The Various Stages of Homeschooling (for Newbies)

There were several distinct stages that I went through as we worked through our homeschooling journey, and you may recognize them in your own journey. This is the viewpoint that I had, as the Homeschooling Mom, the parent who was responsible for most of the teaching in our household. My husband and our kids probably saw things a little differently or had their own opinions about it, but this is how it felt to me. I have not applied definite time periods to these stages because some families may progress through one stage quite quickly, while taking much longer to move through another stage. Speed has nothing to do with the appropriateness for your family, as long as you are working at a pace that is suitable for your students’ abilities and for your family’s lifestyle. Some stages may fly by so quickly that you don’t even notice them passing, while others may stick around (rather like gum on your shoe) for a long, long, long time. Bear in mind that each family’s experience will be different, and what you zip through un-noticed may be what others get stuck in seemingly forever… and vice versa. Neither status indicates success or failure—that’s just how life goes.

1. Terrifying: You are considering homeschooling and trying to decide whether homeschooling will work for your family’s unique situation. You recognize that drastic changes must take place, but you don’t know yet exactly what those changes are, when they will take place, or how they will affect your lives. You are pretty sure that these changes will upset your domestic tranquility apple-cart and alter life-as-you-currently-know-it forever (or at least for the imaginable future), but you are also faced with the reality that these changes are inevitable.

2. Scary: By your first real day of homeschool lessons, the hardest decisions are usually behind you, and this process moves to being only scary instead of truly terrifying. This stage is somewhat like wading waist-deep into cold water—you’re there, you’re mostly wet, and although you’re not completely immersed yet, you feel fairly certain that the worst shock is already over.

3. Possible: Sometime in the not-so-distant future, you may begin to feel that this just might be possible. You’ve been at this for a while now, and you’ve found little bits of routine that worked fairly well and other bits that you definitely don’t ever want to repeat again. Ever. You also now are developing a mental list of other ideas you’d really like to try at some point. But it could be a really short list.

4. Finding Your Groove: After a longer while, you will probably have adopted a pattern of the things that are working best. That pattern may only apply to one small portion of your school day, such as lunch break, or you may have stumbled into a groove that works for most of the day. This can also be called the “So Far, So Good” stage.

5. Loving Every Minute: For most families, there comes a time when they are feeling more confident in their daily routine. You may notice that while still far from perfect, you have smoothed off a lot of rough edges from where you started. There have probably been a few days that you definitely don’t want to repeat, but they are now being over-shadowed by some truly wonderful days that are making this new process completely enjoyable.

6. Veteran: One day, after repeating the same cycles several times, you may find yourself thinking “I’ve been here before. I know what to do this time. I can handle this.” You will look back over all you’ve learned and marvel at how confident you now feel. You know exactly what to do today, this week, and this month, but you might still be unsure about next year. It’s okay to be a little shaky about the distant future, but remember that this is nothing compared to where you were at Stages 1 and 2, and you will get things figured out by the time that distant future becomes the present.

7. Roadblocks: This is an interim stage that really can occur at any time, including before or after any of the other stages. My daughter hit a roadblock in the midst of Algebra 2 and couldn’t make any progress until the next school year. She had had some health issues for a time and attributed her thinking-problem to that, but she just couldn’t grasp the concepts presented. Since that particular textbook was designed as a 2-year class anyway, she gave in and put the math book on hold even before the end of that school year drew near. Several months later, she was determined to try again and not let it beat her down, and by that time, her brain had processed long enough on the concepts that she had no trouble getting through it.

A different type of roadblock occurred when my son reached a point in early high school where he just couldn’t relate to the lessons in his textbooks. In my estimation, things had been working fine, and then… nothing was working any more. I scrambled to come up with alternative projects that would interest him enough to further his education without completely derailing his progress. The result was primarily that I was transformed into an unschooler without realizing it at the time, giving up the standard textbooks in favor of the more real-life learning opportunities that appealed to him.

Roadblocks are anything that hinders your progress, and they may last a few moments, a few hours, a few weeks… or much longer. The duration is insignificant—what you do about the roadblock is the important part. Back up and refresh or fill any gaps in the foundational skills, try something totally different for supplemental activities, or put the book on the shelf for a while, but don’t let the roadblock win. You can dig under it, climb over it, or map an alternate path around it, as long as you refuse to let it keep you stagnant. Some of our alternate paths included changing the order of classes to put the problem subject at a different time of day, changing the location for doing a particular class (a different room can make a big difference), continuing on with the rest of the routine but putting the difficult subject on hold while we looked for a new program or a new approach. We abandoned the programs that were most favored by our friends (to their shock and horror) but just didn’t work for us. We sampled other methods until we found something we liked, something that worked, something that didn’t leave us (student and teacher) in tears every day, all day long. More than once we used the information from one program and the order of lessons from another program, and combined them into a system we thought up ourselves, just because we wanted to try it that way… and it worked.

A few specific situations may contribute to requiring more time to work through a roadblock, such as a special needs student, students who have spent a long time in institutional school before switching to homeschooling, one or both parents who are (currently or previously) classroom teachers who insist on recreating school-at-home conditions, trying to keep up with the Homeschooling Joneses by doing too much or doing what doesn’t fit your family but was advised as vitally important by others because it worked for their family, and the dual-school family (also known as “Somer-Homeschool”: Some-R-Home, Some-R-Not). Regardless of the cause of the roadblock, keep digging, keep climbing, keep mapping, and keep refusing to be beaten. It’s not your fault, and it’s not your student’s fault; it’s the curriculum that just isn’t matching your needs. Review it, find a way around it, or wait it out, but remind yourself that whatever you choose to do is a plan: you are doing something about the roadblock, even if that something means taking some time off to let the stalled brain process on the concept until it is ready to try it again.

8. Mentoring: With a history of successful homeschooling comes the day when you may find yourself offering helpful information to other families who are seeking homeschooling advice. You may secretly giggle inside when they tell you how knowledgeable you are and how much they appreciate your input, because you still remember all too clearly just how terrified you were only a short time ago, when you were still occupying the spot they are in today. At the same time, you will be able to rattle off exactly which activities your family enjoyed the most, which materials were the least helpful to you, and how your family’s routine gradually developed into your own preferred style of homeschooling. Share how you adapted methods to fit your own family’s specific needs. Share willingly with all those who seek your advice—they are asking you because you are standing out from the crowd in a way that appeals to them!

Articles to Help You on Your Journey:
21 Things That Can Slow Homeschooling Progress
Do the Best Job You Can and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest
Top 10 Benefits of Homeschooling with Grace
Family Planning (No, Not That Kind)
Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Began Homeschooling
Tests, Book Reports, and Other Un-necessities
Homeschooling Is Hard Work
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson

Articles to Help You Through the Detours on That Journey:
Homeschool Beginnings–A Child’s Point of View
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
People Who Nearly Scared Me Away from Homeschooling
Redeeming a Disaster Day
Looking Back on the Bad Days
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup
Bottom 10 Worst Parts of Homeschooling
Common Mistakes Made by New Homeschoolers
Homeschooling Failures I Have Known—and What Can Be Learned from Them

How to Teach Your Kids at Home Without Killing Yourself in the Process

  1. Adapt daily. What didn’t work today can be changed for tomorrow. Life seldom follows a routine, so why should your lessons be exactly the same, day after day? Life provides very important lessons, and we can learn from everything and everyone.
  2. Remember that the teacher may not always be right. If the student can present his/her case in a valid and logical way, he/she may convince the teacher to skip portions of a lesson, try a different book, branch off to add a side interest, go on a field trip, etc. (But that argument must be presented with facts, not whining.)
  3. Network. If you’re stuck on a subject, try getting ideas from other homeschoolers, no matter what their kids’ ages. You might be able to adapt their methods to suit your child. Multiply the number of homeschooling parents (teachers) you know by the number of their children (students). The result is how many ways there are available to you to teach any given concept. Teaching methods can vary greatly with learning styles and family preferences. (Now consider all the other homeschoolers you just haven’t met yet, whose ideas can be found online!)
  4. Admitting defeat can be your first step toward success. When you’re pushing the wrong method, both student and teacher will always be on the verge of tears. The right method will be like gasoline to a flame—you’ll need to jump back out of its way! I’ve tried both, and I much prefer playing with fire.
  5. Play. A genius sees everything in life as a game to be played or a puzzle to be solved. Help your kids see learning as a game, and you will be nurturing genius, creativity, imagination, and much more!
  6. Entice. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (old proverb) However, a wise, old farmer might tell you to just put a little bit of salt in the oats! If the lesson comes in the form of irresistible fun, you won’t have to cajole your students to get involved. (See #5)
  7. No one ever learned anything good through boredom. No one. Ever. Work your students’ interests into their lessons to grab and hold their attention, whether than means relating math story problems to Missy’s doll collection or teaching Sonny sentence structure through writing about sports.
  8. Watch your words. Be careful how you explain “learning styles” to your students. I overheard a boy once comment to his friend, “My mom says I’ve got to be doing something all the time. She says I always have to be moving and making noise.” So he dutifully made sure she was always right: he refused to sit still or remain quiet, just so his mom wouldn’t be disappointed. What his mom noticed as his consistent behavior and learning style, he seriously took to be an assignment. Our goal as learners should be to “learn how to learn” in every way possible, not lock ourselves into only one formula, so help your students strengthen their weaker learning styles through increasing exposure to other methods.
  9. Work toward your students’ strengths to grab and hold their attention, while you slip in subtle experiences in other learning styles. Be aware that they learn different subjects in different ways: spelling is a visual concept, but handwriting is kinesthetic. Pre-readers and early readers still live in an auditory world; watch for subtle changes in how they learn as their reading ability increases.
  10. Don’t use calculators for math until algebra (playing with a calculator is okay, just don’t use it for daily lessons). The mental skills must be fully in place first, and then the calculator can be used for saving time. Note: Don’t assume a problem has been done incorrectly just because your answer disagrees with the answer book. Re-do the problem carefully several times—I have found several mistakes in math text answer keys. Also, I accidentally hit one wrong key on my calculator during a college math final, didn’t notice it, and didn’t check over my work. That one stupid mistake spoiled an otherwise-perfect score—a huge lesson learned the hard way.

