One of the attractions of homeschooling is the opportunity to seamlessly fuse our children’s education with the rhythms of family life. One of the downsides, I learned, is children are never quite sure where they stand in terms of their educational progress.
More than one of my four kids looked confused when a stranger asked, “What grade are you in, Honey?” When they were old enough to realize they could get rewards from local restaurants if they produced a report card, they held a summit and presented their demands:
We want a definitive answer on our grade placement. We further insist on report cards, recess, snow days, and back-to-school shopping trips. These are basic human rights.
In the early years, I was eager to throw off any trappings of a traditional education. My educational philosophy was learning all the time and the blurring of the lines between family life and the school day was an important part of living this out. It was a shock to end up with children who demanded that conventions be observed. In their view, they were being denied something of value. With experience, I came to see that many of these traditions create touchstone moments for kids—evidence of progress, achievement and maturity. While I loved homeschooling for its flexibility and informalities; my kids wanted a homeschool where rites of passage were duly noted and cultural conventions observed.
Fair enough, I conceded, I agree to your terms, but I’m drawing the line at report cards for French fries. We will mark those milestones that are noteworthy and establish some traditions of our own.
Now that my homeschool days are over, I have the benefit of hearing my adult children reminisce about their childhood and it is those traditions they remember. In hindsight, here are the takeaways I see from making those concessions:
- Establishing traditions in our homeschools create meaningful memories for our children. These, in turn, contribute to what they value about their family.
- Marking milestones gives kids a sense of accomplishment, and that produces motivation to keep exerting effort. Without recognition, enthusiasm can flag.
- Observing cultural traditions; such as snow days or participation in organized sports, gives our kids a point of connection with their more conventionally-educated peers. Few kids want to enter the broader culture without some shared experiences in common.
So what can we do to mark these memorable moments and make them meaningful? First, sit down and decide what kinds of memories you want to create with your children. Settle upon a few traditions you can achieve, especially those where the kids can help. Homeschool parents do not need more busywork or commitments they can’t keep.
Here are some ideas:
Back-to-School Shopping: During the elementary years, my kids were happy to get new backpacks, a supply of pencils and, for my daughters, the latest flair pens and markers. Even though we weren’t really going anywhere, those backpacks became a great place to keep their supplies organized and out of sight. A lot of deals are available this time of year, but some are reserved just for teachers. Most companies who offer these incentives will extend them to qualified homeschool parents. Just ask.
Once kids are pre-teens, then back-to-school traditions will surely include some serious clothes shopping. Here’s where you can kill two birds with one stone if you are shrewd: Most grandparents are looking for ways to be a part of their grandkids’ education – and at our house we made back-to-school shopping another opportunity for gift-giving (just for grandma!)
Take a Photo: One homeschool mom in our support group had the foresight to take a photo of her daughter posed on their front porch on the first day of school each year. Those charming pictures captured the history of her daughter’s fashion statements and youthful manias enshrined on each year’s backpack; from Aladdin to Lord of the Rings.
Kick-off Field Trip: This was our family tradition, started when my sons complained about missing out on riding a school bus. I said I’d go one better, and we instituted a surprise field trip, often an overnight, as the official start of each school year.
Family Recognition Night: Our local homeschool co-op ends the year with an awards ceremony that also doubles as a huge church social. Each family is given a table to display that year’s memorable accomplishments: 4-H awards, science projects, arts and crafts, photographs, creative writing or athletic competitions. Students man their tables and share their experiences with visitors and friends. We found creating a broader audience for student work increases the amount of effort kids put into the work they display. It is just one more way to maximize a learning opportunity.
The evening begins with a short program that features the musical or dramatic talents of some of the students; and the co-op teachers recognize outstanding achievements. The emcee also announces any distinguished accomplishments; such as, National Merit or Eagle Scout awards. The evening concludes with refreshments in the gymnasium. Family recognition nights are terrific PR opportunities to reassure your relatives; and it is a great way to end the school year on a high note by highlighting the progress each child has made.
Part 2 coming soon. In the meantime, how do you mark milestones at your house?