The option to homeschool has always been available to parents, but recently, it’s become an increasingly popular option. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about daily life. With a new school year on the horizon, it’s causing parents everywhere to reconsider learning options for their children. As the option that keeps kids safe and at home, without many of the restrictions likely to be placed on kids in the classroom, homeschooling is appealing to more families than ever before.
The problem is many parents who want to homeschool their kids are at a loss as to exactly how that should be done. Most parents don’t have formal teaching or homeschooling training, and taking on the responsibility for your child’s education can be overwhelming.
The good news is that there are certain skills that any parent can develop that will help them be more effective (and less stressed) in their homeschooling efforts. These skills are less about relearning the material (unless you really want to brush up on your long division), and more about managing your home and family while homeschooling.
With these 6 skills, any parent can create a happy, healthy learning environment in their very own home.
Many parents might think “research” is as easy as conducting a Google search or looking up a Wikipedia page, but when it comes to education, not all sources are created equal, and knowing how to research can be extremely beneficial to your homeschooling efforts.
Best practices when it comes to research include:
- Rely on scholarly articles whenever possible. These would include publications from a professional organization, and articles published in academic databases such as JSTOR (which offers much of its content for free).
- Check your sources. Who is writing the article? Is that person going to be fair and unbiased? And, is that person qualified to write on this topic?
- Be wary of everything you find on the Internet. While certain sites are typically more reliable than others, finding a .org or a .edu website does not automatically make it a good source. Well-known organizations are more likely to be credible than institutions you’ve never heard of. Georgetown University has a useful guide to evaluating Internet content that can help you as you evaluate online sources.
- Dig deeper than Wikipedia. Although considered an unacceptable source by most academics, Wikipedia is not necessarily a “bad” source, especially for homeschooling. In fact, Wikipedia heavily monitors and fact checks their articles for accuracy, and many concepts are explained more simply on Wikipedia than on other, more scholarly sites. That said, Wikipedia authors use sources too. When doing academic research, look at the sources used on a Wikipedia page, rather than at the Wikipedia content itself.
Strengthening your research skills will help you as you strive to find correct and factual information for your homeschooled kids.
Additionally, do your research when it comes to selecting a curriculum. There are many different premade curriculums out there that promise to make your homeschooling experience easier. If you think that might help you and your kids, take the time to research the best ones. Ask other homeschooling moms what they use. Talk to teachers about the standards that need to be met at your child’s grade level. The more you know, the more likely you are to make the right decision for you and your child.
Let’s face it: some parents are better schedulers than others. While some seem to naturally be able to juggle sports practices, music classes, playdates, and quality family time with ease, others struggle to remember what day it is.
If you’re in the latter camp (and many of us are!), don’t despair: you can still have a good homeschooling experience. But it will be extremely beneficial to you to come up with a homeschooling schedule that works for your family. In short: it’s time to revisit your scheduling skills.
Here are some tips for creating a schedule that works for your family.
- Don’t try to recreate school at home. Full-time, in-class instruction works at school, in classes of 20+ students, but it doesn’t translate very well to 1-on-1 learning in a homeschool environment. Don’t think that your schedule has to look like a “typical” school schedule in order to succeed.
- Embrace the flexibility. One of the great things about homeschooling is that it offers you and your family a lot more flexibility than traditional school. Embrace that flexibility to create a schedule that works for you. For example, did your kids always struggle to make it to the bus in the morning? Maybe your school day starts a little later in the day. Do you find that everyone starts to get a little tired and cranky in the early afternoon? Build in some “rest time” after lunch. You’re in charge, and there’s no right or wrong way to run your classroom. Make it work for you.
- Focus on the big things. When creating your schedule, make sure the most important things are prioritized. They should be done when everyone has energy, and you should give yourself plenty of time to do them. This way, even if other parts of your schedule don’t work out on any particular day, you’ll at least know the important stuff got done.
- Don’t be afraid to change it up. Remember: you’re in charge. If you’re a week into your homeschooling routine and you realize that something isn’t working, you can (and should) change it. The goal is to educate your kids in a way that makes you all happy, not to stick to a specific schedule at all costs.
Research has shown that kids thrive on routine, and while traditional classrooms offer such routines, it can be hard to set them up at home. Do your best to create a predictable daily schedule that makes plenty of time for your learning activities, without overwhelming you.
If you just thought to yourself, “I’m not very creative,” then this section is especially for you.
The truth is, everyone has some degree of creativity inside of them. It’s not “you either have it or you don’t,” it’s more like “you either use it or you don’t.” Creativity is a muscle that needs to be stretched, exercised, and strengthened. You can be a creative parent; you just might have to put a little extra effort into developing your creative skill.
How can you do that?
- Work with your child. Children tend to be more naturally creative than adults, simply because they’re more curious. Work alongside your child and let their curiosity and creativity rub off on you. Encourage questions from them, and ask questions of your own. Consider your learning time as an opportunity to explore new subjects together, not as a time for you to lecture them or hand over a textbook.
- Present material in different ways. Some people are visual learners, while others are auditory learners, and others learn from hands-on experiences. Generally speaking, the best lessons combine many teaching styles in order to help the material really sink in. For example, you might finish a lesson about chemical reactions with a hands-on science experiment, or complete a study of nutrition by cooking a healthy meal together.
- Ask for inspiration. Chances are, you know many parents in the same homeschooling boat as you. Even if you don’t, there are plenty of groups on social media that are centered around homeschooling and can give you ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Applying others’ ideas and tweaking them to fit your needs is its own form of creativity, and it benefits both you and your kids.
- Brainstorm. In a brainstorming session, all ideas are good ideas. Give yourself permission to brainstorm about your homeschooling experience. Before you begin a new lesson or unit, write down every idea you have about how that material could be presented to your student in a meaningful way. This free-flowing thinking will likely bring to mind creative ideas you never would have thought up otherwise.
Whether or not you see yourself as a creative parent now, increasing your creativity skills will undoubtedly help you as you strive to become a stellar homeschooling parent. Let go of the idea that you can’t be creative, and embrace that side of you.
Goal-setting is an important skill for any person who believes in personal growth and improvement. It can also help you as you face a new challenge, such as homeschooling.
Learning to set goals, and how to work toward them, will help you feel more in control of your homeschooling efforts. Not only that, but you’ll feel more accomplished as you hit milestones and reach your goals. It’s a great way to help you track and celebrate your progress on this new journey.
Of course, if you’ve never met a New Year’s resolution you could keep, the idea of goal-setting can be a bit scary. These principles can help.
- Set SMART goals. The goals you set should be:
Specific: clearly-defined so that you know what you’re trying to accomplish
Measurable: relying on collectible data to help you track your progress
Attainable: realistic for your particular skill set and situation
Relevant: something that applies to your situation and will help you in the long run
Time-bound: including a deadlineAn example of a SMART goal might be: “My second-grader will read every book on the recommended reading list before December 1.” This goal specifically outlines what the goal is, is trackable/measurable, is realistic for your child, directly applies to their overall education, and has a set deadline.
- Set goals for yourself and your children. Be an example to your children of making, tracking, and reaching goals. Set personal goals and goals as your child’s teacher. Help your child set goals that will help them in their studies, as well as personally.
- Reward progress and success. What fun is a goal if you don’t celebrate when you reach it? As part of your goal-setting process, build in rewards that will motivate you and your child (such as extra screen time or a field trip).
- Set SMART goals. The goals you set should be:
As you set goals for your homeschooling experience, you’ll not only push yourself to create the experience you want to create, but you’ll also be able to recognize and celebrate your progress along the way as you navigate this new territory.
Communication is key in every relationship, including parenting. And when you’re around your kids all day in a homeschooling situation, strong communication is absolutely vital. Before you start homeschooling, take a close look at how you and your child communicate, and start to make improvements where needed.
These best practices will help:
- Seek to understand, not to be understood. Listen to your child with the goal of understanding them, not of waiting until they’re done talking so you can express your own opinion.
- Be clear about the way you expect your child to behave during school hours. Establish rules and consequences for breaking the rules. It might even be helpful to write these down and have them on display in your homeschooling area.
- Stay as positive as possible. Communicate using positive language. Praise good behavior and effort. Use encouraging words to help them master hard concepts. Make sure that no matter what, your child knows that you support him/her, and you’re on their team.
Learning to communicate well with your children takes effort and practice, but it will make your homeschooling experience much more enjoyable. (If you’d like a useful resource on this topic, check out the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.
6. CPR and first aid
This is the most practical of the skills we recommend for homeschooling parents, and it’s every bit as important as the others. When your kids are home more, they’re more likely to experience accidents at home. And as such, it’s important that you’re ready for anything.
CPR and first aid training will give you peace of mind, knowing you’re prepared for any accidents that might happen. But even more importantly, it might save your child’s life, should an emergency arise. CPR, choking relief, and first aid basics can go a long way during those precious vital moments of an emergency.
Luckily, receiving quality training in these areas is not as difficult as it once was.
One word of advice: make sure to get the proper training for the age of your child. CPR for infants and young children is different than it is for older children, and the distinctions are small but important. Infant CPR offers distinct courses for different age groups, along with discounts for bundled courses. Enrollment gives you unlimited access to course materials, meaning you can brush up on your skills as needed.
The last thing you want during your homeschooling experience is a life-threatening emergency, but it’s important to be prepared should one occur. Get the training you need to give your child the care they might need in an emergency situation. You’ll feel that much more confident about your homeschool environment.
These principles can help make your homeschooling experience more enjoyable and successful for everyone in your home. Best of luck to you, homeschoolers!