The world of online learning is burgeoning, the options varied and choices better than ever before. And that was before Covid 19 hit the streets and forced public schoolers home! So many choices, so many opportunities. How does one choose? Not all online education is created equal. Here’s a beginner’s guide to sorting options!
What to Look For in Online Classes
Check the “About” page of whatever program you are considering. Many on-line programs are now run by savvy business owners, looking to make money from the billion-dollar alternative education market.
That’s just good business but it might not be a good fit for your student or your family.
Things to Think About:
Do their values align with yours?
Do they contribute to causes that concern you?
Are they privately or government-funded?
If they are privately funded, what is the underlying value system of the people or organization behind the school? I had to dig pretty far into a very popular on-line company to find that they were privately funded by alt-right Conservatives.
Consider the Company’s Underlying Educational Philosophy
Remember, everybody who is providing you an education is also providing an ideology and a world view. There are no exceptions to that. So, when you consider on-line education, think about:
Who gets your money?
Who they are funding?
What ideology or value system is being conveyed
Don’t forget that companies that market to homeschoolers might not understand and appreciate the flexibility of the homeschooler.
The Evolving Homeschool
Homeschooling IS changing. This month proved that in a profound way. Both parents still work, but they need oversight. And that is fine. But homeschoolers have far more flexibility and can adapt and change things up as needed for fun, greater learning, and unusual opportunities. Make sure that whatever company you are working with understands and cares about the adaptability and flexibility that homeschooling can afford.
Because you have options. Credits don’t have to come out of a book. Each platform and program is different and can utilize a plethora of various on-line tools.
Questions to ask about any program you are considering:
Can students see/hear and interact with other students?
Can the student engage with the teacher personally, or only through “chat”?
Will the teacher respond to “chat” during class time?
Does the program have access to a virtual white-board, chat-room, break-out rooms, audio or video recording?
Can you get a copy of the video recording if you miss a class or is it posted where you can access it?
Is there screen sharing and will the teacher utilize multi-media in their classroom?
How will assessments be delivered?
Will grading be done by the teacher?
How frequently are grades given?
Is the teacher accessible by phone or email during the duration of the class time?
And while we’re talking about FAQ’s, this might be the biggest one of all:
The Accreditation Question
What is accreditation?
Accreditation refers to an accrediting board that sets the standard for an organization and ensures that they meet those standards. Accrediting boards vary widely, so don’t assume that because a school is accredited that it necessarily means that there are clear quality controls in places. Accreditation is a spendy endeavor, and we in the homeschooling world know the value is questionable.
Furthermore, accreditation might demand that the school utilize licensed teachers, many of whom have fled the public-school system. Accreditation and teachers’ licenses are no guarantee of quality education. They are a guarantee of conformity – for better or worse.
Questions to ask:
What accreditation do you carry?
What does the accrediting agency oversee?
How does accreditation affect the cost of classes?
What percentage of your teachers are from the public-school system?
Is being a licensed teacher a requirement for teaching with this company?
Who has experience with homeschooling in your company?
Will you be considered a homeschooler by the state in which you reside?
Will you have to register as a homeschooler in your state, regardless of their accreditation?
When You Need Accreditation
If you live in one of the few states that will not accept homeschooling high school credits and you plan to put your student back into public school at some point during their high school career.
Why You Don’t Need Accreditation
It’s expensive and that expense will be passed down to the consumer. Most colleges, universities, tech schools, internships, and jobs don’t care. They’ll be looking at test scores, applications, essays, and references. Accreditation is often simply a marketing tool.
When Accreditation IS Important
After high school and when looking at colleges or universities, accreditation becomes important. You will want to go to an accredited school if case you ever transfer or want to go to graduate school.
Other Things to Consider
Does my state recognize homeschooling high school credits?
In what instance would I need (i.e. need to pay for) an accredited program?
These programs set themselves up and will let you know the standards that they utilize in order to meet the demands of the customer. Marketplace demands offer correction as needed.
What types of Online Programs Are Out There?
Live Online Classes
This refers to real-time interaction between teachers and students. This can happen on a variety of platforms such as Skype, Go-to Meeting, or our personal favorite, Zoom. Schools vary widely on how they utilize this format. Some schools allow the students to see the teacher and interact with them only via chat. Others allow students to see and interact with both the teachers and students- it is a virtual classroom. Teachers are often highly qualified to teach their subject matter and engage with the kids. Students, also, can see and interact with their classmates, and often online friendships are formed.
Questions to Ask About Live Online Classes
Does this school allow my students to interact in real-time, during class with the teacher and other students or not?
When can my student engage and interact with the teacher and other students?
Will the teacher simply be lecturing the student for the entirety of each class or is there an interactive component to the virtual classroom?
What benefits are there to this type of learning over and above a self-paced, pre-recorded program?
What About Self-paced Classes?
