Should you homeschool all year long?
Let’s see…do you home all year long? You do. You home all year long. There aren’t any breaks from being in your family, from raising your kids, from your marriage, etc. But maybe you don’t homeschool all year long. Well, you’re probably not thinking about school and education properly if you don’t realize it’s going to be a year-round system anyway—the question is the curriculum.
Historically, Americans take off periods of time in the summer, which began due to the agrarian nature of our society. People had to take off from school to go home and help the family farm. That in particular was one of the drivers behind summer breaks. Maybe there are a few other reasons, so that we could hire teachers at a cheaper rate and give them a break. I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m sure someone’s done their doctorate on it and we could all read it if we’d like to. But there’s not really a good reason, in my opinion, to keep you from homeschooling on an ongoing basis.
That doesn’t mean we can’t take breaks from schooling while, for instance, going on vacation. Our family would usually spend a couple of weeks vacationing at the beach. Yet, while at the beach, we would still have the kids do math every other day, and go through a few books to keep them fresh. Math especially is one of those subjects where it’s hugely important to stay active in learning and practicing. With math, if you don’t use it—you lose it. In public schools, when students go back to school in the fall they have to study last year’s lessons for the first fourth or third of the year just to catch themselves up on what they forgot over the summer. I don’t think that’s a good strategy.
Instead, I think it’s important to simply school year-round. You can certainly take breaks, like for Christmas, or maybe some of your kids go off to summer camp, etc. But your overall orientation should be toward educating your children in an ongoing fashion. You want to help them grow in their ability to read, think, communicate, and solve problems. Developing those skills year-round is always a part of schooling, no matter what you’re doing. If you need to take an extended break, take an extended break, but do it consciously with an idea of “What exactly are we doing with this time?”
Childhood is not vacation. Childhood is preparation for adulthood. I believe you’ll find that if your mindset is, “Homeschool is ongoing. We home year-round, so we homeschool year-round,” your efforts in educating your children will be more effective and steady. It’ll really grow your kids at a much easier pace than trying to cram through schoolwork, then take a bunch of months off.
The first thing you want to do is get a new definition of balance. Our typical idea of “balance” has to do with dividing our life in terms of equal time and equal priority. But what I like to stress to people is that balance is not a matter of giving coequal time to each area of your life. Rather, balance is about giving the right amount of time to each area. For example, if you have soup and you don’t put salt in it, it’s not as tasty or flavorful. But you wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of soup that was 50% salt and 50% soup either—that’s not balanced. Balance is the right amount of the right ingredient. So when you look at your homeschool, your parenting, and your marriage, it’s not just about that right amount of time and attention; it’s really about the right hierarchy, sequence, or priorities. The leverage point to all these aspects of life is your marriage. If your marriage goes poorly, your parenting will surely go poorly, because you won’t be aligned. Your homeschooling will go poorly, because it will be a “me against them” problem. What you really want to do is have a hierarchy, and the most important thing in your life needs to be your marriage (if you’re married, of course).
After marriage, your parenting approach is the most important priority, because it sets a framework for how your family functions. The third most important priority is homeschool. Homeschooling is not going to make up for problems in your marriage; it’s not going to make up for issues in your parenting. So you can see how it’s important to get your priorities down, and then you can start figuring out how to improve each area. It’s strategic to think about constant improvement. How’s our marriage getting better than it was last month? How about our parenting approach? How’s our homeschooling improving?
What is at issue more than anything in all three of these areas is something as simple as resolving conflicts or problems. You cannot avoid conflicts in a relationship because if you’re both the same, then one of you isn’t necessary. As humans, we’re all different and we find ourselves at odds with one another at some point. We’re always going to have that issue, but we can resolve our disagreements.
So how do we take an area in our marriage and solve it so that it never comes up again? How do we solve an issue in our parenting to where we’re so united in what we’re doing that it never comes up again? Even an issue as simple as bedtime. How do we decide our approach to homeschooling so that it’s settled, so it’s not anything we conflict about? So that we really know what we’re doing? Jody and I had to battle through every one of these areas, and we still work on them, so be encouraged. But realize that the key is to have the right hierarchy and the right proportions to each area of life.
You may have wrestled with how to know if your homeschooling is actually successful.
To figure this out, I’d say there are three simple things you want to consider.
The first is measurement. You want to make sure that you’re measuring what’s going on with your kids. How many pages they’re reading, what kind of books they’re reading, where they are in math, what their grades are in math, etc. That constant measurement helps reinforce what you’re trying to do. It shows your child’s work to you and others, because you have a record of exactly what you did. Our kids wrote a lot and we saved their writing in binders, so that we could see how they were doing when they were 10, how they were doing when they were 12, and 14, and so on. You can’t appreciate the power of measurement enough.
Number 2 is comparison. Now comparison is a little tricky because it can potentially be depressing and frustrating. But if your kid is at grade level or ahead, you’re going to realize, “We’re doing fine.” If your child is several years behind, you’re probably not yet succeeding. You may have reasons for it. Maybe disabilities or special needs or something else is going on. That’s fine, that’s a different measurement, but realize that you don’t want to isolate yourself in such a way that you suddenly have your child show up in high school or college, and you realize they’re way behind. You just want to make sure you’re on target (or as is common with homeschoolers, ahead of target).
The final way to evaluate success is to ask yourself, “What’s my satisfaction? Am I satisfied?” Do you feel good about what’s going on with your kids in terms of field trips, academics, their ability to communicate, their ability to write, their ability to do math, etc, etc? If you’re satisfied, that’s a sign of success. It’s not the only way to measure, but it is an important piece. There needs to be a certain level where you feel good about what you’re trying to accomplish. If you don’t, you have to figure out what you need to do to feel satisfied.
What a great question. If you’re just starting homeschool, especially if you’re leaving a public/private school situation, you have that question. Do you keep your student in the grade they were already in? Do you advance them? Do you possible move them back a grade?
I think there are two things to consider.
Test your student. You can do this in a variety of ways. Google it, look online, talk to homeschooling families in the area. There are nationalized tests that are consistent, but you really just want to test their grade level. Chances are your community provides this sort of help, but you do want to test them in some capacity. I would recommend that you so start low. Maybe your student tests a certain grade level, but I wouldn’t be afraid of backing them up.
The reason for that relates to my second suggestion: I think you should consider schooling all year-round. It’s what we did with our students. We took breaks too, and maybe slowed down a little bit in the summertime. But schooling year-round is useful because if you start your new homeschooler back a grade, you can get those fundamental basics of schooling down first, and then they’ll advance at their own pace. Just about all of our kids finished school way ahead of “senior year.”
In summary, start your kid where you test them, but maybe back up a little bit. Consider going longer or further in your school year, rather than just mimicking the public school system.
“How do I get my homeschooler into college?” is another question. Let me answer that one briefly. How do you get your kid into college? Good records, educate them well, and get them really prepared to do well on their SAT and ACT. If you do that, you’re going to be in good shape.
But the question at hand is a little different. Does homeschooling actually prepare kids for college? Our experience was yes, quite well. All five of our kids made it to college and made it through. They’re all college graduates and are doing well in life, post-graduation.
Let me give you three reasons why homeschooling prepares kids for college.
Number 1 is the skills developed in homeschool. In a homeschool context, your kid isn’t getting passed over when they’re struggling with a concept or subject. They aren’t just moved along to the next grade. If they have a problem with math, you can slow down and help them really understand the lesson before moving on. If there’s something challenging with their reading comprehension, you can slow down to make sure that skill is developed. It’s the same with writing, especially the method we used. If they write every day, you get to constantly give your student feedback to improve, tweak, and grow that ability to write. These skills come in handy for college, especially when they’re concrete and instinctive to your student after years of working on them.
