There are as many ways to homeschool as there are ways to be a mother. I am still learning and growing myself, but I am often asked, “Where do I start?” In this article, I would like to share what I have learned so far.
Having met many successful homeschooling families over the years, I have watched them carefully. The main elements I see them all apply are clarity, preparation and dedication.
Write a mission statement. Businesses do this all the time—it helps them know what their goals are and gives them a measuring stick to know if they are successful. Deliberate parents, no matter what education system they choose, can also do this to make sure their children are getting the education that is best for them.
What is the purpose of an education to you? What does it look like? How will you know if it is successful? Are you focused on Ivy league preparation or a particular talent (music, science, sports, etc.)? Is your goal just to get them through thirteen years? Is it to teach them life skills or prepare them for a career? Only you can answer these questions, and the answers might be different for each child. This is the foundation against which you will examine everything else.
Warning: this will take some time. I recommend reading as many books and resources as you can find in order to answer these questions for your family and situation:
Legal: What are the homeschool laws in your state or government? What do you need to do to comply with them?
Philosophy: There are a variety of philosophies for homeschooling, and you need to know the best one(s) for your family. Is it classical, Charlotte Mason, unit studies, unschooling, or others? Which fits best with your lifestyle, time constraints and circumstances? What does your family enjoy?
Curriculum: Once you pin down your philosophy, then start looking at curricula or even making your own. The options are literally endless. Instead of allowing yourself to be discouraged about this, try to be excited! And remember, you will probably not get it right the first time, or even the second. Usually one size or one box does not fit all—that is probably one reason why you considered homeschooling in the first place. Most people I know pick and choose between different curriculum companies for different subjects.
Time Use/ Practicality: Now look at how this will work in everyday life. When will you do what? Who needs help with what and when? I love time-mapping for this. I get a daily and weekly calendar and write down what everyone does and at what time. For example, Katie needs my help with math, so I will make sure that Gideon is practicing the piano at that time, because he doesn’t need me for that.
You also might want to consider what subjects you can do together as a family. For example, we do science, history and art together—I just assign more or less depending upon age. Other questions you might ask yourself are: What are your toddlers doing? Do you have a plan for them, so they get the attention they need and don’t interrupt? When is your weekly or daily prep time? Do you have a yearly calendar showing when you will start, stop and have breaks, ensuring that you can finish all of your curriculum and school goals? I don’t mean to say that you need to have everything planned for every minute of the day, but at least have a rough schedule that you try to stick to.
The Power of Moms M.O.M. program (M.O.M.) is extremely helpful as you try to stay organized, get school done, and still get the house clean and dinner made without going crazy. I put school into our daily “Routines and Responsibilities” category in my M.O.M. program. Research, teacher development, etc. go into my “other projects” folder.
Mentors/ Extra Help: Please remember—no one needs to homeschool alone. (And no one should!)
- Attend homeschool conferences and learn from some of the best. The resources are enormous. Often recordings and magazine subscriptions are also available.
- Find a local mother who homeschools and with whom you feel comfortable speaking. Most moms I know love to “talk shop,” lend curriculum, give ideas or just listen to you vent about still doing math at 7 p.m. with your 5th grade son who hates any kind of school. She will also celebrate your successes with you.
- Find a homeschool co-op. My group has about 80 people, and we have had a local NYT bestselling author come speak, visited local artists, national parks and other sites, and held classic book discussions with activities.
- Investigate distance-learning charter schools. Some would disagree that this counts as homeschooling, but be sure to check them out. Your kids still learn at home, but these often provide curriculum, testing, financial aid for buying school supplies, and teachers who can be your “training wheels” and backup. Additionally, they have access to fabulous online private schools such as Williamsburg Academy or My Tech High for free!
I know this can seem like a lot. But really, it gets better. Before beginning school that first year, I spent a long time researching and answering these questions. Now it is much less time-consuming. I simply hold interviews and re-evaluate at the beginning and ending of each year with my children to see how everything is working or if the answers are changing.
My motto is “Be brilliant at the basics,” and I shoot for consistency. In successful homeschooling families, schoolwork comes before everything else. But that does not mean it has to be drudgery; it can be fun and meaningful! Currently, we are reading the classic book Phantom of the Opera, making masks and listening to the Broadway musical. But as you do this, just make sure the basics are getting done.
Being brilliant at the basics–and not the extras–is what matters. Your family does not need a seven-course meal for dinner. Sometimes cereal is just fine. Just focus on doing what is needful until you get adjusted to this new lifestyle.
As you consider or begin homeschooling, please be gentle with yourself. You were given the conviction and passion to educate your children for a reason. The burden of educating them can be very heavy sometimes, and we are prone to compare our worst to the best in others. None of us is perfect, but if we are a little bit better today than we were yesterday, then we are a success. What ensures success in homeschooling? Passion, clarity, preparation, dedication, and a teacher who constantly learns and uses outside resources. You can do this, do it extremely well, and bless your children’s lives. Good luck and have fun!
QUESTION: If you homeschool, what principles and resources have been most helpful to you?
CHALLENGE: Regardless of your educational choices, find ways you can make learning become more of a lifestyle in your family.
Edited by Aubrey Degn and Sarah Monson.
Family picture from Jennifer Brimhall.
Feature image from Shutterstock with graphics by Julie Finlayson.