Self-paced classes refer to those classes where students log in to a platform and watch or listen to pre-recorded classes, either video or audio.
Students work through the information at their own pace, doing the assignments when they are ready to do them and reviving a grade based on homework assignments, quizzes, tests and projects which are graded via computer or docent.
Students do not engage with a teacher, but simply the material.
Questions to consider about Self-paced Classes Online:
Is my student self-motivated enough to complete these courses?
Is the quality of the program worth our time and money?
Is there an option that is not passive learning?
Is there a less expensive alternative?
What About Blended Online Programs?
Blended programs involve using a combination of self-paced information and live online interaction. Often, the students go through material at their own pace and then meet with a live tutor or have grading done by a live tutor on a regular basis.
Questions to consider about the blended program:
When and how does live, interactive learning take place?
How are the assessments done?
What qualifications does the teacher bring to the class?
Does my student have the self-motivation to complete the course?
Types of Online Schools
One-time Classes or Workshops
These classes are offered one at a time, by an individual or group of people who have gathered together to offer their expertise. Often you’ll see homeschool parents whose kids have graduated developing and offering classes in an area that they are passionate about.
This is a company that allows teachers to offer classes. There is no vetting of teachers’ qualifications or world view, though teachers must often teach from a secular, “objective” point of view, especially if the program takes government funding, including vouchers. Teachers offer classes they want to teach, and set their own terms including pricing, length of course, etc. and then pay the overseeing company a percentage of what they make on the class. Teachers teach, the company takes care of logistics and may provide a background check. Prices and quality of teaching can fluctuate wildly.
Questions to ask about Marketplace Courses:
Who is funding the company?
Do I want to fund this organization?
How will I determine the quality of the classes?
How will I determine credit or grades for the work my kids have done?
Curriculum Suppliers Now Offering Online Classes
Many successful homeschooling curriculum companies have taken their curriculum to online classes, such as IEW, Memoria Press and The Well-Trained Mind. These companies have branded themselves and are furthering their brand through courses, with vetted teachers, set meeting times and grades. Classes meet 1-4 times a week live on-line with homework assigned and graded. The cost can be prohibitive and classes may fill quickly though.
Full-service homeschool programs offer live online and self-paced classes, testing, advising and more. A Full-Service program offers the flexibility that homeschoolers need, classes that suit your needs and a fundamental understanding and respect for the homeschooling lifestyle while helping you navigate the way from K-12th grade. They will help you successfully launch your students into higher education or the working world. These companies have often been founded by home educators who started umbrella schools in their local area and then went online to provide more robust services to families in their region and beyond!
Here are some types of full-service programs to consider:
This is a group of dedicated teachers or homeschoolers who come together to provide classes, usually pulled together by a long-time homeschooler who loves to teach and has some talented friends.
A Membership Site
This type of program is usually self-paced. Families pay a monthly fee and have access to whatever classes and services are offered. Fees may vary for the same site, depending on services offered.
What to Think About When Planning to Use Online Classes
There are a lot of great options out there and they offer many benefits to your child. Educators agree that these are some other educational components you need to think about when you are planning to use online classes in your homeschool. You should think through all these aspects of an online school or class if you think it is something that will benefit your family.
Dynamic learning – requires the student to actively participate in the course material, responding to the teacher’s questions, prompts, possibly using break-out rooms and doing group activities. Assessment tools can include quizzes, tests, as well as projects, presentations, essays or dramatic performances.
Passive learning – allows the student to sit while they are being lectured to or show a presentation of some sort. Assessments are usually done via quizzes and tests.
Asynchronous learning – communication is not in real-time and the teaching/ learning can take place at different times and different places. Because the learner views information and responses at different times and from different places, there is much flexibility. The teacher does not have to be “live,” and content can be delivered via written, audio or video recordings.
Synchronous learning – communication is in real-time so teachers and learners meet at the same time although they are in different places. Learners view content at the same time so responses can be immediate. Because of the set meeting time, there is less flexibility than with asynchronous learning. The teacher is “live” via whatever platform is utilized for transmission.
The Learning Management System/ Course Management System – (or LMS/ CMS) allows on-line schools and teachers to deliver course materials, correspondence, lessons, assessments, and grading and other features electronically.
Why Choose Online Classes?
With all the amazing resources out there why choose an online class or academy? Well there are many reasons your family may want to adopt this type of educational resource as part of your homeschool. Here are just a few we thought of:
World-class teachers are just a “click” away
Friendships and relationships form with students and teachers from around the world
Colleges and universities are making use of online education and LMS/CMS- give your student a jump-start on understanding how an online system works
The quality of teachers you might not find locally
Exceptional and unique classes that might not be found in your community
A wonderful supplement to a traditional day school or homeschool
To build independence and pride in one’s academic achievements
We hope this article is helpful to you if you are thinking about investing in online classes. If you have not considered it as a benefit to your homeschoolers we hope you will see now how adding an online class component to your homeschool can contribute to a well-rounded home education.
