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Starting out with Older Kids

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By Beverly S. Krueger

When you take the plunge into homeschooling with older children, fifth grade and above, you are often met with a whole array of problems that those who just flow into homeschooling in the early years never encounter. I’ve heard it said that children’s personalities are pretty much set by the age of ten. After that, it takes a life-changing event to affect a person’s core beliefs. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I do know that by age ten most children have definite opinions about many things and are usually more than ready to dig their heels in when a big change not to their liking occurs in their life. Homeschooling is just such a big change.

Whether your child desired to come home to learn or not, there are some things you can do to make the transition easier, although in some instances it will never be smooth. It is, however, transition, and we all know that once you get through transition something beautiful is born.

I went to our eclectic community members to ask them to look back on starting out with an older child or children. Their responses make up the meat of this article. Their experiences have informed their opinions, so get ready for some of the best advice available.

Deschooling Parents and Kids

One thing that was made clear by everyone I consulted was the gaps between parental expectations, children’s expectations, and reality. Parents found themselves expecting homeschooling to follow the patterns they remembered from their own school days. Children expected mom to act just like their teacher.

I didn't know what to do. I purchased a packaged curriculum and expected him to sit at home and learn all day because I didn't know any better. I hadn't homeschooled before. ---Robin

As parents we want the best for our children, so when we start homeschooling we are determined that they not fall behind their peers in school. We want them to excel and prove that our decision to homeschool was the right one. If a child attends public school, they will be there all day, so homeschooling should also take all day we think. We purchase a canned curriculum (complete curriculum package that includes all subjects) not realizing that most canned curriculum is adapted for homeschool use from classroom material. That means it is chockfull of busy work. Work that’s meant to keep the brighter minds busy doing more of the lesson other children in the class are struggling with. At school this helps keep children out of trouble. At home, where most children will easily finish the daily lessons in short order (independent learning takes less time than classroom instruction), new homeschool parents will assign this busy work because they haven’t homeschooled long enough or because it’s in the book, so it should be done. This leads to bored and frustrated homeschooled kids who recognize that they can already do the material being covered and wonder why they have to keep doing more and more of what they already know how to do.

Kids who happily came home to learn are now bored and upset. Those who never wanted to come home are becoming openly rebellious. What’s a parent to do? They are caught between the need to make sure that their child succeeds and the need to make homeschooling a blessing for their child. The key is to deschool.

Deschooling is a term generally applied to homeschooled children who have just come from a public or private school situation. When you allow your child to deschool, you give them a chance to relax and dump the pressures of school life. Especially if your child hates school, you need to disassociate school and learning. Too often hating school becomes hating learning. If you have a child who wants to do nothing because he is so fed up with being spoon fed learning or has been made to feel stupid because he doesn’t learn well using typical classroom methods, he needs to spend time getting that out of his system. Learning should be a joy, but it will take time for some one who has had the joy of learning ground out of him to rebound.

I really wish I had given more thought to unit studies. I was just too stressed out about how we needed to cover every subject. The poor kid spent a couple of months at the kitchen table working from textbooks. I discovered that the history textbook and the social studies textbook were covering the same material - boring too. Then I started looking for other ideas. Really, it was a turning point because I realized that we could do this another way. I had done a ton of homeschooling research but I had preconceived ideas of what I wanted it to be like. When I let go of that I was able to be open to some other ideas and some of the ideas I had researched but rejected were now able to get a more objective look. The biggest thing here was that I don't have to prove anything to anyone. ---Heidi

Heidi’s experience was also my experience. I think deschooling is something parents need to do as well. By that I mean, they need to set aside “school” for a period of time so that they can get to know their child and her likes or dislikes first. I’m fairly confident in stating that most parents don’t really know how their children are doing academically or what they truly enjoy. Not that they don’t care or haven’t tried, but I didn’t know, and I was at my kid’s school most days.

If you want to know what your kids are interested in, take a trip to the library. Except, make this trip a free trip. Don’t force your ideas about what your child should read on them. You won’t have expectations or plans like teacher says you need to read fiction/non-fiction/biography or you need to get books for a report. No, let this be about what your child wants to checks out. And don’t jump on them by setting up a unit study on butterflies just because your daughter selected a book about butterflies. You’re there to observe. Do this for as many weeks as it takes you to begin to see a pattern in your child’s reading. Then you might want to introduce a science kit or coordinate an activity that you find on the Internet. If your child prefers to spend library time at the computer or spends his time at home playing Lego, consider that, too.

It may seem hard to believe that there will be sufficient time for spelling and grammar, fractions and algebra, but there will be. My oldest daughter was a testament to the fact that you can study fractions for months on end and never get anything accomplished. She was angry and she didn’t want to do math. She could spend hours on a single math paper turn it in and have only half the problems right. Some days were a total bust because she didn’t like the way her pencil felt as it moved over the paper. Oh, the hours of pain we would have saved if I had only deschooled the both of us for a couple of months when we first started.

