Join Gretchen Roe in a conversation with Janna Koch, BookShark‘s Community Manager, about fitting curriculum around your family instead of the other way around. Often we begin our homeschool journeys with a specific plan, and as we reach the midpoint of the year, we find things that are not working as well as we thought. We will offer practical tips in evaluating what is working, what might work better, and how you might change the course of your homeschool ship.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:04.637 [music]
Welcome to The Demme Learning Show. Our mission here is to help families stay in the learning journey wherever it takes them. This bonus episode was previously recorded as a webinar and was not created with the audio listener in mind. We hope you will find value in today’s episode.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:22.116
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Gretchen Roe, and it’s my very great pleasure to welcome you to this presentation this afternoon talking about relaunching your ship. Janna and I have known each other now for a while, and I giggled this morning when I saw on LinkedIn that she said we are a good comedy troupe with each other. So I hope you’ll be entertained today. But I hope more than anything else that you will be encouraged because that to me makes all the difference in the world. And we want you to know that we’re here because this is something you ask for. Many of you have reached out to us and said, “Oh my goodness, I’m up to here and it’s only December. How can I make this work?” It’s my pleasure to tell you that in the next hour, we’re going to give you some really great ideas on how to make it work. And most importantly, we’re going to give you some wisdom from the perspective of the two of us looking back on our homeschool years. And what we found really didn’t matter when we worried about the things that didn’t matter. My name is Gretchen Roe. I’m a homeschooling mom of six. I’m just about at the end of my journey. My youngest is a senior in high school. And in May, we will close a chapter that has been years in the making. And I am bittersweet about that, but I am so delighted to have the opportunity to still continue to work with homeschooling families. I’ve been Demme Learning’s Community Liaison now for the last year and have worked here in placement and encouragement for the last almost nine years. So I’m delighted to welcome my guest, Janna Koch, today. And I’m going to let her introduce herself because she’s fantastic. Janna?
Janna Koch: 00:02:16.254
Well, hello, Gretchen, and hello to you out there who’ve decided to join us today. My name is Janna Koch. I am the community manager at BookShark. I am a homeschool mom who is currently homeschooling a 13-year-old. My older 17-year-old twins are now out of the house doing dual enrollment. And I also was homeschooled. I believe it was 8th– I should remember, 8th through 12th grade. So I have a very unique perspective in not only walking through it as a kid when homeschooling was very weird and there was very little options to now being a homeschool mom who gets to work for a curriculum that just delights my heart. And I am so happy to be here to help encourage you. I do believe that we find the best encouragement when we laugh. So I hope that this hour tends to be a little lighthearted while we are discussing some heavy topics. Because this time of year, not only when you’re homeschooling, but just in general, compounded with everything that’s going on in our world, can tend to feel a little heavy. So we hope that in this time together, you will laugh, hopefully not cry, but if that’s what you need to do, we’ll do it with you. And I’m just delighted to be here.
Gretchen Roe: 00:03:24.713
Oh, absolutely. And I have to tell you, Janna does bring a unique capacity to this experience in this conversation because she understands not only the homeschool mom’s heart, but she understands the homeschool student’s heart. And I want to encourage you all that if you’re feeling a little bit burdened at this time of year, that’s not unusual, but so are your students because we have so many things going on. I just had a conversation yesterday with two high schoolers who are part of a pageant productions at Christmas and they’re trying to juggle everything that requires a high schooler to be and college applications and a pageant and dance and swimming. And they just both of them looked overwhelmed. And I just smiled and said, “You know what? Take each day, one day at a time, and you’ll find very soon that it has all happened and you’ll have pleasant memories to look back on.” And I think in talking to Jana last week, our theme, the thing that rose out of five pages of notes was that some is better than none. So can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Janna Koch: 00:04:42.971
I would love to. This is something that I still struggle to learn and to put into my everyday life, but it’s something that I really try to impart to my children. Because isn’t it so much easier as parents to tell our kids what we want them to how they want to live, as opposed to actually do it ourselves. For example, my daughters are taking college courses and they are 17. And it can be very daunting, right? And so I keep encouraging my one has a little bit of trouble with time management. She’s my FOMO girl. She doesn’t want to miss out on anything. She jam packs her schedule. And as a parent, I totally get that. It makes sense. We almost wear a badge of honor when we’re so busy. It makes us feel like we are contributing to our homes, to society, to our children. But sometimes it can be very detrimental. So what I’ve been telling her as finals are approaching, set a timer, do 30 minutes, do one hour of that 15-page paper. And then when the timer goes off, walk away and do the next thing on your list. Because some is always better than none. We tend to live in a world where it’s all or nothing. Maybe it’s just me. That’s my personality. I want it all, or I don’t want anything to do with it. And that’s just not realistic for life. And I hate when I recognize that I’m passing that down to my children. And it helps me when I see that mirror in front of me, helps me understand that I need to just stop demonstrating that for them, not just saying it to them.
Gretchen Roe: 00:06:10.939
Yeah, that really makes a tremendous amount of difference. And being an only child under good German girl, you will do it all because I said so. I think in reality, some of us have reached this point in the homeschool year and we’re reading everybody else’s Pinterest boards, or we’re reading everybody else’s Facebook feeds. And everybody else’s kids are beautifully coiffed and clothed and fed and their homes are neat. And we’ve got kids that can’t even find shoes to leave the house. And so we start that comparison game. Janna, we talked about this last week. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Janna Koch: 00:06:50.730
Well, first of all, I tried Instagram personally, and it just made me so depressed to even be on it. So I am not an Instagram girl. I am a Facebook girl. I started when it first came out. I can’t get away from it. I understand when we’re looking at a moment, a capture in someone’s life, that you’re not seeing the outside of the picture frame, right? So the other day I posted a picture on Facebook for my friends of some Christmas cookies I made. A, I made them because it was actually a work marketing project. So it wasn’t because I just wanted to be Susie homemaker, although I do love to do those things. But there was an ulterior motive there, right? And they didn’t see the mess that I had made in the kitchen that I probably was going to walk away from and ask my children to clean up after me. So we really look at something that is not realistic. I remember back in the day, Gretchen of magazines. I worked in a salon for 20 years, and so that people magazine would come weekly. And I remember at some point, I just had to stop looking at them, not at good housekeeping, not at people because I opened up the people and I saw, “Oh, well, I don’t look like her.” At no one in this magazine looks like me. I’d open up good housekeeping. None of those houses looked like mine. It did not bring me joy. In fact, it made me feel horrible. I think it’s the same thing with Facebook and Instagram. If you can look at those things as, “Oh, that would be nice,” or, “There’s one thing in that picture that maybe I can do that I will enjoy,” fine. But let me tell you, that quick capture, those same kids are screaming and yelling, and she had to shove those shoes on and get that tie clipped and get that picture clip just right. And it didn’t last. It doesn’t last. It’s not real.
Gretchen Roe: 00:08:35.700
Absolutely. I think and I laugh. I’m only laughing because that’s really so true. We all believe erroneously that everybody else has their stuff together and we don’t. And that really isn’t the case. We talked a little bit last week about what you have to cover. And I loved what you said about being able to cross out the extra stuff. And I know this makes the you have to finish every page German in me just a little bit queasy. But I think it’s a good idea, particularly at this time of year, when you’re trying to figure out what can I accomplish in December so that January doesn’t look so daunting. So can you talk a little bit more about that?
Janna Koch: 00:09:26.666
I’m going to shock a lot of you, especially because I am a BooksShark mom as well as an employee. And our curriculum is rigorous. There are 12 to 20 read-alouds in 36 weeks. It is so easy to feel like you are behind if you have a sickness. If something comes up in your schedule and it’s hard to believe, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Some is better than none. You don’t have to read every single book that your curriculum has scheduled for you. You don’t have to do every page that you purchased in that book. That is your discretion. You think about when you were in school, been a while, but I was that little girl that brought home the incomplete workbooks at the end of every school year. And my birthday was in the summer and I was doing those pages in the summer because I loved school. But I have to remind myself that even public school, even college, I mean, if you remember your college courses, you guys were in the middle of a discussion that got really good and your professor could adjust. They could take something out. They could shorten something. You have that ability as homeschool parents too. It maybe just isn’t published enough, but we’re here to shout it from the mountaintops, “You don’t have to do it all.”
Gretchen Roe: 00:10:47.101
Absolutely. And I think that is the homeschool police are not going to come count the pages that you’ve accomplished. What you’re looking for is to move the ball academically. But I also want you to know you’re going to move the ball socially and emotionally. And each one of those is equally important. So if academics have to take a little bit of a back seat while you have some social and emotional growth, particularly through the holiday season, is a perfect time to be able to do that. And being able to, as we said, relaunch the ship, trim the sails, adjust your course is a huge thing to be able to do. Janet, we had talked about Book Shark and all the wonderful books there are to read, but you also gave me a great hint about here’s how you accomplish it in another way in order to feel like you’re accomplishing something. So you want to talk about the digital ways we could accomplish some of those wonderful books?
Janna Koch: 00:11:46.320
So being a literature-based company, I personally am a reader. It’s one of the things that attracted me to Book Shark. I still love to read. I’ve always demonstrated for my children that a great pastime is reading. But in reality, when boots are on the ground and you are trying to homeschool three kids and run a house and oh work part-time, things start to pile up. One of the things that really helped us was audiobooks. Regardless of what curriculum you’re using, audiobooks are amazing. It counts. Don’t think that because you didn’t read every single word– I hate reading aloud. I’m sorry, but I just do. I know I shouldn’t see. You guys, super honest. I hope that is good for you, but I hate reading aloud. So audiobooks, if there was a book that I could find in a movie form, we did it. Do you remember doing that at school? Because I do. It was okay. We don’t have to have perfection because it’s not obtainable. And when we try to have perfection in our homeschool, it’s when we start to feel like either this isn’t for us or utter failures.
Gretchen Roe: 00:12:55.567
Absolutely. And I think it’s also important to look at what you have in your curricula and what are the essentials, particularly here in December. And I’m going to tell you, here I work for a math company, I’m going to tell you math is an essential. I had kids who could not take a five-week break without math and expect them to be picking up the threads of where they were five weeks later. So we had to do something math related all the way through the holidays. But we didn’t do school in my household from Thanksgiving to the first week of January. There was no formal school because what we did is, like Janice says, we did read-alouds. We had movies. I would line up movies. In fact, I would look at the books we had read and I would see if I could find some movies. My rule always was you had to do the book before you watched the movie, because in my whole life, I’ve only had one movie that completely met my expectations of the book. And we’ll save that answer for another time.
Janna Koch: 00:14:09.456
But this is crazy. I have always had that same rule until recently, and I thought, I’m actually going to watch the movie first because I’m always disappointed. So if I watch the movie first, then I know the story’s not over. I can now go read the book and it’s going to be so much better. So I don’t know which way. I used to be that way, but now I’m kind of like, “You know what? I guess I’m getting closer to 50 and let’s just throw it all out the window.” [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:14:37.021
I will give that a little bit of a try. I will say that in the last couple of months, I’ve had a couple of movies hyped up to me. And once I’ve seen the movies, I’ve been, “Well, maybe that wasn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be.” And there are some books that I read that I loved that when the movies came out and the reviews said, “Oh, they didn’t follow the book,” I either suspended my belief in the book itself, or I just chose not to watch the movie. And that makes a difference as well. One of the things that we talked about, Jana, is when tears begin, instruction ends. And for a lot of us, the tears are not from our children at this time of year, because we’re trying to be all things to all people. So circling back around to, what do you have to do? I said math. And in the cook household, what would be the other thing or things that you would say were absolute essentials that you need to make sure happen?
Janna Koch: 00:15:45.354
Well, first of all, confession. I always made my kids do their school. And I was that mom that stressed out that we were going to do every single page up until recently. So my answer now would be the one thing that has to get done in the Cook household for homeschool is enjoyment of learning. So if she is in tears, or I am in tears, we are going to stop. But that doesn’t mean throw the baby out with the bathwater. Stopping doesn’t mean that we just pitch out the day and don’t do anything. Or it doesn’t mean that we don’t restart within a certain amount of time in that same day. I think some people when they hear “stop,” they’re like, “Oh, great. I’m going to be another day behind because she’s telling me not to do any homeschool.” No, sometimes stop is really just a 15 to 30-minute break to kind of reconnect with your child. I have found so often I have lost the joy of learning for myself and my daughter because I’m pushing so hard for an unrealistic expectation of what we should be able to do because this is what the curriculum says we should be able to do today, and why can’t we seem to get it done today? And I look at my daughter and I see the fall of the face and I’m like, “What is the point of– what am I doing right now?” If my number one goal is to create a lifelong learner, then I really need to assess the steps that I’m taking as I am homeschooling even in my day-to-day.
Gretchen Roe: 00:17:19.143
And I think that that’s really important. And I know your background and mine are both Germanic. So we have that get-it-done attitude. And I think one of the things that we fail to take into account is, children have a capacity for new information that is their age plus two to three minutes. So if you’re looking at your beloved 10-year-old and you’re like, “Why can’t you hang in here with me for this science for 45 minutes?” it’s probably because socially, emotionally, and intellectually, you have pushed them beyond their capacity. And so I think it’s really important for us to look at those kids and go, “Okay, I need to structure– if I have a 45-minute goal, I need to break that goal for my 10-year-old into maybe three or four increments in order to expect it to get done.” And I know that there’s parents who are sitting here in the audience going, “No, wait. Oh my gosh, that’s going to take even longer.” But one of the things that I learned the hard way is, my adult expectations on my child did not create an independent learner. And so I needed to retool my expectations so that they could feel like they were being successful. And sometimes the most important thing you can do is to reframe for your children how they feel about their academic experiences. As a mom or a dad, we feel an enormous amount of pressure because the whole world is standing in judgment of us when we homeschool. And that’s not really true, but it feels like that’s what’s happening. So I want to encourage you to reframe it. And Janna, we talked about this a little bit. So you had five ways to reframe this. This is your five S’s. So now what I want you to do is to talk about reorienting your ship in these five S’s. And the first one was stretch it out. So explain that one to me.
Janna Koch: 00:19:30.478
Again, it’s not groundbreaking, right? These ideas are not earth-shattering. And yet, even when I was coming up with them, I’m like, “I might actually need to implement this in my own life.” We have these ideas and these plans. And then I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly like, “Oh, it sounds so good.” And then I fail to put them to practice. So that first step of S of the five is stretch it out. And that means if your curriculum is saying that you you have four to five days to get through chapters one through seven. Why can’t you take seven days? Why can’t you take two weeks? It’s the difference between your child dreading the experience. And let’s be honest, in my case, me dreading the experience. And so by stretching it out, if that means, sometimes in my household, I would set a timer. I was like, “Man, I know I can give it a good 10 to 15 minutes. And after that, I’m done.” So it didn’t matter if the schedule said to get to a certain point in the book. When the timer went off, I was done. And I had to be okay with that. Because instead of doing what was scheduled, I was doing what was working for us. And I was still doing, don’t get me wrong. I am not that type of parent who didn’t get through my curriculum every year because I have. But I found new ways to get through it without putting that pressure on myself.
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:56.310
And remember, back to that theme for our conversation today, “Some is better than none.” So how about the second S, which was speed it up, which, I think, is really interesting because this actually answers one of our parents’ questions today, so.
Janna Koch: 00:21:13.795
If you find that your child is really enjoying, or again, you are really enjoying the activity that you’re doing. If it is doing the read-aloud, and it’s that, “Oh, please don’t stop.” I remember that first year I started homeschooling with all three of my girls. And we were doing our first read-aloud. And it was Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I had never read anything like that aloud to my children. And it was like, “Please don’t stop, Mama. Keep going, Mama.” And I was like, “This is wonderful.” Now, four years in, it did not end that way. But that was my first experience that really helped hook us into this literature-based learning. So we kept reading. I didn’t say, “No, no, no.” The schedule says to stop. We’re going to stop.” We sped through it. And that was okay. If your child is really enjoying a writing assignment – I know that sounds crazy, but some children really do, or even math – don’t say you have to stop now because there are days that you’re going to be able to breeze through some lessons. Keep going if you have their excitement, if you’re feeling good about it. Don’t stop just because that page has ended in your schedule. Keep going.
