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Homeschooling looks different for every family. Some families use the computer, some use unit studies, some use textbooks, and others piece together various materials to fit their family needs. With the plethora of materials available for educating our children, it’s no wonder so many moms can be heard saying, “But, is this really homeschooling?” How are new homeschooling moms supposed to know what’s right when it comes to teaching their children?
Each day the neighbor child (who attends public school) comes home with corrected tests, finished book reports, short essays, and other written assignments. These same children also go off to school at the same time every morning and get home at the same time each afternoon. This is what “school” is supposed to look like, right?
Well, no. Not exactly.
Is This Really Homeschooling?
Let’s take a look at some of the differences and then you can decide if you are really homeschooling or not.
Many states require a specific amount of hours for the homeschooling year. Some even go so far as to dictate how many hours must be spent each day in school. And, while many homeschoolers “keep comparative hours” with the public schools, it is truly up to each family to decide when they have school each day and for how long (provided they meet their state’s legal requirements for homeschooling).
Short School Days
It’s not uncommon for the day to start and end before lunch. The “formal” day, that is. Some things just don’t take that long to teach. And, after teaching, mom can move on and do household chores while the children work on homework. (Yes, even homeschooled children have homework!)
There are also days when everything goes wrong and no formal teaching gets done. Most families will require their students to at least get their math done on days like this. Is this really homeschooling? Yes, it still counts as a school day!
Long School Days
Then there are the days when it takes forever to get through school. These are the days when you know you are busy all day, but you can’t recall getting anything done. Sometimes these days are hard and exhausting (see below). Other days it’s a fun rabbit trail that takes all your attention.
Is this really homeschooling? Yes, because these days are often offset by the short school days, making the overall total number of hours spent schooling come out to be perfect for your state requirements.
Types of Activities
Sometimes a school activity will take all day. Literally. From driving there to having lunch to driving home, your whole day will be spent on nothing but this activity. Other times you’ll only need a couple hours for an activity, and you can still get a full day of teaching in. Yes, both of these types of days count as school!
Is your local homeschool group going to a children’s museum for a field trip? If so, you may need to arrive early, which means you won’t have time to do any formal schooling before you leave the house. And, chances are good that you won’t be home before 3:00 PM, and even then you’ll be too tired to do any teaching. Is this really homeschooling? You bet! Field trips (regardless of how much time they take) count toward school hours.
This is a biggie right now, not only in the homeschool community but also in the public schools. We all want our children to become productive, caring adults. What better way is there for this to happen than to instill a love for community service? From Blue Star Mothers to Operation Christmas Child, from helping an elderly neighbor to volunteering at church, community service can take on many forms. And every single one is really homeschooling.
When most people hear the term “park day” they assume it’s just a way for the kids to work off some energy while the moms sit and socialize. But, in all honesty, that’s only half of it! Park days can count as gym class. They allow your child to run, jump and climb; interact with other children; and learn about the benefits of fresh air and sunshine (often discussed over lunch on a blanket).
Once again I can hear you asking, “But, seriously, is this really homeschooling?”
But, This is FUN!
Maybe you pulled your child from public school because he or she dreaded going to school each day. Maybe you know a homeschooling family that doesn’t seem to do anything other than study (and the children grumble to your children about “school”). But that doesn’t mean school, in general, must be boring or hard every day. Sometimes your school day (or even the week) will be fun — and it will really be homeschooling!
When my children were young enough to enjoy making forts, we incorporated it into our school lessons. Studying architecture, habitats, survival skills, even castles and medieval times called for making a fort. If you give your children free time during the day to internalize the lessons you are teaching, you may be pleasantly surprised when they start incorporating those lessons into their imaginative play.
If you live near a zoo, I highly, highly recommend you get a family pass. When the weather permits, pack up the math and reading books, some blank paper, colored pencils, and lunch. Don’t forget a blanket! Spending the day at the zoo is a nice change from the normal homeschool day.
Go to the zoo when you are studying geography (different animals for different climates). Go to the zoo when you are studying mammals, reptiles, birds, etc. Or, go to the zoo when you are studying ways animals help humans and how we care for animals. Spend an hour after lunch on that blanket you packed and read a book or work on math. Draw the animals you see, take notes as you listen to the zookeepers talk, or create a scavenger hunt before you go.
Is This Really Homeschooling?
