10 Things to Do Before Your Homeschool Year Begins

Photo Credit: Ivey Family (Oak Meadow)

  1. Consider how your child has grown and changed since last year. What are they capable of now that would have been impossible last year? Think about last year’s homeschooling (or schooling) experience. What worked and what didn’t? Does your child need more or less of something this year? Do you need something to change this year?

    Photo Credit: Ivey Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  2. Make sure you have submitted any necessary paperwork to your state or province and received approval or a receipt if appropriate
  3. Organize and replenish your supplies. What sorts of things get used up fast in your house? How do you make those things readily available?
  4. Research, choose, and purchase your curriculum. Oak Meadow’s bookstore is a great place to start!
  5. Draft a daily rhythm. Consider it a starting point and be open to making changes in the early days and weeks of your school year. Make sure there is enough room for unstructured time each day.

    Photo Credit: Fischer Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  6. Investigate classes, activities, groups, and other activities. Research these things now; classes can fill up before the school year officially begins. Create a weekly schedule, considering how these options fit into your daily rhythm. Be sure to plan transition time and breathing room around activities.
  7. Plot out a yearly calendar. What seasons, holidays, themes will you engage with, and when? Where will you take “time off” from schooling, if that fits with your learning philosophy? Where do you need to focus more intensely on a holiday or other event? Where in the year will you take time to evaluate how things are working out?
  8. Make connections with other homeschoolers, or rekindle last year’s connections. If you don’t have other like-minded homeschoolers nearby, make connections online.

    Photo Credit: Fuller Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  9. Ask your children what they would like to get out of this upcoming year. Write it up and save it to revisit at the end of the year!
  10. Think about the ways in which you would like to grow as a parent, and consider what needs to happen to support your journey. We invest so much time and effort into our children’s experiences as homeschoolers; it is just as important to consider our own experiences and how we can have a healthy, happy homeschooling journey alongside our children.

Decluttering the Homeschool House

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Charles A. Goodrich

Homeschoolers usually spend a significant portion of their days at home. The many hours of projects, crafts, meals, experiments, and exuberant learning that happen every day in a homeschooling house can add up to a significant amount of clutter and chaos. What are some ways to keep your home and your family from getting overwhelmed by this?

Photo Credit: Sarah Justice
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Consider the favorite spaces that your family uses for various activities. Set things up so it is easy to clean up and start over when space is needed for another project. Make sure there is a storage area nearby for works in progress and a safe spot for anything that might need to air-dry.

Observe the patterns in your house. How are family members using the space? Where do piles of things usually grow? One of the biggest challenges in any house is keeping things up off the floor. Where do things most often get dropped? If you have a perpetual pile that grows unbidden in a particular place, it’s a sure sign that those items need a permanent home nearby. Put baskets for hats/mittens near where coats are hung. Unfinished works of art may need a shelf near the crafts area.

Who is responsible for tidying up and when? Setting aside regular time once or twice each day for routine clean-up can help keep the clutter from growing. You may find it helpful to assign a container to each family member – a basket, bin, or box – where anyone can deposit items belonging to the owner. Put trash/recycling containers in every room where trash is generated.

Photo Credit: Sky Hawk
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Make it a habit to weed out and discard unwanted items on an ongoing basis. Things that are broken should be fixed or discarded. Papers can often be recycled. If you feel overwhelmed, just deal with the pile or item that you bump into first — then repeat, repeat, repeat.

If your children have a hard time decluttering, play a fun family game of “Keep or Don’t Keep?” See how fast you can sort through a pile together. Start with two containers for sorting things into – one “keep” bin and one “toss” bin. Hold up each item in turn and ask dramatically, “Keep? Or don’t keep?” Encourage your child to respond as quickly as possible for each item. Time yourselves if it adds to the excitement. When the pile is gone, you can whisk the “toss” pile out of sight to quietly dispose of later.

