With COVID still spreading, many parents are playing around with the idea of homeschooling this year.
I know this isn’t normally what I talk about on this blog, but I did homeschool both of my girls all the way through, from kindergarten to graduating high school. Both went on to university. Both are very bright and accomplished. And we honestly loved homeschooling.
So I have some things I’d like to share that can hopefully calm some fears and give parents a new perspective. To my regular readers: Thanks for having patience with me today! And share this, too, because others may really need to read it!
1. Think about this year as making sure your kids have a great educational foundation
Basic numeracy and literacy skills are a near universal prerequisite for success in life. You need to be able to read and write well, and have basic reading comprehension. And you need to be able to understand basic math and do basic math.
However, kids are not guaranteed to master basic literacy and numeracy just because they attend school. In fact, many things that are foundational to good math skills or reading skills are no longer stressed in many schools.
I don’t want to get into a critique of the school system, but suffice it to say that many kids are graduating high school without being able to do basic math in their head, and without strong reading skills, largely because they skipped foundational steps. Instead of being taught phonics well, or instead of being taught to memorize the times tables or the addition and subtraction facts, other things were emphasized. I’m amazed at how many young cashiers can’t make change, or how many kids have atrocious spelling.
And that too easily can hold you back in later life.
So if you are considering homeschooling for a year to avoid COVID, then think of this as the year when you can make the foundations of your kids’ education strong.
You can make sure math facts are memorized. You can do a rigorous phonics program with them or a great grammar or writing program. This could be the year that they catch up on some building blocks they’ve been missing, which will allow them to sail through in the years ahead.
When kids fall behind in one grade, it snowballs in future grades. If you never know 7×8=56 in your head, then it makes complex math problems more difficult once you get to high school. They keep getting further and further behind.
Strengthen the foundation, though, and the rest of school becomes much easier! This could be the year that you get everything caught up, or even ahead, so that they can succeed later.
And honestly–I cannot recommend Saxon Math curriculum enough. It’s so comprehensive, it helps drill kids with the basics, and they truly understand math afterwards. I used it all the way through with our kids and it was awesome. In the younger grades, you start everyday with mental math, counting coins, telling the temperature, telling the time, using a 100 numbers chart, and counting by sequences. Do that everyday–and they’ll GET it.
2. To succeed in high school, they only need these two basic things
We were always told that to do well in high school, kids only need two basic things:
- They need to know basic math, including memorizing all addition/subtraction/multiplication/division facts up to 12, and working with fractions
- They need to be able to write a decent paragraph, with proper spelling and grammar, that consists of a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
That’s it. Really.
Sure, it’s great if they know the different parts of a bug, or what happened in the Egyptian empire, or the main articles of the constitution. But it’s not necessary, and it’s very easy to learn those things from books quickly later. If they can do math in their head, and they know fractions, and if they know enough spelling and grammar to write a decent paragraph, then they can take those skills and use them to do well in history, and science, and English, and more. But if they don’t know these things, writing a book report, or figuring out Biology experiments, or doing Algebra will be that much more difficult.
When we homeschooled, we spent a lot of time on History and Science and Poetry and more because we wanted to. We taught them Latin. They did Art History, too. But in the end, what put them in good stead was a solid grasp of math and grammar. With that, they could then apply those basic skills to everything else.
Instead of panicking that you’ll never teach your kids everything they’ll learn at school, then, remember that you don’t have to.
3. Concentrate on the basics–and then read, read, read
Just concentrate on the basics. Do a solid math program and a solid grammar program (or phonics or spelling if they’re younger) every day. It doesn’t even need to take that long! You can do solid math and english in about an hour and a half, or a bit longer if they’re older, but that’s it.
And then with the rest of the day–read, read, read. Go to the library. Get out a ton of books on owls, and have the kids do projects on owls and paint owls and write poetry about owls. Watch YouTube videos about owls, or documentaries about owls. Get books out on the Underground Railroad and slavery and read a ton of things and have them write a short story about it. Have them design a quilt that points the way north.
Get books on at-home science experiments that are fun and let them play with baking soda and vinegar. See if they can clean your drains! Have them research homemade cleaning products and do experiments on which ones work better.
