The typical school year isn’t quite over yet, but I think it’s safe to say that my daughters and I have survived our first official year of homeschooling. My oldest is wrapping up the end of her kindergarten year and I can confidently say we’ve both learned a lot! I am proud to see the ways in which she has grown in her skills and abilities, but I am also proud of the way our homeschooling developed over the months.
Maybe you are reading this as a fellow homeschooling mama, or maybe the current school closings have turned you into a temporary homeschooling mama! Let me share a few of the practical things I learned (mainly from trial and error) that might be helpful to you in a time of schooling uncertainty.
Homeschool is not school at home
A school day at home doesn’t look exactly like the public school’s school day. But it’s not supposed to! Sure there are going to be some similarities, but we didn’t choose to homeschool to simply replicate the public school setting. As a homeschool family, we choose to have our days formatted differently and scheduled to meet our own needs. In our house we have four kids ages 6 and under, so right there is a huge difference. Having multiple-aged kiddos means things will be different (but not in a bad way). Trying to copy or mimic a traditional school setting isn’t possible and it isn’t for us and that is okay!
Less is more
There are so many great lessons, products, ideas, and more out there in the homeschool category, especially now that many are being offered for free for a few months (and stay tuned: we’ll be covering resources in another post!). In planning, it was easy to get overwhelmed. I kept feeling like I needed to buy more, plan more, do more! Even though I tried to keep things simple with what we were going to attempt to do in the year I realized I needed to simplify even more when it came to our lesson plans. When I saw how many activities we didn’t get to I would get discouraged, but then I just had to readjust my expectations and make sure they fit with reality.
The weeks when I planned less I felt like my daughter was more engaged, retained more, and was less overwhelmed. It’s easy to supplement activities if time and energy allows, but keeping realistic expectations for what can fit in a day and in a week helped me feel more successful overall.
Learning outside the lesson plans
Part of the reason I started to streamline my lesson plans was also because I observed all the learning my daughter was doing outside of our planned book work. This doesn’t mean we stopped doing book work or lessons, but instead it meant leaning into the natural learning that happened in our day to day life.
Some examples of this would be allowing her to have a more hands on role as I am baking or cooking in the kitchen. As her reading started to develop she could read basic recipes to me identify the right measuring cups and help with the math side of it, too. Or as we talked about telling time or counting money, I showed her throughout the day how those skills were useful.
Another example is that I let her pursue some things she cares about, which for her is ocean life and animals. When we went to the library she learned where she could find the best books (practical lesson in fiction vs. non-fiction and library systems). She poured over these books and we read them together which lead to more questions and learning. We found videos and movies that showed her what some of these fish look like in their environment. All of that was outside the lesson plans I came up with, but through it all she learned quite a bit!
I could go on and on with examples. But basically I adapted an attitude this year that learning isn’t confined to a certain time, location, or plan. Learning is constant! Kids are absorbing information all day long, so embrace it! Be ready to use any and every situation as a time to teach (or reinforce) something to your kids.
Flexibility is essential
I knew going into the year that flexibility is a huge perk to homeschooling. There is flexibility is just about every aspect of homeschooling, which I love! In fact flexibility is kind of theme that runs through all of the lessons I listed above. But one specific and difficult way I learned to embrace flexibility was in some of my curriculum choices. I picked out the books that we needed for the year and we started strong! But after a few months in I could see how frustrated my daughter was getting, especially with the reading and phonics curriculum. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the subjects or the format of the curriculum that was causing the issues, but after some trial and error I found out it was simply the approach the books took. It didn’t fit with her learning style and needs. She loves books, and wasn’t doing poorly with these subjects, but I had to adapt how I taught her.
At first I kind of felt like I failed. I picked the wrong books, I wasn’t meeting her needs, and I was messing things up. I quickly had to remind myself that that wasn’t the case. Instead I just needed to be flexible and make the small changes to help her succeed. I tend to be the sort of person who likes to finish what I start, I like to see things through and not give up. So leaving a curriculum partially unfinished killed me. But making a change and practicing flexibility didn’t make me a failure. In the years to come I am sure I will have to revisit this lesson of embracing flexibility!
These are just a few practical lessons I learned over the school year. I am sure I will keep learning as I continue to teach my kids at home. But that is a great reminder that, even as adults, we are still learning and still growing. No one starts out as an expert, and the next few weeks will be a great opportunity for you to learn alongside your kiddos.