Before your children are school-age, connecting with your kids is simple. However, as each child begins kindergarten, it’s easy to begin shifting your focus from connection to the educational aspects of homeschooling. At HomeSchool ThinkTank, we have a saying, “Connection Before Curriculum.”
This article and podcast episode come straight from my heart. My name is Jackie, and I’m the founder of HomeSchool ThinkTank. This story is about a time when I failed as a mother.
It’s not easy to share experiences like this. However, I think this is an important lesson to share because it can make or break your homeschooling journey. Before I share my failures though, let me share what I did right.
When Connection Before Curriculum Came Easily
When my children were young, I think I was an outstanding mom.
I read to my kids multiple times a day, did arts and crafts with them, and met other moms and kids at the children’s museum for playdates. I sat on the floor and played with my kids. We ran and played in the backyard together.
Nearly every week, we went on fun and educational outings that included activities like going to the park, swimming, visiting museums, exploring the library, and more.
While my kids were generally having a great time, they were learning nearly all of the time.
Homeschooling My Kindergarten Age Child
What do children do when they turn five years old?
In most states and in many countries around the world, the magical age of five is when children begin compulsory schooling. If homeschooling is legal where you live, then you are fortunate to have the choice to educate your children from home.
When my oldest daughter turned five, I didn’t send her to school. I had known for years that I would homeschool my children when they reached school age.
I bought curriculum for my daughter because that’s how children are educated in school. Isn’t that how children learn? Isn’t that what good homeschooling parents do?
While in my heart I wanted to unschool my kids, I couldn’t bring myself to completely use that approach. As a product of the public education system, I had been well-trained and understood what school should look like. We started our daughter’s Kindergarten year with math and reading curricula. With other subject areas, we used a variety of other homeschooling methods.
Focusing on Curriculum
As a homeschooling mom, I felt pressure to do school at home. So, subject by subject, I began adding more and more curricula to my children’s day.
Education began to shift from being a natural and everyday part of life to being curriculum based.
Since our routine now had this doing school component to it, I thought it made sense to get my three-year-old in the habit of doing school, too. I bought her workbooks and wanted her to work on them a little each day.
Gradually, my focus began to shift from connecting, learning, and having fun with my kids, to having them complete various curricula.
I was so focused on making sure my kids checked all the boxes and did all the curriculum that we might not take time to go to Grandma’s house or get together with friends. Before my oldest daughter was school-age, these were things that we did multiple times a week.
What Happens When Curriculum Comes First?
So, how did focusing on curriculum over connection work out?
Not very well.
It lead to tears as I tried to teach my children how to diagram sentences and learn concepts that they weren’t ready to learn.
Let me ask you, “When was the last time you diagrammed a sentence?” I can tell you, I write nearly daily, and I never – ever – diagram sentences.
If you are a grammar geek, you can probably tell that I don’t diagram my sentences. But for the rest of you, I believe that I write well enough to make my point.
Taking (some) Teaching Out of My Hands
Over time, I realized that I had focused on curriculum to the point of damaging my relationship with my children. As a result, I began prioritizing my connection with my children again.
During difficult moments of homeschooling, I would think to myself, “Connection before curriculum.” Where I consistently had challenges teaching my children, I found other ways for them to learn. After all, the point was for my kids to learn, not for me to be the teacher of everything.
While adjusting our approach to education worked for my oldest, my relationship with my youngest child was severely strained. In fact, our relationship was so delicate that I could not imagine homeschooling her one more day.
A Transition to Private School (for one child)
It was August, and the school year had just begun.
With the devastating realization and acceptance that homeschooling was not working for my youngest child, we found a good private school and enrolled her.
Along with enrolling our daughter in private school, I asked a trusted confidant for a recommendation to a therapist. I quickly scheduled our first appointment.
Family Therapy: Focusing on Connecting with My Child
What did our therapist focus on?
You guessed it.
He told me not to help my daughter with her homework.
I asked, “What if my husband is out of town?” His response was, “She does it on her own, or she doesn’t do it.”
I couldn’t believe it. Did he really want me to let her just skip the homework???
If necessary, absolutely.
Our therapist believed that the relationship between my daughter and me was more important than her homework.
He was right. How was I going to teach my daughter if she was upset and I was tense?
When I stopped to think about this, I realized that when my daughter was agitated, she wasn’t learning what I was teaching.
Each and every week, our entire family went to therapy.
Over time, it became abundantly clear that our therapist’s number one goal was to help me re-establish my connection with our youngest daughter.
A Transition Back to Homeschooling
We likely would have kept our youngest daughter in school, but factors beyond our control were happening at her school, so we cautiously returned to homeschooling our youngest daughter.
When we returned to homeschooling, my number one goal was to maintain and improve my relationship with my daughter.
Again, “Connection before curriculum” was my mantra.
What I’ve Learned from Homeschooling My Kids and Sending One Child to Private School
As a homeschooling family, we’ve had ups, and we’ve had downs. However, if there is one overarching lesson that I’ve learned, it’s that your connection with your child must come first.
As a child, I went to public school. Like most people who are products of the public education system, I had been very well-socialized to believe that schooling equals education. It has taken me years to unravel the belief system that I grew up with.
I now see a distinct line between education and schooling. In fact, I prefer to call the public education system by a different name. I call it the public schooling system.
There are many ways for children to learn, and your home school does not need to resemble a public school classroom.
While it is important for your children to learn and be educated, in my opinion, schooling is not important.
Why I Shared This With You
Believe me, it’s not easy to share these types of things. However, I see how my experiences can help you avoid or overcome some of the pitfalls that I have experienced.
I would like to help you learn from my mistakes and my successes.
As homeschooling parents, I believe that we have very good intentions. However, I know that I am not the only parent who has made the mistake of putting curriculum before my connection with my children. When you feel the weight of the public education system on your back, it is easy to fall prey to this pressure.
As a society, we have been very well conditioned to believe that school is the equivalent of education. As homeschooling parents, we often feel that we should educate our children at home in ways that are similar to the public education system. We have been so well trained that, in the beginning, most homeschooling parents actually try to emulate the public school system in their homes.
Challenges That Arise When Doing School at Home
There are problems with emulating the public education system in your own home. Let’s begin by renaming the public education system. It might be more aptly called the “public schooling system.” So let’s remember that “homeschooling” is about education and helping your children learn from home, but it is not about “schooling.”
Here are some of the challenges of doing “school at home.”
- Your home is not a school.
- Homeschooling families have a very different environment than a teacher in a classroom with dozens of children.
- School does not equal education.
The word homeschooling is a legal designation, it’s a term. On the other hand, true homeschooling is about your family, community, education, and learning, but it is not about school.
School vs Education vs Learning
Once you begin to separate education and learning from school, then you can begin to open your mind to other educational avenues.
So, how could have I done a better job homeschooling my kids?
As my children entered their school years, I could have continued to focus on connection, community, education, and learning.
Please note that it is possible to educate your children while side-stepping the schooling aspect.
Before my children were school-age, this was very natural for me. Most days, we played as a family, and we got together with friends.
My children would ask to learn in very natural ways, and I responded by helping them discover more about the things they were interested in learning about.
An Example of Natural Learning
As I sat at the little table in my children’s playroom, one of my young daughters would ask, “What would you like to order today?”
I might say, ” I would like a cheeseburger and french fries.“
“Mom, how do I write cheeseburger?”
When they were very young, a “C” might suffice, but as their writing skills advanced, I might say, “CH – Ch makes the CH sound.”
We would continue to sound out the word as long as they had an interest in learning.
It was a natural and fun way for me to teach them.
I believe curriculum and workbooks can be fun and educational. However, I think that children need to be ready to learn the information presented from the lessons within a given curriculum.
Your child will hit speed bumps while using nearly any curriculum. Do you know why? Because there is no curriculum that is created specifically for your child.
I believe that when your child begins to have difficulty with any curriculum, you need to be ready to adapt. In essence, there are two things you can do.
- Try to find another way to help your child learn the concept at hand.
- Be prepared to skip the concept altogether.
If you bypass a lesson that is important, you can always come back to learn the concept at a later time.
Every human has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to continue making progress while helping your child maintain a positive self-image.
Let me be clear. I believe that curriculum has its place and can be a very effective way to help a person – child, teen, or adult – learn something new. However, I do not believe that curriculum is the only way to learn a concept.
HomeSchool ThinkTank Parenting Podcast
HomeSchool ThinkTank shares two podcast episodes each week. While one episode is all about homeschooling, parenting, and education, the other is about mindset.
Teaching & Learning Concepts
Let the word concept be your guide.
For example, if you want to teach your child how to add, look at the many ways that you can help your child learn. Your child can learn to add while playing with Cheerios at the kitchen counter, through math curriculum, and through math games like Yahtzee and Dominos.
Here’s another example of letting a concept be a guide as you help your child learn.
If you want your child to learn about a specific time in history, you could use a textbook as your guide, but it doesn’t need to be the only way to help your child learn. You could also watch movies and documentaries together, listen to educational history podcasts, go to museums, and read both fiction and non-fiction books that focus on that era.
Focus on Connecting with Your Kids
The best thing you can do to help your child learn is to focus on your connection with your child. Have fun learning with your child. Then let them guide their own education by learning more about the things that interest them.
So yes, I believe that connection must come before curriculum. I believe that curriculum can be helpful, but that your connection with your child is much more important than any curriculum. If the curriculum you have chosen is not working, then find another way to work on the concept that your child needs to learn, but put your connection first.
In the end, I believe that my children will benefit much more from a strong connection with their mother than they will from mastering any curriculum.
How I Failed
I failed as a mother when I let the curriculum come between my children and me.
I failed when I couldn’t see that homeschooling wasn’t about school, but that it was about family, community, education, and learning.
I succeeded when I placed relationships before curriculum, when I saw the differences between school and education. And ultimately, I succeeded when I understood that homeschooling is about life and learning, but not about school.
How You Can Succeed
So, what can you do with this information? If you’ve been struggling with putting your connection with your child before curriculum, then you might want to sign up for my workshop.
It’s called, “Homeschool Your Kids with Confidence.” In this workshop, you’ll learn more about how to connect with your child.
If you would like ongoing support, then you might want to join my membership that’s just for homeschooling parents. It’s called THRIVE.
Links Mentioned in this Podcast Episode
- Mo Willems books are perfect for beginning readers.
- Interview with a therapist about connecting with your kids.
- Examine your own belief system around education.
- Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books.
- History Podcasts for Your Family.
- Educational Opportunities are Everywhere.
- How to Homeschool Your Kids.
- Fun Math Games.
- How Children Learn.
- Learn how one pass can save you money and get you into museums around the world.
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