We come to homeschooling for different reasons but as we journey through this adventure we are all united in a few, basic ways.
First, we care about our children. We care about them so much, we are willing to step out of the ease of society's way of educating them to do it ourselves.
Second, we all struggle (to some degree) with the balancing act homeschooling presents in our lives.
Lastly, most of us question ourselves as to whether or not we are cut out for the job...and sometimes we question ourselves every day for a decade. When you're swimming upstream, societally, you are bound to find yourself wondering if you are cut out for what you're doing.
Despite the concerns, we usually feel motivated from something deep within us to take the homeschooling path.
Some of us may not even be able to put our finger on exactly why we feel we should. We just know it’s right.
No matter your reason, as you embark on this most excellent journey, keep in mind a few important points:
1. HOMESCHOOLING IS NOT “SCHOOL AT HOME”
Desks, assignments, grading, hard-and-fast schedules? Nope.
Math in the kitchen...making cookies...while learning fractions with measuring cups...in pajamas? Yep!
Homeschooling and record-keeping requirements vary by state. But no matter what the requirements are, love of learning and life-learning are the keys to real learning.
Our mainstream, conveyer belt mentality of “education” has to be left behind when we embark on the grand journey of homeschooling.
2. THERE IS NO “RIGHT WAY”
Every homeschool looks different because every family is different and every homeschooling parent is different.
Therefore, the number one rule is: DON’T COMPARE!
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. (It’s what makes the world go ‘round!) That being the case, accept (up front) that some homeschooling areas will be a breeze for you...and other areas won’t.
Where I struggle, you won’t...and vice versa.
But here’s the truth...
3. YOU ARE PERFECT FOR THIS JOB
God gave you the children you have for a reason and you love them more than anyone else. You also know them better than anyone else. You are meant for them...strengths, weaknesses, and all.
That makes you perfect for the job.
Does that mean you can’t learn and grow and work on some of those weaknesses? Of course not!
One of the hidden benefits of homeschooling is the growth and learning of the parent(s).
I have my bachelors degree in elementary education (Not a prerequisite for homeschooling!) I always thought I would go back for my masters. When I started homeschooling, I realized the last thing I needed was a paper telling me I had learned something! Learning along with my children was better than any degree a university could award me.
4. YOUR ENVIRONMENT IS THE KEY
Your environment at home is more important than any curriculum you choose.
An environment where distractions are limited, where useless media is controlled, and where learning materials are present is an environment that lends itself to learning and self-teaching.
This also takes the burden off the homeschooling parent because in the right learning environment, the children teach themselves most of the time.
5. THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE
Unless, of course, you want it to be! There are so many free resources, so many inexpensive ways of going about teaching your children, that it really doesn‘t have to break the bank.
(I did write a blog post on the curriculum I love here. It is always one of the first questions I get from a mom considering or starting homeschooling.)
Get creative with the resources you already have and the knowledge you already possess.
Connect with other homeschooling families and share teaching resources.
Use the internet to create lessons, handwriting sheets, and learn. Anything anyone wants to know is available in one click.
6. YOU HAVE PLENTY OF TIME DURING THE YEAR TO PRESENT THE ACADEMICS YOUR CHILD NEEDS
Monkey Mum says our children need 51 minutes per school day (Monday through Friday, September through May) of focused academic work to equal public school's several hours per day.
Coastal Conservatory says, at most, 2.25 hours are spent in actual instruction at school.
PJ Media calculates that less than 118 days of the school year are actually used for instruction, even down to 98 days for some classes.
The internet is ridden with articles discussing the waste of time in public schools, including articles by the Washington Post and New York Times.
Other articles site the reality that most learning is done outside the classroom by the students.
Didn‘t get to the math lesson today? No worries...it can all be made up for tomorrow.
Stressing about staying “at grade level”, pushing a child to “learn“ and regurgitate information, causing tears in a child who is not ready or interested in the subject is the “school at home” approach.
Homeschool is about focusing on making life a learning tool. Of course there is room for focused, academic work. But with a shift in our mental and emotional focus, everything that needs to be taught will suddenly, and naturally, become part of what we do.
7. WHEN WE WANT TO LEARN, WE WILL SEEK IT OUT AND LEARN IT QUICKLY...SO DO CHILDREN
Last time you looked online for something you wanted to know or learn about, how long did it take you to "get" the information?
Was it drudgery because you were being required to do it? Or were you motivated to learn because you had a question or goal?
When a child wants to learn something, they will learn it so quickly it will make your head spin!
God meant for learning to bring joy. Since He knows all, when we learn we become more like Him, whether it's math or music, geography or geometry.
When learning is a joy, our children become lifelong learners.
When they are a lifelong learner, they can and will teach themselves anything.
This is the main reason your environment is key. If learning is fun and natural, with daily life engaging the children in organic learning, you won’t be pushing them to fit into a grade-level mold.
They will be teaching themselves and, likely, excel their grade level quickly.
8. YOUR ONLY REAL HURDLE IS TO MAKE SURE THEY CAN READ AND WRITE
Once a child knows how to read and write, they can take off, learn and progress, no holds barred.
Again, with a proper learning environment, the skills of reading and writing are all they need to pursue all they want and need to know.
There are as many philosophies about teaching a child to read as their are philosophers. But my approach is simple:
Read to them and they will read to you.
Snuggled on your lap, with you pointing to words (especially simple and sight words) they will learn to read and love it.
Homeschool really should be called "lifeschool". It's about learning together while we journey in life.
It's a blessing to be able to keep our children home with us, learning by our side and at our knee. They won't be with us for long...we have to squeeze in every precious moment.
9. THIS IS A JOURNEY
Don't expect to feel "perfect" at this right away. Don't expect to feel perfect at this...EVER.
Each of your children is different. Each have different needs. Each will have needs that change over time. Each will go through different challenges.
YOU will change. YOU have needs. YOU will go through different challenges.
This is all part of the journey. And the learning.
I guarantee you that no public school teacher feels perfect at what they do every day. No public school administrator does, either.
Likely, they spend most of their time feeling like they are failing.
Remember that on days when you feel like you are failing.
Did you love your children today? Did they smile? Were they fed and cared for? You succeeded.
My wise husband once told me on one of my down days, "If you connected with each child today, if you looked in their eyes and helped them feel loved, you've succeeded."
Homeschooling is a journey of growing, learning, loving, and making memories and enduring family relationships.
There is no "destination". You aren't going to "arrive" anywhere.
We are all travelers.
Enjoy the journey.
I have a bachelors degree in elementary education from a prestigious university.
Inevitably, when a new homeschooling mom or curious stranger finds out about my degree they respond with, “Oh, well, THAT’S why you can homeschool! I could never do it because I’m not trained.”
There could be nothing further from the truth.
Take it from me, friends. Being trained as an educator for the public school system does NOT prepare you to homeschool.
Frankly, since I was raised by two, wonderful elementary school teachers and then went into the field myself, I almost burned us all out trying to do “school at home” when we decided to homeschool.
It’s what I knew, but it’s NOT what I needed. Neither do you.
As I mention in "Avoiding School At Home", if you think grading papers, administering tests, and teaching formal lessons is what homeschooling is, think again!
Homeschooling is more about making life a learning experience, one we experience together as parents (and grandparents) and children.
In my blog post, "Creating an Environment for Learning", I discuss a bit about what homeschool is...and isn't. Here is an excerpt from the topic, "An environment for learning is one where everything is a lesson":
This is more of a mindset for Mom and Dad than anything. An environment for learning creates very natural, organic “teaching” opportunities all day long.
Are you making something in the kitchen? Involve the children. Are you using a measuring cup? Show them how a fraction is written, what it means, and how that information is helpful to you in your task. Use the appropriate language while you share that with them.
