Setting Up Your Homeschool Space

Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.

Photo credit: The Marino Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Marino Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep an open mind. Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.
If possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.
Make sure your workspace is comfortable. Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.
Your home learning space will need good lighting. Can you position it near a window? Natural lighting is ideal, supplemented with general lighting and focused task lighting. If your homeschool work surface doubles as a dining table, consider bringing a desk lamp to the table for homeschool use and moving it off the table and out of the way at mealtime.
Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.
If there are small children or younger siblings in the home, try locking storage tubs and/or high shelves for anything that is not safe for little fingers. Label everything! (Use symbols or pictures for those who aren’t fluent readers.) Lower shelves can be stocked with “help yourself” materials that can be used by all ages without supervision.
Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Place a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.
A single centrally located work space will be enough to meet the needs of most younger homeschoolers. Older students will need an area that is quiet and free from distractions. In families with siblings, this might be need to be a separate space where students can go to study and work on projects that do not require adult support.
It can also be very helpful to have a comfortable reading nook somewhere in the house where children can relax as they read or study. In families with multiple homeschoolers, some will need to get away from the center of things to recharge, and a designated out-of-the-way corner will help to fill that need.
Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.
Peace and quiet may be a very important priority for a distractible student or parent. If designating a completely distraction-free area is impossible, consider protecting the “sound space” by limiting loud activities during certain times of the day, asking other family members to use headphones if listening to audio devices, or providing earplugs for those who might need them.
Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!
Photo credit: The Park Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Park Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.
Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.
As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.
Is writing neatly a challenge? Perhaps the desk or chair aren’t the right height, or the writing space is too cramped to support the forearm. Does your student have trouble staying on task? Perhaps decluttering the walls and space and creating a more distraction-free zone will help. Do library books keep getting lost? Make sure to have a handy basket next to the reading area so that all books are returned to one place.
Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.
How is your homeschool space set up? What do you wish you had done differently from the start? What helpful tips do you have for someone who would like to make better use of their homeschool space? 

10 Things You Don’t Miss When You Homeschool

Some of the hallmarks of school are blissfully absent for homeschoolers. Here are ten key examples.

1. The morning alarm clock: Homeschoolers can design their schedule to honor their body’s natural rhythms. Many wake each day only when their body is refreshed and ready.

2. Homework: When homeschool work is done, it’s done! There’s no additional pile of work to add on at the end of a long day.

3. School lunches: Whether you pack them or buy them in the cafeteria, school lunch options are limited, and health is all too often sacrificed for convenience. Homeschoolers can enjoy all of the natural, healthy options their parents make available in the fridge or pantry.

4. Permission slips: All of those endless slips of paper to sign and return magically disappear when you bring learning home instead!

5. Detention: Homeschool discipline is simply an extension of regular parenting. There’s no need to compel a student to “stay after school” to make a point.

6. Report cards: Homeschoolers don’t need report cards because their parents keep ongoing tabs on how their learning is going. Some homeschoolers even consider grades optional.

7. Parent-teacher conferences: There’s no need for a meeting because the home teacher is also the parent. As one bit of homeschool humor asserts, “I’m not talking to myself; I’m having a parent-teacher conference!”

8. Shortened recess: Recess can happen anytime and as often as it is needed!

9. The bell: The bell to signal the end of the class period or school day never interrupts your work or that wonderful book you’ve just delved into. And you never spend any time watching the seconds hand go round and round as it counts down the boring minutes to the end of class. You might wish there were more minutes in your day, though!

10. The end of summer vacation: When school vacation ends and school kids head back inside school to their lockers, desks, and workbooks, yours can keep playing outside as much as they want.

Finding Community as a Homeschooler

At first, particularly if you are new to homeschooling, it may seem like there are no homeschoolers around at all. But chances are very good that they are just hidden in plain sight!