Gretchen Roe: 00:22:22.544
And I think it’s also important in that speed it up. If there’s something your child obviously knows how to do, just filling out a piece of paper, pitch it. Put an X through it. Move on. Don’t feel like you have to have ink or lead or graphite on every page in order to have a successful experience. Your third one – and I loved your example here – it’s sample the example. So talk to me a little bit more about that.
Janna Koch: 00:22:54.044
Again, even hearing you say it, it sounds crazy. I can’t believe I’m suggesting this. But if you’re feeling that either your child does have a good grasp on it, or it’s not something that you know your child is truly going to benefit from in that moment– it doesn’t mean if you have a child who doesn’t like to write, you never ask them to write. That’s not what we’re saying. But if you look through the example, you talk about the example, and your child understands it, or they’re just not getting it that day, be done. You don’t have to then go do all of the work that it’s asking you to do because I guarantee you’re going to circle back to it time and time and time again. So, if you are just sampling the examples, in instances, and letting your child see that you’re hearing them and understanding what they need in that moment, you’re building a relationship with them that is going to foster a love of learning. And you’ll benefit and so will your child later on.
Gretchen Roe: 00:23:49.344
I think that’s a really good thing to think about because there are so many times I would sit with my kids and I would say, “We’re going to get this done. We’re going to gut it out.” And I realized that it him a law of diminishing returns. So in that instance, I think it becomes a little bit of physician healed by self, as far as recognizing that some days it’s not going to work for you. And I think this comes back to recognizing the limits for your child. One of our parents asked a question about being able to create independence in a third-grader and a seventh grader. And so I want to pause with this question for right now because that can be very different things for a third-grade student and a seventh-grade student. So Janna, we talked a little bit about this before we began today. Can you elaborate a little bit on our conversation?
Janna Koch: 00:24:47.169
I think first and foremost, if you have done any reading about parenting, you will find the common theme is about changing your expectation, right? So when we’re becoming better parents or better at anything else, it seems like it’s all about changing us and not the child. So I think that is super important. Part of building independent learners is giving them independence in a healthy, safe environment. So I’m not going to send my third-grader off by themselves to try to wrestle with a new math concept, right? Because that’s not setting them up for success. And we’re going to actually turn around and have a child who is going to have such negative feelings about math that it’s going to be a disaster later on. But if we have a subject that your third-grader just absolutely loves, will just devour. Mine could do science on their own without a problem, even the experiments, and when they needed help, they came and found me and I would help them out. But my seventh graders, now them, I don’t need to sit with them every single problem on a new concept, right? I can say, “Hey, here’s a new concept. Do you have questions? Why don’t you go try it? Come back to me, and we’ll see if you really did understand it, and we’ll work through it that way.” It’s interesting because we want independence in our children, but we also need to know how to set them up for success in that independence.
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:11.324
Right. And in my six children, my eldest son was brilliant. He taught himself to read before he turned five. But he couldn’t be left alone to do a single math problem, one math problem, until he was at least 16 years old. And I say that to parents, and they look at me like I have just ruined their whole life. And the truth of the matter is every child is different. My youngest son, when he had fourth grade, he said, “How about you give me a list of what you want me to do, and if I need you, I’ll be in touch.” I had to have five kids before I got to kid number six who said that to me. So I think every child is different. And if we can as parents negotiate with them to say, “All right, I’m going to sit here. Will you do these two math problems? And then I’m going to get up, and I’m going to go start making lunch, and you’re going to do two math problems on your own.” That guides your children toward an expectation. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “I want you to stay here. I want you to read for 10 minutes.” And what does that look like? How do you get a child to quit asking you how many minutes has it been? Since I’ve had those kids. I have a coworker who talks about taking five DUPLOs and setting them down in front of his eight-year-old and saying, “Every two minutes, I’ll come take a DUPLO away. I want you to read for 10 minutes.” That’s an easy visual for that student, and it also gives the student the ability to know, okay, okay, I only have to hang here for three more DUPLOs, or I only have to hang here for two more DUPLOs. So it’s a terrific tool to be able to work with somebody who is maybe a little bit distractible or distracting to other students. I think it gives a us a terrific way to be able to do that.
Janna Koch: 00:28:04.288
Gretchen, I’m going to say one more thing about that. I think that sometimes we forget to get our students’ input into the process. I am not saying that they have equal standings or they get to dictate how it’s going to be, but we forget that letting them have some input in the process gives them ownership. So maybe it’s like, “Hey, I think you could go 30 minutes with reading, but what do you think?” And maybe, like a great negotiator, aim higher so that you kind of meet in the middle and really end up where you wanted them to be anyways. They don’t have to know that you know those gifts of negotiation. But when you ask them, A, they feel ownership over what you’re asking them to do, but they also are feeling a little pride in taking ownership of that, and they are now starting to feel like they have a voice. And I don’t know about you, but as an adult, I do not like to feel like I don’t have a voice. It was one of the reasons I could not go into the military – God bless all of our servicemen and women – because it’s a gift that I do not have. So I always feel like I have a duty to my children to let them have a voice in our discussion, in how we negotiate. Because again, I’m the final say, but sometimes they surprise me with some really great ideas.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:33.333
And I think you said something really important there. Asking them, “How long do you think?” My kids would sometimes come up with things that I would be like, “Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t want to do this for the– okay. Fine. Okay. Fine. If you’re committed.” But I also think that there’s virtue in making sure that whatever they commit to, we hold them accountable to. I have homeschooled alongside families who moved the goalposts so that there was never a failure in their kids. And I think kids need to learn the reality of your boss doesn’t care what your learning style is. When your boss gives you a deadline, he doesn’t care what has come up in your life, he wants you to be able to meet that. And so we have to model a little bit of that for our kids at home. Let’s talk about S number four, because this is great. Strike out what’s not working.
