Some of you are beginning your first attempts at homeschooling right now. My first word of advice is: breathe. Homeschooling actually gets easier with each passing year. (Those of you who are approaching your second September of homeschooling are beginning to realize that you have done this before, and suddenly it does not seem quite so awkward; you’re a veteran now who has a better idea of what to do.) Remind yourself that even though you have never homeschooled your children before, your children have never been homeschooled before either — and you can learn this new thing together. Look upon homeschooling as an adventure that all members of your family undertake as a team. All members have something to contribute, large or small, and it would not be the same without the participation of all.
The primary blessing of homeschooling is being able to adapt all your plans to your family’s needs. If today’s lessons just did not get through to your students, you are free to change your lessons in an attempt to find what will penetrate. Government schools either do not have that freedom or cannot afford the time to exercise the freedom to explore lessons in multiple ways.
We had days when Grandpa needed the assistance (or maybe just wanted the company) of a small boy on a carpentry project. Grandpa became a valuable member of our teaching team on those days. One time he took my son along on a trip to another city to pick up supplies, and they stopped at a large hydroelectric dam on the way home just to enjoy the view. As they arrived, a large group was beginning an organized tour of the inner workings of the dam, and the tour guide offered to include Grandpa and my son on the tour. Grandpa was just as thrilled as my son was at the opportunity of a spontaneous bonus on their field trip! Those are the “adaptable moments” of homeschooling that are just not available in other situations.
“What didn’t work for today can be changed for tomorrow” became our motto for our first year of homeschooling. “Adapt daily” was the battle cry of encouragement I repeated over and over to myself as I struggled to find my way through the curriculum maze. I gradually realized that the “right way” to homeschool would be the way that was comfortable and relaxed and best fit my family’s lifestyle. I could not take this business too seriously; it had to be enjoyable, or we would never survive. I was sure that even my feeble homeschooling attempts would far exceed the twaddle offered by government schools, so I was encouraged that at least I could do no worse.
I had my share of moments (days/weeks?) when I really questioned my ability to educate my children sufficiently. Were we truly doing the right thing? When I would stop listening to the pity party going on in my head and listen instead to the voice of God encouraging my heart, I would hear His gentle reminders of how He had answered our prayers for “the right teacher” for that year of school. He had led us into homeschooling, away from the government institution’s one-size-fits-all approach. Those moments of reflection would give me the confidence to try again, one more time, with yet another method, until finally the lessons would “click.”
Do not be discouraged if today’s lessons did not seem to accomplish anything. You may feel that you spent the entire day talking to the walls, because your students just did not seem to understand any of it. However, you now know what does not work! Remember Thomas Edison’s persistence in trying to invent a light bulb: he tried over 600 filaments that did not work before he hit upon the one method that did work. If Edison had given up after one or two tries, our lives would be incredibly different today. Instead, Edison (whose teacher had kicked him out of school and called him unteachable) considered each “failure” to be a positive experience — he now knew one more thing that did not work, and eventually he would find something that would work.
If today’s plan accomplished nothing, change your approach for tomorrow. If you are really desperate, perhaps you may want to change the curriculum in a subject or two: when the student and teacher are both always on the verge of tears, it is never the fault of either of them; it is the fault of the curriculum. The curriculum itself is probably not bad, just not suited to the needs of you and your students. Talk to other homeschoolers to find out what they have liked or disliked and why. You can glean valuable ideas from other families, even when their children are not the same ages or grade levels as your children. Start fresh with a new vision or a different approach. There are times when we all benefit from a day off — have a video day with movies that fit in with your lessons. Take a field trip, build a model, do some experiments, play games, find a new way to look at the lesson. Be flexible — it is the only way to achieve Guilt-Free Homeschooling.