Photo credit: Hickman Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Hickman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Families in many areas have established homeschool groups that meet for field trips, projects, playtime, and even parent-run classes. Finding them can be the hardest part. Some homeschool groups maintain a low profile to respect or protect the privacy of their member families. So it can be challenging to make that first connection. But homeschoolers, in general, are very resourceful and well-connected, and once you’ve found one local homeschooling family, you may soon hear about others.
Have you wondered about how best to find other homeschoolers in your area? Here are some suggestions for where to look.
Ask at the library. Most homeschooling families develop an active relationship with the local librarian. He or she may be able to connect you with other families.
Put up posters at the community center, grocery store, town office, or other places where homeschooling parents and children are sure to see them. Your poster could say something as simple as, “Do you homeschool? We’d love to connect!”
If your community has an online bulletin board or a local newspaper, you might be able to publish a classified ad or notice. Advertise a playgroup, potluck, or not-back-to-school picnic and see who responds.
Photo credit: Laura Nance (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Laura Nance
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Go to the park, indoor playground, or other local kid-friendly venues during school hours on a school day. If you see another family there with school-aged kids, ask them why theirs are not in school. With luck, their reason will be the same as yours!
Although homeschooling is more mainstream than ever, it has roots in the alternative and natural parenting culture. So if you are a secular homeschooler, you might see if you can find likeminded parents through the local natural foods store or parenting groups such as La Leche League. if your homeschooling focus is religious, your faith community is a great place to start.
Sympathetic local or state school officials are sometimes empowered to connect homeschooling families with each other. Inquire with whomever is in charge of homeschool enrollment or registration for your locale.
Seek out regional homeschooling organizations and homeschool conventions, if there are any near you. Attend any local events you can until you’ve made enough connections to sustain you for awhile.
Photo credit: Nevada Wolfe (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Visit local learning centers and attractions such as museums, environmental education centers, aquariums, historical sites. They often have special rates or visit times for homeschoolers, so ask their recommendation on how to connect with other homeschooling visitors.
Put out the word! Let supportive friends and family know that you’re in search of homeschooling connections. They may not know of any local homeschoolers, but they may know someone whose Aunt Martha has a neighbor whose son homeschools in your town. It’s worth a try.
Look online. There are many groups, boards, pages, lists, and websites devoted to homeschooling. (Oak Meadow’s Facebook page alone has over 27,000 followers.) Some homeschooling support boards are for members only; others are public. Some focus on particular regions. You may find one local to you, or you may need to post something specific asking for responses.
Jump right in and talk with people wherever you go! You never know where you might make a connection or get some helpful information.
Don’t be shy about seeking connection, and be persistent if you don’t find it right away! Being proactive is the best way to find community quickly. What resources are there for connecting with homeschoolers in your area? Tell us about the best resources you know of and where to find information. Other families near you will be grateful! How did your family find other homeschoolers to connect with?
 

12 Clues That You Might Be Homeschool-Minded

Are you homeschool-minded? Even if you do not homeschool, you may have some of the key traits that also characterize homeschoolers.

Photo credit: The Cloud Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Cloud Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Homeschool-minded parents are open to possibilities. They recognize multiple ways of learning, and they seek out ways to engage with their child in the way he or she learns best. They also recognize multiple solutions to the question of education. They see public school and homeschool as two potentially valid choices among many. If the status quo is not working for their child, they seek a different solution with an open mind.
Homeschool-minded parents don’t turn their child’s whole education over to others. They recognize the value of being regularly involved with their child’s learning. They search for materials to support, supplement, and enliven learning at home. They take an active interest in their child’s passions and go out of their way to support them. They recognize that school grades are never a complete assessment of a child’s well-being, character, or potential.
Photo credit: The Rockhounds (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Rockhounds
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Homeschool-minded parents enjoy engaging with their children. They seek connection through shared pursuits and experiences. They find common ground by learning more about the things that interest their child so they can foster this connection. They consider themselves lifelong learners, always seeking to grow through new inquiries and experiences. They sometimes learn things from their children, and when this happens, they feel proud.
Are you homeschool-minded? Even if your child is not homeschooled, homeschooling might be a natural fit for you. How many of the following statements can you relate to?
 
1. You enjoy being with your child much of the time.
2. You take it upon yourself to find out ways to support your child’s learning when they are excited about something.
3. You believe there is more than one right way to learn.
4. You recognize that academic pursuits are only one part of a complete education and that learning happens outside of school walls as easily as within them.
5. Your child’s well-being matters much more to you than his or her grades.
6. Your family’s mealtime conversation includes things like word games, math challenges, and a discussion of what everyone is reading.
7. Your home is your favorite office.
8. When school vacations end, you fantasize about keeping your kids home with you instead of letting them go back to school.
9. You’ve been known to allow your children a day off from school “just because.”
10. When your child sits down to do a craft or project, you are tempted to join them – and you sometimes do.
11. You consider it your responsibility to personally teach your children the things that matter most to you, rather than leaving the job entirely to their teachers.
12. You find yourself often saying things to your child like, “How could we find out more about that?” and “Good question. What do you think?”
Photo credit: The Yengst Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Yengst Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What does “homeschool-minded” mean to you, and how does it play out in your everyday life? Do you think you might ever make the switch to homeschooling – or have you tried it already? Why or why not?

