1.) Freedom from Guilt. I have put this as my number one tip because I think it is the most important for us parent’s and it is the hardest one to achieve. I have only recently begun to take my own advice and allow myself to homeschool guilt free. I haven’t mastered it yet. Don’t know that I ever will, but it is truly so important to not put too much pressure on yourself or to have unrealistic expectations of yourself or your children. One thing I have learned over the years of homeschooling is that there is no right way.
Children will learn everything they need to in time and the best lesson you can give them is a joyful learning experience. If you are stressed or feeling overwhelmed, they will feel that and that is the memory they will have of the experience. When I first started homeschooling Ava for kindergarten, I felt overwhelmed because I wanted to expose her to everything and felt that if I didn’t, then she wouldn’t be well rounded and that she would be missing out and that it would be better to have her in school. It took time for me to realize that all those things I wanted to teach her would happen in time and that it was better for her to have a happy mom, then a stressed out mom who felt the need to have things checked off her list as to having taught them. I realized through time that if Ava learned about ancient China or how to knit when she was 5 or when she was 25, it really didn’t matter. Yes, it is important to teach your children to read and basic math and science skills, but you’ll be amazed at how easy that all comes when you let go of expectations and enjoy the process of learning together.
Children are always learning and are curious by nature. Your job as a parent and teacher is to nurture that love for learning. It has taken me about 5 or 6 years of homeschooling to finally feel completely comfortable with that notion, but I promise you, it’s true. When you finally feel comfortable enough to let go of the guilt and just give your child your time and attention to their interests, you’ll find that everything that needs to will just happen naturally.
2.) Get Outside. Most often people assume that “school subject” learning can only happen when you sit at a desk and work on worksheets or read a text book. It’s something we have been conditioned to believe over time with the mass model of schooling. Yet, learning happens outside the box, not just in it. Some of our best learning happens outdoors and outside of a text book. My kids love to run or bike around the house and time each other (math work)! I sometimes give them math problems and they run around the yard and come back with the answers. This is a game that Lily made up when she was 5 and just starting to learn addition. She would ask me to give her a math problem, she would run around the house and come back with the answer and then do it again.
Bring the books outside; read, paint and draw. Who doesn’t love reading a good book under the shade of a tree or lying on a blanket in the grass. One of my kids favorite things to do is to take their writing journals and sit in the yard or walk the trail and free write or draw. We bring art outdoors all the time. Remember those early impressionist painters? They weren’t sitting inside imagining things to paint, they got outdoors with their easels and painted what they saw. There is something very magical about taking an easel or sketch pad outside with some paint and seeing the world around you in a completely different way. Being in nature brings out the artist and explorer in everyone. Being in nature is therapeutic. It is calming and renewing to us all. Take a hike or a bike ride on a trail, walk around the yard or visit a park, sit out on your deck and breathe in the fresh air. Stepping outdoors is the best classroom you can offer your children. Encourage them to explore their world around them and you’ll be amazed at how much it improves their attention and learning.
3. Read, Read, Read. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is the love of reading. Read to them, read with them, and have them read to you! Reading opens the doors to everything. If they have a love for reading they will be able to open a book and learn about anything. The more kids read, the better they will be at writing. The more they write, the better they will be at spelling. Opening a book opens the doors to topics you may have never thought you’d explore, geography, music, art, math, science… everything!
When Lily was 6 years old we read an American Girl Story together about a young African American girl named Addy who was a slave during the civil war in the United States. I was incredibly moved by Lily’s compassion for Addy and how the floodgate of questions opened. We read the entire 5 book series in a week and then had deeper conversations about the civil war and slavery. We explored those topics deeper with more books and then read about important people in history and events that occurred during that time like Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and Abraham Lincoln. We then started to read about the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Lily started to act out the stories in her play. She was playing with her people’s with Leo (4 at the time) and told him to be Harry Tubman and she was Rose and how they wouldn’t get off the bus. These were topics that I hadn’t planned to explore at all with her at such a young age, but we did because she was curious and interested and felt connected to a character in a story. These weren’t topics that were required learning for 1st grade, but we covered them because it was her interest. That is the beauty of reading and of following your child’s interests. Every book you open is a new life adventure and learning experience.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning.” Mr. Rogers
4. Play. Open-ended, free play is one of the best ways for kids to learn. Board games, card games, make believe, doing dishes and the laundry, learning to cook, taking care of pets, learning to use tools, and gardening are all extremely important life skills that qualify as time spent learning. Free play and life skills are education at every stage of life.
We are at a time when kids are over scheduled and have very little down time. In the United States the number of hours that children spend in free play has decreased dramatically while at the same time we have more children plugged into media and medicated more than ever before while, at the same time, the diagnosis of anxiety, depression, and attention disorder in children has sky rocketed.
Open-ended free play is crucial to human development and it’s often how children make sense of the confusing world around them. Research has shown that free unstructured play teaches children to be less anxious. It also teaches them to be resilient because it allows the child to figure out their own ways to regulate their emotions and cope with stress. Giving children the trust and space to figure things out on their own creates self-esteem and self-reliance because the satisfaction comes from inside the child, not from an outside source.
Through play that is unstructured, children learn to believe in themselves and their ability to work through stressful situations that feel out of their control. Letting your kids learn to do things on their own shows them that you trust them and their ability to do things. Teach your child how to cook or bake on their own from an early age, teach them how to do their own laundry and be responsible for getting it done, give them chores and responsibilities in the household (feeling part of a team is very fulfilling). This is truly a very important gift you can give your children and they will be learning some of the most important skills to take them through life.
5. Enjoy what you’re doing. This is an extremely special time in life that you have with your child and it truly does go too fast. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or burdened by the goals you’ve set for yourself or your child, then take time to re-evaluate and only put on the table what is truly realistic for you to accomplish. Remind yourself of why you have chosen to homeschool your children. *For those thrown into the realms of homeschooling your children during this pandemic, know that this is a short time in the big picture of things. It is far more important for your children to feel safe and loved than for you to have to stress of accomplishing work the school has assigned. You will get through it all in time and whatever they don’t accomplish now will be learned later. We’re all in the same boat.
I decided to homeschool my children because I enjoyed being with them and learning with them. My husband and I have both made sacrifices in order to do this, but the sacrifices pale next to the reward of seeing our children thrive. It is definitely not easy and some days I question if I’m getting it right. I’ve realized that there is no right way and just checking in with how I feel and how the children feel allows room to make changes and figure out what is working and what isn’t. If you incorporate homeschooling as a way of life, and time well spent together than there will be less guilt and more joy.
References: If you’d like more information on these topics and explore the research that supports this article, here are some great resources:
The Case for Make Believe, Susan Linn, The New Press, New York, 2008.
Psychology Today, Freedom to Learn Blog (website) – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn Author: Peter Gray: Children come into the world with instinctive drives to educate themselves. These include the drives to play and explore. Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College.
The Danish Way of Parenting, Jessica J Alexander and Iben D Sandahl, A Tarcher Perigee Book, republished by Penguin Random House LLC, 2014