If you have a kid that functions better at school than they do at home, this is the phrase that will make you believe not only that you CAN’T homeschool, but that you SHOULDN’T–for your child’s sake (and maybe yours). I hear this a lot… about how “kids need structure”. I don’t disagree with the concept although I may have a different perspective on how that manifests in real life. My son and I do NOT function without structure. Seriously. Train wreck.
Structure: “something arranged in a definite pattern of organization” (thank you, Merriam-Webster online). So how do you create this when you homeschool?
In this post, I’m going to sometimes refer to “people” and sometimes to “children” but the reality is that they’re pretty interchangeable on this topic. I say this with 28 years of therapy, more than the average parent’s level of research on social-emotional development, having participated in the raising a broad range of children (by way of foster care) and observing not only their parents and transformations–but having lots of good observations of the lives around me. Still, I’m not a professional so take from this what you will. ❤
Every child is going to respond to their families and environment differently and unfortunately, you may not know about a disconnect between what that environment offers and what the child receives until the damage is done. There is absolutely no question that children do better when they have a set of things that they can rely on–that are predictable for them. Actually, most humans feel better this way. There is a significant comfort in the “known”–even if the “known” is not particularly healthy. As humans, we gravitate to this because it makes us feel safe to be able to know what will happen. It’s a major component of how people get involved in unhealthy relationships or behaviors: it’s a system they can predict.
When a person (or little person/child) cannot predict what will happen next, it breeds an underlying anxiety. Depending on the person or child, this can be insignificant to very significant; and if it’s significant, it can manifest in lots of difficult behaviors. Sometimes adults cannot even recognize that their symptoms are borne of underlying anxiety that may have started somewhere in childhood and just never resolved. Kids can’t always articulate their feelings (hell, we adults can barely do it sometimes)–so even if they had the forum, they may not have the ability to get the root cause resolved.
Schools are certainly a model of predictability. Same building, same teacher, same kids, same schedule each week, same rules, things are all in the same place all of the time… But does that mean a child needs THAT much predictability to function? If you have a child that functions great in school but not at home, that doesn’t mean they need school to function well. It means you need to find out what the problem is at home. That could really be anything. Poor behavior is a cry for attention to a bigger issue. Whether that issue is a physical problem (I see this in my practice often) or an emotional or relationship problem or even an environmental problem… that is your job to figure out because you’re the parent.
Because really, if the problem exists at home then school isn’t actually helping your child learn to be or behave differently–it’s just giving you a break from dealing with it all day if they were at home.
And seriously–if your child is functioning great in the school environment and not at home, then what kind of job WILL they be able to do in life? If they need things to be THAT uniform and rules to be THAT rigid–what kind of work ARE you preparing them for? The post office and manufacturing line work immediately come to mind. Suddenly all that talk about how schools funnel the lower classes into functioning better in the prison system doesn’t sound so ridiculous when you think about it. (feel free to research how children at lower socio-economic statuses are delivered different education for more on this topic)
Personally, I am Queen Inconsistency. No joke. I function way better with a job and deadlines and what-not. At least that’s what I said because that was my experience. When I look at the bigger picture, there was a lot of stress attached to having a job at a company and deadlines, etc. Although I excelled in my work externally, I didn’t handle any of it well internally. So from the outside, it would look like I did best in a corporate job. But now, as I’m at home with my children, I’m doing worlds better on the inside even if I’m not as productive-by-cultural-norms externally. Unfortunately the culture I live in doesn’t see raising children as “productive” the way they saw my former 6-figure income (despite the fact that they had zero involvement with what I “produced” when I made that income… hmmm).
But let’s talk about structure. I really prefer to drop that term because my kids have a structure: their skeleton. What I provide for them is a solid foundation and a set of predictable things in their life that builds a sense of security. Predictability provides a sense of security. In my house, which is ruled by someone that doesn’t love adhering to rigidity, that looks like this:
- A set of routines around getting up in the morning and meals. There’s no “set time” for these things, but there is a set of protocols that we follow when those things happen. Whether my kids wake up at 6:30am or 8am, they will go through the same set of routines each morning. Whatever time we eat our meals, there is a set of routines that will be executed with each (if we are eating at home–which is a lot of the time). My kids know that “this is how it is” for those things and those things happen daily for them.
- A set of traditions around different events. They know that the day after Thanksgiving, our take on the Advent calendar comes out and that each day until Christmas they will do the same set of activities to honor the season. They know we won’t get the tree until Dec. 21st. They know the birthday person gets to choose dinner (even if it means going out to eat) on their birthday. They know we go to visit our friends in Minnesota every year at Labor Day weekend and that involves going to an amusement park for an afternoon.
- My son is now doing a formal, for-credit online math course. He knows that if he does an assignment without writing out the work–I’m not going to care that he got 95%. I’m going to make him write out the work. He’s currently adjusting to this. It’s not fun. But new rules in school aren’t always easy or fun, either. When you guys leveled up to that teacher that wanted things “just so” even though every prior teacher didn’t require it–that sucked. It can suck at home, too. Honestly, I wouldn’t be this way if it weren’t actually required for my particular kid (and it might not be necessary for both of mine). But when he submits an assignment and gets a 70% BOTH times he submits it and then I make him write it all out and he submits it and gets 100%, I think the case is clear. As a result, he doesn’t usually complain. And he can take that rule to the bank.
- We have some strong social rules in our home that our kids know will never change. They know that certain foods cannot happen because of specific health problems. They know that if they ask one parent and get an answer they don’t like, asking the other parent will result in them being reprimanded. They know that if they come and tattle on the other, I’m going to send them back to try to deal with their sibling first. They know that neither of their parents will force them into a situation where they are truly afraid. Ever.
- One that we are working on rebuilding after 5 years and 7 moves with many things in boxes during a lot of that time is their physical environment and cleanliness. But for me, as a child that moved every year until I was 12, my grandmother’s house was the place where I knew where to find things–always in the same place all of my life. The iron, the canned goods, the pencil sharpener… I didn’t have to ask or hunt. They were always in the same place. This is the final frontier for my kids now that we’re in a final place.
When you stop to think about what people really mean when they say “kids need structure”–when you pick it apart and analyze it–you start to see opportunities to recreate it at home. It’s much like when people talk about how kids need to go to school for the “socialization”. When you sit down and really look at what that means, you start to see how school may not be the requirement (and feel free to read up on my short version of that).
You don’t need to have a rigid lifestyle to provide your kids with “structure”. You need to provide a level of predictability to help them feel secure. That might differ with the child; but if your child needs a LOT of structure to function well, being in the schools will never be the answer to transitioning them to living under less rigid circumstances like you can work on through homeschooling. Consider the longer-term scenario.
And if you have a “structure” challenge, feel free to post it here to get some input!