- Why does homeschooling feel like a good idea? What needs are not being met well in other ways, and how might homeschooling help best meet those needs?
- What is my child expecting homeschooling to be like? What am I expecting homeschooling to be like? How do those two things line up?
- What areas of learning are easiest for my child? What areas are most challenging?
- What are my child’s passions and interests? How will they fit into our plan for homeschooling?
- What are my biggest worries about homeschooling? What are some strategies I could use to work through those things if they happen?
- What struggles do I predict we might have as we add homeschooling to our parent-child dynamic, and how can I anticipate and prevent them?
- How will I meet my own need for self-care so that I am able to give all that my child needs?
- What will I say to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers who are skeptical about our decision to homeschool? How will I prepare myself for such questions?
- Who are my homeschooling support buddies? Do I have friends, neighbors, or relatives who homeschool? If not, do I know where to find local and/ or distant homeschoolers to share experiences and ideas with?
So I’m reading The Heart of Learning and love it, but I’m also left with a feeling of failure. I feel like I failed my 9 and 5 year olds. My 1.5 year old, too, but I still have time with her. Anyone ever feel like this?
Can you relate?
On your way to a heart-centered approach to learning, has the journey has been long and complicated? Have you have spent years trying different approaches to parenting and/or education before finding one that really feels right? Have the many twists and turns left you, and perhaps your children, feeling frustrated and exhausted?
Start by giving yourself credit for where you are and how you’ve gotten there! You’ve worked hard to navigate the complicated path of parenting. You’ve followed your heart to the place where you are now. Your children benefit from your courage when you open your family to new possibilities. You are not failing — you are succeeding!
It’s never too late to adapt your parenting style in response to new ideas and inspiration. Even partway through childhood, your child continues to benefit from your growing confidence and experience. Parenting skills evolve over time. When your first child arrived, you had no choice but to learn on your feet. Maybe later you had other children whose needs were nothing like your first, which meant you needed to develop new tools.
You tried whatever came to you along the way. Perhaps you followed the model of other parents, the suggestions of relatives, or the advice of professionals. Or maybe you stayed with what felt familiar and made choices similar to those your own parents made. You made use of the resources you had and made the most of whatever was available at the time.
Maybe those approaches worked, at least for awhile, or maybe they taught you that your child needed something else. Or maybe your instincts were tugging at you to take a different path from the start. Every parent has had the experiences of making a choice that turned out to be less than perfect. Every child is unique, and it can take several tries to figure out how best to meet a particular child’s needs during a particular phase or circumstance.
Even when you’ve discovered an approach that feels like the perfect fit, you may have mixed feelings about switching gears – and your child might, too. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transition:
Explain the changes. One of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to model what it means to be a lifelong learner. If you are making a change that your child will notice and wonder about, affirm their experience and share your reasons for moving in a new direction. If you feel regret that your older children did not benefit sooner from such a shift, acknowledge this, but also make sure they know you tried your best given the information and support you had at the time. Let them know that everyone can learn from their experiences.
Include your child in the process. If a big change is in the works, such as a switch from public school to home learning, ask your children what matters to them. Give their input careful consideration and let them know that their opinions and insights are important to you. Do your best to foster and maintain connection with your children, especially if your earlier approach was less connection-oriented.
Take good care of yourself and one another. Remember that significant transitions can be stressful even when the result will be positive and healthy. Find ways to create and maintain balance for yourself and your children. Spending time in nature can be restorative and healing for the whole family. Finding and following a rhythm in your days and weeks can help keep everyone grounded, especially when new adventures are beginning. Stay present with your child; you are on this journey together.
Take time to feel. If you need to grieve the way things might have been, give yourself (and your child) space for that important process. Be gentle with yourself and allow the transformation in your life the time it deserves.
Acknowledge growth. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s – embrace its unique lessons and gifts.
Remember that the heart is at the center of the parenting journey. It awakens to new ideas in its own time. You can trust that your heart is leading you well. You can do this!
1. quiet days, whether at home or at the office
2. packing brown bag lunches or scrambling for lunch money every morning
3. the morning ritual of making sure nobody goes back to sleep after their alarm sounds
4. sending your child out running to catch the bus (and driving them to school when they miss it)
5. parent/teacher conferences (unless you count walking around and muttering to yourself as a teacher conference!)
6. all-school concerts and other mandatory evening events
7. providing a doctor’s note when your child misses school due to illness
8. mandatory parent-teacher commitments and fundraisers
9. the evening homework saga
10. before- and after-school transitions (in which you’re sure your child’s best behavior is being saved for their teacher)
What others can you add to this list?
Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:
- Maximize flexibility in your work situation. When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.
Embrace a relaxed homeschooling style. Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.
- Expect the unexpected. Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.
- Manage interruptions proactively. How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!
Offer your attention and presence whenever you can. When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.
- Give your child tools to use when they must wait for your attention. Be clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.
Help children learn how to help themselves. As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.
- Divide household responsibilities in a predictable, easy-to-follow way. Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.
- Keep craft materials, games, books, and toys within easy reach as much as you feel your children can handle without supervision. Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.
Work smart! Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.
- Lean on others. Negotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.
- Take good care of yourself. Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!
- Remember why you are doing this. You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.
Do you have experience with working at home while homeschooling? What would you add to this list?
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
How can you tell if Oak Meadow will be a good fit for your family? Choosing a homeschool curriculum or a distance learning school may feel like a very big decision. There are many options available, and it can feel challenging to sort through to find the best fit.
What are you looking for in a home learning program? Would Oak Meadow be a good match for your family? See if any of the following points resonate with you.
1. Being actively involved in your child’s learning feels right to you. You appreciate your child as an individual and enjoy spending time with them. You value the deep connection between you and your child, and you trust that because you are a loving parent, you are naturally well suited to be your child’s home teacher.
An Oak Meadow education means that you, the parent, are your child’s primary teacher. As an Oak Meadow parent, you remain closely involved in every step of your child’s learning. When they need help conquering a challenge, you are right there to help them in a way that honors their unique personality. Your loving connection to your child qualifies you as the best expert on their needs.
2. Your child is keen to engage in creative, hands-on learning – and you like it, too. Learning by doing comes naturally to them, and you enjoy supporting their curiosity and efforts.
Oak Meadow encourages students to learn experientially through real-world experiences. Take math skills out into the garden for a carpentry project, visit local historic sites, or go hiking with a sketchbook in hand. The small scale of home learning allows for one-on-one assistance with a wide range of projects. Experiments and creations can be spread out and returned to over and over. Depending on your child’s needs, you can be closely involved, or step back and allow their creativity to bloom with support as needed. The world is your classroom!
3. Your mind is open to a range of effective ways to approach education. You are eager to figure out how to help your child thrive, even if the solution is unconventional.
Perhaps traditional school hasn’t worked out as well as you had hoped, or maybe you just have an intuitive sense that it won’t be a good fit for your unconventional learner. Homeschooling and distance learning can be very helpful options for students who learn outside of the box, and Oak Meadow is easily adaptable for learning differences.
4. You believe nature should be a central theme in children’s learning. The natural world provides a multitude of catalysts for learning and growing, and it also provides a healthy environment for playing and living.
Oak Meadow’s curriculum encourages students to keenly observe and develop a relationship with the natural world. Frequent outdoor play and exploration are encouraged and valued. The relationship between nature and the student is so important that it is a key theme throughout Oak Meadow’s curriculum.
5. You appreciate having the flexibility to adapt lessons to your child’s unique learning needs and interests. If something isn’t working for you or your child, you will modify it. You use curriculum as a starting point, then let your child’s passions guide your choices within and beyond the given material.
We know that every child is unique, and that’s why Oak Meadow’s curriculum is full of various possibilities for all kinds of learners. It’s up to you (and your child’s teacher, if you enroll in distance learning) to pick and choose from the options presented in the lessons. You might need to try different things to figure out what works, but in time, you and your child will both have a better understanding of how they learn best.
6. You believe that learning is a lifestyle that best involves the whole family. You recognize that the needs of all family members are interwoven, and you choose to create a home life that supports healthy learning and growth for everyone in the family.
Students who learn at home have the benefit of a holistic lifestyle where living and learning are totally intertwined. Siblings learn with and from each other, and the bond between family members of all ages is developed and strengthened.
7. You feel that education should address the whole child, not just academic growth. You honor the importance of your child’s passions, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities and honor the role those things play in your child’s learning.
Many educational programs focus on academics without acknowledging the many other important facets of a child’s being. Oak Meadow’s philosophy is all about nurturing learning in a comprehensive way, weaving together the many different kinds of growth and development in a balanced, holistic approach.
8. You have a good sense of when to ask for support, either through enrollment or through our homeschooling support service. You are willing and able to reach out to others in your community and beyond to widen your child’s learning support system and make use of helpful resources.
You know that nobody has all the answers. You trust that you’ll learn what you need to know along the way. The most successful Oak Meadow families are proactive and persistent in reaching out to those who can help them out in various ways on their homeschooling journey.
9. You appreciate the idea of a secular (non-religious) academic curriculum. If your family opts for religious education, you supplement with faith-based religious curriculum or design your own course of religious instruction that honors your family’s beliefs.
Oak Meadow is one of few providers of complete secular homeschooling curriculum. Many families come to us because they are looking for an alternative to the many faith-based programs that are available. Some families choose to supplement our materials with faith-based lessons in order to incorporate spiritual education into their homeschooling experience. Oak Meadow supports the freedom of parents to choose the best way to support their child’s religious and spiritual education.
10. Whether you are looking for a comprehensive homeschooling curriculum or an accredited distance learning school, you value the wisdom Oak Meadow offers from over 40 years of experience in supporting home learners.
Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams, began with a thoughtful vision for home education that remains an inspiration to all of us at Oak Meadow. Our teachers and counselors are carefully chosen to support Oak Meadow’s philosophy. Many of us have used Oak Meadow materials and services with our own children. We hold ourselves to the same standards we would demand for our own families. Through the years, our program has gone through countless revisions to provide families with the best possible homeschooling and distance learning experiences, and we continue to revise and update our materials on an ongoing basis.
Is Oak Meadow a good fit for your family’s needs? Hopefully you’ve already begun to gain some insights into the possibility. Our website offers comprehensive information about our company, our philosophy, our homeschooling curriculum, and our distance learning program. The educational counselors in our office are available online or by phone at 802-251-7250 to answer your questions. Contact us and let us help you find your family’s unique path to organic learning!
by June M. Schulte
When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.
We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.
Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!
By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile! We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.
What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.
We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!
Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.
Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.
I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.
Note to former self: If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognise that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.
June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”
Have you recently made the switch from schooling to homeschooling? It can take some time for your child (and you!) to adjust to this new way of learning and being in the world. Some students adapt quickly, but others need a longer transition period.
Sometimes, even if a previous situation was intolerable and changing gears was essential to your child’s health or well-being, it can take awhile to heal from any trauma that may have occurred. Some students come to associate education with discomfort and need to start from scratch in developing new enthusiasm for learning.
What are the reasons why you brought learning home? Were there specific things that felt unhealthy or unhappy about your child’s previous school situation? What changes have you observed in your child since making the switch? Start there to assess whether things are changing in the direction that you had hoped.
If your child is still struggling or needs help navigating the transition, here are some suggestions that may help:
- Take it slow. Things may need to slow down for awhile as you switch gears, but you’ll build up momentum in time. It takes time to settle into a new way of doing things, especially when the change is a big one. Follow your child’s lead for awhile.
Celebrate every day! Each day moves you to new possibilities, greater health and healing, and a stronger sense of togetherness as a family. Be thankful together for these wonderful opportunities.
- Be flexible in your expectations. Home learning almost never looks the way you might have imagined. Each day might be very different from the one before. In trying out new things, you can eliminate what doesn’t work while finding what does. Roll with the unexpected and see where it takes you.
- Ask your child what matters most to them. Honor the differences and similarities that feel most important to your child as you define a new approach to learning. Ask them what they disliked about their previous situation, and create a more comfortable way of doing things as you move forward.
- Remember the reasons you opted for home learning. Together with your child, make a list of all of the things that led you to take this journey. On days when you feel at odds with your decision, look at this list to remember and affirm why you made this choice. Some days will undoubtedly be challenging; consider how they compare to the challenges you left behind. Give yourselves tremendous credit for moving in this new direction.
- Allow your child to help drive the change. Give them as much ownership as possible. Invite your child to list the things that are most important to them to have as a part of their homeschooling experience. Maybe they want to be allowed to sleep as late as they need to each day, or study on the floor instead of at a desk, or choose the order of their subjects each day. Let them help in differentiating this new adventure from their previous experiences.
- Make comfort a priority. Change is hard! Help buffer that stress with comfort measures. Make room for plenty of rest and relaxation. Comfort may mean something different for each family member, so talk openly about what you need and how you can support each other in getting it.
- Offer safe space for your child’s feelings. Allow your child to talk frankly about their fears/worries/frustrations. They may be grieving the things they liked about school even as they are relieved to leave behind the things they didn’t like. Listen supportively as they process their feelings.
- Get support for yourself. Find someone to lean on and process your own feelings with, preferably someone who is open-minded about educational choices and who is not in your household. If you need help finding likeminded support, look on social media for homeschooling groups and lists.
- Keep your sense of humor! Laugh together as a family. Laugh at your mistakes and misunderstandings. Acknowledge limitations with a wink and a smile. Keep your attitude light and positive, and chances are good that your child will follow your example.
- Acknowledge all kinds of progress. Celebrate your child’s good effort and positive attitude just as much as a correct answer or a passing test score. Even a more open curiosity about the world and a greater willingness to ask questions is worth celebrating! As your family adjusts and embraces a new rhythm, give yourselves a pat on the back for making it happen.
- You are the expert on your own child! Even if you’ve never done this sort of thing before, you can trust your instincts about what your child needs. You might consult with others who are experienced and encouraging, and you might seek support in areas where you have more to learn. But you know your child better than anyone else, so let your heart guide you!
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.
by Morgan Wiebke, homeschooling parent
I’ve been a parent for almost ten years now and a homeschool mom for going on three. If you had asked me four years ago whether I would ever homeschool my children, I probably would have laughed out loud. I mean, only weird people homeschool, right? The people who can’t function in society, or are bullied and are not safe in a traditional setting, or [insert any number of scenarios that would never apply to MY family].
It wasn’t until my oldest son was actually in public school that we started to doubt the system. He is a smart kid, a really smart kid, who also happens to deal with Sensory Processing Disorder. We didn’t really think that mattered too much, as he’s been in therapy his whole life and was thriving in school. Until he wasn’t anymore.
He developed anxiety and was increasingly overwhelmed with the simplest of tasks. He was quick to tears and always tired. His school work was still perfect, though; he was at the top of his class, so it wasn’t a surprise at all when his teacher told us he had tested 3-5 grade levels ahead of his peers. We were thrilled! What parent wouldn’t be?
But then we realized, if he’s already so far ahead, what exactly will he be doing in school this year? His teacher said there wasn’t really anything she could do with him; he’d just be filling a seat. We approached his teachers and the administration about ways we could work together to help him grow and thrive, but we were unequivocally shut down. He no longer fit into the neat little boxes that they require kids to fit into, and not a single person within the school system was willing to help my son.
When my husband and I sat down and really thought about that, along with our son’s newly developed anxiety and personality changes, we decided to take matters into our own hands. Several friends of ours were homeschooling, and we loved their kids. We spent months researching what this change would mean for our family.
I was terrified, as the only homeschooling families we knew were religious, and we are very much not a religious family. Were we going to have to compromise our ideals in order to do this? Was I going to have to spend money on curriculum that I’d have to edit out most of the things we didn’t believe? I was increasingly overwhelmed and wondered if we’d made a mistake.
Because I had researched the importance of “deschooling,” I knew I had some time to decide. We had two full months of letting our son explore things he was interested in and spending time as a family reconnecting. Time was running out, though, so I sat down and scoured numerous homeschool pages on Facebook and stumbled across Oak Meadow. I immediately went to the website, where the word “secular” jumped out at me. Hey, we’re on to something here…
I kept reading, and it felt like a light went on over my head. Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy felt just right. It was nature based, with a relaxed approach to academics in the early years, a strong focus on emotional growth as well as academic, hands-on learning, and plenty of arts and crafts. This was literally everything I had been looking for, and here it was, all packaged up in a complete open-and-go syllabus.
I requested a copy of the curriculum guide immediately. The day it arrived, I handed it directly to my husband and told him our search was over. He agreed to give it a try, and I ordered the second grade curriculum the same day. We couldn’t wait to get started. I registered my new homeschool with the state; we lived in South Carolina at the time, so I followed protocol to keep things legal.
Our first day was spectacular. My son fell in love with the animal stories. He was excited about creating his Main Lesson Book and worked diligently without complaint. We began to see changes in him, changes we had been waiting his whole life to see.
Our little boy who was born afraid of textures and getting dirty was outside digging in the woods, bringing us the worms he’d found and the caterpillars he spotted climbing the trees. He woke up well rested every morning – when his body was ready to wake up and not when an alarm clock told him it was time. He spent endless hours outside, exploring, and taking notes in the nature journal he asked me to make for him. The anxiety disappeared, his confidence soared, and for the first time ever, I felt like he would have the opportunity to grow into the well-rounded and happy boy he was born to be.
When we saw how incredible Oak Meadow was and how life changing this curriculum could be, we knew immediately that his younger brother would love it just as much. We had already decided to “hold him back” a year because he has a late summer birthday. We finished kindergarten this past spring, and it was one of the most magical years we’ve ever had. He was six when we started, and even though he “knew” just about everything that was covered, we had seen the possibilities for growth beyond what can be measured with lists and bullet points.
And we were right. He was enthusiastic about his lessons every single day and eager for what came next. We scoured nature for letters and shapes, had scavenger hunts, and painted in the creek. We read stories in the shade of the trees outside, then relaxed in the grass and spied the clouds for anything recognizable. Our year was inspiring, building confidence in a way nothing else had up to that point, and a deep love for learning was instilled.
Our family has grown closer since we decided to homeschool, and we have numerous plans this year to connect with the lessons like never before. We plan to travel out west as we study westward expansion and have half a dozen trips to landmarks throughout our state planned for our state project.
We’re gearing up to start first and fourth grades in a couple weeks, and this begins our third year with Oak Meadow. We couldn’t be happier! We are thankful every single day that a curriculum as inspiring and wonderful as this one exists and that we are fortunate enough to make it happen.
We are extremely excited to see what this year holds and can’t wait to share our journey with other Oak Meadow families along the way!
Morgan Wiebke is a mom to three homeschoolers, ages 9, 7, and 3. Morgan says, “We LOVE to travel (that was very high on our list of benefits to homeschooling). I’m very crafty and enjoy all things related to creating something from nothing. I sew, embroider, draw, paint, DIY house projects and pretty much anything else you can think of. We recently relocated from the Carolinas to Delaware and are very excited to explore and learn about a new part of the country.”