1. Homeschooling is a proactive, personalized approach towards learning and teaching.
When people think of “homeschooling,” they presume that families are stuck in their dining rooms all day long, and the parent/guardian must follow the public school curriculum to the dot. There is no one way to define homeschooling or place a stereotypical label on it. The whole point of homeschooling is to personalize learning and teaching for each student– to cater to the student’s needs, not to the corporate standards or milestones listed on a syllabus.
2. Renew your intentions and reflect!
As cliché as this is, you need to ask yourself the big “why.” Why do you think you can provide a better learning environment and overall education for your children in your home? The answers vary for each family. I’ll be doing an extensive post about why my family and I made this choice. However, one reason was that we wanted our children to be raised in a spiritual and practicing Islamic environment, one which we felt was lacking in the educational facilities around us.
3. Homeschooling is not for everyone.
When I first heard about homeschooling, my first reaction was…but, how? How is this even possible for ME to do this? I quickly concluded it was not for me- and at the time, I was right! However, circumstances and I eventually changed. Just as public schools, private schools, online institutes (distant learning), and 8 AM – 3 PM schedules are not the perfect fit for everyone in the world, the same goes with homeschooling. Homeschooling may never be the right fit for you and your family, or it simply may be that this is not the right time.
4. You don’t have to research everything on the topic, be an expert or even confident before you begin.
In fact, most of the homeschooling parents I know (myself included) are the exact opposite. They are scared and jittery at the beginning- heck, I still get scared and doubtful every week. Just like teachers (and other professions), we must be willing to learn and grow as we travel on this journey. No shame in acknowledging the stage you belong in and aiming to progress higher and higher. You will be pleasantly surprised at your own growth! Personally, I like to visit the parenting, self-motivation and education section of the library often.
5. There is no perfect curriculum.
I made many mistakes and continue to learn by failing each day. However, one mistake that I strongly regret is spending countless hours and energy on trying to find the perfect curriculum. None exists. Yes, you need to do some research but don’t get stuck in the rat race towards the most expensive or most comprehensive syllabus. The focus should be on nurturing a love of learning and adding fuel to the fire of curiosity– not extinguishing it with burdensome paperwork. Remember, the whole point of homeschooling is to get away from the cookie cutter versions of school.
6. Learn about the different homeschooling styles and methodology.
Even though there is no use looking for the perfect curriculum, it is really important that as homeschoolers, you should know the different approaches to homeschooling and there are fantastic best-sellers on the approaches. I will also provide detailed lists about this point, but some examples are classical learning, Charlotte Mason, and unschooling. I found that this step helped me to naturally come towards the perfect approach for my family.
7. Don’t compare yourself to other homeschoolers.
Going along with the curriculum point, please do not compare or contrast yourself with homeschoolers or any other person or family for that matter. I will keep repeating this, but remember that one of the reasons behind homeschooling is that each person is unique and thus needs a customized learning environment. Don’t get bullied or intimidated into buying expensive books or must-have readers that everyone is boasting about. You are in charge and you get to decide – involving the children in the decision process makes a huge difference as you can cater to them. For example, when looking through the countless readers, one friend opted for Splat the Cat simply because her kids liked cats. Worked out great for them!
8. Don’t do it all alone.
Whether you choose public education or homeschooling, it needs to be a family decision. That means all the people living in your household need to be on board- especially your spouse. They may not be 100% willing, but they need to be willing to give it a try. For my husband, he called it the “I’ll give it a year” experiment and after that, we decided as a family to stick with it. Of course, not everyone in the household might not understand the concept or they simply might not be have a strong opinion about it – such as the help around the house or the elderly. However, once you begin the journey, you must actively communicate with all household members and inform them about the new schedules, requirements, and help.
9. Accept any help you get- and find some if none is offered!
This is especially true for working mothers and families living in Pakistan. I didn’t need too much help when I was in America, but when I am in Pakistan, I have a lot of “extra” on my plate. This includes hosting guests (many of them unannounced or staying over for long periods at a time), moving houses and traveling, and constantly having to make schedule changes. After repeating the same mistakes over and over again and not getting any positive results, I realized I had to rethink my approach and be creative. For example, I hired some help for the extra chores when guests arrived. If I had guests staying for long periods or time, I asked their help supervising some subjects and even giving them lessons to teach. For a short history lesson, my mother-in-law retold old family stories, prophet stories and even made some crafts with the kids using homemade playdoh. When a guest offered to make the bed or even take the kids out for a walk while I got my head on straight, I accepted willingly- and you know what, these were some of the best real-life learning moments for the children.
10. You will be judged and you will be tempted to judge others.
When I confided in a friend about the decision to homeschool, she asked me why I was burdening myself. “You’re a woman, a Muslim, Pakistani and now you want to homeschool!” We all have friends like that- those who take it upon themselves to point out the harsh realities of the world. However, this dear friend also had a solution for me. Her remarks didn’t end there. “But hey! If you want to be that weirdo and you can do it, go ahead. I’ll respect that decision and I’m here if you want to rant about it.” (Love you!) The point is that no matter what you do in your life, the way you dress, the way you speak, the number of children you have or don’t have, the way you host, cook, or decorate your home, you will be judged by some people in every aspect. The important thing is to focus on the supporters and don’t become like the haters. Don’t be tempted to judge people who do not homeschool.
11. Be honest with your family and yourself.
You will find that some weeks go by wonderfully and during some weeks, havoc wreaks. In order to have consistency and a support network, we decided we needed to formally meet as a family once a week and informally every night. The nightly meetings could be from 10 – 30 minutes in bed with our journals open. To make the weekly meetings more exciting and formal, we prepped snacks and had a meeting schedule- the purpose of these meetings is to be honest with each other and without attacking each other, we help to acknowledge the problems and make a solution plan. For example, one week, it became a habit of mine to drink coffee and watch a self-motivational video after breakfast. This eventually turned into many videos and I kept losing track of time. So my children were oh so kind enough to point it out: “Mommy I don’t like your coffee. You spend so much time and then we get late for math!” My initial reaction was to get furiously insulted and defensive and I kind of did for a bit but then I remembered the purpose of this meeting and owned up to it the problem and worked to fix it.
In another instance, my daughter kept ignoring her bed-making routine and we had to be creative and come up with a unique way to remind her. For example, if she made her bed for 5 days in a row, she would get to help me make pancakes on the 6th with chocolate syrup. She suggested the idea herself. Worked well.
12. Connect with other homeschoolers.
This is an amazing time to be a homeschooling parent. We are surrounded by amazing resources and networking opportunities. Whether it’s online, at the public library, homeschooling co-ops, or a few friends getting together to share ideas and help solve problems, you must connect with the local and global communities. The wealth of resources you can access and the depths to which you will learn and teach are astounding. I’ve spoken to parents who couldn’t find any groups in their communities, so they started their own! Imagine the growth and sadaqah jariyyah (continuous charity).
13. Grades, testing and the law.
Research and familiarize yourself with the laws of your town, state and country regarding homeschooling. Some states do require that homeschooling students be registered, so it is important to keep on top of the legalities. Also, don’t worry about grading and testing formally until secondary education. In fact, many homeschoolers I know do not keep extensive records until high school, as that is when it becomes mandatory in most countries. Personally, I like to give oral and written assessments just to see where we are and to get my daughter in the habit of independent work. However, I do not use the terms “testing” and “grades” and she completes the assessment as if any other worksheet.
14. Don’t be obsessed with the Pinterest classroom and projects.
Most new homeschoolers, myself included, want the perfect classroom at home. I, too, invested energy, time and money into trying to create that perfect Pinterest-inspired classroom but soon realized that I had less and less energy left over for the actual teaching part. If I could go back and re-do one thing, it would be to keep things simple and focus on what really matters: teaching. That being said, I do encourage making lessons fun and exciting and colorful for the elementary students because creativity is important and the kids shouldn’t be deprived of that by being forced into dry, black and white learning. The imperative thing is to keep a moderate balance- not to go into extremes in either category.
15. Don’t leave the education in the classroom (or dining room).
Another mistake that many homeschooling parents make, and which defeats the entire purpose of home learning is that they restrict their children to a specific space, whether it is a “classroom” or the dining table. It is tempting to have the schoolwork, worksheet and projects “babysit” our kids so we can finish making dinner, pay the bills, or go out on an errand. This can become a habit quicker than you can say “I’ll be right back, kiddos!” and can be damaging in numerous ways to the child’s learning process and development. Instead, create a wholesome home learning environment- one in which it is okay for the kitchen to get a little messier than usual and one where the teacher/parent is easily approachable. This does not mean that you have to be constantly with the student- however, consider involving them in “special” day to day tasks, such as letting them order pizza, organizing a room, paying the bills, or hosting guests. These seemingly bothersome moments are great lifestyle learning lessons for children (and adults).
16. Strengthen your link with Allah – and ask him for help before anyone else.
One of the main reasons (perhaps the most important one) I chose to homeschool is because I wanted to raise my children in an unapologetic, sensitive and tolerant Islamic environment. I didn’t want them to grow up confused about their identities. Now this means that their mother must also have a strong sense of self and the kids need to see her constantly trying to strengthen her bond with the Creator. There are many ways to become more practicing, however, I will suggest a few that are a must on my list and help me without fail: make time for Quran daily and make the effort to learn what the Lord is trying to tell you, pray on time (this really helps with time management and discipline) and read your morning and evening duas (supplications) for that extra dose of strength and protection from physical and emotional stress. I recommend Fortress of the Muslim.