Tricks of the Trade
I have seen several lists of “homeschooling rules”, and while I found them interesting, I have yet to come across a list that covers the points that *I* find relevant. So rather than continue to search, I decided to write my own. This isn’t necessarily a list of ‘rules’ to follow, but more tips and tricks that I think make homeschooling (no matter what your style) more successful – or at least a little bit easier.
Homeschooling Rules, Tips and Tricks of the Trade (by a bona fide homeschooling mom):
- Plan, plan, plan! Planning is key in making sure that you accomplish what you wanted to get done. That’s not to say that you can’t be flexible (allowing for fun or life’s little ‘extras’ that we all must factor in at times), but it does give you a clear starting point, place to stop and evaluate and a goal. That need not be anything ‘major’ – we’re not after little Einsteins with perfect moms or anything, but the last thing you want is to wake up 2 months from now and realize that you’re still in the first few lessons or pages of a workbook (or whatever your primary guide is). You’ll need a planner of some sort – preferably not a slip of paper, but something more substantial. They make planning books for teachers that you can adjust for your own use, or you can make one that you like. If your money or creativity are on a shoestring, even a plain spiral notebook can be used. Planning also allows you to keep track of special events dates (like holidays with special themed lessons, or field trips) and making sure that you set aside a specific time to plan your next (week? month? six-weeks?) will help you to use/try all those neat homeschooling resources that you bookmarked and never got back around to using.
- Establish a routine. They say it takes 20+ days to establish a new ‘habit’. I think it’s more of an individual thing. Whatever your daily grind is, make it simple and easy to remember (or follow at the very least). The cool thing about homeschooling is that you can include prayer/spiritual reflection/meditation/devotions in the morning or whenever it suits you – other things, too – literature readings, poetry – whatever strikes your fancy as being ‘important’ to you and your family. We have a weekly routine that includes some lessons on specific days (history on M&W, science on T&Th, tests on Th, library on W…) and activities on certain days (playgroup on Wednesday, for the summer, we’ll be doing the summer movie club at a couple of local theaters – can’t beat $1.00 tickets!!). That helps keep us on-task during the week, and breaks things up as we go.
- Keep ‘harder’ lessons in the early hours – interspersed liberally with out-of-seat activities. We normally start out with math or spelling, then english/reading and then centers (playtime), and then follow with math or spelling (whichever we didn’t do earlier) and history. No one wants to be trapped at a desk all morning. Doing something that keeps their minds engaged for a bit, then shifting gears so that their body is engaged for a while helps break up the tedium of desk-work (or couch-work as the case may be) and lets them get some energy out. The same rule applies for after lunch, too. You don’t want those full tummies inducing sleepiness when they’re supposed to be concentrating, so plenty of action and movement keeps their energy up and restless little bodies from driving you insane when they’re supposed to be paying attention!
- Just say ‘NO!’ – to people who want to infringe upon your homeschool day, that is. I’m not saying that special allowances can’t be made for special people or occasions. I’m talking about people who think that just because you’re ‘home’ all day means that you have time to do whatever it is that they want you to do. Most people don’t see that – all they see is a mom at home all day with kids underfoot, which for some reason in their minds, means that you’re available for errand-running, volunteering, and whatever else that they deem worthy of your time. Few people realize just how time-consuming and taxing homeschooling can be on a mama. Not only does she have to (on some level; peripherally though it may be) make sure that her kiddos are learning at a similar level (a bit behind, right on-target or a bit (or a lot) ahead), but she also has to familiarize herself with the material she’ll be helping her kids to understand, find said material (if she didn’t buy a boxed curriculum) and break it up into suitable lessons… for EACH SUBJECT – and for EACH CHILD if she has more than one and in separate grades! It’s no small task! So safeguard your homeschooling days/hours of the day. Your priority as a homeschooling parent is to provide/guide/enhance/facilitate your children’s education, not to be the neighborhood go-to girl.
- Play to your strengths as a homeschooling parent. Use what you have and don’t stress over the qualities that you don’t have – focus instead on the awesome qualities that make you (and your homeschooling environment) unique! Sure Janie may (seem to) have more patience, and Sarah is ever so much more organized, and Susan always finds the coolest things to do where ever they go – and it totally counts as “school”… some of that, you can cultivate, but if you’re not Miss Record Keeper 5000, then don’t stress about it! Your kids benefit in different ways from theirs. If it bothers you overmuch, ask your friend to plan a day with you to let you observe, and offer the reverse as well – chances are that the Super Mom you’re admiring is looking in your window with the same envies.
- Don’t be too rigid. Yes, I advocate planning and routines, but isn’t one of the reasons you chose to homeschool in the first place so that you could better LIVE your life, rather than be constantly at the mercy of arbitrary schedules and tasks? It was for us – being able to live OUR life and not the school administration’s was a huge plus. Being able to work our real-life happenings into our learning has been such an added bonus for us – and makes it more applicable for the kids. They see the correlation and it clicks for them. There’s no need to be strictly bound to plans or schedules. When the mood strikes (or tempers flare), taking the day off from planned lessons and exploring the world around you is a great way to re-focus and perhaps more importantly, to re-connect with your kids. I find that when things start feeling too “schoolish” around here, it’s definitely time for an unplanned outing.
- Make time in your schedule for extracurriculars and ‘fun stuff’ like art. Yes, this adds a significant additional time allowance, but it’s worth it! Most large-scale facilities offer group rates or special rates for homeschooling families. If you have a few friends (or even if they’re not ‘friends’ – if they’re willing to GO, then all you really need is bodies…) who can share the fun (and the discounted pricing), then go for it!
- Take time for MOM (or DAD if you’re a daddy-shaped homeschool teacher). One of the drawbacks to homeschooling is that whoever the ‘teacher’ is rarely gets a break – and almost never one that is spontaneous. So take advantage of any and every minute that you can get to yourself. Yes, we all know how absolutely wonderful our little students are, but even full-time teachers get hours each day to re-charge, re-group and re-fresh. Just because you’re uber-committed to your children’s education doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to neglect your own interests.
- Let the kids help with house and yard-work; it’s called “home economics”. Another drawback to homeschooling is housekeeping. Trying to be mom and teacher and housekeeper makes for a long day. Let those little ones do their fair share. I noticed that once we were home more, there seemed to double (at least) the amount of housework that needed to happen every day. Once I lightened my load by letting the kids take over things that they were capable of doing (like sorting and folding and putting away their laundry, sharing dish-duty (which is also a great time for a one-on-one convo with the kid sharing this chore with me)… it made things a lot easier – and help my kids learn how to start taking care of their own things.
- I was going for an even ten, but my mind fizzled out… so you’re only getting nine. Feel free to chime into the comments section with your own best-loved rules!