I was contacted this week by a beloved family member who, along with his really fantastic wife, has decided to pull his littles from public school this year and give this homeschooling thing a try. I am so thrilled and excited for him and his family and, as ever, pleased to have another family join our ranks. Unfortunately, my congratulations were not what he was looking for. He was seeking advice.
Because his kids are being… uncooperative. And they won’t really tell him why.
I started homeschooling the Littles in their 1st and 3rd grade years of school, so they were close to the age of my family member’s kids. What did I do to ensure my kids cooperated? And what should you do if you find yourself at home with littles who aren’t so willing to be homeschooled?
The first thing we did with our littles was establish a clear line between when I was Mama and when I was Teacher. Granted, we did this by having summer science for 7 weeks before we notified the school of their withdrawal (and so the tradition began). We told them it was a trial run and if they could learn from me we would continue to homeschool. But my Littles Wanted to be homeschooled. So they cooperated. If you have already withdrawn your kiddos from public school and are facing this dilemma, I would try a couple of things.
First, ask your littles what they like about school. It can be public school, homeschool, imaginary school, college… Just find out what turns them on to learning. Try to get them to talk about what might be cool about homeschooling. What do they think would Not Be cool about homeschooling? Address their concerns. This can be a conversation as short or long as you want it to be, but use it as a time to let your littles know that when the homeschooling parent says, “It’s time for school,” he or she is no longer Mama or Dada, but a teacher who expects the same respect as their public school teachers. And don’t just talk, act. As parents, decide what the consequences will be if your littles don’t show you that respect. I have to be honest here, when we first started, I utilized the same colored-stick pulling rule as their school did. Just the threat of being in trouble if they pulled 3 sticks was enough to keep them cooperative and well-behaved.
Also, start out slow. You have a little time. So spend a week only schooling for an hour a day, where you are mostly watching for signs of cooperation from your littles. Let them test you. Follow through on your consequences. They will start to see this homeschooling thing is as serious as public school was. Teach for an hour and a half or 2 hours the next week. Same deal. Most homeschool families only school for 3-5 hours a day, so it won’t take you long to build up to speed.
Make a plan
Another good way to garner cooperation is to set a firm schedule for a while and stick to it. Five years in, the Littles are still up at 7:30 for farm chores and breakfast and in the classroom by 8. We don’t really waver from that unless someone is really sick. We have loosened up over the years as to what happens after 8, but that schedule helped them establish that ‘school’ still took place at a certain time. For the time being, set a time that school is over. If you are going to allow snack time, do that at a specific time, too. Kids like structure, and part of their uncooperative-ness may stem from the sudden lack of it. It’s hard to take it seriously when your mom is in her jammies and you might start school at 9 or 11 or 2, depending on everyone’s whim.
Make a ‘classroom.’ Even if it’s just your dining table or living room floor, designate an area that is for school. And have school there every day for the amount of time you have set.
Trust me, you can ease up on all of this once you get them in a groove and get them appreciating how much More Awesome homeschool is than public school.
How do you get them to appreciate it? Make school Fun.
Remember, we are Educating our children, not schooling them in the traditional sense. We don’t have to teach them like a public school teacher does. In fact, in some states (including my own), there Aren’t Any Tests homeschoolers have to take. So we don’t have to teach rote memorization or testing skills the way they do in public school. We can teach in unconventional ways.
Make learning fun
Most public school teachers don’t have time for reading aloud with their classes, especially by 3rd or 4th grade. So make part of your school day the sharing of a story. And make it a story that will engage the littles You Have, not one that someone says all littles should read (even if that someone is me!). If you lead with this, they will already be accustomed to listening to you and focusing on you before you move on to history or math.
Do tons of projects. Reading from a book or doing worksheets or notebooking are good ways to help your littles retain information, but building a volcano is a whole lot more fun that writing about one. Research has its place but–especially while they’re young–they will likely learn more if they are also getting their hands dirty.
Make a craft. Every day. Of course it helps with motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but it also gives your littles something tactile to hold onto and remind them of whatever lesson the craft is related to. And it’s fun. Way funner than filling out boring old worksheets.
Do experiments. There are tons of free science experiment printables on the interweb and so many resources for different experiments your head will spin. So ask your kids what kind of science interests them and Google experiments. You could do 3 a day for their entire schooling and still never complete all the experiments you’ll find.
Cook together. We often find recipes related to what we’re reading, studying in geography or history, or learning about in science and spend time in the kitchen learning math and life skills making them. Then enjoying them. It usually means trying something new for all of us, so it helps us remember to be open-minded, too.
Take nature walks every day. Schedule them into the middle of your school time so your littles get that they are getting ‘out of class’ to learn. Give them a sketchbook and a couple of colored pencils and ask them to record or draw at least 3 things they see on the walk. It won’t even seem like learning to them. When you get back to class, get out your books or magazines or tablets and look up their sightings in greater detail. Have them record the information under their drawings. You just had a whole class.
Take field trips. Often. Once you’ve established with your littles that this is a serious school, you can step away from the dining table and out into the world. Go to the zoo, the museum, the park, the local historical site, the house of another homeschooling family. There is only one Civil War site in our state and we were lucky during our American History year that it is only about 25 minutes away. Take a field trip every week. That will convince your littles homeschool is better.
What shouldn’t you do?
I think the worst thing you can do with uncooperative homeschool kids is stand over them with a set of textbooks and worksheets and fight them over what they will complete. It’s a good way to make them hate school and resent you. Ease them into it by implementing the above ideas, and keep using those ideas to keep school fresh and interesting for the littles. Middle is in 7th grade. We still do a craft and a project every day. Because why not? He still enjoys them. Who told public school officials that 13 year olds only learn with strict reading and writing courses? He or she was wrong from what my experience has shown me.
Don’t get in a rut. Remember that schedule I mentioned? Remember that I also said you can loosen up on it eventually? That. When math worksheets or books are getting boring, make games. When attention is wandering, get active. There is a terrific free resource over at iHomeschool Network to help you get out of that rut or keep from establishing one.
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to play with our kids while they learn. We get to observe each of our children–see what excites them, what makes them tick, how their brains intake information–and we get to put all that together for a learning experience that is fun for all of us. We aren’t sitting in desks in rows surrounded by 30 other kids who need to keep up or wait on us. So be playful. Be joyful. Hopefully, they will follow suit.
For more advice on scheduling, look here. If you need help dealing with your fears, check this out. For a bit more information on nature walks, this might interest you. Here are some reasons to give your littles for why you homeschool.