My best dozen pieces of homeschooling advice

January '13-55Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

Our support group’s annual Homeschooling 101 is coming up soon, and I’ve been putting together notes and packets in preparation for my presentation.

I love looking out at the audience and seeing so many people; and whether their faces are eager, apprehensive, confused, or even terrified, they all have this in common: they desperately want to do the best for their children. Some of them will find out that homeschooling is the absolute best choice they can make; others will pursue different avenues.

Invariably, sometime during the session, the question comes in some form:

what piece of advice would you give a newbie?

Much more important to me than choosing curriculum or having well-organized shelves or even deciding whether to keep homeschooling is the tremendous task of being a good parent.

My pieces of advice really apply to any parents, not just homeschooling ones.

1. Read aloud every single day.

Start when they are babies, and do it as long as you possibly can. There is research galore about why reading aloud to your kids is good for them. I think I would go so far as to say that reading aloud to your kids—not just until they are reading independently but throughout their childhood—is foundational to a lifetime of learning.  [Here's my list of Top 25 Read-Alouds (for ages 5-12).]

2. Don’t get distracted by what someone else is doing.

3. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t compare your kids to others.

These two go hand-in-hand. Hike your own hike. Stay true to your own family. Trust your gut, and know your kids. (More on this in my Guide to Navigating the Homeschooling Community.)

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4. Get outside.

Take a walk or a bike ride. Play badminton, hop scotch, and jump rope. Look at insects, plant flowers, pull weeds. Breathe deeply. It doesn’t matter what you are doing: just get fresh air every day.

5. Be nice.

Most children reflect their parents’ moods. If you are distracted, grumpy, and/or irritable, they will be, too. That doesn’t mean you have to plaster a fake smile on your face all day, but monitor your own moods. If you think your kids are unreasonably crabby or anxious, take an honest look at yourself.

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6. Take trips.

Don’t wait until all the kids are just the right age or you have money for nice hotels and plane fare. Go now and do what you can. Be creative and adventurous! (See My Biggest Homeschool Mistake: Not Traveling More.)

7. Don’t try to control your environment by controlling your kids.

Stand back. Provide a safe place, but don’t hover. Let them make mistakes. Let them wear clothes that don’t match and dip their asparagus in applesauce if they really want to. Loosen the reins a little bit each year, but don’t be afraid to pull in when you need to.

If our ultimate goal is encourage our kids to be independent, unique adults, you must let them breathe and gets scrapes and even dent the car.

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Photo by Stephanie Bowling

8. Let your kids get dirty.

Let them drag their feet in the dirt, roll in the mud, dig big holes, smear paint on their stomachs, run through the sprinkler, climb trees, and get mosquito bites. Being barefoot is good for the soul.

9. Don’t box them in with labels.

You know that widely circulated Albert Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Think long and hard before you define your child with a label, whether it’s “she’s my shy one” or “he’s the talker” to “he hates math” or “she doesn’t like writing.”

10. Remember that children are, indeed, wonderfully and fearfully made.

They come with their own unique personalities and needs, which will determine how they learn best. Be constantly aware that what works for one child will not necessarily work for another.

Don’t be tied to any particular curriculum if it isn’t working for one child. Homeschooling—and parenting—is all about flexibility.

11. It’s much more important to show love to my child than to finish the math book.

We have choices to make every day. We can scream at our kids to finish their work, or we can calmly and lovingly guide them and encourage them.

Some days are much, much harder than others, and choosing to love often seems impossible. Remember who they are and why you have them at home—and swallow your irritations.

12. Enjoy them.

It’s true what you’ve heard. Kids really do grow up fairly fast, and you really will miss stepping on Legos one of these days. Well, sort of.

Whether you’re teaching your little one to read or helping your teen fill out college applications, enjoy these precious gifts that you’ve been entrusted with. (See The Best Part of Homeschooling: Enjoying Them.)

What is the best piece of advice about homeschooling you ever received? What one piece of advice do you like to give to new homeschoolers?

This post originally published on April 17, 2013.

About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.

Comments

  1. Well said, and so true. Thank you.
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: launching!

  2. tcjmarshall says:

    Thank you so much for the reminder to slow down and appreciate the small things each day. You don’t hear that enough in this fast paced world. Teaching our children should be a joy, that we look forward to every day.

  3. just have to say: I love this post. Thank you.
    sarah’s latest post: What I’ve Been Reading

  4. I love this post! So encouraging! Thank you!

  5. Great post! I’m with you all the way when you say don’t compare your child to others. Each child learns and grows at their own speed and there’s nothing stronger than a parents instinct about where their child lies in that process.
    Christina’s latest post: Gorilla Swing Sets – When You Know It’s Gotta Be Tough!

  6. Awesome advice! Very well timed, too, since I just met with a bunch of ladies who were interested in home-schooling. We were blessed with the wisdom of four women who had already walked that path, and I was so thankful to hear what they had to say!
    Lyssa’s latest post: Surprised By My Daughter

  7. Thank you so much for this! I really needed it today!

  8. Thank you so much for the advice! We are finishing up our first year of homeschooling and have enjoyed every moment. I am blogging about our first year just this week! Thanks again for all that you do!
    Leah Blomberg’s latest post: First Year Homeschool 2: What an Experience!

  9. Wonderful!!! Thank you!!!

  10. Such a great reminder to us all!!
    Lora @ my blessed life’s latest post: Fresh Milk & Ice Cream, Anyone?

  11. because of this I’m taking my 4 kids under the age of 6 camping for 5 nights….alone. I’ll let you know how it goes lol.

  12. Rachel J. says:

    I read that Einstein didn’t say that. But I still love the truth behind it, of course. I also like to remember that it’s usually best to avoid labels of all sorts, not just negative ones. If my children feel like they have to live up to my positive labels, it’s pressure in a different way. Thanks for writing this, I love this blog!

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    Being a newbie myself I am only starting to get my head around homeschooling. Will be browsing through some of your other posts (esp. about travelling more and 25 read-alouds) for new ideas.

  14. Excellent, excellent post! Thank you! I should print this out and post it where I can see it each day. :)

  15. Thanks you for this post. I need to print this out to help me when I feel a bit lost/distracted during the homeschooling journey. It sums up what’s true for me.

  16. All good tips/reminders, and all things I needed to hear today.
    Rita’s latest post: Mama’s Spring Break

  17. Great advice! We have homeschooled for three years and the first piece of advice I always give is: Don’t take yourself too seriously! I think you’re on the same page, just perhaps more specific. ;)

  18. Well said! It’s easy to give labels, especially with the culture we live in.

  19. Angie Milligan says:

    WOW! Thanks for this awesome list of important reminders! We’ve been homeschooling for 4 years and these are all very true! The first few months of our first year was spent with me being a drill sargent to my sweet kindergartener and neither of us having a bit of fun! When I quit trying to make our home like reguar school, we started learning and having fun! I would still love to hang these in my house as a reminder though! Thank you for the encouraging words!!! :)

  20. Kathy Heisleman says:

    Such great advice! As a grandparent who home-schooled starting back in the early 80’s…(& whose children have decided to home-school)I can attest that “Comparisons are Odious” (to quote Jane Austen), and “Those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise”, (which is somewhere in the Book of Proverbs….)
    The main thing is to just keep your head down, follow your gut, know your kids and D.O.N”T L.I.S.T.E.N. to those seminar speakers and self=styled experts! In fact, I had to Quit going to conventions as I came home overwhelmed, envious & discouraged.
    And always always hug, smile, encourage!!!! That includes being nice to yourself also.
    What you are doing is so hard and so very rewarding!

  21. Wonderful advice! Passing it along on my Free Range Learning fb page.
    Laura Grace Weldon’s latest post: Activate Your Knowledge Networks

  22. Great post and definitely applicable even to parents who don’t homeschool! Thanks for sharing :)
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz’s latest post: Cosleeping is not a fad, cribs are {Dear Best Friend…}

  23. I second number 6–Travel! Take advantage of your freedom from the tyranny of the traditional school schedule. Explore your hometown, city, and state. Attend matinee performances–during the week (gasp). Go to museums on off hours so you can really see the exhibits. Plan a special not-back-to-school trip. I have been doing this with child number 3 and wish I would have done even more with the older two.

  24. I love this Sarah!! Thank you so much for sharing these heartfelt reminders! I plan to print, repost and share…. The #1 advice i share is to take a step back and observe. Breathe in every morsel and enjoy the ride!

  25. Thank you for the great reminders! The hardest one for me is the constant comparing of what I’m doing with with other people. It’s hard to walk our own paths sometimes, but definitely worth it in the end.
    Maia’s latest post: The chickens show their true colors.

  26. Terrific advice for new homeschooling parents. It is so hard to take that leap. We worry that they may “fall behind.” Initially, that was definitely my fear. Instead, I have found that they not only “stay up” on their academic pieces but that they also have grown into self confident and fun kiddos (or maybe they have always been this way but now I get to be the one seeing it instead of their teachers at school..smile).
    Sharon’s latest post: Guest Post: A Homeschooling Manifesto

  27. jaffray Geddes says:

    Friends, firstly, I would advise all of you no one I say no one can advise you about
    how or what you should do with your children, you yourselves are The Experts!
    Secondly I suggest each of you obtain th small paper-back ‘The Life of HELEN KELLER’ it should be on the first list of every school to show and inspire children here
    was a person,deaf,dumb, blind!!! And above feed your child with LAUGHTER!!

  28. Thank you for this beautiful article Sarah! I just love how your advice gets to the heart of your connection with your children, the love you show and share with them, modeling a postive life….the details of what to teach when how what curriculum etc. …none of it matters as much as that essential connection as a family
    Kelly’s latest post: Circle Time in the Waldorf-Inspired Kindergarten Homeschool (Part One)

  29. Thank you for the lovely read. Always a blessing to see this after being confronted by some doubters.

  30. Remember to keep life simple. Weed out the unnecessary. Remember that homeschooling is simply an extension of what you did for the first five years. You love your children, and learning happens best in an environment of love.

  31. This post totally applies to me.I really needed it! ! Thanks alot

  32. Great advice! Love how all the tips are so positive. Yes, children are wonderfully and fearfully made!

  33. This is perfect!…off to read them a book….
    priest’s wife @byzcathwife’s latest post: Ascension Thursday & The Little Oratory

  34. This has some terrific advice. I needed to hear the one about the mood, and getting outside is so very important.

  35. This is awesome. So many great ideas! I need to remember to slow down and love more than I worry about math getting done… Thanks for a great list.
    Amy Shepley-Garwood’s latest post: You climb! I’ll take pictures.

  36. Chris Barnes says:

    I would add a 3(b): This includes comparing kids *within* a family. Don’t do it. Each child is different.

  37. Relax!

  38. Merri Bruce says:

    Love this!!

  39. Love this post! Especially #8 – Let them get dirty. This is so important, especially for boys. I’m constantly reminding myself that my boys need dirt in their lives the way I need scented candles and my chai green tea. It helps to make their life more enjoyable. And the good news is that eventually it washes off! :)
    Michelle Caskey’s latest post: Four Questions for Avoiding a One Size Fits All Education

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