I have recently had some opportunities to encourage a handful of newbie homeschool moms. After reflecting on our various chats, I thought I'd share some tips that were a common thread of those conversations.
You will constantly doubt yourself. I know that doesn't sound very encouraging, but I want to be real, straight from the beginning of this lil' conversation. I doubted myself until the day I sent my oldest child to high school. Did I teach her all she needs to know? Did I forget something important? Am I ruining my child? Is every other homeschool parent doing it this way? Seriously, what AM I doing?? It is normal to feel this way, but don't let those doubts take over. Remember, if you've been called to homeschool, you were made for this. Rise to the occasion and shine.
2. Give everyone a break, everyday. No, I don't mean you need to take a half-day of vacay. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to create an hour each day that we were apart from one another. I know that sounds like a long time, but it is really worth it. Everyone needs some space and when you homeschool, you are with each other 24/7. To keep the relationships healthy, we "took a break" each day. Most days I would require them to read quietly for 30 minutes (45 as they got older) and then they could spend the remainder of the time doing whatever they pleased. The rule was that everyone had to be in a separate space. For us, that meant each child was in their own room. I explained that it wasn't punishment, but rather a tool to help us enjoy each other's company the remainder of the day. Mom is no exception. Unless they were bleeding or dying, they knew to give me my space too.
3. Speak their language. Sometimes we have to get a little creative to capture their attention. The picture below is a perfect example. My son had no interest in fractions, because really, who cares how many ways you can slice a pizza, until the day I said we would use Legos to learn math.
4. Stalk Pinterest. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Pinterest is FULL of ideas for every subject and grade. There are a ton of free printables and learning game ideas just waiting for you to discover. We use the printable pictured below to practice spelling words.
4. There will be bad days. Okay. There will be bad weeks. But hang on. Even the best homeschool parent wants to throw in the towel every once in a while. Give yourself some grace. Keep the big picture in mind and take a break if you need one. Just because you have a bad week doesn't mean you are a failure. Rock on!
5. Incorporate chores into their school day. During our first year of homeschooling our biggest battles weren't fought over spelling words or math problems. We battled over chores constantly. Some days they were full sized wars. Other days the request to put away the clean dishes was met with major eye rolling or sighing. I began to include one or two chores into their assignment list. Guess what? They never questioned it or complained. For some reason (which I cannot explain ) if it was included with the school work they didn't contend it. Once I discovered this little gem, I used it unashamedly to my advantage. There were chores that went without saying such as making their beds etc... but I decided to use their list to incorporate a variety of chores/skills that they needed to learn. Some examples were dusting the floor boards, mopping the bathroom floor, sweeping the porch, washing the dog.
6. Discover together. I have learned more in the past 5 years than in all of my years as a student. When you get excited about learning something, it will be contagious. Sometimes it is easy to "just get done." Yes, the core subjects are important, but don't lose your child's zest for learning over checking off the list. Carve out time to study something that is interesting... just because! Reading and study skills are being sharpened without them realizing it! We recently discovered these books. I love books that ask questions to get the reader thinking.
Speaking of asking questions, this is a WONDERFUL series for kids of ages 7 and up. Great questions (some of which I've wondered myself) with excellent explanations!
7. Use your library. I may be stating the obvious, but our library card gets a better workout than a Jillian Michaels DVD. Rotating the books keeps your students interested. Find books that go with what you are studying in history and science. Even if your kids don't read them, make them available for visual learning. Teach them how to do research using a simple book, then when it comes time to do a research paper they will have the skills needed.
8. Rotate learning toys. For those of you who are starting out with young ones, utilize what you already own. Collect the puzzles and learning toys. Store them away and then pull out a handful of "new" games/toys/puzzles each week. You will be amazed at how excited your children will become over a game that they haven't shown much interest in when it was sitting in their rooms.
9. Homeschooling can be lonely. I think this was the most surprising piece of the homeschool puzzle. I am not saying this to discourage you, but no one prepared me for this feeling. Depending on how many co-ops and extra-cirricular activities you are involved in, you may find yourself feeling like an island. There is a delicate balance between being involved in too much and isolation. Because we didn't start out homeschooling, I felt that many of my friends who had children my kids' ages were already well established in their own groups. I found that it was important that I built and maintained friendships that were not necessarily tied to homeschooling. Of course there are fabulous friendships formed through the common thread of homeschooling, but it is important that we do not become an elitist group. I strongly encourage my kids to make friends with kids from various schooling backgrounds. This really helped when our oldest began public high school.
As a mom, I encourage you to be wary of isolating yourself. You are pouring your very being into your children, but one day those children spread their wings and fly. You don't want to be the only chicken in the coop when that happens. (I love chicken humor, don't you?)
10. Enjoy it! The days are long but the years are short. Savor the moments. Do things your kids will remember. Get outside. Take hikes and practice math facts. Spread a blanket out in the sun and read aloud together. Pull out the art supplies and create together. Revel in these wonder years. They are a gift.