As I am preparing to be the learning coach for our granddaughter with online schooling this year, so many memories and emotions have popped up in my heart during this time. Thoughts on my years of homeschooling plus what I’ve learned from teaching in the classroom at school the last 20 years are blending together to point me to form what is most important for our precious 3rd grader.
My Teaching Story
Twenty-nine years ago when our eldest son, Shawn, was four, I began a nine-year homeschooling journey that eventually included our other three children, Taylor, Andrew and Bethany. When Shawn was going into 8th grade and Bethany into 1st, we decided to take a one-year break from homeschooling and put them in Cole Valley Christian School in Boise. I subbed and they schooled. We loved it so much that I got a job as librarian and eventually taught my passion, music. We stayed there, me for 19 years, and I eventually taught our granddaughter.
Last year, making plans for retirement, I never dreamed in a million years that I would ever homeschool a granddaughter, but here we are. While I assisted her this spring during the lockdown, it was not normal homeschooling but a survival mode for everyone involved, but still an incredibly positive experience for our family.
Because of my husband’s health problems and the need to quarantine him, we decided it would be best to homeschool our granddaughter to help protect Papa and be able to keep our family unit support system going. We chose Idaho Virtual Academy because they have been doing online education for about 20 years and know how to do it well. I would have loved to have just done my own curriculum but felt the need to have a teacher do the lesson plans and keep us on track.
Despite all my training and experience, I’ve struggled with anxiety and not feeling prepared this year. Being at the mercy of another teacher in control, when I’ve always been the head teacher, and working with someone else’s timeline has been difficult even though I want someone else to do the hard work.
I started worrying, “How do I prepare? Do I have enough energy to be a positive fun teacher at home? Can I adjust my life to online class times? How can I keep life fun for her? Will I be good enough…” With anxiety and fear taking over, I knew I needed to calm down.
Oh, did I mention our kids moved out and we are getting new carpet and reorganizing our whole house including adding a learning area before school starts? Ahhh!
With much life experience, I’ve learned that prayer is my peace pill. I prayed and asked God for strength and to please show me what I needed to do and focus on. He led my thoughts to target my anxiety and re-frame it to what I know is true from my past experience. I went back to my homeschooling memories and my classroom experience to adjust my mindset and target first week essentials. Baby steps…get ready for the first two weeks first, then tackle the rest as it comes. Hopefully, these following ideas will help you as you step into this journey in 2020.
Mindset – Remember the Extra Benefits of Homeschooling
Look forward to Blessings of Family Time – My homeschooling years were not the best academic years of our lives, but they were the VERY BEST years of our lives. This became even more real to Gary and me when our son Taylor died when he was 23. I knew then that the extra 9 years of family time we had during the homeschool years were a precious gift.
Expect Sibling Bonding – While our kids fought, they really were each other’s best friends. When Shawn was a senior and Taylor and Andrew were in junior high and senior high in the same building, a friend came up to Shawn and said, “Your family is weird!”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you guys like each other and even hug and say, ‘I love you’ in the halls.”
I still tear up at that, the greatest compliment a mom can hear about her children.
One way they bonded was through me teaching group lessons. I always taught Bible, History and Science together which also saved me a lot of time. Language Arts, Reading and Math were taught individually.
Experience Life Skills Real-Time – The practical side of life is taught organically in real-time with homeschooling. A few examples are: Developing deeper family relationships, working through conflict resolution, cooking, exploring outdoors, learning outside, gardening, cleaning, charity opportunities etc. are precious! This list could go on…
Don’t Sweat Missed Academics – The above treasures are worth more than academics, but remember academics are still important and can be caught up. Additionally, your students will likely excel in academic areas because they are homeschooled. One example of this is when Shawn took his first achievement test. I was especially worried about Science which I did not expect on the test and I used a non-traditional teaching method. I had used a Science textbook for a base to go by, but used Usborne books, nature walks with journaling and science experiments I found in the Usborne books. Shawn scored in the 95% for science for his age in the 5th grade. His siblings’ scores were also high.
Each of our kids were behind on a few things when they entered formal school, but eventually got caught up and they are now successful, productive, compassionate, loving people. Life is really a very good teacher!
Don’t Sweat the Bad Days – School in the regular classroom never goes perfectly the way the teacher expects. For example, I have never started a year at our school without technology problems. Teachers, most days, the first two-three weeks, are happy to get their kids to the bathroom, lunch and recess the way they plan. At home you are going to experience glitches and behavior issues and probably some Science experiments that go bad. This is all part of being human. Classroom teachers have learned to remain cool and move on.
Remember to do Free-Play with Your Kids – I so wish I had done more of this. Laundry and cooking can distract us. I plan to play with our girl at morning “recess” and I’ve arranged for a neighbor girl to play at lunch recess. We did badminton and golf in our backyard in the spring. You can also easily incorporate school into playtime without them knowing it.
Procedures – You will add more of these as time goes by, but here is a good start. Procedures become habits with daily gentle reminders so that eventually you don’t need to remind them. Expectations make the school day fluid and eliminate unnecessary stress.
Start School with Fun – Our girl is afraid school won’t be as fun without her friends. While it won’t be the same, I plan to change her mind to see a new kind of fun. I bought some first day of school signs and plan to get balloons. Take pictures as if you were starting school as usual. If you are enjoying the day, they will pick up on your cues and their mindset will be, “Hey, Mom is a fun teacher!”
Have Kids Set up Procedures with You – Ask them what they think makes an organized school day. They will probably already know what to do based on their previous classroom time. Make sure they cover these essentials:
- Bathroom Breaks – Go before start time!
- Help Mom Clean up Breakfast
- Set Start Time – Remember the earlier the start the more afternoon free time!
- First Subject – Let them pick if possible. We like to do Bible, Social/Emotional chat lessons to get our hearts settled. Talk about anything that is bothering us or stressing us and diffusing that helps start with calm hearts.
- Getting Mom’s Attention – Use a card system or just put your hand on Mom’s shoulder.
- Decide on Quiet Learning Spaces.
- Establish a consistent area for pencils, scissors, crayons, paper, markers, books etc.
- Responsibility – If you turn it on, turn it off. If you open it, shut it. If you take it out, put it away.
- Snack Bar – Establish an area with healthy snacks that the kids can just grab without asking Mom or having her leave another child to get them out.
- Lunches – Have kids pre-pack lunches in a lunch box or bag the night before. Or better yet, plan a cooking lesson for lunch or dinner.
- Set Goals with Rewards for Learning – While I like to teach children to obey because it is right, kind, and respectful, students still need goals especially in the subjects they find difficult and for positive attitudes. You know your child so put something together that meets his or her needs. I like to reward them for trying their best, not for getting an A+.
- Put on Your “Teacher Hat” and have the kids put on their “Student Hats” to remind us we will show respect to each other just as we do at brick and mortar school buildings. (I’ve definitely had to practice this during the summer with my granddaughter as she has me wrapped around her little finger!) For example, today, she decided she wanted to swim first before piano practice. Sometimes, I am willing to negotiate but the her M.O. lately has been persistent debates, so I did what was best for our schedule and character building and calmly said, “No, we will not be able to swim until after piano practice and lunch.” She was fine with that and we had a great piano practice.
Well, as we start this journey together, please do not hesitate to share your ideas and ask questions. We will all learn from each other. I hope this gives you a good kick start, settles your hearts and prepares you for the best year ever in the life of your family. I will be praying for you.
Signing off with a verse that always reminds me, my weakest investments will grow to completion with a lot of love and prayer in the hands of the One who loves our kids best.
I am confident in this that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.