Here are some things to consider adding to your home in areas where clutter collects:

  • Hooks to hang things on
  • Shelves to put things on
  • Bins and drawers to put things in
  • Baskets, containers, crates to organize things
  • Furniture with doors and drawers to help to keep clutter hidden

Make sure that storage is at the right height for the people who will use it. If you have young children, store off-limits items on the highest shelves or behind cabinet doors and “help-yourself” items, such as toys and basic drawing supplies, within easy reach. Storage that is too difficult to access will not be used; same for storage that is not in the area where its items are most likely to be abandoned. Try to make it as convenient as possible.

Photo Credit: Lugo Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Consider turning a closet or cabinet into a storage space for art/craft supplies and other homeschooling materials. Sort by category and assign one bin or box to each category (crayons, ribbons/string, paint, knitting, etc.). Label everything clearly so that everyone can see what to store in each bin without having to open it to check. Use pictures or symbols if you have family members who are very visual or not yet reading.

Cozy nooks for reading and relaxing are important but can invite a state of ongoing disarray. What are your nooks like? Are there pillows? Soft blankets? How do you want things arranged when not in use? What does that look like? Show your children how to stack pillows, fold blankets, and leave things tidy for the next person.

With a proactive approach and some practice, managing clutter can become a regular part of your family’s homeschooling routine. Involve everyone in the family in the process and the results will be worth the effort as you enjoy a calmer, less cluttered home.

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists—leaving notes here and there all over the house—and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. That pile of tasks that seemed doable early in the morning looks like an impossible uphill climb by lunch time and morphs into Mt. Everest by dinner time. Sigh. Another day slips by with a vague feeling of incompletion.

Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be leaving out or forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.

At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Photo Credit: Witman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

No matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement—just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. The book report will get done before the grammar exercises or spelling quiz. That’s not to say spelling and grammar aren’t important—they are—but the book report will get done first to make sure it is completed before moving onto the next book.
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. Who cares which days you homeschool and which ones are free days? Do what you can in the days remaining; any leftover tasks are moved to the top of the list for the following week.
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.
Photo Credit: Brandie Lujan
(Oak Meadow Archives)

More reasons to love your planner

Feel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

Photo Credit: Oak Meadow.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

____________________________________________________

DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.

This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

Five Ways to Keep Your Balance in an Unbalanced World

by Lawrence Williams and DeeDee Hughes
reprinted from Living Education (Fall 2014) 
adapted from Living Education (Jan/Feb 2001)

I once admitted to a wise friend that, as a parent, I honestly didn’t know if I was being too strict or too lenient. She said, “That’s normal. That’s what finding the balance is all about. There is no static balance point. You are always tipping a little too far in one direction and righting yourself, or tipping too far in the other direction and righting yourself.” I found great comfort in this at the time, and I still do today.

Finding the balance in parenting and in life is an ongoing process. Am I working too much and forgetting to play? Am I being an overinvolved parent and not respecting my children’s abilities and independence? Am I trying to keep them from making mistakes? Am I letting them make enough mistakes? Am I investing enough time in my friendships but forgetting my self-care? Life can feel like doing yoga on a stand-up paddleboard while being rocked by waves. We’re constantly shifting and making adjustments, and there are lots of near-misses for getting dunked, but we’re doing it!

As a homeschooler, seeking balance is essential. If we’re out of balance and we try to teach our children, we diminish our effectiveness as teachers. We might miss the subtle cues in the learning process that enable us to be good teachers, or we might cause our children to become more imbalanced also, which reduces their ability to learn effectively.

Here are some tips to help you maintain a sense of balance in the midst of your busy, messy, wonderful life.

1. Reconnect with your source daily

What energizes you? What helps you feel centered and creates harmony within you? You might reconnect through prayer, hiking, yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, running, art, or some other activity. Find something that works for you and do it every day. Even thought it may seem impossible, the most effective time is first thing in the the morning. Reconnecting with our personal power source first thing in the morning enables us to embrace the day with greater purpose and clarity.

2. Recognize your role as co-creator

Through our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we all create our lives moment by moment. When we work in conjunction with our children, with our partners, with our friends and neighbors, we become co-creators of the world around us. When unexpected events arise, we have a choice of how we respond. If we respond from an inner sense of balance, we can turn difficult circumstances into new possibilities for ourselves and our children. When we take responsibility for creating our world, we enter into a fascinating dance, an on-going improvisation that is one part strength, one part grace, one part compromise, and all heart. When we live with a sense of actively creating the life we want, we feel more content and centered.

3. Pay attention to your internal GPS

Envision a see-saw with mental activity on one end, physical activity on the other end, and feelings in the middle as the balance point. We all know how easy it is to overemphasize or ignore one or more of these aspects, and we know what happens to the see-saw when we lean too far in one direction. Check in with your internal GPS every now and then to figure out where you are. For example, if you’ve been engaged for long hours on a computer, you probably need to be active physically. If you have been running errands all over town with your children, you may need to sit for a bit and read a book. The same holds true for kids – remember to check in with where they are and strive for balance in the rhythm of their day. Being able to adapt to the needs of our children this way is one of the great benefits of homeschooling.

4. Allow yourself to feel

Our innate capacity to feel is one of our greatest tools in parenting and in teaching. It helps us to clearly perceive what is going on in ourselves and others, and to communicate effectively. When you are talking with your children, don’t just focus on the words they’re saying. Open yourself to what they are feeling and address that with as much attention as you give to their word.s If you are walking down the street, look at the trees, the plants, and the sky around you and appreciate their natural beauty. Soak it in on a feeling level. By opening your heart to simple acts of feeling as you experience the events of each day, you will find that your mind becomes quieter and you feel more stable and poised.

5. Recognize your triggers

It’s no surprise that life often feels unbalanced. Consider how we are bombarded by external stimuli: masses of information, constant sounds, demands of email and phone, social media updates. Sure, all parents have eyes in the back of our heads and three arms, but we can still become overwhelmed. By learning to recognize what triggers that sense of stress, we can help restore balance. If you feel you can never get anything done because you have to respond to every email as it comes in, maybe you’ll want to switch to checking email just two or three times a day. If you start to feel scattered after a morning of noisy activity, institute a one-hour noise-free zone in your house, or get outside where the only sounds you’ll hear are nature sounds. Give yourself a break by leaving your phone behind when you take a walk or work in the garden, or (if that’s too uncomfortable) just turn it off. Allow yourself to disengage from the hectic demands of global connection.

By following these guidelines, you can regain your innate balance, which will foster the expression of your natural intelligence. Many schools seek to develop intellect, so they spend their time focusing on mental activity. At Oak Meadow, we are interested in developing intelligence, and this arises from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. Intellect alone will never enable your children to be fulfilled, self-directed learners, and it will never enable them to become dynamic individuals who can have a positive impact upon the world. Find your own balance and you’ll be able to help your children find theirs.

___________________________________________________________

Lawrence Williams is the co-founder and owner of Oak Meadow, and the author of Oak Meadow’s original curriculum. He and DeeDee Hughes have collaborated on a number of articles and curriculum materials, including the new 40th Anniversary edition of The Heart of Learning.

The Arrival of Fall (From the Archive)

by Lawrence Williams, EdD
excerpted from Living Education (October 1981) 

As the Fall of the year arrives, we experience once again the familiar contraction of Mother Nature, reminding us that all things must pass, and even the beautiful expansiveness of Summer must recede to allow Winter to work its magic.

Children often experience this contraction as a desire to focus their energies, after a long summer of either relaxation or unharnessed exuberance. For those who have been homeschooling for a while, the seasonal extremes are usually not as pronounced. However, for those exploring home study for the first time, the Fall can be a time of difficult adjustments to a new situation.

Often our instinct is to establish firm schedules of “schoolwork” within the home, as a natural response to the seasonal contraction which we feel. However, though it is true that children seem to appreciate more of a focus at this time of year, we should look for ways to integrate this focus as naturally and warmly as possible, to avoid the inevitable reactions that arise from trying to maintain a strict form.