This blog is part of True North Homeschool Academy and we blog here because we love homeschooling and believe in education.
Each semester we are excited to provide live online and self-paced classes, delivered by exceptional teachers who love homeschooling- and love their subject matter. We are teaching from a Judeo-Christian point of view with a love for the flexibility and freedom homeschooling brings to the table. Yet we provide grading and assessments, to ensure that your student is learning, growing and excelling in each class. Students see, hear and interact with their teachers and fellow students from around the world.
We value a rich education and you will see from our course selections that we firmly believe it should be vibrant, creative and will allow your children to stretch and grow. Students develop real-world relationships and real-life skills.
Coping during a crisis takes thought and intention, which might be in short supply when a crisis hits. Ten years ago, we had one of those years. You know the type; the tough, painful type. Maybe you can relate. One Thursday morning, as we were all getting ready to leave for work and co-op, we discovered that our house was on fire to the point of being totaled by the insurance company, although it did not burn down. A day later, our college-aged daughter, several states away, landed in the ER. Four days later, my 47-year-old sister died. My husband contracted bronchitis and then pneumonia, and then back again. We threw away around 90% of our possessions, but we had to inventory it all first for insurance purposes, an exhausting and laborious process. We went from an extended hotel stay to a rental to an unfinished house during the worst flooding in our area in a century and had to walk through 4″ of freezing cold water to our only working shower for the first month after we moved back into our house. My Dad died a few months later.
Yeah. It was one of those years. It was stressful. We learned a lot. Including, set up and clean up are at least half of every project, it’s o.k. to rest and take breaks as needed, huge jobs don’t get done in one sitting, laughing and crying are good for the soul and sleep is cheap medicine. We had to let go of things we treasured. We had to embrace the new – even when it felt scary and uncertain.
Maybe you are needing some help coping during a crisis, even when we aren’t exactly sure what the emergency is or when it will hit.
Here’s a shortlist of helps as we all get through one of “those years.”
Stick with your routine: When in crisis, do the familiar habits, as much as possible. This will lend a sense of normalcy and familiarity in otherwise unusual circumstances. This is especially important for younger children who rely on the familiar to tell them that the world is safe and all is well. My kids listened to the Story of the World CD’s for hours after our fire- to the point my son memorized portions of it. Jim Weiss’s voice was familiar and kind in a year of loss and upheaval.
Create a new routine: when and if the old one is disrupted, create a morning time with Mom, Dad, and whoever else is home where you share a cup of coffee and cocoa, and chat. Create rhythms to your new normal- read for an hour after breakfast, walk the dog after you read, make lunch, do laundry, etc. When we were living in the hotel, after the fire, we spent hours, literally hours, at the hotel pool doing what I called “Pool school.” It was fun, easy, and relaxing.
Rest & laugh: stress is exhausting. Give yourself permission to take a nap or take a break. Do something relaxing, like watching a movie, going on a walk, taking a warm shower. Something to get your mind off of the current situation and settled. Lower your cortisol levels and breath deeply. Did you know that 15 minutes of laughing is equivalent to a 2-hour nap, releases endorphins into your system, lowers your cortisol levels and gives everyone around you permission to relax? Not sure what to laugh at? Dick VanDyke’s re-runs are a great place to start.
Realize that you really don’t have that much control over things in life anyway: your paygrade, no matter what your position, is not that high. So, take a breath and realize that God is in control, and He is a good God who loves His people well. You don’t have that much power, but you can know the One who does. And that is great comfort and great joy, regardless of whatever upheaval or frightening circumstances we find ourselves in.
Be thankful: no matter what the stress, there is so much to be grateful for. The sun comes up every morning. Spring is coming. We live in a time with hand-soap, modern medicine, and paved roads.
And for those of us homeschooling, life continues, in many ways, as usual. My Orienteering class and I had a great live on-line meeting today, with students from coast to coast participating in an excellent discussion and break-out rooms.
What were we talking about? The Life Skill of Self-Care.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the term- I prefer the term “stewardship” because it recognizes that some things are beyond our control, but we can steward well regardless. The kids went around our Zoom room and shared what was happening in their part of the world, which ranged from school shutdowns to advised homestays.
We then broke into break-out rooms, and they came up with lists of ways to cope during a crisis, utilizing four categories: Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Emotional. Here’s what they came up with:
Ways to Cope During a Crisis
Spiritual – Stay in the word, pray, listen to worship music, and go to on-line church. Keep talking to God; keep connecting with Christ. Work on creating fellowship with others, even during a time of quarantine.
Social – Call and text people, set times for FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom meetings. Write letters. Check-in with friends daily, if even with a simple text message, and make chat and coffee dates on-line!
Emotional – Do something that makes you happy; eat cake, take showers, limit your news intake! Stay informed, but keep good boundaries to avoid depression and catastrophizing the situation. Read something inspirational. Celebrate the everyday.
Physical – Get outside, walk the dog, and teach her a new trick or two, work-out. Don’t neglect yourself; practice regular hygiene (which can be disrupted due to change of schedules or depression). Hot showers are a great way to relax and unwind.
And while class was in session, one student put on a crazy St. Patty’s Day Hat (Celebrate, y’all!) and they all made plans to meet up outside of class via google hang-outs! Which is precisely what we’re talking about!
Need support as you cope during a crisis, or even when you’re not? We love to come alongside fellow homeschoolers, those who planned to homeschool, and those homeschooling as an emergency measure! Check out our FaceBook page and groups for fellowship and occasional freebies for moms and kids- a great place for a little self-care.
Communication skills are such a big deal. Without honing these skills, we may convey things we never intended to – or leave out important pieces of information that can change everything! Poor conversational skills can potentially offend or hurt, or don’t make the sale. Excellent communication skills are one of the top job skills potential employees are looking for in new hires. Expertise in this area will contribute to your kids’ success, vocationally, and relationally. So, let’s take a minute and talk about common communication killers and how to fix them.
Not meeting someone’s gaze can communicate that you are trying to hide something, such as an agenda or information. It can also convey social awkwardness. In our culture, eye contact speaks loudly.
Recently, my husband was in a situation in a store where one of the people in line was getting loud and quarrelsome. My husband was speaking to the clerk when this person started directing belligerent comments to him. My husband stopped, turned around, and just looked at the man; did not engage verbally, just looked at him.
Now, my husband is a trained psychologist and martial artist and thus, not easily intimidated, so I don’t recommend this approach for everyone, however, this man who had been causing extreme discomfort in this public space stopped ranting. All because of someone with a calm, non-anxious presence who was willing to make eye contact.
Fix-It: Practice making eye contact with the people in your home when you are talking to them. “Look at my eyes” is a significant first step with littles. Put the phone or other tech devices aside as you converse with others. Eat meals together with no tech present and make a point of seeing and speaking with each other. The family table is a great place to gather and practice all sorts of communication skills
Often, we approach situations with the attitude that there is one right or wrong way of dealing with an issue. Instead of this type of “black and white” thinking, consider the possibilities. This is much like creating a pro-pro list instead of a pro-con list. When conflict arises, how can a win-win outcome be achieved? What would be a positive solution for everyone? Of course, sometimes people opt-out and you can’t win with them. It will take even more creative brainstorming on your part to come up with a winning scenario for both of you when the other person lacks the maturity or concern to help make it happen with you.
Fix-It: When conflict arises, pause and reflect on how you can contribute to positive outcomes for everyone. Brainstorm those “win-win” possibilities. Create a “pro-pro” chart in a problematic situation and determine how to bring about a good result.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw.
Attacking someone’s character instead of commenting on what they say or do. Be clear about what a person is doing versus who they are. Attacking someone often can mean that we don’t have empathy or compassion for them.
Fix-It: Teach your kids the difference between actions or behavior and the value of the person. Discuss the difference between what your kids “do” and their value as a person. Talk in terms of behavior. For example, you might say “You broke the dish.” or “You did not do your chores.” instead of phrases such as “You are careless.” or “You are lazy.” Help your kids name emotions and teach them to identify the feelings of others. Use phrases like “Mommy is sad that the dish was broken”, “Suzy is disappointed that the toy is lost” and ask “Are you happy that snow is falling?” Knowing how to name specific feelings is a great first step in understanding people. Understanding can lead to empathy and compassion, which leads to clear communication!
It’s easy to assume we know what someone is trying to say and interrupt or jump to conclusions. Listen to understand. Do you listen to hear someone’s heart? This goes beyond just listening to the words, but taking the time to listen to the other person’s heart.
Fix-It: Don’t interrupt when someone else is talking. Hear them through to the end of what they have to say. Respond, “So what I hear you saying is this.” Develop excellent listening skills. Maintain objectivity in the conversation. Push the pause button and take breaks as needed. Remind yourself and the other person that you are on the same team with the same objectives.
We should all display a healthy curiosity about people and what is going on in their lives. Social media teaches and enforces self-absorption. People are hungry to be known, to share what’s important to them, to have someone hear their deepest hopes, dreams, and longings- to have a friend.
Fix-It: Develop the art of questioning with curiosity. Be a student of the world and people. Learn to find out about people; discover their likes, dislikes, wants, and needs.
Being Indirect/Avoiding Difficult Conversations
No one likes to have awkward or difficult conversations. But sometimes they are inevitable. Whether it is sharing about a difficult diagnosis, confronting someone you love about unhealthy behavior or problems at work, we all tend to avoid talking about it. Avoidance can bring its own set of challenges, especially in regards to issues that have a time factor attached.
