Some friends of mine have decided to homeschool next year, and I found myself giddy. Homeschooling has blessed our family tremendously–from the amount of time I get to form my children in virtue to the simple life we are forced to live in order to accommodate one income; from the relationships my older children have with my younger children to the generous amount of leisure it affords us.
My exuberance makes me want to rain advice and book suggestions down on my friends’ unsuspecting heads, but I recognize that I should exercise restraint. Instead, I offer here my top 12 tips for New-to-Homeschool folks.
1) Decide what your non-negotiables are at this stage of your child’s education.
For us, our non-negotiables are learning our faith well; math; learning to write well; and reading time. Would I like my kids to know their history? Of course. But I can add that into my non-negotiables of writing and reading. Do I want them to know science? I do. Geography? Yes. But those will increase in intensity as they get older. For now, if they read, write, do some math, have some kind of virtue/Bible lesson, and get outside to play or build, then that’s a good day.
2) Write your school’s mission statement based upon the non-negotiables and post it.
As you get into learning more about homeschooling, it’s pretty easy to lose the forest for the trees. It’s a little like wedding planning…suddenly, you think you must incorporate party favors and cake pops while the real thing you ought to be concerned about (the sacrament of marriage) gets lost under the fluff. Knowing what your mission is helps to make those homeschooling decisions a little easier; everything can be held under the light of “does this fit into our educational mission?”
3) Know who you are.
See, as you go along, you are going to come across blogs of homeschool parents who make snow globes and amazing origami forest animals. If that’s not you, don’t sweat it. Your kids will be fine, I assure you, without ever building an Egyptian pyramid out of colored sugar cubes. Instead, focus on your own talents for teaching. Are you great at silly songs? That’s awesome for teaching history. Do you enjoy being outside? You can pack science, math, and religion into a single nature walk. Are you good at carpentry? More math! Sure, you can stretch yourself every now and then and do more of what you aren’t naturally disposed to do, but for the day in and day out of homeschool, teach in a way that is pleasant to you.
4) Know who your child is.
As you go along in your homeschooling journey, you will come to know who your child is and how he learns best. Sadly, it may not quite match your preferred method. That’s okay–you can both stretch. This is one reason why homeschooling is so effective: you can tailor how you teach to how your student learns. Is he visual? Use dry erase boards a lot. Auditory learner? Record yourself reading his spelling list and spelling it out for him. Does he learn through story? Read aloud his history. Does he need to move a lot? Math problems can be combined with races pretty easily.
5) Look at different homeschooling philosophies before you sweat which curriculum you will use.
Charlotte Mason, Classical, Waldorf, and Unit Studies will soon become educational philosophies you will dissect with other homeschooling parents. Simply learning about different ways to homeschool will likely help you fine tune what is important to you. Personally, I don’t follow any homeschool philosophy in particular but have picked out elements from several different methods. I strongly believe in outside time a la Charlotte Mason, I incorporate the 4-year cycle of history study used by the Classical method, and I am low-electronics like Waldorf.
6) Co-op…or not.
You can’t go wrong here. Trust your gut. You can do a co-op and thereby pool your talents with others so that your kids are getting pottery classes, for example, whereas you can hardly draw a stick figure personally. On the other hand, you could not do a co-op and learn art alongside your child at home. One thing I will say is that the “socialization” impetus for co-ops is largely over-emphasized. If you live in a neighborhood, go to church, have interactions with extended family, participate in any organized extra-curricular activity like Cub Scouts or sports, and make time for play dates or library activities…your kids are going to be socialized just fine, and they will be socialized across age groups as children have been for hundreds of generations before.
7) Structure your day.
In general, children like structure to their day, and this is especially important if your child is transitioning from traditional school to homeschool. He is used to having nearly every minute planned out for him. Clearly, you don’t need to go to that extreme, but a simple rhythm to your day will obviate being asked again and again, “What are we doing next? Can I go outside? When can we paint?” It can be as simple as “breakfast, read aloud, math, recess, handwriting, read alone time, lunch, done.” It will also keep you from having to re-invent the wheel every day.
8) Schedule your non-negotiables first.
I used to put the stuff that was really important to me, like Scripture memorization, after we got other subjects out of the way. Do you know that meant? That meant we hardly ever got to Scripture memorization. Someone dropped by or I had to prep dinner or everything just took longer than I had anticipated or it was a beautiful day and we decided to go for a walk. I finally realized that we had to do our non-negotiables first and all of those lovely enrichment-type activities as the day progressed. That way, by the end of the day, we had at least done what was most important to us. Another idea is to put the electives at the end of the week. In our home, we schedule Fine Arts Friday and study art history, music appreciation, poetry, creative writing, and/or go on field trips then.
9) Don’t try to re-create a traditional school environment at home.
You don’t have to do six different subjects every day. You could decide to take a month and do all science all the time. You can do one subject in-depth every day of the week for a total of five subjects weekly. You can do school in the afternoon. Your kid does not have to sit at a desk. You can do math problems with chalk outside. You can do all of school outside! You can do math review while you grocery shop. You can add non-traditional subjects like service projects and gardening. Or maybe that’s all you do for a month! Again, refer back to your non-negotiables and mission statement, but remember, you can be far more flexible and creative in how you implement them than what you might believe at first.
10) Structure quiet time into every day.
This is to keep your sanity, basically, and yet I personally believe it to be a fundamental human need that is often overlooked. I want my kids to know how to be alone with themselves without having to turn on a screen. I want them to learn how to entertain themselves. Especially since we have a large family, we could constantly be chattering away and running about without ever learning to listen to our thoughts and how to be at peace with ourselves. And also–this will be the time when you get your things done.
11) Use a daily checklist.
Any child who can read can use a checklist to help manage his time. This is convenient when you have multiple children to teach. You can’t constantly answer “What should I do next?” I make our checklists on the computer. Each page lasts a week and has five columns, one for every day. Anything that we do together we do first (such as prayer time–we love Lisa’s book Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days), and then each child has independent work for the day to get done.
12) Read aloud and then read aloud some more.
Reading aloud has been part of our family culture and has given us innumerable adventures from our living room. We probably know as many imaginary characters as we do real people, and it has widened our experience and deepened our bonds like nothing else. If all I did for the first three grades were to read aloud for a couple of hours each day, I would consider that time well spent. Since usually I don’t have hours every day to read aloud, I do what I can and supplement with audio books.
Relax. There are many ways to do this homeschooling thing right, and as long as it is done thoughtfully and with love, I can hardly think of how you could go wrong. Blessings on your homeschool journey!
Copyright Amanda Woodiel (2018). All rights reserved.