Use this time to seek a deeper understanding of your children’s changing needs — this understanding will be a tremendous asset as you progress through the course of the year.

____________________________________________________________

This article first appeared in its original form in Living Education: The Monthly Journal of Oak Meadow School in October 1981. The early incarnation of Living Ed (as we fondly refer to it) provided a then-rare space for homeschooling parents and Oak Meadow staff to explore and share their thoughts about learning, parenting, and related topics.

What do you think of Oak Meadow founder Lawrence Williams’ thoughts in this article from years past? Do you agree with his recommendations? How do you approach the transition to Fall in your own family’s homeschooling rhythm?

As parents and educators, reading others’ thoughts, asking challenging questions, and considering new ideas will open up different opportunities for ourselves and our children. Our ideas continue to evolve as we move along our journey. How have your own thoughts grown and changed since your homeschooling adventure began?

10 Ways to Create and Maintain Balance as a Homeschooling Parent

  1. Know your priorities. Be clear with yourself about what is most important. Make sure everyone in the family knows what those things are. Talk regularly about the reasons why your family does things the way you do. Be open with each other when it feels like it’s time to revisit or reaffirm your family’s priorities.
  1. Photo Credit: Litteken Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Litteken Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Always start with a plan, and be flexible enough to change the plan as needed. If you need help with planning for the younger grades, our parent planners can be a big help. Planning ahead really helps the family’s rhythm stay steady and keeps each member on track academically.

  1. Don’t try to do too much. Keep things simple! Avoid overcommitting and let people know when you need to dial back. If you feel self-conscious when plans need to shift, remember that your commitment to your family’s needs may be an inspiration for others who are struggling with the same challenge.
  1. Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Help your children establish roots and grow wings. Balance the two by first giving them a strong, supportive foundation, then give them some room to practice flying on their own. It’s quite a thrill to see your child take off independently when they are ready, and it’s reassuring to know that you have prepared them well.

  1. Take very good care of yourself. Spending all day, every day, in the company of even the most wonderful homeschooling children is a challenge. Eat well, exercise, and make sleep a priority. Also make time for the hobbies and passions that boost your energy and enthusiasm. Keep your reserves full by taking regular time off for yourself where you are able to turn off your parental radar and relax.  By making your own well-being a priority, you model an important and lifelong habit for your children, who may grow up to parent homeschoolers themselves.
  1. Find a friend who will listen when you need to get things off your chest, someone who will also help you celebrate those homeschooling triumphs that the rest of the world has a hard time grasping. Talk about your joys and challenges regularly. If you’ve struggled to find  likeminded friends, read this article on finding community as a homeschooler and keep reaching out.
  1. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rafferty (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rafferty
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Offer and accept help. Ask when you need it, and give to others when you can. Build a network of homeschooling friends who support each other. Take turns so that you can each get a break sometimes. Offer wisdom and support to those who are newer to parenting or homeschooling than you are. Ask family, friends, and neighbors to engage with your children’s learning, especially if they have experience in areas that you do not. Be clear about your needs and gracious when others help meet them.

  1. Keep the fires burning in your marriage. Tend your marital partnership, if you have one. It can be all too easy to let those needs be superseded by the needs of your homeschoolers, so do whatever is needed to keep your primary adult relationship healthy.
  1. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it is still an important thing to do once in awhile. Let this be a time when they can check in about how things are going for them and talk freely with you about their wishes, dreams, and interests, regardless of what the rest of the family needs. Let your child help plan how to spend that time so that it has meaning for both of you. When the needs of other family members take priority, both of you will have the memory of these one-on-one times to carry you through until the next time.
  1. Laugh together! Have fun as a family that is at least equal to the amount of hard work you do together. Eat meals together regularly and tell funny jokes at the table. If you start feeling stressed during the day, have an on-the-spot dance party. Go on spontaneous adventures sometimes. Find things to do that you can all enjoy. Stay connected with each other in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with educational expectations.

What other ways have you found to seek and maintain balance in your homeschooling life?

Motivating Middle Schoolers

by Deb Velto, Oak Meadow K-8 Program Director 

There is no doubt that middle school students can be difficult to engage at times, and this can be especially true for home teachers who are also parents. Middle school aged students are holding on so fiercely to their newly discovered independence, and at the same time they need some guidance while they learn to develop their own thoughts and opinions about the world around them. As your child’s home teacher, you have the difficult position of being both the parent and the educator of your child who is quickly learning to assert themselves.

Learning with middle school age student might require a shift in thinking and planning for the home teacher, but it can also be the start of a new dynamic in your homeschooling relationship. Most middle school students respond well when we act in ways that show respect for their individuality, and also give them choices and some control over their learning. Considering some of the following middle school motivators can help:

Ownership

A little bit of ownership can go a long way with a middle school student. Your child should have some say in setting up your school area, and should be involved in selecting their own supplies if possible.  Present different possibilities for organizing the school day, but ultimately let the student set the daily schedule.  Allow for some trial and error.  If the schedule doesn’t work perfectly, discuss the reasons why, but allow your child to improve the schedule without any feelings of failure. Assist your child in learning to use a planner as they prepare for their school year. This opportunity can help build your child’s decision making skills as well as develop tools for time management. Be open to their suggestions.  It feels good to your middle schooler because they are being trusted to design a plan that fits their own needs.

Academically, a great way to involve your middle schooler is to have them set some personal learning goals at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year you can revisit these goals so your child can assess their progress. Try your best not to influence this process. You can still pursue your own goals for your child, but it might be their own goals that will help them engage more fully in their work.

Expression and privacy

Be sure your child has ample time each week to express themselves, whether it be through writing, music, art, or another creative outlet.  Try not to always ask to see what they are writing or creating, and give them the space to create privately. Most teenagers have thoughts and ideas that they want to keep only to themselves. They may need to spend time in solitude occasionally. It is important to create a safe environment for your child to journal, create, or simply take a walk alone if they need to.  If you give them this space and reasonable expectation of privacy, then they may feel more open to share at a different time.

Sense of purpose and incorporating interests

Photo credit: Adam Hall (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Adam Hall
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Although middle schoolers have a reputation for being apathetic at times, once a passion is ignited, it is hard to extinguish. Many students this age are justice minded and are just starting to understand the power they hold as citizens. If your child has an interest in a community, national, or world issue, help them find ways to get involved with the cause. Community projects are great because it’s often possible and can be very rewarding to see the direct results of one’s efforts. It can be something small, like raising money for a local organization, or volunteering for a food shelf or animal shelter. The feeling that they are making a difference can be great motivation to adolescents.

Most middle school students can be easily engaged in a topic or activity that they have a genuine interest in. By allowing students time to explore an area of interest, or changing a project so that it is more relevant to a specific area of curiosity or passion, we give them the opportunity to experience the power of intrinsic motivation. If your child is open to your involvement, learning alongside them can be a great opportunity to learn more about the things that are important to them. If you’re not sure what interests them, ask!

Maturity and playfulness

Surround your child with positive adult role models. It is important that your child is learning to interact with adults appropriately at this age. They need to have adults in their lives that they feel like they can trust other than their parents. These adults could be coaches, tutors, friends, or family. If you know an adult who shares a hobby or knows a skill your child is interested in, it can create an opening for a mentoring relationship that can continue to grow in time. Middle schoolers are often inspired to practice a more mature way of relating when they connect and feel valued by awesome adults

At the same time, if you catch your older child being silly, being imaginative, or engaged in active play with younger siblings or friends, let the magic happen! Students this age can feel a lot of pressure to act “older” all of the time. Play is good therapy for people of all ages. Allowing them to relax into the kind of play they enjoyed when they were younger is valuable and can infuse new energy into your middle schooler.

