In my last post I shared what I believe is the “secret” to homeschooling success. As I promised at the end of that post, today I want to offer you some practical tips for getting through the days, months and years of homeschooling. More and more homeschoolers are homeschooling their children all the way through high school, and you can do it too! I’ve homeschooled three children through high school so far, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
But whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve homeschooled for a decade, this post is for you. I’m offering these practical tips based on my over two decades of homeschooling – through everything from a natural disaster to personal tragedy. I hope you’ll read these tips, and consider sharing them with those you know who could also use the encouragement.
1) Back to Basics: Whether you’re struggling because you have a new baby in the home (and are sleep-deprived!) or your family has had bad news that is turning your life upside down, it’s possible to continue homeschooling. I’ve done it and thousands of others have as well. But it does mean making some adjustments.
The first adjustment I suggest is get back to basics. You could look at this as being a two-fold process. First of all, ask yourself: what do I really need to be doing, to keep my household in as normal a state as possible? Meeting your children’s basic needs for healthy meals and lots of hugs comes before having a dust-free home. What can you let slide? What can you get someone else to do? If you can afford paid help, then get it! If not, don’t let your pride keep you from accepting help from those who offer, whether it’s friends offering to bring meals in for a while, or your mother-in-law offering to babysit.
The second part of this process is looking at your homeschool and asking yourself the same questions: What can you let slide? Do you really need to spend time on messy and time-consuming science projects? I would suggest that you scale back and focus on the basics (otherwise known as the “three R’s”): reading, writing, and math. (And frankly, in my opinion, you can even let the writing slide at this point!)
If you can get some math done every day, and you’re teaching phonics, or reading with your child if they’re beyond phonics, then believe me, you are accomplishing far more than you think! Focus on the core subjects! Everything else can wait for a while.
2) Take Some Time Off: You may find that the best thing you can do for your family, and yourself, in those difficult seasons of life, is to take a short break from homeschooling. Consider the situation of having a newborn in the house. Since you (usually) know well ahead of time when that baby will be born, plan on taking at least a month off after baby arrives. If that’s in October, then start your school year a little earlier, or plan to work a little later into the summer to catch up.
In the same way, if a sudden tragedy occurs, for the sake of your physical and mental health, consider taking some time off. Again, you can make up the time later. Perhaps you can take less of a break for Christmas or do without your usual spring break. Another suggestion would be to take regular breaks throughout your school year as your situation ebbs and flows. You may need to go out of town to help a loved one through a crisis, or you may suddenly be faced with numerous doctor appointments. Taking a week off here and there will not affect your children’s academic success overall, and they just might learn some lessons about how the real world works that they never would have learned in a traditional classroom setting.
3) Think Long-Term: As I pointed out above, your children can learn many lessons during times of adversity that they would never have learned if they were not homeschooled. After hearing the news that my brother had been killed by a drunk driver in September of 1997, I left my family and hopped on a plane to be with my parents. I was amazed later to learn that my daughter – age 13 at the time – not only did all the laundry for the family, but also did all the packing for her dad and brothers so they could come to the funeral. Many times during the months after, I traveled to help my parents with legal issues, etc. and every time my daughter took over like a champ: cooking meals, doing laundry, supervising her younger brothers. I’m absolutely convinced that if I had not been homeschooling, my daughter would never have learned to run a household the way she did at such a young age. Moreover, I wouldn’t have had the freedom to be there for my parents during this terrible time.
Thinking long-term also means realizing that your children can still experience academic success in the tumultuous times of your life. It is my conviction that if we give our children a solid foundation in the basics, they can’t help but be successful. They will have the tools they need to be able to learn anything they need to learn.
But even more than that, it’s important to realize that a temporary adjustment is just that. It’s temporary. There were times when I scaled back to teaching the three R’s, but that doesn’t mean that over the course of the years that I didn’t teach my children history, science, geography and all the rest. You’ll get to it in time. Meanwhile, do what you need to do to take care of your children and yourself. Honestly, I wish someone had emphasized to me over the years how important it was to take care of myself as well as my family. Your physical, emotional, and mental health are important too. So make sure that you are taking time to take care of yourself.
To sum up: When expected or unexpected difficulties come up, whether those involve a move, a new baby, a job loss or a death in the family, do yourself a favor and make some temporary adjustments. Focus on the basics, particularly math and reading. Take breaks when necessary realizing that you can catch up when your situation settles down a bit. And think long-term in regards to your homeschooling. Your children will benefit more than you can imagine from observing how you handle difficult times and they will gain self-esteem by being able to pitch in and demonstrate those non-academic skills that you’ve taught them. Being there for one another as a family is something that can only be learned if you are there, together, as a family.
If you have any tips to offer in regards to how you handled a difficult situation as a homeschool family, I hope you’ll consider sharing them in the comments!