Homeschooling: what I wish I’d known

A post about what not to tell a new homeschooling mama got me thinking about my first year of homeschooling, what I did wrong, and what advice I’d give new homeschooling families.

Take it SLOW

That first year of homeschooling our oldest daughter was in second grade and our next daughter was in kindergarten.  We also had a 3 year old and a 1 year old.  I went into it gang-busters, feeling like I needed to cover every single subject there was.  Science, history, geography, reading, handwriting, math– not to mention field trips all over the countryside.

The first month or two I valiantly tried to keep up with what I thought I had to get done.  The third and fourth month was spent frustrated because I *still* wasn’t getting everything done that I thought I should.  It wasn’t until the second year, really, that I faced my abilities and limitations more honestly and decided to major in the majors.

For us, that’s reading, writing and math, with history covered via good story books at bedtime, and a bit of science once or twice a week.  The end. That’s plenty enough for elementary school.  There will be time later to add more subjects for older kids.  And even if you are BEGINNING homeschooling during high school, don’t expect too much of yourself and your kid at first.  It takes awhile to find your groove, and that’s OK.

It doesn’t have to look like ‘School’

I began by making a traditional school right in our house.  We bought school desks.  We painted ourselves a chalk board.  We had a map and a clock and a cursive handwriting poster on the wall and a flag for Pledge of Allegiance.  But when the kids were side by side at their desks, they distracted each other.   They chattered.  The little boys got into things.  And stuck there in the family room classroom supervising everyone, it was pretty darned hard to make lunch.

Relatively soon I discovered that our oldest daughter got her math done quickest lying on her bedroom floor.  Our second daughter was perfectly happy to work at the kitchen table while I cooked.  And it was much easier to keep the little guys occupied in the midst of their toys instead of in ‘the classroom’.

These days we still call the family room ‘the classroom’.  But rarely does more than one child at once occupy it during school hours.  For us school happens all over the house in the middle of life.  Sometimes kids read to me while I am at the sewing machine, sometimes while I am making lunch.  There are times when kittens ‘help’ little girls with handwriting. On really wonderful spring days we’ve even been known to spread a quilt and let a kid or two do math outside.  That’s one of the true beauties of homeschooling.  So enjoy it!

Don’t skip character training

When a child is away at school all day it is sometimes easy to not notice subtle disobedience.  But when you bring your child home and you’re suddenly spending all day eyeball to eyeball, don’t be surprised if your eyes are opened to issues with your child’s character.  (Maybe in yours too.  Homeschooling grows parents as well as kids– but that’s a whole nother post.)   If kids haven’t learned to obey, it can be hard to get them to do their math.   Sometimes kids outright refuse to do what you ask.  Other times their resistance comes in the form of s.l.o.w. work.

Expect it to take a little while for your kids to acclimate to the new way of learning. If you’re meeting resistance, of course be sure that they understand the work.  But often it takes a few months of slow work and inefficiency for a kid to realize that the only way out is through, that this is for real and the school work is not going to leave just because he doesn’t want to do it.  So don’t give up!

Enjoy experimenting with books and teaching methods

Don’t purchase too much in the beginning.  That way you’re not out lots of money if something doesn’t work.  And don’t be afraid to QUIT a book if it isn’t working for you or your kid- you’re ALLOWED to do that when you homeschool!  I had to try and discard a variety of books and learning methods that didn’t end up being my cup of tea. Unit studies are wonderful for many moms, but they take pre-planning and library trips and trips the the craft store for odds and ends.  Complete curriculum packages are a God-send for lots of moms, but I’m independent and want to decide things for myself.  I ended up with more of a DIY approach. [Our curriculum]

Read, read, read!

The very best thing you can do for your children is to read to them.  This applies even as they get older.  My husband has read every evening with all our kids since they were tiny, and he still reads to everyone now, even though five of them are teenagers.  It is a time of warmth and connection and easy effortless learning.  If you have twitchy kids, it’s fine to let them build with Legos or draw pictures while you read.  That way they can get the benefit of hearing the story without being restless.

