With the recent release of the CDC guidelines for the reopening of schools, scores of concerned parents are reaching out to homeschooling groups exploring alternatives and looking for some advice and insight. Most haven’t given a single thought into homeschooling until now.
If you are one of those parents, welcome to a very diverse group of parents choosing to take on the responsibility of their child’s education. As you can imagine from a group of parents who have willingly chosen a different path than the majority, there might be a teeny, tiny possibility that you are stepping into an arena with not only some helpful suggestions but also with a hefty dose of confident opinions.
Head to any homeschooling FB group and you are bound to see numerous posts that look something like this :
Obviously, these are some humorous and extreme examples to poke fun at all of us homeschoolers, but this poor mama. With this sort of advice, she’s likely to be completely overwhelmed and quickly go from Nancy Newbie to Cara Confused.
Curriculum inquiries are the “What’s for dinner?” of homeschooling. You are likely to get as many opinions as you do answers. Others can share their family’s favorite eats and back it up with why it might be a great choice, stating its rich nutritional content or sharing it is the only thing their children will eat. Some recipes may be quick and easy, others a bit more complicated but fit the special dietary needs of the family. All may not apply to your family, but asking what others are making is a great way to gather some ideas and potential new recipes. However, while you can examine the ingredients to determine if it might please your family’s palate, you won’t really know if your family will love it just as much until you get cooking and give it a try.
The plethora of choices and the individualized education that results is one of the most significant advantages of homeschooling. However, it also immobilizes new homeschoolers from getting started. There is no one size fits all! What may work for one family may not work for another. While it is difficult to tell you precisely what homeschooling philosophy you should adopt, what curriculum to purchase, or what schedule works best, there are five essential ingredients that need to be gathered for every new homeschool.
The Top 5 Ingredients Needed for Every Homeschool
An Education Paradigm Shift
While many new homeschoolers envision replicating traditional school at home because it is all they know, it is an entirely different type of education and much simply doesn’t apply.
If you’ve never homeschooled before, your axiom on education is likely from a traditional brick and mortar perspective followed with several months of crisis schooling from home. Homeschooling is neither. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, where every opportunity is a learning opportunity rather than life and learning as segmented. Homeschooling is having the freedom to select a pathway from a buffet of choices that is right for your individual child and redirect when needed. Homeschooling is a choice and a conscious decision to be the one responsible for your child’s education. When starting out, I found that both liberating and terrifying.
When I told my oldest I was going to homeschool her for kindergarten, she put her little hand on her hip, stomped her foot, pointed at me with her finger, and said, “No! You are my mother, not my teacher!” followed with an argument on the utter importance of bus rides and classroom friends. I just smiled sweetly at my strong-willed child and made a mental note that maybe a debate class should be in her future. I had fair warning that some patience would be needed, but that isn’t always the case, especially if your kids are on board with your decision.
Homeschooling isn’t easy, and sometimes you need to pack your patience. Be sure to extend that patience not only to your kids but to yourself and others as well. Lessons won’t go as planned, unexpected events will happen, and sometimes those perfect little homeschool days of learning formed in your head just don’t make it into reality. We all have off days. There will be many “burnt grilled cheese” days ahead where it seems like the simplest of lessons go wrong. Scrape off the char and salvage what you can.
Also, don’t conclude after a rough patch that your homeschool is forever doomed. Sometimes an off day that goes up in flames turns into days and weeks. Have you ever been in a cooking rut where nothing sounds good and the kids grumble at every meal? Do you resolve that you will never cook again and order takeout the rest of your life or do you regroup, flip through a cookbook for ideas, and ask the kids to help with suggestions?
As an admitted Rhonda Researcher, I spent a long time looking for the perfect curriculum when we first started out. However, by the end of the year, I had revised and tweaked that perfect curriculum into something completely different. And that was okay! It made it even better just for my kids. Don’t be afraid to tweak and shift things as needed rather than hang on to a curriculum exactly as written for dear life. As with a recipe, it might be a good overall fit, but you may prefer a little extra or less seasoning here or there or to pair it with a different side dish to suit you.
