Home Schooling: 7 Hard Won Tips from a Mom of Nine

If you have spent any time at all in schooling your children at home, you know there are times when the yellow light is flashing, the alarm is sounding and your brain is thrumming almost as if it’s saying, “Take us to DEFCON 2: Attack is imminent.”

First of all, I don’t claim to know it all as regards homeschooling and teaching with grace and ease. Far from it. But I do have a few tricks and tips I’ve learned over the 30 plus years in the trenches. So, if you are new to schooling at home or you are a veteran, you’ll find a load of ideas here. In any case, you’ll want to read till the end.

Oh and before we start…

Except for teaching the three Rs, home schooling is about living life with your eyes wide open. My number one goal was, is, to teach my kids to think. It’s why I exposed them to the biblical creation account of origins as well as to evolution. Ultimately I want my kids to grow into thinking, reasoning beings. How can they reason if they are told what to think?? You may not like my reasoning, but take my word for it as a mom who’s been there… they are going to ask. Why not just put it out there?

#1 – Self care!

Moms (and dads), take care of yourself. I am not talking just personal hygiene (which some of us do forget in the throes of living) but taking time off for you. Nothing de-stresses like taking time to meditate, walk; taking a soak in the tub (lock the door) – whatever helps you get a mental reset. Get alone. You have to take this time or in the long run your family will suffer. Even the most dedicated parents need time for themselves.

This is a no-guilt requirement, by the way. Healthy parenting, and it follows, healthy homeschooling involves taking time off. I wish I’d learned this sooner. I thought a good mother/teacher gave 110% and I felt guilty if I had any time just for me. It led to frustration from me and the kids.

I know you are saying, “Yeah, right! You don’t know my toddler(s). I can’t leave them for a minute!” You don’t have to. You can find another mom who you can trade time with (she needs the time off too) or maybe your mom, sister – someone – who will let you have a couple hours a week.

Do this for your family. Please!

#2 – Plan your day

I know, you’re saying, “Plan my day?! Ha! The only plan I have is to not tie up my kid – or worse!”

Nevertheless, at least have an idea how a basic day will flow: when you get up, fix breakfast, start laundry, reading with/to kids, lessons, etc. At least if it’s written down somewhere, you can come back to it – not as a whip to beat you, but as a “okay, we missed morning but how can we salvage the rest of the day”.

You need to have a basic idea of the things that must be done: meals, basic chores, life lessons… Don’t freak out about whether math got done. Just learn to see math in everyday stuff.

I know that it is very very tempting to just let the day start and happen. After all, this is home. No bells. No tardiness. No discipline… No… wait, what?!

I am serious about this. Even the most relaxed home schooling scenario will have some form of schedule or, frankly, days will slide on by and before you know it, your 16 year-old is an expert at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and can’t tell you the capital of their own state.

#3 – Plan for sick days

We all have them. When the teacher/mom is just not feeling well (hormones count, too) and you don’t want to let the day slide entirely – which, by the way it OK!! On, a more creative day, put together a kit of stuff that you can use only on those days. Something that is both fun and entertaining.

So get a dish pan, storage bin or some other way to keep it together. Then let your imagination go.

  • You can take a pack of info bites (see below). Put in Zip locks or rubber bands.
  • Videos! I have a set of videos we only use for those down times. They are more entertaining, too. Like Baby Einstein-esque. Favorite entertainment videos, too. I can’t tell you how many times my kids watched The Sound of Music or Anne of Green Gables back in the day (yeah, it was a looooong time ago).
  • Video games – but make them educational. A favorite site for us is SheppardSoftware.com.
  • Good old workbooks from Walmart or Costco. You know those colorful graded workbooks. Depending on the child, have the easier or harder grade stuff on hand. Hey, even I like reading stuff below my age level or flick through books with lots of pictures which brings me to…
  • DK books. I love these books. Lots of colorful images, clean white background and just enough info for the reader to pick up a tidbit of info.
  • Use something like BrainQuest or other quiz games. Learning Wrap ups, too, for math skills or state capitals.

#4 – Info bites

I am an information hound – I love to collect trivia. So, I made info bites for my kids. Info bites are micro chunks of information that can be brought up at the meal times, on the road, anywhere, anytime you have a lull. You might call it trivia but if your child has a broad smattering of knowledge on a wide variety of topics, it will make them more interesting and even if they don’t go on to be PhDs or lawyers, they will be able to relate to just about anyone.

What I do (did) was get out the The New First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy or What Your Xth Grader Needs to Know series, both by E. D. Hirsch, scan through and write them out on 3 x 5 cards (or type them out and print them up).I personally love the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and my kids would not just stop at the one topic, they would flip through the pages, picking up this and that.

Also, get a whiteboard or find some way to write out a message to the kids. Put a big “25 cent word” (you know, like: onomatopoeia or  triskaidekaphobia) on there and get them to use the dictionary or encyclopedia. I tried to limit the use of computers for this at first but later realized that computers are part of our lives and will most likely be so for a long time to come. So I let them look things up that way. But I did familiarize them with the “old school” print versions, just ’cause you never know.

#5 – Continuing Education

Even you dyed-in-the-wool un-schoolers can learn from this. So many times we try to do it all and we end up tearing out our hair but why not get a fresh perspective; flesh out your own knowledge and teaching skills. Read books and articles on home education. Read or listen to podcasts from other parents, and glean from them. Pull out the best stuff, the stuff that works for you and your family.

We all get stuck in a rut and sometimes it just makes sense to stay in touch with others some way or another. Being an introvert myself, I did that by scanning mom blogs for ideas. If you are more extroverted, certainly go the the home school conventions. Work with local co-op groups.

And I am not just talking about teaching ideas. I am also talking about staying in touch with your kids. Which brings me to the next tip…

#6 – Don’t get lost in teaching – have fun!

Make sure to balance your zeal for learning/teaching and just living and relating to the people in your house. Some of us moms get so lost in the educating of our kids that we lose track of being the mom or wife or just a human. We get all caught up in the subject, drooling over chamber of commerce packets and planning a family vacay, all around an educational unit study about the effects of plastic on the environment. But the kids and Dad really want to go to Disneyland or Six Flags.

The signs of this happening are the kid gets glassy-eyed when you get all excited about a trip to the tenth museum in a month. The more contrary they are the more likely they’ll find some way to rebel. In my case, my kid(s) might just keep their room a mess just to get out of having to go to the museum (they knew my first rule is keep the room clean or we go nowhere.)

Hopefully if you have an open relationship with the family, they won’t fear approaching you with their hopes or gripes. Then you can strike a balance: go to the seaside and talk to park rangers on beach trash and such then go to the theme parks. You need to let down your hair and have fun, too.

#7 – Let others teach your kids

Please take what I am about to say in the spirit it is given: it takes a village to raise a child. Don’t get stuck in your head that you are your child’s only source of information. It’s okay to avail yourself of the library reading time. It’s okay to let your kids join the local sports teams or community choir.

Does your teenager love to talk? Get her into Toastmasters group. Does he loves to take things apart? Ask the neighbor to let your kid watch him fix his car or rebuild the greenhouse. If you haven’t already, ask your friend who has animals if your kids can spend a day helping around the farm. Why not?

That was hard for me, an introvert, to suggest but once I got my kids into martial arts, they literally blossomed.

If you don’t have the internet, find a way to use the computers at the library. This is a technology based society which isn’t’ likely to revert anytime soon.

To be continued…

There are other things to be considered when de-stressing the daily life of a home school family. I may put together a Part 2 in the future. In the meantime, why not send me your own ideas. Or perhaps your fears.

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