Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom
Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Heart of the Matter virtual homeschooling conference. My topic? Secrets of a Successful Homeschool Mom.
The talk went well, and afterward I had the idea to turn it into a series for you here. So over the next few Mondays, I’ll share tips that set a homeschooling mama (or papa!) up for success in the homeschooling lifestyle.
When I use the word “secrets,” I don’t mean they are necessarily earth-shattering ideas or principles you’ve never heard of before. In many areas of life, often the most profound truths are also the most simple.
I’ve called them secrets because they encompass ideas I wish I would have known at the beginning of my homeschooling journey–ideas I’ve had to figure out and stumble across along the way. If I would have known these from the beginning, I think it would have helped me approach homeschooling in a more relaxed, pressure-free way.
And with the way we often feel about the responsibility of homeschooling, I’ll sign up for a little less pressure any chance I can get right?
Which brings me to the first truth a successful homeschooling mom understands:
She realizes that homeschool doesn’t have to mean doing school at home.
Most new homeschoolers mistakenly believe that they must replicate a traditional school classroom and methodology with their children. Of course we often don’t feel equipped to do this, so it can lead to a lot of fear.
I was the same way years ago–I initially imagined having rows of desks, a flag, and having to teach six hours a day.
But what experienced homeschoolers come to realize is that homeschooling is a lifestyle, not a regimen. Learning doesn’t have to be confined to specific hours–it doesn’t have to fit within artificial boundaries.
In order to see it this way, we must step off the conveyor belt of education. For most of us this doesn’t come naturally, because that is how we were educated ourselves. The conveyor belt means that children are grouped with peers according to age, they proceed along learning what officials have determined need to be learned on a certain timetable, and after thirteen years they come off the factory line with a diploma—an official stamp deeming them educated.
The conveyor belt serves some purposes in society, but there’s absolutely no need to set one up in our homes. Yet that is exactly what most homeschoolers do.
Have you heard of Sir Ken Robinson? He’s a modern-day educational reformer, and he’s had a lot to say lately about the conveyor belt model. Consider this quote from his bestselling book The Element:
“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed.
The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”
Creating an individualized education is easy for us as homeschoolers—we have the perfect opportunity, providing we can summon the courage to step off the conveyor belt.
The starting point for successfully doing so is recognizing that homeschool doesn’t have to mean school at home.
Do you feel like you’ve been able to blur the line between “school” and “home?”
This is our year for transformation. I cyber schooled my oldest child last year, because I had not choice…due to family circumstances. It was a blessing at the time and all I could do to continue homeschooling and grieve the loss of a pregnancy. Although my daughter passed with straight A’s not to mention she was, also, in first grade a year earlier than she had to be. It proved to be a very gray year, school wise, for both of us. It was very stressful for both of us, as well! It was nothing more, than public school in a box. We were schooling for six hours a day five days a week and I was under the miss conception that it had to be just that to be sucessful at homeschooling. Last year taught us everything we DIDN’T want our homeschool to be. This was not the lifestyle of a homeschooling family, but being a slave to our homeschool. So grades aside, we are staying with first grade, as our general level of study. We are taking a much gentler approach with Charlotte Mason inspiration. We started the school year with a unit study on butterflies, as we’ve been raising Monarches all summer. With God’s grace we are truly spreading our wings!!! This quote from Sir Ken Robinson is one we’re living by and will be posted in our home, as a reminder, that we’re right where we need to be…not schooling at home, but living, loving and learning together. God Bless.
That sounds like a perfect choice, Jen. Sometimes the only way we find out what we want is by trying and realizing what we don’t. You’re doing great!
Thank you, for the encouragement!
Ugh!!! Please excuses my spelling mistakes. Typing all of that on my iPhone wasn’t easy…
How funny! I just saw this yesterday. When I started reading your post, I thought, “Hey she sounds just like this dude”: http://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U
Living the Balanced Life
I remember my first year homeschooling. I was SO concerned about structure and curriculum and schedules. It all will eventually fall into place. We homeschooled for 8 years and I so glad you learn to trust yourself and your instincts as you go along.
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This is one of the biggest struggles I see when working with homeschoolers. Many just want to follow a curriculum and do “school at home”. They lack the confidence to step outside their box and use their curriculum or books as tools and not their master. Individualized education is NOT that hard to implement.
Thanks for writing about this subject.
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The lines definitely seemed blurred for us. I’ve set up a pseudo workbox system for the kids, making them more independent, and able to choose their own work at their own pace. They are old enough to know that homeschooling is more efficient than public school, and love the idea that they can be done with their subjects as early as they want… depending on their pace.
They’ve also come to realize that if something just isn’t “working”, we can try a different approach. For example, I use RightStart Mathematics with my kids. This summer my 3rd/4th grader started Level D. She was in tears every time we sat down to do math (she’s very bright too, and does very well in math!). Well, trying to be sensitive to her needs, I suggested she just work through some old fashioned math worksheets to stay sharp throughout the summer. Her sigh of relief was clear. Now, as we REALLY buckle down to begin the new school year, she informed me she was “done with those boring worksheets”, and wanted to return to the FUN math she was doing in RightStart. Being able to make little changes like this can’t happen in a traditional school approach, and I am grateful we are able to do this.
The only time I feel we are not successful is when I can’t get them going in the morning…those morning lazies are tough for our family! 😀
renee @ FIMBY
I’m so looking forward to this series.
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Carol- watched the video link and really agreed with it. I have spent this past summer rereading my American History and discovered some of our greatest leaders studied on their own and studies what interested them.
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Exactly, Vanessa! I think realizing those historical “success stories” brings lots of confidence to our paths.
We have lesson books. We have a “school room.” But we’re not slaves to either. They are there to serve us, not us them. They are a means to an end, not the end, and if one of my kids is all of the sudden interested in Helen Keller (which she all of the sudden is after finding a biography at Goodwill) then all other lessons take a back seat to the fire that has been ignited. Then, there are days too when we all kind of float around on a breeze, without direction, and it’s those times I feel comfortable falling back on a language lesson or two at the school table. This is only my second year and I’m learning to blur those lines. I would be so lost if I hadn’t discovered this great world of homeschool blogs, especially Simple Homeschool!
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What a compliment, April – thank you!
Thank you for this information. I do believe there should be balance. A curriculum can be used as a guide but we do not have to let it rule us. Personally, I like having something to guide us. It takes a lot of pressure off of me. Also, I am very thankful to actually have a “school” room this year. We have a modest size home. I was fine using the dining room table, but I did get tired of the mess and moving things off for lunch, etc. So last year (our second year) I set up a little area, which happens to be a little area close to our back door and again, it was fine for me. I actually liked it much better than the dining table. The kids had a table that was more their size and we had a rug for floor work. Then, we would go to the sofa for reading time. But again, this time my husband did not like the “mess” everytime he walked in the back door. I have to say it was getting to me too. So he so graciously built us a family room that is also our “school” room. We are all so thrilled. We have a place to be and it feels so nice. I know that it is not a necessity to have a specific room, but I am very thankful. We can go upstairs and forget about the housework or laundry, etc. while we focus on learning.
I really appreciate that homeschooling, as you said, can be indiviualized. The priorities for your family can be taught to your children. It is a blessing and an honor and a privilege to homeschool my children. We look forward to many years as we go forward!!!!
Rachel at Stitched in Color
Great post! for me it was such a “aha” moment to realize that I didn’t believe in the model of education that is standard in our society. It’s so freeing to decide that I can define education myself, based on our family values, our spiritual values and how I see wisdom/knowledge/skills being used in the real world.
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Home School Coach
I loved this statement – When I use the word “secrets,” I don’t mean they are necessarily earth-shattering ideas or principles you’ve never heard of before. In many areas of life, often the most profound truths are also the most simple.
That is what I teach every day. You call them secrets and I call them principles but they are simple ways of looking at what we are doing and then incorporating that into how we live. One of my five baisc principles is keep it simple. A good way to homeschool!
Oh this is going to be great… I can’t wait to read your series!!! I think the line between actual homeschooling and school at home is a chasm that just can’t be crossed. We have so many people stop by during our days and say: “Gosh I hope I am not interrupting school, but it looks like you are having a day off.” They so are interrupting!!! But it looks nothing like the school they are imagining. There will be a child sloped on the couch reading, another one painting pharaoh, another one jump counting up the stairs… a board game in play and a puzzle map… No we are actually in the MIDDLE of school!!!
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Ha – yes! Exactly right, and as it should be!
Fantastic post. I blogged about the “responsibility” here http://ingidefyinggravity.blogspot.com/2011/07/is-it-enough.html
We are slowly blurring the lines – less “school at home” and more learning as we go. Exploring interests. Saying “yes”. It’s not easy to “let go”, but we love when we do!
Ingi’s latest post: The Homeschool Mother’s Journal – 24
I was very sleepy, when I first commented on this post, earlier, at around 1am. I’ve been following this discussion, throughout today. It’s been so refreshing to recognize, that although we all have different styles, we’re all looking for the same thing, balance. Looking for a good fit is like looking for the perfect pair of shoes! I think I’ve been learning, recently, that I’ll never find the “perfect” pair. Sometimes we have to put on our work boots(working for cirriculum in the school room), somethings it’s our tennis shoes(hands on activities) and other times it’s flip flops(learning from an experience in the moment…having fun). Sometimes we have to go “barefoot” and be a little vulnerable…these golden moments keep my passion alive for homeschooling. I’m starting to mature and exercise discernment to change things up, when it’s getting stale. I am really looking forward to this series:)
That’s so funny – I was just going over this today (and is the subject of my post today) that if I could go back and do it over again from the beginning – I would not have tried to recreate school at home – I would have focused more on celebrating learning in the home. We’ve made the change now but oh how I wish I had those early years back!
New Follower and I’m looking forward to learning more from your experience.
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Any time I start to do schoolish stuff at home (always with an edge of concern that young ones detect instantly), my kids remind me undoubtably that that they have no interest in any of that because they learn perfectly by playing, exploring, and living. A necessary reminder for me! Thanks for this post. I tend to think that most other homeschool families are doing school at home happily, and I’m one of few doing things differently. But there are so many others making their own unique homeschool path and lifestyle, just as we are.
Love the quote. Guess I will need to read The Element soon! I have a hard time balancing that line of what school should look like, especially for those ‘onlookers’ to our children’s education and what works for us, and what the kids are interested in. As I dust the books of to begin another year, I will keep this post in mind. Thanks.
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This is a funny post for me. I am a PS teacher and am just beginning to homeschool my own children (pre-k). For me setting up a classroom is second nature and I think I may need to have a “school room” just to keep myself organized LOL. I wanted to start my twins this summer on our pre-k work so I could get routines down before I had to go back to work (for what will hopefully be my last year teaching outside of the home). I was tired though after a very LONG school year myself and put off the routines I had wanted to start. Around July I was feeling guilty for not getting things underway (after all one of my girls had been asking to learn letters and here I was not giving her what she was wanting). Then I sat back and realized that we WERE doing school…. we read books several times a day, enjoyed the free programs at our library, played with toys that encouraged counting, colored and played with play doh, sang often, and yes my girls were both pointing out letters on signs and were happy to recognize them! I put aside (with much difficulty) my need for the structure and ran with it. Now I have activity boxes with some structured play activities (and yes the teacher in me has to put in worksheets from time to time LOL, but the kids actually love doing them!) and we go with whatever interests the girls that week. This week we got books from the library about the original Queen Elizabeth (after a visit to a Ren Fair)! I am really excited to see my girls love learning and actively seek out new knowledge!
tracey - justanothermommy
Sadly, I think we all have to experience this in order to really believe it. At least, those of us who were raised in a public school lifestyle. I feel SO RELAXED this year. I knew and tried to be chilled out about learning the past 2 years, but it was only after SEEING that the relaxation works that I was able to truly LIVE it. And now? I love our homeschooling life so much that I cannot imagine it another way.
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Unfortunately we are still on the conveyor belt 🙁 More so with dad than with me. The good part for us is that the kids are old enough and independent learners. I just have to be available for questions here and there.
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