Tips to a new home school mom

(The following post was originally a letter from myself to a new home schooling mom who was worried about her ability to educate her children. I hope it will encourage you, too!)

Let me assure you: the majority of children have their own difficulties! Every line you have written here about your son’s difficulties immediately brought to mind memories of my own children’s situations! Let’s start with your son’s unhappy year in kindergarten, which led you to consider home schooling. In my case, my first daughter was obviously very bright, learning to speak in full sentences very early–and yet she “failed” kindergarten! It turned out she was just not “socially ready”– for the classroom situation, that is (

Let’s start with your son’s unhappy year in kindergarten, which has led you to consider home schooling. In my case, my first daughter was obviously bright, learning to speak in full sentences very early–and yet she “failed” kindergarten! It turned out she was just not “socially ready”– for the classroom situation, that is (as many children are not).

She had been very happy at home and in the neighborhood, with her younger siblings and her many friends and cousins, and her parents, grandparents, adult family friends, aunts and uncles, church members … in other words, well socialized into real society. She could carry on a happy and interesting and intelligent conversation with people of any age. She loved listening to us read Shakespeare and philosophers and discuss politics and religion and current events, and would ask intelligent questions and give interesting and thoughtful commentary on all kinds of topics. This was just from being part of a large family, both nuclear and extended, as well as part of community family in the church and other organizations (for example, she came with me to Girl Guides even when she was a tot–I would only be a leader if I could bring along my baby!).

Then she went to kindergarten – and she began being “socialized,” stuck in a room with 25 or so other little people who “just happened to be born in the same year.” She was expected to live her life by a clock, doing things that were considered “age-appropriate.” So, for example, even though she had begun, without any coaching, drawing detailed pictures from the age of about 2, suddenly she was expected to use giant crayons and paintbrushes because supposedly she did not yet have fine-motor abilities! (She also was left-handed – and the teacher aide made her sit on her left hand, and use her right hand for printing and cutting! Another rant topic…)

Sadly, this applied to many things she did in Kindergarten. So basically she sat in the corner for the whole year, intensely unhappy. Her teacher recommended she repeat kindergarten because supposedly she hadn’t learned anything. (Within a year after that, she was reading anything and everything, far, far above grade level–so much for “not learning”–and later, after some years of home schooling, as a teenager she was teaching adults at a BC Government Skills Center how to do website design while her fellow age-appropriate-students were still struggling in grade 11 at school. And those technology skills were developed without a single hour of classroom instruction, or even parent-instruction: she taught herself computer coding and design (and then taught me!). In other words, she had grown up from the start to be interested in all aspects of life and to be a self-motivated learner and participant.

In fact, I was a school teacher, and I did not even realize home-school was a legal alternative until my oldest child was about 9 years old–and the only people I knew then who home schooled were simply having their children sit at desks at home from 9 to 3 daily, filling in workbooks, which seemed pointless to me. As it turned out, we were actually home learning in our entire lifestyle but didn’t realize it. So by the time we started the full learning-at-home adventure, my oldest daughter (the one who failed kindergarten) was at the grade 7 age level. Her little brother, our youngest, had just had a year of kindergarten, and we had 3 other daughters in between. When my children got into their teens, some chose to continue with learning-at-home, while some incorporated public school classes into their learning, some used Learning Centers, and so on. But whatever path they took was their choice, and I gave them great freedom in learning. And sometimes, school is almost unavoidable… like when I was in

When my children got into their teens, some chose to continue with learning-at-home, while some incorporated public school classes into their learning, some used Learning Centers, and so on. But whatever path they took was their choice, and I gave them great freedom in learning.

Three of my children have ended up with “Dogwood certificates,” while 2 have not “officially graduated.” Some have university degrees, others are self-employed or work successfully for companies. Yet they are all successful in their adult lives and now that they are having children of their own, they are making sure that their children really experience lifelong learning.

Your home school/ life-long learning adventure can and should be an adventure, using a lot of imagination and methods. You know your child better than anyone else, and together you can figure out your children’s needs and take advantage of what works for them. For example, one of my girls was very athletic and very competitive, and I arranged with our local neighborhood school for her to be able to take Phys Ed classes at the school and be part of their track and field team.

Also, our children have First Nations heritage, and they were able to go over to the local school to take part in language and culture learning activities, even while officially home-schooling. They also were involved in cultural activities in our community. Some schools are more open to these things than others, but it never hurts to find out. Even if your local schools won’t cooperate with your home schooling, there are so many other opportunities if you only search for them.

Finally, one last observation. When I started to home school, I knew very little about it. But I did know a lot about how to teach school! So the first day of home school, I had my living room outfitted with 5 desks, a whiteboard, a teacher desk, a bell (really!), and a very carefully planned timetable and curriculum. By noon the first day, my five little scholars had informed me that “If we’re just going to do school at home, we might as well go back to school.” So by the end of the first week, the desks and bell were banished, and my careful timetable and curriculum began to crumble away. Home school–learning at home as part of life–became an adventure of discovery for all of us. Sometimes I felt as though I was learning far more than my kids, and a lot of the time, they were my teachers! So don’t be afraid to take time to look around, get ideas, try different things out, be willing to change. And feel free to keep asking other home schoolers your great questions!

Please share your experiences in the comments. Thanks!

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