Every homeschool mom starts the year with a daydream about how perfect the year will be after we’ve adjusted for all the contrarian situations that happened last year. The problem is that there will be a whole new set of contrarian and completely unexpected situations coming up this year. And, thus, the cycle continues.
That may not sound too encouraging, but it’s often best to expect the unexpected, and then you’re never disappointed. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be optimistic and plan for a good year. Just know, that life happens without any regard for your plans.
So, how do you plan for the unknown? Well, you plan with the end in mind. You might recognize that phrase from Dr. Stephen Covey’s popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It simply means to define your goals from the viewpoint of the destination.
I often use this illustration with my daughters. If you want to fly from Dallas to Miami, you don’t take a plane to San Francisco. You could get there that way, but it’s going the wrong direction, takes four times as long, and involves a lot of plane changes and layovers. In short, it’s wasteful and frustrating.
To apply that to homeschool planning, I take some time first to establish what I want the end result to be with my homeschool.
First, and foremost, I want my children to be employable, because they’re not living with me forever.
Second, I want my children to know how to learn because high school is not the end of their educational journey. Neither is college, if they pursue that route.
Third, I want to prepare my children for their future. This involves a lot more than memorizing a times table or historical dates. It includes social skills, time management, worldview, character, life skills, financial acuity, and more that comes up along the highway of life. And life is definitely a highway these days. You learn how to navigate it, or you become roadkill.
So, let’s talk about how to start that kind of homeschool planning, because it doesn’t come out of the teacher’s manual.
KNOW YOUR KID
What are her interests?
As the parent, you think you know your kid. You definitely know her better than the teacher with 50 students who feels like the ringmaster of a circus (not that I don’t have circus days at my house), but do you know what really interests her? What does she think about when she’s staring into space while you’re explaining how to diagram a sentence? What toys or games does she play? Is she athletic? Is she interested in animals? Does she doodle? Does she like to look at the stars?
Maybe your child doesn’t know what they’re really interested in, primarily because it’s a huge world out there. They don’t know what they don’t know yet. And part of your job as a parent and a teacher is to open that world for them. That’s one reason we don’t skip subjects just because the child thinks it’s boring.
A spark of interest can ignite in the middle of a science experiment. Curiosity can be aroused during required reading for history. An idea for a story can pop into their head while proofreading a grammar assignment. And just like that, a whole new world opens, like Aladdin and a magic carpet ride.
How does she learn best?
Educational studies identify four main learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic (hands-on), and reading/writing. Other studies suggest there may be more for some people, but for simplicity let’s just stick to the four main ones.
Identifying her style of learning, if she has one, may help her initially engage with a subject, especially a difficult subject. But I believe using multi-sensory learning can increase interest and encourage a deeper dive into any material. Think outside the box and include games, videos, audio books, experiments, physical activities, and discussions. The more they enjoy learning, the less you must push learning. Ultimately, we, as parents and teachers, want them to want to learn and to know how to learn.
IDENTIFY YOUR MAIN SUBJECTS
Readin’. Writin’. ‘Rithmetic.
Affectionately known as the Three R’s, (if you interpret them phonetically). These have been the basic subjects of education for 100 years or more. They certainly will get you started.
In the early grades, these three starter subjects are both the least and the most you should do. Much of the learning early on can be incorporated into play, observation, entertainment, and day-to-day living. No need to pile on more subjects than their little brains can absorb. And they absorb way more than you know.
Aim for a daily read-aloud and one-on-one time sounding out new words. If you have a struggling reader, let her advance at her own pace. If you have an early reader, keep her challenged with new material. You’ll only know which path to take if you have that dedicated time with her.
Worksheets have their place, especially with writing. We’re not encouraging kids to write on the walls, after all. Maybe the early, early cave teachers used the walls for their whiteboard, but pencil and paper is easier to correct and requires no clean up. Writing takes practice, and lots of it. Again, each child will advance at their own pace. Writing worksheets can be incorporated with phonics to teach letters and short words. Tracing helps the brain tie those two elements together.
I wish I could say my children all have exceptional handwriting, but they don’t. I tried teaching them neat penmanship, but alas, they only mastered basic legibility.
Basic math starts with counting, adding and subtracting, but you don’t need an expensive set of manipulatives. Start with M&Ms, coins, marshmallows – anything to show them how to group and regroup. A board game, like TroubleTM or Candyland TM will trigger some competition because doesn’t everyone like to win?
As your child advances in each of the basic subjects, start sneaking in a little science here and a little grammar there. Spelling and vocabulary go hand-in-hand with reading, after all.
Advance at your child’s pace
Humans never stop learning. There isn’t a prize or ribbon for the first one across some imaginary finish line. Take your time mastering the skills required to learn, and the knowledge and advancements will come naturally.
One skill that is important to learning but has been misapplied in many learning environments is memorization. Does anyone really need to know when the Peloponnesian Wars occurred or who was involved? Probably not. And if it ever comes up in a game of trivia, the Internet is at the tip of your fingers – literally.
But it is important to know how to memorize. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You can build your child’s brain muscle by memorizing fun facts, poems, Bible verses, multiplication tables, addition and subtraction tables, planet names, states and capitals…the list is endless. Anything they need to quickly recall or anything that they find fun to learn is fair game. If you haven’t been regaled with an in-depth lecture on the difference between a T-rex and a velociraptor, are you even a boy mom?
You can set many of these facts to songs, as long as you realize that the child (and probably you) will forever have to sing the song half-way through to get to the fact you want – I’m looking at you, ABC song.
Mnemonics also work especially well. A mnemonic is a handy shortcut to remember something that may be a bit more complicated, such as the order of mathematical operations. I learned it as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. What does Sally have to do with math, you ask? Well, when facing a particularly complicated problem with mixed orders, you do the parentheses (please) first, then the exponents (excuse), multiplication (my), division (dear), addition (aunt), and finally subtraction (Sally). Not that I run around solving algebra problems every day, but I still remember what order in which to do it if it pops up – say in my daughter’s algebra.
SET OUT A SCHEDULE
Mornings vs. Afternoons
I’m a big believer in schedules. Every day does not have to be the same, but you will most likely check off more of your to-do list if you schedule the day.
To start with, what do you want to accomplish in the morning? You might want to tackle school subjects first while everyone is fresh. Or you may need to finish chores early and start school later in the day. There’s no one schedule fits all, so plan your day as best suits you.
Likewise, every day does not have to be the same. I sometimes wish I had more continuity to my days, but between co-op, music lessons, and part-time jobs, we already juggle a lot. You may find us starting math at lunchtime and editing a paper after dinner. We squeeze it in around a busy life.
We have also found it more efficient to deep dive into a few subjects at a time on different days. If we’re in the middle of learning a new math concept, I don’t want to break it off just as they get it. So, we’ll do several pages at once, rather than almost starting over every day.
Just like everything else in your homeschool, tweak the schedule to work for you and your children. It won’t look like Debbie Do-It-Like-Me or Nancy Nosy-body – because you are building a unique homeschool that fits you and your family. And nothing beats that.
All that’s left after you’ve made the commitment to homeschool, picked out a few curriculums, and planned a loose schedule is to dive in. Whether you are jumping in headfirst or tiptoeing in, you have to get started. Nothing is set in stone. You can adjust once you’re underway. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating to start something new, and believe me, every year is new.
So, let’s get started! My next post will guide you through assessing your child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses, and brainstorming how to meet her educational needs. Add your name to my email list so you don’t miss any posts as I guide you through starting your next homeschool year!