It’s crazy to think that I’m about to embark on my 17th year of homeschooling! It seems like just yesterday that my oldest (now 21-years-old and attending college) was 4-years-old and distraught that her friends were all going off to kindergarten and she had missed the deadline.
Her grief over being excluded from school is the whole reason we began this wonderful homeschooling adventure, and I am beyond grateful that she was born in October and that our local elementary school was a stickler for deadlines, because our accidental introduction to homeschooling has been the most beautiful and amazing journey for my family!
That daughter could have begun attending the public school that next year, but we had so enjoyed our homeschool the year before that we both decided together to continue homeschooling for as long as we were having fun.
16 years later, here we are!
Experience begets wisdom, or so I’d like to think. I’ve learned a ton from my mistakes over the years, and realized that all of the academic things I initially thought were so critical are not. Seriously, the first year I really began homeschooling in earnest I bought enough curriculum to last an adult several years. I was going to teach my little 5-year-old Latin, Spanish, astronomy, physics, biology, math, writing and she was already studying piano, violin and Irish dance.
It was really important to me that she become brilliant!
What was I thinking? We laugh about it now, my oldest daughter and I. But that poor little girl!
Just so you know, this list is not at all what I would have written 10 years ago. Homeschooling will change you (for the better!) just as much as it will your children.
I’d like to share my very best advice with you:
1. Slow down! Your kids will benefit from a long break, especially if they’ve been in public school for awhile. Think of it as a detox for your kids and research time for you. Talk to a couple of experienced homeschool moms; ask them about their favorite homeschooling resources and ask if you can look through their curriculum. They’ve been where you are and I promise you they want to help.
2. Get inspired! Take some time to learn about the different homeschooling philosophies and methods. My favorite homeschooling books are The Well Trained Mind, Dumbing Us Down, A Thomas Jefferson Education, How Children Fail, and Educating the Wholehearted Child. They are easy to find at the library, and very inspirational. This quiz will help you decide whether you lean towards traditional, classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling or another method.
Know that your preferences will change with time, experience and different situations. That’s totally okay! You’ll also need to figure out your child’s learning style in order to pick the best curriculum. Here is a fun, helpful, learning-style quiz.
3. Be very careful and intentional about what you are creating. Do NOT recreate public school in your home. Nobody will be happy! Remember that the biggest reason you’ve chosen to homeschool is that you value your family relationships and want as much time as possible to nurture your children and shape their character. Your biggest goals should be to foster curiosity and a love of learning.
4. Keep it simple! It’s time to make a list of what you want to study as a family. I’ve learned, over time, to mainly stick to basics, like the 3 R’s, and to let my children take the lead in exploring other subjects. Keep it simple for your sanity and for your children’s.
You can always buy more curriculum down the road if you end up needing it. All the curriculum stores will still be in business. Be forewarned that curriculum is like heroin to a homeschool mom. No matter how much you already have, you’ll still want more. And lots of that curriculum will just end up as expensive paperweights if you don’t make a conscientious effort to minimalize.
5. Kids go through office supplies like water. Buy more basic office supplies than you think you’ll need (pencils, crayons, markers, lined paper, notebooks, binders, glue sticks, art supplies) during the back to school sales in July and August. You can never have too much, and you’ll never regret paying a quarter for a 24-count package of Crayola crayons. You will regret not having purchased them when you have to go in January and pay quadruple the price.
I buy open-ended art supplies (pom-pom’s, feathers, googly eyes, craft sticks, etc…) at the dollar store, where they are cheaper than the craft store. You can never have too many of those, either. Trust me!
6. Channel your inner minimalist. You will never use all the textbooks you will be tempted to hold on to. (Literature is a different story — definitely hang on to ALL the great literature you can get your hands on!) You’ll get busy and forget you have them and basically you’ll just never find the perfect time. Just get rid of them. And try not to buy too much to start with! Also, see if you can sell things you won’t use to recoup some of the cost.
7. Don’t spend a ton of time or money creating a fancy homeschool room. Pinterest has so many amazing ideas that you’ll really be tempted! I’ve created two different homeschool rooms (in different houses) and spent a lot of time and money, only to continue homeschooling at the kitchen table, where we always, always, always end up. It’s just too convenient to be able to make dinner, do laundry and chores while overseeing school, and that can best be done when we’re all working in the heart of our home — the kitchen.
We eventually turned both cute rooms into libraries, so the work wasn’t wasted, and I cleared out a bank of drawers, one per child, plus a cabinet for books, in the kitchen. It always happens that way, and I’ve learned not to fight it. Your situation will assuredly be different. Just think it through carefully and always opt for the simplest solution to problems.
8. Don’t compare your family to other homeschool families! Everyone is so very different in their approach to homeschooling and their family situation. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can do whatever works best for your own family! Keep your eyes straight ahead on your own path, on the children you love and what they need, and ignore the opinions of the world around you.
Don’t let the experts tell you that your child should be reading at a certain level. You know your child and his needs. You’re his expert! Be confident in the stewardship God has given you over your children.
In this day of ever-present social media it’s impossible not to notice the other moms who look like they have it all together. Remember that those moms are just showing you snapshots of singular moments — and probably only the best ones. I always clear away the clutter on the counters before I snap pictures of things I’m putting on my blog.
That doesn’t mean the clutter isn’t there. Trust me, we have plenty of dirt and clutter! It’s human nature to put only the best things out there for others to see. So your job is to filter everything through a lens of reality and not hold yourself accountable to unrealistic expectations and pretend standards.
Forgive yourself mistakes and celebrate your successes. At the end of the day, you are absolutely the best teacher for your children, because you love them more than anyone else. Your Heavenly Father has given you those children because you are the perfect person for the job. You are the person He wants to influence them, to teach them, and to set them on the right path so they can fulfill their missions!
9. Take frequent breaks. The schedule is up to you. Make it work for your family. We like to take off several weeks for Christmas break, and we take off almost every Friday for field trips, and we like to travel throughout the year. Traveling is educational, but it’s a break from homeschooling around the kitchen table.
Allow yourself downtime without feeling guilty. Eight babies, complete with difficult pregnancies and recoveries, plus an autoimmune illness, have prevented me from always being the mom I wanted to. But God had his hand in that, too, just like He always does.
My kids learned to tutor younger siblings, cook and clean and sew, and help around the house when I couldn’t. My biggest worry back then was that they were missing out on too much schooling. Actually, the opposite was true. Because I could not hand them an education on a silver platter, they learned to seek after it. All of those life skills have served my older children very well! And they’ve excelled academically, too. My two oldest currently attend a prestigious university on full scholarships!
Homeschool learning tends to happen in short, intense bursts that are far more effective than what happens at public school. Your kids will feel fresh and more able to learn when you schedule your homeschool with lots of breaks!
Related Reading: Lazy Homeschoolers Raise Geniuses
10. Pray! The single most important thing you can do for your children and their education is to pray. I pray for guidance, patience, discernment, wisdom and for my children and husband. Prayer is the most important and effective part of my preparations for each new year.
None of this advice can ensure a perfect year, even for an experienced homeschooler. Kids don’t conform to planning and schedules very well, unfortunately. Likely, this year at the Saunders’ home will be like all the others — messy and frustrating, but also fun and interesting and beautiful! And that’s the whole point!
Who will care ten years after graduation what your son’s ACT score was? But it will matter immensely that he knows how to be a hard worker and a great dad!
So relax. Your kids, with their natural playfulness, will set a great example for you to follow! When they turn learning into a game, rejoice! Follow their lead! Learning should be enjoyable! You don’t need to go to great lengths to make learning fun, it just naturally is.
I’m just warning you — if you’re anything like me, you’ll frequently want to quit. That’s when you read this article, Read When You Want to Quit Homeschooling.
How about some more great advice from a group of homeschool moms?
Above all, remember that the years are short, even when the days are long. My youngest is in kindergarten this year, but tomorrow she’ll be graduating high school and moving out. Anyway, that’s how it will feel! So right now I’m going to cuddle her on my lap and read her all the stories! That’s where the magic happens!
Best wishes to you, fellow homeschooling mama in the trenches!
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