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Homeschooling 101: Tips and Tricks of the Trade

By Tara K. E. Brelinsky
June 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don't overextend yourself with too many commitments or extra curriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS. 

Stumbling through files on my computer, I happened upon some notes I'd written for a talk on home schooling. Know that I'm not a doppelganger for Mrs. VonTrapp, but with twelve  plus years on the job I think I've learned a thing or two about what works along the way.

1. First and foremost, you need to prayerful discern God's plan for your child's education. Home schooling is my vocation, you need to discover if it is yours as well. Days will come when you'll second-guess your ability to endure one more minute as the ringleader of your 24/7 school house and knowing that you're doing God's work will give you the grace to continue the task.

2. Encourage your children to read, read, read. There are books on every imaginable topic, so if you can read, you can learn anything. An old friend's daughter called home from college and thanked her parents for encouraging her to become an avid reader. She explained that college courses consisted of mostly textbook reading and so she had an advantage over some of her classmates, who didn't like to read. Honestly, I'm not very picky over what my kids read and I don't have the time to preview their choices, so I've tried hard to teach them to recognize what isn't appropriate. On more than one occasion, they've brought me a book and pointed out a "bad" word and they've agreed not to read it further. I'm okay with silly books for my younger kids, the boys especially, because for me the goal is to get them to enjoy reading and want to read more. Remember reading can lead to better vocabulary and spelling skills as well.

3. Stick to a schedule. Children thrive on schedules and households are generally less stressful when everyone knows what to expect. I find it helpful at times to post the schedule, especially if I've made a change. This also prepares our children to be able to self-direct their studies as they get older and prepares them for schedules in the workplace.

4. Flexibility is essential if you'd like to retain your sanity (or at least some portion of it), especially if your running a large household. As important as a schedule is, I think it is equally valuable to learn to make changes when needed. When we've had a baby, I've made a point to not get too attached to a hard and fast schedule for naps and breastfeeding. I nursed on demand and allowed my little one to sleep in my arms wherever we were and that philosophy carried over into all of our days. So, if the opportunity for a play date suddenly presents itself or a fabulous field trip is proposed, we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the blessing and make up the leftover work throughout the rest of the week. I never "school" on the weekends, but occasionally when necessary I'll add an extra week to our planners for the purpose of getting caught up. Perhaps, this is more of a personal preference, but I find it helpful to teach my kids to be able to "go with the flow" without falling apart.

5. Remember to nurture and protect your marriage.  When our children were little, we instituted "Daddy and Mama" time which begins at 8:00pm. I hold this time as sacred for both my own peace of mind and for my marriage. All of our children must go to their bedrooms at that time. The older kids are free to quietly play a game, read a book, chat with each other or study, but that must take place in their bedroom. It really helps to have this time to look forward to each day and it allows dad and mom the opportunity to focus on one another. There are days when 8:00pm can't come soon enough! I think this also establishes a boundary for the children because they come to understand that dad and mom have a separate relationship (as opposed to just being dad and mom). A strong marriage makes for a stronger family which makes home schooling easier.

6. Keep the house tidy and get dressed every day. While I wish that my house looked like those in Better Homes and Gardens, it doesn't. Throughout the years and with the addition of children, I've had to become more Mary than Martha (and that is a HARD lesson). With that said, there are days when the beds don't get made until lunchtime and there are school books still strewn on the table at 5:00pm. Teach yourself and the children to tidy up throughout the day, so the house can by generally in order by the time dad gets home. For example, after you take a shower take the extra minute to hang the towels up neatly and pick up any stray items from around the sink.   This way when you visit the restroom later, you won't feel overwhelmed by "another mess."   Obviously, the house needs some serious cleaning, too, but I find it easier to pick one day a week for scrubbing and dusting. Just as a tidy looking house helps to bring about a feeling of tranquility (just tune out the screaming children from this vision), a tidy looking mom will help motivate everyone. You are a teacher, an organizer, a motivational speaker, and a counselor, so look the part. Yes, the baby's spit up may be on your shoulder and your pumps were traded in for flip flops, but you should still start every day by getting dressed, brushing your hair, etc.  My grandmother and mother always "put their faces on" and "fix their hair" which is a good way to force yourself to look in the mirror for a few minutes every morning and recognize that you are beautiful and that you are YOU and not "just mom."

7. If something doesn't work, don't be afraid to throw is out or give it a rest.   Maybe you've tried to implement a suggested schedule in your house and it just isn't working; by all means, stop and find what works for YOUR family. Does that grammar book that worked wonders for your son, work as well for your daughter? If not, don't be afraid to shelf it and try another route. I used to get up and stay up at 6:00am. For a time it was a great blessing, but then life changed and my needs changed and getting up that early led me to feeling tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I decided to give that schedule and myself a rest by sleeping until 7:00. Throughout the years, I've implemented many chart/reward systems, and they usually start out well. My kids have seen behavior charts, time charts, consequence charts, privilege charts, chore chart, enough charts that they should be aces if they are ever called upon to give some big graphic presentation to a future employer. Oh, and that's not to mention the ticket, treat and time reward systems that I've offered. In time, these become less effective because the novelty has worn off or the  goal was reached, then it is time to give it a rest. That is the beauty of home schooling, that we can ebb and flow with life. I think this too is an important lesson for our children, as they learn to adjust and readjust to a new baby, a new work schedule for dad or a downsizing of the budget. Especially in these trying times, we can teach our children to value what is truly important and to make changes when needed.

8. Consistency is key.   Most parents spend a lot of time seeking the magic trick to get their kids to behave. We buy books and listen to tapes, hoping to garner the secrets to success. Dr. Ray Guarendi tells us wisely that consistency is the real key. Really, no matter what the lesson we're trying to teach, we need to be consistent if we want the lesson to "stick." Unfortunately, the child's brain doesn't come with settings, so it may require mom to consistently say "Clean up your room" one million times or more rightly to say "clean up your room" and then consistently enforce a set consequence if it isn't done.

9. Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don't overextend yourself with too many commitments or extra curriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS. 

10. Lastly, live your faith in plain sight and love your children in the moment. All the lectures and book work in the world won't go as far as will your example (which your kids will be studying at every moment). Remember, this time with your children (while it may seem endless on the difficult days) will pass by before you know it, leaving you a clean house and an empty school table. Tomorrow they'll be heading out the door to fulfill their own vocations, so enjoy this time and know that your sacrifices of time, self and sanity won't have been in vain.

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Tara K. E. Brelinsky is a home schooling mother of seven living children, with six more heavenly ones who intercede (and a little soul expected to arrive in August). Married to her childhood sweetheart, they make their home in North Carolina where they teach Natural Family Planning, grow a garden, raise two dogs, a cat, a fish, ducks, roosters and a flock of hens (in addition to all those wonderful kids). Tara studied journalism a lifetime ago in college, but now she writes simply for the the glory of God. You can read more of her musings and inspirations on her blog "Blessings In Brelinskyville" (www.http://brelinskyville.blogspot.com/).

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