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Joyce Swann's Homeschool Tips

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.

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Joyce Swann


Nineteen years ago, when I began homeschooling, I was very uncertain about this commitment we had made to educate our children at home. My husband and I had never even heard of homeschooling, and, as far as we knew, neither had anyone else. We knew of no support groups; I had no one to turn to for advice. In fact, it was eight years before I met another homeschooler.

When I began working with Alexandra, she was one month away from her fifth birthday, and I was pregnant with my fifth child. The challenge of teaching my daughter, caring for three preschoolers, taking care of the house, and preparing for the new baby nearly overwhelmed me.

On the surface, it would seem that the young homeschooling mother in 1994 has a much easier time of it. Nearly everyone has at least heard of homeschooling. Most communities have support groups. A number of books and magazines provide information on various aspects of homeschooling. Annual conventions and curriculum fairs display a variety of curricula designed to meet various homeschooler's needs.

Yet, our readers tell us another story; you are concerned about those very areas which troubled me in September of 1975 when I launched my own program. We have, therefore, compiled a list of your most frequently asked questions which we will discuss in depth in the next several issues. In this issue, we have touched on those areas and offered some general advice which should help to get your homeschool on track.

What Have You Tried That Worked Or Didn't Work?

Since we used structured curricula at all levels, everything worked. I never got into the business of designing curricula and, therefore, never had to rethink what we were doing. It is certainly all right to design your own curricula, but if you do, you must be prepared to make some false starts. You must also realize that you will spend many hours of preparation that would be unnecessary if you were using a program in which the lesson plans are included.

How Do You Stay On Target?/What Techniques Do You Use To Organize Your Home And School?

There is a misconception that organization restricts freedom and creativity. As a result, many of us reject the notion of being on a tight schedule because we fear that both we and our children will become robotic creatures who move mechanically through the day performing one mundane task after another while both the love of learning and the love of life are extinguished like a candle in a vacuum.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Organization is simply a means of putting those routine tasks into a framework so that they can be dealt with expeditiously.

I started my homeschool with a written schedule which included everything that had to be done on a daily basis. The first few entries looked like this:

5:30 a.m.-get up
5:30 to 6:00 a.m.-do makeup and hair
6:00 to 6:30 a.m.- dust furniture and fix breakfast
6:30 to 7:00 a.m.-eat with family
7:00 to 7:30 a.m.-do dishes and make the beds

Has this schedule, which we have adjusted over the years to accommodate our growing family and changing needs but which remains as rigid as ever, squelched creativity and inhibited individual expression? Absolutely not! By dealing with all those things we do not want to do first, we clear our schedule for time to be spent doing the things we do want to do.

We have specific school hours (8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) and everyone is in the school room seated with his materials in front of him at 8:30. We also have a highly disciplined school room: No talking about anything that does not pertain to school. No going to the bathroom without permission. No food or drinks in the school room. No wasting time.

These rules actually give my children a good deal of freedom that they might not enjoy in a less structured setting. After all, they know that they will be finished with both their routine housework and schoolwork by 11:30 a.m. The rest of the day is theirs to spend as creatively as they like.

What Is The Physical Layout?

Thoreau wrote, "Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify." This is probably the only thing he ever said with which I agree. We can spend so much time working out the logistics of our homeschools that we hardly have time to teach. The following arrangement has helped me keep it simple.

  • All lessons are completed at our dining table, which is situated in our breakfast room. No one is allowed to study or complete lessons anywhere else. The one exception is the college-level students who are using the computer.

  • No computers may be used for school work until a student is in college and then only for word processing. I insist that they use no mechanical aids, including calculators, to assist with lessons.

  • Each student has a cardboard school box which contains his text books, syllabus, a pad of paper, pencils, erasers, a ruler, a compass, a protractor, and a pocket-sized spelling dictionary. This box is kept on the child's closet floor when school is not in session. When he comes to school, he brings his box with him. In this way everything is organized so that we do not waste time looking for materials, books, etc.

  • As each student finishes his school day, he places his materials back in his box and returns it to his closet. Thus, when the school day ends, there is no mess to clean up.

How Do You Deal With or Prevent Interruptions?

When we made the decision to homeschool, I told my friends what we were planning to do and let them know what our school hours were going to be. If they called me while we were in school, I talked with them for a few seconds and then told them that we were in school. I then asked them if I could call them back and set up a specific time to return their call.

Now that I have older children, I try never to answer the phone during school hours. If someone calls, I have the children take the caller's name and number, and I return the call as soon as we finish school. If I do answer the phone, I keep the call as brief as possible by making arrangements to return the call later if necessary.

Preschoolers are another story. I will be devoting a later article solely to the subject of dealing with preschoolers. In the meantime, here are some things that worked for me.

  • Set perimeters. Each day before you begin school talk to your preschoolers about what they are going to do while you are in school. Tell them that if they change activities they must tell you first.

  • Put the oldest preschooler in charge of the others. Make it clear that he is not allowed to discipline but if anyone does anything he is not supposed to while you are in school, he is to come tell you immediately. Likewise, tell the younger children that if the oldest does something he is not allowed to do they are to tell you immediately.

  • Allow preschoolers to join you in the school room only if they play quietly. No talking or noise-making in the school room.

  • Plan to keep your infant in the school room unless he is asleep. Babies love to be held and will usually sit happily on Mother's lap. They can also nurse during school. However, you need to be prepared. Have diapers in the school room so that you can change the baby without leaving. If you know the baby will want juice or water during school, bring it with you. Also have some toys, a baby swing, etc. on hand to keep him entertained.

How Do You Motivate Your Children?

I have never tried to motivate my children. They know what is expected of them in school, and they do it. We have wonderful times together in school, but I have never taken the approach that they should perform well in school because they love learning. I have found that the love of learning is automatic when school is handled properly, but I also believe that no child should be made to feel that he must particularly enjoy something in order to do it well.

I have always told my children that life is filled with things that we do not want to do but must do anyway. At times we may have jobs we do not like. It is likely that God will require us to do some things that we would rather not. We are going to have to do lots of things that are difficult, or boring, or exasperating, but we never have any excuse for not doing our work to the best of our abilities.

What About Chores?

Again we will be covering these topics in depth in future articles, but I will share with you here one thing that does more than anything else to simplify chores. I give permanent work assignments. When someone receives a work assignment, he can expect to keep it for several years. In that way each individual has his own special chores for which he alone is responsible. Thus, each child has the benefit of habit which enables him to complete chores quickly and efficiently.

What about Enrichment And Extra-Curricular Activities?

Enrichment and extra-curricular activities need not take a child away from the home. I suggest limiting the children to one or two outside activities and stressing activities they can enjoy at home for additional enrichment. In later articles we will talk about things your children can do at home to widen their horizons (one of the things mine loved to do was put on plays which they found in books). In the meantime, encourage them to get creative without your input. When adults get involved, children will often back off and lose interest. My personal rule is that I never interfere with my children's leisure activities.

My final "tip" is to take charge of your school and not to be afraid to exert your authority. Pray daily for guidance and let the Lord lead you as you prepare your children to meet the challenges of the world in which we live.


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