Welcome to our series on homeschool basics. We are covering all aspects of what it means to homeschool and how your lifestyle changes when you embark on this journey. We’ve been at it for thirteen years so far, and our perspective is different now that we can look back on how far we’ve come.
Reframing your thinking
When you begin homeschooling, it can be difficult to let go of the school paradigm. If you attended school as a kid, the traditional school setting may be your only frame of reference for creating your homeschool. Pretty much everything in books and media points to a traditional classroom approach to schooling, so figuring out what you are “supposed” to do at home is often tricky. As a new homeschooler, it can feel like you have to live up to other people’s expectations about what you’re doing at home.
After a lot of trial and error and many years of homeschooling three kids, we’ve discovered that trying to recreate a school at home is not sustainable, and it leads to burnout in both parent and child.
The traditional classroom
First of all, realize that the traditional school model is set up to accommodate hundreds of kids in a very different teacher/student ratio than you have at home. The regimentation of set hours, set periods, school desks, uniforms, roll call, worksheets, etc., etc., is all designed to control the large population of students who outnumber the teachers, and to prevent chaos from erupting.
As a former public school teacher, I can attest that between the changing of classes, roll call, tardy slips, discipline issues, and repeating . . . and repeating instructions, the total amount of actual learning time during a full class period does not equal a full class period. There is a lot going on inside a school classroom every day, and though I am not saying that quality instruction does not occur, most teachers will freely admit that there isn’t enough time to cover everything they’d like to cover; nor is there enough time to cater to the individual needs of each student.
The biggest luxury of homeschooling is that you can let go of that traditional model and focus on the actual learning that you want to accomplish in your homeschool.
Creating an atmosphere
If you want to have a schoolroom, and even if you want to set it up in a traditional sense–even with a teacher’s desk and chalkboard, that’s okay. Just keep the day in perspective and consider what your goals are. Is is more important for your kids to arrive at their desks by a certain time, dressed to the nines and ready to hit the books quietly? Or is it more important to create an atmosphere of discovery and inquiry, embracing distractions and turning them into learning opportunities?
We have learned that homeschooling does not occur from a set time in the morning to a set time in the afternoon. We are learning all the time, and homeschooling is a lifestyle. Instilling a love of learning and discovery is our number one goal. Encouraging kids to want to find the answers for themselves, figure out how things work, read literature that isn’t at their grade level, and explore the whys and hows of the world–those are our goals. If that happens at a school desk, around the table, on the couch, or on the floor in front of a pile of Legos, we embrace it.
When we started homeschooling, our “classroom” was our kitchen table, but it was also our backyard, the local park, the zoo, the post office, and anywhere else we happened to be. Now we do have a designated schoolroom with a couch and a table we can all sit around, and it is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l to be able to leave stuff out and not have to clear off the table at the end of the day. However, our classroom is still not confined to those four walls.
So, if your family enjoys the traditional classroom model at home, go for it! I propose that if you keep things in perspective, though, and think about the bigger picture and the goals you want to meet, you will be less likely to want to throw in the towel at some point.
Give yourself some slack (and permission) to take advantage of the freedom you have to homeschool the way that feels right and fits your family. You’d be surprised at how much your kids will learn if you gather them around you on the couch and read aloud (even if everyone’s still in their jammies!)