October 12, 2011

Homeschool for Public Schoolers

A Fellow Hybrid. ;)
As a young girl I loved reading Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. I would fantasize about living in the country, having a jersey cow, ten kids who called me "yes, ma", and a bountiful farm filled with joyful music...

So far, though, these childhood fantasies are not reality.

My husband's work is in the BIG city. Suburban deed laws restrict even a trendy chicken. I'm allergic to some animals and can't stand the smell of the rest. My gardening attempts have been laughable at best. (I can't even keep houseplants alive.) My musical talents would hardly make anyone feel joyful. And this body of mine is NOT going to make it to ten kids. That's reality.

Homeschooling is also a wonderful fantasy of mine. My own one-room school house. Happy children learning and discovering at my feet. Free from the shackles of public school schedules and influence. What could be better?

But this is reality: After spending the entire summer debating curriculum, planning instruction and rearranging my home and life to accommodate another year of homeschool and co-ops, my kids ditched me for public school. I found myself left with a head full of homeschool dreams, hands full of lesson plans, and shelves full of school supplies. And I was crushed. No jersey cow? Fine. "Buttercup" can wait, but what about my schoolhouse and learning beside my adoring children?!

For a day or two I thought all was lost. I had begun to really identify myself as 'a homeschooler'. Now who was I? With the extra quiet time I now had on my hands I pondered what it means to be a homeschooler. And I decided, "Class or no class, I am still a homeschooler!" I came up with this description of a homeschooler.

A homeschooler:
  • Takes primary responsibility for her child's education
  • Looks for learning opportunities everywhere
  • Guards, protects and keeps family time sacred
  • Utilizes hands-on learning experiences
  • Values the individual learning needs of each child
  • Enjoys having her kids beside her
  • Shares her talents and testimony with her children
  • Uses her spare time to find better ways to teach her kids
  • Is willing to sacrifice her time for her children
  • Is a life-long learner
This could still be me. I didn't have to leave behind the better parenting practices I had learned as a homeschooler just because my kids were gone from 7-3. I could still 'homeschool' my family- I'd just have to think out of the box, like a good homeschooler, and change things up a bit.

Now, I don't in any way mean to demean the title of 'homeschooler'. You year-in, year-out homeschoolers in the daily trenches who are able to make my homeschool dream a reality are heroes. Really. You people are an inspiration.

But, not every family can pull off the ideal, traditional homeschool all the time. Health challenges, work constraints, children's preferences, family situations, custody issues, learning needs, etc. are common set-backs for many would-be homeschoolers. When situations like these have come up for my family I've felt like a 'homeschool drop-out'. But I don't want anyone else to feel this way. Having courage to make changes for your family is not failing. I think we should proudly declare a middle ground of 'hybrid homeschoolers'- those who embrace the philosophies that make homeschoolers successful, but do things different from the homeschooling norm.

Homeschool philosophies should not be dropped by the wayside just because the lifestyle does not fit. Because I believe when parents learn to THINK like homeschoolers, families are better for it.

Exhibit A-  Some of the brightest, happiest families I know who are 'making it' in the public system are thinking exactly like homeschoolers. They are taking full responsibility for their kids' education. They enjoy being with their kids. They are teaching their kids the gospel. They are guarding their family time. They are providing hands-on learning opportunities and identifying individual learning needs. They are sacrificing their time for their kids. They are teaching.

Just like when I began my homeschooling journey and grilled every good homeschool family I knew on what to do, I studied practices of successful public school families and I gleaned from these families what they are doing to make the most of the limited time they have with their children. I found their suggestions very helpful and hope some of their ideas may prove useful for all types of schoolers in utilizing the 'other' hours of the school year.

Summers, Saturdays and Seasons
One former-homeschool family had the idea of doing themed "Summer Learning Camps". They were still able to use all their favorite homeschool activities and do them as themed units during the summer. (Ex. Eqypt Week) Without the stress of being responsible for all the year's academics they were able to have more fun and get in depth with some of their favorite curriculum areas.

