The key to homeschooling with as little stress as possible is to learn to become flexible. Time is not your keeper, you are not held to eat breakfast at 8am every. single. day. If math takes twice as long as normal it is ok to skip science, reading, history, or whatever you had next. It is ok to let go of your schedule to maintain peace and joy in your home! If school is not fun anymore, then it is likely leading to frustration, tears, and everyone including you hates it. Though you are trying to tell yourself you don’t. As home school parents we need to become flexible. Thinking, seeing our days not as schooling but as learning, and seeing our homeschool days differently. We must be willing to search for what different looks like for our unique family.
How do you know what works for your family? Where do you start? I want to share the process Mark and I use in planning out our structured learn times for the year. Keep in mind your family is different, which means you will take away or add things that my family doesn’t do. That is normal and healthy because your family is different! You are wonderfully unique, with the exact ingredients that God wants you to have in your family! Your family is a beautiful masterpiece! Be encouraged from what I share, use the suggestions, and get excited, but pray and ask the Lord how he wants your family structure time to look.
First, Mark and I sat down and mapped out what specifically we wanted our kids to be able to do successfully. We talked about everything from our family’s core values, manners, to academics. Teaching our kids the God’s truths about themselves and the world, manners such as our boys opening doors for ladies, having a firm handshake, asking before taking something that isn’t theres, and remembering to say please and thank you. Manners to us includes being conscious of not only what they say and do, but how they say and do it. When they are aware of their tone and speak respectfully to each other and us their parents, peace and joy flow throughout our home. Choosing to use the freewill God gave them for peace and good, rather than destruction and frustration. Inspiring our kids to be independent, excited learners is crucial to helping them figure out where to get the knowledge and know-how to tackle projects and jobs in their lives. Experiencing art and music to be a part of their lives and reading classic stories as a family is important to us. Stories are powerful to teach them Godly and compassionate character. We want to inspire our kids through fiction and non-fiction the importance of hard work, perseverance, and utilizing consideration for others in their lives. Reading, math, and handwriting are required in order for our kids to become successful, working adults. It is a balance of required work combined with their passions, helping them to see a daily need for their education. Everything from NASCAR, carpentry, chefs, pastry chef, seamstress, plumber, farmer, mechanic or artist requires reading, writing, and arithmetic. Researching and finding the academics in their passions and tailoring their lessons with the skills it takes to successfully do their passion. Taking our work schedules into consideration is another key component for deciding how structured learning times look in our home. We want to maximize the time we have as a family and our learning time needs to be structured accordingly.
Secondly, we needed to learn and understand each of our kids personalities. We read The Way They Learn, it is a wonderful book for helping parents and caregivers learn how their kids learn best and how their personalties work. My personal favorite is the end of each chapter it gives a list of what relaxes those personality types and what stresses them out. Allowing to help us teach our kids how to destress themselves and help them be able to create a learning environment that works for them. It allows us to walk them through why they are finding a particular situation or circumstance stressful. It’s amazingly powerful when children and adults alike realize they are “normal” and what they are experiencing is “normal” for their personality. Realizing there is not anything “wrong” with them. They are wonderful, unique masterpieces.
With this information in our hands we can begin to structure out our kids days. We start with interviewing each of our kids. We want to know what their favorite subjects are, what they would like to see in their learning times, and what they don’t want in their learning times. During their interviews I ask them what makes them nervous and what relaxes them. This year I asked them who they love to spend time with because I believe those people are important to their overall well being. There is something their hearts and passions connect with in those people and I want to help foster those relationships/mentorships.
After interviews we are able to add and dash components of what our kids would like in their structured learning times, combined with the goals, we as their parents have for them. For example, Maddie’s emotions needed us to back off of her and not demand as much work out of her. She asked for more structured learning time and not us merely telling her what she had to do. Her required sit down school work decreased greatly. We decided we would ask for one math assignment a day and a three paragraph sentence. This honored what Maddie needed and honored the progress Mark and I desired for her to continue. The rest of the morning is structured learning time, she is able to play the piano or her guitar for hours if she wants to, she is able to read science books, and attempt experiments. She can also create works of art, bake, or numerous other options. Her time is structured, but she is not told what to do within that structured time frame. As long as her required chores and required assignments are done, she is free to choose what she wants to do.
Throughout our day, especially in the morning, unless it is Maddie’s math dvd, TV and electronics are shut off. In the afternoons we might watch one or two shows such as The Magic School Bus, Liberty Kids (my kids love this show), Bill Nye the Science Guy, or another educational show. The rest of the day is spent playing outside, reading, building with link-n-logs, legos, blocks, or playing games, snap circuits, preparing a puppet show, or creating art. We also use the afternoon to spend time with family and friends who homeschool. It is a wonderful time for the moms to catch up with each other, ask questions, support, and encourage one another to press on. The kids have a wonderful time running around and playing with their friends.
I mentioned to Mark in a passing conversation, “the reality is our kids are learning more in the unstructured school days than they were at the table with their worksheets”. We play a vocabulary game in the car, restaurant, or times we need a filler quiet game. Someone picks a word and we dissect it. We talk about it’s meaning, its opposite word(s) and what they mean. We talk about how the word might change if a certain letter was taken out and google the words origin. Games such as this are a common occurrence in our house. Carefully and artfully crafting in learning games and questions to encourage conversation with our kids throughout the day. Going back to the conversation with Mark, the comment I made to him really caused me to start thinking about the ways I could let go and simply provide a structured environment with the tools and books they needed to explore the areas they are passionate in. Thus, easing up on Maddie’s required work.
Board games are a fun and creative way to bring in learning components. The kids crave the family time and they learn life lessons throughout the games. They learn math from adding dice, patience in waiting their turns, becoming gracious looser and humble winners. Maddie is beginning to play Settlers of Catan with us and there is math, logic, and strategy throughout the whole game. My sister needed a creative way to get her five year old son to practice his sight words, she created a scavenger hunt for him. Now wanting to be left out her three year old wanted his own scavenger hunt. For her five year old she created three to four word sentences and for her three year old she focused on a letter sound. A great example of a fun, engaging, and age adaptable game.
I have learned to not use time as our guide, instead letting them choose how quickly or slowly they get a task done. If they dawdle they learn they may not get to go to a play date or lunch will be later because the previous tasks need to be done first. If I use time as our guide I become a slave to the clock and begin to drag the kids along instead of creating a peaceful environment in which they can learn. There will be a time for them to learn structured time as that is needed when learning to be on time for a job, time management in getting projects done, etc. However, right now I want to work on their attitudes and hearts in each task and time needs to be one of the things I let go.
We attempt to have our days look like this: (I say attempt because rarely does a day turn out perfectly like this and if I go into the day knowing I will need to be flexible, I stay calm, which keeps the kids calm.
*Structured Learning Time
*Quiet reading/manipulative Time
*Free Time/play dates
How do you balance required work and structured learning times? That’s a great question and the answer is, it looks different for every family and every kid. Some kids thrive on sit down work. They like the structure, learning, and actually find it fun. If you happen to get such a learner right off the bat. It is a shock to the system when along comes their brother and sister and they do not want anything to do with learning. In fact they would rather play or do anything else other than learn. It might make you wonder where you went wrong. I am thrilled to tell you, you are doing more than wonderful! Chances are the one who flees may be a kinesthetic learner and the thought of sitting is literally painful. It takes serious concentration for them to sit still. They honest and truly cannot focus on what you are saying because their bodies HAVE to move! Yoga balls, reading letters/sight words on a piece of paper and tossing them into a basket, rollerblading and reading (my nephew does this and it actually works), or giving an oral presentation sitting down but allowed to swing their legs. A kinesthetic learner has to have a body part in motion in order to retain what they are learning.
We have found allowing our kids access to what they are passionate about and mixing it with our goals has been highly successful. When our kids balk at what they are required to do, the required work is no longer the lesson. The lesson now becomes about their character. The required math work becomes the bi-product of what is being learned. They are learning there is a higher authority, they are learning there is a time and place they have to do something, and they are choosing which attitude they will accomplish their work in. We talk about what would happen if Mark went to work with a bad attitude or if he treated our clients with a “I don’t want to do this attitude. They quickly realize daddy would no longer have any clients and we would not be able to pay our bills. We admit to our kids there are times you are not going to want to do something and that’s ok, we don’t have to like everything we do in life, but we do need to do it. We also need to ask the Lord to give us a heart for what we are doing and to give us the ability to give thanks in all things. Then we need to chose to live out the truth of the thanksgiving. There are more times we need to act out of obedience and the heart follows.
It’s important to realize when the lesson has changed from the actual academic lesson to a life lesson. It is a lot easier to not get frustrated. Buckling down and being willing to tackle the heart issue will bring everyone peace, it may take patience and endurance on the part of us the parents, but it is worth it!