Jun 8, 2016

Advice for Catalog and Conference Season

I love to give advice to anxious moms, especially young ones. I do a great job reassuring them, calming them, maybe even inspiring them. But I also have a tendency to completely panic about my own life. All those things I share with others, I forget when looking at my own life. 

One of the most stressful times of the year for homeschoolers is what I call "catalog and conference season". Just when we should be taking a break and just being mom, we are inundated with choices for next year. Instead of refreshing ourselves, taking a deep breath, we try to evaluate the year gone by and figure out where to change and what to do. Even for the unschooling types like me, the pressure to analyze and makes plans can be intense. 

Over the years, I have worked various tables at homeschool conferences and always find myself chatting with lots of moms, new homeschoolers as well as the somewhat worn out seasoned ones, both looking for the perfect fit for their families. They have been wandering the vendor hall and going to talks. They have lists. And they have a desperate look in their eyes. 

Here are some of the things I always try to share, which serve as reminders to myself as well:

Don't make decisions while you are there. Take the catalogs and your lists, take your notes from talks and go home and pray. Do the research at home, talk to friends, then make your plan and buy your books. I'm always grateful for two day conferences so I can browse one day, go home and pray, and then carefully buy a few must haves the next day. 

If you are just starting, relax. Your little kindergartener does not need an expensive curriculum. He doesn't need any curriculum. Collect a bunch of lovely picture books, maybe a simple phonics program and some math manipulatives. Spend your year reading and playing and cuddling and following his lead. Spends lots of time outside! Learning is a natural process and your child will not be behind. Just this year a bunch of articles went around the Internet about how children in Finland don't even start "school" until they are around eight or nine. I admit most of mine didn't do much in the way of formal learning until around eight. 

If you are just starting with older kids, relax. Many kids need to "deschool" when they start homeschooling. Fill your home with books and games. Read together, play together, even with big kids. Have tea and read poetry. Get outside! The most important thing is for your child(ren) to stop seeing learning as a school thing and see it as life. You cannot force a child to learn. You may be able to force schoolwork but not real learning, and not without creating resentment. Which leads me to my next point...

Trust the child. Not every kid will be a voracious reader, but I believe every child will be a voracious learner if you give them inspiration, a little freedom, and a lack of easy distractions. People ask how I get my kids to read all the time. Well, there isn't much else for them to do! They are free to play outside or play with toys or games, but for the bulk of the day they do not have access to video games or DVDs or other time sappers. Instill a family culture of learning. Moms, you should be learning something new all the time, too. I think most of us are already doing this, but make sure your kids know. Talk about what you are learning. They will, in turn, start searching out information, doing research. And you will most likely also find a willingness to tackle some learning you want them to do. A child with academic freedom is more willing to do the math you feel they should do or maybe tackle something outside her comfort zone like a foreign language. When it is all about enriching yourself, it is more appealing than when it seems like someone else's agenda. 

High schoolers at home? Turn their education over to them. Talk about their goals and help them see what needs to be done. Do they want to go a four year college or university? How will they make that happen? Be a helper, a coach, a facilitator, but not a taskmaster. Encourage them to own their lives. You will be amazed! 

One great peace of advice I heard about a year ago, I think it was from a podcast with Cindy Rollins, is to get your own philosophy first before making decisions. Invest time reading about different educational philosophies. Pray about it. Be honest with yourself about yourself. I wasted a lot of time and money chasing methods that didn't work for me, from "school at home" to lapbooks to complicated unit studies. Know your strengths and what gives you energy and start there. 

Some great books to get you started or to refresh your spirit:

One last thing to remember, it is never too late. It is never to late to refresh, reevaluate, make little changes or big ones. A bad week or a bad month, even a bad year, doesn't define you or your homeschool! Believe it or not, there is time and there is no one right way to do it. Your kids first and foremost need and want your love! They want a mom who can just be with them, enjoy them, and journey with them! Commit your children to God and have faith. This is a huge undertaking, but so worth it. 

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