After working as a public school educator for 14 years, I thought that homeschooling would be a piece of cake. I was going to have one student, my son, and we were starting with kindergarten. (I also had my two-year-old daughter, but she could just sit and play quietly, right?) Seriously, how hard could it be? Boy, was I in for a great surprise! I had no idea that I was about to embark on a journey that would grow me far more in a year’s time than anything else I had ever committed to. I’ve cried; I’ve researched; I’ve given everything I’ve had at times, but I’ve also learned a little bit along the way. Here are 13 tough lessons I learned our first year of homeschooling.
1. Abide in Christ daily.
This one is an absolute necessity to me. I really had no idea how hard homeschooling would be. (Please tell me I’m not the only one!) For me, being with my children day in and day out to meet every single one of their needs (including academics!) and “wants” can often be exhausting and overwhelming. And if I’m truly honest, they can really start to get on my nerves at times, and it is absolutely necessary for me to step away and refocus so that I don’t take out my frustrations on them.
I absolutely adore my children, and stressed-out mama is just not the person I want to be when I’m with them. Something that really helps make for a smoother day is getting my time with The Lord before we ever start. I am making it a priority to wake up earlier to have my devotionals in order to get my heart right before venturing into school, field trips, discipleship, discipline, etc. I pray with my children every morning as well and do my best to stay focused on what is truly important. It isn’t always easy, but my best is that much better when I am doing it in Christ.
This is a beautiful printable I keep in my office: Super Mom vs. Abiding Mom for when I need a sweet reminder.
2. Establish a vision for my homeschool.
I’m not sure I even thought about this much the first year in. Looking back, I have come to realize that I set up my homeschool much like a public school, mainly because it was all I ever knew. I set up desks, one for each child, bulletin boards, a dry erase board, etc. and did my best to trudge through the material each and every day. We followed a 9-month schedule at first and took our vacations with the public schools as well. Our school agenda also looked very much like those of public schools, and my goal was to just get through it all.
What I’ve come to learn, second year in, is that our homeschool is a private school and doesn’t have to look anything like a public school. We’re homeschooling because our values are different, our goals are different, and what we hope to accomplish at the end of it all is often different than that of a public school.
I don’t want my children to just learn how to walk in a straight line; I want them to walk the straight line. I don’t want them to just memorize facts; I want them to explore their own topics of interest, question information, synthesize from a variety of sources, and draw their own conclusions. I don’t want them to passively accept a secular worldview through subjects like history and science, which can never be taught with neutrality; I want them to embrace a Biblical worldview, learning how God is made known through our study of history and science and math. I want them to gain wisdom, to love others, to grow in their understanding of who they are in Christ. I want them to learn how to solve problems, how to think outside the box, how to evaluate the decisions they make. I want them to learn how to learn because once they can do that, the sky is the limit.
These pivotal tenets are the keys to our homeschool and are what set us apart. A vision and a mission statement is key to evaluating the activities, events, and lessons that we are faced with throughout the year. For us, it began with the vision, then our name, and finally, a mission statement. I strongly recommend defining this for your own homeschool if you have not already done so.
3. Help my children fulfill God’s purposes for their lives.
Our first year of homeschooling was focused on the curriculum I had selected for my son. It was a classical model and was very much a wonderful curriculum in every way–except that it made my son absolutely miserable. He hated memory work and would literally throw himself on the floor when it was time to review our material. Reading was a nightmare and math would sometimes last over an hour (WAY too long for kindergarten!) as I battled his complaints and frustrations.
It took me many months to step back and look at the child I had and not the curriculum I wanted. I was sitting in a homeschool conference at the end of that first year when things started to make more sense. The presenter shared pictures of her children when they were not much older than my son and 15-20 years later as adults. One of the examples was of her son who loved to draw and would spend hours in his room drawing. She said that she tried so hard to get him to stop–to get all the important school stuff taken care of before she realized that he had a God-given gift that she needed to nurture. When he became a teenager, she bought him computer programs to help him grow in his passion, and now as an adult, he is a successful graphic designer.
Seeing the big picture as she shared each of her children’s stories really helped me put things in perspective. The Lord has a plan for each of our children. I now pray that these gifts are revealed to us as parents so that we can help them grow in the skills they will use as adults to fulfill His plan for their lives. As homeschoolers, we have the time and the means to cater to these skills. We are not forced in a “one size fits all” box. Knowing this gave me the freedom to change our curriculum in order to find one that was better suited for our son. I’ve also been able to encourage and allow plenty of opportunities throughout the week for the skills placed on my children’s hearts. For my son, it is drawing and making models. I’m not sure where these skills will take him in the future, and they may change along the way, but I have come to value these “subjects” just as important as the others.
