Well it’s been about seven years since we officially started homeschooling, twelve if you count the lead up years, since we made the decision to homeschool the week Ethan was born and I jumped into learning everything I could about homeschooling with two feet right then and there. No, it’s not nearly as much experience as many homeschooling Mummas, but I have learned a few things along the way that have been invaluable to me, so I’d like to share them.
Firstly a plan of some sort is vital to success. Without goals we’d just wander aimlessly through the year never achieving what we should. The three most important plans I use are my yearly overview, my term plans and my detailed weekly plans. My best days are those that start with a plan to follow, even if we deviate a little from the plan as the day progresses. Never underestimate the value of a good plan!
A routine is probably the next most important thing. At our house school starts after breakfast. The boys expect school to happen on Monday through Friday after breakfast and so they wait expectantly to start…okay, yes I still have to round them up, but they don’t protest too loudly as they expected to do school. They also know the kinds of things our school day will include as we have a routine, not a timed schedule but an expected pattern to our day.
However, a plan and a routine isn’t much use to me if I don’t make school a high priority. School is more important than many of the things I could find myself doing in its place. I think this is one area in which many homeschoolers sabotage their homeschooling efforts. Housework is less important than school so I do only the housework that absolutely must be done in the morning – beds made, breakfast dishes soaking and a load of washing started. Everything else waits until later or on the weekend.
Family and friends have been kindly asked to respect our school time. Just because I’m home doesn’t mean I’m available to chat, visit or drive them places. If I don’t value our school time, my family and friends won’t either and I’ll spend our school time doing others’ favours while my children are deprived of their education.
I also have to be firm with myself as well; sometimes it’s harder than being firm with others. My own interests have to take a back seat to school time. I find that there’s plenty of time in the evenings for my time, or, if I prefer, which I don’t, I could get up with the sun and utilise that time.
As for formal study and work, realistically, I don’t feel that the homeschooling years are the best time for these. It’s leaves mothers spread too thinly and everything suffers, most commonly the children and before long they end up back in school. There’s a time and season for everything and for me, right now, it’s the time for homeschooling, as it’s my priority.
Once I had a homeschool with priority status and a plan and routine, I had to protect it from too much time out of the home. Homeschooling really does need to be done at home. We’ve tried co-op type classes, excursions, and even doing school at the park, and none of them were as valuable as a day at home doing our regular school work. Sure theses outings are nice for a change but they were never meant to be more than icing on the cake. In hindsight I’ve learned to be very selective about the events we attend, preferring to take these outings during our holidays as a family rather than with a large homeschool group.
Errands and appointments are another lure that draws us away from home and school. These, too, need to be reigned in. The way I do it is to keep all errands and appointments scheduled for one afternoon a week, if at all possible. All the to-ing and fro-ing from the home erode into our school hours and undermine our homeschooling efforts.
I’ve also heard homeschoolers tell me that they just need to get out of the house each day. That’s going to be a dangerous habit to fall into and to be honest not a healthy lifestyle to encourage. I know society encourages us to ‘go, go, go’ but I believe the slower pace of life and taking the time to enjoy each others’ company is much more valuable. Perhaps grander outings could be replaced with a walk or bike ride each afternoon. Homeschoolers really have to learn how to be content at home.
Another key ingredient you need for a successful homeschool day is a present, interested and informed teacher (no qualifications required). As the teacher, I need to be there teaching my boys. I can’t be at the computer, on the phone, engaged in a hobby or off deep cleaning the house…at least not during school time. By being present I show my boys that I value what we are doing. Sure they still have some independent work to do, and that increases with age, but there’s still plenty of school stuff that I can be doing at the same time.
As well as being present, I have to learn alongside my boys, modeling the curiosity I want to foster in them. Since I started asking questions and seeking my own answers my curiosity has built. Now I’m even starting to experience that elusive ‘love of learning’ that so many books talk of…and something I never experienced at school (I was too busy loving achievement, which I’ve learned is not the same as learning!!).
As the teacher I also need to be informed and prepared to study and research. Homeschoolers teach; we don’t remove our children from school only to pay other teachers to teach our children. That’s missing the whole point and value of homeschooling, but many are. As a homeschooling mother I have had to learn all sorts of things – like how best to homeschool, how to teach a child to read and write, then Latin and soon Logic – it’s what homeschoolers sign up for, whether they realise and accept it or not. A mother with her sleeves rolled up, a book in her hands and a pen tucked behind her ear is one ready to make this homeschooling thing work well!
No, I haven’t forgotten that much talked about socialisation. Yes, it’s important too but not nearly as important as society will have you believe. We don’t need nearly as many opportunities for socialising as we fear we do. I have noticed though that the more we socialise, the more we feel we need to, which is why I think homeschoolers, straight out of school, desperately clamber for larger homeschool groups and classes to replace what was once normal to them. Sadly, these larger numbers and children not long out of school, foster negative socialisation, and also were the only occasions of bullying in homeschooling that I have witnessed. I am also selective about the children and families that we choose to socialise with, which is another reason why we’ve found large group socialising a negative experience.
Healthier socialising and deeper relationships seem to happen in smaller selective circles. Once I figured this out we settled into a pattern of one or two smaller social engagements a week, aside from visiting extended family on the weekends. The only problem I have not yet solved is how to spend time with all the lovely people we would like to spend time with. I fear it’s just not possible, so we do have to decline a lot of invitations. Socialising is important and should happen, after school of course, but we need to be careful about the kind and amount of socialisation that our children are experiencing.
Notice that I haven’t referred to books or curriculum as vital to a successful homeschool. It’s true. I haven’t…which is hard for a booklover to say! Books are obviously important and spiffy curriculum is a sweet treasure to a homeschooling mother but I don’t believe they are central to success. You see, without a plan, a routine, priority status and an engaged teacher, who keeps her students home doing school, the most wonderful curriculum and books will just sit on the shelf gathering dust, doing nothing of value for anyone. I also believe that with all of the critical factors taken care of, a teacher could put any book to good use and succeed. Which is interesting in itself as the books and curriculum are usually the first things homeschoolers scramble to organise, innocently overlooking the more important things, which set you up to achieve.
So that’s what I’ve learned..aside from seven years of content, much of which I don’t remember from school. Yes, I’m finally getting that education that my parents paid good money for me to receive but never did. And to think that my boys are getting it for free and all within the loving environment of their own home. What a bargain!!