Homeschool Information Overload – Advice From the Finish Line

Seeing how much my readers needed this series on Homeschool Information Overload, I decided to ask my friend, Linda of Apron Strings and Other Things to share her perspective from the Finish Line.  She has graduated half of her children and has been homeschool twice as long as I have.  I think you will find her advice timely, relevant, and oh so helpful!

To read the entire series, start HERE.

Homeschool Information Overload Advice from a 24 year homeschooling veteran.  Guest post on RaisingArrows.netEverywhere I turn these days I’m seeing and hearing discussion about being overwhelmed. Too much input, too many choices, too much to do . . etc. etc. It is especially true in the homeschooling community. In twenty-four years of educating our children at home, I have to tell you this is not a new topic of conversation. But I must say that the level of stress I’m sensing in those I talk with is higher than ever. Why is that?

Homeschooling is not so uncommon now as when our family began. There are now more choices in curriculum than ever. There are now many families who’ve graduated children out of their homeschool. Colleges now happily accept homeschooled students. Why are we still so overwhelmed?

When we began homeschooling there were only a handful of curriculum choices available. There was no internet. We didn’t carry cell phones. I did have that long coiled telephone cord attached to the receiver, though. I could reach all the way across the room to check on a child working his math problems while making doctor and dentist appointments! There were exactly three books on homeschooling in our local Christian bookstore. THREE! We bought all three. That was my introduction to homeschooling.

Way back then we knew of only one other family who homeschooled. They had been at it a whole year already. We had never ‘seen’ another family homeschool. We knew of no support groups or co-ops. We had never heard of anyone actually homeschooling through high school. Did I feel overwhelmed? Absolutely. Did that make me want to throw in the towel and give up? Sometimes. But we didn’t. We kept on, taking one day at a time, one step at a time, one good day one bad day at a time.

We began our homeschooling journey with the conviction that we were not putting our children into a traditional school setting and so we were not bound to educate our children in the traditional school model. That gave us so much freedom! Fast forward a few years and our first child graduates. And then another. And then soon we’d graduated four! With half our children “on the other side” and doing fine in the real world, I am often asked how did you do it? What worked? What did we do well?

A 24 year homeschool veteran shares her view from the finish line | RaisingArrows.net

      • We made a conscious choice to HOMEschool rather than homeSCHOOL. The education of our children (and their parents!) was a part of our everyday lifestyle at home. This gave each child confidence in who they are even when academics were difficult, even when they found themselves in a situation, even when they may not have had as much knowledge in a particular area as others around them might.

"Our children seemed to naturally fill their free time with creativity." - a 24 year veteran homeschool mom shares how to overcome information overload in your homeschool | Guest post on RaisingArrows.net

    • Because we were not a slave to someone else’s schedule or expectations or syllabus, our children seemed to naturally fill their free time with creativity. Pretend play and inventive games were common everyday occurrences. This nurtures that ‘think outside the box’ mentality what makes them adaptable to many situations, teaches them to think on their feet, develops problem solving skills.

 

    • Books were always available, and the children were given time to read them, to use them, to be familiar with them. Early on they learned they could visit other places, meet new people and gather information by reading between the covers of those books. Books from our shelves, from our libraries, from other families. (And yes, add to that the internet, used with discernment, it has expanded our ability to learn. Visit my Pinterest Board to for a few ideas)

"Books were always available, and the children were given time to read them, to use them, to be familiar with them." - a homeschool shares advice from the finish line | Guest post on RaisingArrows.net

    • We chose to remain committed to schooling our children at home, even when our days were chaotic, even when I wasn’t sure what to do next, even when we had a struggling learner. The children knew homeschooling was what we did, and we’d figure it out together.

I also get the question “what would you do differently?”

      • I would have worked harder to tune out the “noise” of others. The newest curricula on the block and the promises of guaranteed results by any product or publisher would distract me from what was working well in our family. My children were learning and progressing so there was no reason to go looking for something to replace what we were using.

