I’ve seen many memes circulating around Facebook – from pee-your-pants funny to downright terrified – on the daunting task many parents are now facing to educate their children from home. I remember feeling scared out of my wits when we first made the decision to homeschool our children – confused, overwhelmed, incapable and bewildered. Now I have a third grader and a Kindergartner at home, and although I still have plenty of moments of doubt, I thought I would share what I have learned in my own homeschooling experience.
1.) Make it your own. Whatever you decide to do, make it work for your family. It won’t look like traditional school, so just let go of that. Regardless of how many years I dream up an idea and reorganize the “school room” to make things look more orderly and formal, we always, always, always wind up at the kitchen table. This is where we are comfortable. Where we can have a glass of water nearby and we can sprawl out all of our books and papers and computers. We can lay down a large map and point all over it with our fingers or little toys meant to represent the British fleet or the armies of Alexander the Great. There is plenty of light. We can all be together. We can get messy and noisy. It just works. It’s just not pinterest-worthy.
2.) Let Your Kids Lead. It helps tremendously to have something of a schedule to your day, and this works even better if you allow your children to have a say in the schedule. If your children are young, would they like to start school with a song or a silly way of counting? If they are older, would they like to say the pledge of allegiance or recite a bit of inspirational poetry? These rituals help signal that school has begun and shift minds over to learning. This happens when your children attend school because they are at school. When you are home, you need something to differentiate between home-time and school-time. If it is an option, let your kids decide what subject they want to begin with. Maybe the easiest? Maybe the most challenging? Letting them make decisions to structure their day will help in gaining their willingness and cooperation. Remember, it’s their education, so let them own that.
3.) Keep Them Busy. The most challenging time in my day occurs when one child is finished and the other is still working. This happens often because my Kindergartner has a much lighter work load than my third grader. When left idle, one child will immediately find a way to extract a source of entertainment from the other – in the form of giggling at nothing, poking or kicking under the table, making disgusting noises, throwing something, or fighting. Sometimes all of the above at once. This always wastes time and makes it harder to get everyone back on track. And it stresses me out. The solution is to have interesting and consuming tasks prepared for the little one. (Be forewarned, this can get messy but it means peace of mind. Here again is another reason to be hanging out in the kitchen). Sometimes I hand my youngest some vinegar, baking soda, dish detergent and food coloring and let him occupy himself with various concoctions that result in fizzing, colorful eruptions. I’ve frozen tiny plastic animals in ice cube trays and let him play with various household substances to see which makes the ice melt faster – salt, sugar, cooking oil, milk, etc – to free the animals. Ive saved up paper towel rolls at let him tape them together to make a marble run. Use your imagination! If you have older children and one finishes first, allow them to draw or read quietly. Whatever they are in to. Maybe they can even play an educational game quietly on their own computer. Just keep things flowing.
4.) Balance the Yin and Yang. This principle is brilliant and after you have spent several days at home hanging out with your kids, you will see exactly what I mean. Yin energy is quiet, introverted, focused. Yang energy is explosive, unpredictable and loud. Children have a need for expressing both. (Even older children, such as teenagers). You have probably witness your kids sitting quietly, completely absorbed in a movie, then an hour later the movie may still be running but they are bouncing on the couch, shrieking and throwing pillows across the room. (Their yin time ran out). You have probably also witnessed them wrestle until it escalated into a fight and both parties collapsed into tears and then a pouting silence. (Too much yang). The secret to a harmonious day is to predict these fluctuations and allow outlets for the energy before it becomes a disaster. I live in an area where we are fortunate to have a large farm and wilderness right outside our door, so I like to use the outdoors as a place of yang energy and indoors as a place for yin. But this is not always the case. When the weather is bad, we may deliberately have a dance-a-thon (yang) right before reading (yin). Or we go outside and observe water insects in the pond (yin) before coming in to a rowdy, science-related balloon racing contest (yang). The key is to learn how much and how long of each form of energy is needed so that the transitions go smoothly. Observe your kids. Get a feel for when enough is enough. Try to spark the idea for transition before you reach the “melt down” point. A bonus to all this is that your kids begin to learn to manage their own energy.
5.) Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. While your children’s school teachers have invested a great deal of time and energy in learning how to educate, you also qualify as an educator. You know your children better than anyone else on this planet. You are going to have the opportunity to witness their learning, see their strengths and weaknesses, watch the light bulb go off. It’s amazing and it will make you feel proud. Trust your instincts. Push when your child needs a bit of encouragement. Back off when they are so frustrated that they are close to tears. Nothing is ever so important that it must be done now, correct, perfect! There’s always tomorrow. Praise your child and tell them what they are good at. Even it they really are not so good at it yet. “You’re such a great listener! Are you this awesome when you’re at school, too?” Instill the belief in their mind, and be amazed at what they are capable of.
Finally, good luck! The journey you are on may be daunting, but I promise you will look back and remember it as a special opportunity you were able to spend with your child. And children grow up way too fast.