18 Lessons Learned from 18 Years of Homeschooling
As I sit here in the early morning, watching the sun rise through my window, I think back through the almost two decades I have spent homeschooling my children.
Eighteen years to be exact.
So many years, yet they just zip by so quickly. In a blink, they are gone, turned into memories. I would like to organize some of these memories, turned lessons, for you. Time is a wonderful teacher and I know I’ve learned more than my children through this lifestyle we have chosen.
So I came up with a list of 18 things I’ve learned through 18 years of homeschooling.
My Type A, task-oriented self yells loudly through this list of memories. There are lessons here, times of happiness, stress, yet always learning lessons. I know this list would be different if I was different, so please remember that as you peruse and glean. God has each of us on our own journey, our own path and as long as He is the leader, we can follow in trust.
If you tend to drift more towards the Type A type, I hope there is a nugget here. If you aren’t knitted that way, my prayer is that there is still something worthy for you in the lessons I’ve been taught.
I hope so.
- Enjoy your children. If they want to take time to show you something off task, do it. Just enjoy these days because they speed by way too fast. Don’t forget the reason you are homeschooling: to spend more time with your children. Now that may not be THE reason, but it should be one reason. Enjoy their little voices, their little hands grabbing. Enjoy their million questions, because soon you won’t know everything. Enjoy their smells after baths and the way they stick out their tongue when they try to draw their letters. Enjoy the stories they make up about their stuffed animals and the tears they cry when they don’t understand a math concept. Just enjoy these fast moving days. One day you will sit alone at your table with only the memories of this time to surround you. Never forget this. Enjoy them!
- Take time to laugh. Every day. Show your children a mom who is happy, even if you are grumpy or down. Just one laugh or smile can mean so much to them. They won’t remember the curriculum, but they will remember how their mom made them feel.
- It’s OK to skip days. It really is. Just put the books down and go outside to play. Go to an indoor play area if the weather is bad. Just play and run and don’t feel guilty.
- Include your husband. This may look different, depending on personalities and how your marriage functions in general. Some husbands want to have more say over their children’s educations than others. Either way, try to include him as much as possible. He is your support system, the backbone to your homeschool. In most families, he is the one working hard every day so you can have this lifestyle. Love him, include him and honor him.
- Read lots of books and cuddle. You won’t regret it.
- You don’t need fancy curriculum. You just need to be consistent. There are many free curricula out there or just buy some workbooks at Walmart and gather some read alouds from the library. They are still learning more about life, relationships and history than they would be otherwise. Some free curriculum: Ambleside, Easy Peasy
- Know yourself regarding the curriculum. This one is very important. It doesn’t matter if you spend weeks figuring out your child’s learning style, their bents, their abilities. You may have a fancy plan and all the hands-on activities, but if you don’t teach it, they won’t learn it. A wonderful plan sitting on your shelf is not going to just jump into their brains. You have to still teach it to them. If your learning style, your bent, your personality does not mesh with the curriculum you’ve chosen, then your children aren’t learning. Ignore what everyone else is doing and do what’s best for you and your children.
- Don’t curriculum hop. Once you find something you like, stay with it. Your children will become frustrated always having to “start over.” You will always be learning how to work with a new curriculum and valuable time will be wasted. However, if you have something that is just not working, switch. There’s a difference between “the grass is always greener” and something that is not working for you and your children.
- Don’t get caught up in planning/perfectionism. Actually do something. Here’s where a lot of homeschooling moms get tripped up. It seems a lot of us are the planning, preparing type. It’s fun to look through Pinterest, shop in the teacher aisles at Hobby Lobby, dream about storage, the school room, the curriculum. We love to buy color coordinated folders and notebooks for our children, complete with stickers and glitter! One of the things that attracts us the most to homeschooling, is the planning. I get it. I have spent my share of hours just planning for the fun of it. But even the best laid plans don’t work if we don’t work the plan. Your children are not going to learn through osmosis. The stickers and colors aren’t going to teach them, even the books aren’t going to teach them if you aren’t there. I’m not saying to not plan: go ahead with all the fun stuff, use all the storage and organizers you can find. Color code all of your schedules and create elaborate filing systems. Have fun and go crazy! But don’t exhaust yourself with the planning so that you can’t actually work the plan.
- KISS aka. Keep It Simple Sweetie. Write this on your calendar, put it on sticky notes all around your house. Don’t forget that your kids don’t need all the fancy systems, curriculum and planning. They need you. That’s it. You are the central piece that is going to make your homeschool successful. By keeping things simple, you leave room for change, for growth. What if your child doesn’t like the workbox system and you just spent 3 months planning, buying and organizing it all? Maybe start with a modified workbox system and do a trial run. You can start small, maybe with only 3 or 4 boxes and then add on as your child seems to like it. If you and your child like the simple system, then go ahead and elaborate on it as you go, growing the system with your child. It’s OK. You don’t have to have a Pinterest-worthy system from day one. In fact, you will be happier and your child will be less stressed if you just keep it all very simple, especially in the beginning.
- Don’t teach them to read when they’re 4. Wait a bit. They don’t need to know. In fact, you can actually damage their eyes by starting too soon. Being an early reader will not impact their ability to read later in life. We have become too quick to try to make our kids smarter, faster. They have to learn 5 languages before they start kindergarten and they have to be the best at everything all the time. No. Let them play! Let them figure out how to build a tower of blocks and knock them down. Read to them, but don’t force reading upon them. They will get it. I promise.
- Test. Test your children, even informally throughout their childhood. Have them take tests, quizzes, and don’t help them. Let them struggle through it, yet teach them test-taking strategies. This will help them immensely on the ACT/SAT in high school. College acceptance is based almost solely on these tests and if your child can’t take a test, they don’t get in.