"I would listen to fewer opinions." - a veteran homeschool mom shares what she would have done differently | Guest post on RaisingArrows.net

      • I would listen to fewer opinions. I would not read so many reviews. While most are intended to be helpful, they are also written to persuade. I often sought out information because I didn’t trust myself. I feared my children might be missing something. Fear would keep me searching rather than taking courage and stepping out and getting started, making the most of what we already had available to us.

 

      • I would stop trying so hard to mimic another family’s supposedly perfect method. Methods are man-made. They are not perfect. My family is not your family is not their family. And no matter how good someone looks on the surface, you don’t have to go very deep to find imperfection. Comparison is a dangerous trap. It only drags me down, makes me discontent and keeps me from being able to give to my own family.

 

      • I would stop fretting. I spent a lot of energy and time wondering if I was doing this right or if that child was measuring up to others’ standards or if my children are as smart as that other homeschool mom (you know the one!). Fretting wastes energy and time. It holds me back from doing what I ought to be doing. Again, comparison is a dangerous trap.

"I would do a better job of loving my children the way Jesus loves them. " - a veteran homeschool mom shares what she would have done differently | Guest post on RaisingArrows.net

      • Most importantly, I would do a better job of loving my children the way Jesus loves them. What would be HIS priorities in our homeschool? What would be HIS expectations of the children? How would HE react to the childish behaviors I have to put up with each day? How would Jesus respond to a child who dawdles and is easily distracted? How would HE react to the umpteen-billion requests and comments that come my way every day?

Notice I didn’t give you a formula with what resources are most successful, what lesson plans we used, what type of schedule we set up? That would set you up for that overwhelmed feeling. Instead I hope you’ll see that by staying the course you will arrive on the other side. You can guide your children through their schooling even when life is messy.

Maybe you are saying “What if I don’t teach them everything they need to know?” Knowing it all? That’s a myth. You can’t, you won’t. And that’s ok. I didn’t know it all. I wasn’t sure how exactly we were going to accomplish this homeschooling thing, but we started. I learned along side my children. There have been gaps in my children’s education. Compared with what we are told we need these days to homeschool our children, my family’s endeavor should not have been successful. Those four children who’ve graduated from our homeschool? They have gone on the earn college degrees, enter the mission field, marry and start families of their own, remain involved in their church activities. I call that successful.


 

Apron Strings other things Family PhotoLinda Sears is a stay-at-home wife, homeschooling mother and doting grandmother. She and her husband have 8 children, a daughter-in-law, 2 sons-in-law and 7 grandchildren, so far. They have been homeschooling for more than 20 years, graduating 4 of their 8 children, with 4 more to go. You’ll find her at Apron Strings & other things where she shares tidbits, tales, tricks and tips from her days of raising children in various stages of cutting those apron strings. You can also find her on FaceBook, Pinterest, and Google+

How to Tame the Homeschool Information Monster

It would be all sorts of wrong for me to tell you that the sea of homeschool information is overwhelming and then fail to offer you a life raft to navigate the waters.  Today’s post is that life raft.
monster

Wading through all the homeschooling information out there is a little bit like losing weight. You know you have to eat food in order to survive.  In order to lose weight (and keep it off), you have to eat less food and learn to make good choices from here on out.  You also know that in order to homeschool, you have to have some sort of resources and direction.  In order to homeschool without becoming overwhelmed by it all, you have to focus, simplify, and learn to make good choices.  Food becomes a monster if you try to eat it all.  Homeschool information becomes a monster if you try to do it all.

Here are just a few of the “monsters” you may encounter:

The Homeschool Convention Monster

(affiliate links included)
I will be the first person to tell you I am a homeschool convention junkie.  I LOVE homeschool conventions.  They are so much fun!  I would be sad if I couldn’t go to at least one homeschool convention a year.  But, I will also be the first person to tell you that homeschool conventions can feel a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant.  Information overload for sure.  It is imperative you go PREPARED.  That is exactly why I wrote this FREE ebook:

Tame the Homeschool Information Monster - one way is to be prepared for your local homeschool convention with this FREE ebook! | RaisingArrows.net

 Download your copy HERE
and
READ IT!

NOTE:  Because of personal and family circumstances, I will not be attending Teach Them Diligently this year; however, I highly recommend you go to one of these conventions if you are able.  The focus of these conventions is less on curriculum and more on family discipleship.  Find out more here:

Tame the Homeschool Information Monster - one convention I recommend because of its focus on family, not curriculum is Teach Them Diligently | RaisingArrows.net


The Homeschool Catalog Monster

I have a love/hate relationship with homeschool curriculum catalogs.  They are fascinating and frightening all at the same time.  I love the ones with articles.  The ones with reviews are super helpful.  And if the cover shows a serene homeschooling scene on it, it gets bonus points!  If I had a coffee table, homeschool catalogs would be my coffee table books.  But, let me tell you, it doesn’t take much for these lovely stacks of paper to become monsters.

I’m a blogger.  I get how marketing works.  Companies want you to buy their product.  They want to make their product look good.  You are not going to read negative reviews in their catalog.  Despite all of this, they can be very helpful for learning more about each product.  What you have to do is learn to control the catalog and not let the catalog control you.

When you get a catalog, thumb through it keeping in mind your family’s homeschooling vision (remember, we talked about this HERE).  If something in the catalog piques your interest, explore the reason why.  Is it all the living books?  Is it a super hands-on science curriculum?  Is it a curriculum that integrates all the subjects?  Understanding the things that interest you will help you to put together a homeschooling experience that is perfect for your family.

You want to use the catalogs as a springboard.  Just because you like the looks of a curriculum, does not mean you have to buy THAT curriculum.  Once you know WHY you like certain aspects of each curricula you research, you can gain a sense of direction.

Example:  You receive a catalog that shows lots of photos of moms reading aloud to their children.  The catalog is full of great read aloud titles.  When you analyze why you like this catalog, you realize you wish you were incorporating more read alouds into your homeschool day.  While you could buy this curriculum, you could also simply choose to add more read alouds to your current homeschool curriculum.  Both of these answers could be the right fit for your family, but choosing to control the catalog, rather than letting it control you, keeps YOU in charge.


The Homeschool Blog Monster

While I may share with you what curriculum we are using, and I may share with you what curriculum is working right now, it might not be what we use next year and it might not be what works tomorrow.  However, you read it here, and you are pretty sure I know what I’m talking about.  After all, I have a blog!

Problem is…I’m human and our homeschool isn’t perfect and I do change my mind!

Another thing you have to watch out for are biased reviews.  While most homeschool bloggers I know would never dream of falsely representing a product to their audience, you will find that reviews on homeschool blogs are diplomatic.  Like the curriculum catalogs, bloggers want to make a product they are working for look good.  They want to offer a fair and honest assessment, but they do not want to commit libel.

So, how do you handle this sort of homeschool information overload?  You look to bloggers you trust.  Don’t run all over blogland trying to find answers.  If you follow a certain blogger for a while, you will find out what products they are faithfully using.  They will mention them more than once.  They will list them in a curriculum line up.  They will be more than happy to discuss them with you.  Feel free to contact bloggers and ask if they are still using a product and any negative thoughts about the product they’d be willing to share privately.

Also, recognize that bloggers are homeschool moms just like you.  They don’t always get it right.  They do change curriculum and methodology.  They are looking for answers just like you are.  Have mercy.


The Homeschool Group Monster

Get a bunch of homeschool moms together in a room and you are sure to find the conversation turning to curriculum and methods.  If you aren’t sure of yourself as a homeschool mom, these groups can be disastrous.  You can walk away from them feeling like a confused failure.

Again, you have to remember that what you see at homeschool group is not indicative of how each mother’s homeschool is running.  Other homeschool moms are struggling too.

Now, you could just walk away from homeschool groups altogether (this is one way to build some “white space” into your day), but if you have your heart set on joining a homeschool group, or you find that most of the time the homeschool group you are a part of is very encouraging and helpful, then it is imperative you learn to shut out all the extra voices.

