First time homeschooling? I knew it.
How? Well, you have that “deer-in-the-headlights-everything-is-so-overwhelming-what-in-the-world-should-I-do” look on your face.
“What am I going to do? Will my kids be freaks? There are so many things to learn! What if I turn my kids into idiots?!”
I know it well because I, too, went full-fledged Bambi my first year.
I need you to do a couple of things for me, okay? I need you to go get yourself a cup of coffee. Or tea. Or water–whatever you need.
I need you to take five deep breaths. I’ll wait.
[“…everybody was kung-fu fighting…”]
So, you’ve decided to homeschool–or maybe you had no other choice given the state of the public and “Catholic” schools in your area.
I’m here to give you some helpful tips and suggestions to make this new journey in your life as smooth as possible.
1.) Let’s talk WHY you are homeschooling.
You need to figure out exactly why you are homeschooling. Are the “Catholic” schools in your area a joke? Are the public schools dangerous and taking kids on field trips to places you’d rather them not go? Do you have a child with special needs? Is you child’s life miserable IN school, and you’re just trying to let them grow up with a peaceful childhood? Whatever the reason, you need to figure this out. Write it down if you have to. This will be the whole basis on how you choose your curriculum and how you live your homeschooling life from this point on.
2.) Figure out what is going to work best for you. Do you need all the books for the year shipped to you in a box with step-by-step lesson plans? Ain’t no shame in that game, lady! They’ve got “boxed curricula” all over the place. Are you more of a squirrel who loves shiny things? (*quickly raises hand here) You might love planning your OWN lessons and gathering your OWN books for the year. “Hey, you know what? Sam loves insects. We’re going to do an insect unit study this year.” or “I’m not a huge fan of this book because of x, y, and z, so instead, we’re going to use THIS.” There are pros and cons to a boxed curricula and designing your own. Figure out what you need in your life.
3.) Now that you have figured out WHY you are homeschooling and what kind of style you have, it’s time to figure out what materials you will use. You will immediately find that there is an overwhelming amount of curricula out there. Some families use secular homeschooling books (meaning they do not come from a religious point of view), some families use online “schools”, some use religious curricula, some actually “unschool” and let their kids pursue whatever interests they have until they are blue in the face. I’m going to offer you some advice, if I may, when choosing your curriculum.
–If someone touts that their curriculum is the Way, the Truth, and the Life–it better be Jesus talking to you, sister. You will find some VERY arrogant people out there in the homeschooling world, and if they claim their program is the ONLY program, that it’s far superior to anything out there, they mock or belittle other homeschooling publishers or families, that THIS is the only way to go–run.
Run far, far away from that person. That’s a red flag. If their program is great, they shouldn’t be worried about putting down others. Just my 3 cents.
–Choose a curriculum that appeals to YOU as a mom as well. If you are a super visual person and love to be creative, do NOT pick a curriculum that deals in workbooks only. You’re going to hate it, and your children will probably suffer because of it. On the flip side of that, if you are VERY analytical and the thought of art projects has you curling up in the fetal position, figure out what you need to do. Pick something that excites YOU and something YOU want to teach your children. This kind of goes along with what I’m chattin’ about up in point #2.
–Having said that, keep in mind what kind of leaners you have around your table. My oldest la-la-la-LOVES him some workbooks. My second born would be happiest out in the backyard, collecting bugs, all the live long day. It has worked well within our family to cater to their strengths–this IS a beauty about homeschooling after all! If your child is excelling at reading, don’t keep them in 2nd grade reading level books because “he’s in 2nd grade.” Let ’em fly, my friend! If they’re not quite grasping the concept of counting money, hit “pause” on the lesson planning and work with them on it until they get it. There is no time table like there is for public or private schooling–give your child the time he needs!
–The first piece of advice I ever received about homeschooling was from a mom who said, “Don’t…skip…around. You’ll find that new materials are published every year–don’t give into the temptation to drop yours and run to the next best thing.” I thought this was great advice–and there really is merit in what was said. If you skip from one program to another program to another, your child might develop some gaps in their learning. However, if the curriculum you are using starts teaching errors, it’s not vibing with your family, or your children are DRAGGING their feet to get to the table in the morning and burst into tears at the thought of school, you might find yourself hopping to something else. Both have pros and cons–just think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish before you start racing toward the newest and shiniest trend in homeschooling. (Have I jumped around? Yes. Yes, I have. But we’ve found our groove, and we are WORKIN’ it in this house!)
–Get your homeschooling books used! Oh…my…goodness. How much money have I spent on materials when I could have been buying used?! I even found workbooks this year–never been cracked open–for that older child of mine who LOVES them for LESS THAN HALF of what I would have paid brand new. Shop used–save the difference. True story. Write that down.
