It’s very exciting, those weeks of anticipation before you begin homeschooling for the first time. The boxes of books are coming in the mail, you’ve read a few inspiring books to help you along. You’ve bought a few bookcases and maybe a table or desk. It’s a lot of fun to get geared up for the coming academic year. Fifteen years in and I still love planning and setting up for a new year.
Of course it goes without saying I’ve made a few
colossal blunders mistakes over the years and I thought it would be good to share my advice (based upon those colossal blunders learning experiences) here so that maybe those of you who are just starting out have less of a learning curve than this old homeschooling mama did.
Put God First
It’s so easy to get caught up in busyness and neglect the most important part of a mother’s day. Prayer time. I assure you that when you make some time to spend in prayer everyday then your days just go better. It doesn’t need to be a long time, ten or fifteen minutes if that is all you can spare but it’s essential that you do it. Peacefully bring your concerns and needs to God, ask for His assistance, ask for grace and strength (you’re going to need it) and quietly listen for His voice. As Our Lady to pray for you and beg St. Joseph to keep you close. During the day thank God for the gift of these beautiful children and praise Him for all that He does for you.
Homeschooling isn’t easy and God knows this, offering your day to Him will certainly easy your mind and benefit your spirit. Believe me, when I neglect this part of my day, every part of my day suffers.
Be Stingy With Your Time
My friend and colleague Ginny Seuffert often advises moms to be stingy with their time. I completely concur and would strongly advise to be stingy with your children’s time as well. There are so many exciting opportunities and worthy projects to get involved in and each thing that takes you away from home has the potential to take your homeschool life off track. In those first few years keep your schooling as simple as possible, a few field trips here and there, some dates at the park, at library excursion once in a while but avoid committing to co-ops and regular out of the house classes. It’s so important to get your homeschool groove on before you take on a lot of outside commitments. Begin in a gentle way focusing on your marriage, your children, and your home. You will never be sorry for hours spent at home reading, writing, playing and being together. The classes and co-ops aren’t going anywhere and wil still be there when you’ve acclimated and feel comfortable spending time out of the house.
Read Aloud Everyday
Long after the kids can read, reading aloud is valuable. It can be a book you are all enjoying together, a history book or even the Bible (especially the Bible). Read aloud time creates a close bond between yourself and the children (and please encourage dad to join in) and it also helps them develop their listening skills. You can also ensure that they hear a book that they might not ordinarily choose to read, thereby broadening their horizons. Make reading aloud a habit right from the beginning, even if some housework has to suffer for it.
Let the kids play
I have to say this is more fun for me as the children get a little older. I have no objection to pushing kids on swings or sitting near the kiddie pool with a wee one but I have played something like 80 million games of Chutes & Ladders and I pretty much hated every minute of it. I do, however, love a good game of Please Don’t Break The Ice. Now we’ve moved into Scrabble, Settlers of Catan, and other games that I enjoy more, or even better, I’m not needed for.
We tend to get very caught up in the chores and responsibilities and forget that children have a real need to play, especially small children. It’s essential to their development and there is just not enough time given to it in this society. It’s really o.k. if your kindergartner can’t read, it’s not o.k. if he can’t pump a swing, run around, or amuse himself for a while without you. Children who play are active, problem solvers, creative and imaginative which are all skills that will serve them well in life. You don’t need to supervise every moment, just let them loose with a basket of blocks or a sandbox and some trucks. A doll and some pretty clothes to change it into or some beads and string.
Don’t Buy, Borrow
I wish I could have half the money back that I have spent on books that I have not used. I’d be driving a much cooler car. If someone is raving about the newest homeschooling book or a great new science book or anything else, ask to borrow it for a day and see if it would work for your family. Make prodigious use of your local library, ask veteran homeschooling moms and even check on your local group’s email list or Facebook page. If you are really dying to have it wait a few days to see if the fever passes, if it doesn’t then buy it used. It’s better to have full shelves of books you love and use rather than cartons of them that did not work, were boring or you just didn’t have time to read.
Leave some time in the day
By this I mean be reasonable in your scheduling. It’s unlikely you are going to get seven subjects completed in one day so don’t make yourself nuts. Schedule your day with your whole life in mind. Many a day I have struggling to keep their attention and my temper at 4:00pm while I am worrying about getting the dinner started and looming soccer practice. If you need to end by 2:00pm then make sure you don’t overburden the schedule. Leave a little room in the plan (daily or weekly) for the distractions that absolutely will happen (cranky baby, household messes, urgent phone calls…) and know that the work will eventually get done. Soccer season ends, pizza is fine, a little work on a Saturday won’t kill anyone and no one leaves the house in February, it will get done.
Talk to your kids
It seems like silly advice but education is largely about relationships and relationships need tending. A tremendous part of homeschooling is to actively seek out conversation with them. Talk about the what they are reading, what they are watching, what they like and dislike; talk about politics, the weather, music and their friends. Talk about the faith and God’s place in their lives, talk about everything and anything. When you know your child’s mind it becomes a joy to walk this homeschool journey with them and joy is a big part of why we do what we do isn’t it? To be joyful parents passing on the faith, a passion for learning and a desire to be the person God created them to be? To someday meet in heaven and share joy for all eternity! Right?! So talk, talk, talk.
Everyone makes mistakes and every homeschool is different but this advice is based on years of experience and, I think, pretty universally useful.
What piece of advice would you give a new to homeschooling mom?