You're the Expert!

Have you ever wondered how homeschooling works for ordinary parents? It’s true: Most of us do not have advanced degrees in education or child development. Most of us are just ordinary people who went to school like every other kid we knew and never imagined we’d be homeschooling our own children someday. How can an ordinary parent possibly be qualified to be a home teacher?

Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Good news! You certainly can successfully teach your children at home. You are already doing it. Home teaching is a natural extension of parenting. You’ve been a teacher since the moment your children arrived to join your family. You’ve simply followed your instincts to figure out what they need and figure out how to best meet those needs, whether the solution is something you do on your own or seek outside help with. This is what teaching is all about.
As you go about your daily life, you teach through example and by explaining what you are doing and why. You answer questions and challenge your children to come up with some of the answers themselves, sometimes, too. You pay close attention to them as you explain many things and support them as they try things on their own. You bolster their courage as they grow in new ways. You know more about them than anyone else in the world!
Photo Credit: Neil Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Although you may not have an advanced degree in education, you do know how to tell when your children are open to learning something new and when they are not ready. You know when they are feeling confident and when they need extra support. You know how to tell when something really isn’t working for them, and you know just when to switch gears when that happens. You can read their signals better than anyone else can. And using a packaged curriculum can give you the peace of mind that, pedagogically, you are offering an optimal learning experience.
Photo Credit: Kelly Weiss
(Oak Meadow Archives)

As a homeschooling parent, you are an educational coordinator, especially if your family takes advantage of teaching resources such as in-home tutors or classes outside the home. If you don’t feel capable of teaching French or Calculus because you never learned it yourself, you can engage a local or distance learning teacher to handle that subject with your children. If you are afraid your lack of confidence with math will interfere with their ability to develop a love for it, don’t worry – just get some help from someone who really does enjoy teaching math. If your children are learning primarily at home, even if they are also taking classes or lessons here and there, you’re their home teacher – and in the best position to support their learning.
Photo Credit: Szmodis Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

For a homeschooling parent, sometimes a little boost of confidence can go a long way. Seeking outside help when you need it is important. If you would like to learn more about tools and techniques that can help you be more confident as a home teacher, Oak Meadow’s Foundations in Independent Learning course is a great place to begin. One or more homeschool support sessions or the ongoing support of an accredited distance learning program can also be a great help. Most homeschooling parents do not have a teaching certificate or an education degree, and yet most homeschooled students learn what they need to learn and grow into capable adults.
Consulting outside experts who might be helpful to you doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to be a home teacher, but that you are capable of being a very effective home teacher. And as the home teacher, you are the one who most aware of what your children needs. You are the primary expert on your own children, and you are capable of homeschooling them!

Five Ways to Keep Your Balance in an Unbalanced World

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.

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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.

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.

What is Distance Learning?

This week is National Distance Learning Week. Oak Meadow has been a resource for independent homeschooling families for 40 years, but did you know that Oak Meadow is also a distance learning school?

Photo credit: Sarah Justice. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Sarah Justice.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Distance Learning at Oak Meadow means that enrolled students (and parents) have an ongoing relationship with one or more experienced Oak Meadow teachers, who guide them through the year. On a regular basis, students are expected to submit academic work to their teacher, who provides feedback, evaluation, and support for their progress through the year’s lessons.
Most teachers and students do not meet in person, but they get to know each other well through letters, photos, emails, phone conversations, and video calls. Some families choose to travel to Oak Meadow’s yearly Open House, where they have the opportunity to meet with faculty and staff in person. Distance learning allows teachers to work easily with students around the world.
Oak Meadow encourages independent thinking through supported learning. Oak Meadow parents (and sometimes other caregivers) are essential in their role of home teacher. Success with Oak Meadow requires the loving involvement and support of a home teacher. Students may work independently according to their ability, while the home teacher is present and available to help support the student in his or her learning.
The home teacher is also the critical link between Oak Meadow teachers and their students, especially in the elementary grades. It is essential for parents to communicate well with the Oak Meadow teacher about the student’s needs throughout the year. With good communication that fosters a clear understanding of the student’s needs, Oak Meadow teachers can adapt curriculum and assignment expectations to better fit an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.
It is the home teacher’s responsibility to maintain an ongoing connection with the Oak Meadow teacher and ensure that work is submitted on time. Home teachers work closely with their children to help them stay organized, understand their lessons, complete work within the expected time frame, and understand and incorporate their Oak Meadow teacher’s feedback.
In the elementary grades, students work with one teacher for all subjects, and it is often possible to remain with the same teacher for multiple years. In high school, Oak Meadow teachers specialize by subject but often collaborate to understand the most effective approach for students they have in common. Oak Meadow teachers get to know their students well through their interactions with the student, the parent, and Oak Meadow staff and faculty who have had interactions with the family.
Oak Meadow is an internationally accredited distance learning institution and provides full academic credit to enrolled students. We have a full-time registrar who ensures that all records are complete and meet current standards. Our students receive academic transcripts and can earn a high school diploma from Oak Meadow School. Thorough documentation of our rigorous program has helped many of our distance learning students make the transition to more traditional secondary and/or post-secondary schools.
In some areas, homeschoolers struggle to satisfy strict state requirements regarding the content and/or delivery of education. In more locales, enrollment in an accredited distance learning school is accepted as the educational equivalent of independent or private school enrollment, making it easier to file the necessary documentation for homeschooling. (Check with your local school district or Department of Education for more information on the requirements that apply to your situation.)
Oak Meadow’s faculty and staff meet regularly and work together to ensure that all enrolled families’ needs are being met as well as possible. Our enrolled high school students enjoy the benefits of our staff guidance counselor, Keri Arsenault, who is available for support services. We also have a college counseling program for students who are interested in pursuing post-secondary education.
The structure, connection, and support provided by Oak Meadow’s distance learning program make learning at home possible for some students and families who might not otherwise homeschool. Distance learning with Oak Meadow allows families to enjoy a highly-regarded, accredited education with the help of supportive teachers — at home or on the road.

