Home School for the non-home schooler

by Touring Mama on August 17, 2010

Homeschool at the table in our Greek apartment hotel

The most common question we get after returning home after traveling for months is, “So… how did you like home schooling.”  My standard short answer is, “It was fine, but I wasn’t inspired to continue now that we’re home.”

I never dreamed of home schooling my kids.  I love my kids dearly, but also very much enjoy the six hours a day they go to school and I can get some stuff done without them demanding attention.  However, when the opportunity to travel for 5 months with my husband’s company picking up the tab came up we didn’t hesitate to pull the kids out of school and bring them along with us.  Since I was legally obligated to provide an education to the kids and we would not be in one location long enough to put them in local schools (plus there was the whole financial and language issue) that meant home schooling.  This was slightly intimidating, but I figured I could do first grade and pre-school for a semester.

Trips to historical sites counted as school, but only if Andrew wrote in his journal about it

Once this decision was made it was now a matter of carrying it out.  There are a variety of curriculums available on line from various groups, but we ended up not using any of these.  There are also several on-line schools, but I found that these were mostly for older kids.  The on-line schools that I found for elementary students required that the children be physically available for standardized tests which wasn’t going to work for us.  We ended up buying a bunch of workbooks at Barnes and Noble and Mardel, as well as some software at a big box office store.  My kids’ teachers were also generous with their time and met with me before we left to discuss what work they should be doing for the rest of the year.

So, was it a success?  I would say yes.  It was an interesting experience and I don’t regret it in the least.  Due to the kids’ ages I had an easier time of it than I might have in a few years.  The argument could be made that the trip itself was education enough, but I’m proud of the gains made in more traditional academic subjects as well.

The good:

  • “School” provided a time and a reason to learn more about the sights that we were seeing and the historical context for how they came to be
  • Making regular time for “school” gave our days a structure and a routine that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.  My kids do better in the long term with a structure and we all get on each other’s nerves less this way.
  • I got to be intimately involved with my son’s learning.  It was a great experience to see the incremental progress he was making.
  • We did some really cool projects like a giant timeline and a cool mosaic.

A trip to the aquarium counts as a science lesson

The bad:

  • My daughter refused to have anything to do with the worksheets I asked her to do.  She did enjoy the computer games and I resorted to letting her play educational games while my son was doing school work.  Since she was in preschool the legal obligations were not the same and so I let it slide.  I occasionally felt guilt about this.
  • My son complained sometimes about school and we spent more time than normal arguing with each other, though we were together a lot more too.
  • Switching between my role as teacher and parent was a challenge at times and I know my son was more whiny with me than he would ever consider being with a teacher in a real classroom.

Lessons Learned:

  • Be flexible in your approach. Colorado’s state requirement is 4 hours of school on average per day.  We tried tracking our daily time, but I swear my son spent at least an hour of his 4 hours sharpening his pencil.  It worked out much better for us to have a set list of tasks that he needed to complete every week.  For example, he had to complete 10 math work sheets, 10 spelling worksheets, and 60 minutes of independent reading.  All together he had 45 things he had to complete every week.  I know he spent more than 4 hours a day, but he was in charge of his time and we argued less.  It was also more closely aligned with the Montessori approach to education that he is used to.
  • Small things can make a difference.  Partly he spent an hour a day sharpening his pencil to kill time, but partly, it turns out, he really likes a sharp pencil.  I didn’t think he was ready for a mechanical pencil yet but he convinced me he needed one anyway.  It was an instant success.  His handwriting improved, his spelling improved, the content of his writing improved, all because of a 50 cent pencil.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks.  Remember that kids back home get spring break and teacher days and snow days.  Don’t forget those for your family.  What worked better for us than taking whole weeks off was to take two weeks to complete one week’s worth of work.  This worked well for “spring break” in Egypt where we were on the go more and when the grandparents came to visit us in China.  Rather than completing his 45 tasks in 5 days, he took two weeks to finish all of them.
  • Try to make it fun.  It’s not always easy for teacher or student, but try to keep a smile on your face and remember how lucky you are to be where you are and doing what you are doing.

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