-There is no rule that says that you must involve your child in every out-of-the-home activity available so that your child is properly “socialized.” While some such activities are enjoyable and recommended, remember to find the balance: After all, you have to be home to homeschool! Only participate in activities that provide positive socialization, and those that do not wear you (or your children) out. Remember that the home is the primary place for teaching manners and proper socialization; in reality, your children need little more.
-There is no rule that says that you have to do fifteen different subjects in one day. That is how many subjects some curriculum suppliers offer: Bible, math, reading, phonics, grammar, writing, handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, history, health, science, art, music, and foreign language. Alternate your lessons by day of the week, by unit, or by semester so that you are teaching either science OR history, spelling OR vocabulary, grammar OR writing, science OR health, but never everything in the same day. (Read my post “How Many Subjects Do We Need to Teach, Anyway?” HERE.)
As for grammar: Grammar can be saved until your child is reading well (till phonics is done, or even later.)
-There is no rule that says you have to do school Monday-Friday, August through May. Many homeschoolers use a year round plan, taking their vacations off-season, starting school early or “late”, and so on. If you want to do a four day week, you can. If you want to do school on Saturday, that’s OK. It’s also OK to count your vacation days as “school” days if you are doing something educational (visiting a state park, museum, etc…field trip!)
-There is no rule that says that you have to start school at eight o’clock. Not all of us are morning people; many of us do our best work in the afternoons. Oh—by the way—it really is OK to homeschool in your pajamas.
-There is no rule that says that you have to use textbooks. Often, especially in the early grades, the same material can be covered in a much more interesting way by reading aloud real books to your children. Remember, ANYTHING we use to help our children learn is “curriculum”, including real books, videos, games, activities and even un-planned, real life experiences.
-There is no rule that says you shouldn’t use textbooks, either. As a dear friend reminded me recently–textbooks are not intrinsically evil! Textbooks are merely tools that parents use to help their children learn.
A few words of advice: If you do choose to go the textbook route, don’t turn too much of it over to your kids to do independently. Make sure you follow-up on every lesson immediately, and discuss the lessons with your children— even when they can read them independently. Additionally, make sure that textbooks aren’t your children’s ONLY reading. Continue to read good literature aloud to them, even when they learn how to read themselves; and once they learn to read, make sure they read LOTS on their own, too. (This is so important!) Plan time for those “electives”, which are more than “optional extras”—subjects like art, music, and PE are vitally important for normal development, and tons of fun, too. Additionally, give your children the time they need to explore their own interests (academic and otherwise.)
Personally, I tend to use real books almost exclusively during the early years (pre-K-First grade, at least), but I slowly edge a little more towards textbooks as my children get older. We usually end up using a “mix” including (an abundance of) real books, and some textbooks, too.
-There is no rule that says that you have to use a textbook—or any other book, for that matter—in the “traditional” way. Textbooks make great “spines”, to which you can add living books and real-life activities. Together, they make a great whole.
Books don’t have to be used as a whole—feel free to skim them, read only applicable passages out of them, and so on.
It’s always a great idea to set out a “library box” or “book basket” to encourage your children’s interests in reading, and/or supplement their curriculum.
-There is no rule that says you have to finish the entire book/text in a year’s time: most public schools don’t; they simply drop them at the end of the year, potentially leaving out large chunks of learning. We don’t have to do that. We can pick up where we left off the next school year, or even extend our school year and continue working through them until we are done.
If your child is struggling with a new concept, slow down. Feel free to supplement lessons or repeat them until your child masters the concept and is ready to move on. Homemade games are awesome teaching tools to help your children memorize their math facts, practice handling money, or practice phonics/reading.
NOTE: Most textbooks, especially math texts, include a review section at the beginning of each year. If your children need it, use it. If they know the material and are ready to move ahead, let them. Curriculum is a tool, not a slave-driver.
-There is no rule that says that all your teaching materials or textbooks must all be the same grade level. One of our greatest blessings as homeschoolers is the ability to individualized our curriculum and methods to fit each child. That may mean that your child is “in” the third grade, but is using a fourth grade language arts text, a second grade math text, and a third grade science text. That’s OK! Remember that mastery is the goal. Also remember that you will have a year or two’s wiggle room come high school, when many kids do only two or three years of math and science. You can use those years (or the junior high years, which are often review anyway) to “catch up”. (NOTE: Find out what your state law says, though. Some states require yearly testing/grade level achievement. Find out what your leeway is. If necessary, hold your child back a grade. You can always bump them back up again, later.)
-There is no rule that says that you have to purchase your entire curriculum from one supplier. Most homeschoolers are “eclectic”, mixing and matching curriculums/suppliers to find what fits their children and their teaching style.
-There is no rule that says that you have to do every activity that the teacher’s manual suggests. Remember that most curriculums, especially textbooks, are written for classroom use and thus must contain “busy work” for the children who finish their work early as well as extra work for children who are struggling. DO ONLY THE WORK THAT WILL BENEFIT YOUR CHILD; don’t feel obligated to do it all! That’s a sure recipe for burn-out.
-There is no rule that says that you have to use the teacher’s manual, if it is no help to you. I rarely buy teacher’s manuals at all until after the third grade or so—and even then, they are often used as an occasional reference, only (my exception: math.)
-There is no rule that says that you must give your child tests—and if you do, remember that you should only give tests if you believe they will be a help to your child (or you.) Homeschooling parents who are involved in their children’s learning usually know if their children know the material or not. Other than spelling tests, we give very few tests until after the fourth grade.
I do think it is a good idea to make sure that children begin to learn how to take tests by 5th or 6th grade, so that they are “in practice” for standardized tests, if they are required. Additionally, I believe it is important for junior and senior high kids to practice taking tests and doing the questions at the end of chapters, so that they are prepared for college (used to using/finding information in textbooks and used to writing the answers as well as preparing for tests.)
-There is no rule that says that if you do give your child tests, they have to be written. First tests, especially, can be given orally, in a game format, or whatever other creative way that appeals to you.
-There is no rule that says that school should take five to six hours every day. In fact, if you are taking that long, it’s probably too long. Short lessons are best. Remember that homeschooling is more efficient that public school—we can get twice as much done in half the time.
On average, plan for 10-15 minutes per academic subject–per day– per grade—MAXIMUM. For example: Kindergardeners and first graders spend 10-15 minutes per subject; second graders spend twenty to twenty-five minutes, and so on, until you get to around forty to forty-five minutes per subject—then stay there. Yes, the public school’s class periods are longer—but they waste so much time settling kids down, taking roll, and handing out/collecting papers that they are lucky if they get 30 minutes of actual teaching time in each class.
Exceptions: If your children are older (junior high/high school)—and even then, I’d be sure they got breaks every 4o-45 minutes or so.
NOTE: I do allow my children more time when they are doing work on their own initiative, or when it is something hands-on or for fun (art projects they don’t want to stop, when I am reading an exciting book to them and the kids are begging to hear more, and so on.)
-There is no rule that says that your children must have homework: Most homeschoolers don’t. They get their work done during school time, or save it for another day.
-There is no rule that says that you have to pre-plan your lessons: I plan at the beginning of the year or the beginning of a unit/topic. Once we start, we just “do what comes next” and write it down later. This gives me leeway to adjust what we are doing if it isn’t working, to take extra time to master a hard subject or to explore a subject we are enjoying, or allow for sick days. I keep “journal-style” lessons, writing down what we do after the fact. (I do know which books we are reading next, etc.)
-There is no rule that says that you can’t include non-traditional subjects, or that you have to cover the traditional subjects in a traditional way: It’s OK to count chores as “life-skills”, baking as “home-ec”, and outside play time as “PE”. In fact, I recommend it. Remember that anything educational that you do, no matter the time of day or day of the week, is part of your homeschool’s curriculum and therefore should be counted as “school”. Homeschoolers are always in school!! If you’ll count all the educational things you do on a day to day basis, you’ll be amazed.
-There is no rule that says that your preschooler has to know all his alphabet and numbers before starting Kindergarten. What else is Kindergarten for?! Kindergarten is the best time to cement those preschool “facts” and begin a slightly longer, more disciplined daily routine. Remember, we don’t have to make our children ready for Kindergarten—we can make Kindergarten ready for them.
-There is no rule that says that your child has to learn to read in Kindergarten—or even first grade. Learning to read, like learning to walk or swim, is very much a developmental task and should be approached on an individual basis–depending on readiness. (See my previous post , the tab on readiness, and the archives on “readiness” for more.)
-There’s no rule that says that you have to teach state history in the fourth grade (we did it together, when the kids were in grades 3 and 5) or do a science fair project in the fifth grade (unless you think it would benefit your kids.)
-There’s no rule that says that you have to teach your kids what the scope and sequence says you should for history or science, or that you can’t teach your children the things they want to learn, instead. In fact, some of the best learning happens when we give our kids the lead. (Scope and sequences are pretty arbitrary when it comes to history and science topics. Does it really matter which year you teach your children about the states, or insects, for example? Nope. Cover it whenever you think your kids will get the most out of it.)
No matter your chosen homeschooling method, I think it’s a great idea to take some time off once in a while and let your children choose their topics (often called the “delight-directed” approach.) If your child has a topic she loves, encourage her to take some time to pursue it. Feel free to take off on a “rabbit trail” once in a while and explore topics of interest when they come up without feeling guilty. Many times these topics will lead your child to learn more (about every subject) than you ever dreamed. Sometimes these topics lead children towards their future career paths.
Many times, homeschooling parents discover that they have to break free from the “public school” mentality and its rules in order to give their children the best and most efficient education they can. Just like their kids, they need time to “detox” and eliminate the “public school” mentality. Don’t be afraid to re-examine the rules or “step out of the box.” Remember that YOU are in charge of your child’s education. You get to make (most of) the “rules”, so don’t worry if you are “breaking” them or adjusting them to fit your needs. The ability we have to individualised our materials and methods is one of our greatest strength as homeschoolers. Don’t be afraid to use it.
© 2012 Susan Lemons all rights reserved. Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.