I found myself homeschooling unexpectedly and suddenly about three years ago. I didn’t know how long I would be doing it, and I was absolutely terrified of messing it up. Even as an educator (I was a full-time college professor), I felt unequipped to take on the task, which felt endless. There were so many subjects to cover. There was so much outside of the actual educational material to recreate. It was all overwhelming.
So, I have a unique understanding of the situation many people are facing right now as they choose to homeschool in the face of uncertainty due to the pandemic. My “crisis schooling” situation was individual rather than collective, but I definitely understand the feelings of panic and insecurities that can rise up.
Homeschooling ended up being an amazing fit for our family, and I’m now a strong advocate for it being an option on the table for others trying to figure out the complex web of educational options and how they work for each learner’s unique set of needs.
Along the way, I’ve often thought of what I needed to hear in those first few months. What would have set my mind at ease when I was feeling so overwhelmed and unprepared? That’s what I’m putting forward here, hopeful that someone in a similar state will find it useful.
No choice is permanent.
When I started homeschooling, it was sudden, and I had no idea if I would be doing it for a month, a year, or the rest of my child’s time in school. I’m a planner, so one of the first things I had to do ease my mind was give myself permission to not plan too far ahead. I reminded myself that no choice was permanent, and that it didn’t make sense to try to predict the future.
So much was up in the air, so we just took it one step at a time. First that meant day-by-day. Then it meant week-by-week. At this point, we take it year-by-year, but I still know that I’m allowed to change my mind based on what’s best in that given moment.
Homeschooling is not just school at home.
My only experience with school had been in a traditional classroom. I couldn’t envision “school” that didn’t look like seven straight hours divided into neat subjects. Over time and with reflection, I realized that much of what works in a traditional classroom is designed that way not necessarily because it best serves an individual learner but because it is necessary for the management of so many learners at once.
Almost everything about education can be more flexible without losing its effectiveness. Working in 45-minute chunks with lots of movement breaks, playing a board game instead of doing math worksheets, starting at 10 a.m., working on the weekends or evenings when it best fit our schedule, checking understanding through discussion instead of a quiz: All of these options are fair game without sacrificing any educational standards.
Start dates are imaginary.
The biggest hurdle when I found myself unexpectedly homeschooling was the idea that I had to have it all figured out right now. I wanted to pin down a curriculum for math, choose a book list for reading, set up some hands-on projects for science, determine some fun language arts activities, make sure that we had PE and art and . . . You get the picture. Again, I was reverting to the model of education I knew best, and what I knew best was an academic year that started with every subject ready to go.
I realized that I could focus my attention in one area and then research and implement another one a few weeks later. Once those were going smoothly, I could pick up another one a few weeks after that. I breathed a lot easier, and the projects we ended up working on were a lot more dynamic and well thought out.
Don't buy all of the things.
There are a ton of amazing resources out there. There has never been a better time to be a homeschooler. Learn another language with one-on-one private tutoring lessons. Take piano from an expert. Get enrolled in subscription boxes and have new books show up on your doorstep weekly. There are curricula written with specific homeschooling philosophies in mind and options to fit just about any learning preference. It’s inspiring, exciting, and overwhelming. Pause. Breathe. Don’t buy all the things.
To keep myself from going overboard with purchases that we may or may not ever use, I asked myself two questions: What does my learner love the most? and What will I struggle the most to teach myself? Those were the two places where I spent money right away. Everything else could fit in later if we decided we needed it, but there are also tons of absolutely free resources available, and most of those needs would be met just fine without spending a penny.
As soon as you figure it out, it will change.
The thing I would like to tell my past self above all else is that it’s going to change, and that’s okay. As soon as you find a system that’s working well, something changes. Kids grow and transform. You grow and transform. The co-op you’re in falls apart. Your work schedule shifts.
Whatever it is, you’ll have to continually adapt, adjust, and try again. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It’s just part of the journey.
I was compensated with a game for this blog post but the opinions are my own.
Michelle Parrinello-Cason is an educator with a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition who has taught in college, high school, and elementary settings. Her focus is on helping students who have struggled to find a fit in traditional classrooms find positive learning experiences. She has done this through teaching developmental writing classes, creating curriculum for gifted students, and engaging in the homeschool community to create non-traditional learning opportunities.
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