Summary: If you're homeschooling this year for the first time, you're quite likely to run into 3 problems:
- Sense of academic standing
- Lack of peer competition
Don't panic, you've GOT THIS! This post will help you understand why these happen and give some ideas on how to address them.
First, let me set the scene for you...
It was early August, 2019. Pre-COVID. We had sent a letter to the school district superintendent declaring our intention to homeschool for the coming year, and in the mail was the confirmation and acknowledgement. Elation set in quickly. We were officially a homeschool family.
"This is gonna be great! We will go hang out in some coffee shops, learn in new and creative ways, do awesome art and science projects! We'll make awesome videos and be like the Norris Nuts!"
We were super excited; we'd wanted to do homeschooling for several years, now we had that chance! The path was straight before us, all barriers removed. What once seemed like an impossible thing we could never tackle was actually going to happen.
Oh, we had some strong negative feedback from people close to us. In hindsight, it seems pretty silly that some people had a strong enough of an opinion to try and dissuade us. Hindsight is like that. However, going into two new schools where we didn't know many people seemed pretty awkward. Truth is, we didn't need any reason other than that we really wanted to try it, and it seemed like it would be cool.
And it was! It was super cool. Surprise! The actual school work didn't take much time at all per day. The kids got to sleep in and be creative, had the time to explore the things they wanted to. They stopped getting sick. We did some really awesome assignments. I got to teach them about virtual reality, video editing, entrepreneurship. The pressures of homework and finding laundry in the morning absolutely vanished.
We did go to a coffee shop, once. We went to trampoline parks, sledding in the woods or went ice skating for gym. The benefits were actually pretty numerous, including some things I didn't expect. More on that some other time. Best of all, when COVID came around, we didn't miss a beat... except maybe the trampoline park!
However, and to the point of this article, there were some UNEXPECTED things which kept popping up through the school year. By the end of the year, after the schools went full remote and everyone around us ALSO went into home-based learning, the problems we had faced really bubbled up to become quite common issues. Now school is coming back around. The number of people homeschooling the year is set to grow from 3% to maybe 20%. Some of these problems are shared by distance-learners too, and so the problems here apply to a lot of people.
So, without further ado, I give to you ... The Top 3 Problems with Homeschooling (and what you can do about them).
No Sense of Academic Standing
This is a tough one. Most of us grew up going to physical school- not homeschooling, not distance learning. 97%-98% of kids in recent years fall into that category as well. Yes, you can move page by page through a curriculum and have some sense of gradual progress. Outside a classroom setting however, you always have this strange nagging feeling that maybe it's not enough.
You and the kids start having quiet doubts...
- Are they behind where a normal classroom is?
- Are they learning enough to pass?
- If they were to attend a regular school next year, are they going to feel like they're a "bad" student?
This feeling gets amplified by the time you spend homeschooling, compared to what they do in the school system. You can actually do a day's work in very little time when you focus. That's something many people discovered in Lockdown 2020. We were all reminded that in addition to educating our children, school does more than just teach, it also gives kids time out of the home where parents work. There's time spent on logistics (shuffling kids around and to/from lunch and activities), and socialization.
So when your kids finish the day's assignments and reading in less than 2 hours and still have MOST of the day left for other things, you feel a little guilty. It never quite goes away. As the year progresses, this feeling intensifies.
In a standard school, students have quarterly report cards. Set-in-stone milestones to review progress, inform parents of the progress, and have a chance to remedy any shortcomings. We don't do that kind of thing in homeschool.
Also, if you've been in the school system, you know that mid- and end-year, the kids have some serious, heavy-duty standardized testing. Many states waived that completely in 2020 due to COVID. Some states have already waived them for 2021! That doesn't imply that our children don't need to have mastery over learning objectives, it means we won't be testing them. These are important testing events which also give the school systems metrics for effectiveness of their teaching. School funding is tied to scores. People are hired and fired by scores.
A simple solution is to test the kids by some common standard. Fortunately, most states have adopted Common Core. This means that at least for Math and Language Arts, we have available some common standards by which to measure progress and learning objective mastery.
No Peer Competition
This one was completely unexpected, but entirely obvious in retrospect. Kids have their own way of creating pecking orders within their peers. They quietly (or loudly) rank each other by smartest, prettiest, toughest, artistic, fastest, most athletic, funniest, etc. This kind of outside rivalry is constant in their lives in a classroom or group setting, and some of it is very helpful. For example, the kids who have an easier time at certain subjects can help those who need some more guidance. Kids who benefit from a little extra push tend to do better when they form friendly rivalries with classmates. They have a kind of constant competition for who can get the highest grade, or who can finish assignments first. Teachers contribute to it too. There's nothing like being called out to the whole class for doing something special. It feels great! Trying to maintain an A average? Great goal-setting! You can run neck and neck with your rival all year.
In a homeschool setting, that all but goes away completely :( Instead, kids are left with more questions than answers.
- Am I the best in the class? The worst?
- What does an "A" on a quiz, or a "Great Job!" on a paper mean when Mom or Dad is doing the grades?
- Does anyone care?
For the kids who thrived on setting goals and having something to work towards, this loss of competition can be a major negative impact on motivation.
In some areas, there are homeschool groups which meet once a week or so to do some common classes and socialize. It's possible to find academic rivalry there, but not likely.
No Social Interaction
This was the one I was warned about. It was a valid warning. I had a plan for tackling it, but the plan never quite manifested into action. The days went sideways, and we didn't find kids in the same age groups to spend time with who were also not in school all day. My work and meeting schedule, even being flexible and working from home, was not conducive to stepping out for a day at a time to attend homeschool groups regularly.
In a school setting, kids have a chance to observe others and feel out who they would like to become friends with, who share interests. They are forced to work and play in the presence of others, and willingly adapt their expectations based on the friend opportunities they see. Furthermore, they realize that if a child is in school with them today, they will probably be there tomorrow, and can invest time and energy into becoming friends.
This is an extremely difficult thing to do in a homeschool setting. It takes time to develop friendships. Yes, there are homeschool groups, but sometimes a family (like ours!) will show up to a group and never come again. So you develop a certain style of tentative aloofness towards making friends. Unless you're fortunate enough to know another family who will also be homeschooling and you can get together often.
Enough Problems! What are the Solutions?
Lift Academy was founded to elevating at-home learning, and filling the gaps it has. To that end, we're working on solutions to the above problems we encountered while homeschooling.
Solution: Testing! One thing you can do to cover the first 2 problems is to engage in one-time and ongoing progress testing. There are lots of enterprise solutions available to schools, but not much available ad-hoc to homeschoolers or at-home learners.
For this reason, we created Common Core Assessments for end of year/grade readiness. They drill down to the learning objective you need to brush up on, down to the page number.
In particular, try to do a readiness test before the start of the school year in Fall 2020 to help figure out where your student(s) could use a refresher right now. They will be ahead of the game if you do. The assessment takes about 25 minutes and gives you a list of learning objectives and pages to look up. Ongoing tests will give a couple minutes each week to see where you are at in terms of covering the Common Core learning objectives. You'll still need to cover some Writing, History, and Science.. but that's the fun stuff!
Solution: Actually.. testing! A solution here came hot on the heels of the assessment tests. If you supply your zip code, you can also find out how you rank in a regional, subregional, and national level. This provides some much-needed competition for kids who crave it. A side benefit is that in aggregation, we will see how different areas of the country are doing! This kind of visibility is not often passed on to us.
Solution: Coming soon! This will continue to be a tough problem to solve for a little while. We are working on a solution involving weekly video-chat groups moderated by an instructor. The weekly event will be timed, and set up like a game show where kids align themselves by interest. We will deliver weekly little fun quizzes to them to get the learning objective metrics in, maybe doing some live versus battles for math facts for some quick progress and emotional well-being checks through the year. Then we will bring in a guest speaker, role-play some conflict resolution, or do some instruction on a soft topic like financial responsibility, entrepreneurship, anger management or bullying.
Then, it's showtime! There will be some universal opportunities for recognition and socialization. Show and Tell, Art Project showoff, live story creation or MadLibs. For girls, maybe a Dress Up or Dance event will get them a few minutes in the spotlight. For boys, we will come up with something awesome. The kids will know ahead of time what's planned so they can be prepared if they want to take a moment in the spotlight.
The kids will have a secure way to be able to trade their Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, TikTok etc. names with each other and make friends outside the weekly events. They'll also have the chance to group up with the same people next week so they can keep some stability in their lives. Again, exposure to the same group of people is what allows them to bond and form friendships.
The main point is that we will have a regularly occurring online event kids can attend to learn something they wouldn't learn in class, make some friends, and have some fun. We're in early formative stages of this so please drop a line if you're interested in getting involved in the early groups. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hopefully now you have some good ideas of some of the problems you'll face this year in homeschooling or distance learning. The learning itself is going to be doable for you and your children. Don't stress out, and relax your schedule a bit especially while feeling out what works best for you and the kids.
Rely on the assessments to know how you're doing. If there are gaps, we will help you get them covered!
You'll see a report which looks a little something like this...
About Lift Academy
First, we've created the coolest Common Core assessment on the planet. Not only do they cover most of the learning objectives but the question topics are about things kids love. They're going to find question themes like...
Also.. the tests have fun little breaks in them. They can even lift up the spirit and provide some good behavior examples.