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Advice From a 20-Year Veteran of Homeschooling

September 9, 2020

By Mary Lou Bryan

Online school has been going for a week or two now, so I thought it would be a good time to do some cheerleading! If it’s 11 a.m. and your kids are still in their pajamas, the dishes are piled in the sink, and you find yourself already behind on the great plan you had this week, don’t panic!

You’re wearing a lot of hats right now and it’s okay if one or more of them occasionally topple to the ground. The sudden need to oversee online schooling with your children can be a major shock to a family, especially for working parents who depend on schools for childcare as well as education. It’s a temptation to ask ourselves: Is this situation the ultimate curse or can it be looked at as a blessing?

Let me share some of my experiences of homeschooling in hopes they will give encouragement and offer some fresh ideas. I started homeschooling when my son was 5. At that time, I had three children, 5,3 and 1. I was a “stay at home” mom and schooling began very naturally with some math and phonics lessons. Of course, trying to manage the little ones at the same time was always a challenge. Then someone gave me the idea of making a place in our house for them to be at “school” too, complete with a special box that was set aside for “school time” that included toys, art supplies, and other items for the little ones so they also felt special.

The Secret to Keeping My Sanity

The secret to my sanity was FLEXIBILITY! And not to take anything too seriously. We continued this pattern through 2nd grade, dedicating the mornings to school as our family grew and another baby was born. We did a lot of reading, painting, gardening, and math sheets. I began to see that those “early years” were the foundation of learning the children would have for the rest of their lives. I was determined that learning new things would be enjoyable and not a drudgery.

Homeschooling, even when it’s a personal conviction, can be a challenge. But, when even a hybrid form of it is thrown upon you with very little warning or guidance, it is even more difficult to navigate. Throughout my almost 20 years of homeschooling, I would cling to God’s grace, and it carried me through moments of uncertainty and the chaotic mornings when I felt like a failure.

A child’s education is so much more than worksheets and standardized tests, it is teaching them to experience life and the wonder of things around them. As you already know as parents, children are constantly learning and our most important job as parents and teachers is to create a joyful and encouraging environment which inspires their curiosity and imagination.

And then we moved to Siberia!

No, that headline is not a joke! When our son was 8 and daughters were 6, 5 and 2 years old, we answered the call to be missionaries in Russia. Needless to say, not much “formal” schooling was accomplished that first year. But, since I had a “holistic approach” to learning, this did not worry me. I realized that learning was happening all through the day and life lessons were just as important as schoolwork. I homeschooled our children without a support group or Internet for the next 11 years and we all lived through it. Better than that, all four are fluent in Russian, have graduated from prestigious colleges with high honors, and love each other (and their parents).

Practical Tips for Success

I hope what I’ve shared so far encourages you. Now, let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road. Here are some suggestions and tactics that helped me teach my children:

  • Create a weekly schedule for you and weekly “goal sheets” for each child. Break up the days in hour segments to help keep things moving and provide a feeling of accomplishment. Then, when kids are finished reward them with something fun! I sat down on Sunday night and looked at the week ahead, reflecting on what worked the previous week and planning. This was very time consuming and having 4 kids with different levels challenged me, but I was always grateful for it during the week. Each child had their own sheet that they could follow, checking off blocks as they finished each task. I would spend specific hours of the day teaching each one individually while the others read or completed workbooks. We studied some subjects together, such as science and history. My husband would get involved in these as well, creating a wonderful family bonding experience.
  • Be aware of your school’s expectations and grade level requirements. Make good use of all the help and assistance offered at your school. Hire tutors or solicit help from family members, join with other parents to form pods and support groups. These are all optional and I managed without these resources, but I was in Siberia! Believe me, I would have loved to have access to them.
  • Have children help with home responsibilities or as we would call them “jurisdictions”. Taking care of the home should be a family affair. Each of our children had a certain part of the house for which they were responsible. They also had daily chores which I included on their daily goal sheets. School at home gives you the opportunity to help your child develop life skills such as making the bed, cleaning up rooms, filling and emptying the dishwasher, and helping with the cooking.
  • Be realistic! Something ALWAYS comes up and things have to be adjusted. Have your plan in pencil so you can easily change it. We were missionaries and the doorbell and phone were constantly ringing. I tried to focus and ignore that, but sometimes it was impossible. I realized it’s ok if everything on the list doesn’t get done for a specific day. There is always tomorrow or next week. Many times, if the weather was good, our inside lessons would be ignored and our day would be spent at the park, reenacting scenes from the historical books we were reading or collecting plants to dissect and observe at home.

Looking Back With Gratitude

My days of teaching my children at home were some of the happiest days of my life. Having the opportunity to impart our faith each morning was so important, as well as developing a very close relationship as a family. Another benefit of at-home school is that each of our children absolutely fell in love with learning. I’m proud of the adults my children have grown up to be and I can say in full humility that I must have done something right. As I look back, I remember so often feeling like a failure, like there was always so much more I could or should have taught and accomplished. I now know however, that I gave them the best I had and all in all it seems to have been enough! Believe in your own capabilities and in the intelligence and complexity of your child’s developing mind. Even though the circumstances are less than ideal, teaching your kid at home can truly create a deep bond and connection between you, not to mention all the education you will get as you learn and teach alongside them.