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"Potholes in the Road & How to Avoid Them!"
Linda Dobson, Author of Numerous Books on Homeschooling
Linda Dobson began homeschooling her three children in New York in 1985. A nationally respected conference speaker, article and book author, she was Home Education Magazine news editor and columnist for 8 years, and currently writes the "Notes from the Road Less Traveled" column. Linda is the "early years" advisor for www.Homeschool.com . She serves as editor for the Prima Publishing Home Learning Library. Linda is the author of the following books on homeschooling:
If you haven't done so already, please read Linda's article, OZ NEVER DID GIVE NOTHING TO THE CHILDREN THAT THEY DIDN'T ALREADY HAVE
Here are the logs of Linda's visit to HomefiresJournal E-List:
Has everyone seen the latest homeschooling coverage in the news? It's
in the November issue of *Human Resources Magazine* at:
Here's the closing paragraph from homeschooling's friend Pat Lines to whet your curiosity:
"In the final analysis, if you're hiring, homeschoolers may be a good investment. Cutting through the stereotypes, Lines, who has studied the movement for many years, perhaps says it best. 'If I didn't know anything about someone other than their education background, I'd rather hop into a foxhole with a homeschool kid than one from public school. The homeschool kid will be a little better educated and dependable. It's just the law of averages."
Q & A
Q: How many kids do you have and what method did you use in your homeschooling? ~ Kris
A: I've had the privilege of learning w/ 3 people who are now 23, 21, and 18. When parents tell you the time w/ your children is brief, believe them!! My kids would laugh hysterically if they heard you referring to what we did as anything resembling a "method." <g> There truly wasn't any...at the beginning I would do that "homeschoolers' shuffle," you know, the dance we do when we think we're not structured enough, then we "shuffle" all the way over to spelling books, then back to 15 field trips each week. Fortunately I was trusting enough to listen to what each of them wanted as they got old enough to express it. (What choice did they have? They knew their mother was a loonybird!) For the older two, this meant an interesting blend of volunteering and working and community college courses and who knows what else. My youngest has chosen a self-prescribed curriculum for the most part while he works quite a bit (not full-time but more hours than what I normally think of as part-time). With an interest in psychology he's fascinated by the interplay of personalities and the hierarchy in the workplace. I guess you could say either there was no method at all, or that we eventually hit upon every method known to man.
Q: Did your children go to school?
A: My oldest went to half-day Kindergarten.
Q: What would you say is the most important thing you've learned about homeschooing? ~ Shay
A: Everytime I sat down to write the most important thing I wound up w/ a book. This answer is only partly facetious, really, as there were so many lessons. Obviously, tho', only one thing at a time can pop into mind first, and for this particularly-phrased question that was: [depending on how it's handled by the adults involved] It's the only educational method (because it becomes a lifestyle) capable of allowing children true educational freedom.
Q "What's the most important thing you've learned because of homeschooling?
A: I've often said that there are as many benefits for the parent who engages in homeschooling as there are for the child. Homeschooling my children helped me learn to trust myself, to know myself. I learned this by watching children growing up to be who they were meant to be, by seeing how many layers of conditioning and programming, courtesy in large part of public schooling, hid the "real" person behind them. It's impossible to put into words the effect of this on a life, except maybe to say that it touches all aspects of life, from how you view and treat children to how you blindly refuse to accept something just because an "expert" says so, from how you see society to how you number life's priorities. No other life experience has created as much personal growth for me. It certainly presents a dilemma when invariably upon being interviewed I'm asked about my "credentials." Saying "the homeschooling experience" doesn't do it justice, but it has to suffice.
Q: How long does it take to get rid of "school thinking"?
A: I seriously doubt we can ever completely exorcise it; our children will have less of it. If they go on to homeschool our grandchildren we'll really begin to see the impact of true education as opposed to schooling on both individuals and society. Just as drug addicts must go about breaking the habit each in their own way, that's how we, too, ultimately face the challenge of what is frighteningly similar to drug addiction in its hold on us.
Q: How can I find out what my method of teaching is? Being that I just started out, I am not sure what style or method of teaching I use. I do not use textbooks; mostly I use the internet, the library and computer software. I know my daughter and know what she needs and I do not think that she can get it from a textbook; but at the same time, I want a more structured curriculum (w/out textbooks).
A: Is there any particular reason why you need to name your method? IMHO it sounds like something I would term "eclectic," but more importantly I'd term it "successful." There are probably websites that describe the different methods. There are also descriptions of nine different styles, along w/ a weekly "diary" type description of each, in The First Year of HSing Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start by yours truly. This book also includes info about different learning styles, a detailed look at using the first year as a grand educational experiment, and LOTS of wonderful wisdom from experienced homeschoolers answering "what I wish someone had told me during my first year of homeschooling."
Q: I am a homeschool graduate with a question about homeschool methodologies. I now have two children of my own, eighteen months and three years. I would not think of sending them to public school, but am not sure the way my mother homeschooled me is exactly the way I want to go either. So I have been studying a lot of methods in preparation. I have read a lot about unschooling, the Montessori method, Charlotte Mason and Classical. From reading your books I assume you lean towards a child-led unschooling approach. My question about this approach is that because a child learns quicker and easier at a young age isn't it better that they get a good introduction to the basics while young? While children ought to be able to follow their own interests to a degree, doesn't it make sense that they should have a very broad education, but in depth in all of the basics so that they have many options open to them? I would appreciate your thoughts on this as I am trying to sort out how to teach my children. ~ Melissa
A: I find all this concern about "methods" very interesting...and a bit troubling...the homeschooling world is changing a lot.
In "the good ol' days," we just began homeschooling - period. I guess it's this background that caused me to write in The 1st Year of Homeschooling Your Child that the most important thing is to "just do it," doing WHATEVER it is that makes you comfortable at the time. My informal research, backed by anecdotal evidence, strongly suggests that no matter where or how a family begins, as you grow more experienced your homeschooling will evolve. When I surveyed parents for Homeschooling: The Early Years, a vast majority slid along what I called "the homeschooling continuum" to less "schooling" as they gained confidence and learned how their children learn best. This is ultimately what is most important when learning, after all, is the goal.
It's interesting that you put a label on me because, as I tried to make clear in a previous email, I truly can't put one on myself because we've done it all at different ages and stages. Of course it's better that children get a good introduction to the basics while young, and this can happen w/ any of the "methods" as long as a caring adult pays attention to it.
The best way to teach your children - not my children and not someone else's children - is the way in which you are within your comfort zone, and the way in which your child can most easily and joyfully accomplish the goal of learning. THIS is the gift of homeschooling.
Q: What is your opinion on unit studies versus using a curriculum with lesson plans? ~ Theresa
A: I'd be happy to give you my opinion...BUT...that's all it would be, just one lady's opinion, and that of a lady who doesn't know you or your children at all! You might as well ask the opinion of the grocery store check-out lady, because for YOUR family, neither of our opinions matter one iota.
If you're torn between the two approaches, conduct an experiment using each method for a brief period of time, maybe 30-60 days each. With which one do your children learn more? Which one seems to be sparking their curiosity and eliciting questions that lead to more learning? Which one is more fun and interesting for *all* of you? Does one way free up more time for other activities than the other? You get the idea.
This is what I refer to in THE FIRST YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING YOUR CHILD: YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO GETTING OFF TO THE RIGHT START as getting important answers from just doing it and then observing the results, just as a scientist would. Homeschooling is flexible enough to allow you this experimentation time, and you love your children enough to change things around when you see something isn't working. So go experiment! And have fun!!
Q: If or when would you suggest implementing more structured academics (i.e., reading, phonics, etc.) with a 7-year old? He is not interested in learning to read and would rather paint or play his guitar than ever do anything even partially resembling workbooks, etc. My heart tells me to just let him be and go with his flow -- other times the culture gets the best of me and I feel inadequate in giving him the skills and or information he should have to have the "best education" he deserves. ~ Debbie
A: This is the homeschoolers' shuffle. You hit the crux when you said, "My heart tells me to just let him be and go with his flow." That's intuition, and we, the parents, have been trained to ignore it by our own schooling. Thus, it often feels foreign and we fail to trust it. John Holt told us to trust the children, and this is excellent advice. Before this can happen, though, we need to learn to trust *ourselves.* Trust your heart, your love, your knowledge of your child, Debbie...it won't fail you.
Q: Is their a homeschool drafting course somewhere -- my 11-year-old says he wants to "build" things? ~ Katy
A: While there may not be a homeschool-specific drafting course, there is so much available online now that something is almost surely possible in this manner. Use a search engine like "Google" or go to the library for help.
Q: How do I incorporate teaching good character and volunteerism into our schedule - where do I put it?
A: Since you're asking about "where" to incorporate
these things I assume you mean in terms of a curriculum? If you must do that on
paper somewhere good character might go under health. For the volunteering I'd
focus on what she is actually doing, and place individual activities in the proper
Q: What tips do you have for getting kids interested in something?
My two (8 and 11) are into and out of a lot of things, but have no consistent focus.
A: We do hear stories of kids who latched on to something or other when they were 2 years-old, only to grow up continuing those pursuits, but I don't believe that's the norm. I think that's a *good* thing. If you think of different activities as portions of a learning buffet, this means they are "tasting" and testing a wide variety. This provides opportunities for a lot more "side trips." It also creates a broader array of experience that will likely prove helpful when that day comes todecide on what to focus. If that's not enough to convince you that things are OK, remember that kids growing up today are expected to change jobs at least half a dozen times in their adulthood -- just think how prepared your youngsters are going to be!
Q: What about the times when life seems to overtake homeschool? Did you ever feel that stab of guilt that the Saxon math wasn't getting done? How did you deal with it? It seems the last few months for us have been crazy and we really haven't accomplished what we had set out to. Is this normal? Sometimes we just feel like we aren't doing something because we're busy with everything else! ~ Jen in South Dakota
A: Jen, this can only happen if you are somehow "separating" life and homeschool; if they are one and the same, neither can overtake the other. This is a change that first takes place in your thinking, then it reveals itself in daily life.
I do know that stab of guilt (the music to which I did the "homeschoooler shuffle" <g>). You may not have accomplished what you set out to do, but if you're "busy with everything else" you have accomplished other things. Had the things you set out to accomplish been the most important things to do at this particular moment in your life, you would have done them, right? Obviously, other things became more important as they received your time and attention.
Part of trusting and respecting children is to realize that, if we don't somehow taint them w/ our "school think," they are natural "learning machines." They are learning all the time, no matter what they are doing. So while you feel you aren't doing something, the truth of the matter is you are doing something, just a different something. The resultant lessons will be different, but no less important as pieces that become the entirety of your daughter's learning experiences, and the person she becomes.
Again, the point isn't about doing something, but rather how we perceive what we are doing, how we think about it. A walk in the park can be physical education and nature study. Listening to music in the car on the way there can be music appreciation. Conversing on the way home can be reading review, or a spelling lesson, or character building. I'd bet anything your daughter is learning a lot more while you're "busy w/ everything else" than you realize! Different isn't bad, it's just different.
