Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To All the Families Just Starting on the Journey...

It's finally here! You are beginning your homeschooling journey and this can be a little scary and overwhelming but also very exciting. I remember how fun it was to put together curriculum in the very beginning and then the thrill of seeing my little guy learn the basics like writing his name and reading his first book. We are now starting our 6th year and I feel like I finally have enough time served to be able to offer some tips and maybe even a little bit of wisdom. I am nowhere near and expert and hope to improve each year, but here are some things that I think are valuable lessons that I had to learn the hard way.

• There will be amazing days where everything clicks and the kiddos fly through the lessons and the house is clean and all seems right with the universe. There will also be days where every worksheet is a struggle and the sink is overflowing with dishes and everyone is in a grumpy mood. Most days will fall somewhere in between, so here is my advice for those extreme days. Enjoy the smooth ones and file them into your memory bank. Those memories can help you stay centered during the bad ones. When you're having one of those awful days where nothing is going right and you feel inches from screaming in the closet, I have one huge piece of advice. On those days, do not even let the thought of how many more years you have until the kids are done with school. I am serious. If you're feeling stressed out and like you're ill equipped, do not look at your 7 year old and start doing the math until graduation. Instead, take a break, switch gears, or shift work to the next day and start fresh. Remember the positive side of homeschooling and call a homeschooling friend to vent.

• Launching off that last tip, try not to complain about these horrific days and how frustrating they are to public school parents. I remember clearly a day where I confessed in a moment of weakness how I felt like I was doing the worst job teaching and my kid was driving me crazy and I didn't know how I'd make it. The immediate response was, "Maybe she'd do better in school." That statement hurt but also made me realize the importance of finding a safe audience for support on the rough days. Most public school parents that I have met are firmly sold on how beneficial school is and I am not. I don't plan to ever use the public school system, so that suggestion was not helpful and also altered that friendship just a little. Now I know that I can call a homeschooling mom and chances are, she has had a day like that and she has survived. Instead of suggesting quitting, she will remind me that things are not as bad as they seem and this shall pass.

• Planning is great (and a lot of fun!) but it's important to be willing to be flexible. I won't count how many times I have had to shift tactics or swap curriculum in favor of one that would work better for our family. I envisioned my teaching style one way and it has turned out to be far from that expectation. One of the best things about homeschooling is the ability to tailor the lessons and work to fit your family. You can use the materials that fit your budget and your style and you can work your schooling around the time of day that works the best. My original intention was to get a bright and early start to the day to do our very structured schedule. The reality is that my early bird likes to get up and get started on his work while my younger one is still snoozing in bed. She starts her work a little later in the day and then we do our subjects together in the late morning or afternoon. I also work part time, so on the one morning a week that I work, I plan more independent lessons for them and on my day off, I plan the more intensive lessons. Basically, plan for what you feel is best but don't feel like you have to stick with it to try to make it work when there's alway the option to adapt.

• Relax and enjoy the early years. Reading and writing will come and every child progresses at a different rate. I often say that reading is what replaces potty training in the mommy world. So many moms are concerned with making sure their child can read by a set magical age and worry that something is wrong if their little one is struggling and some push reading just so they have early reader bragging rites. Like with potty training, if you start before the child is fully ready, you will both have some frustration. If you wait until they are ready, it will come much more quickly and will be more fun. If your child is ready at an early age, encourage it, but if your child is struggling, focus on another area and just keep reading aloud and foster the love of books and stories. If your subtraction is challenging, do some fun hands on stuff to help with the concept but keep it light (I'm a fan of M&Ms or goldfish cracker subtraction because they taste so good) and slip it in during conversations.

• Seek out homeschool wisdom from parents who have been doing it a while. New homeschoolers are helpful and full of excitement and great ideas, but nothing beats experience. I want tips and suggestions from parents that have kids that are successful learners because their methods have been proven.

• Don't give up! Don't decide after one year that it's not working because it can take a couple of years to really find your groove and find what works. And then it can all shift and you'll be adjusting yet again. If you start with a mentality that you'll give it a try for a year, there's a good chance you will think that it won't work. Or if you go the virtual school route (which is basically public school at home), you won't have a realistic picture of homeschooling and chances are you will end up frustrated or back at the school. If you go into it with determination to stick through the long haul, you will have a much better chance at success.

• Watch out for the dangers of comparison. There's a definite difference between seeking advice and wisdom and comparing yourself to others. Once can lead to growth and insight while the other tends to lead towards doubt or insecurity. You might feel like you're not doing enough or like you have the wrong curriculum or aren't involved in enough outside activities or are overextending yourself. This can also happen when you look at what public school kids are doing compared to your homeschool kid. I remember worrying that we were missing out on some skills or falling behind in certain areas. It was about 2 years ago that I realized that a huge difference is that my kids are learning their topics in such depth (and not just to pass a test) that their lessons stay with them. I am also able to teach them using what works so that makes the learning more personal. I was worried that my son was too far behind in writing and started to doubt my skills until I hit on the idea to let him write about Minecraft. Suddenly his lazy sentences (The dog was in the yard) turned into elaborate ones filled with details. I remember the first one shocking me because it was, "In the tutorial of the updated version of Minecraft, when you have host privileges you can find a pirate hq and a pirate ship." Really?! Really?! Once I saw that he was indeed capable and learning, I knew that we were on the right track.

If I had to condense this whole post, I'd say the following:

It's so important to enjoy your kids, enjoy the learning process, have fun, remember that you have 10-12 years to teach them all they need to know for the world, and one of the most important things you can teach your child is how to learn on their own throughout life.

Check out the Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-Up here

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