And this is where the real issue reveals itself…


The Homeschool Mom Monster

We are our own worst enemy.  The fear and self-doubt, the focus away from what really matters, the extras that bog us down all serve to paralyze and overload us.  As I mentioned in the first post of this series…we lose ourselves.  When we lose sight of WHY we homeschool and WHO we are doing this for, we fall flat on our faces.

And that, my friends, is precisely WHERE we need to be.

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.  My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”  ~Abraham Lincoln

As a homeschool mom, there really is no other place we can go, but to our knees.  We are broken.  We are failures.  We are not enough on our own.  But there is One who IS enough.  Everything we are starts there.  Our homeschool choices must start there.  Our methodology, our schedules, our vision, all must start there.

You tame this homeschool information monster by keeping your focus on Jesus.  And when you falter (because you will), don’t go chasing after other things to get you back on track.  Get back to Jesus.

From there, you CAN research and listen to others and try new things because you have your firm Foundation in place.

To read the entire series, START HERE.

Good and Bad Reasons to Change Curriculum

Homeschool moms don’t seem very content, do they?

We are constantly changing things, buying things, and begging approval from others.  I wonder if somewhere, deep down, we homeschool moms believe that if we keep trying, we will eventually find the one curriculum/method that will solve all our problems and carry us through to the end of our homeschooling days.  Today, I want to address the reasons we think we need to change curriculum and offer some insight I pray you find valuable.

There is no perfect curriculum.  It's time to stop reinventing the wheel and learn how to discern good and bad reasons for wanting to change our homeschool curriculum. | RaisingArrows.net

In the last post, I mentioned many of the reasons homeschooling stresses us out.  When we get stressed out by homeschooling, our initial reaction is to change curriculum.  “That’ll fix it!” we tell ourselves.  Unfortunately, we often spend a lot of time “beating the air.” (1 Cor 9:26).

So, let’s start this post off with some bad, or “beating the air” reasons to change curriculum, starting with…
(affiliate links follow)

#1 – It will solve all my homeschooling woes.  Curriculum is inanimate.  It can’t do anything alone.  You are the one who chooses how a curriculum operates, so the answer to your trouble will not be found simply by buying or borrowing another curriculum.

(There is a flip side to this, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.)

#2 – Susie Homeschool Mom uses XYZ Curriculum and she looks like she has it all together.  I used to believe that some homeschool moms had “arrived.”  I was certain there would be a time when I wouldn’t question any of my decisions and every inch of my life would be in order.  I believed this because when I looked at other homeschool moms, I thought I saw this kind of perfection.  I thought if I used the same curriculum and put together the same schedule I would get the same results.  What I didn’t realize was that my view of these moms was one sided — the polished, we-are-in-public side.

Changing curriculum because a mom you look up to uses it is not a good reason.  Not only do you not have a full picture of her real life, you don’t have a full picture of how she uses the curriculum.  Beware of assumptions based on what you see from the outside.

#3 – You are burned out.  Granted, sometimes we need a fresh perspective, but as I said in #1, you are the one who operates the curriculum.  You are the one who uses it to teach.  Changing curriculum may light a fire under you for a time, but your curriculum is not the real reason you are burned out.

homeschool burnout copy(click here to read more)

#4 – Your curriculum isn’t “Christian enough”.  Again, there is a flip side to this that we’ll talk about in a bit, but as Israel Wayne puts it, “2 loaves plus 5 fishes does not equal a Christian worldview education.”


(Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview by Israel Wayne)

I spent many years searching for the perfect curriculum, only to realize NOTHING fit the bill.  The best way to make your curriculum Christian enough is to study your own Bible and teach whatever curriculum you happen to own from YOUR worldview.  We have to be Bereans and not rely on a curriculum to handle the entire job.

