By Judith Jolma
“The real preparation for education is the study of one’s self.”
-- Maria Montessori
Stop choosing between your needs and your child’s needs. You really can be the hero of your child’s education without losing your own life. The truth is you cannot give what you do not have so in order to give the very best to your children you must first take care of yourself. We hear a lot about self-care these days, but self-care is more than a bubble bath. Self-care is not about indulgence. It is about making sure you have filled your own cup first so you have something to give to the little people you love. Here are ten ways to take care of yourself that will make your home school so much better for your children.
1. Consider your own needs first
When choosing an educational approach, consider more than the needs of your child. Consider first your own needs.
At first, you might recoil at the thought of considering your own needs first. After all, this isn’t about you, right? We’re about to embark on a great, multi-year project for the betterment of other people, of our children. Just by thinking about doing this, you’re already preparing to engage in a supremely selfless act. And, if you’ve practiced the virtue of humility for any length of time, you might be thinking that putting yourself first will derail the whole project.
Not to worry. This isn’t about “finding yourself” or anything so lofty. It’s about the right and prudent way to properly orient yourself to do the most good.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others!
Please, please, please do NOT compare yourself to others. Not now, not ever. Many new homeschooling parents are inspired by a friend they’ve seen successfully homeschool for some time. They see some well-behaved children - smart, too! - and think, “Why can’t I do that?” So in a flattering act of imitation set out to do just like their friend. And then on Day 1, the children turn into berserkers. Motivation plunges from 100 percent to about 5 percent before lunchtime.
Maybe your friend has a special skill that you don’t. Maybe she has figured out her children’s learning styles and her own personal strengths, and while it seems radically different than anything you’d do, it works for them.
Or, on the other hand, maybe your friend or neighbor has a daily prison riot on her hands. You think, “Uh uh. No way.”
The point is that YOUR homeschool is no one else’s. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has successes. Build your homeschool on your family’s unique needs. Don’t try to reorient your lifestyle to fit homeschooling. Instead, make your homeschool fit your lifestyle.
3. Teach the method you are prepared to teach
There are superior methods - but only if you can teach them...
Here’s where some of that humility comes in: there may be some methods that are objectively better than others, and by “objective,” I mean that they meet your children's unique needs and learning styles better than others and serve up a deeper, more rounded knowledge. However, if you don’t have the tools or skillset to teach this method, how could you? For example, many families believe classical education to be the “best” way to teach children. It follows a unique structure and incorporates disciplines such as Latin, poetry, and logic. What’s not to love? But if this is the first time you’ve heard about the “Trivium” with its grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of learning, you would probably need to do a little study or find a robust support group before diving headlong into classical education for your family. Remember: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
The same thing is true with individual subjects. I believe children can benefit tremendously from learning a second language at an early age. But I, their teacher, don’t speak a second language. I don’t have the skillset to teach a second language. I know that the very best way to teach a second language is to speak it in the home. But that “superior method” is not within my skill set. If teaching my toddlers a second language is a priority for me, I will have to discover another option.
It might be best said that “simply educated children are better than uneducated children.” You’re going to do a great job with what you have. Seriously - you’re not going to mess up your kids if you don’t have the premium curriculum package and rotating French and Latin tutors every other Tuesday and Thursday! Beware of the Shiny Object Syndrome.
4. Teach what you love
If you, the teacher, have to drag yourself to the classroom every morning dreading the lesson plan, then you are not going to be an effective teacher. You will transmit your disdain for teaching to your students who will respond with a disdain for learning. You’re not going to love every single minute of every day, but by matching your tools (your curriculum and methods) as closely to what YOU need, you’re going to be so much happier. That will make your students happier. Homeschooling is an endurance race. Both teacher and student require inspiration to be successful.
Likewise, if you love, Love, LOVE something about a method, THAT is your method (for example, you love literature-based education because you are a literature geek), you want to choose a method that pulls you, the teacher, into the material. When you choose books, materials, and activities that pull you in, you’re going to engage your children’s interests as well. Enthusiasm is infectious, particularly with younger children. You are the parent, i.e. their greatest role model. They will likely love what you love because you love it.
So teach what you know and what you love.
Your interests don’t have to be suppressed. If you’re more interested in a particular subject than another, that doesn’t mean you only get to look forward to teaching that one thing and enduring all the others. Your favorite subject can easily become the springboard to launch into other subjects.
For example, a history lesson about ancient Egypt can quickly turn into a geometry lesson (triangles!). Music can lead to science as you begin to ponder soundwaves (Fibonacci sequence!) Multiple examples abound, but you get the idea. In fact, this idea that we have to specialize in one subject area, and almost exclude other areas, may be harmful. It is likely far more helpful - and educational - to weave a common thread among your subjects.
This is an art form, of course. If you are brand new to homeschooling, this might seem pretty advanced. Maybe, but I bet you’ll find it to be far more natural than it sounds. It’s specialization and segmentation that disrupt the natural flow of the learning process.
Also, remember that by recognizing your own favorite subjects, you can breathe enthusiasm into any other subject. Your children will pick up on your enthusiasm for a subject, and for learning in general.
5. Know your learning style
Do you remember something better if someone tells you the information? Or do you remember better if you read it? Do you retain information better by writing it down?
In other words, are you an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner?
Did you know that your learning style will determine your teaching style? If you love to read (visual learning), you will love to read to your child. This is a clue into your teaching strengths. Maybe you
like to go to museums or make crafts (kinesthetic). Go for it! Do all your academic work on the hiking trail if you can. Likewise, no one should feel like they are cheating their children if their homeschool is not crafty. I doubt Aristotle had Sharpies and glitter while teaching his star pupil, Alexander the Great. If you love lectures, audiobooks, and documentaries, you may have some auditory learning characteristics. You are going to give amazing lectures. Dial into that and captivate your children with stories. You are a Socratic teacher.
6. Consider your social needs
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? This is a simple question that hardly encompasses the complexity of any individual personality, but it’s useful for figuring out how to succeed in home education. Knowing if you are an introvert or extrovert will help you determine how to manage your schedule.
Take field trips, for example...
If you’re an introvert, you may want to limit field trips, particularly with groups of other homeschooling families. You will burn out before you begin. Stay home. Teach well from home. Your children will learn more from you if you are energized and enthusiastic about your activities.
Extrovert? Field Trips are awesome! You’ll be energized and eager for more exciting educational adventures.
That is the beauty of homeschooling. You can craft your ideal situations however you want. YOU are in charge.
7. Consider what environment inspires you
The environment is crucial to education. Think about it - why doesn’t anyone consider the floor of an active steel mill a great place for learning fractions? Ok, weird analogy, but you get the point - a chaotic environment can and often does distract parents from the mentally challenging work of home education.
There are some people who can not only ignore the surrounding clutter but also thrive in it. For some people, having all the accouterments of education laying around - books, posters, manipulatives, etc. - feel like they’re in their “command center,” with everything needed just at arm’s length. And then there are those for whom order is key. If they know that their supply closet is disorganized, they cannot concentrate until all is tidy.
There are also those who, beyond considerations of messy vs. organized, need nature in order to thrive. That might mean you teach best in your garden (yes, it happens).
So understand how your environment affects you and create the environment you need.
8. Consider your prime hours
By “prime hours,” I mean the time of day when you are most energetic, creative, or clear-headed. We often hear it said that people are “morning people” or work better “burning the midnight oil.” Whatever the case, know this about yourself. Unless you’re blessed with unusual all-day creative energy, you’re most likely to have a limited window of time to do your best work.
So, will you give these hours to teaching, lesson planning, or something else?
Your schedule is your schedule. You make it. You do not answer to anyone about it. You are at total liberty to do what works best in your home. So don’t get frustrated if you read that the homeschool morning has to look a certain way, but despite your best efforts it just does not seem to fit.
