Seven Things I Wish I’d Known About Homeschooling
It’s been awhile since we started our homeschooling journey, but as I look back, there are seven things about homeschooling that I wish I’d known. The truth is, someone might have told me about one or more of these, just as I’m now telling you, but it’s hard to really know what matters until you’ve lived it long enough to look back and see.
Seven things I wish I’d known about homeschooling
Whether you’re just getting started or have been schooling for awhile, there are a few basic things to know that might make your life easier. When I started homeschooling, I was lucky enough to have done enough reading and non-traditional learning so I knew that the “school-at-home” model wasn’t what we wanted. That helped. However, I started out expecting that I’d be able to make perfect plans and schedules and keep exactly on track every year. As you might guess, that was — well, let’s just say that it was overly optimistic. Here are a few of the things I wish I’d known — I hope they help you!
1- It helps to create a vision for your family and your homeschool before you gain momentum.
Once you’ve gained momentum, it can be hard to change direction, so it’s okay to start slowly, doing what you can as you learn more and think about what you want your children to remember.
What do you want your family life to look like? In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he points out that if you begin with the end in mind, it will put you on the right track. Plan your homeschooling path by envisioning where you want your family to be in 5, 10, 20 years, then work backward to decide on the steps you need to take to reach that goal. Just as a map helps you reach a travel destination, a clear vision of the family life you desire can make time and money management choices much easier.
I’m a fairly visual planner, so I found a painting, “One of the Family” by Frederick George Cotman (you can see it on my homepage at EverydayEducation.com), that captured the mood I wanted to create in our home. We also made a short, one-sentence family mission statement that spoke of the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” Just having that much of a vision helped us to be thankful rather than unhappy when circumstances and finances combined to give us more time at home than we anticipated.
2- Children don’t remember what you do; they remember how you made them feel.
Let your actions and words convey to your children — daily, hourly — that they are loved. One major way to convey love is to speak lovingly. That means no yelling, and no saying hurtful things, which can be a challenge at times. Unkind or careless speech can happen when you’re tired, overwhelmed, and feeling stretched too thin, so it helps to take care of yourself as part of taking care of your family.
At minimum, taking care of yourself means drinking plenty of water, getting the sleep you need (and giving yourself and your family extra grace when adequate sleep hasn’t been possible), and eating regular healthy meals. If you’re an introvert, try to plan a few minutes alone each week, and if you’re an extrovert, try to touch base with a good friend. I remember being so tired in the early years that it took me a long time to realize that I was forgetting these very basic things. As soon as I got back into the habit of drinking water, eating small protein-focused meals, and going grocery shopping alone (a lovely break for an introvert!), I felt so much better, and was able to be a better mom, too.
3- Understand that this season of life will be over before you know it.
Don’t put off doing the fun things! When I began homeschooling, my first son was five, and my fourth son hadn’t yet been born. Looking forward, it seemed as if I’d be homeschooling for the rest of my life, but it hasn’t been that way at all. Because all of our boys have gotten a jump start on college, they graduated from high school early, too. Looking back, it felt as if I became a retired homeschool mom just as I was getting the hang of things!
I think that if I had known how short the time would be, I would have made more time for special projects and field trips, as those are the things that seem to stick with them. As it was, I often felt so pushed to get in the basics that the fun stuff fell by the wayside. In retrospect, they would have learned as much or more from more memorable activities than they did from another page of math.
Knowing how brief the homeschooling years are, you may want to make provision for when you are retired from daily school work. Consider your gifts, and how you can use them for others. A home business can be a wonderful thing, especially in the present economy, but there are many other ways you can use the time formerly spent in homeschooling. Start thinking about it now, as the time will come sooner than you think, and you can be learning things that can help you prepare for the second half of life.
4- Use habits and routines to help make life simpler and more streamlined.
Charlotte Mason said that “a habit is ten natures,” and she advocated training children in orderly habits of mind and body, writing “Consider how laborious life would be were its wheels not greased by habits of cleanliness, neatness, order, courtesy . . .”.
Through the hectic years of child-training, home-schooling, and care-giving, I found that simple habits and routine can keep the household (and learning) happening, even when unexpected events occur. (There is a lengthy discussion of habit in Charlotte Mason’s A Philosophy of Education, in her explanation of the concept of education as a discipline.)
5- It’s not only okay to be different, sometimes it’s best.
Learn to evaluate learning materials, curricula, activities, and other things by asking whether they will move you closer to or farther from your family goals. That will help you make wise choices!
Even if everyone else you know chooses unit studies or a textbook-based curriculum, don’t do it if it’s not the right choice for your family. It is your job to choose the curricula that fits your student’s learning style and your family’s needs, and it doesn’t matter at all what others do. They are responsible for their family; you are responsible for yours. Do the research it takes to make choices that fit your family, and you’ll all be better off for it. (And if you are, by nature, a worrier, please see #7.)
6- Learn to say “no” to things that will be a distraction from your family’s mission and goals, even when they are good things.
As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities for fun and valuable learning experiences. We can do co-ops, 4H, sports, community activities, church activities, and much, much more. There is so much to do, and so many busy people running around doing it all, that you can begin to feel guilty for saying no to most of it. After all, these are usually good things!
I said “no” to most things because I had to — we were caring for my grandmother for most of the years we homeschooled. I often felt guilty, though, when with friends whose children did so much more — martial arts, music classes, sports, all sorts of things. I was nearly through homeschooling when I realized that even though I began saying no to a lot of activities because I had to, I ended up saying no because “no” was the key to creating the life we wanted for our family.
Our family mission statement included the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” It’s difficult to do that and to communicate sweetly and patiently with one another when everyone is exhausted from too much running around and busy-ness.
Many activities are like busywork — they take up time, and look as if you’re accomplishing something, but actually just distract from the truly important things in life. When you understand this, you can say no without feeling guilty. If there are people in your life who try to make you feel guilty for choosing the right thing for your family, you may want to limit time spent with them.
7- Know that in a loving, wholesome, book-filled home, learning will happen, even when crises interfere with the planned teaching schedule (and they will).
During the early years of homeschooling, I created lesson plans and schedules that worked pretty well until we took in my grandparents. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease and life became a series of crises as he would wander off, often onto a nearby freeway, or become unexpectedly hostile. I’d pack all the boys into the car — whether we were doing school, or the baby was sleeping, or whatever — and we’d drive around looking for him. It was a terribly stressful time.
Through the final years of his life, it was nearly impossible to keep up with lesson plans. I relied heavily on audio resources,* including classic literature, classical music and composer biographies, geography and science songs, history tapes, and more. Each year, as the boys took the state-required standardized test, I’d be anxious until their scores arrived, then relieved to find them in the 90th percentile or above, as they had been before my carefully laid plans met reality.
I would have been less stressed if I’d realized then that “teaching” is not a synonym for “learning.” Learning can happen anytime, anyplace, and does not require lesson plans and worksheets (which often hinder true learning). Charlotte Mason, who wrote, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life,” also advised that children are the ones who must perform the “act of knowing.” We cannot learn for our children, but we can create conditions that help them learn.
A rich learning lifestyle makes growth — mental, spiritual, physical — almost inevitable, so fill your home with good books and beautiful music. Take trips to art museums and botanical gardens. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Learn to make things with your hands. Have long talks around the dinner table. Live well, and your children will learn. Live well, and your family will grow.
You’ll find more articles about homeschooling in the Learning, Reading, and Writing sections of this site (homeschooling is actually a thread throughout the site, but those pages will give you an index of the primary articles).
*There’s a helpful article at the Lyrical Learning site that explains why music helps humans learn.