What Happened When I Gave My Children a Homeschool Student SurveyApril Elstrom
About five years ago, a friend of mine told me she gave her children a survey at the end of each school year. She used their responses to evaluate their homeschool materials and schedule as well as to make changes for the next school year. After twelve years of homeschooling, this was a completely new idea to me.
I was nervous about trying it myself. I expected my children to write, “I hate homeschool” across the page rather than giving me helpful feedback. I feared they would demand the most expensive curriculum and extracurricular activities. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.
My End of Year Student Survey
My survey was simple with only eight questions for them to answer:
- What was your favorite subject this year? Why?
- What was your least favorite subject this year? Why?
- What do you think worked really well this year? Why?
- What didn’t work well? Why?
- What time of day do you focus best?
- What can we do to improve next school year?
- How can I help you more with your school work?
- What subjects would you like to study next year?
I prepared the surveys on the computer with space for them to compose their answers after each question, giving them an entire week to work on their responses. I went over the survey orally with my younger children, writing down their answers for them.
Following Up On My Student’s Responses
When all the surveys were completed, I cautiously sat down to read them. Some of the responses weren’t a surprise — everyone’s least favorite subject was either math or grammar. But there were a few surprises. For instance, my son said his favorite subject was one that I felt he wasn’t enjoying and where he wasn’t giving me his best effort. Even though my high school daughter wished she could go to public school, she still wrote thoughtful and helpful answers to my questions.
After I read the surveys, I asked additional clarification questions. If math was their least favorite subject, I asked if they thought a different curriculum would help. Sometimes they said, no. They didn’t like the subject itself, and switching probably wouldn’t change anything. At other times, my child was eager to try a different curriculum or style of learning.
My next step was to take the survey results to my husband and show him what I had learned. Together we evaluated them. We rearranged school areas to give certain students more quiet or less distraction. We decided to let the older children have more freedom about when they completed their schoolwork as long as it was actually completed. We decided which curriculum to replace, which ones to keep using, and which ones to adapt. I also had to face my own faults and make promises to my children to be more available, help keep the house quiet, and read aloud more.
The Benefits of the Student Survey
After a long year of battles, I felt like a failure. Reading their responses encouraged me. It helped to see what subjects they were enjoying and why. It helped to see them brainstorming solutions to our problems. It helped to see that one of the biggest differences they wanted for next year was just more of me.
It wasn’t all about expensive new curriculum or unrealistic expectations. They wanted faster help with math problems, a little more snuggle time, and more fun days. Yes, requests for more field trips, game days, and educational movies did appear on the surveys. But all of that was what I wanted, too.
Some of my children had become very difficult to keep on track with their schoolwork. It felt like every school day was a battle. I expected that they’d be very negative on their surveys and say they hated school. But when I asked for their opinions and gave them a chance to help direct the course of our homeschool, they rose to the occasion. They felt valued and appreciated the chance to be heard which set a positive tone for the upcoming school year.
Hearing their valid complaints and requests for change helped smooth over a year of arguments. We made some major changes in how we were handling high school. My second daughter wanted her high school to look very different from the way we had handled our first high school student’s course of study. We decided that having her enjoy her homeschool studies was more important than forcing her to do it the way we had originally planned. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t asked.
Are You Up to the Challenge?
It’s been several years since we gave our children that survey. It’s time to do it again. I listened to some complaints last year and made some changes for this year, but I didn’t give the full survey to all my students. But it’s time to re-evaluate again and let their voices be heard.
What about you? Are you up to the challenge? It really is worth it. There may be some ouch moments for you and some nos to unreasonable requests, but there will also be many benefits. You’ll learn more about your children as students, and it will set a positive tone for the next school year. Go ahead. Take a deep breath and give it a try.