Homeschooling and the Pie of Life

By July 21, 2020 Education

     Right now, parents are making difficult school choices based on COVID-19.  A number of moms contacted me to say they will keep their kids at home.

     The question they have is this: Should they stay connected with the public school, which may require their kids to sit behind a laptop for considerable time each day, or should they work with a charter school or independently homeschool?

    The answer rests with the family situation, but I will throw out four things to consider if you are leaning toward home education. (Brace yourself for a long post.)

1) What do your kids need to know to live a fulfilled life? 

2) If a cohesive family unit is important to you, how can you use this coming year, this pandemic “opportunity,” to further that goal while home educating? 

3) If you decide to home educate, first consider what I call, the PIE of LIFE.

4) “I can’t do it all,” say some moms…or can they?

1) What do your kids need to know to live a fulfilled life? 

     Write a list. Make it all-encompassing. Is it reading? Writing? Character traits? Faith? Knowing right-wrong? Manners? History?  The list goes on.  It’s critical to determine what is important.

     Once you know what is important to teach (which may coincide with or be outside of what the government requires), make a plan. Within that plan, encourage your kids to follow their interests.

     When I ask a high school public or private school student what his/her interests are, most of the time the response is “What do you mean?  Like English or Science? Probably video games.” If I ask the same question to a student who has always been homeschooled, I will hear a list:  “I’m interested in dog obedience training, search and rescue but I’m not sure if it will be ocean or mountain, Egyptology, and developing and marketing my own barbecue sauce.” 

     What’s happening in those responses?  In regular schools, students are told what to do all the time – and that can mean specifically what to do.  Students end up waiting to be told what to do instead of jumping in and thinking for themselves. (I’m generalizing here.) On the other hand, home educated kids are encouraged to follow their interests and that in itself promotes curiosity and motivation. Often, home educated students rank high in entrepreneurship, leadership, organizational ability, and being “independent thinkers.”

     So what do I mean by following interests? Watch your kids to see what interests them.  Provide a variety of books from the library for reading time. What books do they pick up? What are they excited about? You will soon see what they are drawn toward. Your job then is to follow that thread, noting that interests change over time.

      Here are two “interest” examples with using history. Often history is taught with a focus on wars.  However, I’ve had students who remember history through horses/carriages, weapons, clothing, or music. 

  • A 5th grade student was failing in public school. One day he was walking his bicycle home and since I also walked home from teaching school, I caught up with him and asked what was wrong with his bike. I found out he was a mechanic. When a person like this boy starts learning history through mechanics and inventions, he finds a reason to stay in school.
  • If you plan to study the 1600s this year with elementary, middle, or high school kids, they need to know the basics of what happened. But after that they can be given choices to research or investigate.  Interest areas could include Natives and Pilgrims, ballet, pirates, whaling, the extinction of the dodo bird, the English Civil War, toys, J.S. Bach…and the list goes on.

    Allow your child/ren to follow interest paths. They will be inspired by their own ideas and will follow through.

     In general, if you consider home educating, it’s possible to design your home life to follow what you think your kids should know. You can also consult a chart that lists what students usually learn at different grade levels. Encourage your child/ren to make choices in academic work, which in turn, may lead to becoming passionate in several areas.

2) If having a cohesive family unit is important to you, how can you further that goal while home educating? 

     One thing to do for family bonding is to limit electronics—or even just cell phones.  This may seem impossible with middle or high school students, but it can happen.  Everyone will have to be on-board with this, however.  Perhaps all family members can use cell phones during certain hours of each day. I worked in a school where students put their cell phones in a shoe bag kind of thing that hung on the back of a door. They only had the cell phones during lunch. Find a solution. This is critical.

     As you brainstorm how to create family unity or cooperative living, consider your lives together during this pandemic.  You are trying to survive.

  • Why not grow your own vegetables?
  • Perhaps work on life skills (see blog post HERE) or outdoor adventure survival skills.
  • Read together at night, either out loud or silently.
  • Work together doing chores (together or separately—but during the same ½ hour).
  • Establish daily and weekly routines and overall traditions. (see blog post HERE)
  • Set up a Cook’s Helper schedule.
  • Make meal plans, write food lists, and find coupons together.
  • Have a game night or art night.
  • Teach manners by role playing.
  • Involve your kids in the family business or develop a business.
  • Find a family who has the same “keep safe from the virus” values you have and have a bit of social interaction.

