Lessons I Learned During My First Year of Homeschooling
We survived our first year!
I can’t believe it’s been a year since I wrote my first article about home-schooling. My youngest son is now in the 5th grade, and I am still on the home-schooling train. It really feels like the time just flew by…sort of.
During this past year we definitely had our struggles and battles. There were those times when I questioned why in the world I decided to home-school, especially when dealing with an unpredictable chronic illness such as lupus. However, I am reminded that it was my son who came to me and asked due to bullying issues at school, among lack of challenging work. Some days I really felt that we were just doing work- worksheets, workbooks, assignment after assignment- to keep up with the required schedule. However, other times, it was sheer fun, and I knew I was doing the right thing.
I wanted to share with you some lessons that I learned this first year of home-schooling, as we venture into our first full week of our second year homeschooling. I’m by no means an expert, and I can only imagine what I’ll learn this year. After all, I am still dealing with chronic illnesses, and I am beginning this second year coming off of some very stressful months of illness.
But for any newcomers out there, I hope these lessons will come in handy as you navigate your first year.
The home-school classroom...at least part of it.
Homeschooling doesn’t look like school at home, so don’t try to replicate a traditional classroom.
Don't get me wrong. You do need to have an area that has been set aside for school, but you don't need the traditional black or whiteboard, and student desk and chair. There is a table for my son's laptop, and his books are on a shelf, within reach.
The dining room table doubles as a desk, when necessary.
Classes do not always take place at home.
Some days we went to the park. Other days we went to the museum. In reality, we rarely did school in our “school room.” Instead, I found ways to integrate learning throughout our home, like painting, or gardening outside. Nicholas loves creating different things using paper or other materials, so we tend to integrate a creative lesson with something he may have seen in a book or a lesson.
Plan ahead, but expect the unexpected.
Before we got started, I had our whole year mapped out. It also helped that the curriculum mapped out for us online.
What I didn’t plan on was having several doctors thrown into the mix of others that I was already seeing. I also had several minor surgeries during his period, which really threw a curve into the plans for school.
Despite our best efforts, real life happens and flexibility is key!
It's helpful to start each week with a plan.
I try not to do any school on the weekends, unless we took a break during the weekend to attend a curriculum-enhancing activity. Most of the time, though, we would just work ahead as much as possible to avoid having to work on the weekends.
Always start off the day with a nutritious breakfast.
You don't need to match the hours they'd spend in school
One of the things that initially intimidated me about home-schooling was the idea of being in "school mode" seven hours a day. This was so not the case. School could basically take place anywhere. Some days we were at the park. Some days we are outside on the porch. School starts a little later if we want....or we can do school in the evening based on how the day progresses. Some days we work ahead. Some days life gets in the way and we fall behind a little and spend some time catching up.
The idea is to plan to put in about 4-5 hours a day to get school done.
Write down the reasons you are homeschooling and review them often.
Honestly, there will be days that you will question your sanity and times when you are ready to quit. There are days when I have felt so sick that I didn't want to get out of bed, but I do, because I know why I am homeschooling....and I know that I am doing the best thing for my child.
However, here are some tips for days when you question your sanity:
If things get too tense, take a step back:
- Plan a fun day.
- Go on a field trip.
- Take the day off.
- Take a week off if you need to (and if you can)
- Remember that the seeds you plant today will reap a great harvest if you do not give up.
- Make a list of why you are homeschooling and look at it frequently.
- Be encouraged that you are doing the right thing for your family.
No traditional homework.
There's a lot of work, but you don't have to deal with homework
Home-school lessons take time, but I was okay with that.
Having a curriculum already planned out online was very helpful.
Homeschooling requires more time from my schedule, but I am able to control the type of work my kids do.
We didn't have to deal with homework. This meant relaxed evening with no homework hanging over our heads, which resulted in movie night or some other family-oriented event.
When my oldest children went to public school, I had to spend hours each week helping them with homework and in those cases, it was often frustrating to try to figure out what the teacher was looking for.
Field trip to Andretti Thrill Park with other home-schoolers
Keep outside activities and commitments to a minimum.
For the most part, in order to be effective homeschoolers, we have to actually stay home. It’s easy for playdates, appointments and commitments to take over your week if you don’t prioritize and protect your school schedule. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but I found it helpful to choose one day a week for scheduling social activities and doctor’s appointments.
Andretti Thrill Park outing....a chance for all home-schooling parents to get together with the kids
Make connections with other homeschool moms.
You may have friends from all walks of life, but no one will relate to your struggles like another homeschool mom. We got to meet all the parents at an orientation meeting, while the kids also got a chance to interact with other kids in their grade.
Speaking to several parents at the recent outing was like a breath of fresh air and a great source of encouragement for me! I realized that each child had their own "secret" challenges, and parents had their own reasons, like me, to home-school. No two home-school situations are alike.
Simplify your systems – don’t overcomplicate things!
Classes are scheduled online
It states what are overdue.
The lessons for the day are planned in advance.
We use a large binder for portfolio items.
Get and use a great planner.
You don't have to be a great teacher...but it helped being a teacher prior to homeschooling.
Having the lessons outlined online made home-schooling very easy.
The curriculum is very easy to follow, as well as the instructions.
If you have no teaching skills at all, you CAN home-school.
Keep good records as you go.
It is very critical to maintain a portfolio with my child’s work in the basic instructional areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. Nicholas also has a flash drive that he saves his work on, which makes it easier to take for portfolio assessments, etc.
Documentation is valuable.
As work is done in one of the many workbooks, it is simply removed, punched and placed into the relevant area in the portfolio. The portfolio is updated daily. You can choose to update at whatever interval works for you.
Don’t fall behind on this or it will come a huge task that you will find very hard to control and deal with (ask me how I know!).
So far this year I have been very effective with documentation and portfolio organization. Part of documenting for us this year has been taking lots of photographs. It has been fun to be able to look back on some interesting projects that we did, in addition to outings that we took.
Sam's House family field trip
Visit to the Museum of History and Natural Science
Don't be a slave to the curriculum.
As a first year home-school parent, I knew that I wanted to have access to a pre-planned curriculum that told me what to teach and when. That was one of the reasons that I decided to do virtual home-school. I learned to use the curriculum as a guide and not a rule of law, although I did stick to the majority of it. When it came to science I complemented the curriculum with a lot of our own experiments There were some things that my son had already done when he was in a brick-and-mortar, so we certainly didn't want to repeat those.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Just because your curriculum schedules Science and History every single day doesn’t mean you have to teach that way. Some days we focus on just science, while on other days we do language arts.
The idea is to do what works for you. If it works better for you and your child to alternate Science one day and History the next, then do that.
Use what works and skip what doesn’t. Focus on your child’s needs rather than just plowing through and checking off all the boxes. After all, I am sure that you are home-schooling because you want to give your child a different and more varied learning environment.
One of the Science experiments that we did early this year.
It’s okay to skip a lesson and come back to it later.
I’ve learned that following a curriculum does not necessarily mean following it from beginning to end. Some objectives may be met earlier than others and that’s okay! As a result of this sometimes we leave lessons and come back to them at a later date.
Realize that you are a working mom.
Recently someone asked me if I worked. I responded, "No," that I was home-schooling my son. The response to that, "Of course you work. Don't ever undermine what you are doing. That is a beautiful thing and you will reap the rewards later on."
I make it a habit to get up a couple of hours before my son. I work on some of my own personal tasks such as painting or writing, start to make breakfast, then take a shower and get ready for the day. I do this when I am going to work, so why not when I am working from home. It gets me in the right frame of mind. My son also gets up and takes a shower, and dresses as if he were going to a regular brick-and-mortar school.
Yes, it is nice being able to have school at home, but there are certain principles that I still adhere to. The bed is spread once you're not in it, is just one of those.
I love drinking coconut water to stay hydrated.
Invest in your home-school.
While many of us are operating on a tight budget, it is still important to invest in yourself. As a teacher, what tools do you need to do your job well? Take into consideration any materials, supplies or training that will set you up for success. Don’t be afraid to ask the rest of the family to pitch in with chores, meals or errands. Relax your standards if you need to, and don’t feel guilty about setting aside time for planning and assessment periodically.
You are not alone.
There are so many supports available to home-schooling families.
- mentor teachers
- Facebook support groups
- local community home-school groups
Self-care is important.
Invest in self-care.
It is also very important to invest in self-care. This could be a simple massage, or just a time-out at the end of the day. Whatever it is that you like to do for down time, do that activity.
- Get enough sleep.
- Proper nutrition is critical for you and your family.
- Have patience.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Set aside time for community.
- Do yoga.
Self-care is important.
You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on.
A trip to the Viera Wetlands
What I plan to do more of this year.....
- Become unplugged as much as possible.
- Watch less television.
- Engage with our computers on a very limited basis.
- Immerse ourselves in more things like:
- classic literature
- board games
- building materials
- art projects
- music, both recorded and live.
- Attend live theater, puppet shows, and festivals.
- Visit neighborhood parks
- Take more scenic walks
- Spend time in museums.
I've made all of these activities extensions of the home-schooling experience.