Last week, in Affordable Homeschooling, we touched on how to save money when it comes to buying homeschool curriculum, with the major piece of advice being, go easy on it. Many homeschooling parents, especially when they start out, rely heavily upon workbooks and entire curriculum packets, with the idea that they won’t “miss” anything this way, because it’s all neatly and conveniently packaged into a slip-cased box. Falling into this way of thinking is is tempting. One of the commonalities in the homeschooling community is that many parent teachers operate under a sense of insecurity. Even though these parents have made a conscious decision to wrest their children’s education from the “experts,” they always feel vulnerable, somehow, when those experts label them as untrained amateurs, ignorant housewives, unprofessional wannabees. I mean, where’s the degree? And so, they turn to another “expert” — a publishing house or curriculum package that promises to do the work for them, and all they have to do is provide the desks where their children can sit while filling out workbook pages.
This is reality: workbooks have a tendency to be boring, and while young children — especially girls (and I know that sounds sexist), enjoy the process of filling in lines and answering questions and drawing pictures where they are told to — eventually the limitations of the product show up. The child scrawls his way through the day’s lessons. He procrastinates. She takes an hour to do a task that should take 10 minutes. When this behavior shows up, many parents ascribe it to rebelliousness on the part of the child, disobedience, an inability to stay true to the task — but it could just be boredom. Very few parents actually talk to their children about the problem, asking questions and listening to the answers to find out why it’s happening But this is where your homeschooling book purchases can actually start: talk to your children. Discuss with them the various ways that you can approach specific academic subjects, and listen to their feedback on the materials you are using. They may say things like this:
- There are too many math problems. They repeat the same things over and over again, and I get bored.
- I am not interested in any of the questions that the book is asking me to write about: I don’t want to write about my best friend, last year’s birthday party, or my favorite animal. I would really like to write a story about magical Jack o’Lanterns that fly.
- I want to learn about Egypt, not the Founding Fathers. Can we do Egypt this year and American History next year?
You get the idea. The older your child gets, the more of an opinion he will have about the educational resources you are using. If you have multiple children, be aware that something that works well for one child will not necessarily interest the next child. We have seen this repeatedly in families where the first child delightedly fills out workbook page after workbook page (often because she has figured out that, if she does it fast enough, she will be done for the day), and the second child balks, doodles, gets up to use the bathroom, and always offers to let the cat out. This second child is frequently labeled a troublemaker, maybe with Attention Deficit Disorder, in comparison with her perfect older sibling. She is disobedient, lazy, and unfocused. But it could be something else: she could be highly intelligent, unchallenged by the daily work set before her. Believe me, she will have plenty of time as an adult to learn about dealing with boredom and useless tasks, but if you wisely use this time in her childhood to encourage her to creatively and imaginatively learn, maybe she won’t be stuck in a boring, mindless job. And if she is, she’ll know how to get through the day. Workbooks can work — on a limited basis, depending upon the child, and in accordance with the child’s age — but for the longterm, think about how you learn a new task or subject. If you wanted to learn about King Henry VIII and his eight wives, would your first purchase be a workbook?
If you have an older child, or want to teach writing to a younger child, I highly recommend my book, Grammar Despair, which costs $8.99 as a paperback, $5.99 digital at Amazon.com, and you won’t use it up by writing in it. A happy purchaser says: “I used to be afraid to write anything that would be read by others. I think it was all the red marks on my papers in high school and college. This book helped me understand what I did and didn’t know. Grammar Despair is definitely worth the time and money.” Learning how to write is not a matter of grammar sheets and answering questions in a workbook: it is communicating with words on paper or on the screen. Since most people speak decently and have an intuitive awareness of good writing from their reading, they are able to write, but frequently don’t because they are perplexed by basic, yet common issues: What is the difference between There/They’re/Their? Why does my essay sound choppy and stilted? And the biggie, When do I use him and me, and when do I use he and I? Get a handle on this stuff, and you, and your kids, can progress rapidly in the skill of writing well.