Encouraging new homeschoolers ~
A reader recently wrote and asked,
“I’m not qualified as a teacher. I have 3 young children and want to start homeschooling. What do you recommend?”
Let me start with this statement ~ YOU CAN HOMESCHOOL YOUR OWN CHILDREN! You are already educating your children as you intimately know your children and adapt to their needs, interests and abilities. You don’t need certification, experience or qualifications to educate them if you are able to follow some basic principles, and approaches. If you read good parenting and education books you will gain excellent perspective and understanding on how your child learns and how you can initiate or facilitate their interests and explorations. Some homeschool curriculums are so well-designed and prepared that you will easily be able to facilitate your child’s learning.
I can fully understand how uncertain and insecure you must feel. Even as a qualified, professional teacher, I experienced the same fears and failures in my first year teaching. Here’s my story ~
I qualified with a 4 year Diploma of Higher Education with subject majors and a specialization in remedial education as a senior primary (middle school) teacher. When I received my first teaching post, the school appointed me to a junior primary class and I was completely ill-equipped! I had absolutely no idea how to teach these young, little kids to write, read, do phonics or practice numeracy! Even with the lesson preparation planned out for me, I had no idea how to actually implement the lessons. I used to stand on tip-toe to peep into my neighbouring teacher’s classroom to see how she taught her classes and try copy her in my class! It was a real disaster! Six months later, when a senior primary teacher was transferred to another school, I begged for her classes and was promptly “promoted” to senior primary where I flourished!
After teaching at public schools for 10 years and completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree, I became a stay-at-home mom started homeschooling my young children. All my years of teaching experience and study did not help me. In fact it was a hindrance!
My first homeschooling year looked like “school-at-home” and I rigorously implemented Sonlight’s packaged curriculum. I religiously stuck to their schedule, and stressed and juggled to try implement the 3 separate cores I bought for each child and we all nearly burnt out! Wonderfully, during this first year I also read amazing education and parenting books and slowly realized that I needed to loosen up, look for the learning spark or moment and fan that flame to encourage my children to explore and discover their own interests and creative passions.
My children learnt despite my best and worst efforts. Two years later we spent 18 months on the road travelling around South Africa. I wisely put all the children on just one core and followed Footprints On Our Land . I learnt that even if we travelled and missed formal schooling days we didn’t fall behind. I simply extended the schedule to cover 18 months instead of 1 year! We loved the flow and natural learning that came with reading amazing books, visiting people and places and being creative.
So what do you need to have to qualify as a good homeschooler?
- Relationship. Be attached and connected, involved and encouraging of each child. Know your children, their weakness, fears, anxieties, learning styles, interests, and passions. This is true for any great parent, even if your child attends public school!
- Facilitator. Your purpose is to observe and listen to what they love to do, what they love to learn, and to encourage, initiate ideas, and help them explore and discover what interests them. Give them time and space to explore, discover, create, make a mess, make mistakes, and make it their own. Ask them what they want to learn and allow them to choose subjects, topics, books and approaches and then tailor-make their education. Think of child-led learning.
- Basic skills. Teach them with short, clear instructions and then let them apply it in their learning. Give them examples of how to work with equipment, tools, materials and methods. Show them how to be safe and keep things clean and in working order when finished. Think of practical life skills such as washing, cleaning, using kitchen equipment, sewing, handwork, use a variety arts and crafts materials. Teach more specific educational skills such as how to use a microscope or maths equipment . If you don’t know how, find someone who can and learn together with your kids. Often my kids find out for themselves in the Internet or from friends.
- Read aloud with expression. This may be your greatest teaching tool! We have always learnt through living books and great literature. I still read aloud every day to my high schooler and our family loves to read. Even when everything else seems uncertain and failing, read alouds have kept us going strong. It has been our homeschool glue! Start while your kids are very young and just keep updating your library, looking for relevant, engaging books as they grow older. There are dozens of book lists for children of every age. Ambleside Online is a free Charlotte Mason education based primarily on book lists for each year.
- Keep the young years fun! Avoid making homeschool about desk work, days of dry, dull, long lessons. Do hands-on activities, play, get dirty, have fun, sing, laugh and play. Avoid curriculums that require strict marking, tests and exams. This approach is not necessary until your children reach highschool. Only in the final 3 years of highschool do you need to settle into a more focussed academic approach.
When buying a curriculum, most new homeschool parents buy the full bells-and-whistles packages. This is a great help, but I urge you to adapt it and make it fit your family.
Here’s my best advice to new curriculum package users ~
- One core – try put as many children of similar ages together on the same core. Some years a young or older child may require the focus of the core, but generally go on a family adventure on the same read alouds.
- Individual Reading, Maths and Spelling – each child on their own learning levels and pace for handwriting, phonics, reading, spelling and maths.
- Short sweet lessons – For the 3R’s read how to keep lessons short – only 10 to 15 minutes long.
- 4-Day-Schedule – plan for one free day to do extras, outings, co-ops, nature walks, fine arts and personal free time. This will keep you and your children fresh and sane!
- Start slowly – don’t pile into the full package. Ease into the program over weeks even months. Start with the best, juicy parts like the reading aloud and the main core books. Each day work through this and then add a new subject each week. Give yourself and your kids time to find your family’s natural rhythm and flow. It doesn’t matter if some subjects are “behind” for a while. You can focus on lagging subjects and catch up easily in a few days or a week!
- Tweak the package for each child and use the schedule uniquely and individually instead of trying to make your kids and yourself fit into someone else’s learning plan. Think of the schedule as an outline, prompt or suggestion. It is the general road-map. Make the journey yours!
You CAN DO THIS!
Wishing you all grace and courage as you follow your heart and begin this most amazing journey!