It’s fall time—back-to-school season—and many mothers are facing the first day of homeschool for the very first time. Talking to a few of these mothers made me yearn to write to any mother who is in that wonderful and overwhelming position! If you are bringing children home from public school to homeschool, you may be wondering how you’ll ever manage. Maybe this quick how-to will help you evaluate where you are and what you need to be thinking about.
1. Look the Part
Children are used to going to school on the first day of the new school year and seeing a decorated schoolroom, bulletin boards, name tags, and other well-thought-out preparations for the new school year. It really doesn’t take much effort, but in this case, a little goes a long way. For $10 you can easily “look the part.” School supplies are on sale in the fall, which is a good reason to stock up anyway. But the mental fresh start that new markers create makes them well worth the few dollars you spend on them. I like to buy each child a new pencil box with scissors, glue stick, crayons and a few new pencils in it.
If you don’t have the luxury of a school room, the kitchen table works fine. Just make sure there is a spot for each child’s books and supplies. This can be a portion of a bookshelf or just a decorated cardboard box from the grocery store. If you don’t have a bulletin board, you can use a portion of the wall where you will be having homeschool by just cutting out a few construction paper shapes (apples, sunshine, books, etc.) or get them at the dollar store to stick up or post pictures of interesting animals you will study, or write out the words, “Welcome to Homeschool” or “We Love to Learn!” It doesn’t take much time or expense, but you can be sure your children will notice, and they will feel that you really take this new project seriously.
It helps if you look just a little differently too. Fix your hair and put on lipstick, or put on a skirt. That relays the information that Mother feels this is an event worthy of getting ready for. School in session!
2. Have a Plan
It is easy to feel nervous and wonder what exactly to do as you start on this adventure of homeschooling. Even though a plan may be changed many times, it is important to have one. Jot down an outline of what you intend to teach each day, and in what order. I have found that with a family of children that includes 5–8-year-olds, you will have about a 30- to 40-minute maximum attention span. So you may want to plan your lessons or activities in blocks, alternating with something active. When you feel like you are floundering, give your children a 10-minute recess while you pull things back together. A read-aloud story can save even the worst homeschool day.(Keep The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on hand!)
3. Need Books
Obviously, everything you want your children to know isn’t in your head. You will need something to learn from! I start with the basics. Each child needs to have the 3 Rs (a math program, a reading program, and a writing program). From there, you can teach science and history as a Subject of the Day, just using library books if you want. I’ve put my favorite resources into kits by grade: my “All Set for School” Curriculum Kit might be a good place to start in your homeschool.
I also find it essential for each child to have an assignment tool. This can be a student planner, assignment notebook, or a check-off chart—just something to record assignments so that both you and your child can see accomplishment taking place.
4. Find Friends
If your children are accustomed to attending public school or private school, you will find that one of the greatest challenges is the absence of the peer setting. While this is of benefit, it still takes some adjustment. You can help things along by organizing opportunities for them to get together with other homeschooled children. It doesn’t take very long before children that are no longer in public school feel like they don’t fit in very well with those who still attend, mostly because they aren’t involved in all the school stuff (who fought who on the playground at lunch recess, the latest fads and fashions, Mr. Brown’s horrible test Friday, etc.).
The cure for this is to make new friendships that don’t depend on the school culture for conversation. I think often new homeschool mothers get deeply involved in which books to use, lesson plans, and the how-to of the actual teaching and forget that their children are social beings that need to have friendship and companionship to be happy. They will become much better friends with their parents and siblings in homeschool, and that is a great blessing. But, they will need your help in getting together with other children so friendships can develop.
We have met the social needs of our homeschool children in a couple of ways. Some years, we have met with 3 to 4 other families one morning a week for a cooperative school (co-op). Mothers rotate teaching science (complete with experiments) or another subject, and then we have an hour of playing and learning sports.
As soon as our children turn 13 years old, they are included in our teen parties. We invite all the homeschooled teenagers we know over about once a month for a potluck dinner and games. Everyone is welcome and is encouraged to bring a friend. This has been one of the best things we’ve done, as teenagers can feel awkward meeting new friends, both boys and girls.
We put on an annual Harvest Festival (in place of Halloween) and other activities throughout the year, such as performing a play together with other homeschooled children. Although this may sound exhausting, the efforts we have put forth in creating wholesome activities for our children have paid big dividends! It helps children connect with other children with similar values where friendships can blossom. It also fills a void that would be left aching if a child was taken away from the social school environment he is used to.
Homeschooling is a rapidly growing movement and support groups are popping up everywhere that offer field trips, park day get-togethers, and co-op school opportunities. When I started homeschooling years and years ago, there was not much to help moms, but now even the major book stores accommodates homeschoolers with a discount. Do a search for homeschooling groups in your area will bring you all the friends and activities you want!
5. Add Pizazz
You’ve set up a homeschooling spot in your home, you’ve got a plan, you’ve got your books, you’ve found connection to other homeschoolers’ group activities so you’ll have friends for your children. What more could you possibly need to do to make homeschool work?
I suggest that you need some pizazz, some spice, some fun! That is what makes homeschool so unique and exciting! All of us enjoy work that is varied and meaningful. Instead of just practicing penmanship, letter homemade cards in your best writing to be given away to elderly neighbors with a plate of cookies. Instead of drilling the times tables, play multiplication games. Instead of just studying the science unit on fish, catch a fish and eat it for lunch, taking a good look at it in the process. When you teach the math concept of cups, pints, quarts, and gallons, use measuring cups and bottles and learn it with water outside in a hands-on way that possibly ends in a gallon-size water fight. That is the beauty of it! Homeschool is perfectly suited to individualized, interesting, hands-on, FUN learning.
Last, but not least:
Remember everyday to thank the Lord in your school prayer, that you have the freedom and the blessing to be learning together with the ones you love, and that you will be able to prepare your children to live well the beautiful life he has given us!
May I recommend: