Secrets to a Happier Homeschool
In this post you’ll find five simple tips to making your homeschool a happier one. They are things that I believe can work for anyone, no matter what your homeschool style. They’re simple things that we all sometimes forget when we get into the thick of planning or living out our daily routines.
TIP 1: IDENTIFY THE ESSENTIALS
Going into a new school year, we all make plans and have lofty goals and big expectations. We load up our calendars and our planners like we’re filling up our plates at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We want to sample all. the. things, and much like at that buffet, our eyes are bigger than our kids’ educational appetite. We overload, and one of two things happens- we either feel guilty for all the plans that fall to the wayside or we trudge along miserably because we are trying to do more things (or different things) than we or our kids are comfortable doing.
From the very beginning, ask yourself, “What is essential?” What subjects are required to meet state requirements and/ or prepare my child for a successful future?
At every age the essentials of a good solid foundation are reading comprehension, communication, and math skills.
As your children get older, the essentials will grow to include their gifts and interests. But sticking with the essentials and planning LESS for all the extras has actually led us to study those interests and gift MORE. When our days have free time that I haven’t already pre-planned or pre-scheduled, I don’t have to feel guilty for digging deeper into a topic or taking that unscheduled trip somewhere. Keeping in mind what is essential has also made it so much easier to make choices about what to cut when the load feels too heavy or life calls for us to slow down, whether it’s due to illness or family emergencies or just the need for a mental break.
Identify the essentials for your family and leave breathing room.
TIP 2: ADOPT A LONG GAME STRATEGY
Adopting a long game strategy is all about letting go of the short-term standards and measures placed on kids in the traditional public school setting. Most of us probably attended public school or have many friends who did. Whatever our personal circumstances, it can be nearly impossible to escape the idea all around us that kids should be learning x,y,z by a certain grade level.
The beauty of homeschooling is that we don’t have to put these pressures or limitations on our children. They can learn at their pace. If they are struggling with a skill, you can take more time to work on it. If they are excelling at something, you can let them dig deeper and explore further. No child’s life will be negatively impacted if they master subject/verb agreement a grade later than “expected.” If your child hasn’t learned something by the end of a week’s lesson or hasn’t mastered something by the end of the year- that’s ok. Just keep working on it. As homeschoolers we have the benefit of being at different”grade levels” across various subjects. There isn’t a classroom full of people that are going to be moving on without us.
Setting short term goals and making plans that are accomplished in weeks or months is great and can be fulfilling, but it’s beneficial to always remember that the ultimate goal you are working toward- a happy, self-confident, well-rounded child with the ability to pursue their gifts and interests- comes about over years and years. Sometimes it will feel like your flying through and other times it will feel like your going backward. It’s all part of the growing up process. Just keep moving. :)
TIP 3: CONSULT THE CHILDREN
Today’s homeschooler has so many more options available to them than ever before. It’s a wonderful new fact of life, but it can be overwhelming. We can get lost in the abundance of choices, and the fear of missing out can lead to over-working, over-thinking, and over-planning.
For me, the secret to making the choices easier is involving my kids. Along with taking my kids’ learning styles into account when planning, I take their input as well. I give them booklists and show them options for math and language arts programs. I let them choose history topics and electives, and from those choices they help me pick books and materials. Bonus, they are way more decisive than I am!
Involving my kids has many benefits. It gives them a sense of ownership over their education. It gets them excited to learn. It makes them feel seen and heard, and it makes the process of planning more enjoyable and a bit faster. We’ve had way more success in sticking with the plans my children helped me make than the ones I came up with on my own. There is far less second-guessing my choices when I know they had a hand in putting it all together.
There are so many great options for books and materials out there, it’s true, but the best ones to use will be the ones that your kids are actually interested in doing.
Give it a try. As you’re planning your year, invite your kids to the table. Ask for their input. Talk about what’s worked in the past and why. Ask if there are changes they wish they could make, and let them make decisions about their education. And maybe do it all over a plate of cookies. ;)
TIP 4: TEACH FROM THE CHILD’S INTERESTS
When we think of school we tend to think of work in terms of subjects. We remember our own days of going from class to class, studying arithmetic, literature, science, foreign language, etc. The subjects were taught individually and there was rarely collaboration or intermingling of the areas of study.
But at home it can be different! Our day doesn’t have to be structured with individual subjects studied independent from one another. I made this decision a while back, and it has completely changed (for the better) our learning experience. Now, we rarely begin with a “school subject” in mind. We start with their interest and I find ways to teach as many subjects as I can around that interest.
Last year, for example, when my kids wanted to learn about astronomy, we studied both the history and the science of astronomy. I found great middle grade fiction books based on astronomy. They did writing assignments about it, and we took field trips and watched movies on it. That one interest ended up covering science, history, social studies, language arts, poetry, and current events. From Galileo to David Bowie (they still love belting out Space Oddity), my kids walked away with such a fun, enriching, well-rounded experience- all because I chose to follow their interests. This year it’s cooking and video games.
You can find ways to teach any topic this way, and your kids will be more engaged and more enthused about their day. Don’t be afraid of being unconventional. That’s the joy of homeschooling!
TIP 5: LET KIDS READ WHAT THEY WANT
There are so many reasons why I stopped assigning books for my kids to read, but seeing them fall in love with reading was the biggest one. I still help my kids find books I think they’ll like and make suggestions or give them lists based on topics we are studying, but ultimately, they choose the books they read. If they don’t like a book after four or so chapters, they’re also free to ditch it (this rarely happens, though).
Learning my kids’ “book type” helps me offer suggestions that I know they’ll love while still exposing them to a variety of topics and information.
Reading is a big part of our daily lives. It’s no longer a chore for my kids but a joy that they look forward to. Life is just too short to read books you hate! ;)
You can read more about my philosophy on reading in our homeschool in my blog post: Reading for Pleasure. It’s a detailed post about what reading looks like in our home and how you can get your own reluctant readers to fall in love with books!
I hope that your new year is filled with fun and wonderful new adventures!