Homeschooling with Excellence No. 10

Answering Difficult Questions

What should I say when in-laws, neighbors, my husband, or others criticize my choice to homeschool?

One client wrote:

My next door neighbor is an elderly woman. Yesterday I got a knock on the door and it was her. She said, "So you going to let that girl of yours go to school this fall?"

"No, I homeschool and will be homeschooling for a very long time, it has worked out very well for our family."

The elderly woman proceeded to grill me for thirty minutes. She kept looking at my kids like poor pitiful things! She told me how cruel I was being to my kids.

Believe it or not that conversation has really made me paranoid. Why would she come over and ask such things? Could I have dealt with it better?

Anyone care to give me peace of mind about this situation?

A: Erika responded,

Even people who don't even know me do this on occasion. For instance, once I was at the library checking out a book called Help for the Harried Homeschooler. The librarian saw the title of the book and me standing there with two kids during school hours and snapped sarcastically, "I thought homeschooling was supposed to be LESS stressful, not MORE!" I was so flustered I didn't know what to say. But what went swirling through my head was, "Lady, you should have seen us during the two years my daughter was in school. Now THAT was HARRIED!"

I truly believe that non-homeschooling people (especially non-parents) don't understand homeschooling at all. Even if they've seen you doing it on a daily basis!

For instance, my in-laws live with us for a few months every winter. Even though they've seen us homeschool for two years now, any time I seem the least bit stressed, anxious, tired, etc., my mother-in-law will make a comment related to homeschooling.

I just want to say that I can identify. That's one reason these boards are so great — people here GET IT!

So, take heart! Find the people you're safe with and vent to them — it might just be us!

A: Tracy in Idaho responded

At our state homeschool convention last weekend, I attended a seminar entitled, "How to win over (to homeschooling) your mother-in-law and influence your neighbors." One of the suggestions the speaker had was to get our neighbors and relatives to share their expertise in a certain area with our children. Maybe this neighbor bakes a great apple pie. Ask her to come over one afternoon and teach the children how to make a no-fail pie crust. Or maybe she could teach them a sidewalk game from her childhood (not too many kids today know the rules to kick-the-can). Maybe she knows a lot about plants or gardening or birds — you get the idea.

The speaker's children won over a "crusty" older lady in their neighborhood by delivering cookies to her over a period of several years. Later, they found out she had been a jockey and taught them all about horse racing, told them stories about what it was like to be the only female jockey in Idaho, etc.

Q: Theresa shared,

My husband doesn't like the fact that Sonlight doesn't go by "grade" (how do you know he is being taught what he needs to know?) or that it's OK to stretch a proram out (if you stretch each year of studies out, then he won't graduate on time).

I know that "I" know how Sonlight works, and I know that I like Sonlight (so does my son). I am just having trouble articulating to my husband that, yes, our son will learn enough (and more!) to "graduate."

My husband doesn't want to read a bunch of articles, so what I need is to be able to have a conversation with him to explain how I know it's enough. One of the things he has expressed concern about is that the curriculum is not standardized and that there are no tests to show that our son is learning.

He has also expressed concern over what we tell people when they ask us what "grade" our son is in and what he is studying.

A: Megan in Champaign replied,

I had a very similar problem. I was unable to communicate clearly all the information I had gathered, so my confidence seemed unfounded to my husband.

What I did was make several lists of educational goals for each subject, and evaluative procedures for checking how we were doing with each goal. Then, after seeing all of that on paper, I was able to make a master list, like what a teacher might have to give to a principal when creating her own lesson plans for a year that gave clear, concise information, like a "scope and sequence" list of what we will encounter in each subject.

The conversations we tried to have always ended up in frustration for both of us. The lists allowed him to interact with a list, and then request more information from each subject until he was satisfied.

The hardest part for me was not to take it personally. "Don't you trust me to do a good job?" He didn't interact with the kids each day and "evaluate" their learning the way we do when we listen to them read and we coach them through the hard math problem, or we converse about a book. He needed a "map" and a "route" and a "progress report" and a "timetable." It was VERY helpful.

But I had to be willing to put in the extra work, and I had to be humble and accept correction and advice, and I had to be willing to give him more and more and more information until he was satisfied.

But now I have the GREATEST ADVOCATE in the world. He knows where we are going, he knows why we are going there, he knows how we are going to get there, and he knows it is all in good capable, organized hands!

What do I need to worry about legally?