The conversation might go something like this:
“Lucy, will you please hand me the quarter cup measuring cup? It has a one and a four on it with a line between them.”
While looking for it, she will have looked at the others and will be practicing her numbers and other thinking skills.
After she hands it to you, you might say, “Good job! Thanks! You found the quarter cup measuring cup. Do you know why it’s called a ‘quarter cup’? The one and the four make a fraction. A fraction is a small part of a bigger thing. When we eat a slice of pizza, that piece you are eating is actually a fraction of the pizza. It’s a piece of it, the same size as all the other pieces. The pizza we ate the other day had eight pieces. How many did you eat?”
“Then you ate one eighth. You ate one of the eight pieces. We call that one-eighth and we write it like this.”
Write it on a napkin (which I do a lot because they are always on the table) or a piece of paper so if your child is a visual learner, they will have that in front of them.
“Now, let’s look at the measuring cup. Do you see how the fraction is written like the one I just wrote on the paper? What do you think it means?”
Let her think it through. Don’t interrupt or spoon-feed her the answer. Let her mind work on the question.
If she doesn’t have an idea, prompt her with a discovery question:
“How many pieces was the pizza cut into?”
As the discussion continues, use terms like “numerator” and “denominator”. Your child is learning every step of the way.
Don’t feel or act like they should “get it” right away. If it’s a brand new concept, they won’t. But, you’ve planted the seed. And you’ll go back to water that seed every time you cook in the kitchen together.
If you do it regularly, your child will understand fractions (or anything else) earlier than you ever imagined they could and, most importantly, they will have a tangible application for abstract information.
Every moment is a teaching moment.
Look for interest. Listen for questions. Pay attention to their desires, their thinking, their creative thoughts and discoveries. Invite them to do what you are doing. Work alongside them and teach and talk as you go.
When you show enthusiasm for their discoveries and questions and encourage them to continue to discover their interests and discover ABOUT their interests, you will create in them a love for learning.
I have a child who is fascinated by the genetics of our chickens. He has determined what breeding certain chickens with certain qualities will create.
Knowing his interest in this area, we have often discussed genetics and dominant and recessive genes.
I don’t know much (okay, almost nothing) about the genetics of chickens. But, I do know a little about genetics, generally, and I share what I DO know and encourage his enthusiasm. I invite him to learn more about genetics and try out his hypotheses.
The spring incubation of eggs is always interesting at our homestead!
Again, this is a mindset. It is a “tuning” of our minds, as parents, to our environment for learning.
This mindset doesn’t require “curriculum”. From my experience, this approach teaches more than any curriculum you could purchase.
You can read about how seeds sprout, but when your child plants a seed, nourishes the plant and harvests from it, the experience will become part of them.
In my opinion, one of the great losses of the last few generations is the passing down of skills and knowledge from one generation to another.
It used to be that the children knew their role was to learn from the parents because they knew they would, soon, be the parents and needed the skills their parents had.
That is no longer.
As we invite our children to journey with us while we go about doing “parent” things, they will learn alongside us and gain more than any book can offer.
The knowledge will then become part of them, never to be lost.
This is an illustration of how homeschooling can be approached. Notice that there isn't a book, set curriculum, or governmental entity telling Mom what her child should be interested in, or what he/she should be learning. She knows her child and she follow the child's lead, looking for opportunities to teach in real life.
That isn't to say that a set curriculum can't be used. Curriculum and programs that help pay for your materials, or even give you full access to set curriculum are a wonderful support and addition to your homeschooling.
Often, those programs can free you up to enjoy every other minute together for fun, unstructured learning and life experiences.
As you can see, none of this really fits into the "public school model" of education and learning.
So, don't worry another minute if you don't have formal teaching experience or training. All you need is a love for your children and a desire to help them learn and grow!
Just about every seasoned homeschooler will tell you that the first question they receive about homeschooling is “What about socialization?”
Perhaps you have concerns about starting homeschooling with older children or are concerned about how you will “do it all”.
Let‘s address a few of these concerns...
When all we know is our own experience with public school, where do we start to shift our thinking to make homeschool a Home School?
As I discussed above, homeschooling isn't meant to be "school at home". Frankly, if it looks much like a public school classroom, we are doing it all wrong!
It shouldn't be a six- or eight-hour ordeal where Mom or Dad administers tests, grades papers, or teaches formal lessons on a daily basis.
None of us have time for that, even if you are a full-time, stay-at-home mom.
So, how do we homeschool when we don't know anything but public school?
Looking for curriculum that will help you effortlessly facilitate the learning of the basics without a lot of extra effort from you? Check out "Curriculum Questions?"
If you are looking for something that will be much more involved for your child, allowing you to make an individualized plan for their education and have your materials paid for, check out "Homeschool Programs With More Parental Support".
Remember, a home school is just that...an education in the home. Public school was created to subdue the masses and attempt to help the greater number be generally educated.
Since the goal of a home school is to nourish the individual child by the love, resources, and dedication of the ones who love them most and know them best, it will look nothing like public school.
Those of us who come from a public school background have to shift our thinking. It takes time, but when you've experienced real, deep, family-centered learning, you'll be changed forever!
Consistency is important for children to feel secure. When they know what the expectations are, they have an easier time fulfilling those expectations and experiencing feelings of success and accomplishment.
Our life here on the homestead requires a lot of consistency. Animals require daily attention, usually in the same way throughout any given season.
As seasons change here, so do expectations. But, that still gives us at least three months of consistency in any given set of requirements.
Homestead or not, you may find that you are having to "regroup" every three months. Children grow, change, have new needs. Seasons might require a change in habits. Holidays come along, creating a focus on different activities and events. Health or financial challenges may even cause you to rethink your approach and requirements.
Our lifestyle, though consistent enough to keep us from being able to be out of town, can also be the source of pretty intense and unexpected changes in schedules, requirements, and needs. (i.e. animals giving birth or escaping pens in the middle of the night, storms that create problems with gardens and animals, etc.)
So, the tool I use for keeping consistency is something we call "Morning Meeting".
Each morning, after the "Top 5" are done, we sit together for Morning Meeting. This includes the review of their daily, personal checklists and the distribution of Bucks. Then, we have scripture study and prayer. Lastly, I go over the day's list on the whiteboard which I have prepared ahead of time.
(Sidenote: This is also the time I sneak in Spanish practice. On days when we have time, I will speak to them only in Spanish and give them commands to follow, which always results in great giggles. The whiteboard always has Spanish on it as well. We must always look for learning opportunities!)
Along with expected daily chores, anything unexpected or necessary that wasn't anticipated is on that list. I introduce it to the children and explain how it will affect our day.
It's visual, it's clear and we go about the day understanding that it's something that will need to happen.
Each day of the week to also assigned to certain needs. Like Caroline in Little House on the Prairie, we have a baking day, butter making day, etc.
Currently, Monday is our baking and piano day. Tuesday is violin. Wednesday is our shopping and outing day. Thursday is our choir day. Friday is our day off when no academics are required and we go visit the grandparents.
Knowing the "large" expectation for the day makes room for it. All daily requirements of school, cleaning, animals, etc. work around that larger expectation.
For example, if it's the outing day, the children know they have to be ready to pack their academic work to be able to accomplish it.
If it's baking day, Mom will have less time to work with them outside and they will need to be in the kitchen if they need help.
Each day of the week is different, nothing is monotonous which keeps the excitement alive. But, every day of the week is the same. Mondays will always have the same expectations, as will Tuesdays and so on.
The consistency is there while making room for all we want to accomplish.
We are a team. No good coach will send his or her team onto the playing field without a plan everyone knows about and is ready to execute.