Dear Homeschool Newbie,
The idea for this post came to me when I found out a friend of mine on FB decided to home school her kids this year. When she announced it she didn’t ask for any tips, pointers or advice, and in an effort to have healthy boundaries, I didn’t offer any. Well, that’s not quite true, I did strongly suggest that she be in constant contact with at least one home schooler who has five + years experience, just so she’s not out there alone. But, beyond that I haven’t said a word. (And yes, I’m exploding at the seams, which is why it’s handy to have a blog.) Even if no one reads this, at least it’s out of my head, temporarily!! I know my friend Brooke (I changed her name to save her embarrassment of knowing me) isn’t the only new home schooler this year, so I thought I’d write down a list of ten things that I wish every new home schooler would do.
(Editor’s note: The reason I feel so strongly about having a veteran home schooler in your corner who you can talk to day or night, is that I did have a veteran home schooling mom in my corner when I started. And not just a veteran home schooling mom, a mom of a kiddo with Down syndrome (our oldest child has DS), and someone who was (and is) MUCH wiser, much more emotionally healthy than I was when we first began home schooling. That made ALL the difference in the world. ALL the difference. So strongly do I feel about this, that I’m SURE we wouldn’t have survived our early home schooling years without her. Lucky for me, she’s never once changed her phone number or moved without telling me where she was going, and we’ve been great friends ever since. I’m by FAR a better person for having her in my life and it’s with her great counsel and patience in mind that I have these pointers for the next home schooling newbie down the line…..)
1) After you’ve made your decision to teach your kids at home, be it the beginning of the public school year, or the middle of the year, whatever, TAKE SIX MONTHS OFF FROM SCHOOL. You heard me right. I KNOW you’re excited to get started on your new adventure! I KNOW you can’t wait to dive in and either do better than what you feel your public or private school has done with your kids, or fix the damage that you’ve seen. I can FEEL your excitement from here, really I can, because I get all excited about home schooling too, even eight years into it!! But, for the next six months force yourself to NOT DO ANYTHING in terms of formal schooling with your kids. Do you need to go get a brown paper bag to breathe into? It’s okay, I’ll wait…………..
Okay, feel better? A little? Let’s move on and I’ll tell you why I think this is important that you take these first six months off (at least six months):
A) First of all, your kids NEED a break. Think of this as your family’s reset button. Your kids will be FINE academically if you don’t crack a book open. Yes, they will, just trust me on this.
B) You don’t know what you’re doing yet and YOU need time to wrap your brain around your new life course. “But I’M a teacher myself!”, you yell at your laptop as you’re reading this, “You don’t know anything about me! You don’t know what I know and what I don’t know!! I KNOW how to teach!!”, or “I have a college degree!”, or “I’m a chemical engineer for crying out loud, I think I can teach a six year old how to read!!” Calm down for a minute. I’m not insulting your intelligence, I’m just saying that when it comes to teaching your kids at home, right this second, you don’t have a clear handle on what you’re doing because you don’t know exactly how they learn as individuals, because up until now they’ve been in public/private school and the few hours you get with them after school and after their after-school activities is not an accurate indication of how their brains best function (notice I said, “BEST function”–I know you know them as people, but taking the six months off will give you more information). Much of what you’re going to do with your six months “off” from highly structured, “formal” education is to BE with your kids to learn WHO they are and HOW they learn. Yes, even if you only have one kid. To that end, you’re going to use this time to read up on different learning styles (Cynthia Tobias’ book “How They Learn” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Cynthia+Tobias
), and to read about home schooling in general. I’m a HUGE fan of anything that Ray & Dorothy Moore have written on the subject, in part because I think they held (both are deceased by now, I believe) a very accurate view of how young brains learn. Ray & Dorothy Moore are Christians, and I add this, just so you know ahead of time that you will read in their books Biblically based wisdom and teaching. But you don’t have to be a Christian to be really encouraged and empowered after reading their material (I think together they’ve authored more than 30 books on learning, early childhood development & home schooling). I was terrified and ADAMANTLY against home schooling just minutes before deciding to give it a try, and I know that reading just a few of their books really helped empower my husband and myself.
C) You’re going to use this time to strengthen your bond with your child(ren), or if you’re like many North American families whose kids have been in school all day for any length of time, you’re going to learn HOW to make a connection with your kids. (I know I was completely clueless, due much in part to my own spiritual bankruptcy).
