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The Relaxed Homeschool Mindset

by Dr. Mary Hood

Excerpted from The Enthusiastic Homeschooler, Ambleside Educational Press, Cartersville, GA

What is relaxed homeschooling, anyway? I get a lot of phone calls and letters from readers, many of whom say things like the following: "Iím really drawn to the relaxed homeschooling method. My problem is, I donít really understand how it works. What do I do when we get up in the mornings? What happens when my kids are lazy? Do I step in with more traditional methods?

"I really enjoy your philosophy of homeschooling. Unfortunately, my kids just arenít motivated like yours are. Iíd like to be like you, but I donít think we will ever be successful or relaxed. And I lost my joy a long time ago."

"Relaxed homeschooling . . . isnít that an oxymoron?"
The problem with most of these readers is that they misunderstand what "relaxed homeschooling" is all about. It isnít a method. Relaxed homeschoolers may use all kinds of methods as they tailor things for each individual child. It isnít a curriculum, or the absence of a curriculum. Iíve used various books and materials over the years, including some textbooks when a child asked for them or when I thought they were a useful resource in the upper grades. It isnít really a philosophy, either, because I donít have the time to create a whole new philosophy, and you donít have time to study one.

It is really just a mindset. Itís the idea that you are a family, not a school. Youíre a mom, not a teacher. You donít have a classroom. You have individual relationships with your children. Your husband isnít a principal, because there isnít really a school. He is the head of your household, a dad, and your number one supporter.

God didnít create schools. He created families, because that was his plan for the training and nurture of children. He gave the job for the raising and educating of children squarely to the parents, and those who have abrogated their authority and turned their responsibilities over to other "experts" are short-circuiting their own success.

There is no other earthly expert who can possibly know your children as well as you do. No one else will ever care as deeply for them. Thatís why you are totally capable of doing this job successfully. You were made for this purpose! You were assigned this job! God wouldnít have chosen you if he didnít believe in you and know you were up to the task.

Having a "relaxed homeschooling mindset" will free you up from many responsibilities, and make the ones you do have, clearer and easier to fulfill. If you arenít a "teacher", you donít necessarily need to make lesson plans, purchase teacherís manuals, test and grade your children, or teach them every subject known to man all by yourself. You donít have to select a particular curriculum, and have everything in place every year on September first, the way a classroom teacher does. You donít need to begin each day with a pledge to the flag, and divide the morning up into fifty-minute segments, each devoted to a particular subject. You donít have to go from room to room teaching fifth grade social studies, third grade science, and first grade phonics. You donít need to make a bunch of reluctant children sit at the kitchen table for hours laboring over boring workbooks.

What you do need to do is to set up a lifestyle of learning in your household. You need to understand each of your children as individuals, and make decisions about curricula and methods that recognize their differences; their strengths and weaknesses; their learning styles and personalities. You need to learn to set priorities and goals, so you have some idea of where you are going. You need to pause occasionally to evaluate your progress towards those goals. You need to communicate effectively with your husband, so you become true partners in this whole process. You need to learn to shrug off the criticisms of others, even well-meaning relatives. The only opinions that should really count are those of God, your husband, your children, and yourself. (Prov. 31:28-31)

(From Chapter Eighteen) Establishing a Lifestyle of Learning

Some of you are just beginning your homeschooling journey. Some of you may already be halfway down the path, but are contemplating a few changes in your style of homeschooling. A few of you may be considering quitting, either because you are burned out or because an economic situation is making your feel that you can no longer afford to stay home with your children. Whatever your current situation, I truly believe that all of you can do this, if you call on Jesusí name and God for help. Whatever He has called you to do, He will give you the means to accomplish. If you feel depressed, confused, or inadequate for the job, He will give you the power you need. If you are experiencing financial problems, He will provide. He doesnít always give you everything you want, and his timing is not always what youíd prefer, but He will never leave you completely out in the cold.

It is always easier to achieve a relaxed lifestyle of learning if you start out from the beginning with this mindset. However, even if your children have been in school, or your own homeschooling efforts have become bogged down in school-like drudgery, it is still possible to make some changes that will re-kindle your childrenís enthusiasm for learning.

Establishing a lifestyle of learning implies that everyone in the family is actively pursuing goals, enjoying the acquisition of skills and knowledge, and sharing their discoveries with the others in the family. You need to re-discover a child-like curiosity about the world around you. You need to wake up every morning, singing, "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." You need to see past the dirty diapers and the piles of laundry, and recognize what really matters in life. You need to loosen up your tendency to be a control freak, and realize that, ultimately, you arenít in control of anything anyway. While that may be a scary thought at first, understanding that God loves you and your family, and that He is the one who is really in control, will help you learn to trust His judgment.

Keep in mind that "relaxed homeschooling" is a mindset, not necessarily a complete lack of textbooks. You may decide to keep a few texts or workbooks, but just use them in a less controlled manner. It may suddenly dawn on you that world will not end if you donít finish that second grade book by the end of the year, and that your children will not be permanently harmed if you skip around a little bit in the book, or give up on that hard math question that no one can get.

On the other hand, maybe you or your kids are really burned out on the materials you have been using. It is perfectly permissible to put them away and try something else! In this section, Iíd like to give you some practical suggestions if you are in the process of making some changes in your homeschooling efforts.

First of all, I think you need to be scrupulously honest with the kids, and with your spouse. Donít just stop using textbooks and leave them hanging, wondering what Momís doing, and if you have any ulterior purpose. Tell them that you feel the need for some changes. Read them a chapter of this book, if youíd like, or have them listen to one of my tapes. Talk to the kids about what they have been enjoying about learning, and ask them if there is anything that they would like to change.

Ask them for their suggestions, and try to implement them, if possible. Talk to your husband and share some of your frustrations with him. If the desire for school-like structure is coming from him, talk to him about why it has not been working for you. Sit down together and set some goals for the kids, and discuss where you are right now on the path towards those goals. If you are planning on getting away from a textbook-driven style of instruction, be prepared to discuss what you are going to replace it with.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

If your kids seem unmotivated, what I would do is the following:

1. Share with them your thoughts on the matter. Donít just put away the textbooks and leave them to wonder what "Momís latest trick" is.

2. Put aside all the structured work for awhile.

3. Keep disciplinary parameters in place. Tell them, "You canít watch television, talk on the phone or do computer games during the time that I want to see something productive going on." For us, that was always the morning hours. Then sit back and let boredom be a motivator. When they say, "Well, what CAN I do?" Tell them, "Think of something, or Iíll think of something for you."

4. Continue taking the kids to the library, even if they show some resistance. Take out some interesting books and read to them on a regular basis, unless they are older and are reading sufficiently on their own. Donít force them to do book reports or prove they have comprehended anything. Just focus on the reading itself for awhile.

5. Start educating yourself and finding things that you can be enthusiastic about. Donít force their involvement, but do share your excitement about whatever it is you are doing or learning.

6. If your children show any spark of interest in anything at all, be sure to follow up, even if the interest doesnít strike you as "academic" enough for your taste. In other words, if they suddenly want to learn guitar, or buy some new Legos, or dig a big hole in the backyard, encourage them to do it.

7. Give them enough time. Too often, parents try a more relaxed approach, but give up just before boredom would have driven the kids to a renewed enthusiasm for learning.

8. Spend lots of time on your knees, especially if you are dealing with a child who may be under spiritual attack himself.

9. Also, use this time to make some tentative plans for fun, educational projects once you think the child has had enough down-time to be a willing participant again. M.H.