by Karen D. Koch
Before you read this, get yourself a cup of tea and take a deep breath. For many of us, the school year is quickly approaching and, if you are like me, you’re wondering, once again, what you have gotten yourself into with this homeschooling thing. I have just begun my 14th homeschooling year, and I can tell you this—it’s been the best 10 years of my life.
Not every year of homeschooling will be a glowing success, and I’m a living example of that, but it’s still been worth it. I am seeing the fruit and results in my two teenage sons, but still have time to make some corrections and adjustments for my two younger children.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I have always needed practical advice as well as some spiritual and emotional inspiration, so these 10 tips will be a combination of both those considerations.
1. Don’t Compare Yourself
You are you, not some other homeschooler, mom, teacher, or Christian. God put you, your spouse, and your children in your family for a reason. We are doomed to failure if we try to exactly copy someone else’s homeschool or life.
I have a sign in my kitchen that reads, “Martha Stewart Doesn’t Live Here.” A kindly neighbor gave it to me as a gift when I had a colicky newborn and a two-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you have the cleanest house, most expensive home, most organic food, best behaved children, nicest car, best figure, perfect curriculum, or even if you get up and run marathons before breakfast. None of those things apply to my home, yet we still all know how to read, how to use a dictionary, do math, be kind, and to clean up after ourselves. I consider those points of life success.
“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each should carry his own load Gal. 6:4-5 (NIV).
2. Learn Legal Requirements
I always advise new and veteran homeschoolers to know the law in their state concerning homeschooling. Inform yourself and your children. Knowing the law has saved me time, money, and stress more than once, and eliminated some unwanted surprises.
Make sure you understand California law concerning private schools and how you will handle the Private School Affidavit (PSA) each October. Keep your medical records, attendance, and records in one place, even if the information isn’t perfectly organized. This can be freeing. Remind the kids what to do if authorities show up at the door. We’ve never had this happen, but it is better to know your rights ahead of time. Join the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which supports homeschooling nationwide, and put HSLDA’s phone number in your contact list on your phone.
“Oh, I didn’t know the speed limit here,” won’t keep you from getting a speeding ticket, and being ignorant of the law concerning private school/homeschool isn’t a good idea either.
3. Get a Big Calendar
This is Practical Advice 101 in our house. My kids range from 6-18 and my husband travels a lot, so our calendar is pretty messy. We have piano, golf tournaments, mission trips, youth events, VBS, mom’s support group, co-op, appointments, and more, just as you do. All the kids are trained to write things such their work schedules, church events, tryouts, etc. on the calendar. My husband prints out his trip itineraries for me and I post these by the calendar as well.
I buy a huge 20-inch by 30-inch At-a-Glance calendar every year. It hangs in the schoolroom for easy accessibility. Some people prefer an electronic calendar, so use what works for you. I like the idea of the visual reminder and central location of a paper calendar on the wall.
As my oldest notes, “We need two weeks’ notice to be spontaneous in our house.” As a tired mom, I do better with order and schedules. If I have to get up at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday because my son needs a ride to work, I’d like to know this before going to bed the night before.
4. Enjoy the Kids
I sometimes joke that I’d be a really great homeschool mom if it weren’t for these kids! My oldest son just graduated from high school in June. Sometimes I look across the room at him and think, “Why was I so stressed about T-ball when he was five? Why didn’t I just enjoy him more?”
God has blessed me with a bookend son who is six, so as I look at his little tooth-missing smile, I remember to get up from the keyboard and read with him on my lap before it’s too late.
I know you are with the kids 24/7/365. There are appropriate times to rest and refresh away from the children. I have been there and I feel your exhaustion, but remember time is passing in a flash. I treasure every moment I spent laughing, singing, reading, and dare I admit it, even struggling together with algebra.
The days are long but the years are short.
5. Make Goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re certainly not going to get anywhere. I love the Bible story of Nehemiah. The walls of Jerusalem had been in ruins for ages, but when Nehemiah got a plan and the people together, the wall was rebuilt in record time, against unbelievable odds. Teach your children to make goals, and revisit those goals periodically during the school year. Writing down long-term goals gives you a target.
Goals can be simple. For my youngest, some of his goals last year were to learn to ride a bike and how to tie his shoes. For my oldest, some of his goals were to pass a certain number of CLEP exams, write his graduation speech, and write and record some songs on his guitar. My daughter and I might train to walk/run a 10K next year.
I would include making it a goal to attend a CHEA Convention. These Conventions have put life back into me when I felt I was hanging on to my homeschool life by the fingernails. CHEA puts on smaller conference as well as the Annual Convention.
6. Evaluate Activities Realistically
Drop it if it is eating away your time, your sanity, your joy, or getting you in debt. My son enjoyed guitar lessons, but he’s a fairly proficient player now and the $100/month just wasn’t well spent. I have had moms pester me to join good activities that just won’t fit into my life right now. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. You don’t have to do everything or do everything at once. Field trips are great, but you don’t have to do every one.
7. Find Support
I strongly recommend finding a homeschool support group, co op, private school satellite program (PSP), or even just another like-minded homeschool family. Support includes practical, spiritual, and emotional support, and is a two-way street. You can be blessed and be a blessing in these situations. You can share childcare when a mom needs to visit the doctor or dentist, share curriculum, and plan events or learning experiences together.
You might need someone to walk with or call when you need advice or just a shoulder to cry on. When I had a baby at 41, I needed older moms like myself who understood me. After my mother passed away, I needed people to listen as I worked through my grief. When you feel like quitting, these groups are invaluable support.
8. Plan Ahead
If you know you want your child to take the PSAT during junior year, don’t wait until that week to find the test location and procedures. Put notes on your calendar to remind you to check into sign-ups for expected events (contests, scholarship deadlines, VBS, 4-H, Awana, sports) so they don’t catch you off guard. It takes just a second to put a note on the calendar. Review your week ahead every Sunday night.
I save a lot of things for the summer that would eat away school time: sports physicals, dental visits, catching up on financial paperwork and filing, buying Christmas gifts, buying curriculum, filling in my calendar. We all know Christmas is coming. We know this, but it sneaks up on us anyway. Our family also does an annual golf trip in January, so I have to plan ahead that we’ll be off that week. See #3 above.
9. Make a Pending File
This applies to your personal and homeschool life as well. I created a pending file years ago and it helps me keep my sanity. A manila folder contains an ongoing list of “unresolved” things such as receipts I’m awaiting, car registration renewal form while I’m awaiting tags, medical claims, and some school tasks, like “sign up for SAT” or “turn in paperwork for co-op.” I review this file about once a week as a memory jog.
This could include a “needs corrected” file for math or writing homework, instructions for entering HSLDA contests, instructions for scholarship entries, or reading lists.
10. Teach the Kids to Help
We are all in this family together. Children should be expected to help parents and each other with basic needs and home maintenance. We also should not make unnecessary work for each other.
Everyone can rinse their own dishes, take out the garbage before it is overflowing, pick up messes, fold laundry, help with yard work, etc. Older kids can read to younger ones or help with math. My teenage boys mow and trim the yard, wash the car, and regularly watch younger siblings. Household chores and life skills should be a part of every child’s education.
So take another sip of your tea, another deep breath, and go enjoy your children.
This article originally appeared in CHEA’s September/October 2014 California Parent Educator
Updated bio: Karen D. Koch is a homeschooling mom of four, including two high school graduates (June 2014, June 2016) and one college graduate (2016). Her 2014 reading goal (when this was written) was to complete the entire Newbery Medal winner list, which she completed with time to spare. She serves as CHEA’s Communications Assistant and drinks lots of coffee.