We’ve been homeschooling now for almost seven years – since our first hit school-age – and every year (and indeed each child!) brings new opportunities and challenges that we never could have anticipated when we first began the journey.
One of the most important pieces of the homeschooling puzzle is having – or rather, continually working towards – the right mindset. The most common phrase random people use when they learn we homeschool is, “I don’t know how you do it! I never could!”
Let me just say: you could. But you have to have the right mindset.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mindset necessary for a positive and fun homeschooling experience, and there are a few keys learnings that have impacted our journey and which I want to share today.
If you’ve been thinking about homeschooling, or you’re just starting out and find it tough, have a read through and see if anything stands out for you.
Homeschooling will challenge most of your pre-conceived ideas about how kids learn and what “homeschooling” looks like, so you need to have a very flexible attitude. Here are some of the main mindset shifts that I’ve been working on.
Be prepared to challenge your assumptions
My 6 old loves cowboys, rodeos, horses, bulls… pretty much anything to do with the Wild West. He will often line up his toys in front of him while he writes and draws and I’ve been told I shouldn’t let him have these toys near his “work space” because it could distract him.
I thought this was a strange comment, because most kids don’t put things in front of themselves for the intent of distracting themselves. Adults do (hello, phone!), but kids don’t need to escape something that they love.
And what if having his favourite things there front and centre actually helps him to focus? Most adults who work in an office are allowed to keep their favourite things on their desk – family photo, favourite coffee cup, motivational quotes – these things help to keep them on track or focused towards a particular goal.
So why wouldn’t it be the same for kids?
Recently, my 12 year old daughter asked if she could listen to some instrumental music while doing Mandarin. I reluctantly agreed, wondering how she could focus on learning a foreign language with Piano Guys playing in the background, but she has reported that it helped immensely and has continued to have the music playing during her language lesson.
Looking back, as a teenager, I would often study to music and felt that it really helped me to concentrate, so I guess it’s the same for her.
Key take away: Resist the temptation to have your child’s work area clutter free and sanitary or to deny them a simple request that could lead to greater engagement and concentration. Let them create their own space, especially if you do a lot of book work in your homeschool.
If your kids go to school, this might be applied equally to their homework area.
Understand that children learn at their own pace
Actually, all people learn at their own pace, regardless of age or gender. While this may seem rather an obvious point, the reality is that most of us grew up in an educational system that followed a particular course or pattern and, unless your school had provision for the diverse learning requirements of students, you were probably all expected to learn the same thing at the same time.
I’ve always been a firm advocate for ensuring children have the space, time and support they need to learn something, but received a very clear affirmation of this a few months ago.
I was with my then 9 year old son, who isn’t overly keen on English (as a subject), and we were making our way through a Year 4 level English textbook. We came to a page that asked the student to write a poem. I could see my son cringing and to be honest, I also cringed. I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience for him or me, so we closed the book and moved on to something else.
A couple of weeks later, he came to me with a notebook his Godmother had given him some time before, and very proudly showed me a poem he’d written about a knight defending a castle. I was blown away.
He had written a poem when he was ready, not when the progression of the textbook said he had to, and most importantly, he had enjoyed it!
It’s been suggested to me that children will never learn to do things they don’t like if they are allowed to pick and choose their educational progression. But this is ridiculous. My kids do plenty of things in their daily life that they don’t necessarily want to do (like chores and bathing!) and I firmly believe that learning should NOT fall into the category of “things we don’t like to do but have to”.
Key take away: Let your child lead – they know best what they are ready for and the entire experience will be so much more enjoyable if the child is ready for it.
Acknowledge, accept and embrace the differences in each child
Every day I learn something new about kids and one thing that has really stood out to me over the last couple of years is how different they all are and how children learn at their own pace regardless of how hard we might try to push them or we might feel that we have to push them.
I know it’s hard. Especially when certain people expect that children should learn things at certain ages, just because they’re a certain age… or because their older sibling did.
But it’s hugely important to hold space for each and every child to progress in the way that is best for them and in the areas in which they excel.
Sometimes we can feel as though our children’s abilities are a reflection on us as a parent. We are led to believe that if our child cannot read by a certain age then we must be bad parents or bad teachers (or both!). One thing that I have learnt over the past 12 years of parenting is that we cannot teach our children anything: they can learn and we can facilitate, but we cannot actually force knowledge into them.
Key take away: Take the time to figure out what your kids are awesome at and create space for them to pursue those interests.
We live 30 minutes from our nearest large town, and we make this trip several times a week for various activities, like sport, music and friend catch-ups. It’s a fantastic time to just chat with the kids without distraction and some of our best conversations have been enjoyed on this journey.
One notable conversation ensued when we were passing a Jumbuck Ute. My 10 year old asked what Jumbuck meant and it lead into a discussion about Waltzing Matilda, Banjo Paterson and the history of Australia. We even came away with a number of things to research further.
Key take away: Be available regularly just to chat with your kids. Distraction-free, child-led, open lines.
Now over to you. I’d love to hear from you about what assumptions have been challenged on your parenting/homeschooling journey and how you’ve overcome them to create positive experiences for the whole family. Let me know in the comments.