To All Parents Who Found Themselves Homeschooling

It’s not every day that our kids come home from school for March Break and never return. With the swift arrival of COVID-19, our collective worlds were turned upside down. Teachers and parents quickly pivoted to learning at home. Now, three months, untold meltdowns, countless tears, and numerous naggings later, we’ve crossed the finish line! It wasn’t easy, but we did it! Or at least we survived!

Looking back on my prayer journals from 2010-2011, I came across several prayers I had written as a homeschool mom. Between reading the entries and recent chats with other moms, I realized that we could all use a little encouragement. At the end of this post, I’ve included an entry from my prayer journal and a link to a video where my daughters and I offer a few tips to both parents and kids about homeschooling.

Whether you’re a full-time homeschooling parent, or you were thrown into it this spring and are dreading the possibility of potential part-time homeschooling for the fall, here are a few thoughts from our eighteen years of homeschooling to quiet any fears of inadequacy or worries of how you might cope.

kids-hike
On a hike with our three eldest, Kurtis, Konnor, and Elanna circa 2003.

The following is some practical advice that I hope proves helpful. I wanted to tear down some beliefs and dispel fears that may surround homeschooling and offer some benefits to the process. Yes, boundaries need to be in place, and I’ll highlight a few, but much beauty can occur as a result of schooling at home.

Beliefs

During the years we homeschooled, I often struggled with fearful thoughts about the process which had the propensity overshadow our experience. I often felt inadequate, like I could never quite do enough (as you’ll see in the excerpt from my journal below). I had vague thoughts that I was failing my kids in some way or another. Did all the other mom’s really have it all together?

Many nights I fell into bed exhausted from doing too many things. Running the day over in my mind, instead of celebrating what we had accomplished, I bemoaned the ways I felt I had fallen short that day or the things that remained incomplete. I worried my kids wouldn’t know all they needed to know.

Years later, I see that I didn’t need to worry, and you don’t either. It is unlikely your kids will fall behind learning at home. Their education isn’t composed merely of the things they learn during this time. Learning is a life-long endeavor. You have the unique opportunity to model learning and curiosity not just for now—or for grades—but for their lifetime.

During the years we homeschooled, I was often asked about the socialization of my kids. Wasn’t I worried they wouldn’t be adequately socialized? If my idea of the socialization of a person was based solely on peer socialization, I should have been concerned. But homeschooling afforded my kids the opportunity to engage more fully with all different types of people and all different age levels.

Occasionally, I was asked if I had a teaching degree. I did not, but I do have a university degree—not to say that you need one to teach your children. If you are committed to the process and foster and facilitate a healthy learning environment, they will learn. You have strengths, gifts, and skills to extend to your child’s education regardless of whether you have a Bachelor of Education.

Don’t expect perfection. Go easy on yourself and your kids. Be patient both with them and yourself. Allow for bumps and bruises. Talk about what you can do better when you or they make a mistake. Alter your mindset or attitude, if needed, and your kids will take your cue and rise to your expectations.

kids-snake
Discovering a snake.

Boundaries

While learning at home allows for fun and flexibility, it also requires some structure, routine, and boundaries. It’s helpful to start school at a set time each day, structuring in time for breaks and lunch, and an assigned ending time. Consider designating an area where most of the schooling takes place and remove as many distractions as possible. Setting clear expectations and an agreed-upon consequence for failing to meet those expectations is invaluable. Equally important is follow-through. This will prevent untold hours of infuriation and nagging.

Once you have clearly stated your expectations (consider making timelines for the completion of schoolwork), expect your child to deliver. If they don’t finish their work, first uncover why they haven’t. Were you unavailable for a time, or does your child’s schoolteacher have yet to reply to a question to finish? If they could have completed the work but chose not to, consider how to address that behavior.

Resist nagging. If you were clear on your instructions and expectations, and they could have completed the work, calmly inform them of the consequence. Consider asking your child’s opinion ahead of time what you should do if their work isn’t completed. Often their choices are harsher than you’d pick! If they don’t finish, when it comes time for play with friends or screen time, you can calmly say, “I’m sorry, I’d love to let you play but you chose not to finish your work.”

This works well for teens too but be sure to pick something that offers enough of an ouch-factor for that child. Then, whatever you do, don’t give in to begging! In this way, you help your kids learn the concept of reaping what they sow. In addition, you’ll be encouraging them to grow in self-discipline and gain responsibility for their choices.

Remain positive and hopeful. Avoid scolding or belittling, and gently correct undesirable behavior. You want to reach your child’s heart instead of training them to be a mere rule-follower. Whenever possible, use positive, encouraging words and praise your child when you notice a job well done or work completed in a timely manner. Celebrate mastery and milestones. Use sticker charts to track achievements, or rewards such as a special treat, a trip, or a party from time to time.