YES! (But, you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)
Traveling to See Relatives
Trips to Grandma’s house can count as school. You may not get any math done that day, but your child will no doubt learn. Depending on the conversation, they may learn about life when Grandpa was young. If Aunt Sue and Uncle Bill live in a different climate, they will learn about different bugs and plants. If you drive, stop at the rest areas and read the historical markers. Require them to keep journals while you travel, so they can write about their discoveries. If you’ll be gone for a week, take their school books along. This is what homeschooling looks like!
History isn’t always contained in books. There are countless movies and documentaries that cover just about every era in history and science. YouTube is one place to start; your library is another. Spending two hours watching a documentary counts as part of your school day. Spend time discussing what you watch. Have older children write a report on the information they learned.
Is this really homeschooling? It sure is!
Should it Be This Hard?
But, not every day is fun. Maybe you are a bit sleep deprived because you recently had a baby, or maybe there’s a lot of stress in your home due to financial or medical issues (or both). Some days are hard: hard for you or the children to get out of bed in the morning, hard for all of you to stay focused on the topics at hand, hard to know if you are really doing the right thing (yes, we all doubt our choices at times).
No matter how we train them, children have minds of their own. A fight with a sibling or best friend, lack of sleep, or hormonal changes can all affect mood. And when your child gets in a bad mood, they will often take it out on you. Because you’re there.
Little Suzy is so distracted thinking about her fight with her BFF that she can’t focus on math. She doesn’t want to focus on math anyway, she wants to go next door and set things right.
Little Jimmy could care less about the stars in the sky, so why should he write a report on them? He’d much rather be outside tossing around the football with his buds.
All the drama of defiant children tends to make the day drag out. It seems like nothing is getting done! Can you still count it as a school day? Yes!
The baby is teething. All he wants is for you to hold him. You struggle to teach math and reading to the older children while holding a fussy baby. He keeps dropping his teething ring, drooling on the papers in front of you, and tossing his head back (or forward) to connect with your bottom lip. Ouch!
Or maybe you had a baby a few weeks ago. Your husband was home from work for a couple weeks and helped teach the older children, but now he’s gone back to work. The baby is finally asleep and that’s exactly what you’d like to do, too. Your brain is so foggy you can’t recall all your multiplication facts or even what a preposition is. Your older children keep talking about anything and everything and none of it is related to the school work in front of them.
Documentaries and educational games come in really handy at times like these!
Another option is to set aside your normal school books and talk about family, helping others, the teeth in your mouth and the need for sleep. Take whatever situation you’re in and make it a teaching moment. If needed, call a friend to come play with your children so you can get a nap in.
It may not be a regular school day, but it’s still homeschooling.
Sometimes the hardest part of homeschooling is knowing there is someone in your family, or a close friend, who doesn’t approve. Maybe they feel your choice to homeschool is a slap in the face because they teach in the public school system. Maybe they think you’re sacrificing too much and that you’ll regret it later or hate your children. Or, maybe they feel your children should attend the school at your church so you can volunteer in the community like all the other moms at church.
These people make you doubt your abilities. They drop in unannounced because they don’t take your homeschooling seriously. They make remarks in front of your children about “real” school and about what other children are learning, and how smart so-and-so is (who is the same age as your child).
This is the hardest part, but it is still really homeschooling. You will need to take the time to teach your children about relationships, priorities, and tolerance. And you will instill in them a love for family, God, and obedience.
Is This Really Homeschooling?
Yes, all of this is really homeschooling. It doesn’t matter how long or how short your days are — it all evens out over the course of the year. It doesn’t matter if you spend some days at the table, in the yard, or away from home. Learning takes place everywhere. And it doesn’t matter if people tell you that you are having too much fun, or that it’s obviously too hard to do. The good and bad days will balance each other out over time, just like they do for every other part of life.
This IS really homeschooling. Your day probably won’t look like my day. The other children in your local homeschool group will not all be learning the same things your children are learning at the same time your children are learning those things. Just because the public schools teach cursive at a certain grade level doesn’t mean you must teach it at that time as well. You know your children best. You are the teacher. Only YOU can decide what your homeschooling day looks like.
And the next time a well-meaning friend looks at your curiously and asks, “But, are you really homeschooling when you do that?” Look them straight in the eye and say, “Yes, this is really homeschooling!”