4. If a curriculum doesn’t work, let it go.
I am such a “type-A” person that this one was extremely hard for me. If I start something, then I want to finish it–no matter what. After almost a year of gritting my teeth with our reading and math curricula last year, I finally learned to let it go. Instead of just jumping into another one, I observed my son’s learning styles, his strengths, and weaknesses and prayed for direction. We nailed the math curriculum with our next try, but it took two more tries before we got the reading one down. The good thing is we are now on our way to better days and more successful learning.
Fortunately, many companies offer a money-back guarantee. For those that don’t, keeping your teacher’s manual and other materials in good condition will allow you to sell them back on online swap sites for a good amount of the purchase price. If you have to cut your losses, then so be it. It will be well worth the money to move forward with something that works rather than painfully cutting into your school day with something that doesn’t. Trust me on this one.
5. It’s okay to slow down.
Having a public school mindset meant that I tried to stay “on grade level” for every single subject . . . REGARDLESS! I would push through the reading, doing my absolute best to stay “on schedule.” It took me a while to realize that I was on my son’s schedule, not the curriculum writer’s and pushing through wasn’t doing anyone any good. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can take it slower if we need to. My son’s pacing is much different than his sister’s and any other child’s for that matter. His strengths and weaknesses are different, and with homeschooling, we have the opportunity to develop his weaknesses at a pace where he can grow comfortably.
In some subjects, we’ll zoom through. In others, we may slow down for a season . . . or longer, if necessary. It isn’t uncommon in homeschooling to be at one “grade level” in one subject and another “grade” in another. Mastery is ultimately more important than coverage, and I’ve learned to step back and work with my children in their areas of weakness in order to strengthen them overall as individuals.
6. Be available to listen.
When you are homeschooling day in and day out, it gets pretty easy to start “tuning out.” Complaints and frustrations can be seen as rebellious, and sometimes, we can get so bogged down with just getting through the material that we don’t take the time to listen and pay attention to what may really be happening.
As a presenter, I always followed the mantra “People before content.” This is something I strive to follow with my children as well. If there’s something on their mind, I take the time to listen. Sometimes, it means we change the lesson plan for the day. Other days, it means taking a new approach or taking the day off altogether. Homeschooling is more than just learning about subjects. It also means learning about life. Taking the time to listen to my children in an effort to better understand them is a lesson I wish I had implemented far sooner in this process.
7. Learning takes place everywhere.
Because of my background, I went into homeschooling with the belief that learning had to take place at a desk. There had to be some sort of worksheet, project, game, or quiz involved. There had to be something tangible to show at the end of the day. Although textbook curricula can be a wonderful resource, what really surprised me was how much learning could actually takes place outside of the school room.
Just as an infant learns to talk, walk, and imitate grown up behaviors through interactions and everyday experiences, so does a school-age child when given the opportunity. We learned how to stand in line at our local amusement park and about fractions while preparing our snacks. We learned how to follow directions when baking and the plant cycle when gardening in our back yard. We’ve learned about the properties of water by making frozen smoothies and tea and played a fun game of opposites on a car drive one day. Colors and mixing colors were taught with Play Doh, clay, paints, and chalk during craft time–no need for a single bulletin board. We also talk about nutritious meals constantly, without a USDA pyramid or plate, and learn about animals and seasons during our monthly trips to the park, zoo, and pet stores.
We are not bound to textbooks, worksheets, and lectures; we are living “school” each and every day. Learning is everywhere and developing an eye for this has helped me let go of some of my previous reservations. Every now and then, I’ll look up grade-level checklists to see what my children should know, and it never ceases to amaze me how much I can check off the list just with our real-life experiences. We supplement the rest with living books, which my children absolutely enjoy. My son can remember every last detail in a well-written piece of literature better than any list of facts to memorize. It’s amazing to see what learning actually looks like when you look beyond the desk.
8. Accept that there will be gaps in their education.
Because I am a “big picture” thinker and a former curriculum writer, I spent quite some time last summer reading The Well-Trained Mind and studying K-12 curricula from Sonlight and My Father’s World. I wanted to see what subjects were taught, what concepts were addressed at what grade levels, and the approach that each curriculum took in its delivery. As I studied the timeline of history and the scientific principles that coincided, I began to realize how very little I actually knew in some of these areas. There were so many gaps in my own education that it made me that much more excited to explore these subjects with my own children in the future.
The big “ah-ha” that I walked away with, however, is that you can’t learn everything. There will always be some sort of a gap in everyone’s education. I will say, however, that choosing a well-written curriculum along with engaging living books will definitely make the learning experience more meaningful and memorable. Our worldview is also different, so studying these subjects through this lens will have a much greater impact on their understanding of their place in it all.
I also plan to focus on the “why” behind the concepts. I need to teach my children how to think, how to analyze and synthesize. I also want to offer them as many opportunities as possible to explore their own topics of interest. As I mentioned previously, if they know how to learn and have a good understanding of the big picture, they will truly be educated and not just “schooled.”
9. Be okay with staying home.
Ah-the socialization myth. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I felt so pressured our first year to get him out there with kids, kids, kids in order to make sure he was “socialized.” I can write a whole post on this alone, but suffice it to say, it just isn’t necessary. We were trekking from this field trip to that play date to that extra curricular activity, and it was driving us crazy.
Yes, learning can take place anywhere, but so can socialization, and it is definitely okay to stay home to learn and socialize as well. Between gardening, canning, baking, cleaning, budgeting, decorating, organizing, crafting, hosting, and acts of service, not to mention the importance of reading and free play, there is much to be learned and gained from just being at home. It’s okay not to do more, more, more all of the time. After following that line of thinking for over a year, I’ve had to step back and ask, “For what?!!” No, it’s not all bad, but this is where having a vision will be important. Knowing what you stand for and what your goals are will help you make better decisions about what to do outside of the home.
10. Routines and schedules will need to be taught.
Yikes! I flopped with this one. Somehow, I just thought my kids would fall into our homeschooling routine just like that. I’ve had to learn that routines (or a schedule if that’s what you prefer) need to be taught and practiced just like anything else. We had to practice getting our supplies ready and working through our material. We had to practice coming in from outdoor play or free time when the kids just did not want to get back to work. We had to make adjustments to the routine so that they could learn when they were more readily able to and not after something that could serve as a distraction. It took quite a bit of practice, but we found an agenda and routine that has worked out well since.
11. Model and provide instruction in manners, politeness, and conflict resolution.
This is very similar to the previous lesson except that it more actively involves my participation. My children are my mirrors, and how they treat one another and others is often a reflection of what they have heard me say or do. When I model compassion, they seek to demonstrate to those in need as well. When I vent my frustrations in anger, I find that they, too, decide to give it a try during play or school.
Teaching my children how to interact with others in order to find their place in the world also requires me to discuss these ideas with them, provide opportunities for practice, and point out the behaviors they are doing well. This lesson goes back to lesson #1 that heavily puts the responsibility on me to abide in Christ so that I can bear the fruits of the spirit with my children: kindness, goodness, peace, joy, faithfulness, self control, patience, love, and gentleness. If my husband and I are their key influences in their everyday experiences, we need to make sure that we are Christlike in our interactions with them and others.
12. Learn from other moms and accept help.
Yes, indeed! I have been blessed with a few really good friends who have been so very helpful to me in my homeschooling journey. We have shared ideas, frustrations, and solutions to many of our personal struggles. Being part of a local community has been vital to me in so many ways, and I have found that very rarely am I ever alone in my challenges. I have also found great encouragement in blogs and articles from other moms who have openly shared their own experiences. Just knowing that others have been there before me has been helpful in finding solutions.
13. Let go, enjoy my children, and have fun!
When all is said and done, homeschooling will be more about the relationships and experiences we have shared as a family than anything else. (Think about what YOU remember from your school experience.) Yes, education is the final product, but the means will be built on those daily interactions with one another. It’ll be about the books we read and discussed together and the interesting facts we explored. It will be about the field trips we took together, and the way we demonstrated love toward a friend in need.
The kids will remember how we spoke to them, how we handled stress, how we encouraged them when things were tough. They will embrace how we believed in them, how we prayed with them, how we laughed and enjoyed their company.
I strive daily to enjoy this precious time with our children. We are raising them up for His glory, and this gives us the joy to make it have fun along the way.
Homeschooling is truly a blessing, and there is definitely a “sweet spot” that comes when we let go of some of our previous expectations and embrace the new realities it offers. Flexibility and a discerning heart will be key, and pushing through the challenges and finding solutions that work for you and your children will make it all worth it in the end.
What were some of your tough lessons learned during your first year of homeschooling?
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