Most new homeschoolers have a lot to think about these days. On top of figuring out curriculum options, teaching methods, and learning styles, there are also jobs and family responsibilities to juggle. We all want our kids to excel—not just learn the basics—and that can feel like a huge responsibility. But getting caught up in the day to day minutia might make us lose sight of the big picture. I have been a homeschool mom of two boys for the past twenty years. Here are six things I wish I knew when I started homeschooling.
Don’t force busy work.
Nothing kills the joy of learning more than forcing kids to do busy work. Learning something you already know is frustrating. In my case, I didn’t want to make book reports a required subject just to be able to check the box. My kids always loved to read—they were just as excited to go to the library as they were to go to Disney World. Because of this, I never gave them required reading assignments. I did gently try to nudge them towards the books I wanted them to read by keeping those books on display in my home library, but I never once required it of them because it just wasn’t necessary. So take notice of what subjects your kids are already self-learning and excited about—and then direct your attention elsewhere.
Take pictures. (Lots of pictures!)
Document your child’s learning through pictures. Take pictures of your children during their learning activities, during field trips, science experiments, and art projects. The homeschool group I belonged to would hold an annual homeschool showcase, and showing what we learned through pictures was a great way to take stock of what we had accomplished that year. You can also use these pictures at the end of each year to make a homeschool yearbook through an online photo book service. (Your child will love looking through them as much as you will!) And if you have more than one child, remember to take pictures of them individually so you can personalize their own books. At my son’s high school graduation, I put all of those yearbooks on display for our guests to view and it was a real treat to look back on all of our homeschooling adventures throughout the years.
Kids need to be taught stuff.
I know it sounds obvious, but this is a common misconception! Sometimes kids learn things from their environment, but other lessons need to be taught. We shouldn’t expect our kids to automatically know things that we haven’t taught them. I remember one day trying to rush out of the house and getting a bit frustrated with my young son because he didn’t yet know how to tie his shoes. But then it hit me, I hadn’t really taken the time to actually teach him how to tie his shoes.
If you are homeschooling a child that has already attended traditional school, you might assume they know certain things based on their age or grade level. Now that you have a front row seat to their learning, you might be surprised to learn that there are gaps in their knowledge. The good news is you have identified the shortfall and now you can meet your kids’ needs. Make a plan to teach them what they need to know and help them feel confident. Remember, it’s not their fault that they don’t know something that other kids know or that you thought they already knew—it’s just an opportunity to teach them.
Keep the younger years as fun as possible.
Yes, kids need a strong foundation of basic principles like letters and numbers, but you also have the unique opportunity to create a homeschool that focuses on the love of learning. By the time your child gets to high school, they are either reaching for that finish line or making sure you are checking off the right boxes for college admissions. With this in mind, keep the elementary through junior high years as fun as possible. Create an atmosphere that encourages exploration, experimentation, and wonder. (It will greatly increase their success later on!)
Explore many interests.
While you’re making the fun years fun, take this time to explore a variety of interests. When you expose your child to various opportunities, you’ll be able to see where their talents flourish. When kids get to high school, we start asking them to narrow down what they want to do so start now by giving them a broad base to work from.
Take it one day (and one year) at a time.
What I loved most about being a classroom teacher was the opportunity to reset at the end of each school year and start anew the following school year with a brand-new class. As homeschooling parents, we don’t get a fresh batch of kids from year to year but we should keep that same perspective. At the end of each homeschooling year, declutter and reorganize whatever physical space you use for homeschooling. View each new homeschooling year as an opportunity to reinforce what went well the previous year and to change what didn’t. And when you embark on that new school year, take it one day at a time. If things need changing up mid-year, then make those changes. We want to have a big picture view of where our children are heading, but we certainly don’t need to make ourselves anxious about future schooling years. I remember when my kids were young being asked often, “So, do you plan on homeschooling all the way through high school?” That question seemed daunting to me. The answer in my heart was yes, but high school was so far away. What if I found myself in changed circumstances, or what if my kids decided they wanted to attend high school? I knew the only answer I could honestly give to that question was, “I’m taking it one day and one year at a time.”
And that’s exactly what I’m still doing.