So we are almost to the end of our first year of homeschooling, and all of us have survived. I haven’t (completely) lost my sanity, and my daughter and I are still on speaking terms. She may have even learned a thing or two! I know that I sure have, and here are my top 10 lessons.
10. Choosing curriculum is not permanent.
When you begin searching for curriculum, the shear volume of options can be so scary. You begin to feel like the success of your child’s entire future rests on your decision to buy curriculum A or B. False! Choosing a curriculum is a very important decision, but one that can be reevaluated if needed.
Case in point: I tried a reading book that turned out to be an epic failure for my daughter. I should have clued in when my sister offered it to me after warning me that she hated it. We struggled through almost half of it before I realized I could just let it go. Now we have a new book that is SO. MUCH. BETTER. Don’t be afraid to adapt. If you are a perfectionist who MUST finish what you start, please embrace the freedom here. It will be hard, but you can do it!
9. A schedule is a good thing, but don’t let it control life.
By all means, have structure in your days when you can. Have a plan and stick to it when possible. However, if it becomes a source of stress, toss it out and make a new plan! We have used 2 or 3 different schedules throughout our year. Life has changed as my toddler’s nap schedule has adjusted. There was a period of time when I needed a daily nap. (We pregnant ladies like to call that the first trimester.) We have morning activities several times a week. Go with whatever works best for you.
I have found that my daughter’s attention span is much better when she is well fed and has had some free time, but not too much. Get to know what flows best for your kids. Right now, we try to accomplish as much school as we can between the hours of 9:30-11:30 when we are home. It allows us the freedom to play, go to the library, or just rest at home in the afternoons. On days we have morning activities, we start school after lunch and some quiet time.
8. Homeschooling families need community.
I cannot say enough how important it is to have other families to “do life” with. We have two homeschooling groups, one that meets once a week and one that meets twice a month. Both are a source of cooperative learning, problem solving, and relationship building for my daughter. They are also a huge source of laughter, support and friendship for me as her mom and teacher. And can I please emphasize the importance of mom’s night out?!? I think ALL mothers need this. Food, laughter, an excuse to dress up a bit and get out of the house. Alone. With other adult women. Pure bliss.
7. The rough days may outnumber the good days sometimes.
I learned this one the hard way, and I think much of it connects to #5, but homeschooling is hard. Worth it, but hard. The good days are awesome and the bad days are just NOT. This is why I have had to learn that those bad days do not determine my worth (or my child’s!) as a person or a mom, nor should they stop me from pressing on in doing what I feel is best for our family. When you come to expect the hard times, they don’t have nearly the shock factor. You roll with it, do your best, prioritize, and don’t push it. A better day is soon to come. If the bad days persist, reevaluate your strategies. Which leads me to #6.
6. Use the strategies that work best for YOU.
We have a classroom in our basement, but we often do school at the kitchen table. This is what works best for us right now. The toddler loves to play upstairs and the 6 year old isn’t stressing over little sister getting into “her” basement toys while we’re trying to focus on math. I keep our school work in a basket in the pantry. It isn’t what my husband and I had envisioned when we set up the classroom, but it’s what works.
5. Kids grow and mature as they get older.
I’m being totally sincere when I say, “Thank you Jesus!” for this one. Just when it began to feel that we were never going to see improvement in our daughter’s attitude, things began to change. It wasn’t a complete turn around, nor did it result it a perfect attitude of obedience, but it was noticeable. It remains an area of needed growth, but it is very encouraging to see progress. It has shown me that a longer attention span and maturity WILL come, and not to give up on the hard things of parenting.
4. Praise more than you criticize.
As a perfectionist, it is very tempting to expect the same from my daughter and to constantly redirect her. However, nothing makes her face light up or her motivation increase like praise. The more I can give it, and give it sincerely, the better our day goes. There are still those days when she chooses to disobey and I’m not going to be able to give gobs of praise, but it is worth it to look for the opportunities. Kindergarten is a lot of guided learning and not much independent work, so I have a lot of chances while sitting right next to her to observe her progress and efforts.
3. Don’t expect too much of yourself or your littles.
Oh mama, this is a big one! I see its application in so many things, from sports to music, dance, or education. For me, it is easy to think that because I am homeschooling I have something to prove. I must push my daughter to learn more and to learn it faster and earlier, as though others may be doubting my ability to give her a quality education. (No one has made me feel this, by the way!) This is where comparison can be such a trap. I would encourage ALL moms to embrace this truth whether you home school or not. Every child is different, and no one else knows your child like you do. Don’t allow the opinions of others, real or perceived, to make you feel inferior. I caused grief for both myself and my child by pushing her too much when she wasn’t ready. It backfired as my pushing collided with her strong will. We have spent the past few months making up for that by taking the pressure off, and she is beginning to love learning much more.
2. Cherish the relationship building.
Another homeschooling mom shared this with me online several months ago, and it has been such a sweet blessing to focus on. Homeschooling, just like many aspects of parenting, is about relationships. Cherish it, and don’t wish it away by being a slave to your expectations or agenda. Get to know your kids, and let that be a priority. It is my prayer that the relationships I build with my daughters now will be a foundation for a future friendship with them as they become adults.
1. I have a lot left to learn.
While I love sharing these experiences with you, I do so in humility. I know that, even on my best day, I cannot make everything on my list happen. I am thankful for these lessons, but each one has come through difficulty. Most people assume that my years of teaching before homeschooling make me an automatic pro at this. While I appreciate the confidence boost, it simply is not true. Homeschooling is like being a brand new, first year teacher again. I have a frame of reference, but everything is a learning process. I am certain that each new phase after this will involve the same kind of trial and error and lesson learning on the part of both mom and daughter. Thankfully, I can come back to this list and know that tomorrow is a new day.
How about you? What has the past school year taught you about yourself and your kids?