Are you most creative in the morning? Do you come alive after dinner? Do you have an afternoon slump in which you absolutely can’t concentrate? Maybe you have a baby and nap time is golden. Determine your prime hours. Then determine the most important thing to do with those hours. Remember, this will change frequently and that is okay. But just like you need to budget your finances, you must also budget your time.
When my son was learning fractions (a challenging season in 4th-grade math) I wanted to put that subject in the prime creative time for me and for him. Later when I had to manage the church ladies guild, it was a task that would require my prime hours for several weeks. We deliberately began school after lunch every day so that I had no guilt associated with my work time. This worked very well. But it was deliberate and not haphazard.
9. Know how much structure you need
Do you feel lost without a schedule?
Or does a schedule make you feel hemmed in -- claustrophobic?
Do you always fold laundry on Wednesday, or do you live in the moment, responding to the needs and joys of each minute before you?
Serious question - how many planners do you have on your bookcase, or in a desk drawer somewhere? If you’ve never made it to the end of a planner before the year is out, or because you switched to a different, and theoretically better one, you...may not be the planning type. That’s ok! (Are you getting the impression that we’re not real fond of rules in our homeschooling endeavors?) It’s just important to know that about yourself. Why on earth would you dive into homeschooling with a regimented schedule of tasks, events, and to-dos? It’s not YOU.
Conversely, if the thought of making it up as you go is a form of torture prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, you need to factor that into your homeschool approach.
There are hundreds of plans out there for homeschooling. By knowing your personality you will save yourself from hundreds of wasted dollars in planners and schedules that don’t work. Most of all, you will save yourself the frustration of trying something that is simply a bad fit. The schedule is not wrong and neither are you. It is just a bad fit.
10. Know how much accountability you require
Unschooling is popular among home educators. This is the approach that shuns textbooks and tests for the sheer pleasure of learning to learn from life. Those who excel in unschooling -- and many do -- are those who can teach a child division in a grocery store by asking them on the spot whether it is more cost-efficient to buy the 12 oz. box of cereal or the 24 oz. box. These families can take full advantage of a gorgeous spring day in favor of a long hike. Along the way, they will discuss botany, history, philosophy and may even tell jokes in Latin. Education does not fall by the wayside for these whimsical creative types. But don’t ask them what grade they are in. They have little sense of what other children the same age are learning. This may sound nice but it takes an enormous amount of confidence and commitment to ensure that the children actually learn well and have confidence in the fact that they do, in fact, have a good education.
On the other side of the extreme, you will find families who wish to keep official records of everything for their children from Pre-K onward. They want to know that their children are learning well and tests - lots of tests -- give them the feedback they value.
Then there is the rest of us. Most home educators fall somewhere in between. We want some kind of assurance that our children are learning at a competitive pace with their peers. But we reject teaching to the test. We often find our refuge in co-ops or once-a-year standardized tests. Some outside source to keep us on track.
Many times this is determined by outside forces -- if you plan to enroll your child in a school in the future you will need to be sure he is up to grade level. Sometimes a spouse needs to be assured by tests. And still other times, a child’s personality overrules the parent’s preference (we will deal with the child’s personality and needs in future posts).
Few homeschool gurus will emphasize the above needs to consider because you cannot sell a lesson plan for someone who wants to customize their homeschool culture to their own unique needs. No one fits in a box. But you pulled your children out of the school system because you don’t want them contained in a box. Don’t put yourself in a box either.
Clearly, your needs are not the only needs to consider. Your child may be the opposite of you. He may be an introvert while you are an extrovert. Compromise is key here. But your needs are not unimportant. Do what you need, be mindful of what your students need, and find the right synthesis. In the Sophia Homeschool Masterclass, I help navigate these compromises to create a custom strategy that works in your home. If you want to know more, I’m here to support you.
By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.
Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com
Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.