I’ll be the first to say, as a homeschool mom in her 8th year of teaching children at home, I am no expert. However, I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two over these years. I am also eager to learn more and more as I gain traction on this whole gig of school at home, and hope to never feel that I've arrived. I hope to always feel that I have room to grow, mature, and learn.
I want to share with you the things I have learned, though, because quite honestly they have been hard-earned. I have spent more moments than I’d like to admit on my knees, on the internet (perusing self-help organizational tips, no doubt) and in my bathroom with the door locked; pretending I am in there for another reason other than just a bit of peace and quiet.
So, without further adieu, my humble list of 5 tips for your own homeschool success:
1. Your homeschool is not meant to mirror any other educational system; not any public school, private school, or that cool techy new charter school down the street. It is also not meant to mirror the homeschool family you met at the local education co-op. I've had people say that I should be a natural homeschool teacher, since I am a former elementary and middle school teacher. For me, I almost think it made part of my transition harder. Why? I had to unlearn the formality of education. Seriously. Six years ago, as an enthusiastic new homeschool mom, I hung up a flag, declared that school would begin promptly at 8am, and even devised a portion of the day to be set aside for recess. I planned to (and did, for about a week) start each day with a formal recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then instruct my children to sit on their bottoms for 2 hours straight, until there became a reprieve for recess at 10am. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that that wasn’t going to work. I’d like to be able to tell you that I figured out my groove the next day, but unfortunately, it did take a few years to actually convince myself that homeschooling is not a fragmented, compartmentalized portion of my days, but a change in our lifestyle. A change, even, in my educational philosophy. Is there anything wrong with hanging the American flag in your home? No! Absolutely not. In fact, I encourage you to. Is there anything wrong with knowing the flag salute, sitting on our bottoms, keeping on schedule, or having recess. Nope, nothing wrong with those things either. Was I trying to force a system that was far too controlled for our lifestyle? Yes. In order to find out what your family’s philosophy is, take a minute to write down the top three things that are important to your family.
1) Help our children find and refine their passion(s) in life and learning.
2) Reading, Writing, Arithmetic.
3) Learn to serve others and love others in our family and in the community.
Use your top priorities to fashion your own homeschool to fit your own lifestyle. It may need some tweaking, it may take some evolving, but eventually you will find your groove by keeping your priorities front and center.
2. Listen to your children, and in turn model for them what it looks like to listen to you. I remember vividly one day, my older daughter who was 9-years-old at the time, in a puddle of tears because she felt like she never had enough time to learn about the things she was truly interested in. That alarmed me. Really alarmed me. My favorite part of homeschooling is the chance to help my children learn to love to learn and to follow their passions. At that moment, I felt like I was failing her. I could have dismissed her, and told her that she needed to suck it up and keep chugging along. (And truly, if I told her that, she would have agreed and kept working hard; she is a great student). But instead, I earnestly looked at the changes we could make as a family. Because of her insight, we have changed our school schedule. I scrunch 5 homeschool days into 3 days, and have removed all “fluff,” or unnecessary work that the girls could choose to do on their own if desired. Yes, those 3 days are long, but not too long, and my children know that these long days mean more time to explore on their own 2 days during the week. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are spent pouring over our curriculum, while Wednesdays and Fridays are deemed, “Independent Learning Days” where they get to do things like: write, bake, play educational games, create, explore, and spend much anticipated hours with eye pressed to the microscope lens and a certain somebody’s bug collection. This also works great for me since I work from home and need those hours to complete my work. One more thing: My daughter has appreciated and noticed that I listened to her concerns about our homeschool schedule, and has much compassion when I have busy weeks. She is quick to jump up and help me cook dinner, help with her little sister, and organize a cupboard. I think that because I listen to her when she feels overwhelmed with school, she is quick to help when things get rough on my end.
3. Know what things can wait or be deleted. You don’t have to do everything the curriculum has listed. I know…yada yada yada! Every single homeschool parent has heard this…am I right? But it’s true! Take this to heart. I used to plow through each day, ignoring the glaring and not so glaring deficiencies in my children’s learning. Terrible, I know. I feared getting behind in our curriculum schedule, and it seemed easier to just keep going on auto pilot. Our homeschool life became much more meaningful when I began to look at each day as a puzzle piece to the big picture. Is it more important for the girls to take extra time to practice memorizing their multiplication facts instead of their scheduled math lesson? Maybe Science can wait until they finish their writing assignment. Some days Social Studies must wait while we take this meal to our sick neighbor. Let's hold off on our fictional writing assignment and instead practice writing friendly letters (and knock out those Christmas thank-you cards at the same time). Maybe, just maybe, your college roommate now lives on a farm and her sheep had babies and you need to jump in the car ASAP to help feed the baby sheep! You get the point! So, you may ask how do I manage this? Well, I suppose it could be written down in a much more formal method, but this method works well for me: I painted a tall wall in our house with chalkboard paint, and each day before we dig into our school subjects, we gather around it and talk about what needs to be accomplished, in addition or instead of regular school tasks. My children delight in crossing off each task underneath their names. We also use this board to track progress with a variety of other things, both educational or lifestyle related. Right now the space beneath their names is to draw a smiley face for every glass of water consumed. A reward is given at the end of the day if they have consumed the goal amount for that day.
4. Find a reasonable system for completing chores. Another thing that has helped me is to create a chore list for each child in which their individual lists are the exact same task list for every day of the week. For instance, my 9-year-old middle child's chore list is as follows Monday-Saturday:
1) Make bed/straighten room
2) Feed/Water/Brush dog
3) Make Living Area and play room tidy; Pick up clutter from kitchen counter
4) Tidy Guest Bathroom (empty trash, wipe down counters, replace hand towel)
5) Laundry (fold and put away)
My children used to have different chores for each day of the week, but if we had doctor appointments or something else that took precedence over the normal activities, then tasks might be undone for a whole week! Our family will never get to brag about getting our chores done every single day. Life happens. School happens. Sickness happens. The need to visit our neighbor happens. But now, if we’ve had a crazy week, and my kids haven’t been able to complete all their chores, I can be sure to have them do their chores on Friday and we are all set and caught up for the weekend. You may find success with a whole different system for maintaining your household and schooling your children. Try to find something that works great for your family!
5. Experiment with your schedule. I used to start each day with our chores, then move onto our school subjects: math, grammar, and writing. Afterwards, I would read history to my children and then we would move to science, exercise, and free time. There were many things wrong with this schedule, but that is not to say that this schedule would not work for someone else. I just didn’t know myself enough to figure out what would work FOR US. First of all, having chores completed first made me feel good for the start of the day, but by the end of the day it was a mess again because we were learning and playing and creating. You know—what we were supposed to be doing. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were completing our chores twice each day—once in the morning, and once again before Dad came home. Now, we do chores after free time, which happens to land right before dinner or bedtime, and by the next day it is still tidy and we are ready to begin the school day! The other problem with having chores at the beginning of the day was that every child would complete their chore at a different rate, and so then no child would be ready to start school at the same time. Continuity was broken, and distraction was a-plenty!
I also found that this mama gets tired at around mid-day, so when History and Science were placed at the end of our school schedule, it didn't take much for me to doze off during our read-alouds! So, now we kick off our formal school subjects with the read-alouds and narration practice and I am much more animated and alert that way.
Although I am a morning person, I am most productive later in the day. Because of this, I have discovered that starting our whole day with 30 minutes of reading and 15 minutes of journaling serves our whole family well. We now start school very calm and energized.
So now our schedule looks like this: Reading, journaling, History, Math, Grammar and Spelling, Writing, Exercise, Free Time, and Chores. Science and Art happen on the “Independent Learning Days”. I am sure it looks different than yours, and that is the point! We are all different and the different methodologies we adopt should help each of us flourish in our own ways.
Would you add anything to this list to help fellow homeschool parents? Please do share your tried and true tips in the comment section. We can all learn together!