I’ve lost count of how many friends, family and acquaintances will be venturing into homeschooling this fall. Families have every reason under the sun for choosing homeschooling, but the pandemic has definitely added many new ones.
This post isn’t a manifesto on why homeschooling is the best thing you can do (it’s not), or how to make the perfect schedule (if you’ve figured that out, email me), or how to not mess up your kids (there’s probably no recipe for that:).
Whatever your reasons for homeschooling or why you’re here, I hope this post will lift your spirit, give you a few practical tips, and help you to find and maintain more peace with homeschooling.
First things first: What homeschooling is NOT
Homeschooling is not this awesome, good-for-you thing that only the most brave, organized, patient, and holy moms are “called” to. Please don’t put a cape on me!:) If I had a dollar for how many times I’ve talked to a non-homeschooling mom who has said she could never homeschool because she’s not patient or organized enough…well, I’d hire a lot more help around here.
Homeschooling is also not the best option for every family, right now or at any time. It’s a multifaceted, very personal lifestyle choice made for a reason, a season, or a lifetime by families of remarkably diverse backgrounds. And it’s something that you’re going to be seeking God’s will about if you’re a praying kind of girl.:) God’s got homeschooling for a season or a while in his wonderful Plan for some families but has a wonderful Plan involving other school options for others.
If God opens doors to homeschooling for you, or just seems to be making it your only real option right now, you can join my club. I actually started homeschooling five years ago simply because we couldn’t afford our parish’s Catholic school, but wanted a daily environment for our kids that integrated our Catholic faith. I never would have considered homeschooling seriously unless I had to. It’s not been all sunshine and roses, but the benefits to my family and the relationships with my particular kids have been huge.
Every (homeschooling) mom battles insecurity
Self-doubt and insecurity haunt homeschooling moms just like any other mom. Here is my Titus 2-cents wisdom from the trenches, though.
Don’t talk to the snake
Don’t talk to the snake. Don’t let him waste your time and drain your mental energy. Tell those d-words where to go and banish discouraging thoughts as soon as you are aware of them. Our job is to show up with our loaves and fishes each day, and trust that God makes it enough. Plan the work, then work the plan…as best you can with what each day brings and what you have to offer. Do what is right in front of you in each moment, and leave the thought of all the rest to Him.
Be gentle with yourself
Remember that we are usually much, much harder on ourselves than God is on us. It is an ancient, terrible Christian heresy to believe that when we have two options, God always asks the harder thing of us. If a friend came to you with your same set of circumstances and challenges, what would you counsel her? You wouldn’t say things like, “Man up and get it done!” or “You’re not cut out for this–you’re too flaky and weak and selfish and impatient and _______.”
No. You’d build her up and remind her of her strengths. You’d speak to her of her good, good Father in Heaven who doesn’t want her to beat herself up all the time, and who is pleased with her just as she is.
The devil’s favorite tool is comparison
Don’t compare your family, your life, your homeschool, your History curriculum, your post-partum body, your decorating skill, your kids’ sports achievements, your cupcakes, your virtue, your anything, to anyone else.
If you remember one thing from this post, let it be that.
Don’t compare yourself to the one homeschooling mom acquaintance you know who had cookies in the oven, a reasonably tidy house, adorable crafts on her walls, and her five children idyllically doing their two-grades-ahead math homework in the huge treehouse in the backyard—the one time ever you stepped into her house.
We’re so quick to judge ourselves wanting from limited observations of pieces and highlights of other people’s lives.
But you know that mom I described above? She fights insecurity as much as anybody else. Her journey to finding and maintaining peace has been the greatest fight of her life so far. Very few people in her life know how much she’s been through. But she’s come far. She is a great mom, and has been successful in homeschooling her children so far, and she does bake a killer batch of chocolate chip cookies when she’s stressed out.
Her kids aren’t really doing math two grades ahead of them though. Not even close. I would know.
Because she’s me.
That day you stopped by my house, my husband went into work late and so was able to help corral the kids to do some extra cleaning up. I stayed up too late and got up too late, so used paper plates for breakfast again to make cleanup faster. The crafts on the walls were ones my older kids made themselves from a kit my aunt dropped off recently. The younger kids’ crafts are all from their Mother’s Day Out classes from last school year. (Yep, since we’ve been able to afford it, my two youngest boys attend MDO during the homeschool year three days per week!). We do have a huge treehouse in our backyard that my husband built himself, but a couple of the big kids were doing their math work in it only because I banished them from the house. The bickering that morning had literally been so ridiculous that I blew my lid at one point around 10:30am, and had to throw on another episode of Wild Kratts for the littles and step into my bedroom for ten minutes to calm down. I hadn’t gotten dressed yet anyway for the day, so my self-imposed time out did double duty.
See how there’s a very different picture than the one insecurity could paint?
Stay in the Truth, sister. Pray for the grace to hold the horses on discouraging thoughts that make you feel worse about your life and question Everything You’re Doing. If God calls you to this homeschooling gig for a time, He will get you through it.
God doesn’t waste any time that we spend trying to do His will. He works it all together for our good. So make it your motto to never go into your head alone; always bring Jesus with you. Take it from someone who has been there, big time, and is finally (more often than not) on the other side of insecurity and fear. When we ask for bread, He will not give us a stone.
Happily Ever After moments
On the other side of that visit you made to my house, though, we probably had a lovely afternoon. While my toddlers took an extra-long nap (win!), those chocolate chip cookies I stress-baked tasted amazing with glasses of ice-cold milk while I read a little more of Summer of the Monkeys to my big kids. There are some awesome moments that homeschooling can give us with our kids.
I like to think of homeschooling as having Happily Ever After moments. It is sometimes so hard and feels impossible, but there are sprinklings of idyllic moments if I can remember to live in gratitude and look for them.
What my own homeschool looks like
If you’re a new homeschooling mom, you probably needed the above part of my post more than what’s below. But in case you’re wondering what I personally do in my homeschool, I’m happy to share.:)
I’m going into my sixth year of homeschooling. I’ve homeschooling multiple students from PreK through 4th grade so far. We do our schoolwork on our kitchen table because we don’t have a separate school room in our modest home. And yes, sometimes it feels like I am constantly decluttering and getting after the kids to clean up. But it all works, somehow. And when it doesn’t…God provides. Or we just take the day off….#homeschoolingperk:)
That’s where my experience lies, but I’m happy to share what I’ve done so far. So often we don’t need or even want an expert, though. We just want to hear from somebody who’s a step or two ahead of us in something–and seems to be doing okay.
I only plan to do schoolwork on Monday through Thursday. I personally like to start my school year by mid-August, and end in mid-May, which gives me lots of flexibility for holidays, trips, stomach bugs and just-because-its-too-pretty days off.
Fridays are my flex day, for doctors’ appointments, house cleaning, field trips, or travel. If we couldn’t do school one or two of the regular school days of the week, sometimes I’ll do the work on that Friday, or sometimes I’ll just call it a two-day or three-day week. That’s a big perk of homeschooling, at least with a style that doesn’t require a lot of deadlines, which is easier to find in the younger grades where I still am.
I use a teacher’s planner to write out assignments once a week–usually during my toddlers’ nap time on Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoons. I try not to have to use Sundays if possible for this.:) I have a spiral notebook for each child that I write their daily assignments down in each morning. I’ve had success writing assignments down on our dry erase board and letting the kids check things off as they go, but my toddlers would erase things 90% of the time, so I moved back to the notebook idea.
Ideally, getting sit-down-with-Mom schoolwork done by lunchtime is my goal, with older children able to use our family’s after-lunch couple of hours of rest and reading to finish work that can be done independently. In our house, Naptime has a capital N. I’ve had napping children in my home for 11 years straight now, so it’s a part of my routine that I depend on. I do chores and start dinner during Naptime. My older children read, listen to an audiobook, or find something else quiet to do. I almost always take a short nap and some prayer time as well.
Each summer, I plan a couple of all-day planning days where Michael gets the kids out of the house for most of the day. On the first day, I clean out my homeschooling cabinet completely and order books for the next school year. The second day I do once all the books are in; I go through each subject and figure out how each one will look, how to lesson plan with it, where to start the student in the material, etc.
From the start, I told Michael that one way he could support me in homeschooling was this specific scheduled time in the house alone to organize and plan. At least for me, I need these chunks of time to wrap my brain around things and be more at peace that I’ll have time to do what I need to do.
What I do with littles
This is tough one. Googling “what to do with littles while homeschooling” will get you tons of ideas. It wasn’t a big issue for me in past years when I only had one sweet little girl too young for school. She just kind of played by herself and at a lot of snacks. But the past few years blessed me with two wild little boys 15 months apart (they’re now almost-4 and 2 1/2). I’ll be honest, homeschooling when they were home (and weren’t napping twice a day anymore!) got to be tough. Sometimes, I felt like it was completely impossible. And sometimes it is. With littles, you have to plan to adjust constantly and be creative. Also, it is so important to be patient with yourself and with where your family is.
Now, there’s something we need to get out of the way: Don’t be afraid to use educational TV shows and iPad games.
I do! And they’re a Godsend when you don’t have older siblings or daycare to help with younger children. Don’t let the devil make you feel guilty. There are tons of amazing shows for kids. And realistically, you’re not going to need to park them in front of the TV for hours and hours. A well-timed show or two will do the trick beautifully and bring peace to your home.
I do have a special box of little kid manipulatives and fun toys for my littles that only comes out during school time, but my little boys are far less interested in sitting down for quiet play than my little girl was. That’s how it goes, too. What works for one child, or a season, doesn’t work for another one. I actually switched for a time to homeschooling during the little boys’ naptime in the afternoon. I’d do all my house chores and cooking in the morning, then homeschool in the afternoons. I didn’t love that schedule, but it worked for a time.
Then last year, we were blessed to finally be able to afford Mother’s Day Out nearby for my boys. It was a huge gift to our family and a win all around. We are hoping that MDO still goes forward as planned for this fall, and I’ve even put my almost-four-year-old in the part-time PreK program there. I always tell people that homeschooling mommas in particular have to ask for, accept, and pay for as much help as they can! There’s nothing wrong and everything humble in that. There’s a lot of humility to be learned in not wanting everybody to think you’re Superwoman just because you’ve made a choice that adds a lot to your plate.
Homeschooling with littles is one challenge that every mom has to feel out on her own. And again, don’t compare yourself to me with MDO or another mom with only older children or whoever it is whose life you wish you had when you’re dreading (or in the middle of!) a tough situation trying to do a science experiment while nursing a baby and wiping up the third milk splatter of the day on the wall. You’re in good company. And you’ll be fine and I promise that your kids will be fine. Take it from someone who’s been there.:)
I have gotten this comment so many times–the one where someone is concerned about how I’m socializing my children. I always tell people this: You can do anything badly. You can have weird homeschooled kids, for sure, but honestly there are struggling or offbeat kids in every other educational option out there, too. At least in my experience over the past 5 years, there’s not a pitfall or tendency of homeschooling to make kids socially awkward. My kids and my kids’ friends are pretty normal kids with the whole range of temperaments and personalities that come with being human.
My oldest is only 10, but so far I’m not at all worried about my kids (or my friends’ children). I haven’t put my kids in tons of activities so that we can “make up for” not having them in school–although we’ve done different activities over the years for sure. At different times we’ve been involved with taekwondo, dance, soccer, guitar, violin, piano, and different Catholic boys and girls clubs.
We have many friends, and socialization just hasn’t been a concern for us. Michael and I would like to think we’re doing our best to assess where each child is, each year, as well as what the family as a whole needs and what our marriage needs. Also…what I need. Here are 10 things I ask myself when discerning my family’s schedule.
Resources i’ve loved
The Read-aloud Revival
Sarah Mackenzie and her Read Aloud Revival have been my go-to for homeschooling encouragement and good children’s book recommendations for years. I don’t actually have a membership (I tried it but found I didn’t use it); however, the free book lists and podcasts are gold. Sarah’s book Teaching from Rest is one I honest-to-goodness re-read every summer now.
St. Thomas Aquinas Academy
I used a classical Catholic homeschool program called St. Thomas Aquinas Academy for several years, and it was a fantastic option for my particular personality and needs for those years. I especially loved the peace of mind having someone else help me make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, and was building each year toward a goal.
You pay annual “tuition” with STAA, and get yearly testing and subject placement for each student, a personal counselor to make recommendations for curricula, a planning call to plan out how much and how often and how to teach each subject for each child (or when to group students together!). Then you have a generous number of pre-paid hours of phone calls with your counselor to use whenever you want. My counselor, Debbie, was exactly what I needed to feel supported, encouraged, and equipped.
Debbie also helped me figure out how to homeschool my oldest child, a wiggly, sensitive little boy who had been in traditional school for a couple of years before we began homeschooling him. Gabe struggled with not being able to sit still at school for things like centers and story time, and with being too rough on the playground or in lines. He also struggled to focus and keep up academically. I’ll never forget when as a Kindergartener he told me in the carpool one day that, “he’d just never be one of the smart, good kids.” I spent many an hour with Debbie figuring out ideas for helping Gabe become a confident student and happy learner again. She was a treasure for me! We started homeschooling mainly for financial reasons, but in retrospect with how happy and confident Gabe has become, I know it was a God thing that we started homeschooling.
I’ll be doing my own thing (cobbling together different curricula on my own!) for the first time this year, though. I feel I’m at a place now where I’m confident enough to try some new things and see how the kids like them.
Curricula I’ve used over the years
This is not an exhaustive list. There is a lot on here because often, Debbie would recommend slightly different things for different students based on how they learned or what they needed that school year. I loved that about STAA. She helped me to figure out who needed a little extra sit-down-with-mom help that year, and who could happily tackle a workbook on his or her own.
Various Mother of Divine Grace curricula
New curricula I’ll be using this coming school year
The Good and the Beautiful (for handwriting, science, and art)
Whew! That’s a wrap! I hope this post has been helpful to your heart and to your planning as a new homeschooler. God bless you and give you His remarkable peace wherever you are right now!