Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
Our support group’s annual Homeschooling 101 is coming up soon, and I’ve been putting together notes and packets in preparation for my presentation.
I love looking out at the audience and seeing so many people; and whether their faces are eager, apprehensive, confused, or even terrified, they all have this in common: they desperately want to do the best for their children. Some of them will find out that homeschooling is the absolute best choice they can make; others will pursue different avenues.
Invariably, sometime during the session, the question comes in some form:
what piece of advice would you give a newbie?
Much more important to me than choosing curriculum or having well-organized shelves or even deciding whether to keep homeschooling is the tremendous task of being a good parent.
My pieces of advice really apply to any parents, not just homeschooling ones.
1. Read aloud every single day.
Start when they are babies, and do it as long as you possibly can. There is research galore about why reading aloud to your kids is good for them. I think I would go so far as to say that reading aloud to your kids—not just until they are reading independently but throughout their childhood—is foundational to a lifetime of learning. [Here's my list of Top 25 Read-Alouds (for ages 5-12).]
2. Don’t get distracted by what someone else is doing.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t compare your kids to others.
These two go hand-in-hand. Hike your own hike. Stay true to your own family. Trust your gut, and know your kids. (More on this in my Guide to Navigating the Homeschooling Community.)
4. Get outside.
Take a walk or a bike ride. Play badminton, hop scotch, and jump rope. Look at insects, plant flowers, pull weeds. Breathe deeply. It doesn’t matter what you are doing: just get fresh air every day.
5. Be nice.
Most children reflect their parents’ moods. If you are distracted, grumpy, and/or irritable, they will be, too. That doesn’t mean you have to plaster a fake smile on your face all day, but monitor your own moods. If you think your kids are unreasonably crabby or anxious, take an honest look at yourself.
6. Take trips.
Don’t wait until all the kids are just the right age or you have money for nice hotels and plane fare. Go now and do what you can. Be creative and adventurous! (See My Biggest Homeschool Mistake: Not Traveling More.)
7. Don’t try to control your environment by controlling your kids.
Stand back. Provide a safe place, but don’t hover. Let them make mistakes. Let them wear clothes that don’t match and dip their asparagus in applesauce if they really want to. Loosen the reins a little bit each year, but don’t be afraid to pull in when you need to.
If our ultimate goal is encourage our kids to be independent, unique adults, you must let them breathe and gets scrapes and even dent the car.
Photo by Stephanie Bowling
8. Let your kids get dirty.
Let them drag their feet in the dirt, roll in the mud, dig big holes, smear paint on their stomachs, run through the sprinkler, climb trees, and get mosquito bites. Being barefoot is good for the soul.
9. Don’t box them in with labels.
You know that widely circulated Albert Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Think long and hard before you define your child with a label, whether it’s “she’s my shy one” or “he’s the talker” to “he hates math” or “she doesn’t like writing.”
10. Remember that children are, indeed, wonderfully and fearfully made.
They come with their own unique personalities and needs, which will determine how they learn best. Be constantly aware that what works for one child will not necessarily work for another.
Don’t be tied to any particular curriculum if it isn’t working for one child. Homeschooling—and parenting—is all about flexibility.
11. It’s much more important to show love to my child than to finish the math book.
We have choices to make every day. We can scream at our kids to finish their work, or we can calmly and lovingly guide them and encourage them.
Some days are much, much harder than others, and choosing to love often seems impossible. Remember who they are and why you have them at home—and swallow your irritations.
12. Enjoy them.
It’s true what you’ve heard. Kids really do grow up fairly fast, and you really will miss stepping on Legos one of these days. Well, sort of.
Whether you’re teaching your little one to read or helping your teen fill out college applications, enjoy these precious gifts that you’ve been entrusted with. (See The Best Part of Homeschooling: Enjoying Them.)
What is the best piece of advice about homeschooling you ever received? What one piece of advice do you like to give to new homeschoolers?