When homeschooling goes well

Homeschooling is not for everyone but it’s always been our first choice. I feel strongly that it is the right fit for our family and yet I have had my share of days longing for the yellow bus to stop by my front door. Last year was a hard one. More days than not, I dealt with some form of power struggle. My daughter gave me major attitude and generally resisted doing her school work. It was pure drudgery and more often than I care to admit to, our school sessions ended with books slammed shut and time out sessions for either or both of us. Not quite the learning environment that I had envisioned.

Sarah Badat Richardson homeschooling daughter in Subway Paris
The author homeschooling in the Subway in Paris- France.

In May, we embarked on a 9-week world tour for work and I formulated a plan for getting some formal schooling accomplished during that time. I brought along three workbooks and told my daughter that, when she completed all three she would be promoted to second grade. This, I calculated could be done in 8 weeks if she finished 3 pages/day. My daughter, who loves competition (especially against herself), excitedly took on the challenge. Our world-schooling proved to be a very positive experience: she had worked through all three manuals with one week left to spare and proudly became a second grader. More importantly, I had enjoyed teaching her and she had enjoyed learning.

Why had it gone so well, I wondered? What had changed and how could I duplicate the experience once we returned home?

Turns out, I was the determining factor. (Aren’t mothers always?)

Because we were traveling, there was less office work for me to do; when we were not teaching seminars, my only other obligation was checking email. I did very little cooking and cleaning. I had nothing and nowhere to rush to.
When we sat down for school, my mind was fully present. I wasn’t thinking about what else needed my attention. I wasn’t trying to speed things up. If my daughter started drawing flowers around her zeros I didn’t immediately see it as a complete waste of time. She thrived.

I wanted the same level of enjoyment when we got back home. After a 2-week break during which I planned our second grade curriculum, we set out on a different routine and so far, we’ve had our best homeschool time yet. In the two months since we started, we have not had one bad day. It’s been magical!

Here is what I’ve done differently.

1: READJUST THE SCHEDULE FOR BETTER FOCUS
Before, I expected school work to be done in two hours tops; the faster, the better so I could get on with my other obligations. Now, most mornings are fully devoted to homeschool. Everything else can and must wait until the afternoon.
We start with breakfast and leisurely go through the checklist.
If we finish the sit down work early, we have that much more time for free reading. My daughter doesn’t feel rushed, applies herself better and relishes our time together.

2: THE CHECKLIST IS OUR NEW FRIEND
I originally wrote the checklist to keep myself accountable. It can be a daunting task to educate your own child. There is so much we could do but never enough time to do it all. If we get the core subjects done every day, I know we are making progress. Everything else is gravy. My daughter enjoys checking each box. Knowing that there is an end to the day’s formal work also makes it less daunting for her and she tackles it with a more cheerful attitude.

Image of homeschool daily checklist

3: FORMAL RECESS IS FUN
Every homeschool kid has this fantasy about how great “real” school must be. Recess is one of the big appeal for my daughter so we started to implement formal recess times every morning. Whenever I notice her attention wavering, I ring the special recess bell. She thinks it’s awesome and always comes back refreshed and ready for more.

4: REWARDS AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Not everyone agrees with the use of rewards, arguing that it teaches kids to not appreciate learning for its own sake but rather as a mean to obtain the carrot at the end of the stick. I believe that it is part of human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain; why not use it to my advantage?
I printed a “100 days of school” chart: a simple piece of card-stock filled with 100 empty boxes. My daughter gets to put a sticker in one box IF she completed her checklist AND gave me her best effort and cheerful attitude that day.
For every five stickers, she gets a new book. (I place two big orders of French books per year since there are not many available where I live. Instead of giving them all at once, I hand them over one at a time as reward, which makes them that much more special).
For every six stickers, she gets to sleep in our room. (She loves that!)
Once all 100 boxes are filled, she’ll get the grand prize: a YES day! A day during which I’ll say yes to everything (as long as it’s good for her- no big item purchases).
Let’s just say that a fairy’s magic dust would not have brought a bigger transformation than this 100-day chart and the allure of a day of YESes from mom!

Sure at the beginning she did the work mostly to get the sticker. But, after a few days of “forcing” herself to be happy about school, her heart and mind opened up to the reality that math and phonics could indeed be fun. Now, I have to remind her to affix her sticker by the end of the day.

I know we still have some hard days ahead. Nonetheless, these four steps have made a huge difference! They’ve dried up tears and carved up smiles on our faces. They’ve closed the distance that was growing between student and teacher, daughter and mother. They’ve brought harmony back between home and school.
Just as it should be.


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