My role within my family changed when I started homeschooling. I used to work in a corporate job, but now I was 100% in charge of home matters. My husband had his job at work and I had my job at home. I didn’t like to comingle the two very much. For example, I was never the mom who said, “You’re in trouble, wait until your dad gets home”. I handled what needed to be handled and I feel like it gave me more confidence and more respect with my family. My husband worked long, exhausting hours. By taking care of things at home, I supported him and created an authentic relationship with my kids. But I had to take 100% responsibility and be proud of what I was doing. I feel like a lot of times as homeschooling parents we don’t value our role and maybe we don’t take it as seriously or see it for how important it is. These kids are the next generation. Are we equipping them with the life skills and the emotional skills they will need? Are we allowing them to be authentic to who they are or are we forcing them to follow the vision of who we need or want them to be?
I have come up with a list of things to share with you that I feel helped my family through some of the tougher times in our homeschooling journey and also helped create great/respectful relationships within our family. This may seem like a long list, but these things helped me out tremendously and I really wanted to share them with you.
1. Make a schedule/routine for the day – This is more important the younger the kids are. When my kids were young we had our time scheduled each day. Some of the things included in our schedule were free time, school time, sibling time, and one on one time. So for example, sibling time would help me have one on one time. I would schedule two of my kids to have sibling time while I had one on one time with the third child. This one on one time also included some school time as well (but not all of it). I LOVED this schedule, it helped all of us so much to develop deeper relationships with each other. This is also a great way to get your kids used to time management. Of course the schedule changes as they get older. For example, a middle school schedule is different than a preschool schedule.
2. Get the kids involved – Kids are very capable of helping out around the house. As they get older, they can do more. I definitely do not pass out all of the housework, but each child does have responsibilities around the house. These responsibilities could include cooking a meal, vacuuming, dusting, taking out the trash, putting up dishes, cleaning the sink, sweeping, making their bed, cleaning mirrors. Kids work better when they know what is expected of them. So it is important that you demonstrate how you want it done and exactly what they will be doing. So each child should have specific tasks ‘for them’. It is also good to have a time frame for the task as well so there are no fights or confusion. For example, dinner is cooked at 5:30, or dishes are put up right after dinner, or vacuuming is done on Thursday at 2.
3. Stop fights as they happen – This is SO important. If there are sibling disagreements, help them sit down and walk through the situation. Ask questions that help them figure out what happened and how they handled it (try not to get too overly emotionally invested yourself). Ask each of them to tell you what happened, ask each of them how they contributed to the situation, ask them how they could handle it next time so it would have a better outcome, ask them what they feel needs to happen because of their actions. There were times when my kids were younger that they had to do time out to reflect on what they did and why it was not appropriate. There were also times when my kids got a privilege taken away because they abused it. However, I have to tell you that those times were few and far between. And also pretty much nonexistent as they got older. They learned early on how to effectively deal with their emotions and their relationships with each other.
4. Send yourself to time out – I used this many times when my kids were younger. I felt like it was important for them to see that I was not perfect and even I had hard times dealing with my emotions effectively sometimes. So when I felt overly emotional I would let them know that I was upset and I needed to go to time out to sit with my emotions. I would then go to my room for 5-10 minutes to think and cool down before I tried to handle the situation which caused my reaction.
5. Give yourself a break – It’s important to have some ‘me’ time. To do this you should try to incorporate play dates, kid sharing, and spousal help in your routine. Trade off kids with friends, do play dates where the kids can go run around for a while with other kids, ask your spouse to watch the kids for a couple of hours while you rest or read. You don’t have to do everything on your own all of the time. Find a babysitter once a week or a drop in daycare. It is okay to spend time on just you sometimes too. Don’t feel guilty.
6. Keep your expectations in check – As homeschool parents we are constantly checking our progress, our worth, our effectiveness. We compare ourselves to other homeschool families, to public school kids and to our own families’ expectations. I am telling you right now, Don’t Compare! You are setting yourself up for disaster and misery. I know that is easier said than done, but you have to do this your way. There are also times where sometimes nothing gets done. Let those times happen without judgment. There was almost a whole year when my third child was born that we did not do much formal education at all. I had set in my mind that that first year with my third child would be whatever I needed to get through the year, and I was okay with however that turned out. I took the pressure off up front. It’s okay to take breaks from schooling. And guess what, my kids were fine, got into college and still learned what they needed to. And I got the best break I could get without driving myself or my family crazy.
7. Reevaluate your curriculum/goals yearly – This is important because our needs change over time. Some curriculums work and some don’t. I tried not to spend too much money on curriculum and I always pieced my curriculum together (i.e. I never bought an all inclusive curriculum). There are plenty of used/cheap books, workbooks, free websites, etc. that you can use along your journey. That way if something is not working out you haven’t invested too much into it.
8. Remember that each child is their own individual and will have different needs – Sometimes, out of exhaustion or laziness, we try to force all of our kids do the same curriculum or do things the same way. This is not much different than public school mentality. It is so important to see what each child needs in their schooling, what works for them and how they learn best. Is that more work? Yes. But it is important for your children. That is why you homeschooled, right? So your child would have the best advantages. It is more work, but worth it.
9. Use a reward system – As parents we sometimes get caught up in what our kids are doing wrong or not doing right. It is just as, if not more so, important to acknowledge what they are doing right. Make sure they are being recognized for their accomplishments. Praise them for their successes. Celebrate with them when they meet deadlines, do their chores on time, achieve goals, etc. Help show them how good that can feel and that you are proud and aware of all of the good things going on in their lives.
10. Establish open communication – Make listening a priority. When I say this, I mean Truly listening! Not just saying ‘oh okay’ as you are walking by to do another of your tasks, not just giving them a smile as you briefly look up from your phone. I mean sitting down, looking in their eyes and truly listening to what they are saying without judgement. Believe me, your kids know when you are fully giving them your attention. You aren’t fooling them. You are just creating walls and resentment in your relationships.
11. Give them responsibility – Believe it or not, kids love responsibility. Have them take control of their school work and chores. Of course as they get older this gets easier. My whole goal for my kids is to be hands off in their education as they got older. That is why teaching responsibility and accountability was so important to me as a parent. Yes, it was a little more work early on, but it has paid for itself in dividends. Before my kids reach high school I have their schedule so they get all of their school work for the week on Sunday and it all needs to be completed by the next Sunday. This way they have the opportunity to further discover time management skills and to also see what schedule works for them. Do they do better doing their school work at midnight? Do they do better doing all of their school work in 2 full days? They get to explore and see. And they get to do this before it really matters, like in college. By the time they go to college, they have this time thing mastered. Is it messy at first? Yes. Will they struggle at first? Of course. But it just gets easier the more they work at it. We had to have many conversations about why they weren’t getting their work done by Sunday. They had to reflect on their study habits and their free time structure. They had to adjust and correct so it didn’t keep happening. We had to talk about what a new schedule might look like so they could get their school work done and the other things that were important to them. I really didn’t care how they did it, just as long as it got done by that next Sunday. I would also set some time aside each week to answer any questions they may have about the school work. But I would give them time to look at their school work and work on it before they come to me for help. They needed to have tried to figure it out first. Unless, it was a whole new topic (like a new math concept), I would put a note with their assignment that we would need to meet that week to discuss it (and they may or may not have needed my help anyway).
All of these things were so helpful along our homeschooling path. I wish I had known some of these things earlier on in our journey. Hopefully some of this will help you as well in areas that you may be struggling. Just remember, that with maturity comes responsibility. You can allow your child to explore the areas of interest to them while also being responsible. Give them choices, but talk to them about the choices and give them time to make their own decisions.