When I began this journey last summer, I stumbled forward with excitement, energy, and absolute terror. I had no homeschooling peer network upon which to lean, no role model, and no rationale for my approach aside from the needs of my kids and the leanings of my own heart. Some thought I was crazy. As I popped Tums, scoured homeschool curricula, and hung up my white coat, I wondered if they were right.
One year later, the tumbling and unpredictability continue, but they float atop a deep peace, a serenity that courses through our days like water. Visitors to our home won’t discern it amid the chaos of makeshift drum sets and squabbling over Legos. Yet it lives. It wells up in the ordinary moments — the seed pods collected and arranged on the front steps, the delighted recognition of a goldfinch call, the impromptu hug between brother and sister. It shimmers when a preschooler links a milk splatter with the Big Bang, dreams of flying, and asks if bears have whiskers or if snakes have bones. It radiates from the rightness of being, for one season in life, exactly where God has called us to be.
Below are some lessons I’ve noted along the way. I would qualify them as things “I wish I’d known,” but without the struggle of learning them, the journey would have born less fruit.
I’ve also included some resources that have helped us this year. I hope the thoughts below encourage other parents who tentatively venture onto this path. I would also love to hear from any and all regarding thoughts or questions!
Lessons Learned from Year 1
1) When you’re just beginning, read this and this to reassure yourself that homeschooling is doable. Both books will encourage you that you can give your children an amazing education outside of cinderblock walls. They will also inspire you with great ideas and resources.
2) After you’ve achieved your confidence boost from #1, put those books away, and focus on your kids. As exquisite as a curriculum may sound in concept, if it doesn’t fit your child’s individual needs, it will remain on the shelf in pristine shrink wrap. Refer to many resources. Read constantly. Educate yourself. Then direct your focus toward your children — the unique, amazing, exasperating, quirky image bearers they are — and let their peculiarities guide your curriculum.
3) The best educational environment for your family might look drastically different than mainstream school. This is ok. In fact, when your children don’t fit into the standard grade categorizations, homeschooling allows you incomparable freedom to tailor learning to their needs.
4) Consider the distinction between school and learning. Our culture uses them interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same thing. Traditional school ends with a bell. Learning seeps into every moment of a child’s life, reaching inward to his thoughts and dreams, and outward to whom he meets, what he observes, and where he goes. To quote Charlotte Mason: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
5) Create a mission statement to anchor you in hard times. This is not the same as a curriculum; this is the overall goal for your kids as you shepherd them. When times get hard, refer back to your mission, and remove all extraneous influences until you’ve returned to your core focus. I actually wrote ours only recently, after a lot of trial and error, but I find it helps when we’re floundering:
“The Lord has granted us two beautiful children to shepherd, to teach diligently as we rise in the morning, and walk in the way, and lay down to sleep at night. Our goals in this homeschooling journey:
*To teach them about the Lord, about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. To teach them that sin pervades all, even their hearts — but that they have an everlasting joy, an everlasting peace, because Christ has overcome.
*To instill in them a love for others, and a heart for service, because He loved us and served us first.
*To teach them to wonder at God’s handiwork, and to honor the Lord and drink deeply of wonder through inquiry, imagination, exploration, and study.
*To teach them to seek justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
6) Sometimes the very best lessons have nothing to do with curriculum. Run with them. Grasp at teachable moments. Chase after sparks. Don’t let academics hem you in.
7) Cling to the magical bits. The cozy pajama days. The moment your son glimpses a fox while you practice phonics in the front yard. The long walks through the neighborhood, that evolve into mapping of downward trickling streams of water, that then inspire perusal of books on the flow of rivers into the sea. These morsels are light and air. Recognize them for what they are, relish them, and reach for them to fuel your days.
8) As you review homeschooling blogs, you’ll notice that most parents schedule “quiet time” into the afternoons, when the kids play or read independently and mom/ dad get private work accomplished. This is an exercise in self-preservation. For introverts like myself, it’s a full survival mechanism. As tempting as it may be to sacrifice this time (doe-eyed children have wily methods of persuasion), don’t. The respite will help center you when things get hard, and restore you when you feel depleted.
9) Cocktail parties among strangers are awkward. Forced play dates for the sake of “socialization” are no different. Although it will be the number 1 concern you hear from others, don’t panic about socialization. Seek out rich relationships with people from all ages. Give to others. Serve others. And engage your kids along every step of the way. Kids need to experience the dynamics of sincere and loving fellowship, not bumble through stilted, artificial constructs to satisfy popular culture.
10) When peanut butter and jelly sandwiches become a fixture in your days, people presume you have nothing useful to say. You know better. Forgive, show grace, and don’t take it personally.
11) Personal interests take a back seat to homeschooling. They just do. Passions are crammed into the crevices of days — during naps, after the kids are asleep, before they awaken. Be selective with and jealous of your time. Remember this is one season.
