SummaryTrying to get homeschooling done before summer break can be stressful. But sometimes, when you think you’re behind, you’re right where you should be.
Here at Seton, we like to tell families that sometimes, when you think you’re behind, you’re actually right where you’re supposed to be. After all, lesson plans are just a means to an end; they aren’t an end in themselves.
You know your children and you know what they are capable of doing. In the big picture, if you are progressing toward giving them a solid spiritual and intellectual formation, then you’re not behind, no matter what page you are on in the math book.
Homeschooling is about having the flexibility to learn at the student’s pace in a way that works best for your particular family. However, it is true that scheduling can be pretty important at various times in life, especially if a new baby is on the way, or a high schooler needs to graduate, or a special family reunion is planned.
If you haven’t reached the goals you set for your family when the school year started, having the family ready for such events can be a challenge, not to say a significant source of anxiety.
Rest assured, however, there are many strategies for moving through courses a little faster. Here’s how:
A. Set Goals
1. Manage by objectives.
Work out a plan with each student for handling workloads and deadlines. Assign very specific rewards to each goal achieved, with maybe a bonus for progress that happens early. This should be done with the input of the student, who then feels invested in the plan and has real motivation to achieve the goals he himself set.
2. Have a precise daily goal.
As a precursor to #1, and a way to test if that system will work for your family, work on creating a goal just for today. If the student can achieve that, set a new goal for the next day, and so on for a week or two. Once the student has that experience of consistent daily achievement under the belt, it will be easier to commit to a long-term plan.
B. Be Flexible
3. Consider working on Saturdays.
This recommendation may elicit a groan, but if a student can commit to working just three hours each Saturday, she can quickly make up lost ground. Three hours does not kill the weekend, especially if she commits to getting up early. Starting work by 8 AM means that three hours of work are over at 11:00, leaving plenty of time for typical weekend activities.
Alternatively, work an extra hour each day from Monday through Friday.
For high school students, commit to one hour per course per day as the normal school day; then add an extra hour for one course at the end of the day. Slowly but surely, students will start catching up, and eventually, they’ll even be ahead of the curve. Be careful with this one, though, because there is a diminishing return if students simply aren’t able to focus for a long period of time.
4. Turn required reading into bedtime reading.
Students can get their book report assignments finished much more quickly if they read their books outside of regularly scheduled school hours. That way school time can be spent focusing on written work.
C. Use a Success Strategy
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
If your high school student needs to complete some courses to receive credits, then focus on the work required for a Seton grade. If a student is strong in certain areas, cut the daily home-graded work in half. In such disciplines, have students do odd or even numbered problems/questions instead of whole exercises. Schoolwork will proceed much more quickly with this approach.
6. Use incentives.
Everybody needs regular positive reinforcement, but the reality is that once kids get past toddler-age, they don’t get a great deal. We sometimes focus on everything that’s wrong, forgetting to praise what’s right. Make a point to keep the incentives and positive feedback going. One mom uses this method to great effect. She motivates her kids “with small prizes. Every day they finish on time, they get a star. Every five stars gets a prize. It is surprisingly motivating for them.”
Another mom recognizes the need for rewarding everyone. She says, “When my kids fall behind, it is often a shared fault—so I motivate us all by scheduling a field trip on a Friday if we work really hard and get the job done. My kids love our zoo and the museum, but the big cookie is going downtown to meet Daddy for lunch.”
Regarding incentives, it may seem a little crass, but money often works. Kids are always asking for things, so why not tie their spending money to getting their schoolwork done?
7. Use disincentives.
While positive reinforcement typically works better, it may not hurt to have a system of disincentives to support the reward system. If a student fails to complete his work according to the agreed-upon timeline, consequences should come into play. Reduce access to entertainment, extracurricular activities, friends, etc., until the student has recommitted to getting his work done.
Two of our moms recently mentioned that they do a “complete black out. No electronics of any kind, and no going anywhere/doing anything.” According to both moms, their kids “get back on schedule in record-breaking time.”
8. Turn written work into oral work.
Outside of Seton-graded assignments, there are a number of home-graded assignments that typically require use of pen and paper or a computer. Work with your children to do some of these assignments orally.
An added benefit might be that you get help with the chores. A literature quiz could be handled while setting the table for a meal. Discussion questions and spelling tests could take place over a basket of laundry.
An assignment that might otherwise take an hour because of lack of motivation or struggles with writing may take only 15 or 20 minutes because of the shift to oral work and the involvement of Mom or Dad.
D. Organize Now
9. Have a functional plan.
Progress is much harder when there is no order in the home life, so don’t get carried away attacking all the schoolwork at once, to the detriment of everything else in family life. Have a plan and stick to it, and make sure that plan can function within the overall system of your family life.
10. Have an accountability partner for each student.
This could be a parent, older sibling, or a member of the extended family, someone who wants the student to succeed, whom the student respects.
This accountability partner works with the student to encourage, motivate, and assist with school planning, identifying reasons for falling behind, and helping overcome trouble spots.
Regularly scheduled check-ins with an accountability partner are often all it takes to get school moving again.
11. Keep it steady.
Take it one step at a time in a committed and focused drive to the finish line. You’ll get there if you just keep on keeping on.
A Different Approach for High School
12. Use the Block System
Switch to the “block” system. Take 6 hours for school, but instead of 1 hour per course for 6 courses, do 3 hours of one course in the morning and 3 hours of a second course in the afternoon.
If a student can complete 5 lessons (a week’s worth of classes) in the morning and again in the afternoon, then she can absolutely complete a course in just two months.
If there are 6 courses, this means that in two months she will have two credits and only 4 courses left to finish. This sort of tangible progress usually results in a big boost to self-motivation, which then spurs further achievement, and is a primary reason why we recommend the block system.
If you need more proof, take a look at these numbers: A typical school year has 180 work days. If a textbook has 540 pages, then the 180-day plan would require about 3 pages of study a day. If you do 5 lessons in a day, then you have to cover 15 pages, perhaps a chapter or half a chapter. By doing 5 lessons per day in one subject, you cover a week’s worth of lesson plan work in one day.
There are 9 weeks in a quarter, so in 9 days (two weeks), you will cover a quarter’s work, and in 4 weeks (one month), you will cover a semester’s work, and thus in 2 months, a full high school course. Sounds good, doesn’t it!