Here’s a great read to help focus our own worldview:

(Assumptions that Affect Our Lives by Christian Overman)

Now, let’s talk about good reasons to change curriculum…

#1 – Sometimes our homeschooling woes are due to our choice in curriculum.  Sometimes a curriculum doesn’t click with a family.  Usually, you can tweak just about any curriculum to fit your family’s needs, but there are cases where the curriculum just isn’t right.  There are a couple of things you should take into account when deciding if you need to change curriculum based on your “homeschooling woes”:

A.  Every morning, you wake up dreading using the curriculum.  This isn’t the same as dreading the school day or being burned out, and it isn’t the same as your CHILD dreading the curriculum.  This is actual dislike of the curriculum itself.  Perhaps, there is too much busy work or the curriculum isn’t theologically sound or it isn’t in line with your family’s priorities.

B.  Your child is not “getting it.”  You need to give this one time, but there is a chance the curriculum you are using doesn’t teach certain concepts in a way that makes sense to your child and you need to try something else rather than continue on.  But again, give the curriculum time before deciding to change based on this factor.  It may just be your child needs a little more exposure to the concepts to understand them.  If you change curriculum every time your child comes to a difficult section, you will not get very far.  It is important to teach our children to persevere through difficulty.

#2 – We need to match our curriculum to our season of life.  Suppose your family has the opportunity to travel the country in a RV all year.  Lugging 10 textbooks per child around, or needing to connect to the internet every day may not be the right curriculum for you in that season.

#3 – The curriculum does not match your family’s goals and priorities.  If you have taken serious, prayerful time to work through your family’s goals and priorities, and a curriculum you are using does not point in the same direction, then you might consider changing.  An example of this would be if you feel the Lord is grooming your family toward the foreign mission field, and you decide your children need some focused attention on the heart of missions, as well as gearing up for being away from a traditional study environment for a year or more.  Something like this could warrant changing your curriculum approach.

#4 – The curriculum you are using is leading you away from Christ.  As I said earlier, this isn’t about a curriculum being “Christian enough.”  This is much deeper and much more dangerous.  If you are using a curriculum that is not theologically sound, or is such a distraction that you have a difficult time staying focused on Christ, then changing curriculum is in order.  An example of this is if a curriculum is so intense with extras that you rarely have time to allow your children to meditate and study God’s Word and live that Word out as a family.  If this is the case, changing curriculum to allow for more margin in your day is a good thing.

I could give you bullet point after bullet point, but what this entire post boils down to is

Don’t change curriculum willy-nilly.

Changing curriculum should be done prayerfully, void of fear and guilt.  Feel free to take into consideration what other homeschool moms use and like, but don’t be dependent on that information.  Never look to a curriculum as your “savior”, and never ask a curriculum to be your child’s moral and theological compass.

To read the entire series, START HERE.

Why Our Homeschool Curriculum Choices are Stressing Us Out

We can all agree that there is a massive amount of homeschooling information out there, but as we explore the reasons and solutions to paralyzing information overload, we have to consider why this whole curriculum choosing thing stresses us out in the first place.

Homeschool Information Overload Series - Why Our Curriculum Choices are Stressing Us Out | RaisingArrows.net

#1 – We just want the best for our kids.  This is at the top of the list for a reason…because I truly believe this is the #1 reason we stress over our homeschooling choices.  We are looking for the perfect curriculum for our kids.  Because we are good parents who love our children deeply, we are desperate to give them the “perfect” education.

We want them to have fond memories of their homeschool years.  We don’t want any of them falling behind or falling through the cracks.  We want our love for our children to shine through, even in our curriculum choices.

#2 – We are fearful.  This is a close second.  Because of that deep love for our children, we are terribly afraid of making the wrong choice.  We worry that choosing the wrong curriculum will cause our children irreparable harm.

#3 – We want other people’s opinions.  We seek opinion after opinion, hoping that our unofficial “poll” will give us clear results.

Just for a second or two consider whose opinions *should* matter.  Are you consulting them?

#4 – We don’t know who to trust.  One of the best and worst things the internet has done for homeschooling is giving us instant access to other people’s homeschools.  We find a positive curriculum review on one site and decide it is the best curriculum for our family, only to turn around and find another site with a bad review of the product, leaving us confused.  We find ourselves caught in the middle, reeling from indecision because we don’t know who to trust…and we most definitely do not trust ourselves.

#5 – Everything sounds fun, interesting, well-rounded, etc.  You went to the Charlotte Mason workshop.  You went to the Classical workshop.  You talked to your Unschooling friend.  You pinned a million Unit Studies to your Pinterest board.  You love them all!  Surely you must pick a certain method in order to be a legitimate homeschooler.  But, how in the world can you pick just one?

#6 – We don’t want to waste money or time.  Most homeschool families are working within a budget…and a tight one at that.  One false move and we’re sunk.  Not to mention all the time we may lose if we have to backtrack or start over with something new.

#7 – We don’t know how long to hang on.  We bought this great curriculum that came highly recommended, but it doesn’t seem to be working.  Yet, we hang on and hang on, wondering if its the curriculum or us.  We are terrified of quitting and terrified of continuing on.

#8 – Our children are all so different!  The moment we thought we had this homeschooling thing figured out, we had a child who broke the mold.  Nothing works with him.

Honestly, this post could go on forever.  There are as many homeschool stressors as there are homeschoolers.  But, how do we deal with the stress so we aren’t paralyzed by it all?

First of all, we must stop what we are doing and pray.  Pray for God to reveal where your fears and weaknesses are and what HE wants for your homeschool.  You may need to take time away from your homeschool group, put away the homeschool catalogs, and even shut down the internet for a time.  You must literally turn off the noise.

Secondly, you need to consider your family.  This is a key piece of the puzzle.  I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, but I can give you a few ideas to get you going…

*Imagine your perfect homeschool day.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Simply allow yourself to dream.  This is not the perfect homeschool day according to your next door neighbor, your mom, or some anonymous blogger.  When does your day begin?  What subjects do you cover?  How long does it last?  Where does it take place?  What pieces of your homeschool dream make you smile the most?  Let these ideas marinate a bit while you…

*Consider each of your children.  What are they interested in?  How do they learn best?  How are they motivated?  What would their perfect homeschool day look like?

*Start pulling together curricula that lines up with who your family is.  Don’t get bogged down trying to make your family fit a mold.  You don’t have to be full-tilt Charlotte Mason to utilize some of her methodologies.  You don’t have to be 100% Classical education to find the benefit from it.  Pick and choose pieces that fit your dream and fit your family.

*Recognize (and embrace) your season.  If you are in a season of lots of littles, you might need something simple like Five in a Row.  If you are down with morning sickness, focus on audiobooks and workbooks.  Don’t feel guilty for the season you are in and limitations you are facing.  Instead, embrace them!  God has you here for a reason.  Stop wishing for different circumstances and find joy and peace right where you are.

Lastly, deal with your stressors – in faith.  Satan will use our fears and worries against us at every opportunity.  It keeps our eyes off Christ and on ourselves.  Recognize what things stress you out about homeschooling and curriculum choices and face them head on with a firm faith that your homeschool is built on the Rock.

What God calls you to, He will equip you for.  He’s got this, mama!  Rest easy.

To read the entire series, START HERE.

Homeschool Information Overload

A few weeks ago, a friend confided in me that she felt she had lost herself in all the homeschooling information out there, and that because of all that information, she was feeling nearly paralyzed, unable to make even the simplest of homeschooling decisions.

It was the first time I actually heard someone put words to a phenomenon I have been seeing, and often feeling myself, among homeschool moms.

Shortly after that conversation, I wrote my post on how blogging is changing, and one reader made the comment that all the information on the web was mentally constipating.  She was absolutely right.  We are living in the information age, but we are paralyzed by information overload.

Homeschool Information Overload | RaisingArrows.net

I’ve told you before how when I started homeschooling 12 years ago, I did not know there were tons of homeschooling resources and catalogs out there.  I had latched on to one catalog and ordered everything I thought I needed from that catalog.  My order consisted of a McGuffey Reader, a simple math book, and the Rod & Staff ABC series.  Prior to that, I had been tearing out pages from a Curious George coloring book, writing a letter at the top of the page and having my son copy the letter and color the picture (he was 4, by the way).  I was doing my best with what I had.

But that all changed the following year.  I began to research online.  I got catalogs in the mail.  I went to my very first homeschool conference with another first time homeschool mom.  That year, I purchased an inexpensive all-in-one curriculum and knocked myself out doing everything in the book.

The next year, I bought the same curriculum, one grade up.  However, part way into the year, I began to worry that my son wasn’t grasping phonics quite the way I thought he should.  He was reading, but he was often skipping words that were too difficult for him or making up the endings of words because he thought he had the word figured out.  I panicked and mid-year drug out my huge homeschooling catalog full of curriculum and purchased something different.  My first time homeschooling mom friend apparently had the same panic moment because she and I ordered together to save shipping.

I could go on and on with this story…even now.  I enjoy research.  I enjoy learning about new curricula.  I like to keep things fresh in our homeschool, and I am always trying to do things better and smarter.  Most homeschool moms are just like me.  But when the information we acquire from all our research, blog reading, and discussions with friends stops us dead in our tracks and keeps us from moving forward with energy, enthusiasm, and faith, we have to learn to shut it down.

"When the information we acquire from all our research, blog reading, and discussions with friends stops us dead in our tracks and keeps us from moving forward with energy, enthusiasm, and faith, we have to learn to shut it down."  - Homeschool Information Overload| RaisingArrows.net

The homeschooling movement has seen a dramatic shift from its original roots.  Parents who homeschooled in the early days did so (illegally, in many cases) because they were extremely concerned with the influence and intrusion the public school was having on the family.  It was NOT an educational movement.  In fact, parents were taking whatever books they could find and using those to teach, rather than stressing over which homeschooling method was going to educate their child the best.  The only methodology they had was the Bible and their firm belief that instilling their faith and values in the next generation could no longer be accomplished in the government-run schools.

As the homeschooling movement has shifted to an educational model, we have seen methods and curricula based on those methods pop up on every street corner.  And the homeschool mom is suffering because of it.  I know this because I’ve met a lot of homeschooling moms and the questions they ask me often revolve around choosing the “right” curriculum.  I also know this because I’ve been that homeschool mom…bombarded with information, constantly questioning herself, feeling like nothing is a good fit, and wasting time and money in a quest that seems utterly hopeless.

But, there is hope!

I’m going to do a series on the reasons and solutions to the trouble of homeschool information overload.  The posts will be as follows:
Why Our Homeschool Curriculum Choices are Stressing Us Out
Good and Bad Reasons to Change Curriculum
How to Tame the Homeschool Information Monster
Advice from the Finish Line (guest post from a veteran homeschool mom)
Finding Our Way Back Home

I hope you will join me to lend your input, ask your questions, and prayerfully move forward into this season of homeschool curriculum decisions.

Age Gaps and the Homeschooling Dilemma They Create

Something has been on my mind a lot lately.  It’s the fact that I sort of “grew up” with my older homeschooled children and am finding it difficult to backtrack and join my younger crew on their homeschool journey.  I have this dilemma because of the gap in ages between what I call my “Big Kids” and my “Middles”.

Many families have age gaps amongst the children in their family.  This tends to create some unique issues.. | RaisingArrows.net

There is a nearly 3 year gap between our first child and our second child.  There is a nearly 4 year gap between our second child and our third child.  From there, it got crazy.  I had 7 children in 10 years.

When I began homeschooling, I only had 2 children.  I focused all of my homeschooling energy on those two little people.  In fact, my oldest son still speaks fondly of the memories we made while doing our history lessons from Tapestry of Grace.  As those two older children grew up, I grew with them.  The lessons and unit studies, the projects and experiments were all brand new to them AND me.  But, as my younger set has come along, I feel a little lost and terribly torn between two worlds…the young adult world and the elementary school world.

Dilemma #1
Learning to Let Go of the Reins

The first dilemma I have is that it is time for me to let go of the reins with the older two children.  I don’t need to cater our history lessons to them anymore.  The curriculum we use allows for them to learn on their own via living books and research projects.  I do not need to read everything to them and micromanage their lessons…but I want to.

