Happy Homeschool Tips From a Happy Homeschool Mama

“To teach is to touch a life forever.”

I don’t know who said that, but it was given to me on a beautiful heart plague over twenty years ago from one of my music students. I have it hanging on my wall and I believe it with all my heart!

If you are reading this blog, it is either because you want to become a home school family or, due to the Covid19 Pandemic, you are seeking to home school temporarily or permanently. Whatever the reason, I am very happy to try and offer you any help that you may need.

I am not a home school expert, there are many out there who have done this longer and have gained many more years of experience. I also do not believe that my methods of doing things are the only ways of doing things. Every family is different and so what I recommend is to read this through and see if there are any ideas which might work for you or ideas that you could alter to fit your family’s needs and learning styles.

I hope to make this an enjoyable experience for you! So, let’s begin!

The very first thing that is important to say is… believe in yourself! You can do this!

I know that in the beginning, I was nervous about it because I wondered, “Will I provide my children with a strong, quality education that covers all they need to know? Will I be able to give them the education in this competitive world that will stand strong when put to the test?”

Yes! You can and you will!

I began teaching music and directing choirs when I was a teen and as time went on I taught and directed dozens of kids and adults but only in music. Even though I had years of teaching experience, I was concerned that I would be able to expand my teaching abilities to other subjects. What I learned was, the more I taught the other subjects, the more I learned how to do it.  It was the process of teaching that taught me how to be a teacher! Not only that, I also learned so much and loved every minute of it!

There will be things that you will remember from school, there will be some things that you need some refreshing on and there will be some topics that you never learned at all. It’s all good! Learning together will be one of the bonds that you will form with your children through homeschooling!

I know those paragraphs are not going to build instant confidence in you, but I hope to keep encouraging you as we go along!

Before we go forward, let’s talk about one extremely important element… attitude. If you are choosing to home school your children then this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are doing it because of necessity or in some cases you have no other option, it is so important that you maintain a healthy, happy attitude when with your precious students. Think back to your school days. Did you have a favorite teacher? If you did, I am quite sure that some of the reasons why they were your favorite was because of the joy they brought to the classroom. Their excitement to teach and for you to learn was contagious! They had a great attitude about teaching and successfully conveyed that to you. They inspired you, motivated you, encouraged you. Let these words be something you add to your daily routine with your children.

It is also very important if you have to home school and it is not something you want to do, please make sure you are careful to guard those emotions from your child. You do not want at any point and time to convey to your child that teaching them is a burden that you do not want so the child never feels like your homeschooling them is their fault or something that you resent. Remember, it is not their choice so keep to kindness and protect the hearts of your young ones.

Having said that, there will be days when the frustration might spill out. Allow yourself room for those mistakes and just be honest with your children let them know that just like they are learning new things in school, you are learning new things in how to school them. I was always completely honest with my children and found that they respected me for my honesty and didn’t look at my shortcomings like I did. They were very forgiving when I would lose it and they it also was so good for them to learn from me how to say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” or, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, please forgive me.” Learning how to apologize to your children when you have those moments is going to teach them how to properly apologize to others and how to forgive and  that is a very good thing!

Everyday when you wake up to get ready to teach your children, make sure that you take some time to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Teaching will test you—daily, so be sure that you are prepared daily to pass those tests.

Prayer and time in the Word of God are the best ways to prepare yourselves.
I open my morning by reading a chapter of the Bible and spending time in prayer for my day. I ask for help, direction wisdom and that I will handle my children with the same loving kindness that God handles me. I give thanks for my three precious children and I give thanks for the opportunity, no, the privilege to teach them. Home schooling is, in my opinion a blessed privilege. Teaching my children has created a bond with them that I never imagined nor experienced before. I hope that you will find that bond as well through this process.

To have the freedom to teach your own children is such a blessing. You are able to fill them daily with the faith, values and ideals that your family holds dear. You are able to protect them better from bullying and build confidence and strength in them that they cannot receive from anyone else because anyone else is not their mother or father and no other human means more to them than you.

I do want to make note before I get to my tips, that I am in no way against public, charter,  or private schools. I absolutely loved my school days from grade school to college and I really liked my teachers, though, I admit, my high school days had some rougher times. I just want to be clear that I am not against regular schools and I do believe that children can thrive and flourish in them! I just wanted to able to explain to you that there are also so many benefits your children can receive from homeschooling with you.

Now! Let’s get into some tips that can create a happy homeschooling environment.

Affidavit

Before you doing anything, make sure that you file a home school affidavit with your state. All you need to do is Google: Home school Affidavit along with your state’s name and you will find links to direct you to download the affidavit and where to send it.

Understanding State Requirements

I cannot speak about what happens in any other states, I can only say that in the state of Arizona there are no requirements that you need to meet as far as grading or testing during the elementary years. I know that might sound a bit strange, but I have asked that question to dozens of other home school mothers and home school organization Presidents and have been told the same answer.  I have always used the Spectrum test prep series and I also that I found online test preps that I used at the end of the year with my children to make sure they were on track with what the state would be expecting and that they were scoring well. Of course, they will all have to take the SAT’s and there are some excellent online prep classes for this as well which I will discuss later on.

Home School Organizations

During the time of Covid, home school organizations and their activities might look a bit different. However, if you Google for local home school organizations around your area they are still helpful because they offer all kinds of resources for home school families. We are member of AFHE Arizona Families for Homeschool Education and for a $45 a year membership we can receive all kinds of online tutorials, journals, magazines and access to group activities. If you don’t think you will make home schooling a permanent change for your family then you might not want to join an organization, but if you do want to make home-schooling the choice for your family you can really gain a lot of inside and make some beautiful relationships through these groups!

Learning Environment

If it is at all possible, you need to establish an area of your home to be your “classroom”.

If you do not have an entire room to devote to this area do not worry, you just need to be able to have a place where the children can learn, decorate, store their books and supplies that they can call their classroom. Allowing your children to be part of setting up this space will help them not only feel part of creating their “school” but will get them excited about it. Allow them to create a name and perhaps a mascot like the family pet for their new school. Let them choose school colors and come up with an alma mater! This can be great fun for you all to create!

There are, of course, all kinds of classroom posters, wall art, bulletin board decor, etc. to be found on Amazon, or Google, but you can also find local shops in the states online which will be beneficial to you. I was blessed to have a Lakeshore School Supply store up the road from me and that is where we go for many classroom and curriculum needs.

Which brings me to my next subject…

Curriculum

Depending on what state you live, you may find different requirements for different grades. Still, for elementary grades there will be basic topics that are pretty general in all states: reading/comp, writing, spelling, math, science, social studies, humanities studies (art, music, etc.) and history. When I first began teaching, I would look up the requirements for several different states, my home state, a state on the west coast and a state on the east coast to get an idea of the standards across the country. Once I knew all that was out there and the basics that the children needed to know, I decided how I was going to structure my children’s education. Take note! This is just what I personally decided to do. You might have your own ideas or just want to focus upon what the requirements are for your state are. There is nothing wrong with that!

I did some research on many different curriculum varieties that are out there and have experimented here and there, these are some of my favorites for when the children were in their younger days:

Comprehensive Curriculum

Brain Quest

Spectrum

These books held all my children’s attention well with each subject and gave them a strong foundation to build upon for the higher grades to come.

Some of my other favorite curriculum for higher grades have included:

Classical Conversations – for a variety of subjects, but I loved the writing program!

Saxon Math Curriculum

Mission Generation – for history and Biblical worldview

Those are just a few places you might like to review. There are countless other resources that you can find online and I do suggest you take some time to do the research for what will be the best fit for your family.

I was also very blessed to be surround by women who had home schooled their children and had so many varieties of curriculum donated to me. I got TONS of stuff!!! and had a luxury of experimenting with what worked and what didn’t at little or sometimes no cost to me at all. I know that probably won’t be the case for most of you reading this, so I encourage you, take time to pray about it and do your research. You know your children better than anyone else in this world. You know how they learn, what they gravitate toward, what inspires them. I am sure than when you take a look at the vast varieties of curriculum out there, you will know what will work best for your family. Some of the ones I have listed may not work for you. Every family is different, every child is different and may learn differently and that is okay!

Online Resources

While most parents don’t just want to leave their younger ones to learn with just themselves and a computer, still there are many wonderful resources that can be found online or through YouTube which can be extremely beneficial to home school families.

YouTube is full of instructional videos that are so helpful in all subjects. One of my kids’ favorite channels is “Crash Course”, but there are hundreds videos that can be found for any subject from learning proper table manners to science projects, reading games, history lessons and math tutoring. Of course, parents need to go in and preset their laptops and YouTube channels to prevent any inappropriate material from popping up… I say this from experience! It’s amazing what some completely innocent words can bring up without child guards! But I do recommend utilizing YouTube and also GodTube as an excellent resource for home school kids.

There are also some fantastic computer games that we bought for our children and they couldn’t wait to play everyday and learned so much from. These are software programs that would need to be installed on a laptop or home computer.

Brain Play by Scholastic offers a variety of levels of games for reading, math, science and typing. My kids loved the Clifford reading carnival when they were little and learned to read quickly with the help of this fun filled game. I recommend visiting the scholastic website to see if there would be some software which would be a good fit for your family. www.scholastic.com 

We also loved the Leap Frog software games and DVD’s.
leapfrog.com

We also enjoyed software programs from these companies:

Encyclopedia Britannica Children’s Learning Suite
Innovative Knowledge
iLakeshore
The Learning Company (Reader Rabbit and Blue’s ABC Time were favorites here!)
and Hooked on Spanish software

I also want to highly recommend to you Khan Academy. This is a totally free online schooling program that was created, I believe, by the Disney Corporation. They have all kinds of classes and AP classes for high school and they even provide tutorials for college classes.

I was thrilled that my husband found this site because I was not confident to teach my kids their high school algebra and geometry. With Khan Academy you can track your child’s progress and you receive weekly emails to let you know of their accomplishments, weaknesses and strengths per subject.

They also offer some really incredible classes to teach children algebraic equations through the means of computer animation like in their “Pixar in a Box” class and also “Storytelling” in which the project is for the child to design a theme park attraction as if they were really going to build it. They have to calculate speed, timing, persons that can ride, etc. My kids loved this! It was some serious STEM learning in disguise!

Here is the link if you would like to use it! https://www.khanacademy.org/

Public Libraries

I don’t know if all public libraries are fully functioning in your area, but when they are, they are a fantastic place to inspire your children’s learning. Not only can you enjoy checking out books, but you also can use their online computer learning games and some libraries provide the “reading to dogs” program. Ours even had a reading to miniature horses program which the kids LOVED. They also offer reading challenges where children can earn prizes, which you can also do on your own at home!

We often drew out a “thermometer” for each child and then when they read a book, we colored in the thermometer until they reached the top. When they did, they got a special treat like a happy meal from McDonald’s (bleh) or an ice cream from Dairy Queen (yum!).

Libraries also have a fantastic online resource program that you can ask about and be trained on easily. This system can be used for research, personal reading or even videos. Our library often held events for lego clubs and art classes back in the days before Covid, and I am quite sure they will have those again. Many libraries also offer for children to “check out” seed packets. These don’t have to brought back, of course, but it an excellent way for kids to get excited about growing plants at home. This is something my kids love, I have some natural born farmers!

Another excellent program many local libraries provide are “Culture Passes”. Not all libraries methods of providing these passes are the same, but our library allows us to be able to check out two passes at a time to visit certain museums. This helps home school families get the kids out, when they feel safe to do so, and explore the wonderful museums of your state. I always loved taking my children on “field trips” and some of our favorite home school memories have been made during these trips together. I highly recommend you checking into the cultural passes!

In addition to museums be sure to check and see if your state have cultural gardens that you can visit. In Arizona we had the Chinese Cultural center, which was gorgeous and we also have the Japanese Cultural Garden, the Butterfly and the Botanical Gardens. These locations in additions to any farms you can get them to make for excellent field trips and wonderful memories!

Schedule and Structure

Another one of the lovely elements of homeschooling is that you have total control over your schedule and the structure of how your child’s schooling is done.

I will share with you our family’s schedule which is just to provide an example of how freeing homeschooling can be, but it is just an example. You know what is best for your family. You might even set up a schedule and as you go long see the needs for alterations and you have the freedom to make those adjustments to meet the needs of your family!

I would like to explain also that one of the main reasons I began homeschooling was because my daughter, MaCaedyn, was involved in an accident when she was two months old that left her with a sleeping disorder. Thank God that was all she had! Still, her disorder has it’s direct affects upon her and the rest of us in the home. Without going into all the details of her condition, I will just say that I did not know how she would function in regular school. Nor did I know how my other children would function because so many nights when MaCaedyn was young she would wake up the whole household.

This was how we began home schooling, it made sense to try it and I am so thankful that I have been able to do it ever since!

Schedule

Our family gets up probably a little later than most, we have our breakfast, do our chores and the kids have to practice their piano all before we begin school. Usually we start school at 11:00am. Through experience I learned that my children were not at all as focused early in the morning as they were at 11am. Once I started schooling them at this time, I learned that it was a good fit for us. We break for lunch around 2pm and finish around 4:00pm unless the girls need more time for some of their high school math classes, which now as a senior and sophmore, they always do.

These days, I have my kids cook their own lunch and I use that time to read aloud to them from a favorite novel or new novel while they cook and eat. It is very relaxing and helps with their listening skills.

When the children were younger I usually was able to accomplish all their work in a four hour time frame.

In addition to being able to start and end during the days, you also have the freedom to choose when you start and ending your school year.

My family currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona and if you don’t know about the summers in Phoenix they are HOT. Actually, hot doesn’t cut it. How about, sweltering, melting, excruciating, days spent in a/c? You get the picture. Let’s just say it like this, there have been summer Sundays when we were able to cook a tin of brownies on our dashboard while attending the morning church service.

If you are blessed enough to have a pool then you might to elect to keep your kids on the same school schedule that the public schools run on. We don’t have a pool and never have, so I wanted to see what it would be like to home school through the summer while we are stuck inside with the air conditioning where it is cool. We always joked that our kids were vampires during the summer because they only went out to play after sunset!

I start my school year the third week January because our family also has a nonprofit organization for children in need called The Huggabear Children’s Project, Inc. and I have to get all of my Christmas decorations down (which can easily take a week) and close out our contributions reports and send them out to our contributors for their taxes. Once we begin, we go through the summer, taking a little time here and there if we have a trip or special event, but mostly plowing right though until Halloween. The kids know that on October 30th, they are done for a while and we take off November, December and the weeks I need in January.

I can only speak for our family, but I can tell you, this is AMAZING! The weather is fantastic! There are so many things to go and do outside and we can just totally and completely enjoy the entire holiday season without any of the usual stresses of school.

I did learn to change my children’s grades at the end of July, let them have a week off and then come back into their next grade in August so that they would be on the correct grade level for their age. This made it easier when participating in church or sports events etc. where the children are often broken down by their grade.

Again, you will find out what works best for your family. The beauty of homeschooling is that there is no right or wrong way, it is YOUR way! As long as your children are learning what they will need to be able to score well on their SAT’s or other test scores needed for college, you can do what works best for you!

Structure

When setting up your day, try to give the children something they will look forward to. I’m sure you had a certain class that you looked forward to everyday, so try to create something each day that will be exciting for your children.

When my kids were young we had time for our “book work” where we did the reading, writing and arithmetic. But then each day there was something special outside of the usual required book materials like, music, art, science experiments, field trip, building, gardening, or having a video day. Whatever you decide, remember there is no right or wrong way, just allow yourself leeway that if something you try doesn’t work after a while, you can try something new.

This is not something that most teachers in classroom environments can do. If they have a large group, they have to think in mass, but you can think smaller… unless you have a lot of children! Be creative! Think out of the box! You don’t have to conform to what you knew in a classroom at all times. There are times when you need to have some regular classroom structure so that when your child grows up and enters college they are prepared for it, but when they are little, learning should be fun, inspiring and something they are excited to do. You can do that better than anyone else because you know your children better than anyone else!

Another blessing of the structure of how you teach your children is that they can also have the freedom to move at their own pace. All three of my children completely skipped over grades of certain subjects, depending on how quickly they absorbed the material. For example, Samuel is incredible at science and so he is currently doing the high school science curriculum with his sisters. Samuel is in 8th grade, MaCaedyn is currently a sophmore and Aven is a senior. I will keep teaching him other science programs as we go along because he absorbs it so well. You have the freedom to allow your children to do that when homeschooling. They are not structured in the way that they have to move at the same pace as the rest of the class. THEY are the class! So if there is a subject they excel at and want to move passed their age, let them go!

On a side note if, there is some healthy competition in your kids, this might be a benefit to you. My MaCaedyn always wanted to keep up with her sister who was two years older than she was. This was not something I inspired but when I saw how hard she would work like in learning her times tables or in her reading, I let her do it! It inspired both girls to keep working hard and there was no animosity or jealousy that came from it, all was done with good healthy efforts to strive forward!

Physical Education

I know that right now it is a challenging time for kids who want to engage in group sports due to Covid. If your child is unable to participate in a group sport they want to attend, invest in what you can and take them to the park. Buy the baseball bat, ball and glove, or the football or soccer ball and if you don’t know how to play these sports, watch the YouTube videos to learn some of the basic techniques they would learn. This is not just good for the child, it is good for you! You might learn something new and find that you also enjoy it!

