- Why does homeschooling feel like a good idea? What needs are not being met well in other ways, and how might homeschooling help best meet those needs?
- What is my child expecting homeschooling to be like? What am I expecting homeschooling to be like? How do those two things line up?
- What areas of learning are easiest for my child? What areas are most challenging?
- What are my child’s passions and interests? How will they fit into our plan for homeschooling?
- What are my biggest worries about homeschooling? What are some strategies I could use to work through those things if they happen?
- What struggles do I predict we might have as we add homeschooling to our parent-child dynamic, and how can I anticipate and prevent them?
- How will I meet my own need for self-care so that I am able to give all that my child needs?
- What will I say to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers who are skeptical about our decision to homeschool? How will I prepare myself for such questions?
- Who are my homeschooling support buddies? Do I have friends, neighbors, or relatives who homeschool? If not, do I know where to find local and/ or distant homeschoolers to share experiences and ideas with?
Does the idea that homeschooling parents need to be naturally artistic or compulsively creative stop you from trying? Don’t be fooled! Although there are plenty of parents who enjoy doing arts and crafts with their children, there are plenty who don’t. You can foster your children’s creative and artistic streaks even if you’re not sitting down at the table and eagerly leading the way. Here are some ideas to get you started and keep you moving forward:
1. Provide a variety of creative materials. Start by stocking up on basic, kid-friendly, age-appropriate supplies.
Here are some possibilities:
- crayons (block and/or stick)
- colored pencils with a sharpener
- paper (good quality white and colored, and also watercolor paper)
- scissors (of an appropriate size)
- paint (watercolors, acrylics)
- paintbrushes (various sizes/shapes)
- glue, glue sticks, tape
- yarn and knitting needles
Here are some other things that can be fun to have around:
- wooden craft sticks
- a hole punch
- chalks, oil crayons, watercolor pencils, and other colorful drawing materials
- fun patterned paper (origami paper, doilies, scrapbooking paper)
- scissors with patterned edges
- a straightedge or ruler
- a stapler
- play-dough, clay, beeswax, and other modeling media
- wool roving
- fabric scraps
- random collage materials (feathers, sequins, beads, cutout shapes)
- string, ribbon, embroidery thread
- needles of various sizes
- scrap cardboard and other reclaimed materials
2. Establish a comfortable, easy-clean area for creating. It’s ideal to have a separate area with a table and nearby storage if possible. But if you don’t have abundant space, a vinyl tablecloth can protect any table or floor area from creative messes. Just shake or wipe down the tablecloth and put it away for the next round of creativity. Good lighting is also very helpful.
3. Store most materials in an accessible, kid-friendly way, with the important exception of anything you want to supervise. Some materials, particularly messy ones, might be available to young artists only “on request” until you’re sure they can handle the responsibility that such materials require. Even more important than making materials easily accessible is making it easy to store them away when the creating is done.
4. Remember that you do not have to teach your children how to create! Children are inherently creative beings. If you are not the sort of person who wants to patiently teach the proper methods, it’s perfectly fine to explain any safety points, and then just get out of the way and let your children figure things out for themselves. You might be surprised by what they come up with.
5. Open-ended situations allow for the widest range of creativity. Offering a variety of basic materials that feel good to use can bring about much more creativity than a preassembled kit for making a particular end product. You might encourage your children to think up new ways to use what they have at hand by saying something like, “Lots of people only paint with a paintbrush; can you think of any other good ways to apply paint to paper?”
6. There is no wrong way to be creative. Keep your own preconceived ideas out of it! Your child should be the one to decide what they will create and then explain to you in their own way what their creations mean. When your child inevitably asks, “What should I make?” follow it with, “What do you feel like making?” or “This is your project, so I can’t decide for you. What do you think you should make?”
7. Look to nature for variety and inspiration as needed. Go scavenging outdoors as a family, and bring natural materials back to your craft area. Encourage your children to incorporate them into their creations. Ask them to draw or paint or create a likeness of something they enjoyed seeing outside or make a mobile with their found objects.
8. Less can be more! One tool. One color. One type of material. Keeping it simple can help prevent everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having all possible materials staring at you at once can stop you in your creative tracks. If that happens, let simplicity be your guide. “What could we make if we only had paper and tape to work with?”
9. Be proactive about managing stress. Messy projects can be stressful for those who have to help clean them up! Set up your creative space for easy cleanup by keeping trash/recycling containers, a broom and dustpan, and a sponge handy. Keep smocks and/or aprons nearby. Cafeteria trays can also be helpful for containing bits and pieces. For projects with huge mess potential, consider setting up a creative space outdoors for easier cleanup.
10. Figure out your own challenges with creativity. What holds you back personally from feeling creative? Can you identify why you don’t feel like a creative person? Acknowledge your reasons, but don’t pass them on to your children. There is no right or wrong way to create. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel inspired to pick up a piece of modeling wax or put crayon to paper yourself, go ahead and see what flows.
