I am frequently asked to coach a new homeschooling parent or answer questions for someone considering homeschooling for the first time. Even before I was homeschooling my own children, I was fielding questions and serving as an apologist for home education. I was homeschooled for most of my schooling, and went on to work in higher education, which opened the door to speaking and writing on the topic.
And yet, I had to figure it out myself, and homeschooling was not a foregone conclusion when my husband and I were considering options for our children. Sometimes I need a little reminding of the truths I know. Recently, a good friend connected me to her sister who was reluctantly coming to a decision to home educate by a child who begged her to homeschool. I found my strong opinions coming out, and then I stepped back and told her in a nutshell that she was going to need to capture for herself why she was doing this. She needed to figure out what reasons she had; what was her mission in saying “yes” to this scary thing she was taking on?
The days will get hard, and no community is quite as opinionated as the homeschooling community. She needed to be clear, even as she gave herself permission to change her reasons and methods later.
As the excitement of a new year starts to fade into the reality of the hard work involved, here are some things I’ve learned as a student, educator, and mom:
1) YES, IT DOES MATTER WHAT YOU DO. I’ve heard a lot of people say about parenting that it doesn’t really matter how you do it, it all works out. I know some have this philosophy about homeschooling too. It is wrong. Clearly, it does matter how we parent, and it does matter how you educate your children. But that is different than saying there is one way. There are good ways, better ways, and wrong ways. And the task for you is to find out how your child best learns, how to motivate him, and what is important for him to learn. If you take this seriously, your kids will probably have different curricula, and different workloads, and they will definitely have different extracurricular subjects. There is no point to cookie-cutter homeschooling. So do the work. It matters what you do.
2) THE GOAL IS TEACH THEM TO LOVE TO LEARN. We should all be lifelong learners. And it is a lot more fun if you learn to love learning. Starting little ones too early or pushing them too hard will wreak havoc on your end goal. I am a strong proponent of letting them run outside on sunny days and play Legos for a while when they want a break. As they get older, they will develop more stamina and, hopefully, interest. Help them to connect the dots to why learning matters, in their vocation, in their hobbies, in their lives.
3) THIS IS A JOB FOR BOTH PARENTS! Yes, one parent will be primary. But there are days when you can’t get a concept across or you are worn out of dealing with a particular child. In my home, the Dad is on standby to back me up. If a child has struggled or if one of them needs to show their dad what they have learned whether for additional help or needed praise, he takes time with them after work. My own dad taught me anatomy since he had a degree in nursing and had an interest in it. I know several families in which the dad handles at least one subject. My husband reviews and signs report cards at the end of the year. It not only ascertains he knows what we are doing, it shows my children this is a united operation and important to him too.
4) DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE BEAUTY THAT YOUR SCHOOL ISN’T LIKE A REGULAR SCHOOL. Your school doesn’t have to start at 8:30am, and it doesn’t have to end at 3:30pm. The socks don’t have to match, shoes are not required, and you can interrupt school to work with two siblings fighting or a child who has neglected their chores. You can go on vacation in September (when it is cheaper) and you can make your own holidays (for several years now my kids have had a week-long holiday in the fall with their grandparents when their dad and I both have to be away for work). The important thing is that education is happening.
5) SCHEDULING IS IMPORTANT, BUT THE SCHEDULE SERVES YOU. Try something and then readjust. Scheduling will help your expectations and help your child see the end. Not only is scheduling helpful, it will help ease the adjustment to other schooling or adult life your child will eventually face.
6) DON’T GET TOO BUSY. There are so many opportunities that exist now for homeschoolers that didn’t exist when I was being homeschooled. The co-op classes, sports, and other activities I had to choose from this year were mind-boggling. They all sound wonderful. But it is all too much. Unscheduled times are important for kids to figure out what they are interested in and to think and have the space to grow. Pick and choose wisely.
7) DON’T FORGET WHO YOU ARE.This comes from having watched the previous generation of homeschooling moms and reading studies that confirm that identity is a huge issue. If you give all your energies to homeschooling, you will be a little lost when it all ends abruptly and you have no friends, no hobbies, no vocation for the next stage of life. Keep up your hobbies or even a part-time job, and don’t neglect things that make you who you are. And don’t neglect your friends—especially the ones that are not homeschooling moms. You need to hear them too! And this isn’t just for you. Your children will learn as you demonstrate life balance, and you will be less clingy when they are trying to leave the nest.
One of the benefits of being second-generation is that I’ve witnessed success. I’ve watched imperfect parents work with normal kids and yet achieve amazing results. I have seen parents I was pretty sure weren’t “qualified” to homeschool send their kids off to college on scholarships, fully capable of doing well and succeeding educationally and vocationally. I know lawyers, doctors, government and business leaders, and people with Ivy League degrees who were homeschooled by ordinary parents and yet achieved extraordinary things.
So, when you have one of those days (and we ALL have them) and you don’t think you are cut out for this job, take a step back. And see how tomorrow goes.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; Second, third, and fourth photos by Rachelle Reitz.