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How to Survive Being an Ignorant First Time Homeschooling Mom

Ignorance is not bliss for very long. Ignorance inevitably leads to facing unexpected problems. Here is a short, pathetically comical list of things I was ignorant about when we began to home school our children:

  • 4 year old children are not likely to be able to write in cursive, especially in one day.
  • Young children do not usually understand what they are taught just because it is explained once, even if it is explained “well.”
  • Young children do not sit still for very long.
  • There are laws about how we are “allowed” to educate our children.
  • Choosing to teach my own children would make some people mad.

In spite of this initial ignorance, we not only survived our first year of homeschooling, but our children were thriving. It didn’t matter that I had misconceptions and “lack of training” in certain many areas. Parental ignorance is readily exposed by the reality of caring 24/7 for little people, so, as long as I was ready to learn and problem solve a little every day, the home environment was very conducive to their development and learning.

But why was I so ignorant? There I was, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from UCLA, having studied early childhood development. I had spent significant time with our then only 2 children over that first 4 years, although they were in childcare some. Still, I had a blurry and inaccurate idea of what their post-toddler capabilities would be. This is surely partly because nothing can quite prepare anyone for the full time intensity of raising their own children. It is inherently an on the job learning model. People can try to tell you, you can study, you can even try to delegate it, but in the end, no one can have your relationship with your child for you. It is work you have to do.

It also had to be partly due to my government school socialization. From the age of 6, in 1967, I was sent off daily to public school classes. I do not fault my parents. They did not have any idea of doing it differently. It was “the American way.” The result was that I was separated from parents and siblings and almost anyone not my age for hours every day. I was taught to concentrate on my own academic and athletic progress; and I was graded or evaluated on a daily basis to encourage me to “perform” according to their standards, which had nothing to do with thinking about family or even really other people. I think I would have made a good Nazi.

I was actually not a bad fit for the government school program. I liked to do what I was told. I was good enough at meeting their requirements that teachers liked me. I was not unhappy. I was definitely focused on filling out all the workbooks and answering all the test questions correctly. I liked knowing I was “giving the right answer.” I don’t remember learning to read. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read and I never got the impression that teachers were teaching me so much as giving books in the classroom or sending books home with me. Books that were often “teaching me” to appreciate our government system. Or the teachers were letting me help them correct papers. How’s that for child labor?

I don’t recall interacting with younger children, except for playing school with my younger sister. However, I was mimicking the teachers, who ruled from a distance and could hardly be truly relational with 20 – 30 students, and a whole new set of students every year. It was only about regurgitating exactly what I was taught and I expected my sister to do the same, no questions asked. On to the next assignment and no, you can’t go play. It is not time. I’m sure I was loads of fun.

When I was older, I did babysit some, but I only viewed it as a job. Besides, I knew I would only see the kids for a very short time before they went to bed, and since the parents didn’t go out more than once a month, I rarely saw them. Again, hardly the stuff relationships are built on. When my whole family got together with other families, all children involved were already so well trained to age segregation that it just happened. Everyone thought it was normal and there was definitely ageism exuded by any older kids. It is hardly any wonder that I came into parenthood with very little experience with young children.

Fortunately, I was quick to see the pitiful results of applying these methods to my own children. It was not the result of any great wisdom on my part. I simply could tell that government approach made them unhappy and put a lot of stress on me as I tried to make them conform to the standard system that I knew so well. I began to read everything I could find about teaching children at home, which wasn’t all that much because, uh hmm, it was before the internet. Really, my generation was the first significant wave of parents teaching their children at home, largely because it had recently become legal in many places, including Idaho.

There were a few families with somewhat older children, who had been taught at home for a few years. I appreciated the basic principles that they offered in their books. These were foundational to getting our family off to a good start with home based education:

  1. Spend time with the children while doing everything, from chores to lessons to baking cookies. Don’t just tell them to do things and set them somewhere to complete it as an assignment.
  2. Interacting with the children was more important than picking the ‘right’ curriculum or teaching materials.
  3. Do not try to emulate the institutional settings, curriculum approach, schedules. There is not only no need for this in a home or tutoring environment, but it is a less effective way of teaching and unnecessarily eats up time.
  4. Read out loud to the children a lot, and encourage discussion along the way.
  5. Give character training priority, and then educational progress will follow more naturally.
  6. Don’t be afraid of saying you don’t know things; be ready to learn right along side of the children.
  7. There is a lot more to education than knowing the right answers. Like learning to problem solve, learning to think, experiencing the world around you.
  8. Do not often ask older children to water watch (was just informed of this typo and it was too funny to completely remove) younger ones. This can be a bad habit that deprives all the children of parental interaction.
  9. Do not stress out the family schedule by trying to make sure the children get enough “socialization” according to other people’s standards. The family IS the basic social unit, anyway.

All of these things made me see that education was much more relational that I had thought. Really, without relationship, education is meaningless, being just a list of facts or ideas. Building relationship with my children was the first, basic layer of their learning process and stimulating their interest in the world around them in kaleidoscope colors.

I also started thinking in terms of goals for me, instead of so much for them. It got me brainstorming about how to get them to like learning and learn to be responsible, while still being children and individuals. It got me thinking about how learning should not be a separate compartment of life that ends at certain hours or at a certain age. It didn’t always have to be intense, but there should always be wonderment.

My original state of ignorance did not keep me from being able to guide my children into a much better educational journey than what the government system or my initial limited vision were offering. They never hated me or rebelled as the proverbial teenagers. They all still seem to enjoy spending time with us, their parents, and discuss things with us. We are all still learning. My youngest of 7 will ‘graduate’ from high school at home this spring. I will miss the ‘official’ educational part of our lives, but, because of the way we spent time together, my adult children are now some of my best adult friends.

Click here to read about the odd way I was introduced to the idea of homeschooling in the first place.



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