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Things are changing for people. I have had many parents reach out to me recently with questions about homeschooling. Parents want what is best for their kids and have concerns about the future of their kids in the traditional school system. People are wondering, homeschooling vs public schooling, what’s the best way? There is no “right” way for everyone. With all the discussions I’ve had recently, I decided to put my thoughts out in the universe about homeschooling and how it doesn’t have to be hard. Hopefully it can help anyone out there who needs it.
The key to being a homeschool family is flexibility.
The first and most important lesson you can learn is flexibility. Homeschool can and should be different than trying to do public school at home. Lots of parents got what they thought was a homeschooling experience when Covid closed schools and familes fumbled through distance learning – doing public school at home. Those of us who homeschool watched from the sidelines, reading online comments about requirements, technical problems, benchmarks and just basic struggles and frustrations from parents who thought they were newly initiated into homeschooling.
Homeschoolers saw this and said, “That’s NOT homeschooling, that’s public schooling at home … and that would be very hard”. It is difficult (if not impossible) to replicate the school “system” at home, especially if you have multiple children. And why would you want to? A homeschooling parent takes full responsibility for how, when, and what their children are learning. The big advice tip is to be flexible by doing things on your own time (even if your schedule means your “homeschool” day starts in the late afternoon and your kids play all morning while you telecommute to work). You own so much about the whole process and can allocate as much or as little as you want.
What method of homeschooling is best?
There is a different answer for each child. No two kids learn exactly alike. This is one of the criticisms about traditional schools - the impossibility to individualize all lessons for all students. The one who knows how your kids learn better than anyone is you, the parent. If you don't, then discovering it will be very rewarding.
A great aspect about homeschooling being able to support individuality, is that no two homeschooling programs are exactly alike. Programs or methods can be individualized to how your kids learn. Decoding each kid’s style of learning (even as a parent) takes patience and flexibility, but is totally do-able.
There are several different homeschool methods. You can spend hours researching method after method, weighing out the homeschooling pros and cons.
Do you want to do an online public school? Do your ideals align with the Charlotte Mason way of life? Would your kids learn best in an unschooling environment where the child is in charge of what they want to learn instead of being told what they have to learn?
Homeschool options are endless. Don’t feel daunted though. Even after you’ve picked a method, you don’t have to stick with something that doesn’t work. So don’t give yourself analysis paralysis by trying to pick the right one at the very start and delaying your start till you have spent huge amounts of time researching.
You aren’t building a space ship that has to be perfect down to every bolt right from the initial launch. Think of it more like you are painting a Bob Ross painting and can add things or change things as they come along. Happy little trees can be painted over with a snowy mountain if that’s where your direction takes you. So, do a little research, pick a method and get moving.
The method we use right now might not be what we use later
For me, homeschooling in our family changed for the better when I stepped back and stopped trying to be in charge. I realized that I am not a teacher in the traditional sense. I discovered things work better when I approach it more like I am a partner with my kids, guiding their interests and seeing where their curiosity takes them.
My focus is to instill a love of learning.
My responsibility was/is to provide a rich environment and instill a love of learning. I took all the predetermined grade levels and threw them out the window. For me, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow they are learning. No more arbitrary benchmarks. If it is something they need to know at a distant future stage of life, then I’m not going to stress and create stress for them by testing and benchmarking them to learn something now that will be better to learn later when it’s more applicable and they are more ready to learn it.
But what about college and testing? I think that focusing on benchmarks and testing isn't teaching kids to learn. If I can teach them to learn, then that will help them with any pursuit they go for later in life. If they want to go to college, they will have the tools needed to learn to jump through any entrance exam hoop they need to. According to this blog that references studies that I also read before citing this, homeschooled kids usually do very well because they know how to learn and have a passion for knowedge.
It Takes Time
Allow yourself the time to figure out what works best for you and your kids. Again, be flexible. Everyone in the family needs to be happy. You can’t force your kids to learn in a way that doesn’t work for them. If you are uncomfortable with unschooling, then don’t do it. Find what homeschool style works for the family and remember: be flexible. What works one week, may not work the next week.
