Homeschooling can be the greatest, most rewarding experience of your life. It can also be the most stressful. Here are some pro tips that can help you to keep things in perspective:
1. The World Is Your School
While it’s tempting to think that “seat time” is synonymous with education, traditional academic work is not the only way that children learn. A lot of what our kids learned about science—especially in the early years—they learned in backyard puddles, in the garden, and on hikes in the woods. They learned about agriculture at a corn maze that taught the kids about local farming with a clever scavenger hunt. One son even learned the locations of all the states when the results of the 2000 election were coming in and he faithfully colored the red and blue states as the returns were announced on TV. All of us learned about exotic cultures half a world away when missionary families that were home on furlough visited our home. Every trip to the grocery store, the veterinarian, and the pediatrician can be a learning experience if you approach life with curiosity and a sense of adventure and teach your children to do likewise.
2. Make Your Children Help Out Around the House
The happiest homeschooling families are the ones where everyone pitches in and sees himself as an integral part of helping to keep the home running smoothly. Even very young children can and should be taught to clean up their toys and complete simple chores, like emptying wastebaskets and setting the table. The complexity of the chores and the level of responsibility should increase as the children get older, which will lay the foundation for a solid work ethic, making the eventual transition to a job outside the home a smooth one. Parents don’t do their children any favors by waiting on them hand and foot; in fact, doing so can lead to burned-out parents who give up on homeschooling early because the time and energy demands are so great.
3. Find a Balance Between Structure and Spontaneity
Both structure and spontaneity can be desirable characteristics of a home school, but too much of one or the other can lead to frustration or a lack of focus. First, recognize that different children have varying degrees of needs for structure. One of our sons hated anything that reeked of structure and lobbied hard to have control of his own schedule, preferring to be more flexible. Another son craved structure. In fact, we didn’t realize the extent to which he enjoyed structure until he enrolled in public school for 11th grade. He enjoyed the predictability (which, I confess, was sometimes lacking in our home) and the daily grind that a traditional school day provided. Nevertheless, there should always be some room for spontaneity. Don’t be so rigid in your scheduling that you can’t take off for the park on a beautiful day or follow a child’s lead when his interests take him down a path not on the schedule.
4. Don’t Overcommit
These days, homeschoolers are fortunate to be able to choose from a wide variety of opportunities for socialization and learning outside the home. There are field trips, co-ops, music lessons, athletic teams, and classes in every imaginable subject. While we naturally want our children to have a wide variety of experiences (and as I said, the world is your classroom), you may find that your kids are happier and less stressed if you’re not constantly shuttling them from activity to activity. There can be too much of a good thing. Be sure to regularly assess your family situation to make sure you’re not overcommitted and make adjustments as necessary. There may be seasons of life where it is better for everyone in the family to spend more time at home and less time in the van.
5. Always Keep Your End Goals in Mind
It’s very easy, especially when your children are young, to get caught up in the day to day drama (or drudgery) of homeschooling, forgetting the reasons you chose homeschooling in the first place. For our family, teaching our kids about our Christian faith and focusing on their character development were top priorities. Certainly, it was important that they received a great education, but on days when we were tempted to call it quits because we had kids who didn’t want to do their math work or who were bickering all day, we tried to remember that each of these struggles presented an opportunity for shaping their character and teaching them how to respond to problems with Christ-like attitudes. We reminded ourselves that our goals would be so much harder to accomplish if they were outside of our sphere of influence during the best hours of their day. As often as you can, try to look at the big picture instead of focusing on the minutiae of the day.
Do you have any pro tips to add to this list?