It’s summer. The birds are chirping. I have a peanut butter and chocolate coffee cake in the oven and I just read a Facebook post from a friend whose son, upon finishing his first year of school, is morose (isn’t that such a perfect word) at the outlook of 11 more years of education. I found the melancholy description humorous, especially because the antics of said young man keep his momma’s life exciting, but it also caused me to think about our homeschool journey. My oldest is heading into his senior year and we’re still plugging away at this homeschool deal. How did the time pass so quickly? We were just beginning and I was just figuring it out and now he’s looking at the last year. I’m a bit morose thinking we’re nearing the end. I still haven’t totally figured it out, but I’ve learned knowing you don’t know reflects wisdom. When I hear new homeschoolers tell me they know it all and have it all figured out, and don’t have any room for advice or suggestions, then I realize they walk in folly. We all continue to learn along the way recognizing each child is his/her own person with different gifts and strengths.
Every year, I ask my kids if they want to continue their education at home and every year they agree to continue homeschooling. I love our time together. It’s been good. Real good. It warms my heart to think they choose homeschooling over other options, because that feels like success.
If you’re starting out, you may be asking how to make it successful. First, I think you have to define your idea of success. For me, my first priority is to let our kids know they are loved above all else. Secondly, I want them to love to learn and so I set out to make learning fun. Kids want to do what is fun! Here’s a short list of 12 things that have made our homeschool career successful. This is not an exhaustive list, but a beginning.
12 Suggestions That Shaped Our Successful Homeschool Experience
1) Greet your kids EVERY MORNING with a smile, a hug, and in our home, when they were little, a warm cup of coffee juice (chocolate milk). I always wake up before my kids to get the day started. I get ready for them. Seeing them in the morning is the BEST way to begin my day! When they wake up, I look at them with new eyes. When the boys wake, they sleepily walk toward me and hug me (they still do). I tell them I love them more than sunshine. When my daughter wakes, I say, “Good morning Beautiful! I love you!” Speak love to your kids up when you first see them. It builds confidence.
2) I made a decision, sort of a declaration, that our homeschool experience would be more fun than any other educational option. Our family is all about fun. If the activity is enjoyable, we’re on board! If it is painful, taxing, or makes someone cry, then we’re missing the goal. In the activities and field trips I’ve planned, it was my goal to educate and entertain. If an activity/lesson struck me as boring or tedious, we switched it up and made it fun. Be creative!
When our kids were little, I began taking them to museums. Some kids roll their eyes when a field trip to a museum is offered. Creating excitement, mystery, and a game may spark interest for your child. Design a museum scavenger hunt, alert your children to the security, look for bad guys who may try to steal the art, etc. Pretend you’re on a mission to protect valuable art. Practice stealthy skills. Climb into the mind of a kid and find the adventure.
3) I also decided early on that I was 100% committed. I didn’t keep my foot half-way into the public school doorway. I didn’t play games with my kids threatening to send them away to public school if they didn’t do what I wanted (by the way, that’s manipulation and I’m not a fan). I likened our decision to homeschool to marriage. We were in for the long haul. No bailing out when it got tough. I planned to stick by our kids through thick and thin in their education. If they were on board and committed, so was I!
4) If a curriculum doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. I can’t tell you how much I’ve spent on curriculum over the years, but it probably ranges between $600-$1000 per year. What works for one child, may not work for the next or maybe it doesn’t work for any of your kids. Don’t push what doesn’t work, especially for the younger ages. Pushing a curriculum that doesn’t fit your child is like trying to fit a size 6 shoe on a size 8 kid. It will just make your child miserable, which defeats the purpose of learning alongside your child in a pleasant atmosphere.
5) Don’t try to recreate the classroom at home. This one was one of the HARDEST skills for me to grasp. My college degree is in elementary education and I know how to MANAGE a classroom. Our first year I had calendars, job charts, a “homeschool” room, desks, and more. We began our day with the flag salute and the day of the week. I rang a bell for recess. We ate off lunch trays. We started so structured and stiff. I had a wise, seasoned homeschool mom share with me early on that breaking out of the trained teacher mold would be my hardest task. It has been. There have been so many times over the last 11 years that I’ve wanted to play school, but her words echo in my mind. We’re HOMEschooling. It’s not the same. Over the years, I’ve flowed with my kids. Some complete schooling best at the table, some on the floor, some on the sofa. It’s all good. Be flexible. I’ve learned to lighten up on the organized regimen reciting in unison. We’re a family learning together in a relaxed, enjoyable setting.