Learning is a way of life for us. As a family living and traveling nomadically on the road full time in our RV, we are always learning something new. Educationally, we view our life as a great big field trip. Not everyone can or would want to live this way, but the concept that “everything is a learning experience” is transcendent to any lifestyle – be it suburban, fulltime travel, inner city, or rural. The most important lessons are not learned from books.
Example: we might be learning about how to deal with humidity in the south, the do’s and don’ts when crossing international borders, how to pick okra, eating new local foods, or visiting a variety of historical locations. You can implement lessons from your own surroundings and experiences in your own home. For example, If you live in an apartment in the inner city, then you have a treasure trove of things you can learn about architecture, engineering, hardy horticulture, the water cycle, map reading, etc.
What homeschool method do we use?
Tough question. We mostly unschool. But, I also direct our kids in some ways. It’s not a free-for-all in our family but I do feel like we homeschool wild and free. They do get plenty of free time to explore the world around them. And for them, they are lucky to be in a new location several times a month. New vegetation to figure out, new butterflies and birds to watch, a new campground to walk around and navigate. These seemingly simple things fire up their brains. Change is good and creates a learning environment.
What do I expect from my kids?
First and foremost, I want to raise my children to be good people! I want them to look for ways to help others. I also want them to know HOW to research and learn what they want and need to learn. I want them to be self-sufficient and know how to handle tough situations. I want them to have the “know how” to make a simple, no-frills living however they choose and not feel pressured by any keeping-up-with-the-jones’ systemic life “script”. How do I do that? I’m still figuring that out. If you know any secrets, please pass them on! Beyond any of that, everything is bonus material. If they grow up to be good people who help others, then I succeeded.
Favorite ways for my kids to learn
Playing outside as much as possible. You could call it homeshool in the woods. Catching frogs, collecting sticks to make arrows, observing local birds, examining unique mushrooms, foraging for edible food, finding the coolest rock, measuring rope and mentally calculating tensile strength for woodly creations. I could go on and on about the benefits of learning in the great outdoors.
It's not the only way they learn, but it's their favorite.
- Helping with meals. Yes, it takes longer in the beginning. But they love to help and it’s a great skill to learn early on. All of the kids love helping in the kitchen with meals so we have to rotate who is helping to avoid fighting. Lydia (12) makes breakfast for the family every morning. Total win for me! Most of them know how to build a fire and make tin-foil dinners – another win.
- Toys: Our bucket of Legos is almost always out. Blocks, balls, hot wheels are a few of our basics. The BluTrack is great for learning engineering.
- Playing board games. Some of our favorite learning games are chess, Ticket to Ride and Sleeping Queens.
- Art: I like to have plenty of art supplies handy to be used at any moment. Paper, crayons, markers, scissors, paint, origami paper and pipe cleaners. Matt hates the mess, but I love the creativity. It’s always a battle. The Buddha Board is great for non-permanent creativity – we love ours!
The older kids each have a “school book” they are reading. These books are catered to their likes because I want them to enjoy reading. Evelyn still likes reading with me so I try to sit down with her. Right now, she is reading The Princess in Black series.
Every night when the kids go to bed, Matt lays in their room and reads a couple of chapters to them. They are working their way through The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s something they all look forward to every night.
How many hours a day do we homeschool?
Occasionally we will sit down and do a few lessons. I prefer it when their material is hands-off for me. I can’t sit with each child for hours every day. Gavin, who is 10, is a great teacher. He takes time to make fun lessons for Teddy (5) and Elliot (4) to teach them their letters and numbers. I love seeing Gavin’s natural talent shine.
I know I'm not answering the question. That's because it's different every day. We are not a Monday - Friday 8am to 3pm school. School is always in session and when it's the right time to do formal lessons, we do.
At times we have a little more structure. I do think some skills are important to learn and we keep those as our focus while keeping it simple. Our favorite curriculum books are from The Good and The Beautiful. We love their handwriting, history, and typing. Occasionally we use their Language Arts and science.
Homeschooling Online Help
There are so many options for schooling online, especially now. Many companies and schools are offering more courses online. Here are a few that my kids and I love.
- Khan Academy We use this mostly for math, but also for coding, grammar and history. Each kid has their own profile and they love earning points for their avatar. It’s free and very good.
- Duolingo Learn a foreign language for free! The interactive lessons are great and you can set goals for time limits. Our kids are doing Spanish right now but Lydia wants to learn Greek and French as well.
- GeekPack This coding class is run by a friend of ours and we love it! Here your kids can learn so many geeky skills from coding, to wordpress, to game development, to video and audio editing. Just today we noticed that enrollment is open again. It's great! When you go to the site, notice that (until it's replaced) there is a photo of Lydia on the page doing coding in front of our RV.
- Scratch This is a free coding site for creating your own games, animations and interactive stories. You can share your creations in the community or keep them in your profile.
- All In One Easy Peasy This is a complete curriculum that is free and well made. It is all grade levels and all courses.
- YouTube – Some of our favorite learning channels! · Smarter Every Day Destin is awesome! We all love watching his videos about science and the world around us. Matt sent him a message and invited his family to come hang out with us at a campground when we were in his neck of the woods. Never happened, but we’d still like it to - and would be willing to change our travel plans to work it in. · Art for Kids Hub Easy and fun drawing lessons for the entire family. · Simple History Animated videos that are informative and well-made. Oliver loves these and would watch them all day if I let him. · TA Outdoors A new favorite. We are learning some awesome survival skills!
If you are starting homeschool for the first time, make sure you check your state’s homeschool laws. Each state is different. Homeschool Legal Defense Association is a great resource. For Utah, we had to sign a letter of intent, have it notarized and submit it to the school district we are registered at. But keep in mind this isn’t the same everywhere. The homeschooling laws where you are, be it North Carolina, Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, or wherever may be different. Homeschool laws by state are varied and some have more strict guidelines than others.
The Hardest Part of Homeschooling
Stop caring what other people think. That was hard for me. We had opposition from friends and family, neighbors and co-workers. Those people close to us opposing us was the hardest part. They all had input on how we educated our children. Even strangers think it is their place to tell us how to properly school them.
For us, education is a way of life. A strict homeschool schedule does not work for our family. We don’t sit down and “do school” very often. And that is okay. I feel like my kids are learning all of the time and they are good kids.
You Can Homeschool!
My point in all of this is, you CAN homeschool. Your way of homeschooling won’t look like mine. I love hearing about how other families implement education into their lives. You can read more details about our homeschool journey and see how we got where we are today.
If you love the idea of homeschooling but feel like it is unobtainable, then think outside the box that your mind is putting it in. You might have to do it on a totally different schedule or with different resources than you have been thinking, but you can still do it.
The wonder and awe of your children’s learning can be something you are very much a part of as you walk beside them. You have all of my encouragement!
Best of luck. Feel free to come to me with any questions or thoughts.
Tabitha didn’t want to put her credentials because she says it doesn’t matter because being a parent is the qualification. I agree, but I think her specific educational background gives credence to her opinions about raising children – and especially when her opinions seem counter to what we are told is the “right” way to do things with our kids.
She has a Bachelor of Science in “Human Development and Family Studies” from the University of Utah. We were freshly married when she was completing her degree and I remember many of the conversations we had back then about stages of a child’s development. So, when she says something to me about how kids develop best, I know it’s based on her motherly intuition and also on her readings and studying from school. Mind you, I reference her credentials only to point to how she has studied this stuff. In spite of both her and my degrees, I’m not jazzed about what’s becoming of our Universities so I don’t bring it up to say that getting a degree makes you any smarter – in fact, in many ways it may be the opposite – but she did do a lot of research. She didn’t want me to put all this, but since I’m editing this and doing the nerdy html stuff, I make the call.