5 things that are finally working


Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane.

“How’s school going?”

This seems to be a common question among homeschool circles this time of year. We’re about a month or so in, time enough to have a rough idea what’s working and what’s not. Our plans look so perfect on paper, but it takes a few weeks to get a feel for how it really works.

Only now do I feel like we’ve finally found our homeschool groove. Yes, it’s taken us five years!  I’m fairly certain most of you work out the kinks a lot quicker than that!

I recently revisited this Power of the Beginner article and it took me back to those early days, trying so many options, reading every homeschool book I could find, researching different philosophies and always feeling completely in over my head.

Sure, there are days I still feel like that, but at five years in I can confidently say I know what’s finally working for us. Of course, these won’t work for everyone, but just in case you’re also in the “trying-on” stage or exploring different ideas and options, perhaps one of these will be just the ticket for you.

5 things that are finally working

  • Don’t eat the frog first thing.

I know. We’ve all been taught to eat the frog first.

But with all due respect, Mark Twain, you clearly haven’t tried to teach my son math first thing in the morning. Although every resource I’ve read urges math first thing in the morning, for us it’s just plain foolishness to tackle our toughest topic right away.

Like Caitlin’s routine of Coffee and Books, we find that beginning with something we love makes the whole morning flow so much better. Now we begin with piano. I know not every child would choose that as a favorite, but we’re learning together, the three of us, using an online piano course through Udemy (they have sales–we paid $30!).

We’re only three weeks in, but we do it every day and LOVE it so far. After piano, we transition into math, and I’m amazed at the difference. Zero tears. No anxiety. Perhaps Mary Poppins knows better than Mark Twain: a spoonful of music makes the frog go down.

  • Create a chore/lesson plan system that really works.

With juggling homeschool, household, writing, speaking, blogging and leading a church, having a streamlined, simple system for meals, chores, and lesson plans is an absolute must for me. After five years I finally feel we’ve found our system.

I shared here about the household chore chart and routine, and now I’ve created a weekly Schedule & Lesson page that’s copied and ready to quickly fill in with each child’s lessons, making notes for any upcoming schedule or chore changes. Then I can just cut off the day’s strip each morning (10 seconds) and the kids are set for the day. Happy dance!

  • Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud. (Then go outside.)

Confession: We have started (and ditched) some sort of history program every single year. We’ve had great intentions. But with all the other topics, I just don’t have time for all the enrichment projects, crafts, and activities that fill many history curriculums.

This year, we’re just reading aloud. Lots and lots and lots. We’re cruising through all the Story of the World books, which my children adore. I find that 30-minutes of compelling read aloud is worth more (for us) than an hour of crafty activities that take me double that time to prep and clean up.

pattersons-138Lacey Meyers Photography

Similarly, we’ve adopted Jamie’s idea (from Give Your Child the Worldof reading at the dinner table. Instead of saving it for bedtime when I’m nodding off, or taking up precious “school time” with stories, we’ve moved the bulk of our reading-aloud to after dinner, when Daddy can join us (or clean the kitchen while I read!).

It also gives great fuel for conversation the rest of the evening, since we’ve all just shared a captivating story together.

Other than reading aloud, the other best practice is just getting outside every day. Between 1-4pm, every afternoon, the kids have completely free and unstructured time outside. It does us all good.

  • Don’t feel compelled to do every problem or page.

After we did Dutch’s state testing, the wise administrator (a seasoned homeschool mom) encouraged me: “Don’t feel like you have to do every problem! If he gets the first 7 right, skip the last 3.”

I know this seems rather obvious, but this was huge for us! Math used to take forever because Dutch has a hard time writing out the problems. I now see that his frustration wasn’t so much with the math, but with the length of the lessons.

Now, if he’s “got it” and understands the concepts, clearly showing his competency, I let him skip the rest of the section.

pattersons-106Lacey Meyers Photography

  • Stay home.

I see now that in years past, I let too many things interrupt our homeschool routine. I pride myself on being “flexible” and “going with the flow” and I love the freedom that homeschooling affords.

But. This can also be the downfall of homeschooling, when I let every other thing dictate our days. Our move out to the country has been a godsend in this respect. Now, we stay home. Like, every day.

