Sunday, May 2, 2010

Letter to a Brand New Homeschooling Mom

Dear Brand New Homeschooling Mom,

I can’t tell you how excited I am that you are joining the ranks of homeschoolers. When I read your letter asking for the advice of a “veteran” homeschooling mom, it caught me a bit by surprise. In many ways, I certainly do not feel like a veteran homeschooling mom, much less an expert one. However, my oldest child, whom we have homeschooled from the beginning, is graduating this year so I suppose that does make me a veteran!

The first thing I would suggest is to pray, pray, pray. Pray about what curriculum you should order. Pray about your schedule or lack thereof. Pray before you begin each homeschooling day. When you and your children are having a less than perfect homeschooling day, stop and pray about it.

If at all possible, try to attend a homeschool conference and attend as many workshops as possible.  That is what inspired, encouraged and motivated me in the beginning.

The other advantage to going to a homeschool conference is that you can actually look at the curriculum you are considering. It is often hard to tell from catalogs exactly what the material is like. I know I have been disappointed more than once when I thought the curriculum I was ordering was a certain way only to find out it was very different than what I had envisioned. If you are not able to go to a homeschool conference, it might be a good idea to borrow the books from a friend to look at them before you place your order.

There are a lot of good programs and curriculum out there.  It can be overwhelming.  I would suggest doing research and then sticking to what you choose for the whole school year.  Contrary to what the venders may tell you, there is no "perfect" curriculum/program out there. They all have their pros and cons. 

For your first year, it might be better to stick to one company (such as ABeka or Bob Jones) because it is easier to learn one system than several.  Also, complete curriculum programs like that are really teacher friendly and tell the mom exactly what to teach each day and how to teach it.

It is great to listen to the advice of others but what works great for one family may not work for your family at all.  And what they consider a flop, may be perfect for your family.  Just because something that is supposed to be “perfect" doesn't work for your family doesn't mean you are doing something wrong. It simply means that it did not work for your family.

It is better to err on the side of  being too laid back than being too uptight.  Mom AND the children will be happier.  If you miss grammar one day or only do half the math problems on some days, life will go on and your children will still be well educated.

A schedule is a very good tool. We follow a loose schedule in our home. However, be careful not to let the schedule become your dictator. There may be teachable moments that are not scheduled. There are also days when attitude issues will arise (both in Mom and in the students) and need to be dealt with in a timely manner. That is far more important than making sure math time starts at 10:10 AM.

Treat each child as an individual. In some families, every child learns differently. What works perfectly for your oldest child, may not work at all for your second child. And when you finally discover what works for your second child, you will find that your third child is completely different than either of the first two. This has been very true in our family. Some of my children have the “just give me the workbook and let me get this done” mind concept while others want to explore, research and have more hands-on activities.

On the other hand, I have many homeschooling friends who use the exact same curriculum for every single child in their family and that works great for them. Every family is different in this area and I suspect it will become obvious to you fairly quickly if your second child learns well with the material you use for your firstborn. While it is certainly cheaper when you can use the same curriculum for every child, it just doesn’t always work for every family.

It is also important to keep your husband abreast of what is going on in your homeschool. As the head of your family, he needs to know what is going on. Let him know if your son is really struggling with math or if your daughter is having a grumpy attitude about school on a regular basis. Also, be sure he hears the positive, too. Let him know when your child finally grasps a concept she has that has been a struggle for her. Your husband doesn’t need a “blow by blow” account of each of your homeschooling days, but it is good that he knows about the “main events” in your homeschooling. A side benefit to keeping him informed is, that since he is part of your family, but not necessarily as involved in homeschooling as the mom, he may be able to give objective advice or suggestions. Sometimes we moms are so heavily involved that it is hard to see things clearly and objectively.

Proverbs tells us that there is wisdom in many counselors. Therefore, I have sought the counsel of other homeschooling moms in writing this letter and I want to share with you some of the things they have told me

One veteran homeschooling mom (who has actually graduated all of her children) sent me this letter when I asked her for advice:

1. Be flexible! You don't have to do every subject each day.

2. Take advantage of different learning experiences that might come along. Teaching/learning doesn't always come from a textbook.

3. If your child is a little older and is struggling in a subject. Think about "throwing out" the textbook occasionally (or for a while)
Struggles with reading? Pick out a few library books at their reading level that are about something they ENJOY!! Make up your own worksheets.
Struggles with Math? Make cookies for measuring, double a recipe for fractions. Go grocery shopping and help your child determine which is the better deal?

