on trips and get them messy.  We buy books to replace books that we have “read to death.”  We buy books so that we can loan them to our friends.

We buy books online, through Amazon, Abebooks (my favorite for used books) and Alibris.  We buy books at library book sales, yard sales and thrift stores.  Our friends and parents give us books they think we might enjoy.  The fact is, we hardly ever say no to a book.  We do sort occasionally and pass books on.  In fact, we are needing to pass along a lot of fairly good condition children’s books right now — Max is outgrowing all but the very favorite of the picture books.  I wish we could find a place to donate them.  Then we would have room for more books!

Thank goodness I am married to a finish carpenter!  He has built wonderful bookshelves in nearly every room of the house.  There are a few rooms lacking bookshelves — the bathroom (Our last house had a bookshelf in the bathroom, but I couldn’t keep any books I really valued there.  It was too dusty.), the kitchen (but I would love one, I just can’t find the spot.), and my bedroom (I know, strange.) All of the kids have their own bookshelves in their bedrooms, and consider it a privilege to have  certain series in their own collection, along with books purchased specifically for or by themselves.  You should have seen the joy in Max’s face when he was allowed to put all the Mrs. Pigglewiggle books on his own shelves.

Don’t you think there is still plenty of room for books on all these shelves?  I mean — look closely.  There are holes!

What do you do?  Do you collect books, or do you love them and let them go?  Leave me a comment.