Homeschooling Q and A
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
It all started like this…Ben and I were sitting on the couch one evening after putting our oldest, who was just a baby, to bed. Out of nowhere he says to me, “I think we should consider homeschooling." Now, here I sit, 7 years later, finishing up my third year as a homeschooling mom and writing a post about the things I’ve learned. I'd never considered homeschooling before that night, but I’m glad that conversation led me to look into it. I really like seeing my kids learn new things and I’ll always remember this past year when reading finally clicked for our 7 year old. Now she’s reading everything; I helped her do that! I write this post as a response to many questions I've gotten lately; hopefully it answers some of the questions that you have. In full disclosure, Ben (a software developer) and I (a dental hygienist) have a combined total of 0 hours of training in early childhood education. I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of choosing a curriculum, being responsible for the schooling of my children and wondering if this would even work out for us. I spent a lot of time researching reasons people have for homeschooling and talking to other homeschooling parents about curriculum and educational philosophies. I want to be totally up front with you, I’m NOT a homeschooling expert, but I do have some experience that I hope will be helpful to those of you with questions. Here are some of the things I've been asked:
So, how much homeschooling experience do you have?
My oldest will be 8 this summer and she would be older for her grade in public school. She was pretty sad when a bunch of her friends started kindergarten and she wasn’t able to go, so I started doing school time with her using a preschool/kindergarten curriculum for that first year when she was 5. After a successful first year, I decided to buy the real deal and go all in with a kindergarten core curriculum when she was 6. This past year, I was doing school time for both her (now 7 and at 1st/2nd grade level) and her sister (5 and at kindergarten/1st grade level). So, that’s where I’m getting the 3 years of homeschooling experience. I also have a 3-year-old in the mix who is in charge of asking for snacks and entertainment (and participates in school time when his interest is piqued).
What are some of the things you like about homeschooling?
My kids teach each other. My oldest is helping her younger siblings learn everything from reading to geography, and that’s real-life experience for all of them. The younger two are accepting criticism and instruction from a "peer" with more experience and the oldest is having to consider how to best communicate with them so that they’ll understand what she’s trying to tell them, just like in the real world.
I like the slow life. We do not rush to get things done. I have a list of things that I’d like to get done in school each day, but that doesn’t always happen and that’s okay. Sometimes we need to take an hour and learn about what makes a good sentence or look at more books to practice the magic of the silent e and other days those things just happen in 10 minutes. It all gets done eventually and we’ve learned more about each other in the process.
I like the realness. A lot of people (myself included) think that homeschooled kids are sheltered from what’s real and hard in life; while it may be true for some, it’s not for us. That’s one of the reasons that we wanted to homeschool in the first place. We wanted to be able to talk to our kids about hard things when they had questions…and they do. Just this past year in the span of one week the topics of death, terrorism, slavery, alcoholism, child abuse and childbirth inconveniently came up during our day and I had to stop and very awkwardly talk about them. That was a hard week and not typical, but I was glad that I was there for those conversations.
What is hard about homeschooling?
Being both mama and teacher is hard. My kids are here, with me, all the time--there is no break. It takes a toll and I’ve learned that I need to schedule some time for myself to be an adult. So, everyone has rest time in their rooms for an hour each day; that way I can get a break and so can they. I’ve also learned that I need a friend (someone who knows me well and is also homeschooling) to call when things go bad (like when I became convinced that my 7 year old would never be able to read, write a sentence, or spell correctly and that I’d ruined her life) and that friend reminds me that while bad days and weeks happen, I’m still a good mom and gives me some pointers on what’s helped her.
They don’t listen. Yep, my kids don’t always listen to me as mama or as teacher. My patience sometimes runs out 30 minutes into the start of the day and that’s not good. Thankfully there are places we can go (like to our rooms or a walk around the house) to calm down, be alone with our feelings and then come back when we’re ready. It’s harder to do when that person is me, but it’s also important for my kids to see that I recognize my big feelings and can remove myself from the situation and deal with them.
What are some resources out there for those just starting out on their homeschool journey and what about if I'm not ready to fully commit but want some extra resources on hand?
It is my personal opinion (again, I am not a trained teacher) that nobody really needs to buy a curriculum to homeschool. Another thing I enjoy about homeschooling is getting to be around my kids and watch them learn by doing simple things like figuring out how to build a fort, following the instructions on a recipe or deciding on the best way to build a Lego tower so that it won't fall over. Kids can learn a lot just by doing and playing. That said, I think that as long as you and your learner are reading good books together, writing and using math that’s all you really need to do; everything else is just extra. Here are some of the extras that I’ve used:
Five In A Row- We loved this program! The premise is that you read 1 book (the same book) every-day for five days in a row and each day you choose a subject to talk about from that book (math, science, social skills, geography, art,…). They provide the talking points and answers for more subjects than you’d be able to use in that 5 days. I loved the books we read, the wide range of topics and the flexibility of it. I could spend 10 minutes reading and doing the activity or an hour, it’s all up to you and your learner. Most of the books we read were available at the local library. I used this resource (volume 1) for my preschooler/kindergartner. They have several volumes for each age level anywhere from age 2-4 (Before Five In A Row) to 8-12 (Beyond Five In A Row). Five In A Row (linked here) is for ages 5-9.
Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook- We started using this resource a little over a year ago and I’ve really enjoyed it. The author explains his goals for literacy and the benefits of reading aloud for both the reader and listener. That’s the first half of the book; the last 100+ pages are book lists, some with categories like sports and friendship and others with age/grade ranges and a brief synopsis. I bought the book for the book lists and we’re still working our way through them. I've had very good luck finding the books from the lists at our local library. The seventh edition is what we have, but I linked the latest edition here. Both editions are available at our local library.
Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman - This book was recommended to me by a friend and it has been our science for the past 2 years; we’ve had a lot of fun with it. The pictures and the topics she covers in the book are intriguing. I used this monthly unit study guide to break down the chapters into smaller topics that I could talk about in depth if my kids wanted to know more. She has other books called Food Anatomy and Farm Anatomy and we have the box set of all 3. I often find my kids just sitting and looking at the pictures. She just published a new book called Ocean Anatomy. I don't have it yet but it's on my wish list!
Brain Quest Workbooks -We’re using these workbooks for my two school-age kids this summer. I purchased them at the recommendation of a friend. I got the grade level they just finished so that I could use it as a guide to see the areas where we might need to focus when we start up with school time again in August/September. They cover a large variety of subjects and I could see this being a good option for those who are looking to have something extra on hand. They have workbooks for preschool through 6th grade.
Hubbard’s Cupboard– This website is absolutely free! I’ve used it for both my two older kids in kindergarten to help them learn about word families, learn to read simple books and do activities to go with it. She’s got so many different subjects on her site; go check it out! I would say this is a resource geared toward kindergarten-1st grade levels.
I’m all in, but how do I choose a curriculum?
Cathy Duffy’s curriculum guide- There are so many opinions out there on the best curriculum to use. Ms. Duffy has done an excellent job of helping homeschooling families decide on their educational philosophy, teaching style, and assess the type of learner they have. She has several charts in the book that break down aspects of each curriculum, like prep time, learning style, religious vs. non-religious and educational philosophy; this helps you quickly asses which curriculum(s) you might want to consider versus those that might not be the best fit for your family. Then, in the last section of the book she individually details each of the curricula mentioned in the chart: giving grade/age guidelines, pricing and an in-depth explanation of how the curriculum works. I have the previous edition, but I linked the latest edition above. Both editions are available for checkout at our local library.
So… what do you use?
We use Sonlight for our History, Geography, Literature, Bible and Language arts, Math-U-See for math and I’ve just recently purchased Sassafras Science for next year, because we’re finished with the Julia Rothman series (mentioned above) and we’ve been needing something a little bit more focused and in-depth. This might be a good time to mention that not all curricula are religion-based and Cathy Duffy’s curriculum guide will tell you whether the one you’re considering is religion-based or not. I’ve consulted Ms. Duffy’s charts and summaries for most of the curricula I’ve purchased so far and have found her assessments to be spot on for us.
What does your day look like?
I’m not very strict on checking all the boxes each day and I have no concept of what a typical day looks like in the classroom, because again, I have no experience in early childhood education; I’m pretty flexible on what we do and when. When you purchase a curriculum like Sonlight they give you guidelines for what to do for each subject each day and that removes a lot of the prep time for me. I have two school-aged kids which means I’m juggling a couple different levels of reading and math. To keep them straight, I have a separate planner (pictured below- this is the one I bought for next year) where I list the subjects we’re discussing and make a daily list for each kid. If or when we don’t get everything done, I just leave that particular thing unchecked and we get to it when we have time. Hopefully that makes sense and the picture below might help make things clear.
This past year, we only did school Monday through Wednesday because the older two went to a teacher-share on Thursdays; on Fridays we spent the day outside on hikes, field trips, or doing a nature study. The girls also joined Girls Scouts and our troop tends to focus on math and science badge and patch work; I count all of that towards school time as well. That’s the schedule that worked best for us and it might look a little different next year but that’s another beauty of homeschooling: it’s flexible and you can figure out what works best for you and when!
Okay, but can you be more specific? What time do you start and how much time does it take? Where do you do your school time?
One hour of homeschool instruction is equal to 3 hours of classroom instruction, so if you’re spending 3 hours a day working with your kids at home, then you’ve exceeded the amount of instruction they’d get at school on a given day. I use this as my guide and we start our day around 8:00ish with quiet reading time. At around 8:30 depending on when we started, I read with our little reader while the other two play or my older keeps reading or writes. We work on some form of reading, writing and language arts from 9ish to 10ish. Then history/science/whatever else is on the list from 10:00ish to 11:00ish; then we finish with math because it’s both the girls’ favorite and easiest subject (currently). We finish when we finish and then have lunch. That’s the end of our school time. I don’t hold to any real schedule, but I do try to be done by lunch each day. There are lots of breaks while I’m working with each of them individually and sometimes we're wearing our pajamas while we're reading in the big blue chair, writing at the little table and doing math on the floor; it is very informal and relaxed.
Whew! We made it! This post covered a lot of topics and questions. I hope it helped to answer some of your questions, but if you have more questions, send us a Facebook message and we can connect. I’m not an expert, but I’m willing to share what I’ve learned!
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