Working and Homeschooling

“I want to homeschool, but I need to work.”
Is it really true that working parents cannot homeschool? It can be quite a challenge, but many families manage to do it successfully. Many working-and-homeschooling families challenge this assumption every single day.  How?
Consider all opportunities for flexibility in your work
The more flexibility you have, the more smoothly you will be able to manage the demands of homeschooling. Some work situations require regular hours but may be adaptable to working all or part of the time from home. Others allow for significant flexibility in when, where, and even how much work is done.
Flexibility may not be something your employer routinely offers, but a thoughtfImage: Rogers Familyul proposal might change the status quo. If your current work is inflexible, consider a job change. If change is not possible, don’t despair! There are many ways to make working-and-homeschooling work.
In families with two working parents, it may be possible for parents to adjust their working hours so that one parent is home whenever the other is working. You might divide the responsibility for homeschooling equally, or one parent might take primary responsibility for education while the other takes more responsibility in other areas.
Single parents who work can still homeschool. If your work is done entirely at home, and if there is a good fit between your child’s ability to be independent on one hand and the needs of your job on the other, you may be able to multitask throughout the day. Whether or not this is successful will depend largely on your temperament and that of your child.
If the needs of your job and the needs of your child are too much to manage at once, or if your job takes place away from home and you cannot bring your child along, you might piece together a scenario that includes time for learning with a parent or another adult.
Be flexible with your expectations about how you will homeschool.
Homeschooling can happen anytime, anywhere. There is no rule that says homeschooling must take place during school hours or at a desk. Focused, supported learning activities can happen before parents head off to work in the morning, after they return in the evening, or on the weekends.
Image: Doughty FamilyOne of the most wonderful benefits of homeschooling is that students can learn the same things in less time than they would in public school. Homeschooling, especially if it is done one-on-one or with siblings who are at the same or a similar learning level, can be very efficient. If you plan to devote a portion of the day to helping each of your children with bookwork, how much time would you need? What time of day is your child the most focused and receptive to learning? What kind of learner is your child, and how can you help make learning most efficient for him or her?
For some homeschooling families, a rigorous, detailed curriculum is the best choice. Others have the time and drive to piece together a carefully selected, eclectic combination of materials. When your time and attention are already stretched, you might find it easiest to use a comprehensive all-in-one program, such as Oak Meadow’s full curriculum package. Or you might find that a very relaxed approach to learning allows your children to happily absorb the basics and then pursue their passions. Don’t hesitate to shift gears if you or your child are stressed or unhappy with your current approach. When you find something that works, celebrate and stick with it!
Assess your child’s capacity for independence and make intentional use of it
How old is your child (or children)? How much direct attention, supervision, and care does he or she need? When is your child happiest to accept guidance from others, and when will only a parent do?
Young children will need a direct caregiver all or most of the time. Many caregivers are open to supporting this age group in gentle learning activities involving nature, art, handwork, storytelling, and play-based exploration. You may need to make suggestions or provide materials. With a thoughtful plan, your care provider can become a homeschooling ally.
Preteens may be able to tolerate being left to themselves for periods of time while you are working at home, but there will be limits to their independence. They may needX-WestFamily3 or want to engage periodically even if you are nearby. With your child’s input, develop ways to connect and reconnect with each other as needed while you work.
Older children and teens may be able to handle all or some of their homeschooling work on their own. Some subjects or activities might require more regular support than others. You might work in short bursts with scheduled breaks so that your child knows when to wait and when he or she can have your attention again.
If you have a wide range of ages in your family, perhaps an older child could be engaged to help a younger child or children while you are working at home. Carefully plan ahead to set them up with suitable assignments or activities. When you are not working, your attention can shift to the younger children while the older ones focus on their own learning.
Remember why
Families who choose homeschooling invariably have compelling reasons that make it worthwhile. Why are you working and homeschooling? What would be different if you made a different choice? Would those differences be acceptable to you? Identify the motivating factors in your situation and remind yourself of them whenever you need a boost.
Working while homeschooling can be a formidable challenge, even with children who are older and fairly independent. For many parents who do both, the combination is not really ideal. But when other options are unacceptable or even more challenging, it can be worthwhile to do what is necessary to make it work. If you choose working-and-homeschooling, you are in good company.

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