One of the frequent questions I get from non-homeschoolers or those who are considering homeschool is how do you get the kids to treat you like a teacher, how do you get them to take it seriously and get quality work. A lot of that depends on your parenting style and also on your child’s personality. If you have a child who takes things seriously, and/or your parenting style brooks no disobedience, you shouldn’t have an issue with that. However, I am somewhat casual with my children and I also have a jokester who likes to write “I have no idea,” or something similar when he doesn’t want to do the work.
One of the ways to remind them it matters is to grade the work, even if you don’t record the grades. Sometimes the red number on the top of the page handed out is enough to challenge them to do their best and remind them their jokes won’t cut it. Another technique I’ve used is a school handbook with rules of conduct.
When it is in black and white, spelled out with consequences, there is little wiggle room for excuses. Some of the things in my handbook are below:
- All students must wear clothing that is comfortable, clean, and modest.
- Pajamas are allowed before noon. After lunch, classes require public clothing.
- Students are expected to do their own work. While helping another student is commendable, giving them the answers means they will continue to ask you for them. Giving them understanding, allows them to provide their own answers and frees you to do other things.
- Asking for help when a subject is difficult to understand is commendable, and helps to further your own understanding. Asking for answers is a crutch that makes you dependent on someone else forever. Pursue understanding.
- It is your personal responsibility to complete the tasks assigned to you on the day they are assigned within the time frame assigned.
- It is your personal responsibility to strive for mastery and understanding of each assignment. If you are unsure of your understanding, it is up to you to ask for help or seek resources of more information to further or complete your understanding.
- It is your personal responsibility to defer to your teacher in a manner that respects their authority in whatever class you attend, regardless of who your teacher is.
- It is your personal responsibility to be prompt for each school day and to pursue your assignments for that day. You are responsible for making sure you know what is assigned and what the assignment means. If you are unsure, it is your responsibility to ask about it.
This is just a sample of the policies for my handbook. I have other sections on hygiene, politeness, locations for schoolwork, traveling school, and “out of the house” classes. I have a teenage boy and pre-pubescent girl and hygiene IS an issue. Locations for schoolwork includes where to deposit your independent assignments, where they can read, where they must do each subject (math is on the computer), etc. Traveling school is simply a strategy of how we will do school if we have a doctor’s appointment or if we have a field trip. Out of the house classes are of course co-op, music lessons, or other classes we take that are not at home and how I expect them to behave.
Spelling it out and requiring them to read it or reading it aloud the first day of school each term, reminds them of who we expect them to be and how we expect them to behave. It also sets a tone of authority for you and gives them a structure to follow. Because, even though they don’t think so, we know they crave structure and knowing what to do and what is expected gives them more confidence to go forward. Giving them permission to ask us for instructions or resources, gives them the confidence to take initiative.
Each year brings us new experiences and new challenges. As a result, each year my handbook is edited to reflect that. For instance, I didn’t have a hygiene section until my kids hit puberty and started needing deodorant!
An important thing to remember is this is YOUR family’s school. This is about shaping and educating YOUR kids. Yes there are requirements for admission to the college of their choice and YES you should make sure they get Algebra I, but my school will not look like your school. Your school will not look like your friend’s school and hopefully, it won’t look like public school. So if you decide to create a handbook for your kids, make it about what you expect, what you want them to learn, and who you want them to be. Do this is a good/healthy way, with characteristics you want to encourage. Do NOT do this in a stifling, clone making, no room for free thought way or you will get rebellion for sure.
Here is a sample of my daily rules and a sample of how not to word them.
DAILY RULES (good)
- Be kind to one another.
- Be proud of your own work by doing your best work every time.
- Be available to new opportunities with a good attitude.
- Be respectful of your teachers and parents.
- Be forgiving of one another. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes.
- Look for opportunities to get ahead. The sooner work is completed, the sooner you can pursue your hobbies. The sooner ALL work is completed the sooner summer starts.
- Return all books, workbooks, and tools to their proper locations after every use.
- Read something for fun everyday.
DAILY RULES (bad)
- No hitting, fighting, bad language.
- No cheating or plagiarism.
- No disobedience or disrespect.
- No disagreements.
- Don’t procrastinate.
- Don’t leave your materials out.
- Don’t read just your schoolwork, read for fun too.
It is a scientific fact that telling someone not to do something is a mental two step process. First they have to identify what they are told not to do and then have to tell themselves not to do it. We all know that telling ourselves no to a donut, just makes us want the donut more. What do you think happens when we tell ourselves no to other things? In the first rule, “Be kind to one another” they just have to remember kindness, whereas with “No hitting, fighting, bad language” they have to identify hitting, fighting, and various bad words, then tell themselves to shut it off. Once the idea of fighting, hitting, and bad language is identified, it becomes imbedded. There is a bereft feeling when they try to tell themselves no. Instead just list what you want them to do and it is more likely for them to follow it.
This is where the difference between positive and negative language comes in. Positive language is not defined as “Be happy and love everyone.” It is defined as adding an idea or attitude to our mental awareness. Negative language is identifying an idea and then taking the idea away, leaving a bereft feeling behind. When kids are told they can’t do something, it generates a sense of loss that they need to fill it with something else. This is called “acting out.” the fastest way to get kids to misbehave is to tell them “Don’t do this or that.” Negative language promotes negative behavior.
I am not saying never tell your children no. Absolutely not! I tell mine “no” all the time, it is healthy to learn how to deal with a firm “no.” What I am saying is wording your rules for behavior should promote the behavior you wish to see, not encourage the opposite.
The last section in my handbook is the agreement page. This page is in the back of the book and it acknowledges all the information preceding it. It has a paragraph that simply states the student will, to the best of their ability, adhere to and uphold the rules of conduct and policies listed in the book. It is followed by a place to sign and date the acknowledgment. This is like a written promise from them to be obedient. It is also leverage for you. Having them turn to the signed page holds them to their promise and makes it hard for them to wiggle out of responsibility and into disrespect. If your child has a conscience at all, the agreement page is huge for your authority and school structure.
Keeping the idea of positive wording versus negative wording in mind, should help you write your own handbook to encourage the behavior and structure your would like to see in your home school. Having them agree to it on that first day gives you more authority and fosters obedience to your structure. Also remember that while I might have a book, you might have one page that you put in their notebooks, or even a poster with some family rules on it. Make it fit your family and your school.
I hope this blesses your homeschool as it has mine!