student life

New to Homeschooling? 8 Highlights from a Grad

New to homeschooling? I've been there - as a student, at least.

I am not a parent. I’ve hardly even done the whole baby-sitting thing. I have one – and only one – credential that qualifies me to offer some advice to all you amazing and potentially exhausted parents out there: I homeschooled, from third grade through high school.

I have done some teaching/tutoring for homeschoolers on the side, on and off. But I think a couple hours a month hardly compares to what you’re doing right now. You probably agree.

So here are some random bits and pieces I learned – and remember most fondly – about my homeschool experience.

1. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

First off, you can relax. Take a deep breath. I remember – and have a bunch of friends who also remember – the good times first. All those stressful family events and activities and weeks rolling into months? We kids often mainly remember the highlights. All those crazy details that escalate into nervous-breakdown-inducing amounts of stress tend to slip out of memory – create happy moments in the midst of chaos.

2. Use the Internet.

Google is your friend – there are so many websites, not to mention YouTube channels, dedicated to teaching kids science, history, civics, literature, philosophy, math . . . and now, of course, you’ve got museums and zoos setting up virtual tours for interactive online learning.

3. Read together.

My favorite homeschooling memories are simply reading together as a family. Mom or Dad reading aloud from childhood classics (The Hobbit, Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden) and Newberry awards (The Bronze Bow, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and we cried our eyes out over A Single Shard) were just great experiences that we enjoyed as a family. It fostered discussion, taught critical thinking and verbal skills, and inspired writing of our own. Even if that wasn’t creative writing, mind you – good literature helps strengthen writing skills in other subjects, too.

And can I tell you a secret? Even into high school, we kept up this tradition. Harder books, for sure. Classic literature. Maybe even some textbook-style rather than literary stuff. We started pausing more for philosophical discussions and to debate points, and I enjoyed it so much.

4. Turn everyday life into a learning experience.

Cooking in the kitchen? Math.

Gardening? Science. Pet care counts, too. (I kid you not: my first lesson in genetics was reading about crossing merle Aussies. I stumbled across Punnett squares in my bio textbook and was all, “Hey, I’ve seen this before.”)

Watching the news? Philosophy, social science, global affairs.

Breaking up a sibling rivalry match? Social skills & character building is education, too.

5. Have them teach you.

One of the best ways to lock in new information is to put it in your own words. (Why do you think I write here?!) Having them write up reports – without marking up for grammar, save that for the language arts lessons – in their own words is a great way for them to really think through what they’ve learned. If writing is a chore, have them teach you verbally (maybe the parent they didn’t get the lesson from). If it’s math, let them walk you through their reasoning in a story problem.

Of course, teaching their siblings is also a great option, and there’s bonus points available for character building and patience.

6. Connect with other families.

There are other homeschoolers out there! We don’t live under rocks, I promise!

Reach out in your community to parents also in your position, and to parents who’ve been doing this before and under less stressful circumstances. Diversity in experience makes for a very supportive community. You can swap advice and resources, have your kids zoom-chat or zoom-study together, or at the very least, have a community to commiserate with you, which can also be therapeutic.

7. Get outside.

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that you are not bound to a classroom, in and out of lines all day. Take advantage of this. Study, read, do experiments, just learn while out in the backyard. Some outdoor recess time might even help them focus once you get back to the school stuff as well.

8. Inspire a love of learning.

This is more of a homeschool-philosophy for those in it for the long haul, rather than for those here for the whole “covid-19 just took over the planet and suddenly I’m working full time, taking care of the kids full time, running a home and family meal service full time, wear a mask and gloves every time I leave the house, and also now homeschool my children” kind of situation.

But it’s still worth saying.

The #1 thing you can teach your kids right now – no matter where they are going to school – is to love learning. If you can master this, you will someday find yourself in the marvelous position of having kids who teach themselves. However. This kind of thing is typically taught by example. So if this doesn’t describe you, fake it. Fake it the same way you gushed over all that broccoli in the hopes that they’d at least try some. This is probably just as good for them as eating their greens, anyway.

No matter where you are in quarantine right now, I hope you can find the time to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy each other’s company. Even if it’s just for a moment. 🙂

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