Around this time every year, while I’m unboxing the new textbooks for the coming school year, the non-homeschooling moms I know wrestle with the question of their children’s education.
“I’d love to homeschool, but I’m not you.” I’ve heard more than once.
So, you don’t have ADD, a lack of natural organization, and you’re not lazier than snail snot? CONGRATULATIONS! That should make it easier for you. You do struggle with all these things? CONGRATULATIONS! Me too, so I know you can do it!
I’m not a paragon of anything, I’m a deeply, deeply flawed human being and am living proof that even slacker moms can homeschool. If this is something you choose to do, you CAN do it.
So here’s a little advice to get you started:
*Pray. Pray. Pray. And when you’re done, you might do one more.
*Be kind to yourself. God doesn’t expect perfection from you and neither should you.
*Recognize that if you do this, your house may never be up to your current standard of clean again. You have to decide to be okay with that or you will drive yourself crazy.
*Realize that you are not making the commitment to teach your children yourself for the next however many years. You’re making the commitment for THIS year or even THIS semester. Twelve years or more of schooling is too much for anyone to undertake all at once. You only have to teach a semester at a time.
*Know that you can re-evaluate at any time the decision you have made. You haven’t signed any contracts in blood or sold your soul (have you?), so you can always opt for a more traditional education for your children if this isn’t working.
*Don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t working.
*Give yourself and your child a chance for it to work. Don’t give up after 1 week, or even the 4th week when the honeymoon period is over. Be patient with yourself and your student(s). This is new for everyone involved and there will be a learning curve.
*Don’t belittle yourself for “not being patient enough” to homeschool. I’ve learned that patience is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets.
*Don’t belittle yourself for “not being smart enough” to homeschool. Some of the most brilliant women I know never went to college, that diploma doesn’t prove intelligence. Can you read? You’re smart enough. We’re talking first grade letters and math here…if you can’t do that…you should sue the school district that graduated you.
*Remember that you will own the manual. (Breathe a sigh of relief here.) Teacher’s manuals are like magic, they have the answers, the explanations, and very often a script. Did you know they had scripts of how to teach? I didn’t either until I bought my first one. I’ve taught Latin for years without being able to speak it myself. How? There’s a script.
*It’s okay to teach your children at home even if you hate the mess of painting, the thought of arts and crafts make your skin crawl, you actually detest play-doh. It’s okay to hate the mess and limit it to Friday afternoons at Grandma’s house, as long as Grandma agrees to it.
*No teacher will care as much about your child’s success or failure as you do. No teacher. There are great ones out there, heroic even, but they don’t love your child the way you do. That means you have the bigger incentive to see that they “get it.” This is definitely in your favor.
*Not every child is going to “get it” as quickly as every other child or using the same methods. Flexibility is in your corner. Realize ahead of time that that “perfect” math program may be completely useless for your child. Be willing to switch to something else.
*Remember that all children are created equal but different. Completely different. I have a completely literal child who loves worksheets, and a completely creative child who would wither and die if that was all I gave her. Both are thriving on completely different curricula. There is no cookie cutter approach to a child’s brain. This is where homeschoolers excel.
*Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Veteran homeschoolers will usually be happy to help you get started. I can’t tell you how many people who were considering teaching their own kids have spent a day in my kitchen to see “a day in the life.” Some decided it was for them, others didn’t. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself.
*Realize that it doesn’t take all day to teach a young child. Kindergarten may only take 30 minutes to an hour, and First Grade will only take marginally longer. It takes the teachers in school longer because they have to teach things like standing quietly in line and how to take turns at the water fountain. My children already know how to hold my hand and how to get themselves a drink from the sink. We learn standing in line at the grocery store and the post office. Life skills are taught in the schools, but they can also be learned in real life.
*Never, never, never judge one child’s progress by the accomplishment of another child, especially if that child is not in your home. One of the things I’ve learned about other kids’ progress is moms lie.
*You can’t teach them everything, and you won’t. (The schools can’t and won’t either.) I often tell people that my job is not to teach my children information, but to teach them how to learn. The information is out there, it’s my responsibility to show them how to find it, analyze it, and figure out what it all means. If they can recite Plato but don’t know how to use the library, then I will have failed them.
*Set realistic goals for yourself. What is your purpose? Do you want to raise mini-geniuses who go on Letterman or do you want to raise and educate kind, faithful, caring human beings who have the skills necessary to succeed in life?
*Recognize that they don’t need to know all of those things at 5 years old.
*Did I mention that you need to pray? Yeah…you might want to do that again.
Our goal from the beginning has been to raise children who know and love God, are faithful Catholics, and are independent thinkers. We have not found a school in our area which contributes to that end. The bottom line for us is that God has entrusted these children and their upbringing to us and we will ultimately be responsible for it.
That said, we still take it one year and one child at a time. We reevaluate constantly and are honest with what we see. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be a rigid disciplinarian to teach them, or stick to an unbreakable schedule. We are more flexible than some and less than others, but we do what works best for us. This is what works best for us for now, and I’m working on that snail snot laziness of mine. So far my educational efforts have produced 4 scholars who like to learn, ask questions, and look for answers. Thus far, I’d call that a success.
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