4. Love your kids and HAVE FUN!!! AND don't feel shy about asking other homeschool mom's for help or ideas! :)

Other Moms suggest:

Many new homeschoolers try to get as much "socialization" as possible to counter that argument before it even comes up.  It's a good thing to get together with others, do co-ops and field trips but I really recommend that you try to be home the bulk of the week.  Aim for one day to be the outing day.

Be flexible and go with the kids interests and learning styles. There is no one curriculum for all kids. Enjoy, don't stress.

Relax and take it easy. Don't sweat the small stuff. Be flexible and remember you can teach anywhere at any time. We had a science lesson last night after supper about probiotics. Don't think you have to do every problem/question on every page in every book. Pick and choose. Have fun!! Learning is fun. Do non-traditional things with learning. Studying about earthworms? Instead of the dictionary and internet go LOOK for worms. Find out what your kids are interested in and learn about that together. We tried to find a certain kind of bird my daughter saw, never found it but we had fun looking!

RELAX. Your children WILL learn what they need to, and often, on their own time-table. I have always been astounded when my oldest has done formal testing - I had no idea he was picking up so much. I would imagine it's true for the younger boys, too - I just have never had them tested.

Be willing to make school a way of life. Your house will not be as clean as it used to be, you will not be able to go out to lunch etc. like your friends whose kids are in school. But, you will be spending your day with your kids and enjoy them.

Try to keep it simple!!! Look through different styles of curriculum to see what will work for you and your kids. Don't give up! Put on some soothing music!! Get fresh air often!! Vitamin D is essential! Coffee, coffee, coffee!!!!!!

Avoid buying different curriculums each year. Also, do not push a child too hard when they are not ready. When they are ready for whatever you are teaching, it will come easier.

Don't spend your whole time looking for the "greenest pasture" in curriculum.  Consistent work in one math curriculum is worth much more than jumping all over in search of the best curriculum.

You are the expert on your own child.  Everyone and their sister will give you advice on what curriculum to use, what approach to take, but remember that you know this child better than anyone else. 

Do NOT judge your homeschool experience on your first year.

Sit down and figure out what your goals are for homeschooling. These goals will help you refocus when you need to. They'll encourage you to keep going when it gets tough. When you can't decide on something, they'll help you decide.

Think about what you are like. Do you like everything spelled out to you when it comes to how to do things? Or are you the type that is a natural teacher? Do you have the ability to find something educational around you everywhere you go? Or do you need more organized learning situations for your children? Do you like crafts and hands-on projects? How many other children do you have? How many other responsibilities do you have (work, cooking for a special diet, caring for a sick family member, etc.)? Are you introverted (meaning you need time away from people - especially children - to recharge)? All of these things will determine the sort of curriculum you might use. My needs are completely different from an extroverted someone who has one to two kids, who loves crafts and who has a husband with an 8-hour workday. Your teaching style is just as important as the child's learning style when it comes to choosing curriculum. Chances are you'll need to compromise both somewhat.

Does all this advice seem overwhelming? Please do not feel that you need to remember all of it or even most of it. Did you notice that one of the most common words in the suggestions these homeschooling moms have made was “relax?“ Every family, every homeschooling mom and every child is different. If you are able to glean one thing from this…if even one tiny piece of advice written in this letter makes your homeschooling journey smoother for you…then it has been worth writing.

God bless you as you begin the exciting adventure of homeschooling your precious children.

In Christ


keithsusan said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am just finishing up our second year of homeschooling and have been feeling totally inadequate lately. I needed the reminder to just relax and not worry so much.

keri said...

What a Great Post!!! I really enjoyed reading everything you had to say :)
I wanted to add to what you said about "curriculum" ... You are right,So many out there to choose from and sometimes you order them and they just dissapoint you and then agghhh!!! all that money waisted...I too Defiantly recommened you trying to see the "product" whether thur a convention or friends ect ,before you buy...But,I just wanted to say that Book Curriculum isnt the only option out there..
We personally chose a Online programs , after spending alot of money on diferent book curriculum ..It has a 2 week money back gurantee,Which to me made it that much easier to try it out ;) Its called
The first couple of years can defiantly be confusing..So many options out there for us and thats a good and bad thing kwim ;)
Anyways just wanted to add my 2 cents ,to this very informative post..

domenicl_drapeau060799 said...
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MathewP_Thu22269 said...
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Christine said...

Thank you!! As we wrap up our school year, I needed this to get me refocused as well as looking ahead to this coming school year.
I can see myself coming back to this in July when I make my final plans.