*gulp*! I’ve decided to homeschool my kids . . . Now what??

boy reading book in living room

This is all I saw of Mack the day that he discovered H.G. Wells’ book The Time Machine. (photo from blog archives; yes he’s grown a bit)

Call me Silly-pants. (Seriously, go ahead!) One day recently I found myself musing grumpily on this ridiculous question: Why wasn’t anybody asking us homeschooling parents for help, though we are and have been doing what is so (apparently) unprecedented and freakishly difficult*: that is, living our lives, working jobs, building businesses, running farms, cooking dinner, taking care of our animals, caring for our peoples, feeding our jillions of chickens (as you do), picking the beans, and raising and teaching our children at home.

All at the same time.

(*Okay, okay: the parents of these folks did the same thing.) Yup. That’s right. Me and the parents of Venus and Sabrina Williams. The mum of Albert Einstein. The parents of Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Abraham Lincoln! And many, many more. We are in pretty good company.

Public education, historically speaking, is a relatively recent gig, after all. In the broad scope of things.

I found my heart going out, for instance, to an admired New York writer, who wrote a poignant essay on how difficult it was to have the schools closed, her two small children underfoot 24/7, all while she still ran her business from home. Her hubby was at home, too, so–two parents and two children in the same apartment. *blank stare* Hmm.

Then I realized–except for the living in New York City part–and except for being a New York Times best-selling author, and except for the fact that she had two children underfoot, not six–that’s been my life for the past thirty years. Raising and educating my children, all while trying to keep a home together and running some sort of business. Hubby was usually working a job or two, and for years was doing full-time school and a job or two. *oof* I wouldn’t trade places with the New York writer in a hot minute (except: the New York Times best-selling author bit). She lives in New York City. It’s a different world there, in many ways. And she didn’t choose to teach her children at home. I did.

boy reading while he balances feet on glass door

Some days are weirder than others.

It’s a Conundrum

When kids were sent home from schools this spring, and parents were sent home to work and to care for and teach their littles as well, it must have felt as if their worlds had turned upside-down (or updownsideward, as my sister said when she was a little).

So why didn’t they reach out to homeschool families for help? Maybe some did. Perhaps some school districts were good about providing help. Maybe parents thought the situation would last for just a few weeks.

Most likely, these new homeschooling-as-we-have-no-choice-parents were working so hard to keep body and soul together that they didn’t have the time or mental wherewithal to pick up the phone and call. I get that. 

But. *sputter* But . . . gentle reader! I’ve been teaching kids at home for over 30 years! The well from which I could draw experience, if murky, is deep. Poised and ready for calls from newly-homeschooling moms, I savored the chance to help. My homeschooling mom friends had similar notions: If only somebody would ask.

And then. Finally, after months, it happened. One happy day I received an email from an old friend, who had moved to a nearby city years ago. “Amy,” she wrote. “My daughter wants to homeschool her kids. I knew that you were the person to call.”

Well. Well! Finally! At last the homeschooling tips borne of over thirty years of scrappy home-teaching woke me up at night. I started jotting them down. I had wanted to help all along, and now somebody was asking me. The hard part was clearly going to be editing my remarks to the point where the young mother would actually have time to read them. Hmm.

After all, I’ve never been known for my ability to be succinct. *sigh* (Sorry, gentle readers.)

So, here we go: without further preamble, and in no particular order, some homespun (ha) tips, for those of you who are starting homeschooling, for whatever reason. God bless you. It’s a big job.

1. First: You can totally do this.

Truth: you, as a loving parent, already teach your children. Daily. Every moment. You teach your toddler to stay away from the stairs. To use a spoon. To love curling up on the couch with a book at bedtime. And you will continue to teach your children, one way or another. So don’t be intimidated by doing the book-learning at home, too. It’s just an extension of what you’re already doing.

2. Second: don’t try to re-create public school at home

Because of its very nature, public school has lots of time-wasters built in. It’s not exactly an efficient use of time, you know. I was a public school kid. I confess to lots of woolgathering, staring out the window while the teacher helped other students. Sitting for hours inside a school building was torture to me, as I  would have always chosen to be outside, if possible. (Still the same.) I read book after book secretly during class, propped up behind my textbook, while I waited for other students to complete assignments that I had already finished.

Schooling at home takes a fraction of the time that kids put into their public school classrooms. It’s unrealistic (and completely intimidating!) to try to fill 6 or 7 hours with sit-down “schooling” at home. No homeschooling mom that I know of has that kind of time to sit down to do anything! But 2-3 hours of focused attention on school work, at most, will be all that’s needed of you in your homeschool, and even less than that, if your children are younger.

3. Everything is school.

man teaching two young men how to dress a chicken

My Dad mentoring Mack and Amalia’s new husband Caleb on how to dress a chicken. Passing down the hands-on skills, down the generations.

Thirdly. Kids in their natural state are curious, energetic learners. They are little sponges and you can’t stop them from learning! Spend less time sitting in front of books, and more time outside. Watch the birds that are flying overhead, and learn about them. Study the new spider in the garden (and draw it! and look it up and identify it!). Make cookies and talk about fractions, nutrition, how chocolate chips are made, everything! The world is full of fabulous learning opportunities!  Your neighborhood is loaded with treasure and wonder. Avail yourself. Bless your children. Go out, observe, study, learn!

4. Read a good book together.

If I was just starting out with homeschooling, the first thing I’d do is pick out a stack of excellent books that would captivate my child’s attention, and sit down at a specific time every day (first thing, after breakfast, works for us) and read together. Because my kids were always fiddly, I’d suggest they grab a sketchbook, or a knitting project, or the bin of Legos, and keep their hands busy while I read. I’d also make myself a nice hot coffee to drink. I have always, always savored this reading-aloud time. It’s not just about the books, but building relationships. We’d hang out in the living room first thing every day, and read together. If you have no idea what books to read, maybe ask your librarian. There are lots of lists online; you might want to start here. 

Or mine your own memories. What books were delicious discoveries when you were a child? I loved The Secret Garden, The Borrowers, The Little House in the Big Woods series, Nancy Drew, and so many others.

5. Keep it Simple, Silly-pants: Reading, Writing & Arithmetic

If your family is in crisis–it happens–remember that the most important things for your children to learn are the “three r’s: ‘reading, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.” Focus on those three things first. Add in other subjects when life gets less crazy, which leads to . . .

6. It is probably a great time to learn an instrument.

We always have been a music-focused family, so we make time for music lessons and practice, too. It is so great for your brain to learn to play an instrument, ya know! Thirty minutes of music practice can develop a child’s brain in amazing ways. And it is so happifying.

If you don’t have a teacher lined up, you’d be surprised at what you can find on Youtube. This guy is my favorite banjo teacher.

7. Check out your state’s regulations:

Right here.

8. There is no one best way to homeschool.

One mum prefers to set up a very structured homeschool, with three-ring binders, textbooks and schedules on the ‘fridge. Another is more of a free spirit, and will spend hours reading books together with her kids in the back yard, jumping up to grab the bird guide to identify a bird that she doesn’t recognize, going on a nature walk with sketchbooks when the day turns out to be especially fine (three guesses on which one is your gentle blogger). Occasionally this second type of Mom will have a “Because We Can” day, and just curl up on the couch with the kids and watch movies and eat fast food. (!!) Another lucky mum I know of works part time while her hubby does most of the schooling.

There’s really no one best way. Do what works for you and your family. After all, you know your children better than anybody else, and you love them more than anybody else can. Don’t try to put a round peg into a square hole. My wiggly son Andrew–for example–couldn’t learn how to read without doing flips on the couch and standing on his head in-between sounding out words. It drove me crazy at first, until I finally realized that he was thinking throughout all the crazy movement, and if I forced him to sit still (which I would have preferred!) he simply couldn’t learn as well.

So–acrobatics during reading lessons it was. It worked for us. Bottom line: do what works.

9. Check out the many free (and cheap) online resources.

This is a huge blessing, and a big change from when we started homeschooling. You can find courses, webinars, Youtube videos, entire programs even, online. Many of them are free.

The following is not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Do a little digging. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.

10. Be wary of screens.

You can use a laptop, an ipad or a smart phone for a wealth of research and investigation, or you can use it to play inappropriate games, get into bad stuff that will erode your character, or waste your precious hours scrolling social media. We’ve always been very wary of screens, though we do use them (guardedly) in our home school. And I’ve always had the fairly inflexible rule that screen time only happens after chores and school work are done to my satisfaction.

I’m hard-nosed that way. I suggest you be the same. The hours you’ll have with your children are not infinite. Don’t waste them staring at a stupid phone.

11. Libraries are wonderful resources.

This may seem patently obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Our local library has in-person and online classes, clubs, and (of course) books that are free for the lending. I know. It really is incredible, when you think just a minute about it. Furthermore, we’ve picked up countless boxes full of great books from our library’s annual weeding-out book sales, all for a donation. Garage sales and thrift stores are great resources, too. As reading actual books gets less popular (sadly) those of us who still do this arcane, lovely activity can built a terrific library, for very little.

12. Seek out community

There are homeschooling groups on Facebook, and probably in your town. Look for like-minded folks that you can collaborate with. This is one of the best things about homeschooling–discovering the truly fabulous folks that are doing what you want to do! Don’t try to do it alone.

13. Have fun!

You’ll realize this when one day somebody snaps their fingers and your children are all living on their own, with their own families, and their childhoods are over. Enjoy your children. Relax. Focus on the big picture, not the tiny daily problems. Every day you spend with them is a gift. Time goes by so quickly. Treasure the fact that you have them at home with you today.

14. Read good books about homeschooling

If you decide that it’s gonna stick, read books written by parents who have succeeded in teaching and raising kids. I’ve not read all the books below, but they espouse teaching and learning in the way that we encourage it here at Excelsior! Academy. 🙂

Outdoors/nature/play: Peter Gray, Richard Louv, Florence Williams, Charlotte Mason
Short lessons/minimal formal schooling: John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Mason
Community/place based education: David Albert, David Sobel
Reading real books: Charlotte Mason, Donalyn Miller
Autodidactism: Grace Llewellyn
Inspiration from people who’ve actually finished raising kids:
David & Micki Colfax, Linda Dobson, Ruth Beechick, Leila Lawler (blogger)

15. Get to know your children!

This should probably be #1. If you don’t know what makes your children tick, find out! Watch, observe, talk and listen. What do they love? What lights them up? THAT is what they should be spending the bulk of their time on.

One anecnote: one of my children was very, very quiet and introverted, and in his teen years I had a hard time getting him to open up to me. I learned one day that if he was driving me someplace (he was old enough to drive, but not old enough to drive someplace by himself) he would talk and talk. So we went on a LOT of drives, and I got inside his shell of reserve. I didn’t allow him to shut me out, at a time of life when he needed to talk and process what was going on in his life (but probably didn’t realize it).

So–do what it takes to keep your children talking to you.

16. Draw on the expertise of others

Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles, friends and neighbors all may have interesting skills and abilities that you are not blessed with. Furthermore, they probably would be delighted to share with enthusiastic young ones.

My Dad is a talented woodworker and builder, and he has blessed my kids with countless hours of mentoring in his shop. What a blessing!

Probably you have somebody in your life who could do similar mentoring sessions with your children. Ask.

man in shop with young boy

My dad will blanche when he sees that I shared this picture, but my Dad’s shop is a dear place to me. I love all the sawdust, the tools, and the projects that are constantly going on.

One more thing

Thank you, gentle reader, for popping in. The number of homeschooling households has doubled in most parts of the country this year. That means that you probably know somebody who is just learning their way through it. Could I ask you a favor? If you think this post might be helpful, would you share it with them?

er, I meant two

p.s.  Also Bethie and I recorded a podcast about homeschooling earlier this year, discussing her experiences as a homeschooling student, and mine as a homeschooling mom with lots of years of schooling under my belt. Subscribe to Sweet as Love wherever you listen to your podcasts! We talk about lots of things that will resonate with you! And we have a sweet community on Facebook too. Please join!

or . . three . .

I have written several other posts about our homeschooling adventures, all with vintage grainy photos, so there’s that.

Curious about what little (now big) Mack and I are doing this fall, homeschool-wise? Come back next time and I’ll share what we’ve worked out together. Tip: he is in 8th grade, and is a total Smarty-pants. (Type your email address up in the little box underneath my face, and you’ll not miss a post!)

Sincerest thanks. Take care.

and *hugs*



8 thoughts on “*gulp*! I’ve decided to homeschool my kids . . . Now what??

  1. Kay

    Such great advice Dear Friend. I’ve thought the same thing earlier this year. I’d gladly help someone find their way out of the weeds of homeschooling. Some of us, whose home students are grown, miss those days so much!
    Have a great school year!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I have loved teaching my kiddos at home, as well. Do you know that I still use a certain Bible curriculum that I purchased from you, years and years ago? I treasure it for many reasons, not least of which that it has your handwritten notes in it!!

  2. Gene Gage

    Amy dearest – you modestly left out the part about your kids scoring 30 plus on the ACTs. And the fact that they had no difficulty getting into the colleges they wanted to go to, or the grad schools. Or the fact that all of your home-schooled kids are doing very well in their chosen fields, including one who is a professor at a well-respected college.

    Or the “fact” that home-schooled kids are “socially disadvantaged” is a bunch of hog wash. (I’ve heard that allegation from several public school teachers!) And you forgot to mention that home school kids have opportunities for lots of extra-curricular activities – sports, drama, art, music, chess, etc., all provided by parent volunteers with special skills and interests.

    For your readers who don’t know me, I am totally the product of public education – 19 years of it, have taught in public institutions and am married to a woman who spent 40 years as a public school teacher. I have known at least a dozen home schooled kids from three different families, two of whom have worked for me, and they are among the very top employees I have had (and I’ve had over 200 through the years).

    And I too am flabbergasted that the education “establishment” has not come to the home schooling communities for help and advice during the past six months.

  3. Sharon H

    All very good and timely information, Amy. Thank you for sharing. At age 76, I’m not homeschooling but while reading through this post I couldn’t help but think that there are many people with valuable skills who might want to pass them on to younger people. Sewing skills that teach how to use a needle and thread to sew on
    a button or learn to make an apron (“Home Economics class”). Or basic carpentry (how/when/why/to use simple tools) and then make a birdhouse for example, to show for their efforts ( “Wood Shop class”) If, as the homeschool teacher you aren’t proficient in those areas, try to find someone who is! And when you have a big garden, teaching how to preserve the bounty is really a valuable skill set…..if for no other reason than to learn the importance of following instructions and the science behind it as well. Big City and Urbanite kids are often unaware of where their food comes from. WALMART? Finding a rural homestead or actual farm to tour is a great learning experience. One never knows from where a spark might be ignited for a future of greatness!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      ABSOLUTELY, dear Sharon. My post could easily become a book, if I added everything that occurred to me as I wrote it. Yes, homeschooling does allow for much learning (through observation at least, and mentoring at best) of many “home skills” such as those you mentioned. That’s how I learned how to do so many things–from working alongside my parents. And I was blessed with parents who did many many things (and still do, actually!) with their hands. 🙂 Thanks so much for the great comment!

  4. chef William

    I didn’t see anything about teaching your class the art of good baking. I will never forget the scones that one of your daughters baked for my wife and I when we visited you. We enjoyed them all the way from your house to our place in Wisconsin and felt like turning around and comming back for seconds but time was limited. And we were both impressed at how well educiated Mack was for his age. Reading hard cover books is a lost art that needs to be reintroduced

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Chef, Your visit with us is such a warm, embarrassing, delightful memory. COME BACK sometime soon and I’ll make sure that Amalia will be on hand to bake you more scones! She is a married lady now but still makes the time to bake goodies for her hubby. *hugs* and all the best to you and Maria! *and alllll the critters*

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