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My husband and I each knew we’d homeschool our kids before we ever met and married. And while in one sense you could say we’ve been “homeschooling” all along since our first child was born, it has only been this past year—when my oldest turned five—that we have “officially” begun to get our feet wet with more intentional schooling. Having looked forward to teaching my children at home for many years, I felt quite confident and had certain high expectations. Below, I reveal how it all has panned out.193

Things I’ve Learned in Our First Year of Homeschooling:

Homeschooling is both easy and hard. It is both delightfully fun and, at times, painfully stressful. It seems it is like any other worthwhile pursuit. It takes time.   It takes work. Blood, sweat, and tears. And prayer—lots and lots of prayer. I knew it would be work, but now I know it is work!

Daily discipline is probably the hardest thing. We don’t exactly at this point have our days perfectly laid out. I don’t even have our meals ready at the same time each day (working on that)! But this work is worth it, and I know the discipline will come in time, with practice. That’s essentially what discipline is, isn’t it? Practicing the right things over and over and over. Training (myself, in this case) to do what is right and to do it at the appropriate time. I’m learning right along with my kids.

I have so much more respect and appreciation for classroom teachers. I volunteered to teach a Spanish class for our homeschool co-op. I only had a class of about 14 children, but they ranged in age from five to nine years old. I can now sympathize with my public and private school counterparts on a few things:

1) Lesson planning takes a lot of work! I only had to plan five 45-minute classes—and they were spread out with at least a week between each one—but it was still a lot of work! I’m sure it gets easier to find a rhythm once you’ve done the same class for more than one year and have already done much of the preliminary planning, but I now have a small taste of just what goes into preparing for a class (minus any regulatory paperwork—you have my deepest sympathy, there).

2) Even when you think you’ve made the perfect plans, kids can highjack your attention and throw you all kinds of wrenches! Not the least of which is simply saying straight-up, “I really don’t want to do that.” I know how to handle those kinds of situations with my own children, but in a classroom setting?!?!? Which leads me to…

3) Maintaining discipline and order in the classroom is extremely challenging. I’m not sure if the fact that these were young homeschooled kids made this aspect more or less difficult.

4) Maintaining the interest and attention of students, especially when each one may be at a different level of development or understanding, is quite difficult.

5) It is truly a delight when you hear from parents that a kid loved your class, has been practicing what he’s learned, thinks you’re the best teacher ever, and can’t wait for the next class! Yeah, so that one isn’t a negative. That’s what every teacher wants to hear! And it makes those moments when you want to pull your hair out worth it.  Whether it’s in a public, private, or co-op classroom, consider this my hat tip to you, my teacher friends.

Sometimes my personality and preferences will clash with what my child needs. I was excited at first about the math curriculum we had chosen because it offered so much hands-on learning, which both my husband and I thought was important for forming a basic understanding of math and how it works. What I didn’t expect was the semi-scripted lessons telling me I had to cut this out, make copies of that, and grab a small pile of different manipulatives or stacks of cards each day to accompany our lessons. Nor did I foresee the fact that my desire for efficiency would struggle with the concept of doing something with manipulatives just for the sake of “experiencing” math. Yes, I get that the purpose is for the child to have a greater understanding, but is it really necessary for him to make nearly forty “hundreds cards” that he will only use once?

The concepts and strategies taught in this curriculum are different than I learned growing up, and they feel a bit extraneous at times.   I’m a bit more of a math traditionalist, and I liked math just fine that way. Numbers and symbols are concrete to me, so working with abstractions early on just seemed insane.  But, I’m learning that…

Math is more than facts and rules. And it’s more fun this way. The goal, I have slowly come to realize, is to learn the concepts and the facts while simultaneously gaining a deep understanding and appreciation for them—and we’re even learning to do more mental math than I’m used to doing as an adult! So I now see the value in all the “extras” that fill up our lessons.

It is an opportunity to die to myself in service to another. I’m not particularly patient, and I like to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible. So the lessons still sometimes annoy me. And while homeschooling certainly affords me the freedom to build or find a curriculum that works for both my teaching style and my child’s learning style (read: I don’t HAVE to stick with this curriculum!), I am also responsible to do what I truly feel is best for my child, even if it means I have to swallow my pride, deny my own tendency toward laziness and high efficiency (the two go together, don’t they?), and press on with a program that my child enjoys and which is indeed challenging him to think in new ways and make his own discoveries as he explores the world of mathematics.

I can’t wait until we can switch over to Saxon 54 (our plan all along) and my boys can work independently on math in a more disciplined and traditional way, but what we’re doing now will give them a great grasp on the how and why of math, which I think will be a great foundation on which to build! The struggle is worth it. I can learn to adapt for their sakes.

A little stick-to-it-iveness goes a long way. I started and stopped this particular math curriculum twice already (“trying” it the first two times involved one two-week stint in the beginning before giving up on part-whole circles, and another four-day “trial” five months later). This third time around, I’m motivated by the fact that if we’d just paused at part-whole circles, given it a week to be mastered, and then jumped right back in, we’d be on to the next grade-level by now.

