You know what they say: You live and learn. That is especially true for homeschoolers, with no pun intended! In reality, we learn as much as parents as our children do as students. We just learn it a little differently. And it’s a good thing we do. If we were doomed to be stuck in the same rut we were in when we started, we might never know how totally freeing and empowering homeschooling can be.
The information we learn along the way is different for each homeschooling parent. Regretfully, the things I didn’t know when I started, might be things you learned long before day one. For instance, I had no idea I was free to change up the routine in my homeschooling day. In fact, I believed I had to be up at the same hour every day, just as if my daughter was catching the bus, and we had to work with as few breaks as possible until everything on my planner page was checked off. The good news is, the more involved I got with other homeschoolers and groups, the more I learned from those who had “been there, done that,” and that’s exactly what I want to offer you today.
Here are a few things I wish I had known when I started homeschooling
Work More On Relationship Than Academics
In the beginning, there were tears every day when math class rolled around, which created great conflict between the two of us. I quickly learned to put that class last so that when she had a melt-down and I lost my cool, we could part ways for the rest of the day. The truth is, I couldn’t have been more wrong! That early train of thought led to a complete stalling of any forward momentum we had going on with math. It also strained our relationship and we were going nowhere fast.
I won’t go into the long and arduous details of how we finally got moving again, but I’ll tell you how it started. With hot cocoa and a nature walk. At some point, I simply decided we were no longer going to argue, and it was going to start with me. Before math class, and sometimes in the middle of it, I would stop everything and we would go and make hot cocoa, talk about ANYTHING other than school, and we would stroll through our large, green backyard. It was a life-changer.
I found we were using an approach to math that was completely foreign to her. And there in the fourth grade, we went all the way back to first-grade basics to “start all over.” What I quickly found was that there were gigantic gaps in her understanding of math. Simple things she should have learned in those earlier grades, she apparently hadn’t. Once we learned those, she was off and running. But I would never have found out if I hadn’t taken the time to prioritize our relationship above academics. One thing truly does lead to another in homeschool!
All Subjects Are Not Everyday Subjects
Especially in the early years, covering every single subject every single day isn’t always the best option. It’s best to use these very important years to focus on reading, writing, and math. Learning how to read, dictate, spell, and figure basic numbers are building blocks on which everything else can be mortared into place. For instance, if you teach these three basic concepts every day, you can spend a couple of days working on less tangible subjects such as history or civics, every other day.
Remember that your child is completely unique. While their learning style might be much like that of another child, the fact remains that it might be distinctly different. Focus on having a schedule that’s loose enough really to observe how your child learns and then use that to move forward in ways that make the most sense. For instance, they might have such a grasp and command of history, due to a keen interest in the topic, that they won’t need nearly as much time to learn it. And there will certainly be no reason for busywork if they already know the material. Sometimes, two days’ worth of material can be covered in one day… sometimes more, sometimes less. Learning to go with the flow is a great frame of mind to get used to.
Desks and Supplies Are Not Always Necessary
As I mentioned earlier, I thought I had to stick to the same routine as public school to make it as “real” as possible. What I didn’t realize - as many parents don’t, whether homeschooling or not - is that children are constantly learning. Even when they’re playing, they are taking in information, trying new things, learning what works and what doesn’t, and getting a firmer grasp on life in general. If this isn’t learning, I don’t know what is.
Desks and books are fine. Teaching from a teacher’s manual has its place. But to lock yourself and your child into schoolwork for eight hours a day is a perfect recipe for burnout. And it doesn’t take very long to get there either. If you finish with “time to spare” just remember to record some of what you see them learning on their own. For those using the unschool method, this can be an art all to itself. If you have the opportunity to learn from an unschooler’s experiences in this way, I would encourage you to take full advantage of it.
You Have To Stay Committed
Purpose it in your heart and mind, right from the beginning, that you are NOT going to quit. Believe me, when math meltdowns are going on, it can be terribly tempting. But just when you feel like giving up, the tide will turn, as they always do. Especially if you’ve already made that commitment to yourself and to your child. Sometimes it helps to create, as I did, a page in your planner, or a note to stick on your wall, a kind of “pledge” to start each homeschool year. It’s a perfect piece to look back on when even a kempt appearance is no longer possible and you’ve gone just about as far as you can go.
In your pledge, be sure to cite WHY you started homeschooling, and what that looks like for the year you’re currently in. Believe me, it changes often, sometimes every year. Also include a paragraph about what you hope to learn, as well as a reminder of what didn’t work last year. It really does help, when you’re in the midst of a struggle, to look back and think, You know, if we got through that thing last year, surely we can get through this with no problem.
And you can. You will. If you’ve made that commitment, it’s easier to do so. Think of it as a long-term goal. If it’s important, you always set up short-term goals as stepping stones towards the “big picture.” It’s easier to look across the years towards graduation if you have smaller bits to look at as well. What do you want to accomplish in the first three years? Or in the second three years? Do NOT undertake thinking about what the high school years will be like unless you are currently homeschooling an eighth-grader. There are just too many things that can change. No, working on the “here and now” will help keep your head clear, your feet planted, and your heart much lighter.
Finding Your Homeschooling Groove Takes Time
No one expects you to be a perfect homeschooler two weeks or two months after taking up the task. In fact, even if someone does expect perfection from you, it doesn’t really matter. It’s your child, your home, your “school,” and your rules. The sooner you get that fact solidified in your mind, the more peace you’ll experience. Still, starting out on this brand-new adventure, whether you’re teaching a five-year-old or a fifteen-year-old, you’re not going to get it all right the first time.
When I first started homeschooling, I had all the printouts, planners, and pertinent things I thought were necessary for an average homeschool day. After a short while, I found out I didn’t need half of it. I had tons of extra - and unused - curriculum laying around at the end of that first year, and the second year wasn’t much different. And I thought I was a horrible homeschool mom because of it.
There’s no doubt, finding your groove takes a while. And there’s no shame in it; no reason to feel like a failure. You are embarking on a new journey. Good sailors learn to adjust the rigging and tack their sails depending on which way the wind is blowing. Course corrections like this are normal and the great part is, you’re under no obligation to stay with anything that doesn’t wind up being a part of your homeschooling success. If it’s not working, ditch it. If it is, wonderful! You’ll find everything that makes your homeschool tick before you know it. Just like we all do.
Don’t Be Afraid To Deal With Naysayers
You will encounter many through your homeschooling years who simply aren’t familiar with what homeschooling really is, let along the benefits it has to offer the families who undertake it. Sadly, these people are sometimes in our very own families. They might be close friends who just don’t understand why you chose to “give up” your freedom to homeschool. In reality, they simply don’t know. In the worst-case scenario, they have received only bad information and they really think they’re doing you a favor by calling you out.
If you’re having a particularly patient day, you can attempt to win them over with facts, entertaining their questions with well-educated answers. If you’re having a bad day, on the other hand, you might need to remember that self-control is excellent advice for the wise. Even when you’ve given all your best reasons, shared the most pertinent facts, and assured them your kids don’t live in pj’s and sit on the couch all day, you might still be met with sarcasm. When you’ve done all that you can do, it’s best to let the haters rant and simply leave them standing there as you walk away.
Sometimes, Curriculum is Secondary
Even with the best curriculum and resources available, there are still things that are far more important. If your child knows that they are loved, and allowed to have free access to art supplies, field trips, libraries, hands-on activities, and things that are just plain fun, you’ll see how quickly they begin to thrive. Try as we may, we cannot simply input material knowledge into the minds of our children. However, we can teach them to think and speak, invent, explore, create, research, write, and just generally be a good person. It’s amazing how, when we personify those very things by example for our children, they will pick up on them every time.
I cannot stress the importance of finding a curriculum that truly works for your homeschool. But I also cannot overemphasize the importance of allowing in as many little slivers of life in during the day as is possible. They’re not always going to have a book in front of them. But they’re always going to have to live their life. And the way you teach them to do that will play a huge part in the person they turn out to be, so make it good.
Connect With Other Homeschoolers
Seclusion and anti-social behavior patterns are two of the primary things that non-homeschoolers complain about when putting down homeschoolers. For those who have children who are dealing with crippling social anxiety because of severe bullying in school, for example, that seclusion, at least in the beginning, can actually be a good thing. For those children, large groups of people can be what is known as a “trigger” (which often happens after trauma) and are to be avoided until such time as they are better able to cope. For many children in public schools, they spend more time learning to survive rather than just learning. In homeschool, they actually have a chance to learn safely, and they WILL get better.
When it’s feasible, you should reach out to local homeschool groups, clubs, and co-ops as they can be a monumental source of stability. Some of these avenues offer the opportunity to learn as a group, take classes with other children, learn a sport or a hobby, or get involved with the arts, such as music or theatre. And while the children are taking advantage of all these opportunities you, as a parent, can connect with others who have been were where you are now. Their experiences, which they’ll likely be more than happy to share, can give you hope and a great deal of encouragement as well.
Another great way to connect with other homeschoolers is to attend a Great Homeschool Convention. Offering excellent resources such as featured speakers, workshops, and curriculum and resource vendors, you’ll find an amazing support group in so many different ways. You’re sure to enjoy every facet of the convention, so be sure to schedule the time to attend.
Our seven regional Great Homeschool Conventions are held across the United States, with one near you. We do understand, however, that some families travel great distances to attend, so we offer a variety of helps including hotel discounts, military discounts, and free admission for active members of the clergy.
To find your nearest Great Homeschool Convention, CLICK HERE.
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And remember, Great Homeschool Conventions are: Equipping… Encouraging… FUN!