12 Characteristics of Successful Learners

Successful learning may happen organically, but it does not happen accidentally. One might be surrounded with rich educational resources, but without key capabilities, those learning opportunities will go untapped.
What makes a successful learner?
2014-HS-WildeFamily2b-under1mb
 Successful learners…
1. …are leaders in their own learning.
2015-HS-EveEismann1-under1mb2. …engage with the world around them.
3. …question everything.
4. …think for themselves.
5. …are driven by their interests.
6. …push through challenges.
7. …are determined to succeed.
2015-K8-CurtisFamily1-under1mb
8. …have inner motivation and self discipline.
9. …exercise their minds and their bodies.
10. …cultivate good habits.
11. …know how and when to ask for help.
12. …are willing to take risks, fail, and learn from their mistakes.
 
What other characteristics can you add to this list? How did you encourage successful learning today?

Addressing Concerns About Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a big step for many of us. It requires the conviction that we know better than anyone else when it comes to our children’s needs (or our own). We may have already had courageous exchanges with teachers, school officials, and other experts whose job requires them to look out for the well-being of our children and whose thoughts on how best to meet those needs may be at odds with ours. We may not want to defend the details of our educational choices to everyone we meet. Nevertheless, friends, family, and strangers on the street often feel entitled to comment on, critique, or even assess the effectiveness of our homeschooling efforts.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “Is it a day off from school?” asks a well-meaning cashier at the supermarket (at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning). “They don’t go to school,” you say. Your children giggle. The cashier gives you a disbelieving look.
  • At a family gathering, the grandparents smother your child with kisses, hugs, and an impromptu quiz about the state capitals, leaving your child stammering and squirming.
  • At ballet class, you overhear your preteen’s friend say, “I don’t know how anyone can possibly learn anything if they’re not in school. Do you even know what a square root is?” Your child is embarrassed and doesn’t respond.
  • At your child’s annual checkup, the doctor chats with your child during the examination. “What grade are you in?” says the doctor. Your child says, “Uhhhhhh….”
  • A well-meaning friend looks at you doubtfully. “Homeschooling — I don’t know,” says your friend. “You’re not a teacher. And what about socialization?”

Sometimes it can feel like every social interaction brings the risk of an uneasy exchange about homeschooling. Here are some things to keep in mind when you encounter someone whose comments make you uncomfortable.

Homeschooling is not a familiar concept for most people. Yours may be the first homeschooling family they have seen up close. Most people are unaware that homeschooling is even an option, or they may have heard of it as something that only certain subgroups of people engage in. It may feel confusing for them to find homeschoolers in their family, neighborhood, or community. Let them know you’re in good company! “We’ve been so happy to find a supportive community of homeschoolers close by and online.”

Homeschooling challenges widely-held social values. Some people may not feel at ease with the questions that homeschooling brings to mind. They may see homeschooling as an implied judgement about the quality of public schools. Many of us were raised with the belief that all children must attend public school for their own good and/or the good of society. Times are changing, and schools are not what they used to be. We learn more all the time about how unconventional approaches to education can be better for some children. “Aren’t we lucky to live in a country where parents can choose the best educational path for their children?”

It may be difficult to imagine how homeschooling can be both flexible and successful. Perhaps their only experience of education was classroom-based, competitive, and institutional. Many of us were taught not to question that model, believing either that it was the best way or the only way to become educated and successful. But now there are alternatives, and that is a beneficial thing for many students. It might help to mention that there is also plenty of support available. “I’m so impressed with the great homeschooling resources that we’ve found online. It’s wonderful for families like ours to have professional educational support.”

Mass media perpetuates the idea that homeschoolers are freaks. The people who get the media spotlight are often the ones who are so far outside the norm that their stories make for good entertainment. It is true that some homeschooling families have over a dozen children, are religious extremists, or send their kids to Ivy League colleges ahead of their peers. Those are interesting stories, but most homeschooling families are relatively ordinary. Your family is also a good example of a homeschooling family. If the person knows you well, remind them that you’re still the same; you’re just taking a new educational path. “We’ve met some very nice local families who homeschool.”

Others want the best for your child. This is especially true for friends and relatives, but it can be equally true for the stranger at the supermarket. Where the perceived health and safety of children is concerned, many people do consider it their business and feel they have a socially-sanctioned right to offer advice. You do not have to share the details of your choices; simply thank them for their concern and redirect the conversation to more comfortable ground. “I really appreciate how much you care about my children’s education. Thanks for sharing your ideas.”

Our society places its faith in experts. We have been culturally conditioned to look to experts for the answers. So it may be helpful to invoke mention of one. “We are working with the school superintendent to meet all of the established requirements.” “We’ve enrolled in an accredited distance learning school and have the support of certified teachers.” Or even, “Our pediatrician is supportive.” The point is not to devalue your primary role in your child’s homeschooling experience, but to help conclude the conversation on a positive note and in a truthful way that meets the other person’s need for expert reassurance.

Your decision to homeschool is not about them. It is about you, your child’s needs, and the overall needs of your family. You are the expert on your own child, and you are empowered to make these decisions without defending yourself. You might say, “Public school works for some families, but we’ve found that homeschooling is the best fit for ours.”

Neither you nor your child owes anyone an explanation. Be upfront with adults who try to quiz your child to prove that homeschooling is “working” — it’s not acceptable. Your child does not have to prove anything to anyone except you, and it is not appropriate for anyone to put your child on the spot with such questions. You might coach your child on how to politely decline if someone tries to verbally test them. Keep it light! A younger child could laugh and say, “Silly, you’re not my teacher!” Older kids might respond with, “Homeschooling means I don’t have to take pop quizzes anymore!”

Remember that people with concerns about homeschooling usually speak from a place of caring. Respond gently and compassionately. If they persist in challenging you about homeschooling, consider turning it around and asking them to tell you more about their children’s education or their own experiences in school. They may just want to make sure you hear their side of things. With time, patience, and practice, you’ll become adept at responding to questions from people who comment critically about your homeschooling. Acknowledge their perspectives, thank them for sharing, and move the conversation along. In time, they may surprise you with their support and approval.

 

Adjusting to Homeschooling Mid-Year

Student writing in a main lesson bookMaking the decision to switch gears and begin homeschooling—or to switch curriculum—partway through the school year takes courage and faith. Whatever you were doing before wasn’t working, and whatever you are beginning hasn’t had time to feel routine yet. Here are ten suggestions to ease the way.

1. Different philosophy; different approach. Students who have been in school have likely become accustomed to an institutional approach where work is prescribed to the class as a whole and the teacher’s attention is divided among many students. Shifting to a creative thinking approach can be challenging for a student who just spent last semester trying very hard to figure out how to succeed in an institutional setting. In contrast, Oak Meadow’s approach is flexible and creative, and homeschooling can often allow for one-on-one support between parent and child. Switching gears to this degree is quite an adjustment and might bring stress or frustration. Be understanding and acknowledge those differences as needed.

2. Commit to riding out the transition. There is a progression in learning as your child adjusts, but it may take a few weeks or more to be able to look back and clearly see the progression. Don’t expect to see results right away. Trust the process and really commit fully to seeing it through for six weeks or so before you assess whether it is working for your child. Learning really does take place, even if it might not feel that way in the moment, and a few weeks’ perspective can make all the difference in understanding.

3. Go easy on yourself and your child. You’ve just left behind an educational environment or other style of learning that wasn’t working for some reason, and now you’ve switched to an entirely different approach. During this adjustment phase, don’t get too caught up in whether every single item was done properly in each lesson. What’s the main concept or what are the key skills being addressed? What is most important for your child to grasp before moving on to the next lesson? Make that your focus, and give everyone points for effort as you navigate this new way of learning. Students beginning mid-year may need to go back to previous lessons if they aren’t understanding something in the current lesson.

4. Consider downshifting or deschooling. Your child might need to ease into the new model slowly, and some children, particularly those who experienced trauma in their previous school experience, will benefit from a period of “deschooling.” This can be like an extended vacation from school, with plenty of nourishing rest, time to daydream, healthy activities of the child’s choosing, and supported emotional processing. It can be very helpful for some students to have a buffer like this between leaving their old school and beginning homeschooling. Often they will let you know when they are ready to jump back in again.

high-school-homeschoolers-studying-on-beach5. Keep good boundaries with those in your life who resist the idea of homeschooling. Even well-meaning loved ones can undermine confidence by demanding evidence or reassurance that your new educational plan is “working.” It is fine to say things are going well without elaborating. Let your child know that you will be keeping his or her educational details private. This allows your child to relax and focus on learning without worrying about what the relatives or neighbors might be thinking.

6. Structure and support are key. Set up a solid daily and weekly routine as a starting point. You may need to adjust it many times, but begin with a strong plan. It is easy to get sidetracked, so do your best to stick to the plan. Set aside focused time each day for academic work. Find a good place to work with your child where you can both be comfortable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of Oak Meadow’s experienced teachers, enrolling in our distance-learning program, using a tutor, or asking an experienced friend for help.

7. Be resourceful and independent. Reach out to others. Make friends with your local librarian; it’s a great way to find out what resources are available and connect with other homeschooling families or groups in the area. Explore online resources. Oak Meadow’s social media offerings are a good place to start. Our Pinterest boards offer many inspiring hands-on ideas, and Facebook is a great place to connect with other homeschooling parents and find validation for this journey. There are many online groups for homeschooling parents. Seek support from like-minded people wherever you find it.

8. Go outside! Oak Meadow’s organic approach to learning encourages families to learn out in the world. This means spending plenty of time outside in nature and interacting with others in your local neighborhood or community. Fresh air and the soothing sights and sounds of nature are a good antidote for stress of any kind, including the positive stress of the important transition from school to homeschool. Schools tend to be very social places, and you will want to be mindful of how your child’s needs for social interaction are met while homeschooling. You might find this benefits you as well as your child.

Father and son studying outdoors9. Be patient. It takes time to settle in. It will be a little while before you get your bearings and find a good rhythm for your homeschooling days and weeks. Don’t panic! It’s okay if things aren’t perfect. There is a lot to be learned from trial and error. Have fun with the process!

10. Trust yourself. Remember that you are the expert on your own child. The decision to begin homeschooling was made in response to something your child or family needed enough to warrant such a significant change. Why did you choose homeschooling? Remind yourself of these reasons often. Continue to nurture your connection with your child, especially during this vulnerable time when he or she is weathering such a big transition. And remember to take good care of yourself as you adapt to your role as home teacher.

Organizing Your Homeschool Day

Fundamentals
Many parents wonder how best to organize their time when using Oak Meadow or other homeschooling curriculum. There is no one right way to approach homeschool planning, so go at it with an open mind! Try something that appeals to you, then fine-tune your process as you discover what works well for you and your children.

It can be helpful and calming for children and parents to have a predictable daily routine. Start by sketching out a typical week. First lay down the daily basics. When does your day begin? When do you and your children normally rise in the morning, eat meals, and tuck in at night? Do you have specific habits that help your children “get ready” when they wake up in the morning or wind down before bedtime? Time for meal preparation and cleanup is also important.

Be sure to preserve space for these important daily rituals. Plan sufficient time in your day for necessary housework. What daily tasks are needed to keep your household gently humming? Can some be done by or with the help of a child? Are there responsibilities that can only be handled by an adult while children are otherwise occupied? Setting aside time for these things in your routine helps ensure that they will not get pre-empted. When enough time is available for housework and other essential tasks, academic learning can then proceed in a relaxed and unhurried way.

Perhaps you are already aware of a default rhythm as you and your children go about the day. If not, tune in for a few days and observe any patterns. When thinking about your schedule, consider the default rhythm that is already happening as well as any changes or habits that you’d like to foster. Remember that you can choose how firmly or loosely to adhere to your routine. Some children need by-the-clock structure to feel calm, safe, and centered. Some families need an element of flexibility in every single day to accommodate regular moving pieces or unknowns, but having a default schedule helps even very flexible families stay on track with their priorities. Having a well-thought out daily routine lays the foundation for success in all other daily endeavors.

Activities and Down Time
After you have mapped out the daily basics, think about your family’s outside commitments and how they fit into the week. Be sure to factor in travel and transition time before and after out-of-home activities. If an activity conflicts with the fundamentals already in place in your schedule, consider whether it would be best to shift the timing of a basic component on that one day, or in general across the entire week. You might find that as long as dinner happens within certain range of time each day, nobody complains. Or it may make sense to have dinner or naptime happen at the same time every day to cement the routine.

Some scheduling adjustments are best avoided because the change upsets the family’s routine enough to cause more stress than the activity justifies. This can bring up challenging questions about priorities and how to best meet the needs of everyone in the family at once. Keep in mind that a great plan on paper is sometimes not a good fit in practice, and this may not become apparent until you’ve given it a try. Homeschool scheduling is an ever-shifting process. You’ll make adjustments along the way as you discover what each person in the family needs most.

Exercise, fresh air, and expansive time in nature help tremendously to balance the focused attention that is often needed for academics. Plan daily time for free play or other unstructured activities, ideally at the same time each day. Down time is also very important. Many families find that a daily mid-day period of quiet time helps both children and adults recharge and recenter themselves, so do your best to set aside time to make this a habit.

There are many possible ‘right’ ways to organize your homeschool day, week, month, and year. Your family’s schedule will reflect its uniqueness and individuality. With a solid approach to planning and scheduling, homeschooling doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Planning
With household and family routines and the less flexible activities in place in your schedule (even tentatively), the next step is to make regular time for academic planning. Some parents prepare their academic plan monthly or even yearly, but it is important to revisit it regularly and to include your child in the process. Set aside a dedicated time each week to look over your homeschooling materials and curriculum and figure out what needs to be accomplished in the coming week. Make a list of materials needed and gather them together. Set things up so that you feel as prepared as possible before the week begins.