- Consider year-round homeschooling. This may sound impossible, but it really has been a huge blessing for me. My advice would be to start early with this and not wait until your children are older. It is tough to sell this idea to your children, as our culture and society are so ingrained with having summers off. If you start early, they will never know the difference.
- Develop systems for your house. Homeschooling is much more difficult if you’re stressed about getting the laundry done, the dishes done or supper made. You’re either distracted during school time, thinking about your huge to do list and all of the things not getting done because you’re sitting on the couch reading Make Way for Ducklings again. Or you’re rushing around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to throw a load in, throw supper together and not throw a child out the door! All kidding aside, it can really be stressful to always carry that mental load of keeping the house running while you’re homeschooling. Please don’t do that to yourself! Don’t be sitting in the dentist’s office worried about how much time you’re wasting and how long can the chicken sit on the counter before it goes bad? And then running through the drive through because the chicken went bad. Stop! Develop systems to help you. I have systems for most areas of our life: chores, meal planning, homeschooling, farm/animals, appointments, work, budget. Don’t freak out! These have been developed from 20 years of staying home with children and 18 of those spent homeschooling. Following the KISS idea, figure out the ONE area that causes you the most stress. Is it laundry? Is it meals? School? Find one and develop a system surrounding that area only. You will find that taking that one load out of your mental space will help you relax and be the mom you know you can be.
- Establish routines and rhythms. We all function better when we have routines and our children are no exception. It can be difficult to have routines when you’re homeschooling, because one day you might stay in your pj’s all day, one day you might have a doctor appointment, one day you might have to bake a pie for a friend–every day is different, so routines can be hard to establish. However, there are 3 areas you can develop routines around, because you will always be doing these 3 things: waking up time, lunch time and bedtime. Have something that you do every morning when you wake up your children, even just snuggling on the couch. When my youngest was a toddler, we used to always start our mornings with about 30 min of snuggling in the recliner chair, rocking, quiet. Maybe it’s the way you do getting dressed and breakfast, maybe you want to start reading the Bible or other read aloud while they eat. Even something as simple as the order in which you do things: breakfast first, get dressed second, read third. That’s it. Then it would be the same for lunch and bedtime. Decide on an order, what you want to get done, how you want things to look or operate and establish that routine. You children will be happier with some predictability and it will lead to you not having to tell them what to do next every day, because they will already know. Less work for you!
- Figure out storage and purge frequently. This is one thing that is difficult for me, but I have learned it’s importance over the years. I love storage, looking at storage, buying storage, watching videos on storage, reading blog about storage. It’s makes me happy. However, purging is more difficult. Why can’t I just buy more storage? But for me, it’s more about the nostalgic aspect or the time I put into creating something for my kids. I don’t want to get rid of those things. It is difficult, I’ll admit. But trust me when I say, your grandkids and adult children are not going to want your curriculum when they start homeschooling. They just aren’t. They want to figure it out for themselves, just like you do right now. So get rid of it. I like to sell mine online and then use that money to buy next year’s curriculum. The only thing I don’t get rid of are fiction books. My children love to read and my grandchildren will enjoy having books around when they come to visit, so those are staying. But I am careful to not buy so many that I can’t store them. Otherwise, it goes. All curriculum, all workbooks, manipulatives, organizing systems we don’t use anymore. They all go as soon as we’re done. It is hard to let some of them go, but without all the clutter, my mind is happier and it’s easier to organize the things I do use.
- It’s OK if the plan falls through. It really is. I am not a flexible person by nature. I’m just not. However, homeschooling has taught me to be. It is a necessity. My inflexibility has led me to yell at my kids, be harsh and cause damage to my relationships with my children. As ashamed as I am to admit this, I have also learned about myself through this. Being OK with my plans falling through has not always been easy, but my own mental health, my relationships and my children’s well being is much more important. No plan is more important than losing it with my child. Nothing. Please remember the cost to being inflexible and tell yourself that it’s fine if absolutely no school gets done today because you have a sick kid. Even if you watch Netflix all day and cuddle, you have gained more than any amount of school can teach. For both of you.
- Work yourself out of a job. I first heard this advice from an older mom when I was a younger mom back in Iowa. Her point was, to train your children so well with routines, chores, and such that you don’t have to do anything because they are doing it all. Now, of course, you will never be able to be completely hands off, but you can teach your children to come alongside you and help out. This is the beauty of homeschooling: teaching children how to serve others through housework, how to show love, and of course the skills they learn along the way. It does take some skill and knowledge to be able to run a house, run a vacuum cleaner, make supper, and teaching this to your children will only reap benefits for them in the future. No matter what they do in their life, they will have to keep a house clean and cook meals. Teaching them these skills is not a waste of time. Selfishness abounds in all of us, especially our children. Teaching them how to serve in this way helps them to get outside of themselves, shows them what it takes, and gives them a sense of purpose and pride in their work. They can look at a sink full of dishes they washed all by themselves and feel good that they accomplished the task and contributed to the family. There will also be times where you will be out of the picture. Maybe you just had a baby, have the flu, are gone visiting your parents, just had surgery. There are many instances where you won’t be around to do the work and keep things going. This is when your family will fall back on the routines, the structure and the skills they have learned to be able to keep things going while you’re away. And it will be one more mental load off of you while you’re sick or gone. You can be confident they will handle it and will not have to worry. How liberating!
I sincerely hope these 18 lessons that I have learned have helped you in some way, to not make the same mistakes I have made. Homeschooling can be beautiful, but stressful, and if I can take some of that stress off of you, then I have succeeded.
Which lesson stuck with you? Which one will you try to implement soon? Let us know in the comments and if you have any lessons learned, please share them with us!
Thank you for stopping by!