This is the first article in a series that I am gearing to NEW homeschool families. I created this blog series to address the reoccurring questions that popped up time and again whenever I would encounter new moms who were considering homeschooling their children. They rang familiar as questions I often asked myself before we began this journey and as much as I struggled thru those early days, I felt I could shine a light and maybe help someone else's journey just a little bit easier. As much as I call this series Homeschooling Countdown: How-to Make it Successful not Stressful, I could just as easily have titled it:
COUNTDOWN TO YOUR FIRST YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING
My goal is to make a few quick succinct posts geared for the NEWBIES out there. If you are a seasoned homeschool PRO then perhaps this is advice you no longer need. But MAYBE there will be things in here you think, "wow,...I wish I had known that when I started down this road." Whichever school of thought you fall into...welcome. Welcome to the wild, exhausting, and awesome road of homeschooling!
In the spirit of full disclosure I will share that I am just now closing up my 3rd year of homeschooling and preparing for our summer transition into our 4th year. But as short as my experience may seem, I began from the very beginning with my then kindergartner and twin pre-preschoolers. I came right out of the gate with not 1, not 2, but 3 full-time homeschooled kiddos. All boys (Jesus, help me). All within 20 months of each other in age. And we have moved twice during this time, one of which was across country! Those early days were EXHAUSTING! But also wonderfully enlightening at the same time. My kids THRIVED, to be sure, but I was the one doing all the mind blowing learning it seemed. Learning about their styles and strengths, learning about my own. Learning HOW to fit homeschooling into our lives, and learning how to navigate the sometimes pitfalls that will come at you from time to time. One of those pitfalls in particular is what drives my very first blog in this series. This is the foundational piece of advice I give each and every new mom who bends my ear and inquires about HOW to go about homeschooling. This is paramount, and should be the first thing you do as you prepare to launch your family into the homeschool lifestyle.
STEP 1: FIND YOUR WHY
One of the first questions you should ask yourself is WHY DO I WANT TO HOMESCHOOL? Consequently, your WHY will be the most common question you will encounter from the world at large. Spending time investing in your WHY will help you navigate those times when they arise. And yes..... they will arise. You will questions yourself, the world will question you. It's normal, it's natural, it does NOT mean you are wrong in your choice. Even the most DIRECTED and PASSIONATE of homeschool families have from time to time pondered if they are doing the right thing. Your well thought out answer to that simple one word question will become the bedrock on which you stand on when you have days you doubt yourself. Your WHY statement will also be the
unshakable front you present when nosy passerby's to your life inquire to your motives for not using the traditional school system. And to be clear, homeschooling has come a LONG way from the earlier days and truly you will build a tribe and find so many more homeschool parents out there than you realized. Even still, strangers, friends, even family-members, may look at you with loving eyes of concern (and doubt) as they ask to understand your motives behind this rather weighty and still uncommon choice.
Many schools of thought will advise that you should spend months meditating and praying on the entirety of your child's curricula career. They will tell you that the desired outlook that you HOPE your child has towards homeschooling in 12 years should SHAPE the mission statement that you design for your family right here at year 1. They will also tell you to determine WHEN your homeschool journey will end, as well as what you fill will make homeschooling an overall success. These same WISE individual will instruct you to have a family meeting, divine a mission statement, create a vision board, and sign a family contract to stay focused for the next 18 years and even re-review it all every 6 months to a year to ensure your feelings haven't changed. To all that I say.....HORSE-CRAPPERY!
Again, I repeat, THIS ARTICLE IS FOR THE NEWBIES! I'm here to help the new mom, just dipping her toe into homeschooling for the first time. I'm not hear to debate how the theological advances that homeschooling will allow, can let my child's deeper psyche to develop. I'm not the mom to stand up and say, My kid started college at age 12 - ask me how? If you are the mom who wakes up in a cold sweat feeling confident that you WANT to homeschool -- and also that you HAVE NO CLUE HOW to homeschool -- I'M TALKING TO YOU!
YOU ARE MY PEOPLE! -- The Brave, The Proud, The Terrified!
Breathe with me sister, LETS FIGURE THIS OUT TOGETHER. Life changes, at the speed of LIGHT sometimes, so to think you will sit down and create a master plan to last you for 18 years is just nuts. Lets focus on this year....just this one. Let's focus on your FIRST year and MAKE IT A GREAT one. Just one. I'm a solid 3 - or 4 - or MORE by the time you read this, years ahead of you. ALLOW me to help you wipe away that cold sweat of panic and NARROW down your emotion-filled indecision. I'm here for you.
And to the intellectual giants who do believe the deeper psyche of a one-day 18 year old child needs to drive my 1st grade curriculum choices....cool your jets. Your point has value, I'm not saying it doesn't. what I AM saying is that focusing too much on the 18-20 year long-goal along with weighing the eternal spiritual consequences and the hopeful emotionally stable outcome of my adult child over a decade from now MIGHT BE A BIT TOO OVERWHELMING! And YES the short and long term goals are crucial but that is more for a full on MISSION STATEMENT complete with VISION boards which is not my purpose here. C'mon....you remember those first years. Curriculum choices out the yin-yang, different school's of thought on learning styles, and lets not forget the ever-waning battle between the Charlotte Mason's and the Unschoolers! Let a newbie breathe a little....she'll get there, as will we all...she just doesn't need to have a FIRM grasp on ALL of it RIGHT NOW!
Now back to my dear newbies. Each homeschool year ahead of you will bring new changes, both good and bad. You will learn an immense amount of stuff about YOU as a mother, YOU as an educator, and YOU as a multi-tasking Diva! But guess what, you will learn a TON about your kids too. They have their own learning styles, their own struggles, their own interests. Moreover they have to learn to see YOU in a new way too! Homeschooling is fun for the WHOLE family so don't get too overwhelmed worrying about the results of their high school SATS. Lets survive our first year of homeschooling first. Better yet, lets learn to THRIVE during our first year. Let's walk before we crawl.
4 QUESTIONS TO DEFINE YOUR WHY
Why don't you want to use the Public or Private school system around you? -- This is crucial for you to understand so really think on this. understanding why you are steering away from the traditional schools in your area will help you more confidently address the nosy nay-sayers who judge you for being at the grocery store at 10am on a Tuesday with your kids.
What do YOU feel is the inherent value of homeschooling over the school systems around you? -- Again, you need a firm understanding of your own motivation and having BOTH of these two questions really understood will help you feel more confident as you move forward.
Why do you think homeschooling is the best choice for YOUR family? -- I really can't elaborate on this anymore. Think of your entire family until, work schedules, spouse priorities, medical or special needs, travelling, budgeting, and more. ALL of it. Why do you think homeschooling is the best choice for YOUR ENTIRE family?
Are there any core personal beliefs that you feel are better served in homeschool versus the traditional systems offered in your area? Now I'm gonna be a little harsh here but if you spew out the ol' stand-by that your 'faith drives you' then buck up sister cause that's not enough! BE SPECIFIC HERE! Families across the globe are raising intelligent, faith-filled children who are thriving from within the public school systems in their area. Be. Specific. If a kindly old man in the bank happens to question your motivation and you come back with "will my faith drives me" you could well be opening a can of worms. BE SPECIFIC. Really think on this. If it's religious, then point to the specific book or scripture. If it's a morality choice then point to the specific driving character trait. Don't slack, don't sugar coat, be raw and honest. It counts!
Now if you aren't totally hating my guts for making you dig a little deep let me explain how these questions shaped my own WHY and how that has SECURED ME during times of doubt and criticism.
We have a child with a fragile form of Type 1 Diabetes. We also have twins with emerging antibodies and rising a1C's that lean to a future with potentially 3 Type 1 Diabetic kids. The public school system around us (before in Texas and NOW in our new state) are fine, great even, but the class sizes are large....and the days are long...and our poor teachers are working so hard for each and every child but they too are human and have limitations. The combination of long days and brittle T1 makes a less than ideal dynamic to keep our kids challenging blood sugar waves in check.
AS SUCH we feel homeschooling allows us to BOTH educate our kids but also help allow for flexibility to accommodate the often wildly unpredictable nature of T1D.
Our family unit, as a whole, has to juggle a LOT of doctor appointments, medical bills/budget needs, and my husband works long hours and we have moved often due to his work. Homeschool has allowed for a conducive and CONSISTENT foundation for our kids despite the ever-changing current we live within.
As a whole, my goal is to help our kids find BALANCE. Balance to MANAGE their health needs AND function as socially acceptable adults....not entitled, overworked, over-scheduled jack-wagons. Homeschooling helps me find that balance for us all....and hopefully in a few years we will see that balance come to fruition in our children who (we pray) WON'T be jack-wagons!
See....not so bad. I used the SAME four questions I posed to you, and answered them for myself in a quick succinct statement. Once you have done the same, take a step back and really look at your four answers. Maybe take the day. Breathe...get some distance...talk to your spouse. Come back fresh and look at them again and see if they need to be altered. If so, take another day to think and reflect on them. However, once you can step back and feel you have the perfect four answers.....do the following.
TRIM THE FAT!
If your answers slant towards the negative. CHANGE THEM! If you are using your abhorrence of the public school system as your primary motivator - your gauge is broke, try again. Flawed and imperfect as they may be our public school systems and the teachers and administrators within them are WARRIORS and SAINTS and should be respected for the good and hard work they are DESPERATELY committed to doing and doing well. Furthermore, you don't want your children living in fear of public school...nor do you want your friends or family members who ARE choosing to use public school, to think you feel they are inferior parents.
In truth you don't know what the future will bring and you may NEED that same system if you can't homeschool at some point so try not to totally tank it from the get go. Keep your WHY positive. Notice my statement in number 1. I did NOT criticize the school system. I did NOT shine a negative light on school nurses or teacher training or anything of the sort. I have MANY teacher friends and frankly give them NOTHING but respect for the outstanding and UNENDING work they do. However, I stated the facts....and how they didn't fit what we felt our kid needed. Our decision was about US -- NOT THEM. The more positive you can make your answers.....the more positive of an outlook AS A WHOLE that you will have about homeschooling in general. That will bleed over thru the years to your kids who have a positive outlook about BEING homeschooled too.
If your answers are too wordy...TRIM THEM. This is not a mission statement to be laminated and bound in a 3-ring. You need to be able to 'elevator pitch' this to anyone who asks at anytime...including yourself. The more confidently you can spout off your answer, the better. Your confidence in response will give THEM confidence IN YOU! Likewise, if you have to go into an entire religious history of your people to describe why you feel little Johnny needs to preschool at home, perhaps you aren't really THAT convinced in the first place. Again, check my answers to the above. Direct....succinct....but to the point. I can rattle off my combined why statement at the grocery store to a nosy passer-by in about 2 seconds. I don't feel compelled to unpack the LAYERS upon LAYERS of medical knowledge in my brain to justify my choice. I just point to a quick few statements that make my claim and let that hang. Trust me....I've done it A LOT! Between my swift answer and my confidence in response, I rarely get push back!
Finally.....once you have trimmed the fat from your answers....shave a little more into your one-line elevator pitch. Again, I'll use my own WHY as the example. Review my above 4 points.....and then read the following:
One of my sons has a brittle form of Type 1 Diabetes and Low Immunoglobulin A. Homeschooling allows us to balance his health needs, and also the many medical appointments we must attend to, with all the fun and exciting learning that little boys should get to do every day. It's a GREAT fit for our family!
In three short, positive, sentences....I declared our core WHY statement. No negative spewing, no overly detailed explanation, just simple and declarative. And guess what....on the days when passerby questions get on my last nerve, my answer is unchanging. When I'm exhausted and my family pulls the "why don't you just put them in school" crap, my answer is unchanging. And when I myself am tired and strung out and feeling the burden of it all and wonder how I'll get thru another day, week, MONTH....my answer is unchanging. Because the VERY core truth to this whole post is this.
YOUR WHY WILL DRIVE YOUR HOW
When your why is motivating you beyond yourself, you will FIND the path to continue no matter the fatigue or struggles or frustrations you come upon. And should your WHY really change, and you must adapt to fit it, you will have full confidence that you are making a solid decision yet again to fit the needs at hand. so CREATE YOUR WHY my new-homeschooling-friend and embrace the new journey. It's GREAT and wild out here and you truly have the want and the will you totally CAN!
Don't miss out on the next post in this series entitled: TRIM THE FAT from your day-to-day to MAKE ROOM for homeschooling! Maybe...sounds a little like I'm making pot-roast, may have to work on that title. ;-)
ALSO check out some of my other articles on homeschooling for the busy family!