As you dive into educating your children at home, keep these tips in mind and you'll gain confidence and success.
Homeschooling is now the choice of up to 10% of the population — more than double where it was just a few years ago. I suspect that number might go up even more if the experiment in remote learning goes on much longer in the public schools. I, for one, am thrilled to welcome all new homeschoolers. Our family has been at it for many years now and we love every second of it.
If you’re a newbie and still finding the whole concept hard to wrap your arms around, don’t be intimidated. If my family can do it, so can yours. Trust me when I say that — my children have gone on some wild educational tangents over the years, and with six kids in the house, our school day is one big glorious mess. Currently, my daughter has been in the attic all day building an elaborate dollhouse with cardboard and hot glue, my son is at the piano playing Coldplay’s “Yellow” and singing at the top of his lungs, and the rest of them are outside watching a preying mantis eat a cicada. There’s plenty of academic rigor in our house, but also plenty of free time to explore personal interests.
It’s a big leap to go from a public school to a homeschool but it doesn’t have to be overly daunting. Think about it this way: if your child is seriously unhappy in virtual classes, how much worse could you do by giving them a personal learning environment that doesn’t leave them staring at a screen all day?
Even though no two homeschools look exactly alike, there’s a basic method to the madness. Here are some key steps to consider as you dive in to homeschooling…
1Know the laws
The laws that regulate homeschooling are different in each state. Be sure to find out what yours are so you can stay within the reporting requirements.
2Find a support group
Most of these groups now have a presence on Facebook. The one we belong to offers emotional support, creative ideas, and recommendations about curriculum. It’s also a good way to find nearby families who might be up for a group field trip. Some homeschoolers join academic and social coops or informal groups in person or virtually.
3Set realistic expectations
You’ll never have the same expertise as a trained teacher. That’s okay. You have one huge advantage — as the parent of your child, you know and love him or her better than anyone else can. An important component to education and mentoring is a personal relationship. Set realistic expectations for what you can and cannot teach, ask for help if you need it, and remember that what you are offering your child is tremendously valuable even if you aren’t an expert.
4Create a dedicated space
This isn’t necessary, and often the dining room table is the only place available, but a dedicated space can be helpful. A little schoolroom can curb distractions and draw a line between play time and school time.
5Redefine your goals
The goal of education isn’t high grades and preparation for a high-paying career. Those are side benefits. The goal is happiness. This means that education involves building virtue, character lessons, and exploring different interests. This refusal to adopt a narrow-minded, strict academic discipline might seem to place your child behind when it comes to achievement, but this really isn’t the case. Homeschooled children achieve above the national average on tests. If you focus on education as a means to a happy life, you will have given your child a great gift.
6Let them chase their interests
Education isn’t one-size fits all. Now, even if a child doesn’t like math, that child is going to have to do math. But if she likes reading a lot more, once the math is done let her read! Let her read as far ahead as she wants. Give her a stack of novels and let her disappear into her room for long afternoons exploring fictional worlds.
7Get the tough subjects out of the way first
This isn’t always possible, but there’s more motivation in the morning. Tackle the hard stuff while you still have energy.
Maybe your curriculum isn’t working out. Ditch it. Maybe your child is struggling with a particular subject. Try a different approach. If a regular schedule is getting tedious, take a day and dive down a rabbit hole. It isn’t a failure to try something different. It’s a detour to the same goal.
9Think outside the box
You have time to do anything you want. Your children are unique, wonderful little creatures. Let them be a bit eccentric; no one is around to bully them. Let them be spontaneous. If they become obsessed with horses, study horses. Check out horse biology. Paint horses. Learn about where horses live, how they were bred, and what the culture was like that first domesticated them. There’s no need to follow a standard method if your own unique approach covers all the bases and is so much more interesting.
10Keep a lot of books around
Children will read voraciously if allowed to and if other children don’t dissuade them. I keep our bookshelves well-stocked and strategically scatter piles of books around the house. A few of my older kids have started looking through the choices and are beginning to read some classic novels and biographies. They’re learning and I didn’t have to do anything at all.
11Make faith a part of your day
Now that you homeschool, you have time to go to a daily Mass if you want. You can start each day with a prayer. A class that focuses on religion is vital to forming and educating your children. Knowing and practicing faith is an important component to a happy life.
12Relax and have fun
This is your time to enjoy your children. Teaching will inevitably be stressful at times, but at other times it will be pure joy. Don’t be too anxious about comparing your child to arbitrary standards – each child learns at a different pace and, with persistence, will catch up and may even end up ahead of their peers who aren’t homeschooled. Here’s one of the great secrets of homeschooling – you get to learn with your child. What could be more fun than that?