Answers to the most frequently asked questions about homeschooling
The Most Frequently Asked Questions about Homeschooling - with Answers
One of the benefits of having the most-visited homeschool magazine page on Facebook is that we get to see all your questions—and to find out which questions come up again and again!
Out of the thousands of questions we have reposted recently, here are some of the most asked, along with our answers.
For each topic below, click on the + sign to reveal the questions under that topic. For each question, click on the + sign to reveal the answer. Click on the minus sign to hide the questions or an answer.
Considering Homeschooling/Getting Started
Q: My son is having a lot of trouble in public school. Should I pull him out now, or wait until the end of the school year?
A: Pull him out now. We’ve never heard from anyone who regretted doing this.
Q: My daughter is doing well in school, but is asking to be homeschooled. What should I do?
A: Something bad is going on at school that she is not telling you. Pull her out.
Q: Our daughter is under the age of compulsory attendance. So I don’t have to worry about legal requirements just yet. But I would love some suggestions about how to prepare for “officially” homeschooling her. What can I do to prepare myself?
Second, pick up a copy of Cathy Duffy’s 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. In addition, bookmark
her site. Using these, you should be able to start discerning your daughter’s learning style and picking a future curriculum.
Third, subscribe to Practical Homeschooling magazine. Seriously, reading our up-to-date articles will catch you up more quickly on the trends, methods, & opportunities for homeschoolers than anything else.
Q: I’m just about to start homeschooling, and I’m terrified. Please encourage me!
A: We have all been there. After a lifetime of being told that only credentialed experts are any good at anything, it does take some courage to decide you can educate your child yourself! On the plus size, there now is a huge community of homeschoolers to both encourage you and answer your tough questions. Come on over to
our Facebook page and join us!
Q: I’m just starting homeschooling (or have just moved). How can I find homeschool groups or co-ops in my area?
A: To locate the state and local homeschool groups in any state, go
here and click on that state’s name. State group(s) are above the line on the page that comes up; local homeschool groups are below the line, in alphabetical order.
Ask your local group about co-ops in your area. Co-ops come and go, plus many are “private,” meaning they want to make sure you and they are compatible, so they generally don’t list themselves on “homeschool groups” pages. You need to find out via the grapevine.
Q: I’m fully committed to homeschooling, but my husband isn’t on board. He is worried that our children will miss out on having school friends and proper socialization. What should I do?
A: Ask him when, exactly, kids have time and permission to “socialize” in school. Also, when in real life will we be surrounded 100 percent by people of our own age group? Also, what exactly is the difference between “socialization” and “peer pressure”? It will certainly give him something to think about!
If you aren’t already a subscriber to Practical Homeschooling magazine, the “Whole New Look at Socialization” report that comes free with a 2-year subscription simply devastates the whole public-school socialization argument.
Q: I’m fully committed to homeschooling, but my husband isn’t. He worries that our children won’t be able to get into a good college if they are homeschooled. Do you have any statistics or research that I can share with him, that proves college admission won’t be a problem?
A: Homeschool graduates have been accepted at every college in the USA, as well as many top overseas universities. He can readily check this out for himself by picking a college which he would like your children to attend, and searching their site for the Homeschool Admissions page.
What he does not know is that homeschoolers consistently score way above public schoolers on standardized tests. They also graduate college in less time, and with higher GPAs. This is one reason why a number of schools now offer homeschool scholarships. One of my daughters was recruited for a four-year, full-tuition scholarship because she was homeschooled!
Q: One of my children is autistic/has ADHD/has a learning disability/has a speech disorder/has a sensory-processing disorder. Will I really be able to homeschool her?
A: Yes! In fact, special-needs children typically bloom at home. Nobody has as great an investment in your child’s success as you. Nobody is willing to spend as much one-on-one time with your child as you.
Home School Legal Defense Association has a Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner section on their site. There you’ll find a wealth of information about what to expect and how to handle all sorts of learning challenges. Plus, for HSLDA members, a special-needs consultant is available to answer your personal questions.
Q: I suffer from chronic illness. Can a mom like me homeschool? If so, how?
Don’t be afraid to call on friends, relatives, and your church family for support.
If your older children are old enough, when you have a bit of energy, teach them to cook, clean, vacuum, and do the laundry. Kids can be amazing when they know their help is really needed!
If you have an awesome husband who has the time, energy, and inclination to help with the chores or homeschooling, let him. After all, the word “husband” means “to tenderly take care of”!
Concentrate on the basics.
Computer-based curriculum and online academies were made for times such as this.
Have the kids come to you—it’s perfectly OK to give lessons while propped up in bed in your jammies!
Don’t overdo it; naps are excellent!
Q: We have decided to homeschool. But my soon-to-be kindergartner is all excited about riding the school bus and making lots of friends in school. What should I do?
A: First, acknowledge his feelings and agree that it does look exciting when the yellow bus goes by. Let him know you sympathize.
Then tell him that not all kids ride the bus. It depends on how far they live from the school. Also, buses smell bad, are uncomfortable, and sometimes bad things happen on school buses.
You could take him on a local bus ride, to let him see what it’s like—and that he doesn’t have to go to school to ride a bus! You could even role-play “Homeschool Bus” at home, piggybacking him around the house while you stop at construction paper “stop signs” and wait for invisible “green lights” to move ahead. Don’t forget to swerve around a lot and “jerk” when you stop!
The “friends” question is a bit tougher. You and I know that not every kid has wonderful, supportive school friends. But rather than focusing on the negatives of public-school socialization (if you don’t know what these are, get a 2-year subscription to Practical Homeschooling—it comes with our “A Whole New Look at Socialization report”), try to find a local homeschool group or preschool co-op. If there are kids his age in the neighborhood, be the “fun mom” whose house kids go to after school for milk and cookies (and to play with your son).
Learning Difficulties or Child Needs More Time?
Q: My 3-year-old/4-year-old/5-year-old child is struggling with phonics. He or she has learning some/many/all of the letter sounds, but can’t remember them/isn’t able to consistently blend them together. I’m wondering if he or she has dyslexia or some kind of learning problem?
A: Many, many children this age simply aren’t developmentally ready yet to read, write, and do math. That’s why schools used to postpone all such formal academics until first grade, when children were six years old—and even then, some needed an extra year to “get it.”
One of the very worst things about the new, age-inappropriate educational standards is that parents now feel pressured to push kids into material most of them just can’t do. Then the parents assume all the other kids can do it and that something is wrong with their own child. (Yes, a few kids can read, write, etc., when they are super young, but they aren’t the norm.)
All this extra pressure is straining your relationship with your child, and making him or her feel like a failure—years before school even should be starting!
The solution: what my old pediatrician used to call “tincture of time.” Back off the academics. Let the child play. Read to him a lot. Talk to her a lot. If you can stand it, wait until the child is at least 5 years old before even trying to see if he or she is ready to try learning phonics. And by “ready” I mean “actively enjoying and begging for the lessons,” not “willing to struggle uncomfortably with flashcards” or “willing to sit for long periods poking at a tablet screen.” If at any time the child shows signs of struggling—lots or yawning, blinking, antsiness in general, or just sheer bewilderment and unhappiness—back off.
Q: How young is TOO young for handwriting? My almost 4-year-old is very smart and learning a lot, but just can’t write his name (or anything else) legibly. What can I do to improve his handwriting?
A: The list of developmental activities for 4-year-olds from the PBS.org Child Developmental Tracker says “most” can write a few “legible letters” when they are about to turn 5. This means kids younger than 4 are not ready for writing instruction, and the results will be painfully slow for 4-year-olds (and even many 5-year-olds). Practicing illegible letters will just make it harder later on.
The key to handwriting readiness is the child himself. If he can’t easily write straight lines and circles, or complains his hand “hurts” when he tries to write, he’s not ready.
Having said that, when he is ready, avoid the temptation to start right in with serious handwriting practice.
Here’s what you can do instead (and, we suggest, in this order):
“Air write” letters and numbers with BIG arm motions.
Have him use his fingertip to write BIG letters and numbers in a pan filled with damp sand. This issue’s Montessori article explains how a sand tray works. (NOTE: some kids can’t stand the feel of the sand against their fingertips—in that case, drop the activity).
Get him some wipe-off crayons and let him try pre-handwriting exercises (tracing, mazes, etc.)
Colored wipe-off markers and a lap whiteboard are great for freehand practice with lines, circles or ovals, and letters. Start with big strokes and big lines, and gradually work towards normal elementary writing size.
Q: My kindergartner won’t sit still to do his schoolwork. Also, he seems to know the answers one day and totally forgets them the next day.
A: It sounds like your son might just not have been developmentally ready for kindergarten this year. Kids mature at different rates, and many boys are about an academic year behind girls at this age. So I wouldn’t worry about teaching him formal academics just yet.
Instead, just make sure you incorporate a lot of movement into whatever you do choose to use. For example, he can jump up and down while reciting nursery rhymes or singing songs . . . roll over once before answering each math fact flashcard . . . “air write” letters and numbers with BIG arm motions, etc.
Q: Short of medication, what can I do to calm down my overactive preschooler/kindergartner?
A: Try eliminating sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and chemical additives. Also try eliminating TV and electronic input (e.g., DVD, iPad, computer).
When he’s ready for formal academics, at age 5 or 6, have him run around or do physical exercise immediately before bringing out the deskwork. Do this until he’s not enjoying it any more—running several times around the house or the perimeter of the yard (with you watching, of course!) ought to do it. Have short lessons with frequent physical-activity breaks, and include as many hands-on projects as possible.
You can also try to start training him to sit quietly when he’s about 4 or so. Start with 30 seconds and try to work up to 5 minutes. That’s time spent just sitting and not doing anything. This is a time-tested exercise that helps kids learn to “quiet” their brains down. The place where this is done should not have any music or loud noise going (e.g., vacuum cleaner).
In the meantime, harness that energy by teaching him how to help around the house!
Q: My kindergartner was born to be wild! She wants to move, move, MOVE . . . all the time! How do I get her to sit still long enough to teach her anything?
A: First, keep lessons short—no longer than 30 minutes. You can have one lesson in the morning and one after lunch, if needed. Second, give her some nice-feeling fabric to put in her pocket. She can stroke it when she feels restless. (This is also great for times a child needs to sit still for extended periods, such as church or waiting for a restaurant meal to be served.) Third, have her sit on one of those big “bouncy balls” like you see in gyms. The slight movement required to keep sitting on the ball helps tame the “wiggle monster”!
Recently Got Started
Q: Our first homeschool week was really rough. The kids whined, nagged, and refused to cooperate. Any little bit of schoolwork took hours. I have little ones, too. Will I really be able to do this?
A: One of the things homeschooling reveals, very quickly, is all our children’s character flaws, and all our character flaws. Better by far that we deal with them now.
When our kids are locked away in another building for most of the day, and the rest of their day is taken up with watching TV, online & digital activities, playing with friends, and group activities, it’s possible to ignore disrespect, laziness, and unkindness. At home, you won’t survive without gaining your children’s respect and cooperation.
This can take a while, as schools teach kids to respect their peers, not their parents (this is that awesome public-school “socialization’ you have heard so much about). But if you can grasp the concept that you shouldn’t have to negotiate for respect, and that kids do not have the right to bully their own parents—and if you also can demonstrate sympathy for your children’s goals and weaknesses, without caving in to yelling or whining (or yelling or whining yourself)—you will eventually gain a peaceful, cooperative household.
Q: My child had a really hard time in school. Now that I’ve withdrawn her, she doesn’t seem to want to do anything. I’m wondering if we should “deschool.”
A: “De-schooling” means unwinding from school; decompressing from it. Anyone who has stressful assignments tries to unwind from them—this is why soldiers crave R&R so much. School can be stressful for kids, plus they need time to adapt to the idea of education at home.
Deschooling also means no school-ish assignments. Household chores and regular family activities are fine. The child gets to do what he or she wants after chores are done. After a period of this, eventually he or she feels ready to tackle school work again.
A rule of thumb is that deschooling takes a month for every year the child has attended school. Obviously, if your child is older and you don’t have that much time, you have to do the best you can with what is available.
Q: My parents are not at all supportive of our decision to start homeschooling. What should we do?
A: First, ask them what they’re afraid will happen. If they are worried about academics, share the results of homeschooling. Reports and statistics can be found at HSLDA.org, or show them this infographic comparing homeschool to public school. If they are worried about socialization, the “Whole New Look at Socialization” report that comes free with a 2-year subscription to Practical Homeschooling should give them plenty to think about!
Then, make an attempt to include them in your homeschool. Is there a subject they can teach? If they live too far to visit, could they teach the kids your family history via phone calls? Can you Skype or Facetime with them and have the kids show their projects, sing songs, recite poetry, play a musical instrument . . . ?
In the final analysis, it’s your decision, but remember that it took you some time to decide to homeschool. Allow them some time to become comfortable with it as well.
Q: Our state requires us to submit a “school” name. I’m wondering what to name ours.
A: You can and should name your homeschool, even if your state doesn’t require this. It’s very helpful when you need to correspond about homeschool matters, and also, it’s just plain fun!
First off, resist the temptation to come up with something cutesy, such as “Smith’s House of Educational Fun,” or anything with a brand name included (e.g., “Sesame Street School”).
Also avoid anything with an obvious political message.
Why? Because eventually this is the name that could be blazoned across your teen’s high-school transcript—which you will be sending to colleges in hopes he or she will be admitted and receive scholarships. Not everyone viewing that transcript might share your particular outlook, and they definitely will take you more seriously if your school name sounds serious.
Having said that, popular choices include:
____ Academy. This has a nice prep-school sound to it.
[Your town name or street name local place name] School or Academy. Examples: Main Street Academy, Louisville School of Discovery
[Your family name] School or Academy
[Your religion or a virtue] School or Academy. Unlike “political” names, this is not a problem, since colleges are accustomed to lots of applicants coming from religious-based schools.
_______ Classical Academy
Combine a few of the above, e.g., Smith Christian Academy or Harrisville Classical Academy
[Famous academically-linked person] School or Academy. For example, “Isaac Newton Academy” says science and math are important to you. “Rembrandt Academy” indicates a focus on art. “John Adams Academy” is a sign your homeschool likely pays a lot of attention to history. Keep in mind that all the children in your family will be graduating from this school, so don’t pick a name based solely on your first child’s interests—even if you think she’ll be an “only” child. Life hands us lots of surprises!
HINT: To avoid future confusion, use your favorite search engine first to make sure no other school by that name already exists in your state.
Choosing a Curriculum/Deciding What to Teach
Q: How can I know what my child should be learning at his age/grade level?
The What Your ___ Grader Should Know series also is very helpful. It covers from preschool to grade 6, one volume per grade level. It’s available in local and online bookstores.
Q: My child is young, but I’m wondering if I should get an “accredited” curriculum, so we won’t have any problem getting him/her into college, and also if we decide to put him/her back into school.
A: Accreditation is usually not a concern at all from preK to grade 8. The sole exception would be if you plan in advance to put your child back into public school in a particularly hostile district. Even then, if you can show decent scores on a standardized test (these are available from several sources, such as Triangle Education Assessments and BJU Press’s Testing and Evaluation service), it shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s usually no concern in the high-school years, either, with the notable exception of the University of California system, which requires individual courses to meet their “a-g” accreditation (which is not the same as the general accreditation many online programs claim). The U of C system has specifically rejected curriculum that teaches a Christian worldview—not saying it in exactly those terms, of course! The other exception where accreditation is required: athletes who wish to compete in college must have their high-school courses approved by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) or NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), depending on to which league your future college belongs. Each of these sports leagues only recognizes certain specific online schools, and certain specific courses at those schools.
As you can see, the typical “accreditation” touted by online schools—even the “good” accreditors, such as DEAC, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (formerly known as DETC) and the regional associations that accredit colleges—doesn’t really help with either the University of California or the NCAA/NAIA.
Some scholarships might require homeschoolers to be in an accredited program. We’ve heard rumors, but never actually run across one of these. Then again, some scholarships require you to live in a particular county or be Lithuanian. So I’d check on your state school’s scholarships, and not worry otherwise.
Q: I’m looking for free homeschool curriculum and printables. Suggestions?
A: “Free” is a relative term. If you’re printing out pages from the Internet, you’re paying for the paper, ink or toner cartridge, printer, binder (if used) and electricity. “Free” interactive sites often are only free in order to attract you and then encourage you to sign up for the full-featured version—which is not free.
Consider the effect that “free” printables have on your child. It’s a pile of raggedy paper, and you can keep printing more of them forever. It might actually cost you less for a quality workbook, which has been carefully designed to be systematic—and when the child has completed it, he can see that.
All that being said, the free sites most recommended by our Facebook followers are Khan Academy (online video lectures on science and math), Starfall.com (some free reading lessons, plus an optional paid area), and Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool Curriculum (online links and printables organized for preschool through eighth grade).
Most people who use any of these end up supplementing with some purchased curriculum.
Q: What can you suggest for a free preschool-at-home curriculum?
A: Make your own number/letter flashcards. Use cardstock, since it’s too easy to “see through” regular flashcard stock. Teach counting with real-world objects. Teach size, weight, and volume contrasts (larger, smaller, heavier, lighter) etc. with supermarket supplies (e.g., cans and boxes you bring home). Get and read lots of children’s library books aloud to him. Talk to him a lot. Play children’s games (the library has books about games). For art activities, again check out what’s available at your library. You might have to spring for some crayons and a set of children’s safety scissors. Use the backside of unwanted printouts for paper. Make your own play-doh, sidewalk chalk, and more (there are tons of recipes on Pinterest). Get classical music CDs from the library. I could go on: just be inventive!
Q: What curriculum would you recommend for my 3-year-old?
A: Talk to your child a lot—this is the best thing you can do for his vocabulary and speech. Read to him a lot—this is the best thing you can do to get him ready to read. Sing nursery rhymes, play good music, get him age-appropriate educational toys, and let him follow you around as you do your chores.
Q: What curriculum would you recommend for my 4-year-old?
A: At this age, here’s what we suggest. Go to your nearest Parent and Teacher’s Store. Just type “local teachers store” into your favorite search engine to find one near you. They are delighted to serve parents—in fact, many have changed their designation to “Parents and Teachers Store.”
Once you’re there, pick up some Frank Schaeffer and TREND preschool workbooks. TREND wipe-off books are great for practicing tracing and other pre-handwriting skills as well as letter formation, preschool math, etc. Frank Schaeffer workbooks are available for all the other preschool readiness/kindergarten skills. The whole trip should cost you under $20. And these workbooks are awesome fun! Plus, it would probably cost you about as much in paper and ink to print out much lower quality material from the Internet—and it's impossible to print out wipe-off books!
Also, pick up a copy of Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready. It will provide you all the hands-on, movement related activities you can use (because workbooks alone are not enough!).
Q: What curriculum would you recommend for my 5-year-old?
A: Unless your child is academically advanced (and there is no prestige for you or him if he is, or shame if he isn’t, since children all develop at different rates, and the late bloomers sometimes pass the quick starters), choose a classic “kindergarten” program.
Remember, just a few decades ago schools didn’t even try to begin teaching reading and math until first grade! “Kindergarten” literally means “children’s garden.” It was invented as a form of “play school,” where kids wouldn’t do actual academics, but would get ready for more structured activities in a relaxed, movement-friendly, arts-and-crafts-and-music type of environment. In the words of Joni Mitchell, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Q: “What is the best curriculum?” (Sometimes asked as, “What is the best curriculum for a preschooler . . . kindergartner . . . fourth grader . . . ?”)
A: If there were only one curriculum that yielded the best results for every single person who used it, that would certainly make life easier!
However, since we all have different needs and priorities, here are some questions to help you choose your best curriculum.
Religious/spiritual point of view: Christian, secular, other?
Are you looking for an online curriculum, print-based curriculum, DVD-based, or software based?
Your child’s motivational style: People person, Progress-lover, Problem-solver, Performer, or Action Man/Girl?
Aiming at college/top college?
Will you homeschool K–12, or do you plan to put the child back in school?
Do you want to do lots of/few/no hands-on projects?
Is your child advanced/on grade level/in need of remediation?
Do you favor a particular homeschool method: classical education (Latin, lots of memorizing, lots of grammar, literature, and world history), Charlotte Mason method (“living” books, nature study, narration), patriotic American (Founding Fathers, 19th-century texts and books, lots of economics and government), unit studies (topic-based, not broken up into “subjects” except for phonics and math), unschooling (based on child’s personal interests, real-world projects and experiences), Montessori, or eclectic (bits and pieces of all the above)?
Budget—what can you realistically afford to spend? Forget about “free”: even webpages can’t be printed without paper and ink cartridges. If your child was going to public school, school fees and the cost of backpacks, supplies, extracurriculars, transportation, etc., now amount to hundreds of dollars per year. Sometimes, over $1,000 per year (for kids in competitive public high-school programs). As the subtitle of a May 8, 2012, U.S. News & World Report article says, “Just because you aren’t paying tuition doesn’t mean a public school education is free.” Homeschooling shouldn’t be thought of as a way to spend even less than you would on public school; it’s an investment that forms the basis of your child’s entire future success.
Now that you know the right questions, you can wisely use our magazine’s annual Practical Homeschooling Reader Awards. These reveal which curricula in dozens of subject areas and grade levels received the highest satisfaction ratings from homeschoolers. (You can get the most current Reader Awards issue free as a bonus with a Practical Homeschooling subscription here) Investigate each curriculum of interest to see if it fits your requirements. Also keep in mind that many fine curricula, well suited to particular niches, aren’t included in that list. Search engines can help with that (examples: “Montessori math curriculum,” “classical grammar curriculum”).
When you’ve narrowed it down, come ask your very specific questions on our Facebook page. We’re here for you!
Q: How can I find used curriculum to buy?
A: Go here and scroll down a bit to find our “Used Curriculum-Selling” and “Used Curriculum-Buying” threads. You’ll have to register to post, but it’s completely free!
There also are Facebook groups for this. Type “Used” into the Facebook search box, followed by the desired curriculum name, or try “Used Homeschool” to discover more general buy/sell/swap groups.
Q: If you started with [popular curriculum X], would you continue with it?
A: When it comes to curriculum, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If your child is progressing well with Curriculum X, and you’re not having any major issues with it yourself, I’d just continue on. “Curriculum-hopping” can wear out your time, emotions, and budget!
Q: What is a “unit study”?
A: Pick a topic. Let’s say it’s “trees.” Your child gets a tree-identification book, goes on nature walks and tries to identify trees, collects pine cones and presses leaves, studies how trees “eat” and “breathe,” studies how trees contribute to the carbon cycle, draws pictures of trees, memorizes the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, learns how to make a birch-bark canoe, studies a bit of basic carpentry, and so on.
If it’s a bad unit study, he reads A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which isn’t really about trees at all), tries to speak “Entish,” and does other stuff that has the word “tree” in it but that doesn’t actually teach about trees.
The whole point of units is to integrate academic subjects instead of studying each one separately. This can be done well or poorly. Also, you can integrate as many (or few) subjects as desired.
Some ambitious curriculum developers have attempted to cover all school subjects (except phonics and math) via unit studies. It can be done, but it takes much more work and creativity than workbooks, textbooks, and online courses.
Q: What is a “lapbook”? Everyone keeps talking about them . . .
A: A lapbook is an educational scrapbook. It’s a way of storing all the neat things you learned in your unit study. Typically it will include mini-books about the topic, artwork, and photos of projects you created. “Lapbook” can also mean both the projects/lesson plans and the instructions for creating the actual lapbook. When you type “lapbooks” into a search engine, the latter (which is technically “lapbook-based curriculum”) is usually what comes up.
Teaching Multiple Kids at Once
Q: What can you suggest for those of us who homeschool while also caring for babies and toddlers?
A: Wear the baby in a sling. Play with the toddlers before starting school—this makes them much less fussy, as they don’t feel ignored—and then put them in a playpen near you with some educational toys. Have several sets of toys that you switch out—don’t expect the same toys to hold their interest day after day. Make a set of busy bags (there are lots of designs on Pinterest).
If you have a preschooler who isn’t reading yet, have an older child read to him or her when you are busy with the other children.
Teach the older children to be independent learners as soon as possible (this really helps).
Do as many multi-level projects as possible, and let the little ones “help” as much as they safely can.
Do complicated activities during Baby’s naptime. And be flexible!
Q: Any ideas for what my elementary-grades children can do independently, while I work with my other kids?
A: Have them write and put on little plays using dolls, stuffed toys, army soldiers, or whatever you have lying around. Teach the older ones how to film the plays, too, using your smartphone. They can then learn how to do set design with play dough and fabric, etc. My own kids would spend entire afternoons at this.
Teaching Different Learning Styles/Personality Types
Q: How can I figure out my learning style? My child’s learning style?
A: Were you a “wiggle worm”?with a jiggling knee, who chewed your hair or your pencils, and could never go by a fence without running a stick along it? You are a kinesthetic-tactile (hands-on) learner. Do you learn well by viewing flashcards, reading textbooks, and looking at graphics? You are a visual learner. Do you tend not to look at the speaker when concentrating on what he is saying (yet you can remember everything he said)? Can you reel off great swathes of movie dialog? Then you are an auditory learner. Are you a little bit of each? Then you are an eclectic learner—the best of all worlds!
Q: My Perfectionist daughter breaks down in tears when she can’t get her schoolwork exactly right.
Today she was working on a card for a friend, and couldn’t get the letters to line up. Meltdown!
I tell her she does great work and her handwriting is beautiful, but it doesn’t help.
A: Telling a perfectionist child that her work is lovely doesn’t work. Instead, try telling her that it’s fine *for now* and that she’ll have a long time to work on improving it until it gets to the point where, as an older child or adult, she will be very pleased with it.
Emphasize the process—she’s learning—and also explain that others aren’t looking at her work as critically as she is.
Her desire to do a wonderful job is commendable and will lead her to excel. What she needs to cultivate is patience, as it takes a while to become world-class at anything! (10,000 hours, according to best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.)
Q: My 8-year-old Daydreamer daughter is very advanced, working two to four grades ahead in all subjects. But she is having trouble focusing. I need to sit there and remind her every two minutes to focus on her schoolwork.
I will see her looking at her book and think she is working, then she will bring up the plot of one of her favorite novels, or a better design for a chicken coop, or something else . . .
How can I help her learn to focus better?
A: This sounds like a very creative child. Teach her to keep a notebook handy in which to quickly jot her inspirations, so she can come back to them later. That’s better than trying to train her to ignore creative ideas, and is actually the way creative adults handle it!
In other words, make the daydreaming into something productive and more efficient, instead of trying to eliminate it.
By the way, researchers from the University of Connecticut have launched a study to find ways to adjust the typically dry college engineering courses to appeal more to those students who “think quickly in unconventional ways” and come up with “crazy ideas.” Typically such students are labeled ADHD in school, because their minds leap quickly from topic to topic. Now it’s becoming recognized that these are among the best potential inventors and engineers of the future.
Q: My son doesn’t want to participate in school group activities. My daughter is shy and insecure, can’t make friends, and has trouble participating in clubs.
A: These children are introverts. You need to watch this TED Talk pronto, to understand what they have been going through in school, and why nothing is actually wrong with them.
Q: How much time a day should I spend on homeschooling with a preschooler, and then later when he is a kindergartner?
A: For anything resembling formal academics, you don’t ever need more than an hour a day for a preschooler. Thirty minutes is usually fine. If you go for an hour, I’d break it up into 20- or 30-minute chunks, one chunk in the morning and one in the afternoon.
A straight hour of academics is OK for most kindergartners. Any movement activity doesn’t count towards this time budget, and neither does reading aloud or child-led play of any sort.
Q: I feel most days I’m not doing enough with my second grader. We read lots of good books, but her homeschool time is pretty limited. We get to math, in which she is advanced, most days. Reading is every day, science is a couple days a week, and writing is limited. My daughter is bright, but I am worried I am not doing enough daily teaching. I am starting to feel that I am stunting her learning by not taking 3–4 hours daily to just concentrate on homeschool.
A: Second graders don’t need 3–4 hours a day of instruction. 1 to 2 hours usually does it.
Remember, your main focus at this age needs to be on the 3Rs. Tons of extra busywork just distracts from that.
What you could increase is time spent reading aloud to her. It’s easy to work in more science, history, art, etc., that way. Just choose truly engaging “living” books from the library and enjoy!
Q: How much time should I spend daily teaching my 3rd grade, 4th grade, etc., child? And how much time should he or she be spending on schoolwork overall?
A: Likely less than you think! Actual instruction time needed each day is quite short, even in higher grade levels. School lessons that follow the same format day after day can be handled mostly independently, once the child is old enough.
As your child gets older (grade 4 and up), your main job will be planning the work that needs to be done and grading the work (for courses you teach yourself, as opposed to online and other “outside” courses). If you have a teacher’s manual, share the information it includes that isn’t found in the student book, and also try to anticipate any questions or problem areas.
Remember, if your child went to school and was home sick for a long time, the tutor the school sent would only be there for an hour a day.
As for the other question: a good rule of thumb for the amount of time your student should be spending on academics is 1–2 hours daily in early elementary, 2–3 in upper elementary, 3–4 in middle school, and 4–6 in high school.
Q: How many times a week should a homeschool child attend extracurricular activities in order to be around other kids?
A: There is no rule for this. Homeschooled kids have successfully been raised living just with their parents on an isolated island in Alaska (the mom wrote a book about it!), or in a family of 12 siblings with friends and activities every day of the week. The most important thing about “socialization” is not mere contact with other kids, but the parents teaching HOW to behave.
The child’s personality also is important. An introvert, who gains energy from quiet and being alone, will feel tortured by lots of time in large groups of kids, while an extrovert, who gains energy from other people, will snatch at any excuse to be around others.
By the way, all this “socializing” doesn’t have to be with kids his or her own age. Kids naturally enjoy being around older kids, younger kids, and adults as well. School just trains this out of them.
Age also is a factor. Unsocialized preschoolers can end up just picking up germs, bad words, and aggression from too much unsupervised time with other unsocialized preschoolers.
Q: Do we absolutely have to finish the entire grade level in each subject, in one school year? Or can we move through my child’s problem area at a slower pace and manage to get more done in the other subjects?
A: Lots of homeschooled kids are in one grade for language arts and a different one for math. The important thing is for the child to understand, which means going at his or her own pace. So, it’s fine to stop wherever you are at the end of your school year, and start right up there again . . . even if it isn’t at the end of a “grade level.” Grade levels are just a number.
Q: We’ve had a truly horrible year (deaths in the family, financial problems, illnesses . . .) and are really behind in our homeschool. I’m starting to panic. What do I do?
A: Life happens! Take a breath—in a short time you’ll look back and wonder what the panic was all about.
Let’s start at the beginning: the 3Rs (by which I mean Reading, Riting, and ’Rithmetic).
Are your children of an age to be able to read? (Starting at age 6 or 7 is developmentally normal.) Can they read? Do they read? If so, you’re probably in better shape than you thought. If not, put all your effort into teaching them to read.
If you’re using one of those clever curricula with all sorts of activities, drop the activities for a bit and just concentrate on whizzing through the essential phonics and math “teaching” part. Meanwhile, make sure you have regular library trips, even if the house just burned down. If the kids are reading, they are learning!
Now, how are they in math? If they are behind here, the problem is usually that they are slow in math computation. Finger counting can only get you so far when you come to multiple-digit addition, multiplication, and fractions. So, you need math-drill software.
Why software? Because (1) it’s fun, so it shouldn’t be a struggle to get the kids to do it and (2) you don’t have to spend any time at it. (You’re behind, remember?) The particular program we like is The Quarter Mile from Barnum Software (that’s the “product” page, so you can see your options). Your children “race” against their own best previous scores—which is both non-threatening and super fun and addictive! You can purchase the software on CD-ROM, if getting online is difficult for you, or sign up for the $2.95/month online option.
Now that we’ve talked about how to catch up quickly with the essentials, let’s take a minute to consider what your children did learn during this time. You have been busy serving others and coping with trouble—thus modeling behavior every child needs to learn.
If the crisis is ongoing, call the kids together and ask them for ideas as to how they can work more independently. Ask friends and family for help, too. We all need a hand sometimes!
Q: How do I know when I’m “done” for the school year?
A: If you have completed all the hours and/or days required by state law, you are legally done. You do not need to have completed every lesson in every book, especially if the later lessons will be reviewed in the next grade’s book. You’re done when you and the kids feel done!
Q: We finished our school year (or math book, or some other subject) early. What should my child do now?
A: The first thing we’d suggest when your child finishes a course . . . especially if it’s early . . . is PARTY! Seriously, it’s important to celebrate these milestones. It gives a child a feeling of completeness and accomplishment . . . like homeschool is a series of steps, not just an endless mill of homework that grinds on without interruption for 12 or more years.
