7 things I wish I knew when we started homeschooling 7 years ago
1. The stigma around homeschooling One thing I never considered when I first started homeschooling was that upon enrolling Jaiden into home education, every person who had never homeschooled their own child, instantly became an expert on education, and the individual developmental needs of my son. Even my own mother had serious doubts as to whether homeschooling was the right option, as our approach evolved (more on this later) her concerns for Jaidens long term well-being increased. What I came to realise was that we humans often fear the new, or the unknown. The reasons people are sceptical of home education are often because they have no idea what it really looks like to homeschool in today’s world. Well, except maybe for some antiquated beliefs society has, a ‘reality’ TV show they watched, or just some ideas they’ve made up inside their own head. Making the decision to homeschool is not a decision anybody takes lightly, doing so without the support of your family and friends can make this process seem terrifying. Just remember, the homeschooling community is a very welcoming one, should you be experiencing lack of support from within your family, there are plenty of people out there to help you along your journey, people who can actually speak from experience. In time, many of the doubters will see the positive changes, often times resulting in their own perceptions changing. My once doubting mother is now someone who given half a chance, will rattle off all the positives of home education. Listen to those with experience, not those with opinions.
2. Homeschooling does not necessitate emulating school at home As someone who had no experience with home education, I instantly began acting like a teacher the very day we were enrolled with the home education unit. I had a whiteboard, planned lessons, and planned outcomes for every day of the week. I would stay up late at night and find worksheets, search for workbooks, and constantly check the curriculum to make sure we were “on track” Whilst this approach may work for some people, I quickly learned that one of the major benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility. There’s no need to have the kids in chairs at 9am ready to start work, hell, it doesn’t matter if your learning happens at 9pm, in the bath! Learning can be done in the car, in the dirt, or at the beach. Schools require a rigid routine in order to deliver an education to a large group of 20+ kids, embrace the flexibility that homeschooling allows.
3. You don’t need to rush out and buy workbooks or a pre-packaged curriculum This too was another trap I fell into. Whilst some people find it helpful to have a plethora of workbooks to search through early on, I quickly found that there were literally endless amounts of websites to download and print worksheets, activities and lessons that were actually more suited to Jaidens individual needs and interests. As mentioned earlier, the joy of homeschooling is that it enables a more individualised approach to education, in order to actually make it interesting and engaging for your kids. For instance, a worksheet teaching basic addition concepts can be rather boring, and enough to send me to sleep let alone spark the interest of 6 year old Jaiden. Swap that boring worksheet for an addition bingo game, or adding up some money, and suddenly the idea of learning basic maths concepts is a little more appealing. There are many people who spend large sums of money on 12 months worth of curriculum only to discover it’s dry, boring, and not engaging in anyway shape, or form. Therefore, it becomes a daily struggle. There are websites with free printable worksheets, free programs and websites for online learning, and there’s always old school options like libraries, all are great options to find engaging learning material. Nobody knows your child better than you, use this knowledge to make learning fun and relevant to your kids!
4. Your parenting approach will make or break your homeschooling journey This is something I wasn’t sure if I should include, but I decided to as I believe it’s critical to a successful homeschooling journey as this was one of my major struggles early on as a single dad. When you make the decision to homeschool, you’re also signing yourself up for some very unique challenges due to spending all day, every day, in the company of your children. This necessitates creating a comfortable, co-operative and cohesive environment not just for the education, but also the overall growth and development of your children and family unit as a whole. Trying to parent with an authoritarian approach makes it very hard to ensure your child feels loved, heard, and will openly communicate their feelings with you. This can take serious work on your behalf, as we often need to un-learn what we believe our role as a parent should look like. You need to walk the fine line between guiding their development, their education, making them feel loved, setting boundaries, having fun, and potentially doing all of those things before 10am each day. Doing this ensures each day is pleasant and productive for you all. A large part of your job is to help your children discover how the world works, and why certain things are, and are not acceptable; “Because I said so” is not a valid answer.
5. Natural, child led learning enables you to use your child’s interests, passions, and everyday life activities to make learning engaging, relevant, and fun. This, more than anything else, has been the key to our successful homeschooling journey. When I stepped back from trying to emulate school, ceased formal lessons, stopped looking at the curriculum, and threw out the workbooks, is when the real learning started for both Jaiden and myself. I quickly discovered that by using Jaidens interests to facilitate an education, it meant his knowledge retention was unbelievable. Instead of rehashing the same concept over and over, he would grasp developmentally appropriate concepts almost immediately because he wanted to learn it! Learning maths and science concepts through cooking, learning about angles at the skatepark, reading ingredients on food packets, delving into the history of his favourite car manufacturers, raising chickens to learn about breeding and the life cycle, making food from around the world and learning about the country of origin, just to name a few examples. Your child has an innate curiosity that drives them constantly; you can use this to introduce new concepts naturally. This also means there is far less resistance from children which makes for a happier and more positive learning environment. After all, the best thing we can do for our kids is create life-long learners who see learning as a way to progress and level up in life. Creating a negative association to learning and gaining knowledge is one of the most damaging things we can do for the long term development of our children. Your goal is to avoid this.
6. There are no tests, so there is no need to “keep up” or compete with other children. We’re taught from a young age that we’re all individuals, all with different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Yet, in a school setting all children are put in classes based purely on their age and until high school there’s often no way for children who excel in an area of academia to further their knowledge beyond what’s considered age appropriate. The Joy of homeschooling is that you can tailor the education to your child. If there’s an area your child excels in, they can learn concepts well beyond their age level. Conversely, if there are concepts your child struggles with you can take the extra time in these learning areas to ensure comprehension. In our instance Jaiden struggled with reading, he is on the spectrum and had quite delayed speech, and some auditory processing diifficulties which added another level of difficulty in teaching him to read. In a school setting, Jaiden would have struggled severely to keep up with is peers and may have resulted in him being held back another year. Whilst he was not reading until about 7, which put him well behind most kids, by 10 he was reading above his peers and now will easily get through a 400+ page novel in less than 2 weeks. This came about because I stopped pushing him, and this removed the negative association to it I mentioned in the point above, he went on to love reading because he was able to choose what he read, when, and for how long. Whilst you can check your child’s progress against the curriculum, the joy of homeschooling is that there’s no need to worry about being left behind, kids can learn at their own pace. This removes the pressure kids can face in mainstream schooling and allow a love of learning to flourish.
7. Stop stressing, relax, and enjoy the journey! It can be overwhelming taking responsibility of your children’s education, but I would argue there are far more important areas of focus than your child’s academic progress. Homeschooling allows you to build a strong relationship with your children, one based on mutual respect, love, and acceptance. Nothing will ever be more important than the relationship you have with your children during this phase. All of the academic success in the world will not mean a thing if your child has a negative association to learning, and traumatic memories of their years of education with you as their guide. It’s very easy for a child to catch up if they ‘fall behind’, it’s far harder to undo the emotional trauma, and damage that can be done to your entire family unit if their home and educational environment is not pleasant.If you feel you’re not teaching them enough, teach them to cook, to garden, or how to raise an animal. Better yet, teach them the value of compassion, empathy, and human connection. Teach them to push themselves to try new things and accept failure as a critical part of the process. Teach them the importance of movement, and how to love and care for their own body. Teach them to love and appreciate themselves and others, and the value in learning to forgive, and give, without expectations. Teach them the importance of both having company, and time to yourself, as both are equally beneficial. If you teach nothing else, teach them to see the value in making good decisions, those that positively impact them, the people, and the world around them. Whilst they may only be one person in a sea of billions, I firmly believe every person is born with the potential to make a positive difference in the world. I believe it’s our job to help them find what that impact is, and give them the skills to make the largest impact possible. Not to fill their heads with a mass of information, and expect them to regurgitate it on demand.Whether you’re new to homeschooling, or just considering it, believe in yourself. You’ve got this!