Dilemma #2
Homeschooling Isn’t About Me

Remember, I said I grew up with the older kids.  I have learned more in the past 12 years of homeschooling than I ever learned in the 13 years I spent in public school.  I am hungry to read what they are reading, learn what they are learning, and yes, even do the projects alongside them.  But, this isn’t about me.

I can’t ignore the younger kids because I’m too busy studying my older kids’ lessons.  I enjoy the memories with my big kids, but I need to make those same memories with my little kids.  I need to take a step back and a step down, and focus on a new set of children.

Dilemma #3
Different Circumstances = Different Rules

You remember my confession from last week?  How I used the words “I would never” with a mom of teens when I had no teens myself?  Yeah, well this change in circumstances brings about way more than wishing you could take back words you never should have spoken.  When it comes to age gaps, you find the rules of homeschooling change.  (Actually, having teens and little ones in the house changes a lot of things…but that’s another post…)

I was hyper-focused with my big kids.  I tried to cram so much stuff into a day, I met myself coming and going.  My 6 year old had a rigorous schedule that rivaled prep school.  I had all sorts of notions about what an elementary student needed to study, and I was determined to keep pace.

Fast forward a bit and you will see that the school day for my younger set is not nearly as busy as it was for my olders when they were that age.  I have less hours to spend being hyper-focused with anyone, but even beyond that, I’ve matured as a homeschool mom, and realize young children do not need the rigor I once thought they needed.  They need plenty of time to be creative, ask questions, and learn through observation.

But why is this a dilemma?  Because it can lead to this…

Dilemma #4
Not Enough Focus

Because of all the things listed above, a homeschool family with age gaps (and frankly, even a homeschool family without age gaps) can fall into the trap of not doing much of anything with the younger children.  Mom spends so much time focusing on the olders that the middles and littles get lost in the shuffle.  Or mom is so busy carting the big kids to all their lessons and practices and clubs and classes that the younger set never get those same opportunities.  Or perhaps mom is just plain worn out.

So, how does a homeschool mom remedy these issues?

Good question.

Honestly, I’m still working through all of this myself.  I’d welcome any suggestions from readers who have walked this path before me, but here are a few things I have found that help to keep the age gap from becoming a black hole…

1.  Guide your older children toward independence.  In my ebook Large Family Homeschooling, I speak to the topic of teaching independence.  This is so important!  Not only does this help you as a homeschool mom to have the time to focus on the younger children, but it gives your older children much needed life skills.  (My husband would much rather hire someone who knows how to work independently than one who needs a lot of hand-holding to get his or her work accomplished.)

2.  Mom needs to learn to let go.  You can train toward independence all you want, but if you don’t let go, your training is a farce.  You have to be willing to let your older children do their school work on their own.  If you feel they truly are not ready for independence, be diligent about working toward that.  Start slowly and hand off one or two subjects to them.  You might even consider (based on ability and personality) leading them toward independence by asking them to help teach a subject to the younger children.  This gives them a project that requires them to plan and prepare, while helping you out as well.

3.  Find curriculum that span multiple ages.  When you have a curriculum that works for a wide variety of ages, you can often span the age gap by doing projects that speak to all ages.  This is one reason I like Tapestry of Grace so much.  I can give my older kids books and projects that are in line with our lesson while doing more hands-on teaching with the younger crew, but then we can all come together for a group event that combines what everyone is learning.  (An example of this would be something like a Knight Party or Greek Supper.)

4.  Plan the work and work the plan.  In order to stay focused with the younger crew, I have to plan.  After years of doing everything with my older kids, I can’t expect to refocus my attention on the younger kids automatically.  I have to plan to do the lessons with the littles.  I have to plan to give my older kids more independent work.  I have to plan my day out in a way that accounts for the age gaps, and allots appropriate time for both the bigs and the littles.  It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

Now, I would love to hear some specifics of what you’ve done in your homeschool to help bridge the age gaps, how you’ve handled having these gaps, and any other questions or comments you might have on this topic!