Homeschooling takes so many different forms. This is the time of year when parents consider starting their homeschool journey. Join us for a conversation about different homeschool styles and how you might tailor one or more to make your journey enjoyable.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:05.370
Hello everyone, welcome to this episode of The Demme Learning Show. This is Gretchen Roe, and I am so delighted to welcome you all this afternoon, to have this conversation with my colleague Amanda Capps. I’m going to let Amanda introduce herself in just a moment, but I want you all to know that this is something that we’re going to talk about today, about your homeschool philosophy that may be enlightening, it may be game-changing. It may be things you’ve never thought about today. Amanda and I were laughingly saying, this might be a little bit of a therapy session for you, it’s definitely one for the two of us. And we’re looking forward to having this conversation. As you all join us today, please know that I will be monitoring the Q&A, so if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to put them into the chat. We’re here to answer your questions, and the reason we do these things is to see that you have the best experience on your homeschool journey possible. Amanda, I’m going to let you introduce yourself.
Amanda Capps: 00:01:05.092
Thanks, Gretchen. I am thrilled to be here, I am Amanda Capps. I am a second-generation homeschooler, which I like to say gives me an unfair advantage. I am currently the homeschool mother of eight. I have graduated my oldest, my youngest will be turning three next month. And I have every age in-between. I have an even mix, four girls, four boys. But not in that order, of course. And I’m married to a first-responder, so that adds a fun dynamic to our lives and our schedule. But I feel like at this point, I’m pretty much a professional homeschooler.
Gretchen Roe: 00:01:45.058
Absolutely. And I love the fact that Amanda’s always up for a challenge, and willing to have these conversations with me. And I think you all benefit from her willingness to join me today. I am no longer a homeschooling mom, and it makes me tear up just a little bit to say that. We graduated our last one, our sixth child, two weeks ago. And now my journey changes, and I’m excited for what the future is to come. And I’m looking forward to continuing to support homeschoolers as they journey through the adventure of their children being at home with them. Amanda, let’s start with talking about being the pretzel mom. I think this is– I had this conversation about eight times in California this past weekend, and I think it’s really important for us to say at the outset, that while our children’s learning styles differ, when we try to meet every obligation for every child, we’re going to be exhausted. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Amanda Capps: 00:02:55.926
Absolutely. So I think in the homeschool community, there is this idea that we are going to find this unicorn curriculum that is going to instantly work for all of our varying ages, all of our different learning preferences, all of the things. It’s going to meet all of the needs, and it’s going to be enjoyable and fun for Mom to teach. And we’re going to wake up each day, and we’re going to put on our Mary Poppins smile. And a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, right? But the reality is, a lot of times, it’s really more about being really good at the core. And then, building around that. And one of the things that I do like to talk about is the fact that your oldest children are the most important, and the biggest part of your focus. Because they are the kids you have the least amount of time left with. And so we need to look at that, and then, so thinking think about a jar. Think about your big kids being your big rocks. Think about extracurriculars and younger children kind of sifting in and fitting around those. And that’s really kind of where your focus needs to be. And then as far as specifically looking at philosophy, you need to pick a curriculum that’s going to fit your lifestyle. So if your focus is a lot of extracurricular activities like sports and music and field trips and things like that, that’s going to leave a lot less time at home to devote to studies. So we need to take that into consideration.
Gretchen Roe: 00:04:40.132
Absolutely. And I think that that’s one of the things that– as homeschool parents, we research the daylights out of materials. But we don’t necessarily research the why of why we’re doing something. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a new-to-homeschooling dad this past weekend. And he could run down a laundry list of the things he didn’t want and why he was choosing to educate his daughter at home. But he could not articulate the affirmatives of why he wanted to educate his daughter at home. And I think a takeaway for our parents today is to understand that if you don’t have the why defined, when the going gets tough, you’re going to look for the yellow school bus, as my friend Alice says. And I don’t want you to be doing that. I want you to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And it might be as simple as, “I’m doing this because this is the best thing for my children this year.” That was my homeschool philosophy 21 years in a row until my fifth child said, “I don’t want to be homeschooled anymore.” That was a hard transition. But you know what? I’m also here to tell you that if you have an honest relationship with your children, that transition will be a beneficial one as well. And I think that’s a really important thing for us to recognize as parents. I’m going to do something a little different, Amanda. And I know I’m not going to catch you flat-footed about this. But I think I want you to elaborate a little bit on making first things first and prioritizing. So let’s talk a little bit about priorities. You and I had talked about three things that we needed to be able to have. So let’s talk about those things now.
Amanda Capps: 00:06:39.455
Absolutely. So at its most distilled form, your child needs to be able to do math well. They need to be a fluent reader. And they need to be able to express themselves well in writing. Those are really the core, the foundation, the essence of what you need to build your homeschool experience around. Because those three things are critical. And if you’re missing one of those, it’s like having a stool that you need all three legs or you’re balancing and wobbling and you can’t understand why you keep falling over. So that’s key, critical. Then because you have good math skills, you are a fluent reader and you write your– write well or express yourself well in writing, all of the other subjects can really dovetail into your reading experience quite easily. It’s not that a curriculum with some structure and some guidance can’t be helpful. But there’s so much that you can do if you have fluent readers or if you’re willing to do and be that fluent reader in your homeschool environment. Because we do come across families…my family is no exception where we might have a struggling learner or someone that maybe one of those three things doesn’t come naturally or easily for.
Gretchen Roe: 00:08:11.899
Correct. Exactly. And I want to say at the outset, Amanda said something really important. Your child needs to be able to learn to express themselves, but it doesn’t mean they have to put this thing on the paper until they are 8 or 9 years old. One of the things that we forget as parents is you don’t need a pencil to learn to read. But then we turn around and we’re like, “Okay. Now you can read so I want you to express your thoughts.” And the truth of the matter is the bones in our children’s hands aren’t even complete in their growth until they’re 10 or 11 years old. So as a parent seeking to get a child to put their thoughts on paper, your cellphone can be one of your best allies. Open up an email, open that email up and hit the talk button and say to your student, “Tell me your story.” And what you’re doing there is you’re creating, in that interaction, a first draft. And then you as the parent and your student collaborate together in a writing experience. And that is a huge game changer. So I want to make sure that as Amanda outlines those three things that we think are the highest priorities, math, reading, and compositional writing, we don’t strike fear in the heart of parents saying, “I have a 10-year-old boy who won’t even pick one of these up.” Because the truth is there’s workarounds for that. And I think that that makes a tremendous amount of difference. So now what I would like to do, Amanda, is to talk about the difference between school and home education. [laughter]
Amanda Capps: 00:09:55.356
This is where my unfair advantage comes full force because I don’t even remember the preschool class that I attended in Oklahoma back in 1980-something. But my parents very quickly realized that that was not the environment in which they wanted me to be educated. Because of where we lived geographically, it was going to mean busing into an inner city school and they were not excited about that prospect. And my dad met a gentleman who had five daughters and they were homeschooling and had a conversation. And my dad was very intrigued, went home to my mom, and my mom was like, “My mother is a teacher. What are you talking about?” [laughter] And that’s kind of where our homeschool journey began. And so I had this great experience of being homeschooled my entirety. And I was asked in eighth grade and I was asked, again, in high school if I wanted to transition into a mainstream school. And I was not interested at all. I saw the beauty and the benefit and being able to be the master of my own time and be so much more on top of the amount of time I wanted to spend in education. I could have read– I could have lived in a library. Let’s be real. So yeah. So for me, I think it’s really important to realize that sometimes as a parent, based on our own school experience – private school, public school, homeschool, whatever that looked like – we can be guilty of trying to recreate a classroom environment in our home versus actually throwing that preconceived idea of what education is supposed to look like out the window and actually home educating our children, which is an incredibly different experience altogether.
Gretchen Roe: 00:12:04.843
Right. And I was that parent. I went out and bought desks that from the Maryland surplus store that had been used in the Maryland state House. And I thought, oh, isn’t this great? We’re going to do school on these desks. My kids are going to think they’re awesome. Legislative history was made on these desks and now we’re going to get to do this at home. Those desks were nothing more than a flat surface to pile stuff on because I don’t think my kids did school at those desks two whole weeks in our entire 21 years of homeschooling. And finally, after about 8 years, I had to realize that I needed to lay that down and just get rid of them and find something that worked for us. One of the things I think that is important for parents to understand is there are a million different definitions of home education. And we’re actually going to give you, a tool in the show notes when they arrive in your inbox on Friday or if you’re looking at this online at a later point in time, that show notes will be enormously helpful in this particular endeavor because it’s going to give you some homework. So if you’re listening to this as a podcast, I want to encourage you to go to DemmeLearning.com/Blog and find this episode so that you can review the show notes. And there’s probably 30 different approaches or styles to homeschooling and we’re not going to talk about all of them today. But we do want to talk about a couple of them because I think it’s important for us to understand some of the differences there, particularly if you are a parent who is just exploring the idea of home education. And the first thing that I want to say before we go any further is the amount of time you perceive spent in a school classroom is not the amount of time you’re going to spend at home, and Amanda I know you have as a customer service representative. You have this conversation all the time. Let’s use math as an example. An hour in a public school classroom, but what is the best opportunity for math for children?
Amanda Capps: 00:14:22.436
So this is one of the things I think that gets brought in the most is we’re going to do subjects in our blocks. And we’re going to do school from 8 to three. Because in our minds, that’s how we perceive traditionally that’s what education is supposed to look like. So the beauty of homeschooling is because you don’t have a teacher that’s standing in front of 35 students. And basically, lecturing to them for an hour about all the homework that they’re going to have to do on their own time. Later after the school day, which is a whole nother issue, we can actually be much more effective and actually accomplish our subjects in the moment. Here’s something that a lot of parents don’t understand. And when I talk to parents in customer service here at Demme Learning. And they tell me that they’re 10, 7, 6, 9 year old hates math, and they just can not sit still. They can not focus, and I say, well how long are you spending? Trying to sit down and do a math? math lesson or math page. Well, I mean, it takes us about 45 minutes, and I sit there, and I just, in my head, I just go, oh my, I am an adult. I’m 41 years old. If a meeting starts getting about the 45 minute mark, mentally, I’m checking out as an adult. And I know I’m supposed to maintain focus and attention because it’s my job. And yet, these kids, their age, plus two to three minutes and that’s a child that is neurotypical. That is not a child that maybe has dyslexia or ADD or ADHD, or dysgraphia, or dyscalculia. I mean, so we’re talking an even shorter window, maybe cut that in half and two to three minutes.
Amanda Capps: 00:16:32.069
So one of the things that’s so beautiful about the homeschooling environment and experiences, you can create what your child needs to be successful and for some children, that means sitting in a chair at a table and doing some worksheets or doing whatever it is that you would like for them to fill that time with. But for other children, that means jumping rope while they recite their tables, additions, subtraction, multiplication, division. For some kids, that means bouncing a ball, hopscotch. You’ll notice in my office here, I have a little rebounder trampoline. I can not tell you the number of times throughout the day where I have a kiddo pop in and spend five minutes bouncing up and down and then they go back out into our classroom, which is adjacent to my office here, and then they start another subject or finish. That’s the other thing too. I think sometimes we think, oh, well, we have to do math all at once, or we have to do reading all at once, or we have to do this writing composition, and we have to go from rough draft and brainstorming all the way to finished product in this set amount of time around this day and that is so not the case. You have so much freedom and flexibility and I also, as a second-generation homeschooler, have really honed what we can really count as school. And a lot of it’s not in a workbook.
Gretchen Roe: 00:18:01.441
Right. Right? That’s an intriguing statement for you to make. So I’m going to let you elaborate on that a little bit. What counts as school?
Amanda Capps: 00:18:12.180
So any time there is collaboration, and any time there is learning, that counts. So if I send my daughter and my son upstairs, and I want them to make a meal, and I want them to double a recipe because let’s be real, there is very few recipes on the face of the planet that will feed a family of 10 if you make a single batch of it. And so typically we are doubling, tripling or quadrupling a recipe. That’s fractions. That’s them collaborating. Both of those children are dyslexic. So what we have learned is we have to read the recipe all the way through. They have to verbally talk to me about the measurements to make sure that they are not misinterpreting or misseeing them because that’s going to throw off an entire recipe and it may waste a lot of food. There’s the opportunity to talk about an ingredient list. What all those ingredients cost? If you meal plan, if you have a child go and do the grocery shopping and they’re budgeting and they’re looking at comparison. Okay, so this particular product is this many ounces, and is this price? This particular product is this many ounces in this price. Which one’s the better deal? It’s two of these better than one of the large. I mean, you can find opportunities in almost any situation you encounter throughout your day to pull math or reading or writing into it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:19:47.634
Absolutely. And I think one of the things that we’re trying to encourage you as a parent to decide is, how do you want to approach your academics? Your academics can be a part your life or they can be an addition to your life, or to be honest, they can be a burden to your life. And what we want to encourage you to understand is we don’t want them to be a burden. And so toward that end, Amanda was a great fan of unit studies and still is a great fan. So we’re going to talk a little bit about a couple of different types of homeschooling endeavors. And Amanda, can you elaborate what’s a unit study for parents who might not even know what that is?
Amanda Capps: 00:20:31.128
So unit studies are a great way to engage multiple levels of student all on the same subject, but at their level. So things that go perfectly into unit studies are history, science, and things like that because you can cycle through because you’re always– geography, history, world, and US, you might do a state history unit. So there’s a lot of different areas where you can take a unit study and that’s really helpful, and you can incorporate great books into those. I personally love Notgrass History. It’s been one of the best history programs that has fit into our family and our lifestyle. I love that it’s literature based, and again, it’s one of those things that you would be amazed with the little ones playing on the floor that you don’t even think are paying attention are gaining, and then suddenly, we’re sitting around the dinner table and they pipe up with a little fat factor, a nugget, and you’re just like, they were listening, they were paying attention, that type of thing. And then obviously, as your children are older and in certain grades or levels, that work can be more intense. They can have more projects. My kids, especially like projects where they get to do cooking, or it’s pulling in poetry or music from that era, or just whatever it is. So unit studies are a great way, again, to have multiple student levels, but teaching the same thing and then just kind of individualizing the difficulty based on their age.
Gretchen Roe: 00:22:22.629
Absolutely. And in our family, we did some unit study work. And I have fond memories of some of the unit studies we did where I would have a middle schooler who was doing a rather intense history. And so I would go to the library and find an elementary school book that spoke about that same history lesson. So that’s what we’re talking about as far as balancing. But I have to tell you, I was a classical homeschool parent and he did a lot of work. My kindergartners, my first graders did seven subjects every day. Was there education dynamic? Amazing. Did we learn an enormous amount? Absolutely. But I can also tell you looking back with my eldest daughter being 37 and my youngest being 18, we could have done half as much school, had twice as much fun, and my kids would have been equally well educated. So sometimes you don’t know. And you may try on a philosophy this year that you may then choose to discard later. You may also find that you have a philosophy, like that classical philosophy did not fit my fifth child. He was a different learner. He was a diagnosed dyslexic. He didn’t learn to read till nine and a half. So more was not a better experience for him. And here’s something that I want to say as well, when your kids get to high school, the best, most attentive high schooler has about four hours of attention in a day. So don’t set yourself up for failure and set them up for frustration by planning an academic experience that is beyond their capacity.