Q: Heather asked, "I want to start my child in Sonlight's preschool this fall. My question is, when do I start worrying about the legal state requirements? Where should I begin? When should I start keeping records?"

A: Kay in TN responded, "You start with the age of compulsory attendance in the state you're living in. You start records about that same time, unless you want to keep them earlier for your own purposes. Each state has different requirements for what records must be kept. So check the homeschooling laws in your state.

"HSLDA.org should help you find what you need."

What health issues do I need to worry about?

Cathi in Hawaii chimed in, "We as home schoolers need to remember to take responsibility for things that the schools did for us — testing for hearing, vision, scoliosis, immunizations, and regular medical checkups. They are easy to lose track of, but very important!"

And then Rachel in Texas noted,

Even in third grade I didn't know it was my eyes that were causing me problems. I thought everyone saw like that. Then my teacher changed the seating chart and put me in the back of the room. She wrote a bunch of math problems on the board, and I missed every one of them because I copied them wrong. I didn't even realize that I wasn't seeing them correctly. Some kids just aren't aware and won't be able to tell you something is wrong.

And our second daughter, when she was 14, didn't realize she was legally blind! She could read just fine (we thought). She was doing very well academically. It was only because we were driving one night and I found she couldn't read any of the highway signs that I got the idea she might have a vision problem!

What about ADHD?

We recognize that there is some controversy surrounding this recently "discovered" complaint. Many people — including us — are deeply distressed by the apparent over-use of certain psychotropic drugs. At the same time, having observed the behavior of some children that is clearly "outside the bounds" and completely untouched either by discipline or by the most sincere desires of the children in question; and then having been able to observe the same children after they have received appropriate treatment, we have few doubts that there really is a disorder called ADD and ADHD, and, if your child suffers from it, you should get the help s/he needs.

Ursie wrote,

There is no one test that can be done to determine ADHD or not. There is not even a single complicated procedure available to MDs. It is more of a rule-out-other-causes process. However, there are some very interesting MRI results being published currently that might eventually develop into a definitive test.

There are screening tests that can be done. Many of the books on ADHD begin with a chapter that includes questions to see if ADHD is likely. You can find a bunch of them at just about any bookstore or library.

You must remember that the results of such tests need to be verified over time (proving that this is not a sudden onset problem, probably caused by something else). Also, more than one person has to assess the situation in the same way (to show that it is not just a particular relationship problem). The problem must also exist in more than one environment. That said, screening tests can be very helpful to determine if the problem should be investigated further.

How do I manage all this laundry?

Kelly S. suggests,

  1. IF IT DOESN'T HAVE VISIBLE DIRT AND DOESN'T SMELL BAD, IT ISN'T DIRTY! The exception to this is underpants. The kids each have a hook on the back of their bedroom door where they hang their clothes when they take them off. I take a peek when I tuck them in at night and toss anything that needs washing in the laundry. Otherwise, they wear the same clothes the next day. In summer, usually everything is dirty after one wearing, since they play outdoors. In the winter, though, we usually get at least two wearings out of each clothing item. Jeans are good for many wearings!

  2. I AM NOT A SLAVE TO YOUR SOCKS! Everyone has their own sock bag. This is a large lingerie bag that also hangs on the back of their bedroom door. Dirty socks go in there. On sock-washing day, I grab everyone's bag and throw them in the washer and put an empty lingerie bag on their hook. Then the socks go, bag and all, in the dryer. When dry, contents of bag are dumped in appropriate party's sock drawer. If they put socks in the bag inside out, that's how they get 'em back. If they put "sock donuts" in there, the socks don't come out very clean, so they quickly learn to unroll socks before putting them in the bag.

  3. PAJAMAS DON'T GET DIRTY. Pajamas are stuck under your pillow when you make your bed and worn again the following night. I wash 'em when I wash your sheets.

  4. TOWELS ARE MULTI-USE ITEMS. Each person has three towels in their own color. One towel is good for at least two days, since you are drying your own CLEAN body with it.

  5. LAUNDRY TAKES DAILY ATTENTION. I have six laundry baskets in my laundry room and one hamper in the bathroom. Dirty clothes get tossed in the hamper. Once a day, I sort the contents of the hamper into my six laundry baskets. (Jeans, whites, brights, lights, delicates, linens.) Monday I wash, fold and put away jeans, Tuesday I do whites, etc. Key is to FOLD AND PUT AWAY the same day they are washed. I used to have clean clothes, waiting to be folded, in piles all over my house. This way, laundry takes almost no time at all.

How do I get my kids to do their chores?