Also, don’t feel like you have to pass up unexpected opportunities just because you hadn’t planned for them. If you were in the process of preparing the evening meal only to have some friends call and invite you over for an impromptu dinner party, would you decline a fun evening of food and fellowship in favor of your average roast chicken? Or would you stick that chicken in the fridge and have it for lunch the next day instead? It is okay to forgo lessons for a day in exchange for an impromptu field trip or opportunity. It isn’t about checking off daily boxes but looking at the big picture of learning. Carpe Diem! It is okay to set a lesson aside on occasion.
Willingness to Learn
Rather than have an expectation that you need to know it all, a willingness to learn will serve you well. There is nothing wrong with learning right alongside your student, whether it is a new language or an algebra refresher before teaching the math lesson. Expect the need for trial and error when it comes to teaching methods, schedules, and getting to know what works for each of your students. Don’t let shame creep in or conclude that you aren’t fit to teach your student if you don’t know all the answers. I learned so many things while homeschooling my kids that I often wondered if I was daydreaming through school, if memory had simply failed me, or if it was never taught to me in the first place.
It is also okay if there are subjects you just don’t desire to learn (or relearn) or with which you struggle and opt to outsource to someone more passionate about the subject. Sometimes you just need to order takeout. I signed up one of my students for outside Latin classes for six years not because I didn’t have the ability to learn it, but I didn’t have the bandwidth nor the motivation to expand my Latin knowledge beyond “Carpe Diem.”
Confidence (aka a thick skin)
There are bound to be others, from relatives to other homeschoolers who are trying to “help,” who will be sure to let you know you aren’t doing it right. If you are happy with your choices and they are working out for your family, keep on doing what you are doing. To those giving unsolicited advice, simply say, “Thank you for your opinion,” and move on to the weather, a compliment on a new hairstyle, the latest celebrity gossip, or what they are making for dinner. For some, engaging in a conversation about homeschooling is in the same category as discussing religion and politics. There is no need to engage or defend.
When you feel like you don’t have enough homeschooling experience under your belt to be confident, remember this: you have been the teacher of your children since birth. You have taught them many things up to this point, and no one knows them better or what they most need than you.
Once you’ve acquired the above, you are ready to explore the specifics of homeschooling for your family. You don’t need to lay claim to a particular homeschooling style or method or have it all figured out to start. Over the years we tried different approaches and programs based on what was right for my kids at the time. And what was right for one of my children often wasn’t the best approach for the other (adaptability!). Tastes and needs change and differ. Even if your kids aren’t entirely on board, don’t be discouraged and give them some time. I’m happy to report that both foot-stomper and parent survived homeschooling K through 12, and there was even a “thank you for homeschooling me” involved.
There is no one right way to homeschool, and sometimes the most challenging part is not getting frozen in the decision to start. Do a little research, find something that looks like it might be a fit for your family, and know that nothing has to be what you stick with forever — including homeschooling. Also, be prepared to discover that you just might love it and never want to go back. Homeschooling was one of the best and rewarding decisions I made for my family.
So there you have it, the top five ingredients needed for a healthy homeschool. Now get cooking! Some resources to get you started:
- Cathy Duffy Reviews is a website with comprehensive reviews on curriculum.
- Rainbow Resource is a supplier of many homeschooling supplies and programs at competitive prices. Many product descriptions also have an accompanying review.
- Home Learning Year-by-Year is an especially helpful book if you plan to piece together your own materials.
- The Core Knowledge Series isn’t a how-to nor a homeschooling book series, but I found it helpful for some reassurance when first starting out.
- FB support groups are abundant. Be sure to search for groups specific to your situation (i.e.: by location, student age, special circumstances).
Local support groups are helpful for meeting other homeschoolers in your area. Simply Google “<your location> homeschooling support group” and you’ll find lists galore! If you’re in Southeast Michigan, check out all the resources gathered here.