Along with many of the GeekMom and GeekDad writers, I homeschool my kids. I’ve been doing it since my oldest was of Kindergarten age, back in Autumn 2006. But now, as my oldest is now almost halfway through her high school years, we’re looking ahead to what comes next. This has also caused me to look back and consider the things I’ve learned during our homeschooling journey. It’s been a wonderful experience for both me and the kids, but has taken some unexpected twists and turns along the way. Hopefully the lessons I share below will save you a few headaches and heartaches.
1. Every kid is different. And your kids are different from you. If you were a whiz at math, that doesn’t mean your kids will be. Once you’ve come to the realization that your kids won’t necessarily learn the same way you did, or enjoy the same subjects, you’ll be able to serve them much better. Fortunately, this lesson didn’t take me long to learn.
2. Flexibility is key. You may have a fantabulous master plan of what you’ll cover during a school year, but if it doesn’t align with the best way your kids learn, or if the subject is presented in a way that doesn’t click with your kids, it is time to change things up a bit. Find different resources, teach a subject in a different way, find audiobooks instead of print ones. Don’t be so attached to your plan that you neglect to give your kids what they need. I’ve had to change things up, in some way, almost every year.
3. You are free to explore local opportunities. So many opportunities come up for learning and experiences that kids in conventional schooling can’t take advantage of. More field trips, special clubs and groups for homeschoolers, quieter daytime library hours, all with (generally) the most involved parents you’ll find. Find a cool science kit that wouldn’t fit conveniently into Common Core? No problem. You can even invite some other kids over and use it as a group. Your kid wants to do Irish Step Dancing for their gym class? Go for it. An educational camp overlaps the school year? Not a problem. Life as a homeschooling family is generally quite flexible, and most opportunities can be taken advantage of.
4. Learning dosen’t have to happen in a classroom. Or even at home. Depending on what state you live in, homeschooling can be extremely flexible and DIY. I live in Arizona, where there are very few rules, and almost zero oversight (for better or for worse). This has allowed us to define school for ourselves, and sometimes learn in less conventional ways. A long road trip in 2011 had us stopping at art and history museums, Civil War battlefields, monuments, many of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s buildings, and Amish country. Experiencing these places in person was much more memorable for my kids than reading about them in a book. And this is just one example of getting out there in the world. Every state has museums, National or State Parks, historical attractions, and the like. Take a field trip and see what you all discover. Or just walk around your neighborhood and study what you see.
5. Kids change. Frequently. Just when you think you have your kid’s learning style nailed, or know in what kind of structure they thrive, you might get to enjoy it for a short while, but then, bam! The rules all change. Children are constantly growing: physically, mentally, and emotionally. That leads to constant homeschooling challenges. You may find that your kid who loved math now can’t wrap their head around basic concepts. Or someone who was self-motivated now needs some more structure. Or, sometimes, kids who used to need a lot of hand-holding through their day begin to take off on their own, and before you know it, they are more active participants in their own education. See #2 above.
6. Homeschooling is freeing. To a point. I’ve been at home with my kids since my older child was born. This led to a natural transition into homeschooling, and also to working at home. I’ve been working at home for years, alongside homeschooling my kids. It means I’m always available for them, and I can arrange my schedule in a way that works to juggle all of my responsibilities. It’s made my life extremely flexible. But it also means I’m always busy. Creating boundaries between work, school, and free time is easier than it sounds. I’m working on it, but it’s always a work in progress.
7. You will make mistakes. And that’s okay. Sometimes you put a lot of work into a lesson plan or curriculum that falls flat with your kids. Sometimes you find the perfect book to read with your kids, and they hate it. Sometimes you think your kids may respond well to a new routine, but they don’t. This is okay. This kind of thing happens to everyone. The takeaway here is to know when to change gears. Don’t keep making the same mistake just because you have a lot of time invested in it. If something isn’t working, change it. But set it aside. It may work better later, or with your other kid(s).
8. Your kids will surprise you. I’ve always known my kids were bright, but you never know which mad skillz will present themselves as they grow. My son’s talents run along the same lines as mine did as a kid, but my daughter continues to surprise me. She is so clever in ways that I never anticipated. She comes up with creative solutions to problems, solutions that are better and more appropriate than I would devise. She is very organized, and already knows that organizing her spaces helps her focus. This is one of the fun things about having more than one kid: every child is a unique combination of their parents’ traits, and it’s fun to see what shows up.
9. You’re more creative than you think. When my daughter was learning early elementary math, I found myself needing to describe some concepts in a number of different ways to help her understand. If you really know a topic, you can do this. I was a good student and remember quite a lot of what I learned in school, but I was also glad to get practice with this kind of creative thinking when my kids were still learning addition and subtraction. Now that we’re up to high school math and other high school subjects, the process is intimately familiar.
10. It won’t turn out the way you anticipate. Perhaps this should have been the first lesson I listed, because it’s that important. If you start formally homeschooling your kids from Kindergarten, your kids are pretty young when you start. You may think that you know the direction they’re headed, but you’re likely to be wrong. You may have visions of their future successes in your head, but this is based on who they are when they are five. Not when they are 18 or older. That’s one reason why you need to be flexible (again, see #2 above). As you begin homeschooling, you start your kids off in a direction, based on who they are and your goals. Maybe they are totally on board with this. But with all of the detours you make due to learning styles and interests and so many other things, you likely won’t end up in the place you thought you would, with any of your kids. My oldest is turning 16 this spring. I love where she’s ended up, but I wouldn’t have anticipated it when she was five.
What big homeschooling lessons have you learned on your family’s journey?