I found my first year of homeschooling to be hard, and my second was quite a bit easier.  By the third year I pretty much knew what worked for me and for my kids.  And believe me, both factors are equally important!  School became much less stressful and we really began to see the rewards.  So be flexible, be relaxed, and don’t give up during that first year!  You can do it.


More like this

School planning:  a sample school schedule

Teaching multiple children at once

Homeschooling with preschoolers

Essay-writing made easy


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  1. This post is very encouraging to me……. we have six kids,10 and under..i am homeschooling my older three…..and your post really resonated with my homeschooling journey…..God bless you!

  2. So God knew I needed to read that this morning! Homeschooling our five children ages ten and under is a true delight, and yet very challenging! What a blessing your words were to me. Thank you.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! After attending an awesome homeschool conference last weekend and trying to prepare for next year, this is what I needed to hear-AGAIN!!!!

  4. AMEN! Thank you spreading that message and being a light in the homeschooling world. I am inspired by you as a mother and as a woman. Thank you for your faithfulness to your family and to your readers.

  5. Thank you. We have decided to homeschool next fall. That means bringing our 9 and 7 year olds home with a 3 year old running around. I was planning to focus on math and language mainly for the first year with science, art and history at co-op. It helps to hear this from the pros.

  6. Laura Williams says:

    Thank you for this post! I will be homeschooling my children and I have been feeling pressure especially because most of my friends have their kids in pre-k while I am keeping mine home. Please post more about your homeschool experiences…I love reading your posts! I am new to it all because I went to public school. God bless you!

  7. What do you do about the days when a child doesn’t show up to work? The blank, empty eyes drive me crazy! Especially when I know the kid knows this stuff (knew it yesterday cold!), but today it’s like I’ve pulled out the college allgebra for my first grader.

  8. This is a very encouraging post. This was my first year homeschooling my daughter (first grade) and I thought that there would be so much extra time, but I couldn’t even get in everything I wanted to. It was hard to cope with, but we’re doing better now. Your blog is very wonderful and encouraging. Thank you.

  9. Thank you for this post!

  10. Thank you so much for posting this. I (think) I intend to homeschool but I have educators in my family so I am feeling intimidated. Your encouragements, and realistic posts, keep reminding me of why I want this for my family.

    Grace and Peace

  11. Linda Dobson says:

    Always wonderful to share lessons with those new to homeschooling! One of my books, *The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child,* is liberally scattered with what experienced homeschoolers wish they knew during their first year. Many readers have reported that knowing these things helped save them time, money, stress and misery! Thanks for helping to make life sweeter for those new to homeschooling.

  12. Thanks for this post! I am a teacher now and I’m considering homeschooling when my husband and I have kids. These are great things to remember..thanks!

  13. Thanks for the great post Mary! As we are nearing the end of our first year homeschooling (K), I have learned that much of the disobedience I struggle with (refusal to do work or taking an eternity to do it) can almost exclusively be attributed to my trying to use the wrong style of teaching/learning with my son. He is very smart, so its not an issue of not understanding, more often being bored, and while we do still have plenty of work to do with character issues certainly, I now get that we cannot follow a traditional grid style using lots of worksheets like in mainstream schools. We are going to begin using the thematic approach starting for 1st grade next year and I think it will be life changing for our homeschooling! The good thing about coming to this realization is that I know that my son would very likely struggle in a traditional school setting, not to mention that his sensory seeking issues can sometimes look like ADHD so I’m sure I’d be pulled in for meetings about getting him medicated (ugh)…I’m thankful for the freedom to be able to change things up to meet each child’s needs & learning styles!

  14. Did you find there was a difference between the children you homeschooled from the begining and the ones who were in a conventional school for a little while?

    • My oldest was only in school for her first two years, so I didn’t notice a lot of difference in how she learned. It has def been more challenging for our Ethiopian daughters who came home at ages 9 and 11. That was probably only a bit due to them going to public school, and much more related to switching languages, cultures and families…

  15. Oh- I had to learn so many of those lessons too! I think the longer we homeschool, the less “school” we actually do!

    Thanks for linking up my post!


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