As children get older, consider sitting down with them once a week to look at the coming week’s plan and discuss what needs to happen and when. Sometimes our children have insights into their own habits and capabilities that will help ensure a successful plan. In time, students who are in the habit of a weekly planning session may be able to manage it on their own, or at least begin a to-do list themselves before finalizing it with a parent.

Visual tools can be very helpful. Some families create a weekly assignment sheet with checkboxes so that each student can easily see what needs to be done and mark things off as they are completed. For others, a large chalkboard or whiteboard is the best tool for listing daily or weekly assignments, along with reminders of other important weekly responsibilities or events.

Preparing your schedule is like laying out a custom patchwork quilt. Continue moving the pieces around until they fit together just right. Over time you’ll hone and create a good flow for each day.

Academics
When the fundamentals are in place in your schedule, and you’ve included time for planning and outside activities, it’s time to work out in detail how academic time will be spent.

Identify regular times for focusing on academic learning and practice. It may take some trial and error to figure out how much time you need to block off for academics in each day or week. If you are unsure, start by reserving more time than you think you need, particularly if you’re still figuring out each family member’s inner rhythm.

In the younger grades (K-3), many families start their day with Circle Time. This can become a wonderful ritual that everyone looks forward to. It is an opportunity for sharing a verse, poem, song, or story as a family. Some families also integrate yoga, dance, a thought question, or the cultivation of gratitude. Circle Time can be as long or as brief as your child can tolerate – just long enough to be a positive experience. If it’s not working well, change it!

For older children who have outgrown the concept of Circle Time, devise another way to connect each morning. Use that opportunity to discuss the plan for the day. This might be as simple as chatting over breakfast or checking in with each other en route to a scheduled morning activity. Make it a point to touch base with your child in some way each morning to go over the day’s plan and affirm your connection with each other.

Each Oak Meadow curriculum lesson is designed to be completed over the course of one week and contains an assignment summary in each subject, which can be used to create a checklist for each lesson. Some families choose to do something in every subject every day. Other families prefer to use block scheduling, focusing exclusively on one or two subjects for a day or more at a time, or “loop scheduling,” where you attend to subjects one by one in a chosen order, returning to the top of the list once you’ve completed the loop. You can read more about these different approaches here. You might come up with another approach that will work even better for your child.

Consider how long your child can focus before he or she needs a break. Students and parents both benefit from the opportunity to switch gears when needed. Academics can be strategically woven around active play and down time to make learning time as efficient as possible. If you believe you will need more time for academics than you have in your schedule, consider ways to multitask. Depending on the ages and abilities of your children, you may be able to overlap different kinds of activities.

For example, you might have a period of time during which a child is working on academics in the kitchen while you prepare a meal. Or you might have a focused academic session with an older child while a younger one naps. If you have multiple children with various needs, consider engaging extra hands—a neighbor, grandparent, or friend—to help you succeed.

One of the great joys of homeschooling is having the opportunity to follow a custom-fit schedule. There are many good possible ways to organize your homeschool time, so go ahead, make a plan, and give it a try. Do the best you can, allow for flexibility where needed, and trust in the process. You’ll soon figure out what works best for your family!

Choosing a New Path

by Sandra Hanson

It’s that time of year again (at least for us Northerners) – the leaves are turning, the mornings and evenings are crisp and cool, and the bounty that the earth has provided us with is being brought in. Fall is upon us, and with it, millions of children around the world will be returning to school this week.

Photo credit: The Bartlett family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Bartlett family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

