Homeschooling today includes everything from parents banding together and hiring their own teachers, to parents who sprinkle their children’s school-based education with other opportunities for enrichment.
In many cases where homeschooled children also attend mainstream educational facilities, they show themselves to be better educated and further along academically than their classmates.
Consider this advice from Lisa Cottrell-Bentley, whose family has been featured in the news media and at homeschooling conferences. She’s the author of Wright On Time (www.wrightontimebooks.com), a series of books about a homeschooling family traveling the country in an RV.
For many reasons, she says, more than 90 percent of parents won’t be able to homeschool their children full-time. But there are things they can do to improve their child’s education. Here are some homeschooling techniques we all can use to enrich children’s learning:
1. Talk to your kids more. You may think you already do this, but in most cases, parental discussions turn into mini-lectures that bore the kids. Be smarter, and just ask lots of questions about their lives. Open the conversation with something like: “I’m curious about you. What’s exciting for you? What do you like to do with your friends? How do you feel when you [do math, practice the guitar, or whatever]?” Focus on your child’s interests, dreams and passions.
When kids clam up, forcing the issue will only make it worse. So try asking for help with one of your chores, like washing the car – or any activity that doesn’t require eye contact. Gradually, most children will accept helping you with simple activities. While you’re busy together, you can begin to chat about your own life: your gripes, passions and so forth. When that’s going well, gently ask what your child thinks about what you’ve said. Suddenly the barriers will come down!
2. Practice “de-schooling.” Help your children free up large blocks of time. Depending on their age, aim for them each to have a full day and four full evenings each week with no commitments. This gives them time to relax, explore and start discovering their deepest interests.
3. After a while, use the material from those deep conversations with your child to offer new opportunities. “Would you like to go see real live race cars [or whatever your child has an interest in]?” Brainstorm together about activities he or she might like that you will permit and support.
4. Support emerging interests for as long as they last, and continually watch for new ones.
Education researcher Kevin Spencer, an assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of Alabama, advocates using online search engines to find “educational tools.” Rely on:
• Recommendations – especially from other parents, and also from your child’s teacher; and
• The research behind the recommendations – Get online and investigate. Look for research that backs up or refutes the recommendations you receive. Educational materials should be research-based and peer-reviewed.
Robert Moskowitz is a freelance writer, a father and grandfather.