10 Things I Learned In My First Year of Homeschooling

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It’s hard to believe that we’re already in our fourth year of homeschooling.

On one hand, it seems like day one of our first year was just yesterday. On the other hand, it feels like it was 100 years ago.

Our first school year was by far the weirdest school year since my children began attending kindergarten.

We began our homeschool journey by homeschooling only our younger son, while our older son attended public school.

One month in, and the teachers all over the country went on strike.

During the nearly two-month strike, we decided to homeschool our older son as well, and in January we became a full-time homeschool family.

mother sitting at a table teaching her child

My parents began homeschooling us in the early 1980’s.

I want to say that it was 1982-1983, I was in the 4th grade; and I was homeschooled all the way through high school.

I even did distance learning during college.

Homeschooling was obviously not a foreign idea for me; and the idea of homeschooling hypothetically was something that excited me.

But when the hypothetical became reality, I suddenly felt like a beginner swimmer who’d jumped into the deep end of the pool.

What in the world have I just done?!?

And we were all in. We’d unenrolled our kids – it was a reality and there was no going back.

Sink or swim!

Sinking wasn’t an option, so swim it was. And now that we’ve reached the end of the first year – I look back in complete amazement!

My kids have learned far more than I thought they would.

10 Things I Learned In My First Year of Homeschooling

In the interest of full disclosure, our first school year went nothing like I had envisioned; and certainly wasn’t the most ideal.

The first three months with just my younger son was a rotating cycle of figuring out what would work, and by December I’d found a nice groove that seemed to work.

Then in January, adding our older son catapulted us back into that cycle once again, and in March I finally settled on what would become the best solution for us this year.

It wasn’t until the final month of school that I discovered a schedule that was the Goldilocks’ solution: not too much and not too little.

Yes, you read that right. It took me until the end of the year to get there – just in time to break for the summer!

I am very glad I didn’t know it would take a whole school year to find our groove. Little did I know, I’d go through this cycle over the next two school years before I really felt like I knew what I was doing.

1. Your curriculum is the vehicle, not your destination.

One of the best decisions I made was not heavily investing in a curriculum.

It is easy to think that an expensive curriculum written by experts will give your kids the most quality education.

This is not true.

A quality education is one that is tailored to their unique learning abilities. And this is the school you’re now enrolled in as their parent:

The school of learning how your kids learn best, and then finding the most quality tools you can to fill their tool belt.

Do not make your curriculum your destination.

You should not be a slave to your curriculum, it should be a tool in your hand and the hand of your child to help you accomplish the task of educating your child.

2. Expect to make changes all of the time

I look back at my post Our Curriculum Choices for the 2019-2020 School Year, and laugh.

I only did one of those things that year: Math U See – Alpha, and I’ve even modified that.

I discovered that many of the choices I made for the 2019-2020 school year looked fun, but were not practical or didn’t match my kids’ learning style.

One of the best decisions I made was choosing a piano course for my kids instead of trying to teach them myself.

This was a hard decision for me, because I’d always dreamed of being my kids’ piano teacher.

But I had to admit that by the time we got to piano, I was wrung out. I needed a break and they needed a break from me.

We now use Hoffman Academy for piano, and my kids love it.

Mr. Hoffman teaches in the very way that my kids learn best, and in a very short time my children have learned more from Mr. Hoffman than they did from me all year long.

We upgraded to Premium, and it is the best money I’ve spent on school – hands down!

3. Have a general plan, but don’t plan too far in advance.

When I began to plan out the 2019-2020 school year, I had very specific ideas in mind. I sat down and planned out the first month of school in detail.

We began the first day of school with great fanfare, and by Friday I’d tossed out the rest of the month’s plans.

I learned very quickly that I needed to plan week-by-week, and even then in pencil do reverse planning, which is writing down what you did, not what you’re going to do.

Reverse planning keeps you from having to constant erase or scribble out plans, because there will be days when your kids are just not their optimum.

