If you’re a new homeschooler, or even a veteran one, it can help to have homeschooling families offer you tips they’ve learned over the years.
I don’t know if I am exactly a “veteran” homeschooler, but since we are in our fourth year of being a homeschooling family, I guess I do have more experience than some. That’s why I consider myself semi-qualified to share the following twelve tips on how to homeschool your children without losing your mind.
I also offered a few tips in a post I shared yesterday, which reminded parents that you don’t have to have a teaching degree to homeschool your child.
- Don’t treat homeschool like regular school/Be willing to be flexible
I feel this is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give a new homeschooler. It is advice I needed to hear early on in our journey because I was treating our homeschool as if it was a public school in a home setting.
The whole point of homeschooling your child is to offer them a flexible style of learning which works for their personality and learning style. You shouldn’t expect that your child will be “in school” for six to eight hours a day like they are in public school. I always remind new homeschooling parents that their child isn’t actually at a desk learning for all six hours they are in a brick-and-mortar school. Most children probably only receive about 3.5 hours of actual instructional time. The rest of the school day is spent sitting in homeroom, eating lunch, recess if the child is younger, study halls if they are older, extracurricular activities, and then riding the bus to and from school.
In other words, your child does not need to sit at a desk and do six straight hours of work. Not only is that unrealistic but it would also kill their love of learning at rapid speed, making school feel more like a prison. Most homeschool children complete their work in less than four hours, but there is no magic number of hours suggested to ensure your child is receiving a quality education. In education, like in many aspects of life, quantity does not always equal quality. You shouldn’t, in my opinion, force your child to study science for two hours, believing that amount of time will ensure they are receiving a quality education in science. In fact, making your child sit that long to learn a subject could have the opposite effect, as they will be so burnt out and overwhelmed from trying to comprehend so much at one time they will most likely forget what they read or studied at the end of their session.
Many younger children can finish their subjects in even less time, such as 1 to 2 hours, depending on what assignments they have that day. Teaching a younger child can sometimes take longer because they won’t be able to work independently. Not only will you have to teach the lesson, but you’ll also have to do the work with the child. How long this takes all depends on the child and should never be rushed or stretched out. I “play it by ear” with my children. Some subjects take longer than others on different days.
I am starting to learn that I need to be flexible when it comes to how my children learn. If I don’t like the idea of my child sitting at a desk for six hours, then there is no reason I should do that when they are homeschooled.
Earlier this week I became frustrated because my youngest would not sit and listen to the history lesson I was reading to her. She was flipping the handle on the recliner repeatedly, standing up, and even started to put on her new roller skates. After a crying session from both of us, I finally convinced her to take off her skates for her reading lesson, but then allowed her to skate around our dining room while I read science to her and she watched three videos about whales.
Let’s be clear: I am very bad at following my own advice. I am not as flexible as I would like to be with our homeschool. I need to learn to “let it be” and “go with the flow” more when it comes to how I teach my children. If what they are doing is too distracting and won’t allow them to learn, then I shouldn’t allow it. But if my daughter can listen to our literature while creating with her clay, painting, or roller skating laps around the dining room table then why not? Learning doesn’t only happen at a desk, as I have mentioned before (link)
2. Don’t expect to fit in every subject every day.
Along the same lines of not treating your homeschool like a public school, I remind myself and other parents that you do not need to complete every subject every day. There will be some days your child will be able to complete a lesson in every subject, but many days one subject will take longer, pushing other subjects to the following day.
“Are you suggesting my homeschooling student might run out of time?” A new homeschooling parent might ask. “This isn’t regular school with set times. Why would there be a specific time limit for them to do their work in?”
A homeschooling student can indeed complete their work whenever they want to, as long as it is done that day, but for me, I was attracted to homeschooling because it allows them a life outside of schoolwork. When I was in high school, I did work in class, and then I took work home with me to do there as well. I have a feeling that students bring even more work home now than they used to and that doesn’t leave much time for kids to be kids.
What I like about homeschooling is my children have time for education but then they also have time where they don’t have to worry about the tests or the worksheets or the assigned reading. If they want to push a subject off to the next day because they spent a long time on another subject on one specific day, I’m totally fine with that, as long as the assigned work for that subject is completed by the end of the week.
If you start homeschooling and you want to fit every subject in every day, then that is totally fine too. I have just found that cramming every subject into one school day overwhelms me and my children. It leaves them dreading their day because they know it will be filled to the brim with work and leave them little time to expand or explore a topic they discover they are interested in.
Remember, homeschooling is you and your child’s opportunity to take as little or as long as he or she needs on a subject. Math may take longer one day while English is short and on another day, it might be switched. One day your child may be fascinated with the science lesson so they will want to spend longer on it and explore it more. Another day, math may be what fascinates them (writing that caused me to physically shudder. Who would want to spend more time on math?! Ha!) If you have the day so regimented that you aren’t allowing for time to further explore a subject, you may suffocate not only their opportunity to further explore not only that one topic but their overall love of learning.
3, Don’t be afraid to supplement your curriculum
I rarely only use the curriculum I have chosen for the school year for each lesson. I often supplement the lessons in the text with either a video, a field trip, or a book to bring the lesson home even more.
For my son, I add videos to the lessons to bring the message home more and give us more of a well-rounded lesson. Last year we also add fiction books and this year his social studies curriculum comes with a set of literature books both fiction and non-fiction, on a variety of topics.
For my youngest, I also plan to start supplementing with crafts related to the subjects we are studying. Supplementing your student’s curriculum can assist them in delving into the topic even more.
For example, for the past couple of weeks, my daughter and I have been studying early American history. There was a cartoon in the early 90s called Liberty Kids that focused on this time in history, and I found it on YouTube last year. It may be streaming somewhere as well, and I know it is out on DVD. I have been able to match up many of the episodes with the topics we are discussing in history, which works out well. Watching the cartoon gives Little Miss a visual of what was happening at that time, in addition to what I am reading to her in the textbook. Of course, there are extra, fictional characters in the stories on Liberty Kids, so I do explain that those characters aren’t historical, but the characters they interact with are.
4. Don’t be afraid of taking mental health days
This one is very hard for me to follow. I often feel that if I don’t do schoolwork on a school day, I am somehow failing my children. This is an example of where outside influences have tried to shape how I run my homeschool and my household.
My parents are well-meaning, caring, and lovely people but their view of education is still stuck on the traditional, public school mindset. When my mom calls me during the day she says ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I hope I’m not interrupting your school day,’ and if I mention we haven’t started yet or the kids are doing something else at the moment, I feel the judgment, even though she probably isn’t even throwing any out my way. In my mind, though, she is thinking, “They need an education. Is she shirking her duties as a mother and not making them do their lessons?!” I feel this way because when we started homeschooling our son my parents were very leery.
“What do you mean he’s done with his lessons already? That doesn’t seem long enough to learn anything.”
“He’s done with work already? But it’s only 1. Shouldn’t he be working until 3?”
“But he can’t be in sports if he’s in homeschool. I was in wrestling when I was in school and it was good for my confidence and self-esteem.”
“Is he getting enough socialization?”
You will get all of these questions and more and sometimes they will keep coming, but sometimes, like in my case with my parents, they will eventually stop. Your family and friends will begin to accept that you are homeschooling your children and you are doing it the way that works for you.
Whether that acceptance comes or not, though, you need to tell the little voice in your head that says you can’t take a day off to recharge or relax, to shut it. There will be days where everything falls apart. There will be days your kids get sick, or you get sick, or a neighbor stops by to visit and throws it all off the rails. Don’t be afraid to put the books away for a day and take a breather. In our state, you need a certain number of hours or days (depending on how you want to track it) of instructional time to meet the requirement for the homeschool law, but you keep track of those days and hours. That means you can make those days and hours up at any time when your schedule allows. Your children can even finish some work on a Saturday if you so desire.
You are in charge of your homeschool, which means you can take a mental health day if you need it and not feel a bit guilty, Lisa. Er…I mean — you, whoever you are, shouldn’t feel guilty.
5. Double up on work on some days so you can have plenty of time for play
Bouncing off the above reminder that you can set the days and times for your children’s instruction, it is very easy in homeschooling to double up on work one or two days out of the week so you can take a day off for play guilt-free. You can do two math lessons one day or two reading lessons, or whatever you need to do to make sure you can take a day off and not feel “behind.”
There is no “behind” in homeschooling since you are working at your child’s individual pace, but I still feel like I have to be at a certain point in their instruction at certain points of the year. This is leftover from traditional school and their strict lesson plans, which they need to have for how a traditional school operates. It is not a bad thing to have strict lesson plans or goals you want to reach by a certain point in your school year, so if you do have a strict plan of where you want to be with your instructional material at certain points in the year, please do not think I am criticizing. Not at all.
I’m just encouraging you to also find days for play. The importance of play for the development of children and adults has been well-documented over the years. I won’t link any of those articles here, but there are plenty of them out there on the interwebs.
6. Take field trips
Perhaps you still don’t like the idea of taking a day off of learning. In that case, take a field trip. Field trips combine fun and play with learning. Many people live in larger cities where there are tons of opportunities for field trips. Ideas for field trips include museums, parks, or even stores and factories where your children can see how something is made, libraries, historical landmarks, etc.
When you live in a rural area as my family does, your field trips will require a bit of a drive, but even that can be fun because you can shout “road trip!” and the children perk up at the idea of getting out of the house instead of sitting and reading their textbooks.
We have even combined family outings with field trips. If our weekend family outing is going to take us somewhere that is also educational then I count that as a field trip and even a school day. I ask my son to write a couple of paragraphs about what he learned on our visit and make it part of his English/Writing curriculum.
Field trips are not only great opportunities to learn, but they are also great opportunities to bond as a family.
7. Don’t forget you’re a family first and a homeschool family second
Bouncing off the idea of bonding as a family, I think it is important for us homeschooling parents to remember that our children are more important than reaching a certain point in your curriculum by a certain time of the school year.
Helping our children grow as well-rounded human beings, Christians, and kind members of society will always be more important than drilling math facts into their brains. I know this thought may bother some who see education as the number one priority of their homeschool and I don’t mean to dismiss the need for consistent and high-quality instruction, but at the end of the day, the relationship we have with our children will determine the outcome of them as human beings, not whatever math lesson they learned that day
8. Connect with other homeschool families
Homeschooling can be very lonely. Because you are schooling at home, your children will not have the same socialization at traditional school, but that’s not always a bad thing. In homeschooling children can socialize with a variety of ages, not only their peers, as long as you introduce your children into situations where they can do that socializing. Taking your children with you on errands can help them interact with adults, which will help them with their communication skills, but you will also want to find a way for them to interact with children around their own age.
To do this, you will want to find a group of homeschooling families around you and hopefully, that group will be an organized group like a co-op.
This one has been a huge challenge for me since we live in a rural area, but if you live in a more urban area, this might be easier for you. In my area, many homeschooling families travel 45 minutes one way or another to connect with other homeschooling families. I have reached out to these groups in the past but have always felt like an outsider.
I have not felt welcome in any of the groups, which seem to be formed among friends and family. Many are not friendly to those who don’t fit that category.
I’m hoping to try to find a group again this year, but until then I am working on finding other ways for my children to socialize, whether through a church program, a community organization, or classes being offered locally. The benefit of finding a homeschool co-op or support group locally is being able to connect with other parents who can relate to your journey and experience. So, even though I haven’t been able to zero in on a local co-op or support group, I still believe this is an important part of the homeschooling journey.
9. Ask your children what subjects they want to study
Don’t be afraid to ask your child what they want to study. I realize that sounds dangerous. What if your child says, “I want to study creative writing all year and nothing else!” Or “I want to study only Minecraft! That’s learning, right?!”
When I suggest asking your child what they want to study, I mean asking them what aspect of science are they interested in right now, or what time in history interests them. This doesn’t mean you will study that specific aspect of science or history the entire school year, but you can carve out a unit that will allow you to focus exclusively on the topic your student is interested in. Being interested in a topic makes a student much more willing to learn about it.
You won’t always be able to do this, obviously. Your son or daughter might hate math, but they still have to learn it. They may dread grammar, but it still needs to be tackled. They will have to push through subjects that bore them practically into a coma each time they open the textbook, but that will make the opportunities they have to delve deeper into a topic of interest for them even more special.
Teaching your children that we often have to push through what we don’t want to do to get to what we do want to do is an important life lesson.
10 Don’t be afraid to change direction or even curriculum if it is not working.
I know some parents purchase curriculum, dive in, and discover partway through the school year that the curriculum isn’t working for them but are then afraid to change curriculum. This is a fear that new homeschooling parents should learn to dismiss as soon as possible. The point of homeschooling is educating your child in a way that benefits them the most so if they are using a curriculum that is impeding their learning then it needs to go.
Much like you should never waste your life doing things that make you unhappy, you should never waste the precious time you have to homeschool your child with curriculum that isn’t serving their educational needs.
Use one set curriculum, combine a couple, or change to a new one, but never keep pushing through curriculum that is making you or your child dread learning.
Bonus Tip: Listen to your children not everyone else about how homeschool is working for you.
This bonus tip might be one of the most important of all. Is your child flourishing, showing progress in their education, and seem well-adjusted and happy overall? Then what does it matter if grandma or grandpa or your best friend or a neighbor says homeschooling isn’t good for your child? It doesn’t matter what others say about your homeschooling journey. All that matters is what your child is saying, or more importantly, how they are acting.
Is every day going to be rainbows and flowers? Um…no. It’s school. Children are going to complain, whine, flounce, flop, and even have tantrums at times when you tell them it is time for their lessons, but if you have more good days than bad and your child shows that they are learning despite “hating school” then you are on the right track.
Will you need to rethink homeschool and consider sending your child back to a brick-and-mortar school or sign them up for an online school? You may and if you feel that will benefit your child’s emotional wellbeing then do it. Just as you should push aside the opinions of others about how you homeschool your child, you should also politely push aside the opinions of other homeschoolers who try to talk you out of sending your child back to a “regular” school. How you educate your child is your decision and you need to do what is best for your child. It isn’t that you shouldn’t ever listen to opinions, especially from the well-meaning in your life, but you also don’t have to accept every opinion as fact when it relates to the personal decisions you make for your child’s education.
The bottom line of all these tips?
Do what works best for you and your family when it comes to your homeschool journey. Pick a direction and take it, only letting outside influence affect you if you feel that outside opinion is going to enhance your experience, not harm it.
Have more questions about homeschooling?
Feel free to use the search bar to the right and type in “homeschool” or “homeschooling” to find past blog posts I’ve written about the subject. Also find more information at the following websites: