Our homeschooling journey started when our son’s school suggested cognitive development testing for him. Rather than work with the school system to create an IEP or 504 plan, we chose to homeschool him so that he could receive year-round (not just school-year) therapy to overcome his delays.
Because we weren’t wired for homeschooling from day one, like many parents who choose homeschooling for religious or political reasons, we were like deer in the headlights: totally unprepared. But that didn’t stop us from embracing it.
Whether you’ve planned all along to homeschool or have found yourself at a crossroads between public and private or homeschool, here are eight valuable lessons about how to be successful at it.
It’s your job! You hold your child’s future in your hands.
Once I switched gears and started to embrace homeschooling as my new job, even though it wasn’t gainful employment, I was able to set goals and boundaries that helped us to be successful. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re at home all day without a boss looking over your shoulder that you’re not accountable.
As you would for an office job, get ready for work – shower and dress for success (jeans or sweats, but definitely not Pjs), and start every day on time.
Turn off the television. Record programs for viewing when you’re not at work. Set ring tones on your phone for people you absolutely need to converse with and ignore the other rings. It’s easy to be distracted by callers who think you’re not really working.
Treat your school area as the home office it is. Keep it separate. Designate a place for schooling and contain it there as much as possible. If it’s your dining room table, set it up and break it down every day so that the rest of your life doesn’t detract from the goals you have set for your child.
Know your legal rights and responsibilities. Be sure all paperwork is accurate and submitted on-time.
Check your state and county websites to ensure that you are complying with regulations. Some school districts allow homeschoolers to participate in certain classes or sports. You might want to take advantage of what’s available.
Choose the right curricula. You don’t have to buy a one-size-fits-all program.
You can purchase one company’s math program and another company’s science program.
With so many different types of curricula geared to different learning and teaching styles to choose from, selecting the best fit can be difficult. I engaged the help and expertise of fellow homeschoolers to select curricula by asking them to bring their favorite materials to share and explain why they liked it. We created wonderful opportunities to see and touch which brands worked for us.
When purchasing curricula, be mindful of the return policy, so you don’t miss out on a refund if you decide to return it. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Plan lessons. Every successful teacher works from a written lesson plan.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed to prepare the night before for the next day’s lessons so my son wasn’t sitting around waiting for me to get my act together.
I was able to determine that for my son it was easier to tackle a difficult subject and then follow it with an easier subject throughout the day. We always ended the day with his favorite subject, which gave him something to look forward to at the end of the day. Plus, ending on a high note put him in the right frame of mind for the next day.
Schedule your time wisely. You have the gift of flexibility; use it to your advantage.
Unlike traditional schools, if your child needs more time to grasp something, you can schedule extra time to work on weak subjects and reward with extra time to enjoy favorite subjects.
Because my son struggled with math, we spent a lot of additional time helping him master a new concept when necessary.
Take scheduled breaks.
Children need to expend their energy. Set an alarm to stop what you’re doing at a certain time and reset it to end “recess,” just like bells that ring in traditional schools. Homeschool recess can be jumping on a trampoline, running up and down stairs, or playing in the backyard.
When driving to appointments, work on Reading assignments, multiplication tables, or practice spelling in the car.
Allow for bad days.
We all have them – adults and children, alike. Skip schooling for a day (or better yet, plan for a skip day every once in a while). Go to a museum, or a movie. Then double up on subjects over the next few days to stay current.
Planning a trip to a local historic site? Read some history aloud in the car or find an audio book that will educate you and your student about where you’re going. Going to a movie? Read about how movies are made.
Look for plays and theatre productions that are relevant to what you’re studying.
Be sure to schedule social time with other kids and also with adults who are important to both you and your student, including adult-only time for you, and Dad (or Mom) time with the kids.
Network, network, network! Take advantage of the wealth of information and expertise your fellow homeschoolers can provide.
There are many clubs and co-ops that are run by homeschoolers, and you can find out about them by signing up for newsletters that post a plethora of information on homeschooling, including clubs, co-ops, conventions, field trips, yard sales, curricula swaps, and much, much more. Try out different clubs and co-ops, but remember you don’t have to stay with any particular group if it isn’t what you need.
As the mother of an only child, it was important for me to learn what tricks and techniques other homeschoolers used for their onlies, so I started a network in my area (by posting an invitation in a local e-newsletter). We had a lot of fun and made lasting friendships while sharing our strengths and weaknesses.
And we did it! Thanks to a lot of hard work and our commitment to homeschooling, our son caught up on developmental delays and academics. When he was done with homeschooling, he went on to a private school for a few years before starting public high school. He’s now a freshman at VCU.