If you do decide to start the next level, take a few weeks off in between, to give it a fresh new feel. Make a big production out of bringing out the new book. Maybe wrap it in gift paper and leave clues so your child can search for it.
Tips for Dealing with Difficult or Unhelpful Behaviors
Q: How can I get my kids to behave? They will listen to me at home, but whenever we’re out in public, they go wild. It’s so embarrassing, especially when this happens at co-op!
A: Have you tried “manners” role play? We practiced “store manners” at home. They had to keep repeating an action until they got it right. And our “restaurant manners” practice paid off at least four times, when strangers paid for our family’s meals because our kids were so well-behaved! (Trust me, this did not come naturally!)
Another idea: In my elementary school, we had “Silence Practice” once a week. First we had to sit for 5 minutes at our desks and do . . . nothing. No reading, no talking, not even looking around. Just stop and think. This was gradually increased over time to 15 minutes. You couldn’t expect this of a 3-year-old, but the 6- and 8-year-old could start having Silence Practice.
One last thought: Performer Personality types tend to show off for an audience (Dad, other kids, people in stores). It only takes one Performer Personality in a group to have a “eggbeater” effect, so maybe one of your children is unconsciously searching for attention this way, and dragging along the others. If so, he or she needs to be taught about when it is—and is not —OK to try to become the center of attention. You could even schedule “performance time,” during which that child gets to sing, dance, crack jokes, do acrobatics, or whatever, while the rest of the family watches and applauds!
Q: I’m having an issue with my son not taking me seriously as a teacher.
A: The first thing to ask yourself is if he takes you seriously, period. Does he obey quickly, without grumbling, when you ask him to do something not related to academics, such as washing up before dinner, or helping a sibling, or doing his chores? Or does he flat-out refuse to do anything he doesn’t feel like, and you’ve unconsciously been coping with this by not asking him to do anything?
Once you start homeschooling, you need your son’s cooperation. For many families, it’s quite a shock to discover how rocky your child’s attitude actually is.
The good part is that you have a chance to help him, before things get worse!
So, there are two answers to this question, depending on whether your son is respectful to you in general, just not as a teacher . . . or whether he isn’t respectful at all.
If your son generally respects you, the point you need to make with him is that you know things he actually might want to learn.
Obviously, he is not all agog to learn multiplication or algebra, or how to write a formal essay. What will impress him will be real-world skills: how to change a tire, how to cook a meal or bake a cake, how to prep and paint a wall, how to hunt or fish . . . Basically, anything that involves hands-on tools. Show him you know some stuff! You have the time now to do that.
As for academics: you have the right to insist that he does the work. No pleading or negotiating. Kids fuss and fume and push the line, but they actually appreciate it, down deep, when you hold your ground.
Q: My first grader has decided to pretend she doesn’t know things. She puts on a mischievous face and writes down the wrong answer—on purpose!
How do I get her to take pride in getting things right?
A: A bit of reverse psychology has been known to work in these cases. Put on a sad face, and say, “I’m so sorry you don’t understand this. Maybe it is too hard for you.” For some kids, proving it isn’t too hard will get them to stop “playing dumb.”
If she persists, even though you are sure she does know it (only use this if you are sure!), then put on a sadder face and say, “Well, then, I guess it would be too hard for you to [do some prized activity]. Your brain must have gotten really slow.”
Act kind of cartoonish, so she knows you’re calling her bluff. Even so, she won’t want to miss out on playing with Play-Doh, or helping you make a cake, or whatever the activity is.
Q: My daughter just won’t attempt anything difficult. She resists, fights, whines, yells, cries . . . anything rather than learning something new or doing a homework assignment. It’s not because she is unable to do the work, either. The aggravating behavior turns on and off instantly, depending on whether she gets her way or not.
The lessons we use are child-friendly, short, and include lots of variety, so it’s not a change in curriculum we need. And I don’t want to reward this behavior with extra breaks or more play. Help!
A: Hang in there! This seems to be pretty common for age 7/8, or so I’ve been told when I chatted with friends about my own frustrations with this age. My daughter is 8 and finally getting past it. First, realize it is a phase and it will pass even though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. Next, check out the books Your Seven-Year-Old and Your Eight-Year-Old by Louise Ames Bates. They are wonderful tools to give insight into what is going on at each age level. There is one for every year of childhood. It does not excuse inappropriate behavior at all, but has instead given me the insight I need to know the correct way to handle situations like yours.
We also use a Charlotte Mason-style curriculum, which lends itself to breaks. I would tell my daughter, “You’re going to get a short break (5–15 minutes) after you complete these two assignments if you do so with a good attitude. If you give me trouble over them, you will miss the break.” This gave her a shorter goal. I think in the overall scheme looking back my daughter was overwhelmed with knowing everything that had to be done and I had to help her work through that.
Push through with firm gentleness. I know those sound like opposites, but be firm in your expectations and guidelines, but gentle in your voice and when handing out consequences. My daughter learned very quickly that there would be consequences for this type of attitude. She has the “Do everything without complaining or arguing” verse down by heart and all I have to say now is, “What is our verse?” And she quickly responds well to that.
Hang in there, Mom. You’re doing fine! —Melissa Williamson
Q: My middle-school daughter is begging me to let her go back to school. She’s thinking it’s going to be loaded with fun and lots of new friends. Academically, she is doing fine at home. What should I do?