We have lots of visitors and evening/weekend activities but our weekdays are devoted to learning, exploring, reading, creating, growing.

Now it’s your turn: What things are finally working for you? We’d love to hear!

About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. We too use read-alouds more than anything else in our homeschool. They truly are the focal point of our homeschool. After 8 years of homeschooling, we’re pretty well into our routine, but…there’s always a but…my 16 yr old son just can’t seem to find his groove. I hate labels, however, he does have ADHD (unmedicated), and nothing seems to fit with him schedule-wise. He doesn’t like a time schedule, so I started letting him do the work when he wanted to. That didn’t work because I had to keep nagging him, and he still didn’t complete the work half the time. Now we’re trying a 4-day week with him with Fridays for a makeup day, and I can see now that he’s going to have a lot to do on Fridays because he keeps using that makeup day as an excuse. My other kids are doing well, though. 🙂
    Shelly’s latest post: 50 Reasons Homeschooling Is Less Stressful Than School

  2. Tara B Nolley says:

    Can you share the sheet your “weekly Schedule & Lesson page”? I’d love to make something like that.

  3. Jodi Collins says:

    So much truth and goodness here! When I finally gave up math first and started Morning Time first instead it was incredible. And now if I am ever ever tempted to just jump into math or phonics first I have an 8 1/2 year old who isn’t afraid to remind me of what we should be putting first-Ha!

  4. Oh, what a wonderful list of tips. Now in our 4th year of homeschooling we employ many of those. I think the staying home and making a flexible schedule is what keeps me sane. We also do flute practice first thing! It is the best way for my daughter (8) to keep frustration at bay.
    I believe for the youngers especially, a routine bed-time and a very good night sleep helps moods and cognition. A protein breakfast also helps settle tummies and keeps minds engaged. Giving the child a clear idea of expectations, either a list of chapters we will do, a certain number of topics we will cover, and a defined end-time (which they can choose to elongate) helps them gauge their own progress.
    And I am with you on the history craft projects. I don’t really feel the need to own three Roman helmets. (I have three children.) They like to make things anyway, so we just read, read, and read our history.
    Abbie’s latest post: How to Prevent Temper Tantrums

  5. Kari,
    I’m sure you get plenty of comments (pro and con) but I just wanted to personally let you know that your thoughts about homeschooling have helped me so greatly. Maybe we have similar personality types (and I also have a son who struggles with similar challenges as your son) but I really resonate with the way you do “school.” We have found these things to be so helpful to us. And it is our fifth year – and I would definitely say this is our best year yet. Thank-you for being willing to share what you have and are learning.

  6. Also our 5th year, and also our best so far! I feel like I’m finally okay with letting go of all the things we aren’t doing. Like you, we study history by reading (and talking), and I’ve always felt like we weren’t doing enough, especially when talking to other people. But we’ve been doing it this way for years, and I know my kids have a solid understanding of history, so I’m going to continue and feel good about it. Thanks so much for this post!

  7. My children love Story of the World!! I always read it aloud even though I am not crazy about doing so-haha. I love the comment about eating the frog not in the morning 🙂 Thank you so much for this !!
    Jen’s latest post: Establishing A Positive Transition From Public School To Homeschool

  8. Lauren Smith says:

    We do the history as a read aloud coupled with a three column reading chart – predictions (1), questions (2), and facts/details learned from the reading (3). It’s something I used to do as a classroom teacher and is so simple, but creates powerful learning. It’s fun to look back over the logs and see what questions have been answered along the way and record those insights into another log. The whole thing can be put together in a portfolio at the end with reflection on the concepts learned as an end of year/ unit assessment. Lovely.

  9. Funny, I’ve been learning some of the exact same things this year! One other thing that has helped me is to just go with the flow. I tried sticking to a schedule, but sometimes things are happening in such a way that it wouldn’t make sense to do that. Someone might be taking too long with their chores, so I’ll start school with the other one instead. My 2 year old might really need some mommy time, so I might delay school with her brothers for 15 minutes or so. Or, I can sense my 5-year-old is gething overwhelmed, so I’ll skip his last subject for that day. Part of me wants to go, go, go and push, push, push but I’ve learned to be more sensitive to my children’s needs and not worry about “keeping up.” I have a 3 month old too, so I have to keep life simple! I love this blog because it helps me with that :).

  10. Mind sharing how you found such a good price on the piano lessons?

    • Well, honestly? I prayed. I had wanted to get my kids in lessons, but they’re too old for the Let’s Play Music program and we live quite a ways out in the country and I didn’t want to be trekking all over and paying for private lessons. So I prayed. And googled. This one had great reviews and was on sale, so I bought. I don’t know how often they do sales…but it’s worth checking in every so often to see!
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: 5 things that are finally working

    • The online piano course is on sale for $19 right now!
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Marie

  11. Thank you for the article! We too are in our fifth year and have changed and developed as we go along. I can agree with most here that the flexibility is a blessing. I used to panic if we were not all gathered around the table by 8:30 with studious heads bent over the days requirements and a mother all put togather, with hair done, lovingly and patiently correcting and inspiring all ,with baby number 5 or 6 on her hip. Then the years went by and I realized this vision I had was not reality. We keep it simple! We focus on independent reading and math and the rest just kind of happens. We provide the children with oodles of good reading material (150 books every other week from two libraries.) We are the “10 bags family” Just yesterday I was wondering if my ten year old had read in the classics for a while, worried because had not told him in a while, but there he was curled up on the couch immersed in the world of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Our mornings are relaxed now because I realized I was only doing what I knew from my youth; a paniced, rushed, tired and tempers flaring kind of morning. Never again! I now let them wake as they need. Some are night readers, so they need a little more sleep and there are also the growth spurts of youth where some one will just be tired. Then they grow 3 inches! By age 7 in our house, they are mostly self directed, coming to find mom when they cannot figure out what in the world a digit sum is or want help spelling paleontologist. The more our home, mom and dad included, becomes a place of learning, the less struggles there are. Math is a good example. The oldest is in fourth grade math and I would notice when I helped him I would struggle with some things and soon realized I had many deficiencies from my youth. So now the children see mom humbly admit she is not good at math, but I can learn, and there I am sitting doing flashcards and keeping ahead of them by doing all the work in their workbooks. I may not be far ahead of them, but far enough! I want them to see that there is no hurdle that can be jumped! Have your home a place where learning is like brushing your teeth and you will be amazed at what they will learn on their own!

  12. “Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud. (Then go outside.)”
    This is such great advice!! <3

    What a beautiful post. Isn't it wonderful how homeschool works differently for everyone?
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: The Best Art Books for Children

  13. Amen on the frog thing! If we start out with our “frog” (for us it’s math or violin practice), one or all of us ends up grumpy for the rest of the day. This year we spend the first 60-90 minutes doing read aloud and art (I read, they create) and it sets the most wonderful tone for our day.

    And the staying at home….magic!
    Jill Foley’s latest post: Our Homeschool Space

  14. Hi Kari! I love your tips and also felt like it took about 5 years to get our groove… maybe 6. 😉 But, really, we’re still figuring stuff out now in our 7th! Funny…Gage and Cooper both prefer to jump right into their longest and toughest subjects (after our Bible study) so that they know the day will just get gradually easier. And we are also doing lots of reading aloud for both science and history… I love your idea of reading after dinner so I just tried that out tonight! It was great! Once we get comfortable with our books, I’ll start having them do the reading aloud since they (unlike Dutch!) aren’t really into reading on their own. Another thing we’re doing is using spiral notebooks to list out all their subject lessons for the day. They are little list-lovers like me, so they enjoy that and it helps avoid the repeated question of “What else do I have to do?”. 😉 Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with all of us!

  15. I see so many moms say they do reading during meals. Then how are you eating?!

  16. We are in our 4th year of homeschooling. I feel like this has been our best year yet. I’m learning (finally) to stop questioning myself all the time. I’ve spent a lot more money on curriculum this year because I’ve learned it stresses me out to have to look all over the internet for printables. I bought planners for the kids, so that I can keep track of what they are learning. It takes me a lot less time than my previous method of using a Word Document.

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