Surviving Homeschool, by M.

As I began this homeschool journey, my expectations and reality have clashed more times than I’d like to count. Being a former teacher, I love to make lesson plans and think of how I can relate a topic or subject to incite excitement and see the light of understanding dawn on the student’s face. I love that part of teaching. (Most teachers do.) However, the daily life of homeschooling was much different than that of a typical school room.

My days start when I wake up and don’t end until I go to bed. I am always “ON,” which makes each moment I spend with my children a blessing and not so much at the same time. I’m not their teacher; I’m their mother. They don’t revere me as most children revere their teachers in school. I’m just the mom that swaddled them as a baby, fed them, did their laundry, or helped them with a skinned knee, so what do I know of multiplication tables or science? I may just be Mom, but now I’m a homeschooling mom– ultimately responsible (along with my husband) for their entire education. Not only do I need to education them on living life but also on the academics for life. How will I do it all? Luckily in my first year of homeschooling, by accident I ran across an article written by another homeschooling mom (I can’t find her site now) that laid it all out for me.

This acronym encapsulated everything that I wanted to bring to my homeschool. It was short, witty, and amazingly right on target for me. That acronym was A.R.T.:

  • A stood for attitude,
  • R is for relationship, and
  • T translated into teaching.

I wanted that for my homeschool, but my next hurdle was how. I seriously thought, “How do I do all that?” I know many people that have wonderful thoughts and theories but little knowledge or advise on how to go about it on a daily basis. That was my challenge.

Homeschool is in essence a way of life. It changes the way you look at your children and your conversations with them, and basically your motivation for everything you do changes. Homeschool is also different for everyone. No two homeschools are the same. So with that in mind, I will try to carve out a way you can create your own homeschool with A.R.T.

A = Attitude

One day that’s all I did; I spent it teaching attitude. Yes, I said teaching, because that’s what I do all day long. Whether it is cooking, cleaning, chores, or homeschooling, before I start anything, I check the attitude. Most days we move on from attitude quickly to a relationship, which in turn lends itself to teaching, but this one day…. well, it was all attitude training. From the get-go, he was in a sour mood and never got free of it. He spent the day by himself, and occasionally he would get a chance to interact with us, but it never lasted long before he was off by himself again. I won’t tolerate a bad attitude. Without a good attitude, you won’t learn anything academic in nature. Your brain is stuck– not able to expand or bring in new ideas (or any good ideas).

How do you check the attitude? First, I start with me. How am I approaching the day? Am I mad or upset? Why? What are my facial expressions? What words and tone am I using towards others? If I have a good attitude, that will create good energy in my home and permeate to others. Most times, it works. However, like I said, this one day it didn’t. So, then I try to talk to the offending party (my son) and coax him out of his bad attitude. Some days it works, and others it won’t. If he won’t change his tune, he is by himself. I figure that if I’m having a good attitude, then I don’t deserve a bad attitude in return.

The next question is couldn’t he just use the bad attitude to stay by himself and not get any “school work” done. With this one, he will eventually come around. He usually does. He doesn’t like to be alone. (No human really does.) So, eventually, he will decide to change his attitude and join the fun of family life, which includes homeschool.

Tip #1: On a more practical level, as part of their grades I have an attitude grade. I put it under a subject called “Home” with “Attitude” as the course. He has to keep all his grades at either an “A” or “B” to have house privileges. Recap: each assignment has a number grade of how well they completed the assignment as well an attitude grade.

Tip #2: I use Homeschool Tracker (computer database) to keep track of grades. I print out an Assignment Sheet each week for each student. The Assignment Sheet has two boxes for each assignment. After each assignment is completed, I write their grade for the work in one box and in the other box I write one of the following: a “G” (green), which means a good attitude; a “Y” (yellow), which represents a borderline attitude; or a “R” (red), which means they had a poor attitude. Each green is one point, and each point is worth five minutes of video games. A yellow is worth nothing, and a red means they owe me five points. If they ever want to play video games I simply ask, “How many points do you have?” If they’ve had a bad attitude and have no points, then there are no games played; if they have points, they can spend them. It really takes the decision out of my hands and puts it into theirs. They have complete control over whether they get to play video games or not. Children have so little control over their lives that I have found this is a great way to give them some control. Also, it helps with the attitude training.