A: Let’s talk about the realities of middle school. Kids’ hormones are roiling, and “mean girls” make an appearance. Kids start segregating themselves into cliques by race and popularity, and where you sit at lunch can be a source of major drama. Clothes become really important, and kids judge each other harshly by what they wear.
Middle school is also where kids get increasingly inappropriate and overly graphic sex education, and where drugs and alcohol start to be a “thing” for some of the kids. (Yes, this can happen in elementary school, but it’s still rare.)
Some kids manage to navigate this emotional minefield without obvious damage, but these are some of the chances you’ll be taking.
As the parent, this needs to be your decision, not hers. We listen to our kids and are sympathetic, but they don’t always know what’s best or have the experience to see the drawbacks of a shiny new idea.
That being said, if it’s really friends and fun she wants, you can seek out homeschool groups and various clubs that fit her interests. Martial arts classes, YMCA, youth sports, Youth Symphony, Civil Air Patrol . . . these are just a few of the places she can meet other kids. And since these are all positive endeavors, they are more likely environments for finding compatible friends.
Once she’s involved in a new activity, throw a party for the kids in the group, to add a more social element. Let her help plan it and “hostess” it.
Also consider helping her get involved in some form of community service—with you supervising for safety’s sake, of course! Starting to think about and solve the problems of others is a more grown-up way to “feel connected” to the community, without it all having to be about fun.
Finally, remind her that the point of school is not to have friends. It’s to learn academics. Everyone feels lonely at times, especially as they enter and continue into the teen years. Even kids with dozens of friends feel this way at times!
Subjects Some Kids Hate & How to Help Them
Q: My 8-year-old hates to write. It’s like pulling teeth. She doesn’t have any physical reason not to write—her handwriting looks fine. She just hates composing even a single sentence, let alone a paragraph.
A: Have you tried having her write a play to put on with her friends or other family members? She could write a little every day, and you can act it out with stuffed animals. Writing as a way to get other people to do things is far more motivating!
A variation on this: if she wants something from you, have her write it.
Yet another variation: Play “Suzy Says” [or whatever her name is]. She writes goofy instructions and you have to do them. “Mommy, hop on one foot. Mommy, touch your toes.” Show her that writing makes things happen!
Q: My son hates reading. Do you have any tips?
A: Try getting him some graphic novels—by which I mean hardbound collections of Silver Age and Golden Age DC comics such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc. The message in the “old” DC comics was all about doing the right thing, not the snarky “bad boy” message in so many of today’s comics.
As for “why comics”: not only are they colorful and fun, but kids instinctively understand that they need to read comics to themselves. It’s not the sort of medium that lends itself well to being “read to.” Comics also perform a valuable service by filling in the steps between “reading the words” and “seeing it take place like a movie in your mind,” which fluent readers experience.
Finally, this is the best tip I’ve heard: “It’s time to go to bed . . . but you can stay up an extra half hour if you’re reading!”
Q: My young son hates math workbooks. How can I get him started on math?
A: Take the workbook and do it orally, with real objects. E.g., if the lesson is adding “1” to a series of numbers, take out 10 spoons, hand him one, and ask him, “If I give you one more spoon, how many will you have?” For maximum motivation, use M&Ms and let him eat some of them when he gets a given number of problems right. Let him practice writing numbers in the air first, and then with colored wipe-off markers on a wipe-off lap desk (this is a BIG hit with kids his age).
Basically, do every problem in the workbook; just don’t write in the workbook.
Q: My son doesn’t want to do anything I tell him AT ALL. All he wants to do is watch TV and play videogames. It’s a daily battle to get him to complete even the smallest amount of schoolwork. I’m at my wit’s end. Help!
A: If your son hasn’t just recently been pulled out of school—in which case, some “deschooling” might be in order—it’s time to call in the big guns—Dad, or if Dad is unavailable or missing, a trustworthy adult male.
This male role model needs to (1) do age-appropriate manly things with your son, whether it’s teaching him how to use a hammer and nails or taking him to the shooting range and showing him how to responsibly handle a gun, and (2) pass on the message that a real man treats his mother with respect.
Any personal stories he can share of his struggles and eventual success with school subjects can also help.
Q: My child hates handwriting! What do you suggest?
A: To make handwriting easier, when necessary (everything but workbook pages can be done via typing these days), you might want to consider a pencil gripper. The Writing Claw might be just the thing. It’s available on Amazon in small, medium, and large sizes.
Middle School/High School
Q: How can I get my middle schooler interested in history and science?
A: This is where documentaries and films about historical periods can be your friend. Try watching something like Twister to get him interested in extreme weather (and from there, moving to other weather topics).
Boys in particular are often fascinated by war movies. If you have no objection to this, and if he can handle the vocabulary, Patton and The Battle of the Bulge are good “starter” films for World War II. For many girls, Pride & Prejudice is a great introductory period piece.
Since every historical topic leads to others, and ditto with science, just get that motivation going!
Q: My teen [or preteen] son whips through all his schoolwork, and then is bored out of his mind. We don’t want him to just spend hours playing video games or watching TV, so we limit those to one or two hours per day. What else can you suggest to keep him busy and happy?
A: Top ideas: (1) A big project: making a claymation “stop motion” movie, or learning to program computers, or rebuilding a car engine . . . (2) Have him pick a club to join (4-H, board games, Civil Air Patrol . . .). (3) LEGO bricks or other construction toys. There are robotic kits for some of these sets—it’s not just about building static structures. (4) Competition: have him learn to target shoot, or compete in martial arts (e.g., Tae Kwon Do), or try for one of the academic competitions (Spelling Bee, Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, ThinkQuest, etc.). (5) Spend time with Dad doing manly things (home repair, hunting, fishing, barbequeing . . .).