What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Homeschooling

I started homeschooling three of my five kids in February of 2019 and have learned a whole lot in the last seven months. Here’s what I wish I had known on Day 1.

The first 6-8 weeks are rough, especially if your child has developed negative attitudes towards schooling.

Unless you have a saint for a child, you’re likely going to come up against some opposition during the first month or two of homeschooling. Additionally, you’re probably going to feel adrift and anxious at times. You’ll worry that you aren’t doing enough, or that you have no idea what you’re doing.

Parents who worry they aren’t doing enough very likely have no reason to be concerned. Research the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably get so disheartened at times, you’ll lock yourself in the bathroom and cry once (or five times)—particularly if you’re working to correct bad habits and fill knowledge gaps. (Let me do you the favor of recommending that you immediately read Ainsley Arment’s book, The Call of the Wild + Free. I’ve reviewed it here, if you’re interested.)

Your child’s progress will be shocking.

After we made it through our first two months and settled into a routine, I was astounded by the speed at which my kids made academic progress. They learned so quickly! When we started homeschooling, Thomas (4-years-old), wanted to participate, so I let him sit with us as we did our lessons. At that time, he could not hold a pencil properly, let alone write. He knew his alphabet but hadn’t yet been taught the letter sounds.

By the end of Week 10, my son could not only write all letters and numbers properly, he could also do single-digit addition problems independently. Now, he knows almost all of the basic phonograms and is beginning to sound out (and sometimes outright recognize) words.

No matter how well you plan and prepare, you will make changes.

Don’t beat yourself up over expensive mistakes. Every homeschooling parent I’ve met has thrown money into programs, products, workbooks, and curriculum that turned out not to be a good fit for their family. It doesn’t seem to matter how much research you do, how many reviews you watch/read, or how careful you are in your selections. What looks great to you may not resonate with your child, and that’s okay.

You know what else is okay? Dropping things that aren’t working and trying something new.

Before we settled on our current system, we tried Torchlight, Oak Meadow, Power Homeschool, and Time4Learning. We also used Spelling You See for 15 weeks. It took that trial and error period to discover what actually worked, and I don’t regret a bit of it.

During your trial and error period, try to keep your materials in like-new condition. Should they not suit your family, you can sell them.

You don’t need a boxed curriculum and shouldn’t attempt to duplicate public school at home.

It’s true. You can design your own curriculum or forego curriculum entirely. Because structure suits our family when it comes to academic subjects (and because I have way too many kids and too few hours in the day to create my own program), we use:

In the beginning months of our homeschool, I made the rookie mistake of attempting to duplicate public school. I had a schedule, lesson plans, and a dress code. It was a stressful, counter-productive mess. I felt as if I had to be teaching them for some arbitrary amount of time every day, so we were working from 9 am until 4 pm, Monday through Friday.

Now we have a routine, not a schedule. We spend anywhere from 4-5 hours per day on academics, Monday through Thursday. (The length of our school day largely depends on how many questions Lillian decides to ask. She’s extremely inquisitive, so around an hour or so is spent following whatever rabbit holes she wants to chase.) After lunch, the children are free to spend the rest of the day learning about whatever they want. They can do an engineering project from one of their Tinker Crates, code one of their BitsBox apps, choose a painting or sculpting technique to try from one of our art lab books, or just go outside and create their own adventure.

You don’t have to teach everything at once.

I have to remind myself of this damn near every day. Try to limit yourself to four or five subjects at one time. When I started homeschooling, I had the kids doing spelling, reading, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting, writing, math, science, history, health, typing, digital citizenship, and emotional intelligence journaling. It was way too much. Combine lessons where you can and plan to do those extra subjects sometime in the future—not simultaneously. You’ve got time.

You will discover benefits to homeschooling you hadn’t considered previously.

When we began home educating our kids, we had several valid reasons. Now, I have a lot more:

  • My kids have become more responsible. Each of them has always had age-appropriate chores, but I’ve noticed that I’m having to remind and correct them less. They’re taking initiative and doing a much better job than they were previously.
  • The solicitation has finally ceased. We’re no longer receiving automated phone calls, flyers, and notes from the school. I’m not sure if the PTA at our local public school happened to be run by a group of extremely motivated parents, but the fundraisers, meetings, and school events were obnoxiously frequent. We were constantly (and by “constantly” I mean “daily”) solicited for donations and to volunteer our time. While I understand the necessity of it, I’m glad to not have to deal with it anymore.
  • Our days no longer begin with an hour of chaos. Although the older girls would be out of the house by 9 am, the hour preceding their departure were a loud and hectic race against the clock as they rushed around trying to gather their shoes, homework, backpacks, and lunch.
  • No more homework. The volume of homework the kids were expected to do each night completely unreasonable. As someone who has personally experienced the damage caused by the toxic, “constant hustle” narrative imposed on Millennials, I worked hard to establish a work life balance and establish boundaries to keep work from consuming every waking hour of my day.

I do not want my kids to think it’s normal to come home after work and do an hour or more of additional work.

When work ends, it should end. We deserve leisure time. Work is something we do for compensation. If we aren’t being compensated to answer emails, take phone calls, and complete projects after hours, we should not be doing those things. (I spent ten years of my career advocating for workers, so I can’t get started on this topic or I’ll never stop. Suffice to say that I very strongly oppose anything that gives our kids the impression that constant work is not only acceptable, but a virtue.)

Homeschooling might end up consuming your life, in a good way.

Educating my kids became a full-time job, but it also became a passion. (If it hadn’t, this blog wouldn’t exist.) I am constantly looking for activities, books, games, and crafts to supplement their learning. By Thursday afternoon, I’m usually relieved that our school week is over, but by Sunday evening, I’m eager for Monday morning. I’m enthusiastic about all things homeschool-related. I spend my free time devouring books, blogs, and vlogs. When I’m not consuming them, I’m creating them.

Don’t be shocked if you experience the same.

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