Three Goals for Your First Year of Homeschooling

18 Sep 2013

by Melanie Young

As the information director for our local homeschool group, I talk to a lot of brand new homeschoolers. I find that one of the universal concerns of new folks is knowing “just what to do.” If you are taking children out of an institutional school, it seems so important to know “what third graders are supposed to do.” The real question is how to lay a foundation that will allow your homeschool to thrive. Even if you are starting from the beginning, the focus can degenerate into getting through the book, instead of setting a course with a long-range view. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of homeschoolers come and go from our support group, some last a few weeks or months, but others stay on track all the way to graduation. I have noticed that successful new homeschoolers generally accomplish three goals in their first year.

I think the most difficult of the goals should probably come first: establish discipline and respect in your home. Expect your children to try you with complaints like, “Mom, do I really have to do that?” Don’t let it get you down! Every day is not going to be a dream come true—especially if you are taking a child out of an institutional school. They have learned that the school teacher is the real authority in academics, so you may hear, “That’s wrong, Mrs. Wormwood said to do it this way!” It’s a bit of an adjustment for the children to realize that, “Honey, Mama is your teacher now, and we’re going to do it my way.” If you expect this adjustment time, and deal with it confidently and consistently, all of you will be a lot happier. In the same vein, sometimes when the gloss wears off—when the homey moon is over—children will sometimes want to go back to school, to tell you that their social life is over, that their academics are rotten and that boy, do they hate you! My mother once told me after a tantrum like this, “Dear, that makes me sad, but I’m a whole lot more afraid of displeasing God than displeasing you. I’m going to do what I think is best.” If you make an open commitment that no matter what, you will continue to homeschool for one full year, you will avoid a lot of this, and by the end of the year, you won’t be able to drag the children out of homeschooling!

The second goal really balances the first: build or restore a love of learning in your child. Many new homeschoolers are so worried about getting enough school work done that they are afraid to take the time to participate in support group or extra-curricular activities. These things seem like extras, but can be life savers for you and your children. For a child whose only knowledge of history comes from typical text books, a whole new world can be opened by attending a Civil War reenactment, touring Booker T. Washington’s homeplace, or making a movie about colonial days. Many times children coming to homeschool from conventional school think learning is a crashing bore. Liven your days up with real books, real activities, and lots of interest. For a mother whose only experience with education is sitting in a classroom, the casual conversation with an experienced homeschool mom can save her sanity. I once came across a new homeschool mother, a former classroom teacher who had just started homeschooling her four children, who looked like ten miles of bad road. I sat down and said, “How’s it going?” She said, “I’m dying! How do you homeschoolers do it? It’s killing me!” I asked her to tell me about her day. It turned out that she was teaching as she always had. First, she taught the first math lesson standing at their new blackboard, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, with everyone sitting in their desks waiting; then everyone did their seatwork, and when everyone was done, they went on to the next subject! It was taking them thirteen hours a day to do school, and she definitely didn’t have time to come to support group! I told her how our family gathers together for devotions, and then each student gets started on something. While I help one of my children with his math lesson, the others are working independently. We are finished with the things that need my help by lunch, though my high schooler and older children may have work to finish on their own later. This discouraged mom was revolutionized by what she heard! For this reason, I urge you to get the support you need, and the hands-on, minds-on activities your children need for you all to love learning.

Finally: get the basics done. The first year is not the year to focus on the perfect program or ultimate education. Those of you who know me are probably staring, since I am the academic fanatic in our group, but I’ve learned that everything has a season. At the time you are taking a child out of an institution, there are many adjustments to make to your family life, your relationship, your child’s attitude toward learning, family and peers, that it can be overwhelming. Realize that you all need time to transition, to learn how this works and to get ready to really learn. If you have been homeschooling from the beginning, but are just now starting more formal studies, you need to focus on and develop the basic skills that make learning easy: reading well and understanding basic math. It may be hard to add these things to your life, especially when you have lots of interruptions by younger siblings. So, if your children are middle school age or below, do not feel like you need to do eight separate subjects with each of your children separately this year! Focus on the basics, do lots of reading, and do some unit studies with all the children in those other areas that may need some attention, and you will be in a lot better shape to perfect things next year!

The homeschools “most likely to succeed” are those in which the husband and wife are in agreement about homeschooling, and they’ve made a commitment to stick with it. They get support and they accomplish these three goals: establish discipline and respect, build or restore a love of learning and get the basics done. Those families are laying a foundation for future success. They are starting out on a course they can stay on. They are setting a solid course for a lifetime!

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Christina brown's picture

Awesome advice!