Another friend does "Summer School" and keeps her kids challenged (and busy!) all summer long with fun learning projects. She uses extended family summer guests as guest instructors and the kids love it. My kids love science so I plan to use all the homeschool science plans I had for the year to do "Super Science Saturdays" where we can read books, do experiments and learn together about our favorite subject on the weekend.

Fall comes late here and the weather is often hot well into November. We get a lot of schoolwork done in the summer since we are indoors a lot. One September we were fair weather homeschoolers and had the kids go to public school for a diversion during the never-ending hot months. Then after Christmas break when the weather was finally nice again we pulled them out and spent the semester hands-on at parks, gardens, museums, and the zoo. It was my favorite homeschooling year so far.


Individualized Attention
Whether you have one child or many you know sometimes they just need some special one-on-one attention. I know one family who has "Daddy dates" each month where the child gets to plan a special date alone with dad. Another family does "Night's UP". Each child is assigned a night of the month where they get to stay up later than the others to spend time alone with mom and dad. This can be as simple as reading a story together or playing UNO. Kids love (and need) individualized attention.

I have one daughter who has always been a night owl. Instead of sending her off to bed in a hurry I try to take a little extra time with her at night when she is at her prime to talk about what's important to her. I have others that wake up before dawn and hit the ground running. If I tried to talk about anything important after 9 pm with them I'd be met with snores or a tantrum. So, instead of wishing they'd sleep in I hop out of bed with them to eat breakfast or go for a walk to spend quality time on their schedule. You don't have to give your undivided attention all day everyday to make a difference. A little dedicated time (at the right time) can go a long way.

Staying Involved
When you pass your kids off to another teacher its easy to become complacent and to take a back seat to their education. But good parents stay involved. Volunteering in the child's classroom regularly, becoming active in parent service organizations (PTA/PTO), going to school lunch regularly with your kids, joining school district advisory boards, helping chaperon events, being a room mom, etc. are all ways to keep a finger on the pulse of their education. Creating positive relationships with school personnel and a line of open communication with teachers helps parents be an advocate for their child's learning needs. Today's schools can really benefit from the positive influence of good parents.

Commutes, Snack/Meal Times, Crossroads
Becoming a part-time taxi service for your kids can be a drag. But some parents turn the miles into meaningful one-on-one conversations, sharing time of favorite music and books, undivided listening time, and more. If you can hang up the phone and turn down the radio (or turn it up to rock out together!), you will find choice moments amid the rush hour traffic. Working parents especially can make these moments count as they learn to unwind together with their kids.

Of course everyone is starving when they come home from school/work. The school to home transition can be an ugly one. One friend of mine got tired of the kitchen traffic, pre-dinner grazing, and whining and now preps a healthy snack so everyone can refuel at the same time upon arrival. She's found the kids open up a lot during this time about the happenings of their day. Everyone feels a little nicer after a snack and debrief.

Some stay at home moms use the the time while their kids are at school to do the main prep for dinner so they can give the kids their attention in the evening without stressing about getting dinner together. So much has been said regarding the benefits of family meal time. If you can swing it, get your family together for dinner. Let everyone help and be part of the preparation/clean-up. There are so many great little teaching/learning moments built into that one practice - family dinner time.

Schedules can get hairy in busy families, but our families benefit if we can "be there at the crossroads". That means being there to send kids off or to welcome them home. My brother used to come in the door from school and holler, "Mom! Mom!" When mom answered he'd say, "Oh nothing. Just wanted to make sure you were there." For some moms its not a problem to be physically home, but may not be "emotionally there" when kids get home. One mom made a choice to put up projects, hobbies, and things she'd been working on in the day during those 'crossroads' times, so she was THERE for her kids.

