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Friday, August 6, 2010

GUEST BLOG - How To Measure Whether Your Style Of Homeschooling Is Working

Elsa's back with part two of her post. Some very good thoughts, here! Enjoy!

My previous post on this blog touched on questioning homeschool choices. This time we’ll look at how to measure whether what you’re doing is working, and also at a few simple steps which might just fix problems you’ve discovered. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share what has worked for us.

Measuring happiness: When you question your style of homeschooling or your choice of resources, there is a very accurate measure to use. Is your child happy? Is the child inspired and feverishly trying to find out more about a subject or simply content and peacefully working along? Those are both natural states we experience in our own learning. You know your child and you’ll know if the child is happy.

Something we’ve found is that, apart from obvious reasons such as illness or unavoidable stress, there are two main reasons for a child to be unhappy and not progressing at a natural speed in their learning. One is if the work is too difficult or too much and another is if the work is not challenging or stimulating enough. There are easy ways to fix these issues.

Pare down and simplify: What do you do if your child is overwhelmed by the amount or complexity of work and exhausted in trying to keep up? This should be obvious, but often when we’ve bought an expensive curriculum we simply do not want to skip any little bit of detail. Get real, people! That is a big box of materials and one small to medium child. Which is more precious to you? Do you really want to break a spirit that young, and lose what could have been an enthusiastic mathematician through an avalanche of worksheets? She’ll probably be fine if she did a fifth of the exercises. Repetition is for when one does not understand something, so do not destroy souls with repetition of things they have mastered and which no longer hold magic.

Do you wear yourself and the rest of the family out driving from activity to activity? You, too, need to be happy and healthy for the rest of the family to function. What am I saying? If the homeschool parent is worn out, the whole family malfunctions! If you’re finding it all too much, chances are the child has given up hope of managing what you’ve lined up. More is not necessarily better. In fact, more is most often simply too much! You are not depriving a child if you cut down on activities. It is not a bad lesson to learn early in life that one can’t have it all, especially not at the expense of others.

Embroider and broaden: There is also the other side of the coin. Sometimes we pick easier work for a child on purpose. It is hard to watch children struggle and good to see that they accomplish some work easily. Yet you’ll find that it is not in human nature always to want it easy. Even the most cautious of us are programmed to want a challenge and to test ourselves just a little bit.

If all of your child’s work is of such a standard that he can simply cruise along, he will become frustrated and that is one of the main reasons children get moody and difficult to handle.

There is no reason to throw out what you’re doing though. If it is not possible to upgrade to a different level, have a look at the material and see how you can make it more interesting. Can you devise a project, with the child’s input, to challenge him and embroider further? If there is already a spark of interest but the set work does not provide sufficient depth, set up a web quest or library research project so that he can dig much deeper into the subject.

Cross-curricular links also work very well to provide interest. When studying the geography of Europe, for example, one can embroider by focussing on a specific country, or broaden the field by studying the music/food/languages of many countries. This method works well for any age group.

Work on intuition: Well, you won’t hear that in school! Yet I’ve found following my gut instinct a very accurate way of keeping our homeschooling on track. While things are humming along nicely, a lot of learning occurs. When they are not, the learning taking place tends to be of the negative kind.

Trust your intuition and watch your children carefully to see if they are happy. That has worked for us for many years and still does. Above all, enjoy the time you have together.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

GUEST BLOG - Do you ever feel insecure about your homeschool choices?

Hi folks. Here's our first guest blog! Elsa offers an interesting take on homeschool choices. Still looking for more guest blog. They can be submitted at cttauthor@aol.com. Thanks, Elsa, this is great!

Elsa Raubenheimer has been a secondary language teacher, book editor, writer, journalist, translator, Hansard reporter, tour guide, web designer and book reviewer, but she sees herself foremost as a life-long learner interested in the role motivation plays in learning. She currently homeschools her two teens and operates an online children’s bookstore in Australia.

How often do we stop to ask ourselves why we have chosen to homeschool in the way that we do? Do we ask ourselves regularly if what we are doing is the best for our child?

Homeschooling has taught me many things. One of the most important is to reassess decisions regularly. What seemed like a good idea only two weeks or two months ago can be the worst possible decision right now. What fitted a student perfectly, challenging her or motivating him, can be a dead-weight upon his/her shoulders a few weeks later. As homeschooling parents we need to have the antennae up all the time. That does not mean we must throw out what is working simply for the sake of change!

Looking at your child’s happiness level is a good indicator of whether things are running smoothly or whether you need to reassess what you’re doing. I’ve found that this is true for younger children, but also for teens and young adults. It is also true for us in our day-to-day lives. We’ll talk more about that later.

I regularly receive emails asking for my opinion or suggestions regarding homeschooling. Let me hasten to add that I do not have the answers, just ideas. Some of these email queries come from parents considering home education as an option to fix specific problems their child is experiencing at school. These problems vary from learning difficulties and boredom, right through to bullying.

Other emails are from homeschooling parents having a wobble. Most of us have periods of insecurity or indecision, but something many who only know homeschooling do not realise is that these periods are by no means unique to homeschooling. If your children have not attended a standard school, you might think school parents don’t question their children’s schooling. They do, but a big difference is that those who do so many times a year tend to pull out of school and start homeschooling!

While I was teaching at secondary school I noticed a pattern emerge. During parent teacher evenings the parents who were never heard from during term tended to put in an appearance and seemed to have developed a sudden itch about their child’s progress. The overwhelming majority of these parents were never in evidence throughout the rest of the year. When there was a call for volunteers, they were silent. When a note was sent out to ask for their help with getting their child to do homework or to bring their attention to some issue, they were unresponsive. Yet, near the end of yet another year during which they had provided absolutely no educational support they would, as if by magic, develop a ten-minute window of interest and ask the hard (but often irrelevant) questions.

That kind of support is worthless, but worse than that... it is damaging. It disheartens the child and the teacher, and that brings no joy to anyone involved.

After I had children of my own, I noticed that my instinct was to be all over their education at all times, even when they were at school, where we started off. Yes, this must have been frustrating for their teachers! In the younger classes there were plenty of opportunities for involvement, but from middle primary level the teachers could not wait to get the parents out of the classroom after drop-off. Even the most involved parent eventually gets lulled into a false sense of security if not aware of what is happening in class. From time to time an odd homework assignment might make the warning lights go on. Yet what can one do? Once you’ve handed the education of your child over to others, you are expected to back off or to be labelled an interfering parent.

The homeschool parent does not have to back off when it comes to knowing what is happening in a child’s education. You always know what your child is learning and can keep an eye on progress, and that is one of the many strong reasons to homeschool. An effective way of keeping your homeschooling healthy is not to become stuck or complacent in your choices.