The parent-child relationship is changing, but it’s still as important as ever. Be sure to balance the serious tasks of education and motivation with regular “time out” together that feels good to both of you. If you are struggling with finding that balance, schedule some time together without an agenda. Casual activities that leave open space for conversation are good: Go for a hike, take a drive somewhere that interests both of you, or have lunch together at a cafe.  It doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to accomplish anything other than giving you both a break from the dynamic where the parent is trying to motivate the child. Let go of expectations and enjoy each other.

Voice

If your child is objecting to something, give them an opportunity to express the reasons why.  It is important that they feel heard and validated. Listen without interrupting, and repeat back what they share with you in your own words so they know you understand. Look for a reasonable way to create a solution together, and invite them to be a part of that process. This can be a great exercise in self-advocacy, which is an important skill to develop at this age. Remember that they are learning how to manage disagreement appropriately, and be patient with them as they experiment with the skills needed to communicate, negotiate, and work together to resolve conflict.

Confidentiality

It is tempting to discuss the details of what your child is learning with others, especially when you are around other homeschoolers or trying to explain homeschooling to someone who is unfamiliar with it.  But be aware that at the neighborhood potluck, your son or daughter might not want you discussing their aversion to long division or the trouble they are having using semi-colons. Encourage your child to share on their own about favorite topics they are exploring, but try not to make a habit out of making casual conversation around the day to day details of your child’s learning in public. It can be embarrassing for them, and your child might feel less safe to take risks in future lessons if they know you might mention it to their friend’s mom at the grocery store.

Confidence

Photo credit: Gabriela Guberman. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Gabriela Guberman. (Oak Meadow archives.)

One thing all middle schoolers experience at some point are feelings of self doubt.  If your child has a skill or area where they feel especially confident, it is important to give them a lot of opportunities to practice it. If there is an area where your child does not feel confident, do what you can to foster opportunities for their confidence to bloom. Using their developing skills to benefit others can help empower them. For example, if your child does not like reading out loud, see if they might read favorite books to an adoring younger child. If they struggle with writing, exchanging letters with a supportive older penpal can give them a chance to apply their skills in way that feels safe, positive, and encouraging. Being seen by others as competent helps them to see themselves that way, too.

New beginnings

When you do have a challenging day, always offer your child a chance to start fresh in the morning. Try not to start the next day with a rehashing of the events of the previous day, or with related threats or consequences. If you were not at your best the day before, model healthy relationship building by acknowledging what you could have done better. Your child might not be able to do this themselves yet, but modeling it is important. Try to find some humor or positive way to start the next day off on a better note. If the previous day’s issue needs to be revisited, try bringing it up later, when both of you have had more time to move past the challenging moment.

If you have the feeling that you can’t motivate your middle school student to “do anything,” you might be right. They need to be motivated from within. Although you can’t do that for them, you can help them learn how to do it for themselves. Learning with your middle schooler can be a great experience, but it helps to let them take the lead. It can feel very different from when they were younger, for both parents and children. A middle schooler’s growing independence can be an opportunity for the home teacher to take a less active role in instruction, to enjoy learning about new interests and more in depth topics together, and to watch their maturity unfold.

Summertime!

Photo Credits: Grim Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credits: Grim Family (Oak Meadow Archives)

Summer is officially here! For most Oak Meadow families, it is the time when the school year has come to its completion. As we begin the new season without a prescribed daily lesson plan, we begin to wonder about the activities in which we should engage our children. Should we keep up the academics for fear they will forget much of what they learned? Or should this time be a true school break for our children? I would like to share with you some thoughts on what I feel is the true purpose of a summer break.

Life offers us many experiences through our minds and our bodies. We dive in, immerse ourselves, and engage with our hands, head, and heart. Most importantly, life offers us an opportunity to learn about balance. During the school year, we have placed much emphasis on developing skills in focusing, processing, developing and learning. For many of us, this has meant spending several hours each day with our children engaged in the Oak Meadow coursework. For others, the school year has been an opportunity to develop a schedule conducive to our children’s individual learning styles. Whatever the method that’s used, the enrollment period has been about completing the required schoolwork. In other words, a certain focus, process and relationship has been maintained. 

Photo Credit: Newbold Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Newbold Family (Oak Meadow Archives)

Summer is a time to take a break from this structured focus. It is a time for the child-initiated, non-academic type of exploration and discovery. Since children naturally desire to grow, a significant amount of learning will continue to go on; however, the subject matter will be different. Summer may be the time that your child will learn to swim, ride a bike, build a fort, or learn five new bird calls. Summer is an expansive time when children have an opportunity for an unscheduled, unhurried learning experience.

Summer is an opportunity for children to assimilate the information they have been working on throughout the school year. Factual learning can sometimes provide stress to the body and to the mind. In order for learning to really take hold, a child needs to have ample opportunity to reside in an environment that is stress free. Children need to have a lot of time to play, to create, and to imagine. 

Summer also provides an opportunity to do all the things we wanted to do with our children during the school year, but just didn’t have the time in our schedule. Summer is our chance to relate even more deeply and warmly with our children and to nurture the love we share. Just as importantly, summer is an opportunity for home teachers to take time off from teaching. Burnout can be a real factor in homeschooling and every home teacher needs to have some time to pursue personal interests that rejuvenate the spirit.

Photo Credits: Massei Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credits: Massei Family (Oak Meadow Archives)

The learning that takes place during this period of relaxation is as important as the multiplication tables, spelling and history. Often children will have a growth spurt during this period and are able to return to their structured schoolwork in the fall feeling refreshed and with newly acquired abilities and interests. So, take time to share in a magically wonderful, joyful and restful summer. May you delight in ample free play throughout your family’s daily activities, and may each one of you find joy in discovering new expansive doors to freedom and love.

10 Ideas for Making the End of the Year Special

Is yours one of the many families whose “school year” has a beginning, an end, and then a break before the next year begins? Schooling at home is something to celebrate, and when the end of the year arrives, it presents an opportunity for joyful recognition and reflection. Here are some ideas for ways to make it memorable and special for your family.

Photo credit: Ledahl Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Ledahl Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

1. Celebrate growth! Have everyone in the family make a list of some of the things they are glad they learned or ways they have grown over the past year. This exercise is especially helpful for parents, who may have overcome many challenges without realizing it. Compliment each other on your efforts and accomplishments.

2. Reflect as a family. The school year may be over, but learning never stops. Together as a family, discuss the things you are most interested in learning over the summer and perhaps during the next year. How can you support each other’s goals and wishes? Show your child by example that adults are perpetual learners, too, and talk with them about what you’re most interested in exploring and learning.

3. Make testing fun. If your distance learning program, homeschooling curriculum, or state requirements involve end-of-year testing, make it an extra special event! Decorate the room where the test will be taken, plan some healthy treats to enjoy during snack breaks, throw a five-minute dance party to get the wiggles out and energy up between tests, and celebrate in style when the testing is done.

Photo credit: Sarah Justice (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Sarah Justice
(Oak Meadow Archives)

4. Revisit Main Lesson Books. Are Main Lesson Books (MLBs) a part of your Oak Meadow experience? Spend some time together with your child looking back over their MLBs or notebooks for the past year. (For extra fun, pull out MLBs from years past and marvel together at how far they’ve come!) If you or your child have a favorite MLB page, take a photo and send it to us. We love seeing the beautiful work that develops in student MLBs, and we would be grateful for the chance to share examples with others who are just beginning their Oak Meadow journey.

5. Make a memory collage. This is another project that is a lot of fun to do together as a family. Did you go on any memorable trips or outings this past year? What were some of the funniest moments? Do any particular words come to mind that can be woven into this tangible reminder of what this year meant to your family?

6. Have children evaluate themselves. Let each child write an end-of-year report on their own progress. What did you do really well this year? What areas would you like to keep working on improving? Include this report in their file, portfolio, or record for the year. When the new year rolls around, revisit it to remind yourselves about things your child would like to continue to work on.

