Just over a month ago, I officially pulled my five-year-old, Little Dude, from public school and began this crazy homeschooling adventure. I never thought I would be the type. I mean, how on EARTH was I going to juggle homeschooling on top of working, fitness, household duties, and Babe’s crazy schedule on top of everything??
Turns out… it’s not so bad. We’re still in the process of getting into a groove and figuring things out together, but letting go of preconceived notions of what school “should” look like has helped a lot. Dude’s behavior has gotten much better already and he’s showing his natural excitement to learn again.
Since starting this, I’ve talked to a few other parents who are on the fence about homeschooling, so I thought I would do a quick list of things we’ve learned so far. I hope these might be useful to other families who are thinking about getting started.
Let it go
As I mentioned above, I had to let go of the idea of what a school day is or should be. The fact is, that looks different for every single individual family. Even two families using the exact same curriculum may have very different school days. What works for me and Dude may not work for anyone else, and that’s okay.
I haven’t purchased any formal curriculums yet, instead opting to “unschool” a bit more, letting Dude drive what we learn about and how he learns, so long as we keep working on the basics of reading, writing, and math. I pull free or low cost printables from sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Simply Kinder. Pinterest and YouTube are great for ideas on specific units as well as free educational resources.
Dude loves technology. He loves his apps and ABC Mouse and MobyMax. He’s pretty handy with a computer mouse and he’s learning how to type. The gamified aspects of ABC Mouse and MobyMax really keep him engaged. He likes earning his tickets and his game time by completing his assignments.
He also loves workbooks. We have a whole basket full of them and he gets to choose one (or several) to work from each day. I let him dictate how long we work from work books, though I choose the pages we work on (he would choose the easiest ones every single time, of course). Usually we only do concentrated one-on-one work from workbooks for about an hour a day.
While I do limit his tablet time to 2 hours per day – which teaches time management, because he’s not allowed to watch Netflix on it until the end of the day, so he has to choose between games early in the day or TV later – he gets lots of time to just play. He builds with blocks, Legos, and Tinker Toys. He spends A LOT of time drawing. One day he spent 2 hours writing little cards and notes to me and Babe, completely on his own, sounding out words and asking for help when needed.
So, he doesn’t spend 6 hours per day sitting at a desk or table. No time is wasted transitioning from class to class or teacher to teacher. He doesn’t have to continuously repeat material that he understands already. He doesn’t have to sit and wait “quietly” when he’s finished an assignment. When he’s done with his work, he moves on. And when he gets antsy and can no longer concentrate, we take a break or move on to something else.
Even some weekends he chooses to work on workbooks or with MobyMax. How many kids in regular school situations willingly do more schoolwork on weekends?!
Our school day probably doesn’t look like anyone else’s school day, but that’s okay, because it works for us.
Establish a routine
Our day starts out pretty chaotic. I’m working on that. My kids are early risers and I try to get up before them so I can start caffeinating and answer work emails before I have to parent. So that has me getting up at 5:30am (ugh) in order to head them off. Most days I’m drinking coffee and yelling at them to get back in their rooms until their wake-up clocks light up at 7:00.
After the waking/teeth brushing/dressing chaos, the rest of the day is pretty routine. We eat breakfast, the three-year-old goes to preschool (preschool homeschooling is definitely not for me), and Dude and I go to the gym, or run errands, or head to any morning appointments, unless we have specific fields trips planned for the day. On Mondays we head straight to the park for a play meet up and then to the library before lunch. On Wednesdays we head home, do a little book or worksheet work, and then pack up lunch for another park play meetup and picnic. Sometimes we stay at the park and do more work or read spread out on a blanket, and sometimes not. Tuesdays and Thursdays Dude has Taewkondo in the afternoons, so we skip the park and head home. We usually do an hour or two of workbooks or worksheets and then have lunch. Every day after lunch, he has free play time while I work. Fridays are a bit more up-in-the air as we try to go on field trips, even if it’s just the two of us, or sometimes they may look like any other day.
This schedule may sound kind of whacky and all over the place, but it’s basically the natural rhythm we fell into. I took care during the first couple of weeks not to try to plan too much. I didn’t want us to have a firm, unyielding schedule that would cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Which leads me to my next tip…
As much as you should find your routine, you should also make sure that routine stays flexible. There’s no point in chiseling your schedule out on a stone tablet and never veering from it. If that works for your family, great, but I suspect like every other family, LIFE HAPPENS, and it will not.
Having this loose sort of routine allows us to mix in things like extra group field trips, doctor appointments, errands, and days where we just don’t want to do school work. Some days we play outside for 2 hours instead of doing any workbooks. Dude is learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. He’s learning traffic safety. He socializes with kids of all ages he’s never met before at the park. He’s still learning, even if he isn’t sitting behind a workbook or a screen.
For me, this is important due to the nature of my work. Doing contract-based projects, I may have very little work going on, or I may have A LOT. Keeping flexibility in our routine lets me move stuff around so that I can get in the hours that I need to get my work done as well.
Get out of the house
A big fear of new or would-be homeschoolers is lack of socialization. I can confidently say that is not an issue. We spend a lot of time at the park and at the library. We do field trips with our local homeschool group. We go to the gym nearly every morning where Dude gets to socialize and play and I get my workout on. He has Taekwondo 3 days a week and is starting football through the Navy MWR at the end of the month. One of the local libraries has Lego Club once a month that Dude just LOVES.
Facebook has been an invaluable resource in finding both local and worldwide homeschool groups. Local groups are great for meet ups, field trips, local activity ideas and resources. Worldwide groups are great for resources, tips and tricks, support, and many have buy/sell/trade pages to get supplies, books, or curriculums more cheaply. You can find groups to fit just about any type of homeschool family: from religious, to secular, to gifted, to special needs, to gameschooling, to specific curriculums, and everything in between. If you’re having trouble finding a type of group that you’re interested in, trying joining a large, general homeschool group and asking, as many groups are listed as “secret” in Facebook to protect user privacy.
I will add onto this that, as new homeschoolers, we are still trying to find our tribe. I noticed that there wasn’t a local playgroup for homeschoolers Dude’s age, so I went ahead and started one. I know Dude is missing having regular friends, and I know I am too, so we’ll just keep getting out there, meeting people, having fun, and I know we’ll find our place before too long.
Learn with your child
This one has really had the biggest impact on me, I think. In letting Dude steer what we learn, he often chooses things that I never would have thought of. Through homeschooling, I have the opportunity to go on field trips that I wouldn’t have experienced without him. He forces me to slow down, observe the world with him and through his eyes, in order to answer his questions or to find out the information that he desires.
Many of our learning “units” start out incredibly simple. For example, we started reading the Young Adult novelization of Captain America. Before we even got through the first two chapters, Dude was FULL of questions about the Nazis and World War 2. I tried to answer as many as I could but quickly realized I was not very knowledgeable on the subject. So, during our past few library visits, Dude has checked out a number of World War 2 books, on everything from what it was like to hide from the Nazis as a Jewish child, to the weapons used on Allied and Axis sides, to the bombing of Pearl Harbor (which will lead to a great field trip considering we’re a stone’s throw from Pearl Harbor), to female pilots of the war.
Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have learned about these things, as they just weren’t on my list of priorities. But, here we are, learning together. His curiosity is contagious and I love that we’re learning new things together. Nothing makes him more excited than telling me a new fact that I didn’t know before.
“Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don’t always know what it is.”
If you take nothing else away from this, take this advice: Have fun with your child(ren). Chances are, you chose to homeschool for positive reasons and, like me, were not having a good experience with another schooling environment. Keep those reasons in mind. Enjoy each other. Bond. It’s ok to take a day “off” from school and go to the movies, or the beach, or spend 3 hours at the park just playing. This time for you to learn together and have fun is more valuable than what any test score can measure.
If you’re on the fence about homeschooling or just getting started, hopefully these tips can help guide you, or at least provide some reassurance. Have some tips or resources to share? How is your homeschool journey going? Jump in the comments and let us know!