Is Your Homeschool Fun?

Is your homeschool fun? Do your kids love doing their school work?

Here is what Feisty, my third grader,  wrote  in his grammar book last week: (edited for spelling and grammar)

Hello, my name is Feisty. I’m going to tell you about my favorite subject. I would say lunch, as any other kid would, but I’m not allowed to. I’d also say that this book was and is very stupid. In fact, it is so stupid that I don’t want to do it. Of course, nobody wants to do anything in school.

But back to my favorite subject. It’s… well… it took me about an hour to figure this out so it might not be the best one. Um, shoot! I forgot it again! Um, hmmm…. gimme five minutes to think…. (Five minutes later) Gimme ten minutes to think…. (Ten minutes later) I don’t know what it is.

Well, ho hum… I thought it was history, umm… that’s what I thought it was. Ahem. I just don’t know. It’s sad that I don’t know. I could tell you my least favorite subject: science, history, math, spelling, grammar, writing, religion, memory work. Those are my least favorite subjects. Yes, and nobody is changing that. That’s the fact. Yes, that is the fact. What a great fact!

Yep. That’s my Feisty.

We both had a laugh when he read it to me. He was being facetious, but it got me thinking.

When I was new to homeschooling, I used to think that homeschooling had to be fun… for everyone. That’s what all the catalogues said. Buy this math program and your child will love doing math! This history program is so intriguing, your kids will beg to do more! Grammar made fun! (Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing and exaggerating a little, but that’s the gist of it.) The worst ones are always for science books: with exciting hands-on experiments that will amaze your budding scientists! These catalogues are designed to make money. So naturally they are going to tell you how much your child will enjoy their books. Advertising in general  makes children believe that they ought to have fun all the time. Unfortunately, it gives them a sense of entitlement instead of gratitude.

Of course we want our kids to love learning. Of course we want them to enjoy their school work and even to become excited and enthusiastic about at least some of their subjects. And of course we want to be engaging teachers who love the process as much as they do.

But the reality is that there are many days when our kids will act as if homeschool is the worst thing they ever had to endure since the spinach you made them eat last night for dinner.

And you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay if your kids think that having to do ten problems of long division is the worst thing ever. If that’s the extent of their problems, thank God! They could be in a hospital waiting for surgery. They could be living in a poverty-stricken country, working ten-hour days in some dingy hole of a factory making shoes. There are many worse things that could happen to them than having to sit in the comfort of their home doing school work that is not fun.

When your child complains that he hates school, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s not about that wonderful Latin program that was supposed to be delightful. It’s more about:

  • Stuff he would rather be doing or,
  • The fact that you told him to do it.

Point 1: School is not fun because your child would rather be playing. I know you get this, but let me expound on it. Once in a while, I get on a healthy kick and I make kale chips. My boys love kale chips. They can eat them so fast that one dish is gone before the other comes out of the oven. One day, I went to Sue’s house. We made dinner there, and I baked a large batch of kale chips for my kids and hers. Now Sue is an awesome cook. She made a delicious dinner of roast chicken and sweet potatoes, home-grown salad, home-made cranberry sauce, home-made apple sauce, and topped with apple crisp, healthy jello,  and home-made ice cream made of organic milk and sweetened with maple sugar.

Would you believe it? No one touched the kale chips!

If my kids have no choice, they will devour the kale chips. But even I would complain at having to each kale chips when there are so many other delicious things to eat right there in front of me.

And so it is with school. School work is like kale chips. Healthy and wholesome. But it totally pales in comparison to LEGO, K’nex, hockey, riding bikes outside, and building forts in the basement. When I remove the option to do all this fun stuff, my kids realize that school work is not so bad after all. They sometimes even enjoy it. And they develop the habit of starting their school work first thing in the morning on their own.

So in my house, with the exception of the little ones, the rule is very clear. Other than a long break after lunch, there is no playing until all the school work is done. (One caveat: this will not work with a child who has a very short attention span.)

Point 2: School is not fun because it’s school. It is just one of those irrational things about children. Kids want to do what they want to do. If they do not feel like doing a task, it cannot be fun. Adults are much the same way. Those who do volunteer work tend to be much more passionate and excited about their volunteer work than their job. Why? Because volunteer work is something they want and choose to do, rather than something they have to do.

In the mind of a child, the mere fact of having to do something can take the fun right out of it. Several years ago, I asked Big Sis to copy a poem into a notebook. The way she acted, you might have thought I was asking her to walk on broken glass. She moaned and groaned, told me it would take her ages, and stomped off to her room to copy the poem. A few days later, I found that she had copied several other poems into her notebook. Suddenly copying poetry was fun, because she had chosen to do it herself.

Giving our children choices may help, and certainly the older they get, the more choices we can offer them. However, we need to limit and guide their choices until they learn to make wise decisions on their own. For example, I usually let my kids choose what poems they want to memorize, but they do have to memorize them.

I try really hard to make school enjoyable for my kids. I try to preserve their natural curiosity and sense of wonder. I try to make learning a joyful experience wherein they discover truth, goodness, and beauty. But there are going to be times when, no matter how fun I try to make the learning process, the kids are going to yawn and say, “Can we be done now?”

When our kids complain that school is no fun and we begin to doubt ourselves, we really need to examine our mission and goals. What are we setting out to do any ways? I want to instill a life-long love for learning.  But my most important goal is for my kids to know, love, and do God’s will. We all know that doing God’s will is not always fun although it ultimately leads to happiness. Often, doing God’s will entails sacrifice, hard work, and sheer fortitude.  So  I need to teach my children to persevere in their efforts and to be faithful to their work and responsibilities even when it is challenging. The better our children learn to do hard and difficult things cheerfully, the better they are equipped to do God’s will.  A real education has more to do with character building than fun curricula. Our job is to educate, not entertain.

As it is, I sometimes wonder if my kids have it too easy. During my last year of high school, I attended a private school in Toronto founded by several Catholic families who were concerned with the increasingly disturbing moral problems at the government-funded Catholic schools. (They didn’t know much about homeschooling then.) Do you know how long it would take us to get to school? Two hours. One way. At 6:30 am we would get a drive to the subway station. We would then take the subway across the city, ride the public bus, and then walk the rest of the way. Even children as young as six or seven would make these long treks to school. Furthermore,  during the winter it was blustery cold! We would leave for school in the dark and get home in the dark. This is the price these parents and children had to pay to get a solid education.

So, it’s hard to feel sorry for poor little Feisty when all he has to do to get to school is roll out of bed and go downstairs.  When he complains about the amount of school work he has to do, I tell him he ought to be grateful. Life isn’t so bad when you get to do school on a picnic blanket under a shady tree on a beautiful day.  In fact, on the days when he zips through school, I often want to give him more work.  First, to keep him out of trouble, and second, to build character.

If you want a little perspective, watch the movie McFarland USA. (Warning: being a Disney movie, there is a sappy side-plot with the main character’s daughter and her boy-friend. It’s not for little kids.) However, after watching this movie, you won’t feel sorry for your kids anymore. In fact, you will realize that by making your children work hard, you do them a great favor. You make them strong.

Is your homeschool fun? If the answer is “no”,  don’t beat yourself up. As long as you believe in the value of what you are teaching your children,  you do not need to go scrambling to find a fun curriculum the next time your kids say they hate math or grammar. Of course we do our best to make learning a pleasure. However,  there is a lot of character building that goes on when your child has to do something difficult and time-consuming. If we can teach our children to work hard without complaining, to struggle and persevere, and to offer their efforts up as a sacrifice to God, they will learn to be faithful to God’s will. And that is far more important than fun school work and eye-popping science experiments. That’s the fact, Feisty.  Yes, that is the fact. What a great fact!




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