By Jess Pritchard
“What advice do you have for those just starting out?”
It is the inevitable question, asked again and again. I clearly remember asking it (in some form or another) myself, many times, of many different people. And now I am being asked it.
So here is my advice. In dot point:
1) Don’t be afraid of mess.
It goes without saying that home schooling can get messy. Very messy. And there are times when I fantasise about packing all the kids off and having a cleanish space for six hours a day. When you home school you just don’t get that. My advice is to make peace with the mess, embrace it. Paint, dough, scraps of paper, experimental recipes, dirt, sticks, stones etc, bring so much joy (and learning opportunities) for our children, and I am always surprised by how quick it all cleans up – especially when they help!
2) Recognise that you are learning as well.
Along with the children. I’ve been shocked at just how much I have learned since becoming a home-educating mum. Not just the academic stuff (did you know that starfish don’t have brains and that butterflies taste with their feet?) but about the different ways people learn, about my own abilities, about organisation and efficiency, prioritising and compassion. Home schooling is not just an education method; quite often it becomes an entire lifestyle choice.
3) Get out of the house.
One of the huge benefits of home educating is the fact that you can pick and choose when to ‘do’ school work. You can take advantage of the quieter times at the library, the museum, the zoo. Home schooling groups often meet at parks (and have the whole thing to themselves) or go away on camps in the off peak periods. Take advantage of the fact that you are not tied to the same 9-5, Monday to Friday grind as everyone else.
Read ALL of the things, not only out loud to your children, but for yourself as well. Let them see you reading. Take advantage of any downtime you get to curl up with a book. Read all about home education and cool activities and what works for other families. Update your knowledge on things that interest you.
5) Don’t compare.
Just on the point of reading about other families – make sure you don’t get hung up on what everyone else is doing. Follow what works for your family (and work hard to find what that is). I like listening to what others do, and taking on board some of the things, but long ago I let go of trying to be like everyone else all the time. You are unique, your children are unique – honour that always.
6) Join in with other home schooling families.
The support will be invaluable. I often get asked why I think so many families want to home school but never actually do it. I think support is one of the major factors. Being with people on a regular basis who make you (and your children) feel normal will make a huge difference to your experience. Even if there is no one ‘in real life’ near you, the internet provides many opportunities to connect.
7) Get outside.
Prioritise outside, together time over the books. So much can be learnt by being outside. Grow food, dig holes and build bark forts. Run and skip rope with your kids. These memories will last forever. Spend time at playgrounds and parks but don’t forget to spend time in nature without a single manmade thing in sight. Nature is the third parent. Use it.
8) Create with your children.
This one took me a long time, believe it or not! I would set up the art table with beautiful things and then do the dishes or fold the washing while my children created amazing works of art. These times together were transformed when I started creating with them. And it was so liberating for me! I had forgotten how much fun making things was. I found the children were more engaged and the conversations we had were rich and exploratory.
9) Go easy on yourself (and your children).
The pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming. I found this pressure intensified when we actively stepped out of the status quo. Parenting is really hard work. Being an educator as well as a parent adds a whole other dimension to life regardless of which home education method you use. Recognise your worth and the fact that home education is intense and that some times will be harder than others. Start each day afresh and don’t dwell on any perceived ‘failures’.
10) ENJOY your children!
And the life you have created. All too often we get caught up in the intensity of each day that we forget to step back and see the big picture. Children grow up so fast; one of the benefits of home education is that we will have spent as much time as possible with them before they fly the nest. The time we spend with our children is precious, the memories we are making are priceless.