My one-year-old son, Sam, sat on my hip as my three-year-old daughter, Wren, ran around the backyard before the oppressive Texas heat settled in for summer. Squatting on the ground to investigate a flower and the bee crawling on it, Wren turned her face to me and asked excitedly, “Mom, how do the bees do what they do?”  

I stared at her, unsure of what she was actually asking me. How do bees what? Pollinate? Fly? Sting? No matter the question, I had no answer, so I tried to fake it.

“Well, um, bees use pollen, or make pollen, or nectar…they for sure make honey and that’s good. They die after they sting you, so whatever they do, they don’t do it after that.”

Wren gave me a halfhearted smile before turning back to the flower she was observing. Suddenly, I doubted everything I thought I knew about what it would be like to homeschool, brought to my knees by the curiosity of a three-year-old.  

I wasn’t homeschooled, but I knew from the beginning of my life as a parent that I would be a homeschooling mom. Now my qualifications seemed shaky at best. There was so much I didn’t know but needed to, and that day I started grasping in the dark for answers.  

Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me before I started my homeschool journey.

1 | Homeschool parents don’t have to be experts – they just need resources.

No teacher has all the answers to every question, but the good ones know when to seek help. That’s the key to teaching a child how to be a lifelong learner: be the example.

Be a model of curiosity, exploration, experimentation. Avoid developing the habit of reaching for a predictable teaching tool or another worksheet. Instead, model active learning by asking questions, trying out ideas, and making adjustments.

2 | Teaching a child to read is 90% of the battle and 100% of the solution – but don’t rush it.

Focus on not rushing this basic, vital part of learning. Rushing equals struggles, and can take the joy out of reading and writing. So lead your child gently with lots of read-alouds and playful explorations of the letter sounds and shapes.

Once a child can read, they’ll find books and information on topics that interest them. Before I knew it, my kids were teaching me about squirrels, Mars, and why the Headless Horseman couldn’t be real because they read up and learned themselves.

3 | Socialization isn’t going to be an issue.

When people think of homeschooled children, they tend to imagine unsocialized outcasts who lack people skills. This simply isn’t the case. Socialization takes place in a variety of settings, not just at school.

For parents who want more support in the socialization realm, Homeschool World offers a way to search for homeschool support groups by area. The lists are extensive and include co-ops that offer everything from book clubs to weekly playdates. In fact, the only problem a parent will have is information overload.

There’s also nothing like Meetup.com to connect with like-minded individuals. Homeschool groups abound on the site, but parents should make sure the group they join meets the needs of their family. Some of the Meetup homeschool groups are extremely structured, while others just offer a place for kids to hang out and play.

Sports leagues are another great way for kids to make new friends and learn about sportsmanship. Children will interact with kids who are homeschooled and public schooled in leagues, and this will help them understand the other side of schooling.

4 | Playtime is brain food.

In fact, many schools are adding more playtime throughout the day to let kids work off fidgety energy so they can focus on learning. When the kids spend time engaged in imaginative games in the yard, that’s school.

The key is to give kids mini breaks throughout the day. Instead of expecting them to sit for hours and hours and then receive one 15-minute break, let them get up and play after 30-45 minutes of work or when you notice they’re distracted and having trouble sitting still.  

Play is a way to refill their cup and bring them back to the learning table ready to focus. Also, don’t use play as a reward. Make it a part of the everyday homeschool plan, an essential part of learning and exploring.

5 | Start the day with a loose plan.

It’s not necessary to micromanage when homeschooling, but it is a good idea to start each morning with a written list of what is to be accomplished during the day. To make sure these expectations are realistic, sit down the weekend before and look at the calendar. How many playdates or field trips are planned for the next week? Are any visitors coming to town? Are there holidays or special events that will interrupt the normal flow of the homeschool week?  

Once all of this is taken into consideration, use index cards or a weekly planner to sketch a plan for each day. If something doesn’t get finished on Monday, move it to Tuesday. If much more is accomplished on Wednesday than expected, make sure to note it.

Daily planning can become a learning experience for your older students. Give them a planner of their own and show them how to make a checklist to organize their day or their schoolwork. Check things off and create a new list the next day.

6 | On the hard days, decide what it’s worth.

Kids will have days where they get out of bed and knock out all their work quickly. Other days will feel like a struggle from start to finish. This is normal. The upside is that homeschool parents have the chance to decide whether to push forward on the hard days or to let their child run in the backyard and make up the difference tomorrow.

7 | Teaching children at multiple academic levels is possible.

Though it takes work and planning, teaching children who are different ages and doing different levels of work is possible. This plan will change throughout your children’s development, but here’s an example of how it works for a mom with three kids – a toddler, a kindergartener, and a second grader:

  • For the toddler, make sure the child has a sensory station with kinetic sand or water that he or she can play with. Whatever keeps the toddler happy for the longest period of time should be offered.
  • Move on to working with the child who is the most self-sufficient, probably the second grader. Take some time to review information or cover a new skill before letting this child work independently until they need their work checked.
  • Finally, move to the child who needs the most guided help, such as the child who is just learning to read or properly trace letters (around kindergarten age). You’ll need one-on-one time to dedicate to helping this child develop essential skills that are the foundation of his schooling.

It’s also possible to purchase curriculum that is designed for multiple ages and includes activities based on grade level.  

8 | Borrowing vs. buying resources

Some libraries have STEAM kits that offer hands-on math work and materials for science experiments. While there is usually a waitlist and we only get to keep the kit for a designated amount of time, we have the opportunity to sample tons of different items without purchasing.  

There are exceptions. If a child loves math manipulatives and will work on math more willingly with them, then invest in manipulatives to enhance the learning experience. It will be worth the cost.  

9 | On creating a “real school” vs. a living homeschool

There are parents who like to segregate home and school within the homeschool environment. They want their children to be in school mode and see them as only a teacher during certain times of the day. They may even set up a classroom-style area in their house complete with school desks.  

For me, this didn’t work, but it could have been because of my prior teaching experience. As a former teacher, I needed to actually pull away from what I thought school was supposed to be to open myself up to all homeschool had to offer.

In our house, it’s always home and it’s always school, so everyone feels free to discuss science experiments at dinner or to talk about problems with a friend during math lessons.

10 | You don’t have to teach every subject every day.

History and science are great, but elementary-aged children don’t have to go over those topics every day. Math, reading, writing, and play are the daily essentials, with focused history and science lessons on the agenda two to three times a week.  

Once kids master reading and other basic skills, it’s much easier to fold in other subjects. Plus, children inadvertently study science every day. All those questions about where the earth came from, why slugs come inside when it rains, and what life is like on the moon? That’s science, and kids never stop asking questions.  

••••

The afternoon of the bee question, we went to the library and grabbed books. Wren and I read them during Sam’s naptime and then looked at videos and pictures of bees on the internet. Wren fixated on the notion that bees communicate by dancing.  

As the sun began to set that night, my daughter led me outside. She put her two index fingers straight up over her head, shook her bottom, and made a raspy noise from her throat.  

“Do you see them?” she asked.

“Who? The bees?”

“Yes!  This is how they tell each other where the pollen is, remember?”

I put my fingers on my head, shook my bottom, and buzzed back at my daughter. I’m not sure if the bees ever arrived, but it didn’t matter. We laughed and learned together, and I realized we were going to be just fine.  

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Oak Meadow partnered with Parent.co to sponsor this piece because they strive to keep the wonder and excitement of childhood alive and to spark each individual’s passion for learning.