An Amateur’s Secrets to Homeschooling Like a Pro

There are a whole fleet of homeschool bloggers with decades of experience and graduate tassels under their belts that can offer you some fail proof advice on how to be successful at homeschooling.

I am not one of these.

An Amateur's Secrets to Homeschooling Like a Pro

We are just starting our fifth year homeschooling. So, I am sure that the more seasoned homeschool moms would rate me somewhere between experienced and “who gave her the mic?” Because, though I too am now a homeschool blogger, I rarely give sound advice. I just laugh at myself and other people in the words I type.

However, while chewing my fingers and trying to decide whether I should throw out all of our grammar papers or keep them, lest the fuzz shows up and asks for proof of prepositions and time served, I reached a philosophical conclusion that should put me on the map of the homeschool gurus. And here it is… (Ahem)

You want to get this homeschool thing right?

Homeschool like someone is always watching.

(Drops mic.) Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be printing up t-shirts and lanyards to distribute at your co-ops soon.

Okay, okay. Perhaps I should explain my genius epiphany.

Imaginary Spectators and Critics

I seriously have always imagined, since the day we walked out of second grade at public school that all eyes are on me to either screw up or lead the way. Mostly to screw up. Maybe not all eyes, but at least a few. With their hand ready to shoot up in the air and tattle on me, or to jump at the chance to say, “I told you so.”

It helps that I have a severe case of Type A-ness. If we don’t finish all the lessons by the end of the year I get a little light-headed and sweaty thinking about what tidbit we missed that a relative will ask about at the fourth of July picnic. “You mean you had no idea that Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair? I’m pretty sure they covered that in second grade at the public school.”

So, mostly I overdo everything. Just in case…

I am holding myself to the high standards of phantom onlookers. Maybe no one outside these walls will see our perfectly organized math binders, or hear my kids recite the Gettysburg address, but just in case someone stops by to see how things get done around here, I want to knock their socks off.

Of course, this does not stop me from teaching my kids the way I see fit, and then giving them my honest opinions of the world in which we live. Such as, it is not a science fair if the public school has every kid in the 3rd grade making the same dang volcano. It’s just lazy expectations.

After I say something so rude, well, then I have to put my money where my mouth is, because they are watching me for that gotcha moment. Expecting me to have my three boys sprout a bean in a cup, or grow some really lame crystals that look nothing like the ones on the box cover, and call it our science project.

But in my head I’m all: I’ll see you your 24 soda volcanoes and raise you three personalized, individual, time and money sucking projects.

And so for three years in a row my children each took turns winning grand champion at our regional homeschool science fair where they were subjected to oral Q&A presentations while all moms were locked out of the room. My youngest child won twice. The first time he was technically a preschooler and beat out all of K-2nd grade. We researched, tested, and practiced presenting like Einstein himself was eaves dropping.

Now I realize homeschooling is supposed to take away all that competitiveness that stresses kids out. And I really hope I don’t hear crickets when I say…

Some kids thrive on competition.

Incidentally so does invention, ingenuity, and product pricing, but let’s not get political.

Competition is sought out and enjoyed by some. That “some” is concentrated here. It is what drives my kids to do their best. When my boys pull out the Monopoly board on a Saturday night, I have an urge to announce, Welcome to the 76th Hunger Games. Yes, it gets nasty and vindictive and I try not to cry when my 8-year-old gets all the railroads before I can buy them up. But they wouldn’t play if it were any other way.

Now you do not have to like competition and can avoid it and do a great job homeschooling. But I still say, homeschool like someone is watching. Because if no one is ever looking over your shoulder, why try your best? Good enough works, right? No one will see it anyway.

When he thinks no one will ever see it, one of my sixth graders will write a paragraph that would embarrass a first grader. And then he will color the corresponding picture like a toddler doodling on the wall with his mother’s lipstick. But when I threaten him with the possibility of showing it to his older cousins or the girls in his choir group, well, let’s just say Picasso gets serious with his paintbrush.

No Really, Someone Is Watching You

I am not entirely schizophrenic in this method of forcing myself into being a good homeschool mom. Regardless if you flaunt your lesson plans on a blog or social media, there is, in fact, always someone watching.

1. Family

First, you may have a principal (i.e. dad). He may or not participate, but he better be noticing the feats of academic strength you summon daily. It’s nice to see his eyebrows fly up in unexpected amazement at what his kid can do. When he turns to you, mouth agape, just nod, raise an eyebrow and say, Yes, sir. You. Are. Welcome. And then remind him you are over-do dinner out and a massage.

Then there are the grandparents. When they come to visit at our place they are cornered and forced to peruse unit study flip books, listen to poetic orations and music recitals, fawn over art, and keep their eye lids up during computer coding monologues.Give them a good show by homeschooling to the best of your abilities. But, never ask that aunt and uncle for a review. You could teach a one week old dyslexic cat to read Dickens and they would scoff and ask how you plan to teach him to wait in line properly.

Some of us have awesome, supportive, interested, involved family. Some of us have Uncle Hitler and Aunt Jezebel, who insist all children need socializing. Some of us have a bit of both types. They may not want to hear every amazing fact your kids know about the French and Indian war, but rest assured they are watching.

2. You

Here I go with the multiple personality thing again. But before you call me Sybil, hear me out. You know those days where you just cannot muster your inner Snow White, and maybe yell a time or twenty-seven? You probably feel guilty later on after you’ve cried it out and eaten your closet stash of Kit-Kats. You saw the “you” you don’t want to be. And hopefully that makes you try harder next time. Cause that frothing at the mouth, eye twitching version of a teacher is just down right embarrassing. Let’s show her how a real woman handles a math facts meltdown.

3. Neighbors, Strangers, Acquaintances and Other Homeschoolers

Okay, so basically any one is suspicious of spying and judging if you are a conspiratorial homeschool theorist like myself. And sometimes I make up conversations in my head so I will have rehearsed how I will respond to all possible and completely stupid questions we might be asked while outside the walls of our compound, that I assume that they assume, that we reside within. Still I like them to have a hard time finding flaws. Therefore I give it all I have homeschooling. I have high expectations of my boys’ abilities and their behavior in public. It is ever so rewarding when your kids have been chatting it up with a stranger on an array of academic and social topics, and this person has complimented their maturity and intelligence, and then they ask where they go to school. And when the kids answer, “We Homeschool,” OH the look on their faces sometimes…. I’d like to have it framed. Because now they know they will sound like a buffoon following up with the socialization question.

The Most Important Watcher of All

The real audience in this homeschooling show should need no introduction, but I will go ahead and be Captain Obvious.

Your kids are watching.

Even when they seem to be catatonic as you explain the difference between an adjective and adverb for the 8th time, they are watching. They know when your heart is in it and when you are expecting more of them than you are giving of yourself.

If you don’t take their education seriously, why should they? You cannot expect their best if you don’t give yours.

Therefore, if not for your imaginary fan club or phantom enemies, homeschool like the ones that matter most are watching. Put the phone down every now-and-then, do the voices at reading time, explain the problem again without losing your cool, apologize when you mess up, let them make choices, but be firm in your convictions. Because they are watching. That is the whole point of the time you have together. Your children could grow to be your biggest critics, or your biggest display of success. Make the most of the stage while you have their attention.

Jennifer Cabrera

About the author

Jennifer Cabrera is the mother of three awesome boys. As a Physician Assistant/MPH, Jennifer unexpectedly fell into homeschooling after butting heads with the public school system and was amazed to discover it was everything she never knew she always wanted to do. Her writing pokes fun of the highs and lows of homeschooling.

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  1. Haha! What a good read. In the beginning, I felt like the school district or some officer was always going to show up at any minute and demand documentation that school was in fact happening. Thankfully, I’ve lost that feeling (not a pleasant one), but I do my best always because that’s what the kids deserve, and that’s my job.

    1. Thank you! That feeling definitely keeps me on my toes.? But it has lessened throughout the years. Some.Maybe??

  2. THIS! It’s like you are in my head. Which is kind of scary. And, yet comforting to know that I’m not alone in thinking this way 🙂 Rock on, sister!

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