When I was a little girl, I put on some epic school-teacher dramatizations. My play school was the jam. I had a little chalkboard easel set up in my parents’ garage in front of an old sofa, and I would line up my dolls and quiz them on things like state capitals and make them recite the Preamble to the Constitution. (Clearly I was prepping for a lifetime of popularity.) My pretend students were always well-behaved, and we ate pretend snacks with excellent manners and dismissed on time to eagerly awaiting perfect pretend parents.
Naturally, this is the exact vision I had for my homeschool twenty years later. Imagine my disappointment when I spent more time begging my students to stop putting boogers on each other and to stop reciting fart jokes for the two-year old to learn. Oy. Those were dark times, friends. Dark times.
Of course, I didn’t help myself by creating a land of a thousand pitfalls by overcommitting, setting insane expectations, and giving little room for flexibility. Friends, don’t be like me. There is an easier way. And, in the interest of improving the overall well-being of homeschooling moms everywhere, I will divulge all of my goof-ups (or at least, the monumental ones), while sharing the key lessons I took away from each one.
Lesson #1: It’s not school, it’s homeschool. Classrooms are not mandatory. I am embarrassed to say that my first priority when beginning our homeschool was to create the perfect school-space. I mean, the homeschool room pinterest boards are sooooo legit. I posted a cursive alphabet, colored maps of the US and the world, and put together each girls’ materials in cute little personalized desks. Ohmygosh it was so cute.
Then reality hit. No amount of monogrammed folders or pocket charts could make up for the fact that my peeps are just not sit-at-a-desk kinda kids. We didn’t get much use out of the desk setting. I spent more time fussing with them about putting things back where they belong and sitting in their seats and keeping their pencils in the right color-coded cups. I was annoyed with myself.
So we scrapped the desk situation. I transformed that area into a sweet blog spot for me, and put all their school stuff in cute, personalized magazine files on the bookshelf next to my computer. Now, we do workbooks at the kitchen table or bar, reading on the couch, and music lessons on the bed (in front of YouTube, because I’m not talented like that). It’s amazing what a HUGE difference that made. Now all my supplies/homeschool books stay in my Mommy-HQ, and the girls aren’t confined to a single study space. Double win.
Lesson #2: More on switching from traditional to non-traditional schooling: 6.5 hour days and behavior charts are non-essential. I was driving myself in a downward spiral towards a breakdown by trying to fill a schedule from 8 am to 3 pm. After looking at our state’s requirements, it turns out only 4 hours per day are required for homeschoolers. We aren’t lining up for lunch, waiting for the rest of the class to settle down or finish their work, or changing classes or making bathroom stops. It’s pretty low-key here. Once I let go of trying to fill those extra 2.5 hours, I was able to focus on the meat of our homeschool, and put the majority of my planning efforts into our subject matter.
Additionally, I tried super hard to come up with a cute and fun disciplinary program like the ones they have in school. We did the clothespin that starts in the middle and moves up and down, complete with earned “jewels” for consistently moving up the chart. We tried colorful beads and little paper slips, warm fuzzies collected in a jar, and bright stickers. And…none of that worked. You know what works for us? Quiet time with no stimulation. You don’t want to do your math work? Cool. Sit there and watch me wash these dishes with no talking till I’m done. Ahh. That works like a charm. So do what you want and work with whatever you got.
Lesson #3: Crafts and projects are optional. Don’t get me wrong. Lots of moms are super-skilled with projects and crafts. Even I have mad craft-skills, but they’re more geared towards making monogrammed planners and chalk typography than making a shoebox version of a Charlotte’s Web farmyard (not that I’m knocking shoebox art).
I think this should probably read: Lead with your strengths. If building a scale-model of the Pyramids of Giza is your niche, go for it. Maybe your homeschool will be more projects and less worksheets. For me, I hate messes so much that I ration crayons and count how many are returned. And heaven forbid someone send us some glitter. That crap will be out of my house so fast… I digress. I do love creative writing and discussion. We’ve rewritten Aesop’s Fables using animals native to our part of the world, come up with our own Shel Silverstein-esque poems, and developed names for characters in The Borrowers that might reflect our family. And I do indulge my budding artist- she has a sketchbook and opportunity every day to make her own masterpiece, recreate famous paintings, or illustrate the stories she writes. But that is the child-led portion of our unschooling and not the parent-led portion. Ultimately, they’re finding their way and I’m finding mine.
Lesson #4: Planning is vital, but how you plan is up to you. There are so many resources out there to help homeschool moms plan out the year. I got super sucked into these at my first homeschool convention, and I’ve probably downloaded a dozen (both free and paid) from cute, creative mom sites I found through the blogosphere. And…I used none of them. Like I said earlier- lead with your strengths, right? I’m a tech person. I struggle when I have a paper-based plan, because I never seem to remember to bring the dang thing when I need it. What do I always have? My phone. So I use Google Calendar and keep a super-simple version of my plan there. I post the plan for the week on Monday, then copy and paste into the rest of the week, updating each column to show what we’re covering each day. It’s so simple, and since it’s on my phone, I can be pretty certain I’ll never misplace the plans for the day. Check it out in this little screenshot:
The other vital planning lesson is this: don’t try to plan your whole year in advance. For the love of everything good and sane, do not do this. Pencil in your important dates (like family vacations, trips to the dentist (these make amazing field trips), and epic outings ahead of time. But don’t get into the nitty-gritty planning for a whole year. You will hate yourself forever when you get that bug that’s been going around and miss a week’s worth of math lessons, and have to recreate 32 weeks worth of plans (not that I’ve had to do that). I’ve found that planning six weeks at a time works best for us, and it gives me time to assess whether or not our current plan is working.
Lesson #5: You’re a person, too. Gets me every time. It is so refreshing to see my teacher friends post that they’ve had a bad day, or that they can’t wait for the weekend. I need the validation that even the professionals have kids who talk back
, plans that don’t work out, and moments that require serious venting with other teachers. There are a ton of hilarious memes out there written by teachers to make light of the serious drama they
deal with. Those memes really come in handy when my reality is “what if I just do 4 of the 25 problems you gave me and then have a snack?” As opposed to my fantasy-homeschool, in which the kids are happily reciting the King James Bible and writing the next great American novel.
There will be days when teaching our kids will be exciting, inspiring, and thought-provoking, and there will be days when it will be exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming. But remember- homeschool moms are teachers too. Give yourself a planning period. Sit at your computer and read funny stories while they eat lunch. Create a teachers’ lounge for yourself, and visit it during the school day. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the fact that we live in our workplace. Yes, the dishes need doing. Yes, the laundry needs to be moved over. Yes, that floor won’t mop itself. We’re the teacher, the principal, and the food service/custodial staff all-in-one. But we’re also in charge. We call the shots- nobody else. So give yourself space, call out when you’re sick (I’ve just started allowing this to be acceptable, and a little PBS kids goes a long way in getting kids to cooperate on my sick days), and phone a friend when you need to vent. It’s okay. The good will always come with some bad, and the balance between the two may fluctuate towards one end or the other.
It’s okay to have bad days. And it’s okay to call imperfect days good days. When I think about what we call success in our homeschool, I have to remind myself we’re not raising prodigies here. I have no illusions about developing a young Mozart or even a Gabrielle Douglas.
We homeschool to teach our children how to think, not what to think. And if they learn to think for themselves, we’re successful.
All the other stuff is just little details. So let’s have fun with it.