It seems unbelievable that our family is so close to the end of our homeschooling years. We have graduated one student and have two in high school. A lot has changed since that first day in 2002 when an unsure, but hopeful young homeschooling mom gathered up her three children for a field trip to launch our homeschool trial year.
I’ve learned – and relaxed – a lot since those early days of homeschooling. Now that we’re near the end of our journey, I thought I’d share 10 homeschooling do’s and don’ts based on my experience. Your mileage may vary.
1. Don’t knock somebody else’s style. I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again a time or two: don’t criticize someone else’s homeschooling style because you never know when it will become your style. There is a time and a season for everything.
Your homeschool is going to change and grow as you and your family go through various seasons of life. What may seem completely foreign to you now may seem like just the right approach in a few years. As homeschooling families, we should learn from and support one another, not criticize each other. We’ve got the rest of the world to handle that for us.
2. Don’t make your homeschool look like a public school classroom. It’s okay to have a schedule – even a strict one – if that suits your family. It’s okay for to use workbooks or have a school-at-home style, if that suits your family. But, don’t model your home after a public school classroom just because that’s the only educational model you’ve ever seen.
If public school worked for your kids, isn’t that where they would be? Don’t feel that you have to copy a broken model. Make your home a homeschool, not a homeschool. You will get the hang of this. You will find your groove. It may take some time, but trust your instincts. You’re not going to ruin your kid in a year.
3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It may take you awhile to find the style, schedule, and/or curriculum that works for you and your kids. Deciding to change things up isn’t admitting failure. It’s realizing that your first attempt may not have been the best choice for your family.
Change things up. Alter your schedule. Take your time. When you’re doing something you’ve never done before, sometimes it takes some experimenting to figure out what works best.
4. Don’t think you have to jump in all at once. You don’t have to dive into every subject the first day, the first week, or even the first month. This is an adjustment for all of you. Give yourselves some time to get acclimated. Choose to focus on one or two core subjects and something your child really enjoys like music, art, or nature study for the first week or two. Then, add in other subjects, a couple a week, until you’re doing your full course load.
Maybe you’ve found the math and grammar curriculum that you want to use, but you’re still stumped on history and science. Enjoy some great books and videos from the library on history and science topics while you research. The world isn’t going to stop and your child isn’t going to be uneducated if you don’t have every single thing in place on the first day of school. Really.
5. Don’t put your kids in every extracurricular activity under the sun. A big mistake I see a lot of homeschooling parents make is trying to put their kids in every available activity to show how socialized they are. This does nothing but burn you and your kids out (unless you and your kids are extremely extroverted and like being on-the-go all the time).
If you’re signing your kids up for all the things to make yourself and the grandparents feel better about the whole socialization thing, you’re not doing anyone a favor. The people who really care about your kids are going to see soon enough that they’ll be just fine and the ones who just want to argue with you are never going to be convinced anyway.
6. Do glamorize homeschooling. It’s okay to talk up homeschooling to your kids a little bit. Everything from books to TV shows assume that every kid in America goes to a traditional school. It’s okay to show your kids that homeschool can be really cool, too.
Look for books about homeschooled kids. (They do exist.) Go on cool field trips. Take off when the public school kids are at school. The first year we homeschooled, I purposely started a week or two after the public schools just to show Brianna one of the benefits of homeschooling – that we could customize our schedule.
7. Do expect to make curriculum mistakes. You’re not always going to love everything you buy. It is frustrating? Yes. Does it feel like you’ve wasted money? Yes.
However, I’d rather feel like I wasted a little bit of money than stick with something that is clearly not a good fit. Sometimes you can tweak your homeschool curriculum so that it’s not a total loss. Don’t be afraid to do that, but don’t be unwilling to admit a curriculum mistake. We’ve all done it. Chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.
8. Do get involved with your local homeschooling community. The friends I made the first year we homeschooled helped us make it through the adjustment period – through all those moments of self-doubt. Brianna still enjoys a close friendship with the first homeschooled friend she ever made. When you’re doing something radically different, it helps to form bonds with like-minded folks who will encourage you when you’re struggling.
9. Do make learning fun and hands-on when you can. It’s not your job as a parent or a teacher to put on some circus act for your kids. You don’t have to try to make everything fun. However, it’s good to put forth an effort to make learning fun and hands-on when you can.
Having kids actively engaged, enjoying what they’re learning and doing, helps them retain more of the information they’re taking in each day. Think about some of the most memorable lessons you’ve learned in life. How engaged were you in the process? What was it about the lesson that made it memorable? Was it something that you were interested in? Were you actively involved in the learning process? Try to provide these types of opportunities for your kids.
10. Do allow yourself time to adjust. I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s worth repeating. The first year of homeschooling is an adjustment period for everyone, whether you’re schooling a child who’s been in public school for a few years or you’re doing formal learning for the first time with your child who’s always been home.
Your mental image of homeschooling and your reality may be vastly different. It took us nearly four years to really feel like we’d found our groove with homeschooling – and we still lose it from time to time. It’s okay if it takes you awhile to feel like you’ve got this homeschooling thing figured out. You’re not alone. You’ll get there.
If you’ve homeschooled for a while, what tips would you offer a new homeschooling parent?
updated from an article originally published July 3, 2012
This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop.
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.