If You Find Yourself Homeschooling
To say that school-related decisions this year have been extremely difficult would be an understatement. Between in-person, on-screen, and homeschool, parents might feel like there is no good choice. Nevertheless, choose we must. With deliberation and discernment, every parent must make a decision that is right for their family. Once the decision is made, each parent will work to make this year the best it can be for their children in their particular situation.
Many parents, including those who never before considered the option, will choose to homeschool. Chances are, this feels like a daunting task. Thoughts of curricula, schedules, discipline, and reviews might be swirling through your head. How much is enough? But is that enough? What are the standards anyway?! These are some of the many concerns that came to my mind three years ago when I first considered homeschooling, and they are likely consuming the thoughts of many moms and dads today as they prepare to delve into homeschooling for the first time.
If you’ve discerned that homeschooling is right for your family this school year, may I offer a suggestion? Try seeing it as a silver lining of the Coronavirus cloud. Right now it may feel more like an impending thunderstorm, but a simple shift in focus can transform your outlook. This shift comes from seeing homeschooling as something unique from school-at-home. Don’t worry about recreating a school environment, see your home as the perfect place for your child(ren) to learn in freedom.
As a homeschooling parent, you aren’t constrained by the fastest or slowest kid in the class – your child sets her own pace. The average class size in our country is around 20 children and so systems are understandably set in place to manage that volume of different learners. Even if you have a large family, your homeschool will not exceed that number, and therefore you have the opportunity to tailor your child’s education to his particular needs and interests. Even if it’s just for a year, that sounds like a silver lining to me.
Here are a few suggestions for setting up your homeschool…
Instill a love for learning The number one goal of homeschooling is to help children fall in love with learning. Rather than seeing learning as something that happens only in a classroom, (and so ending at the final graduation,) they become lifelong learners. With this goal in mind, you can choose curricula and resources that are tailored to the interests and learning styles of your child(ren). You teach for the sake of knowledge and not for the sake of a test. A homeschooled child can learn in freedom without the pressures of Student of the Month or a letter grade. These methods of motivation at school are not necessarily a bad thing; they are a helpful tool for assessing student performance in a pool of peers. But grades and accolades simply aren’t necessary with a homeschooled child. A child who loves to learn will grow into an adult who loves to learn. What an abundant life this lifelong learner can lead!
Find your homeschool style There are many educational theories and strategies out there. You can find the one that’s right for you and your family. Every time I hear a quote by Charlotte Mason, I feel like she’s speaking straight to my soul. The Classical Education style also resonates with me. So I try to frame my homeschool with a Charlotte Mason/Classical approach.
Perhaps, like me a few years ago, you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to researching educational approaches. The best book I’ve found for helping find your homeschool style is called Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace by Pam Barnhill. Working through this book will help you shape a clearer vision for what you want your homeschool to look like. It includes synopses of various educational approaches, guidance for a homeschool mission statement, and tools for practical planning.
After you have a vision for your homeschool, you can pick resources. There are out-of-the-box curricula or mix-and-match approaches. There are faith-based and secular options. Search your homeschool style to find resources that are a good fit. “Teachers Pay Teachers” is also a helpful website of resources.
There are also several homeschool podcasts that can help you frame your homeschool and encourage you as you delve in. Some of my favorites are “Read Aloud Revival” by Sarah Mackenzie, “Your Morning Basket” by Pam Barnhill, “The Boy Mom” by Monica Swanson, and “Simply Charlotte Mason” by Sonya Shafer. There are also various podcasts for kids that you can work into your homeschool day like, “Sparkle Stories,” “Catholic Sprouts,” “Saint Stories for Kids,” “Classics for Kids,” and I’m sure many more that I haven’t yet discovered.
Basically, you are not alone as you enter this world and someone out there homeschools in a way that will resonate with and inspire you!
Fall in love with Faith Parents are a child’s primary educators in faith. Much like other subjects, faith can be introduced in an integrated way. This organic invitation to faith will foster our children’s natural desire to grow closer to our Lord. He has made them for Himself. We need only guide them back to Him. When faith is woven into our home through prayer, Scripture, and catechesis, it becomes an integral part of our children’s lives. Practically speaking, you can anchor faith to the schedule of normal life. Pray a Morning Offering at breakfast, an Angelus at lunch, and an Examen at bedtime. Read stories of the saints at storytime and Sunday’s Scripture before school on Friday. Make faith a priority in your homeschool and it will (God willing!) last the child’s life long.
Learning happens through the natural rhythms of daily life As you may have gleaned, learning doesn’t have to be at a scheduled sit-down time. A child can learn measurements by cooking with mommy and hone fine motor skills by building with daddy. A family can memorize poetry or hymns or prayers by enjoying them together throughout the day. One-on-one subjects can happen while an infant is napping. Science, health, art, and geography can all be simultaneously absorbed by going on a family hike and bringing nature journals along.
Learning isn’t just about reading, writing and arithmetic; it’s about becoming the most virtuous person we can be. So spend time training your children in good habits and count that as life-school! For example, my family will be “studying” the habit of Attention this fall. We’ll read stories that involve paying attention and practice focusing our entire minds on a particular task for a particular time. Think of ways you’d like your children (and yourself) to grow in virtue this year and make them a part of your homeschool.
Foster family relationships When we brought my fifth baby home last year, he spent his first weeks of life snuggling and bonding with his big siblings. A thought occurred to me then, “if they went to school, this wouldn’t happen.” Siblings are such a gift to one another, and if the majority of their days are spent in separate classrooms, separate activities, and separate homework assignments, their friendships outside of the home will quickly supersede the ones inside. I’m all about my children having outside friends, but I want their built-in, lifelong friendships with siblings to be paramount. Your homeschool will naturally foster that.
Read, read, read When you don’t know where to start, read to them. When they are bouncing off the walls, read to them. When you want them to be engaged in the subject matter, read to them. When all else fails, read to them. I’ve never met a small child who doesn’t want to crawl up into a parent’s lap and be read to. If this love isn’t reviewed and graded and tested out of them, it will continue into later years. We adults often make the mistake of thinking that a child who can read to herself no longer wants to be read to. In reality, everyone loves a good read aloud…especially if voices are involved! If you spend the majority of your homeschool reading to your children, that will be a year well spent.
Don’t spend a ton of time Learning in short increments with lots of breaks and movement helps children to absorb the information learned. A child will remember a story or history lesson better if he can go play and act out that story directly afterward. This imaginary play solidifies the lesson into memory. The sit-down portion of the day should be minimal with a large part of learning woven throughout the day in play, conversation, and reading.
Learn as a family…that includes mom and dad Grade-specific lessons can be few and far between. This year, all of my children will study Anatomy, Latin, and American History together. The textbooks are on audiobook and so while my 3rd grader will read along and write the facts she learns, my 1st grader will dictate his facts, and my kindergartner will color a picture as he listens (who am I kidding, the 3rd grader will likely color the picture too!) The content will the same for all grade levels.
Every day, our schedule begins with “Morning Time” where we learn the True, Good, and Beautiful all together. This includes things like prayer, feast days, poetry, hymns, virtue training, stories, etc. After Morning Time, we begin “desk work” which includes subjects for individual levels like math, phonics, handwriting, etc. Lastly, the children come back together for history, science, or art. When they learn together, they also discuss together outside of the “school day.”
One of my favorite things about homeschooling is how much I learn! I have cried during more read alouds than I can count. I have re-learned forgotten history facts that give me fuller context for current events. For example, if we hadn’t recently learned about the Black Plague, I wouldn’t have remembered specific saints whose example and intercession I can rely on during our current pandemic.
Don’t imagine a place where its done perfectly No classroom is perfect. No teacher is perfect. No homeschool is perfect. No brick-and-mortar school is perfect. No student is perfect. So don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that somewhere, “out there” learning is happening perfectly, and that that is the standard by which you must measure your homeschool. You won’t do it perfectly, instead focus on doing it the best you can.
Not every day will be a good day Some days the children will be well behaved, and concepts will click, and your heart will be full. At the end of these days, you might feel like you could homeschool forever! Other days, you and your children will fight, nothing will get through to them, and you will feel like an utter failure. At the end of those days, you might be tempted to throw them into whatever school will take them. And that’s ok. Savor the days that go smoothly and offer a heart of gratitude to God in prayer. Offer the difficult days to God too, asking Him to help you stretch into a more patient mother and for His blessing on whatever measly seeds were planted. You can begin anew tomorrow. As one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables put it, “Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
Revel in your child(ren) There is nothing like holding your newborn for the first time, but hearing your child wrestle through reading his first book is a close second. When they write their name for the first time, or make a connection between a virtue and a quote they are copying for handwriting, or a math concept (finally) clicks, or they recite a Scripture passage you worked on together, or exclaim, “just one more chapter” at the end of a read aloud, whatever the moment is, revel in it. In what a privileged place the parent-teacher stands. No mortal being loves your child as well as you do. So no other person can experience such joy at witnessing their growing minds and souls. You may not plan to homeschool forever, but make the most of it while you do. You and your child(ren) will never regret it.