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We decided that we were going to homeschool when I was pregnant with our first child. We didn’t really have an idea how were going to pull that off, but we started floating the idea to our parents pretty early on.
When our oldest son was about one year old, we moved to a community rich in homeschoolers. The “how” seemed to materialize pretty quickly there, especially once the book The Well-Trained Mind crossed my path. However, my son was about two at the time, a little young to be starting kindergarten work.
I was so antsy to get started, yet at the same time I was wary of becoming one of those moms. The ones who teach their toddlers to read and put excessive pressure on the five year-old who doesn’t yet speak three languages. Knowing my over-achiever tendencies, I really didn’t want to push those expectations on my child.
This was hard because I really wanted to get started on the path. I even mapped out his entire education and that of his future-yet-to-be-born siblings. Obviously, I had too much time on my hands. The internet was still powered by a squirrel in a cage, so that wasn’t an outlet for all my educational energy.
Looking back, I realize how I could have put my time to better use. Granted, I did do all these things to some degree. It’s just that now, I wish I had been more mindful of them.
I’m ready, but my child isn’t.
What should you do when you can’t wait to homeschool, but your child is still too young for formal education?
I’ve given this question much thought. Here’s what I recommend when you’re eager to start home-based education yet your child is really too young to get cracking the books:
1. Preserve childhood.
I’m now convinced that what the older moms told me was true: better late than too early. There are already so many pressures in this world, why add more to our children’s load? Choosing to homeschool allows me and my kids the opportunity to take things at the pace that is right for us, to enjoy the quiet days of childhood, and not rush things.
Life will pick up speed before you’re ready, so make peace with early childhood and the enjoyment it brings. Up until five years of age, most kids need lots of books, conversation opportunities, and exploratory play. Unless they are specifically interested in doing more — and some kids certainly are — you’re fine with playing. So go with it.
2. Teach yourself.
I already had both bachelor’s and master’s degrees when my first child was born. But, despite my years of schooling, there were significant gaps in my education: tons of books I’d never read and portions of history that had been glossed over. In those early years of babies and nursing, I started to read some of the classics that I’d never read, including Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables, and the Bronte sisters.
My only regret is that I didn’t start my re-education sooner. I wasted the high school years reading cheap romance novels when I could have been filling my mind with great books. Now that I’m teaching a high schooler, I find myself lacking the time I need to read and keep up with his rigorous reading list. If I’d spent those nursing and naptime hours reading a good book, I would be all the better for it.
3. Get systems in place to organize your home.
The homeschooling life is different than one in which the kids go away to school. We’re home-based. That means our home gets very lived in. It’s taken me many years to figure out how to organize our home, our meals, our chores, our stuff, in such a way as to serve us best.
If you’ve got nervous energy and time on your hands, think about the good housekeeping habits you can develop in yourself that will serve you well years from now when you’re juggling a household and a school.
4. Save your pennies.
Homeschooling is often a one-income endeavor for many families. And while you might think that it’s a free education, no education is free. There is always a cost. You will need to fund or supplement your children’s education, no matter which method you choose. So, spend the time now, while the pressure’s off, getting your financial house in order.
Pay off debt, build an emergency fund, start a school savings account. If you do these three things, your homeschooling adventure will be less stressful. I promise. I’ve done it both ways. And this way is much more fun.
(For a realistic look at what homeschooling has cost us, go here to see my year-by-year cost breakdown.)
5. Create a learning-rich environment.
All of life is learning. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t always see it that way, relegating education to institutions. Homeschooling offers you the opportunity to really embrace this truth.
Talk to your children from an early age about numbers, letters, colors, shapes. Read books that explain our world. Take field trips that show you interesting things. Visit museums. (The earlier you do this latter thing, the better your kids will be equipped to use proper museum etiquette.)
Read books, build with blocks, cook and measure, play with water. Explore the world with your child and talk about your observations.
6. Enjoy your child.
We can be so excited about the path that lies ahead of us that we forget to enjoy the section of road that we’re on. Take time now to learn your child’s personality, to engage one-on-one, to spend time together. This will not only build a beautiful relationship, but it will also lay the foundation for a positive school experience later on.
Your child is the reason for you to homeschool in the first place. Know him and love him.
Looking over this list, I realize that it probably applies to other situations besides young moms waiting for their little ones to be old enough for formal learning. These are things that I think will help many a young mom survive and thrive through the vast and varied ocean of motherhood.
They are also the things that will prepare you for a positive homeschool experience.
Veteran homeschool moms, what would you add? Newbies, what questions do you have?