There’s so much you can do–just pick a topic and then do it to your heart’s content.
Read books with them constantly. Have them read constantly. Learn the fun of reading again, and then build projects around that, and you’ll even find that your kids really enjoy it!
4. You do not need to recreate school. You do not need to do school for 6 hours a day.
Our kids were always several grade levels ahead in almost everything. They both started university as soon as they turned 16.
But we never schooled for more than 4 hours a day, ever. They had part-time jobs n high school, often during the day. They did music lessons and swimming lessons during the day.
When you’re working one-on-one (or two-on-one), and you don’t have all the busy work that school does, you can get a lot done in much less time.
Do not think that you have to spend the same amount of time in school as they do when they’re AT school. Simply choose lessons to do each day (and curriculum can help you do that), and then get through those lessons, and if they get through it quickly–that’s perfectly fine!
5. You do not need to use the school’s curriculum–unless your state/province requires it
It’s okay to just concentrate on the basics, and then just pursue what your kids are interested in. Especially if you’re homeschooling more than one child, it’s much easier to pick a topic–like owls or slavery or Egypt–and do projects with all the kids than it is to have one kid to Egypt and one kid do owls and one kid do bugs or the constitution or apples. Then you can read books together and the kids can make artwork together and you can have fun together on the same topic.
Also, remember that kids don’t need to stay at their grade level. If your child fell behind last year, or never really mastered math facts, then go back a few years and redo it. You’ll likely find if they can get the basics really taught, then they can whiz through and catch up. Or if they totally understand something, it’s okay to move ahead to the next year in the math curriculum.
At one point Katie was supposed to be in grade 3, and she was doing grade 6 math, grade 4 spelling and grade 5 grammar. She was all over the place. But it didn’t matter, because she was at home. That’s the beauty of it! We tended to work at the level where the kids would get 75% without trying too hard. If they could get 100% or 90%, then they weren’t being challenged enough. If they couldn’t get 75% without trying too hard, then they likely missed a step previously and it was time to go backwards.
Some states or provinces may require that you do their curriculum, but if I could offer an honest suggestion: if you do online school with your school distinct, you’ll still likely have to do an hour and a half or so of homework with them a day, and it will be frustrating because it will be homework that someone else picked that isn’t geared to your child. So you’ll be doing the same amount of work as if you just picked a math and English curriculum that was at the right level for your child that you felt was better.
If you want to do online school with your school district–go for it! But it’s also okay to take a step back and use this year to figure out what would work best for your own child.
6. It does not really matter how or where your kids get their work done
I could never keep Katie in a chair. It was awful. We used to have so many fights about it. She was so squirmy and she wouldn’t concentrate, unlike her big sister Rebecca (who concentrated even harder every time Katie squirmed to prove she was the best!).
Then one day I came downstairs to find Katie doing math, perfectly contented, while sitting on the floor in the splits.
She did math much better on the floor than she ever did while sitting at a table.
We would do math facts while skipping rope. I would hold up a flashcard, and they would give a new answer each skip of the rope. It helped maintain a rhythm. We would toss a ball back and forth when they were listing off the capitals of the provinces of Canada, or listing all the kings/queens of England.
You don’t need to do school at a table. You can be creative! The main thing for me was always: your work had to be neat and legible, and it had to be done well. But if you give me the end result, I give you the freedom to get there in whatever way works best for you!
I know not everyone is in a position to homeschool, even if they want to.
I know many would love to, but work schedules will not allow it. I know others would love to, but they really want their kids to be with their friends, and their kids want that, too.
That’s fine! I just also know that there are many parents who are wary of sending kids back to school when COVID cases are rising, or when we know the second wave will hit, and yet they’re nervous about whether or not they can do this. And I just wanted to say–don’t judge your ability to homeschool this year based on what happened last spring when everyone was trying to coordinate with the classroom and do online school with their teachers or find homework.
It is a different ballgame, and if you choose to homeschool right off the bat, your year could actually be quite fun and not that stressful.
If people want, tomorrow I can talk about some resources that I would recommend for curriculum, and maybe I can find some of the free downloads I used to have for book report outlines and essay outlines. Just let me know!
Do you have any tips for parents who may want to take the plunge this year? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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