Janna Koch: 00:30:32.623
How does a lady who worked for a homeschool curriculum encourage people to strike out part of their curriculum? But it’s true, because I’m a homeschool mom and I’m doing this right alongside with you. And if it’s not working, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on it it’s not going to work. If your child just flat out refuses to participate in something that you’re asking them to do. I have three girls. I can’t tell you how many refusals I get. Now, I am the final say, and if I need backup I call in the principal, who is my husband, and he is the absolute authority in all things in our household. But I also know, because I have a relationship with my children– and I think that’s another important highlight. We’re not just talking about ourselves as educators in our children’s lives, we’re talking about relationships. I don’t want to mislead you in saying that the curriculum isn’t important, doing the work isn’t important. That’s character-building so much of the time in learning. I mean, we want our kids to succeed in this life and be contributing members of society, obviously. It’s such a delicate balance. So I think that when I say strike it out, you need to think about what you’re going to replace it with. It’s not just get rid of it altogether. So if my child is struggling with, let’s say, a classic– because I’ll tell you what, I tried the Great Gatsby as an adult at least five times. I finally listened to it on audio and got through it and went, “Okay. I see the appeal there.” But if they’re struggling with the classic, can they do it in a graphic novel? We used to call those comic books. Now, they’re called graphic novels, right? [laughter] So if you’re going to strike something out, I’m not saying it’s not important. It was put there for a reason. So can you compromise and replace it with something that is going to engage your child? Because the reason we homeschool is to individualize for your child.
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:31.356
Right. And I didn’t have the opportunity to use BookShark’s curricula, but I used a methodology that parallels what BookShark does, where you outline for a parent, here’s what you need to accomplish in a day. And sometimes that strike it out for me was, I’m going to take it out of this period of time. For instance, I’m going to take it out of the month of December and January, and I’m going to move these lessons to February. And so strike it out doesn’t always mean cast it aside. It may just mean you have the authority to rearrange your schedule to make it work for you. And I think that that is huge. The last one is my favorite, of course, and that is stop and play a game. So you want to talk in a little bit of depth about how a parent can have the permission to stop?
Janna Koch: 00:33:31.258
I think permission is one of the biggest things that parents lack when homeschooling. So you don’t have a system of administrators and collaborators that you can go to in the morning in the break room while you get your cup of coffee and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about switching it up. I’m thinking about going to a different direction.” And they’re like, “Yes, that sounds like a great idea,” right? We don’t always have the luxury of that. So giving parents permission and giving yourself permission to know that you can stop and play a game. It sounds crazy, but it is so true. When the tears start for you or your student and you’re like, why did we do this, you’re really starting to question your life choices on a whole. I mean, from personal experience, this has happened. And also from personal experience, I did not do this enough. I don’t do this enough. But if we can just stop what’s happening and– and literally, I say, “Throw your hands up.” It’s like this weird practice.
Janna Koch: 00:34:33.108
Because if I don’t literally just drop what I’m doing and throw my hands up and stop, I’ll think like, “Oh, we should stop. I should stop this madness,” but I don’t. So the physical action of throwing my hands up and going– and then, my kids would know, “We’re going to play a game. Mom’s at her wit’s end. She’s going to lose it.” And so pull out whatever game is fun for you. It doesn’t even have to be “educational.” You’re still building collaboration with your children. You’re problem-solving. You’re creating a happy experience within your homeschool. Now, granted, there are so many good educational games – geography, history, math, economics. I mean, so many ideas that I could throw at you, but the most important is that you just take the time. And when you stop, again, it doesn’t have to be all day. It doesn’t have to be like, well, the rest of our day is wrecked. Stop. You could set a timer. We’re going to play Uno for 15 minutes. And whoever wins gets whatever, right? And then when the timer goes off, it’s an expectation, and everyone knows, okay, that was fun. Let’s try this again.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:38.354
Absolutely. And you know what? Your example of Uno. We had an Uno game that lasted at our house almost three weeks because I would say, “Okay, stop.” And we had the latitude to have a table where the Uno cards were. So I would say, “Let’s go play Uno.” And I’d set a timer for 15 minutes. This was back in the time when you had a physical thing that you had to turn and set a timer and then we would come back. And so that Uno game, we also did this with Monopoly. We had a Monopoly game that lasted almost a month. And we would go back to Monopoly, and it became an incentive. I would say, “All right, if you guys give me one hour of really hard work, we’re going to do these three things in this hour, and then we’ll go play Monopoly for 20 minutes.” Wonderful way to incentivize your kids to keep them on task. One of the parents said that they feel like their current curriculum is too easy. And I know I alluded to this a little bit earlier. He needs a challenge at home that we’re currently getting outside. And so I loved the way you answered this when we were talking about it. Do we always want our kids to be challenged?
