With the current global coronavirus pandemic cancelling schools all over the globe, I’ve been reflecting on the the things I wish I’d known before I started homeschooling seven years ago.
Whether your school district is providing online curriculum or not, creating a homeschool system that works for your family can be daunting.
While I’m less than perfect at homeschooling, I have learned some big lessons along the way. I’ll be straight up and tell you that there are some days I want to quit. But, mama, you and I CAN DO HARD THINGS. So, from my heart to the hearts of all those new homeschooling moms, here are the things I wish I’d known before I started homeschooling.
What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Homeschooling
Lesson 1: Home learning is different from classroom learning.
And that’s okay.
In the beginning of our homeschool journey, I spent countless hours trying to recreate a public school environment. I purchased the big blue pocket chart calendar, a giant weather board, and encouraging super hero posters describing the 8 parts of speech. Recreating school learning systems and schedules became my goal. I stressed over weekly spelling tests, and followed the daily 2nd grade schedule to a T, with 28 minutes for lunch and a 22 minute recess.
After a few weeks, I realized that my boys were happiest curling up beside me on the couch reading an abridged version of The Odyssey or going on a walk through the neighborhood to find insects. Instead of viewing my home in light of what it lacked from an educational standpoint, I started to search for educational tools and opportunities already present in my home. We learned fractions with measuring cups while baking cookies. My kids learned to write by sending thank you notes. We learned medieval history while playing chess. When you take a minute to look around your home, you will find additional ways to educate your kids.
Lesson 2: Don’t be a slave to the curriculum
Before I started homeschooling, I spent hours upon hours searching for the right curriculum for my kids. I read reviews on CathyDuffy.com and amazon.com, talked to friends, borrowed books, and camped out for an entire afternoon in the homeschool aisle at Mardel. Once I finally made a decision about which curriculum to use, I stuck to it like gum on the bottom of my 6-year-old’s tennis shoe. I was bound and determined to finish every single lesson in each book according to the prescribed schedule.
Would you like to know what happened? School got B O R I N G. I was bored, the kids were bored, even the dog was bored.
Finally I realized that it was healthy for all of us to take a break from time to time. The first warm day of spring was a perfect time to put our books down and go outside. We weeded the garden, had a picnic, and watched the clouds. We all loved it when we diverged from our Ancient History curriculum to learn about the presidential election. When my son developed a deep desire to write his own chapter book in the middle of his Institute for Excellence in Writing curriculum, that was great with me!
Letting go of my kung fu grip on our adherence to curriculum has brought our best learning and bonding moments.
Lesson 3: Start with the same routine
While it is important to have some variation to your homeschool day, I do feel it is necessary to start every day with a short, simple routine that does not change. Please remember that I used the word SHORT!
At our house, we always start our school day by standing and saying the Pledge of Allegiance. We discuss the calendar briefly, and have a devotional from our home study gospel curriculum, Come Follow Me.
After our devotional, I read aloud for about 15-20 minutes. Often our read aloud books are connected to our history curriculum, Story of the World. My kids have gained a lot from the Classic Starts series that abridges great works of literature for young readers and listeners. Sometimes we read contemporary books, such as The One and Only Ivan, the Percy Jackson series, or Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. As I read, sometimes my kids sit still and listen, and other days they prefer to color or draw. As long as they are listening, I am cool with whatever!
This beginning of the day routine is something that has not changed for us throughout our homeschool years. Sticking to this routine primes my kids for learning in several ways. First, it is a signal to them that playtime is over and school is beginning. Having a short devotional and prayer helps increase love and unity. Finally, our read aloud time gets their minds engaged and ready to start receiving information.
Lesson 4: Create a Routine that Works for You
Along the same lines for starting everyday the same, I highly recommend finding a routine that works for you and sticking with it.
Now, please note that I’m not advocating for a schedule! You don’t need to stress about starting homeschool at 8:35a on the dot every day. Some days you may not be able to start until much later because someone accidentally breaks a juice glass or can’t find their favorite pants (yes, this is my life!). Do not let yourself stress in these situations. You are leading homeschool, not a meeting of Fortune 500 CEOs!
But once you do start the school day, sticking to a learning routine helps kids feel comfortable. In addition, having a routine facilitates greater learning because kids are able to focus on what they are learning instead of constantly wondering what may be happening next.
I’ve created a simple daily homeschool schedule for you right here! One version has the approximate times I try to stick to and another has empty space for you to customize to your liking. And because I love ya, there’s a simple printable with my mom morning routine as well.
Lesson 5: You can combine some subjects across grade levels
I am often asked how I teach 5 kids of varying ages at the same time. In fact, this was one of my biggest concerns before I started homeschooling. And here’s the straight up answer: I do and I don’t.
I’ve learned that there are some subjects that I can teach to any age level at the same time. These are generally literature, history or social studies, and science. I use the same core text and read aloud to all of my kids at once. We often have a group discussion and review after the reading, followed by assignments that are age and grade-level appropriate. For example, my oldest may have additional reading from an advanced encyclopedia with several pages to outline, while my second son will have a short article to read and a 5-sentence paragraph to write. My daughter may have map work, a drawing and 3 complete sentences to rephrase about what we read, while my 1st grader will have 2 sentences to copy and an illustration to color.
