One of the reasons I have seen students excel in a homeschool setting is related to the anxiety that they had developed in a public school classroom. You might even suspect that your homeschooled child is suffering from anxiety. This article will not diagnose, or reccomend medication for anxiety. There is certainly a time and place for that, but sometimes anxiety can stem from the environment. By restoring students to a place of confidence and peace, we can transform their schooling into a successful and enjoyable (not to mention more effective) experience.
Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, and look different in each student. But for some children the stress of leaving their parents, taking tests, meeting new kids, being away from home, and many more things is enough to cause anxiety and effectively interfere with learning. If you would like more information on identifying anxiety in your child, this article from the Child Mind Institute is an excellent resource.
It’s important that you identify the source of anxiety in your child. Without knowing the source, it is difficult to make the right plan of action. Also, avoiding all stressors or triggers is not the way that anxiety is treated properly. We want to sensitively help the child overcome the anxiety.
Here are some practical things to do to help create a peaceful and safe learning environment for your child.
Avoid using praise when your student performs well. This is an extrinsic motivator that can contribute to performance-related anxiety. Praise, such as “I am so proud of you!” or “You’re so smart” create labels that the student will strive to maintain, and may be worried about losing if they don’t preform to your liking. This can create an extrinsic motivation that drives the student to perform for your sake, rather than to work for his own satisfaction and to the best of his abilities. Use encouraging phrases instead; be their cheerleader. “I see you put a lot of time and effort into this project.” “You must be so proud!” “You worked hard to solve that problem!”
Along with using encouraging phrases, focus on the process instead of the end result. As I stated in my article about praise vs. encouragement, not every student is an “A+” student. For some, receiving a “B” in math is a huge accomplishment or improvement. If the student is putting in the time and effort to be successful, acknowledge and encourage this work. If the student is stuck on an assignment, don’t rush in to save them. This is part of facing the anxiety and over-coming it with the right set of skills. Empower your student to be a problem-solver. Ask open ended-questions, provide additional resources, and be a sounding board for them. It is important to make sure that they have the right set of academic skills to complete the assignment. It could be that they aren’t ready for that level of reading, or that long of an essay and the anxiety is stemming from an inability to do the work. We want to set our students up for success. We want them willing to take a risk, and even “fail,” knowing that they are safe to do so, and will have learned much in the process (which is the whole point of school!).
Accommodating learning styles and student interests will help your child feel accepted as they are. We want our children comfortable in their own skin. This validation of who they are will build confidence, and confidence aids the learning process.
Yoga, exercise, fresh air, music, and art are all great stress relievers, and one or more of these should be incorporated into your day. It is important that you begin to identify when you see your child beginning to shut down or get anxious. This is when it is time for a break (my students and I call them “mental health breaks”) and/or a change of activity. It is best when you can help your child identify when they feel this mental shift happening. Like I said, we don’t want to run from all stressors, but we want to actively support the student during the process. The more self-aware they become, the more independent they can become in helping themselves.
The learning environment can contribute to anxiety in ways you may not realize. A room with too much noise and activity can set some students on edge. For others, if the lights are too bright, or the room is too dark, etc. Let your student select their ideal location for various school activities and observe their choices. Let that information tell you how you can create a space for them that supports their learning process.
The last bit of advice that I have is to not lower expectations or standards. Sometimes accommodations need to be made, but we still want to hold them to a high standard for work and behavior. This standard shows them that they aren’t broken, they can accomplish just as much as anyone else.
Anxiety is a great reason to homeschool your child. You have freedom to create an environment that meets your child’s specific needs. Anxiety doesn’t have to defeat you or your student. You can do this, you can over-come school-related anxiety together!
So, your student has crossed over from elementary, through middle school, and now into high school. A whole new journey awaits you! This article doesn’t cover the various options for high school gradation, but you do need to have your route planned in order to pick the right curriculum.
Selecting the right curriculum in high school is a bit more simple, there aren’t quite as many options as there are for elementary, but still enough to choose from and ways to get creative. Just as you would for any age, begin with setting goals. The most important step is to determine the direction you are headed. If you’re following state credit requirements, your subjects are pretty well decided for you. But you can still, within those parameters, find something that interests your student.
No matter the age, we want to account for the student’s learning style when planning the courses. Much of high school content is covered through reading, but there are still ways to incorporate different learning modalities. Much of the freedom in high school comes not as much through the dissemination of information, but the ways in which the student can demonstrate their learning. This is the shortfall I find in a lot of curriculum – they don’t use a lot of creativity in their assessment options. By high school, students usually have an aptitude one area or another that they would eagerly apply to school if given the option (creative writing, theater, technology, art, etc).
