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Laurie Block Spigel

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Eight Changes We Made After Homeschooling

No Rigid Schedule It recently made the newspapers that a second grade teacher is no longer assigning homework. I remember when boring, senseless homework ruled our world!

On tough homework nights my husband and I worked with our child. My second grader averaged two hours of homework every night, mostly boring test prep worksheets. Once my sixth grader came home in tears because five teachers had each assigned an hour of work: an estimated five hours of homework due in a single night. One assignment was a two-page paper on the Crusades due the next morning! This topic had not been covered in class and there were two lines on it in his textbook. My husband rushed off to the library, as I started doing research on-line, while my son tackled his math assignment. At midnight, after the three of us had worked relentlessly, his homework was done.

What did you do when you first started homeschooling? What were the biggest changes you made? Here are the biggest changes that I remember making.

  1. Reinstating bedtime reading time. It is unthinkable that assigned homework and a highly scheduled day led to sacrificing bedtime story time, but that’s what had happened. Our young son was a ballet dancer, which meant that he took dance classes or rehearsed for two hours five days a week. Along with two hours of nightly homework, dinner, bath and bed, there was no time left for even a 15-minute story. I found this crushing, as early read-aloud sessions are a crucial educational experience for children, and bedtime reading is a great lifelong habit to begin at an early age. It is also cherished parent/child time, a time to unwind, snuggle, and share something special — just for us — at the end of a long day. Instead of teaching the pleasures of reading, I was teaching my child how to rush everything, how to cram his schedule so he could try and get enough sleep. It was a moment of deep personal joy when I realized that not only could we reinstate bedtime reading, but we could extend it to a half hour or 45 minutes!

  2. No more alarm clocks. My kids could now wake up when they felt rested, instead of six a.m.! They could go to sleep when they felt tired, instead of being forced into bed while still wide awake, or just when a book or project was getting really interesting. In winter they didn’t have to rush out of the house before dawn and return before sunset, rarely seeing daylight for months at a time. My kids could now wake up at 8 or even at 9, and have a much fuller day as rested individuals.

  3. Creating our own flexible schedule. We started with a rough schedule where mornings were spent doing pen and paper tasks and afternoons were spent on projects or field trips. But this changed. Entire days would be taken up by projects, field trips or classes, or lounging at home surrounded by books. Subjects were no longer scheduled daily for preset periods of time. Math might last for 15 minutes or for two hours. We allowed the child to set the pace. Eventually our initial schedule became reversed, and mornings were spent walking or doing physical activities instead of sitting at a table. Less time was spent learning from texts and more was spent on experiential hands-on education.

  4. Playing and laughing. More games, more movies, more fun and laughter in general as the pressure came off. Even unpleasant tasks were more relaxed and fun. Memorizing the times tables, for example, was interspersed with turns at a board game, recited singsong along with parents, and incorporated into card games and jokes. We set the tone, and that tone was humor and levity. This was the opposite energy of living an alarm clock schedule with hours of boring homework. Now having fun and enjoying life was of primary importance.

  5. More time outdoors. Formerly park outings were squeezed into weekend hours. Now we could pack a picnic and some books and head off to a park or a beach for the entire day, wandering whenever we felt like it, with no destination or fixed schedule. These are some of my favorite memories! I remember reading on park benches, one after the other, as we wandered from the Harlem Meer through the rose gardens and past the weddings and statues in Central Park, looking at the trees and plants, reading the names on statues, spending whole days in the Botanical Gardens. The freedom to meander and explore, with enough time to even get a little lost, is something to be treasured!

  6. Prioritizing curiosity; taking advantage of teachable moments. When my children asked a question we took the time to explore that question. One question led to the next, sometimes becoming the learning adventure of the day or the week. Interests could become the spine of their ever-flexible curriculum. My older son studied theater arts for six years before going to NYU Film School, and my younger son studied marine biology every year from age 2 until he graduated from College of the Atlantic. Putting their curiosity first made all the difference in finding their own direction.

  7. Off-season vacations. When both kids chose homeschooling, the first thing we did was to take off while everyone else was in school. The day after Labor Day weekend we headed to Canada, with a heady feeling as if we were saying, “So long!” to all those sorry folks stuck in the grind. The weather was ideal, still summer but not too hot. Hotels, museums and beaches were empty. Rates were post-season, saving us a percentage on everything. Summer activities were open, some places closing on weekdays but still open on weekends. The kids could choose the destinations, explore new places, and interview people they met. These were some of the best homeschooling experiences of our lives. There is no education like travel!

  8. Picking our own fruit; cooking together. Because of homework and over-scheduling, I had been cooking all of the meals and putting them in front of my children. While I cooked, they did homework right up until dinnertime, resuming homework immediately after (and sometimes during) dessert. The freedom of homeschooling allowed me to invite my children into the kitchen, where they enjoyed cooking, tasting and refining dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. We took afternoons off to visit farms in New Jersey and upstate NY, picking strawberries in June, raspberries in July, blueberries in August, and apple varieties in September and early October. We came home from each farm visit to make jam, pies, muffins galore, gifting everyone we knew, from neighbors to dentists, with homemade goodies. My sons, now grown and married, still love to pick fresh fruit and make delicious food. They have a deeper connection and appreciation for what they eat and where it comes from, something that I believe they would not have if their (typical schooled) schedule had remained.

What were the biggest changes that you made when you started homeschooling? Share your experiences and send them to Laurie — Laurie [at] HomeschoolNYC.com..

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