Five Things New Homeschoolers Should Know

As I mentioned, the other night I had a fun opportunity to sit on a panel of homeschooling moms and answer questions and share experiences about what it is like to homeschool and how to get started.

I had to leave a bit early.  I had my 7-month-old on my lap and she was MORE than ready to go by 9 pm.  I'm not sure how long the meeting went after I left.

We hit on a lot of great key points that night.  Here are five things that I had really wanted to instill in the hearts of those who came:

You really can do this.

Yes, there are STILL days when I wonder if I'm doing it right, or if I'm doing enough.  There are days when I wish I could do more, be more, teach more, plan more.  I look at other homeschooling families and I see what they are doing well, and I wish that I could do as well at that thing too.  Feelings of doubt and insufficiency start to creep in from time to time.

When those times hit me in the face I try to remember that my family does not belong to anyone else but me, my husband, and our God.  He gave us these children knowing that we could be enough for them if we remember to include Him in our daily lives.  So it's really not fair to compare my kids and our homeschool to anyone else.  We each have our strengths and weaknesses.  We have been GIVEN weakness so that we remember to turn to God for help.  None of us can be good parents without his help.  So really, what we need to do, is make sure that we seek the Lord's Guidance as we  run our homes and our schools.  With His help, you really can do this!

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phillipians 4:13

There will be Gaps

Regardless of where you go to school, there will be gaps in your education.  I don't care if you went to the most elite private school on the planet.  Nobody comes out of high school being perfectly educated at age 18.  It just isn't possible to read every good book, learn every math concept, memorize every spelling word, quote every just can NOT do it.

Our goal is not to cover every single possible piece of information available for our consumption.  The goals is to create life long learners, so that as our children grow and encounter new situations with which they are not familiar or have no experience, they can draw on their skill set as self-educators to learn what ever it is that they need to know.

If you're worried about knowledge gaps when it comes to testing (like on the ACT or SAT) there are test prep courses you can take to be sure you have basic skills and knowledge for passing with good scores.  And you can practice taking those tests as often and as early as you like!  My oldest is in 7th grade and I'm just now having her do a bit of test prep using Kahn Academy.

Family First

In our zeal to be excellent homeschoolers, I think it is tempting to try to recreate school at home as we have known it in our own experience.  In the process, I think it is easy to get caught up and lose sight of what we're really doing.

It helps me to remember that I am first a mother, not a teacher.  I teach in a home, not a public school. My kids are my children, not just my students.  Family, faith, home, relationships....they trump anything and everything.  The book stuff is all secondary.

A while back I heard a phrase that has helped me out of  many potential struggles with my kids: 

Never let a problem become more important than a person.

Isn't that music to your ears?  Doesn't it allow you to let go of the little stuff and focus on your child as a whole human rather than focusing on what isn't working?  Because when the crying starts, the learning stops.  So take care of relationships first if you ever hope to teach anything at all.

Good, Better, Best
I remember my first year of homeschool I spent many hours decorating the walls to look like an elementary school class room. I didn't want my kids to miss out on the "school-i-ness" of school.

 I bought those bulletin board decorations. I posted calendars and weather charts.  I strung their artwork all over the walls.  I had a "listening center" with headphones and everything. I counted up to the 100th day of school and had some sort of celebration.  I tried to block out our day so it would feel like a school day.

I even created a huge tree out of paper bags and then made 31 orange and yellow leaves (which I then laminated) and we counted down the days to Halloween.  It was fun.  The kids loved it.  But it really wasn't the best use of my time.  More sleep and fewer late nights would have made me a more patient and attentive mother.  I could have spent more time reading and loving at bed time instead of rushing the kids to sleep so I could go work on some project for the school room.

Since then, I've learned to prioritize projects and where I put effort.  When I start feeling like what I'm doing isn't enough, or if I feel overwhelmed, like there are too many good choices and I don't know where to invest myself, I ask this question: Which is the BEST option?  Which thing is the MOST important thing I could be doing for this child right now?  Which task/project will do them the most good?  Could I spend my time in a better way?

Because lots of choices are good, some are even better, but usually we know which choices are best!  We can't teach every class.  We can't go on every field trip.  We can't  do every project.  We can't be in every science fair.  Spreading yourself too thin leads to burnout and feelings of failure.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just take a day off!  Or gather the kids for some quiet read aloud time.  So when you feel like you're drowning in a sea of To-Dos, you can quickly whittle down the list and regain a sense of purpose and control by asking yourself, is this good, better or best?  Focus on the best!

This is HARD!

I don't want to scare you off.  But I think you deserve to know: Home schooling is not always easy. IT's just plain hard sometimes.  But remember, anything worth doing is worth doing right.  And anything worth doing right, is going to take the best part of ourselves, even when we feel we can't give it.  Homeschooling has become part of my personal sanctification process.  It teaches me unconditional love, patience, tolerance, long suffering, understanding, empathy, service, sacrifice...and more.

In fact, I think homeschooling saved part of me after Hazel died.  I'm not sure I would have had the courage to keep getting up in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other if I hadn't had four beautiful children downstairs waiting for me to fill their cups and nourish their souls and mentor their lives.  It forced me to look outside myself, even in the midst of unspeakable pain.  Somehow, with the Lord's help and the prayers of many good people,  I was able to dig deep and continue homeschooling.  And that ended up being good medicine for me.

When I first started I had romantic notions of me and the kids sprawled out under sunny skies reading books and chasing butterflies...  And those days do happen now and then, but not super often.  Most of the time it's a tad more laborious than that.

After I had been homeschooling for several months, I couldn't figure out why I was having so many power struggles with my lovely kindergartener.  Why were we fighting over phonics?  Why wouldn't she "do school" the way I wanted her to?  Ugh.  There were tears.  There were upset chairs and slammed doors.  It wasn't fun.  I was befuddled.

So I started asking around church to find out if anyone there was also homeschooling.  Remember, at this point I just jumped in without reading, researching, without building a network,without gathering local support or resources. I just jumped in, alone, headfirst...and I sank!

It just so happened that there was a happy, energetic mother of five who was successfully and lovingly homeschooling her family at the time.  I sought her out.  And the first thing she told me was (paraphrasing here...) Homeschool should be a lovely, blissful, joyful experience for both you and the children.

I died a little bit inside when she said that.  Because our journey to that point had been anything but blissful and joyful.  I was almost ready to give up.  Hearing her words made me feel like a total failure.  But luckily, I didn't give up.  I sought her advice even more. She took me under her wing.  I watched her do a phonics lesson with my willful child.  (Side note: my child performed beautifully for her that day! ugh. made me feel even worse!) 

Since that day I have learned a lot. I've relaxed some.  I've learned to balance work and play. I've learned techniques and strategies and methods and philosophies of education.  I am SO glad that I stuck it out even when I felt I couldn't do it another day!  For me, homeschooling is now a lifestyle choice.  No, it's more than that.  It's a commitment.  It's a ministry.  It's like mission work.  Who better to serve and minister to than your own family?

The longer I homeschool, ,the more reasons I find to keep doing it.  And these reasons keep me motivated and help me hang on even on the worst of days.

Ok, so that would have taken too long to say out loud at a meeting and I would have started sounding very preachy.  But it felt good to get that on paper at least, and I hope it helps someone out there the way it has helped me and our homeschool.