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Easy Ways to Put Spark into Your Home School
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: December 1998
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There is nothing more exhausting than trying to get kids to do what they don't want to do. If you have discovered that the curriculum you thought would be easy, isn't, or your home school has become a place of brooding instead of learning, you may want to try some of the following techniques to turn things around.
First, decide on your long term goals. You must measure your homeschool against these goals in order to determine the types of changes you may need to make. I worked toward the following objectives (and achieved them by God's grace) with my two grown children:
- A life-long love of learning.
- The self-confidence as well as ability to learn on their own.
- The ability to critically evaluate what they see and hear so they aren't prey to every emotional appeal.
- The ability to communicate clear thinking in writing.
- A strong Christian character and commitment to serve Christ.
Examine your teaching method, the resources being used, and the pacing of activities. Are each of those areas moving your children toward your goals? It's easy to become so busy managing the household that school is reduced to little more than reading, memorizing, and filling in blanks "just to get it done." Most students will eventually feel saturated and bored-leading to arguments, or attempts to avoid the work assigned.
Here are a few things you can do to break the routine and spark a renewed interest in learning:
- Become involved in at least one subject as a teacher-using discussion and interaction, rather than relying on the resource to teach everything.
- If a resource is unappealing or too difficult, select something else to cover the same objectives.
- Alternate between quiet work and activities instead of having the students spend long periods at a desk or reading followed by a long period of activity. (Unless this is their preference, of course)
- Change the way at least a few objectives are to be met by selecting one activity in which two, three, or even four objectives can be accomplished. It should be appealing to the student and something he can either do alone or with siblings if your time is limited. Just be sure to provide specifics of what is expected. (Design-A-Study materials can be used to provide ready-made guidelines for the student in some subjects.)
- Use games to cover objectives. Whether board games played with others, or computer games that allow a student to play alone, the student(s) will enjoy the break from routine. You only have to look at the package descriptions to see which objectives will be practiced, and then remember to remove those routine assignments that cover the same ground. If games are in addition to, not instead of, assignments that have become the source of frustration, the students are likely to decline the game in favor of getting through the paper work and the atmosphere will remain unchanged.
- Have the students tell you answers instead of filling in blanks whenever possible. It saves you later paperwork, too.
- Include time for trying out new experiences or building skill in an area of interest. While it is essential that we help our children in weak areas, it is their strengths-talents, abilities, interests, that will dictate their future. No one chooses a career in an area that bores or confuses him. As we provide opportunities for training in a variety of areas-sports, music, art, as well as in academic areas, we allow our children to explore possible later pursuits. In the meantime, they enjoy learning, find areas that with effort they can do well, building their self-confidence, and, when they pursue one area for several months or even years, they develop habits of discipline and perseverance necessary for future success.
- Include opportunities every day for critical thinking. Again, don't add it to an already full work load-instead replace review-type assignments with those that encourage analysis. Simply ask why more often then what, when, where, or how. For example, once you know that your student can recall basic facts just read, ask something that requires an opinion and support instead of having him continually write out answers to literal questions. "Why did that character behave that way?" instead of "What did he do?" requires the student to know the facts, but to use them to support a conclusion. Ask for opinions, and give your own, on all sorts of topics-with reasons for whatever position taken. Look at historical events by asking students to decide which side they would have joined, and why. Teach persuasive writing and review propaganda techniques used in advertising.
For example, one common topic of study is animal life and habitats. Instead of reading a textbook account, students could choose an animal of interest and find answers to a few questions—What is its classification? What does it look like? What kind of environment does it need to survive? (i.e. Where does it live and what does it eat?) What eats it? Where in the world can they be found? They can then discuss or write their findings. Three objectives are covered: using reference skills, using writing skills (if only the organizational skills which precede writing), and learning content about animal life and habitats (science). If they draw illustrations, developing skill in art can be considered a fourth objective covered. Motivated because they can choose both the animal and the resources most appealing, conflict is avoided. (The Guides to History Plus and Science Scope lend themselves easily to this type of teaching approach.)
If time or expertise is a problem, find others to provide training-classes at the local YMCA or through the Department of Parks and Recreation, or small group instruction available from other homeschoolers. If finances and/or transportation are obstacles, make it a matter of prayer. In my case, money was especially tight-the choice was not between prepackaged curriculum or various lessons-there wasn't money for either. But, we made lessons the priority and through prayer, as needed, the money was provided.
Remember that how you teach serves as a model your children will someday imitate. It also contributes to their view of themselves. The habits they develop, the way they approach learning and process information, are all more important than amassing mountains of facts. There's not time enough to cover everything. What you choose to do and not to do should be based on your long-term goals rather than as a reaction to a vague notion that you aren't doing enough, or that someone might disapprove. Homeschooling does take time and effort, but there are ways to make it easier and more enjoyable, while shaping your kids into capable, caring adults.