4.) Do NOT compare your homeschooling style, successes, and failures to the Smith family down the road. They do everything online? Great. Good for them. The Jones family does a co-op three times a week? Fabulous. Good for them. Little 6 year-old Johnny is already doing multiplication. Bravo, Johnny. Good for you. The Miller family tried this curriculum and threw it out the window? Good for them–hope they found something that worked for them. DO NOT COMPARE THYSELF OR THY CHILDREN TO OTHER HOMESCHOOLING MOMS OR FAMILIES. Pretty sure it was the 11th commandment, but Moses heard about the people worshipping the golden cow, and, well–he took off running with the tablets. Seriously–focus on YOUR family, YOUR successes, and learn from the failures. Call an audible if you have to if something’s not working. Re-group. Breathe. Your kids are going to be FINE.
5.) Join the HSLDA. (What’s that? You want to know what HSLDA stands for? Get used to a LOT of acronyms, my funny homeschooling mom.) It stands for Home School Legal Defense Association. For a whopping $10 a month, this group will come to your aid and represent you should The Miller family down the road decided to call you in because your kid was out in the front yard at 9:30 in the morning, watering the garden. When we first started homeschooling, I thought, “Eh…what are the chances, right? We don’t have that kind of money to be spending on a ‘what if’ situation.” And then I bought a huge bag of M&M’s, a skirt I didn’t need, and an expensive bottle of water while waiting to check out, and I realized, “Hey. We’ve got some wiggle room here.” HSLDA–do it. You will be grateful should someone ever come tap-tap-tap on your door.
6.) There is going to come a time every year where you can’t even fathom cracking open the books. Some people claim February is “homeschool burnout month”–particularly if you live in a place where the sun rarely shines, and snow covers the ground. For us, it’s November. Holidays, birthdays, traveling–my brain is pretty much fried until the next year. So, figure out if you need some time to regroup before coming back strong. Relax–you’re going to be fine. Expect that month, meet it head on, and make a plan.
7.) There is going to be a point in your homeschooling life when someone asks your child, “What grade are you in?” and you will feel sweat trickle down your back, your palms will drip, and your heart will race. Your thoughts will consist of, “Does he know what grade he is in?! OH, MY GOSH. HOW DID I MISS TELLING HIM THIS? Wait. Do I even know what grade he’s in?! He’s reading at a 5th grade level, doing 4th grade religion work, but he’s in 3rd grade math. WHAT GRADE IS THIS?!” And your child will say, “Um, 3rd grade,” and the person will nod, smile, pat them on the head, and move on. You, however, will need a stiff drink and a plan for next time. Bottoms up, friend. Bottoms up.
8.) You are going to acquire a LOT of homeschooling books throughout the years. I highly suggest finding a patient husband and some really nice bookcases.
9.) One of the things my husband was concerned about before we started homeschooling was how much pressure it puts on Mom. She has to school the kids, get laundry done, raise angelic children, keep the house clean–he felt it was way too much for the wife.
I love that guy–should I mention that? I love that he UNDERSTANDS.
As a homeschooling family, you will find that it’s not just about shoving books at your child and checking lessons off of a page. Homeschooling gives order to your family, and everyone realizes they are in this family together. Teaching your 8 year-old to do laundry after teaching the 4 year-old how to separate the laundry into different categorical piles? You’re not just teaching them book knowledge. Your teaching them LIFE knowledge. Everyone in the family has to pitch in and do their part for the house to run smoothly. Have I figured this out completely? NO. Our home is a work in progress.
We’re ALWAYS learning around here.
10.) Be confident in your decisions. This is YOUR family. YOU are the parents, and YOU know what’s best for your child. Who cares if your brother thinks you’re crazy? Who cares what Grandpa says? Who cares what Dave down the street thinks? I’ll say it again: THIS IS YOUR FAMILY. THESE ARE YOUR CHILDREN. You know what is best for them. Do not let anyone else’s opinions impact how you’re trying to educate your children.
11.) Having said THAT, find a support group. Seriously–join homeschooling groups on Facebook. Find a circle of homeschooling friends–cling to them like velcro. Get on homeschooling forums and chat ideas, frustrations, successes. Find “your people.” Find “your tribe.” You are all in this together, and supporting each other makes a world of difference.
12.) Lastly? Have fun. This should not be a chore–it should be a joy. The first time I watched my child put sounds together to read a word on his own, I cried. He wasn’t in a classroom with a stranger–he was with me, and I got to see him start on his path of literacy in person–the exact moment it happened. The first time I watched my child sit down on the couch and make the connection that he could read on his own–it was a beautiful moment. I’ll never forget that, either. And it never gets old–I’m watching it with my 6 year-old and my 4 year-old right now, and it still brings tears to my eyes. Go on nature walks, storm the local library, get them in the kitchen making lunches to work on fine motor skills and organizational skills–it’s not about school. It’s about LIFE. Have fun with this.