High school is the time when content gets deeper and more complex. You want to look for age appropriate content and skill level. Most publishers will tell you what grade level the curriculum is designed for. Sometimes this is for maturity levels, sometimes it’s because they expect the student to have foundational concepts before covering this material. It’s important to pay attention to the description of the material’s level.
You want to look for content and material that builds on your student’s prior learning, particularly in the areas of math and science. Once you find a math curriculum that suits your student’s level and learning style, I recommend sticking with it so that they don’t get lost in learning different methods, or skipping content. For science, it’s not quite as important to stick with the same publisher every time, but it is important to note the skills and knowledge they are expected to have before starting it.
Subjects such as grammar, spelling, and language are not primary subjects in high school, as they are expected to have a working mastery in those areas. There are books you can find for students that still need improvement in those areas. English is the study of literature and the art of writing. Reading a rich variety of literature, and writing in a variety of genres and for various purposes is important in high school. Writing must be integrated into other subjects for research papers, or other forms of assessment. Reading skills should continue to develop as students learn to read for a variety purposes, and more challenging content.
Occupational education and practical life skills should have highly practical applications. Once again, these don’t have to be learned through books, but can be learned through hands-on, real-life experience. This is the age in which students should be earning some sort of income, and be gaining some practical life skills through work, and home responsibilities. Cooking, managing money, car maintenance, etc. are all great areas in which high school students should become proficient.
PE and health are both a combination of book studying, research projects, and physical activities. There are curricula designed for high schoolers; sports teams, and gyms with PE classes for homeschoolers. These are all great ways to get your student involved in these subjects.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with your high schooler. This is a great time when their capabilities and interests are more likely to match your own. Do this together. Involve them in the planning and listen to their ideas. This is their education after-all! Not all learning comes from books, so don’t be afraid to shake it up and think outside the box.
Selecting the perfect curriculum is a yearly hurdle every homeschool parent must face. Which publisher? What grade level? Do we continue to use the same one as last year, or do we change it up? Not only is it a challenge to find the right one that fits your child, you also have to fit your budget! My goal is to help you make the right decision, considering all those variables.
There are a few things to consider, and a few steps to take before selecting your curriculum. Note: This is information is geared towards elementary grades. For higher grades, look for my article on selecting high school level curricula if you.
1. Set your goals and content areas. Know what skills your student needs to master this year, and what content you are going to cover in each subject. Involve your student in this process and value their input. The higher interest they have in the content, the more they will learn, and the fewer power struggles you will encounter.
2. Know your student’s learning style. The teaching method the curriculum uses will greatly affect what your student learns and their retention of the material they are covering.
3. Consider their grade level in each subject area. Very few students are in the same level in every subject across the board. Reading, writing, and math are the areas to consider. They may be reading above or below the average for their age/grade; they may be struggling in writing, or they love a good challenge!
4. If you read my article on integrating subjects, you know I highly recommend this method, rather than study each one individually. If you are in Washington State there are eleven core subjects that must be covered for all students eight years old and above (compulsory school age): Reading, writing, spelling, language, history, social studies, science, health, occupational education, math, art and music appreciation. Can you imagine trying to teach each of these subjects individually? Not only would the student be bogged down in endless work, but also the subjects would be disconnected.
5. The pace and depth of the curriculum have a lot to do with your ability to complete the program in your determined amount of time. Some have a very rigorous schedule and are too demanding for your student’s ability and interest. Feel free to adapt a program to suit your schedule and student’s learning pace, if you like the content and activities is uses.
One of the most popular options I see parents select is the “big box” curriculum, where every subject is included. There are many great publishers that offer these programs, but the problem is that they don’t fit every student’s learning style, reading level, or interest. I see a lot of parents go this route so they can use it for the subsequent children. But again, you run into the same problem. What works for one student, may not work for the next. Often you wind up spending a lot of money on curriculum, and then find that it requires supplemental or different materials altogether to meet your student’s needs.
I encourage parents to create an a la carte program based on each subject. Some subjects can be combined, and some of the big box publishers have fantastic curriculum that can be purchased separately. Here’s my guide for selecting curriculum for each subject.
Math is a stand-alone subject most of the time. Choose your curriculum based on your student’s learning style and grade level. There are many great programs out there that approach math from many different angles.
Spelling is also a subject that is based largely on skill (grade) level. Considering learning style is important, but adaptations can be made or creativity added to a solid program. Spelling should be practiced across all subject areas, but should be intentionally taught through curriculum.
History and Social studies are often the core subjects taught throughout the year. It is important that the content is chosen based on the student’s interest. In the elementary years, there are no mandatory content areas, so feel free to tailor it to what captivates your child’s interest. Consider, also, your student’s learning style. This, combined with interest level, will make a program that excites your learner!
Writing should be incorporated into your main subject areas. You will want to find a program that guides you in helping your student develop their writing skills. The genres they are writing in should coincide with what is required in the main subjects (history, social studies, and science). Multiple genres should be explored every year, as should the writing process.
Reading is a multi-faceted subject largely determined by the student’s reading level. This is easily integrated into the main subject areas, but the student should also be allowed to pick books for their own enjoyment. In the lower elementary years, decoding skills are a large focus, as is comprehension. As they become more proficient in their decoding, comprehension will increase. The higher levels of reading programs should introduce deeper reading skills and strategies, such as inference, predictions and making connections. Reading responses should be included, as well as reading a variety of genres. Do not assign work to every book they read, or your student may come to dread reading.
Language includes grammar and vocabulary studies. These can be easily worked into your writing program, and should draw practical applications from writing assignments. Grammar does not need to be a large portion of the day, this is one of those subjects that builds on itself; and requires consistency but not large amounts of time. Vocabulary can be drawn from the science and history, or can be studied through root words, or more traditional word studies. It should have practical application in writing, and does not require a large time commitment.
Occupational education does not necessarily require a curriculum. Occupations can be studied through books, videos, and hands-on experiences. It also includes practical skills such as typing, business skills (running their own babysitting or gardening business), money management, etc.
Art and music appreciation do not require a large time commitment through the year. This can include studies of artists and musicians during the time period covered in history class. It can also tie into science if your student is interested in how musical instruments are made, or how various art mediums are created. This subject has no requirements and can be made an entirely fun and engaging subject.
Science is a broad subject. You can cover biology, zoology, botany, astronomy, physiology, physics, chemistry; you name it! Find an area of interest for your student and get creative! Science should include hands-on activities, and should not simply come from reading a book. Your curriculum should be selected based on interest, age level, and learning style.
Health is an exploration into nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. This doesn’t require a curriculum on its own if you are comfortable creating a collection of books and resources on your own. Again, this should be determined by your student’s interest, age level, and learning style. This can be a very hands-on and active subject.
Selecting curriculum for the year is a really important process! It takes time and energy, but when done well can make your year smooth and enjoyable. One of the best resources is Cathy Duffy Reviews. There is a wealth of information available on her website and in her books. Facebook groups for homeschoolers are a great place to ask questions, and there are a plethora of blogs and reviews out there that can be utilized. When you find something that works, stick with it! Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to curriculum to meet your student’s needs. Get creative and have some fun!
“What grade is your kid in?” The question dreaded by many homeschool parents! How do you answer that? By reading level? Math book? What about just saying their age? Maybe say what grade equivalency it would be in the public school? In the end it doesn’t matter what you tell the random stranger, what matters is whether your child is working at the right level for her.
I think it is safe to say that one of the big reasons parents are drawn to homeschooling is the flexibility for their child to work at their own level in each subject area, rather than trying to fit into the generic mold of public school. Your child might be nine years old, reading at seventh grade level, doing fifth grade math, and writing only short sentences. So, what grade level is this child at? Do we need do define a grade? The important thing is whether your child is gaining new skills, learning new information, being appropriately challenged, and making progress.
Ideally, we want to see all subject levels around the same. Sometimes seeing how low one skill level is, shows us that we need to spend more time developing that one. Sometimes it’s because a student really excels in one area (often it’s reading), and it makes the other subjects appear to be lacking. Academic skills will advance and develop at different rates. Attention span will also affect the rate at which a child advances. If your child isn’t ready for formal schooling at six, don’t worry. Keep working at their pace, and they will catch up when they are ready.
I recommend taking each subject one at a time. Reading determines a lot of the student’s progress in other subjects. In the first few years of schooling it is normal to have to do the majority of the reading and instruction for the student as they build their reading skills.
As your student moves forward in all subjects, allow her pace and skill to determine the curriculum level. Typically, students are ready to advance just one level at a time. You can work through it quickly, and even skip parts, but don’t skip levels without accurately assessing their knowledge of the content, and skill.
It is important that math levels are not skipped. If the student can demonstrate mastery (90% accuracy or higher) of the content being skipped, then I would go ahead and move forward. If she is not able to test past that level, I would just allow the student to work at an accelerated pace, or to move on quickly.
The level for content-based subjects (history, social studies, science, language, and art and music appreciation) should be determined by the age and maturity level of the student. You may find that even though your eight-year-old student can read at a twelve-year-old level, it doesn’t mean that they are ready for the content of the curriculum.
In the end you want to consider your child’s age, maturity, and skill level. Until you reach high school, you don’t really need to worry about “grade level.” Work where your student is at, and look for consistent progress forward.