Decluttering the Homeschool House

Homeschoolers usually spend a significant portion of their days at home. The many hours of projects, crafts, meals, and experiments that happen every day in a homeschooling house can add up to a significant amount of clutter and chaos. What are some ways to keep your home and your family from getting overwhelmed by this?

Consider the favorite spaces your family uses for various activities. Set things up so it is easy to clean up, and start over when space is needed for another project. Make sure there is a storage area nearby for works in progress and a safe spot for anything that might need to air-dry.

Observe the patterns in your house. How are family members using the space? Where do piles of things usually grow? One of the biggest challenges in any house is keeping things up off the floor. Where do things most often get dropped? If you have a perpetual pile that grows unbidden in a particular place, it’s a sure sign that those items need a permanent home nearby. Put baskets for hats and mittens near where coats are hung. Unfinished works of art may need a shelf near the crafts area.

Who is responsible for tidying up and when? Setting aside regular time once or twice each day for routine clean-up can help keep the clutter from growing. You may find it helpful to assign a container to each family member—a basket, bin, or box—where anyone can deposit items belonging to the owner. Put trash and recycling containers in every room where trash is generated.

Make it a habit to weed out and discard unwanted items on an ongoing basis. Things that are broken should be fixed or discarded. Papers can often be recycled. If you feel overwhelmed, just deal with the pile or item that you bump into first—then repeat, repeat, repeat.

If your children have a hard time decluttering, make it a game: “Keep or Don’t Keep?” See how fast you can sort through a pile together. Start with two containers for sorting things into—one “keep” bin and one “toss” bin. Hold up each item in turn and ask dramatically, “Keep? Or don’t keep?” Encourage your child to respond as quickly as possible for each item. Time yourselves if it adds to the excitement. When the pile is gone, you can whisk the “toss” pile out of sight to minimize a change of heart.

Here are some things to consider adding to your home in areas where clutter collects:

  • Hooks to hang things on
  • Shelves to put things on
  • Bins and drawers to put things in
  • Baskets, containers, crates to organize things
  • Furniture with doors and drawers to help to keep clutter hidden

Make sure storage is at the right height for the people who will use it. If you have young children, store off-limits items on the highest shelves or behind cabinet doors and “help-yourself” items, such as toys and basic drawing supplies, within easy reach. Storage that is too difficult to access will not be used; same for storage that is not in the area where its items are most likely to be abandoned. Try to make it as convenient as possible.

Consider turning a closet or cabinet into a storage space for art and craft supplies and other homeschooling materials. Sort by category and assign one bin or box to each category (crayons, ribbons/string, paint, knitting, etc.). Label everything clearly so that everyone can see what to store in each bin without having to open it to check. Use pictures or symbols if you have family members who are very visual or not yet reading.

Cozy nooks for reading and relaxing are important but can invite a state of ongoing disarray. What are your nooks like? Are there pillows? Soft blankets? How do you want things arranged when not in use? What does that look like? Show your children how to stack pillows, fold blankets, and leave things tidy for the next person.
With a proactive approach and some practice, managing clutter can become a regular part of your family’s homeschooling routine. Involve everyone in the family in the process and the results will be worth the effort as you enjoy a calmer, less cluttered home.

14 Tips for Working from Home and Homeschooling

Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:

  1. Maximize flexibility in your work situation. When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.
  2. Photo Credit: Litteken Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Embrace a relaxed homeschooling style. Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.
  3. Expect the unexpected. Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.
  4. Manage interruptions proactively. How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!
  5. Photo Credit: Adam Hall
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Offer your attention and presence whenever you can. When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.
  7. Give your child tools to use when they must wait for your attention. Be clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.
  8. Photo Credit: Kate Bowen
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Help children learn how to help themselves. As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.
  9. Divide household responsibilities in a predictable, easy-to-follow way. Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.
  10. Keep craft materials, games, books, and toys within easy reach as much as you feel your children can handle without supervision. Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.
  11. Photo Credit: Henderson Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Work smart! Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.
  12. Lean on others. Negotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.
  13. Take good care of yourself. Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!
  14. Remember why you are doing this. You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.

Do you have experience with working at home while homeschooling? What would you add to this list?

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists — leaving notes here and there all over the house — and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. 

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.
At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Oak Meadow Parent Planner PackageNo matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement — just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. 
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. 
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.

More reasons to love your planner
Oak Meadow student doing assignment outside with leavesFeel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

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DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.
This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

10 Reasons Why Oak Meadow May Be the Perfect Fit for You

What are you looking for in a home learning program? Would Oak Meadow be a good match for your family? See if any of the following points resonate with you.

Family practicing the recorder together1. Being actively involved in your child’s learning feels right to you.

You appreciate your child as an individual and enjoy spending time with them. You value the deep connection between you and your child, and you trust that because you are a loving parent, you are naturally well suited to be your child’s home teacher.An Oak Meadow education means that you, the parent, are your child’s primary teacher. As an Oak Meadow parent, you remain closely involved in every step of your child’s learning. When they need help conquering a challenge, you are right there to help them in a way that honors their unique personality. Your loving connection to your child qualifies you as the best expert on their needs.

2. Your child is keen to engage in creative, hands-on learning – and you like it, too.

Learning by doing comes naturally to them, and you enjoy supporting their curiosity and efforts. Oak Meadow encourages students to learn experientially through real-world experiences. Take math skills out into the garden for a carpentry project, visit local historic sites, or go hiking with a sketchbook in hand. The small scale of home learning allows for one-on-one assistance with a wide range of projects. Experiments and creations can be spread out and returned to over and over. Depending on your child’s needs, you can be closely involved, or step back and allow their creativity to bloom with support as needed. The world is your classroom!

3. Your mind is open to a range of effective ways to approach education.

You are eager to figure out how to help your child thrive, even if the solution is unconventional. Perhaps traditional school hasn’t worked out as well as you had hoped, or maybe you just have an intuitive sense that it won’t be a good fit for your unconventional learner. Homeschooling and distance learning can be very helpful options for students who learn outside of the box, and Oak Meadow is easily adaptable for learning differences.

4. You believe nature should be a central theme in children’s learning.

The natural world provides a multitude of catalysts for learning and growing, and it also provides a healthy environment for playing and living. Oak Meadow’s curriculum encourages students to keenly observe and develop a relationship with the natural world. Frequent outdoor play and exploration are encouraged and valued. The relationship between nature and the student is so important that it is a key theme throughout Oak Meadow’s curriculum.

5. You appreciate having the flexibility to adapt lessons to your child’s unique learning needs and interests.

If something isn’t working for you or your child, you will modify it. You use curriculum as a starting point, then let your child’s passions guide your choices within and beyond the given material. We know that every child is unique, and that’s why Oak Meadow’s curriculum is full of various possibilities for all kinds of learners. It’s up to you (and your child’s teacher, if you enroll in distance learning) to pick and choose from the options presented in the lessons. You might need to try different things to figure out what works, but in time, you and your child will both have a better understanding of how they learn best.

6. You believe that learning is a lifestyle that best involves the whole family.

You recognize that the needs of all family members are interwoven, and you choose to create a home life that supports healthy learning and growth for everyone in the family. Students who learn at home have the benefit of a holistic lifestyle where living and learning are totally intertwined. Siblings learn with and from each other, and the bond between family members of all ages is developed and strengthened.

7. You feel that education should address the whole child, not just academic growth.

You honor the importance of your child’s passions, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities and honor the role those things play in your child’s learning. Many educational programs focus on academics without acknowledging the many other important facets of a child’s being. Oak Meadow’s philosophy is all about nurturing learning in a comprehensive way, weaving together the many different kinds of growth and development in a balanced, holistic approach.

8. You have a good sense of when to ask for support, either through enrollment or through our homeschooling support service.

You are willing and able to reach out to others in your community and beyond to widen your child’s learning support system and make use of helpful resources. You know that nobody has all the answers. You trust that you’ll learn what you need to know along the way. The most successful Oak Meadow families are proactive and persistent in reaching out to those who can help them out in various ways on their homeschooling journey.

