I saw a post on Facebook this morning soliciting advice for a new, struggling homeschool mom. As soon as I saw that her kids were the exact ages of my own kids (8, 6 & 5), I knew I would be replying. 

And of course, it was a mega-reply. I am copying it here, because I tobviously, think that it is good advice, but I also I spent a considerable amount of time composing it, so I may as well preserve it here:

I feel for you HHM! My kids are also 8, 6 & 5. However, I started when my 8 year old was in 1st grade so I only had to figure things out with one child that first year.

You know, maybe that would be a good tactic to take. Just focus on your oldest right now. I am big into researching educational trends, so if you need the reasoning, here’s why you can get away with this. The U.S. is on a path that is forcing formal, “rigorous” education on children at earlier and earlier ages. But the countries that are defying this “common sense” approach, not only have happy well-adjusted kids, but they actually test better later in life. Plus they score better on creative, outside the box thinking. In some of these countries children can’t even start school until 7 years old. In others, they go to school, but it is completely play based.

So don’t worry that you are failing your younger kids. To keep them busy, make sure they are surrounded by colorful, interesting books (library). Try to read to them a little every day, but also encourage them to just browse on their own. Let them play educational computer games (pbskids.org, starfall.com, etc.), put together several bins of creative toys (legos, play-dough, felt shapes/boards, toilet paper rolls and marbles, etc.) — and to keep your sanity, make them clean up one bin before they take out another!

It takes a leap of faith to trust that you can keep your kids out of school, let them play most of the day, and that they will actually do better than their peers one day. But it is true. Read up on the studies and watch the TED talks if you need convincing, but it will help your peace of mind so much to set aside any expectations that are making you feel discouraged.

So on to the 8 year old. I am a HUGE believer in self-directed education. You have to explore a little bit, however, to find out what works for each kid. Guide them, but don’t force them. I will tell you what is working for me, but it is by NO means the one right path.

I have pared down my entire curriculum to two subjects: Reading and Math (I will probably add writing next year, but it will be free writing, like a paragraph a day on any topic). For awhile, IXL.com was the math my oldest loved to do. I didn’t have to nag him; the achievements were motivational for him, and he would happily work on it about 30-45 minutes every day. Just this year he started getting stuck so we tried Khan Academy (they have instructional videos and IXL does not). He immediately loved it, so we switched. As a bonus he discovered that he liked introductory computer science (programming) on Khan Academy. He has been writing code for the last 2 hours as we speak.

Back in the beginning, I also bought a BrainQuest workbook. It is meant to be used by public school kids to give them extra practice in each school subject (they are sold at Amazon or even Toys R Us). Because you never know what the future holds, I can see the benefit of at least exposing them to parts of speech, and the various worksheets that fill up the days in traditional school. So they do 2-4 pages a day and it takes them less than 1/2 an hour. As long as they don’t mind them, I will keep them on the schedule. So that’s it. That’s my “curriculum”. I seriously spend less than 1 hour per day on formal schooling. The rest of the time is creative play, or exploring personal interests. I have a LOT of time to myself on the days we are home, but honestly, this also gives me the freedom to schedule TONS of field trips. That’s a whole ‘nother novel of a post right there if you want field trip ideas.

And remember, if your kids spent anytime in public school, their expectations and attitudes towards learning are skewed. They are going to sit and wait for you to spoon feed information. They are going to expect to be told when they are right or wrong. They are going to want feedback and pats on the back and stickers. That takes time to forget. So take it slow. Trust me, they can catch up fast once you re-light the fire. Focus on what you think is most important to turn them into self-directed learners instead of government school input/output machines.

Believe it or not, it’s okay if all you do is work on reading for a few months. Go to the library at least once a week and both of you check out tons of books. Leave some non-fiction books with attractive covers and fascinating illustrations lying about the house (my son just decoured Why Is Snot Green? And Other Extremely Important Questions — http://www.amazon.com/Why-Snot-Green-Extremely-Important/dp/1596435003). Once the habit of reading is established (meaning they read for enjoyment, not they read to win a pizza or sign a form), then you can start guiding them towards reading that covers topics you wish to explore. Kids books are awesome these days. They have choose your own adventure history books, fascinating child-friendly biographies (start with Who was Dr. Seuss? I was surprised to discover his life story), and even fiction incorporates other subjects (Magic Treehouse, and Andrew Lost are our favorites). If an Andrew Lost book has you studying microbiology, then why worry about doing some life-cycle worksheet from a packaged curriculum?

