Last week was the first week of school for Northshore School District, and even though my kids don’t go to school, many of our activities follow the school year calendar. Our team started meeting a few weeks ago, and our co-op classes start this week. Although we tend to do academics year-round, we’ll probably get more serious by the end of September. A lot of families we know don’t start schooling until October. I can understand why! September is generally a terrific month weather-wise, and it’s a great time to travel or go camping, since many places are less crowded. On the other hand, many families, especially those who follow a curriculum, do start up their formal school in September.
For families who are new to homeschooling, whether it’s because they’ve pulled a child out of school, or their child is now officially school-aged, this month can be exciting, fun, full of anticipation, but also scary, nerve-wracking and overwhelming. What have you gotten yourself into? Can you really do this? Why isn’t your child happily doing all his/her school-work like everybody else’s homeschooled child? Here are some suggestions to help get you through your first year homeschooling.
Relax! Yes, you have a fancy new curriculum with all kinds of goals and schedules and activities. But your child isn’t interested. Or not interested in all of it. Or instead of sitting down to do school at 9 a.m., just wants to finish a chapter in her book. Or draw. Or listen to music. Or bake. Don’t worry about it! It’s okay to focus on non-academics. Especially if your child has been in school, he/she may need some time to rediscover learning and find out what his/her passions are (this is often called de-schooling). Since you have such a low student-to-teacher ratio, your child can quickly catch up in math or spelling in another month or year. And remember, you don’t need to imitate the school – you are not required to use a curriculum, or start at 8 and go until 3. Find out what works for you and your child.
Enjoy your relationship with your child. Do things and go places you both enjoy. Spend time “learning how to facilitate the learning needs of your child and how to create a happy learning environment,” says homeschooling mother and author, Alison McKee. There are different learning styles, from kinesthetic to visual to verbal – understanding how your child learns will help you in your decision-making.
If you haven’t already, educate yourself about homeschooling before worrying about the kids. There are scores of great books and websites out there. Some of my favorite homeschool authors are John Holt, Raymond Moore, Grace Llewellyn, Mary Griffith and Linda Dobson.
Get connected: join a support group, find a homeschool class or check out a Having a community is important. Your child will make friends with other homeschooled kids and you’ll learn about resources and get support from like-minded parents.
Don’t buy a lot of curriculum right away – homeschool libraries are filled with amazing (and expensive) curriculum that was never used. Figure out your goals (with your child if he/she is old enough) and your child’s learning style. Read reviews and talk to other parents, but don’t forget, what works for one family may not necessarily work for another. I know a lot of people who rave about the Life of Fred math books, but they don’t work for my kids – my math-avoider finds them too cutesy, and my math-lover finds the extra stuff too distracting. It’s a good thing I checked them out from the library before spending a bunch of money. Homeschool Potpourri, which sells used curriculum, is another popular resource.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything at the same time – some months we do a lot of math, at other times we focus on history. Sometimes we spend a lot of time out and about in nature and other times we’re doing chemistry in the kitchen. Sometimes Davis reads classics and at other times she’s reading the Twilight Series. It’s okay. Over the course of several years, the basics get covered. Flexibility is one of the best parts of homeschooling!
If you feel overwhelmed, that’s normal. We’ve all been there. In fact, we still feel overwhelmed from time to time, whether it’s because our toddler has given up napping and how will we educate our older kids without the nap time break, or because now our child is in middle school or high school, or because they aren’t progressing at the rate we’d like or they are progressing too quickly and we worry that we can’t keep up. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remember why you are doing this. Think about your overall goals. Talk to another homeschooling parent who has been through a similar situation.
Finally, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. You are doing a wonderful thing for your child. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but you’ve decided it is right for your family at this time. You are giving a lot of yourself to guide and personalize your child’s education and that is terrific! One of my favorite child-rearing quotes is, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Enjoy this time with your child. Before you know it, the year will be over and you’ll have survived your first year as a homeschooling parent.