It's good to just take your time at first and observe how your children learn best and take it from there rather than jumping right into home learning straightaway. There are some evaluating and testing services available that can help with this, but these often ease the parents' mind more than aid the child. ---Angel

Be Ready to Changes

The next step toward happy homeschooling was to not force it. Just because I researched it and spent time and money on it does not mean it is going to work! If after a long trial period it does not seem to fit, try something else. We have been through several spelling programs until I think we have found the best one for us. I had bought Spelling Power and been so excited because this is how I would have loved to have been able to do it. I hate spelling and if I ever hit send before spell check, it will show! My daughter is a little of a perfectionist and missing all those words every day was really hard on her—tears and everything. I made her plug through it for 1 1/2 years. So much so, that she was hesitant to change when I finally became open to the idea. She saw it as a failure. We had a long talk about it, and she is so much happier with a more traditional spelling program! I have been through several writing programs until we found one she embraced. Even phonics for my little one was several programs until I found one that worked for him. ---Heidi

Sometimes we really don’t understand our children’s needs until we get into the thick of things. Unfortunately, that often happens after the purchase of some really expensive curriculum. We read the packaging that says that this curriculum fits all learning styles and can be used for all grades and although it will initially cost us three times as much as another resource that will last just a year, we’ll be able to use it for all our children for every grade. What a cost savings. We make the purchase and then discover that although the sales pitch might apply to every other homeschooled child, it doesn’t apply to ours. What to do? What to do? In an ideal world where money grows on trees, the answer is simple. Chuck it and move on. In the real world of single parent incomes, we’re more inclined to make do. The tipping point between making do and getting something new comes when we see that continuing is hurting our child. Tears and everything is a real sign that either you’re pushing your child to do something they aren’t ready to do or forcing her to learn in a method that is Greek to her and English to you.

Reading a book like Cynthia Tobias’s The Way They Learn will help you begin to understand your own learning style and your children’s learning styles so you can make better curriculum decisions to begin with. But even when something seems like it will be perfect, you need to be prepared to drop it if it isn’t working out. That may mean that you put it on the shelf while you wait for a developmental milestone to pass or it may mean scrubbing it altogether. The need to be able to change is one of the main reasons that I try never to buy things that are expensive. That’s harder to do when you get to high school. Chemistry, physics, and math curricula always seem to be very expensive.

One thing I did that was extremely helpful was to create a home learning philosophy or mission statement. I wrote down what I thought would be important for our family's home learning experience, my expectations, short and long term goals, what model of home learning we should use, things like that. …. I update this philosophy every few years or so and, oh my, has it changed over the years! But it keeps me focused and grounded and motivated. I only wish I had kept my original one. ---Angel

Ceding Control to Your Kids

If you are starting out homeschooling older kids one of the best things you can do is get them involved in the decisions about what they will study and how they will study it. This may sound crazy to a parent who has a child accustomed to being told what to do all the time and so has a permanent “I don’t want to” reaction to nearly anything that’s deemed good for him. But that’s exactly the child who will benefit from gaining some control over his own learning. Because it’s really his education and not his mom or dad’s, and he needs to see that as soon as possible. What does he want to become? A scientist or doctor? Then math is essential because he can’t make his dream come true without math. It’s amazing how far a personal goal can go towards motivating children. Sure, there will be times when he’s ready to chuck in the dream if he has to do one more page of fractions, but don’t we all have times when giving up seems easier than pressing on. A break from toiling will go a long way to restoring the drive again.

Giving up some of the control would be the most recent step into homeschooling happiness we have taken. I was dictating all of it, and then I would get mad when my daughter was not thrilled with it. We sat down, and I asked her what she wanted to learn about. I bought a unit study, and we are learning how to tailor it to our needs. I got the book Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt. I don't know if I am at the easy point yet, but we are having a lot more fun. Giving up the control is hard for me, so I am working on that. It has been a lot more fun for us. ---Heidi

More Suggestions from Robin

Our special needs editor responded to my call for ideas with this list of suggestions. She and others like her are members of the EclecticHS email list. Our list is a great place to go to discuss your particular situation with homeschool parents who can share their experiences and the solutions that worked in their families. If you’ve started homeschooling older kids, your very best resource is other homeschool parents. Now Robin’s list.

  1. Find a good cooperative or support group that has other preteens/teens to let them have some positive socialization and learn in a classroom setting. Students that are pulled from homeschool will feel something is missing from their lives. Find something to replace it, or they will rebel in other ways.
  2. Find some sort of sports team as a physical outlet.
  3. Find a youth group with many homeschooling students.
  4. Find a support group for YOU, particularly one with parents of teens.
  5. Consider apprenticeships. Find mentors and places where they can learn things hands-on.
  6. Develop your child’s leadership by finding other younger students that they can coach or mentor.
  7. Continue music lessons especially if your child participated in band or choral music.
  8. Give them something to be responsible for at home—a few chores. In addition, give them some things to do for which they will make money.

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