How can you tailor your homeschool program to work best for your family? Hear advice from HSLDA blog contributor and homeschool mom Rose Focht on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat with your host, Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: My guest today is Rose Focht. She’s a homeschooling mom and a guest author on HSLDA’s blog. Rose, welcome to our program today!
Rose Focht: Hello, there! It’s a pleasure to be here.
Mike: Rose, let’s start at the beginning. How did you make the decision to homeschool your children?
Rose: Well, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I was a homeschool graduate myself and I had a great experience with it, so it was natural for me to consider the same thing for my kids. My husband, fortunately, was very supportive of the idea and we both liked the sound of a custom–tailored education for our children.
Now my oldest is 10, so technically I’ve been homeschooling for about four years—since she hit school age—but really I’ve been teaching them ever since they were born. I was already staying at home to care for them, so that by the time they reached school age it was a very easy decision to keep them under my instruction.
Mike: Was your husband homeschooled?
Rose: He actually was homeschooled for about three years in middle school. The rest of the time it was public and private school a couple years, but he enjoyed those years he was homeschooling.
Mike: Well that’s great. But what are some of the challenges you faced in homeschooling. How do you deal with them, Rose?
Rose: Well, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is the logistical issue simply of handling multiple age groups at once. We have six children now, and because they are all about two years apart, we’ve pretty much always had a baby and a toddler around during the school season.
One way that I try to make things work, of course, is to accomplish as much as we can during the nap times. And when that isn’t possible we just plow through and try to focus our best with little ones underfoot during school time. And it’s good practice for the older kids to learn to shut out distractions, and actually the little ones sometimes learn from what they overhear.
Another challenge is that we’re all at home most of the time, so there’s very little down time or private space. And we just have to learn to adjust—to overcome irritations. We practice patience and lovingkindness, and I do try to plan fun outings, trips to the library or whatnot.
Mike: Rose, in a recent blog post, you encourage homeschooling parents to question their assumptions about how things ought to be done. Why do you think that’s so important?
Rose: Well, I think we always need to be evaluating our approach to anything because times change and personalities do differ. What worked for our parents a generation ago may not be the best option now, and what works for one set of kids may not be a good fit for your family.
What I love about homeschooling is the ability to custom–tailor our expectations. Basically the sky’s the limit. And it would be a shame to use that flexibility just to fit into someone else’s mold. I love doing what fits our schedule. And I think I might even have it planned out for what fits our schedule and then I find out something comes up—I want to be able to take hold of that opportunity and seize the day.
Mike: Can you give us an example of things that really worked well for your family?
Rose: My kids love challenges and games and time limits, so if things seem to be dragging sometimes I’ll make up an impromptu contest or game and get them all excited about getting the most right answers in the shortest amount of time. Make it a contest—the adrenaline rush really makes it fun.
And then another thing that we’ve done is to read aloud to our kids from an early age. My husband started this when my oldest was just a few years old and now the ones who can read on their own love to read.
Mike: How about some things that didn’t work so well?
Rose: I would say that having a set school time each day doesn’t usually fit our schedule, instead we start our lessons whenever our morning chores are done, however long that takes. I view all experiences really as opportunities for learning. When I’ve tried to conform to a strict classroom schedule we end up getting stressed and rushed and other important things don’t happen, so I’ve learned to be flexible with our school time.
Mike: Rose, you wrote about playing to your strengths as a parent. Can you give us an idea of what that looks like?
Rose: Well, I love to play games and I like to cuddle with my children and I like to work in the kitchen and the garden, so I can often turn lessons and quizzes into games that I make up. Or I’ll hear recitations while holding a child on my lap, or I’ll involve them in baking and cooking with me.
But, on the other hand, I don’t really like reading aloud children’s books so I leave that to my husband. He enjoys it, he’s got the patience for it, and he has a good reading voice. I figure we’re all happy doing what we love best.
Mike: Well, what should parents keep in mind as they evaluate their own practices?
Rose: Some good questions to ask, and that I do have to keep asking too are, “Is this working? Are my children learning or do they hate school? Am I inspired and motivated or burning out?” Obviously every moment isn’t going to be thrilling but overall I think kids should be excited to learn and I think parents should be passionate about sharing.
Another important thing to keep in mind, of course, is the fact that “this too shall pass.” It’s such a cliché, but even after just a few years of homeschooling I’ve seen so many ups and downs. I know if we hit a rough patch it’s only temporary, it will get better. Kids do grow out of challenging phases and of course I learn and grow with them.
Mike: Rose, what suggestions would you give to parents who are looking for a fresh approach to their homeschooling program?
Rose: I think it’s great to observe and learn from others. I’m not terribly creative, for instance, when it comes to implementing curricula, so it’s nice for me to draw inspiration from other, more imaginative souls.
I think participating in co–op can be a great place to watch how other teachers operate and being part of a homeschool support group can give families a chance to share advice and swap curricula. In my experience I always appreciate hand–me–down books and materials because it gives me the chance to try out new things without committing to a whole program. For instance, we’ve tried a couple of different handwriting books and we quickly discovered the one that yielded the best results for our family. I always appreciate profiting from the research and hard work of others.
Mike: As parents, sometimes it can be hard to tell when we really need to change the way we’re doing things. Rose, can you share some advice about making that decision?
Rose: Well, I think it’s important to consider whether the problem is with what we’re doing or with how we’re doing it. Sometimes we’re doing the right thing; it’s just that our approach is wrong and we need to find a better way to do it. As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Keep hunting for an easier way and try not to be so set in your ways that you can’t contemplate doing something differently.
I know that for myself I have to keep a humble spirit and make sure that I realize I don’t have all the answers, I’m still learning, and I need to be free to try something different if what I thought would work doesn’t work.
Mike: Rose, how has your approach to homeschooling changed over the years—and if so, why?
Rose: Early on, I was less distracted by little ones but I’ve gotten more efficient now at multitasking. And that shift has been a matter of logistical necessity, although I found that the more casual approach better suits my personality anyway.
Also, I used to think that drill and repetition were extremely important but I overdid it sometimes. Young children have a short attention span and they would lose interest when I belabored the point too much. Other than insisting that they learn basic math facts, I backed off on the mindless drill because I know we’ll cover the material again and they do pick things up so quickly.
Also, I think I used to be much more stressed about hitting certain milestones by a certain age. I still do think there are optimal windows of time for learning specific skills (for instance, a second language), but overall we parents have a lot more latitude than we imagine.
Mike: Rose, what do you find most rewarding about homeschooling?
Rose: I would say it’s getting to spend so much time with my children and to get to watch them develop such amazing and unique personalities. I know that all parents must feel a proprietary glow of pride, but I truly love spending time with my children and I’m grateful for the chance to build a strong relationship with each one of them.
Mike: Well, Rose, thank you so much for joining us this week. I know many of our listeners can relate to your stories and appreciate your advice. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.