Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Ultimate Homeschool Environment

My Google alert today brought up a post from IEducation called, "6 Effective Ways to Create the Ultimate Homeschooling Environment." It's a pretty short post, and it has some decent ideas, but the more I read, the more frustrated I felt with it. So I decided to add a comment, and write my own post on the topic.

The post begins with this:

Many people are now into homeschooling these days for whatever reason. It is important to design a classroom environment so the kids can feel as though they are at a school.

I should have known right away it wasn't going to be very helpful to me. You see, I don't believe homeschooling ought to be duplicating school at home. Homeschooling has many advantages and uniquenesses, and it seems to me we ought to take advantage of those. I've been homeschooling for 8 years now, and I'm pretty happy with our "homeschooling environment."

The author goes on to list the following "tips to create a perfect study environment."

1. Dedicated space.

Keep distractions away from the study area. No TV, no XBox, PS3, or any other gaming device. This is a time to learn and study. Keep it clean so the children will be ready to begin as they enter their home classroom.

Dedicated space? Not at our house! We use the whole house, the back yard, the neighborhood. As far as I'm concerned, homeschooling is LIFE! And learning is a part of life. Our favorite place to "do school" is the living room couch, but my kids use their beds, the floor in the family room, the outside swing - anywhere they want as long as they get their work done right. That said, we don't put on the TV during the school day, unless it's at lunchtime (and then it has to be educational videos, readily available from the library if you don't have them at home). My kids have learned to ask at lunchtime (even during the summer!), "Do we have any 'school' videos?"

2. Equipment Purchases.

Large white board. The teaching parent will use this frequently to show examples of
discussed topics.
One small student desk per child, or use a table for multiple students
Computer, an absolute must. A PC or Mac is needed to keep your child(ren) abreast of the latest technologies. Many educational programs are available online. Have your child(ren) involved in the selection of furniture and or equipment. They will take pride in their decisions and respect the condition of the particular items.

The only part of this I use is the computer and educational programs. I do have a couple of small white boards, which the kids mostly use; but if I need to diagram or illustrate something that's not already shown in a book we're using, a piece of paper is usually easier to use than a white board, and it's more readily available (we don't have to go to our "schoolroom" to use it). My kids do each have a desk, but they use their desks only occasionally.

3. Organization.

The parent and child(ren) need to stay organized. Keep record of books distributed, homework assignments, completed work, progress, and grades.

Here I agree absolutely! We don't do homework assignments, and we don't have a lot of grades, so I don't keep track of those. But without organization, your homeschool will fall apart - and your kids won't be able to find those wonderful educational supplies you've spent so much time and money on. Invest in some tools to help you stay organized, because you're going to have a lot more "supplies" than a household that sends their kids to school. A cabinet or drawer unit for holding art supplies is the most significant thing I can think of, along with plenty of bookshelves. You will also have educational games and toys you'll accumulate over time, and you'll need a way to store those. But don't buy them all at once - get what you need for this year, and keep an eye out for sales. As your supply of resources builds, you'll want to invest in more.

Get yourself a good planner, too. Keep track of the records your state requires, either in files or in your binder or planner. And definitely write down books you loan out, and when and to whom they were loaned - you may think you'll remember, but you won't! :) Have a special basket, box, or shelf for library books, too, so they don't get mixed in with the rest of your books - and let your kids know if they don't return books to the basket, they are responsible for any fines!

4. Motivation.

Encourage your child(ren) with their studies and reward them for great

I think the best way to motivate your kids is to show them you are learning right along with them. Use real books, preferably written by one author, rather than textbooks and workbooks, whenever you can. Textbooks are written by committee, and are therefore usually dull. But when you read a real book - whether historical fiction, biography, science, or literature - there is always something new to learn. Field trips, experiments, books on tape - all of these can teach us as homeschooling parents as well. And as the kids watch us being excited about learning, they get excited and motivated as well. At the same time, you can never go wrong with encouragement, or with reward big accomplishments (a tough math page ought to deserve at least a hug or a sticker or something!). :)

5. Syllabus.

Go beyond what is required by your local government or Board of Education. Take trips to your local library and let the
child(ren) select or suggest a few categories from which they have to choose.

The syllabus sounds like a lot of extra work to me, unless your state requires it. I do plan my kids' work, but I think a formal syllabus is a waste of time and prevents spontaneity. Instead, I spend that time and energy trying to find interesting, motivating materials and resources to help my kids learn. As for library books, suggesting categories is not a bad idea; I don't seem to need it, since my kids love to read. I'm also the primary person in my family looking for library books; I borrow dozens to read aloud or recommend to the kids when we are at home. (Usually I try to request them online before we go, so I can just pick mine up at the desk when we get there.)

6. Field trips.

These are always fun adventures for the child(ren). Depending on your location, select venues where you can apply their studies with the community or regional activities.

Absolutely! I try to plan a number of relevant field trips every year. And even a trip to the grocery store can be a field trip, especially with little people (try a new fruit or vegetable each time, or point out different shapes, or have them help you figure out which size container is least expensive; there are a thousand things they can learn there - and it keeps them busy while you're shopping!).

I think if you want to have the "ultimate homeschooling environment," though, you will want to make your whole home a learning center. Obviously it's not financially possible for most of us to invest a large sum in "extras" all at once, but over the years, you will want to accumulate all kinds of things that will make your home a great place to learn. Here are some ideas:

Art supplies - as many different things as you can think of. Don't invest a lot if your kids are little - buy discounted things at the beginning of the school year when you can. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolors, modeling clay (purchased or homemade), construction paper, cardstock, poster board, finger paints, stencils, foam shapes, glue sticks, white glue - these are all good for little guys. As they get older, you may want to invest in oil pastels, better quality colored pencils, charcoal, drawing pencils, watercolor pencils, acrylic paints, Plaster of Paris, and different kinds of paper for the different media.

Tapes or CD's - There are so many of these! Books on tape are fun; so are radio programs such as Adventures in Odyssey and Focus On the Family Radio Theater. And then there are the educational ones - geography songs, multiplication songs, Spanish songs, dramatized versions of American history, and more. These days many of these are on CD. Also be sure to invest in a good tape or CD player; if your kids are like mine, it will get hard use and you'll likely have to replace it fairly often.

Educational games and toys - I prefer the non-computerized educational games. We enjoy the Cranium series of games, but many of the Milton Bradley and Hasbro games also have educational value in the early years. Discovery Toys has some really excellent games, too, even for older kids. Puzzles of all sizes and types are fun and educational; so are building toys such as Legos, Magnetix, and K'Nex. Speed Stacks cups are also fun and increase eye-hand coordination.

Sports equipment - To encourage physical fitness skills, you'll want a basketball (or several), a soccer ball, some cones to mark out a playing field or at least a goal, a football, a playground ball (or several), a bat and baseball, and a bike. You may also want a badminton set, a volleyball set, a croquet set, golf clubs, tennis rackets and balls, and more.

Educational "tools" - My kids think these are toys, because we don't use them often for our formal "school" time. We like pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, geoboards (these use rubber bands on pegs to make shapes), counting bears, 3-D shapes, and attribute blocks.

Books - Books, books, books! Biographies, historical fiction, Usborne books, science experiment books, classic literature, Caldecott and Newbery Award books, picture books - you name it! Surround your kids with books, and read aloud every day so they begin to grasp what's in those books, and you are likely to end up with committed readers and learners for life.

One caution - DON'T try to do all of this at once! I've been homeschooling for 8 years, and an at-home mom for 12, and we have built up our supply gradually. I remember as a new homeschooler reading about this kind of environment and feeling totally inadequate because I just didn't have the budget for it. But the key is to do it slowly, but consistently. Choose a few things that fit your child at his or her age, and get those "for school." Then keep your eyes and ears open. Attend used book sales; watch for books, toys, and games at garage sales; pay attention to sale flyers. Get these kinds of things for birthdays and Christmas (and ask friends and relatives to do the same) rather than battery-operated dolls and the latest fads. Choose quality over quantity whenever you can.

Keep in mind that what your family needs is to some extent going to depend on who your family is. Your learning environment will be different from mine, or most likely from everyone else you know. The key, to my way of thinking, is to begin with the philosophy that you want your kids to grow up believing that learning is a way of life, and that it's fun - and to keep that philosophy in mind whenever you are shopping. If you choose carefully and stay consistent, eventually your home will be "the ultimate learning environment" for your kids.


Elmers Brother said...

I appreciated what you had to say at Nikki's.

Melinda S. said...

I agree with everything. I must admit I wonder a bit who this "homeschooler" is. It sounds more like a school person trying to tell homeschoolers what to do than like any "real life" homeschooler I know.

Marcy Muser said...

Elmers brother,

Thank you so much - I'm glad you stopped by. :)

Marcy Muser said...


I agree - I had a similar thought myself. It sounds like advice teachers and school personnel give parents, not like advice from an experienced homeschooler to an inexperienced one.

Dana said...

More homeschooling advice from someone who has never homeschooled and doesn't really know anything about it.

At least that was my take.