Saturday, June 8, 2013

What I wish someone had told me when I began homeschooling

This week I had a special visitor, a friend that I first met in sixth grade and have been friends with ever since. She lives across the globe from me now, but has been wonderful to take the time to catch up with me every few years when she makes it home to visit her parents. Because her two boys are away while their school is now in session, she finds herself homeschooling, at least for the duration of their time in the US. She also foresees that it may be the best option for them in the future as they consider a move away from the city. So, she was picking my brain about where I began my own learning once I decided to homeschool my kids.

As she was asking me where she should begin, what everyone should know starting out, what resources are helpful, and whether or not to buy a packaged curriculum, I realized that the answer I have for myself and my family are no good to anyone else. Every family comes to homeschooling for different reasons and has different priorities. With that in mind, I did share some of my experiences with her in case she may find them helpful, but the conversation did get me thinking about what I wish someone had told me when I started out.

You'll have no idea what you're doing when you start out, and that's OK. When I began homeschooling, I was bombarded with questions from family, friends, neighbors and even people at the grocery store. I felt a lot of pressure to have all the answers. Looking back, I think it seems like it would have been alright to say that I was just starting out and learning as I go. Though taking on the responsibility of your children's education is an incredibly important job, there really is room to make mistakes, learn from them, and make adjustments. Because you are the teacher, principal and board of education, you don't have to work through bureaucracy to make drastic changes. If you decide you have made a mistake and are on a wrong path, your course can be changed immediately.

Home education does not always look like school. You do not have to recreate school in your home. Many more learning options are available to you. Learning can happen from books, but it can also happen from cooking, gardening, taking walks through the neighborhood, building with Legos, finding critters in the creek, drawing, sewing, museum visits, putting on plays, writing stories, singing, etc. You are not limited to curriculum, books, and seat-work. In order to broaden your own definition of education, observe your children doing all the things they love to do. Take pictures. Take notes. Pay attention to their learning process and you will begin to see learning in a whole new way.

Families who use a packaged curriculum rarely follow it perfectly. Some parents prefer to be told what their kids should learn, while others prefer to follow their child's lead all the time. However, even those families who use a curriculum often depart from it to some extent. One of the main advantages of home education is the flexibility to tailor the education to the child. So if you choose to work from a curriculum, there is no need to feel guilty if you don't get through every assignment or follow all instructions. 

If you have days that look like complete chaos, it does not mean you are a failure as a home educator. Though I had imagined my beautiful children sitting quietly at the kitchen table absorbed in their lessons, some of my (now favorite) memories of homeschooling when my kids were little go something like this:

I am reading aloud to my children. My oldest is snuggled up next to me, completely absorbed in the book we are reading. My oldest daughter is brushing my hair, braiding it, putting it in pig tails (this is a bit painful at times and hair is often falling into my face, making it difficult to read). I am pretty sure she is not paying attention to the story. My toddler is climbing on top of the kitchen counter for the fifteenth time that day while my infant is in my lap nursing to sleep.

There are challenges that come with playing several roles at once and working with children of several different ages and stages at once. Chaos will certainly happen even to the best of us.

It is perfectly normal to be completely terrified now and then. Doubts, frustrations and even panic happen to everyone on this journey. There will be times you will wonder if you have any idea what you're doing, if your kids are learning anything at all, if you might be ruining their lives, if you should run directly to the school down the street and enroll your children this very afternoon. You really will have fewer doubts and fears as time goes on, as you learn more, and as you get little glimpses into the wonderful people your children are becoming.

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