In our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a three-year-old, a one-year-old and a list of all we’d accomplish. There were wonderful days when everything flowed seamlessly and we did more than I hoped. Then there were hard days when so little seemed to go according to plan, when mundane tasks such as cooking and toilet training seemed to overtake our ‘learning time’.
The lessons I learnt that first year didn’t come in a flash of awareness. Most of the time I was busy trying to adapt to my new teaching role while fumbling around as a domestic goddess, walking milk bar and human baby-carrier. I also got pregnant again, and that affected my energy levels.
It took some months to eventually discern the kind of mindset I needed to get through. Although this did not eliminate the challenges, I was able to settle into a comfortable pace of life and learning.
This is what I learnt:
You are a gift to your child
You are a pivotal figure in your child’s life. There will always be choices to make for your home. But right now? You’re already who your child needs. You’re doing your best. Never think you’re not enough.
Keep your heart open
You do not know it all. That’s okay. Read all you can, get wisdom from people you trust, but remember – whatever knowledge you gain isn’t an app for success. Observe your child. Listen. Watch your own responses. Adjust. Homeschooling gives you a bigger chunk of time to grow in self-awareness as a parent and in your understanding of your child as he grows. Use your intuition and run with it.
Don’t be a perfectionist
You do not need to do it all. Neither does your child. The cruelest thing you can do is to force yourself and your child to accomplish every task. Rudolf Steiner said, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.” Have a list of goals for the year. Set a few important ones for each day. Give yourself the freedom to laugh and enjoy the process, to cry and make mistakes.
Follow the natural rhythm of your home
Structuring your life around an academic programme will make you and your child miserable. Plan your three R’s, but also consider the rituals that make your home function – naps, meals, clean ups, sanity savers. On some days, home care and self care require greater emphasis than language study or art appreciation. You might need to shop to replenish supplies, or sit back with hot tea to catch your breath while your child plays. Don’t feel guilty about indulging in some midday shut-eye with your child either. You’ll regain your best for later.
Embrace every moment as a learning experience
Education is not the the sum of hours spent doing lessons at a table. It is, as Charlotte Mason says, “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Be aware of any artificial distinctions you might unconsciously draw between what is learned formally and what is learned informally. Preparing meals or folding laundry with your child offers a meeting point for conversation and an opportunity to grow in practical life skills. Tidying up after play teaches respect for spaces and caring for things. It is in the ordinary moments of a day that powerful lessons are caught, sometimes taught. These lead to fact-accumulation, language acquisition and build learning foundations. Equally important, they shape a home, a worldview, a personal identity, a way of being and relating to others.
Be kind to yourself and your child
Flexibility is a precious gift in the homeschooling life – you can be free not only with what your child learns, but also how and when. Your child isn’t interested in a lesson you’ve planned? Offer alternatives such as construction activities or letter recognition games and try again another time. Literacy, math and music lessons often require individual, focused attention. If your child wants your help with writing but baby needs a diaper change, invite her to help pass you wet wipes and say you’ll sit with her once baby is settled or napping.
Play outside regularly
Go outdoors every day. Do not underestimate the power of fresh air for body, soul and spirit. Wander and play about in nature as much as possible. Go for a brisk walk or jog while pushing the stroller. Learn all the ways you can use a ball in the park. Allow your child to help you rediscover a sense of play. Be attentive to the landscape, weather, plants and wild creatures. Talk about colours, shapes, textures and smells. Be free as far as safety permits. Mud can be washed off!
Don’t be consumed by checklists or worry if you will succeed. Live your best in the moment and you will be prepared for what is to come. Embrace togetherness. Grow in patience, joy and empathy. Your faith, enthusiasm for learning, and connectedness with your child is laying a foundation for who he will become. Education is the process of growing into a life that leaves a positive impact on others. We never outgrow it.
By Jin Ai
Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling (preschool). She’s writing a book (coming out this year end), runs phonics workshops for parents, and blogs about parenting, home education and life as a mum to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.