11. When in doubt, follow the rainbow. It’s helpful to own a rainbow’s worth of colors of materials when possible: paper, crayons, paint, modeling wax. Sometimes all colors will be used, but sometimes choosing just one color at a time to explore with your child can also be very freeing. “How many different ways can we think of to create with the color red?”
12. Remember that the joy is in the process! Many decisions are part of a creative experience, from choosing materials and colors, to predicting the outcome of an action, to deciding how to respond to the results partway through, to deciding when a particular project is finished. Creating can also be a highly sensory experience, allowing a child to integrate sight and touch, and in some cases sound, smell, and/or taste. It can also be extremely imaginative – you may find your child narrating their creative process or creating a story about their creation. Be open to the value of the process itself, and don’t worry if the project gets abandoned before it is finished. One of the best rewards of fostering a creative experience is hearing your child say, “That was fun!”
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!”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Lawrence Williams and DeeDee Hughes
reprinted from Living Education (Fall 2014)
adapted from Living Education (Jan/Feb 2001)
I once admitted to a wise friend that, as a parent, I honestly didn’t know if I was being too strict or too lenient. She said, “That’s normal. That’s what finding the balance is all about. There is no static balance point. You are always tipping a little too far in one direction and righting yourself, or tipping too far in the other direction and righting yourself.” I found great comfort in this at the time, and I still do today.
Finding the balance in parenting and in life is an ongoing process. Am I working too much and forgetting to play? Am I being an overinvolved parent and not respecting my children’s abilities and independence? Am I trying to keep them from making mistakes? Am I letting them make enough mistakes? Am I investing enough time in my friendships but forgetting my self-care? Life can feel like doing yoga on a stand-up paddleboard while being rocked by waves. We’re constantly shifting and making adjustments, and there are lots of near-misses for getting dunked, but we’re doing it!
As a homeschooler, seeking balance is essential. If we’re out of balance and we try to teach our children, we diminish our effectiveness as teachers. We might miss the subtle cues in the learning process that enable us to be good teachers, or we might cause our children to become more imbalanced also, which reduces their ability to learn effectively.
Here are some tips to help you maintain a sense of balance in the midst of your busy, messy, wonderful life.
1. Reconnect with your source daily
What energizes you? What helps you feel centered and creates harmony within you? You might reconnect through prayer, hiking, yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, running, art, or some other activity. Find something that works for you and do it every day. Even thought it may seem impossible, the most effective time is first thing in the the morning. Reconnecting with our personal power source first thing in the morning enables us to embrace the day with greater purpose and clarity.
2. Recognize your role as co-creator
Through our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we all create our lives moment by moment. When we work in conjunction with our children, with our partners, with our friends and neighbors, we become co-creators of the world around us. When unexpected events arise, we have a choice of how we respond. If we respond from an inner sense of balance, we can turn difficult circumstances into new possibilities for ourselves and our children. When we take responsibility for creating our world, we enter into a fascinating dance, an on-going improvisation that is one part strength, one part grace, one part compromise, and all heart. When we live with a sense of actively creating the life we want, we feel more content and centered.
3. Pay attention to your internal GPS
Envision a see-saw with mental activity on one end, physical activity on the other end, and feelings in the middle as the balance point. We all know how easy it is to overemphasize or ignore one or more of these aspects, and we know what happens to the see-saw when we lean too far in one direction. Check in with your internal GPS every now and then to figure out where you are. For example, if you’ve been engaged for long hours on a computer, you probably need to be active physically. If you have been running errands all over town with your children, you may need to sit for a bit and read a book. The same holds true for kids – remember to check in with where they are and strive for balance in the rhythm of their day. Being able to adapt to the needs of our children this way is one of the great benefits of homeschooling.
4. Allow yourself to feel
Our innate capacity to feel is one of our greatest tools in parenting and in teaching. It helps us to clearly perceive what is going on in ourselves and others, and to communicate effectively. When you are talking with your children, don’t just focus on the words they’re saying. Open yourself to what they are feeling and address that with as much attention as you give to their word.s If you are walking down the street, look at the trees, the plants, and the sky around you and appreciate their natural beauty. Soak it in on a feeling level. By opening your heart to simple acts of feeling as you experience the events of each day, you will find that your mind becomes quieter and you feel more stable and poised.
5. Recognize your triggers
It’s no surprise that life often feels unbalanced. Consider how we are bombarded by external stimuli: masses of information, constant sounds, demands of email and phone, social media updates. Sure, all parents have eyes in the back of our heads and three arms, but we can still become overwhelmed. By learning to recognize what triggers that sense of stress, we can help restore balance. If you feel you can never get anything done because you have to respond to every email as it comes in, maybe you’ll want to switch to checking email just two or three times a day. If you start to feel scattered after a morning of noisy activity, institute a one-hour noise-free zone in your house, or get outside where the only sounds you’ll hear are nature sounds. Give yourself a break by leaving your phone behind when you take a walk or work in the garden, or (if that’s too uncomfortable) just turn it off. Allow yourself to disengage from the hectic demands of global connection.
By following these guidelines, you can regain your innate balance, which will foster the expression of your natural intelligence. Many schools seek to develop intellect, so they spend their time focusing on mental activity. At Oak Meadow, we are interested in developing intelligence, and this arises from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. Intellect alone will never enable your children to be fulfilled, self-directed learners, and it will never enable them to become dynamic individuals who can have a positive impact upon the world. Find your own balance and you’ll be able to help your children find theirs.
Lawrence Williams is the co-founder and owner of Oak Meadow, and the author of Oak Meadow’s original curriculum. He and DeeDee Hughes have collaborated on a number of articles and curriculum materials, including the new 40th Anniversary edition of The Heart of Learning.
If you’re a student who is learning at home, congratulations! There are so many ways you can benefit from the flexibility that home learning allows. Here are a few possibilities. Can you think of any others?
- Follow your body’s rhythms. Go to bed when it feels right, then wake up when your body is done resting. If you need a mid-day nap, go ahead and take one.
- Wear whatever you like. Stay in your pajamas all day if you want! There are no dress codes when you’re learning at home.
- Get comfortable! Choose any room in the house or a nice spot outdoors. Put your feet up if you want to. Find a quiet spot without distractions. You know your needs best.
- Organize your day as it makes sense to you. If you are sharpest in the morning, concentrate on academics at that time of day. If you’re a night owl, save your work for when you feel most alert.
- Set your own pace. Skim over topics you already have experience with, and spend as much time as you need on topics that are challenging or unfamiliar. If you get excited about something, dig deep and enjoy! Take your time when that feels right. You are the captain of this ship.
- Get up and move around! If you’ve been sitting and focusing on academics for awhile and you start feeling antsy, put down your work and go outside for some fresh air and exercise.
- Eat when you are hungry. Put off breakfast if you want to. No need to wait for lunchtime to roll around if you get hungry sooner than that. Snack at will. Listen to your body!
- Make the most of your energy highs and lows. Optimize your productivity by working hard when your energy level is high and giving yourself a break when you need to take it easy. There’s no external schedule to follow, so you can mold your work flow to your needs.
- Enjoy a change of scenery. You have the freedom to take your work anywhere you go! Take advantage of the opportunity to travel and explore. Even if you stick close to home, you can get out and work in the library or a cafe or a beautiful park.
- Visit popular spots when crowds are smallest. Weekends and afterschool hours are notoriously busy for libraries, museums, historical sites, and other attractions. Show up on a Monday morning and you may just have the place to yourself.
- Integrate life with learning. Balance your academic work with the other kinds of work that are important – housework, animal care, community service, volunteer work, and/or a paid job if you have one. Your role in your family and community are just as important as your role as a student.
- Relax! There’s no hurry to go anywhere. Put your feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet while you learn at your own pace and in your own way.
by Lawrence Williams, EdD
excerpted from Living Education (October 1981)
As the Fall of the year arrives, we experience once again the familiar contraction of Mother Nature, reminding us that all things must pass, and even the beautiful expansiveness of Summer must recede to allow Winter to work its magic.
Children often experience this contraction as a desire to focus their energies, after a long summer of either relaxation or unharnessed exuberance. For those who have been homeschooling for a while, the seasonal extremes are usually not as pronounced. However, for those exploring home study for the first time, the Fall can be a time of difficult adjustments to a new situation.
Often our instinct is to establish firm schedules of “schoolwork” within the home, as a natural response to the seasonal contraction which we feel. However, though it is true that children seem to appreciate more of a focus at this time of year, we should look for ways to integrate this focus as naturally and warmly as possible, to avoid the inevitable reactions that arise from trying to maintain a strict form.
Use this time to seek a deeper understanding of your children’s changing needs — this understanding will be a tremendous asset as you progress through the course of the year.
This article first appeared in its original form in Living Education: The Monthly Journal of Oak Meadow School in October 1981. The early incarnation of Living Ed (as we fondly refer to it) provided a then-rare space for homeschooling parents and Oak Meadow staff to explore and share their thoughts about learning, parenting, and related topics.
What do you think of Oak Meadow founder Lawrence Williams’ thoughts in this article from years past? Do you agree with his recommendations? How do you approach the transition to Fall in your own family’s homeschooling rhythm?
As parents and educators, reading others’ thoughts, asking challenging questions, and considering new ideas will open up different opportunities for ourselves and our children. Our ideas continue to evolve as we move along our journey. How have your own thoughts grown and changed since your homeschooling adventure began?