Ah, September… when thoughts turn to education and new beginnings. We’re entering our sixth official year of homeschool this year. I use the word ‘official’ just to clarify that we’re talking about the arbitrary length of time in a year, during which most people agree that children ought to be ‘educated’. In homeschooling, the lines between education and life are effectively blurred beyond recognition, which can result in some confusion when your well meaning relations ask how long you have been homeschooling.
It seems like it was just a minute ago that I was writing a little post about our first or second year homeschooling with all the idealistic joie de vivre of somebody who has homeschooled exactly one child for exactly one year, and that year was kindergarten.
I love homeschooling. But there is a different understanding that comes after a few years, and adding a few children. The one thing I’m certain of now is that at some point in the future, I’ll look back at 2022 Elizabeth and have to shake my head and giggle at her a little bit too.
Still, since I’m here right now looking back at 2016 Elizabeth, I thought I’d go ahead and share a few thoughts and books that might be helpful for parents just considering homeschooling, or about to start that first ‘dip your toes in’ year.
Three Books to Read
These three books have been instrumental in shaping my view of homeschool and my thoughts about structuring the home learning environment. You cannot go wrong reading them, especially if your children are younger than six, or just beginning school. But really, they are encouraging, inspirational, and instructive, no matter how old your children are.
- For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer MacCauley
- Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
- Home Education by Charlotte Mason
There are so many wonderful books and resources available now about homeschooling, and many more that I would and do recommend. However, that is a post for another day and these 3 books are an excellent place to start at the beginning of your homeschool journey.
Three Things I’ve Learned
- Start with a routine, but hold it loosely.
I have long been a believer in the value of routines over timed schedules, and I think that routines are helpful even with just babies and toddler age children. We have a few timed shifts throughought the day (breakfast time, when we start school, lunch time, etc.) but those few spokes are the frame that the rest of the routine hangs on. Before we start into school, after I’ve done my year planning, I like to think through what our ideal day would look like and build our routine around that. I try to remember to take into consideration several things.
First, the needs of my youngest children who may not be school aged. Second, housework and meal prep. Third, margin or space for regrouping through the day. Fourth, my own exercise, reading, personal development. Last, but really most importantly, the schoolwork we need to accomplish, including independent work, work with specific children, group work, and practices.
Sometimes I have actually written everything out on index cards for scheduling, but more often, I just start with a pencil and a rough 24 hour graph of the day. Write, erase, think it through, repeat, until something seems realistic and then just try it. See how it goes, and be open to modifying it. Because…
- 2. Everything Changes
Literally everything. I remember feeling so discouraged when we were starting into Sophia’s 2nd grade year. In addition to that sweet 2nd grade child, I had a newborn, a toddler, and a kindergartner, and my husband was working 2nd shift. I felt like we could not get anything done. It felt like an impossible juggling act. And it was! But it didn’t last forever. Looking back, I wish I could give that younger, stressed out mama a hug and just tell her it gets better. One day, you wake up and realize that everybody has shifted into a new, slightly easier age. The challenges don’t disappear, but they change and the insights you gain through those difficult seasons shape and guide you into the next stage of parenting.
But all that to say: sometimes, those routines you thought through, carefully prepared, and put into practice will suddenly be not working. What once felt easy and natural, becomes a fight. When you notice that happening, it’s time to reevalute. Figure out what has changed and rebuild your routine. Has a child gone from two naps a day to one? Is the baby walking? Does a child need more attention, or is somebody perhaps chafing for a bit more independent work? Figure out what part of the routine is creating the most stress and start there.
This re-evaluating, razing, rebuilding effort is going to become very familiar. As much as our children grow and change, we and our routines must grow and change with them. The hardest seasons don’t last forever, and good seasons will run into speed bumps and change in the road too. It’s unavoidable, so we just need to be flexible enough to roll with it.
- 3. Keep yourself reading and growing
Even when your children are too young for school. Set up habits of learning and growth for yourself. Even if it is just a little at a time. Even if it is 15 minutes of yoga here, 15 minutes of reading there, a scribbled line of poetry on a grocery list, a sketch, playing music for yourself, listening to a podcast, or watching a documentary… there are so many different ways to add that element of mental stimulation, there is really no excuse. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know! Some days you probably feel like you can’t think straight, let alone have the capacity for building a habit. But it’s worth continuing to chisel away at that hunk of unfinished marble. Like everything else, it gets easier with time.
Remember that you’re not just doing it for yourself. Sure, it may make you happy, and you may feel accomplished on a personal level. It may also feel hard, unsuccessful, and entirely pointless at times.
But it’s also for your children. If you are daring to venture into the realm of education, you are committing to a lifestyle of growth, not stagnation. Not even when your world is full of diapers and sleepless nights and endless repetitions of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!’ When the world feels small and frustrating, take that figurative step outside of yourself and that tiny world you’ve suddenly found yourself in and learn something new-to-you. One can hardly expect children to have a life-long love of learning if they fail to see it’s application in the versions of adulthood they witness every day. As a stay at home parent and educator, you are who they see the most.
Secondly, it is for your husband and your marriage. As much as you both certainly love your children, they cannot be your only topics of conversation. Read the same books sometimes, watch the same movie, listen to to the same podcast, and let the great conversation bloom in your relationship.
The Homeschooling Life
When it comes down to it, this homeschooling life is a rich plaidwork of opposites. We must all find our balance; not just for ourselves, but for our family as a unit, and our children as individuals.