When we started homeschooling, we did so midway through the school year, after moving from Georgia to Texas. My son had been in first grade at a terrific Catholic elementary school and we’d been very pleased, but something was tugging at me to give homeschooling a try. We decided we could go for the rest of the school year and see how things went, and decide one year at a time if we would continue.
3.5 years later, we’re still at it, and as I look back on those first few weeks there is one piece of advice I’m forever grateful for. My wise, thoughtful, unschooling friend told me quite firmly: DON’T BUY ANYTHING.
And she was right.
Don’t buy anything. Especially if you are transitioning from traditional school, don’t knock yourself out trying to replicate that experience. I had a hard enough time convincing my then-6-year-old that I really was competent to teach first grade math. If I’d attempted to make it Just Like School, Only Closer To the Kitchen, I think we’d have crashed and burned.
Don’t buy anything. Force yourself to discover what resources are available in your community free of charge. The virtues of the library cannot be overemphasized, and if you’re lucky enough to have an online catalog that allows you to place books on hold from the comfort of your desk, do so. Check out ten nonfiction and five fiction books every time you go. Leave them around where your kids can devour them. You may be even luckier to have a parent resource center funded by your local school district. Your local college has art shows and recitals. Your parks system has ongoing programs. If you’re out in the boonies, you have room to roam free.
Don’t buy anything. Don’t assume that the $98 set of automated flash cards is going to teach your kid Spanish. Don’t spend five weeks clicking and flipping through catalogs to find the perfect reading curriculum. Don’t go to IKEA….well, no, go to IKEA, but don’t buy a $299 desk for your kid to sit at. And if you go to Office Max, well, all bets are off.
Now, of course, we do buy some things. We buy math books, and notebooks, and really good books for general reading and enjoyment. We have nice paints, blank books, and art pencils, and someday Mother is going to remember where she stashed them back in November or whenever it was that we went to the craft store. We occasionally pick up basic supplies for a science experiment. And we do use bits and pieces of other curriculum and workbooks. But, essentially, aside from the math books, most of that is nonessential-but-helpful. I think the choice to not invest hundreds of dollars in curriculum freed us to look at homeschooling in a more creative way and to also relax a bit about our own approach. And I also feel very strongly that it’s equally unnecessary to invest a ton of money in supplemental materials for your kids if they’re in traditional school. So much can be gained from just cultivating a love of reading.
But if what works for YOU is to create a very structured environment, or to use a packaged curriculum that your kids really respond to – that’s great, too! Really, it’s about giving yourself space to figure out what’s going to be the best fit for your family and for you as the leader of said family’s education. For me, if I’m going to spend money, I’d rather spend it outsourcing things like art lessons or science classes instead of $500 worth of books we have to go through in a specific order at a specific time. But again, that’s me.
I’m curious: what’s the best piece of homeschooling advice YOU ever received?