9. You appreciate the idea of a secular (non-religious) academic curriculum.

If your family opts for religious education, you supplement with faith-based religious curriculum or design your own course of religious instruction that honors your family’s beliefs. Oak Meadow is one of few providers of complete secular homeschooling curriculum. Many families come to us because they are looking for an alternative to the many faith-based programs that are available. Some families choose to supplement our materials with faith-based lessons in order to incorporate spiritual education into their homeschooling experience. Oak Meadow supports the freedom of parents to choose the best way to support their child’s religious and spiritual education.

10. Whether you are looking for a comprehensive homeschooling curriculum or an accredited distance learning school, you value the wisdom Oak Meadow offers from over 40 years of experience in supporting home learners

Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams, began with a thoughtful vision for home education that remains an inspiration to all of us at Oak Meadow. Our teachers and counselors are carefully chosen to support Oak Meadow’s philosophy. Many of us have used Oak Meadow materials and services with our own children. We hold ourselves to the same standards we would demand for our own families. Through the years, our program has gone through countless revisions to provide families with the best possible homeschooling and distance learning experiences, and we continue to revise and update our materials on an ongoing basis.

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This article originally appeared in home|school|life magazine in May 2016.

What I wish I’d known before our two decades of homeschooling

by June M. Schulte, former Oak Meadow parent

When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.

We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.

Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!

By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile! We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.

What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.

We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!

Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.

Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.

I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.

Note to former self: If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognize that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.


June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”

When Your Child Is Struggling in School

We’ve all had our struggles, but when it’s your child struggling in school, what can you do? A negative school experience can disrupt your child’s learning, threaten your child’s self-esteem, and create stress for the entire family.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of but things aren’t getting better, consider bringing learning home. Homeschooling and distance learning are both very good educational choices for students whose social, emotional, physical, or intellectual needs are not being met at school. Home learning offers a more personalized and flexible approach that can make for a happier, more effective educational experience for both your child and you. Do you see your child in any of these scenarios?

SOCIAL NEEDS

Students who have been the target of bullying can find it very challenging to feel safe or accepted on the playground, on the bus, and even in the classroom. Home can be a safer and more effective environment for learning and healing.

Mature, developmentally advanced students may have a hard time fitting in with their classmates. They may crave connections with older friends or adults who appreciate subtle references and sophisticated humor. Home learners have the flexibility and time to connect with people of many different ages and backgrounds.

Shy children and those who lag behind their peers socially benefit from developing friendships one-on-one or in smaller, handpicked groups of peers. Home learning provides shelter from social challenges and allows families to foster their own community with others who respect each child’s pace and personality.

EMOTIONAL NEEDS

Students who are easily frustrated in school can benefit from learning at home with one-to-one attention, loving support, and the flexibility to work through stressful moments in healthy, constructive ways such as taking a break, exercising, or calming themselves in whatever way works best for them. 

Low self-esteem can make school a big challenge for those who need extra support and thoughtful guidance. With home learning, students and parents can maximize the chance of success and ensure a positive outcome. Children for whom comparison to their peers is traumatizing find that individual, at-home learning removes social pressure and allows them to focus on their own personal goals and progress.

Children who are highly sensitive benefit from learning in a familiar environment with low stimulation. Removing the stress of home-to-school and classroom-to-classroom transitions allows students to focus their limited reserves on learning instead.

Some children resist authority and need a high level of autonomy to be able to engage in learning activities, which can lead to classroom disruption, noncompliance, and frustration. At home, learning can be as self-driven as the student and parent desire.

PHYSICAL NEEDS

Students who need a lot of physical activity, such as highly active or kinesthetic learners, struggle in classrooms where students are expected to sit quietly most of the time and move around only on a set schedule. Learning at home is a welcome relief for active children who need to pace or hop while integrating new material or take frequent breaks to run around so they can focus effectively at other times.

For students with physical challenges, particularly those with conditions that involve fatigue, navigating a school environment can be exhausting. At home, resting is easy, and lessons can flex to take advantage of “up days” and minimize work on “down days.” Comfort can take priority, and adaptations are much easier to arrange when the parent is the home teacher.

Medical challenges can disrupt learning for a child who is in and out of class often or for long stretches of time due to doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and periods of convalescence. “Homeschooling” can happen anywhere, not just at home, and how you define the “school year” is up to you.

INTELLECTUAL NEEDS

Students who are academically gifted often yearn for breadth and/or depth beyond the limits of a typical classroom. Home learning has no such limits. These learners can indulge their curiosity as thoroughly as they wish and supplement their learning with hands-on, experiential activities.

The unique needs of intellectually challenged students are also well met at home, where learning can capitalize on their strengths and bolster their weaknesses. Students who haven’t measured up to their classmates in school often experience freedom and relief when they find themselves to be the norm in their own home classroom.

For students who are both gifted and challenged, home learning can bridge a gap that might otherwise be difficult to fit into a single grade level. Some are ready for a high level of academic challenge in one or more subjects but need remedial work in other areas. These needs, which might be cause for concern in school, can be easily met at home, where students can work at an individually appropriate level and pace in each area of study.

SCHOOL CHOICE

When public school options are weak and private school options are unaffordable, what choices remain? With distance learning, you can have a strong academic program without paying private school prices. Or you can choose to homeschool independently and set your own schedule and standards while enjoying as much flexibility as you wish.

Students who have a deep passion for an activity may find that neither public nor private school allows enough flexibility to fit in enough training, practice, and/or pre-professional preparation. Because home learning is flexible, portable, and individual, it allows the freedom for gifted athletes, artists, performers, and others to pursue their dreams without compromising their education.
Families that travel often or live “on the road” benefit from using a continuous family-friendly program that can travel with them wherever they might go.

HOME EDUCATION

Switching gears to learning at home can be a welcome relief. Removing stressors allows students to use their inner resources for learning and growing, not just managing to get through each day.

Begin by exploring an accredited distance-learning school or a highly respected homeschool curriculum program. Families transitioning from school to homeschool can find support from educational counselors, homeschool support professionals, distance-learning teachers, and others. Homeschool organizations and informal homeschool groups also provide connection and community.

When your child is struggling in school, remember that you have options! Home learning may be the perfect choice. Keep your expectations flexible, trust yourself to make good decisions, and let your heart guide you to do what’s best for your child and your family.

My Journey with Oak Meadow

by Lucy Enge, Oak Meadow high school student

Published in September 2016

My journey with Oak Meadow began in the fall when I was almost six. My parents had decided to homeschool me (for kindergarten) using Oak Meadow’s curriculum; they liked the Waldorf influence. And we continued our journey with OM homeschooling through the eighth grade! It has been ten years now, I am almost sixteen, and I am about to start my second year enrolled in Oak Meadow’s high school program as a tenth grader.

During my eighth grade year, when my parents and I were deciding about what to do for high school, we knew that I (and my mom, too) loved homeschooling. However, as my mom had worked in college admission for years, she thought it was important for me to look at and consider all of my options before deciding what to do for high school, in hopes that I would avoid second guessing my choice later.

So, we created a list of the possibilities: homeschooling (using OM independently), enrollment in OM’s distance learning school, two magnet schools, a parochial high school, and two nationally acclaimed private schools. My mom wanted me to see it all! Then, we explored each option/school further. We researched online, attended some open houses, took tours, and participated in shadow days.

Separately, my mom, my dad, and I created a list of pros and cons for each option/school. My parents did not share their lists with me as we looked so that my final decision was truly mine. But, they certainly did listen to all I said about each option as I sorted things out in my mind! Finally, after hours and hours of “work,” I narrowed it down to three: homeschooling, enrolling in OM, and the parochial high school. After another shadow day, I eliminated the parochial high school.

We discussed continuing to homeschool as we had since kindergarten, but, after a lot of talking together, we decided that enrolling in Oak Meadow would be the best for me and my high school journey. It would require me to be accountable to other teachers (outside of my mom), provide me with a rigorous curriculum and an accredited transcript, and also give me a flexible schedule and the freedom that homeschooling had allowed me in the past – the perfect bridge (for me) between homeschooling grade school and attending college.

And so I enrolled! Starting with our first conversation with Rachel, my education counselor, we were warmly welcomed to Oak Meadow and well guided in what courses to enroll in. For my ninth grade year, I took Algebra I, Environmental Science, French I, Introduction to Literature and Composition, and World Geography. Once I began my courses, I felt myself being positively challenged, enjoying everything (well, except, rewriting an essay, but from that, I know I became a better writer), and truly flourishing!

My teachers, Antony, Jacquelyn, Julia, Lydia, and Marnie (I love you all!), are amazing and are everything I (and my parents!) wished for and more. They have pushed, encouraged, and inspired me. Whenever I have a question, they are happy to answer and do so timely, and their comments on my lessons are constructive and helpful.

With their assistance, I have also created projects for myself that let me explore a particular topic that relates to the material that I am studying: I have written poetry; painted watercolors; read books; cooked meals from Peruvian cuisine, to a Jewish Shabbat dinner, to vegetarian sushi; made a Malaysian kite; studied children’s literature; and watched many documentaries. Truly, I could not have imagined a better first year of high school!

When I look back at myself a year ago (before ninth grade) and at my early ninth grade work, I see that I have come a long way. I am more confident and poised, I know myself (my values and my beliefs) more clearly, I am a much stronger writer, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge. Oak Meadow is not for everyone – it is hard, in a good way, and you have to want to learn and be an active part of your education! – but it certainly has been right for me. I love Oak Meadow and could not be happier with my high school choice! 

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Lucy Enge lives in a small Connecticut river town with her family. Her interests include (in no particular order) reading; classical music; baking/cooking; old television shows; poetry; walking/hiking/biking; sewing/knitting; watercolor painting; (almost) all things Peruvian, British, and French; and traveling. She also enjoys living simply; eating local, organic food; and going to charity shops and estate sales.

10 Ways to Create and Maintain Balance as a Homeschooling Parent

1. Know your priorities. Be clear with yourself about what is most important. Make sure everyone in the family knows what those things are. Talk regularly about the reasons why your family does things the way you do. Be open with each other when it feels like it’s time to revisit or reaffirm your family’s priorities.

2. Always start with a plan, and be flexible enough to change the plan as needed. If you need help with planning for the younger grades, our parent planners can be a big help. Planning ahead really helps the family’s rhythm stay steady and keeps each member on track academically.

3. Don’t try to do too much. Keep things simple! Avoid over committing and let people know when you need to dial back. If you feel self-conscious when plans need to shift, remember that your commitment to your family’s needs may be an inspiration for others who are struggling with the same challenge.

4. Help your children establish roots and grow wings. Balance the two by first giving them a strong, supportive foundation, then give them some room to practice flying on their own. It’s quite a thrill to see your child take off independently when they are ready, and it’s reassuring to know that you have prepared them well.

5. Take very good care of yourself. Spending all day, every day, in the company of even the most wonderful homeschooling children is a challenge. Eat well, exercise, and make sleep a priority. Also make time for the hobbies and passions that boost your energy and enthusiasm. Keep your reserves full by taking regular time off for yourself where you are able to turn off your parental radar and relax.  By making your own well-being a priority, you model an important and lifelong habit for your children, who may grow up to parent homeschoolers themselves.

6. Find a friend who will listen when you need to get things off your chest, someone who will also help you celebrate those homeschooling triumphs that the rest of the world has a hard time grasping. Talk about your joys and challenges regularly.

7. Offer and accept help. Ask when you need it, and give to others when you can. Build a network of homeschooling friends who support each other. Take turns so that you can each get a break sometimes. Offer wisdom and support to those who are newer to parenting or homeschooling than you are. Ask family, friends, and neighbors to engage with your children’s learning, especially if they have experience in areas that you do not. Be clear about your needs and gracious when others help meet them.

8. Keep the fires burning in your marriage. Tend your marital partnership, if you have one. It can be all too easy to let those needs be superseded by the needs of your homeschoolers, so do whatever is needed to keep your primary adult relationship healthy.

9. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it is still an important thing to do once in awhile. Let this be a time when they can check in about how things are going for them and talk freely with you about their wishes, dreams, and interests, regardless of what the rest of the family needs. Let your child help plan how to spend that time so that it has meaning for both of you. When the needs of other family members take priority, both of you will have the memory of these one-on-one times to carry you through until the next time.

10. Laugh together! Have fun as a family that is at least equal to the amount of hard work you do together. Eat meals together regularly and tell funny jokes at the table. If you start feeling stressed during the day, have an on-the-spot dance party. Go on spontaneous adventures sometimes. Find things to do that you can all enjoy. Stay connected with each other in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with educational expectations.

How old should my child be when starting Oak Meadow kindergarten?

In general, our kindergarten curriculum correlates developmentally with age 5 and grade 1 with age 6. Therefore, we encourage families to wait until age 5 before beginning kindergarten.

However, every child’s development is unique, and so there really is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. Families following a Waldorf pedagogy often don’t start first grade until their children are 6.5 or 7 years old. The idea behind “waiting” is to let the children mature into their physical bodies and abilities so that the rigors of formal education (including learning to read and write, and being comfortable working quietly and focused for a span of time) come to them more easily.

It is also very important to remember that our curriculum is designed to follow nationally accepted educational standards for each grade level. With that in mind, the academic level of children using Oak Meadow will be comparable to their peers at that same grade level. This means that a child who leaves public school at the end of one year, then completes the next grade in Oak Meadow the following year, should be able to re-enter public school at the next grade level without being held back. Of course, that is always at the discretion of the school, and how thoroughly the family works through the curriculum will make a difference in the child’s readiness for the next grade.

One last consideration is that starting children in kindergarten at 4 years old (which seems to be more and more common in public schools today) may put them at a disadvantage in future grades when curriculum content addresses issues that are appropriate for a more mature audience. Also, if children who are on the young end of the spectrum enter into a group learning situation later, they may be a year or more younger than their grade-level peers, which can sometimes make social connections challenging.

Looking at each child’s development on all levels (physical, social, emotional, and intellectual) can help parents determine when to start formal schooling. Sometimes a child will excel in one area while being developmentally aligned in other areas with a specific grade or age. In that case, challenges in that one area can be added to enhance the grade-level curriculum. If a child who has completed kindergarten at a young age does not seem ready for the challenges of first grade, repeating the kindergarten year may be a gift that yields benefits far into the future.

We encourage parents to read these FAQs and then call the office (802-251-7250) to speak with an educational counselor for help determining the appropriate grade placement for each child.

Motivating Middle Schoolers

Middle school boy exploring a streamThere is no doubt that middle school students can be difficult to engage at times, and this can be especially true for home teachers who are also parents. Middle school aged students hold on fiercely to their newly discovered independence, and at the same time they need some guidance while they learn to develop their own thoughts and opinions about the world around them. As your child’s home teacher, you have the difficult position of being both the parent and the educator of your child who is quickly learning to assert themselves.

Learning with a middle school age student might require a shift in thinking and planning for the home teacher, but it can also be the start of a new dynamic in your homeschooling relationship. Most middle school students respond well when we act in ways that show respect for their individuality, which also gives them choices and some control over their learning. Consider some of the following middle school motivators.

Ownership: 

A little bit of ownership can go a long way with a middle school student. Your child should have some say in setting up your school area and be involved in selecting their own supplies if possible. Present different possibilities for organizing the school day, but ultimately let the student set the daily schedule. Allow for some trial and error. If the schedule doesn’t work perfectly, discuss the reasons why, but allow your child to improve the schedule without any feelings of failure. Assist your child in learning to use a planner as they prepare for their school year. This opportunity can help build your child’s decision-making skills as well as develop tools for time management. Be open to their suggestions. It feels good to your middle schooler because they are being trusted to design a plan that fits their own needs. Academically, a great way to involve your middle schooler is to have them set some personal learning goals at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year you can revisit these goals so your child can assess their progress. Try your best not to influence this process. You can still pursue your own goals for your child, but it might be their own goals that will help them engage more fully in their work.

Expression and privacy: 

Be sure your child has ample time each week to express her or himself, whether it be through writing, music, art, or another creative outlet. Try not to always ask to see what they are writing or creating, and give them the space to create privately. Most teenagers have thoughts and ideas that they want to keep only to themselves. They may need to spend time in solitude occasionally. It is important to create a safe environment for your child to journal, create, or simply take a walk alone if they need to. If you give them this space and reasonable expectation of privacy, they may feel more open to share at a different time.

