Some Dos and Don’ts for First Time Homeschoolers

It was this time last year that the world of homeschooling opened up to me. I was swept into homeschooling as one is swept into a river: quickly and urgently, both excited and nervous, knowing that I’d not exit where I had entered.

While I had taught professionally several years, I had no idea what was in store homeschooling my preschooler. I am happy to say, though, that we survived and enjoyed our first year of homeschooling. While I am no homeschooling veteran, I learned a lot, and I hope to pass on a few tips to you! Here are some do’s and don’ts for first time homeschoolers.

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Don’t Try to Turn Home into School

You’ve chosen to homeschool your child for one or many reasons! Whatever your reasons may be, don’t feel pressure to transform your home into a mini-schoolhouse. Traditional schools are set up in a way to benefit the system, not the student. Try and let go of visions of a traditional school and embrace the many benefits of learning at home.

Do Create an Atmosphere for Natural Learning

Charlotte Mason is famously credited with saying: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” You will be doing your child a huge favor by creating an atmosphere where learning is natural and meaningful.

As for the physical space: Keep your home tidy and cozy (as best as you can). You may want to purchase some quality supplies and materials to assist in the educational journey, but don’t feel like you need to go crazy getting new things; the potential for learning is everywhere. Get outside often to explore and play. Cook with your child. Put pieces of art at your child’s eye-level. Borrow and display living books from your local library. Allow for natural and practical learning in your home.

More importantly, you will influence the atmosphere of learning. Children are naturally curious and desire to learn, and they will thrive when you, their caring parent, live and learn alongside them. Pay attention to your child. Express interest in their interests. Encourage them. Ask them questions. Celebrate their discoveries. Follow their lead.

If you haven’t yet read For the Children’s Sake, I highly suggest it! It helped me better understand how to educate my children naturally.

Being outside often is one of our favorite perks of homeschooling. The outdoors always provides an atmosphere for natural learning.

Don’t Bind Yourself to a Strict Schedule

Schedules are schoolish. They are set in place for a purpose, but that purpose is not rooted in the child’s education.

Avoid the temptation to have a strict daily schedule (“We always read at 9:30am!”) and a strict yearly schedule (“I must finish this week’s unit on Friday exactly or we will fall behind!”). Schedules are more likely to create stress (especially with little ones!) and turn learning into a to-do list instead of an organic, natural experience.

Do Establish Routines

Routines, on the other hand, serve the homeschool. It is good to know what is coming next and to have regular, expected activities. Routines, though, are not set-in-stone are allow for more flexibility and adaptation.

Here is my hopeful morning routine for our family this year:

– Wake up
– Quiet time (read, do a puzzle, watch a show)
Breakfast and morning time (read a poem and a Bible story, practice Bible memory passage )
– Self-care (get dressed, brush teeth, make bed)
– Learning time (do school activities in whatever order makes sense)
– Outdoor time (could be nature study or free play, could be at home or park)
– Lunch

Say, however, I look at the weather and notice that it’s going to rain all afternoon. I may say to the kids at the breakfast table, “We are going to have our outdoor time before learning time today while the weather is still nice.” It’s more important that we have a routine of going outside than having it be at a specific time each day.

Routines provide the great balance of offering stability without compromising the ebb and flow of real life and authentic learning.

I’m happy to be utilizing The Peaceful Press’ chore and routine cards this year to help my children see what’s coming next for each day.

Don’t Force What’s Not Working

I wanted to have a glorious, simple morning music time with my kids every day last year. I envisioned breaking out my guitar and having my littles run around happily, singing Old MacDonald. Unfortunately, morning music time looked more like hitting little sister with a drum stick after arguing over who got the play drums. It wasn’t working for us at the time, and I let it go.

You will find that there are things that just aren’t working for you or your kids. Maybe the curriculum you picked isn’t jiving. Maybe your child has no interest in the gorgeous counting board you spent good money on. Maybe your child is more interested in digging in the dirt than completing a craft. Don’t force things unnecessarily; it will only create tension for you and your child.

Do Make Adaptations that Foster Learning

Instead, make adaptations. Perhaps you evaluate the strengths of the curriculum and throw out the rest, adding in what makes sense for you and your child. Perhaps you allow your child to simply make designs on the counting board instead of painstakingly counting wool balls. Perhaps you let your child make art in the dirt instead of on a piece of paper. The goal, remember, is not to check off a box, but rather to foster natural learning.

Sometimes, the adaptation is to abandon a pursuit or expectation all together or wait for a different time. Wisdom will tell you when to take a step back and let go or when to try again later.

As for our music time, I’ve found my kid enjoy singing in the car. We still get to enjoy Old MacDonald, but there are no instruments to fight over. I may give morning music time ago again this year, but if it’s not working, I’ll have to let it go again. Singing in the car may not be that beautiful image I had in my mind, but it’s still learning and enjoying life together. I’ve learned to be ok with that.

I used the wonderful Peaceful Preschool as a guide more than as a strict curriculum, making adaptations often according to what worked for us.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

I can fall into this trap. I can scroll through Instagram and lust over the beautiful, perfectly organized, well-stocked homeschool spaces. I can gawk over another Mom’s poetry tea time. I can marvel at the way their children sit so intently as they watercolor a goldfinch. I can frown as I consider my messy bun and leggings in contrast to the put-together beauty I see in the screen.

It’s true: comparison is the thief of joy. If you find yourself comparing, stop. Release yourself from the trap by reminding yourself that everyone has unique personalities, strengths, experiences, and resources. The goal is not to be like fill-in-the-blank. Your goal is to be the best you can be.

Do Learn from Others and Practice Gratitude

That being said, iron sharpens iron. Don’t deprive yourself of the wisdom and experience of other moms! I have been so inspired by the work that other homeschool moms are doing and have bettered myself by learning from others.

Trade “I wish…” into “How can I…?” How can I organize my own homeschool space to be beautiful like so-and so’s? How can I create a special poetry tea-time for my kids? How can I celebrate my child’s unique skills and abilities? How can I make myself feel comfortable and ready for the day?

Also, there’s a special mental transition that happens when we practice gratitude about our own experience. I’m so glad I can educate my children at home! I’m so glad I can get ideas from other moms! I’m so grateful my kids are active and full of energy! I’m so grateful that I can wear comfortable clothes all day!

These skills of learning from others and practicing gratitude will strengthen and equip you for the journey.

Don’t Worry About What Doesn’t Happen

Our culture is product-driven, not process-driven. Don’t allow that mindset to infiltrate your homeschool.

There are a lot of things you hope to get done that may not happen. You may not get to complete the full curriculum as planned. Your child may not be able to identify every letter of the alphabet. You may not be able to go on that field-trip.

Don’t worry about it. Not every seed planted in a garden will grow into a fruitful plant. How sad is the gardener that fixates on the lost seed instead of acknowledging what grew.

Do Celebrate What Does Happen

Celebrate the harvest. It may not be what you had expected, but if you’re treating your homeschool as an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, it will bear fruit.

If you can, keep record and celebrate those fruitful moments. Take photos, keep a journal, designate a space to display evidences of learning; find a way to commemorate the learning that happens along the way.

Hard to believe this was last year and how much we’ve learned together!

You got this, mama! Happy Homeschooling!

Interested in reading more on homeschooling? Check out my homeschooling resource page!

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