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

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