Fix-It: Practice what you want to say- write it out to get clear on what the real issue is and how you might go about solving it. Do a test run with someone who is objective. In other words, act out the potential conversation. Bring your notes with you if they bring you confidence and pause. Take breaks as needed to get perspective, calm down, and reiterate the belief that you are all on the same team, working towards the same goals.
Practice and Intention
Like all abilities, communication will improve with practice and intention. Teaching our kids how to communicate well is one of the most vital skills we can give them. That is true regardless of what job or industry they go into or whether they have a large family or stay single.
I’d love to hear how you are intentionally teaching communication skills in your family, so drop me a line here or on Instagram and Facebook.
If you want resources for teaching these types of Soft Skills in your homeschool, take a look around our website and blog. Or listen to our podcast at the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network where we focus on tips and resources for teaching soft skills and life skills for all age groups. Our podcasts, blog, e-books, and online classes can help with teaching your homeschoolers about Stewardship, Teamwork, Career Choices, and Public Speaking.
Proverbs 25:11 A Word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Wondering how we homeschoolers can give back to our communities? Recently, one of my Facebook friends asked those on her timeline for ideas on what homeschoolers could do to give back. She got the usual answers—shelters, Salvation Army, nursing homes, etc. My response? Help a homeschooling teacher!
Three Ways You Can Help Fellow Home Educators:
Be there: families are joining the ranks of homeschooling by leaps and bounds and many have no clue how to get started. Simply having access to someone to talk to can help so much!
Konmari your classroom: people may be looking for curricula that you have sitting in a box or closet. Instead of collecting dust and spider webs it could be helping a homeschool family. It may not be the latest edition, but I guarantee you that it will help SOMEBODY!
Create a “kick-off” box: people use the same supplies as you – that extra stuff can be turned into supply boxes for new homeschool families. The kids will love helping with this!
Let’s talk about that last one for a moment. Have you ever given thought to making a homeschool kick-off box for a new homeschooling family? Think about that new homeschool parent who is going through all of those things you went through when you first started homeschooling. Often a search for help can lead to information overload- and you could be there to enable them to get a good start instead!
Stuff You Already Have
Think about what you have on hand that might be an encouragement to that new homeschool family. A tote bag or cute box of basic school supplies, coffee or tea and a cute mug for Mom, age/grade appropriate activity packets, books, and things of that sort go a LOOOOOOOOOONG way! Pay attention to those “If you could have anything for your homeschool, what would it be” posts—you might have that stuff right in your house and it could be used to inspire, encourage, uplift, and equip another family to resist the urge to put their kids back on the bus that they JUST pulled them off of…SIGH!
Make a Target Run
If your closet search doesn’t yield enough items for your homeschool kick-off box, a quick trip to your local Target dollar section or the dollar store can round out your list with cute erasers and inexpensive office supplies.
Other Ways to Give Back
Our kids need a reality check at times, so take them to those soup kitchens, shelters, orphanages, and even hospitals. That reminds me of something…
Last year, our youngest daughter was admitted to the hospital days after her birthday. Because she was in medical isolation, she couldn’t leave the room to engage in any of the amenities the hospital had to offer. As I opened the door briefly to see what was going on around the floor, I saw a family with a cart of dinner plates for the parents of children in the hospital. It was obvious that their youngest child did NOT want to be there at ALL! When they got to our daughter’s room, he noticed that they were the same age and had the same birthday. His mood INSTANTLY changed. He was up, walking around, serving others, and ran across a little girl just like him.
A local homeschool co-op came around the hospital with Christmas stockings and a cart full of toys. It was so hard for me to choose because our daughter likes pretty much anything! When I mentioned that she’d just had her birthday, they told me to take whatever I wanted! The cool thing was that one of the things she wanted MOST for her birthday was on that cart – how this small act blessed us!
A church group brought a full taco bar out for parents and children who could eat it. They prayed for each parent that came down to make a plate for themselves or their children. Little things like that make a big difference.
Many times, our children think that nothing will ever befall them and they need to see that it can and that there are people out there who genuinely need that smile or helping hand! They may be the only person that day who shows that person any kindness at all…I’ve seen it happen too many times.
Another thing you can do is write to a soldier who may not have a family or simply needs a pick me up from someone they have sworn their lives to protect. The loneliness they feel may not be something your child experiences, but it will teach them to appreciate others!
Four Quick Ways to Pay it Forward
Volunteer at those shelters, soup kitchens, and orphanages
Visit hospital patients during the holidays
Write to a soldier
Smile and look for little ways to lend a hand every day
Whatever you choose to do…give back!
Tammie Polk is a Mompreneur on a Mission! She is a married, homeschooling mother of three girls ages 15, 10, and 5 from Memphis, Tennessee. When she’s not pouring into her girls, you can find her writing, doing crossword puzzles, or playing games! Her major claim to fame is being the author of over 30 books on life, faith, family, and business- all of which were written in the last three years. Tammie is also a business coach, homeschool consultant, motivational and inspirational speaker, and international radio show host!
