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Welcome to Homeschool

From the desk of ServiceMonster CEO Joe Kowalski:

Some general advice from the husband of a homeschool parent.

What just happened?

With the current shutdown orders in place for US citizens, most public and private schools have closed their doors to students for the rest of the school year. Many states have scrambled to get students some sort of direction, suggestions, and/or remote learning access, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents who are in the middle of their own stressful changes are suddenly responsible for their children’s education. Parents may feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and a bit freaked out by the entire situation. I get it. It’s scary to think that, out of the blue, the daily education of your children currently rests in your hands.

Relax. It’s going to be okay. Your children will thrive even if you completely screw-up the next 5 months. I know this because I’ve experienced a more controlled version firsthand. About 12 years ago, my wife and I decided to start homeschooling our children. It was a major struggle for me to get used to that idea. We have 6 children now but at that time we were raising our first two. They were both super bright. I was terrified that we would fail to give them the direction and education they needed, that they would fall behind their peers or that they would not live up to their full potential. I was so very wrong.

I was raised in a public-school environment and indoctrinated into the system. I believed in our public schools and even accepted its many flaws. It was simply easier. Easier to leave the task of educating our children to the professionals. I have a lot of respect for educators, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, in my opinion, it’s not the best learning environment for the kids. The best environment is one-on-one, much like the aristocracy did for thousands of years. The education is adapted to the child. Not the other way around.

Now I don’t think everyone should suddenly start homeschooling. What I would like to do is provide a bit of relief for parents who are worried. Your kids will be just fine heading into their next year, even if you do nothing until September. Have them follow the local schools plan as best they can but don’t beat yourself/them up over it. I’ll break the following article into two parts. The first will provide some basic suggestions to get you and your children through until the next school year. The second will attempt to provide a bit of guidance if homeschooling is something you are now considering.

What now?

Social media is plastered with frustrated parents trying to become the administrator for their child’s education. Managing the schedule for multiple siblings, controlling computer and screen time, ensuring they are paying attention and attempting to tutor them when they get stuck or need help can nearly be a full-time job by itself. Let’s see how we can ease the burden a bit.

  • When possible, try to establish a routine schedule. Recognize that in a focused learning environment, they don’t need the 6 to 8 hours they spend in school to get their studies completed. In fact, most of the parents I have talked with that had an easy time making the adjustment, were surprised that they only need 2 to 3 hours a day to complete their studies.
  • Be flexible but keep them accountable. Make sure to take the time to review their work. You can randomize it if you want so that you don’t look over their shoulder for every assignment, just make them aware – you’re watching.
  • For kids with systems you did not get training in (think common core) don’t take the easy way out. If you attempt to go around or undo the program that their teachers, school, and district has carefully created for all students, what lesson are you REALLY teaching them? I can see it now; “No, Ms. Krabappel, we don’t do it that way in my house. My dad said it was stupid so you have to teach me the other way”. Realize that unless you have spent a few hundred hours studying the art of education, you’re going to do more damage than good by bucking the system. If your intention is to help them, then have them teach you what they know.
  • Have them teach you what they know regardless. One of the best ways to ensure someone knows something, is to have them teach it to someone else. Not only does it display mastery, but it can also root the knowledge.
  • For teenagers, try to get them to do their studies in the common areas. It’s way too easy to lose focus and end up on a Discord server with friends or playing video games.
  • Create a cut-off time for school. Let’s face it, most kids have been conditioned to dislike school. Give them a carrot. At a specific time each day, let them pursue their own interests as long as the day’s work was fruitful.

Consider Homeschooling

All of that is well and good. As I stated, if you’re invested in your kid’s education, it’s unlikely you’ll screw them up before September. However, many families are seriously considering making the switch more permanent. Under those conditions, any friction one may have had with the schools, the curriculum, or the teachers, nearly vanishes. There is almost an infinite amount of ways you can go about educating your own children, resulting in what can be a confusing and stressful first year or so. If you are thinking of homeschooling, realize that the burden will be yours. You are going to have to do a fair bit of learning yourself to figure it all out.

In my opinion, as a homeschool father, my #1 goal is to install intellectual curiosity and rational thought. If I can do that, we both win.

Curriculum

Some parents are surprised that you can’t buy a “school in a box”. There is no one best solution that you can purchase, learn, and teach. Instead define the topics that you AND your child would like to tackle and find resources for the task. Yes. Both of you.

Institutionally Assisted Learning

While you’ll find a lot of information about all the other methods of homeschooling, Institutionally Assisted Learning is my personal term. It’s the idea that you can homeschool your child using the resources available to you from your school district. Educational materials are not inexpensive. Some parents find that the financial assistance that is available from some school districts helps to ease the financial burden and fog of war by providing much of the curriculum that you may need. There are strings attached though, such as regular testing, documentation requirements, and regular counseling.

The Classical Method

The classical method is one of the more popular teaching styles for homeschool parents. Mostly because it has been around since ancient Greece. This technique is centered around the Great Books. The subjects are interwoven into a chronological reading plan. This way the student gets the benefit of learning in historical context. The Classical Method also makes heavy use of dialog, fostering rich conversations and debate over the material while encouraging a deeper understanding beyond simple comprehension.

Montessori Method

Montessori is much more modern than the Classical Method. It was created around the turn of the century by physician and educator, Marian Montessori for her work around kids with special needs. Physical learning tools called manipulatives provide a tactile experience while helping the child understand the concepts in physical form. Montessori is an independent learning system where the teacher provides guidance and instructs indirectly. Large time blocks (up to 3 hours) of unstructured learning encourages free movement and independent thought. Uneducated observers might look at a Montessori environment and simple see kids “playing”. Upon further observation, they will see the sneaky and well-structured teaching technique. This method is better suited for smaller children.

Student-Led Learning

Another teaching technique popular with homeschool parents is called Student-Led Learning. In this style, the student (with guidance and direction from the parent) decides what he or she would like to learn or what topics they would like to learn about.

Here is an example. Let’s say Jonny is super into Greek Mythology. Go deep. Study the Odyssey and the Iliad. Read about Greek society. Look into the great western philosophers. Study the Art of the Argument handed to us by Aristotle. Study the Pythagorean theorem and Euclidean geometry. With one subject which the child is interested in, you can cover, math, science, history, philosophy, and sociology. And it works.

Unschooling

Most traditionally educated parents have a hard time understanding the unschooling concept. Let’s start with what it’s not. It is NOT an excuse to provide no schooling and be lazy with the effort. It’s not No-School. Unschooling takes the idea that everything is a learning and teaching opportunity. The student must first be well grounded in the basics of reading, math, and science before being allowed to learn from the world. It’s very much like Student-Led Learning but also promotes the idea of lifelong learning.

Conclusion

Homeschooling rules differ from state to state, so be sure to do your homework to find out what requirements your state may have for you, your child, and their education. Some states simply require you to file (so they know not to send the school money for your kid) while others require testing and a visit with a district educator.

I haven’t touched on some of the more common concerns of parents, such as support network, socialization, pace, and so on, but know that most of these concerns are non-issues as long as you are making the effort. Find a homeschool association in your county. Talk to other homeschool partners in your area.

Effort is the key. This is going to take real effort on your part, but the benefits, as I have seen over and over, can far outweigh the risks. You’ll get more family time, your child will get richer education, and you can choose your own methods from year to year. Fair warning though, if you simply pull them out of school to not teach them, or simply teach them what you think you know, there is a risk they will be underprepared for the adult world. Yes, it’s a big responsibility. But I think it’s completely worth it.

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