It’s that time of year again when many people start a new school year.
After 20 years of homeschooling, I have some tips and pointers that may help you start this year off right and feel confident that you can do it!
Here are 10 steps to setting the right tone in your home to homeschool successfully.
First of all, it helps to start with the right mindset. We are homeschooling, not doing school at home. I call it “Family Schooling”. We are learning how to do life well. The most important thing we as Christians should do is pray about our agenda and plans. Ask the Lord what He would have us do. He knows our children better than anybody. He knows what they need. Take some time to ask Him and some more time to listen to what He might say about what your children need to learn today.
If you are brand new and your child is doing preschool, let them play! If your child is only 3 or 4, you probably don’t need a curriculum. Read some good picture books to him/her. Let the child lead you in what he wants to do. If he doesn’t have something in mind, offer some choices, such as coloring, playing with play dough, playing with magnetic letters, singing the ABC song, counting teddy bears or something colorful, watching something educational. If your child is a boy, he may not want to write anything. Girls are more likely to want to try to draw something or write letters or numbers. If she wants to write, start teaching her to write her name and names of family members. Keep it informal and light with no pressure or expectations of perfection. At this age, just let him have fun trying new things and exploring the media, such as colored pencils, crayons, markers, paint, clay, etc. Don’t expect professional looking pictures or products. Show appreciation for anything they make. Realize that all of these skills are difficult and unfamiliar for your little one. If you have a hard time remembering what it’s like to learn something new, try this little exercise. Write a sentence with the opposite hand from what you’re used to using. If you’re right-handed, use your left hand or vice versa. Then you will be able to relate to the effort your child is putting into learning new skills that you are trying to teach them. Lots of things that they play are using their fine motor skills, like pushing a small car around, building with blocks, coloring or drawing, putting a puzzle together, etc. And cleaning up can also use fine motor skills, such as putting crayons or colored pencils back in a box or putting any toys in a container, etc. Cutting and gluing is fun for them and helps with developing fine motor skills, too.
Remember that boys are different from girls. All children are different from each other, but we can make some generalizations that can help us to not expect things that make learning time a chore and drudgery instead of enjoying the process of discovery and experimentation. Don’t expect boys to want to color or draw or do craft projects. You can try some and see how he reacts. If he likes them go ahead and do more. But if he wants to get down on the floor and play with cars and build with blocks, encourage creativity and storytelling as he plays with them. Let him have lots of time for free play. But you might want to ask him what he is building or what he is playing with his cars or action figures.
For many boys, handwriting is extremely difficult and even painful. They sometimes squeeze the pencil too hard. Boys may have a difficult time making the figures go where they want them to go on the page. They may struggle to make a letter look the way they want it to. So don’t push. If you micromanage the early days of handwriting, you may set your son up to hate handwriting. Then the skill and practice is even more distasteful and unpleasant for both of you. Wait until he is ready and his fine motor skills are more developed. This may be months or even years. Start out doing small bits of writing such as teaching him how to write his name and names of family members and familiar small words.
Don’t hover, push or micromanage the work your child is doing. Make sure he understands what he is supposed to do, and then step away and let him do it on his own. Stay nearby in case he needs help, but let him make the learning and practicing the new skill his own.
Do take advantage of teachable moments. If your child asks a question, explore it with her and see if there is an extension of that subject that would be of interest to her and add to her pool of knowledge. If you don’t know the answer to the question, sit down with your child and do research on the internet to find the answer.
Don’t think that you are behind. Don’t compare what your child is doing with what another child is doing. It’s okay to get ideas of things to try, but don’t be dismayed if your child is not ready for that skill or subject yet. The only people you have to please or be accountable to are yourself and God.
Remember what is important in this process. The big picture is that we are teaching our children to be loving, kind people of good character. When issues like disobedience, anger, rebellion, impatience or even perfectionism arise, we need to deal with these issues before we move onto actually accomplishing the book work or project that he is working on. We need to be careful of our own attitude while dealing with these attitudes in our child. Remember to be patient and kind and in control of your own emotions. Don’t take it personally if he doesn’t want to do the work or he doesn’t like the subject or he finds it difficult. Sometimes you may need to put the school work on hold while you talk to your child or just hold and hug and snuggle him. Always pray for wisdom, understanding and discernment to know what is going on in the heart and mind of your child.
Keep the main thing the main thing. Your relationship with your child is more important than finishing school work or learning a new skill. If she has a difficult time with the assigned work or cannot seem to grasp a new concept, she may not be ready for it yet. Put it aside until later. Then come back to it later on and try it again. Keep the heart of your child. Or if you have lost connection with your child, use this time with her to show your love and affection toward your child to get her heart back.
As your children interact with siblings and other children, watch the way they relate to others. Children tend to be immature and selfish. Help them learn to be less selfish and gradually more mature. This can be a very long process and take many times of intervention and correction and teaching and discussion. You may even need to role play how they should deal with situations that come up during play times. This requires lots of patience on your part and the willingness to step away from things you would rather do. It is not the most pleasant part of parenting, but it needs to be done and is one of the most important parts of homeschooling. I hope these tips help you get off on the right foot or help you have the best year yet. The most important thing is that we let the Spirit lead us. Then we know that we are doing the best we can for each child the Lord has blessed us with. I pray that God blesses each of your homeschools and families this year.