Number 2 is discipline. We know this statistically and practically: homeschoolers are just more disciplined, on balance, than kids who’ve come up through mass education. Part of it is because in a decent homeschool, your kid sits down, they look at their work, they say, “I don’t feel like doing this today. Oh well.” And then they get to work anyway. Homeschooling done right teaches your kids discipline about homework and about getting their work done on a day-in day-out basis. I remember my daughter Laura would, most semesters, call from college and say: “Oh thank you so much for what you taught us.” I would ask, “What did we teach you?” And she’d say, “Well it’s finals week, and because I’ve done my homework all year long, I just need to review some things. I’m ready to go. But all my friends are panicked, because they’re trying to learn the whole course in a week.”
Number 3 is assessment. I’m going to argue that after years of homeschooling, your child will have a clearer self-assessment of what they’re interested in and what they can do. And what they might like to do. That doesn’t mean they won’t need career counseling and advice, but there’s an advantage of them getting in tune with their own talents and abilities and motivations from the freedom that homeschooling allows. That, I think, serves the homeschool student well in college.
Should I Join a Homeschool Co-Op?
My wife Jody and I have debated this. I argue that co-ops are technically not homeschooling, because they include other teachers, other kids in a class, etc. Jody says, “Yeah, but you’re doing all the schoolwork at home.” Well, that’s fair. And yet, I think that’s what school was thirty, forty, fifty years ago; you go to school, you get taught something, you go home and do homework. That’s not really in the purview of common education these days. Students basically get all the work done at school so they can do extracurricular activities or what-have-you.
When I look at this question, I think there are three elements that you really want to consider to help decide if it’s worth being in a co-op. So I’m going to go pro co-op for a moment, and if you don’t do these things, you need to integrate them into your homeschool anyway.
The first is the social element. That’s one of the nice things about a co-op. It does create a social context for your students, your kids, to interact with other kids. I like that, I think you’re going to need that some way or another, and co-ops instantly do that for you.
The second thing is that in co-ops, there are certain children who thrive academically. They perform a little better in a competitive environment, I know that it’s not politically correct to do anything intensively, but even so, the nature of human beings is that some people step up to the plate and do better when they have other people to interact and keep up with.
The third thing is accountability. One of the nice things about a cooperative context is that there’s some accountability going on where you need to have assignments completed by the next meeting. Or other people might point some things out to your student or you, blind spots where you’ve fallen behind.
If you want to not socialize, not have any competition, and want no accountability, co-ops are a bad idea. I’m a fan of learning, so if these things resonate with you and would help you out—I’d say, “Go for it.”
What about homeschooling special needs?
First, special needs can vary. Sometimes it’s physical issues. We have a son with cerebral palsy. Sometimes it’s an intellectual disability, and so that creates its other challenges. Often, it’s a matter of a particular challenge like dyslexia or dysgraphia that hinders learning. By and large homeschool is extremely well suited to working with special-needs kids. However, you need to develop a strategy that’s going to work well for you. So, in thinking that through, understand that if you have a special-needs child you’re trying to get ready to make it through late high school (or perhaps into college or something more advanced academically); you want to work with them in a steady, regular way. Consistent improvement is the standard (not a grade level necessarily). It may take a little longer by subject or challenge, but once they nail down the right habits with the essentials of math, reading, and writing, they’re going to do great. On the other hand, if your special-needs are honestly not going to be academic, maybe on the extreme they can’t be employed, your homeschooling should shift probably shift from academics to the more practical side.
What habits do you want to build into that unique individual to prepare them to be really as effective as they can be in life and enjoy it? These situations are all unique to the individual, so I would recommend getting with someone who knows what they’re doing, a professional of some type, and just work out a game plan with how you’re going to grow your special needs student. You’re going to be able to be involved in a very intimate way in helping that little girl that little boy get ready for life. Find what engages them and makes them feel safe, along with the skills to function OK with others is the basic priority. Homeschool is a great environment for this kind of training. Of course, you really want to avoid making everything in life revolve around a special-needs child, but that’s for another blog!
Fred Ray Lybrand
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