As a longtime homeschooling parent, I often field at least one request for help per week from friends or even acquaintances about homeschooling.

“I think I want to bring my child home from school. But HOW do I do it and is my reason good enough?”

Every one of those conversations or emails is unique. That’s because no two families homeschool for the same reason or end up doing it the same way. And really, REALLY, that’s ok!

If you want to break your child out of a one-size-fits-all education by homeschooling, you know that I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all, how-to-do-it-and-here’s-why answer, right?

Reflecting on 18 years of homeschooling

When our family began the home education adventure 18 years ago I had three children and number four was not far off. For us, it truly was the frontier. I spent time wondering how I was going to homeschool and wondered if my reason was good enough.

During that first year, I was so focused on our children’s and family’s trajectory of getting schooling done that I couldn’t find a moment for self-evaluation.

Now, about 18 years into the mission, having a Hogwarts time-turner would be so nice. I’d go back and whisper a few important things in my own ear! Since I can’t, I’m offering them to any of you who might have that wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look as you start your first year of homeschooling:

Remember Your Reason for Choosing This —Whether you’re starting with a kindergartner who has never been to school or you’re bringing your fifth grader home from a brick-and-mortar setting, you have a reason for doing this. And whatever that reason is, it’s a GREAT reason. Sticky note that reason to the inside of the cabinet that holds your favorite coffee cup. Read it every morning. That reason will give you the shot in the arm that will hold you up on tough days. It will also help provide some support when someone tries to tell you that you’re going to damage your child by not sending them elsewhere every morning. Your reason is better than ALL of those things.

Remember to Put Your Oxygen Mask on First —  You know that thing they say on a plane when traveling with children? You need to remember to take care of yourself first or you will be unable to take care of them. Plan NOW to take care of you. Get dates with your spouse or partner on the calendar. Make a plan for when and how you’re going to get those 30 minutes a day of “You Time.” If you have no plan, you won’t do it. I didn’t make that plan — and I cried a lot. Yoga, reading, walking, even Pinterest. But plan it and stick to the plan!

Focus on the right “C” word — Curriculum. NOPE! — It’s about your Child. The curriculum you choose is important, but it’s only a tool. This isn’t about what curriculum you love best. It’s about what works best for your child. The tool you use can be tweaked, bent, folded and mutilated or even chucked out completely in order to make it fit your child. Don’t assume that if child #1 does it one way, then child #2 will be exactly the same. With our four kids, I’ve never done things the same way twice, even if I used the same curriculum. Individualized education rocks! I just had to be willing to make it, well, individual. Whether it’s online education, Classical Education, Charlotte Mason education., structured, or flexible, focus on the CHILD first!

Balance your Structure with Flexibility — Insisting on completing every page or every activity in a curriculum is a sure-fire way to take every ounce of joy out of learning. So, don’t let the curriculum run the education. Structure is good. Completing tasks and lessons within reason, also good. Overdoing it, not so good. The same can be said of the opposite pitfall. Rabbit trails are disastrous. If studying dinosaurs interests Bobby, explore it, dig into it (HA!), but don’t forget other subjects. Getting to the end of a month and realizing you haven’t talked about math for weeks takes the balance and the progress out of what you’re doing. The price can be steep for not gently insisting on progress in all areas. Balancing that structured focus with the flexibility of joyous learning is important.

Finally, whatever reason you choose to homeschool is a good one. None of us have exactly the same one, but I have yet to hear a bad one. How you homeschool may also differ from other families — but if you consider your children, yourself, and family and balance your focus, you’re more likely to see success and enjoy the road ahead.

Eighteen years ago, I never thought about the outcome. But, I will tell you now, there hasn’t been a moment I’ve regretted making the decision to homeschool and sticking with it.

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