How many days a week do you stay home and do school? Homeschoolers have so many options and so much freedom now, that we’re often out and about during school hours. Have you ever stopped to think about whether all of the activities you have chosen add to your child’s education or detract from the important learning that should happen every day. If you have a crazy busy weekday schedule, cutting activities and staying at home will help you homeschool well.
Homeschoolers used to stay home
Imagine what it was like to be one of the very first homeschoolers, back in the days when it was illegal. Or barely legal. Out of necessity you stayed home with your kids every day. You kept the curtains shut so nosy neighbors couldn’t see in your living room and report you. Your kids couldn’t play in the backyard. During public school hours, you and the kids stayed in the house. And what do you think you did all day? You homeschooled. All of those focused hours at home yielded great results.
It wasn’t an ideal time. None of us want to go back to living every day with a constant fear of being arrested for homeschooling our kids. But think about what those first homeschooling families accomplished! They educated really well. First because they loved their children, but also because they needed to prove home education really worked.
When my family began homeschooling in the 80’s homeschooling was legal but uncommon. My mom would never go to the store during the day with kids in tow. They only knew a couple other homeschool families. Once every two weeks they would meet friends at the park. The highlight of the social calendar was a monthly “Kids Night.” Families joined together for a potluck dinner and time for play. The evening ended with a presentation time when the kids could recite a Bible verse or make a speech about something they had learned. It was a simple time and a little lonely. The few homeschool families they knew, they knew well. In later years they were able to fill their schedule with homeschool options. My mom isn’t sure it was quite as good for them.
When my oldest daughter was little, homeschooling was legal and a little more common. We had a weekly tutorial we loved but spent most of our school days at home. Every time we went to a store during school hours someone invariably asked, “Why aren’t you in school?” And they weren’t always friendly. So we tried to stay out of the way. But it’s not like that anymore. The social pressures that kept us close to home have disappeared.
A whirlwind of opportunity
Today homeschooling is so popular there are countless opportunities. Of course you can sign up for weekly co-ops and tutorials. Your kids can keep fit in homeschool PE classes or sports. Budding musicians can choose from homeschool orchestra, handbells, and choir. There are art classes, speech classes, and drama clubs. Then on top of the weekly schedule you can add regular field trips. You have so many choices you could spend three or four mornings a week ferrying your kids around.
Once your kids are high school age there are even more reasons to be out of the house on school mornings. In addition to all of the above, you can add internship or volunteer hours. Or maybe your child works a couple mornings a week. These can all be wonderful choices for our kids. But not if they happen at the expense of school work. A high school course load should take more time than elementary classes. There’s no getting around that. So if your child volunteers, works, and competes in a homeschool sport, when do they do school?
Mornings at home are the best time for school
Most people are focused and clear headed in the morning, that includes kids. It is a prime time to get school work done. Our school day runs from 8:00 to 12:00 every day, with a few intentional activities in the afternoon. That is not a very long school day. But I work hard to keep that time uninterrupted. We don’t start, then rush out the door by 9, then hit the books again at 11. My kids keep their heads in the books, with a short break for a cup of tea. And by doing it every day we cultivate a habit of attentiveness.
Make sure you give your best hours to the most important work.
Young children need time at home
As moms, it’s easy to feel bored with a day spent at home, but young children thrive with the freedom that allows them. When you have quiet school days at home, you can use a child’s best hours for learning without overloading their schedule.
Young children can’t do four straight hours of school work. They need play breaks. Time to run in the yard or hide in their blanket fort. A few minutes to get their energy out. A few minutes to let their minds relax. So you school, and then take a break, then do a few more minutes of school. Your days can have a rhythm that facilitates learning. In contrast, a child constantly strapped in the car and at homeschool events has neither focused work time, freedom to run off energy, or a minute to themselves.
When I speak about the elementary years I sometimes sound like I have a very relaxed approach to homeschooling. In some ways I was relaxed and not dictated to by a curriculum. I wanted my kids to view school as both easy and fascinating. We could appear lax yet foster real learning by having plenty of time at home; time devoted to both educating and creating space for play.
Core subjects should be your main focus
Reading, writing, and math are the three most important subjects for your children to master. Every other subject or activity should be secondary to those three. One enormous benefit of homeschooling is that there is time to master those three and pursue other interests as well. But never take your eyes off the most important skills your children need.