My attitude changes everything. I let on right away my disgust for the cheesy little kids songs used to teach some early math equations, how to write numbers, etc. For the record, I’m not a fan of most little kids’ music. I found that very quickly my children shared my sentiment, and we gave up on the songs. When the program introduced part-whole circles before introducing written math equations, I stiffened up, made a bewildered face, said, “What?!?”, and then my son didn’t like them either (and probably lost any interest in trying to figure them out). And this is why we threw in the towel the first time. I think my attitude made all the difference in the world.

Now, having reintroduced things a second and third time with a much better attitude, and having worked with my son to conquer part-whole circles (we did introduce equations first), he now comments on how much he loves part-whole circles (and now we all seem to love those cheesy math songs! Both my boys beg for me to put the cd on!). I set the tone. I can be the greatest help or the greatest hindrance to my child’s learning. Attitude is everything.

What I assumed would be the easiest subject turned out to be the most difficult. I’m not done with that math curriculum yet! Can you see that math has been my Achilles’ heel this year? I sure didn’t expect that when I started the year with a child who loved math and seemed to be pretty good at it! But neither of us had done a formal curriculum, so we each had quite the learning curve. That boy still loves math and is indeed good at it, but I have had to learn that just because he’s got a good mind for it doesn’t mean he will pick everything up on the first try (or even the second). He’s only five for crying out loud! The process is still line upon line, precept upon precept, a little here, a little there. My prideful expectation that my son would be a supernatural wiz kid in math and always understand everything the first time I introduced it to him had to be slammed down. Not because my son is any dummy, but because I was being the dummy! Math has been the hardest subject for me, not for him, because it has been the thing that has most upset my expectations. Praise God for upsetting my expectations!

Treating this as a practice year has been incredibly important for my sanity. My son’s birthday falls right on the cutoff date. He could have started kindergarten this year in the public schools, and if we were sending him there, we’d have signed the waiver to keep him home an extra year so that he’d be the oldest in his class rather than the youngest. So, that’s just what we did as homeschoolers—instead of filing an Intent to Homeschool form, we just filed our paperwork to waive kindergarten. But as far as I was concerned, we were starting kindergarten at home. So I jumped in with a great reading program, that math curriculum I have already loved on so much in this article, and a plan to read lots of good books together. While we’ve really had a successful year, and there was math learning going on in the five months after we initially dropped the curriculum (mostly learning and practicing addition and subtraction facts with dollar store workbooks—not a bad method, might I add), I still felt like I had cheated my son of so much more in math since I didn’t stick with the program. I wish I had just done it. Take a break where needed for extra practice, but then keep going. But I didn’t. And here we are starting up again in lesson twenty-something at the end of the school year. Never mind that it’s at an advanced kindergarten/traditional first grade level. Never mind that many kids would be starting kindergarten at five and half or nearly six years old—so the only reason I feel behind is because of where my son’s birthday falls relative to an arbitrary start date. I still felt like I was behind.

Then Nathaniel and I discussed what we should do with the paperwork this year. I had already been treating my son as a kindergartener in our homeschool group, even though we waived kindergarten as far as the state was concerned. We could file our first Intent to Homeschool form this summer with a kindergarten designation or a first grade designation. Our homeschool group wanted us to give them the same designation. So I was torn. But as we discussed it and as I heard from another mom who has all her babies in either July or August, she just always signed them up as the lowest grade level that fit their age. That way, they could go at their own pace, as far ahead as they needed to be, but if they weren’t advanced or were even a little slow in some areas, they could also proceed at their own pace without undue pressure. So we made the decision then and there to declare our son as starting kindergarten next year.

It’s such an arbitrary designation, really, but it has taken a huge weight off of my shoulders! Instead of feeling like I had to scrap any hopes of picking up where we left off with the math program because we were already too far behind, it freed me to evaluate the situation in terms of: What do I really think would be the best course of action so that my son will really get it when it comes to math? What will give him the best foundation? Taking the pressure off of me to keep up with some mythical standard I had set up for myself allowed me to focus on my child and take that pressure off of him as well. What a beautifully freeing thing!

Summer Break is there for a reason. I had originally thought we’d school year-round. I thought if we kept at it all year, then we could just take breaks whenever “life” happened throughout the year. And while that is a wonderful blessing of homeschooling, I have found in this our first year that, as we move into the summer months, “life” just tends to happen more often. There are more outdoor activities, swimming lessons, late family evenings, road trips to take, and home projects demanding our attention. So, even though we are somewhat continuing our more formal studies (math and reading, in particular), summer has broken up our routine of its own accord, and I am just going to roll with it and enjoy summer as a fun time to learn especially by doing, and by doing fun things together as a family. And I certainly don’t mind the down time beside the pool while the boys learn to swim. 😉

Even when life slows us down, we still have put in a lot of work this year. My oldest son has learned to read. My youngest has decided he knows how to read, too, but that’s another story. The boys have developed a love for science and history and telling stories and building their own enormous creations out of their train set and Legos and blocks and toilet paper rolls. We have enjoyed and memorized several poems and passages of scripture. We have settled into our math program and are enjoying it, firmly committed this time, and growing in our understanding together. We’ve gotten plugged in to our local homeschool group and have thoroughly enjoyed the new relationships it is providing. And, to whom it may concern, we have logged well over 180 days of school. Not bad for a “practice” run. 😉

How about you? What do you remember from your first year of homeschooling? And what lessons have you learned along the way since then? I’d love to hear from you!