Your world is your classroom, when you homeschool.

We have been homeschooling for a short time (since 2009), so we have had a couple of good years under our collective family belt, but not so many that we have forgotten the newness — we still feel it! So, when I saw this topic for the “10 in 10” blog link-up, I knew that I had to contribute.


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” — William Butler Yeats

The Bennett Top 10: When You’re New to Homeschool

1. Home school is not “school at home”.  It is life.

Whether you had great school experiences, terrible school experiences, whether you are a trained school teacher or not, recreating school in your home is not only impossible, but it really defeats the purpose of homeschooling. And I’m sharing this with you because it was my biggest misconception, and the one that made things most difficult for me.

Being a former school teacher, I thought that I had a leg up on those “other” homeschoolers, because I had, well, “teacher stuff.” And I knew “teacher things.”

Then I started homeschooling, and realized that, the reasons I took my youngest son out of public school had to do with the way that “teacher stuff” and those “teacher things” weren’t working for my little guy. Boy, was I wrong. But,  I realized that only after beating my head against the wall for a minute. In many ways, being a public school teacher probably made the transition to homeschooling more difficult for me, than if I had just determined to be a mom, first. Time to break out Romans 12: 3 — “Do not think more highly of yourself than is necessary.”

Home school is not school in your home. It is making school out of  your home. So you don’t have to have all the fancy books and materials and white boards that public schools have. There is plenty of good learning to be had just by being together, as a family. Some of our warmest, most memorable, and most educational homeschool moments happened when we weren’t even trying to “do” school.

For more reading on the difference between learning at home, and traditional “brick and mortar” schools, kindly take a look at the article, “What is Unschooling?”, by Dr. Earl Stevens.

2. You are “smart enough” to homeschool your child.

An inquisitive, soft-mannered, very creative friend of mine, who runs her own home-based cleaning business, commented to me that she would have homeschooled her equally creative, busy little girl, if she had only been “smarter.” So I pondered, and compared what I saw in her against that comment…

  • she owns her own business…
  • she tends a garden, drums, tie-dyes, cooks, tells stories, dances…
  • she reads a whole lot of different things…
  • she loves outdoor walks, picking flowers, and collecting interesting rocks and sticks for yard art…
  • she loves and plays with her daughter…
  • she thinks soap bubbles, dolls, hula hoops and water balloons are perfect toys for a child…
  • she has chosen not to have cable TV…

Sounds pretty smart to me. I don’t know about you.

The bottom line is, whatever you like, whatever is interesting to you and your child, whatever you value as a family, becomes your school. Life becomes your school. If your life is full of farming, canning and tending animals, that becomes school. If you are computer savvy and love blogging, surfing, pinning and webcasting, that becomes your school. If you are an automechanic, truck driver, grocery store clerk, or nurse, that becomes your school. Okay, if math isn’t your thing, then you know you need to buy a math workbook. If you aren’t a great speller, you will need to both learn how to use Spell-check on Word. The point is, you are not raising your child to pass a standardized test when you homeschool: you are raising a successful adult. You ARE smart enough. Why? Because you already ARE an adult!

Here’s a secret (actually, more of an epiphany for us, this year): starting this fall, we’re all “homeschooling” together! I now know that I don’t have to know everything before we study it in homeschool. My husband wants to learn Spanish with my son, and he would like some help with algebra while I teach fourth grade math to the little guy. We all want to learn about the history we never studied in public school. And our Bible study curriculum is written for family use. So we’ll all get smarter, together.

We are not all experts on reading instruction, or numeracy. But no one is an expert on your child, more than you.

Blogger and work-at-home mom, Denise Williams, tackles the question, “Am I Qualified to Homeschool My Child?” and other issues, in WAHM Articles.

Turn the family activities you love into learning opportunities.

3. The most important thing to do is read together.

My daughter temporarily took her 9-year-old out of school due to bullying. She wanted to homeschool, but she didn’t know where to begin. I told her to do these things:

  • Get herself, and my grandson, library cards. Let him pick out any books he wants to read, and you go to the picture book section and just start pulling books that look interesting to you. Keep the library books in a basket.
  • Read together, as a family, every evening. Pile all those babies on your lap.
  • Buy a blank spiral notebook, and have my grandson write for 15 minutes every day. Let him write about anything he wants.
  • Buy a grade-level math workbook at the department store. Do one page, or two, a day.
  • Buy a cursive handwriting practice book at the department store. Do a page a day.
  • Make sure he has creative and outdoor time on a regular basis.

That’s it. From there, she can add or tweak things based on my grandson’s interests. But, the most important thing to do, if you do nothing else, is read together. The rest will fall into place. Trust me.

I think most homeschoolers, if they have occasion to re-enroll their child in public school (for keeps or temporarily), find that their child reads at a much higher grade level than his peers. For homeschooling parents of children with exceptionalities, I think most find that their child progresses much more quickly with the individualized instruction of home, than she would in a traditional school.

I recently put together some literature resources to go along with The Swiss Family Robinson — check them out for ideas on how to build your own collection, using your public library. (Note: I was reading these points out loud to my little guy, and he said, “Tell them, if you don’t have any books, you can go to the library.” Enough said.)

Teaching little ones how to read is intimidating to a lot of folks interested in homeschooling, yet early literacy can be supported by many activities we just do naturally in a home setting, including conversation, story-telling, question-and-answer, and games. Take a look at some of the suggestions in the article, “A Literacy-Rich Home Environment,” at ITLC Online.

4. Your family IS a social group!

People will ask you, “What about socialization?”, and it will either 1) drive you crazy or 2) make you question whether you are permanently damaging your child by homeschooling him. You are not crazy, and you will not damage your child!

A cousin  of mine, who holds a doctorate, and once was the chairman of his town’s Board of Education, asked me, “But what about socialization? It’s better for him to be with other kids his age.” Saying this implies a few things:

  • Other people’s children are better companions for your child than the family that bore him.
  • Families aren’t appropriate social units.
  • Children learn how to be adults better from other children than from other adults.
  • Something magical and good happens the more time a child spends with other kids.
  • A child needs LOTS of age-same companions to be complete.

From a Biblical standpoint, the family IS the God-ordained social unit, then the church. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that children should be sent off to be raised by someone else. In fact, the Bible exhorts us, as believers,  to “train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

That being said, play is important, and, if you don’t have a house full of kids (we do not, as our other children are adults), it is good for your child to have play avenues. This could be the neighborhood kids, or organized activities. My son has neighborhood playmates, and participates in sports and swimming lessons in our town. Some kids prefer (as did my eldest son) to have lots of acquaintances, while some (my middle one) have a few very close friends. The Bible clearly talks about the value of friendship, with Our Lord, Himself, calling the disciples his friends. So same-age friends ARE important in a well-balanced child.

As parents, we have the job to model appropriate behavior to our kids. We all know that children, left to their own devices, will not necessarily choose the best way — if they did, they wouldn’t need parents! So the “kids as role models” theory just doesn’t make sense. Just tell folks that God created the family, and man created schools, so you’re choosing, for a season, to go with God’s idea to see how it turns out for your family.

[After I wrote this, and before I posted it, I received the newest Carnival of Homeschooling post, where one homeschooling mom wrote a response to the question, “What about ‘socialization?’ in the form of an acrostic (of sorts), entitled “Anti-Homeschooling” — great stuff you have to read!]

 5. You can turn anything into a reading/writing/social studies/science/Bible study…. lesson.

A family hike can connect to any subject, with a little practice.

We all (well, most of us) were educated in a public school setting. So it is normal for us to have to “unlearn” some things about education as we homeschool. I already told you about how I had to re-think what I thought I knew and believed about education.

One thing that we get locked into, based on our own upbringing, is the “subject” mentality: that, in order to be well-rounded, people must have training in “core” subjects, as listed above.  The reality is, most of us don’t do our best learning in little boxes. Rather, we decide we want to learn more about something, then pull in all the “subjects” in order to learn about it. In this way, anything ( a great novel, a field trip, a passion for model trains, a family vacation, or a hobby) can become a full “curriculum.”

Once you have collected the materials in #2, and your child decides he wants to learn more about the Civil War, the computer you are currently sitting at will become your biggest ally in homeschooling.  This summer,  we are all learning about World War II, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I’ve discovered a great way to quickly find other homeschool ideas on any topic. Simply Google your topic, like this:

“homeschooling [your topic]”


‘[your topic] notebooking”

Then, on the left sidebar, select “Images” instead of “Web.” Why images? Because I don’t want random lessons that people wrote, but ideas that people actually used with children. When I recently did this to find resources on beaches to use with The Swiss Family Robinson, I got over 21,500 image hits from other homeschoolers! Most of those included links to the activities and printable resources that the homeschoolers used. Seriously, you will not have to create anything, if you don’t want to. (But you’ll want to, eventually!). Starting with a look at how other people managed to “fit it allin” is a great encourager for your own ideas.

If you are concerned still, the best thing to do is to check your state’s homeschooling requirements. Here, in Connecticut, there are very few requirements for homeschooling, but other states are more stringent. If you will want to send your child to college eventually, you will have to keep track of time in some core subjects, during secondary homeschool (as my own homeschooler is a little one, I defer to my high school homeschooling friends for more on this. My friend, Barbara McCoy, of The Handbook of Nature Study, has homeschooled her kids through high school, and has begun posting on her blog regarding how to extend nature study as part of biology studies in high school.

6. You do not have to spend any money on curriculum.

If the idea of making up your own activities and units is too scary for you (it was for me, when I started), there are some free, whole curricula available online. Use your friend, the computer, and your local library, and you can find more than you could ever use, right online.

Our first year, we did some scattered integrated units, which were a favorite for my son. We studies military helicopters (boy, that was a stretch for this science girl!), aquatic life, and Native Americans. Then, I discovered, through my friend, Deborah (“The Paper Maid“) Ambleside Online’s curriculum. The curriculum is rigorous, and links to public domain materials are all available for free. You can Google the titles, and find a plethora of activities for them, even entire units of study, as many, many people use Ambleside for homeschooling. I love it, and we will be using Year 4 next year, as I discovered that my son is quite a history enthusiast. (It’s funny, because I was a science major and science teacher, and my two oldest sons are both scientists by training and career. My husband is a professional musician. But the little guy is a history and military buff, although no one in the immediate family is in the military).

7. Technology is your friend.

You can (and many homeschoolers do) build an entire homeschool experience out of books from the public library (and all homeschoolers use the library to fill independent reading baskets). But there is no question that today’s technology makes access to, and sharing of, resources so convenient. AND many homeschool moms turn their homemade units into a home business, via the Internet. With that in mind, here are some bits of technology that we couldn’t do without, as homeschoolers:

  • a good quality color printer/copier
  • Internet access (for downloading printables and reading other folks’ blog posts and ideas)
  • access to online videos (either through Cable TV or the Internet)
  • a digital camera (for blogging and  projects)

If you don’t have a camera, that’s ok. You can also make do without videos, especially if you are fortunate to be able to use real-life experiences.  I also bought a Nook Color, onto which I have downloaded books for my son to use. But that’s a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.” Most things, you’ll discover, are “nice to haves.” The only things I’d really say are lifesavers are a printer and the Internet.

Erica shares her workbox system of organizing her homeschool room, in “Confessions of a … Homeschooler.” I have to try this, this year!


[At this point, Little Man enters the room. Mom reads points 1-7 to Little Man, and asks his advice on the remaining three points. Here goes (I think they’re good ones — what do you think?)]…

8. A schedule is important.

I don’t mean at 8:00 do this, at 8:30 do that, although some kids (and parents) like this. I mean, organization is good for everyone. Some kids do great with a totally freeform, unschooled approach, where they entirely direct their own learning. If this is your child, and you, go for it. But it wasn’t comfortable for me (I’m very linear-sequential) nor for my son, who was not always independent or focused as a little guy. Your schedule needs to take into consideration your own comfort level with unstructured-ness, and your child’s needs for freedom and/or order. It will take you both some time, and even experienced homeschooling friends of mine have had days when they wondered why it took their 8-year-old three hours to do one page of copywork. Hmmm…  Luckily, all the homeschoolers that have gone before you have posted piles of scheduling ideas, planners and organizers, from year-long idea maps to detailed daily timers that look more like your Day Planner.

So, I asked the young lad why he thought a schedule was important. He responded:

  • “Well, you like to know what activity your going to do that day.” — Kids like to anticipate the next day’s events in some way.
  • “Checklists are helpful.” — We found our son did much better when he literally had a checklist, and could check things off (“Read 30 minutes — check… Do subtraction practice, have Papi check it… check…”). So did I! (I still need the security of seeing that I have accomplished what I set out to do, although I am more comfortable saying, “Well, we did this instead,” now.)

