This post is from contributing writer Mary Voogt of Just Take A Bite.
It still feels strange every time the words “I home school my kids” come out of my mouth. Yet here we are, coming to the end of our first year. It was crazy, amazing, frustrating, exciting, challenging, blessed and everything in between.
Really our entire last year was all of the above with the transition to homeschooling on top of moving to the country and starting a small farm. And I’ve loved every minute of this journey (well, almost every minute).
So What Was it Like?
Some people are ready to home school from day one. It’s a no-brainer. But that was not the case for my family. My kids attended a local Christian school for four years. We loved the school and the people. My kids enjoyed the Spanish immersion setting. It really wasn’t the actual schooling that bothered us.
It was what happened outside of school. My daughter started her day in tears and ended it the same way. Every. Single. Day. She is not a morning person to say the least. If she could spend the first hour of her day reading, then slowly eat breakfast while she reads for another hour she would. So getting up and out the door was kind of a nightmare for both of us.
She also needs plenty of quiet time. She loves to be with friends. But she also needs time to herself. And when she got off the bus close to 4:30 pm every day there was no such thing as down time. It was more like do your homework, practice piano, eat dinner, pick up your toys and get ready for bed (which was the morning scenario all over again). Nobody was happy. There was a strain on everyone.
Then my son started Kindergarten. And every morning started with screaming fits of “I’m not going to school today!!”
Needless to say it wasn’t working. AT ALL.
Last summer in the midst of house hunting I felt God pulling me in a new direction. I had hit a wall. I could not put myself or my kids through this stress every day any more. It was time for a change. We started our journey into homeschooling.
I was completely clueless about what I was doing. I just knew it was what they needed…what we all needed. I asked every homeschooling friend I know for advice on curriculum and getting started. And then it was one big leap of faith.
It didn’t take long to realize that we had so many other reasons to switch to homeschooling that I hadn’t even thought of (you can read more about those reasons HERE)!
While I’m no expert on homeschooling, I do have some thoughts and advice on making the transition and having a successful first year.
Take a Break
This will go against everything you think you should be doing. Making the switch to homeschooling is scary enough. You’ll doubt yourself almost daily. And you want to make sure you “keep up” with the kids in school.
But forget about that. Take a break to “unschool” your kids first. It really is an important step for both you and your kids.
Change the way you think about schooling. For me the point of home school is not to recreate traditional school at home. If that’s what I want I’ll send my kids back to school. Instead think of home school as a place for your child to develop a passion for learning. It is a place for him to recognize his gifts and passions and pursue them. It is not about memorizing facts, remembering things for a test or getting a certain grade. It is about developing character and skills.
Take the first few weeks or even first few months if needed to get rid of the right/wrong mentality of school work. The goal is to understand concepts and develop self-motivation for learning. Even after an entire year I still have to remind my daughter that it’s ok to get a math problem wrong. The important thing is whether or not she understands the concepts she’s studying.
You can also use this time to read together, explore nature, learn some new skills around the house (like cooking!), take trips and just be together.
Figure out your Child’s Learning Style
The first year of homeschooling is really about learning how your child learns! Does she enjoy workbooks or hands-on activities? Does he learn better by reading or listening?
Try some different curriculum and teaching styles. This will set the stage for years to come. The first subject I decided on this year was science. My kids love animals. So I found a wonderful, Bible-based curriculum all about land animals. We were all excited. But by the end of the year we were SO bored. I realized it was because it was just reading a big textbook without any hands-on activities. My kids did not want to memorize page after page about elephants. They would much rather see and feel animals!
Towards the end of the year we switched gears and started raising our own chickens (this post rang true to me!), taking trips to the zoo and observing horses that live on our road. And the excitement and passion returned! We haven’t quite picked our science curriculum for next year but it will for sure be something hands-on! We’re thinking maybe botany, anatomy or chemistry.
Remember that each child is different. While my daughter could read for hours my son thinks that is so boring. He likes to talk through things and experiment. I try to do lots of puzzles and games to teach him math instead of just worksheets. You may need a totally different teaching style and curriculum for each child.
Take Time Off
While I believe all of the above I still struggle with that inner voice that says we have to “keep up.” Which made it hard for me to give my kids breaks. When school kids had snow days…we kept on working. When a kid was a little bit sick (enough that I would have kept them home from school) but not too sick…we kept on working. When someone has a dentist appointment…we kept on working in the car. You get the idea.
I had to force myself once in a while to give us real breaks. It’s really good for your sanity as well as your kids. Don’t worry, you won’t get behind.
Teach Life Skills
One of the benefits of homeschooling that I have enjoyed is more time to teach my kids life skills. Things like cooking, cleaning and doing their part around the house are just part of our day. I want my children to be more than book smart. I want them to be ready for life.
I love my parents dearly, but they pretty much did everything for my siblings and me. So when I left for college I had no clue how to do laundry, cook, handle money, etc. I had a HUGE learning curve as I was sent out on my own. My hope is that my kids will be prepared with life skills.
Connect with Others
An aspect of homeschooling my kids and I have all enjoyed is the connections we’ve made with other homeschooling families! When my kids were in school I said hi and bye or maybe chatted for a minute with other parents once in a while. But I never really got to know anyone (as a shy introvert that is NOT my strength). My kids had friends that they saw in school but not much outside of school.
Now we are all building friendships. We are getting to know whole families. And it is such a joy.
The really fun part is that I get to push myself and demonstrate to my own kids how to step out of your comfort zone to meet people and make new friends (again NOT my strength). I have watched my daughter go from hiding behind me when she meets someone to jumping into new situations without hesitation. We’ve all been stretched and pulled this year. But it’s been great.
Learning is fun! I want my kids to always love learning. It will serve them well later in life when they are hungry for information instead of moaning about school work.
Try to mix up your activities and lesson plans. Focus on time together and exploring. If nobody is having fun, it’s time to take a break and change things up.
Probably the most important thing we’ve worked on this year does not come from a text book. It is character development. I once heard someone say, “Raise your children so you’ll like them, not so they’ll like you.” And that is true! My hope and prayer is that my kids will grow up with a heart for service and a heart for Christ. I want them to be successful not from a worldly perspective but in God’s eyes.
This means I don’t care about them attending a prestigious university or having a high paying job. I want them to follow their passions, do what they love and use their gifts to help others. If that means one child is a doctor, great! If that means one child is a farmer, wonderful! If that means one child is an artist, I couldn’t be happier.
My nine year-old constantly asks when she can go to college. But my six year-old asks if you have to go to college to be a farmer…because if not then he’s not going! And even though they are young I wouldn’t be surprised if this holds true.
So often our society focuses on being the best and having the most. Even school keeps kids focused on the best grades and participating in the most activities. Save yourself a lot of stress and let it go.
Now that I have one year of homeschooling under my belt I feel slightly more prepared to start a second year. Did I make plenty of mistakes this year? You bet! Did I have some bad days? Absolutely. But in the end it was a blessing I can’t even explain.
I’m already thinking about what to do differently next year. Things like planning whole units with breaks between, trying a couple new co-ops, including more farm work and taking more field trips. My nine year-old is begging to start her own blog and business. So we might add that to our year as well (it could practically be a whole curriculum…finances, math, writing, grammar, art, etc.). Really the possibilities are endless!
The transition to homeschooling takes a long time. There is a mental shift for both parents and students. But if you take it one day and one step at a time you’ll begin to see the joy that it can bring.
Take it slowly and spend time with your kids. You’ll figure it out as you go and you’ll all grow in the process!