For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher
I have neglected my blog this year., but I have an excuse. I’ve been homeschooling two grandsons full time. Once our family decided to choose homeschooling, I immediately re-immersed myself in the world of education after five years of retirement. There is no truer truism than “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” I have enjoyed myself immensely. So, it’s okay that my blog has been neglected.
My personal goals have been pushed to the sidelines. My blog is out of date, my edited novel manuscript awaits revisions, and my current non-fiction manuscript is a bare outline. But, it’s okay. It will be there when I’m ready. Today, I’m taking advantage of spring beak to reclaim some discipline in writing and rebirth my blog. And since my year has been focused on homeschooling, let’s talk about that.
There’s a Learning Curve
Homeschooling is different than traditional schooling. While teaching is the same, everything else is different. I know I have an advantage to homeschooling my grandchildren with thirty years of teaching experience behind me. Though most years I taught secondary grades, I do have experience and certification for elementary grades. So, it’s okay. My grandsons are working on second and fourth grades.
As with all new things, there is a learning curve. The great thing about homeschooling is that it allows for flexibility and change. And we have done a lot of that this year. We began with me trying to keep to a traditional school day routine. After all, that is what I knew. That is my comfort zone. I was a traditional student and a traditional teacher. It didn’t take long to figure out that was too daunting for everyone. Teachers must adapt to their students’ learning styles, and homeschooling allows for that.
While some routine is necessary, we have a very loose schedule and structure. That’s okay, too. We start late, we take an hour lunch break, which usually includes a long walk, and I work with them four days a week. They work independently one day a week. Most homeschooling experts—those who have done it a long time—agree that homeschool should not take up five or six hours a day. It should be accomplished in a much shorter time frame.
We’ve had challenges. When my son-in-law got sick, I had to homeschool virtually. We made it work the best we could. It was okay. We were still doing something. (I have a great deal of empathy for my teacher friends who are still teaching virtually during this challenging year. It is not easy.)
Our year has not been perfect, but I count it as successful; and we still have a time to accomplish our goals. I have specific things I know we need to address before we take a summer break. But even during summer break, there will be some traditional academics. We’ll just slow down.
What I Have Learned
Here is what I have learned so far in my homeschooling journey. While some of these things are obviously a result of my personal style, perhaps you can learn from my experience.
I have learned that the time frame differs with the child. I knew that, but with homeschool I can work with it. In traditional school, I had to fill a class period and stop when the bell rang. At home, I don’t have to commit to artificial time slots.
I have one grandson who will take his list of things to do and get them checked off. He likes to see what he’s accomplished. If he was my only student, we would be done very quickly or accomplish a lot more in the time set aside.
My other grandson needs one task at a time. He is overwhelmed by a long list. He requires much more supervision to stay on task. He needs many redirects and breaks. His learning comes more in small chunks. And much of it is oral, as writing is a challenge for him. And that’s okay. They are both meeting grade level expectations for reading and math.
I have learned to choose my battles. This is not a normal year for anyone. Because I teach my grandsons in their home, there are many distractions—mom is working in her home office, a new puppy needs attention, toys, games, and screens call their names, and beautiful days beckon us outside. In a state where many days are gloomy, we try to take advantage of those beautiful days. It is hard to run a strict environment with so many distractions.
There are also mental challenges. We have all been more isolated this year. For the kids, this eliminates or limits playtime. They miss their classmates. They miss community sports opportunities. This affects both their moods and states of mind. Sometimes focusing on mental health takes priority over academic health. It’s a balance. At home, you can adjust and work to address issues. At home, you have perks such as reading on the couch—complete with pillows, blankets, and puppy—, taking nature walks, doing hands on experiments and activities, and choosing which subject to complete first. If one subject isn’t working today, you can quickly switch to something else. The kids can change up the order and routine. Sometimes giving up and tackling a hard thing another day is even an option. It’s okay. Hopefully, the by-product is development of independence.
I have learned that you may not use everything you buy. I chose all the curriculum for the year, but some has been set aside. What I chose to fit my teaching style doesn’t always work for the kids’ learning styles. And grade level curriculums are not exactly the same. At the beginning of the school year, we spent some time determining exactly where they were functioning after having missed a big chunk of previous school year. We picked up where they needed and moved on. A grade label isn’t really important. It’s okay that they begin where they need to.
I have learned you can spend a lot of money. Do your research. There are many great curriculum choices available. There are even some free options. I have a lot of resources gathered, and next year I will approach things differently. The truth is, I probably have enough material already to begin next year without getting anything else. That’s okay. And if we choose not to homeschool again, I will donate to another family.
I have learned where the resources are. Get advice from those who have already been homeschooling. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to general homeschooling conversations as well as specific curriculum support. Facebook groups of these types are loaded with academic information, non-judgmental advice, and more than just education support. They are life support.
I have learned it takes a lot of planning time, even if you are only working with one or two children. And if your child has any type of educational challenge, everything will take longer. Granted, some of my invested time this year has been exploring different curriculums and reading what others have done. But I am not an expert in all subjects, so I continue to learn.
I have learned it is okay to give myself a break. I want to do it all. I want my kids to do it all. That’s not realistic. No one is doing it all. Kids doing virtual learning at home with parents also working at home are not doing it all. Kids in a traditional classroom with a teacher whose attention must be divided between classroom and virtual students are not doing it all. Kids who have been in school some weeks this year and learning at home other weeks are not doing it all. Kids thrive with routine, and routine has gone out the window. As a teacher I can tell you, we couldn’t even do it all when everything was “normal.”
I have learned it is okay to give kids breaks. It’s okay that they spend only 10-15 minutes on a lesson. It’s okay if they are not doing every subject. It’s okay if they learn things they are interested in rather than things that curriculum dictates they learn. It is okay if they are learning from YouTube and other videos. It’s okay to sleep in. It’s okay to go outside. It’s okay to bake. It’s okay to have family time. It’s okay to play games. It’s okay to work on personal skills.
It’s okay. If you are trying and your kids are learning something, that is what matters. Embrace the positives that technology offers. Embrace the family time, embrace the online gaming opportunities for your kids. As the weather warms up, embrace things you can do outside. As social-distancing mandates ease, embrace local sports teams and educational opportunities, homeschooling groups, and neighborhood and intimate friendships.
It’s okay. God is not surprised or challenged by this. He’s got us. If you believe God has a plan and purpose for your life, then you can believe He has one for your kids, too, regardless of academic challenges. Your kids are l earning something every day. They soak up information and build life experience. That life experience will be a great boon to them in their reading and in future academic endeavors. Embrace the new things.
I’d love to hear about your homeschool successes, challenges, and adventures, so leave a comment. If you’d like a list of materials and resources I’ve used this year, along with my thoughts on each, subscribe to my blog and I’ll send them to you.