6) Read. Read. Read. My kids have grown up listening to my voice reading aloud to them. We started with picture books and quickly moved to novels, biographies, other non-fiction. We still read picture books because they delight us, but we’ve also tackled some classic, tough literature together. We discuss it and sometimes have to read the Sparks Notes in conjunction for clarity. Reading classic literature can be so rewarding! Just this morning my 12 year old was reading Little Women and shared with me the definitions for blithe and fortnight. We have new words and she was thrilled to teach me! Read to your kids with enthusiasm. Literacy is a gift, not a chore. When I read aloud to my kids I like to transform into the characters. I add accents and emotion. One of our favorite read alouds is The Indian in the Cupboard. It is well written and you can easily portray the accents of the Cowboy, the Indian and the English characters. After we read a book, if it has a movie, we will watch the movie and compare which was better. After watching Indian, our youngest announced, “I didn’t like the movie! Their accents were MUCH BETTER in the book!” That was one of my most satisfying mom moments. They felt I read to them better than the actors read the lines. Make reading fun! Dive into a good book and bring the characters to life. We’ve laughed and cried over the years as we stepped into the lives of rich characters. We mourn the end of a well-written story and sometimes re-read it to experience it more fully.
7) Don’t stress the mess. Homeschooling is synonymous with organized chaos. I dream of having a tidy home, but when the house is filled with kids and projects, it’s disastrous. Be okay with it. Your kids probably don’t care if it’s a mess, and hopefully your hub won’t either. When learning is occurring, it can get messy. I’ve found one way to tame the clutter is to periodically announce, “Everyone put away 10 (or 20) things!” And then we race! In minutes we’ve put away 40-80 things! It’s quick. It’s productive and in a short time the house is manageable again.
One of my favorite messy memories was when we were reading Farmer Boy and did a unit on popcorn. Do you remember the chapter in Farmer Boy about popcorn? We drooled as we read, craving fresh popped, white goodness. We measured our height in popcorn (rather than inches). We examined popcorn to the fullest. In our home, we prefer stove-popped popcorn. While in this unit, I suggested we watch it pop without the lid on. The kids were excited to see the exploding action. As the oil and popcorn kernels started heating, the kernels began to burst. Fluffy popcorn began flying all over the kitchen. Popcorn all over the counters. Popcorn all over the floor. Popcorn hitting the ceiling. The kids were squealing with laughter!! I was delighted! When it was over, I had popcorn and oil splattered on the walls, the cooktop, the backsplash, the ceiling and the floor. The mess was delightful. We laughed and created a wonderful memory! It doesn’t get any better than that! That’s what we’re about, remember? Fun.
8) Let your kids be kids. Our kids played when others were in school. It is no underestimation to claim we played A LOT! Most of their childhood was spent playing. Research shows little kids are good for about 20 minutes of learning so that’s what we did. We did some school related activity for 20 minutes and then they played. After about 10 or 20 minutes, we’d regroup and go another 20 minutes then play again. While they played, I folded laundry or cleaned up breakfast dishes. I made the most of my 10-20 minutes and they did kids activities: building Legos, playing store, running around outside, riding bikes, etc. We also completely finished “school” by noon until they reached junior high. Our semi-formal school day began around 9 and ended by noon. That doesn’t mean they quit learning. Kids are soaking up information ALL THE TIME. Don’t forget that.
9) Dirt time is learning time. This goes along with playing, but I wanted to reinforce learning away from the books. We spent countless hours gardening, walking trails, looking at insects, watching animals, etc. Your kids are learning. A worksheet isn’t the only way to qualify learning.
10) Don’t kill your kids with worksheets. Just because a curriculum has 30 problems and a worksheet every day doesn’t mean your child has to do it all. When our kids were young, if they mastered a concept, we moved on. We didn’t waste time pounding out worksheets. If they got it, they got it and we were thrilled. Move on!
11) Don’t panic if your child isn’t reading by 4. I get so tired of people saying, “My 4-year old is reading.” Who cares. Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should or shouldn’t. Kids are different. Allow them to be different and don’t put so much weight on things like reading at 4. Sooner or later, most of them level out and are in the same place. One of our kids was not a proficient reader until about 10. I just continued reading to him when he couldn’t. He didn’t realize there was an issue even though I did. Out of concern at about 2nd-3rd grade I had him tested to see if he was dyslexic. The problem with testing at this age is the range is so vast. Normal at 7-8 years old can be anywhere from a non-reader to a proficient reader. He did have some dyslexic reversals, but not enough to flag an issue. I just kept reading to him. I read every textbook and book. Somewhere around 8th-9th grade it all clicked. Now he’s an amazing reader. He reads books I never dreamed of tackling in high school. Don’t stress your kid about reading. Relax and teach him/her to learn to love books. Reading will come.
12) Don’t compare your school experience to public school. Comparing homeschooling to public schooling is not comparing apples to apples. They are completely different entities. Public schoolers make some quality accomplishments. Homeschoolers boast unique feats. Both groups are uniquely different. If your child doesn’t write a creative poem in 10th grade, don’t sweat it. He may have just completed a home remodel. If you don’t have the award winning science fair project, but have a flourishing garden and are taking food to the food bank weekly, you’re doing something commendable. Don’t compare. It steals the joy.
If you’re embarking on the homeschooling journey, there are so many paths you can take depending on the strengths of your family. I have so many nuggets of advice, but a dozen is enough for this morning. Most of all, I hope you gathered you should have fun. Fill your days with love and laughter and you will look back with fond memories.