As I’m getting knee-deep in planning for my second year of homeschooling, I thought I’d take a break from my next foodie post and take a few minutes to reflect on things I learned in my first year. Eventually I’ll share why we made this decision for our family but since I’m looking into how I’m changing things up a little, this is what’s ruminating in my mind.
Nothing was perfect about our first year, but it was successful and I learned a ton in the process. It’s nice to have year one down so I can focus on what I want to do differently this year and what worked for us.
While I learned quite a bit, I’m summarizing the most important parts into five simple points. While homeschooling looks different from one family to the next, this is what I learned based on my experience in year one.
1. plan ahead
My biggest hurdle this year was finding time to plan. Many weeks, Sunday night would come and I’d be up late putting the week together. While I had long-term goals, it was hard to get the big picture of what my goals were because I was going very much on a week-to-week basis. Part of this might have been having a husband working two jobs, part was procrastination, part was having a newborn, part was just having lots of needs from everyone and part was just because I was new at it.
Being planned for anything is crucial. Things will run much more smoothly when there’s a plan in place. This works for me when it comes to meal planning for the week, mapping out large chore projects or just goal-setting in general. Without a plan, it’s easy to let things slip a little and get a bit too relaxed.
I was amazed how much time it actually took to plan for each different child. While there are things we can study together, having several levels of children requires different activities.
One might think because I worked in public education for 14 years, I would have the planning part down. I appreciate the amount of time that goes into preparing lessons and teaching daily. I really thought homeschooling would be…easier? Not sure if that’s the word, but I don’t think I had any idea how much time I would invest in planning for just three kids. I spent a lot of time nursing and settling a baby and chasing around a toddler which I’m sure added to the pressure of getting work done.
This year I’m taking a much more proactive approach to having a bulk of planning done ahead of time. I decided to break up our year into a bit more of a year-long approach. I used a school-year calendar and broke it up into units of time that made sense based on holidays and our vacation. Each block of time is 4-6 weeks. Then I added a week in between each block that I can use for planning. We’ll still focus on reading those weeks and math review, but we will easily have our 180 required days without counting the break week. Also, if something comes up during the block weeks where we can’t have school on a day or two, the in-between week can be used to make up that time.
I set some long term goals for the year that I could break up into smaller units throughout the year. For example, I took the math curriculum I’m using and mapped out the units over the course of the year. I set what I consider to be realistic goals for the ends of each unit of time to keep us focused. We’ll be studying the human body and I broke up the study into units that will last all year. This seems to work for everything we are studying.
I’ll give the kids goal sheets where they can also set goals so we can see what we are working towards. Having goals will help keep us focused and on track and will help when I’m planning on our break weeks for the upcoming units.
2. but don’t be so planned you’re not flexible
Having a plan is great and crucial but I don’t want to have ideas so tightly planned that I can’t be flexible and move things around. For example, last year I was waiting to study the fifty states until a few months into the school year but the kids were chomping at the bit to get started. So I ditched my initial timeline and we started earlier. It turns out that was a much better choice because we didn’t move through them as quickly as I anticipated.
Things happen. Stuff goes wrong. Kids get sick (or you get sick). I was all planned to get started in January after Christmas break and got hit with a nasty flu bug. It was two weeks until I had enough energy to pick schoolwork up again. If I was holding too tightly to a plan, I would have been panicking instead of making the adjustments we needed to catch up.
Everyone needs a plan. But everyone needs to be flexible. And that will look different from family to family. One of the beautiful things about homeschool is that you have the flexibility if something takes longer than you anticipate (which was the majority of our problem) or the kids aren’t as interested in something you think they will be.
3. don’t let housework get away from you
I’m certainly not Hilda the Housewife with a perfectly clean house all the time (I made her up by the way). I don’t have a house that belongs on Pinterest with cute things tucked here and there and I don’t have a Type-A personality that I can’t function if the beds aren’t made or all the games and books are lined up neatly.
That being said, I do function a bit better when the house doesn’t feel like it’s constantly erupting with things not being put away and the laundry pile doesn’t look like Mount Everest. We have five kids so I don’t expect clutter to be non-existent, but I do need things to be somewhat organized. Schooling takes time away from some of those household tasks and there were
days weeks where I felt like the house was slipping out of my control because there just wasn’t time to get it done. So finding the balance for me will be a challenge this year I’m taking head-on. I’m planning to have certain days where we have lighter school work and those will be my days for getting some of the bigger tasks done. The kids have some chores they are responsible for but I’ll be adding some responsibilities for them so that I’m not doing everything myself.
4. let go of your training and expectations
While this isn’t something every homeschooling parent will go through, I find it to be a common theme for those of us who have a background in public education. As someone with a degree in elementary education and reading, I have certain ways of thinking that learning should take place. Much of my training, though, was geared towards how kids learn in a classroom setting. Despite this, there are skills that I think are important for all kids no matter where they are learning. Things like metacognition and critical thinking. And yet sometimes I would approach teaching these kinds of things in the same way I would in a classroom and it didn’t work the way I thought. Or I found that my very advanced reader was already doing much of this without ever really specifically being shown how to because she’s a very proficient reader.
I really wanted my kids to keep a notebook for all their subjects we learned and I had specific ideas in mind about how I wanted them to look. I found that when what we were doing didn’t fit the mold in my mind, I had to change it up. And I found that most often that mold had to do with the way I was trained to think about education. These ways aren’t bad; they just don’t always line up with learning at home.
So year one was a huge learning curve for me of figuring out what to hold onto from my years of education experience and what to let go and adapt for homeschool. And while I don’t subscribe to one way of teaching and learning in a classroom, I believe the same for home. Some homeschoolers will say, “oh, we follow classical conversations” or “oh, we follow Charlotte Mason.” Personally, I pull from all sorts of styles and find the eclectic version so far works best for us.
In year two, my goal is to continue to refine what to hold onto and what to change from my experiences in public school. I expect it to still be an issue that I’ll continue to learn through.
5. pray…a lot…through the good days and bad
While this should be listed first, I’m putting it last because it’s the reminder I need daily. Making the decision to homeschool was bathed in years of prayer. It was a desire God put on my heart while I was still teaching and working full-time, as sort of a preparation I think, for when it came time to really make the decision. I didn’t pray daily for school last year and while I committed the year to God, this year, I need to pray more. Not because I’m trying to do more or be more but because I recognize I need God more. I can’t homeschool on my own. If He’s led me to do this for our kids now in this season, I have to trust He’ll give me what I need daily, whether it’s the inspiration for our studies and activities or the patience for chasing around a cute curly-haired one-year-old or the strength to get up early and get ready for the day or the time management to balance everything I need to keep things going.
Homeschooling isn’t easy, friends. There are ups and downs from what I experienced in my first year and I’m sure that will continue. There will be studies we love and studies that we ditch for something else. There will be seasons of productivity and seasons where we slow down a little and savor something for a bit longer. But the time spent with my children, where we are “doing” life together in these real ways and learning and growing together is irreplaceable. It’s a time like none other in my life and worth every sacrifice.
Through it all, I don’t want to lose focus on this. That my children are not my own but are entrusted to me. That if God entrusts me with the education of our children, then I need to make sure I’m listening to Him and what that looks like. And while I love to get inspiration from fellow homeschooling mamas on Instagram or locally, what we do doesn’t need to look like everyone else. It just needs to be inspired from my source of Life.
Are you a homeschooling mama? What tidbits have you learned that you can pass along?