What NOT to do when you start homeschooling: 5 things I learned

I had planned today to write about “5 things I learned in our first month of homeschooling.” Yes, a month already!

Then, I saw a writing prompt for this week about “What curriculum or resource just didn’t work for your family?” And I thought… why not look at what I’ve learned by way of what NOT to do when you start homeschooling?!

Again, these are all just what’s not working for us. You might have a wonderful son or daughter who LOVES schedules, workbooks, getting up early, lesson plans and days “off” – and that’s OK. In fact, it’s so OK that I’ll be at your house tomorrow to hang out for a while. ๐Ÿ™‚

For us, here are the top five cautionary rules.

1. Don’t overplan or overschedule. I’m a list-maker. I love to make lists of what I “have to do” each day. I’m almost sick in my enjoyment of crossing things off. (Yes, I write things down I’ve already done… just to cross them off.) But our new “learning lifestyle” works best when there’s unstructured time for whatever catches Ashar’s interest. As I looked back over our best days so far, they were completely wrapped up in a particular activity or topic that we took the time to really explore and enjoy – NASCAR racing, rainbow rice, a 1920s geography book, the Titanic. Not surprisingly, these were days when we had the least on our family calendar and the most time to just explore.

2. Don’t overorganize. We tend to keep a pretty neat house – everything nicely put away as often as possible – but some of the best chances to get Ashar interested in learning have been the times when we’ve had stuff strewn about. I didn’t even know strewing was an official “thing” until this month, but imagine that – it’s the conscious choice to put things that encourage discovery in the path of your child. We find that some well-placed books and papers and art supplies masquerading as clutter have made a big difference for us – and, yes, Mom just has to get over the piles of stuff that seem to multiply on her piano. (Minor grumble on my part.)ย 

3. Workbooks are work. Ashar is funny: When we go to bookstores, he will OFTEN purposely pick out workbooks or worktexts and really want them. He’ll read from the worktext-style books often, and he’ll occasionally get on a kick where he’ll do a couple math pages or a geography puzzle or a vocabulary word search on his own. But our plan to supplement our day-to-day “living math” with a page a day from a workbook that Ashar chose has turned into a lot of work. He’ll do it, and mostly without complaint, but it’s clearly “here’s a thing I have to get through” and not “whoa, check out this cool thing I learned!” That said, he picked up the family bathroom crossword puzzle book this week (oh, don’t laugh, you know you have one too) and filled in a significant number of answers to clues I wouldn’t have thought he’d know, and he enjoys doing occasional puzzle pages that I print out for him. He just doesn’t like the idea of a book of work. When you think about it that way, I guess I can’t blame him; my plan moving forward is to “strew” some pages, but not use the overwhelming book o’ work concept.

What Not to DO When you Start Homeschooling or Unschooling - Unschool RULES4. We’re not morning learners. I don’t just mean we’re not early risers. (Though, in varying degrees, we’re mostly not. Chris gets a lot done in the mornings; my mom is usually up by about 9, even on days she doesn’t work; but Ashar and I alternate between rare days of 8 a.m. wakeups and lots of days of “goodness, is it really 11:30??”) Today was a good example. Ashar and I were both up by 9 a.m.; I went to our newspaper office for my at-work day, and he basically sat around in pajamas until I got home around 5 p.m. After my mom got home from work, Ashar did spend most of their lunchtime together telling “Mommom” all about the Titanic, but in general, it was mostly a “pet the cat, watch the hamster, play on the iPad” kind of day. After about 7 p.m., it was like a switch flipped. Ashar drew a picture, told me a detailed story about his new picture and some older pictures he found in the same sketchbook, made a cartoon about people playing laser tag, made up a new game to play with the cat and, when I said it was “bedtime,” sat with me on his bed and read all about insects from a textbook for at least an hour, even answering the review questions as we got to them. Know your family. If you’ve got an evening learner, it might be a tough adjustment, but I can highly vouch for making it work! (Read more on this here in a GREAT post from Rachel at Clean.)

5. Days “off” make it harder to have days “on.” Probably the only negative reaction we’ve gotten – at least openly – to our system of learning so far is that a few people have said, “Man, you’re not really giving him any days off.” The reverse of that is that it might look to some people that we’re not “doing any work.” I figure if you’ve got critiques on both sides, you must be walking the middle pretty well. We don’t have days off because our days onย  are just… regular days. We’re truly trying to embrace everyday learning, and that doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays. I articulated this in our first week, and I feel pretty strongly about it. I’ll also add that, because of Ashar’s personality, days where we truly are off our game, where we’re not engaged as a family in anything that stimulates us to learn or experience new things, are really hard for him. He’s kind of adrift, and he doesn’t react well to that. And, the next day, it’s really hard to get him engaged again. I think of it like a gear system – once the motor is turning, if all the gears are meshed, it’ll keep running. But when the gears are out of alignment, or when the motor stops, you just can’t get everything moving again without some work. So, for us, we’ll stick to everyday life and everyday learning and try to limit our time “off.”

Two bonus points I thought of as I was writing:

6. Don’t bring “school” home. Pennsylvania law requires your home school district to provide a copy of all the textbooks and other curricula for your child’s grade level, at your request. Well, to be on the safe side, we figured, “Let’s get a copy, just in case.” They’ve since sat in Ashar’s backpack, almost untouched. It wasn’t too big of a shocker to us, and we didn’t even plan to work out of them – just to have them for reference – but I have not found a single one even half as useful as the books on our family bookshelf. I will add, in a rare “negative review” from me, that I wholeheartedly do not recommend the “Everyday Math” and “College Preparatory Math” programs that so many schools in York County are using. Talk about overcomplicating things. Our biggest challenge is that these programs are nonlinear, and for Ashar, that’s a recipe for confusion. Interestingly, I don’t know of any homeschooler who picked up this curriculum to use after removing their child from public school, and for me, that says a lot.

7. Beware of curriculum overload. Funny, for the lady who has no curriculum right now outside her family’s own bookshelf, right? But you know how it goes. All the shiny catalogs look wonderful… and that curriculum fair will be an excellent chance to check out the latest and greatest… and the used stuff, that’s SO cheap, it can’t hurt to buy… all of it… right?

Don’t overcomplicate. Books are great. Plans are great. But you can’t follow ALL the plans, or read ALL the books. Pick what works, and let the rest go. Don’t worry. Much like those kittens my friend Rose posts on Facebook, that cute little curriculum will find a good home. ๐Ÿ™‚

So what are some other lessons I still need to learn? Save me some heartache… comment and tell me!

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13 thoughts on “What NOT to do when you start homeschooling: 5 things I learned

  1. I think you are doing great. I wish that I could home school my son, it seems like it would be easier sometimes. I feel like he does not get the attention he needs when he is lost and needs guidance. He will bring his school work home and be confused about it. That is just not acceptable. I think of everything as a learning experience, and I try to learn atleast 1 new thing a day.

    • I think you have the EXACT right idea – learn something new every day! I figure if Ashar does that, he is at least as well off and probably better than he was doing in public school! Homework/schoolwork confusion was one of our main issues; I felt like he went to school for 7 hours and we came home and took another 3 to get everything all sorted out, so I figure, why not just intercept it all on the front end so I know he understands??! How old is your son?

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only “Wow, is it really 11:30?” kind of family. I drive a school bus and sometime I come in, sleep until after ten, wake up the girl, and we ‘do school’. I have to leave for work again at 2 so there is a time window. She is 12 so if we don’t accomplish what we’d like she continues without me. Usually that is just some reading or a few chores. I have people who really think we do nothing but like the daughter says while taking the teen attitude stance, “You do know me, you don’t live my life.” yo. Lol.

    • HA, I love your daughter’s response, April! And I love that you’ve found a way to embrace the schedule and life you guys have and make it work for you! I love it. Thank you for commenting!

  3. Hi Joan! I have an 8 yo son in 3rd grade in public school. He spent his Pre-K through 2nd grade years in a private self-proclaimed “lab school” which is housed at a building on a Private college campus. The class size in his public school setting is the same, the envioronment, however, has been a complete 180-degree shift, from laid-back, hands-on learning, to can’t-move-been drawing the-same-mathmatical-array-that-I-could-do-the-first-day-for-a-month horrid. The private school, although providing a great education, ceases at 8th grade, eventually leaving us to go to a less-than-ideal private school (I haven’t heard a single good thing about it), or putting him through the painful shock of making the private to public switcharoo yet again, this time mid-puberty. I was hoping that making this change in 3rd grade would be a good thing. We were shifting early and along with other students, as this school begins at 3rd grade, with 2 other public schools in the area feeding into the population. We visited the school and met some of the 3rd grade teachers and observed the classes for a couple of hours and were honestly impressed. My son’s words as we left the public school that day were “Mama, I want to go here.” As we were both feeling good about it, we did just that. Unfortunately, we have been extremely disappointed as we have drill-sargeant-like teachers, far different from the ones we met, and the curriculum has changed over the summer to something that isn’t worth wiping shoes. I truely feel my best option here is to homeschool. I have a doctorate in pharmacy, so my education base is very strong. My biggest obstacle, other than having my work schedule adjusted to accomodate this change, is finding curricula. I have yet to see anything that I think is comprehensive, fast-paced and “fun” enough. I don’t want him to pour over books and worksheets for hours and hours. He is very intelligent, and comprehends material at a rate much faster than his peers. It sounds like you are taking the approach that I’m considering taking, which is making it up yourself! My question for you is, how are you certiain you are covering everything your child is expected to know? I’m afraid we’ll get to a standardized test (we have to test every 3 years in GA) and he will miss questions, simply because I failed to cover something he was expected to know. Do you know a good resource for what items should be covered in the various grades? Thanks so much for your help. Your site inspired me and strengthened my lean toward switching to homeschooling. I applaud your Unschooling!! – Kimberly

    • Kimberly, nice to hear from you! Let me say that your question is REALLY hard for me to answer mostly because, I have to be honest, I never cared how Sarah did on the standardized tests. Here in PA, you are required to take them in 3rd, 5th and 8th grades, but the results from them are only a small piece of what factors into the overall acceptance by the district and the evaluator… as long as your child shows progress, their work over the year is accepted. So Sarah took hers, did great on parts and worse on other parts, and was honestly able to guess/figure out even stuff she hadn’t “covered” using good common sense. (And no one even questioned her scores at all.)

      That said, I can understand your question about wanting to know what’s expected. I think in the big picture, most people have a pretty good idea of what, more or less, your child should know before they enter adulthood. They should probably have a basic overview of world and their country’s history. They should be able to do consumer math. They should be able to convey thoughts in speaking and writing intelligently. They should have a basic grasp of how the world works, in a scientific sense – what are humans, animals, plants, astronomical bodies and all that good stuff. They should know how to treat other people.

      But as to what of it they need to know when, well, the question is, what do you mean by “need”? In most cases, the scope and sequence documents you can find (search your state’s name and “scope and sequence” online and you’ll get the walkthrough of what’s supposed to be taught in public schools per year) are designed to make things simpler for TEACHERS. It’s much like the idea behind Common Core, which sounds nice at the outset – if you get a fifth-grader transferring in, from another district or another state, you want to know that you can pick up his/her education in about the same place.

      I’m not picking on that. If I were a public school teacher, I’d probably be grateful for it in many ways. But as someone who’s committed to homeschooling “for life,” as it were, it’s just not relevant to me, if that makes sense? I don’t care if Sarah knows a TON about British history and only the basics on the Civil War. I don’t care if she studied chemistry before biology, inasmuch as she picked up the pieces of biology that she needed to know for chemistry as she needed them. She’s picking up a lot of algebra now because she “needs” it to pursue her interest in forensics, but will she complete a full course in it, probably not, because she doesn’t have a need for it. Will she come back to it when she does? Sure.

      So in one way, I think I just did a terrible job answering your questions, though again, if what you want is to see what’s taught in various years in public schools, that scope-and-sequence Googling is the way to go. In another, I hope I’ve given you lots to think about!

  4. I’m so glad I read your pages. Today has been a tough day and I thought that there must be more parents like me that would prefer to teach unconventionally. I went online and found you! I have been homeschooling for 2 years now and still have not found the “right” curriculum. My 14 yr old (9th grader) son has a few learning challenges and homeschooling seems to be the right path. We do watch the science channel and that does spark conversation. We spend time in the kitchen together, baking, cleaning, playing. This is when we can “quiz” him in a relaxed situation. We live out in the country so we have great science & botany opportunities. We listen to a ton of books on tape, which we can talk about with ease, but when given the task of writing an essay on the books… not so much. We can talk about math, but put a test in front of him… Verbal seems to work the best.
    Coming to terms with myself that it’s okay that he doesn’t fill out test papers and as long as he does learn something to prepare him for the big world in a few years is my goal.
    Thanks for listening~

    • Bridget, it’s so nice to “meet” you! I’m so happy you and your son are looking for a way of learning that works for you both. It’s not easy to get there, especially with years of life that teaches us adults that learning means something very specific (that often looks like a test!)… but it is so worth it. I hope you’ll stay in touch and let me know if there are any questions I can answer. (And I’m ALWAYS glad to listen!)

  5. What a great resource! Thank you for sharing your journey. It’s been helpful and reassuring for me. I have a toddler and before she was born, we had already talked about homeschooling and unschooling. Mostly because we have unconventional beliefs and travel a lot. Now, this leap year, the kiddo turned 3 and I’ve officially/unofficially started tracking her learning. It’s mostly in a journal-style like “today she identified patterns in an art book” or “she collected rocks from our yard and organized them by size.” Things like that. Since she is only preschool aged there are no requirements in my state yet. But I’m trying to understand her learning style and our family’s natural rhythm to make it easier as we approach school-age requirements in the next couple years. Reading about your relaxed style of life-learning / unlearning has been a great help!

    • Iris, I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading about our journey! It sounds like you are really engaged with your daughter and seeing how and what she learns naturally, which is awesome!

  6. This is so liberating. Thanks for sharing. All my kids are night learners like me. Which makes it nice. Thanks for all the great advice.

    • Andrea, glad it helped! It was definitely a relief to me to realize I could do things OUR way… And it’s really convenient when your family all operates on the same schedule. I feel for the people who are struggling because they’re completely the opposite of their kids!

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