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Homeschool mom, how are you doing this February?
Are you feeling the slog of your school routine, longing for the warmer days of spring and its promises of outdoor read-alouds and spontaneous picnics?
Or are you entering the new year re-energized, refreshed from your holidays and excited to pursue some new goals?
I have to say that I’m feeling a little bit of both. December was rough on our family. Not only did we spend three weeks suffering from sinus and ear infections (all four of us!), but over the holidays, we also experienced TWO separate rounds of food poisoning. When the holidays came to a close, I’ll admit: I was feeling pretty demoralized. And by the way, as you might guess, exactly zero homeschooling—not even our very relaxed version of it—happened during all those weeks of illness. Being sick sure also didn’t help me write any posts for this blog!
As my antibiotics kicked in around New Year’s and we eased back into our daily routine, however, I started to feel more hopeful. As it turns out, it’s not just my kids who need a good routine—I desperately need one too! I thrive on structure, and while I’ve learned to be flexible to accommodate the needs of my little guys, when our family has a good rhythm going, everything just seems to be so much easier: the house looks better, the kids play more productively, and my own attitude is infinitely better.
So as I pondered how to kick off the new year on this blog, I decided to spend a few weeks focusing on consistency. I hope that you’ll find this a welcome encouragement, especially since I often hear from homeschooling parents that consistency is one of their top challenges with language learning.
Of course, before I even begin, I have to make an honest confession: even as a professional language educator, I struggle with being consistent with my own kids! However, because I know that about myself, I’ve invested a good amount of time into developing “coping strategies” to compensate for my own natural weaknesses and help me teach more consistently. I hope that by sharing there, you’ll be able to steal some of them, and use them to bring more peace and joy to your homeschool this year.
By the way, although I’m writing principally about language learning, I think that these five steps could help you be more consistent in pretty much any other academic area of your homeschool. So if you’re doing great with Latin, but struggling with math, don’t hesitate to try them out!
If you feel like you need more accountability in this area, I highly recommend Pam Barnhill’s Homeschool Consistency Bootcamp. I love everything that Pam writes and teaches on this issue: she’s practical, no-nonsense, and encouraging, all at the same time. The next session starts on February 18th, so there’s still time to sign up!
Five Steps to More Consistency in Your Homeschool
1. Think carefully about where language learning fits into your homeschool.
Every family has different goals for language learning: some families want to raise fully multilingual children, while others want to simply expose their kids to different languages and cultures. If you’re not already clear on what your goals for your kids are, this is the absolutely the first step to take. After all, we can’t have realistic expectations for our ourselves or our kids if we don’t know what our end goal is.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you decide what your level of commitment to language learning should be:
What is my own level of language proficiency and/or how committed am I to learning a language alongside my children? Your answer to this might (but won’t always) determine how much effort you can put into language learning in your homeschool.
Do my children have a recognized need to learn a new language? If you’re missionaries in a foreign country, then your children might have a very real and pressing need to learn a new language! Alternately, if you have children who are planning to go into a profession where they’ll be using another language, that’s obviously going to influence how much time they spend on it!
What is my children’s level of excitement about language learning? You may have a child who is is the next Tolkien—he was, by training, a linguist—and wants to study as many languages as possible. Conversely, you may also have a child who struggles with English language and sees foreign language learning as a real burden. While there are many strategies that you can use to improve your child’s motivation, you need to be realistic about your child’s level of interest in languages, so that you can set expectations for him/her that are appropriately challenging.
2. Creatively (and intentionally) schedule language exposure.
Once you’ve answered the above questions, you can begin to think about how much prominence language learning should have in your homeschool on a daily or weekly basis. I’ve already written on how to schedule language lessons in your homeschool, so feel free to use that post as your basic guidelines. Don’t forget, however, that beyond “official” lessons, children also need additional and varied exposure to languages before they can reach conversational or fluent levels of proficiency. That can be something that you provide with easy trade-offs (like trading English-language TV for TV in your target language) or it can be scheduled extra practice, such as a target language conversation group.
One more tip: Tying language learning into something that you already do makes it so much easier. If you have a Morning Basket routine, it doesn’t take much effort to throw in a pack of vocabulary flashcards and learn a few new words per day. If you like listening to music during breakfast time, trade your English-language favorites for new music in your target language. If your kids like to play games on your Amazon Echo, download some Alexa skills that will help them with their language learning. Easy trade-offs like this are one of the simplest ways to make language learning happen every day—which is key to your family’s long-term success.
3. Set up regular reminders to keep you on track.
Whenever you’re working on a new habit, having reminders to help you stay focused on your goals is always helpful. There are a few ways that you could do this for yourself with regards to language learning:
Relocate your language learning curriculum front and center (a visual clue!) to remind you to practice regularly.
Set up a daily reminder on your phone when it’s time for language lessons.
Post flashcards around the house with new vocabulary or phrases to encourage you to use the target language with your kids.
Copy your language study schedule into your weekly planner (either your personal planner or your homeschool planner) so that you can’t overlook it.
Post art or photographs from another country around your home—and commit to speaking your target language whenever you catch a glance of them!
4. Measure progress—both your’s and your children’s.
If we really want to see change in our homeschool, we have to be willing to “inspect what we expect,” as the saying goes. Therefore, no matter what goals you’ve set for yourself, find a way to measure your progress towards them!
Remember: the focus here is really on you, not your kids. Of course, your kids will benefit from more consistent language lessons, but that’s more of a trickle-down effect than the goals we’re trying to measure.
So, what would it take to measure your personal growth in this area? Could you have a place where you record each day how much time you spent on language learning? Could you have a weekly checklist for your language lessons? Could your spouse help to hold you accountable for speaking the target language to your kids, like my husband does for me?
5. Reward yourself for a job well done.
Yes, improving our habits is its own reward, but sometimes it helps to have another goal to work towards as well. Since new habits take an average of two months to form, I suggest scheduling something special for about 8 weeks down the line—so if you’re starting now, you’ll want to focus on early April as your “goal date.”
I don’t know what motivates you, but as a homeschool mom, here are some of the things that I consider special treats:
A date night with my husband (especially if it involves bubble tea!)
A new audiobook
Splurging on a mani-pedi
An afternoon at the library reading for fun
Visiting a museum alone
Going to a movie alone (can you tell I’m an introvert?)
You might prefer something else as a reward, but whatever it is, ensure that it’s something that will feel like a real treat in light of all your hard work. Forming new habits is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery!
If you’re looking for some camaraderie along the journey, be sure to join my Facebook group, where we’ll be spurring each other on all this month (and into the beginning of March). We’d love to have you!