By Beverly S. Krueger, senior editor Eclectic Homeschool Online
When we started homeschooling, I had spent three months preparing for that first day. I had curriculum. I had the day all planned out. I had school supplies etc. I also had a huge lump of worry in my chest. I wondered how I was going to get my kids to do the work I assigned. I worried that my son wouldn't learn to read, and I would be a failure. I worried that my oldest daughter, who was opposed to homeschooling, would create a big stink.
Because I was so worried, I attempted to control that first day, first week, first month completely. My oldest daughter came through with even bigger fits than I had imagined. My second daughter continually told me how we weren't doing things the way they did at school. My oldest son cried and then refused to do the work on reading I had planned. Add in a ten month old and a two year old and you get the complete picture. Chaos.
I don't think we could have avoided my oldest daughter's problems. We started homeschooling after a move. She was upset by the move and homeschooling just seemed to be the icing on the cake. She was sure she would have no friends. If I had been more relaxed about homeschooling, we could have dealt with the underlying problem first. But, I was not relaxed about homeschooling.
I guess my best piece of advice when you are starting out is relax. Don't plan on accomplishing anything constructive that first week as far as academics goes. If that happens too, well consider it a blessing. If your kids have been in school, they need time to deschool. It may seem like an eternity, but eventually kids who were in school will stop saying "that's not the way my teacher did it." Teachers in school have to deal with that from kids every new school year. You've only got to deal with it once.
When your child cries and refuses to do work, it's your job to figure out why. In my son's case it wasn't refusal to do the work. I had assumed, because of things his teacher had told me, that Daniel was ready for the work I had planned. In fact, he wasn't. I was asking too much of him and needed to go back a step or two in the process. You need to learn to distinguish between refusal to work because they'd rather watch cartoons and refusal to work because there's a problem with what you're asking them to do. That takes time to learn, so give yourself a break and don't beat up on yourself when you make mistakes. Learning how much to assign and what to expect takes time, too. You will be amazed at the things you learn about your children through this process.
If you have an only child, don't help him with every aspect of his homeschooling. He needs to learn to be an independent learner. When you have more than one child that becomes a necessity. With one child, you can be too helpful because you are so focused on him. Give your kids the freedom to fail and then show them where they went wrong and let them try again. Don't do your child's work for him.
Begin with just a few things. Don't plan on starting off with all subjects on day one. Plan a special outing for the first week of school. It's also a good time to begin a journal. Have each child write down their feelings about starting homeschooling even if they are negative. If you have them write regularly, you will be able to document the changes in attitudes. In a month or two that can be a real pick me up.
It's also good to sit down with your children and explain to them why you are homeschooling and what you plan to accomplish. They need to know that their educations are based on mastery learning not filling squares. If you have several children you are homeschooling, you will want to give them some basic rules. In our house we have several basic rules.
- Don't interrupt Mom when she is working with another child. Get something else out that you can work on by yourself, and when Mom is free, ask. My kids have gotten to the point where they schedule my time. When one asks for help the other may say, "When you're done with him, I get you next." I also give them set times when we are going to work on group projects.
- Helping each other is mandatory. If Mom isn't available to help with a question and big sister is, ask big sister.
- Competition is frowned on when working together on a project. I've told them that if they are working together on something and only one of them learns the material, they haven't been successful. (That doesn't apply when the non-learner is refusing to do what she should do.) I want them to learn a lifestyle of building others up.
- Don't do things that disturb others when they are working.
- Clean up after yourself.
As you start your year, above all else relax. You have an entire year to work on your objectives and years to educate your children. Allow your children to go at their own pace. If you are using a canned curriculum, do not be afraid to alter the rate at which you take it and even eliminate things you see as busy work. Many curriculums that are sold to schools are full of busy work. Most homeschoolers will tell you the first year is the most difficult. Remember to try to relax and be flexible. You'll make it through your first week, and before you know it the first year will be done, too.
Beverly Krueger is Senior Editor of the Eclectic Homeschool Online and EHO Lite. She also blogs regularly at HS Blog.