For further inspiration, see these articles:

What Didn’t Work for Today Can Be Changed for Tomorrow

Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom

Tests, Book Reports, and Other Un-necessities

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Becoming a Successful and Proud Quitter

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive

Spoken Destinies and Learned Behaviors

Applying Learning Styles with Skip-Counting

How to Encourage Learning

I am no one special. I am just an ordinary Mom who has learned a lot about teaching. More specifically, I have learned a lot about learning, about how to learn, and about how to help someone else learn.

I grew up in a very small community, went to the same small school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and graduated in a class of fifteen. I was always scolded that I was not working up to my potential, no matter how hard I tried or how much I did. My teachers discouraged anything that wasn’t already part of their tried-and-true lesson plans, and as a not-always-by-the-book learner, I did not enjoy school (in fact, I hated school) until I went to college—the second time.

I know first-hand what it is like to feel trapped in public school. I know the ridicule, the bullying, and the torturing, and I know the sinking feeling of helplessness that comes from the inability to change anything, including teachers’ preconceived notions of who you are and what you can or can’t do. Now, decades later, I also know the freedom that homeschooling brings. Through homeschooling my own children, I was able to break free from many of the stigmas that accompanied me through the first portion of my education. I say “first portion” because I now recognize education as a life-long endeavor, and the most recent portion of my education has been acquired through homeschooling my kids. Having done as little as possible through most of high school, I welcomed the chance to try again, and I learned many things right along with my students.

I enjoyed learning creation science with my kids and studying its relationship to God’s Word, something I had never thought about in my school days filled with evolution-as-scientific-fact. I learned much more about history, while helping my kids learn, and was able to connect the random facts I did know into a more accurate timeline of civilization. Reading was no longer a tedious assignment that I despised and avoided, but it became an enjoyable leisure activity for me. I grew to love reading aloud to my children as much as they enjoyed listening to the daily installments.

Back in public school, I’d had mediocre teachers, poor teachers, and absolutely horrible teachers, all of them with overwhelmingly discouraging attitudes. I’d had a few good teachers here and there, but it was not until my second try at attending college that I found some truly excellent teachers, and I attempted to recreate their methods later on when I began homeschooling. They had not rejected questions; instead, they had convinced me that the only “silly” question is the one which a student is too intimidated to ask, and they further convinced me that any intimidation at all is the teacher’s creation, not the student’s personality. These teachers did not criticize incorrect answers or solutions, but kindly and gently showed students the proper methods for proceeding. At a point when I had never even heard of homeschooling, those teachers fostered the teaching techniques that I would utilize years later.

One thing I had learned during my public school education was that students didn’t matter. Students who didn’t immediately grasp every concept as first presented were being purposely dense and stubbornly making the teacher’s job more difficult. The teachers could only be bothered to explain tings once, and if you didn’t understand right away, there was something wrong with you. These were the required subjects that must be taught, and if you didn’t find them delightfully interesting, there was something wrong with you. These were the few elective courses they had the resources to offer, and if you didn’t find them endlessly fascinating, there was something wrong with you. A student who dared to object to the standard fare or dared to suggest possible alternatives or dared to desire anything more interesting was met with horrified gasps. The professional educators knew what was best, and they were in charge. End of discussion.