Less is more during the holidays- especially for children with learning difficulties, social difficulties, and/or emotional difficulties. Holidays are a wonderful, exciting time of year, filled with fun activities, family and friends. However, it can also be a challenging time for these children and their families. With some creativity and patience, these holiday times can be navigated with less frustration and more joy, when families say “less is more.”
Keep The Academics
Every year homeschooling parents question how long their holiday breaks should be and how much they should focus on academics. I say…why not continue academics (and clocking time for those that need a specified number of hours and/or days), BUT find creative ways to keep the learning going – while still enjoying the holiday. “Less is more…” can apply to academics during the Christmas break!
Here are some “tried-and-true” tips and tools that will keep your homeschooler focused and interested during the busy (and distracting) Christmas season!
Key Subjects – a Little Goes A Long Way
One big concern during the holiday break is that your child might lose skills they just learned – especially math skills. November and December are great times to review. Use short, focused activities. Print out some free worksheets, or use those extras that you didn’t complete yet, and keep their skills going. Even just doing 3-4 questions a day can help them maintain those newly learned skills. Pick the key subjects that your child needs the most practice in, and focus on those. You could also do shortened versions of their regular assignments on the days you have holiday activities.
Unit studies on holiday topics are a great way to incorporate the skills your child needs to keep up with while having some holiday fun! Learn about traditions and Christmas around the world. Study animals from around the world. Keep the fun going with a field trip to the zoo (weather permitting). Incorporate those holiday activities and family traditions: Christmas card writing, holiday crafts, and baking cookies are all activities that can be integrated into your homeschool day. Have fun and be creative- the sky is the limit on what can be included as school work!
Around Thanksgiving, I always pull my mountain of holiday books out and put them in the living room for my boys to enjoy. This is a great time to visit your local library where you will find tons of cute picture books along with classics like A Christmas Carol. After you read the book, watch a version of the movie too. We love The Muppet Christmas Carol at our house!
Games can be a great family activity – and they reinforce skills. RightStart Math has a games pack that reinforces skills from identifying numbers through fractions and decimals. Board games can teach other skills such as cooperation. Have your kids add up the scores and reinforce their math skills. Scrabble (or Scrabble Jr.) can reinforce spelling and vocabulary.
Documentaries, Educational Shows and Apps
From animal documentaries to the history of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus), there are documentaries that can interest and reinforce any topic you want to study. Pop some corn or enjoy those snacks you have been cooking up in the kitchen – so much can be learned from educational videos! Educational apps are another way to reinforce skills. Apps are perfect for travel – use them as you roadschool on the way to visit relatives and friends.
Baking gives hands-on opportunities to practice and learn new skills in reading, math, cooperation, following directions, science, and much more! It is also a fun way to build memories and start traditions.
Looking to incorporate more writing for the holidays? Start a family newsletter. Have everyone submit articles about their favorite memory or what they are doing for the year, and share the news with close friends and family. The holiday letter has become a tradition for many families to send out each year. This year, everyone gets to voice their part!
Crafts and Handmade Gifts
Make some handmade crafts and gifts to give to friends and family. Many skills are learned and worked on by making hand-made treasures. As an additional bonus, you save money on gifts! When you have a curriculum or schedule that must be maintained, change it up and make it fun using holiday paper to create your checklists. Make a bingo card for them to check off the work they have completed for the day or the week. When your child gets “Bingo!” take a break or have a treat!
Special Needs and Social Opportunities
Don’t forget that “less is more…” can apply to events during the holiday break! The holidays are filled with opportunities to see friends, family and acquaintances (and sometimes strangers) that we don’t see very often. Often this happens at large gatherings. For some people, these opportunities are cherished and loved. However, some of our children have a difficult time and become overwhelmed. Here are some ways to plan that will make it easier.
Give a Purpose
One difficulty can be that our children don’t know what they are supposed to do or say at these large gatherings. Give them a job, or help them know what to say (“I want you to ask three people about ________” or “Give three people compliments about _________”). Being “in charge” of a task (such as handing out gifts as guests are coming in) can help alleviate some of the anxiety and stress of being in a large group of people.
Look For Smaller Opportunities
Sometimes we are offered opportunities for smaller gatherings. Sometimes I make my own smaller gatherings for us to enjoy rather than attending the large gatherings others are planning. These are more meaningful to my boys, and tend to go over better.
Activities Over Food
Many times, food can become difficult to navigate, especially when allergies are involved. Look for opportunities that stress activities over food to avoid difficulties with food when this is a challenge.
Along the lines of looking for smaller opportunities, sometimes a simple playdate can take the place of larger activities. Families sometimes have more time off during the holidays, so plan ahead and schedule some simple playdates to enjoy!
