Posts in Homeschooling

The Patience Pitfall

January 7th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 5 comments

If you homeschool your children, you have probably been on the receiving end of this statement: “I think what you’re doing is wonderful, but I just don’t have the patience.”

Nine times out of ten, the correct response is to smile and change the subject. Your conversation partner doesn’t actually think that what you’re doing is wonderful; she actually thinks it’s insane. Never for one minute has she considered keeping her children with her at home. School is working well for her family.

Every once in a while, though, those words express a plaintive cry for help. They come from the depths of the soul of a mother who worries that school is damaging or short-changing her child but is terrified at the idea of being a full-time parent and teacher. Endowing you with saintly levels of patience allows her to rationalize that she couldn’t possibly do what you’re doing. After all, she wasn’t born with your supernatural talent.

Here is my dirty little secret. I homeschooled not because I had overflowing reserves of patience, but because I had very little of it. I had absolutely no patience for helping a child with inane, boring and convoluted homework. I had no patience with being nominated as the homework police.  I had no patience with placing family priorities behind the (understandable) demands of an institution. I had no patience with waking a sleeping infant in order to drive carpool. The list goes on.

Here is what I discovered. Reviewing multiplication tables, reminding people that the words ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ mean different things, and rarely having an uncluttered kitchen table did require patience. It was the same type of patience needed to help little ones remember not to drop their clothes, toys and shoes all over the house and to say please when making a request. In other words, being a teacher was an extension of being a mother. The more I worked at one identity, the better I got at the other.

If you need time to recuperate after getting everyone out the door in the morning; if there are constantly miserable hours of ‘witching time’ between school and dinner; if getting the kids to bed is an exhausting, nightly performance, some homeschooling lessons might be exactly what you need. Because (for healthy moms) homeschooling encourages you to hone your mother skills.

Phrases like, “I can’t wait for school to start,” and “If winter vacation lasts one more day I’m going to go out of my mind,” aren’t accolades to schools. They are reminders that things in the home need to change because they aren’t working well. There is only one reason for children to go to school. That is because it benefits them.

The child who heads off in the morning knowing that his mother would rather spend the day with him, but sacrifices the opportunity for his well-being, is a child ready to make the most of his studies. The child who suspects that school is an excuse for his mother to get rid of him learns an entirely different lesson.

Differentiated What?

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read. 

Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.

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This Agenda May Be Harmful to Your Health

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 52 comments

I originally started writing this with the intention of posting it on our website as a Practical Parenting column, but then I realized that the problem I’m describing actually affects all of us. While the examples I mention have to do with children’s literature, every detail of the culture surrounding us impacts us, often in ways we don’t recognize.

Some years ago, a member of the California synagogue that my husband and I led worried that she was exhibiting tendencies of paranoia. She revealed that she had multiple locks on her apartment door, wouldn’t open the door to accept packages, and was constantly looking over her shoulder on the street. After a bit of discussion, it became clear to us that she lived in a high-crime neighborhood and rather than being paranoid, she was simply being realistic.

Whenever I see the news, women’s magazines, children’s books or many other media, I find myself hyper-sensitive to underlying agendas. In Stalinist Russia, young students were told to place their heads on their desks after praying to God for candy. Not surprisingly, when they lifted their heads their requests had gone unanswered. Then they were told to ask Stalin for candy and once again lay down their heads. Not surprisingly, candy seemed to rain down as their teachers distributed it while the children’s eyes were squeezed shut.

That approach may have lacked subtlety, but the message was clear. In some ways, more delicately delivered messages can be more dangerous. We don’t even realize that our minds are being directed and our beliefs formed.

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Psst! Want the Secret to a Great Education?

November 26th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

When I was actively homeschooling, I would occasionally see humorous lists citing the top reasons to homeschool.  One that resonated with me (and seemed serious to me even if it lent itself to funny illustrations) was that homeschooling validated hours upon hours of reading. Not only did I get to read in order to prepare for teaching, but there was a practical need for reading books about education and learning.

With that in mind, those of you in the trenches of parenting whether you are homeschooling or not, might enjoy reading two books that I recently finished. Lenora Chu is an America journalist whose parents immigrated to the States from China. When she and her small town, Minnesota-bred, blond and blue-eyed husband attain career opportunities in China, she utilizes her skills to explore and compare education in China and her home country. Since the couple has two young children, one of whom they enroll in school, her writing is conflicted, passionate and very human.

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve is a fun read that will make you think. Like Ms. Chu, you may find yourself alternately horrified, envious, curious and forced to analyze exactly what your goals for education are.