We officially started our 2015-2016 homeschool year on Monday, September 7th. Now, I admit that we did actually try to start back the first week of August. I figured we would start early and then take a week off with my husband at the end of August. But…quite frankly, it just didn’t happen. The call to enjoy the lazy summer days was too strong – and not just for the children! I also made a last minute change to our curriculum plans, so I spent the time getting new resources in place.
We dabbled in Oak Meadow last year, but I admit – I gave up on it then. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the approach – the Waldorf philosophy of education (and lifestyle) truly appeals to my heart, with the focus on simplicity, the beauty of nature, the creative arts, and the spiritual elements all around us, and the belief that education is about so much more than the approach of teaching to the test and memorizing facts that mainstream education has become. That education is about the entire child, the whole being – a trinity, if you will – made up of first and foremost the heart, then the hands and head.
However, in the early years, Waldorf education does appear to “lag” behind mainstream, North American public schools. In typical Waldorf schools, true education does not start until grade 1, which is age 7 – a full year behind what is considered normal today. That’s right – that means that they do not teach children to read until age 7. (Quite shocking when most schools, and even homeschoolers, today are teaching children as young as 4 and 5 to read.) Grammar and spelling aren’t introduced until grade 3. In math, telling time, money, weights and measurements also are not introduced until grade 3; fractions not until grade 4. Instead, the early years are spent allowing the children to truly develop intimate knowledge of the four processes: +, -, x, and /, the very foundation of all the math they will do later in life.
 Photo credit: The Manning family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Manning family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Having just spent the previous three years pursuing a very traditional workbook-based, academic approach to education, Oak Meadow was a polar opposite to what we had been doing. All I could see was how it was “behind” the public schools. I was also still very much struggling with the idea that we had to keep up with our son’s publicly schooled peers. I felt like I had to “prove” that our counter-cultural choice was working. And so I gave up on Oak Meadow and went back to our traditional workbook approach, though I admit it just felt lacking to me.
So why the delay? A mantra common among Waldorf homeschoolers is: “Just because a child can do something, doesn’t mean they should.” Oak Meadow does not believe in filling children full of empty education. Any child can (and will) memorize rote math facts, the days and weeks, and memorize a clock. But memorization does not equal understanding, nor the ability to apply that knowledge to one’s own life in a truly meaningful way. Instead, they believe in waiting until a child has the mental and emotional capacity to make real connections with the material that they are learning, which is something that is rarely truly possible in the younger years.
Likewise, yes, many children can be taught to read at a young age. However, often they are merely memorizing words, without truly understanding the enormous process of what they’re doing. Also, when taught too young, it can make the process longer and harder than it would have been if the child had been allowed to wait until they were truly ready. It has been proven time and again, through numerous studies, that children who are exposed to academics earlier in life show absolutely no gain, and, in fact, are often farther behind, than students who do not start academics until later in life. One only has to look at the Finland education system to see the truth behind this.
Because Waldorf education waits until a child is truly emotionally and mentally ready for learning, children often learn faster. Therefore, by the later years (middle school) Waldorf education has “caught up” and typically surpassed mainstream education in the “big” areas of Language Arts and Mathematics. Also, one has to look at the richness of a Waldorf inspired education. Compared to mainstream schools where arts are being cut due to funding, and to allow more time on the three R’s so they can bring up ratings, Waldorf education puts great emphasis on the arts. Oak Meadow teaches children art & music appreciation and history, theory and application as they learn to do watercolor paintings,
 Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow archives.)

form drawing, crayon and pencil drawings, and more. Children start learning to play a recorder in grade 1. They study dramatic arts, cooking and handicrafts such as woodworking, clay modeling, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and much more.
Thankfully, this summer, I finally reached the place where I knew that I could truly step outside of the box once and for all. I knew what I wanted for my son’s education, and it wasn’t pushing academics and rote memorization. What I wanted was for my son to be a child – to explore his world, to see the connection between his heart and head, and to develop a love of learning – true learning. Not just repeating facts, but learning to discern on his own how something applies to his life. I wanted him surrounded by the arts – and not just busy work crafts, but true arts and handicrafts.
And so, I made the decision to put my son back into Oak Meadow – and what’s more, to put him in grade 2. After all, in the traditional Waldorf schools, an 8 year old child is actually supposed to be in grade 2. Could my son handle the academic workload of grade 3? Yes. But, why should I push him ahead and load him down with more, just because our culture wants to push academics earlier and earlier?
In keeping him at his emotionally appropriate level, I am allowing him time to be immersed in stories of nature and animals – things he loves. I am allowing him to develop an enjoyment of writing, without the pressure of trying to learn the mechanics of grammar and spelling. I am allowing him to fine-tune his skills of observation about the natural world, and to learn about themes such as interdependence, natural rhythms and classification – skills that will be essential in science down the road.
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

For Social Studies, instead of getting buried in historical facts, he’ll learn fables and fairy tales from around the world and how they speak of universal issues that a child can understand. Later, we’ll expand on those fables and fairy tales to explore the cultures and learn about simple economic issues such as bartering, community resources, and learning about making choices with money. He’ll learn about the values of honesty and kindness through fables and tall tales, and stories of simple heroes. He’ll learn about things he can understand, relate to, and apply to his own life.
And so, my son may not be following the same path as his peers. He may not know that 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4 this year, or be writing lengthy epistles. And I am finally, honestly, okay with that. Instead, I think he will be on a better path, one that is more suited to his  needs, that will allow him to develop true understanding as he is ready. He will not be in a race for facts and memorization; instead, he will embark on the journey of discovery.


Sandra Hanson is a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. You can follow her blog exploring “life, homesteading, motherhood, parenting, homeschooling, and special needs” at  www.mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com.
This article originally appeared in longer form at https://mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/choosing-a-new-path/. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

When Your Homeschooler Misses School

The summer is ending and the school year beginning for those who are headed back to school. You’ve spent the summer cementing your decision not to send your child back to school this fall — or perhaps ever.
You’ve read everything you could get your hands on about homeschooling; you have chosen materials and curriculum; you have soothed the concerns of family and friends even while feeling a bit unsure yourself. You don’t know how the details will play out, but you are convinced that homeschooling will be a better option for your child.

child-schoolbus-CreativeCommons
photo credit: Waiting for the school bus via photopin (license)

Your child’s friends and neighbors are sporting shiny new backpacks and heading to the bus stop to wait for the big yellow school bus. They have new sneakers, new desk supplies, and a lunch packed in a fancy container. They are bubbling over with excitement and anticipation as they head back to school.
As they walk by, your child is still in pajamas, rubbing sleep out of his or her eyes. Breakfast seems mundane. It feels like any other old day at home. What day is today again? As the school-bound children get on the bus, it suddenly hits. Today is the first day of school, and your child is not headed there.
“I wish I could get on that bus and go to school with all my friends!”
What now?
Homeschooling is a big transition for both you and your child. Your child may grieve the loss of many aspects of the school experience. You might even be surprised at the things that he or she misses most. Even if school was a bad or mixed experience, there may be a sense of loss before the “new normal” is established.
Make it a point to ask your child what he or she is missing, and allow him or her the process of grieving and letting go.
If your child is feeling sad and missing school, here are some things to consider as you make the transition to homeschooling.

  • Structure. In school, each day is typically heavily structured and predictable. Some children thrive on less structure (and that is one reason some parents choose to homeschool), but others have a deep need for solid daily structure to feel secure and function well. Pay close attention to your child’s individual needs, and consider whether they might need more or less structure in their homeschool day. Don’t be afraid to go through some trial and error to find the rhythm that works best for your child.
  • Photo credit: Chandang Tsering. (Oak Meadow archives.)
    Photo credit: Chandang Tsering.
    (Oak Meadow archives.)

    Social network. School is full of same-aged peers, and your child may be missing that regular social stimulation. Be proactive in reaching out to create a new social network of homeschoolers and other community members. Many homeschoolers gather at local parks for active outdoor play that looks and feels a bit like recess.
  • Lunch. Some children really like having a packed lunch, and the foods you might put in a lunch bag might be different than those you’d make for consumption at home. Engage your child in coming up with a weekly lunch menu, and if it’s important to your child, let him or her “pack a lunch” each morning.
  • Supplies. School-bound students end the summer armed with a pile of brand-new school supplies, often purchased to satisfy a list provided by the school. Does your child miss having new notebooks, pens, etc.? Good news! School supplies are often clearanced right after the start of school. New supplies can be exciting for homeschoolers, too.
  • Teachers. Your child may miss having adult mentors around who are not his or her parents. Foster your child’s relationship with adults who are willing to take on a mentoring role, even if it is as simple informally helping a neighbor out regularly. Some organizations, such as scouts, provide a more formal opportunity for a child to interact with a mentor who is not a teacher.
  • Adventure. Riding the school bus can feel like a big adventure for younger children. Older students enjoy field trips, special assemblies, and other school-sponsored activities. Weave some adventure into your homeschooling plans. If you live out in the country, visit the city and ride a public bus. Many museums, historical sites, and arts organizations allow homeschoolers the same privileges as school groups, so be sure to call in advance and let them know you are homeschoolers.
  • Responsibility. At school, when parents are absent, students may feel more grown-up and responsible. At home with Mom or Dad around, old patterns might reign. If your children seem to be resisting your involvement, try giving them more autonomy. Ask them what they’d like to be in charge of, and give them the opportunity to try.

Photo credit: Kara Maynard. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Kara Maynard.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Transitions take time, and the transition from school to homeschool can feel like a really big deal to both you and your child. Take it as gently and slowly as you need to. Find some ways to mark the transition and ensure that the next few weeks are especially fun and enjoyable for both of you.
If after this year you decide to homeschool for next year as well, chances are good that your child will have embraced it and will be looking forward to it. And when the school bus goes by on the first day of school next year, you might well hear your child say:
“I’m so glad I don’t have to go to school today!”

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