(Part 1 gave my first 7 pieces of advice to new homeschoolers)
As homeschooling has grown in popularity, I have had more and more people ask me for advice on how to do this thing. And let's be honest, there aren't a lot of guidelines.
One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you can make it be whatever you need it to be for your individual family. However, in this benefit is also a challenge. There are so many options, so many different ways of homeschooling, it can be overwhelming to those who are starting for the first time. Many a friend considering homeschooling has moaned, "I just don't know if I can do it!".
But you can. In this two-part series, I've sought to give out my best advice for new homeschoolers. Things that I think you really need to know, above everything else.
Yes, there are 18 million homeschool curriculum options. Yes, there are more homeschooling philosophies than subjects in a typical public high school curriculum. But it's ok. You can do this. I promise. And your kids will benefit because of it.
Whatever you need to do to make your homeschool work, do it. There aren't any rules, beyond the minimal legal requirements of your state. Use the homeschool schedule that works for your family. If it works best for your family to homeschool in the evenings rather than mornings, that's fine. If you want to school only 3 days a week, do it – just find ways to school for longer periods on those days, or get more done in less time.
If you have a computer-savvy kid who gets hyper-focused in front of a screen, include some online learning programs in your curriculum, or use academic apps on the iPad. If your children learn best experientially and you want to make Fridays "field trip day", go ahead.
If you want to take vacations or breaks throughout the year – just be a "year-round" homeschooler that takes time off throughout the year instead of just during the summer. If your kids are exceptionally active, find ways to do some of your work outside. (History for wiggleworms becomes a lot more appealing when kids listen as they swing on the swingset.)
If extended focus is a challenge, do shorter increments of academics, with longer breaks in between. The bottom line: be flexible. Don't be a slave to any preconceived schooling notions. Make homeschooling work for you.
Delight in your children
When you are the only one with the sole responsibility of educating your children, you can easily become Mrs. Taskmaster. Don't let the obligation of educating get in the way of you enjoying the precious time you have with your children. Build in some time each day in which you can just simply delight in who they are, and in being with them.
For our family, this is literature time. I read aloud to the kids (including those who are fully capable of reading on their own) good literature that challenges their vocabulary and critical thinking. We read in bed, snuggled up under the covers. Each child gets the choice of book that we read (from a pre-approved Mom list), and whenever it is that child's book time, she gets to be in the "snuggle spot" with Mom. The child in the snuggle spot rotates with each book. At the end, snuggle time often becomes tickle time and sharing time.
There is no doubt that literature time is far and away my kids' favorite part of the school day. Capitalize on the opportunity to homeschool your children as a chance to love them and delight in them each and every day.
What You Need to Know to Start Homeschooling
Build responsibility and life skills into your homeschooling
Homeschooling is not just academic. It is the opportunity to help children develop optimally in all areas – physically, socially, relationally, morally, spiritually, civically, as well as academically. Build training around those values that are important to your family into your homeschool day, whether that be character development, independent living skills (such as money management, cooking, or household repair), chores, and/or faith principles.
Make an effort to give increasing responsibility to your children each year that they develop, with an expectation that they will contribute meaningfully to both family life and to society. If you consider these values just as important as (if not more so than) academic knowledge, your homeschool will become a lifelong training ground for the development of well-rounded, capable young adults.
Attend a homeschool convention
Preferably every year. Homeschool conventions help you see the big picture of homeschooling, provide lots of resources, let you know you are not alone.
Workshops are like continuing education opportunities for homeschooling parents, and there is nothing better than being able to see academic curricula and resources in person. Homeschool conventions can provide direction, give inspiration, connect you with other homeschoolers, and completely change your homeschooling life.
Be consistent with discipline
Get a handle on your kids. You will not have a successful homeschool experience if you are spending significant time dealing with behavior issues. Expect obedience, respect, and responsibility.
Use plenty of praise and encouragement when children demonstrate good character, and be consistent with appropriate consequences when children do not display these qualities. In our house, children who do their schoolwork with a cheerful and obedient spirit get to choose a "special" from a box of goodies (as well as lots of smiles and praise from Mom), and those who complain or are disobedient have chores to do until they demonstrate the appropriate attitude (at which point they have to begin their schoolwork).
Don't compare to other homeschoolers
They don't have your kids. They don't have your resources. They don't have your challenges.
Every homeschool is different—and should be. (Besides, no matter how perfect "her" homeschool looks, it's not, really. Really.) It's very difficult to not compare to other homeschoolers since there are relatively few guidelines and "norms" for how homeschooling should look. But comparing is never healthy.
Get ideas from others, but only with the constant awareness that their situation is not like yours. Trying to implement things just as they do, or trying to be the same kind of homeschool mom "she" is, will only be an exercise in futility and demoralization.
Start from the beginning with the attitude that you will adapt every idea you see, every creative technique, every wonderful uber-homeschool-mom accomplishment to what will work in your unique homeschool, with your unique circumstances, pressures, challenges, and children.
It will be easy to get bogged down in your own homeschool world and lose sight of the big picture. Be clear about why you are homeschooling–what your ultimate goals are for your children–and keep returning back to those in determining how you spend your homeschooling time and what you choose to focus on.
Don't get stuck on standardized test scores or the small picture of some learning challenge your child is having in one area. Keep in mind the long-term plan for your children.
Take periodic breaks, get outside support and help from time-to-time, and regularly revisit your ultimate aims for your children and family to help you stay on track during your homeschool journey. Remember, time with our children is short, as I learned so clearly this past year with the death of my son. Homeschooling allows you to make it count in accomplishing the things you feel are important, not what anyone else feels is important.
Give yourself grace
You're not going to do this perfectly. But, contrary to how it may seem, neither does anyone else. No one, even those amazing homeschool mom gurus that give workshops at conventions (or those Moms who write blog articles for TheHomeSchoolMom), does everything that they talk about, or want to do, all the time. In fact, you will likely screw up royally at least once along the way.
Every homeschooler is a work in progress; a fallible, imperfect parent trying to do his or her best within the challenges of everyday life. But, then, so are parents who don't homeschool. Allow yourself the grace to know that you will fail at times, and you won't get everything right along the homeschooling journey, but that even with those mess-ups, you are giving your children something they could not get anywhere else: individualized, personal education and training from the persons who love them most in the world.