When I was a public school student, every fall on the first day of school my teachers gave the class a pep talk meant to inspire us to forsake our bad habits, get serous about school, and start performing like rock stars. They told us that each of us was beginning with a blank slate. As of that first day of school we were all “A” students and all we had to do to retain that standing was study, turn in our homework, and score well on the tests.
On the second day of school, however, some students failed to turn in their homework and had neglected to read the required material in the texts to prepare for that day’s lectures. The “A” students were still A students, but others had already begun the process of finishing the school year as B, C, or D students, or failing altogether and being required to repeat the grade.
Because the first day of school, 2012, is just around the corner, I am writing this blog to offer some insights into how to keep your homeschool “real” this year. Not real in the sense that it will be modeled after the public system, but real in that it will be a structured and predictable part of your family’s daily life.
In 1991 Dr. Bill Hagin, a religion professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills who was my children’s professor when they were earning their Master’s Degrees through independent study, phoned to tell me that he and his fifteen-year-old daughter were going to be passing through El Paso the following week. He said that since they were going to be here, he would like to come by our house and meet his students in person. Although the children were finished with their school day before he and his daughter arrived, we spent several hours talking about my approach to home education and how I incorporated my educational philosophy into my classroom.
In 1993 our family was featured on the CBS series How’d They Do That? and, because Dr. Hagin had actually visited us in our home, they interviewed him to ask why he thought we had been so successful with homeschooling. When the show aired, I was surprised to discover that in his interview Dr. Hagin said that although we had a homeschool, I ran it like a “real” school. Initially, I was taken aback by his remark because the truth was that I ran my homeschool nothing like a traditional public or private school , and I could not imagine why Dr. Hagin would come away with that impression.
As I thought about Dr. Hagin’s remarks, however, I realized that many people, including some homeschoolers, do not recognize a homeschool as a “real” school. Many people assume that homeschools have little, if any, structure and that homeschooled students are allowed to study only what interests them and to do so on whatever schedule suits them. While this is certainly not true, keeping a homeschool on target is always a challenge. Therefore, I have decided to kick off this new school year by sharing three things you can do to keep your homeschool “real”. I hope that they will help.
First, set up a “real” school year. Prior to the beginning of the school year, set up your calendar so that you know ahead of time exactly when your school year will begin and when it will end. At the beginning of the school year, mark you starting date and your ending date for the school year on your calendar. Next, count the number of actual school days in each month (remember to subtract any days such as holidays or school breaks so that you will have an accurate count of actual school days).
If you use a curriculum with daily lesson plans, check to determine whether you have allowed a sufficient number of days to complete all lesson plans. If not, adjust your calendar so that you will either begin your school year earlier or end it later in order to complete all lessons. It is a good idea to allow ten additional days for emergencies and sickness that may interfere with your schedule.
If you do not use a curriculum with daily lesson plans, prepare a daily lesson plan for each student for the coming school year. That way you will know exactly how much work each of your students needs to complete each day.
Second, set “real” school hours. At our house, school was in session from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Normally, that ended the school day. However, if anyone had not finished his work in that allotted time, he came back to school at 1:00 p.m. to complete his lessons. This schedule was a constant during the 25 years that I homeschooled. As the children grew older and their work became more advanced, we found it necessary to make some changes, but the school hours were written in stone. If, however, someone finished his work in less than the three hours allotted, he was “out of school” for the day.
Third, each day give each student “real” assignments that include all of the subjects to be covered and the amount of work to be completed in each subject. When your students know in advance exactly what they are required to accomplish during their school day, they tend to get to work and get it finished so that they will be free to do other things.
Setting up a “real” school year, establishing “real” school hours, and giving your students “real” assignments each day will help you create a homeschool that operates like a “real” school.
Joyce Swann is a nationally-known author and speaker. Her own story of teaching her ten children from the first grade through master’s degrees before their seventeenth birthdays is retold in her book, Looking Backward: My Twenty-Five Years as a Homeschooling Mother Her newest novel, The Warrior, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net/ or like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/frontier2000mediagroup