Q: My kids don't enjoy learning. How do I make learning fun and motivate my children to learn? I have a 15 yr old 9th grader. He was in the private school system for 7 yrs. He wasn't very motivated in private school and he's not motivated now. He enjoys farm work. The college he wants to go to has a 2 yr agricultural program which he is interested in enrolling, but he just can't seem to grasp the idea that he needs to do well now to get accepted. He scores above grade/age level on his yearly testing. He took the SAT's and scored 860. He thinks any amount of schoolwork is too much. I've tried to encourage him to make friends with homeschoolers but he's totally against it. And how do I make learning more fun for all my kids? All 3 don't enjoy learning. Even my youngest who is well ahead of his age level. He's doing 4th grade work and he's only 7. ~ Melody
A: I was going to respond specifically to the son you wrote most about, but when I got to the part that all 3 children don't enjoy learning, especially one who seems "precocious," I stopped in my tracks. If children don't enjoy learning, they are either going to 1) not truly "learn" anything, or 2) temporarily learn enough to regurgitate enough to please someone.
This may sound radical, but I would urge you to take a sabbatical (and w/ the holidays coming up I can't think of a more opportune time). Barring TV viewing and video games, give them all free reign for at least a couple of weeks and simply observe. What do they do? What do they do to fill their time? Then take some clues to an improved "climate" from this.
As 15 year-old is certainly capable of offering what it is he would like to learn. Here's where you need to be creative, and put forth a "happy marriage" of what you know he needs w/ what he wants. During this "break," do whatever it takes to talk with him, and find out what's going on -- sometimes it's something easily fixed, sometimes it's astounding and requires additional help. If you have been pushing, he could very well be rebelling against that. It's also possible that you haven't yet overcome whatever changes occurred in him during his private schooling. Consider reading The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn and Homeschooling: The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen for additional support. It's my hope that the information in these books might lead you to discover the root of the problem.
Q: How do I incorporate structure and instill a love of learning? I am homeschooling older children - 6th & 7th graders. As a person who went to public schools, I'm having a very hard time shaking all of those lessons. I am acutely aware of how little I actually learned other than how to "play the game" in public school. At the same time I feel the need for some structure and a long term plan. Is it possible to reconcile all of these expectations into one plan?
A: A very nice thing about the ages of your children is that they are old enough to provide input into how homeschooling will best work for them. Many parents have the kids make a list of things they would like to learn about. You can stretch your creative muscles and really think about what's on the list and consider it a challenge to incorporate typical subject matter in the bigger picture of each interest. Then you can use each list as a framework, filling in "bricks" you feel necessary w/o overwhelming the list w/ your own additions. At the same time, work on broadening your own definition of education, i.e., get rid of as much of that government school programming as you can. Truth is you can lead a child to lessons but you can't make him think. Truth is that while all those children in school may be sitting still in history class, that by no means is the same thing as all those children learning history. Also remember that if part of the goal of their education is to "learn how to learn," delving deeply into an interest does just this. Once mastered, these lessons are then easily transferred to other tasks and never lost.
Q: Do you think that some kids will just "not ever get Math"? I have a 10 yr old daughter who dislikes math very much. I've used lots of different methods to teach multiplication and division (flash cards, computer drills, workbooks), and while she seems to get concepts -- she forgets them unless she does it everyday. She still has trouble recognizing money and counting it. How can you do everything everyday so that she won't lose what she learns? ~ Melody
A: Truly sounds like a lack of interest, perhaps coupled by a lack of reason to do it. In your list of things tried, I don't see any "real life" applications. The grocery store is a wonderful place for math. Can she help: make the list, figure out coupon savings (perhaps w/ the added incentive of receiving a portion or all of the savings?), go get the canned beans on her own, asking her to get the cheapest per unit price (why, yes, of course you have to give her a quick math lesson first!), figure out the cost of a half gallon of milk if a gallon costs x amount, figure out what 3 yogurts cost if each costs 50 cents, etc., etc. Has she ever inventoried the contents of her room and graphed them by type? How about baking and doubling the recipe after she figures out what the ingredients cost? Have her stay w/i a budget as she picks out the ingredients? Any pets for whom she can figure out how much they eat per day, and based on that, how many days a bag of food lasts?
Perhaps you can try closing the books for a few months, and coming back to them fresh -- it's amazing how well this works for some children.
Then there's always continuing your search of available materials until *something* clicks...a series of field trips to various community businesses where you pre-consult w/ the business folks to emphasize how and why they utilize math in their work (bank, accountant, architect, artist)...activities from the *I Hate Math* book and other books by Marilyn Burns... *The Family Math Book*...other books *about* math...a home business...
Q: What do you think about college for homeschoolers? I'm not so sure that is as important as colleges and corporate America would like us to believe. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. ~ Kris
A: I don't believe in college just for college's sake. If it's needed for a young man or woman to achieve a goal or career, it's wonderful. If a young man or woman wants to spend that time in an academic environment, it's wonderful. If a young man or woman attends to impress the grandparents, or because it's "expected" by society, it can be a major waste of time and money. I don't have the stats at hand, but the high percentage of young people attending college and then dropping out before completion is an indication that a lot of them don't really want/need to be there. Much better that they fill the precious years of their lives w/ activity that is personally meaningful.
Q: What is the best way to prepare the way for a college career?
A: I'll direct you to Cafi Cohen's Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook: Preparing 12- to 18-Year-Olds for Success in the College of Their Choice, where she explores all of the options you mentioned in greater detail. As you can see from the title, she suggests starting around the age of 12, and the book includes sample transcripts and essays written by young folks applying for entrance. She even addresses the concern you expressed w/ a chapter called, "College or Not?"
Loretta Heuer has also written a book about portfolios and transcripts -- a quick search on her name on amazon.com will guide you to more information.
There is also an interesting email list frequented by homeschoolers and college admissions officers where everyone answers questions for each other (yes, they have as many questions about us!). You can send a message to: LISTSERV@LIST.PACE.EDU with the following message: SUBSCRIBE HSC-L
Ideally you would know within reasonable limits which colleges your child would like to attend. That way you can simply call them and ask them what they would prefer to see.
Q: Do you ever tire of seeing the media only talk about homeschoolers who are high academic achievers? I would like to see more front-page stories about successful woodworkers, dancers, musicians, chefs, electricians, gardeners, world-travelers, rock climbers, naturalists, and plumbers who were homeschooled -- something that shows the diversity of interests among homeschoolers and that celebrates individual strengths and accomplishment in fields that don't necessarily require outstanding verbal and math SAT scores.
A: This is a major reason Homeschoolers' Success Stories wasn't just about the gal w/ the perfect SAT scores and the professional football player. It also includes the stories of the firefighter, state trooper, personal chef, and more. I strove to present an honest picture of homeschoolers, not an ideal that does more to discourage than to encourage others to try their hand at home.
The most important lessons children get from home education - include self-reliance, responsibility, a healthy work ethic and the will and ability to pursue work they love that is important to them. None of these important lessons are taught as part of a curriculum - any curriculum. Rather, they grow and develop as a result of the child growing up with love, attention, and respect. Providing these to our children will always be more important than how we wind up teaching them academic lessons, and are much more a result of the way we choose to live our lives together than of a set of books or lessons. We can and do provide these to our children no matter what homescooling method we choose to utilize.
Homeschooling - and homeschooling "success" - is about so much more than good test scores; it's about good people.
Q: Can you recommend a book about homeschooling autistic children? ~ Rowena
A: I don't have any experience in this field. However, there are resources available, and I just happened to have checked the contact info on a lot of them as I revised *The HSing Bk of Answers* so hopefully they still work.
Unschooling Special Needs: http://kidsactivities.homestead.com/Jacksonspage.html
Autistic Spectrum Children
Charlotte Mason for children with special needs
At Our Own Pace
Utgnet: Uniqueness, Twice-Gifted & Gifted Network
(Support network for parents and home educators of exceptional
students--special needs to gifted)
As for books, there's *Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend w/ Autism* and the upcoming (in March, I believe) *HSing the Child w/ ADD or Other Special Needs* by Lenore Hayes.
And More Resources From A List Member
Just a few more resources that you didn't mention:
For handwriting: My son (8 yrs. old with PDD-NOS) has also struggled. This year I found Handwriting Without Tears and he has made a great improvement in his handwriting! Their website is www.hwtears.com. It's worth a look.
Also, Joyce Herzog is a great resource for homeschoolers of special needs kids. Her website is www.joyceherzog.com. Her books "Learning in Spite of Labels" and "Choosing and Using Curriculum" have been very helpful, and uplifting.
Lastly, a book by Sharon C. Hensley "Home Schooling Children with Special Needs". She's a mom who's been there.
~ Connie McConnell
Q: I've been told that my 7-year-old is shy because he's home schooled. Do you think that's true? My 5-year-old clings to me. I'm told it's not healthy for him. Is this true? Am I wrong to let him be a 'Mommy's boy' for awhile? ~ Alicia in South Carolina
not particularly fond of the term "shy." I tend to look at such
things more as the personality trait of leaning toward introverted instead
of extroverted. Interesting, isn't it, how we can readily accept such
personality differences in the adults we deal with, but if a child isn't
extroverted it's a problem?
With regard to your 5-year-old, continue being aware of his interactions. Their quality is much more important than their quantity. HSing is allowing him to blossom in his own time...when you think about it this way it sure makes you wonder how many 5 year-olds are dealing w/ social situations for which they aren't ready...which scenario would you prefer for your still very young boy (who, by virtue of the hormones, may take a bit longer to mature). I don't think you're wrong to let a 5 year-old be a "mommy's boy." Write me again if he's still that way at 25. ;-)
Q: How do we get our school work and house work done on time each day? I homeschool my 9-year-old son. Our days are very smooth when he's ready at 9:00 AM. But when he's not ready until 10,11 or 12 -- it seems like it's an all day event. I get cranky and loose my patience and so does he. How do you teach a child to be a cheerful giver/helper? There's always an issue when I need household help and I really believe that's a big part of homeschooling -- to learn to do your part in being a member of a family. Please give me any suggestions you might have. ~ Faith
A: Perhaps a change in perspective might help. Rather than thinking of homeschooling as something to be done at 9am, and to be finished by whatever time, try to teach yourself to think of it as a lifestyle, meaning that it's something that happens throughout the day, the evenings, the weekends, and holidays.
To this end you might try a little experiment...loosen up for a week or two, then just observe (like a scientist doing an experiment). I'll bet you'll be able to see that there is a general time of day when, left to his own devices, he *prefers* to get things done. At another time, try jumping immediately into the schoolwork he's motivated to do. While feeding the animals may not be able to wait, the bed, teeth, and hair *can* wait (if you can stand it! <g>). Then, for example, after reading you can say, "I have to change the baby's diaper...while I do that you go get your teeth brushed and when we're both done we'll set up that science experiment."
I think the best way to teach how to be a cheerful giver/helper is to do your
best to ensure that, in fact, it's a cheerful thing to do. When you're both
In The 1st Year of Homeschooling Your Child I explain in much more depth than I can here that when you discard school from your life there are 3 main "voids" to fill: schedule, organization, and method. In homeschooing all of these can be juggled and experimented with until you find the right ones for you and your family...USE YOUR FREEDOM TO YOUR OWN ADVANTAGE!!!
Final Words of Advice
Words can't explain how very much I've enjoyed spending time with all of you. Diane has reminded us of the impact the events of September 11th may have had on us. The impact on me has been very real, and has made me even more grateful for the time I have to do what I love - and that is sharing my time and homeschooling w/ fellow parents who respect and treasure their children as our future, and who "put their money where their mouth is" when it comes to creating a kinder, gentler, more sane world. Our hope is in our children, and I foresee homeschooled children making a marked difference in the world to come.
Savor the time w/ your children...they become adults in the blink of an eye. If ever there was a time free-thinking, caring individuals are needed, the time is now, and homeschooling is the fastest, most loving route. Peace be with you all.