As you set boundaries, consider how your child will fill their free time, especially the amount you allot for screens and phones. It’s so easy to allow the extra time to be swallowed up on devices. Instead, schedule intentional pockets of screen time, such as during a break or for a limited time after school.

Benefits

Homeschooling holds the potential to create valuable memories and close family connections. By virtue of being together, you have the opportunity to connect and speak into your kids’ lives in a way you might not have otherwise had. Be intentional about how you use this gift of time and the things on which you choose to focus the most attention.

Time spent learning at home allows space to adjust to your kids’ needs and learning styles. In the elementary years, I found I could squeeze more out of our school day when I changed locations for different subjects. They sat at a desk for subjects such as Math, Writing, and Spelling. For Bible, History, and Reading, we would move to the couch. Science would happen at the kitchen counter, and crafts might take place on the floor or at a different table.

dad-kids-reading
Ralph reading to the kids at bedtime in 2003.

In the early years, during read-aloud, the kids would often sit on the couch snuggled beside me. If they wanted to play Lego while listening, I allowed for that, occasionally checking in for comprehension. I let them choose books of their choice for free-time reading, even if they were above or below their reading level. If a certain curriculum or method of teaching wasn’t working, I changed course and tried something new.

Since schoolwork can usually be completed more quickly at home than in a classroom, the extra time affords your kids room to deeply explore an interest. If you notice curiosity toward a subject, you might consider providing materials or equipment to further engage their intrigue.

Avoid taking over or forcing the continuation of a natural bent or interest. Doing so may cause them to reject their natural curiosity. The extra time at home offers a spacious environment to independently sample various interests for the sheer joy of learning without any pressure to succeed.

Don’t feel you must fill your kids’ schedule with countless activities or endless amounts of work. Boredom fuels creativity and allows quiet space to process and refuel. There’s no need to stimulate your child’s learning at every turn, which can exhaust them or make them anxious with the never-ending flow of work. Instead, make space for free time, independent decision making, creative projects, play, reading, and relaxing.

Take opportunities to learn on the go. Hands-on experience is priceless. Get outside. Go for a walk or hike in nature. Take field trips or have a picnic in the park. Our kids loved our family trips and dedicated time apart from structured study.

Beauty

The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible, the joy of learning together, the increased time as a family, simpler moments, and the capacity to a deep dive into interests.

When our kids were little, for our morning break I used to spread our teddy bear blanket on the floor and sit on it with them to enjoy milk and cookies. I loved the hours we spent cuddled up beside each other while reading picture books and then classic literature. Sometimes I played classical music or an audiobook during art. There was ample time for extra reading and creativity.

birthday-party-teens
My son Konnor’s 16th birthday party included his homeschool and public school friends, and his siblings. The fake cigarette my son, Kurtis, is holding was a prop from their homeschool co-op play!

To make life easier, I tried to choose activities that the three eldest kids could participate in at the same time such as swimming, skating, gymnastics, and music lessons. We met with a local homeschool group for soccer, baseball, cross-country running, and field trips. We joined a homeschool co-op and for many years enjoyed learning with other homeschoolers one day per week. We played learning games, made crafts, or cooked together. We also cleaned together each week and each child was responsible for a level of the house.

Once the three big kids graduated from homeschooling, our youngest and I continued homeschooling for one more year until she enrolled in a Christian private school. During that one-on-one time, we enjoyed lunchtime picnics at the park and occasionally set up a fort in the backyard where we read together. Another homeschool mom and took turns teaching a subject to one another’s child for a semester.

family-dock-Easter
Our family – Easter 2020.

What did I hope our kids would glean from our homeschooling journey? Apart from academics, I hoped to inspire intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, compassion for others, and a life-long love of learning. If they, in addition, carried fond memories of our time together, an understanding of God, and a secure knowledge of how entirely we love them, I had fulfilled what I set out to accomplish.

Whether you are a full-time homeschooler or schooling at home is temporary, there are untold ways to make this time as joyful and memorable as possible. Even though homeschooling requires much hard work and dedication, you will never regret the time you intentionally spent on your kids and the relationships that were strengthened as a result.

Click here to watch a video of my daughters and I offering tips and encouragement for homeschooling.

Prayer Journal Entry – May 2020

I see all the years of teaching, of asking them to write (even though they disliked it for so long and often moaned), of having them read great literature and reading aloud to them so much has definitely had an impact. I praise you Lord, because it is a joy for me to see what you have done in spite of all my inadequacies, and often lack of faith, that I was doing a good job—though always feeling it was never enough, good enough, or long enough. 

So could you, Lord, level the path before us and make your way clear [concerning homeschooling for highschool]. We need you. I desperately need your wisdom to do this. Show us the way. Help me to trust you (not look too far ahead), and go your way, not mine. I am very thankful for what you have done and are doing in their lives and mine. May they be a blessing to you (as you love them so much). May they know this intimately, deeply, thoroughly. 

Amen

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