Okay, I’m not exactly an OLD homeschool mom. This will be my 7th year homeschooling. I can’t speak to you from the finish line, but I can speak to you from the trenches. I’m right there with you. My five “students” range from too-young-for-school-but-old-enough-to-cause-trouble up to fifth grade. I have a little experience and a whole lot of sympathy. The number one comment I hear from first-time homeschooling moms is, “I don’t know where to begin.” I want to give you ten tips that will help you find your footing and enjoy your first year of homeschooling.
- Identify Your Goals. You don’t have to do “all the things.” Homeschooling boils down to a few simple goals you set for your kids. Sit down with a piece of paper and ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish with my kids this year?” Write down three or four big-picture goals. Hang them on the fridge or print them for your lesson plan binder. For example: This year I want my kids to grow in self-control. I want my little ones to become stronger readers. I want my big kids to grow in a love for God’s creation through studying biology. We can’t do seven subjects, five days a week, all year long, but we can do something to work on our goals every day. We can work on these goals on road trips, sick days, and errand days. When you feel overwhelmed, look at your goals. They will keep you grounded.
- Start the Day Right. The first few minutes of the day are the most important. They set the tone for the rest of the day. Try to start at the same time and in the same way every day. I use a bell to get my kids’ attention and start with a fun read-aloud. I used to say, “Time for school!” – which was immediately met by groans. Now I say, “Time to find out what happens next in Narnia!” – and I hear feet racing to the living room. You have all day to do workbooks. You have just a couple minutes in the morning to capture their excitement for school. Make it fun.
- Plan, Flex, Repeat. Are you super organized, or more go-with-the-flow? Homeschooling requires both. Life happens. With a plan in place, education can keep happening, too. I think of my homeschool structure like the skyscrapers in Los Angeles. When an earthquake hits, the buildings sway without crashing down. They are built to move but not break. When life hits our school schedule, the schedule doesn’t crumble. It moves. We can listen to an audio book in the car on the way to take a meal to a sick friend. We can bring school books to a dentist appointment. When you have a flexible plan, school doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt. (See sample schedule at the bottom.)
- If it’s Not Working, Change it. I remember a homeschool mom once told me she felt like if she spent a bunch of money on the curriculum she HAD to finish it. She said it was so freeing the day she realized she didn’t have to do that. Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you have to use it. It might not work for you. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. There is no perfect curriculum. Homeschooling is all about finding what works best for YOU. For me, it changes from year to year and from kid to kid.
- Don’t Try to Replicate Public School. We put extra pressure on ourselves if we think homeschooling has to look like a typical public school classroom. Your home will never be exactly like school – but that’s a good thing. You get to tailor your school environment to your own children. Do your kids work best at desks, the kitchen table, or on their beds? Are your most productive hours in the morning or in the afternoon? If you are accomplishing school, consider it a success – no matter how different it might look from a typical school.
- Be Yourself. This will be a year of discovering who you are as a teacher. You are going to be different from every other homeschool mom out there. If you try to be Ms. Pinterest Perfect Homeschool Mom, you will burn out before Thanksgiving. Instead, choose topics and books and projects that make you excited. Maybe you’re a mom that can’t stand flashcards, but you’re great at putting facts to music. Go for it. If homeschooling is fun for you, it will be fun for your kids.
- Model the Attitude You Want to See in Your Kids. School work will be half of your challenge this year. The other half will be attitude. You will have days where not a single worksheet gets done, but your kids are still learning. They are learning by watching you. How do you respond when the day falls apart? How do you respond when the math lesson hits a brick wall for the 17th day in a row? Model patience. It’s better to put the books away and skip a day of math than respond in anger. You can say, “Guys, I think we could all use a break. Let’s take a nature walk.” Today might not be the day they get fractions, but it will be the day they learn how to respond to a frustrating situation.
- Choose a Mentor. You’ve probably already noticed that homeschool moms LOVE to talk about homeschooling. Find a homeschool mom and ask if you can shadow her for the year. Ask if you can sit in on a school day or tour her school room. She will gladly talk your ear off. Listen, take notes, and ask questions. Chances are next year you will be the one giving a new mom a tour of your school room.
- Start Fresh Every Day. I’ve had days where my best laid plans melt into a puddle of tantrums and potty-training and burned dinners. Those are the days I gather the kids onto the couch with a pile of books and we read for half an hour. That’s it. Sometimes that’s school. Don’t evaluate your entire homeschool system based on a few difficult days. If the lesson doesn’t click today, don’t push it. Maybe it will click tomorrow. Or the next day. Or next week. There are no wasted days in homeschooling – only different opportunities to learn.
- Enjoy Your Kids. It’s easy to lose sight of the biggest benefit to homeschooling: being with our kids. It’s a crazy time, but it’s a short time. Soak up their enthusiasm. Treasure the ways that each new assignment reveals another part of their growing personalities. As their teacher, you get a front row seat to all their special “ah ha!” moments. You get to watch them grow before your eyes.
Believe it or not, in just a few short weeks you will be bursting with your own tips to share. Please leave them in the comments for other mamas in search of hope.
Sample Schedule (Plan, flex, repeat.):
|12:00||Quiet play time, errands|
Looking for more encouragement for moms? Check out these books by Sara Wallace: