Grandma and Grandpa are coming to visit next week. The surgeon is recommending I have my thyroid removed. My husband has a February business trip to Annapolis scheduled; his customer is suggesting he brings the family so we can visit Washington DC, the Naval Academy, and Mount Vernon before their meetings. We are expecting our sixth child in late March. An older neighbor just knocked on the door, asking my kids to help unload a pickup truck full of mulch.
All of these events, and countless others, have been part of our family’s homeschool journey. During our first years of homeschooling, “interruptions” sent me into a tailspin. They frustrated my schedule, and I often said no. They undermined my sense of control over our learning. I rigidly resented what I interpreted as hindrances to our schoolwork. After all, no public school teacher would release her class to serve the neighborhood’s landscaping needs!
Over the years, God has graciously changed my paradigm. One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling is flexibility.
Because I initially modeled our homeschool after the classroom, it took me many years and several miscues to embrace that freedom. Like most new-to-homeschooling parents, we closely followed the familiar August-to-May calendar, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We scheduled breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas, in the spring, and over the summer. I followed this comfortable schedule with my young children because . . . well, because it was most like my own experience and most like the public schools.
But why was the public school schedule set up as it is? Because our agrarian forefathers needed their children to help work the fields. They wanted their children to walk to school after daybreak and before nightfall. Why do schools today follow this schedule? Because of this rural tradition, plus, the teachers’ unions agreed to those contract terms. Why do we homeschoolers now adopt it too? Good question!
Legally, most states establish a minimum number of hours our children should be involved in formal education. That’s often around 900 instruction hours per year (calculated at 5 hours per day multiplied by 180 days). As parents, we want the best for our children and know that learning and preparing for adulthood takes at least that much time. But in most states, we homeschoolers have a large degree of latitude for how we implement those 900 hours of mandatory instruction.
Please learn from my rigidity and embrace the flexibility available to you in calendar, hours, curriculum, location, and teaching style!
Flexibility in Calendar
A “typical” calendar offers benefits to many homeschool families: it gives time off in the summer to travel, plant a garden, participate in camps and enrichment activities, and plan for the upcoming year, plus a break during the Christmas holiday for baking and celebrating Christ’s birth with family and friends. But many families school year-round. Due to family commitments and work schedules, they may take longer or more frequent breaks during the fall and winter. For instance, our family did take that memorable trip to Washington, DC in early February, replacing other schoolwork I had planned. Other families are deeply involved in co-op, speech and debate, or church commitments during the traditional school calendar, so bookwork only happens four days per week. Their math, science, and other core subjects necessarily carry into the summer months. This is especially true as children get older and subjects become more demanding.
The key lesson I had to learn here was that I wasn’t schooling my children, I was teaching them. I want my children to learn not just from a textbook but in the context of life. My schedule isn’t my master; Jesus is. Instead of living and schooling by a calendar, I often needed to view “interruptions” as invitations from God to love, to serve, and to live life with my children.
Flexibility in Hours
Most of our family’s scheduled homeschooling happens during typical school hours. But lots of learning happens outside scheduled hours too. In our house, learning occurs morning, noon, and night. We’ve risen before dawn to watch wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. We’ve lain in the yard at night to watch lunar eclipses and shooting stars. Bedtime books read by Dad are part of our literature studies. I also confess to saving several dissections until my husband got home from work so he could take the lead cutting open the (yucky) specimens.
Interruptions sometimes require us to switch our scheduled hours. Illnesses, discipline issues, or opportunities to serve others cause me to be flexible. I have learned it’s okay to postpone an assignment if God puts something else in our path. I am emboldened to ask God during our morning prayer, “Lord, You know our schedule for today, but we give You permission to interrupt.”
Flexibility in Curriculum
Where once I considered our homeschool to equal the sum total of our purchased curriculum, I now know that learning comes in many formats. Good books are essential, but so is experiential learning. Weekend car maintenance certainly is educational. Crayfish hunting or shell collection during a vacation creates a learning opportunity. TeenPact Leadership Schools’ state classes and related studies are a solid way to study the US government. Interest in a chess club, a passion for drawing and Lego stop-motion animation, and a growing coin collection are current clues to where some of our learning is going to happen. Anything that’s learning is now part of our school.
I have also embraced the flexibility to change curriculum. When a program isn’t working well for my child or for me, I don’t have to be locked into a seven-year curriculum purchasing cycle like public school teachers are. I can switch books midyear, or even midweek, if I deem it necessary. I love this aspect of homeschooling!
Flexibility in Location
The perception that homeschoolers remain at home might be common, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Homeschoolers have the freedom to be out and about during public school hours, and most take full advantage of that. (Thanks to the generous state laws written in the late 1980s and 1990s, the specter of truancy charges has been largely eliminated.) Families head to co-op, lessons, the library, volunteer work, and the grocery store during the day because they can.
Our family often takes our books to libraries, coffee shops, hotel lobbies, picnic shelters, and of course, the car! We keep our curriculum, spiral notebooks, instructional DVDs, pencils and pens, and calculators in large lidded plastic storage containers to facilitate our mobility. Grab and go!
My husband has also gone out of his way to find a virtual job. He works online to be home more as a father and to increase our mobility. We love to travel, especially to the US national parks. Homeschooling gives us the flexibility to take our curriculum on the road to see this marvelous country.
Flexibility in Teaching Style
A huge advantage that home educators have over public schools is flexibility in teaching style. Based on the 20:1 or greater teacher-to-pupil ratio, most classroom teachers rely on lectures to convey information, with worksheets and homework assignments given to assess knowledge. But homeschoolers daily work one-on-one with their children; each day is a tutoring session. I am constantly assessing my children’s growing understanding of their subjects.
For instance, I watch as my son learns to read and daily know where he struggles. Last night, grading my daughter’s math, I noticed a pattern that she was missing. I will change approaches tomorrow to immediately address it. One of my older children is an auditory learner, so he used many audiobooks, even in his high school years. His brother excels in math, so he’s simultaneously doing two math programs (Geometry and Algebra II) because I can customize his education.
Other children learn best while moving, taking things apart, and building things back up again. A classroom simply can’t support these varied approaches to learning—but a homeschool is a marvelously flexible learning environment.
Have you ever been frustrated by the way a curriculum is working (or not working) for you? Put it aside and find another way to teach that subject. Borrow from a friend or check out something from the library. Find a local expert to shadow. Taking a different path is perfectly acceptable in the homeschool realm.
When faced with a challenge to your homeschool schedule, location, or curriculum, you can either view it as an interruption or an opportunity. Is your goal in homeschooling to complete every textbook and finish every day by 3 p.m.? If so, you will resent the interruptions and never vary your school setting or books.
Or is your goal to raise your children in light of your Christian beliefs and give them educational excellence and a lifelong love of learning? Homeschooling offers a natural context for achieving those goals. Take the path of flexibility that homeschooling offers, and let God lead you into “interruptions.”
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.