As our first year of homeschooling comes to a close, I look back at our year and can’t help but praise God for bringing us through it. I love how close our family has grown together and cherish so many wonderful moments we’ve shared. That said, I also recognize that perhaps I could have avoided some (key word some) of the stress packed moments with more preparation. If you are considering home education or in the midst of it and feeling overwhelmed, this one is for you. I’ll explain how I stumbled into homeschooling, the steps I wish I took in advance, and share links to the resources that helped me through. As a newbie I haven’t many pearls of wisdom to offer, but hopefully you won’t have to learn these 7 lessons the hard way as I did.
Although the idea of possibly ……someday homeschooling had floated in and out of my mind since college, the opportunity to actually do so happened rather quickly. My husband and I were both working full time while my kindergartner, Lil’ Lizard, was attending a wonderful public school after 2 years in daycare. In November we were blessed to discover we were expecting and began trying to figure out if I would be able to stay home rather than take maternity leave. As we had this in mind, and the school year progressed, we noticed our eldest loosing the spark in his eyes and really beginning to dread school. His curious nature was rewarded with shame and he soon began to believe something was “wrong’ with him. When presented, we seized the opportunity for me to stay home and it was a last minute but very confident decision that we’d give home education a shot for first grade. We were all very excited but with little time to prepare, to say I was nervous is a gross understatement. Especially considering the first week of school was only a week after my Eager Explorer was born. I felt like I chose to dive into a pool’s deep end blind folded…..or better yet, as though I volunteered to jump into some crashing rapids wearing a straight jacket! Like most modern mamas, I took to the internet for advice and help, but I quickly realized that like every field of knowledge, there is usually a pretty steep learning curve.
If you are new to homeschooling, or considering it, I’d like to take a minute to encourage you. At a cursory glance it can all seem overwhelming and so foreign. Sure there is a TON to learn, but there are also plenty of resources out there. As you research it’s easy to fall in to the trap of comparing yourself to the Pinterest pins and Mommy blogs out there, but don’t do it! No matter how hard they(myself included!) try to be transparent and genuine, they can never show the full picture. Please take heart and look at this way….you and your kid(s) have grown and survived this far on your own.
You taught them to walk, to talk and honestly, if you can potty train, then c’mon now….you can totally homeschool. 😉
I was flying by the seat of my britches and survived, but ideally the following would be a checklist in preparation BEFORE you homeschool. It is a collection of points to consider, not necessarily a step-by-step ordered process. You may have some of these already knocked out (woo hoo!), but if not don’t worry. If this crazy lady can do it, you can to. 😉
#1: Check Out the Law: Can you legally homeschool?
This is the only one on the list I actually did beforehand, and I’m glad I did because it really took some pressure off. Thankfully I live in a very homeschool friendly state an am classified along with private schools. However, some states require registration or record keeping, so before you spend a ton of time, money and energy putting your school together, it’s best to check out your legal responsibilities and rights.
Resource: Home School Legal Defense Association is a great site with a ton of info to get you started, including your individual state requirements.
#2: Develop A Mission Statement: What is the purpose of your homeschool?
When you made the choice to homeschool, most likely you had a million reasons backing your decision…to avoid public school testing or common core, special family or medical circumstances, to tailor your academic pursuits, to create a closer family bond, to honor and incorporate religious beliefs, to reduce peer pressure and increase individual expression, to travel, to foster a love of learning, to socialize your children in a more meaningful and realistic way, to sleep in, etc, etc…..the list goes on!
Remembering WHY you chose to homeschool can really help out when the daily grind of things isn’t working out so well. Even better, would be to set apart some time to ask yourself what a mission statement for your homeschool might look like. I didn’t get around to doing this until a month or so ago, and already I can see the folly in not doing it sooner.
It’s so easy to second guess yourself, and every little bump in the road I would assume was my fault. I ended up jumping around all over the place going after all the shiny ideas on Pinterest, and though some were awesome…it was clear that most were awesome…for some other family. I still get excited about new finds, but with a clear vision of my goals and where I want to go with our school, I waste less time making decisions and I am more inclined to stick with the ones I do make.
Resource: Here are a couple of blogs that are just plain AWESOME resources in general, but also can give you some more detailed directions, suggestions about goal setting and even some printables for creating your own mission statement. There are a ton out there, but here are a few that I respect and enjoy:
#3: Know Who you Can Count On: Who will support your homeschool?
We were blessed with some very supportive friends and family, which makes all the difference in the world. Simply knowing that at least a handful of people didn’t think I was crazy to try and homeschool offered me a sense of belonging and confidence. It’s crucial to know who you can lean on for support in general, but especially as a homeschooler.. Are your parents on board? Maybe a neighbor down the road? Perhaps a seasoned mentor from church? I was too insecure to really connect much with the homeschooling families I knew, and looking back I see how foolish I was. No one has it all figured out, and the homeschooling community is simply one of the most helpful, encouraging and accepting you’ll find out there.