Anyone else having an especially cold fall? I know we almost had snow, and that only usually happens once every thirty years…and generally in January or February. Extreme weather causes activities to be canceled or postponed so take this into consideration when planning each year to avoid big disappointments. Winter weather can be a major factor to consider when planning out your holiday schedule and activities.
Opportunities to Volunteer And Give Back
The holidays are filled with teachable moments. Scheduling time to volunteer and give back to our communities teaches kindness and love. Take goodies to the fire station or to other community workers. Donate clothes and toys – or even donate your old towels to the animal shelter. Look for opportunities to show kids how to help and care for others. Older children can read to their siblings or show kindness by taking a Christmas card to a therapist or friend. It doesn’t have to be something big to be meaningful.
I saw the Kindness Calendar idea recently and thought it was a marvelous idea. Even if you don’t follow the idea exactly, creating your own kindness calendar of things your children can do each day to show love and kindness to others can be a great way to show holiday spirit.
Holidays are busy, loud, bright, and filled with friends, family, and even strangers wishing us well! This can be a blessing to many people who love the hustle and bustle of the holidays. However, some of our kids aren’t ready for such happenings. When your child is one that does not enjoy this busy time of year, it’s ok to downsize your holiday traditions, and consider smaller, more meaningful traditions (at least in the short term).
Beware The Temptation to Over Plan – It’s OK to Say NO
When our children get easily overwhelmed, it’s ok to say “no” to family or friends when they invite us to do activities that our children will not enjoy or will be easily overwhelmed doing. It’s ok to not have outside activities every day, and it’s important that we don’t forget it is ok to reschedule or just say “no” when that is what our family needs!
Pick Your Favorite Activities
“Less is more…” may mean fewer activities for your family. Pick your favorite ones. Plan time before and after for your child to have “downtime” or time doing activities that are calming to them. This will help them be better prepared for the activities you do choose to participate in. Sometimes we try to schedule too much because we feel we have to see everyone during the short period of time we have, but we don’t have to see everyone during the holiday season – choose intentionally to spend time with those you may not see at other times during the year and plan times to visit other either before or after Christmas.
Plan an escape clause (pun intended) for a child who may become easily overwhelmed. Help them get away for a little while, or allow them to let you know when they are ready to leave an event. It could be a secret phrase or word they say. Or provide a quiet activity they can go do in a corner such as headphones and a movie, or anything else that helps them to get away and find the peace they need. You may need to explain this need to family and friends ahead of time so they are not offended when your child leaves the group in the middle of an activity to calm down.
Spread Things Out
Plan activities with plenty of downtime in between. We all need time to be at home with quieter activities and a closer to “normal” schedule. Arrange one big activity a week rather than five different activities in three days, with no breaks. Give yourself and/or your child permission to say “No.” It is ok to decline invitations (even from Grandma), or schedule a time that will be less busy to be with that person. It is also all right for you to make a final decision on the day of the event if your child is not having a good day. Give yourself permission to cancel, reschedule or otherwise change plans – that is the key to having a relaxed and positive holiday season.
Find Acceptable Alternatives
Whenever possible, find alternatives to those activities or foods our child wants to participate in but has difficulty with. Talk about this with your child. Saying “no” or canceling can be disappointing, but a plan “B” can really come in handy.
Be Sensitive to Food Sensitivities
Food allergies and sensitivities are challenging when so many things are geared around food for the holidays! Be prepared with food options that are allergy-friendly, and sensory-friendly. Volunteer to bring a snack you know your child loves or pack them an alternative snack and bring it with you.
Memories and Traditions
There are many ways to build memories and traditions with your kids. Holidays are about family, friends, and fun. Whatever activities you decide to do, build positive memories and treasure them. Take pictures. Create a scrapbook that gets the kids involved in writing, decorating and gluing – maybe include samples of their holiday schoolwork. Let them create your holiday décor. Remember that “less is more..” when it comes to all the holiday hustle and bustle. Establish new traditions and appreciate these years as your children grow. I hope these ideas and tools help you relish the time you spend with your children during the holiday!
About the author: Amy Vickrey holds a Masters of Science in Education, specializing in curriculum and instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. She spent two years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy. Amy loves the discovery approach to learning and believes that teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
My daughter cleans stables on the weekends, and since her brother has gone off to college, I have been going along with her. It’s peaceful work. The stables are beautiful, the horses are award-winning and the work straightforward. We clean stalls, sweep the barn, and feed the creatures. The tack room smells of warm leather, the stables of fresh alfalfa, of horse and life.
I look at the barrows full of manure, raked from freshly cleaned stalls, re-supplied with fresh alfalfa, and think, this is life. Cleaning, feeding, sweeping up the debris from the living. We talk to whatever horses are still stalled, and some time to each other, but generally we work.
My daughter, the gardener that she is, gathers tubs of manure to take home to feed her compost beds. Content in the hard work she’s done and the money well earned, we both get in the car, sweaty and tired, smelling of horse and work and life. Her work ethic has been hard-earned, both in her education and life.
My grandparents had a fourth-grade education, yet they valued the gift of education.
Out of my four grandparents, none of them went past fourth grade in any formal type of school. They were, however, always learning. They were hungry for learning. My Gram died a few years ago, 1-month shy of her one-hundredth birthday, still living in her own home near Medway Airport in Chicago. She died in a home that she’d literally lined with books and music and animals and life. She had magnifying glasses at all her sitting places so she could see to read: books, magazines, and papers. She taught my Momma-less, illiterate Mom to read at age eight, by reading Shakespeare out loud to her and rewarded her with Mother West Wind books from the Five & Dime.
My grandfather watched the stock market daily and took careful notes. He studied the Bible with the same careful tenaciousness that he gave to everything else. He wasn’t’ “educated” by today’s standards, but he could talk to anyone about anything and made friends wherever he went. He was passionately curious about people and how they lived and was a good neighbor to all.
My grandparents relished the gift of education. They believed that learning was a beautiful privilege and one they were hungry for.
Crown & the Growth Mindset
Queen Elizabeth, as portrayed in the mini-series Crown, seeks a tutor at one point. She has all the privileges of royalty and wealth, is the most respected woman in the world, which she travels extensively, and yet she sees a need in her own life. A need filled only by education. She hires a personal tutor to fill the void that money and prestige can’t fill. She is dissatisfied with what she doesn’t know and finds a way to fill the gap that lack of education has left.
Her sister, wealthy dissatisfied jet setter, is portrayed as bored and jealous and goes after a man that won’t “work” for her circumstances. We see a person who believes that the only satisfaction they can expect in life is physical and so she drinks and smokes and philanders to excess. The demands of her life don’t lead her to seek the fulfillment of learning and knowing. Because she hasn’t developed the intellectual discipline that character and education require, she settles.
So what does this have to do with the gift of education?
So often, in the homeschooling world, I hear this idea: character is more important than the book. “Put the book down and focus on character training.” I find this odd because it assumes that character training and education are at odds with each other. Au contrair! There is so much character training to be found by educating one’s self or another!
Let’s face it, the cycle of learning can be difficult. When we first encounter something, especially something challenging, it feels overwhelming. I remember the first time I tried to teach First Form Latin. I didn’t understand the teacher’s manual. I didn’t understand the grammar vocabulary; terms like Declension, Imperfect, Pluperfect, Mood, Conjugation. It felt awkward and tough. Now, years later, I love The Forms. It takes difficult material and lays it out in all its parts- vocabulary, grammar, sayings, culture.
Learning often requires an overview and familiarity before we ever get to mastery. It takes perseverance, hard work, vision and character to grow past overview. Getting to mastery requires all sorts of soft skills, character, and strength! Education IS character building!
Education is not a given
For many people around the world, education is not a given. My grandparents received very little formal education. Kids in the third world often don’t’ have the gift of education. Even royals don’t get the education that they need. Education requires infrastructure, stable government, money, and the character and vision to pursue it. It’s a gift. Educational choice is an even bigger gift.
In my weekly Latin classes, I pray. I pray that we all appreciate the gift of Latin and Education and that we steward that gift well. Latin isn’t going to save the world, but students who learn to appreciate words and the Word that became flesh, are great instruments to lead people to the One who can!
Gratitude for a life full of education –
Homeschooling is such a unique and beautiful gift in this day and age of fast food everything. We have the time and opportunity to train our kid’s character as we school them. It’s a both-and, not an either-or proposition. You can teach math AND character at the same time. In fact, I would say they often go hand in hand. And to have the time and opportunity to train our kids well-their minds as well as their character is a gift.
I often hear that homeschooling should be fun, and I wonder where that idea got started. I’m not saying it should feel like slavery or a grind, but often hard work requires just that- work. Not that you can’t have fun while you work, but often work doesn’t feel necessarily like fun. And even if our kids don’t feel like they are having fun, they should still be educated, and we should not cheat them of the opportunity to have that deep sense of satisfaction that comes from learning and academic accomplishment. We should teach our kids to be grateful for the gift of education, for the opportunity to homeschool. It’s not a right. It is a privilege.
And what’s all this have to do with a horse barn anyway?
That simple gift of work that causes one to sweat a little and feel the good tired that comes from working hard; that’s what education often consists of. Real education – the kind that takes us beyond ourselves and transforms us, requires hard work, like the horse barn; vision, like my grandparents had; and a growth mindset like the Queen.
Gratitude reminds us of the above – that we are being given a great gift by being educated, and we are giving our children a great gift by handing them a personalized education, in the form of homeschooling.
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