Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unsolicited Advice For Beginning to Homeschool

So, you're thinking about homeschooling?  Awesome.  I'm always up for adding more families to the homeschool community.  Here, in the order that they came into my head, are a few things I think you need to know before you start.

1. Your house is going to be a mess (almost always).  

Seriously.  Unless you are one of those crazy, organized, super moms like my sister, if your house is filled with little people all day, every day, it's not going to stay clean.

Books will be found on every conceivable surface of your home.  Under the couch? Yep. In the fridge? Had that happen once.  In the bathroom?  Duh.  Stacked on end tables and on the kitchen counter? Of course.

Art projects will dominate entire rooms of your house for weeks at a time.  Toys will take over your living room floor.  Laundry will go undone and you will wonder if you will ever see the kitchen sink without dishes in it.

People are messy.  Accept it.  Some people might tell you to just let the housekeeping go while the kids are little and learning at home.  And while that is fine in theory, it is impossibly hard for most people to accept.  My advice?  Let some of it go. Decide what you can live with and what you can't live without and go from there.  If you absolutely must have a clean kitchen before you can work, then clean your kitchen.  If not, let it go.

2. You will hate it (sometimes).

There are days when I would love nothing more than to walk a child the six blocks to our local elementary school and enroll his little butt into the public education system.  These days are usually the days when I'm already tired, hungry or hormonally imbalanced.  Or days when the kids are tired, hungry or in the mood to test boundaries.  Admittedly, those days are fewer and further between now than they were at the beginning of our journey, five years ago.

Now that I'm a little more veteran in this, I have figured out how to cope on those days.  Coping looks like a lot of things in our house.  Sometimes it looks a lot like a nap and other times it looks like a trip to the pool.  It can also look like housecleaning (see #1) or shooting my kids with the sprayer from the kitchen sink.

3. You need to figure out what your homeschooling philosophy is.  

Research.  Learn about unschooling, classical education, co-ops, spirals, and all the other buzz words.  Decide which one best fits with your family.  Try it.  But there's one really, really important thing you need to keep in mind.  Are you ready for it?  Here goes: Be prepared to change 100% of your plan.  Really.  You might think you want to unschool in the beginning and realize six months in that you can't stand giving your kids that much freedom.  Or try a structured co-op and realize that you can't stand being that controlled by someone else.  And you know what?  That's okay. You're not locked in.  You don't even have to wait until next year to change.  You can do what works for your family, even if it's not what you thought it was four months, six weeks or two days ago.  Which leads me to the next point . . .

4. Don't go crazy when the latest curriculum catalog comes in the mail.  

You really don't need all of that stuff to teach well.  Especially when your kiddos are small.  With a few exceptions, most people could teach through elementary school with a library card, a computer, a printer, some paper and pencils.  For my now seven year old, we use a ton of stuff from the library, homemade flashcards, an old abacus, workbooks from Dollar General and a copy of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" that I got on for less than $8.  That's it.  The math workbooks were under $10 total.

My older kids have math texts (we use Saxon) that we are actually able to share with another homeschooling family who has a child a year ahead of my oldest.  Our kids are currently in 7th, 6th, 5th, and 4th grade math texts. We bought the 4th grade book, but have been abundantly blessed to be able to borrow their books for the other years.

Over the years I've bought some other things but generally speaking, I don't think things have been that much better in the years we spent more money.

5. People will question your decision.  You need a plan dealing with this.

It may seem silly, but you will be amazed at how many people will weigh in on your decision to educate your kids at home. I've been asked by Wal-Mart checkers, dental hygienists, my 80+ year old neighbor, public school teachers who understand, public school teachers who don't know me and think I must hate them and the system they represent, waitresses, complete strangers in the grocery store and more about why we homeschool.  Overall, the experience has been positive.  Most people seem okay with the idea for my family but almost all of them feel compelled to tell me why they personally couldn't do it.

I say you need a plan because, well, you do.  It can be difficult to come up with compelling sounding reasons on the spur of the moment, especially if you have just spent the last two hours grocery shopping with four kids in tow, are hungry and have to pee. Knowing ahead of time how you will respond is helpful.  I used to give lengthy dissertations on the benefits of homeschooling to anyone who would ask.  Now, I mostly just say, "Yep.  We do homeschool." And might add in the occasional, "It doesn't work for everybody, but for now it's working really well for us."  That, and I let my kids speak for themselves.  They all love homeschooling and can give their own dissertations on why it's the best way for them to learn.