Newbie (and not so Newbie) Homeschooling Advice
1. Support, support, support! Leave the naggers and ‘you can’t do this’ people behind. Sometimes this means putting space between you and your family (if they don’t approve of homeschooling.) Don’t isolate yourself though! Make like-minded friends, get in a homeschool group, meet with others that are homeschooling, be around those that will help you, root for you and push you in a positive way. Most homeschoolers burn out because they had no support and when things got hard, they fell and there was no safety net to catch them.
2. Think about the reason(s) you will be home educating. This might look different down the road when you’ve been doing it forever, but if you are new to homeschooling (and even sometimes if you aren’t) ask yourself questions like: What is my schooling philosophy? (Note: creating a super genius is more of a goal and not a philosophy…) Why am I going to homeschool? (‘Because it’s easy’ is not the answer…) What do I understand about learning and what would I like to know? What is my role going to be in this endeavor? How is my home going to operate with this thing of ‘homeschooling’ going on? (It’s probably going to be considerably more messy, but God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt…) What is my teaching style and what is my child’s learning style? How can I learn more about everything so I can be a better teacher? (trick question, actually you will be a guide to your learner and you learn with them as you go along. Don’t remember HS algebra, no problem, there are things out there to help you learn it and explain it.)
3. Homeschooling is not a solo thing, even when you have kids that are independent, you still matter. You are the greatest tool they have, you can provide them with tools to learn, conversation to deepen their thoughts, a cheering section to give them a boost of confidence, a partner to guide them, a coach, a teacher, a person who is involved in their everyday life. You aren’t just the person who sets up the school room and presides over the day, you are the guide that travels with your child pointing out interesting things along the way.
4. You don’t have to be a know-it-all right from the start. You can have questions about homeschooling for many years down the road. Get started and try something, then take a step back and evaluate. Sometimes answers come from doing, do some more and see what happens. Talk to others, ask questions of them, see what worked, see what didn’t, try a new path, ask some more questions. Don’t you remember that 3 year old who was always asking questions? Try it on yourself, why are you using that particular book? What worked for that kid in the homeschool group with the same problem? What happens if I don’t finish that English workbook? (The workbook police show up and make you write a 50 page essay…just kidding, that’s the Grammar police that do that.)
5. If you bought it (or borrowed it or are trying it out) give the material a chance. If you plant a seed, you water it and give it a chance to grow into a shoot – so don’t think that something doesn’t work because you used it for a day or even a week. Sometimes you need to read up on the stuff you are using outside of ‘school hours’ to understand it enough to use it properly. I don’t let my kids say that they don’t like something we are using the instant they use it, I listen, but I also make sure that we have given it enough time, followed the plan or found a way to use the curriculum to suit the needs of our learning environment. If everything you use is straight out of the box and not tailored to your needs you might fall into the pit of ‘git ‘er done’ as opposed to self discovery, love of learning and exploration.
6. A curriculum does not a school make. A curriculum will give you the philosophy or teaching agenda of its creators, it won’t magically cause learning to take place. There is no magic curriculum that will create math wizards or bring a calming peace to your school (that’s Calgon.) How you understand education in the home will cause learning to happen, as you grow in your relationship with your children you will find out what speaks to them. This will allow you to see which books, curricula or educational tools uplift learning for them or undermine their potential. The learning that takes place will happen because you fostered a joyful attitude and a love of learning that created the environment for discovery and real learning.
7. If the curriculum you are using causes tears (yours or your children’s) toss it. If school has become a struggle, busy work or isn’t challenging, reassess and find out what the root of the problem is. Is the curriculum too hard? Too easy? Is it set up for one style of learning and you have the other? Are there problems you didn’t know your child had and the curriculum isn’t adapting to that (dysgraphia, dyslexia, sensory issues, etc.)? I had one reading program that worked for 3 of my children, but that 4th child burst into tears (and trust me, they weren’t tears of joy…) every time we sat down to read. I switched to a different approach, and it has taken longer for her to catch onto reading, but it’s not the tearful chore it once was.
8. Don’t get sucked into the idea that every homeschooler is a happy homeschooler and that every school day is chock full of learning and amazing activities. Some days will be boring, some days will be peaceful, some days will have you tearing your hair out and some days will be exciting. Just like the roller coaster ride of life, homeschooling has its ups and downs. If you read blogs about homeschooling, they won’t always show you the nitty-gritty of life in a homeschooling family, no one wants to be bummed out. But, those days do exist and they happen to everyone (yes, even me.)
9. Don’t just keep records for the state or for credit. Write down the cool things you saw on that hike, take a picture of your child reading, jot down the fact that your child did a multiplication problem and got it right. Homeschooling is pretty darn cool, display the photo of your zoo outing or the time you saw Abraham Lincoln at the library. Start a blog where you can keep track of the things that you do for school, the funny things your kids say or the facts they can recite. If you keep track of what you do for school, don’t forget to add in those field trips, library shows, festivals and other things you did. When someone asks my kids what they did for school this week, they rarely say, ‘We did math and reading’, nope, they say things like, ‘We saw Amelia Earhart and heard her talk about her flights, we hiked five miles and saw a swallowtail caterpillar, we cleaned up by the river and then went tubing.’ (That might just sound like fun but in reality it was history, P.E., science, and volunteerism.)
10. Don’t wait until you are about to crack before you take a break. Your break might be a walk in the morning, a coffee break once a week, a teacher night out once a month, talking with moms at a park, whatever it is that you need to renew and refresh. Personally I go to teacher night outs, park days and get my talking time and break time. Sometimes I take off for the coffee shop by myself, take a walk or take a weekend to look over my curriculum and school schedule. You might need to swap babysitting with someone if you have younger kids so that you can go to an adult only event. It’s just as important to get adult time in as it is for you to have time with your kids. Signs that you need a break: you’re getting frazzled and it’s only 8 am, the only way you talk is by yelling, you’re pretty sure poltergeists live in your house because you just cleaned that room and now it looks like it exploded, you’re crying, your kids are crying, everyone needs a timeout!
This is by no means an exhaustive list – just a few off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own ideas to the list for newbie and not so newbie homeschoolers.