R = Relationship

Are you a mom or a teacher? Well, homeschooling moms are both. That may be confusing for some children, especially those that have already been in public school. The relationship that you have with your children as their mom is totally different from the relationship your children will have with other teachers in their life. Just remember, that as mom you aren’t as smart as the other teachers. Now, don’t get angry with me. I’m not saying you aren’t smart; it’s just that’s how your children probably see you. I can’t count how many times my children have said to me, “How did you know that?” I know I said it to my mother, and I’m aware of other moms I talk with echoing the same experience back to me, too. Our children love us beyond measure; they just don’t think we know many “school” things. That’s for those smart teachers. Well, hang in there. Your children will soon learn you know a thing or two or three. Just keep a sense of humor about it all, and you will be fine. Good relationships are built on strong foundations, and there is no other foundation as strong as the one you will receive in homeschooling your children.

Tip #1: Each relationship is different as well. I always tell my children that to be fair doesn’t mean it has to be the same. A punishment for one child may be different than the other child’s, or a reward will be different, because each child’s needs are different. If everything was the same, it inherently will be unfair, because both children are not the same.

Tip #2: Admit you don’t know everything. This will not only tear down any defenses your child may have; it will tear yours down as well. It is okay that you don’t know everything. You can learn right along with your child. I remember a math assignment my third grader had, and during that assignment I learned why we carry a one to the tens column. I always knew we did, but it was never explained to me (or I didn’t absorb it). My ego took a great shot that day, but his ego got a huge boost. It was worth it to see us learn it together. He probably doesn’t remember it now, but I remember that lesson with great fondness in my heart.

Tip #3: It is your responsibility to create learning experiences, assignments, classes, and opportunities for your child. It is your child’s responsibility to learn. They have a job, too. They need to engage in the lessons, learn from them, and communicate to you what they learned. This will not only deepen your relationship, but you will learn an awful lot about your child in the process. You will learn more about how they think and why they say and do certain things. It’s really fascinating to learn about my children. I am constantly amazed by reactions they may have and to find out the reason was silly to me but not so silly to them. We’ve had some wonderful conversations– many conversations that never would have happened had they been in a school away from home.

T = Teaching

Gardening, survival planning, cooking from scratch, food preserving, camping, and similar activities are all skills we need. If we ever do have a grid-down scenario, those are skills you want your children to know. You won’t find a homeschool curriculum in those subjects, but you don’t need a “homeschool curriculum” to teach them. Find some YouTube videos, read this website, and then teach your child. Gardening can be science; all the others can count as history. Most pioneers knew about survival planning, cooking from scratch, food preserving, and camping. Do a unit study on pioneer skills, and teach. Have fun, and act it out. Make costumes, and do a pioneer day. Make it count!

There are so many resources available to homeschoolers; it’s just too many to count. Here’s what you really need to do:

1. Set up a work area with either a desk or table, along with an area for his materials.

2. A file cabinet to file their report cards, synopsis of their work, and store your teaching materials.

3. Structure each day with time for work to be completed, play, chores, and outside obligations.

Tip #1: Your students need a work area, but so do you. You need a place to stay organized and know what’s going on. Besides, most children don’t like to work at a desk. One of mine likes the couch, where the other one does like his desk.

Tip #2: Get a large four-drawer file cabinet, if you can manage it. It is large, but you will fill it up in no time. I store art materials, games, paper, cards, and paint in mine. In my experience, you can never have enough storage space for school. You will always want more.

Tip #3: Structure at my home goes like this. My students have a weekly work box. That means that I put all their work to be completed in one box with a weekly assignment sheet. They know what needs to be done and on which day it needs to be done. However, I don’t mind if they switch things around a bit, as long as they stay on track to get all the assignments done by the end of the week. Make sure you start out in a structured manner but allow flexibility, within limits.

In the end, you need to make your homeschool exactly that– yours! Take time to read a bit on the different homeschool styles, to decide what will work best for you, whether it be Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, or Montessori. All of these have various pros and cons. What may be a pro for one person is a con for another. As I said before, homeschooling will look different for each home.

Lastly, remember that our children are not empty pots to be filled with facts and figures. They are people who live in a world with other people. We need to remember that, and educate the whole person not just academics. Our survival depends on it.

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