Substantive Education

August 4, 2008


Filed under: Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 6:29 pm
Tags: , ,

Homeschooling is all about balance. One on one teaching is balanced by independent learning. Discipline in our schedules is balanced by the realities of family life. Protecting our kids from peer pressure is balanced by teaching our kids how to have healthy social interactions. When one side gets out of balance (as it inevitably does at some point) we have to shift things around until we find a good balance again. As the school years roll by needs shift and we have to shift with them. I think one of the hardest balances to find is how much help we should offer to our students.

When children are young, parents often make the mistake of expecting too much, too soon. Parents of young children are under a lot of pressure to ‘keep up’ and homeschool parents can feel they are under a microscope. Is Johnny reading by 6, does Katie know all her multiplication tables by 8? The focus becomes meeting some nebulous standard, not learning. I envy those of you with pre-school and elementary children. These are the truly fun years of schooling. There is so much to discover and explore together. During these years parents should ‘bear the burden’ with their children to keep learning challenging, but not frustrating.

During my boys early school days we spent 15 minutes a day on phonics, another 15 on handwriting, and maybe 30 on math. This was the ‘formal’ part of our school day. When we did science and history I often read to them and helped them to write and record their thoughts, stories, and insights. My ‘bearing the burden’ with them in this way allowed them to explore books and ideas that they couldn’t read on their own, and encouraged them to record fully what they were learning because they knew I would help with the writing. If I had insisted we only read books they could read they would have been bored since their minds were ready to take on much more than their reading abilities would have allowed. If I had forced them to do all of their own writing, learning would have become a chore, not a joy. BUT, even in these early years we must be careful not to cross over the line and take over their learning.

This is their journey and they should own it. Write exactly what they say, don’t clean up the grammar or add in your thoughts. Read it back, see if they want to make improvements…then leave it. If they are drawing in their nature notebooks, let them draw. It isn’t a contest; it doesn’t have to look like the coloring book page. If you continue to interfere in this way kids will become less confident in their abilities and take less enjoyment in what they produce because they will come to recognize that their efforts are not ‘good enough’. They will begin to fight you because doing their school work makes them feel inadequate, and eventually they will just give up.

So how do we find the balance, how much help is too much?

With every child the journey is different and we need to be aware and flexible. As children enter Jr. High we need to be handing over more and more of their schoolwork to them. Now is the time to allow them to struggle a little more before we intervene. Not all learning is fun and games; sometimes it is hard work and requires diligence and perseverance. Don’t jump in to quickly. Offer suggestions, explain concepts, but let them do the work. If your kids don’t already type now is the time for them to learn. (If you are handling all of their typing for them you are probably also making corrections and improvements as you go that they should be doing.) You have these few years of Jr. High to transition your students away from being dependent on you. Now is the time to focus on developing independent skills like reading, research, writing, and study habits. Take stock of the areas your child seems to always need your help in and work hard to wean them off of needing that help. By this age all writing assignments should be attempted without you…after they have a rough draft you can offer suggestions, ask questions that will improve the piece, but let them make the corrections themselves. This is the only way they will learn. Kids naturally know how to work the system (and their parents) If they can get you to do all the work…they will. If you are too involved in their schoolwork not only will they miss out on the learning they need, but you will also be undermining their self-confidence.

By High School most students should be able to handle their schoolwork independently. This doesn’t just mean the reading and writing, but scheduling their time effectively, taking responsibility for turning things in on time, and asking for help when they need it. All of these are skills they will need in life when Mom and Dad aren’t there to be the safety net. High Schoolers should feel responsible for their own learning and your help should be moving more and more into the role of mentor. You are still there for support, accountability, and help to cover new material, but they are by and large working on their own. If you can reach this point by the end of high school your kids will be prepared to go out and take on the life.

Not all kids move on the same time schedule and you are bound to hit bumps and detours. That’s normal. It’s highly unlikely that any bump you hit is unique to your child. There are terrific homeschool books available, seminars like the CHEA convention, and parents in our school group to get you over the bump and moving forward again. Be encouraged, you are doing a good work in your kid’s life.



  1. This was a post I really needed to read today. I participated in the Virtual HOTM Conference and one of the speakers was challenging his audience to “try and help a kid too much.” His argument was that you really can’t because the child will say, “I’ve got it. Let me do it.” While I see his point, I recognize some of my own fears that without proper balance, I could end up just doing it myself because it’s easier.

    I’ve really been thinking about this today since I believe that I probably err on the side of requiring too much. I don’t want them to be helpless and unable, so I push them to do, what probably they would more readily do if I gave them room.

    Your post has helped me crystallize some of these thoughts. Where I have erred in requiring too much, whether for internal or external, real or perceived pressures, I need to lend more of a supportive touch and less of a controlling one. Where I have erred in not requiring enough, I need to trust more each son’s process and timeframe for learning, not fearing that he will “never learn anything”.

    The only additional thing I would ask is your opinion on where a 5th grader would fit into your example. He’s not quite junior high, but he’s certainly beyond elementary.


    Comment by Elle — August 4, 2008 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

  2. the real reason i like to poke fun at you all for homeschooling, is because i am so so so jealous of it…i think you start an adult education homeschool so i can have a shot at the goodies i missed in the public school system…

    Comment by Kristin George — August 4, 2008 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Elle,

    Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. I find this struggle of how much to help is one that I have to re-evaluate regularly. Maybe that’s a healthy thing, but it sure would be easier if there was a clear line.

    I decided to answer your questions about where a fifth grader will fit in, in a seperate a post, because I thinks it’s a great question and requires a longer answer that might be helpful to others with that late elementary school age. I’ll mull it over and put my thoughts up tomorrow.

    Have a great day.

    Comment by kbagdanov — August 4, 2008 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  4. This is fantastic information on how to homeschool. There’s a sensitive balance between homeschooling and preserving family harmony and I think this article says it all. Homeschooling should bond child and parent and not tear them apart. I’m a retired primary school and special education teacher with a blog that helps parents take up the slack the schools are leaving for some children. I’ll definitely backlink to this article on my blog.

    Comment by Wendy Anderson — August 5, 2008 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  5. Thanks Wendy. I visited your site, it’s wonderful. I’m going to add your link, we have several families with reading challenges and I know they would find helpful ideas there. What a wonderful legacy you’ve left behind as a teacher, and now continuing the work through your blog.

    Comment by kbagdanov — August 5, 2008 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

  6. Hello. Your stuff is wonderful! Thank you! I’m hoping you can help me use it well. I’ve been combining homeschooling with public school for my freshman. I’m afraid I’ve crushed his spirit. I’m not sure how to be what he needs. He’s overwhelmed and unmotivated and tells me I can always find something wrong with his work. I’m frustrated by his never-ending desire to play. Niether of us understands time well and he doesn’t like to take instruction from me. Do you have any simple, practical suggestions? Thank you so much.

    Comment by Joy — November 24, 2009 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks Joy. I have a few questions before I answer yours. In what way are you combining public and homeschooling? Are you new to homeschooling, or is he used to having you be his teacher? What curriculum’s are you using?

    Comment by kbagdanov — November 28, 2009 @ 12:19 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: