first year homeschooling advice

If you felt like your first year homeschooling was a failure (or just less than what you had hoped it would be), take heart! You have plenty of company.

Nobody said homeschooling would be easy, but we all say homeschooling is more than worth it!

If you’ve finished your first year homeschooling (or even considering it for next year), check out these tips from Kansas City moms on ways to avoid or correct some common mistakes.

Mistake No. 1: Expecting too much from each day.

How come your idyllic vision of color-coordinated kids, clustered around the study-room table, diligently finishing their assignments before lunchtime, never quite materializes?

Instead, the laundry lies in dirty heaps around the house while Junior throws a tantrum and Big Sister can’t look another math sum in the eye.

Sometimes the struggles are far more painful: deaths in the family, moving house, job loss, financial hardship, or health issues. When those strike, finishing a school year can seem like just one more insurmountable task.

We’ve all been there. And here are some solutions:

  • Homeschool year-round.

It may sound harder at first, but spreading your academic goals throughout the year can actually make it easier for you. If you miss a day, make up for it in the next.

As one battle-hardened homeschooler writes, “There is always tomorrow.”

  • Ditch the public school mindset.

For preschoolers and early grade levels, homeschool can be done in 2-3 hours … unlike the 6-8 hours that public school entails.

Think about it this way: you are giving each child long periods of one-on-one attention they would never get in a crowded classroom. Many homeschoolers find their children’s natural attention spans allow for 15-20 minutes of concentration before they’re ready to take a break.

(If you’re moving your child from public school to homeschool, you may want to read our blog post about that transition here.)

  • homeschool work timesPlan each day appropriately.

Sometimes a hefty list of to-dos can set your homeschool up for failure. One mom has a simple but elegant solution: do the bulk of homeschooling in the morning when her kids are most productive. She combines science, history and other subjects across grade levels. In her household, most of her classes are indeed over by lunch.

(See more ideas on creating the best homeschool routine for your family.)

Other resources that moms have found helpful is “The Motivated Moms app,” which gives a minimum of things to do as well as any extra tasks, and “Managers of Their Homes” from Teri Maxwell.

  • Focus on what you “did do,” not what you “will do.”

Sounds like a small change, but one homeschool mom found it saved her family during a particularly crazy life period. She stopped recording her expectations for school and just wrote the things her kids had learned for the day.

“Those are the times my kids look back on with the most fondness,” she said. “The times I didn’t drag them through their education, but rather wrote down what they learned on their own. … The academics will happen! I promise.”

  • Check your own schedule … including electronics use.

One mom found she could deal with homeschooling more easily once she created a no-phone, no-Internet, no-email policy during school.

“If I can avoid electronics after a morning email check, I find that I lose less time in my day and am more in tune with school time,” she writes. (See more of our tips for screen time and homeschooling.)

Mistake No. 2: Expecting too much from yourself.

How can anyone keep an immaculate home, homeschool 6-8 kids under 10 years old with nary a squawk, keep up with friends and an active social life, and get enough sleep?

Short answer: you can’t! You will need to:

  • Reset cleaning expectations.

Not to belittle your inner Martha Stewart, but your house will probably be a continual state of messy for the next 18-20 years. I love Rose Gerringer’s quote from our “How to Homeschool” workshop notes that her house is “clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy.”

As one mom writes, “Dishes and laundry are the only daily priority. … Each room gets really cleaned like once a month and never on the same day.”

Another family has found solace in a routine where schooling and cooking goes during the week, and laundry on the weekend. This is also a great time to start instilling the habit of assigned chores, too!

Mistake No. 3: Expecting too much from your kids.

Sometimes your first year will feel like a failure just because you need time to discover what works for you. No two homeschools ever looked alike. Your children are unique, and homeschooling gives you the opportunity to teach them in the way that best suits them.

  • Let your children learn at their own pace.Homeschool indoor activities

Many homeschool moms have found their children learn best through independent learning, not teacher-directed. If this is your child, sometimes the most successful method of teaching is just to back off!

It also matters whether your child uses an abstract or concrete learning style, and whether information is processed sequentially or randomly. If you’ve never heard these terms before, we recommend HSLDA’s introduction to learning styles.

Mistake No. 4: Expecting too much from your curriculum.

  • Find the right balance.

One mom wrote that in her first year, she needed to find the sweet spot between “teacher-directed” work versus her children’s independent learning styles. Once she tweaked a few things, her children’s progress improved dramatically.

  • Change it up.

As Sonya Shafer writes in her guest blog post, “One of the great things about homeschooling is the freedom you have to make changes as needed. You are not locked in to a certain curriculum. If you’re not enjoying something as you thought you would, or if you find it’s not as nutritious as you had hoped, or if you discover that it’s just not your child’s taste, make adjustments. You have permission to swap out a book or look for a substitute ingredient.”

  • Learn through “life” curriculum.

You might be amazed at what your kids can learn just around the house. Here are a few ideas: 1) adding numbers on license plates as you drive, 2) playing “I spy” with phonics sounds, 3) helping out with cleaning, cooking and laundry.

Even the struggles that are making homeschool so tough can be valuable lessons in themselves. As one mom writes, “You are raising spiritual warriors. Don’t assume there is no education in the battle. Fighting those battles is an education in itself!”

Mistake No. 5: Expecting too much from your “expectations.”

Why did you start homeschooling? Was it just to give your kids a good education, or did you also want them to grow up to be outstanding people?

If you focus on the big picture, it won’t make that messy kitchen disappear … but it will help you keep it in the right perspective.

  • Set long-term goals.Outdoor activities for homeschoolers

One mom’s advice is to start by writing down your long-term goals for homeschooling. They can be broad, such as “creating a love of learning” or “love God and love others.”

Creating an educational philosophy can also help.

  • Remember the successes.

Are your kids holding mature conversations with adults? Bonding with siblings in ways they never did before? Fallen back in love with learning?

Homeschool parents see these signs of growth in their children on a regular basis. They serve as great motivators. As one mom writes, “As long as they are progressing and you are instilling the love of learning, you are doing a great job!”

This post was originally published in June 2015. It has been updated for comprehensiveness and detail.