I’ve been home schooling for three months so, you know, I’m totally qualified to speak.

I haven’t found it hard to get the children to do school.

I think about homeschool like this: there’s a rider on an elephant walking down a path in the forest. If you want the pair to change direction, you can instruct the rider (use willpower), tempt the elephant (make things enticing), or shape the path (bake learning into the day.)

Instruct the Rider

I don’t like using the rider (me). The rider gets tired and doesn’t have a lot of power when the elephant really wants something. In a home school, instructing the rider is like saying, “My child is struggling with _____; I just need to sit down with him at the kitchen table and hammer it out.” (I think purchased curricula rely on this, although I can’t say for all of them). If learning depends on the parent having time and energy to make the child use time and energy, it will work for about a week.

I currently have our physical activity set up in a rider-directed way, and it’s not very successful. I attempt to get all the kids out the door for a hike or bike ride. My boys are sick of them, for some reason, so I have to use will power. It’s not great. Looking for suggestions.

Tempt the Elephant

Here’s one way I tempt the elephant: Kids use online educational services for an hour, and then they have an hour of free time on devices. We call it Work Hard, Play Hard. In the last three months, each of them have missed maybe one day of Work Hard. I don’t make them do it! They don’t have to work hard. …They also don’t have to play hard. Sometimes I have a chore I need done, and they can choose to either do their work or do that chore. I’m happy either way.

Typing Club, Khan Academy, and studying with iPad apps are not creative, so bribery works okay for now. I don’t like the idea of bribing them to learn, but this is bribing them to practice, right?

I don’t think bribing children to create either with words, color, or bricks would be successful in the long or short term. We tempt the elephants to create by holding Daily Demos. (Almost) every night, their dad gathers them so they can show him what they created that day. The person who created the most or the most interesting thing gets the most attention, in a natural way. It leads them to create instead of pushing them to create. Bryan creates for a living, and knowing that someone will see and like his creations keeps him going. He wants the kids to taste that.

The app Simply Piano tempts the elephant. It’s like Guitar Hero, but using your real piano. My kids play the piano a lot. Peter says it’s healthy video games. Someone is usually on Simply Piano. I never nag anyone to practice. I love Hoffman Academy, but my kids never chose to watch the videos and practice on their own.

We use YouTube to tempt the elephants to put on their pajamas and brush their teeth. When I want them to go to bed, I set a timer for fifteen minutes and I tell the kids their toothbrushing timer is ticking. When it goes off, I take the iPad away. But until then they can watch what they want to on YouTube (if their pajamas are on and they are brushing their teeth). If they want to dink around and not put on their pajamas and not brush their teeth, they don’t “have” to watch anything.

Shape the Path

The best way is to shape the path. The elephant has to do what you want, unless it wants to work really hard. Which it doesn’t. I shape the path by checking out loads of library books (we currently have 95 in our house) and keeping only books in the front room. Practically the only other toys on the main floor are Duplos and Magnatiles (which are creative!) They spend a lot of time reading every day.

Also, after Daily Demos is dedicated Reading Time. They don’t have to read… but if they don’t want to read they have to go to bed. They get their Guided Reading time in when I rotate reading with one kid per night. They like this instruction, because it means time with me. Which is usually limited because there are five of them who eat and wear clothes.

We shape the path to teach science, social studies, more math, character education, and life skills by teaching them while they eat. We chose our house in part by which kitchen could hold a white board on the wall. One parent teaches and eats while the other one feeds the toddlers and eats. If a parent is missing for a meal the other parent is kept hopping. This is worth it to us because the kids are seated with their mouths busy and we don’t want to waste that oppotunity. Also, teaching a white board between bites is so much more pleasant than listening to random sounds, fights, or bathroom humor.

I shape the path by choosing what toys I have in my house. The times when I should buy them toys, I don’t. I buy them fossils, rocks, seashells, Snap Circuits, Laser Maze, a chemistry set, magnifying glasses, binoculars, stuff like that. (Or I ask for those for birthdays and Christmas.)

If I bake a learning activity into our day, if I make it easier to do than to not do, the activity gets done. If I just yell to make it happen, it happens only when I feel like yelling.