By Maggie Hogan
What are your priorities? Are you the type to plan ahead? Do you have lists for daily activities, weekly menus, grocery items and coupons ...or even a list of things for which you need to make a list? Or instead, do you find yourself disorganized and short on teaching time?
I am a Real Mom, not the Martha Stewart of Home Schooling. Planning ahead and staying organized are not my strong suits. I will admit there have been times when I've had to run to Wal-mart for underwear when I got too far behind with laundry. And even though I've been married to the same wonderful, forbearing man (with a healthy appetite!) for 22 years, there are still days when I've simply forgotten to cook dinner.
How does one keep on track with teaching when one is organizationally challenged? I could attempt to inspire you with Biblical principals and great quotes and examples regarding planning ahead. I could set before you lofty goals. I could even try and make you feel guilty for not being better organized. (Although with my own reputation for using a shovel to clear off my desk, who would take me seriously?) But that is not my purpose.
Doing my best in home schooling is important to me and, therefore, I've had to develop strategies for successfully completing each year. I hope these ideas will encourage you as well.
Before I share, one caveat: you have to find your own style. Just because I do things a certain way doesn't mean you should, too. I intend for this list to be suggestions - not the ten commandments of home schooling. If a tip doesn't work for you, evaluate and adjust it, or toss it.
10 Tips I've Learned the Hard Way
1. Plan. Okay, you're laughing at me. But at some point I realized that if my kids' educations were really important to me, I'd have to put some time into planning. Realistically, I know I won't keep up with daily lesson plans. But I found out that I can sit down once a month and write out monthly objectives. What works best for you? A summer planning marathon? Monthly planning times? Weekly updates or nightly reviews of what you got done that day and hope to accomplish the next?
2. Consolidate Teaching Time. How often per week do you teach history or science? Do you and your children function best with a little everyday? A medium amount 2 or 3 times per week? Or a big chunk once a week? For me it works best to teach these two courses twice a week through about fifth grade, moving to a weekly time frame in the upper grades. On the days I'm not specifically teaching, they have reading and other assignments to work on. I find doing history or science in one or two big chunks is more interesting because we can dig deeper into the subject before running out of time.
3. Choose Your Time Wisely. Know your students, yourself, and your household. When would be most productive? Personally, I could care less about Alexander the Great at 8:00 a.m. but find him truly fascinating later in the day!
4. Bedtime Bonus. One ritual that was consistent in our home when the boys were younger was our evening bedtime stories. We often used compelling history books or books with science topics during this special time.
5. Combine Courses: Literature with history, history with geography, or geography with science.
6. Think Outside the Box.
A. Creative map and timeline work can count for history, geography and art. Pay attention to community service hours, Scout projects, and other "non-school" endeavors that are actually educational.
B. Keep school fresh by occasionally surprising the kids. Would they get a kick out of having school in a weird place for a day? Pile pillows in the bathtub (empty, of course) and have the kids work in the tub. Or go undercover by draping a blanket over a table and doing school underneath with pillows, blankets, and flashlights. My favorite: turn the master bedroom into the classroom. Take everything you might need onto the bed (including the popcorn!) and pretend to be on a boat surrounded by sharks. Provide a pathway of socks that become tiny islands to step on for getting to the bathroom.
7. "Mini" Mega-Cooking. The days I cook a few extra meals to put in the freezer are a blessing. I often double up on any given meal so that I can have one for a busy day or a sick friend. I almost never cook a single chicken! I prefer to brown 5 or 10 pounds of ground beef at a time (perhaps with onions) and I'll freeze what I don't immediately need. The extra can be pulled out for a head start on chili, tacos, spaghetti, etc. Crock-pots are a mom's best friend. Good pizza coupons are treasured. And the husband who offers to bring home the occasional Chinese or deli meal is worth his weight in gold!
8. Share. Teaching plans and resources can be shared with a friend. Although I love co-ops and have been involved in them yearly since 1991, they aren't feasible for everyone. But if you have a friend who is teaching the same course as you and would be willing to share the work load in planning lessons or gathering resources, what a blessing! Bonus - checking in with each other to see how it's going adds accountability.
9. The Baby Connection. Babies & toddlers - gotta love 'em! Learn when to include them, when to work around them, and when to wait until they are asleep. Some moms have a high tolerance and some babies are low maintenance. As a mom with low tolerance and high maintenance babies, I had to learn flexibility. Special toys only brought out during teaching time helped. They enjoyed the read-alouds even though the material was over their heads. History costumes, building forts or re-creations, and other hands-on projects can often be completed with little ones in tow. For work best done uninterrupted, use naptime or videos. (Yes, I happily used quality videos as babysitters!)
10. Summer School. Use summers for history/science projects and field trips. We even had a couple of short summer school sessions utilizing appealing material that the kids were eager to dive into. Count the hours toward the following year's school. This provides leeway and less pressure during your more formal school time.
Maggie Hogan is a motivational speaker and author. Maggie and her husband own Bright Ideas Press, where you can find the best in practical and fun geography, history and science resources.