Gretchen Roe: 00:24:09.061
We want to create success in our kids and we want to do that on a daily basis. So we want them to feel like they’re being successful because success breeds further success. Amanda, can you speak a little bit? I know we have talked a little bit about we had this long list of different schools, but I wondered if you could talk a little bit about project-based learning. Didn’t you do this with one of your teenagers where you gave her an assignment and then she had to build the curriculum around it? Do I remember this correctly or have I made this up in my head?
Amanda Capps: 00:24:49.353
I mean, I did some of that with my oldest. And here’s a good to talk about at this juncture I feel too is some of your kids are going to be more successful at independent learning. And some of your kids are not and may never be. So do not get the idea that just because they are getting to be 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, that they will necessarily be able to do these subjects on their own. I think that is one thing that parents somehow kind of get in their mind and they think, “Oh, well, if I can just get them to let’s say, 12, then they’re going to be this great independent student, and we’re not going to have any issues, and they’re just going to do this on their own, and I get a break and everything is just going to toodle right along.” And it’s like, “No. No. Because what’s going to happen is you’re going to get that 12-year-old that maybe has some learning challenges or based on their love language or their personality they need that you write there and engaged instructor. And that’s the other thing. I mean, if you are getting into homeschooling with the idea that you don’t really want to have to be involved, then you probably shouldn’t be homeschooling. And I know that that’s sometimes a hard thing to hear.
Amanda Capps: 00:26:19.584
And I think sometimes mothers and fathers of large families, we start thinking, okay, how can I get these kids independent? Because we often think that way because we’re dying for them to walk and be potty trained. And not need help making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And we’re looking for all of these ways to where it takes a little bit of the load off of ourselves because we get it. It’s intense. Especially those little years. Nothing prepared me for parenting young adults, teens, tweens, the middle kids that get lost in the scramble, the 6, 7, 8, 9-year-olds, and toddlers. I mean, that is a lot of different ages and abilities and dependency levels to deal with and to wrap your head around. So I totally get it and I totally understand. And I would just encourage you to think more about what does this child need versus, how do I spread myself amongst everyone. And there’s a lot of times where you’re working with a child that maybe you think should be a little bit more independent, but little ones can curl up on the couch, or you can utilize nap times. I mean, there are ways to carve out the time that you need. And then again, just like Gretchen has mentioned, don’t sit there and worry about these large blocks of time. Short and sweet. Lots of breaks. The brain needs a chance to disengage from the subject and have a reset and then do another intense ability to focus for, again, a short time frame, 10, 15, 20 minutes max.
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:13.046
Right, exactly. One of the things when I speak about this at homeschool conferences, I say to parents, “My eldest son taught himself to read at the age of four without my help.” I should qualify that by saying he said, “It’s time for you to teach me to read.” And I said, “I’d like you to learn to play cooperatively first.” And he said, “Well, if you’re not going to teach me, I’ll teach myself.” And two weeks later, he was reading Dr. Seuss. So one would think that would net a wholly independent learner. That child, that same child could not be left alone to do a single math problem until he was 17 years old because he didn’t have an interest in math. And he found that his attention would wander away, so I needed to be there and present, not necessarily doing the problems with him but asking him, “So how did that one go? What did you learn from that? Do you want to check it now? Do you want to wait till the end,” those kinds of things? And toward that end, I want to say something about math because here is a mistake I made as a parent, and you may find yourself setting yourself up for the same mistake. And I want to save you some energy, I think, is the word I’m looking for. Math is the only subject you have to teach every child individually. And the reason is because kids have varying degrees of proficiency with math, and invariably, a younger student is more mathematically precocious than an older student.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:47.527
So I want you all to protect the emotional house of that older student. So as you plan, whatever homeschool philosophy you choose to embrace, expect to be available to teach your children math. You can’t hand a child a piece of paper and say, “Go do this.” And the reason that I say that is because mathematics is a language, and your child has to have a conversation with someone in order to learn language. So I think that’s really huge. Now, all of my children had varying degrees of capacity to work on their own. And then my sixth one comes along, and he said to me in fourth grade, “How about you give me a list, and I’ll let you know if I need you?” Maybe you guys have got one of those too. I needed five of his older siblings to come along before I got him. In that observation, what I want to say to you is this. You have a very powerful opportunity to be the most ardent observer of your children. And I know, Amanda, you found this to be true. What you think is going to be the perfect fit for one child is not going to work for the next one. So what do you do when you find out something that you love, some curriculum that you love that doesn’t fit for a child, Amanda? [laughter]
Amanda Capps: 00:31:15.607
Well, you just have to cut your losses and redirect. [laughter] And that’s okay. I can think of a very funny example that I will share with you. I was dying for my oldest to be ready to read Jane Eyre. I loved that book, loved it, loved it, loved it. As a homeschool kid and an English history buff, I literally couldn’t even wait. So she finally gets old enough. I give her this beautiful copy of Jane Eyre, and I’m so excited. And I’m checking in with her. And she wraps up the book, and she comes to me, and she’s like– it was all right. And I was like, “What did you think about it? And didn’t you just love–” and she’s like, “Well, I mean–” he was kind of old enough to be her dad, and it was just– I don’t know. He was kind of a creeper, mom. [laughter] And he did. I was like, “Wait a second. Mister Rothschild was the hero. He loved her. He adored her. What are you talking about?” So all that to say, there may be situations in your homeschooling journey and in your experience where you get really excited about them watching a certain thing or reading a certain thing or pursuing a certain subject, and they’re just not going to love it the way that you do. And that’s okay, even if it is soul crushing.
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:50.861
Well, and the truth is, we want to create independent thinkers. That’s why we’re doing this. But when they think independently, then we’re like, “How dare you?” That’s so difficult. So if we tell you nothing else to take away from this conversation today, if you anticipate that when it happens, then you won’t be disappointed, and I think that really is the important thing for us to talk about. Amanda, we had talked a little bit about different philosophies, and I would love for you to talk a little bit about unschooling. I know we talked about this. And I think it’s important for us to define this because I know it sounds like an enormously attractive proposition for a lot of parents.
Amanda Capps: 00:33:41.434
So in the era that I grew up, unschooling didn’t have a positive connotation associated with it. A lot of times, those were the families that weren’t investing in a curriculum. It was kind of just chaotic, and whatever your kids wanted to do from sunup till sundown, and there wasn’t a lot of structure or organization. And I think a lot of the classical in-unit study and the Bob Jones and the Abeka moms, they all kind of looked down on that as, “Okay, well, they’re not really educating, and we don’t want them to give us a bad name overall to the homeschooling community.” What that has evolved into at this point is more of a family dynamic where it’s more student-led learning. There may or may not be the focus on actual workbooks or worksheets. There are lots of free curriculums out there, good and the beautiful, and others have really kind of come alongside and provided just a here and there, where mom wants to pull something, then there’s something to do. Or my understanding is that it’s really more about letting the child choose and direct what they want to learn about in their time frame and not really pushing specific subjects or content at them, but letting them kind of develop their own interests and go with it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:32.944
And truth to be told, Amanda, when you were back in the educational phase of your own education, mother Google wasn’t a thing, and it wasn’t for most of the years that I homeschooled. But creating an unschooling environment that is book rich, like Amanda’s and my offices, where kids can go find information and where they’re interested in that information is enormous. And I’ll give you an example of what I mean by that. I had a conversation with parents who were pulling their high schooler from school because he had an IEP and the IEP needs were not met year over year for a couple of different years. So the parents were, first of all, they were feeling consumed by the fact that they had missed information. And I want to absolve all of you feeling guilty about that. You make the best decisions each year for your children that you can. And sometimes you’re going to make a stinker decision, and don’t let that overwhelm your decisions going forward. Just recognize, “Well, here’s an opportunity for me to make a different decision.” And that’s enormous. But this young man, they were trying to figure out how could they create interest in a 15-year-old whose interest had been totally driven out of him by his public school experience. And so we sat down and talked for a while and what we fell to – I’ll shorten this story – is he has an interest in learning to play the drums. And so I said to his parents, “Well, that would be math because you’ve got to learn the difference between a whole note and a half note. That would be history, study the history of drumming. That would be research, research who are the best drummers? Why are they considered the best? That would be geography, where are different kinds of drums made?” And all of a sudden, you could see these parents who were less than enthusiastic about feeling like they’d failed their child and seeing that as an open possibility. And that would be the potential of an unschooling environment where you create a rich opportunity for your child to go in different directions and learn things that consume them and interest them.
Gretchen Roe: 00:37:59.013
That also goes along the lines with a philosophy of homeschooling called delight-directed learning. And I think that’s something that parents should take a little bit of interest in as well, regardless of what philosophy you choose. Because if your child is learning about something that really interests them, even if they have a learning challenge where that high interest meets that opportunity, they’re going to learn an enormous amount. And that makes a lot of difference. Amanda, we had some great questions. And so I wonder if I could turn my attention to those a little bit and see if we could talk about some of the things that parents asked us. And so asking, “Does your current style align as you transition kids to high school?” And I know that I had to change some of the things that I did. We stepped away from that classical model of education when my kids had high school. And we started more into that delight-directed learning. What did that look like for you?
Amanda Capps: 00:39:14.107
So the first thing that I would tell parents as we approach those upper middle school and high school years is this is a really good time to take a look at your graduation requirements for where you live, your district, your county, your state, whatever that looks like. Because if we don’t know what we have to hit and what we have to accomplish, we’re probably not going to get there. And that could be a problem when it comes time to hand over a diploma and launch a kid. And that’s definitely not something we want to find out when they’re 16, 17, 18 years old and we need to be ending our journey. One of the things that I think is super important. I didn’t do a lot of this in my own experience. And so I was aware of it going into it with my daughter’s experience. And as she was starting to apply to colleges, they are looking for a well-rounded student. I think a lot of times as homeschoolers, we tend to really hyper focus on academics. And we don’t necessarily look at the community service and the outreach opportunities and internships and discipleships. And things like that, drama, music, the things that are very enriching that show a potential college or university, “Hey, this kiddo is a really well-rounded person.” They’ve had lots of experience with clubs and organizations and serving and community service and those types of things.
Amanda Capps: 00:40:56.253
So definitely make sure you’re getting a balance of both the academics and maybe look for some of those interested driven areas. Your child is going to have natural strengths. So look for opportunities to pull those out and enhance those in your kids. Here’s the other thing. As parents, we have a real opportunity to either spoon-feed and really control a lot of what’s happening in that learning process or equipping our kids that when they have an interest, or they have a topic that intrigues them or something that they want to learn more about. Giving them the tools to independently be a lifelong learner and go in the direction of, “I want to learn about this. I want to know everything there is to know.” And let them exhaust that kind of themselves. Ideally, we don’t want education to stop at 12th grade. We want that to really be the jumping off point into their own journey where they are then taking all of the tools and the foundation that we have provided in our homeschooling and in our experiences with them and them growing up in our family. And hopefully, they’re going to take those skills and be incredibly successful in whatever future they choose.
Gretchen Roe: 00:42:25.737
Absolutely. And you said something there about consistency. And we had several parents asked this question. So I really want to make sure that we get this into our conversation about how do you strike a balance between consistency and flexibility, particularly as they move into the high school years. Having expectations for content understanding, but also creating that flexibility so that they can guide their own academics.
Amanda Capps: 00:42:57.592
I think this really comes down to communication. There has to be some good communication and check ins happening. There need to be– a lot of times I have conversations with parents where they’re like, “Well, because they don’t like this, they’re giving me pushback, or they’re giving me attitude.” And that can be very frustrating, and it can really start to affect the relationship, which is something we definitely don’t want to sacrifice with academics. But there also have to be some natural consequences and some skin in the game. So I know with my student, she wasn’t particularly fond of math, but it was like you have to hit certain things in order to graduate. There are certain things we have to accomplish. And so I think sometimes helping them break it down and lining out very doable things. It’s funny. We use reward systems when we potty-train. But they also work with older kids too. I mean, there are definitely things– whether that’s outings with friends, paying for your insurance, paying for your cell phone. I mean, there are ways to incentivize even older children that, “Hey, I’m going to put my involvement in my support out there, and then I’m going to expect the same from you. We have to work on this and be a team and be together.” Again, I feel like consistency over quantity is imperative for success.
Gretchen Roe: 00:44:42.226
I think an adjunct to that is don’t move the goal. You might have to modify the play. So I’ll give you an example of what I mean by that. If you have asked your child to produce a compositional essay, and you have set a goal that you and she or you and he want it produced in two weeks, I wouldn’t wait until the day before to say, “So how’s it going?” I would be involved on a consistent basis to say, “This is what you should do first. This is what you would do second.” And I would almost have a planning meeting to sit down with them and say, “All right. I want this essay in two weeks. Now, let’s talk about how we’re going to make that happen. How do you want to choose a topic? How do you want to research the topic?” Those kinds of things. I know I was guilty of this myself. I had expectations that were unrealistic of my children. And that might have been born from the fact that I’m an only child. I’m the daughter of good German stock. Yeah. I was born a tiny adult. “And you’ll do it because I said so. Yeah.” Instead of recognizing that I needed to teach my kids how to set a deadline and then work backward from that deadline. I often tell this story about a friend of mine who never wanted her kids to fail and so she would move the deadlines so that her kids would be successful. And then they got to college, and that became an impossible thing because the college professors did not care.
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:29.465
They set deadlines based on their needs and their parameters. And when her children didn’t meet those deadlines, they performed poorly. So it’s up to us to teach our kids those kinds of things inside the bounds of our households so that when our kids go out into the world, it won’t be difficult toward that end. Toward that, I think it’s also important, Amanda– I know you’ve said this before. There was an enormous emphasis when you were a student on your learning preferences. And we’ve actually done a webinar about this. So if parents really want to dig into learning preferences, that too will be in the show notes. But I want to talk about the downside of catering to a student’s learning preference to the exclusion of teaching them to learn in all preferences. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Amanda Capps: 00:47:23.067
Absolutely. So I have two children, Eva and Cooper. And they are both struggling learners in that they are dyslexic and Cooper is ADHD and Eva ADD. [laughter] So she struggles to focus. He struggles to sit still, and that definitely impacts their learning experience in a negative way sometimes. And so I could say, “Well, in that case, Cooper doesn’t ever have to sit down or be still or pay attention.” Or I could say Eva doesn’t ever have to read or write anything because her spelling is atrocious, and spelling is always going to be an issue for her. And so, I can just–“. No, that is a huge disservice to those students. I think sometimes when we recognize a child struggles with a subject or struggles with a particular function, the idea sometimes is to just take that load off completely and then not actually have them do that. When the reality is they are going to need even more consistency and even more support in those areas. And we can gracefully acknowledge, “Hey, I know this is hard for you. I know this is not your favorite. I understand that this frustrates you because you feel like you should be able to do this and do it well. But I love you and we’re going to get better at it the more consistently we practice it. And so, let’s work together.” And again, it can be a short session, 10, 15 minutes max.
Amanda Capps: 00:49:15.513
Take a break, do something else, do something they do enjoy. A subject that they are confident in. And then come back to it and work on it a little more. And what you’ll notice is over time, even though they have to work harder than everybody else in their peer group, they’re still doing it. And they’re accomplishing it. And you will have that trail of being able to look back and go, “Look. Look where we started. Look at what work you were producing here and look at it now.” And it’s going to look different. And it’s going to look better. And it may never be perfect. And it may never be at grade level. And it may never be something that they decide to base a career off of, but they can do it. And they have the tools and the support to do it well.
Gretchen Roe: 00:50:04.047
Absolutely. And I think the key to all of that is what you said is, don’t negate the expectation. Modify the expectation and tell them that they’re not in the boat all by themselves, but you as the parent are there with them. We have talked about so many things, and we’ve talked a little bit about homeschool philosophies. And I’m going to give parents a list with over 30 of them to explore in a little bit more depth. That’s going to come as part of the show notes for this episode. But I want to– before we leave this episode, I want to talk about kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school. What should our expectations be? I know, Amanda, in the notes, you said kindergarten should be “keep it short and fun”. Why?
Amanda Capps: 00:50:55.609
Because this is where we basically are planting the seeds and we are cultivating hopefully beautiful flowers surrounding learning and that experience. You can really make or break a student in these formative years based on what you do, and how intense you are, and your emotions, and your frustration or, just whatever. And so, I think it’s really important to just keep kindergarten very light, very fun, very student directed. You’ve got plenty of time. If letters aren’t being formed perfectly at this stage, if they hold a pencil funky, if you’re noticing things are going on with the beginning reading. I mean, this is really where we kind of figure out, okay, what are the things we do need to work on? What are the skills that are here? And let’s just really engage in making learning and the environment fun. And then, as we progress into the elementary school years, we’re going to get a little more structured. We’re going to get a little bit more consistent as far as the amount of time that we’re spending, what subjects we’re covering. So one of the things that we haven’t brought up, which I think is kind of important is go ahead and figure out what your school year is going to look like. For us, we school year-round. For other families, they’re going to follow a traditional August to June time frame.
Amanda Capps: 00:52:31.837
Again, I would encourage you based that off of what’s happening in your life, if you are adding babies to the family and you are nursing an infant or you have a really intense little toddlers or a whole bunch of little stair-step kids, sometimes taking more frequent breaks and spreading your academics throughout the entire year is a really good idea. If you have students that struggle and have legitimate diagnosis, sometimes taking a break that’s more than a week or two long, you’re going to lose too much ground. You’re going to lose steam and forward momentum and it’s just not worth it. So if you’re noticing some of those things that are frustrating, nobody said you have to school September through May and you have to school from this hour to this hour. Here’s another thing we haven’t talked about yet, but again, super important. I have children that if I try to broach anything academic before 10 o’clock in the morning, it’s absolute pointless waste of my time because they are not awake and their brains are not engaged at all. Not even a little bit. There are other kids of mine who I wake up with my toddlers about 6:30 in the morning and I come out and he’s already sitting at the table doing school. Because he knows he needs the quiet and that he is hitting on all cylinders first thing in the morning when his brain is fresh and hasn’t had any distractions or interactions yet.
Amanda Capps: 00:54:06.483
So go with it. Don’t force the child who needs until 10 o’clock in the morning or you may have teens that they’re going to do their best work after 6:00 PM and they may do all four hours after dinner. I mean, you just need to have the, again, observance of your students and look at what is working best for them and what’s going to set them up for success. And so that’s where the flexibility really comes in and again, I mean, work with what is working. Don’t try to fit them into this little academic box of what you think education is supposed to look like. That’s the beauty of homeschooling. You’ve really picked away where you can be intentional and they’re going to benefit.
Gretchen Roe: 00:55:02.413
And again, that goes back to being the best observer of your children. I am that person who’s when her feet hit the floor in the morning, I have 100 ideas and I want you to have 99 of them. And of course, I married a guy who until he said his second cup of coffee, he doesn’t want you to say anything to him. And you’ll have kids who will be both those people. And so it’s up to you to begin to observe that child and know what that child needs. So in elementary school, Amanda, just to reiterate, we should be developing that fluent reader, that strong math foundation, the spelling, and the writing skills. How does that transition into middle school?