Maybe it’s the weather or a virus; maybe they’re growing, so their bodies are using energy in different ways leaving them fatigued.

There are any number of reasons why your kids may wake up on a “test day” feeling foggy, cranky, and fatigued.

The worst thing you can do is stick to your plans like a military general.

There is no benefit for either of you in doing that.

There are months when you’ll get behind in your plans and other months when you’ll discover that your child made enormous leaps forward.

There are months when you’ll spend 3 weeks on one lesson, because they just don’t get it, followed by seasons when you are doing a month’s worth of lessons in one day.

This is just how it works.

Go with it!

Don’t plan in advance at all, just write down what you did for the day, then pick up tomorrow where you left off..

4. You are never behind

One of the greatest and most freeing lessons I’ve learned this year is that my kids are never behind.

They are where they are.

If you think of it logically, adults are not all on the same level intellectually and in their abilities.

Homeschooling gives you the freedom to let your child learn at their own pace.

I have stopped talking about curriculum in the context of grades and began referring to them as “levels”.

It is normal for a child to be in their corresponding grade for one subject while in a lower grade in another and yet in another subject be a grade or two ahead.

Your brain doesn’t care what grade you’re in.

Instead of being a prisoner to grades, just let your child learn as their brain develops.

It is freeing for both of you.

Give them wings where they are strong and tools where they are weak.

I talk more about this subject in my post: What to Do When You Fall Behind in Homeschool

5. Don’t print everything out ahead of time

Friends, I have a shelf full of printed materials that I’ve never used.

I can’t bring myself to throw out that much paper! So, there they sit, hoping that perhaps one day they will be used.

They probably won’t, if I’m completely honest.

I learned very quickly that while printing out reams of paper the week before school starts fills me with anticipation and makes me feel like a real teacher, most often it’s a huge waste of paper and ink.

You will print out all of that stuff…and here’s what happens:

  • You will use it for one week and discover your kids hate it
  • You will use only one half of the lesson ever – which constitutes 1 page of a 5-page lesson, rendering the remaining 4 pages useless.
  • You will find that the activities are great, but you want to teach your own material – rendering every page of the 5-page lesson useless.
  • You will use it, your kids hate it, but you plow ahead in an effort to not be wasteful and make the whole family miserable

Basically, no one wins here.

Either you waste paper or you’re all miserable.

Instead, print out one lesson, use it, if you like it then print out the next lesson.

Just keep doing that each week until you are 100% certain you will all love it until the end.

But, if you discover you hate it, or you’re only going to use parts of it, you aren’t upset you spent all that toner and paper!

6. Unit Studies are like spice: they enhance the meal, but they are not the meal.

I love the idea of unit studies. I used them a lot with my younger son when I was supplementing his Kindergarten with homeschooling.

He loved them, too, because he got to study all the stuff he loves most: trains, airplanes, motorcycles, and animals.

I wanted to continue the unit studies in first grade, and seeing all of the amazing unit studies and lapbooks out there made me feel like a kid in a candy store.

But I began to worry that he was learning in a scattered, random way and not a linear, cohesive way.

Math was cohesive, we used a curriculum for that. But language, science, and history were mainly dealt with in unit studies, and because the unit study would change from month to month (or every 2-3 months – depending on the subject material), I was afraid we were losing continuity.

I tried complimenting with unit studies, but this often dragged the school day out much longer than what they could tolerate.

That was when I decided that, for us, unit studies would be the spice to make homeschooling more fun; but they would not be the meal.

Here are some unit studies I’ve done with my kids over the past few years. They’ve been fun and exciting and just the right amount of spice.

We use them mainly for holidays, or to dig deeper into a subject of particular interest.

I reserve one week out of each month for a unit study; this gives them something to anticipate, but allows for a linear, cohesive education that I feel they need.

I will add, this is what works for us. This is not the case for everyone, and every family needs to discover what works best for them.

Some families homeschool almost exclusively by unit studies, and they find it works fabulously for them.

This is what makes homeschooling so wonderful; you have the freedom to do what works best for your family and children.

