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This is the third in a series of blogs on what I would define as ““Principles of Happy Home Educating Families.”” Find the first blog here.

“I admire you…but I could never teach my own child.”

I think that every home educating parent hears this at one time or another. It’s probably among the top 3 most often heard statements that I hear from people whenever homeschooling comes up in conversation. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this statement from otherwise sane parents and friends. After all these years, I have yet to come up with a polite response to such a statement…so I usually just smile or nod, say nothing, and change the subject. “…ummm nice weather we’re having aren’t we?”

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t understand the underlying fears behind this statement, it’s just that to a thoughtful home educating parent, such a statement is as ridiculous as…and even akin to saying “I could never parent my own child.” There…I’ve said it…the thing that I’ve wanted to say so many times but was just too polite to say out loud.

What parents really mean when they say this.

I think that usually there are one or both of two things that parents are thinking when they make this statement. Sometimes these are even voiced by the parents who think that they could never teach their own children. The first is that their child would never listen to them. They already struggle with getting the child to do his/her chores and can’t stand the slog of trying to help them with the homework that the teachers send home as it is. The second is that they lack the confidence or the knowledge to teach their child particular subjects…usually high school subjects like algebra, but often even elementary subjects.

If you can parent your own child, then you can teach your own child.

But think about it…think what such a parent is really saying. “I don’t think I can discipline or teach my own child”…? Of course you can! You’ve been doing so from the day your child was born. You’ve been building a relationship with this child. You know this child better than anyone else. You are, may I say it, divinely positioned to teach your own child. And frankly, it’s a lot more fun than helping your child to complete homework assignments and worksheets sent home by a teacher who is worried about test scores and keeping everyone busy. It’s so much fun to home educate your own children. And frankly, it’s also easier once you get the middle men out of the way and you and your child start directing his education. There are so many options out there…so much to choose from. If you find that something isn’t working for your child, you have the freedom to change it up…make if more interesting, more fun, more relevant to his/her life! I never could understand “I could never teach my own child.” “I don’t want to teach my own child”…maybe, but not “I can’t.”

What about Algebra? What if my child wants or needs to learn something that I don’t know?

As for the fear that you lack the knowledge to teach them certain subjects…two thoughts. First thought: if you lack the confidence to pass on to your child the very things you were supposed to have “learned” in your own schooling, what does that tell you about the system you were schooled in? Does it really teach confidence or competence in the subjects taught?  And if you really think that these “subjects” are important for your child to have learned to succeed and be happy in life, then perhaps you ought to set the example and learn along with them.

Second thought: If there truly is a subject that your child needs to learn…and you don’t have the knowledge and understanding of that particular skill or subject…and don’t desire to, then can you not still point them in the right direction, help them find a mentor, or the materials or classes to meet that particular need? Of course you can…you do it all the time with piano lessons, soccer, karate… The formal school “subjects” are no different. There are so many resources out there for learning today. Just google any subject you’re concerned about and see what you find. See what your local library has to offer. Network.

“Expert” mentality.

We live in a society of “experts”. We go to an expert for everything from repairing appliances in our homes to…well, teaching our own children. Somewhere along the line, we have been taught and/or bought into the assumption that our competence is limited, that only those who have been “professionally trained” have the right and capacity to engage in certain tasks. This mindset results in dependence for myriads of families as they outsource nearly everything…including the education of their own children. This expert mentality is also the thinking that is at the root of myriads of systems and “programs” to take care of (seemingly) our every need.

Sometimes even homeschooling families get caught in this mentality and end up simply duplicating the public school system in their own homes, or they think that they must buy into detailed programs…one size fits all, boxed up and ready to go…just like the drive through. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with some of these programs, just be sure that you are choosing based on your individual child’s needs and not cropping the child to fit the curriculum.

Trust

So the third “habit” that I would stress for a new or veteran homeschooling family is Trust.

Trust yourself. You are the parent of your child. You have intimate information about your children that no one else has. Trust that you are able to provide for their needs better than anyone else. You can teach your own child. You already do. I like to say that all good parents home educate their children…homeschoolers just do more of it…they do it full time. And whether you home educate your child or not, you are not off the hook for their education. Your child is still and always your responsibility. You are their advocate. Trust yourself to know and meet their learning needs.

Trust your child.  Trust that each of your children will grow and learn in the way that is right for them. Trust their hopes, their dreams, their preferences, and their time tables for growth and learning. Know…and trust…that the answers for you child will probably be a bit different than the answers for every other child. 

Humans are internally hard wired for learning! We really do want to learn. We’re geniuses at it! We often even do it unconsciously. Your job is to provide the environment…just as you did when they were small…just show them the way.

And finally, Trust in God…or in a higher power, the universe…whatever you choose to call that source of knowledge and inspiration. Trust that you will find or be given the answers for each child as you need them. Trust that you will be inspired as to what is right for your child at any given time. And when the answers come…trust it and move forward.

Trust…my third habit for effective home educating families.

Next habit…Lead out.
RC

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Note: Because of its length, this blog has been published in two parts. I like the second part best! Don’t miss it.

Okay, it’s been almost one full week since public schools released the children to their families in our part of the world. I’m starting to hear it almost everywhere I go…”I can’t wait for school to start again.”…no, not from children…from their parents, usually mothers. I must say that I sympathize. There are some summer days when I too cannot wait for school to start again…for different reasons. Not so that I can rid my home of all these pesky children who live with me, but so that the neighbor kids will go back to school and I can have my children to myself again. I’ve had to make rules and set limits on how much time is open for the neighbor kids to hang around. I’ve had to set limits to what time they may come knocking at our door each morning. I know….I’m sounding like the summertime grinch and you are wondering whatever happened to the Kool-Aid mom. Well, don’t look for her here, she doesn’t live here. No, this mom likes lots of time with her children. Oh, I don’t mind play dates here and there…on my time frame, it’s just having the neighbors over all day, every day, and at all hours that I object to. Okay…in honesty this isn’t so much a problem anymore. After many summers, the neighborhood kids have learned the rules and also understand what kind of behavior is expected in our home, so summers glide by pretty smoothly.

But for mothers who are already at their wits end with having their own children home for the summer, perhaps I can offer some tidbits to consider. Oh, I know, this “advice” is coming from a strange quarter. After all, what public schooling mom wants to read what a home schooling mom has to say about their summertime woes? But bear with me sisters, I appreciate your woes, and truly, maybe I have something to say that may be of use to you. After all, I am used to having my children home all day, and every day.

Decompression

While you are feeling more pressure at having your children home all day, what your children are likely feeling is disequilibrium resulting from a phenomenon called decompression. In the home schooling community, many call it detox, and some home school “authorities” believe that the process of decompressing from the heavily structured public school environment takes one full month for each year that a child has spent in school. But if your child is beyond 2nd grade and you only have three months of Summer vacation ahead of you, don’t despair. I personally believe that children are very resilient and that they can rather quickly make progress in learning to self-direct their activities in constructive ways.

Consider what is happening for your child; all of the pressure is suddenly off for your children and perhaps they don’t know quite what to do with so much freedom…or maybe they know just what they want to do with their days but you don’t like their choices.

Your children are used to having every moment of every day structured for them. They are used to the rush to get up in the morning, grabbing a bite to eat and running out the door. A bell rings at certain intervals of the day directing them as to when it is time to move to the next class. Evenings are filled with homework, youth activities, soccer practice, music lessons, etc. And now, with the advent of summer, they are plunged into a world of seeming emptiness. Long hours stretch before them each day which they are at a loss as to how to fill. Their days are no longer structured by someone else and they haven’t yet learned how to do this for themselves. Not only that, but they’ve been looking forward to Summer vacation for months and now they don’t know what to do with it. Without someone telling them what to do, they are “bored”.  Normal behavior in this kind of situation is fighting and bickering with siblings, whom they are not used to spending whole days and weeks at a time with; and long hours in front of screens such as TV and computer, alternated with sighs and declarations of boredom.

So what’s a mom to do? Here are some tidbits to consider from a mom who has her children home pretty much 24/7 year round.

Don’t try to entertain them all summer.

Oh sure, schedule some carefree days at the beach, a picnic for lunch, or maybe even a day at the zoo but definitely don’t feel like it is your job to entertain your children all summer long with trips that are extremely structured and which take a lot of planning. Don’t line up their summers with camps and swimming lessons, and more of the same pressure and heavy structure that they get all year. Let your children have the summer as a time to relax, decompress, and enjoy unstructured playtime. Give them time to learn to self-direct their activities…summertime is the perfect opportunity for that.

Do organize and share responsibilities for chores in your home.

Help your children to understand that it is not Mom’s job to do all the cleaning and cooking. At our home the mantra is “Do you live here? Then you must help with whatever chores need doing. It’s as natural as waking up in this home.” If my children complain about chores…and yes, even my perfect little cherubs often complain, all I generally need to say is “Do you live here?” I usually get a wry smile with a “Yes, Mom” and off they go to complete their family responsibilities.

Children need to understand that they have their own personal chores first. They are responsible for their personal belongings and space. And then they are also responsible to help with shared space and belongings. The way that chores are divided differs substantially from one family to the next, so I cannot make any definite recommendations which would be right for all families; but what I can say is that all families need a system. It might be as simple as having the family all work together for an hour in the mornings or afternoons to accomplish what is needed. It might be more structured with certain family members being given responsibility for certain chores on a regular or on a rotating basis, or a combination of things like this. Our family uses both of these systems at different times.

So sit down and define what needs to be done and then think about what would be the best way for your family  to accomplish those things. Include the children. Not only will they have some great ideas, but they will also feel some ownership for their part and some sense of community with the family to do what is needed so that things run smoothly. How much nicer for them…and for you…than having Mom or Dad dictate what they will do and then nag about it later.

And while you are at it, don’t forget to spend time actually teaching your children what it is exactly that you expect. What does a good job really look like? How do you go about it? What hints can you give to expedite the job or to make it a little more fun?

And finally, work alongside them. I grew up with a father who did this well. Saturday mornings were cleaning time at our house. Dad put on the music nice and loud, and we all worked together until it was done. It was fun working alongside of Dad…somehow it didn’t seem so much like a chore then.

Do make a list of suggested activities if they are bored.

Your children are used to having each moment directed. It’s natural for them to look to an adult to tell them what to do and how to structure their days. Help them to see that it is now their opportunity and privilege to self-direct their activities. Make a list of suggestions and post it on the refrigerator. Let them help make the list. Come up with as many things that they might choose to do as you can think of. This list might include some questions for them to think about or some observations for them to make…not just things to do. Here’s a beginning:

  • Read a book.
  • Draw or paint a picture of something you see outdoors.
  • Build a tower with the blocks.
  • Play a board game with a sibling.
  • Make a snack for the family.
  • How many different birds can you see or hear in the backyard?
  • How many colors can you see in nature?
  • How many living things can you count in the backyard?
  • Water the garden or the grass.
  • Put together a puzzle.
  • Straighten the silverware drawer.
  • Write a story about…
  • Start a nature journal.

These are just a few things that come to my own mind in about the  two minutes it took to write it. You and your children will be able to brainstorm quite a long list.

Don’t make chores a punishment for being bored.

This is a huge temptation for parents. “Oh, you are bored? Here I have a list of chores you can choose from.” Really, I suspect that what we really want as parents is a sense of community about chores and a feeling that everyone simply must do their part. Oh sure, you can include some of the chores that need to be done in the home on your list of suggested activities if they are bored, but don’t make it a punishment. Instead, let them choose to clean out that cupboard if they want to and then help them feel that wonderful sense of accomplishment at a job well done. “Wow! That cupboard looks so good! Doesn’t it make you almost want to leave it open and just look at it? How much nicer this will be for our family.” For those of you who are saying “Yeah right…my child would never choose to clean out the cupboard”, may I suggest that you stop making chores a punishment or a negative for a while and just see what happens? My children are a little older now…ages 10-20, but they quite regularly will clean out a cupboard or do an extra chore willingly…and with no extrinsic reward. I have one son who is OCD about my silverware drawer. It really bugs him when it is a mess and he is always straightening it out. (Now if I could just find a way for him to be OCD about his bedroom…but that is another blog.)

Find part two of this blog here.

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