So you did it! You decided to homeschool! You either didn’t register your children, or you went to the school and withdrew them, and you answered the questions from well-meaning relatives and friends about why and how and now you are watching everyone else sending their children to school and yours are at home.
Are you excited? Relieved? Scared?
Welcome to the club, because I feel that way every fall, and we are embarking on our fifth year of this homeschooling adventure. My emotions tend to run all over the place, but at my core, I know we have made the very best decision for our family, and I have a great peace with that.
That said, I remember especially how it felt my first year of homeschooling, and want to share ten things that I believe will help you not only survive this year, or really ANY year, but to thrive and enjoy it!!
1. Know why you are homeschooling.
Is it because of what you want for your child academically? Socially? Spiritually? Because of what you want for your family? Write it down somewhere. Your reasons may shift and change over time, and when they do, you can change this, but having it written down will help you anticipate the good things that can happen this year. And when the tough times come (and they will), you can come back to this to help remind you why you chose this path and stay the course.
2. Find your homeschool tribe.
This may not be your regular mom tribe or church tribe or family tribe, and that’s okay. Find some fellow homeschool parents and get to know them. Let them get to know you. Realize also that not all homeschooling parents are alike, in method or motivation, and so it may take a few tries to find some that you click with, but they are out there. If you can’t find them in “real life,” you may be able to find them in a Facebook group or through blogs or books. Wherever you need to look, find them. They will be your go-to people when you have questions or frustrations to share and you don’t want a well-meaning friend to say, “You know, you can always just enroll them in school.”
3. Find at least one activity for your kids with other homeschoolers.
They need a tribe, too, and it is SO easy to find something like this in the Columbia area. There are activities at the museums, at the zoo, co-ops, classes, Classical Conversations communities, play groups, YMCA Homeschool Swim & Gym, and more. Even if it is just getting together regularly with another homeschool family, it lets your kids know that homeschooling isn’t weird and something no one else is doing.
4. Include your spouse.
In most circumstances, it is one parent doing the homeschooling, and usually (but not always) it is the mom. But you need to make sure that you are both involved, even if the less active parent is more of a sounding board for your ideas and questions. Make sure your children are telling your spouse about their school day, just as if they were coming home from a brick and mortar school. Homeschooling thrives when the whole family is committed to it and involved, not when it is just “Mom doing her thing.”
5. Have a routine.
Not a schedule necessarily, where you do math at 9:00 everyday and writing at 9:52. That can drive you crazy, especially when you have some kind of household crisis at 9:51 and the rest of your morning is thrown off. I mean a routine, where you generally plan to do lessons during a certain block of time, or you know that you will do some things with child 1 while child 2 is having a music lesson, or you know that you will try to go on a field trip the first Friday of the month, or something like that. Having a routine will help your children, and you, know what to expect and have some healthy boundaries.
6. At the same time, don’t be held captive to expectations.
Your homeschool doesn’t have to look like “regular” school. You don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) do school six hours a day. You don’t have to have lessons in the morning. Or do the same subjects every day. Or buy an out-of-the-box curriculum. Or use the same curriculum all year long. Or use the same grade level for all subjects. Or join a co-op. Or take your kids on amazing field trips every week. Or do the same thing as your favorite homeschool blogger. Or do every single problem in the math book. You are free, within the legal expectations of your state, to make your homeschool what will be the best fit your family and your children.
7. Be the lead learner in your family.
No one should go into homeschooling because they think they know enough to handle it all. You will have the best year possible if you go in with a learner’s mindset and ready to model that for your kids. Don’t know the answer to a question? Find out together via the library or Internet. Scared of seventh grade math? Learn it together. Can remember the difference between a gerund and an appositive? Show your student how to figure it out as a team. Not sure where you fall on the homeschool spectrum and what your educational philosophy is? Read a book or explore the thousands (literally) of homeschool blogs out there. Just as a classroom teacher is expected to take so many professional development days, commit yourself to being the student this year and learning about homeschooling, and about the subjects you are teaching, and about how your child learns best.
8. Don’t be afraid to fail.
The way to find what works is often to find what doesn’t. This year may be the one to learn what co-op, what math curriculum, what methods, and what schedule doesn’t work. When you figure that out, take a step back and try a new path. Don’t sweat it. Just jump in and try.
9. Don’t try to do it all.
It is so easy to overdo and overplan your first year. Take it slow. You don’t have to sign up for all the homeschool activities at once. Don’t try to schedule three days of co-op a week because you want your kids to have friends, and don’t sign up for evening activities every night of the week because, hey, they don’t have to catch a bus in the morning. You need some time for you as a family, you as a homeschool team, and just margin over all.
10. Take some time for yourself.
When your kids are home all day and you are the teacher and the mom, you are always “on.” As much as I really dislike the social media posts that show a mom jumping for joy when her kids go back to school (and yes, I know they are generally satire), there is a kernel of truth in it, that when your kids are not home, you have time for YOU! And you do need that time. Even classroom teachers get (or should get) a planning period during the day. When you go, go, go all the time, you are setting yourself up for burnout. Find what rejuvenates you and do it. Some things – like gardening or exercising – you can maybe do with your kids, but it is okay to find an activity for them to do without you because you need some time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty about that!!