Liz wrote,

There's a great book you can get called Sidetracked Home Executives. It is an incredibly fun-reading book as well as a description of a wonderful system for organizing and running your home. This will help you start getting the house together for yourself, and it will help you realize all the tasks you do throughout the day/week/month/year. It has good suggestions for how to get the kids involved as well.

A friend of mine just passed on "The Guild System" which we're thinking about incorporating into our training:

  1. Beginner - not a willing worker / only a Master may teach
  2. Jr. Apprentice - a child just learning the job / Journeyman may teach
  3. Sr. Apprentice - a child who can work without supervision
  4. Journeyman - character development / one who is learning to train Apprentices
  5. Sr. Journeyman - training to be a Master; learning to work with Beginners under guidance of a Master
  6. Master - knows the skill perfectly; may teach all levels.

Note: Parents are automatically Masters! If you don't know the skill, you must learn fast! Or delegate that particular skill. Remember, at all times you are responsible for what is learned! Also, each child can be on various levels for each general job (kitchen duty, own room responsibility, bread baking, gardening, clothes care, etc.).

There's also a curriculum available from a ministry in California called "Tools for Godly Living" which is step-by-step guidelines for how to train your children in household tasks. I looked at it at my latest convention, and it looked like a good resource book for someone who needed very specific help in this area.

My problem is I can do it so much faster myself, and I lose sight of the need to train them for down the road. I know, but forget, it's so valuable to work on it now while they're little. I hear of so many different people who have their kids running the house (in the right sense, that is) leaving them free to do lesson planning and other ministries.

How do I teach my child a new skill?

Whenever you want to teach your child a new skill, try doing it by following this process.

  1. Modeling. Be sure that you yourself are practicing this skill. If you aren't, give yourself at least a week when you will diligently do it yourself or you will find your children saying, "But you never make YOUR bed" (or whatever). Even if you are already diligently practicing something, if you focus on a specific task for a week, it will give you a chance to focus on the actual steps necessary to accomplish it so that when you get ready to teach it you won't overlook things that, though obvious and automatic to you, really need to be explained and demonstrated.

  2. Teaching. The second week, make sure that your child watches and "helps" you do the skill. For example, as you make the beds say, "See how I have to pull up the sheets that are underneath so that they won't make bumps under the covers? Then I straighten out the blankets, making sure there is the same amount hanging down on each side of the bed." Don't expect your child to be able to observe and automatically "know" what the significant steps are.

  3. Supervising. The third week, have your child perform the skill/job while you watch and help him. Try to encourage him when he remembers an important step: "Good! You remembered to pull up the sheets first..." If he forgets, then a simple, "Whoops! We'd better go back and pull up the sheets!" will serve to remind him. Remember that you are "helping" him, not just standing by to criticize.

  4. Inspecting. The fourth week, tell your child, for example, "Go make your bed while I make mine and I'll come in a minute and see how you have done." [If your child is not yet physically capable of performing a task by himself — for instance, he may have the top bed on a bunk which is much harder to make — of course you won't be able to move on to this step.] Be sure to come in later to evaluate his progress. Try to be encouraging — "Great job!" — and explicit in what you especially like — "Look how smooth it is!" On the other hand, sometimes best efforts fail, in which case you may have to say something along the lines of, "Oh dear! Maybe you'd better start over again. Looks like you forgot to pull up the sheets."

    With some kids, setting a timer and having them "beat the clock" might be necessary to keep them focused on the task at hand. Insist that the job be finished "before breaKF1st" of "before going out to play" in a matter-of-fact way. This is not punishment; it is part of living and being in the family.

  5. Assigning. Assigning jobs for your child to do on his own time schedule without specific involvement from you is your ultimate goal. However, how soon you will achieve this end is dependent on the age level, personality type and maturity of your child, as well as on how complicated or stressful the task is. Building the skills to do a task and the expectation that work is a part of life are a firm foundation upon which a family management system can be built.

Some kids can be motivated by check-off charts and gold stars or money rewards. Others, who are "people"-oriented, are most motivated by "work party"-type atmospheres where everyone is "doing it together"; they become very discouraged when required to go off and work alone. Others like to tackle new and untried things, while some prefer to master a job and stick with what they know and are efficient at. It's often difficult to discern how to motivate your children. Each one is different. Since you're homeschooling, however, you have a greater opportunity — and a high motivation — to discover your children's unique learning styles. For further help in this area, we highly recommend Cathy Duffy's Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual.