This is the third installment in a year-long blog party designed to help Sonlight celebrate 25 years of serving homeschoolers. In January, I introduced our family. Last month, I shared how we first started on our journey as a home educating family. This month’s assignment is to focus on what great advice we’ve been given over the years, and what we like to share with new homeschoolers.
I had probably been homeschooling for 15 minutes when I got my first bit of advice. I don’t remember it, exactly, or much of what came over the course of the next few years as I tried my best to find the rhythm that fit my kids, my style, and my family. Here’s the thing about advice: it often says more about the person offering it than it does about you, or your needs. It’s a fearful thing, stepping up and telling another person the right way to do something … especially in regards to something as personal as educating your kids.
So what did help, in the days when I was hoping to latch on to any bit of wisdom I could glean? What words brought me comfort or cast a light I could follow? The following gems stick out:
Don’t be ruled by the schedule. As anyone who has attempted “school at home” can tell you, life in exactly 180 carefully scripted lessons is not only tedious, but really, really boring. This one was a good reminder to break free from the idea of education as an institution, and to glean from resources what I needed to make it fit us.
Don’t be afraid to quit something that isn’t working. One of the most beautiful elements of homeschooling, in my opinion, is the ability to customize a child’s education in the way that best fits his or her learning needs. Remaining tied to something because “that’s what we use,” or, “it’s what so-and-so says is the best,” is a temptation when you’re not confident in your own choices. The freedom to ditch a math program that isn’t cutting it, or to hold off on spelling until a child is more mature is an important part of homeschooling’s overall value.
Have fun. It’s so easy to lose sight of this one, isn’t it? I mean, homeschooling is a job, and it’s serious business. But if you’re not enjoying it, if your family isn’t making memories, if this isn’t something that’s contributing to the joy in your household … what’s the point?
All pretty basic, yet revolutionary if you’re bogged down in the middle of a school year and just not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, right? Good stuff to squirrel away in your brain for that February morning when you see the lights of the schoolbus pausing at the corner and wonder just exactly how quickly you can get your kids registered with the local district.
My own favorite bit of personal advice to pass on doesn’t bring anyone hope in the hard moments. But it does, I think, ensure longevity, if that’s your goal for your homeschool.
Know where you want to end, and work backwards from there. In other words, if you see your family as homeschoolers-for-life, people who will, God willing, graduate each one of your kids from your own dining room table, then plan for it. Look at each individual child’s passions, goals, and strengths. Factor in state requirements and any potential pre-requisites for additional training (college admissions, apprenticeship guidelines, etc.). Decide what the standards are within your own family. Using all of that as an end goal, work backward, step by step, plotting out the path that will eventually cumulate in achieving that goal.
Sound hard? It’s not, really. Say you have a son that excels in math. You think he might be headed towards an engineering degree. He’s in 5th grade now, so you look up some likely potential schools where he could get an undergraduate degree that would put him in the running for an eventual career in engineering. You see the minimum math and science requirements, and plot those out early enough in his high school (maybe even middle school) career to give him time to go even deeper, should he choose. You look up community college classes in physics, and plan out a semester where multiple forms of engineering, from chemical to mechanical, are explored. You find a local business where he can get his hands dirty. Each year, as he progresses, you reassess the goal, take stock of the math/science plan, and decide if this is still a priority for your family. Unlike a child whose parents have seen the signs (“He really likes math. Maybe he could be an engineer.”) and have generically decided that he’ll work his way through pre-calc because … well, because … your child will not only have an easier time declaring a major and meaning it, he’ll also walk into his future better prepared.
This goes for so much more than career planning, though. You want your son to know how to handle laundry for a household? Plan for it. You want your son to know how to manage a family’s budget? It won’t just happen. Plan for it. These are all areas where you can (and should) have a vision for what you want the outcome to be. Taking the time to think it through, prioritize and then take action ensures that you won’t end up looking at your child wondering why in the heck he or she can’t change a tire on a car if that’s one of the things that you find to be a life skill worth pursuing.
So, my advice (for what it’s worth) to even the newbie Momma picking out her first kindergarten curriculum is this: Know where you’re going. Take steps to make it happen. And, of course, remain flexible as the Lord shapes your school to His vision!