7. Less is more

I am in a lot of homeschool groups, and the question comes up very often: how many hours a day should a child spend doing school work?

Many parents report that their child, even in high school, gets a quality education spending 2-3 hours a day in learning.

I have heard the advice that child in lower elementary should spend at least 5 hours a day in school while high school children should be doing up to 8 hours a day.

Who is right?

I don’t think we can assign a set number of hours a day for school; and not every school day will be comprised of the same number of hours.

One day my kids may spend three hours doing school, while the next day they may become so engaged in a subject that they spend three hours in that one subject alone without even realizing so much time has passed.

The trick is finding out what works for your kids.

Remember that in a brick-and-mortar school, actual teaching time is about 15 minutes, while the remaining 30 minutes are spent in discussion, worksheets, and trying to keep everyone on the same page.

This is with a class of 15-20 kids. You can easily do in 20 minutes what a classroom requires 45 minutes.

Doing too much, however, can be counterproductive.

Pushing your child to do more will not help him or her learn better, but it will teach them to hate school.

One of my goals in homeschooling is to teach my children the wonder and excitement of learning, so that they become life-long self-learners.

Therefore, I do not push them beyond their limits for that day.

8. Be kind to yourself

In my post 6 Tips for Homeschooling With Chronic Illness, I talk about the importance of having a plan for those days when you are worn out.

It’s okay if there are days when you need to put on an educational movie and call it school.

It’s okay to even take a sick day.

Plan for those days in your homeschool calendar, because you can’t give your children a quality education when you’re too worn out.

9. Don’t explain what doesn’t need explaining

Early on in homeschooling, people would ask me how it was going, and I’d go on and on about everything my kids were learning, their grades…

I’d give out way more information than was requested.

In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I’d sometimes offer the information when it wasn’t even asked for.

I had this feeling like I had to explain our decision and defend it — even when explaining and defending were not expected.

After a while, I realized the futility in what I was doing.

I’d recognize it if someone genuinely wanted to know…or when they were asking just to ask.

I didn’t need to explain and defend our decision to those who support us.

And for those who don’t, no amount of explaining or defending would be sufficient to change their minds.

I talk about this in my post: Dear Mommy, Stop Trying to Defend Your Decision to Homeschool

10. Christ must be the center of everything

I know most of you are thinking this should be first, and not last.

I put this one last for a reason; I feel like by making it last, it ties everything together.

We have all of these other 9 pieces laying here in front of us, but if we don’t have #10, we are missing the most important element of all.

The glue that binds it all together in the homeschool we truly want.

I asked myself early on: “What is my ‘why’?” Why am I homeschooling my kids?

I had a long, long list of reasons, but I knew there had to be one reason that was the foundation for the rest.

That reason is this: I feel God has called my husband and me to not just educate our children, but disciple them.

And my “why” determines my vision, that determines my curriculum choices.

Christ must be the center of every subject everyday.

A really good resource for figuring out how that works is Homeschool Summits.

I have purchased two of their summits: Homeschool Teaching Summit and Homeschool Curriculum Summit; and this is the common thread that I found with each of the speakers.

Christ at the center of the homeschool; Christ in the center of every class and every subject.

It was very encouraging to me and gave me clear direction for how to make this happen.

I know this is a lengthy post, but I hope it’s been encouraging to you and helped you as you start on your own homeschool journey!

Here are more articles on homechool:

8 Homeschool Myths That Need to Be Debunked

Why I Use Notebooking In My Homeschool

3 Apps That Will Transform How Your Dyslexic Child Reads

4 Powerful Tools to Teach Your Dyslexic Child to Read

6 Things You Need to Know About Homeschooling a Kid With MERLD

6 Things I Learned About Homeschooling a Kid With MERLD

Why We Chose to Homeschool Our MERLD Son

5 Ways We Make Summer Learning Fun

My Favorite Homeschool Planner

10 Things I’ve Learned After One Month of Homeschooling

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