Today is Friday, and I am feeling pretty good. The house is clean (well, cleaner than usual), and I am watching my three older kids cook together while the baby naps. It’s pretty amazing. Seriously, it can be like brokering Middle East peace talks just to get the two teenagers to talk to each other, and somehow they’ve come to an understanding that is allowing them to make Chinese dumplings together from scratch. Whoa. This is the kind of calm and quiet I don’t get very often. And there’s no way it’s gonna last more than twenty more minutes, so I’ll type quickly.
This week I have gotten my eldest started with her dual enrollment classes at the community college, helped my thirteen-year-old get himself organized for four online classes, decided to unschool my eight year old, and then decided that’s never gonna work, so I am giving him worksheets and reading assignments until I figure out something better. There have been more than a few bumps in the road this week, but this is only our first week of the schooling year, and I am sure we will settle in to a good routine soon.
Parents new to homeschooling don’t necessarily have this kind of self-assurance, I know. They may be anxious about embarking on a new journey and worried that their children may “fall behind” or not be stimulated enough. My advice to those parents is simple: Trust Yourself. Take the Leap. Be Flexible.
Trust Yourself. Consulting curriculum reviews and Facebook groups is fine, but don’t feel as though you have to get a dozen opinions to lend credibility to your own. You know more than you think you know. Decide that you are going to trust your experience and instincts, and move forward on your grand journey.
You chose to homeschool for a reason, and you know your kids better than any school or district or certified teacher. Think about the type of learning environment and routine you think would work best for your child, and trust that you are making the right decision for your family. You are the captain of your homeschooling ship. Leading with confidence will reassure and inspire the little souls on this journey with you.
Take the Leap. In another life, I am a musician–a vocalist, specifically. I love performing, but I suffer from horrible nerves. I worry that I will miss my entrances or hit a wrong note. I worry that my voice will crack. I worry that the instrumentalists will become annoyed with me or decide just a few minutes into the show that I am a fraud, an imposter, unworthy of calling myself a musician at all. But inevitably, I get up there on stage, and the moment arrives when I have to open my mouth and produce a sound. The moment I do, I’ve taken the leap, and there’s no turning back. There is actually something liberating about that moment, because at that point you no longer have to make a decision about whether or how to begin; you’ve already begun, and all that’s left to do is to get through the song as gracefully as possible.
Homeschooling is much the same way. When I start a new curriculum, class, or group, I almost always have some misgivings or question whether what I have chosen is the best option for my family. But I find that when I am able to break out of my “analysis paralysis” and just commit, then I am free to focus on making the situation work–or accepting that it doesn’t so that I can move on. Which leads me to the most important piece of advice I can give to any homeschooler, newbie or veteran:
Be Flexible. Over the years, when people have asked me why I homeschool, there are a few responses that readily spring to my lips: I can customize each child’s learning experience, it’s good for family bonding, and of course, because I love the flexibility homeschooling provides. About that last one….For me, it’s easy to say, but when I examine my approach to homeschooling, I do think flexibility is one of the things I struggle with most. So now, as I begin yet another year of homeschooling–I count this one as my twelfth–I need to remind myself that perhaps more than anything else, flexibility is the difference between being a joyful and productive homeschooler, and one who is burnt out and doing the somber math of counting how many years I have left until kids start to move out.
Flexibility means more than whether you start school before or after Labor Day or whether you use an all-in-one curriculum or pick from here and there in each subject. Being flexible means allowing yourself grace to change course when something is not working. It means keeping your mind open to the possibility that there are different ways to learn and different ways to teach. You hear veteran homeschoolers say all the time, “There is no one way to homeschool!” Not only do I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I also remind myself that this changes from day to day. This understanding of flexibility has allowed me to:
- put one child in public school while the others were still homeschooled
- have one child repeat a “grade”
- give our family an impromptu and much-needed vacation week in the middle of the school year
- “contract out” and get teachers for some subjects, even ones in which I am an “expert”!
- abandon curriculum partway in (I usually try to sell it or save for another child to mitigate the financial impact)
- take a complete break from certain subjects from weeks or months at a time
- school year round because I wanted to maintain structure
- educate through documentaries and museum visits for a while because I needed a break from structure
Changing something that is not working for your family is the smart and responsible thing to do, so don’t beat yourself up and see it as something negative. As in most areas of life, being flexible in your homeschooling is a positive!
Trusting myself so that I can make and commit to homeschooling decisions, knowing that I can be flexible as needed, is something I have to remind myself about all the time. But once reminded, I am able to relax and find my confidence again. I know that my homeschool does not have to be any sort of re-creation or approximation of school whatsoever, and that I have to figure out the homeschooling method and schedule that works best for my family. I know that my children will learn and develop and grow, regardless of any breaks I take or missteps I make.
The baby is awake now, contentedly playing with trucks. I can hear my older children in the kitchen, laughing and making weird puns about ginger. It’s encouraging to hear them getting along so well, and to know they are learning, growing, and becoming more independent. In this moment, I feel confident that this year is going to be great. And more than that–dinner is going to be delicious. ❈