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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Avoiding Homeschool Burnout

How to Avoid Homeschool Burnout
Sometimes we encounter complications that make homeschooling seem overwhelming. These complications can be major things like financial problems or an illness, or less extreme, like negative attitudes or feelings of inadequacy. Whatever the cause, its important that we overcome these emotions before they lead us to burnout and cause us to make poor choices in a desperate attempt to fix the problem.
I would like to offer three solutions to help you deal with these insidious emotions before they lead to burnout.
The first thing we must conquer is the lies that we believe about what our children "should" be doing in school each and every day. We see the neighbors hop on the school bus at 7:30, returning at 2:30 each day; and we are certain that they are engaged in learning most of those hours away.
Well, several recent research studies have shown that for every 50 minute class period, only 28% of that time is spent in engaged learning. That means that for every subject in school, the students only spend about 14 minutes being taught or involved in learning activities. The rest of the time is wasted on lining up, changing classes or rooms, taking books out, putting books away, dealing with discipline issues, answering unimportant questions, handing out papers, handing out assignments, giving homework assignments, explaining what is expected and lecturing on topics unrelated to actual academic learning.
The subjects covered in school are math, social studies, science, P.E, language arts, foreign language, health and arts. Generally, arts and p.e alternate, as do science and health. Thus, in a typical school day, the students only have 84 minutes of actual learning time, that's less than an hour and a half each day. They are gone seven hours to receive less than an hour and a half of instruction and actual learning.
Here is what one classroom teacher writes in her weblog:
As individuals, with some notable exceptions, I like every one of my 180-or-so students this year. But en masse, they make me freakin' crazy! They assume that any time there are not actual words coming from my mouth, they have permission to talk. I then spend 3 minutes getting everyone back on task, only to be interrupted by a request to sign something, a phone call, or a p.a. announcement. Actual time spent teaching is probably 3% of the class period.
Though she is guessing, if her calculations are correct, the time our neighbors spend at school equals only about nine minutes of instruction the entire day. Giving the schools the benefit of the doubt, we'll stick to the hour and a half calculated in the scientific research studies. Remember, also, these studies spanned grades K - 12.