Here are two sources we currently use for creating order, but there are many more:

  • Donna Young’s Homeschool Resources and Printables has free planners, schedules, resources and a zillion other helpful things for first-time (and veteran) homeschoolers.  We relied heavily on her things our first year.
  • Homeschool Skedtrack is a free web-based planner that helps you plan out a year of curriculum, then automatically creates daily plans for you, moving things along if you don’t get to them on a given day. It also houses grades, if that is important to you. You can opt to print out a daily checklist, if that helps your child.

9. Talk to each other. And then listen.

We are all independent thinkers in our house, and are all comfortable with “alone time.” In fact, we individually depend on our own private thought time.  But family function, and success, depends on communicating with one another. And I’m so proud of my little guy for identifying this as an important part of homeschooling.

When we first started out homeschooling, I thought I had to control everything, and I overplanned. Which is not a bad thing. Unless one becomes rigid, and worries excessively about “getting things done.” Which I did. I am much more confident now, and  have learned to let some (okay, a lot of…) things go.

So what do homeschoolers need to talk about? Little Man and I made a list:

  • What’s hard (for both your child, and you)
  • What’s boring (sometimes a hard pill to swallow, when you’ve poured your weekend into that great artist study, and your child wants to study military weapons, instead)
  • What’s non-negotiable (in our house: daily math practice, penmanship, independent reading and Bible study — you have to decide on yours)
  • When someone (you or your child) needs a day (or two, or three) off from school (yes, this IS ok!)
  • When someone (you or your child) wants to try something different (most homeschoolers confess to not using the same style or ideas every year, or even for a whole year, and maybe not even the same style with each of their children)
  • When you all need to reconsider something in a big way (such as, “Homeschool or public school this year?” — Believe it or not, a well-discussed, and not shameful, subject among homeschoolers)
Time together is the best part of homeschool…

I mentioned that my little one went to public school for the end of third grade (this past year), for a variety of reasons, most related to a move. After lots of discussion, he has requested to be able to attend his middle school part-time next year, to take music lessons, play in the school band, participate on school sports teams, and enroll in “specials” – art, PE, technology, music, etc. He also will participate in special activities such as field trips, History Day and the Science Fair. Many of these are well-structured, group activities that are harder to do in our homeschool (as he’s the only little guy left in the house), but he wants to still have our “core” subjects for homeschool, something he (and we) found to be better addressed at home. Will we do this for fifth grade? Don’t know. Ask me next June!

As far as part-time school attendance, it is a matter of personal/family choice, and the guidelines of your school district. Our previous town wanted nothing to do with our son  after he withdrew, but our current town is quite amenable to working out an arrangement. After all, you pay taxes to attend school — this means we just won’t avail ourselves of all the services we have paid for.

Check out “Homeschooling Advice For Moms From the Real Experts, Kids! Advice from Ages 6-11” for more advice from kids who have been there!

10. Remember why you decided to homeschool in the first place.

This last point is really the most important, and personal, point. And everyone will have different reasons. Here are some of ours:

  • Our local school was not suitable for our son (not safe, not rigorous, etc.), and was doing more harm than good
  • Our son’s learning needs were not being adequately addressed by our local school, despite many attempts on our part to change things
  • Attendance in public school exposed our child to behaviors and morals (adult and child!) that were not compatible with ours
  • A health crisis (mine) made us rethink why we do the things we do, and adjust accordingly
  • We really like being together!
  • Learning is fun, when you do it as a family
  • You can spend more time on the things that you love, and less (or none) on the things you don’t
  • God  rules in our home, but He is not allowed to, in school

There will be times when you will question and doubt yourself. If it helps, write down, as a family, your motives for homeschooling, and then refer to them when times get tough. Give yourself permission for this to be a journey, a process. Give yourself permission to get lost in a moment. In the end, you will fondly recall, not the excellent Science lesson that you conducted, but spending time cuddling, laughing, and just enjoying one another’s presence. THAT is your greatest education to your child — teaching him that he is loved by you.

You might like to check out “A Homeschool That Handles the Hard Times” for more ideas on how to get over bumps in the road of life. It is warm and encouraging.

I hope you have been encouraged. We are allin this together! Be blessed and here’s to a great new venture, or the continuation of a current one!