Friday, January 16, 2015

My Homeschooling How To's... So Far

I am surprised by the number of people who are eager to chat my ear off and ask me questions whenever they find out that I've been homeschooling my pre-schoolers this year. Actually, I'm even more surprised that it ever comes up in conversation considering that I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'm one of "those" moms. I actually laughed at myself today when I found myself suggesting the use of coconut oil as body lotion, which made me joke that I am just a chicken-coop away from being a total hippie, holistic, stereotypical homeschool mom! And please don't take offense to that... I think homeschooling has gotten a bad rap in the past and now I know TONS of women who do it (including myself) who are some of the coolest ladies around. And also, don't take offense if you use all-natural everything and/or have chickens because I totally respect that. I just decided that I'd rather have a neighbor with chickens than have my own chickens... but that's just me.

And I'm now waaaaayyyy off track from where I was going.  Sorry.

Anyway, as I was saying, I actually feel quite silly dishing out advice to others when I have only been doing this myself for one semester. And I have to say, passing that milestone felt great! But if I did have any tips or tricks to share, here they are... based on what we've accomplished so far:

Homeschooling is not nearly as scary or intimidating as you think it is. Trust me, the number one reason I never thought I'd do this is because the opinions vary so greatly, and the information out there is endless. Seriously, Google "homeschooling" and you could drown in a sea of a million articles. My advice would be to find someone who you love and trust, and who (in your opinion) is doing it well. For example, I have a friend in the church who has homeschooled all three of her kids from the start, and now the oldest is a junior in high school and the youngest is in elementary. But let me say that they are the three sweetest, kindest, most polite and respectful children I've maybe ever been around. They love Jesus and live it out, and the oldest as a junior, just scored very high on her ACT's, so her education is not lacking. The end-result to me looks something like these kids, so she was my go-to. She gave me lots of great information, ideas, but mostly encouragement. She made a very deep pool seem like it had a shallow-end where I could dip my toes in and get my feet wet. And ultimately, she was the one who told me I could do this and not go crazy. Six months into and thanks to some of her beginning in formation, I have a better understanding of all of the information I can find on the web, so I can better navigate that now as well. I'd say continue to do your research and stay informed, but having a mentor-type person to start makes a huge difference!

If you can find a friend to do this alongside of you, partner up! My number one fear was my sometimes lack of self-discipline getting the best of me. I was afraid that I would let the distractions of keeping up a home (or let's be honest... the distractions of things like Netflix) get the best of me, and we'd all sit around in pj's until Daddy got home from work. It was not a pretty picture of my future. I actually loved taking the kids to pre-school because I had somewhere I had to be, at a certain time, and the kids had to be fed and dressed before then. I need that kind of accountability. Lucky for me, I knew a friend who has kids the same ages of mine who was contemplating the same thing. We had a few "what-if we did this" conversations, prayed a lot about it, and decided to tackle it together. Now I have somewhere to be, on time, four days a week, and my kids have to be fed and dressed before we get there. So do hers... so it works wonders.

Partnering also divides the work-load. Everyone does it differently, but for us we take turns preparing and teaching the lessons every other week. We both stick to the same curriculum, but one week I'll primarily do all of the teaching while she is more of an aide, and then the next week we swap. The really great part about this is that our teaching styles are a little bit different, so the kids get variety. I also tend to be a little more craft and art-heavy (which is ironic since I'm not very crafty) and she tends to incorporate a wider variety of worksheet activities and more books (which the kids love). I will go ahead and say that preparing for a week's worth of pre-school material is time-consuming, so I am thankful that I have this extra week between to prepare. I'm afraid that I would fall behind if I had to do it everyday, every week. On our "off" weeks, or really, just the week when we are not teaching, we make all of the lunches, so we also buy all of the food for that week. I think it's actually one of my favorite things we do because instead of searching my kitchen at the last minute and ultimately feeding my kids hot dogs, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, or whatever I can find at that moment, OR asking THEM what they want for lunch (which is a power issue... and another topic altogether), they eat what they are served, and this usually includes a healthy balance of fruits and veggies, as well as some sort of meat or sandwich. And yes, some days they still do get a more typical kid lunch, but it's fewer and farther between when life gets really busy. 

And the best part about partnering? I have another adult to talk to everyday. As a stay-at-home-mom, you have no idea how refreshing that is! We can celebrate our good days together and lament about our bad ones together, and ultimately encourage each other to keep on going when a week gets rough. I could not be more thankful for that.

Find a schedule that works. When we first sat down to plan out our year, we were fully prepared to do a trial run of sorts and then make changes if needed. My friend's son sleeps in (lucky her!) and before I was pregnant (and before it was in the teens every night!) I usually worked out in the mornings, so we opted for a later start time of 10:30am. We schedule out a block for circle time, morning activities/school work, play time, lunch time, afternoon activities/school work, end-of-the-day circle time, and more play time when the work is all done. We were lucky that the schedule we mapped out in the beginning has worked, but that never means that it's permanent and we will make changes if we need to in the future.

Be flexible. Isn't this one of the main appeals of homeschooling in the first place!? For our family, a major reason we even considered homeschool is because of our hectic schedule and lack of weekend time together. The great part about teaching my children at home as opposed to sending them to a school is that I am aware of what that schedule looks like, when they were up super-late by no fault of their own, or when they are run-down from a jam-packed weekend. When they are acting out or can't focus, I know that some of it isn't their fault, whereas a teacher would have no clue as to whether or not my child was extra tired or did not sleep well the night before. There are days that we fly through everything we have planned with no problems, and days that we just completely punt. It's rare, but it's nice to have that option. There's no point in forcing lessons on kids who aren't in the right mind-set to learn and absorb and it will end up being more of a fight than it's worth. And tomorrow is a new (and hopefully better) day!

Use resources, but don't compare. There is so much good stuff out there... great curriculums, amazing ideas, printable worksheets, creative craft ideas... you name it! Because of this, I actually broke down and subscribed to Pinterest (which many of you know my feelings about!) and I do pretty much only use it for school stuff. Pretty much. With all that is out there, as long as you have a framework, you can find virtually everything you need to teach, and most of it is free! So instead of reinventing the wheel, just use what others have already made and/or done and take the pressure off! But with this comes a word of warning- don't be surprised when your crafts and activities don't go exactly as planned. We rarely have that picture-perfect craft at the end of the day, and I sometimes get frustrated that what was going to happen in my head did not happen in reality. You win some, you lose some... that's really all there is to it.

And finally...
Remember that these are the days, and they're going to go by fast. When I get frustrated that my son wants to speed through his worksheet so he can draw Angry Birds on the back, or when my daughter refuses help with the scissors and pretty much mutilates her assignment, I take a deep breath and remember that someday I am going to appreciate that little imperfect mess of a project. Some day, when they can read and write and stay in the lines, I am going to miss those messy little names written with letters the wrong way. No matter how frustrated I get, or how stressful a day becomes, I remind myself that when they are grown, I will never look back on this time and regret spending these hours with them. They are mine, and they're only mine for a short time in the grand scheme of things, and I am so blessed to have these extra days with them when they could be in school in someone else's care. On the days that I wish I could just go kid-free to the grocery store or pamper myself with a pedicure, I realize that I'll have plenty of time for that later in life, when they are older and have activities that don't include me. But this time, when they're little and innocent and say and do the funniest things, I can never get that back once they're grown, and I'm trying my best to cherish it everyday. I am thankful that they are home this year. I still believe that we'll take it year-by-year and make the best decision for our family each year as it comes, but for now, I'll soak it up, knowing that someday these days will be a very special, fond memory.