So, do your children spend an hour and a half each day learning - either reading, writing or discussing school subjects with you? Are their minds engaged for an hour and a half throughout the entire day? If so, you are doing better than the schools across the nation.
If we think this through further, if the school children only have fourteen minutes of instruction or learning during each subject, what if they are not paying attention during those crucial minutes? Most students are so distracted by the noises, movements and issues encountered in a typical classroom, that it is difficult to focus on the subject at hand. The fact is, as home educators, when we engage our children in any kind of learning, we are very aware of the moment they quit paying attention. The one-on-one instruction of homeschooling is far superior to a teacher lecturing to a class of 25 students. So many distractions to education are immediately eliminated in the homeschool environment. If our children only spend 14 minutes on each subject, they are still more engaged, more attentive and more focused than they would be at school.
As far as academics and instruction goes, homeschooling wins hands down. Do not believe the lie that your children would be better off in school. Don't listen to those voices in your head telling you that you can't do this. You can! You can do it better than they do it in school. You are capable. Your children are capable of doing it mostly on their own! In fact, that's the second point I would like to make - if we embrace the idea that our children should become independent learners, we release a great deal of the burden of homeschooling.
Did you know that homeschooled students perform better in college than their institutionally schooled counterparts? Besides the fact that they spend their fourteen minutes truly engaged, the thing that makes homeschooled students perform so well in college is the fact that they are used to being autonomous and independent in their learning. They are used to self educating. Our job is to give them progressively more autonomy and independence as they age.
How do we foster this independence? Well, once they have learned to read, they should be reading to learn. As they progress through elementary school, we should be using materials that teach the student in the book– requiring less of a human teacher. We should also read aloud less and require them to read to themselves for understanding, comprehension and insight. Most students learn more when they read for themselves and explain in their own words what they learned than if they listen to another read.
Dr. Jay Wile tells us,
"My motivation for becoming involved with the homeschooling movement was the fact that my best university students were the ones who had been homeschooled...If I could point to one thing that made my homeschooled students such good university students, it would be the fact that they were able to learn independently."
I have often seen that parents are burdened by homeschooling because they have taken too much responsibility upon themselves. They don't teach their children to become self motivated and independent. Teaching our children to become independent learners requires the parents to pass the baton, giving their children a vision for the future and a sense of responsibility over their lives.
My children have been told over and over that the choices they make about school and learning when they are young will influence their entire future. They are completely and fully responsible and in charge of who they turn out to be, what they will do for a living, how they will live, where they will live and what kind of life they will have. They know that even at ten years old, they are making choices that have far reaching consequences or blessings. Our children feel responsible for their education. I don't carry the entire burden; once they learned to read, I passed on most of the burden to them. If they were in school, the burden would not be on the teacher; it would still be on them.
In real life, a self motivated person will always do better than the unmotivated, distracted fellow. In truth, our children are ultimately responsible for receiving their education. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Our job is to help our children see this very important truth - that we are not going to always be taking care of them; one day, they must take care of themselves and others. It is especially important for our boys to know this truth - for they will one day have a family depending on them. Sadly, it is usually our boys that are the least likely to jump at the chance to do school work. Our job is not so much to educate them, as to provide them the tools to educate themselves and instill in them the wisdom to see that their future is in their own hands and they must take it seriously. The tools we provide them are also very important, and that is the last thing I want to encourage you to consider.
Many times, in the fear of "not doing enough" we adopt curricula that actually make teaching harder and more burdensome for us and our children - unnecessarily burdensome. When choosing curriculum, consider how much time is going to be required of you - the teacher, and how appealing the material looks for the children. Remember, our children should be learning to self educate, but we should provide materials that are engaging and interesting, materials that expand the ideas of the mind, rather than dull them. Mere facts and information are as a meal of sawdust for the mind - as Charlotte Mason once wrote.
We should use living books to teach history, engaging and entertaining texts to convey science, beautifully written literature for reading, actual writing, such as copywork to teach spelling, handwriting and grammar. We should also not require our children to labor away at a subject for longer than their attention span will allow 'lest they gain the habit of doing work below par. Require excellence in their work, but don’t make them sit at the table for an hour doing math – it isn’t possible to keep attentive that long and both you and the student will hate math, homeschooling and maybe each other. It’s not worth it. What can be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes should be required and done with excellence.
Remember also, that there are so many years ahead. The most important thing to learn in elementary school is math facts, reading, handwriting, spelling and grammar skills. Formal grammar can be taught in later elementary, other subjects such as history, science, literature, art and such serve to fill the mind with ideas and higher thoughts – not necessarily for retention as everything is repeated in more detail in middle and high school. If they retain it, great! But the kids that didn’t will learn it in high school; then everyone will know it the same. Focusing on math facts and spelling/grammar/handwriting will translate to learning the algorithms of math with ease and transferring their thoughts to paper with proficiency when they are in 7th grade and above. Memorizing the kings of Egypt and reciting the classification system will not help with these important skills. Major on the majors in elementary school and enjoy the rest of the subjects. Require them to learn their math facts, spelling, handwriting and grammar. The latter three can be accomplished through the correct use of copywork and dictation. Math fact memorization should preside over math problems in elementary school.
As your children enter high school, look into some of the online courses that require the student to turn in assignments. It is a great experience for the students to work with deadlines apart from a homeschooling parent’s involvement. We have used writeathome.com for my seventh/eighth grader this year, and have been exceedingly pleased with the results. She has a grammar lesson and a challenging writing assignment to complete each week and is required to turn in the assignment in a timely manner. The assignment is graded and returned to her for revision. Her writing has improved over the semester and I expect it will improve even more before the end of the year. I think having assignments and due dates is a great experience that will enable her to transition into college work quite easily, especially for a student intending to accumulate college credit at home through online courses. For older students, I have found these online courses academically superior to taking local classes, and usually they are comparable in price to a local class. Some of the ones I have heard positive things about are:
Write@Home
Potter’s School
Scholars Online
Writeonagain.com
Just remember! You can do it better than they do it in school and you don’t even have to try very hard to do that! Your children can do most of it on their own! And be sure to choose curriculum that doesn’t require a huge amount of teacher involvement, but is engaging and interesting for the kids!

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