On the flip side, there are some subjects that cannot be combined. These are math and most language arts, such as reading, writing, grammar, and spelling. Something to remember is that as kids get older, they become more capable of individual learning. For example, while I spend a lot of hands on time teaching my 1st grader about subtraction, I spend almost zero time teaching my 6th grader about decimals because he can read and interpret information from his textbook and teaching video. Of course, I am available to help if needed. But more often than not, I find myself becoming a learning facilitator rather than a teacher for my older children.
Lesson 6: Do the most focused work first
You’ll see in my daily school routine that I prioritize this individual learning of math and language arts over our group learning subjects of science and hsitory. I do this for several reasons.
First, because my kids enjoy science and history the most, they are motivated to complete their other work first so they can get to the “fun stuff.”
Second, I feel that the process learning in math and language arts are essential in my children’s long term growth, intellect and eventual earning capability. Most of the information we cover in science and social studies can be found with a quick internet search (ie: when did the Mongols rule China?), whereas the processes for math and language arts are just that – processes that need to be learned over time.
Lesson 7: Decrease the length of your school day
This has been a lesson I’ve learned in the past two years. In our home, we aim to be finished with the formal part of our school day by lunchtime. Yep. Let me explain.
We aim to start our school day around 9:30-10a. (By this time my kids have already showered, dressed, had breakfast, practiced piano, finished morning chores (making their bed, unloading or loading the dishwasher, helping with laundry, etc), and done their individual Scripture study.) We work until about 12:30-1p when we stop for lunch. This equates to only a 3-hour school day. After lunch we always have 30-45 minutes of silent reading. After that, my older kids finish any individual assignments that they still need to complete.
Those of you just starting out on your homeschool journey may be wondering how on earth homeschooled kids are keeping up with all the things they need to learn. And rightly so, because kids who go to public school are there on average for 6-7 hours everyday.
Studies by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that students in public school, receive only 4 hours of instructional time per day, just over 20 hours a week. Private schools spend even less instructional time, clocking in only 3.7 hours of instructional time daily.
The rest of the time is spent in various activities, such as art, music, P.E. or library, and lunch and recess. A significant amount of time is also spent in various maintenance activities every day, such as lining up, preparing backpacks and folders, walking to and from specials, lunch, recess, assemblies, etc.
I’ve been interested to learn that schools in Florida, Alabama, and Texas are recommending that students spend 2-3 hours learning at home via their new online teaching formats. Make it your goal to only homeschool in the morning, and you’ll be light years ahead of where I started!
Lesson 8: Remember to cut yourself (and your kids!) some slack
Oh, I wish I could go back and just hug myself before I started homeschooling. I’d tell that girl that some days would be so. stinking. hard. I’d let her know that the day I’d lose it with my 4 year old for not remembering how to count to 10 would be just a small moment. That with perseverance and persistence, my youngest boy actually will learn to read.
I would tell myself that there would be countless beautiful moments when we’d cry and laugh over books together, that most science experiments do work out, that I’d be so proud to see my daughter’s pride when she conquered her multiplication facts. Joy in homeschooling comes in moments – just like motherhood.
On another note, if you start on a curriculum that just isn’t working for you, don’t worry about it. Give it an honest try for a month to six weeks, and if it’s not your jam, try something else! No harm done. Trying again is not failure.
Finally, give your kids some grace too. Remember that they may be missing their public school teacher, their school friends, or the routine of public school. Be aware of their emotions and be willing to offer them some comfort during this challenging time.
Lesson 9: Make time for yourself
Girl, this is a must. I know because I didn’t do it before I started homeschooling, much less when we did start. After four years, I was completely burned out. But making time for myself has been a primary focus of mine for the past three years, and it has had amazing impact on our family life.
I find time for myself almost exclusively in the early morning hours before my kids are awake. In this post here I share all of tips and secrets to how and why I wake up before my kids. If you are feeling depleted mentally, physically or spiritually, you will struggle to homeschool your kids. I can’t emphasize it enough: YOU. NEED. TIME. TO. YOURSELF.
And here’s the kicker: you will need to create that time. It won’t just show up in your day. I’m telling you this because I care about you and your mental and spiritual heath. Get up early, friend. It is worth it. You are worth it.
Let me just remind you that we cannot give what we do not have. Okay, off my soapbox – just read the post okay!?!
Lesson 10: Don’t compare yourself to other homeschoolers
Friend, if there’s only one bit of advice I could give to any new homeschooler, this would be it. Sure, as you’re just starting out, there will be lots of great resources to look to for guidance. I encourage you to find a homeschool mama or two to follow closely at first and ask your questions.
But as time goes on, look more and more inside your own home and at your own kids to decide how to make homeschool as success. (There was a time I had to do kindergarten night school because my youngest boy just struggled to concentrate while his siblings were around!)
Eleanor Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy, and I cannot agree more.
You are not homeschooling to compete with anyone else. There’s no award for the best homeschool mom in town – (and if there is, I sure don’t know about it because I’ve never won it! ha!). If you are constantly competing in your mind with other homeschoolers, you are missing the very best parts of homeschool – and that is the chance to focus on your kids and their learning and development.
You CAN do this! I’m a true believer that we can do anything we set our minds to. I want to be your homeschooling buddy! I’m so far from a perfect homeschooler, but I can be your cheerleader and share from my own experience. I hope that be sharing what I wish I knew before I started homeschooling will help you to be so much more ahead of the game than I was. Let me know your questions, thoughts and concerns about all things homeschool in the comments below!