In this “How to Homeschool” series, I help you to customize your homeschool to fit the members of your family and your current season of life by giving you three key steps to follow, in order, to get you started.
In the introductory post, I share with you the importance of uniqueness and the need to customize and not imitate.
In Step #1, I share with you the importance of learning your local homeschool laws.
Step #2 was all about learning preferences and how they make a difference in your homeschool.
In this post, we cover the importance of identifying both potential problems and ways to bring delight to your homeschool.
How to Homeschool – Step #3: Identify Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights
Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights – I call them the Three D’s – are areas that may require special attention. They may be areas that you want to give extra time and resources, or areas to be avoided. They may affect how you choose curricula and activities, or highlight areas that may require changes from you as a parent and teacher. In general, getting to know your kids’ Three D’s will help you to make wise and insightful decisions, and give more personality to your homeschool.
As with learning preferences, it may take special effort to identify the Three D’s if you have not already begun homeschooling. You may even want to talk to child minders involved in your kids’ lives – nannies, teachers, babysitters, grandparents, etc. You might be surprised by what they’ve observed.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the Three D’s.
These are areas where your child needs extra support, where they’re having the most difficulty, or that serve as stumbling blocks or limiting factors in other academic areas. They could be issues related to health, learning, behavior, character, or season of life. They could be temporary difficulties, or difficulties that you’ll need to consider year-to-year. They could be difficulties that affect one child, or your family as a whole.
While identifying your kids’ difficulties may seem like a negative process, I believe that it is a hopeful process. It is me declaring, “This Difficulty will not define or limit my child. I will look this Difficulty in the eye so that it cannot take him down unawares.” I’ve also found that addressing Difficulties allowed my children to discover new interests and passions.
In the next few sections, I’ll give you some examples of Difficulties in my own family, and how those Difficulties affected our homeschool. Please keep in mind that your family will have its own unique challenges.
Obvious candidates for the category of Difficulties are diagnosed learning or health issues. In our family, we have a child that has been given a diagnosis of having a language disorder. This language disorder could affect him academically and socially.
Consequently, in years past I’ve had to incorporate speech therapy into our days, and may need to again in the future. I am also careful about language arts curricula that I choose and know that language arts is an area that may require more of my time and money.
I have another child with a weak eye that requires patch therapy. Besides finding a way to incorporate patch therapy into our days, I know that we may need to participate in guided vision therapy at some point. In that case, I may need to find a way to do some on-the-go schooling with my other boys in order to make good use of our time and keep them busy during what will be boring appointments for them.
A diagnosis is certainly an area of need for a child, and deserves to be given elevated priority in our families as we customize our children’s educations.
Even without a diagnosis, it’s likely that your student will have an academic-related Difficulty at some point.
For example, I have a child that did not develop a proper pencil grip naturally. Looking ahead, I could see that this issue could serve as a stumbling block if it wasn’t addressed. Besides having poor penmanship, he would likely resist any type of written work, affecting him academically.
I addressed this stumbling block by investing money into materials from Handwriting Without Tears. I also invested my own time by learning about the development of a proper pencil grip. During the school year, I invested extra time (and patience!) each day in working with him. And when it was time to choose a spelling curriculum for his kindergarten year, I held him back a little to give him a chance to further develop his fine motor skills.
Other areas of foundational learning also deserve special attention. We’ve spent a lot of time and used several resources for learning multiplication tables. And when one of my sons hated art so much that he couldn’t do a simple sketch, I identified that as an area of need and required him to spend some time each week learning to draw with a simple, age-appropriate instructional book.
If you’re anything like me, dealing with negative behavior is probably your least favorite aspect of parenting. But while parenting, and especially homeschooling, does require an acceptance of the need to discipline and disciple, what we should consider for this Difficulties category are more pressing behavioral concerns.
In our homeschool, the three behavioral issues we’ve had to deal with are disrespect, extreme defiance, and perfectionism. They have resulted in a decided lack of peace and confidence in our home. Honestly, we waited longer than we should have to admit that these were Difficulties, hoping that they would magically go away. They didn’t.
After acknowledging that these Difficulties needed special attention from me, I did a few things: I read a couple of books on parenting, focusing on defiant behavior; I attempted to identify triggers to the negative behavior; I worked to address triggers in our daily routine and schoolwork; I set boundaries with my kids. This is still, and will continue to be, a work in progress.
Many homeschoolers, including me, have talked about the desire for our kids to have good character traits. But how do we know where we stand in the area of good character? This quote from Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy gives us a good place to start:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Will Durant
I firmly believe that our habits form our character, so I think that we can look at habits to determine the state of character.
In identifying Difficulties, bad habits is a good place to start. In our homeschool, a habit bad enough to be called a Difficulty has been procrastination (lack of diligence) in getting schoolwork done. I’ve dealt with this in various ways over the years – timers, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, changing routines, changing expectations.
Negative behaviors (talked about above) can also result in bad habits that negatively form character. We may see willful disrespect initially during times of high emotion, but it doesn’t take long for it to become a habit that affects relationships.
In our homeschool, I’ve found that I have to be willing to forego my plan for the day if dealing with bad habits. This affects both how I plan and certain activities if they serve as a trigger.
Season of Life
Life can be hard. Rather than trying to go through a difficult time as if nothing has changed, I think that it’s helpful to accept the difficulty and change what we can to make things a bit easier.
My family has had to go through difficult seasons involving a traumatic experience, a move, and a hurricane that devastated our city. During those times, I focused on minimal homeschooling and chose curricula that didn’t require a lot of supplies. And if it made more sense to not do any schoolwork, we didn’t. This is part of the reason why I chose to do year-round schooling with breaks throughout the year – so I didn’t have to worry about having “enough” school days and we could maneuver through difficult times in a common sense way.
A reality of homeschooling is that we sometimes have to go out of our way to form friendships. Without the forced association provided in a typical classroom environment, we have to be purposeful about being around other people.
Many homeschool families find that they can easily form friendships in churches and extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, my family does not currently have a church home, and many extracurricular activities were a no-go due to one of my kids’ Difficulties.
In order to deal with this Difficulty, we thought that this year was a good time to join Cub Scouts. We are also getting involved in a new homeschool co-op to make new friends. These new activities have required me to change up our schedule. I generally keep Fridays simple and free of our “core” work to give us flexibility, and that decision is allowing us to more easily participate in a Friday co-op.
These are just some of the Difficulties I’ve identified for our family. Your family will face its own unique challenges. And some years will be easier than others. In general, I believe that acknowledging the difficulties will help you to proceed with greater confidence. Just don’t overdo it. Identify some of your family’s Difficulties, and prioritize so that you can address one or two of your most pressing needs at a time.
The second D – Dislikes – are activities and subjects that other children may enjoy, but that your student either actively avoids or that doesn’t bring out the best in him/her.
For example, my oldest did not enjoy read-alouds as a toddler or preschooler. Reading is one of my favorite things, so I did try read-aloud in his early years. But my firstborn would actually leave the room after a few minutes. I’ll never know if he left because he hated the sound of my voice droning on about something that he didn’t care about, or because he just forgot I was reading to him (the spoken word is his least-preferred learning method). Considering how much he disliked read-alouds, it would have been a mistake for me to choose a homeschool curriculum or style that depends heavily on read-alouds.
A caveat on Dislikes – sometimes a Dislikes can serve as a stumbling block for our kids in achieving future goals, and we need to help them overcome, or at least minimize, that dislike. For example, when we started homeschooling, my oldest hated art. Hated. H.A.T.E.D. He was never a fan of coloring or crafting, then bad experiences in his art class in public school during his kindergarten year amplified his negative emotions over the subject. So for first grade, we didn’t do art in our homeschool.
But I began to notice a problem – he was unable and unwilling to make even simple sketches. So for second grade, I purchased the first Draw Write Now book, which is geared to children and gives step-by-step instructions for making simple drawings. He would work on a drawing once a week.
My son was extremely resistant to this activity at first. But as his mother, I knew that he needed help in minimizing this Dislike so that it wouldn’t serve as a stumbling block to him in the future. I saw his resistance as an area that required my leadership and insight.
I’m happy to report that my little plan worked. He never fell in love with drawing or coloring, but he became less and less resistant to the idea as the year continued and lo, even enjoyed it at times. I continuously communicated to him that I required effort, not perfection. I made a big deal out of each completed drawing and hung them on the board for the next week. He couldn’t wait to show them to his father. At the end of the year, I created a cover and had his completed drawings bound. He’s very proud of the finished product and doesn’t think twice about making simple sketches now.
Now for the fun stuff!
My favorite of the Three D’s is Delights. These are the things that bring joy and happiness to your child, and that can help spark attentiveness.
For example, my oldest loves Minecraft, so over the years I’ve incorporated it into his schoolwork in different ways (primarily in history and language arts). He has also expressed an interest in learning how to write computer programs, so I incorporated Scratch programming into his schoolwork.
Incorporating these Delights into my son’s schoolwork required me to make some changes to our curricula. Since history is not an area of Difficulty or Delight for him, I replaced the project-heavy Story of the World for a unit study approach with work that he could do more independently and allowed us to combine history with reading (saving time). This left room in our schedules and energy levels for activities that inspire and motivate my son.
You may also want to consider a delightful environment. After seeing how much my oldest enjoyed his public school classroom, I chose to set up a schoolroom for my kids (more on that in a future video). While I strive to make our schoolroom functional above all else, I also try to make it a delightful environment for my kids. A delightful environment for my children in particular means their own spaces to work (and play and create!), fun supplies close at hand, pops of color, and their work on display.
Before moving on, I would like to reiterate that identifying the Three D’s doesn’t mean that we should always avoid activities and work with which we’re not comfortable. After all, homeschooling give us and our kids a greater opportunity to explore and enjoy new things. But by getting to know our kids better by identifying their Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights, we can try new things or approach difficult areas with insight and purpose, and maybe even discover new interests.
Benefits of Identifying the Three D’s
I know this seems like a lot to think about, but in practice it makes a lot of sense. The benefits also make it time well-spent.
Besides preparing us with the information we need to make good future decisions, going through this exercise reminds us that our children are complex and multi-faceted. We come face-to-face with the truths that, while we may share many things with our children, they also have challenges that we don’t fully understand and interests that we don’t share.
When armed with this knowledge, we cannot escape the call to meet our children in their areas of need, rather than hiding from difficulties.
At the same time, knowing our children better helps us to get past daily struggles and really see them. The mundane of the day-to-day can blind us to the uniqueness of our children. But really thinking about the loves, hates, and struggles of our kids, right upon the heels of identifying their learning preferences, brings them to focus in living, brilliant color.
So, while we are helping ourselves in getting the information we need to fulfill our responsibilities well as we pursue home education, by getting to know our children – how they learn, what they love, what they avoid, and their personal struggles – we are giving them the gift of knowing that they are both seen and loved.
- Download and print out the Three D’s worksheet.
- Identify Difficulties for each student.
- Select one or two of the most pressing Difficulties for each student.
- Identify Dislikes for each student.
- Identify Delights for each student.
- Add worksheet to Homeschool Binder.