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 are the drawbacks to homeschooling? Well, there are three that come to mind. The first is isolation. Now when I say isolation is a drawback, I don’t mean homeschoolers will isolate, rather I mean there’s a temptation in the structure of the game; it is easy for a family to get enmeshed and isolated with a “compound mentality.” Isolation is not healthy, but it is a common drawback that you want to consider and avoid.
The second drawback is related to the first; friendships. In time, it’s also unhelath if there’s not an opportunity outside of the family to connect with others, especially kids of similar ages and interests. Over and over again, we encouraged friendships through scouting, extracurricular classes, and sports. There are a lot of ways to do it, like group situations and even church. You want to be careful to understand that your kids need the opportunity to engage with other people to develop friendships, so be wise and look around for good families.
The third drawback to homeschooling is conflict. Not so much conflict but learning how to handle conflicts and resolve them. Families often are too similar to provide this kind of learning. It’s not about battles with other people, but more differences around an idea or a thought that comes with debate and interaction. So if your kids get to interact with other ideas and other people, that allows them to refine their understanding, their logic, their worldview clearer and cleaner. In this way they grow ready to better encounter people in life.
So there are three essential drawbacks in homeschooling; isolation, friendships, and handling conflicts well. In my opinion, I don’t think academics is a drawback. I don’t think socialization is one either. I don’t think any of the things that are commonly thrown out there are all that much of an issue; even with college, homeschoolers do really pretty phenomenally well.
Fred Ray Lybrand
A video of these thoughts is available at https://youtu.be/DEd0k4WKZ9E
Do you worry about your homeschooling? Are your homeschool students really going to be read for life?
Real Confidence comes about in two basic ways:
You can only be confident about the moment, which is all you have to work with anyway. True?
Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
P.S. Start listing and using the principles you believe will guide you well. We started with, "Teach the children to teach themselves."
The crux of the video is that 4 essentials (Trivium + 1) are necessary for self-teaching:
Here's the transcript:
Fred:-- To start with, was the idea of being self-taught. So our focus, with independenthomeschool.com, is what we did with our kids and that is to grow them to become independent learners. Where they are going to teach themselves, they are the actual teachers. Now, Jody's here, say hi.
Jody: Hey everybody.
Fred: When I asked Jody about this, a little bit ago-- Making a note here. I said, what should I tell them about being self-taught? Or raising kids or those that can teach themselves? And specifically I would say this, they are the teacher, so you want to teach them to teach themselves. So, you're the teacher but you're teaching them to teach. So it's teaching them to teach their selves, and I asked Jody, so what is it that I should mention? And Jody said.
Jody: That this is a possibility, that this is doable, this is obtainable.
Fred: Yeah, it can be done.
So, what we get into are the extremes on the continuum, and so in between two extremes is where self-teaching happens. And it looks kinda like this, on one extreme your child or your student can be overly-dependent on you for everything. For every answer, for every instruction, for repeating instruction. I've seen this-- We were talking about this a few days ago, friends of ours who wound up having their-- In these two cases, their moms write their college papers or if they didn't write their college papers, they heavily edited them, one of the two. And so, lo and behold, that didn't turn out-- Well, it turned out fine I guess, except that these kids didn't really learn. So, they're over there on that hyper-dependent level, where you can be doing everything for your kid.
The other extreme you'd draw on this continuum would be to abandon the child. So that you don't help them at all, in fact, it works from-- Basically, just look at, are you doing it all? If you're doing it all, you're probably getting close to that, they're just dependent and they're not being taught how to teach themselves. The other extreme is, are you doing nothing? And if you're literally doing nothing then you're not engaged in teaching, you have abandoned the child. And so the child is left to her or his own devices. In between is that range of self-taught, in varying degrees of what we're fiddle with, but I would say in my mind you're trying to aim for probably 75% towards abandon. So, in other words, you don't want to abandon them but you're largely over the halfway point, where you're moving that direction. Because eventually what's gonna happen is your kids are gonna grow up, and if they get trained well they're going to abandon you. And I don't mean emotionally, or not be a child or whatever, but they're going to abandon being reliant on you for their learning, for their instruction. They may go unto college, they may go unto other endeavors or may just continue to teach themselves. So, if you're doing it all, you ask yourself the question "Am I doing it all?", you might want to wake up and pay attention to that and start moving away from that.
If you're doing nothing at all, then you might want to engage a little more and see what's up with that. Because there's this balanced range in here. If anything is, when you're in the middle, the way I found the people who are hyper-depended, they sound like I've abandoned my kids. Honestly if I talked to people who probably really have abandoned their kids, listen what I did, they'd probably say "No, you did too much". So, when you're in the middle of a polarity, you're always in trouble. And if you don't understand this just look at politics, you know? If you're in the middle anywhere, mostly Conservative, mostly Liberal, there will be more Liberal people that look at you as hyper-Conservative and the problem. Or Conservative people might look at you-- If you're a little more towards the middle, and think of you as radically Liberal. Because that's what polarities do. And I don't have a real solution for it except, maybe to point it out and to get over it. That's the game, self-taught, you want to teach them to teach themselves.
So really quickly I just want to share with you exactly how to do this. And it involves two basic components. One is the trivium and the other is experimentation. So, how you grow kids who are self-learners, is that you want to be engaged in teaching them to do three things, the trivium. One is to take in information, the second is to organize information and the third is to communicate information. So, roughly those are the data, logic and rhetoric stages of a kind of a classical education, classical conversations, classical orientation around the trivium. There are different versions of this, so this would be my basic understanding of how I think about it. So,what you're doing is, you're trying to organize your school in a way that the kids are taking in information, so they're constantly able to read, do math, exposed to literature, it could be art, it could be conversations, could be debates, discussions or all kinds of ways in which information can come at us. And the problem is not that the information comes at us, the problem is that we don't know how to organize it. If we genuinely don't know how to organize it, then it is a serious challenge. And that's what we're finding in this day and age, with the internet and everything else, people are bombarded with information and if they don't know how to organize it very well they can't hold on to reuse it. Until you're going to wind up being confused and then when the FBI interviews you, you're going to be able to be perjured because you're going to miss some data point, at some point in time, if you don't know how to organize it. So that second stage is like drawing the lines in the parking lot, so you can park all the cars where they need to go, so you're making optimum use of the space. So, organizing information is really that logic stage, so how you're making it make sense and putting it together in your head. And your brain, your student's brain can hold a limitless amount of information, as far as we know. I know you feel like you're gonna pop sometimes, but that's not really what's going on. The more you can learn to organize it, sometimes it's with mnemonics, tricks, and understanding, that's why we teach that organic mnemonics thing. Sometimes it has more to do with maybe a mind map or certain categories or certain vocabulary you've developed. But learning to organize that information is part of what being a self-taught person is.
And then third is the rhetoric stage, or what's called communication and that's where you're using this organized information with other human beings. So there's something greater accomplished in terms of community, team-work, etcetera. That gain in itself is how they're going to learn to be self-taught because you're going to be encouraging them you're going to cause them to learn. And you're causing them to take in information, organize that information and communicate that information. So there's that Socratic learning that could play into it as well in communication, but that's the frame.
But there's another piece, and that is experimentation. And experimentation gets down to a simple process of "Try, Learn, and Try." Now, technically you probably have a hypothesis or a theory in play, but frankly what is going on is, you're trying something and you're learning a little bit and you're trying some more. And this is why back in the day when computers were coming along, and I knew a lot of parents who were getting their kids to take coding classes, sort of, not coding like we talk about it today, but it had to do with a computer, so I always kinda chided them because, it's seemed like a complete waste of time, because, computers were changing so rapidly. You know, the code back then is not particularly what we use now at all and it's not how it works. They're more user-friendly etcetera, but what I was noticing with kids is they all figure it out faster than the parents do anyway. Most of you, if you have a phone and your older kids have access to it they probably understand more about it, faster than you do, because they're experimenting they're not fighting off some old learning or old idea. And so, as a result they are nicely and wonderfully engaged in that process of experimenting. Which is, they're trying something, they're learning a little something, they're trying something more and they keep repeating that cycle so that they can improve and grow. And that's what being self-taught is about.
Now in our simple understanding, it involved reading, writing, and arithmetic as we talk about a fair amount and the nature of comprehension and what reading and taking in information and exposing yourself to the best minds in the world and in history can mean to you, to be able to find that information. The writing, the math part is, you know, the language of science, just as a reminder and it is a learning of logic and absolutes tied into it too. So that you're learning a really important skill set there as well. And then writing is actually engagement, obviously, we're using language in communicating, but writing in particular forces you to really think and so it's really organizing the information and figuring out how to communicate it and by default reviewing it too. So as a result of those three essential skills, that's what they need to be able to teach themselves, so you're teaching them to teach themselves. A simple way of thinking about it is, you're teaching them to read and to do math and to write and in doing that you're focused not only on the knowledge but the skill set involved in those things. That sets them up with what they need as the tools for learning. So they go through life taking in information, organizing it, and communicating it, using it with others and in the process constantly being comfortable with "Try, Learn, Try."
I received an email today from a mom who had moved recently. Her son hasmade new friends, but really didn't think the new one's where as good as the old ones he was missing.
Here's my note back to her.
So, the easiest thing to do is for him to get a few things clear in his mind:
1. His heart does not have one or two spots for friends (competition and comparison)...it has hundreds and hundreds of spots. Once a friend has a spot, just let them have it forever 🙂 New friends get new spots in your heart!
2. Help him process that you are not moving back. He may 'know' this, but it probably isn't articulated and owned. He probably needs to say "We are not moving back" about 70 times. Once he knows that fact deep down, he will start making good use of where he is.
3. Answer him with, "So what?" Then when he answers, ask "So what?" again. Honestly, so what if his old friends were better? Why does that matter?
4. Help him understand a better story about friendship. Friendship grows over time. He's comparing long-term friends to recent friends (not fair). Set a date in the future when he will have known his new friends as long as the old friends...then on that date, sit down and ask him to compare the friendships. Between now and then we can drop the discussion because it isn't fair.
Hope that helps,
Fred Ray Lybrand