And then I met Mr. Benbow. Mr. Benbow taught engineering, math, and programming classes at the community college, but Mr. Benbow taught me so much more than just trigonometry. He could elicit a response from even the shyest, most introverted student, because he eagerly waited for and listened to that response. It was as if everyone else in the room disappeared when he spoke to you, and you knew he was truly, genuinely interested in your opinion on the subject at hand. He didn’t seem to want to leave the room without hearing your thoughts and having the opportunity to discuss them with you and ask another question or two for clarification. Your response, no matter how tentative, no matter how ill-prepared, was important to Mr. Benbow. And after only a few weeks in his class, you began to feel that maybe you were important to more than Mr. Benbow.

I recall a rather under-achieving student who described an incorrect method for solving a particular math problem. I was groaning inside, realizing he was wrong and feeling sorry for the humiliation I thought he was destined to endure as his error was pointed out, ridiculed, and corrected. But Mr. Benbow didn’t do that. He listened to the student’s entire explanation of how he’d arrived at his wrong answer, and then Mr. Benbow thoughtfully considered each misstep and gently replied, “Well, you could do it that way… but think about this… If we go back to this step, and instead of what you did there, we do this…” and he went on to fully detail the correct method, step-by-step, arriving at the correct solution, while keeping the errant student’s dignity intact and giving the rest of us a beautifully practical lesson in humility.

Every Wednesday, Mr. Benbow began class with a quiz—always just one question or just one problem, but it always reinforced what we’d just learned. Every Friday, he began class with a joke—it was his way of starting the weekend with a little fun. Any time someone asked him for help on an assignment, he gave that student his complete attention and always hinted at the answer just enough to help the student discover it for himself. Mr. Benbow knew that telling a student the answer outright taught nothing, but guiding the student on the path to discovering the answer taught much more than the answer to that single problem.

I eagerly signed up for Mr. Benbow’s introductory course in computer programming. It was required for my degree, but I knew that he was capable of teaching anything to anyone, even programming language to someone who had never seen a computer before, and I knew he would make it a fascinating class. When my first complex program failed to run as intended, I sought his help. He quickly read through the cryptic steps, smiled with that intriguing little twinkle in his eyes, and simply said “Computers are stupid. They are machines that can only do exactly what we tell them to do.” And there he left me, both feet firmly planted on the path to discovery. Obviously, he meant that my program was telling the computer to do the wrong thing. More precisely, as I soon discovered, my program had not told the computer to do the right thing. Mr. Benbow’s programming hint became a life-lesson for me. It’s as important not to do the wrong thing, as it is to do the right thing. When teaching and training my children, I have tried to remember to show them what not to do, as well as what to do.

All of Mr. Benbow’s excellent teaching methods influenced me heavily. When my children asked questions or gave answers to my questions or offered their opinions on random topics, I tried to give them my focused attention, as if their ideas mattered—because their ideas really did matter. When I listened to every little thing my 7-year-old son wanted to tell, he learned that Mom cared, that his thoughts were either funny or thought-provoking, that he could make people laugh, and that he was important, and he mattered. My kids learned to give answers with confidence, knowing that if they happened to be wrong, they still weren’t subjected to ridicule, taunting, or shame. Any incorrect assumptions would be gently but thoroughly straightened out, until they had a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.

If I expected my kids to learn, I knew they couldn’t feel intimidated. Our classroom had to be a place where they felt safe enough to ask any question and discuss any concept that they didn’t fully understand. If I wanted them to learn, I had to find an eleventh way to explain or illustrate or demonstrate what my first ten tries had failed to clarify. Their lack of understanding came from my failure to teach, not their failure to learn. In order for my kids to learn, I had to find better methods of teaching.

Because my early teachers had turned “Go look it up” into a discouraging punishment, I was determined to transform educating my children into a delightful challenge, an eager race for knowledge, a dare of discovery that they couldn’t help but pursue. Whenever we came across something of uncertain meaning, I looked my students in the eye with the most intriguing twinkle I could muster, then I dashed to the bookcase to grab the dictionary or whatever reference book might hold the answer. They enthusiastically joined me for a cheek-to-cheek search through the pages, as we found the answer together. Before long, they were the ones dashing off to find the answer, proudly beating Mom to it, but still generously sharing the moment of discovery as we read and discussed the treasured facts together.