It is equally important to know who does NOT support you. I had close friends and family members who were initially very against the idea. Which is another reason I wish I had my clear vision for homeschooling, to help me stay strong against opposition and eventually persuade others with my confidence and resolve. I had to learn to just avoid the topic with certain people, and that’s ok….we can agree to disagree while I exercise my right to homeschool. 🙂
Resources: Your Spouse and Family, Church, Local Co-Ops, Homeschool Bookstores, and if all else fails, online support groups (here’s a facebook example).
#4: Draft a Calendar/Schedule: When will you homeschool?
An amazing benefit of homeschooling is freedom to set the time and pace for the education of your students. You’re the principal! I really wish I had recognized this power. I just assumed I had to follow suit with public schools and felt pressured to begin school when they did. To do so meant I had only a a few weeks to prepare, during which I also HAD A BABY! Needless to say I would have been far less frazzled and stressed if I was aware of the liberty I possessed to create my own schedule and timeline.
Some states require attendance for a certain number of days, but you still get to decide what those days will look like and when they will fall on your school calendar. 😉 Having a clear purpose for your homeschool in mind will definitely help you define what your ball park school year will look like, and how you plan to generally organize your day. Be sure to add in plenty of margin for spontaneous field trips, sickness, holidays, catch up days and well, LIFE! You have so many options available to you. Some families keep trucking during the summer so they can enjoy a more relaxed school year with multiple mini breaks. Some families have to factor in work schedules and just do nights and weekends. You’re the boss!
#5: Learn the Lingo and : How do you approach homeschool?
I remember the night I finally understood that oh, I guess there are different methods to homeschooling…..that’s why everything I find seems so confusing and overwhelming! I was stuck in the public school box, so not only did I fail to recognize the liberation of home education, so many of the terms and concepts seemed so foreign to me. Who is the Charlotte chick everyone mentions? Unschooling just sounds destructive. Scope and Sequence? Multi-level learning? STEM projects? Enrichment activities? What exactly is a co-op? Or curriculum for that matter?
By having a better understanding of the vocabulary and especially the popular homeschool methods, I FINALLY was able to take advantage of the resources out there. Before I found posts that broke the concepts down, it all felt Greek to me and was pretty discouraging. So if you are beating your head against the wall like I was, chances are you just need a little background info 🙂
Resources: As I tried to figure out who Charlotte was, I discovered this great synopsis. I loved elements from all of them, and later discovered that meant I wasn’t weird, just using the Eclectic Method. The Unlikely Homeschool shared a post with a video that explains more about what the eclectic method means for their family.
#6: Choose Curriculum/Materials: What will you teach?
Here’s another major step I wish I had squared away before we began homeschooling. In fact, I realize now I hadn’t purchased a curriculum at all, but a couple of work books. I would just glance them over and discuss the topics before hand. We were ok winging it, but I kept wondering if I was missing something. Over the course of this second semester, one by one, I finally found some good fits for us.
Resource: Cathy Duffy has some great reviews that really helped me understand my choices and find a good fit for us.
#7: Set Yourself Up for Success
Day one of school all I had were a few work books, an old U.S. road map on the wall and a spiral notebook. Without a desk we made do with clipboards and took our lessons throughout the house. It actually worked well in some respects, but I felt a lot of pressure to create a mini classroom because … we were just a school at home right? The first blogs I ran across had such beautiful examples of homeschool classrooms that I started to feel so behind the game. Rather than fussing about all of that, what I SHOULD have done was take time to prepare materials for the actual lessons.
We had fun starting our homeschool day, but wasted so much time hunting down scissors, rulers, and pencil sharpeners that it added one more thing to throw off our momentum. I really wish I simply sat down, looked ahead with our lessons, and gathered the materials ahead of time. Whether it was library books, craft supplies, science experiment stuff or simple grocery store items….knowing what you’ll need, and getting yourself stocked is a HUGE burden lifted from your shoulders. I was just happy I woke up to make breakfast after being up all night with the baby, but once I designated a supply corner, things got much easier.
I’m not saying everything has to be perfectly organized or planned out. Life will have it’s own ebb and flow you’ll want to roll with, but I guess this saying I picked up in my days of R.O.T.C. really brings the concept home: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” So any prep you can do before hand to know where the items are that you need, and how you plan to use them will go a long way.
Resource: Here is a link to my Homeschool Organization Pinterest Board if you need ideas but remember to let these be a blessing and not a curse 😉
So now that you are ready to embrace your new year, please keep in mind that each family is unique, and each teacher and student are even more so. These are the steps I took, the ones I wish I took, the resources I discovered, and how such decisions affect our year. I’ve only got one year under my belt, so I still have a tone to learn. My hope is that by sharing my story I can offer some insight and encourage you to follow YOUR homeschool path with peace and confidence. The ultimate resource of course being a relationship with with Christ and the abundant life of joy He offers us with grace and mercy 🙂
UPDATE: So I just ran across this amazing article over at Amongst Lovely Things (love love love her site!) and it’s something I wish I had found at the start of my homeschooling journey. What a refreshing and beautiful reminder to be confidently be yourself and that by doing so, you will be a better teacher to your children. 🙂
What are your homeschool struggles? Any pearls of wisdom for us newbies out there? Let me know in the comments below!