When I tell others that I’ve decided to homeschool, they immediately nod, and say, “Oh that makes sense because you were a teacher!” Perhaps my background as an educator simplified this decision, but I assure you that most God-fearing, loving mothers are just as equipped. They just don’t know it. Confidence is a common ingredient I find lacking in homeschooling moms. They are often unsure of themselves and of what changes they have the authority to make. I want to encourage you (literally put courage in you!) to run this leg of the race well!
Why am I writing this in March, and not August or September? Because every teacher is tired in March. I’m convinced Spring Break was created just as much for educators as it was for the educated! No matter how chaotic and challenging the days may be, I want you to feel that you are achieving your goals with steadfast purpose.To finish well, we need to have faith and hope that we are going in the right direction. Otherwise we can throw in the towel and just promise ourselves we’ll do better next year. I don’t want you to finish defeated. I want you to finish proudly--like a woman who crosses the finish line of her first marathon, exhausted, but so glad she did it. So here are some tips I gleaned from others and discovered myself recently. Many of them are helpful at the beginning of a school year, but most can be applied at any time. May they bless your long days!
1. Set good goals, and stick to them. To finish well, you need to begin well. There are different ways to begin homeschooling preparations. Some mothers look at curriculum for months, figuring out their homeschooling philosophies, and interviewing every homeschooler they can find. Others ask their most-trusted homeschooling friend what she did and copy everything until they feel like they aren’t drowning in the decisions. Neither of these are right or wrong. However, there are two keys to make these important initial calls: seek God and set goals. Pray throughout the process. Let God guide you. Remember He is a God of peace. Part of God leading me has been researching trusted resources. I have looked at curriculum maps for private schools I trust, and read books about what kindergarteners should be able to do by the end of the year. Many of these benchmarks coincide, and have really helped to relieve the burden for me. When looking at a whole math curriculum, it seems like a lot of material, but when you really understand how simple kindergarten math goals are, the teaching seems much more attainable.
So, if you didn’t do this, it’s not too late! Make a list of what you want your child to be able to do by the end of the year. Really--this is worth it! Spend the majority of your time on these goals. Going above and beyond is great, but if you are feeling really stressed, try to streamline your efforts to focus on the most important goals.
As far as starting each week right, plan how it works best for you. I made myself a simple spreadsheet so I can fill in which pages/topics we are covering each week. It takes me just a few minutes to fill in. I have a section to write in the a materials and library books I need to gather for our lessons. On a great week I have this completed Friday afternoon. On a normal week, I work on it Sunday night. In either case, I feel more prepared when I have those items gathered before the lesson begins!
2. Start the day right. When I was a classroom teacher, we began our day with a morning meeting. I find this works great with my own kids too. We begin with a devotional, prayer, and some fun picture books. We sing our ABCs and count to 100. By the time we are done with that, my younger two jump off the couch and go play, and my oldest and I start our Bible lesson. I like having that focused time at the beginning to start our day with the Lord, together.
3. You are the teacher. Not the book. Do you know you don’t have to go through every book, cover to cover? What if your child has thoroughly mastered the denomination of each currency, and your math text has a whole chapter devoted to it? Please tell me you won’t waste their time going over it again! Instead, use your pantry items and some play cash and let them practice grocery shopping! Make it fun and think outside the book. (Just to be clear, the three-year-old below does NOT have his money skills mastered, I just thought it was a cute picture by our play food! :) )
Do you know that your child can write their handwriting lesson on a white board instead of in the workbook? (You can leave the page blank in the book and the homeschooling police won’t come to your house. I promise!) My son loves to do this! Occasionally I give him a rainbow assortment of colors, and have him practice his penmanship. He is willing to write three times as many letters or numbers because of how easily the marker glides across the board. My goal is met, and he had fun! The point is to think about the goal, and release yourself from completing every lesson as written. There are many ways to apply this concept.
4. Character training is part of the education, not a distraction from it. One of my most respected homeschooling examples told me her goal for her daughter’s kindergarten year: “I want her to obey me.” Her daughter is bright, and is reading well already. Of course they are refining her academic skills, but my friend is keeping this important character goal at the forefront. A huge aspect of education is learning submission to authority. If students are to become learners, they must be willing to be taught. Hold your children to this standard as their educator. There may be days that you sense the Lord telling you to stop an academic lesson to focus on a heart issue. Release yourself from the educational task, and follow that leading! Don’t put off these promptings until “later.” The teachable moment is powerful, and an effective educator capitalizes upon it.
5. Balance faithfulness and flexibility. Are you having a baby during the school year? Don’t stress about it! Take a big break, and make up for it later! You can extend the school year into the summer, work a little harder over holiday breaks, or make each day slightly longer for the rest of the school year. But, by all means, don’t feel guilty for having a major life event during a school year. Life happens. We have children, we go to funerals, illness comes. You don’t have to follow your local public school calendar. You can adjust for your family. However, you do need to be faithful and consistent. If you decide to take a break for a week because of a family situation, explain it to your kids so they know what is happening. Kids should not wake up asking, “Are we having school today?” They should be aware of your routine because you are consistent. Also, when taking breaks, have a plan for how you will make up for the time.
6. Your husband is your best sounding board. My husband really respects my decisions in homeschooling and rarely questions what I have chosen. I am thankful for that, but sometimes I feel like the weight of my decisions is too much—I want to know he would choose the same direction for them academically. Sometimes I will tell him my plans and his eyes will get big. He will challenge my ability to accomplish my goals and keep my sanity intact. In those moments, I need to pause and analyze to see if I am going beyond what God is asking me to achieve. There have been several times he has told me, “That sounds like way too much work,” and I have known in my gut I am doing the right thing. I say something like, “I understand it sounds too laborious in your eyes, but God has called me to teach our kids and I know this is worth it!” In those moments, he knows I am willing to give up sleep for it, and he supports me. Travis is good at helping me think about the effect my commitments have on our family. I can’t spend 40 hours a week homeschooling and care for my other children and our home well right now. He keeps that perspective for our family’s best interest. I am thankful for this protection that God has provided for me. At the end of the day, he knows me and he knows our kids. He wants their success as much as I do, even if he isn’t the one putting in the daily work of making it happen.
7. Surround yourself with community—for you and for your kids. No one loves your kids like you. But your love has limits, and so do your gifts. I get giddy teaching my son about Ancient Greece and fractions right now, but I am void of musical or linguistic ability! I have chosen a co-op for my kids so that someone else is pouring into them the things that I can’t. I want them to be exposed to different teaching styles, personalities, and subjects. The co-op is key in achieving that. This also gives me a network of other mothers to ask questions, and get counsel from. Obviously your church is going to be key in providing a great social foundation for you and your children as well. I recently heard a statistic that many children stay in the church when they leave home if they have consistently had 5 strong adult believers in their life while growing up. It is important for us to surround our children with great mentors and role models as part of their education and their training in the faith.
8. Think outside the rectangle. The rectangle of a table or desk, that is. Homeschooling gives you such freedom! If you are studying zoology, take your kids to the zoo! Visit a science museum to support your latest unit. Time and finances limit these more obvious alternatives, but there are other simple ways to branch out. One of my goals for Lincoln is that he would be able to confidently count to 100 by himself. The car is a perfect place to practice this. First of all, we are using the time well on our way to co-ops or running errands. Second of all, his brothers hear him and are counting better than ever. Quizzing kids on math facts, poem memorization, and Bible verses are perfect activities for the car or while on walks. I’m not saying you shouldn’t let your kids have downtime, rather that you can redeem the time outside the schoolroom for educational benefit. As the weather gets warmer, this can be key to keeping your little ones focused!
9. Teach your kids to help each other. An upper elementary student can give a spelling test to a younger sibling. They can also help each other practice math facts. I let my kids take turns being the “teacher” for part of our morning meeting, so that even my two year old gets a turn to lead the class in the “ABC Song.” He takes more ownership over his learning, and my other children practice listening to their “classmates” as they would in a typical classroom setting. Readers can read to their siblings. If you ask a new reader to read board books to their young brothers and sisters, they won’t feel like they are reading “baby books;” they will just think they are reading their siblings’ favorite books. You are helping create an atmosphere of servanthood in your children.
10. Make breaks work for you both: At the beginning of the school year, I planned breaks for Lincoln. I was excited to have him do laps and jumping jacks for “Physical Education” time, and play our toy classroom instruments for “Music” time. I had planned for his younger siblings to join along for this time. Well, it turns out that Lincoln isn’t the only one that needs breaks. I do too. Not so I can take a mental break, but so I can take care of the other tasks vying for my time. My toddler needs me to take him to the bathroom, I have to fill up snacks or sippy cups, an urgent text or email comes in that I need to deal with. When I adjusted the schedule to give myself breaks, our days went much smoother. Now, I tell Lincoln we will break every three subjects. Since he is in kindergarten, the subjects are brief. It is good for him to know what he is working towards. Right now, art projects get him very excited, so he loves it when I print out some of his favorite images to color. Sometimes I will say, you can color a page when you are done with these three subjects, and then you can play for 10 minutes. He is excited because he is working towards a goal, and it took me very little effort.
I hope these tips give you a sense of freedom. You don’t have to apply all of them now, or ever. They are just simple ways I have picked up to help our homeschooling go well. I hope that you will be blessed by them! I want to be clear that even with these tips, homeschooling is still hard work. Some days, regardless of how well prepared I am, are chaotic! My toddlers are getting into things left and right, my oldest woke up cranky, I am getting constant outside distractions, and my sink is an endless mound of dishes. And a lot of days we do school in our pajamas! I don’t want to paint a picture that it is all peaches and rainbows when you get yourself in order. I want to convey that it is worth it in so many ways.
Sometimes I think about my friends’ homes… how they remain clean during the day, instead of destroyed by the children who are home. I think about the free time some of them have to grocery shop without children. I think about the moments they have to clear their minds and plan their week without all of their children competing for their attention. It sounds nice to have all of that… and maybe someday that will be a better fit for our family. Right now, however, the blessings far outweigh the challenges. It just helps to know I’m not alone in the struggle. I pray you have or find a strong community to support you in this endeavor.