Remember your first year homeschooling? It’s thrilling. Everything is shiny and new and exciting – and sometimes daunting and scary, too. Everyone has great advice for new homeschoolers. Seasoned homeschoolers love looking back and sharing their sage words of wisdom.
A funny thing happens to me when I read advice. It makes me want to do the opposite. I can be a bit defiant like that. I suppose that’s one reason I wanted to homeschool to begin with. I prefer to carve my own path.
Read on for five of the most common pieces of advice given to first-time homeschoolers – which I completely ignored. And later I’ll share one piece of advice that I did take… and regretted.
The Best First Year Homeschool Advice You Should Ignore
Sage Advice: Focus on the Basics
Getting started with homeschooling is hard enough! Just focus on the basics – especially with younger kids. Reading, writing, and math are the backbone of education. If you are simply doing those three things, you will be good to go. Don’t worry about getting it all in. History, geography, poetry, art, music, and science are extras at this age. Kids learn from the world around them. We don’t have to push it.
Focusing on the basics is boring. We struggled through each phonics lesson, and he hated his math book. We did have a lot of fun with handwriting, but we were focused on fine and gross motor skills – not copy work. My son wanted to explore everything. When I figured out how much he loved looking at maps and atlases I knew an around the world theme would be a great fit, and we dug deeply into that all year.
He loves science; he loves geography and history. I want to follow his lead – not box him in with the basics. If you want a basic year, then by all means focus on the 3Rs. Or perhaps your child will lead you to something more extraordinary.
Sage Advice: Choose a Homeschool Method
Before you get started, learn about the tried-and-true homeschool methods. Do your research! Do you want a Well Trained Mind? Are you a Charlotte Mason-ite? Starting a Classical Conversation? Doing public school at home? Or perhaps you’re a group of Rad Unschoolers? Decide what method will work for you and fully commit.
Reading about a method and practicing it are two completely different things! The schedules and ideas in books look great but may be completely impractical for real life. Committing to a single method can be very restrictive – even if you’re committing to one that is supposed to free you from all restrictions.
You don’t have to define your homeschool. You don’t have to commit to one method forever. Most of us aren’t that hard-core. Homeschooling methods (and even public school methodology – gasp!) all have valid principles and practices. You have to find the ones that work in your home.
If I were to define our homeschool, I’d say we were child-led and curriculum-supported with a focus on flexibility. We use workbooks and hands-on. We do Netflix and nature walks. We use online learning and book-based units. We are eclectic, and we are learning. I can’t just check one box.
Sage Advice: Keep it Simple at Home
Let go of the frantic pace of public school and simplify your school at home. Make it easy, keep it simple. Plan for about an hour to an hour and a half of school time for younger grades. Play, do crafts, and snuggle up to read on the couch. Relax together and enjoy learning at home.
Hanging out at home is not relaxing for me. I am not cut out to sit around the house all day. What happens when we stay at home: mom sets up fun activities which are promptly ignored, kids complain that they are bored, toddler dumps out bins of toys without playing with them, every time I enter the kitchen someone asks me for a snack. No thanks.
We aren’t frantic, but we are busy. My kids have a huge amount of energy – far more physical and intellectual stamina that I possess! We start most of our days with a long walk, a trip to the park, or head directly to whatever field trip that day holds. We spent more time in nature in one year of kindergarten than I might have in a year of my childhood. We run errands, we go to museums, we spend a ridiculous amount of time at the library. We watch educational television and read school books at bedtime.
The reality is our learning happens all over the place. It starts when we wake up in the morning and sometimes goes until bedtime at night. That’s how we like it.
Sage Advice: Get Involved with a Co-op
The homeschool answer to the socialization question! Get involved with a local co-op. Find like-minded families and similar-aged children to see on a regular basis. Your children will love the opportunity to learn with other kids and get to know another teacher. Be active and help out! Plan to host your own co-op dates and contribute!
We found a great a co-op. We went to a few park dates and classes, but the reality is we can’t keep up – and my son just doesn’t want to. This year he was very excited about a Spanish class, but after just two classes he said to me, “Mom, I just want to learn Spanish from books.” I was disappointed because I thought he would love it. I was upset because it was paid for. But if I’m really being honest, I was mostly bummed because I don’t get to go.
It’s my socialization that suffers when we don’t go to co-op, not his. I’m the one that enjoys going to chat with the other moms and see other homeschool kids. Not him. That’s just not a good enough reason to make him go.
Sage Advice: Learn through Play
Young learners shouldn’t be pushed into reading and writing. Learn through play and explore the world around you!
While I agree that young children shouldn’t be forced and pressured into reading and writing too early, my son we ready. He wanted to learn to read. I could see the frustration on his face whenever he picked up a book (usually Magic Tree House) that he wanted to read but couldn’t. He also wanted to learn all of the other subjects. Science, math, geography. Digging deep into his around-the-world projects and his spring gardening unit were the best parts of kindergarten.
Don’t get me wrong, I do what I can to make our subjects fun and playful. But, we did much more than just play and read.
Advice I Did Take: My Biggest Homeschool Regret
Sage Advice: You Don’t Need a Curriculum for Kindergarten
There’s really no need for a kindergarten curriculum. All you need is internet access and a library card. You can easily find all the printable resources you need for free or at very little cost online.
This is one piece of advice I took to heart. My original plan was to put together my own kindergarten program with free resources and a library card. Why not? I’m a whiz at finding resources online, and as a former teacher I had the confidence.
My one homeschool regret is that I didn’t buy enough curriculum. I know that sounds weird, right? You’ll find most homeschoolers say the opposite.
A few weeks into kindergarten I realized that I would need a little bit of kindergarten curriculum, but it was still very bare bones. I wanted to do everything I could to make sure my kids had a perfectly tailored education. A fully customized program is a huge benefit to homeschooling!
Around mid-March I was exhausted. We had more than two months to go, but I was done. I was a work-at-home, homeschooling, mama of babies in diapers. At the time my kids were 1, 3, and 5 – all completely dependent on me. I was totally, utterly burnt out.
At that time, I wished we’d had more curriculum to fall back on. I wished I’d spent a little more money buying a program and a little less time creating my own. It’s a trade-off. You pay one way or another – money or time.
This year’s curriculum is relaxed and very eclectic. We use it as a guide more than a checklist and don’t usually follow the laid-out timeline. I chose flexible materials purposefully. I’m done trying to recreate the wheel!
If you’re just getting started, it might take a while to find your path. But therein lies the beauty of homeschool. It’s your path.
Read and research all you can about homeschooling. Learn from seasoned homeschoolers, but take what they say with a grain of salt. Homeschool is as individual as each child. It’s perfect for those of us who don’t fit into a box – or those who want to break out. The only real expert on your child is you.