by Belinda Bullard
AHEAD Partner Blogger
Hindsight truly is 20/20. If we are blessed enough, the Lord moves us from glory to glory, allowing us to reflect upon our past from a place of knowledge, understanding, and peace. Moreover, His soothing balm of grace and mercy allows us to then gracefully share with others our own missteps in the hopes that someone else will be blessed by what we did and did not do. Having said that, it would be easy for me to consider those earliest years of homeschooling and wince. I could breathe a sigh of relief that it was not until three to four years later when I began to blog and chronicle our days. Through God’s eyes, however, I can recount those days and hopefully bless someone else with my thoughts on five areas that keep our homeschools from thriving in the early days:
- Talking to the wrong people. I should not say the wrong people, but instead, people who either are unfamiliar with homeschooling or people who will not support your plan and your desires for your children’s education. We all have a “go-to” person in our lives—that best friend that knows all of our most well-kept secrets, our parents (if we are blessed to still have them around), or that acquaintance who seems to always celebrate with you any morsel of good news.
What happens when that person responds critically or harshly? For too many of us, we receive their doubt and internalize it, causing us to doubt, too. I am an increasingly convinced believer that there are only two conversations to have when considering homeschooling: one is between you and God, and the second is you and your spouse, if you have one, together with God. Afterward, consider surrounding yourself with other homeschooling parents, who can direct you to all types of resources, before you share your commitment too widely. As I have often said, you are often tasked to speak from a position of confidence about homeschooling long before you have it. Do not position yourself to have to defend your decision, or become the “answer woman” before you are resolute that this is what you want to do.
- Recreating the traditional school experience. Most of us come from a traditional educational experience, whether it is public or private school. If we are not careful, we will reproduce that in our home. I have an associate who often speaks of how she made her sons get up and get dressed to come to the table for school. We have a hearty laugh about it now, but we also know that this scenario, or another like it, is very real for new homeschoolers. So is the mindset that school must happen on five days per week for eight hours per day. Newer homeschoolers are shocked when the school day is over in 2-4 hours, or less for the younger student. Allow your child to set the pace, and if you finish “early,” establish (over time) learning centers around your home so that the kids can continue learning even after the more formal studies end.
- Buying too much unnecessary curriculum. I can remember attending a homeschool community meeting after having homeschooled for only three days. I considered myself fairly well researched in homeschooling approaches, so I was incensed when a veteran homeschooler asked me very cynically, “So, did you buy all Abeka or all Bob Jones?” Past her sarcastic tone, I knew what she was trying to say.
Often in the earliest days, especially for those of us who do not enter the homeschooling arena with college degrees in education, those all-in-one packages are appealing. They take out much of the work of finding customized curriculum for each child, and they generally come with teacher’s manuals that can make even the most fearful home educating parent more confident in his or her ability. Also those packages can be great choices for parents in certain situations. As an example, if your home is being challenged with a pregnancy or new birth, a medical condition that requires much attention, or a work-at-home-while-schooling situation, a packaged curriculum with everything laid out can be ideal. But there is a cost associated with convenience, and saving it might make the difference between a great homeschool year and a frazzled home life with a homeschool dying on the vine.
Another place where dollars can quickly get out of control is with accessories—those manipulatives that will supposedly take learning math to the next level, or those flash cards that have exquisite artwork, or the extra wall charts or lapbook components that are entirely too cute and comfortable to overlook. With the invention of so many homeschool networking communities available and visual tools like Pinterest, there are so many DIY opportunities without ever having to blow your budget. I have four words for you, my friend: buy books, not stuff.
- Allowing yourself to become overwhelmed. I began homeschooling with a newborn baby, a kindergartener, and a third grader who quickly became desirous of a “real school.” Relatives were here (to help with the newborn baby). That was the first year. Then there was the year that we brought home a brand-new Labrador retriever puppy—a puppy that was not housebroken—within a week before school started. Knowing what I know now, I would have/should have done exactly what I would suggest to anyone who is feeling as if homeschooling in the midst of life is too much: scale back.
One of my favorite mantras regarding homeschooling your children is that all a parent needs to homeschool is a math book, a Bible, and a library card. Consider this: every facet of learning flows from a basic foundation of reading, writing, and arithmetic. You might be amazed at what your children will learn about eras of history, grammar, literary analysis, composition, and a host of other subjects simply from reading a good book, i.e., quality literature.
Stepping away from the roller coaster of activities allows you to see that your child’s behavior might improve if he got rest rather than reps. You might revamp the family’s diet with less to do and more time to do it. Where can you streamline?
- Throwing in the towel too early. One of the choicest gems of advice I was told when we began homeschooling was that the first year of homeschooling should always be considered a trial year. If you look at the first year as the year, you can quickly become disheartened. So many adjustments must be made during the first year for all involved, whether directly or indirectly. Your student(s) has to adjust to you as a formal teacher in addition to all the other roles you play. You have to adjust to being a formal teacher in the academic sense of the word. Not only do those who directly teach and learn have an adjustment, but also everyone else has to learn to respect that time. Phone calls, cleaning, and yes, Internet surfing in its many forms must all adhere to your new role.
You also must manage how to get whomever to the doctor, and someone else to gymnastics, and get dinner onto a semi-clean kitchen table while assuring that each kid is learning. None of this happens overnight; like any new family undertaking, it takes time, and it may take several iterations to determine what works for your family.
What piece of advice would I most like to leave with you? Give yourself an education, becoming your first homeschool student. Give yourself a chance to make adjustments. Most of all, give yourself a break. You are learning, too.
Copyright 2013. Used by permission of the author. Originally appeared at Heart of the Matter.
Belinda Bullard is a wife and homeschooling mother of three. Belinda is an author and the owner of A Blessed Heritage Educational Resources, a literature-based history curriculum featuring African-American presence in history, as well as the contributions of other races to American history. A chemical engineer by formal education, she also serves as adjunct faculty for college distance learning programs. Belinda blogs at Simply Belinda and The Blessed Heritage Chronicles.