For many parents, the beginning of a homeschool journey is a stressful time. There seems to be a mad rush to get all the right curriculum, set a “school” schedule from 8-3, and create a tiny replica of the local public school that they just left! But I’d like to suggest a gentle start to homeschooling. There are many reasons for this, including time to adjust to a new lifestyle, dealing with trauma or other negative issues from school, and assessing needs.
What is a gentle start?
Easing into any new lifestyle is always best, and home education is no different. There are some big changes underway for you and your children, and there’s no need to make it harder than it needs to be.
When you withdraw your child(ren) from public school, you’re beginning a new life together. A gentle start gives you all some grace to get used to mom as teacher, to new routines, and to character (re)development.
So start small and easy. Don’t expect to withdraw from school one day, and begin a new school in your dining room the next. The best advice I can give is to de-school.
What is de-schooling?
Deschooling is the process where both you and your children begin to let go of the “school” mindset and become a family again. Homeschools don’t have to be exact copycats of public schools. I always ask, “Why do you want to copy the very system you just left?” You don’t have to! Even states with the strictest homeschooling laws leave lots of room for flexibility and style.
De-schooling can be a time of rest, recovery, and planning. It can be a time of family bonding (or re-bonding). It can be a time of fun, exploration, and conversation. You can do zero book work. You can have no schedule for a time. Just focus on the immediate needs of your children, and begin to plan a new routine together.
I recommend at least two weeks of deschooling, and sometimes much more, depending on the situation. If you withdrew from school for seriously tramatic reasons, take all the time you need. If you’re simply making the change out of conviction or preference, give yourself a couple of weeks to start, and play it by ear.
If you’re worried about “getting behind,” please let me assure you that it’s very hard to “get behind.” The flexibility of homeschooling allows you to be in charge of curriculum, schedules, and how quickly or slowly your children progress. (This would be a good time to research delayed academics and relaxed homeschooling. Look into books by Mary Hood as well as Raymond and Dorothy Moore.) Read my blog post: There’s No Such Thing as Behind in Homeschooling.
We’re not having school, so what DO we do?
Every family will have different needs. If you are deschooling for a lengthy amount of time due to trauma, begin by getting plenty of downtime and rest. Sleep is restorative. Healing is vital. Let the child sleep late for a few days, cook a healthy breakfast, and have a Bible and devotional time. Pray together, talk about what has happened and what changes are coming. Seek professional help if necessary.
Do fun things together, even if they are simple. Bake cookies, go to the park, make popcorn and watch a movie, visit grandparents, go camping, read a good book together…whatever you can find to do that builds (or rebuilds) your relationship and fills your child’s tank.
Under average circumstances, I advise doing fun things together as well. Do things you didn’t have time for because of busy school schedules.
You can also do your research during this time. I talk all about teaching, learning, curriculum, and how to get started in my book Anyone Can Homeschool.
De-schooling with gentle learning
There are some fun ways to incorporate learning into your de-schooling process that don’t require a curriculum, but still keep your kids productive and thinking:
10 Ways to Learn Outside: Use the great outdoors as your classroom with this list I created.
10 Ways to Teach Geography Naturally: You don’t need a geography curriculum to learn all about our world.
10 Ways to Use Board Games for Learning: Sneak all kinds of learning and review in with family games!
Try a Unit Study: This is a fun way to explore a favorite topic with all five senses, and learn a lot along the way. Check out all the posibilites at UnitStudy.com!
Let your child explore old and new hobbies and interests! Buy some drawing supplies, plant flowers, take an online course, watch a cooking show and make a new recipe, solve a Rubik’s cube, or whatever interests them!
And don’t forget to get their input on some upcoming studies. Kids will naturally be more engaged in a topic they are interested in. Go to the library, visit local museums, and watch documentaries.
Transitioning to “school”
Throughout the deschooling process, watch your child(ren) and assess when it’s time for more structured school. You can be researching and buying curriculum during this time. And don’t worry if you don’t have all.the.subjects ready for Day One. Start with what’s most important (and that will vary from child to child). Are math skills lacking? Start there. Do reading skills need work? Do that first.
Add in the rest of the subjects as you see fit. Work out a schedule or routine for your family. Be willing to tweak it over the first few weeks. Address behavior issues (because there WILL BE behavior issues). Tweak everything and keep going.
Don’t stress yourself out! This is a new lifestyle for your family and it will take some time to adjust to. The beauty is: you have time. You are the principal and the teacher now, and you can implement things as you see the need.
A gentle start is often exactly what kids need when transitioning to home education. I hope you are encouraged to embrace this new journey and to go easy on yourself!