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The Man in the Glass

November 20th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 6 comments

I’ve written about how Justice William C. Goodloe set our family on a path of appreciating poetry. One of the first poems he recited for us, and set our children to memorizing, came to mind when we were answering an Ask the Rabbi question. I thought I would share it with you. (This is the version I saw. Pelf is an archaic word for money. I’m not sure if there was so little punctuation in the original.)

The Man in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf
and the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
who judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you a straight-shooting chum
and call you a wonderful guy
But the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum
if you can’t look him straight in the eye

He’s the fellow to please never mind all the rest
for he’s with you clear up to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway
of life and get pats on the back as pass
But your final reward will be heartaches and
tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass. 

Make Mine a Capital

November 19th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Being a homeschooling mom taught me a tremendous amount. Not only did I vastly expand my knowledge of academic subjects but the adventure encouraged me to think independently. Growing up as an extremely compliant student, I dutifully completed my lessons and studied hard. As an adult looking at textbooks and workbooks from a different vantage point, I was full of skepticism.

Raise your hand if you know to start a sentence with a capital letter when writing in English. How about if you know that people’s names should be capitalized? Now think back to when you learned those basic rules? If you grew up with English as your primary language it was probably quite early. Perhaps in 1st grade or even before that.

When I looked for homeschooling material, this fact made it hard for me to understand why English language and grammar workbooks aimed at second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-graders opened with a basic lesson about capitalization complete with practice exercises. The simple rules aren’t so convoluted that they needs constant repetition. These same books didn’t, for example, continue showing pictures of a mop, broom and pail, asking students to underline the word that starts with an ‘m’ sound. The assumption was that once you learned the ‘m’ sound, you didn’t need to be retaught it every year.

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How Do You Homeschool?

November 12th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Veteran homeschoolers are frequently asked two questions. Those who tend to object to homeschooling ask, “What about socialization,” while those thinking of homeschooling want to know, “What curriculum do you use?”

I want to focus on the second question. I often hear it expressed in a yearning tone. Parents who are unhappy with their children’s schooling or reluctant to send their little one off to school seem to be saying, “I want to do this so please tell me what to do.” To quote Shakespeare, “Aye, there’s the rub.” Most of the time, homeschooling is a dance that each mother (it is usually, though not always, the mom) and individual child do. When it is done best, it isn’t a matter of memorizing and executing steps, but of being completely in touch with one’s partner and sensitive to the unique personalities, interests and styles of both mother and child.

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Book Recommendation: The War that Saved My Life

October 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

When looking for books for my children, I used to peruse the Newbery Honor books (and, yes, until I started writing this piece, I thought it was Newberry). Since I care about morals as well as language, I admit to favoring books that were chosen for the award in earlier decades. With that in mind, I am delighted to recommend a recent honoree, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

This book and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, tell the story of Ada, a ten-year-old British evacuee from London during World War II. I appreciated the depiction of England during wartime including rationing, bombing, the death of so many soldiers and the real fear of invasion. But the story is deeper than a historical fiction sketch of England in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Growing with Nancy

October 22nd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

In addition to what I recently wrote, Sarah Mackenzie makes another important point in her book, The Read-Aloud Family. When we read to older children we expand their vocabulary. While a child might get frustrated  reading a book too much above his or her comfortable reading level, children begin to decipher unfamiliar words in context when a parent is reading.

Even when a child is reading at an advanced level, reading aloud has an added benefit. I think every homeschool parent of committed readers has been amused when their children mispronounce words that they have only met through printed matter. Reading aloud gives children a chance to hear new vocabulary words as well as see them.

Thinking so much about reading aloud reminded me of a Musing from a few years back. I hope you enjoy this reprint:

Superman comic books may not generally be considered advanced literary material, but the childhood hours I spent reading them did help me do well on my SATs.  While I didn’t read the comics for vocabulary lessons, years later the spurious documents that one criminal used served me admirably when I needed to pick the correct multiple choice synonym for that word.

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Read Aloud – Please

October 22nd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 6 comments

One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling is time. Not having to rush out of the house in the morning or spend time on homework in the evening puts you in control (as much as possible) of your family’s hours. You gain all those hours that are otherwise spent on parent/teacher nights and working on projects that may not have anything to do with what you think is important.

Reading aloud was one of our family’s favorite ways to use the expanse of time at our disposal. Like many moms, I read voraciously to my toddlers and younger children. But we read aloud well after our children were themselves proficient readers. We regularly read at our Shabbat table, to the point that some of our regular guests were miffed if there was a week they weren’t invited. While they could have picked up Swallows and Amazons or The Microbe Hunters on their own, they enjoyed following along with us. Sometimes we read to the children as a group, an activity that strengthened family bonds. Other times reading was a one-on-one experience. Some of my fondest memories are sitting in front of a fireplace with my sixteen-year-old son, reading A Tale of Two Cities together. 

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