10 Tips for New Homeschool Families

Homeschooling is hard y’all! Luckily I’ve had some great mentors to help me along the way. But in our post Covid world, that might not be true for many of you reading this. So here I’ve collected my most favorite advice and tips for new homeschooling families.

1.) Don’t have strict lesson plans with rigid scheduling. This ensures you will be disappointed and behind. Schedule in plenty of breaks and spread your curriculum out over the entire school year, rather than planning on doing “a lesson a day”. This way if you get behind you should have plenty of free days to catch up.

2.) Don’t plan exact times. One of the worst things about homeschooling is that everyone assumes you are available. Do not be surprised at the amount of disruptions you will have throughout the day. Planning strict times for subjects, or exact blocks for learning is a futile endeavor. Even during quarantine you will be surprised at the various things that come up during the day.

3.) Have a backup plan for bad days. There will be days when you absolutely cannot read one more page to your kiddos, complete one more art project, fight over one more math problem. There will also be days when you or the kids are ill. You need a backup plan! Have a few educational videos up your sleeve for days when you need a few minutes peace. And plan a couple of lessons that another family member may be able to teach them.

4.) Never underestimate the importance of “real world skills”. Homeschooling is more than rigorous academic schoolwork. We are, after all, raising them to eventually leave us. Children need to know how to do simple household chores like doing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Making dinner is a great time to apply math skills by measuring, timing, and following detailed instructions (recipes). And laundry! Did you know that one of the biggest difficulties for college freshmen is doing their own laundry? Now is an excellent time to show them how to remove simple stains, treat, sort, dry, and iron their own clothes.

5.) Administer a skills test. Yeah, I know. This is the one thing everyone complains about and one of the major problems with public schools. HOWEVER, if you give your child a test you will have proof, for yourself and school officials, of your child’s skill levels and knowledge. We use the California Achievement Test, primarily because it is so cheap and they provide very quick results. You can get it here: https://www.shopchristianliberty.com/special-service/ The results help me determine the holes in my instruction and give me a boost of confidence in my ability to teach these tiny versions of myself!

6.) Weekends are sacred! No matter how behind you are, resist the temptation to work through the weekends. Children need a break and parents do too! No matter what, save at least one, if not both, days in the weekend for rest.

7.) It’s tempting to micro-manage everything your kids do. But, it’s not only unrealistic, but it is a disservice to your kiddos. Unless your child has learning disabilities and REALLY need constant instruction, it’s best to have some assignments that they must complete entirely on their own. Children who are homeschooled are insanely independent! Working on their own gives them more discipline, and guides them into being more responsible adults.

8.) Encourage independent time management. In my household we do not have bedtimes. I’m a serious night owl and have no interest in getting up any earlier than I have to. This has resulted in a fair amount of criticism from others, but after a healthy talk with my kids’ pediatrician and a careful examination of what I am and am not willing to do, I completely stand by this decision. And, the decision to nix bedtimes has resulted in one positive side effect: my children are very good at time management. Both can and do set their alarms for times they want to get up, and are independently responsible for ensuring that I know what they need from me for their activities. Modern work environments are rarely ever the 9-5 schedules of our parents, the boomers. Encouraging time management now, and responsibility for their own activities, is a sure fire way of giving them a leg up for when they begin working.

9.) When all else fails, read! The most important thing you will do during homeschooling is reading to your child. It is more important than math, history, science, handwriting- everything! Almost every subject can be caught up on, but a robust vocabulary takes time and pays out pretty impressive dividends. When you can’t do anything else, read!

10.) Don’t be afraid to trash bad curriculum and start over mid-year. Ask lifelong homeschoolers and they will all tell you the same; we’ve all had that one curriculum that we paid money for, but turned out to be a horrible choice. Don’t be afraid to toss out anything that doesn’t work for your family! There are plenty of cheap (sometimes free!) curriculum out there. There is no reason to feel guilty about trashing it and starting anew! Staying committed to finishing a book or program that you or your child hate will only result in burnout and bad attitudes. We had a history curriculum once that was so boring that almost every time we pulled it out one of us fell asleep in the middle of it!

Bonus tip! When homeschooling gets to be too much, follow the example the Lord gave us in 1 Kings, Chapter 19. Elijah was so bummed he asked for the Lord to take his life. What followed was a series of naps and snacks (delivered by an angel no less!) until Elijah could cope. Moral of the story? There’s not much that a snack and nap won’t fix!

Homeschool 2020/2021, Middle and High School

A new year and new challenges for our homeschool family! We have already homeschooled for a number of years, so I did not expect so much change to occur due to Covid-19. Boy, was I wrong!

We basically lived in our Jeep, we traveled so much!

It’s been a while since I last posted, so let me catch you up. In January our family made the decision to move back where my husband and I grew up in Kentucky to be near to family and teach our children some of our mountain culture. Little did we know at the time that the world would go tipsy in just a couple of months! By March we had an offer on our Florida home, and by April we were rushing to move prior to the shut down of our state. We literally threw everything we could in a Uhaul in less than 48 hours after the governor made the announcement that he would be restricting travel in Florida and instituting a statewide lock-down. We made it out of Florida with 15 minutes to spare!

Country Roads, take me home.

We are so blessed to have a place that family provided completely free to us that is well taken care of and meets all of our needs. And, our kids are adjusting, albeit slowly, to living a slowed down life in the country.

Prior to Covid-19 we had discussed if we would be putting our oldest into high school once we got here, but Covid has made that decision a little bit easier. Some of you may be struggling with this choice yourself given the limited options for our kiddos with this horrible virus. The online options for public school don’t always work for every kid, so I hope our selections this year might give you some relief, should you decide to take the plunge and homeschool them completely out of the system.

Below are our homeschool choices for our kiddos into the 2020/2021 school year! I’ve included links to review and purchase, as well as a quick description and whether or not that work is secular.

Abby, 11 years old, 7th grade and Allie, 14 years old, 9th grade

7th grade curriculum

Math: Teaching Textbooks. http://www.teachingtextbooks.com/ We love these books! Now, full disclosure, we can not afford the CDs, BUT teaching textbooks allows you to purchase the books on their own, and both my husband and I are decent in math so we don’t need the CDs. They are available though if Math is not your thing. These books are short and to the point, and have a reasonable amount of problems rather than some of the others we’ve tried that basically bore your child to death. (And mom too). They are also secular.

Science: Mr. Q’s science. https://eequalsmcq.com/ I cannot say enough good things about this curriculum! It is secular science, which is preferred in our household because we are Episcopalian and most homeschool science curriculum is oriented towards those of the Baptist or Catholic faith. It is also VERY robust! I mean, these textbooks do not dumb anything down! It is of a level you would expect in upper high school or college classwork. They also include labs which use normal household items that are easy to find or purchase without breaking the bank. Cons: the textbooks are only digital, which mean not only dishing out the Benjamins for the textbooks, but also the paper and ink to print it all out. Regardless, I cannot recommend these textbooks enough! The best science homeschool curriculum I have found thus far. I only regret not finding them sooner!

Language Arts: The Good and the Beautiful. https://www.goodandbeautiful.com/ Y’all! This curriculum is STUNNING! It is beautiful from cover to cover. This Language Arts program combines language arts, geography, and arts into one very coherent and easy to follow package! It is easy to follow along, and each year touches upon something different, so by the time your child graduates high school they have reviewed several kinds of art mediums, and geographic areas of the world. It is a pleasure to look at with colorful pictures and interesting sections. It is also ridiculously affordable compared to other, similar curriculums. The website offers “clean” versions of books, which we do not necessarily need in our home, but is a nice choice for those who do censor their children’s intake. It is a christian curriculum, but is nondenominational, which works well for us. It is also quite classical in nature, and yet enough Artsy Fartsy for people like us! Ha! Cons: No cons for the language arts HOWEVER, I also purchased one of the science modules for Abby and was not impressed. I did not find that it was robust enough, and required too much parental involvement to make schooling multiple children of different levels possible.

