1. Know Where You’re Going
Know where you are going before you gain momentum. (Once you’ve gained momentum, it’s hard to change direction!)
In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he points out that you must begin with the end in mind in order to be sure you’re on the right track. Plan your homeschooling path by envisioning where you want your family to be in 5, 10, 20 years, then work backward to decide on the steps you need to take to reach that goal.
Just as a map helps you reach a travel destination, a clear vision of the family life you desire (you can describe your goals in a family mission statement) can make time and money management choices much easier. Our family mission statement included the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” That helped us to be thankful, rather than unhappy, when circumstances and finances combined to give us more time at home than we anticipated.
2. Make Your Children Feel Loved and Important
Remember that children don’t remember what you do; they remember how you made them feel.
Let your actions and words convey to your children– daily, hourly– that they are loved and very important to you. One major way to convey love is to speak lovingly. That means no yelling, and no saying hurtful things. Unkind or careless speech has a lot to do with self-control, and that can be helped or hindered by the life we live (I’ll talk more about that in a later point). Be ready to listen, to apologize if you’ve been impatient or wrong, and be gentle and kind. Ephesians 4:29-32 has been my lifelong, heartfelt goal in this area.
3. Time Flies
Understand that this season of life will be over before you know it.
Don’t put off doing the fun things! When I began homeschooling, my first son was five, and my fourth son hadn’t yet been born. Looking forward, it seemed as if I’d be homeschooling for the rest of my life, but it hasn’t been that way at all. Because all of our boys have gotten a jump start on college, our fourth son graduated from high school last year at 16. I’m already a retired homeschool mom!
I think that if I had known how short the time would be, I would have made more time for special projects and field trips, as those are the things that seem to stick with them. As it was, I often felt so pushed to get in the basics that the fun stuff fell by the wayside. In retrospect, they would have learned as much or more from more memorable activities than they did from another page of math!
Knowing how brief the homeschooling years are, you may want to make provision for when you are retired from daily school work. Consider your gifts, and how you can use them for others. A home business can be a wonderful thing, especially in the present economy, but there are many other ways you can use the time formerly spent in homeschooling. Start thinking about it now, as the time will come sooner than you think, and it’s comforting to be prepared!
4. Habits & Routines
Use habits and routines to help make life simpler and more streamlined.
Charlotte Mason said that “a habit is ten natures,” and she advocated training children in orderly habits of mind and body. Through the hectic years of child-training, home-schooling, and care-giving, I have found that simple habits and routine can keep the household (and learning) happening, even when unexpected events occur. (There is a lengthy discussion of habit in Charlotte Mason’s A Philosophy of Education, in her explanation of the concept of education as a discipline.)
5. Be Different
It’s not only okay to be different, sometimes it’s best.
Learn to evaluate learning materials, curricula, activities, and other things by asking whether they will move you closer to or farther from your family goals. That will help you make wise choices!
Even if everyone else you know chooses unit studies or a textbook-based curriculum, don’t do it if it’s not the right choice for your family. It is your job to choose the curricula that fits your student’s learning style and your family’s needs, and it doesn’t matter at all what others do. They are responsible for their family; you are responsible for yours. Do the research it takes to make choices that fit your family, and you’ll all be better off for it. (And if you are, by nature, a worrier, please see #7.)
6. Say “No” To Distractions
Learn to say “no” to things that will be a distraction from your family’s mission and goals, even when they are good things.
As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities for fun and valuable learning experiences. We can do co-ops, 4H, sports, community activities, church activities, and much, much more. There is so much to do, and so many busy people running around doing it all, that you can begin to feel guilty for saying no to most of it. After all, these are usually good things!
I said “no” to most things because I had to – I was caring for my grandparents (and am still caring for my grandmother). I often felt guilty, though, when with friends whose children did so much more– martial arts, music classes, sports, all sorts of things. I was nearly through homeschooling when I realized that even though I began saying no to a lot of activities because I had to, I ended up saying no because ‘no’ was the key to creating the life we wanted for our family.
Our family mission statement included the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” It’s difficult to do that and to communicate sweetly and patiently with one another when everyone is exhausted from too much running around and busy-ness. Many activities are like busywork in a school schedule – they take up time, and look as if you’re accomplishing something, but actually just distract from the truly important things in life. When you understand this, you can say no without feeling guilty!
7. Learning Will Happen
Know that in a loving, wholesome, book-filled home, learning will happen, even when crises interfere with the planned teaching schedule.
During the early years of homeschooling, I created meticulous lesson plans and elaborate schedules that worked very well, until we took in my grandparents. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, and life became a series of crises as he would wander off, often onto a nearby freeway, or become unexpectedly hostile. It was a terribly stressful time.
Through the final years of his life, it was nearly impossible to keep up with lesson plans. I relied heavily on audio resources, including classic literature, classical music and composer biographies, geography and science songs, history tapes, and more. Each year, as they took the state-required standardized test, I’d be anxious until their scores arrived, then relieved to find them in the 90th percentile or above, as they had been before my carefully laid plans met reality.
I realized that ‘teaching’ is not a synonym for ‘learning.’ Learning can happen anytime, anyplace, and does not require lesson plans and worksheets (which often hinder true learning). As Charlotte Mason said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”
A rich learning lifestyle makes growth – mental, spiritual, physical – almost inevitable, so fill your home with good books and beautiful music. Take trips to art museums and botanical gardens. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Learn to make things with your hands. Have long talks around the dinner table. Live well, and your children will learn. Live well, and your family will grow.