Stop and think for a moment about how well your children are doing in those core subjects. Are you getting to them (almost) every day in your homeschool? If so, your activity level is fine and there’s no need to make any changes. But if your honest answer is “no,” perhaps you should consider making some changes. If your child is behind in a core area, or you don’t consistently get to those subjects, then you need to make sure you have more time devoted to the basics.
The core subjects should take more time in high school than in the elementary years. With a longer attention span, high schoolers can read for longer periods of time. In addition, you should be providing them with increasingly difficult books so that their reading comprehension continues to improve. In the elementary years a focus on writing meant thinking about spelling and letter formation, but now your kids need to work on developing a logical train of thought and communicating clearly. Writing paragraphs and essays takes time. And high school math lessons take longer to complete. Much longer. Be certain your high schoolers have the time to complete their work with excellence.
Focusing on doing the basics well isn’t trendy. But this focus will set your kids up for long term success.
What about tutorials
Tutorials and co-ops are fun. There’s no getting around the fact that both moms and kids enjoy getting out of the house and spending time with friends. Even better when we can also count it as school time.
Group settings also allow our kids to learn things we could not teach them ourselves, whether that’s Spanish or knitting.
However, there can be drawbacks to tutorials and co-ops. Those benefits count for very little if we’re neglecting the core subject areas and investing too much time in games and electives. As I said above, take a minute to evaluate how your kids are doing in the basics. Be willing to drop the tutorial if you need more time for math and reading.
Another potential pitfall in a group setting is the standard of learning required. One semester I would ask my kids what they learned that day in their co-op classes, and they consistently learned nothing. There were discipline problems. Or disorganized teachers. The science experiments were ones we had already done at home. And the toddler hated being there. We gave up an entire school day, and didn’t get anything in return. Making the decision to quit was easy. I have high learning expectations and the group dumbed my kids down. Ask yourself if your kids are actually learning in the classes you signed them up for, or are you just wasting your time?
Finally, tutorials can require a lot of us as mothers. Many of them either require that we pay tuition or teach a class. Some might require both. How much time do you spend preparing to teach every week? Could that time be better invested in your own children? Be sure tutorials and co-ops are worth the time they require.
Warning signs you are out of the house too much
When you evaluate your schedule how can you tell you are doing too much? Here are a few warning signs:
- You complain – all the time – about how much time you spend in the car. You keep snacks, extra clothes, and school books in it. It’s kind of like home, but less comfortable.
- Your husband wants to take you out for dinner but you turn him down. You need to devote your entire evening to prepping for the class you teach at co-op the next day. You’re stressed and he spends the evening alone watching TV.
- You are exhausted every day and hit the drive through for coffee when you leave the house.
- Your kids beg for a day at home in their pajamas. A day in pajamas is the secret wish of your own heart.
- Or, when you have a full school morning at home the kids are sullen and bored.
- You are three months behind in math, but have a pile of co-op art projects two feet high. In fact, if you’ve been looking for it, the math book might be under the pile of art.
- Your kids have stopped listening to you. After all, you say things and never follow through because if you did, you would be late for the next event.
- While you’re in the kitchen putting the frozen pizza in the oven, the kids are around the table fitting in a quick twenty minutes of school before dinner. It would be impressive, except it’s the only real schooling that will get done today.
Listen to your heart. We love to make excuses. “I know we’re too busy but….” Listen to yourself say, “We’re too busy.” Then figure out how to fix it. Adding a “but” only leads to compromise.
Steps you can take to spend mornings at home
You have to realize that the focused learning that happens at home is the most important work of every day. So prioritize it. Once you are committed to a thorough education for your children, you’ll figure out how to fit all the other pieces in around it.
Here are a few ideas:
- Schedule events for the afternoons whether it’s music lessons or doctor appointments.
- Do your shopping in the afternoons or on weekends.
- If you have too many activities, be willing to cut something out. Sometimes even good choices are sacrificed to make the best choices.
- Evaluate the groups you are a part of and make sure you’re getting enough out of them. Don’t waste your time.
Make home a learning place where you encourage mastery of the important subjects. Cultivate deep relationships between your children by allowing them to spend time together. Be sure there’s time to snuggle on the couch for a read aloud book. Leave even more time for imaginations to run wild. These things will all happen when you stay at home to do school.