It’s your first year and you’re overwhelmed–start here

I went to my friends house yesterday because I was in the neighborhood and she said I could.  She shared with me that as she enters her first year of homeschooling, she feels overwhelmed with where to start.  Her children are young (would-be 2nd grade, Kindy and toddler).  Similarly, a new homeschooler on one of my Facebook groups expressed panic over the same thing–where to start??

So here was my advice to them… 

The woman on the message board was told to relax because it wasn’t a competition–there was no comparing of her child to others.  But I noted that sometimes the lack of “competition” is exactly what does us in. You’ll find that you suddenly have no bar to meet and need to look deeply into what you really want for your child. Most people don’t have to do this like homeschoolers because they don’t have as much control over it. Remember the first time you drove a car–how insanely big and cumbersome it felt?  That’s what the beginning feels like.

I just want to reaffirm that you should take time to relax and breathe. Our own family is entering year 7 and I spent a lot of those first years buying a lot of stuff that didn’t work. For one, they change so much year to year!! But for another, I needed to take the time to watch my son’s interests develop and see how he figured things out, what he was interested in, etc. Even if you don’t follow a child-led learning model, these will help you figure out how to best deliver the content you want to give them. Does that make sense?  Ask him what he wants to do and run with it. You’d be amazed what they are inspired to learn that way. There is lots of reading aloud and digging into topics and conversations that make those little gears turn. Suddenly you’re doing math and you don’t even realize it.

My friend, however, still seemed overwhelmed with this response.  I called the kids out onto the porch in the sunshine and grabbed a scrap of paper from her kitchen counter.  I made 3 columns (2 for her older kids and 1 for my kid that was there).  I asked them what they wanted to learn about and the ideas came spilling out.  Girly is way more accustomed to this, so she was rattling things off and my friends kids were doing a lot of “ME, TOO!!” so I said “Okay, I have Girly’s list… she can go back inside,” and I told the remaining two that I just needed to finish their list.

In the end, there were a good 5-6 things.  Some were really broad and some were as precise as “How does a cicada make such a loud noise?”.  I told her to start there.  Find movies and go to the library and tell the children’s librarian that you need resources on these topics for her kids age ranges.

Then she wanted to know about how to teach them the things SHE wanted to teach them.  I eyed her suspiciously because I’m an adamant follow-the-child person.  “Like what…?” I asked.  She wanted them to learn about money.  I gave her a book to start with (for her–to figure out where she stands on handling money so she knew how to lead them) and then I told her some of the things we do–mostly things we screwed up that she should think about how she and her husband want to handle.  I also noted that teaching them about money was going to be more experiential than actual “teaching”.

She seemed to feel better, but still felt a bit overwhelmed.  Today, I reached out to her with some more guidance.  Lammas had just passed the prior weekend (Aug. 1) and Husbeau and I are delayed in honoring the day.   Lammas is a festival of regrets and farewells, of harvest and preserves.  Long ago, I got the following ideas from and I’ve always loved it.  I suggested that she and her husband discuss these particular topics:

Regrets: Think of the things you meant to do this summer or this year that are not coming to fruition. You can write them on a piece of paper and burn them.

Farewells: What is passing from your life? What is over? Say good-bye to it.  You can also bury them in the ground, perhaps in the form of bulbs which will manifest in a new form in spring.

Harvest: What have you harvested this year? What seeds have your planted that are sprouting?

Preserves: This is also a good time for making preserves, either literally or symbolically. As you turn the summer’s fruit into jams, jellies and chutneys for winter, think about the fruits that you have gathered this year and how you can hold onto them. How can you keep them sweet in the store of your memory?

Once you have this conversation, it will help look at your family now and see where you want to be this time next year.  Then, figure out how you can make that happen. What routines or behaviors need to be learned–for all of you? That’s a huge part of training up our kids. And it will take some actual work and time.  You might find that you do more work on relationships, behaviors, self-care and practical life skills this year than anything else. Building a set of routines helps everyone feel stable and structured.

Our morning routines are that every gets dressed, makes their beds, flosses & brushes, Girly does a laundry chore and BigGuy does a bathroom chore.  We have routines around meals: he gets drinks and plates, she gets silverware and napkins, she clear the table and he loads the dishwasher.

It’s less about what TIME stuff gets done and way more about the order in which things are done (like, I don’t care if mine get dressed before making the bed or floss/brush first–but all of those happen before their chore)

It’s very Montessori… there’s just a certain way things need to get done.

Once you get a set of routines in place and clear behavior boundaries/consequences, life feels so much more stable and predictable.  And that’s when their behavior really changes.  When they know what is solid.  When they have a foundation they can rely upon.
So this first year, take a deep breath.  Know that it will be okay.  Take the focus away from what you know to be “school” and start looking at “education” and the lifelong skills they will need.  There is plenty of time.
Much love, mamas…

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