Homeschooling sounded like such a great idea, but a school year can be a really long time - especially the first year! Here's how I survived my first year of homeschooling our kiddos and what I learned along the way.
Meet Our Family
We began our homeschooling adventure when my son was in sixth grade and my daughter was in fourth. Both of our kids had attended public school up until then, and while it wasn't perfect, we muddled through. Our school district was small and we were really involved parents, so we were able to keep a pretty good handle on things - and we knew most of the teachers and administrators.
But when my husband went on active duty and we moved to bigger metropolitan area, things went downhill fast. Open enrollment wasn't an option, and we soon realized that our children weren't learning anything. Our daughter's teacher gave her students busy work and spent endless hours on the phone with her boyfriend - during class. Bullying was a huge problem at my son's school, and while he was getting As, he was only doing C work. This clearly wasn't working, and so the adventure began...
Remember Why You Chose to Homeschool in the First Place
Why the background? Of course every homeschool family has a different story, but understanding why you chose to homeschool in the first place is one of the keys to surviving your first year. People home school for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you are starting with pre-K, and your kiddos have never been to public or private school. Or, perhaps you have a troubled teen that needs a break from traditional school. Those are two very different scenarios, and your first year experiences are going to be very different!
For us, there were lots of reasons to homeschool. My husband was on active duty, and we would be moving around the country (possibly around the world). Homeschooling gave us a sense of routine. Also, it removed our kids from an academic environment that was neither conducive to learning or to building healthy relationships. And lastly, it allowed us to teach the way our children learned best; that proved to be very interesting as the years progressed.
Whatever your reasons are, write them down. When things get hard - and they will eventually - read them. Then take the time to honestly assess where you are with homeschooling. Sure, things may not be perfect, but I bet you will find, that for at least some of your reasons, things are better.
Set Realistic Expectations
Learning is a process. It doesn't matter whether you are a veteran teacher or a new homeschooling parent - every year is a new challenge. Do you think brand new teachers have all the answers the first year in the classroom? Of course not! But I guarantee that no one loves your child more than you do. Give yourself - and your kids - permission to adjust and to make mistakes. We all learn from failures, and sometimes you learn more from the journey than you ever thought possible.
Set realistic goals and pick a curriculum that your children can easily handle - especially the first semester. Don't try to make up for everything they haven't learned all at once. Better yet, start out with things you think they should already know. It will give them a sense of confidence and give you a chance to assess their knowledge base and begin to understand their learning styles.
In our case, our kids needed some time to regroup and relax - especially our daughter. She had been overwhelmed with homework and had developed an intense hatred for reading (not a good thing) in public school. I couldn't fix this overnight or even in the first year.
Find Resources and a Friend
Homeschooling is kind of like being pregnant: you never notice pregnant women until you are pregnant, then they seem to be everywhere! Homeschooling is the same way. Once you begin, you will realize that lots of families homeschool - in fact, over 2.3 million children and counting are homeschooled in the U.S., according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Get to know some of them. Exchange your stories. I was fortunate - my best friend decided to homeschool the year before we did. She was six hours away, so our conversations were by phone, but it was still really great to have someone confirm that you will survive this! And to have someone to share all the really funny moments with, too.
Ask around your community. Search online - many communities have homeschool groups and co-ops where you can meet other homeschooling parents, and your kids can make friends with other homeschoolers. Also check with the library, museums, and indoor play/sports facilities. Many offer special homeschool discounts or activity times and can be a great way to meet people. Our community had incredible homeschool resources - from drama groups to foreign language co-ops to competitive sports teams. But whatever you do, don't overdose on activities. Take it slow and leave yourselves plenty of free time.
Take Time to Enjoy the Journey
Most importantly, take time to find the joy in your days. Some of our fondest memories are from our first year of homeschooling. Some of it was the ages of our children (spelling words in pudding and nature walks with our science buckets), and some of it was simply the opportunity to be together. Relish in the accomplishments and learn from the failures. Be patient with each other. If something isn't working, give it some time. If it still doesn't work, try something else. Try doing school in new locations. Take walks for science, have history discussions over lunch at your favorite restaurant. The beauty of homeschooling is that it is so flexible. Don't feel guilty for making the most of it.
You only experience something for the first time once in your life. Sure, there will be hard days, but there will be lots of good times tucked in there with them. Homeschooling may be the most rewarding thing you ever do - just be patient and forgiving. You can do this!