As we wrap up week two of our second year homeschooling, I find myself reflecting on some of the lessons I learned during my first year teaching at home. I’m by no means an expert, and I can only imagine what I’ll learn this year (how to manage homeschooling with a newborn, for one!)
But for any newcomers out there, I hope these lessons will come in handy as you navigate your first year:
1. Homeschooling doesn’t look like school at home.
We began our school year with a neatly organized classroom/playroom. I envisioned all of our lessons taking place there while my toddler played contentedly nearby. In reality, we rarely did school in our “school room.” Our books were usually sprawled across the couches in the living room, and the majority of math and copywork took place at the kitchen table. I soon realized that I didn’t need to replicate a traditional classroom setting. Instead, I found ways to integrate learning throughout our home, like painting a chalkboard above our kitchen table and filling our china cabinet with books instead of dishes.
2. Plan ahead, but expect the unexpected.
Before we got started, I had our whole year mapped out. What I didn’t plan on was becoming pregnant with our third child halfway through the school year! This presented a new set of challenges, particularly during the first trimester, and we had to adjust accordingly. So, while I’m still planning our year ahead of time, I see it as more of a rough draft than something set in stone. Despite our best efforts, real life happens and flexibility is key!
3. Simplify your systems – don’t overcomplicate things!
Initially, I tried to follow a Pinterest perfect workbox system using a rolling drawer cart. It looked cute and was great, in theory, except for the fact that my toddler was constantly pulling everything out of the drawers. I stuck with this method for way too long before switching to a simple, portable file box system. I also ditched the fancy homeschool planner I had ordered at the beginning of the year. Now, we use a basic spiral notebook to track assignments/attendance and it has been instrumental in simplifying our homeschool!
4. Give your younger children undivided attention first.
Hands down, the biggest challenge in our first year was figuring out how to keep my then 2-year-old occupied. After much trial and error, I found the most successful days were the ones where I gave her one-on-one time first. Whether it was reading books, doing Play-Doh, or building with blocks, just a few minutes of my time was enough to fill her attention tank and she was much more willing to play independently. Of course, there are no guarantees here but it does go a long way in reducing the mischief and whining that can derail your school day!
5. Keep outside activities and commitments to a minimum.
For the most part, in order to be effective homeschoolers, we have to actually stay home. It’s easy for playdates, appointments and commitments to take over your week if you don’t prioritize and protect your school schedule. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but I found it helpful to choose one day a week for scheduling social activities and doctor’s appointments.
6. Realize that you are a working mom.
I’m of the mindset that ALL moms are working moms, regardless of their employment status. And if you are a homeschooling mama, you DO have a job! As tempting as it may be to roll out of bed and get started on the day’s demands, you’ll feel a lot better if you get yourself dressed and ready first. While many of us are operating on a tight budget, it is still important to invest in yourself. As a teacher, what tools do you need to do your job well? Take into consideration any materials, supplies or training that will set you up for success. Don’t be afraid to ask the rest of the family to pitch in with chores, meals or errands. Relax your standards if you need to, and don’t feel guilty about setting aside time for planning and assessment periodically.
7. Make connections with other homeschool moms.
You may have friends from all walks of life, but no one will relate to your struggles like another homeschool mom. I felt very alone in my homeschooling journey until I attended my accountability group’s first mom’s meeting. It was like a breath of fresh air and a great source of encouragement for me! By the same token, be careful not to fall into the comparison trap because no two homeschools are exactly alike. And isn’t that the whole point? You want to give your child an individualized education. Share ideas and look for inspiration, but remember that your homeschool should be unique to you and your family.
8. Don’t be a slave to your curriculum.
As a first year homeschooler, I did not feel qualified or prepared to piece together my own curriculum. I knew that I wanted to purchase a boxed curriculum that told me what to teach and when. This worked well for us, but I had to learn to use the curriculum as a guide and not a rule of law. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Just because your curriculum schedules Science and History every single day doesn’t mean you have to teach that way. Maybe it works better for you to alternate Science one day and History the next. Use what works and skip what doesn’t. Focus on your child’s needs rather than just plowing through and checking off all the boxes.
9. Keep good records as you go.
As a third option homeschooler, South Carolina law requires that I maintain a portfolio with a sample of my child’s work in the basic instructional areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. I have found it easiest to sort through any completed work when I sit down to do my weekly planning. You might decide to update your portfolio monthly, or at whatever interval works for you. Don’t fall behind on this or it will become a mountainous task that you don’t want to deal with (ask me how I know!).
10. Write down the reasons you are homeschooling and review them often.
Honestly, there will be days you question your sanity and times when you are ready to throw in the towel. If things get too tense, it helps to take a step back. Plan a fun day, go on a field trip, or take a week off if you need to. Whatever your reasons for homeschooling, remember that the seeds you plant today will reap a great harvest if you do not give up.