Summer Lessons: From Home-school Families
Summer is here, and if your child will be at home for three months, you'd probably like him to do more than eat popsicles and play video games. (Everything in moderation, of course!) So why not take some tips from the professionals — parents whose kids are schooled at home?
We asked four Triangle families who home-school their kids for their take on how to introduce learning into the lazy days of summer.
1 Follow children's interests.
Education during summer doesn't have to consist of forcing your child to read Dickens or do geometry problems when other kids are outside playing baseball. As all home-schoolers know, you'll get more out of your efforts if you let your child lead the way. Following your child's interest makes things easier — and more productive.
For Keisha Barber, who home-schools her 11-year-old son in Durham, this insight guides her daily life. Her son found it difficult to learn when forced to sit still and follow instructions, but once she allowed him to pursue his own interests she saw a remarkable change.
"We study things that are high interest," she says. "He started a pet-sitting business. He tells stories with Lego characters. I think that one day he will have a job he is passionate about, so why not start now? When it's high interest, it's not work. It's a passion."
Homing in on something children are interested in — whether it's catching bugs, interpretive dance or playing around on the iPad — and encouraging them to develop expertise is a great way to focus on learning without making it feel like work.
2 Don't over-schedule.
With all that the Triangle has to offer, you could enroll your kid in everything from cooking lessons to soccer camp. But summer vacation is all about downtime, and home-schoolers know that being careful about over-scheduling and allowing for lots of downtime is crucial for children's physical and emotional well-being. Rebecca Camplejohn of North Raleigh home-schools all three of her children. She was spurred to take the home-school leap initially because she wanted her daughter to have more unstructured time.
"All parents need to keep in mind to limit outside activities," she says, reflecting on her experience home-schooling her children. "Be intentional about not filling every moment with something, let them do things they are passionate about, and let them be with family."
Although camps and lessons can be positive experiences, it's important not to undervalue the gift of time. Be careful not to replace school with a variety of other structured activities. Allow space for daydreaming — and even a little boredom.
3 Consider private lessons.
If your child attends school outside of the home,chances are she spends much of her day working in a group setting surrounded by peers. Home-schooled kids receive much more individualized attention and are less likely to be surrounded by other children their age.
"Individualized education is great, but it's important that their parents aren't their only teachers," says Teri Smith, a mother of a home-schooled first-grader in Cary.
Individualized education can boost skills kids are passionate about or help with activities that require more focus. For example, if time and money permit, consider private swimming lessons rather than a group class. "We did that with swimming with my son, who attended public school, and it really helped him master the skill," Smith says.
Camplejohn agrees. "It's important to not always be with peers, and individualized education means kids can be mentored and challenged beyond the expected developmental stage."
4 Be creative.
Many children will oppose a summer curriculum. After all, isn't summer supposed to be a vacation? But not having a formal curriculum doesn't mean you can't incorporate learning.
Barber says being creative is essential to her success as a home-schooling parent. "I can do math with Legos. I can do math with blueberries. I can do math at the grocery store," she says.
Incorporating your child's learning style is another way to make information appealing and compelling. Using a more interactive approach has helped Barber's son learn in a way that appeals to him.
"When you learn in a way that is meaningful to you, it really sticks," she says. "My son is visual and creative and has a difficult time just sitting down and doing what he is told."
"If you can incorporate the things they are learning in school into the family life, it makes it more interesting and fun," Camplejohn says. "Cook Indian food if your child is studying India. Turn their education into a family experience."
5 Focus on relationships.
No matter what activities you plan this summer, perhaps the most important lesson you can learn from home-schoolers is that time together offers a golden opportunity to build stronger relationships with your children. Almost all home-schooling families cite the importance of creating family bonds and emphasize character-building.
"For us, home schooling is really about relationship building," says Aya Shabu, who home-schools her 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in Durham. "It's about using whatever time you have with your child to build relationships and to emphasize your own family's values. Being with your child all day really helps you develop a sense of trust." Barber agrees, saying, "With homeschooling, we get to be the No. 1 influence in his life."
Jill Moffett is a freelance writer, editor and mother in Durham.
Home schooling in North Carolina
There were 47,977 home schools in North Carolina during the 2011-2012 school, according to the N.C. Department of Administration, a number that has more than doubled in the past decade.
If you're interested in finding out more, check out these resources:
• Home School Alliance of North Carolina: ha-nc.org
• North Carolinians for Home Education: nche.com/about
• Chapel Hill Homeschoolers: chapelhillhomeschoolers. com
• Cary Homeschoolers: caryhomeschoolers.org
• Christian Home Educators Association of Greater Durham: cheagd.org
Home schooling blogs
Penelope Trunk: A lively (and very opinionated) blog with plenty of links to research about the benefits of home schooling. homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com
Parenting Passageway: Focused on the Waldorf method of education in the home setting with a Christian slant; offers parenting tips, inspiration and resources for all families, no matter what type of school the children attend. theparentingpassageway.com
Freedom to Learn: Written by Peter Grey, a research professor at Boston University, this blog explores ways we to create learning environments that optimize rather than suppress children's drive to educate themselves. psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn