The first rule of defending your parenting decisions is also the most liberating: You have no obligation to justify or explain yourself to anyone. Period.
A reader was thrilled to start homeschooling but finds the adjustment period harder than she expected.
By the time our official planning starts, we already have a good idea of what we want from our homeschool in the coming year.
Kick off your homeschool life with a unity study, and you'll learn as much about your homeschool as about the topic you've chosen to explore.
However much—or little—you have to spend on homeschool materials, you’re always going to want to feel like you made a good investment.
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or experience to help introduce your 3- or 4-year-old to the joys of learning.
When I began homeschooling, I felt overwhelmed. There were too many books, blogs, and other resources. I wanted a short, sweet guide to help me get started teaching my son. I never found that, so I decided to write one myself.
I’m happy to announce that The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade is now finished and available for you! It’s short, but it’s also packed with information. This book will be helpful to any parent who has a child between the ages of 4-8 or thereabouts. “First Grade” is merely a guide. Not an absolute.
When we officially began homeschooling (that is, according to the state law), I asked, “What are 1st grade students supposed to learn?” Yes, there are books and websites out there that will tell you, and when I looked at them, I started to panic! Are you kidding me? A first grader is supposed to know all that?!
I calmed down, and ultimately, I used those lists as a guide for some simple lessons, but truthfully, I didn’t teach even a quarter of it to my son that year. Instead, I realized that by creating an environment that would honor his questions and foster his creativity, he was learning more than enough. I knew it was important that I let him use his imagination, play, and start a good routine. When he was five-years-old, I decided to create priorities for our homeschool that are still helping me plan our goals six years later. And the daily habits I set in place that year have helped me tremendously as we dig into more academic work now.
I wrote The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade for those of you who want to teach your children, but you also don’t want them to lose their love of learning. There is a list (not an overwhelming one) about what 1st graders typically learn in school, but then I also show you how to start thinking like a homeschooler. The first grade is the perfect time for setting up good habits that will last throughout your child’s whole education, and I will encourage you to set up the habits that are most important to you.
Also in this e-book you will find:
- a list of the most popular educational philosophies used by homeschoolers today
- clickable resource links
- how to create a physical environment that will foster creativity and learning
- a tip on how to get your child to try something without forcing him/her
- tips on lesson planning and scheduling
- tips on how to meet other homeschoolers
- a secular resource guide
- suggested reading list
- and more…
I hope you’ll check out the Table of Contents and Introduction here and also get back to me about this and other resources you’d like to see here on home/school/life. Amy and I are dedicated to making the home/school/life website a complete resource for families at every stage of homeschooling, so we want your input. Thanks!
Mothers are the only workers who never get time off, said Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and that’s doubly true for homeschooling mothers, who cheerfully derail dinner prep to look up a particularly strange beetle in the bug guide and listen to impromptu poetry recitations while they’re in the bathroom. (Maybe that’s just me?) But time off every now and then is essential to maintaining your homeschooling mojo. While your books may be neatly shelved and your plans for the coming year ready to go, your homeschool soul could use a little nurturing. Whether you can spare a whole weekend or just a long afternoon, it’s worth the effort to make time for a homeschool retreat.
Retreats may seem like an old-fashioned notion, but the concept of reconnecting with yourself as a person and as a homeschooling parent is practically radical in these days of plugged-in, logged-on, non-stop presence. But homeschoolers are nothing if not radical (in both the original and now-dated modern sense of the word), and a retreat may be an inspiring way to bring fresh energy, insight, and life to your homeschool.
There are as many ways to plan a retreat as there are to homeschool, so we’ve put together a few suggestions that might work for your retreat or that might just serve as inspiration for your own retreat ideas.
Make your plans
If you’re like me, you have a never-ending list of books you’d like to read and lectures you’d like to hear. Whip out that list and start narrowing down the options. Are you starting to freak out about the prospect of putting together transcripts for college? Maybe it’s time to download that mp3 on homeschooling high school. Do you need help with setting a rhythm for your days? A Waldorf book about parenting young children could be a good bet. Try to focus on a mix of practical information—you want to change up your science curriculum or you need help getting inspired to teach writing next year—and strictly inspirational stuff. (We’ve included some great books and lectures below.) And go ahead and throw in all those awesome curriculum catalogs you’ve been hoarding so you can finally flip through them at your leisure. Try to add a mix of media: You won’t want to spend the whole day listening to mp3s or staring at your computer screen.
Choose a location
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of a weekend of pure alone time probably seems blissful. But if you’re a social animal, you may get more from your weekend retreat if you invite a friend or two to join you. Either way, try to get away from the everyday—it’s going to be hard to give yourself over to recharging your batteries if you’re staring down a pile of laundry or constantly jumping up to refill someone’s cup of juice. If you can, splurge on a location that inspires you to relax, whether that’s a fancy hotel with room service and plush robes or a cozy cabin surrounded by hiking trails. Even an easy-on-the-budget, no-frills hotel room can make a comfortable setting for your retreat if you bring your electric tea kettle and a few candles. If money’s an issue, consider swapping baby-sitting with another homeschooling mom and set up your retreat in a spot with free wi-fi, like the library or a coffee shop.
Whether it’s your first year homeschooling or your fifteenth, you’re your own best inspiration. Start your retreat by making a list of all the things you’ve done right: great trips you’ve taken, fun art or science activities you’ve done, parenting moments where you got it just right. If you’ve been homeschooling, use this time to write down what’s really worked for you in the past, whether it’s starting the morning with yoga, doing narrations with Story of the World, or making Monday your baking day. Not only will making this list of homeschool successes remind you that you’re already doing a great job homeschooling, it will also help guide your choices for the coming year and may remind you of fun stuff that’s worth incorporating in your homeschool plans.
Define your homeschool’s mission
What’s the purpose of your homeschool? Ideally, you have an answer to that question that sums up your homeschool’s philosophy: “To grow curious, engaged children who believe they can learn anything and do anything if they are willing to do the work” or “Our homeschool teaches our children how to find, evaluate, and use information so that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves” are both examples of the kinds of big-picture goals your homeschool might have. Not so much of a mission statement writer? Make a homeschool vision board instead, putting together quotes, images, and other items that represent your ideas of what you want your homeschool to be like in the coming months.
Set your goals
In addition to setting academic goals for your students, consider setting some goals for yourself. Whether you’d like to be better informed about chemistry before you tackle the subject next year or you’re longing to be less stressed about unfinished assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to accomplish personally this year. Homeschooling can be an all-consuming activity, and it’s easy to be so absorbed in guiding your kids that you lose track of your own needs and wants. Use this opportunity to focus on yourself and to make a map of where you’d like to be this time next year as a teacher, a parent, and a person.
Make a little you-time
The purpose of your retreat is to recharge your homeschooling batteries, so build in some time to just relax. Giving your brain free reign inspires new ideas and connections that you don’t get when you’re dealing with the daily grind. You know what gets your creative energy flowing: Maybe it’s a hike up a waterfall, a session with a massage therapist, or an hour of uninterrupted knitting. Treat yourself to your favorite leisure activity, and you’ll be surprised by how it improves your mental clarity.
Write your bad day mantra
Bad days happen, and when you’re doing double duty as teacher and parent, it’s easy to take them personally. Right now, while you’re feeling energized and excited about the coming year, write a message to yourself to read when you’re having a bad day. Think about the words you need to hear when a math lesson ends in tears or you snap at your toddler for making a mess of the science center, and write them down in your best handwriting. Keep this message to yourself close, and pull it out when you need to as a much-needed reminder that you’re doing the right thing even when things don’t go just right.
Ideally, you should leave your retreat with a clear vision of what you want the coming year to look like (and the confidence to change your mind about that vision any time), a handful of new ideas, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the homeschooling fun ahead. But even if you just come away with some good questions, you can consider a retreat time well spent.
Tips for making your homeschool retreat a success:
- Make a schedule to keep focused
- Turn off your phone, log out of Facebook, and don’t check your email
- Set aside time for just relaxing as well as time for being productive.
Food for Thought
- Susan Wise Bauer: Homeschooling the Real (Distractable, Impatient, Argumentative, Unenthusiastic, Non-Book-Loving, Inattentive, Poky, Vague) Child
- The Homeschool Scholar: A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts
- Pam Sorooshian: Unschooling and Math
- Donna Simmons: Talking Pictorially and Living Actively with your Young Child
- Rafe Esquith: Lighting Their Fires: How Parents and Teachers Can Raise Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World
- James W. Loewen: Teaching What Really Happened: How To Avoid The Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History
- Sharifa Oppenheimer: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
- David Mulroy: The War Against Grammar
- Lori Pickert: Project-Based Homeschooling
- Grace Llewellyn: The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Your challenge this week: Figure out a game plan for your homeschool retreat, and write an official retreat date on your calendar.
[We are so happy to introduce you to the lovely Maggie Martin, who officially joins the HSL blogging team with this post! —Amy]
This time last year, my family was part of a great co-op. It was well-established, the enrichment classes were wonderful, and there were countless social opportunities for the kids. There was a prom, a graduation, a yearbook, a variety of clubs, and field trips.
I knew that we couldn't stay.
The thing is that we lived an hour away. Devoting two hours of driving to and from classes one day a week was (almost) okay, but driving two hours so that my kids could do scouts or playdates with kids from their classes just wasn't practical. Every week I'd watch other families' kids falling deeper into real, lasting friendships, and it was a constant reminder that those friendships were the one thing that I wasn't providing my children in our homeschool experience.
I knew that a co-op move would have to happen to give my kids those deep-rooted childhood friendships, but moving in that direction seemed hopeless. I'd pored over the list of local co-ops for options that would be a good fit for secular members only to find a disappointing lack thereof. I'd even gotten a babysitter to attend an interest meeting for a new co-op forming at a local church in hopes that somehow that might work out for us. It didn't. Maybe one day I'd be brave enough to start a co-op in my little town that would be friendly to secular homeschoolers, but of course that time wasn't then. I was in the middle of building a new house, doing much of the work with my own two hands when I wasn't forging my way through lessons with my six-year-old twins.
Then when the 2016 summer issue of home/school/life downloaded its way into my life, I stumbled upon this highlighted passage from Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives:
"The desire to start something at the "right" time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now."
Those words crawled into my system and wouldn't stop swirling around my brain until I'd metabolized them.
I had to realize that there would always be excuses not to do the thing that is hard, probably really good excuses. And I had to realize that that saying about "The days are long, but the years are short," is no joke. It already felt like I'd put my babies down for naps only to turn around and find them starting the first grade. By the next time I turned around, those first graders would be perfecting their college admissions essays, and my chance to construct the homeschool experience I'd dreamed of for them would be gone forever.
So I decided to start that co-op. I made a To Do list that was about a mile long, and tackled every item one by one when I could steal a few minutes to do so. I communicated with the homeschool acquaintances I'd made in our community and shared my vision, I turned to our gem of a library when finding a meeting space was turning into a deal-breaker, and, most importantly, I focused on my devotion to my kids when the job seemed overwhelming.
By the end of the summer, I had accomplished what had before seemed impossible, and a year later, I'm boundlessly grateful that Gretchen Rubin's words found me in that home/school/life issue just when I needed them. The friendships my children have made this year are all the reward I need for the hard work I invested in our co-op's startup.
There will always, always be a reason not to do what is unfamiliar. Make those positive changes anyway. Graduation day will be here sooner than we wish.
Making the decision to switch gears and begin homeschooling partway through the school year takes courage and faith. Whatever you were doing before wasn’t working, and whatever you are beginning hasn’t had time to feel routine yet. Here are ten suggestions to ease the way, whether you’re homeschooling independently or enrolling in Oak Meadow’s distance-learning program:
1. Different philosophy; different approach. Students who have been in school have likely become accustomed to an institutional approach where work is prescribed to the class as a whole and the teacher’s attention is divided among many students. Shifting to a creative thinking approach can be challenging for a student who just spent last semester trying very hard to figure out how to succeed in an institutional setting. In contrast, Oak Meadow’s approach is flexible and creative, and homeschooling can often allow for one-on-one support between parent and child. Switching gears to this degree is quite an adjustment and might bring stress or frustration. Be understanding and acknowledge those differences as needed.
2. Commit to riding out the transition. There is a progression in learning as your child adjusts, but it may take a few weeks or more to be able to look back and clearly see the progression. Don’t expect to see results right away. Trust the process and really commit fully to seeing it through for six weeks or so before you assess whether it is working for your child. Learning really does take place, even if it might not feel that way in the moment, and a few weeks’ perspective can make all the difference in understanding.
3. Go easy on yourself and your child. You’ve just left behind an educational environment that wasn’t working for some reason, and now you’ve switched to an entirely different approach. During this adjustment phase, don’t get too caught up in whether every single item was done properly in each lesson. What’s the main concept or what are the key skills being addressed? What is most important for your child to grasp before moving on to the next lesson? Make that your focus, and give everyone points for effort as you navigate this new way of learning. Students beginning mid-year may need to go back to previous lessons if they aren’t understanding something in the current lesson.
4. Consider downshifting or deschooling. Your child might need to ease into the new model slowly, and some children, particularly those who experienced trauma in their previous school experience, will benefit from a period of “deschooling.” This can be like an extended vacation from school, with plenty of nourishing rest, time to daydream, healthy activities of the child’s choosing, and supported emotional processing. It can be very helpful for some students to have a buffer like this between leaving their old school and beginning homeschooling. Often they will let you know when they are ready to jump back in again.
5. Keep good boundaries with those in your life who resist the idea of homeschooling. Even well-meaning loved ones can undermine confidence by demanding evidence or reassurance that your new educational plan is “working.” It is fine to say things are going well without elaborating. Let your child know that you will be keeping his or her educational details private. This allows your child to relax and focus on learning without worrying about what the relatives or neighbors might be thinking.
6. Structure and support are key. Set up a solid daily and weekly routine as a starting point. You may need to adjust it many times, but begin with a strong plan. It is easy to get sidetracked, so do your best to stick to the plan. Set aside focused time each day for academic work. Find a good place to work with your child where you can both be comfortable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of Oak Meadow’s experienced teachers, enrolling in our distance-learning program, using a tutor, or asking an experienced friend for help.
7. Be resourceful and independent. Reach out to others. Make friends with your local librarian; it’s a great way to find out what resources are available and connect with other homeschooling families or groups in the area. Explore online resources. Oak Meadow’s social media offerings are a good place to start. Our Pinterest boards offer many inspiring hands-on ideas, and Facebook is a great place to connect with other homeschooling parents and find validation for this journey. There are many online groups for homeschooling parents. Seek support from like-minded people wherever you find it.
8. Go outside! Oak Meadow’s organic approach to learning encourages families to learn out in the world. This means spending plenty of time outside in nature and interacting with others in your local neighborhood or community. Fresh air and the soothing sights and sounds of nature are a good antidote for stress of any kind, including the positive stress of the important transition from school to homeschool. Schools tend to be very social places, and you will want to be mindful of how your child’s needs for social interaction are met while homeschooling. You might find this benefits you as well as your child.
9. Be patient. It takes a few weeks or more to settle in. It will be a little while before you get your bearings and find a good rhythm for your homeschooling days and weeks. Don’t panic! It’s okay if things aren’t perfect. There is a lot to be learned from trial and error. Have fun with the process!
10. Trust yourself. Remember that you are the expert on your own child. The decision to begin homeschooling was made in response to something your child or family needed enough to warrant such a significant change. Why did you choose homeschooling? Remind yourself of these reasons often. Continue to nurture your connection with your child, especially during this vulnerable time when he or she is weathering such a big transition. And remember to take good care of yourself as you adapt to your role as home teacher.
This post is sponsored by Oak Meadow. Thanks for supporting the companies that support home/school/life. Amanda Witman is a lifelong learner and an enthusiastic homeschooling mother of four. She enjoys writing, playing fiddle, tending her garden, organizing community events, learning new things, having family adventures, and connecting with other homeschoolers. She manages social media at Oak Meadow.
One question I get asked all the time is “How do I get started homeschooling?” It’s a big question, probably because homeschooling can look lots of different ways and every family comes to homeschooling with a different set of experiences and expectations.
That’s why I am so excited about Homeschool 101, our first-ever online workshop for new homeschool parents. The brilliant Suzanne Rezelman and I have worked so hard to put this class together so that it’s authentic, personal, and genuinely useful. Suzanne (who has homeschooled her four—incredibly diverse—children and counseled so many new-to-homeschooling families over the past 15-plus years) has put together five one-hour sessions covering the most common homeschool questions, from how to talk to your mother-in-law about homeschooling to finding opportunities for extracurricular activities to understanding how to make sense of all those different curriculum options. Even better, we’ve set up a totally private chat group for class participants where you can ask all those follow-up questions that wake you up in the middle of the night and bond with other new homeschoolers are just getting started, too. (Suzanne will check in frequently to respond to questions and offer insight.) Think of it as your own private homeschool support group. And your access to the chat room is permanent, so you can keep checking back for months (and years!) to come.
To celebrate,we’re giving away one spot in this awesome workshop. To enter, just leave a comment here, telling us one of your biggest homeschooling questions. Be sure to check back on Wednesday, May 25 to find out who the winner is! (If the winner hasn’t claimed her prize by Monday, May 29, we’ll draw another winner.) Spread the word to your homeschool-curious friends, and feel free to share this hither and thither—it’s going to be such a great workshop!
Have you dreamed of building your own homeschool co-op but don’t know where to start? In the first of a three-part series, guest columnist Melissa Robb walks you through the first steps for starting your own group.
You’ve tried a local homeschool group, or two, or three, and they haven’t been a good fit. Or maybe there aren’t any groups in your area. You feel alone.
You aren’t the only one. If you feel alone, if you haven’t found a homeschool group that fits your family well, then there are others who feel the same.
It’s worth your time to find people who “get” it. It’s important to find the people who get you and your kids, your family and your way of life. People who speak your language. The language of homeschoolers.
It may seem intimidating, to create a group, large or small. Build it. They will come. I promise.
The first steps in starting a homeschool group are the easiest. It only takes a small investment of your time to begin.
1. FIND A PLACE TO MEET
I can’t stress this strongly enough. Putting a shout-out for a new group without a place to meet already set up is almost setting yourself up for failure. Starting a Facebook, Yahoo, or Meetup group without a plan in place will result in a lot of people saying “Yes, yes, we will join, sure, we want to meet.” Everyone will have different schedules, different geographical areas, different age groups, and it goes on and on. Everyone will show true enthusiasm. Then nothing will happen.
Find a place and date and time to meet, then go public. All those things can and may morph over time as the group comes together, gels, and grows, but the first steps really need to be decided by one person (or perhaps by you and your best homeschool buddy). You are the organizer. You are starting the group. Make it work for your needs. This doesn’t mean you have to take on all the work involved in making the group successful. But to start, keep it simple, and keep it right for your family’s needs.
Some places homeschoolers find to meet (for free or for a small fee): library meeting rooms, community centers, some retail stores that have space for groups to use (grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants), religious buildings, local social halls, parks, senior centers, playgrounds. Where does your local Rotary Club meet? They may have a great, cheap, location that you could use as well.
What if you can’t find a place to meet? Your group could focus on just field trips, never needing a set meeting space. That’s a very doable and workable homeschool group situation. But, in the same vein as step 1, you’ve got to actually set up places to go before you start the group. Have two or three field trips arranged before you go public. Again, make it places/dates/times that work for your family. Arrange only things you will attend yourself. Later, others can join in to arrange activities, but at the very beginning you need a plan in place or (as stated in step 1) it will all fall apart. Everyone will have ideas going in a thousand directions, and nothing will end up happening.
2. PICK A NAME FOR YOUR GROUP
It’s important for your group to have a name. It can be simple or catchy. It can be descriptive or general. It may be inclusive or very specific. The name of your group can be a help or a hinderance. It should help people find you when they are Googling. (Unless your intention is to create a sort of “secret” group that you only invite friends to. Maybe you are splitting off from a larger homeschool group, and you aren’t looking to be easily searchable—in which case, keep that intent in mind.)
- Homeschoolers of San Jose: easy to find when people are Googling or searching on Facebook/Yahoo/ meetup; inclusive
- HOSJ: not as easy to find
- Unschooling Boise: easy, not inclusive, specific
- Laid-back learners: not as easy
- Teen Homeschooling Long Island: Yup, it’s clear who this group is for
- Long Island Teens: not as easy (could be any type of teen group)
3. GET THE WORD OUT
Once you have a place to meet or field trips arranged, it’s time to let people know. You can do this via a variety of ways:
- Create an email address that you will use just for the group mail. It can be a simple Gmail address. This is helpful if you ever leave the group. You wouldn’t want your personal email address out there on flyers and websites.
- Create a Facebook group (great for chatting and for creating events), and start inviting homeschoolers you know. (Ask them if they want to be invited as many people really resent it if you add them to a group without asking first.) If Facebook isn’t your favorite option, then consider Meetup (great for organizing events but not as good for general chatting) or Yahoo Groups.
- Post info about your group in public places like the library or grocery store community bulletin boards. Online, try Macaroni Kids or other local sites frequented by families looking for activity information. Consider adding your group to some of the many online national homeschool directories. Those sites usually ask you to fill out a form, and then they will add your group to a list organized by state.
- Have a flyer or business card with you at all times. While you are out on errands, if you see a family with kids during the day, ask if they are homeschoolers and hand them a flyer. This can cost you next to nothing. Find a place that offers 50 or 100 free business cards, or print your own.
- Word-of-mouth is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to pass along information. Once a few homeschoolers know about your group, they will tell other homeschoolers. It can take a while to get things started (especially in remote areas with few home- schoolers) but once it does, word of mouth spreads like wildfire!
SOME THINGS TO AVOID
In my years as a board member of my homeschool group and as a leader of many Introduction to Homeschooling sessions, I have met some people who thought that they would be able to meet local homeschoolers via their district school department. They imagined that the school department would have a plethora of useful information about homeschooling or a contact list of local homeschool families in the area. They don’t—or at least it’s very rare if they do, because it’s not their area of expertise—and it would be illegal for the school department or any government agency to provide that kind of personal information. Homeschool family names should be kept private and not appear in school committee minutes and certainly should not be handed out to other homeschoolers.
You may be tempted to start by holding group activities/meeting in your home. It’s accessible, available, and an easy commute for you. That’s where the good part ends. You would be inviting strangers into your home. People you may not gel with would be on your turf. If your children were having a difficult time on a given day, you couldn’t gather them up and leave. If you were ill, you’d have to cancel the whole group’s day rather than just not attending yourself. Additionally, some people are uncomfortable going to a stranger’s home, which could add to difficulties in getting a group started.
However, if you have some space on your property, like an outbuilding that has enough space for a group, that may work. You could still retreat to the more private areas of your home if you needed to. Homeschoolers you haven’t met yet may be more willing to come to a craft day “in the barn” as opposed to in your living room. Your home doesn’t have to be avoided; it’s just not usually the optimal situation.
Stay away from creating a group website. It may be tempting, to hop over to WordPress and make something pretty and interesting. But then you are stuck with maintaining it. Keep that sort of thing off your plate for now. Stick to existing group sites like Meetup, Facebook, and Yahoo Groups. They are easy to maintain, and easy to add moderators as you grow and need help behind the scenes. If you grow large enough to need or want your own website, you can approach that when the time comes. For now, keep it simple.
Let the fun begin! You’ve done the work. You are ready to start meeting new friends. Welcome them!.Start listening to their needs but don’t bend too far from your own needs in order to accommodate others. Not yet. Once you’ve gotten a few months (at least) of meet-ups/activities completed, then it’s time to consider what the next steps are.
This column was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home | school | life.
Melissa Robb has seven years of experience homeschooling her now-12-year-old. Since 2010 she has held a variety of positions in her favorite homeschool group (which has blossomed to 320+ member families).
Give your homeschool mornings a little more mojo with one of these low-key, big-impact day starters.
There are lots of reasons you might decide to start homeschooling in the middle of the traditional school year, but it usually boils down to the fact that you’re ready to start homeschooling Right Now.