This is the first post in the Back To “Home” School blog series. Stay tuned this week for more inspiration for the new school year.
I remember back when I first started homeschooling my children… I was in my 20s and didn’t really know anyone else who was doing this crazy and rebellious “teaching their own children” thing. I was completely overwhelmed. What was I thinking taking on this much responsibility? What if I totally ruined my children? What if they turned out weird?!
Well, 13 years into this adventure, I am now a lot less overwhelmed, my kids have not been ruined, and weird is really a relative term, isn’t it? When we first started out, I was always worried that people would ask one of my kids a “simple” question and discover they didn’t know the answer. I would be proven an incompetent teacher and I was very uptight and obsessed over doing everything the “right” way. Trouble is, there is no such thing. I eventually learned to relax, and allow for the inevitable gaps that would appear in my children’s education.
No one can know everything, and education isn’t about memorizing every fact possible. That might work for a Jeopardy contestant, but that isn’t what educating your children is about. I don’t claim to have it all together or even be an expert – I haven’t even graduated a student yet (two more years to go!), but I do wish I could go back and offer some advice to my younger self to calm those “first-time-homeschool-mom” jitters, or even the “been-doing-it-a-short-year-or-two-and-am-still-uneasy-mom”. So here is some of the best advice I can offer:
1. RELAX. It’s going to be OK – really. Homeschooling is a lot of responsibility and a lot of work, but it’s also really fun. Relax and enjoy your children. One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is getting to spend more time with your kids. Instead of having to squeeze in your family bonding time on the weekends, you can relax and hang out with your kids all the time. I know that sounds like a blessing and a curse, but remember – you don’t have to entertain your kids 24/7. Teach them how to work independently and entertain themselves, and you can still have time to read, bake, knit, even clean.
2. Make reading aloud a priority. I say this all the time, but reading to your kids is one of the most important things you can do. Whether they are 4, 10 or 16, everyone enjoys a good story. When I look back on our years of homeschooling, I can say that this is one thing I’ve done right. Even my boys, who are reluctant readers and if asked, will say they don’t like to read, will still quote books we’ve read or debate favorite characters. We have inside jokes about the stories we’ve shared, like how we can’t see rabbits without someone saying, “Hazel, we have to leave the warren! It isn’t safe!” or as soon as someone says “I have a question…” someone blurts out “42!”
3. Don’t compare. Your child is unique, and has his or her own timetable for learning. You are unique, and will come to teaching your own child in a way that suits you best. There is no one way to do anything. Just because someone’s child is reading Shakespeare and studying Algebra at 6, doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child. I have had both early and late readers, and at the end of the day, they all learned to read, and read well. You know your children far better than anyone else. So go your own way and forge your own path. I promise – the grass on the other side of the fence is just as green as yours.
4. Keep it simple. Especially if this is your first year and your are starting with very young children. In the early years, the only thing they HAVE to learn is how to read, how to write their letters well, and basic math skills. Everything else is gravy. Your first grader does not need to study a foreign language or grammar or even history. So if you’ve planned any of those things, and a few days or weeks into the school year, you or your child feel stressed out about the work load, drop some of the non-essentials. Cover those 3R’s and read aloud great literature. That really is enough in the first few years.
5. Don’t Over-schedule. This goes along with keeping it simple. Sometimes when you are first starting out, people will ask you the dreaded question, “What about socialization?” So you’ll overcompensate by signing your children up for every activity – karate, co-op, art class, soccer, book club, music lessons, scouts etc. While they all sound fantastic, too much activity means not enough time doing lessons. It means all of time spent driving to and from these events could have been spent on a nature walk in your neighborhood, or just playing Legos or relaxing at home. If you find that you have to squeeze school work in between activities, classes and errands, then you need to step back and re-evaluate. Over scheduling your days will lead to burn out for you and your children. Every year, my kids are allowed to choose two activities outside of the house. This year, it’s music lessons and First Robotics for the older children. My youngest will be starting music lessons, and we’ll decide later in the year if we want to add a second activity. These activities are in the late afternoon and evening, so it won’t take away from our school day.
6. Be Kind. Homeschooling is hard and there are days when you want to quit entirely. You’ll be sick of being around your children all day and you’ll consider picking up the phone and registering them at the local public school. When you are having a bad day or week like this, drop the books, go outside and play at the park, take a fun field trip, or just cancel lessons and watch movies all day. Love your children, even when they get stuck on the same math problem for the millionth time, even when they “forget” how to read or diagram a sentence. You might feel like losing your cool and yelling at them for making the same mistake AGAIN. But instead, take a moment, count to ten, and love them instead. Show them kindness, and force yourself to be patient. They grow up fast, so just recite the mantra, “This too shall pass,” and then go love on your babies.
7. Homeschool doesn’t have to look like public school. Public schools were set up to teach hundreds of children the same material so that everyone could be educated. The methods that work in a classroom, are not necessary in your home. You will be less of a teacher and more of a mentor, or guide. Often, you will learn right along with your children! There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. Just because the public schools may cover the American Revolution and Botany in 1st grade doesn’t mean you need to cover the exact same materials. Do what makes sense to you and to your children. Study what interests both of you. Don’t let the curriculum control you. If you are studying Ancient History and your child can’t get enough of Ancient Egypt, then follow that rabbit trail and spend another few weeks focusing on that topic. Don’t worry about getting off schedule. You aren’t tied to a specific school time table, so if you need to work into the summer, you can. If you want to take a month off in the middle of the year, you can! You are in charge, and you make the rules for your own homeschool.
8. Don’t listen to the haters. It’s human nature to care what other people think. But those who aren’t familiar with homeschooling will not understand what you are doing. They will question your parenting choices, sometimes pretty rudely. You do not have to answer to these people. Don’t let others, who aren’t directly involved in your parenting choices, dictate how you homeschool especially if all they know is public schooling methods. If they tell you that your kids are going to be weird, or that your child will never get into college if they are homeschooled, just let it go. That’s their wrong opinion. Don’t take it personally, and don’t stress yourself out about it. If they are always negative, try to avoid them for a while. Homeschooling is hard enough without someone dumping negativity all over you every chance they get. You do not have to ensure that your child is the poster child for homeschooling, or prove anything to anyone.
9. Mistakes are OK. Whether it’s a mistake made by your child or yourself. Maybe that math book isn’t working out. Ditch it and find something else that does work. Maybe your 7 year old is struggling with narration. Stop asking for narrations for a month or two. Giving your child a safe environment to make mistakes without worrying about getting a bad grade is more important than struggling through something that isn’t working.
10. Don’t over-plan. Even if you know you are in it for the long haul, don’t try to plan little Johnny’s entire education from day one. Things change – circumstances might change, your child’s interests might change. Plan one or two years ahead, and that’s all. If your oldest child is only 8, don’t even worry about high school yet. Focus on the now. If there is a book you want to read to your child, but you’re worried it might come up in a much later year of curriculum – just read it. If is comes up again, read it in more depth and do different activities. You don’t want to miss out on the experience of reading that book with your children. Thinking too far ahead just brings stress into your life that you don’t need.
Homeschooling is a journey, whether you’re doing it for just a few years or their entire education. The days are long but the years are short. Try not to lose sight of why you chose homeschool in the first place. When things get hairy, and you have doubts, remember to take a step back and look at your child and who they are becoming. Give them a hug, love on them, and then set aside the school books to do something fun. Homeschooling is one of the most difficult and amazing things I’ve ever done, and while I’ve had some moments I regret, I can honestly say that I love that I get to do this. I love that I have given my children this life and this gift of time together. It’s been wild ride, and I wouldn’t change a thing.