Begin and End with Prayer
In a recent survey, HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) reports that nearly 80% of families homeschool because of their religious beliefs; it is therefore safe for me to assume that most of you care deeply about spirituality and faith. It is my opinion that all major decisions should be made with wisdom that comes both from the advice of other people and also divine guidance. Without being overly spiritual, I believe that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it, especially as it regards our families. Like parenting, homeschooling requires a great amount of wisdom, and I have always asked God to guide me in this endeavor.
Homeschooling can easily take over your family life if you let it. Once lesson plans are written out, they can rule your days from September to June. On one hand, you should be as organized as possible, having planned each school day in advance, and following your strategy as closely as possible. This assures you will have a great school year. However, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling is to teach children much more than academics! There are times when a family member, a relative, a friend or a neighbor might need help, or there may be a special day that needs to be celebrated. This is when we can teach our kids much more than the three R’s. Temporarily, the priorities shift, but the learning doesn’t stop. On the contrary: this is when your children learn to serve and care for others. Don’t be enslaved to lesson plans: they are necessary and a huge help, but there is so much more to teach your kids.
Seek Mentorship and Accountability
One of the greatest blessings of my homeschooling life was to belong to an excellent ISP called Advantage Preparatory. Run by a wonderful couple (who are now our close friends), APS required parents to fill out yearly Educational Expectations and Lesson Plans at the beginning of September for the whole school year. This may seem excessive, but it actually helped me greatly. Every August, I dutifully planned every day from September to June, laying out a plan to help me stay on track and accomplish what I had set out to do. On the days when life happened and schooling moved to the backburner for a few hours, I was able to know exactly where we were and what needed to be done, albeit later in the week. The plans were checked regularly, which gave me confidence that my children were getting the education they needed. The mentorship offered in APS made me into an excellent planner and teacher, and I am forever grateful. I encourage you to find someone to whom you can be accountable, and who will help you get started. I have mentored many families through the years, and it has been my privilege to introduce them to homeschooling and encourage them in their journey.
Set Clear Expectations
My homeschooling tactics changed dramatically when I implemented this element. Before the beginning of each school year, I took the time to write down academic expectations for each subject, and not just because our ISP required it. This exercise provided a clear road ahead: what would they learn by the end of the year in English? Which books would they read? Which science experiments would be performed? It’s like putting together the outlining pieces of a puzzle. But I also focused on other expectations beyond academics. For each one of my children, I took the time to ponder how I could help them grow spiritually and emotionally, with compassion for others. Then I wrote down several opportunities or activities that would help them achieve those character traits. In a real sense, I planned to facilitate who my children would become as well as what they would know at the end of each school year.
Understand Learning Styles
Although I am not an expert in Learning Styles, this is an area often ignored by new homeschooling parents. It is very important to know how your children learn, especially for early elementary grades. If your son is an auditory learner, you want to make sure to include several ways he can listen to new information. If your daughter is a visual learner, provide her with opportunities to see what is being taught. Some children thrive on filling out worksheets; others hate it. Some are so creative that they will learn best is you make it into a game.
Unfortunately, most people stop here. Another important element is YOUR learning and teaching style. Do YOU like worksheets better than games? If so, you will likely choose a curriculum that suits your liking more than your child’s. There has to be a balance of both in order to maximize your children’s strengths while helping them in their weaknesses.
The freedom to choose curricula is another wonderful benefit of homeschooling. Traditional schools will separate each subject in its own category, whereby students move from reading Shakespeare to learning about WWII and writing about their summer vacation–perhaps all in the same school day! By integrating as many subjects as possible, a child will retain so much more, and will be able to think about an event from different perspectives. For instance, when I teach American History, I make sure the events correspond to works in American Literature, Art, Geography, etc. I try to find board games, movies, and field trips that will reinforce what they are learning. Then, the kids may have to act out a play or make an oral presentation that will show how much they understand. This can be done all through high school, and has proven to be one of the most effective teaching methods.
Integrating curricula also means teaching the same subject matter to multiple siblings. Older kids can read out loud to younger ones, and even explain what they are learning to them. When performing science experiments, older students can easily involve their younger siblings, as the process of learning also includes teaching others. It is amazing how much younger siblings retain when their big brother or sister teaches them something new!
As your circle of homeschooling friends grows, you will be amazed to find out how many parents are willing to teach a specific subject with passion and integrity. While you remain the main teacher of your child, another adult can come alongside and help you. For instance, I am not a math teacher, and I know it! When my children finished Geometry, I knew I had to find someone to help them, especially since one of my daughters wanted to become a doctor. So I bartered classes: I taught English, and my friend (an engineer) helped my daughter with Algebra 2. We both enjoyed our respective subjects, and both our children benefitted in more than one way. Don’t be afraid to volunteer to teach other kids: find something you do well (cooking, exercise, drawing, painting, music, chess, knitting – the list is nearly endless), and offer your services in exchange for whatever you are less confident. My daughters took a sewing class with one mother, in exchange for French tutoring for her daughter! Once again, the benefits for everyone involved will go beyond mere academics as children find new friends, you begin new friendships, and the socialization question will become moot ☺.
During our homeschooling years, we were fortunate to have my mother living close to us. My children have always been intrigued by her stories of surviving WWII in Northern Italy, and she has graciously told them dozens of times. My mother is also an artist and taught my kids to draw, paint, knit, crochet, plant vegetables, cook Italian food, understand Italian and French, and so much more. My father-in-law has also recounted his war efforts in France when he was a young soldier, becoming the go-to veteran for many school projects.
Grandparents can be a wealth of information and inspiration for your homeschooled children, as can be other relatives or close friends. I encourage you to let your children learn from people who know and love them, and who have much to contribute to their education. From the youngest student to the high school senior, kids will learn a great deal about life through these encounters.
Embrace Your New Identity!
I encourage you to embrace your new identity as a homeschooling family: it is not what you do, but who you are. Homeschooling cannot be something you do from 9am to 2pm, and you are not a teacher with working hours. Learning at home does not end in the afternoon; it must become part of the fabric of your family, and be included in practically all of life. It is a big job and not for the faint at heart, but it will be one of the most fulfilling endeavors of your life. I promise.
Plan One Year At a Time
When I began homeschooling, I had no idea it would span twenty-two years and include all my children from Kindergarten to High School graduation. As a matter of fact, I deliberately chose to take a step back and evaluate things every spring, and make sure homeschooling was still the best choice for our family. Being the quintessential type-A personality, I confess that I was tempted to get ahead of myself, and continue planning for years to come. Looking back, however, I know I was always open to change should a better alternative come about. It was also important for me to assess which curriculum worked and which didn’t, and make appropriate changes for the following school year. Remember: you are the one who knows what’s best for your kids and your family! Homeschooling should not enslave you; on the contrary it should open up a vast world of freedom and opportunities for your whole family!
Let’s get started.