To encourage my kids in their learning, I made up examples and story problems that were personal to them, I involved them in the illustrations and the demonstrations, and we worked together to build the models and create the learning aids that finally made the concepts clear. We converted our board games to use the facts and skills they were trying to learn and played the games over and over to practice their new knowledge. As Mr. Benbow had done, I used impromptu questions now and then to prove to them what they had just mastered (instead of shaming them for what they didn’t yet know), and I made time during our classes for an abundance of jokes and silly stories and amusing tricks, just to keep life fun.

Learning is encouraged when fear is removed and confidence takes its place. Learning is encouraged when the student sees each question as a game to be played, a challenge to be attempted, a goal to be conquered. Learning is encouraged when the student is intrigued to the point that he does not want to walk away without knowing the answer. Learning is encouraged when the examples are personal, when the problems become tantalizing puzzles to solve, when research begins an exhilarating bunny-trail adventure through a hundred twists and turns, and when every question opens another new door to wonders yet undiscovered. If learning is not fun or exciting or satisfying or rewarding, who would waste a single moment in its pursuit?

For more tips on getting your students interested and encouraging their learning:
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
Looking for the “Hard Part”
My Student Is Trying, but Just Not Learning as Expected
The Know-It-All Attitude
Learning to Walk — Seen as a New Lesson

Guilt-Free Homeschooling Summer Camp: Homeschool Summer Scheduling

Summer doesn’t have to be either a full-on homeschooling schedule or a completely idle break. Summer is a great time for Mom to do a little planning ahead for the coming school year and think about what could be tweaked to make homeschooling more interesting, more efficient, and generally better for all concerned.

Kids who need some extra time to finish out their year can work through summer while still having a break by doing only half a lesson each day. Reading and math can be practiced without being tedious: read fun stuff; play games that use money or that require score-keeping (let each player keep his own score) or that have questions to be read aloud.

Summer is also useful for the student who wants to get ahead, not just for those who are trying to catch up. When my daughter was nearing her senior year of Homeschool High, she was planning to take a class at the Community College in the Fall to supplement her homeschool classes. Not knowing how much work that course would require, she spent the summer getting other classes out of the way. She read through an entire history textbook (a big, fat one), just so she wouldn’t have to deal with that class during the coming year while doing homeschool and college at the same time.

Maybe you’d like to try adding a few more supplemental activities. Maybe you’ve been intrigued by some unschooling ideas. Maybe your kids need a break from the formal curriculum. Maybe you’d like to indulge in an activity during the summer break that deserves more time than you could spare during your regular schedule. Maybe you’ve been thinking about a specific field trip that would work better in summer weather than from Fall through Spring. Maybe you or your students have a special interest that could be explored for a day or a week during summer break.

Explore some new ideas in the articles below and brainstorm the what-if’s of how your homeschool schedule might be different. Whatever your interests, remember that summer is an opportunity for learning, not a reason to stress yourselves out by doing too much.

The Value of Supplemental Activities
The Importance of Play in Education
“Stealth Learning” Through Free Play
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
10 Ways to Improve a Lesson
A Day Without Lessons
Homeschooling the Neighborhood

Read the entire GFHS Summer Camp series:
Homeschool Mommy Summer Camp
Homeschool Summer Camp FUN!
Homeschool Summer Reading Activities
Homeschool Summer Scheduling
Encouragement Around the Campfire

Guilt-Free Homeschooling Summer Camp: Homeschool Summer Reading Activities

How do you pack for vacation? My daughter used to pack one suitcase with her clothing and another suitcase just for her books. She would sit in the back of our van with her nose in a book, seemingly oblivious to the scenery passing by outside the windows. She might only make her way through a few of those books during a week-long trip, but her selections were varied enough to cover whatever need arose. She chose her reading material to closely coordinate with the vacation itself, and her favorite Zane Gray stories came alive as we drove through high desert country or deeply wooded forests. I’m sure that if we’d ever scheduled a boating trip, she would have brought along Moby Dick or perhaps Mutiny on the Bounty. Back at home, my kids often made use of their tree house as a reading hide-away. A blanket fort or tent might offer a different setting for “ambiance reading.”

I enjoyed reading aloud to my kids, not for the exercise of reading aloud, but because I loved to watch their faces as the story turned suspenseful or to see them puzzling over what might happen next. Sometimes I stopped reading and asked for their opinions of what a certain character had just done or where they thought the plot might lead next. And then the reading would resume, only to reveal a twist that none of us had anticipated. We laughed, we cried, we paused to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary, but mostly we shared the stories over and over as classic lines found their way into our conversations: There’s nothing like the smell of burnt marshwiggle to bring you to your senses, or It’s just a simple method of mathematics.

Our lists of favorite books and favorite authors grew longer every year. Whether we had read them aloud or individually, our lists included: The Chronicles of Narnia and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (the rest of his Space Trilogy was a bit much for my youngsters, but they absolutely hung on every word of the first volume); A.A. Milne’s poems, Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith and other poems; the Danny Dunn books (based on a young scientist/inventor); and the Elsie Dinsmore series by Martha Finley (28 books in the original series).

We discovered that watching the video version first (whenever possible), then reading the book was a big help to a reluctant reader. That method brings a quick understanding of the plot, setting, and characters—enough to hold the attention while the book releases it all much more slowly. Sometimes my kids wanted to read the entire book to see all the scenes that had been left out of the movie; sometimes they read only a chapter or a few pages to get a sense of the author’s writing style and the mechanics of how various elements were handled. Sometimes we just stopped a movie in the middle and looked for something more interesting.

Poems, magazines, short stories, comic books and graphic novels can all be valid reading material. Shorter works instead of long chapter books can capture the attention and make reading less tedious, especially for boys and disinterested readers. Reading aloud to your child can also help build interest his interest—I did that with some shorter chapter books for early readers when my son was just becoming independent at reading. I’d read a few pages of the first chapter, then tell him he could read just a paragraph or two for himself while I went to shuffle some laundry. Then as I took my sweet time getting back, he would devour page after page, caught up in the story. Let’s just call it salting the oats to make sure the horse takes a drink.

To encourage your not-so-much readers to become I’m-running-out-of-books readers, try as many of these tips as possible. Help them choose some unforgettable lines from a few favorite books to print up, post on a wall, and quote to each other.  Pick something from the following themed lists for a new genre to expand your readers’ interests. As the great Sherlock Holmes would have said, The game’s afoot!

Summer Adventures: Jules Verne, Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids Adventure Series; J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy; Alexandre Dumas; Zane Gray; Robin Hood or the King Arthur stories by Howard Pyle; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; The Chronicles of Narnia and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.

Summer Romances: Robin Hood by Howard Pyle; Zane Gray’s westerns (heroic cowboys who always win the girl’s heart); Grace Livingston Hill; Jane Austen’s Emma or Sense and Sensibility.

Dark Summer: the mysteries of Agatha Christie; Edgar Allan Poe; Arthur Conan Doyle; Louisa May Alcott’s The Inheritance.

Summer in the Real World: biographies of the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Copernicus, Leonardo da Vinci; Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; The Trumpeter of Krakow.

For a few more tips on encouraging your young readers, see these articles:
How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive
Classic Literature Is Not Necessarily Good Literature
Teaching Spelling (and Grammar) Through Reading and Listening
Tests, Book Reports, and Other Un-necessities

Read the entire GFHS Summer Camp series:
Homeschool Mommy Summer Camp
Homeschool Summer Camp FUN!
Homeschool Summer Reading Activities
Homeschool Summer Scheduling
Encouragement Around the Campfire

Top 10 Homeschool Mommy Myths

Homeschool moms, especially new-to-homeschooling moms, can easily fall prey to some nasty myths. These myths, as with any myths, are simply not true. Read, learn, and be encouraged.

1) School requires 7 hours of carefully-planned-to-the-minute instruction. If your child doesn’t respond well to 7 hours in a chair at a desk, the answer isn’t how to fix him or how to fill 7 hours. The solution comes from realizing that schools spend up to 75% of each day in non-instructional activities: waiting for silence, waiting for eye contact, waiting for the slower students to catch up, counting who’s there, counting who’ll be eating lunch, counting noses again after moving from here to there, standing in line after line after line—you get the idea. Seventy-five percent! Three-quarters of their day! My kids could go off-topic eleventy-dozen times and still get all their work done in less time than they would have spent at school.

2) School requires homework beyond the lesson. Some new homeschool parents wonder how much homework should be assigned after their students complete each subject’s daily lesson. My answer is none. Schools assign homework because there isn’t enough time left in their busy day to actually complete a lesson. We did lesson work as part of each subject’s “class time,” so there was no need for further work after the class was done. (Bonus: Homeschool kids get to do the practice work immediately after learning the lesson, rather than struggling hours later to remember what to do and how to do it.) Reading was our only exception, and that was because I never held reading class once my kids were reading independently—I just let them go off and read on their own time. We called it pleasure reading, instead of considering it as another academic subject.

3) It doesn’t really count as homeschooling if:

  • We didn’t learn it during school hours. (Sometimes the best lessons happen on the weekends or in the evening or while you’re away from home.)
  • We didn’t learn it from “approved” curriculum. (Sometimes the best lessons happen out-of-the-box and away-from-the-books.)
  • We didn’t plan to learn it. (Sometimes the best lessons happen spontaneously.)
  • None of our friends are also studying it. (Sometimes the best lessons fit your personal, immediate needs, and not the needs of anyone else.)

4) All children progress according to an age-based “scope and sequence.” Pfft! Children don’t all begin crawling at the same age (some prefer scooting, and others just stand up and take off), children don’t all begin talking at the same age (or with the same vocabulary), children don’t all learn to use the potty at the same age, and children don’t all learn reading, geography, and trigonometry at the same age. Age actually has very little to do with learning ability. And while we’re on the topic, when was the last time you saw a scope-and-sequence for learning very important skills of when and how to rotate tires or change motor oil, cooking an entire meal and getting every dish done at the same time, sharpening a lawn mower blade, changing a newborn’s diaper with one hand while holding onto a toddler-Houdini with the other, or being able to tell the difference between chicken pox and a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to medicine? Sometimes education comes on a “need to know” basis—when you need to know it, you’ll learn it. Life is its own scope and sequence, and the scope and the sequence are different for each person.

5) There’s a better teacher out there somewhere. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the ideal teacher to come along to take your kids under her wing and set afire their love of learning—the right teacher. You feel a little like the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, who guarded the Messiah’s chalice for 900 years, waiting for a new knight to come and relieve him of his post. However, that ideal teacher, the “new guardian” of your children’s education just might end up being you. We were fervently praying for our daughter, Jen, to get the right public school classroom and the right teacher for her 5th grade year, when God showed us Door #3: Homeschooling. He disregarded both of the options in her public school and guided us down an entirely different path to the school and the classroom and the teacher He had chosen for her needs: Mom. Our son, Nathan, needed a teacher for 1st grade with a personality that would accept and appreciate his boundless sense of humor, since his Kindergarten teacher had kept him on the Time-Out Chair for nearly the entire school year. Again, Door #3 led to Mom being selected as the ideal teacher for him. The ideal teacher you’re waiting for, the ideal teacher your kids need is in all likelihood staring back at you from the bathroom mirror.

6) Comparing ourselves to other families will show us how we’re doing. Comparing my family to other homeschooling families was not really a good thing to do. Comparing how my kids were doing in their schoolwork to how other kids were doing, again not a good thing. Comparing how my kids were doing now to how they had previously been doing was great! We could definitely see their individual progress from week to week and month to month (sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but they continually moved beyond where they had been before). When I came across a blog where another mom had posted her 12-year-old’s super-aggressive list of books that he’d read during 7th grade, I wanted to poke my eyes out with salad tongs. His unbelievably extensive list (for that one year!) could have passed as the cumulative life-time achievements of a tenured college literature professor. I decided to stop reading that blog. It was a wise choice. Instead, I paid more attention to how my child learned to read words, rather than guess at them, and reading those words led her to read a whole book, which she enjoyed enough to want to read another, which was two more than she’d ever read before.

7) I need “Me” time. When my kids were smaller and needed more attention, I used to feel like I never had any “me” time. But I wasn’t the #1 focus at that time—and I assured myself that “my time” would come later. As my children grew, I taught them skills and responsibilities, which gave me helpers to lessen my long list of to-do’s each day and gave me just enough “me time” to let me think an entire thought by myself and thereby make life bearable. As my children’s abilities increased each year, their ability to help out increased, too, and my free time grew accordingly. The bigger shock came when they had both gone off to college and left me with no more helpers!

8) “I blew it, I made a mess of things, and I can’t undo it.” If you’ve made a big mistake (like pushing your student to the point of tears over conjugating verbs), apologize. Hug each other and promise to help each other figure out the best way to learn this stuff. Your child will respect you more for your role-modeling of humility. Ask your kids for their input on different ways to learn certain subjects—they will have great suggestions for activities to try, and their ideas will help tailor activities to their specific learning style needs. When my kids weren’t sure of how to proceed, I made little reminder signs to decorate our classroom: “One free hug with every hint!” “If you’re stuck, ask Mom. If you’re confused, ask Mom. If you’re not sure, ask Mom.” (Can you tell my students had lost all their self-confidence in public school?) Holding a child on my lap and offering encouraging cuddles was extremely beneficial to both of us. Even during those occasions when you just don’t know what to do next, sharing the love through hugs and prayers will draw you and your students closer together—and that’s the biggest reason why you chose to homeschool in the first place.

9) The teacher must always be right. Wrong. We are fallible humans, and we make mistakes. Textbooks and answer keys occasionally include mistakes, too. I found several mistakes in textbooks and answer keys during our homeschooling career. Sometimes they were typos, and sometimes they were just errors, but regardless of why, the books were wrong. Parents and kids alike will learn from homeschooling, and we learn more from our mistakes than we do when everything goes smoothly and perfectly. When you mess up, admit it; apologize, ask for forgiveness, make amends, and then move on. Be a shining example of how an adult should handle personal goof-ups with grace and humility—they certainly won’t see that in many other areas of life.

10) “I can’t homeschool—I don’t know everything!” That’s the point. Homeschooling parents don’t have to know it all, but they can teach their children anyway and can learn right along with the kiddies. When my kids asked me a tough question and I didn’t know the answer, their eyes lit up when I said in all honesty, “I don’t know… but I’ll bet we can find the answer together.” Kids appreciate honesty, especially from adults, and an honest admission of “I don’t know” is a refreshing change for them from the know-it-all attitude they usually get from the adult world. My kids delighted in playing “Let’s Stump Mom,” and their desire to learn increased with every round, won or lost. No one knows everything, but everyone can learn more. Let learning become a regular habit for parents as well as for children. It’s another facet of that role-modeling thing!

Encouragement Corner: What About Writing Assignments?

Encouragement Corner is a new feature here at Guilt-Free Homeschooling, sort of a mini-seminar for the busy moms who can’t spare the time or expense to go to a major homeschooling conference, but who still need answers to their biggest questions. We’ll be grouping a few of the most-often-recommended articles around a central issue and making those articles easier to share on Pinterest by adding a photo or graphic as needed.

I don’t believe in writing assignments. There, I said it. I never liked creative writing, story writing, or other frivolous paragraphs, essays, or compositions, so I didn’t force my students to write them either. What I used instead was reading — lots of reading, and grammar lessons. I only held a formal reading class during the learning-to-read stage, and once my kids were reading fluently by themselves, I let them choose their own pleasure reading to serve as an unstructured subject. Since they each spent as much (if not more) time telling me about what they had read than it actually took them to read it, I wasn’t at all worried about their reading or comprehension skills. Relaxing with a book at bedtime was a great way to unwind from the day, and it didn’t feel to them like yet another academic endeavor.

I frequently read aloud to them, and they read to themselves from a variety of sources (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography; books, magazines, newspapers, web articles, etc.), giving them vast understanding of many different types of writing. Exposure to a multitude of authors showed them how any given genre could be handled in a multitude of ways. My students loved some authors’ writing styles enough to read everything they could find by those authors. Other authors’ writing styles were so cumbersome and awkward that they closed the book and moved on with no regrets for not finishing.

As my students matured and developed their own voice (meaning personal thoughts and opinions) on various topics, they were able to express them coherently, in part because they had read how others had expressed ideas through the written word. Their first serious writing assignments came from a composition class at the local college (taken during their Senior year of high school), where the teachers were impressed with their writing abilities. They could write good summations of their reading and research, because they were already accustomed to reading and evaluating, and the results were scholarly compositions.

By skipping several years of trivial paragraph-writing, my students had been able to read a wide variety of sources. They had learned how to form their opinions into logical arguments. Their minds weren’t cluttered with topic sentences and formulaic outlines. They were able to reproduce any type of composition just by reading it and analyzing the key components. They had read good writing, they had found a voice, and they had many interests which afforded them numerous topics for their composition needs. Delaying the writing assignments worked very well for us.

Linked below are our most commonly recommended articles on writing (as composition, not to be confused with handwriting), to help you decide how to tackle this topic in your homeschool.

Tests, Book Reports, and Other Un-necessities 

Teaching Spelling (and Grammar) Through Reading and Listening

Grammar with Giggles, Mad Libs Style

How Did You Learn to Write? 

How to Adapt Lessons to Fit Your Student’s Interests and Make Learning Come Alive