Amanda Capps: 00:55:43.765
So middle school is where we kind of need to get a little more serious about the sciences and make sure that we don’t have any gaps in our history because stuff can happen. You might switch curriculums, you might decide, you know what, we’re going to focus on geography this year and we’re going to kind of put history on the back burner. Maybe we’re only going to read a few books that I pick on some of the areas that we’re studying in geography. Middle school is kind of where you look for, okay, where do we have gaps and what do we need to do to fix them? What do we need to do to shore up that foundation so that we can plow into high school strong and with all cylinders? I think that’s really important. And there are so many– that’s the thing. I mean, when I was homeschooling, there was such a limited amount of curriculum and options out there. And now it’s almost over– well, it isn’t almost, it is overwhelming. There are so many choices and so many styles and so many things. So again, look for curriculums that fit or tick some of the boxes for your student and then also your environment and what’s actually doable. If I picked curriculums that were very heavy on teacher prep and involvement like I had to read several chapters before I started a lesson or something like that, that curriculum is going to sit on my shelf and collect dust. I don’t have that kind of time. And I’m aware of that.
Amanda Capps: 00:57:13.890
So I pick curriculums that are open and go that I literally can say, hey, you. Sit down in this chair. We are going to do this right now and I’m going to open a book and we’re going to do it. I call that open and go because that’s just– I want to be able to just sit down and effectively plow through and let’s get this done and let’s make sure we’re getting it checked off of our list for the day. So some parents are going to have smaller families. They’re going to have more time and more ability to prep. And maybe they love to do a big lesson planner with all the pages and all the sections and the calendar. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I do not have time for that.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:56.135
That’s good. Well, I enjoyed that because it allowed me to organize my own thoughts. I can tend to be a little bit scattered. And so that was a way for me to feel like I had a bit of control. And if you see yourself in me, then you might find that to be to your advantage. With your high schoolers, I want to encourage you having just graduated my last one. He’s newly minted, still asleep. But he goes to work at 5 today. So we’re not going to complain about that. You’re going to need to start having dialogue with your children about what comes after high school. And I recommend that you start that dialog in 7th and 8th grade. Granted, they are going to change their mind more often than you change your shoes. But having those conversations makes them think about what comes next. With my youngest, he had ambitious ideas as an 8th grader and they changed totally by the time he was in tenth grade, and they have changed yet again by the time he has graduated. So the reason I tell you, you can homeschool high school. It’s possible. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be joined by a dear friend named Alice Reinhart, and we’re going to talk about creating a high school transcript and how you’re going to homeschool high school. And that’ll be coming in the next couple of months. But let me say this. If you’re looking at a high school experience, hold it all loosely because plans change, things change. And if you can practice that flexibility with your children, then they will feel free to be honest with you as their needs, their desires, their wants, and their goals change. And that’s enormous. And it makes a tremendous amount of difference. Amanda, we’re at the top of the hour. And I can’t believe we have come to the end of this time. What would be your closing thoughts for parents?
Amanda Capps: 00:59:59.772
Wow. It’s so– when you think about the whole experience and the whole journey, the days are long, and the years are short. I can not stress that enough. So make the memories, snuggle and read poetry and drink hot cocoa. Look for the times– they’re not going to remember the times they’re in a workbook. They’re not going to remember the times that everything was going into a dumpster fire of a day. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and say, “Okay, we got this accomplished, and that’s all we got today. But everybody’s alive. Everybody is relatively mentally stable, and we’re going to try again tomorrow.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. So I would just encourage you to really find the joy in the journey.
Gretchen Roe: 01:01:07.694
Absolutely. The journey passes a lot faster than we believe it does. I can’t believe my journey is at an end. Because it seems like yesterday we just started this adventure. And I was dragged kicking and screaming into the homeschool experience. And I wouldn’t have traded those 21 years for anything. This is Gretchen Roe for the Demme Learning show. Thanks so much for joining us today. You can access the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLeanring.com/Show or on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this, especially if you really enjoyed it. And we’ll look forward to you all joining us again in the near future. Thanks, everybody. Have a wonderful afternoon.
Find out where you can subscribe to The Demme Learning Show on our show page.
These are the things to keep in mind as you develop your own homeschool philosophy:
- Kindergarten: Keep it short and fun!
- Elementary: Develop a fluent reader, a strong math foundation, and spelling and writing skills.
- Middle School: Build on the elementary and assess weak areas or challenges to focus on balance.
- High School: Transcripts, community service, wrapping up loose ends. Remember: success is in your hands.
During the episode we referenced a resource from Epic Childhood for understanding different homeschool styles.
We have provided lots of supports to parents over the years and you can find many of them in these previous episodes:
Learning Styles: Sorting Preferences from Needs with Your Child’s Learning Style [Show]
Homeschool Planning with Pam Barnhill [Show]
Advice for First-Time Homeschoolers [Show]
Our blog is also rich with resources:
Homeschool Planning: 7 Steps to Develop a Simple Homeschool Plan
5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Homeschooling
So You’ve Decided to Homeschool. Now What?
Homeschooling Pros & Cons
How and Why to Write a Homeschool Mission Statement
Regardless of where your journey takes you, we hope it is a joyful adventure for your family, and should we be able to offer support along the way, please do not hesitate to reach out to us!
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