My son, Michael, wasn't thrilled about home schooling when we first started. He gave me a month before speaking up, claiming we needed a daily schedule. We should have math at the same time every day, followed by spelling, and then he wanted to go outside for recess.
I did my best to accommodate his request. After a week of using the schedule, I asked him why he was always out on the swing set during morning break, since he hadn't shown much interest in swinging before. Turns out, the neighborhood kids who went to "real" school had reported that the best part of their day was recess, when they went out to the schoolyard to swing on the swings. Mike was trying to be a "real" student.
I think a lot of parents start the home-schooling adventure with the same concerns my son had — and that I also had. We want to be taken seriously. We want others to treat our home school as a "real" school. That desire to be taken seriously can lead to a lot of angst, stress and discouragement.
Having home-schooled four children, I'm eager to pass along a few insights I wish I'd known back when I started — and which would have made the journey more pleasant for everyone involved.
There is a learning curve
I was told repeatedly that the first year would be the hardest. I didn't believe it. I was only tackling kindergarten, after all, not high school physics. Now speaking from the other side of physics, I know that figuring out how to home-school is really the toughest task of all.
The first year is about finding out what works — and what doesn't. Relax and enjoy the process. It's OK to try different resources, schedules and curricula until you find your groove, a groove that you'll probably adjust later as your kids' needs change, family circumstances shift and new options arrive.
Your kids are resilient
Just in case you fear all this trial and error will mess up your kids, the good news is that kids are pretty adaptable. Learning how to adjust and flex is an important life skill. You're just giving them a head start on something they'll need in the future.
Don't pretend you have it all together. Tell your kids to expect the unexpected. Pray for your home-schooling journey. And ask your kids to pray for you.
You are going to miss something
My sons enjoyed teasing me during their freshman year of college, calling home to report on content areas that we'd not covered. I humbly said, "Thanks," and made sure their younger siblings would benefit from the feedback.
We are living in a world of rapid transformation, a world in which the skills our kids need are always changing. That's why majoring in learning how to learn is the best use of our time. Focus on raising independent learners, students who — when faced with a foreign concept — can head to the library, research online or approach their teachers to get the extra information they need to be successful.
Become a lifelong learner alongside your kids. Modeling a love for learning will be a powerful influence on your children's attitudes toward education.
It's OK to slow down
I was always in a hurry with my home schooling, fueled by a nagging sense of falling behind cultural norms. But God has created an inner timetable for each of our kids. Physical, psychological and cognitive development often move forward in fits and starts, punctuated by seasons of dormancy. Kids need time to ponder, to experiment, to rest and to play — even into their teen years. That's how their brains develop; that's how they learn anything deeply.
Support this God-designed process by filling your home with books and resources that pique their curiosity, by building leisure into their schedule and by bringing a sense of playfulness to your home-schooling endeavors. And don't be afraid to extend the time allotted for foundational goals like learning to read or getting the hang of algebra. What matters most is consistency and comprehension, not the pace we you set.
Enjoy the variety
Early homeschoolers didn't have many options. There were few curricula suppliers or and opportunities for co-operative activities. One challenge of home schooling today is sifting through all the choices. There are any number of reading programs you can try, conventions are held in nearly every state, co-ops offer opportunities for enrichment, and even those living remotely can find online support.
For many, the options can be intimidating. We tend to assume there is a "best" answer for every decision — not true. As long as we learn from our decisions and make the needed adjustment, our kids can benefit. It helps them become a bit bolder, and it gives them a healthy attitude toward their own missteps and mess-ups.
Don't go it alone
Early on, I hadn't anticipated the community benefits to home schooling. Now I'm grateful to the women I shared my home-schooling years with. They are still among my dearest friends, and my kids are still close with the friends they made during those years.
The best source of advice and support is will be your local home-school community. These parents know the ins and outs of complying with state regulations. They can recommend the resources that have worked best for them and can keep you abreast of all that's happening in your area. And your kids will likely enjoy home schooling more if they have their own network of support. So seize opportunities to take field trips with others, or join in some co-operative efforts such as music, Spanish or basketball.
Embrace the advantages
As much as we'd like to feel like a "real" school, there's no need to recreate conventional schooling. Home schooling naturally looks more like mentoring or tutoring. You don't have to use materials created for a classroom of 25 kids. Written tests and quizzes are not the only method of evaluations. You have time for projects and performances and the kinds of activities your kids will value in the future. Get out of the house and into the world. With my kids, we did a dozen or more field trips a year. Some were preplanned and carefully built into the curriculum, but some of the best happened on a whim after discovering a notice in the news.
I now enjoy asking my adult children what they remember most from our home-schooling years. Of course, they tease me about the math program that flopped or that history lesson I skipped. But then they list the field trips, the projects, the friendships, the plays, the interesting people we met and the wonderful literature we shared together. Home schooling your kids will certainly give them a different education — but it will be a real education nonetheless.
Debra Bell, Ph.D., is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling and The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens.