Finding Joy in School Improvement

OR – How Not to Homeschool in Five Easy Steps

When I began homeschooling in 1990, it was very isolating to be thought weird by strangers and have even family against your choice.  There was no one to give advice or encouragement.  There were no conferences, no support groups, and no computers.  The conviction that God wanted you to homeschool gave you strength to go on, with only His help in your day-to-day class work.   Like the pioneers of the 1800’s, home educators had to plow their fertile soil with only basic tools.  They also had to have the fortitude to withstand the harsh winds of criticism as well as heavy physical labor without end.  With God’s help, John Deere came to the farmer’s rescue.  In a similar way, our Conference, with its full curriculum hall and speakers to encourage and noteworthy support groups to join, has made our lives so much easier.  Still, some things you only learn by plowing your own soil. I hope the soil of my ignorant mistakes will help to reduce yours.  I do not have all the answers on how you should homeschool, but this is how not to homeschool:

1)      Never give tests.  Long ago, the only faithful testing I ever did was a spelling test every week for every child every year. My excuses for not testing other subjects were pretty common.  There was no money for tests or answer keys, and trying to care for young children and teach several grade levels at once left little time for writing out tests and grading them.  Just helping each child with his work and looking at his answers before moving on seemed enough for this tired mom.  Looking back, I should have prayed more and adapted time for tests.  Near the end of high school years, I started giving some tests.  It was not enough, as I learned when the first two went to college. Because their study skills were lacking and some tests proved difficult for them, they told me, “Mom, you need to give the others more tests!”  The others groaned, but I am grateful I listened to that advice.  I see improvement in the others now as a result of their having to memorize more and really think, too.  Actual tests are needed for math, grammar, and spelling.  Five minute tests will do for other subjects if you are overwhelmed. Simply have him bring you the chapter he just finished and ask him five questions from it.  If he doesn’t know an answer, have him read the page again to find it.  Then he will begin seriously reading a chapter, not just skimming it for answers.

2)      Never give praise.   Living without praise will kill the joy of learning.  With my first ones, I was so concerned with proving the worth of homeschooling that I was too critical of every mistake they made and pushed them for improvement without clear direction.  It is only God’s grace that they want to homeschool someday when they marry!  Finally, God began showing me that my attitude was spoiling their aptitude for learning. So, many years ago, I made myself adhere to a motto: Be calm, be cool, or cancel school.  I became harder on myself than on them, canceling school a few times to their delight.  When I finally improved in praise, everyone improved.  You, too, can find ways to praise right answers and good progress, even though patient correction of mistakes still remains necessary.  Apply this concept to character as well as class work and enjoy more happy days.

3)      Never give chores.   My mother was from the generation that was trained to keep house perfectly, and it was considered weakness to have to depend on children for help.  Other than keeping our own things put away and helping in the garden, she did everything herself and did it well! I could not match her, yet I felt awful when I stooped to allowing a son help me with dishes after my fifth was born.  I gradually came to realize that denying my oldest boys the privilege of helping others and not showing thankfulness for it would hurt their future as adults so chores became a daily event.  Recently, a lady asked me, “Do you let the kids get up when they want and do school in their pajamas?”  “No way,” was my reply, “I’m preparing them for life. They have to get up, dress, and start school by a certain time.  They also have chores first because they need to learn to work now to provide well for a family later.”  Thankfully, my oldest four have progressively learned to be good and trusted workers.  It is never too young to train them to work.  Children love to imitate adults at their work. Allowance/reward should be based on performance just like a real job.  An infant can learn to put blocks in the bag you are holding.  A five year old can wipe appliances and spills, set the table, empty trash, and put clothes and toys away.  A ten year old can do dishes as well as rake, bake cookies, clean the bathroom, and use a hammer or drill with training. These are just a few ideas. Many hands make less work for you. Your time is precious, let them help.

4)      Never visit with friends.   Today, there are so many ways to enjoy friendships that were not available to homeschool pioneers: support groups, field trip groups, family co-op classes, and park days. Learning to be a friend to others helps your students in all relationships.  It also gives you a break, however short, from your duties and blesses you with friends who understand your struggles.  Granted, preparing for this may involve extra work, but the joy you gain is worth it.  If getting out when you have many children is too challenging, consider inviting other like-minded families to your house instead, even if your housekeeping isn’t perfect. The more casual real-life atmosphere breaks the routine and helps children focus on others.  Consider rewarding your children with friend days.

5)      Never seek advice.   I have found that dedicated home educators are a hardy self-reliant lot. The independent, ‘willing-to-tackle-anything’ spirit is great for our lifestyle, but not for improving it. While you can use the same curriculum year after year with all of them, your methods of teaching it to one of them may need to be altered for another one. It is not weak to ask others how they do things. I had to learn this the hard way when burn-out almost ruined my days. I faced this very problem after moving here years ago.  I didn’t get out of the house much due to the exhaustion of being pregnant while trying to guide six grades (3rd-12th) and with an active toddler as well. My desperate prayers to God were answered with a simpler lifestyle and reaching out to other like-minded friends who have more children or more experience than I have.  Their friendly answers gave me hope and refreshed my heart. Their honesty still helps me to say NO to too much stress and YES to better days.  Please don’t hesitate to find help when you need it either.

If your schooldays need improvement or other difficulties are troubling you, don’t wait to make changes. Pray for God’s guidance about each area. Attend the Conference in June and talk with other homeschool moms. Success is still possible for you.  Accept your limits and change the things that you can. Practice each change with your children now to prepare for next year and watch joy spring back into your life.

© 2010   Melanie Lippert
Joyful M.O.M.S.   /   Ps. 113:9





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