Early Childhood Education
When my school-aged kids left for school I looked around and noticed with suddenly clearer vision two little faces looking up at me. I'd been completely focused on the needs of my older children- children who were bright because I took the time to build a foundation for learning in their early years- that I neglected to provide that same foundation for these younger ones. I have re-immersed myself into the wonderful world of library story times, stopping to smell the roses, nursery rhymes, silly songs, play-dates and messy art projects and have seen these little minds just blossom. Turning off Dora the babysitter and focusing on the little ones has done wonders for their behavior as well. Countless studies show that these early years matter.

Religious Education
My friend does a devotional with her children each day before they leave for school. They sing a hymn, read a scripture and have family prayer. They leave the house armed with the Spirit and knowledge of what is important at their house. Schools today are no doubt a tough place to be. I was very concerned about sending my tender spirits off alone into that pit. But truth is, they aren't alone. And the spirits God has sent for this time are a very resilient bunch.

We were so content before in our homeschool bubble. It was very comfortable. But now we are forced to associate with our neighbors. I can't believe how many more missionary opportunities have opened up to us. My children's testimonies have strengthened as they see the difference the Gospel makes. Teachers ask, "What makes your kids different?" The kids have had opportunities to explain, defend and question their faith and lifestyle. I am glad they are having these opportunities while they are young so we can walk them through it.

Family prayer, scripture study and family home evenings are ever important- essential, even- to the success of any family. The families who are succeeding don't let these priorities fall by the wayside.

Family Learning Environment
Growing up we didn't have a lot of money for lessons and things but my parents made it a priority to take us with them to civic functions, formal concerts, fine art galleries, out-door concerts, parades, social events, natures hikes, natural parks and the library. These were things we did together. We were taught how to behave appropriately in public, how to appreciate talents of others, how to find enjoyment in the world around us, how to love learning new things. These were informal learning moments. There was no test afterward. No lesson plan. But we were learning together and creating lasting memories. (As an adult I appreciate a lot more the sacrifices my parents must have went through to tote a large family to these types of places. Its not easy, but its worth it!)

My husband doesn't enjoy keeping track of our kids at crowded venues, but he does love being outdoors. He loves fishing and he takes the kids with him on fishing outings. The kids love being with dad and learning about what he loves.

The library was and still is my mother's home away from home. As kids we learned from her to never leave home without a library book. We would read in the car, on vacations, waiting at the doctors office, wherever we were. We would participate in the summer reading programs at the library every summer. She never pushed us to read, but by taking us to the library each week she gave us the opportunity to read- and we did. I loved having family read-a-thons where we had a pile of books, a pile of snacks and snuggled up together for a long read.

Whatever you love to do, share it with your children. These are priceless learning moments for you and your kids.

So, there are a few of the jewels I learned from homeschool-minded moms. I hope you found some useful ideas for utilizing the out-of-school hours and making the most of every precious moment with your children!

---------------------- Jana is a fair weather homeschooler learning to enjoy every minute she has with her family- not on a farm.----------------------------

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15 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

Jana, Hugs to you! What a wonderfully written piece. I love your perspective and determination to continue being so involved in your children's education. You are right - Many families that desire to homeschool (or have a farm), just can't for whatever reason. I hope those Moms & Dads find your post.

Shirley said...

I love this so much!!
It reminded me of a conversation I (a homeschooler) had with a good friend (who is a public schooler.) We both thought and prayed hard about our decisions and know that we are each doing what is best for our own children. Public schoolers and homeschoolers need to learn to get-along. We have so much that we can learn from each other!

Plain and Precious said...

I loved this post. I have half of my kids in PS and CS, and the other half are homeschooling.This is what the Lord said was right for our family and ALL are thriving!

All of this advice is wonderful for those of us who really are homeschoolers at heart but who have different situations to deal with. These ideas really do make a difference in any way we choose to educate!

Wonderful article!

Olives and Pickles said...

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Bethany said...

I love this post!
I'm reposting it on my blog to share. :)

Kate Chartrand said...

Great article, Jana! I like your words of wisdom- "I believe when parents learn to THINK like homeschoolers, families are better for it." After homeschooling for two years and deciding to put the kids back in public school, I did feel like I was a failure. But thanks to much reassurance from a loving Heavenly Father, I knew my efforts weren't in vain and that it was the right choice for our family right now. And those two years of homeschooling have armed me with so many tools and much wisdom, so that I better utilize the time when the kids are home, and I feel like our family can still be just as strong and close-knit. But, like you said, for those who do homeschool, they are heroes and an inspiration to all of us!

Holly said...

I really enjoyed this post. I was just talking to someone today about public vs. homeschool and wondering what I will do with my kids next year (currently one in public). It seems to me that we simply need to be 100% involved in what our kids are learning and really be there for them either way. There's too much animosity between home/public schoolers out there and there doesn't need to be. Public school really is the right choice for many families just as homeschool is right for many. There's no reason to believe that one is always better than the other.
I try to be aware of everything my daughter learns at school and discuss it at home.

unofficialhomeschooler.com said...

Jana,
You. Share. My. Brain. I'm so glad to have read this blog post and to have discovered that there are other families out there who struggle to define "what they do" and how they "school." After all, aren't we constantly teaching our children, whether we "mean to" or not?

Working through these issues inspired me to start a blog to that affect last spring called "The Unofficial Homeschooler." We may be unofficial, but we take it seriously :)

Thanks for your writing!

Andrea said...

I'm still struggling with the put them in, leave them out issue right now. This new calling (RS pres) has taken far more time than I anticipated. So has bottling/gardening this year. Plus there is that class I teach at the local university, and my five children (baby is 8 months) 8 years and under.

Sometimes it seems like too much. I have loved having them home (they've never been in ps), but we are only giving it to Christmas and then if I am still stressed-out, basket-case mom, we will revisit the issue.

Sometimes I think you have to learn when/how to say no without feeling like a failure. I still haven't mastered it. :)

Orton Family said...

I loved this post! We loved homeschooling last year and we look forward to doing it again in the future, but this year we felt really good about letting the children try a bilingual charter school. I was sad to not have the time with them that I had before, but I have been learning that as I do the things we loved doing as part of homeschool (reading great books, being involved in school, special learning activities, field trips, family devotionals, working on family chores together, realizing that I am still ultimately accountable for my children's education, etc.) things are working out well and I can see the Lord's hand in our lives as well as some of the reasons we felt good about trying charter school.

I loved the ideas and the lists. Thank you so much for sharing and encouraging me to continue being the homeschooling mother I dream of being even with kids going away to school!

Frankie said...

Love, love, love this article! You are amazing!

Rachael M said...

Your post is the best! I struggled long & hard about whether to send my extremely bright son to PS for Kindergarten, or to home-school. Eventually we decided to try a year of PS and re-evaluate, still keeping the homeschool option in the back of our minds. And, so far, he is thriving. His teacher is allowing him to read second grade books and have some math time with the Talented and Gifted teacher. He is making friends, and still loves to learn. The moment we feel it's no longer right for him, we'll homeschool. I think it is so important for homeschoolers and public school families to support each other in their quests to rear happy, imaginative, compassionate lifelong learners.

Marcina said...

Thank you for your post, you are so right!!!

Kiasa said...

I marked this a while ago to "read later" and I'm just getting to it. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I have 3 little one in NYC and I really, really want to homeschool (on a farm, with music, etc. :)), but we decided (after a very long struggle) that it would be best for our oldest to try kindergarten. She is doing well academically, but I worry about a lot of the social influences going on (and she is in a VERY well to do public school). We are taking it all step by step. We live in a tiny apartment and I'm completely exhausted with the younger two, so it is working well now. Maybe someday we will run in rolling hills of green grass and learn by gardening, but for now, public school is what is best. Thank you so much for this insight!

K said...

You should listen to this video about Celestial Education. Not everything is bad, but do we really know how great things can be?

Every LDS mother should see this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nocNwBGTjT8

If this link does not work, just type in Celestial Education Michelle Stone

God bless!