12) Because of #11, others’ presumption of your idleness will frustrate you to the point of teeth grinding. Try your darnedest not to take offense when people ask about your new “life of leisure.” Be forgiving.
13) Relax your grip upon any need to explain your choice to others. Few without homeschooling experience will understand, and your attempts to “convince” others of the soundness of your family’s choice will only frustrate and unmoor you. Don’t dive into particulars — your awful work schedule, one child’s anger issues, another child’s special needs. Instead, smile, and explain the heart of the matter: you’re called to homeschool during this season of life. Walking with the Lord is the essence of the thing.
14) Evidence-based education is a fledgling field, and as such the body of data supporting common teaching practices is pretty weak (in contrast with medical science, in which clinical decisions rely heavily upon quality of data). On the one hand, this can frustrate you as you seek guidance. On the other, you have every reason to focus entirely on what your individual child needs, and shouldn’t feel pressured to conform to popular opinion.
15) Invest in a library card early. Visit the library weekly.
16) All holiday requests for the next decade will be Amazon gift cards.
17) Spend as much time outside as you can. During lessons. After lessons. After naps. The outdoors expand the landscape for learning, and calm all involved.
18) Homeschooling can be lonely. As an introvert who hates talking on the phone and who seeks out books to recharge, this one surprised me. Over the past year I’ve frequently felt like an “army of one.” Homeschoolers constitute a minority, and even among like-minded peers, only you understand the particular idiosyncrasies and challenges of your family. Seeking out communities locally and online helps. Ultimately, the isolation compels you to lean upon the Lord.
19) Schedule prayer into your day. I’ve found that when I give the first light of morning to God, I can better maintain composure throughout the day. Place Him at the center in all circumstances.
20) Remember that even during the hard moments — when you flare with anger, even when the kids refuse to listen and you want to give everything up — God knows you and loves you, and that nothing can separate you from His love in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35-39)
A Charlotte Mason Companion — This is a commentary/ practical guide on the application of Charlotte Mason’s principles to homeschooling. Charlotte Mason’s writings are highly worthwhile, but time consuming to cover in their entirety; this book gives a snapshot.
The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis — Review of how young children learn most effectively, and how early childhood education fails to meet their needs. A great read, thoughtful and useful.
At this stage we learn math through lots of games and math-rich storybooks. We also just talk about math constantly, throughout the day (skip counting on the swings, making up problems from numbers on signs as we drive, etc). I’ve been amazed at how well it’s worked, and with what little frustration. Obviously we’ll have to change tactics when topics become complicated, but for now we’re enjoying it.
Sum Swamp — Pip learned addition and subtraction from this game. I swapped out the 6-sized dice for 10-sided ones, to give him practice in math facts up to 10.
Dino Math Tracks — Great introduction to place value.
Pizza Fraction Fun — Pip’s young for fractions, but this has introduced the concept, and they offer multiple games as kids gain skills.
Pet Me — Fun introduction to multiplication/ division. A bit advanced, but still enjoyable.
Money Bags — Coin value game
Pip started sounding out words on his own when he turned 3. He asked me to teach him “more word rules,” and so I did complete a systematic phonics program with him. We used The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, which was written by a co-author of The Well-Trained Mind and is very practical and thorough. It’s a bit boring, and there’s no way it would have held Pip’s attention to just follow the book, so I adapted it into a game involving a treasure map and jelly beans. A container of letter magnets also really helped to teach principles (displayed on a cookie sheet).
For early readers, Bob Books offer practice in phonics principles and are fun. There’s a book series called Primary Phonics that Pip also enjoyed, with each thin book focusing on one phonics rule. I didn’t find sight readers helpful.
Anything by Usborne Books is awesome. They have terrific anthologies of classics made accessible for young kids — not only the usual fairy tales, but Dickens, Shakespeare, stories from India, Greek myths, Norse myths.
Handwriting is an area that I’ve backed off, because Pip has some mild dysgraphia and gets easily frustrated. However, we have the Handwriting Without Tears program, which I think will be promising when he’s ready. With regard to grammar, he frequently just narrates stories that I type on the computer, and we talk a lot about proper sentence structure through that practice and daily appropriate talk. We also do — and yes I’m admitting this — Junior Mad Libs. You’d be surprised how quickly a kid can figure out verb vs noun when there’s the promise of laughter at the end.
The Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out-Science series has been wonderful for us. The books are engaging, but don’t dumb down content, and many titles include easy experiments to drive the topics home. They have a ton of titles on Amazon, all about $5 per book. National Geographic also has some awesome collections geared toward kids (their Big Book series). Magic School Bus is thorough and fun, too. We probably do more science than anything, and have accumulated a lot of topical books and encyclopedias. With supplement with museum trips once a month.
This is a weak area for me, because Pip doesn’t like “people books.” We have The Story of the World, which I anticipate we’ll read, along with many biographies.
I’d highly recommend these puzzles:
We have many more that we use daily, but are more difficult to categorize since our days are so variable. However, happy to comment if there are specific questions!