There are also excellent YouTube classes for dance, Zumba, martial arts, boxing, or just regular workouts! Take them on bike rides or get some roller blades, buy a corn hole game or Bocce ball! Buy some tennis or racket ball rackets and go to the park! Walmart offers quite a good selection of sporting needs at reasonable prices that will help you.

If you are blessed to have a pool, get on YouTube and study different swim styles and their techniques. We have had volleyball nets and badminton nets along with croquet and golf and enjoyed every minute of it together. When things get better with Covid —and they will get better, you will find that there are so many different activities your children can do which can easily fill the space that they will have while homeschooling. One of our children is a second degree black belt in TKD, another is a first degree black belt in TKD and plays basketball, and the oldest was an Excel level diamond gymnast. Trust me, there are a lot of organized sports that can easily fill the need your children has for physical education outside of being in a school!

Home Skill Learning

Education is not limited to books or online resources. Never underestimate all of the life skills that you can teach your children. Things like, doing the dishes one day, helping you with the laundry one day, sweeping and working outside on the grounds of the home, keeping their room clean are all excellent for home care education. We have always had a chore wheel where the kids would spin to see what chore they would do that day. The chores can increase as the child ages, but it will teach them all how to take care of things in their home presently so they will have a better understanding of how to care for their own home in the future.

Having your children learning how to cook in the kitchen with you is also a wonderful way for them to learn and to develop skills that they will need. For the younger children simple tasks like helping measure ingredients (which teaches fractions) or washing fruits and vegetables, running water in pans, all of these things can be fun for children and will expose them early to the joy of cooking. Who knows? It might reveal any undetected culinary talents they may have!

I also take one child at a time with me when it is grocery shopping day. Well, right now my husband is doing the shopping during the Covid season. Every two weeks I went and we planned it out for the year on the calendar so that we could know whose turn it was. Before we went shopping I had the kids help me take “inventory” of what we had and what we needed and we created a list. I taught them that sometimes there might be a few things here and there that are not on the list but to try and stay disciplined to just the items on the list so they didn’t overspend. I also told them our budget and had them help me keep a tally of the items as we shopped so that we were able to always stay on budget–and I mean always! We do great! These are all important life skills that kids need to know!

Josh also teaches them various skills with car for our cars and other household items so they are learning how to care for the things they will someday own. Speaking of cars, that is a great place for learning! We keep trivia cards of American history in the doors of our vehicles, Brain Quest has some great car trivia games and sometimes on longer trips we would break those out. Listening to audio books, musicals or teaching your children about different genres of music can all be done together in a car and makes your time driving much more fun!

The Blessings of Home Schooling

I know that there are probably many more things I will think of to add this blog after I post it, but I do hope what I have written here will give you some happy tips for creating a happy home school for your children.

I also want to encourage you to Google your state and join whatever home school organization you may like. Even if you don’t attend any of their events, they are always giving out emails and sometimes journal posts that offer excellent ideas and advice.

Just remember that no one knows your children better than you. You know how they learn and what they love to learn. You know their schedules and personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses better than any teacher ever would. You just might find that being your child’s teacher can be a tremendous blessing –not a burden and can develop an even stronger bond with your child than before. I feel that way. I am so thankful for every single day that I have had with my precious babies and I am thankful beyond words that I have had the blessing to educate them. And yes, I still feel that way even though they are all teenagers! TRUE, the teenager is a different creature! But you will find that so much of your child’s innocence will remain longer because it is not being taken away from them by other kids who don’t share the same values as your family.

I will close with this, I have done much research through the years on this topic and have read many different articles about it. Home schooled children grow into adults who will stand strong in their faith. The most recent study I found says that 87% of adults who were home schooled are very strong in their Christian values and beliefs of the Bible.

This is not to cast a shadow upon children who are not home schooled in any way. It is still a very important fact that was significant for me that I wanted to share because of everything that I teach my children every single day, nothing, absolutely nothing is as important as teaching them the Word of God, the power that comes from memorizing and speaking it and also the power of prayer. I get to do that. I get that blessing and I cherish it. That doesn’t mean that my children or home schooled children are better Christians than other children, I don’t make those kinds of comparisons, that is not healthy, just or even true. It is just very important to me that my children have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ and their Heavenly Father God, Jehovah and that is a responsibility that I want to have. My husband, Josh and I are unified in leading our children down the path of Jesus’s love and it is a blessing that I am able to do every day through homeschooling.

I do hope this blog has brought you a little bit of help and should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! thehuggabears@gmail.com

May God richly bless, keep and direct you and your family during this time and thank you so much for reading!