Picture the scene: A desk strewn with papers; its chair piled high with student textbooks and the surrounding area littered with old pens, flashcards and aged artwork. And then there’s me in the midst of it all, trying to make sense of where the past 6 years have gone. As I sift through almost everything accumulated since we began homeschooling, I feel a strange sense of exhilaration – I did it!! I have officially homeschooled a whole stage of education.
Homeschooling is not just “learning” for the children, but it’s a period of growth for everyone – academically, personally and even spiritually. It’s a practical journey as well as an emotional one and if there ever was an apt moment to pause and reflect on my own development so far, it is now. It’s not that I necessarily came to understand the following lessons after so long, but I wanted to acknowledge the top five realisations that I can carry forward and hopefully inspire, boost and encourage your own progression a long the way.
1. Self-belief is everything.
The crippling thoughts of “I’m not qualified” or “Why did I think I could do this?” are not exclusive to parents who are just starting out as I’ve seen it creep in with people who have been doing a great job for years! It can take a single encounter with someone who does not approve of your choices for you to start casting doubt on your abilities and questioning whether you can really homeschool, but sincerely believing that you are capable, competent and intelligent enough is a strong mindset that can set the tone for the rest of your journey. You do not have to be a teacher in the traditional sense – your qualification is your desire to spend time with your children, to be a role model and to see them succeed. That should be your motivation and that is all you need. No one will be as dedicated to their education, and more importantly, character, as you. This self- belief and confidence will shine through your manner and teaching and you will gradually build your own skill set. No one is more organised, adept at planning and ready for all kinds of situations than a homeschooling parent!
2. There is no one size fits all.
In my first year of homeschooling, I scoured the Internet and quizzed friends about resources, timetables and routines. It is always great to research, but the secret behind it all is to understand one point: What works for others may not work for you. You might buy that one resource that everyone is raving about and find that your child is not responding to it the way you expected. Take this as your opportunity to explore how your child learns best and do not be afraid to play around with curriculum and try something different – especially in the early years. Being part of a homeschooling community is fabulous as long as you accept people and ideas as a way to enhance your own experience rather than as a source of comparison. I remember seeing pictures of detailed lapbooks and themed craft activities and wanting to pull my hair out because it looked great, I wanted to do it, but circumstance dictated that I did not have the time! My artistic aptitude is abysmal anyhow, but everyone has their own strengths in jazzing things up in the time they DO have. Once I played to mine, things were much calmer and happier.
3. Everyone is allowed to have a bad day.
How do you even define a bad day of homeschool? We all have them. For me, if the kids missed a planned lesson for whatever reason, I would begin to panic about falling behind. However, always bear in mind that part of the beauty of homeschooling is that we do not have to recreate a 6-hour school schedule to keep up with the curriculum nor do we need to stick to it, so cut yourself some slack when you need to take a day off. I do not think there was ever a year where I “got it all done,” despite my master planning. But we are doing ok. Flexibility is key in keeping yourself sane, especially when something else is going on that will affect your teaching. Kids are allowed to have bad days, too. They may be in a foul mood, need extra motivation or just generally overwhelmed and the thought of schooling is less than attractive. Pushing it when they are like this is just cause for tantrums and tears on both ends. Remember that your time as a family is the most important thing so find the time to connect. Days where you cover no English or maths, but do a jigsaw together, maybe even the laundry, or have plain old conversation is still a day of learning.
4. Play is a subject.
I think Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education, said it best when he stated, “Creativity is as important in education as literacy and should be treated with the same status.” We all know the narration advising us to let our children play for their first seven years, teach them for the next seven and advise for the seven after that, but rarely is it implemented. Hear me out. I am not saying take this literally and do nothing with your kids for seven years, but when I see a tonne of complex sums and worksheets for kindergarteners, it scares me. Young children love to play; it is their language so learn to communicate with it! Making that effort to be fun and creative is worth everything when you see how the learning process becomes quicker and easier with active engagement. Would you believe me if I told you that I would spend at least 40 minutes on a maths lesson from a book with a 6 year old? I look back at that time and wince. What was I thinking?? Thankfully, I remedied the boring textbook approach in later years, but I wish I had spent half as long in play. And things do not have to get incredibly formal after the age of seven either. Yes, there will be a level of sitting down and learning the traditional way, but there is a plethora of blogs, pinterest and instagram accounts to help you inject some imagination to make concepts more enjoyable. Have a google; you will thank yourself in the future, I promise.
5. Learning is for life.
As an English nerd, it was incredibly frustrating when my kids refused to read or started moaning about writing a paper that I had tried to make exciting. Reality check: your kids are not YOU. They will not necessarily like the same subjects or even learn the same way. Part of the process is catering to different learning styles, accepting who your kids are, and then coming to a very important conclusion – learning is for life. It is not just the core subjects you find at school, but it is developing those skills that make a well-rounded individual. Moving away from education as institutional learning to develop lifelong learners is essential. People often ask how they can create a love of learning, but I think the correct term would be how to nurture it. Children are already born with an immeasurable amount of curiosity and the desire to explore and understand. Our job is to encourage this and tap into whatever interests and talent grows from their nature. By virtue of homeschooling, you are creating an environment that supports learning everyday. Your own enthusiasm, example and sincerity can dramatically affect the way your children approach problems, challenges, and simply life.
My journey is far from over, but I am immensely grateful for the experience we have had thus far. Homeschooling is not a smooth, easy ride and I have made many mistakes a long the way, but that is truly what aids self-development. Appreciate those little moments, remind yourself and the kids of how much you have achieved and keep going one step at a time.