Janna Koch: 00:36:53.322
I don’t know about you, but life is hard. Adult life. I remember my mom saying to me– I was 13, 14, 15, I wanted a job. I was like, “Mom, let me get a job.” And she was like, “Girl, you are going to be working your whole life. You do not need to push this.” And you know, I did, right? I definitely pushed it and I got a job. And now at 44, I’m like, “What was I thinking?” And so, because we know what is out there, we want to prepare our children for challenges. At the same time, their entire lifespan, they’re an adult way longer than they are a child. And if some things are easy for them to do in their homeschool, A, it can build confidence. “Look at me. Look how I breeze through this. It’s not a challenge.” That is going to carry them through the years when it starts to get more challenging. The other thing is, I think we, back to what you had said, try to prove ourselves to the outside world. And so we think, “Oh, do my kids need more of a challenge?” Maybe not academically, because we’re talking about the whole child. You had alluded to the idea of moving balls, right? So if they’re making an accomplishment here, maybe something takes a back seat. And I want to add to that, that all of these are tethered. So if you make an advancement in academics, be mindful that you need to pull that emotional part up too. You need to pull that social up too. So if something is easy right now, thank God, because something hard’s going to be coming along. So I mean, there is always ways to evaluate what you have chosen with your child. Especially parents who are new to this, it’s okay if you have an easy year. If you’ve been doing this for 15 years and you hit a lull and you’re like, “Man, this is easy,” just enjoy it because you’re not doing your child a disfavor in any way. They are still learning. And being more than just book smart is super important in our world today.
Gretchen Roe: 00:39:07.422
Absolutely. I think that’s a really good observation. I know that my eldest son finished fourth grade right about the time he turned seven and three quarters years old. He wasn’t eight. And then we had the necessity to put him back in school for nine weeks. Long story – I’ll save you all the gory details – but in putting him back in school, academically, here I was the anxiety-ridden homeschool mom, “Will he be able to compete on a level playing field?” And when they tested him, they said, “Well, he really should be in sixth grade, but he’s only just turned eight. So we’ll put him in fourth grade. And the interesting thing about that was intellectually, he was in the right place but socially and emotionally, he was not. So when we look at the academic achievements of our students want to encourage you to look at your whole child, as Jana has said. Make sure that the social growth and the emotional growth are equivalent to the intellectual growth, because I think that makes a really big difference. Jana, we had a question from a parent about how do you homeschool a large family. And I have some opinions, but I’ll take yours first. So what would you recommend to that?
Janna Koch: 00:40:25.777
This one, BookShark really enjoys answering, actually, because of the way our curriculum is set up. We have age ranges. And we really encourage families to homeschool together. It creates a cohesive learning environment. It creates family bonding. It creates collaboration. So what I did– and I had three, and that may not seem like a large family, but let me tell you, in my mind, it was a lot of kids, okay?
Gretchen Roe: 00:40:54.399
That’s a lot.
Janna Koch: 00:40:55.108
It was maybe emotionally more than anything, but it was a lot. So what I did, depending on the subject, is I brought my younger in on it, right? So when she was first grade and we brought her home to homeschool, she listened to the older girls. They are three years ahead of her in school. She listened to their history. Now, was it created for her age group? No. But at six, you’re just building some foundations to learn about these ancient civilizations or American history. You’re going to come back, you’re going to come back, you’re going to come back. So I do believe that parent sanity is a priority in homeschooling, and trying to do multiple levels with multiple kids, depending on the age, is unrealistic. You’re going to feel like you’re a failure, you’re going to fall behind, you’re going to put your hands up, and you’re either going to toss the curriculum or you’re going to put them back into school because it’s next to impossible. If you think about traditional schooling back, even just maybe 80 years ago, it was a one-room schoolhouse. They all schooled together. You can take any assignment and either level it up for an older child or make it more simple for a younger child. It isn’t that complicated. It’s just getting comfortable, thinking outside the box.
Gretchen Roe: 00:42:17.091
I think so. And that in that thinking outside the box, when you start evaluating, okay, where do I begin? I think it’s important to look at your eldest child first because with that student, you have the least amount of time left. So if you’re looking about where do you put your energy, I know particularly when you have a kindergartener or a first grader who wants to learn to read, oh man, that seems like it would be the highest priority. But I want you to also know that if you also have a middle schooler and you have a high schooler, your effort first needs to go to that high schooler because that’s the student with whom you have the least amount of time left. Julie’s asked us a great question here, Jana. It says, “What advice do you have for working parents who are trying to homeschool?” You and I were both that parent. My children are 16 and relatively independent, but still need me at times. And we are struggling to achieve while working, even from home. We’ve been homeschooling for many years, not working. So this is a new stage in our life. And man, Julie, let me encourage you that there are lots of moms out there and dads who are doing what you’re doing. So Jana, what are your thoughts about that?
Janna Koch: 00:43:35.921
I think that, first of all, good job. You’ve adapted to change, and that is not always easy. And your kids are seeing that, too. I mean, what a lesson. Just step outside of academics for a moment. But when your kids see that you can come against a challenge and still be okay and adapt to those things, it’s showing them that they don’t have to be afraid of change. And and I don’t know that is super important in my life. I am super comforted when I know I don’t have to be afraid of change. So that’s a big change when you are going from not working to even when you’re working in the home. Two things happen. Either you ignore your children the entire time that you’re working, which I am incredibly guilty of, or you’re so disconnected because you’re in and out one foot in homeschooling, one foot answering the emails or the phone calls. I mean, it can kind of drive you baddy. So I would just say protect your time in both areas, but it’s that outside-of-the-box thinking. I’m going to be honest, I need to score some work from probably about four weeks ago for my daughter right now. And we’re using BooksShark’s virtual, so it shouldn’t be that hard for me. She’s like, dinnertime, “Hey, mom, are you ever going to score? Are you ever going to score my stuff?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, one more. I’ll get to it. I’ll get to it.” Unless I schedule it and put it in my calendar a block at a time, I’m going to actually do this. It doesn’t happen. So whether that’s 8 o’clock at night, I know that you’re tired. I know that you’ve done everything else and it’s one more thing, but it is an important thing and you will feel so much better if you just sit down and do it. Again, some is better than none. If it’s 15 minutes at lunchtime, then that’s when you check in with them. But I find if I put it in my calendar and it reminds me, it’s a push to like, “Stop what I’m doing, go check on her, check in with her, find out if she needs anything from me.” I’m not going to say it’s easy because it’s not, but it is doable.