Sense of purpose and incorporating interests: 

Most middle school students can be easily engaged in a topic or activity that they have a genuine interest in. By allowing students time to explore an area of interest or changing a project so that it is more relevant to a specific area of curiosity or passion, we give them the opportunity to experience the power of intrinsic motivation. If your child is open to your involvement, learning alongside them can be a great opportunity to learn more about the things that are important to them. If you’re not sure what interests them, ask!

Maturity and playfulness: 

Surround your child with positive adult role models. It is important that your child is learning to interact with adults appropriately at this age. They need to have adults in their lives that they feel like they can trust other than their parents. These adults could be coaches, tutors, friends, or family. If you know an adult who shares a hobby or knows a skill your child is interested in, it can create an opening for a mentoring relationship that can continue to grow in time. Middle schoolers are often inspired to practice a more mature way of relating when they connect and feel valued by awesome adults. At the same time, if you catch your older child being silly, being imaginative, or engaged in active play with younger siblings or friends, let the magic happen! Students this age can feel a lot of pressure to act “older” all of the time. Play is good therapy for people of all ages. Allowing them to relax into the kind of play they enjoyed when they were younger is valuable and can infuse new energy into your middle schooler.

The parent-child relationship is changing, but it’s still as important as ever. Be sure to balance the serious tasks of education and motivation with regular “time out” together that feels good to both of you. If you are struggling with finding that balance, schedule some time together without an agenda. Casual activities that leave open space for conversation are good: Go for a hike, take a drive somewhere that interests both of you, or have lunch together at a cafe. It doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to accomplish anything other than giving you both a break from the dynamic where the parent is trying to motivate the child. Let go of expectations and enjoy each other.

Voice: 

If your child is objecting to something, give them an opportunity to express the reasons why. It is important that they feel heard and validated. Listen without interrupting, and repeat back what they share with you in your own words so they know you understand. Look for a reasonable way to create a solution together, and invite them to be a part of that process. This can be a great exercise in self-advocacy, which is an important skill to develop at this age. Remember that they are learning how to manage disagreement appropriately, and be patient with them as they experiment with the skills needed to communicate, negotiate, and work together to resolve conflict.

Confidentiality: 

It is tempting to discuss the details of what your child is learning with others, especially when you are around other homeschoolers or trying to explain homeschooling to someone who is unfamiliar with it. But be aware that at the neighborhood potluck, your son or daughter might not want you discussing their aversion to long division or the trouble they are having using semi-colons. Encourage your child to share on their own about favorite topics they are exploring, but try not to make a habit out of making casual conversation around the day to day details of your child’s learning in public. It can be embarrassing for them, and your child might feel less safe to take risks in future lessons if they know you might mention it to their friend’s mom at the grocery store.

Confidence:

One thing all middle schoolers experience at some point are feelings of self doubt. If your child has a skill or area where they feel especially confident, it is important to give them a lot of opportunities to practice it. If there is an area where your child does not feel confident, do what you can to foster opportunities for their confidence to bloom. Using their developing skills to benefit others can help empower them. For example, if your child does not like reading out loud, see if they might read favorite books to an adoring younger child. If they struggle with writing, exchanging letters with a supportive older pen pal can give them a chance to apply their skills in way that feels safe, positive, and encouraging. Being seen by others as competent helps them to see themselves that way, too.

New beginnings: 

When you do have a challenging day, always offer your child a chance to start fresh in the morning. Try not to start the next day with a rehashing of the events of the previous day, or with related threats or consequences. If you were not at your best the day before, model healthy relationship building by acknowledging what you could have done better. Your child might not be able to do this themselves yet, but modeling it is important. Try to find some humor or positive way to start the next day off on a better note. If the previous day’s issue needs to be revisited, try bringing it up later, when both of you have had more time to move past the challenging moment.

If you have the feeling that you can’t motivate your middle school student to “do anything,” you might be right. They need to be motivated from within. Although you can’t do that for them, you can help them learn how to do it for themselves. Learning with your middle schooler can be a great experience, but it helps to let them take the lead. It can feel very different from when they were younger, for both parents and children. A middle schooler’s growing independence can be an opportunity for the home teacher to take a less active role in instruction, to enjoy learning about new interests and more in depth topics together, and to watch their maturity unfold.

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