Photo credit: Fuller Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Fuller Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

7. Give silly awards. Some children are motivated by competition and love getting recognition for their accomplishments. In the spirit of a collaborative learning environment, keep it light and make it funny. Best ice-cream cone eater! Most devoted user of the color purple! If you have multiple children, have them secretly nominate each other for the “best…” and create fancy certificates or ribbons for each other. Have a mock awards ceremony complete with pomp and circumstance.

8. Share your child’s work with others. If you are both comfortable with it, plan a “show and tell” gathering and invite people who would enjoy seeing and learning about the wonderful work your child has done over the past year. You might have your child display their favorite projects or creations, share their Main Lesson Books, mark favorite lessons in their curriculum books, show photos of memorable events, offer a performance, and/or give a little speech about what they have most enjoyed learning. Be thoughtful in limiting your invitations to close friends and family who are supportive of your educational choices and who will be more appreciative than critical.

9. Write your child a keepsake letter. Describe what you have witnessed in their growth over the past year, in academics and other areas of their development. Keep it positive. Point out some of the things you have enjoyed most in working with them this year. Perhaps you recognize important accomplishments that may not be seen by the outside world. Give them the gift of words handwritten on sturdy paper that they can keep, treasure, and reread when they need a boost of confidence.

Photo credit: Cathy Conder (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Cathy Conder
(Oak Meadow Archives)

10. Celebrate their way. Rites of passage are important in children’s development, and the transition from one phase to the next can be very meaningful. Let them tell you how they would like to mark this transition. This may feel especially important after the first year of learning at home, at a time when their peers are marking a similar transition (such as the end of elementary or middle school, the beginning of high school, or high school graduation), and at the end of their homeschooling or distance-learning journey.

Above all, remind your child (and yourself) how proud you are of their willingness to approach learning in a creative, heart-centered way. This requires a leap of faith on everyone’s part, and it is so gratifying to reach the end of the year and look back on the things that went well. Congratulate yourselves, and look forward to whatever the new year will bring when the time comes.

How do you celebrate the end of the (home)school year? What are your family’s traditions? Do you have any new or different ideas to add to the above list of suggestions?

Setting Up Your Homeschool Space

Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.

Photo credit: The Marino Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Marino Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep an open mind. Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.

If possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.

Make sure your workspace is comfortable. Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.

Your home learning space will need good lighting. Can you position it near a window? Natural lighting is ideal, supplemented with general lighting and focused task lighting. If your homeschool work surface doubles as a dining table, consider bringing a desk lamp to the table for homeschool use and moving it off the table and out of the way at mealtime.

Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.

If there are small children or younger siblings in the home, try locking storage tubs and/or high shelves for anything that is not safe for little fingers. Label everything! (Use symbols or pictures for those who aren’t fluent readers.) Lower shelves can be stocked with “help yourself” materials that can be used by all ages without supervision.

Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Place a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.

A single centrally located work space will be enough to meet the needs of most younger homeschoolers. Older students will need an area that is quiet and free from distractions. In families with siblings, this might be need to be a separate space where students can go to study and work on projects that do not require adult support.

It can also be very helpful to have a comfortable reading nook somewhere in the house where children can relax as they read or study. In families with multiple homeschoolers, some will need to get away from the center of things to recharge, and a designated out-of-the-way corner will help to fill that need.

Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.

Peace and quiet may be a very important priority for a distractible student or parent. If designating a completely distraction-free area is impossible, consider protecting the “sound space” by limiting loud activities during certain times of the day, asking other family members to use headphones if listening to audio devices, or providing earplugs for those who might need them.

Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!

Photo credit: The Park Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Park Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.

Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.

As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.

Is writing neatly a challenge? Perhaps the desk or chair aren’t the right height, or the writing space is too cramped to support the forearm. Does your student have trouble staying on task? Perhaps decluttering the walls and space and creating a more distraction-free zone will help. Do library books keep getting lost? Make sure to have a handy basket next to the reading area so that all books are returned to one place.

Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.

How is your homeschool space set up? What do you wish you had done differently from the start? What helpful tips do you have for someone who would like to make better use of their homeschool space?