Gretchen Roe: 00:45:42.317
For the 21 years that I homeschooled 15 of those years I owned my own business. So I had to fit my homeschool day around my business needs. And one of the things that I was very deliberative about was I had time that I was available to my kids and then I had time that I was no longer available. So if you wanted to fool around and practice Stephen Hawking’s theory of time expansion and make a 30-minute task last an hour and a half you’re going to be on your own come 3 o’clock when I needed to clock in for work. And so those kinds of things I think we have to be able to set boundaries. But by the same token, I’m about to say something that might come after you, Jenna. So I’ll apologize in advance. It’s discouraging to a student when they’re working on a task, particularly like math. And, “Am I doing this right? I don’t know if I’m doing this right.” And we as parents don’t circle back around to make sure, “Yeah, you’re doing it right.” There’s nothing more discouraging than to work a whole page of math problems and then have, “Mom take a look at it,” three days from now, and you’ve done it wrong. So one of the things that I recommend is office hours. And in order to make that happen it means for my kids it was a half an hour. And my office hours were while we were having lunch. So while we were all sitting down and having lunch together, I would take a look at what had been done mathematically that day so that we could trim the sails, write the ship, reorient, “Okay, this is something you don’t understand. We’re going to go back and visit this again.” Math-U-See lends itself nicely to that because it is a mastery-based program and it does give you the opportunity. And I’ll be really honest, I learned the really hard way that I had to check my kid’s math every day. Because my eldest daughter was slick as a greased BB, the first year that we homeschooled I was so proud of her. It took me almost half a semester to catch on to the fact that in Saxon Math, she was only getting the problems wrong that were the odd problems. I think Saxon gives you the answers for the even problems, but doesn’t give you the answers for the odd problems. And I got to tell you, I was slow on the uptake. I didn’t catch on to the fact that she was making sure she was doing it right by going to the back of the book before she finished the front of the book. I really felt guilty about that. And to be wholly honest, I was really angry at her. So as a parent, I want to encourage you to think proactively of how can I structure my time? My office hours were every day at lunch. They would eat and I would look at materials and see who had accomplished what. And making that a deliberative time of day made it much easier for me to accomplish. As my kids got older, I would put a different child in charge of lunch every day. So I had one child who was making lunch. So my time was not distracted. And then the other kids could continue with schoolwork and I could continue to supervise. And I think that that makes a tremendous amount of difference. Janna, we’re coming up on the top of the hour. I can’t believe how fast this hour has gone. But we had talked about understanding how to move through concepts and being okay with not doing every page. And I think you gave a great example in the very beginning about being the kid who brought school home for the summer. Sometimes I think there’s the opportunity to take some of those pages and make them enrichments for the summer season. And BooksShark has a rich curricula that just gives you so many directions to go in. I think maybe it might be worth your while to say, “You know what? I love this book. This book is going to be awesome. We’re going to read it on summer vacation.” And that way, it gives you the opportunity to feel like you’re becoming more accomplished. We had a parent who said her kids were stuck in Algebra One and they weren’t progressing at all. I don’t know how BooksShark does it, but at Demme Learning, if we’ve got a parent who says that there’s tears at the table – and that could be your tears or your child’s tears – we always recommend you give us a call. If you’re using any one of the Demme learning products, we want to be able to help you right the ship and trim the sales. And yes, some is better than none. But if none means that you have a dynamic where kids aren’t feeling successful, then we recommend that you pick up the phone and give us the call. And you guys do something like that at BooksShark too, don’t you? Can you elaborate a little bit on what that’s like for a BooksShark family?
Janna Koch: 00:50:53.665
I can. And I think it’s important for people to feel supported throughout their entire journey of homeschool. So we’re not the type of company that says, “Hey, invest all of this money. We know our curriculum’s great and we really hope it works out for your family.” We do have advisors that are available Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 1:00 Mountain Standard Time. Might even be to 4:00 on certain days. But those advisors are homeschool parents who use the curriculum. They have multiple children. We have one advisor who has six children. And so she totally understands the dynamic of homeschooling to multiple ages. So when you call in and you kind of tell our customer service what you’re looking for, we pair you with the advisor that we know is going to be right for you. Our other advisor has two, and she’s already working through high school and how she has used everything that BookShark has available through high school. And some people go, “Well, you guys don’t even go all the way through high school.” But she’s a very creative parent and she will tell you exactly how to get it done. I’ve done three. I’m always available. I do actually take advising hours so that I can stay connected with the customers because building community is so important to me. We also have a boot camp available on Facebook. If you’re a Facebook user, we build a community where you can come in and ask questions and get great ideas. Another shameless plug is we have a podcast and it is hosted by myself. It’s sponsored by BookShark. And it is not BookShark-specific. It is called Homeschool Your Way. We bring on tons of product experts from different companies. We talk to parents who are new, parents who have been at this for a long time. Our newest release, we had a psychologist, a professional counselor come in who happens to be my best friend. And we talked about holiday blues and how that affects your homeschool. I mean, we just want to keep it very real. If you’ve ever listened to anything that I’ve done, I try to be very honest. I am not going to sugarcoat anything for you. Back to Julie, when she said her 16-year-old, like I let my 13-year-old sleep in as long as she wants, because that gives me time to get my work done while she’s sleeping and I don’t have to feel guilty. I mean, there’s so many things that tips and tricks and different ways to do stuff, but we want to make sure that we’re not just giving you the academic part of it, but we’re giving you the support that you need as parents too.
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:13.807
Absolutely. These webinars grew out of the isolation we all felt in 2020, and parents found merit in what we were doing. So we continued to do it. And it made an enormous amount of difference for an enormous number of parents. And we keep trying to widen our circle of influence because we know the joy of sticking with it. And so if we feel at Demme Learning, if we can offer you the opportunity to hang in there one more semester or one more year, that’s a fantastic opportunity. So we want to be able to provide you support in that process. I can say this. These webinars are done weekly. And we strive every week to give parents content that is relevant and helpful. And in that, we also post every webinar in our blog, the succeeding week. So this will be up in our blog next week. And we encourage our parents, if there’s somebody you know that needs the support of this conversation that Janet and I have had, we encourage you to go on the blog, copy the URL, and send it to them, because it makes a tremendous amount of difference for parents. Jana, I can’t believe we’ve got five minutes left. So what would be your closing words of wisdom to parents? Coming into the holidays, coming in hot, man, because I can’t believe Christmas is less than four weeks away. In fact, last week, I had a swimmer. I coached swimming. And I had a swimmer on my swim team who was like, “Remiss Gretchen, I told you I wouldn’t be at the first meet in December.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know. Are you going to be there Friday?” And she’s like, “That is the first week of December, Miss Gretchen.” I’m so firmly rooted in denial. I didn’t want to even admit it was December. So coming in hot, what is your best advice?
Janna Koch: 00:55:12.760
We’re coming in hot. We’re probably feeling weary. We’re stressed because of things going on in our country, around the world economically. So my encouragement to parents is to take a deep breath and understand that you’re going to be okay. Your kids are doing great. As a homeschool child who graduated and now has a master’s degree and works, it is accomplishable. You can do it. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly. And as we are rolling into the end of the year and you start to think about everything that you did, resist the temptation to think about the things that you didn’t do. And here’s why. It’s just going to taint how you feel about this entire experience. When something’s negative, kind of like your mom used to tell you the bad apple spoils the barrel, that thought of what you didn’t do or didn’t do well is going to taint the entire barrel of all the things that you did do well. So I would just encourage you that if you’re feeling discouraged, please just take the time to jot down a few things that you did accomplish that you connected with your child on. It doesn’t even have to necessarily be academic, but it’s something that you feel really good about. Maybe encourage your children to add to the list with you, like, “Hey, what did we do in this last semester that you really liked?” And it may be something that you can replicate as you come out of the holidays, start off the new year with these ideas of things that worked well for you guys, but resist the temptation to think about where you have failed because we need to embrace the idea that failure is part of life and it is just the first attempt in learning.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:00.268
Absolutely. I think that if we remember that fail is the first attempt in learning, F-A-I-L, it changes our perspective hugely. I always make this recommendation to parents. Take a cheap $2 notebook and write down something good that happens every day. Your kids will say something hysterically funny and you roll on the floor and you think, “Oh, I’m never going to forget this.” I promise you, you’re going to forget it. So if you write it down, even in a small place, this is the– one reason that I stay engaged on Facebook is because Facebook will remind me of funny things that happened 10 years ago, and it makes a tremendous amount of difference for us to be able to do that for our children and for our hearts as well, because our hearts need to be encouraged.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:55.207
And I remember vividly going into one Christmas and it was crazy busy. You just can’t imagine how crazy busy it was. And I would sit down at the dinner table and I would say, “All right, everybody tell me something good that happened today,” and I still remember one of my daughters saying, “Well, nobody cried today.” That was something good that happened. And the truth of the matter is we as human beings are acculturated to remember the stuff that’s tough. We need to train our kids to remember the stuff that’s joyful, and so Janna and I both hope that as you go into this holiday season and you go into the 1st of January that you remember what is joyful, you remember and reconnect with why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re swimming against the tide, and what you’re doing has worth and it matters. Janna, last words?
Janna Koch: 00:58:55.447
I just say, you know what? Find joy every day. Make it your challenge, either the end of the year or the beginning of the year, but find joy in what you’re doing, and that’s what’s going to keep you going through the rest of the year.
Gretchen Roe: 00:59:10.072
Absolutely. I encourage all of you to make sure that as– your New Year’s resolution can be very simple. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They usually last about four days for me. But if your New Year’s resolution is simply find joy, it’ll be a worthwhile adventure.
Gretchen Roe: 00:59:28.986
This is Gretchen Roe for The Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can access the show notes and watch a recording at demmelearning.com/show or go on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this, especially if you really enjoyed it.
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Your homeschool year can be full of joy—and stress. We want to encourage you that “some is better than none.” Keep in mind the five suggestions that Janna offers:
1) Stretch It Out
Don’t worry about artificial deadlines. The curriculum suggests 24 weeks to complete? The same results can be achieved in 30 weeks with less stress.
2) Speed It Up
If your child is clearly grasping the content, there is no requirement to do all of the practice. Select what demonstrates their understanding and move forward. Remember, you have the latitude to do that.
3) Sample the Example
Sometimes learning from the examples is the best you can do. Recognize that if time is limited, this is a great opportunity to condense learning. Revisiting material in more depth later is always an option.
4) Strike It Out
If something is not working for your family, cross it off the list. Remember, you are in charge. Maybe what is not working now can be a summer enrichment later.
When it is not working, stop and play a game. Even 15 minutes of Uno can provide a brain break.
Two more thoughts for you to consider:
- As you plan your relaunch, start with the oldest child. You have the least amount of time left with them.
- Remember, there is no failure. FAIL means “first attempt in learning.”
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