9th grade curriculum

Reading: Boomerang. https://store.bravewriter.com/collections/boomerang-single-issues We’ve decided this year to just read! Both girls struggle to write and find it the most awful, no-good thing about schoolwork. I happened upon Bravewriter in one of my Facebook groups when another mother was struggling to find something that worked with her kiddos as well. We purchased the single issues of Boomerang and will beginning our school year reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. We hope to cover 1 book every month and a half. I let the girls pick out a book that they wanted to read, and then filled the rest with popular books that had movies made based on them. This way we could read, watch the movie, and then discuss. By doing this I hope that Allie (our child with dyslexia) can get more out of the study. Also on our list to read this year: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

History: We have two different books to read for history this year. Despite my pleas, my 7th grader refuses to study U.S. History this year and is only interested in Chinese History. Sometimes when you homeschool you’ve got to just go with the flow and use that curious momentum to teach whatever they are interested in! Therefore, she will be studying Chinese history using the books written by Mark Edward Lewis, a professor of Chinese culture from Stanford. We are starting in chronological order and learning about the Qin and Han dynasties first. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0674057341/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 We will purchase additional books as she/if she completes them. I’m not wasting any money should we get halfway in and then suddenly she can’t stand one more minute of Chinese History and wants to switch to Egyptian or Scandinavian. This is also not a book I recommend for your average 11 year old. Abby is an advanced reader. Most children her age would find the vocabulary prohibitively difficult. But, hey, maybe you have an Abby too!

Allie’s history selection was my preferred choice for this year. It is Freedom, A History of Us by Joy Hakin. This is an award winning book on which the PBS series was based. She also has a series of books for younger children that are wildly popular. I like her writing particularly because she approaches history in a more fair and realistic fashion. Too many homeschool history curriculum amount to little more than fairy tales of a grand US narrative, rather than covering the complex and diverse reality of history in the US. It is for this reason alone that many view these book selections as “liberal”, which is not a fair critique or factually accurate. What you will not find here is “white-washed” history, which is precisely why it has, as of late, been labeled “liberal”. Again, not fair, and please do not shy away from it if you tend to be more conservative. Do expect, however, to see history from the viewpoints of the various cultures that live in the US rather than the predominant viewpoint. Link to the version we are using: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1560047747/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o07_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 Link to the smaller volumes which are better for younger students: http://www.joyhakim.com/a-history-of-us.html

Other: We usually have a very busy schedule in our household. A typical homeschool week usually includes scout meetings, dance, and music lessons. We just don’t know how soon we will be able to integrate these into our lives with Covid-19. There are a few extra things, however, that we’ve added to our year to keep things interesting.

Duolingo: both children enjoy duolingo. This is a free app where you can learn various languages and is almost exactly like Rosetta Stone. Abby is currently learning to speak Spanish, while Allie is learning French.

Curiosity Stream: this costs $2.99/a month through Prime and has numerous documentaries to watch about hundreds of different topics. Listen to me folks- you NEED something to plop your kids in front of on days that you are overwhelmed, sick, or something important comes up! Trust me! Additionally, your kids need a variety of ways to learn. Book learning isn’t going to work for visual learners. You never know what your child will watch that will spark that love of learning (exhibit A: I’m reading Chinese History this year, lol)! I have intentionally planned out our homeschool year to have lazy, easy going Fridays. Every Friday the girls can select something to watch. It’s easy, it’s educational, and mom gets a small break to grade those papers!

Supplies: Oh, good Lord above, the supplies! You’ve heard Jesus take the wheel, but in this house we say Jesus take the checkbook! This is by far where the most money is spent. But, it is also where the money is BEST spent. A ‘good valued’ supply item is essential to learning at home.

Supplies we already own: each girl has her own computer (essential in 2020- computer literacy is vitally important), Apple ipad with pencil, and a printer. Each girl also has a dry erase board (lap sized) to work math problems on.

Leuchtturm1917 notebook: a good notebook is key to creating a love of writing. I let the girls choose the color for their notebook. Bonus points: you can watercolor inside these books if desired, it has a table of contents, and it is a hardback and very durable. I also use these myself, and can attest to its superior quality. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0095FFUM4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Clipboards: we learn mostly at the kitchen table, but sometimes only the couch will do. These clipboards are cheap, colorful, and very handy! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K92YVBP/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Watercolors: these watercolors are very vibrant and offer a wide range of color choices. We really like how pigmented they are. Bonus points: it comes in an adorable mint tin which makes it easy to take on the go. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FYG3BBV/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Watercolor paintbrushes: The quality of these brushes is better than most I’ve seen at local craft stores! they are perfect and come with various sizes to choose from. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07GCRRBY9/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o08_s02?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Hole punch: Buy the better hole punch. No. Just do it. After you go through 4-5 of those stupid cheap ones, you will see that you should have bought a good one to start with. Buy this, thank me later: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00UCBJIG4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Poly envelopes: these envelopes make it easy to divide school work for the kiddos. At $14.99 for 42 it is an excellent value! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DHG6PCY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Drawing set: we needed a good drawing set for the language arts curriculum. I am not someone who can draw. This set, however, has all the parts I think we will need. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K1PRYMY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Soft pastels: vibrant and many different color choices! The pastels are small, which is good for tiny hands. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B086WZ95T6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Fixatif Spray: To keep those pastels where they belong! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00023JE7U/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Drafting tape: requested by our language arts curriculum. Helps keep edges and borders neat and straight on artwork. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Q75SZMN/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Pastel paper: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024KMQ6K/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Tracing paper: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0027AAIB2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o06_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Watercolor paper: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07JWN7G18/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Ticonderoga pencils: Don’t waste your money on cheap pencils. These are truly the best and the girls really enjoy writing with them. For some reason my children do not enjoy using mechanical pencils. https://www.amazon.com/Ticonderoga-Wood-Cased-Graphite-Pre-Sharpened-13818/dp/B002VL5IJO/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=pencils&qid=1596250448&s=office-products&sr=1-4

Mommy’s supplies and favorites:

Mildliners: The best highlighters! As the girls complete a lesson, I highlight that in my planner and then write the grade they received for that assignment. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0752WWCTN/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Pentel Sharp drafting pencil: my favorite pencil to use. The weight and diameter is perfect for lots of writing. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0040V1U4U/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Ball point pens: Every woman needs a good pen! These are heavy and beautiful. They come with a refill and you can buy more as well. They are very good quality and write like a dream! https://www.pengems.com/

Gel pens: these gel pens are so nice! There is a good ink output and no discernible skipping present in other gel pens. They are also refillable. https://shop.villabeautifful.com/

Planner: there are many great planners out there! I personally enjoy a vertical planner for planning such as ones from Erin Condren, Happy Planner or Recollections. While there are many good teacher planners out there, they typically have a lot of wasted space for student info that we do not need as homeschoolers. Having used many kinds of planners before, I have found the hourly vertical format works best for my family. Bonus tip: use the “Year at a Glance” section in front and transparent date dots to plan out your school year. I use a particular color, for example, to label the days we do not have school (like holidays, fall and spring breaks, and birthdays).

Fun extras:

Professor Noggin’s History Card games: We own several versions of this trivia game and Abby (11 years old) loves it! http://www.outsetmedia.com/brands/professor-noggin

Owlcrate: every month Owlcrate sends a book to your child and several book themed goodies. Abby loves getting this every month, as do I! Although Allie does not read (she’s the one with dyslexia), she enjoys getting the goodies from my (adult) box. I credit this subscription to finally getting Abby interested in and LOVING reading. https://www.owlcrate.com/

MelScience: were you the kind of kid who liked making a volcano or blowing things up “for science”? If so, then you will love MelScience. We don’t currently have this subscription, due to moving and so forth, but might start again soon. Every month they send you all the things you need for a Chemistry lab experiment. Think bunsen burners and chemicals y’all! **Note: for adult supervision only. https://melscience.com/US-en/

There we are! 2020/2021 school year ready to go! I hope that these selections might help you, or give you some ideas on how to build your own homeschool curriculum, independent of expensive sets! None of the selections above were particularly expensive, and were bought over the course of a few months to make the total purchase price much more affordable.