Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dear New Homeschool Mom...

Dear New Homeschool Mom,

     Welcome!  We are so glad that you have made the leap into the Wonderful World of Homeschooling!  We know that your decision to join us has come about after much time, thought, research and prayer!  We too have been in your spot, the beginning!  But, what else is about it?  Confused yet?  Is the warm fuzzy glow already leaving as the mountain of "but how" seems ever bigger?  The good news is, you are not alone and there are answers! (The answers just might not be what you thought they would)

     New Homeschool Mom, I can still clearly remember looking around at all the experienced homeschool moms around me and asking,-nay pleading with them for some direction.  There were just too many choices and avenues.  Everyone has there favorite "this and that".  I was LOST!!  So here are some answers I have for you.  Take what you will, throw out the rest, I am hoping you are encouraged nonetheless =)

How do you start?
     Start first by making sure you are legal in your state.  Every state has their own requirements.  Normally, you have to at least 1)notify the state/school district you are homeschooling and 2)comply with annual testing and/or attendance.  Some states ask for more and some less but most require at least these.  Often the laws sound very overwhelming and "govermenty" so find someone in your area who homeschools and ask them to tell you in English what you need to do.

How do I pick Curriculum???
     First go and read THIS POST on how to choose.  Now that you have done that, regardless of if you are starting out in Kindy or with a gaggle of big kids, remember to keep it simple.  It takes time to re-train your public school brain to be a homeschooler and to discover who you are as a homeschool family.  Doing too much will overload your family and make you crazy.  Try and keep it basic and simple.

How much time should be spent schooling?
     That depends.  I have a different note for the different categories of you Newbies:

  1. Newbie with Kindy's:  Please don't stress your kid out and make them do 5 days a week, 4 hours a day.  Remember that in PS most of kindy is glorified babysitting of 20+ kids.  They have to do things different because of the institution that they are.  I have found that a goal of 3 days a week is doable and shoot for about 30-40 minutes of "school time" (this is working on reading (and maybe writing too) and math).  If your child isn't really ready for one or the other, don't stress it!  Eventually (and it might be years), they will be.  Keep it fun and relaxed!  Remember that school is happening all day with: Sharing: toys with your sister, sorting: helping mom with laundry, letter: thank you leap frog and letter songs, counting: the goldfish on your plate!  Learning is always happening so count all of it!
  2. Newbie with Olders:  Keep. It. Simple.  I like combining as many subjects as I can and block scheduling (see this post and this one too).  Those 2 things will really help streamline your schooling.  With that said, limit it to about 3 hours a day-ish.  Some older kids may need to do more.  Factor in about an hour of math (and for the love of everyone use a computer base program with the big kids.  Khan and Teaching textbooks are great) that leaves 2-3 hours left.  Factor about 30-40 minutes for LA depending on the kid and the rest is for sci and or history.  Then be done.  
This does not seem like enough school!
     Right.  From simple curriculum to short school days, it may not seem like it, but it is!  Your children are basically in a tutor setting and getting pretty instantaneous feedback from you!  It does not take a long time to get school done in such a setting.  The hardest part is what is going on in your own mind.  YOU THINK you are failing but honestly YOU ARE DOING JUST FINE!

But how do I REALLY KNOW they are learning enough?
     Right.  Most of us gauge things based on progressing through the curric. we have chosen.  Many of us also either choose or are required to do year testing (The CAT SURVEY from Seton is inexpensive and easy).  It can be stressful though trying to figure out if your kids measure up... if YOU measure up.  It's so hard not to compare yourself to others.  
     It's important to realize that everyone homeschool functions differently.  Just like there are different public/private schools out there, so are there vast differences in homeschools.  Try to focus on your children. Ask these questions:
  • Are they progressing in their learning.  NOTE: I did not say "are they progressing quickly", I only said progressing.  
  • Did I look at their over all progress and not just one subject?  One of my kids was/is a VERY late reader but is almost two years ahead in math.  Obviously this child is progressing but has strengths and weaknesses, BUT over-all, progressing in both.
  • Do I know my child?  When comparing yourself and your kids to others, remember that YOU KNOW your children and YOU KNOW their growth, don't worry about what others are doing just focus on what your child is accomplishing!
     Many of the books out there about "What your child should know in the ____ grade." are all based upon decades of public education.  Everything from what to serve them on their educational plate to how they should eat it, EVERYTHING is based on OTHER PEOPLES PUBLIC SCHOOLED CHILDREN.  It is not based on your child.
     It does not consider your family dynamic.  It does not understand that even though your 3rd grade can't read, she has memorized 92 poems from her poetry cd and can do 4th grade math.  It doesn't consider that you 7th grader is in 4th grade math but can make a working lego robot with no instructions.  Those books don't factor in that your kindy child is ambidextrous and can't actually hold a pencil, let alone walk straight!  That book has no ability to know that by the time she is in 9th grade, the problem wont exist anymore and her writing will be just fine.
     If you must get a book, or compare to the public school or your neighbor just to gauge yourself, then do it, but don't loose yourself and your children in the despair of comparison!
     On another note, if you really are faltering, it's okay to look around, do some checks and balances, take ALL THINGS into consideration and make changes as needed.  This doesn't mean you have failed, it means you are are succeeding by continuing to tweak things and make them work!

Will I mess up my kids?!
     We all have had this fear.  When you feel like you are totally screwing them up remember 2 things.  1)You could seriously not do any school until your child was in 7th grade and then get everything accomplished in the next 4 years and still graduate them into a college program as a Junior.  It's true.  So, New Homeschool Mom, don't freak out, you have got time!  2)Academics isn't everything!  Have you cultivated their heart?  That counts more than anything else!
     There will be plenty of moments when you will feel like giving up everything because of the possibility of failure and messing up your kids.  PERSEVERE Homeschool Mom!  Show them that you will not give up on them or you.  What a lesson that will be for them to see!  No messing up there at all!

What should I expect from my kids, and myself?
     Well her'es the tricky thing, New Homeschool Mom, right now you expect everything!  You expect that you and your children will and/or should excel above and beyond every brick and mortar school system out there.  What will happen is that within the first 30 days of homeschooling you will want to give up.  And then as you get to know your child in a way that only homeschooling provides, you will really feel like you are failing.  Add to all that the new baby and the toddlers causing so much mayhem during the day that you have barely done school in a week and you will for sure think you are failing.  ANNNNNDdddddd on top of that you have a child "behind" because of every reason under the sun but ultimately (you will think) Because. Of. You.
     Sounds great right?  Okay, New Homeschool Mom, we all Freak Out from time to time.  (Read this post on freaking out it will encourage you!)  One of two things will happen to you when you do, you will either give up and send your kids to public school or you will keep persevering.  The truth about expectations is that there are soooooo many unrealistic ones that makes us think we are failing when we are not.  You may barely hit much school until your oldest is say 4th or 5th grade.  You May stop schooling for 3 months after you have had a baby.  You may only get 1/2 a years worth of schooling done because you moved 3 times.  Your child may not be a quick reader, your child may hate math, you may not find the right curric for 7 years, your kid might only like science that involves mud!  I could go on and on.
     Here is your expectation:  Expect that if all else fails, your highschooler can learn all they need to know in 4 years as far as what the Public schools expect.  Expect that with homeschooling, if you cultivate a home of learning you will see that they are learning ALL THE TIME.  Expect them to listen to you, obey you and be apart of your team!  Expect your children to respect education and seek out knowledge.  Expect yourself to have seasons of good schooling and seasons of  "not so much" but every season still includes learning.  Expect your child to learn as he or she progresses on their level and expect yourself to question everything and to learn to count every little advancement they make.
     And if you must... I school 4 days a week for about 3-4 hours a day.  My little kids, 2nd-3rd grade on down only really do like 2-3 days a week of math and reading, maybe a total of 40 minutes each day.  I don't have little ones in my house currently, but when I did, I did save the bulk of our "Mom needs to be involved" work for naptime.  (For a real look at how I school, I have laid most of it out in my series on homeschooling lots of children).  Also I have a post on HOW TO ACTUALLY START.  You may enjoy that too... and picking out CURRICULUM.

What they should actually learn
     Again, different people will have different opinions.  For instance, I gave up on the times tables.  The years of frustration and crying and trying so hard to get them to memorize it and they just didn't, finally wore me out!  I gave up!  I printed off multiplication sheets that they use.  Yah, yah, yah, put away your shock face.  A wise homeschool mom, who also use to be a public school teacher told me this, "if they understand what multiplication is, and how it works, it really does not matter if they memorize them.  They will go faster if they do but it's not going to hurt them that much.  Even many public school kids "never get it".  Oh the freedom I felt when I realized I could make exceptions to "rules".  New Homeschool Mom, please realize that you too CAN "make exceptions to "rules" made by the world".
     What your child should learn by 12th grade:  How to read and write, math (at least through algebra would be nice because you need that to get into a Community College), good general science (I love QUEENS!... this is my fave or LA too) and general history (my fave is Mystery of History).  Thats it.  you are good.  That is the basics!
     (So if your child doesnt want to read until the 5th grade, it's all good.  Did you know it takes 30 hours in an adult reading course to teach reading to illiterate adults?  So tell me why it takes us sooooooo many years with little kids?  Because most of those little kids are not really ready for reading until later and if you wait until the child is ready, it will click more naturally.) 

I'm trying to get advice from other homeschool moms but can't seem to break through!
     It's because we don't know what to tell you.  You have to learn what we did.  We can offer suggestions but we know that what worked for us might not work for you.  We know that you have to trudge through the homeschool trenches just like we did. There are some things you can't be taught and you just have to learn.  Hopefully you can find some homeschool moms around you to journey with you and encourage you.  In the end though, you have to make the choices for your family, and you will prolly have to re invent that wheel in your home many times over before getting it right.

Where are these homeschool families anyway?
     I have lived in multiple different states while homeschooling and some places are easier than other to find homeschoolers.  Facebook is the number one place for groups to get listed.  Local libraries often have a list of groups.  In a town where the homeschool groups are not obvious, you have to do a lot of calling around.  Find our which gymnastics/dance/art/ect places have "homeschool time".  Take a free class and meet some other families and ask them what they know of local.  Go to the the library/park/zoo/grocery store/ect during school times and if you see another family with kids, ask if they homeschool.  Troll local church websites, maybe even call the office and ask if they have something going on or even the number of a homeschooling mom in their congregation you can talk to.  It seems like finding homeschoolers should be a no brainer but it can be really difficult.  Think outside the box, ask questions and if all else fails, start your own group on FB and see what happens!

I still feel lost
     I know, I did too.  In fact, I felt pretty lost until my oldest was in 6th grade.  That's when I finally had everything drop into place.  During the really hard times I told myself this "It is NOT my inability to teach, or their inability to learn, we just haven't found what works for us yet".
     I know it's a scary and exciting road you have started on .  Some of you will move ahead quicker than others.  Some of you are really going to struggle for many years.  Just like our "mommy-ing" was a learning curve, so is homeschooling.  You will get there.  Be encouraged.  Try not to over think everything.  YOU WILL DO GREAT!

With Much Love,
     A Veteran Homeschool Mom


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