As our homeschool year comes to an end, I just wanted to take time to reflect on our journey this year and some tips and tricks I have learned over the past six years that I have been a homeschool parent. Each year is different for me, for us, for the boys. Sometimes it feels like sunshine and roses and sometimes it feels like thunderstorms and thorns. However, I wouldn't trade it for the world! My homeschooled children are doing amazing! My 9 year old speaks Swahili, plays piano, makes his own music, is a strong golfer and artist, loves Social Studies and History, and is powering along in Mathematics. My 6 year old is above grade level in all subjects. He is a registered Kindergartener in our county. However, he is reading at third grade level and doing second grade math. He is soaring in TaeKwonDo, loves Science, and is a strong basketball player. They both love to travel, do brain teasers, ride their bikes, play on technology and make airplanes. And guess what? We don't have lessons for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes we skip days. We play ALOT: outside, gameschooling, in the house. We go on fieldtrips. We create. We rest. We learn everywhere and anytime. As an experienced educator and homeschool parent, I am putting together my ultimate list of tips for learning at home.
Here is my list:
Create a village. You WILL need others to help during this journey either to outsource lessons or just to take a break. Reach out to friends, neighbors, family members, church members. Tap into their talents, knowledge, skills and abilities. They can all be used for learning from mathematics to technology to general life skills. I have a wonderful sitter who not only takes my 2.5 year old but will also help with lessons when I need to drop the boys off for a brain break myself. Don't try to go at it alone.
Outsource. I teach my children as much as I am confident and comfortable teaching and I outsource the rest. They take Art class at a local art studio. They take private music lessons. They have technology classes in downtown Baltimore. Golf lessons at the local golf course and taekwondo lessons at a local dojo. The boys have live classes on Outschool where they've learned about crystals, drumming, Ancient civilizations, engineering, programming, capoeira and more. Lastly, they take Science classes at the Baltimore Zoo, Maryland Science Center and National Aquarium in Baltimore and online with Maroon Life Learning. We were lucky enough to finish our Spring classes virtually due to COVID and plan to continue virtual lessons in the fall.
Identify your child's learning style. Every child does not learn the same. Is your child a visual learner? bodily-kinesthetic learner? intrapersonal learner? Their learning style affects how they interact with content and material; it can be a barrier to mastery if content is not presented a way they will be motivated or engaged.
Make a plan but be flexible. Most states require you to keep a record or portfolio of your scholars' learning throughout the year. It is much easier to keep this record if you have a plan of activities; either by week, month or semester. However, don't be so rigid that you stifle your child's creativity and motivation or miss "just-in-time" lessons. Also know that you WILL have a different plan for each child. I believe in creating an PLP (personalized learning plan) for each of my children.
Take breaks. Homeschooling is NOT like traditional schooling. If your child needs a break after only 10 minutes of lessons, take one. If you need a break after two weeks, take one. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can always come back to a topic without implications from expectations created by schools or districts.
Everything is an opportunity to learn something. Going to the grocery store can teach budgeting and finance. Planting can teach children about earth and life cycles. Cooking teaches measurement. Everything you do can be a lesson. It doesn't need to be a formal lesson either. Simply imparting knowledge, encouraging discussion or critical thinking and allow your child to share that knowledge IS the lesson.
Think outside the box. You do not need a fancy curriculum and manipulatives to teach your child. You can use dollar store materials, books and magazines delivered to your home, library books, elders, games, and more. Fieldtrips are also excellent learning experiences.
Change it up! If it is not working, change it up; the space, the curriculum, the schedule, all of it! As you get deeper into your homeschool journey, you will find what works and what does not work for you and your children. If your child is getting frustrated and bored, change the learning space, curriculum or schedule for the day, week, month. Go outside. Take a walk. Do something together. Go on a fieldtrip. Try gameschooling.
Deschool. Again, homeschooling is unlike traditional schooling and that is okay. Take some time to adjust after unenrolling your child from traditional school. Let them unlearn, decompress and disconnect from how they've been traditionally educated. Many students and parents fail at homeschooling because they think that 8-3 school days, 20 worksheets, no breaks, constant sitting, is THE way to school but it's not. It is not the standard or the expectation when homeschooling. Let your child breathe. A general rule of thumb is 1 month of deschooling for every 1 year of traditional school. 3years in school =3months of deschooling. During the deschooling process, there should be no formal lessons, no schedules, no plans. Let your children naturally explore, learn, create, think. I promise. They will be fine.
Ask questions. You should be continuously asking questions of your children and yourself. Is this working? What do you need? How can I help? What can we do differently? This ensures that everyone is consistently growing and motivated to learn (and teach).
Have fun! I have found as an educator and lifelong learner that school is generally not fun for many students. When I was a classroom teacher, we had LOTS of fun. We sang, danced, acted silly, smiled, laughed, made messes together. I encourage you to just have fun with your children as you are teaching. Learn along with them. Everyone will enjoy the journey much more if you do.