I just finished a series on “So You Think You Want to Homeschool …” and that got me to thinking about our first year of home education. While it had so many high points and a lot of growing (which didn’t come without the proverbial growing pains!), we also had some really hard times that first year. I was such a perfectionist and I wanted to do this homeschooling thing well — really well. I was really afraid of letting my child down, of failing, of being the very reason he didn’t succeed in life. It seemed his entire future rested on my shoulders. And, I was learning about curriculum and how to get my son to take education in his home setting seriously (children naturally want to play and relax at home and it is something else trying to teach them to shift gears sometimes).
Just to be honest and transparent here, I yelled a lot that first year. I didn’t want to yell. It just broke my heart at the end of a day when I would look back and realize I had stressed out and raised my voice. Again. I spent a lot of time talking with my mentor about this stress and my reaction to it. I prayed about it. I talked with trusted friends. I still yelled way more than I wanted. But, our whole year wasn’t one big yell-fest. We made a lot of progress, learned a lot and got our bearings and had some really sweet times as well. Just the other day my son (who miraculously still loves me after that year) said, “Mom, thank God we aren’t in our first year of homeschooling, huh? I mean that was a doosie.” It was a doosie. So what I want to share here are some of the lessons I learned from that year in hopes that you can avoid some of the pitfalls and get through with a bit more grace than I did on my worst days and have some of the successes we had as well. I can’t spare you your own learning curve, but I can share some pointers to help you as you go.
BREAKS ARE NOT OPTIONAL:
You can always take an hour off, a day off, a week off and your child will not suffer for this break. Take time to become the best you can be, to regroup, to plan, to dream, to connect with your child outside of being his/her “teacher.” These years fly by and we are establishing a foundation from which they will live. To me the atmosphere of our home (beginning with the atmosphere of my heart and attitude) is the most important key to our education. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy – so I need to get my own heart lined up with God first and then I am able to educate (mother) sweetly and patiently and with wisdom. I have heard this called taking a “parent/teacher conference” – public schools do it, so can we. Plan in breaks, but also know when to just take a spontaneous break (when your child is antsy and needs to breathe so they can come back refreshed; when you are about to pop; when you feel disorganized or discouraged). Take the break and get your needs or the needs of your child met and you will come back with much more ability to learn well and even enjoy learning.
Your curriculum is your tool, not your master. There always be more than you can ever cover in a day, month, year. There is no real rule that your child must cover learning about California in 4th grade, or rocks and geology in 6th grade or know the periodic table by age 12. These things are informational and can be taken in when your child is ready – and maybe never. I am not a geologist and I mix up all the names of rocks and their layers all the time. I am a successful, educated woman with a good life. Don’t stress that your child MUST learn some specific fact or bit of knowledge at a given age. It just puts an anxiety into your child and deflates their love of learning. Instead, pick the best books/materials you can find and use them to bless your child. If it isn’t working, try something else. There are things that fit and things that don’t (based on learning styles, ages, temperaments, interests). But overall, never let a schedule or a book determine how or when you educate. (Side Note: we educate with the Charlotte Mason method and use many of the books she used, but I am constantly alert to how a book fits our overall needs and mission. Sometimes a book just isn’t a fit for whatever reason and I have to substitute something else).
Compare yourself with no one. Don’t look at the public school or the private school or your nephew or some expectation you have of what the “ideal” or “perfect” homeschool is. God called you to this. He is with you in it. You can always find someone and think they have it all together – and maybe they even do have much together. That is not you and your family. The more you look upward to God for your guidance and then at yourself for your own strengths and capacities and to each of your children for their needs and strengths and interests, the better you will educate them. I even have found myself comparing to the “ideal” of a given approach and thinking I need to do X,Y and Z of that approach to be good at this. It isn’t so. What is important is doing this the way it fits in your family. Do your best in your home, your way, to meet the needs of your children. Put on blinders as often as you can.
We have so much available now with the internet. Never suffer through a bad homeschooling day alone. Where would I be without other homeschool moms? The right friend in the right moment has saved me from giving up or going insane or burning out. Choose a few good friends who can support you and then return the favor. You will meet lots of moms on this journey. Some will share approaches to education, but not to discipline. Some will share curriculum choices, but their children and yours don’t get along as well as you wish. Don’t fret. God has a few special friends for you in this experience. Remember to be a wife and have friends too – don’t just be a teacher.
THIS TOO WILL PASS
This year will pass. That is both good and bad news simultaneously. It means that whatever you are facing — stress, disorder, overwhelm, lack of energy, illness — will pass and you will get through it somehow. It also means that your children will not be this age ever again. Maybe it is because I know so many women over age 65 that I really know what it means to look back on this time when children are in our home with us. Every one of those women tells me they miss these days — the days we are in right now — and how we need to eat them up because they pass so quickly. Don’t let them pass by while you are fretting over which Language Arts Curriculum to pick. Be sure to enjoy and appreciate and engage with your children every day they are with you. You will never regret having poured into them.
It can be such a whirlwind to try to learn how to do this whole home education thing, but it will get easier and you will get your bearings. Even a previously stressed out mom like me has grown to the point that I rarely raise my voice anymore. I have grown in grace and God has been patient and faithful. God has grown me and He will grow you. You can do this!