After you brainstorm, ask for suggestions from your kids. Come up with a plan.

      This may be THE YEAR that will solidify your family so your kids will, for the most part, remain best buddies. This year may also set the stage for when your kids leave home for college but will always come back for that special 2nd week in July family campout. Think outside the box!

    In the end, home education is a life-style. Parents raise their kids and are there for those teachable moments. An added benefit? Parents become a child’s primary role model instead of peers.  (Really, if you want your 5-year-old daughter to learn table manners, would you put her at your table or with 25 other kindergarteners?) Use this time to make the most of family life.

3) If you decide to home educate, first consider what I call, the PIE of LIFE.

     In a typical Pie of Life, school is at the center. Everything done as a family – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly – revolves around school. This includes activities and homework.

     When you home educate, formal school is often just a slice of pie in the Pie of Life. This slice of pie may be English and math, for example.  Everything else is “life.”

     How can children use their time productively and really live? Public school middle and high school students tell me that once they get out of high school, they will begin living. School to them is a holding place. What they don’t realize is that living is now. Helping others, developing an attitude of gratitude – whatever – is important now.

     Often, home educating parents try to focus on doing the opposite of public/private school.  They will let their kids sleep until 7am or so, have breakfast at 8 with chores following. Then have formal school from 9-12 – since kids work faster one-on-one. Parents can let a child finish writing a paper instead of being “timed to a bell,” and present most information in a hands-on way. This approach can be different from public school, but effective.

     There are different ways to schedule life and even build in flexibility—but that is another post! Determine your PIE of LIFE and then go from there.

4) “I can’t do it all,” is what I hear from moms.  

     That could mean, teaching kids all their subjects at different grade levels, cleaning the house, getting kids to obey, cooking, getting to medical appointments, and often working a part-time job.  There are ways to make this all work. But let’s focus on “teaching kids all the subjects.”

    There’s a misconception that you have to teach “all subjects every day.” 

  • You might try a four-day week with English and math only as your formal subjects.
  • You can become immersed in a history unit study where all your children are learning the same topic. You can read history books at night and one afternoon a week work on history-related arts projects (e.g., art, drama, music).
  • Learning about our natural world (science) can be a summer focus. (Even public school science teachers say formal science is not necessary until grade 8.) Kids can learn together at different grade levels.
  • Some home educators focus on history in the fall and science in the spring.

Or, you can get rid of the compartmentalization of “subjects” and decide that all of life is learning. Schooling then is no longer separated into categories.

     While on the subject of teaching kids, keep them curious. One homeschooled 10th grade student, who was taking a writing class with me, stated she didn’t know the language of Shakespeare but wished she did. So I said, “So…you’re telling me you’d like to study a sonnet or play?”  This girl jumped up with a resounding “Yes!”  Although I’ve heard high school teachers say they have to “cram information down their students’ throats,” I think with the right teaching-learning environment, students will want to learn.  Keep them curious and asking questions. That way, students are not driven by external means (grades, competition, fear, threats, rewards) but by internal means. (See my blog post “Motivating Students” HERE.)

     With a more flexible approach to teaching and learning, the cleaning, obeying, and job duties will all work out.

CONCLUSION   

     It’s a challenge to think positively, especially for those who have lost relatives and friends to COVID-19. The practice of keeping safe can be time-consuming and bothersome and isolation can contribute to depression. But I’m convinced that if you choose to home educate, you will experience positives that will out-weigh negatives.

  • Mesh living with learning.
  • Experiment with a new level of family relationships.
  • Learn what your kids learn…so you know what they know.
  • Have kids discover their passions…and let them move beyond grade level.
  • Use library resources to save money.

Once you figure out what you want your kids to know, then begin working on a cohesive family unit and choosing a Pie of Life.  All will work out.  And you know, your kids might grow in ways unexpected with a lack a peer pressure and a big dose of self-worth.

   

AUTHOR: In addition to home educating her kids, Rebecca Locklear taught pre-school through grade 12 in public, private, and overseas international schools.