Finally, if you need resources, check out my Pinterest boards (http://www.pinterest.com/heat4212/boards/). I spent a LOT of time finding books that were good for young, homeschooling readers (not the juvenile ones that are about kids playing tricks on teachers, or constantly getting in trouble at school). I also put together a good collection of free educational websites. I don’t care if you follow me, or re-pin me or any such nonsense, this stuff is for my own use… but I am glad if it helps others as well.

Okay, okay, enough already! I know… but all that to say, simplify your life for awhile! Figure out how to enjoy your time with your kids. I know how frustrating these ages can be, but they can also be great fun. They are melting your heart one minute and breaking it the next.

If you have enough you can stop reading now. If you want to know what I do to school the littler ones, then keep going.

My oldest 2 were reading by 5 years old through osmosis, so saved me the hassle of “teaching” reading. My youngest (now 5) tells me he is NEVER EVER EVER going to learn to read! He says it with a wicked grin on his face. But if I sit on the recliner with Go Dog Go, he is in my lap in a second and will fetch book after book for as long as I can stand it.

I started doing Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool (http://allinonehomeschool.com/) with him. He wasn’t ready for K so I backed down to “Getting Ready” (on the right hand side). It’s like 5-10 minutes of material a day. Seriously. Maybe more on the days there’s a craft depending how elaborate you want to be. SUPER easy. Now he is sounding out words (but I better not tell him he is reading when we do that or he will stop just to be a booger).

The 6 year old does a math skill or 2 on IXL, a couple pages from the BrainQuest workbook and that’s it for my invovlement. He is my artsy one, so all I have to do is give him the bin of art supplies and he will go to town on his own. Most days he also has LEGO time. If I feel like it, I will look on Pinterest or Currclick for some educational LEGO worksheets/activities and see if they want to do those with me.

Let go of the guilt… let go of the pressure. Don’t cave to the nagging of friends and family (or that little voice in your head). Get your joy back before loading up on the academics. Join a homeschool Meetup.com group or Co-op. Even if it’s online. See if your community center, park district, or local businesses have caught on to the growing homeschool trend. Everyone around me from the local pottery shop to LEGOLand offers homeschool workshops. They can be pricey, but maybe just budget for one so you can meet other local homeschoolers and network. Or heck, start a Meetup of your own!

Also, if they miss their teachers and friends, see if you can sign the kids up for the specials (music, art, gym, etc.) at your elementary school. We can and it helped me ease them out of school. I did that for a couple years until I found homeschool specific clubs/activities that we enjoyed more.

Are you sick of me yet? Okay, I am done. I just want you to know we understand! you are not alone. Social media encourages us all to mostly put our perfect face forward. But that’s just not the way it is. Sometimes I yell and feel bad because their teachers never yelled at them. Sometimes the house looks like a war zone. Sometimes my husband asks the kids what they did all day and they tell him they played video games (even if it’s not true, that’s the one thing they think to tell him!)

Please come read all these posts! Ignore the ones telling you to give up. They clearly don’t homeschool. Let us encourage you. Be well!

 

 

Mr. Kohn’s Response

November 12, 2013

Much to my surprise, Alfie Kohn replied very promptly to my e-mail! (Unlike my less than speedy re-post). Here is his reply. I thought it was very considerate and positive.

Alfie Kohn <kohn@alfiekohn.org>
Sep 19, 2013

Thanks for your thoughtful note. My interest is in supporting and improving public schools, but I certainly understand (and don’t condemn) those parents who choose to opt out and teach their own. I know this poses an excruciating dilemma for people who don’t want to abandon the institution of democratic public education (particularly since their progressive voices are desperately needed to nudge that education in the right direction) and also want their children to be part of a community of learners on a daily basis — yet feel that the local school is doing their children more harm than good at the moment. There’s no easy answer to this.

I appreciate your taking the time to write.

— Alfie Kohn
http://www.alfiekohn.org