This blog post was originally published at Homeschooling Australia. You can read the original post here https://homeschoolingaustralia.org/homeschooling-tips/
A Homeschool as unique as you
Every homeschooling family home educates differently. In many ways homeschools are as unique as the people who teach and learn within them. What works for your neighbour or the homeschool family you see on Pinterest are not neccessarily the same things that will work for your unique family. Amidst the variety, there are however, some classic, tried and true tips that can help make homeschooling run more smoothly.
The following tips are things that homeschooling families who are thriving often have in common, and they may be especially helpful for families adjusting to this new educational lifestyle.
Spend time deschooling and enjoying time together before you “start”
The idea of deschooling is essentially to take a break from formal education, while allowing yourself and your children time to settle into a different way of life from the traditional school system. Taking time to deschool gives your child the chance to de-stress from school, allows your family the time to focus on building positive relationships with one another, and creates the space to respark an interest in learning. You can find out more about deschooling in the Homeschooling Australia FAQ video here.
Often new homeschoolers try to skip this step. This is usually because they are fearful of their child “falling behind.” Many of these families throw in the towel from frustration only a few weeks or months later, because they didn’t give themselves and their child a break to transition. If you are new to homeschooling, trust those who have gone before you and take this time. Your kids won’t fall behind, and in fact you may find that they will blossom and benefit from the rest and will actually be far more ready to learn when you decide to step into more formal learning.
Establish gentle daily and weekly rhythms
Kids thrive with structure, not in any restrictive sense, but by having predictability and security in their days and weeks. Establishing a gentle daily and weekly rhythm is an incredibly helpful tool to include in a successful homeschool. Notice I said rhythm, not schedule. Schedules are usually restrictive by nature, and often don’t work well with the real life needs of little people in their home. Rhythms are far more forgiving, and yet provide a framework that creates predictability and security.
Finding the right rhythm for your family might take some trial and error, and it can take a few weeks before everyone really settles into it. Putting the effort into pushing through, and being consistent for a period of time can really pay off though, and it will help everyone to transition into the new daily patterns and expectations. Having a rhythm also helps to eliminate anxiety for kids who need to know what is happening, and helps the parent to feel less stressed about their days. If you want to read more about homeschool rhythms check out this great article.
Include free time and outdoor time
Children of all ages need time to just be; time to explore their own interests, and plenty of time outside. This applies to all age groups. Any reliable search engine will bring up a range of articles on why kids need to get outside and spend time in the natural world. There is every reason to prioritise this time in your days; from better emotional regulation, better sensory processing, better eyesight, and better mental health.
Allow your children the opportunity to be “bored.” You’ve probably read about how good it is for your children to be bored. Homeschooling is your opportunity to embrace those moments of boredom and allow your kids to really blossom and become creative, curious and imaginative. Having time built into your days and into your weeks for free outdoor exploration will also improve your children’s mental health, creativity, interest in the natural world, and their ability to focus on academic learning.
We live in a crazy busy paced culture and homeschooling gives us the permission to give our kids the space they need to have more margin, less busyness, more sleep, and more time to be creative. I recommend the 1000 Hours Outside podcast if you want to explore some of these themes more.
Give your children chores and responsibilities around the home
Having all your children at home all day can definitely increase the mess around the place really fast! Without giving your children age appropriate chores and responsibilities, homeschooling can very quickly become overwhelming. You need to give your kids chores because firstly, research in this area tells us that it’s super good for kids to be making meaningful contributions in their family, and secondly, it alleviates the pressure on you as the homeschooling parent.
Teaching your kids to contribute around the house can initially take a lot of effort on your part as a parent, but it is an investment that will benefit your children and your home life. In our home, having my seven year old empty the dishwasher (even if I have to remind her three times some days), put away her laundry, vacuum up a mess, and be able to clean the toilet and the sink quickly while I cook dinner before a guest arrives, all contribute enormously to how well our family functions, and how I cope as well. Making family contributions a part of your home will help now and set your kids up for success in the future too.
Recognise homeschooling is an extension of parenting- focus on building relationships
When you choose to homeschool your child, you are fully embracing your responsibility for your child as their parent. Because you are no longer sending your children off to an institution, and instead have your children under your direct oversight every single day, this comes with the reality of having to face yourself as a parent. No longer can you blame your child’s misbehaviour or rude comments on the teacher or the other kids at school. The buck stops with you now.
You are a wonderful parent for embracing this responsibility, and your kids are lucky to have you. With this transition to homeschooling, parents often have to face their relationship with their child on a whole new level, and need to be more clear on what they want their parenting to look like. Homeschooling is a gift – and an opportunity to build quality relationships with your kids. Never allow academics to come before that goal.
More often than not, when parents are struggling with homeschooling, they aren’t struggling with finding resources or knowing what to teach, they are having parenting challenges. Parenting can be hard, and every parent faces the challenges of the ups and downs in the relationships with their children (regardless of their educational choices). Take the time to know what you want for yourself and your kids as a parent.
If you are finding that your children are not respecting you at all, or that fundamentally it is behavioural issues that are holding you back from having a joyful homeschool, please reach out for help from a parenting professional or mentor. Homeschooling Australia has mentors with experience and training in parenting who can help troubleshoot; suggesting tools that may help you, and providing encouragement that you may feel you need to keep going.
Read together as a family
Most parents know they should read to and with their little kids, but often stop reading aloud once the children can read independently. Have you ever stopped to question if reading to your older kids might be really beneficial? Creating a culture of reading together as a family will bring your family together. Reading together will also build your children’s attention spans, show them the importance of literature, create a shared family experience around books, and allow you to all learn together.
According to Sarah McKenzie at The Read Aloud Revival blog,
“The Centre for Teaching at the University of Iowa lists both evidence-based and anecdotal benefits of reading aloud…Reading aloud: 1. develops bigger picture perspective and empathy 2.improves academic performance, vocabulary, and information processing skills, 3.models fluency and expression 4.builds community 5.slows down and enriches time.” (https://readaloudrevival.com/why/)
Reading together is something that I have seen many thriving homeschooling families doing. Different families read different types of books together and engage with the books in different ways, but they all bring their children together around a shared experience of a book and thereby enrich their families and homeschools. So gather the kids (maybe give them some popcorn, colouring sheet, or lego), pull out a book you think might catch the interest of your people, and climb on the couch together and start reading.
Encourage independent learning (especially in older students)
Ultimately one of the goals we have for our children is that they become independent and capable adults. One of the ways homeschooling works for families with many children of various ages is that the children become semi-independent in their learning. When I was homeschooled, by the time I was in high school I was able to choose my coursework (with approval of my mom) and then independently complete my work. These skills were incredibly valuable to me later in university.
Of course becoming an independent learner is a skill that is built over time and needs to be age appropriate, but having this as a goal for each of your children will make homeschooling easier. This is especially true if you have multiple children. Being able to have your older children do learning activities or take responsibility for their maths and english lessons can free up the time you need to play phonics games with your year one child, or to maybe even check your emails.
I recommend looking up how different homeschool families create independent learning in their children. Be inspired and encouraged that with scaffolding and practice, your kids can become independent learners too.
Focus on long term progress and learning rather than getting caught up in daily work
When climbing a mountain if you focus on every single step, you will quickly become discouraged and feel as though you are not making any progress. But, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and stop focusing on the seemingly little impact each small step seems to make towards your goal of the peak, you will soon look back with accomplishment at how far you have come.
Homeschooling is similar. If you focus on how much daily work your child has done or how many words they have learned to read each day, it can be easy to become discouraged. Most children don’t learn in perfect linear graph-like trajectories but rather have explosions of learning that happen sporadically and often after periods of what can feel like “little progress”. Children developmentally will focus on growth in different areas at different times. Keeping this in mind will allow you to look back over six months or a year and see how much your child has learned and grown and changed.
The long term perspective keeps you from focusing too much on what can sometimes seem like painfully slow daily movement, and helps you to appreciate the incredible learning and growth that your child is doing.
Journal your day. Look back over your week, you may be surprised at how much learning your kids did.
Some homeschoolers like to make extravagant and detailed plans for what they plan to do each day. When you are starting out, however, this can just leave you with long unchecked lists that leave you feeling defeated and unsuccessful at this homeschool
thing. Instead, try writing down what your children did, what you learned, what activities you did, and what you talked about during the day. You may be surprised how much you actually did and how much learning your kids engaged in.
I have found on days when I felt like “we did nothing” that when I actually sat down and wrote down what we did do, I was surprised. My daughter independently made a batch of cookies, and we discussed how concrete was made, we worked on communication and conflict resolution skills when a squabble arose between siblings, watched a video about how animals stay warm, listened to a kids history podcast in the car on the way to the grocery store, and all the kids independently read something from our library books, and drew their own pictures. So much learning happened! I can easily miss the learning if I don’t stop to reflect on what my children actually did in a day and if I don’t recognise the deep learning that is happening even in the normal daily activities of life. Sometimes this is referred to as “planning backwards”, but I prefer to call it journaling your day.
Journaling is also fantastic for your children. Mitzi, one of the Homeschooling Australia team mentors put it this way, “Journaling is great. It can lead into self-reflective writing/mind mapping, specifically for older students, as an aid in their personal development as young adults, and helping them recognise their individual directions outside of studies e.g. hobbies and/or career choices. This self-reflection can also help parents/guardians in understanding how their child’s mind works, to better encourage positive growth in their child’s perception of themselves.”
Many homeschooling styles even rely on journaling as a method for academic learning.To learn more about the importance of journaling for both you and your children check out this podcast interview with John Muirs Laws about journaling and its impact on our brains and thinking .
Look for ways to simplify household jobs like groceries and meals
Grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry washing and folding, feeding hungry mouths….the list of daily household tasks involved in keeping a family alive and functioning can feel totally endless and overwhelming. Unfortunately, for a lot of homeschoolers, getting all these things done is one of the hardest parts of choosing to homeschool. It can feel like choosing to homeschooling is equal to choosing domestic chaos!
This doesn’t need to be the case though. Although a homeschool home will probably always be a lived-in place and not a display home (because a house is actually intended to be lived in!), finding ways to simplify any household jobs can have a huge impact on how well your home functions.
We’ve already discussed that your kids will be helping through regular chores. Next, think of ways you can make your tasks easier. Can you shop online and get your groceries delivered or shop on the weekend as a family? Make a meal plan that just rotates? Putting a little effort into making a bit of a plan for how you will deal with these household tasks can make a big difference to how homeschooling works for you.
Visit different local homeschool groups and attend excursions while you find your people
When you first begin homeschooling it can sometimes feel like an isolating experience, especially if you are leaving an established school community. Like moving to a new area, making the change to homeschooling can involve building a new community around you that requires making new friends. Reach out to the local homeschool community groups in your area. Attend lots of different groups and attend excursions. Maybe even sign up for a regular homeschool activity like homeschool choir or circus.
There will probably be groups and people you click with more than others– that’s totally normal. Just be willing to branch out, and give different opportunities a chance. By putting yourself out there, you’ll build a community of your people in the process. This takes time, so be patient with yourself and your children.
Restrict screen time to age appropriate and behavioural levels
In the digital age we live in, screens are everywhere. Parents are faced with an unprecedented navigation of this world. Yet screens can be an amazing resource. There are endless educational videos, games and programs, online curricula and online homeschool communities. We have opportunities and access to learning through our screens like never before.
Screens also have a dark side, and can have negative impacts on our children’s development, behaviour, and emotional well being. Use of screen-time can become addictive, and I think most parents are familiar with the withdrawal type tantrums that can happen when we ask our kids to turn off the iPad or TV.
Every family makes choices and decisions around this. Finding a good balance for your family can have a big impact on your children’s behaviour, and their ability to focus on learning tasks, and this can really help your homeschool.
How much screen time a child can handle can be very individual, but there are general recommendations that are helpful. You can find recommendations for screen time and activity levels for each age group here. This article on healthy digital habits by Dr. Kristy Goodwin may also be helpful.
Give yourself grace that the days will sometimes be messy but the long term rewards will be great
Life is messy and, yes, homeschooling can be messy too. Some days will be messier than others, and sometimes you won’t feel like anyone is learning. There will be days when the toddler dumps the cereal box over the floor, the six year old cries over her maths problems, and the teenager slams his door, and maybe you cry too. That is life with kids.
When you choose to homeschool, you choose to be part of all your kids’ worst moments, but you also choose to be there for all their best moments.. You will be the one who is there when they read their first word, when they show empathy for a friend, or when they master that cartwheel.
There are so many seasoned homeschool mums and dads out there who will tell you in those hard days to keep going, because the long term rewards will totally be worth the short term challenges. They are the parents whose children now have successful careers, are attending university, or are now parents raising and happily homeschooling their own children.
The most valuable things in life are often not the things that come easiest, but they are worth the effort. You can do this!
I hope these tips are helpful. Take what is, leave what isn’t, and make it work for you and your kids. Most importantly, cuddle and kiss your kids and have fun being together, and then the learning will happen!