I never anticipated being a homeschooler. But eight years ago, that’s where I found myself.

My husband and I are both public school kids who had great educations that way. So we always just assumed that would be our kids’ paths, too. But our oldest was born with life-threatening food allergies that put us on another road (in more ways than one).

After trying public school in kindergarten, our allergist advised us to find another route. So we started exploring options and landed (extremely hesitantly, I might add) on homeschooling. I had all the stereotypes in my head of weird, anti-social homeschool families. And I just hadn’t ever pictured myself juggling a business and homeschooling my kids, too. Was that even possible?!

Here I am nearly a decade later, with a 9th, 5th, and 4th grader, all having schooled using some type of homeschool model (we’ve done pure homeschooling, a co-op, and now a hybrid homeschool the past four years). It hasn’t always been easy — that’s for sure — but honestly, it’s been fun and way more doable than I ever imagined.

You might be finding yourself in an unexpected schooling situation this year, too. Who could have ever imagined so many would be thrown into school-at-home situations? I know it feels daunting and impossible. I know there are so many question marks and feelings of inadequacy. But I also know that you CAN do this, mama.

Today I want to share just a few things that have helped us stay sane (and not become too weird—ha!) on our homeschool journey. My hope is that something in here might help you as well.

#1> Make (and stick to!) a daily schedule.
For us, this has been a lifesaver and complete non-negotiable. It can be really tempting to just “wing it,” but both my kids and I don’t fare well this way. On days we don’t lean into a schedule, we find ourselves unmotivated and struggling to stay on track. Most kids, I believe, do much better with structure. A schedule provides guidance and a sense of security since everyone can clearly see what’s planned for the day and what’s expected of them. It also cuts down on the million “what do we do now, mom?!” questions that are otherwise inevitable.

You can create one large family schedule using a white board or chalkboard if you’d like. Or make individual ones for each kid to keep in front of them throughout the day. My kids really like having their own. Usually I’ll print and laminate them so they can mark subjects off as they go and reuse again the next day.

#2> Start right after breakfast.
I know part of the beauty of homeschooling is having a semi-flexible schedule, but we found that on the days we didn’t start right away in the morning, it was that much harder to get going. My kids do much better if they jump in first thing after breakfast and start knocking out work (I’m the same in my own business!). Having slow, lazy mornings where we play and relax first are WONDERFUL (and much-needed sometimes), but it can be harder to rally the troops and get everyone on track that way.

Caveat: I hold our schedule loosely, meaning if something derails the day or a cool opportunity arises, I don’t hesitate. For example, if we’re having an “off” morning or some fresh air would just do us good, we’ll occasionally head out for some quick creek-stomping or park exploring and we’ll pick up school later in the day. But in general, we try to stick with our routine.

#3> Build in rewards.
I’m all for a little external motivation (AKA bribery) when it comes to homeschooling. We do this in two ways. First, I build in little rewards/breaks after certain subjects are completed. If my kids know that a little snack or screen time break awaits, they’re more likely to stay on task. My husband and I created a little rewards chart a few years ago where the kids get a sticker each day that they complete ALL their work WITHOUT fussing (yep, can’t forget that last part!). Once they fill up the chart to a certain point, a reward awaits. When they were little, we had a giant Mason jar filled with mini toys, stickers, and party favors to choose from. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve had to up our prize game and go for things like $5 gift cards or fun outing.

#4> Lean into community.
I could never have homeschooled my kids well without a community of friends and fellow school-at-homers surrounding us. Finding trusted people you can share struggles with, ask for advice, and spend time around makes all the difference. I know the pandemic has made IRL hangouts a little trickier, but having people in your corner will make this journey so much easier and more rewarding. Plus, it’s just more fun that way!

When we started homeschooling our oldest, I was convinced it was only for a year or maybe two at the most. I wanted to make sure he was old enough to have some awareness of his allergies and what he could and could not touch/eat. But honestly, we fell in love with it. The freedom, the flexibility, the added time with the kids at home. So, just know that even if you’re dreading the thought of homeschooling right now, you might just end up loving it.

Some days will go smoothly. Others will be rough. Just like anything in life, you’ll feel like you’re winning sometimes and in the rubbish pile other days. But each week will get easier. You’ll learn what rhythms and practices work for you and your kids and adjust. Hang in there, mama. You got this!

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