If you’re anything like me as I was coming to grips with the fact that yes indeedy, we were going to become one of “those” families….(you know, those nut-jobs who keep their kids home with them all day?), I was TERRIFIED that we would all be BORED out of our gourds and that both my kids would be begging me to go back to school within a matter of weeks (well, our youngest hadn’t been to school yet, but I was sure she would be begging me to take her to that big magical building so she could be with other little people all day to get away from me). This is another issue you’re just going to have to trust me on; you WON’T be bored: You will do “life” together with your kids. Your kids will be a part of YOUR day and you will be flat-out amazed at how quickly 4pm comes around everyday and you’ve got to start thinking about dinner, AND that on most days you WON’T be clinically insane by the time it’s time to start dinner. (Don’t misunderstand me, you DO absolutely need to make time for yourself. See point #5) During this time “off” from formal “schooling” your kids will begin to learn how to entertain themselves (if they weren’t already expected to), they will learn how to become contributing members of the family by not only taking care of their personal space, but they’ll be more active with you in taking care of the entire house (the common areas, the bathrooms, the yard, cars, etc…..) They will learn that food doesn’t just magically appear in the cupboards and refrigerator, but that lists have to be made, dinner ideas must be thought of, and supplies must be inventoried, and then shopped for. They will become a much more integral part of your process. They will learn how to be helpful in a variety of ways and they will, in as many ways as you allow, become an integral part of your family’s process. This will happen incrementally, one day at a time. When you’re not doing home-keeping chores, you’re going to have FUN with your kids!! Really, you will! You’re going to play board games, go to museums that interest them, play video games with them (WITH them….not sitting on the couch next to them), you’re going to read WITH them, you’re going to go on “outings” with your kids….in the MIDDLE OF THE WEEK!!! It’s going to be SO GREAT!! And by the way, during all this fun, your kids are going to be learning plenty. TRULY.
2) Hey, one point down, only NINE to go!! Go drink some Gatorade, and meet me back here…….. Okay, so when you ARE ready to start whatever it is that you’re going to do for your home-based learning, DO NOT THROW UP A PUBLIC SCHOOL in your home. No, no and NO. If your child learns best at a desk (and there are times when little bottoms need to planted in a good chair, with their feet resting firmly on a stepstool underneath them or the floor), then get a desk, that’s great. Let your kiddo decorate it and arrange all his/her supplies the way he/she likes them so there’s some ownership there. But the desk needs to be just one of the MANY, MANY places your child is using as a learning space. Encourage your kids to read, play, and create in homemade forts, outside on the back patio, on their beds, at the kitchen table, in the playroom, wherever. I know lots of families who save their “reading time” together and go to the park; they let the kids burn some energy playing and then they read for awhile (whatever length of time is developmentally appropriate for your kids) on a blanket. Easy peasy. Then you go home for quiet time. Just do ANYthing OTHER than making your home learning environment look like a public school.
3) DO ADOPT THE BELIEF THAT ALL CHILDREN ARE LEARNING ALL TIME and begin to look at how you live as a process that offers your children millions of learning opportunities all day long. Here’s a super simple and universal task which covers at least three areas. It serves the family, teaches personal responsibility, and helps develop executive function Sorting laundry; that regular activity that often seems like the bane of our existence, but let’s look at how kids learn by doing laundry WITH you, instead of you being the family laundry slave and doing it all by yourself. 1) Like I just stated, doing everyone’s laundry helps teach serving others. Nothin’ like folding your dad’s boxer’s to make you realize the world doesn’t revolve around you. 2) Sorting. Developing executive function. 3) Following directions on the washing machine/dryer 4) Learning everything we do in life can be broken down into smaller steps and doing each step the way it needs to be done so you get the outcome you want (i.e.: first you get all the dirty laundry in a pile, then you sort, then you decide what temperature water you need, then you put in the detergent, and so on….). In other words, STOP thinking that your kids are ONLY learning when they’re doing workbooks or reading textbook-like materials. This took me YEARS to get through my thick skull, but I’m glad it finally did.
4) DON’T BUY THE WORLD’S LIE THAT “HOME SCHOOLED KIDS AREN’T SOCIALIZED” FOR ONE SECOND. It seems where ever we go everyone’s drinking this kool-aid (and don’t for a minute think that if you go to church you won’t find your fellow parishioners drinking the same thing. I mean it’s EVERYWHERE). Chances are, even if you JUST decided five minutes ago to begin home schooling, your phone just rang with some well-meaning person asking you about “socialization”. If I had a dime. Seriously. And the beauty is, before we began home schooling, I was CONVINCED that all home schooled kids lived lives of social isolation and were completely awkward (sorry for talking with my mouth full, I was eating more crow). It’s completely the opposite of course, but I had to learn that for myself by watching my little kids (both of whom have disabilities and social/emotional delays) blossom into confident and self-assured little people. All of us in the home schooling community have to field this question at least three times a week. Mostly the question comes from ignorance, but the ignorance comes from the indoctrination of the world that says only children who spend all of their time in a classroom, sitting in chairs next to same-age peers, have friends. But if you remember back to your public school days (or private school), your teacher made it very clear to everyone everyday that talking was not allowed and that you weren’t in school to make friends, you were in school to learn. We as home schoolers need to have in our arsenal quick, succinct replies ready for this never-ending question. I’ve heard things like, “Oh ya, socialization, we really need to cut back on that!”, or, “My kids have plenty of time to develop and keep good friends because they get their studies done early and are out in the community making friends and volunteering in the fields they’re interested in.” Whatever your reply is, just make sure it’s NOT defensive, because as a home schooler you have nothing to defend in the area of socialization. In fact there are NUMEROUS scholarly papers out there saying just the opposite. Here’s just one of a number of articles that are readily accessible. This is from The Home School Legal Defense Association: http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000068.asp
Speaking of the HSLDA, join it. Today. No, really. The HSLDA has been around since the inception of home schooling and it employs a LARGE team of attorneys & para-legals who have forgotten more about home schooling law in your area than most people will ever know (they have specialists for every state in the country). While it is a Christian organization in nature and its mission statement, it defends the rights of ALL families of ALL faiths and ALL cultural backgrounds to educate their children at home. My best friend made me join right after we began home schooling (well, she didn’t “make” me, but it was becoming really clear that at some point in every conversation we had that she was going to ask me if we had joined yet….so we did) and I’m very glad we did. Not only does the HSLDA defend the rights of home schooling families in the United States, they really educate you as to why it’s important to even HAVE the right to educate your children in the manner you see fit. For about $100/year you have complete legal backing and defense for nearly every possible situation that may arise in your home schooling journey.
5) SCHEDULE ALONE TIME FOR YOURSELF One of my biggest concerns before I took the plunge to home school both our kids (who have special needs, which means that our days can be a little more intense and demanding of me), was that I would go stark-raving mad being with them all day. I said, “There’s NO WAY I CAN DO THAT”. I hear that A LOT from non-home schooling parents. On the other side of that “I-can’t-spend-all-day-with-my-kids” coin is the misnomer that we who DO spend our days with our kids do it because we just LOVE being with them every waking moment and can’t imagine sending them off to the big, bad, scary school. Okay, people, no we don’t. We don’t “just love to be with our little Johnny every second of the day”. Home schooling parents are first and foremost human beings. And human beings need “down time”. Chances are if you’ve been home schooling any length of time, you really DO enjoy spending more time with your kids than you used to. (If you’re honest with yourself, you’re probably a little pleasantly surprised with how far you’ve come in that department, and that’s great!!) Pat yourself on the back. But at the same time, it’s critically important that you take time FOR yourself and WITH yourself. Get a hobby or resurrect a hobby. TAKE A WALK—get those endorphins going at least once a day. Take a class at an adult community center completely unrelated to anything you do in your homeschooling life (i.e. learn Japanese). The point is, do something on a regular basis that is just FOR you and BY you. It might be God’s plan that you educate your children at home, but it’s definitely NOT his plan that you sacrifice healthy boundaries in the process (and yes, getting exercise and meeting a friend for coffee on a regular basis is part of having healthy boundaries that say, “I’m worth the effort to put on regular clothes and I need to have other relationships and friendships outside my family”).
6) BE FLEXIBLE IN YOUR DAILY LEARNING SCHEDULE. Every live-long day. Not that having some sort of structure is a bad thing, just be able to let go of your own ideas and plans on how things “should” go when the situation arises (and boy will it arise). In other words, don’t be like me six, seven, eight years ago and have conjured “the perfect home schooling day” in your precious little brain, complete with children skipping through open meadows of flowers thanking you for spending your every waking hour pouring your heart into their education. Ya, not gonna happen. Be prepared for math on some days to take five times as long as you thought, and for their little brains to be too sizzled to do much else that day. Call it a day; put on some soothing music and break out the Legos. Let it go. LET IT GO. Tomorrow’s a brand new day (plus, they’re learning tons when they’re doing their own “chilling out” activity; Legos, coloring, reading, biking outside, building a fort, etc….).
7) DON’T JOIN A HOME SCHOOL CO-OP RIGHT AWAY. Notice I didn’t say “don’t go out and meet other home schooling families in your community”, or “don’t get your kids involved in home school play dates at the park”, I just said don’t run out and join the closest co-op right away. Not yet. Give yourself some time to get your feet wet (remember your “six months off”?). Get to know the parents in your area who are involved in those co-ops, see if they have any classes or topics that are vitally important to your child’s education this minute, and then evaluate if you want your kids hanging around their kids. Just because a family home schools doesn’t mean their kids will be positive influences on your child. And just because an organization calls themselves a “home school co-op” it doesn’t mean that their teaching style or skill set is going to match your child’s learning needs or learning style, or most importantly, your schedule. In fact, many co-ops are run exactly like schools and have many of the same cliques and general UNfriendliness that permeates the corporate education model.
8) DON’T EXPECT YOUR FAMILY TO SUPPORT YOUR DECISION. I’m not saying they won’t, and I’m not saying you should expect a fight from them, just don’t expect them to throw you a party the day the word gets out you’re bringing little Johnny & Susie home for their education. Remember that part of having a home-school veteran as your mentor? Ya, you’re TOTALLY going to need him/her here. Even IF your parents, your in-law’s, your siblings, your husband’s siblings, your friends, and your former third grade Sunday school teacher, thinks it’s fabu that you’re teaching your kids at home, you’re going to need that veteran mom in your corner keeping you sane and focused, especially during those early months……or in my case, eight YEARS into this!! Along with not expecting everyone to support you, DO have at the ready a “pat answer” as to why you’re doing this. People WILL have questions, and that’s only natural: perhaps you’re bringing your kids home after being in private/public school. You’re changing the course of your life and people WILL be curious. If you’re deciding from the get-go to keep your kids at home, be ready for curiosity. You don’t have to engage anyone in a long philosophical debate/discussion on the validity of corporate education or how you feel about the success/failure of public school as a whole, it can be something as simple as, “I think his learning style and learning needs will be better matched at home where he can get more attention”. Save your philosophical issues with mass education for your close friends and spouse.
9) DON’T LET ANYONE CAUSE YOU TO DOUBT YOUR DECISION Human beings, including some pretty famous ones like Alexander the Great, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Mason, George Washington, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Sandra Day O’Connor, George Washington Carver, Joan of Arc, Hudson Taylor, John & Charles Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, and many more, all learned at home. Some had private tutors, some didn’t, but ALL learned the vitally important skill of taking responsibility for their own educations at a very young age. Your children will be in good company. Home schooling is NOT a new thing in the course of humanity. It’s just that in North America we have such a short memory that’s been so indoctrinated that the ONLY WAY kids can learn is in classrooms with same-age peers, sitting in desks in straight rows, all facing the front of the classroom, that we forget that it’s only been the last one hundred years on planet earth that we’ve required children to learn in a corporate setting (the United States specifically; MA was the first state to pass a law of compulsory public school attendance in the late 1800’s). Furthermore, regardless of what anyone tells you, YOU don’t have to be an expert in ALL the areas of study you plan to cover with your children. YOU don’t have to know it all. (Now take a deep breath in. Hold it for ten seconds and release. Tell yourself over and over “I don’t have to know it all” over and over and practice your breathing until it takes hold in your brain). Think of yourself as more of a learning “coordinator” rather than someone who has to be 100% responsible for all the knowledge you want your children to acquire. Ever have your child take a piano lesson, or taekwando, gymnastics, ballet, art, golf, etc…….? That’s an example of being an education coordinator. You’ve already done it in other areas of your child’s life, you are just now going to start broadening that scope. There may come a time when your child really wants to learn Spanish. An education coordinator would find the resources available to you in your area (the library, splitting the cost of a “Rosetta Stone” program, going to a local home school co-op, etc….). It’s not rocket science and YOU don’t have to be the rocket scientist in order to coordinate your child’s education. You just have to help create an atmosphere rich with learning opportunities.
10) HAVE FUN. “Seriously?”, you say, “This is your last little nugget of information for me? Something I couldn’t figure out on my own?” I think you could have figured this out, I just want to save you some time in getting there and tell you that it’s really important that you make having fun a PRIORITY in your daily home schooling life. Not that everyday has to be Disneyland, that’s not what I’m saying. Home schooling, while the education your children (and you) earn is super important, the process of homeschooling isn’t life and death. Despite what my twisted mind & heart told me before we ventured down this road, life is NOT meant to be hard and painstaking, and full of drudgery. Fun is GOOD!! And we need to model having fun AS we learn WITH our kids!! And trust me, it seems MORE than a little ridiculous that I feel the need to even make this point, but after being on this home schooling journey for some time now (all the while being in almost-constant contact with other home schoolers, both with and without kids with special needs), I’m seeing all kinds of parents sucking the enjoyment out of learning in general, so I do think this is a VERY important to all of our children’s educations to spend some time here on this last, and in my opinion, vitally important point. Dear Home school newbie: the world is OUR oyster!! We’re on a mission to show our kids just how AWESOME & FUN life can be!! Yes, it’s absolutely important for them to learn how to write, how to solve certain math equations and how to think for themselves in order to have success in this world, but AS we’re giving them the instructions, let’s show them WHY and HOW they’re going to use all these skills they’re learning!! They’re going to use this stuff in our awesome world!! Play games with your kids, sometimes for NO “learning” reason at all (oooh, that’s a tough one for me). Go to the park OFTEN. Let them explore their worlds WITHOUT using the words “careful” (unless you have a daughter like mine who literally doesn’t recognize danger, which is directly related to her special needs). Take a bike ride with your kids, just to spend time with them. Ask them what THEY think would be fun to do, and then go DO it.