The power of the beginner

The following is a guest post written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane.

I am a homeschooling beginner. My only claim to expert knowledge is the fact that I was homeschooled thirty years ago, was raised by a precious homeschool pioneer, and sat clutching my doll at 5 years of age while The Teaching Home magazine snapped our photo for its cover.

I know, hardly expert status. With just two young pupils of my own, I am very much a beginner. Yes, I’ve read books. I’ve learned from Jamie and the other contributors here. My son reads and writes and we practice life curriculum every day. But one of my greatest homeschooling goals is to remain a beginner and help my children do the same.

Instead of raising experts, I hope to raise beginners.

Why? Am I celebrating mediocrity? Encouraging ignorance?

Not at all. But I believe being a beginner has its advantages. Consider a few:

1. Beginners get and give grace to grow.

Beginners, in every arena of life, are often more apt to extend grace to themselves and others.

This doesn’t mean we slack, or don’t care, of don’t have standards, this simply means that we’re comfortable with the fact that we have lots of room for growth. We’re slow to correct others whose methods are different from our own.

We’re quick to give ourselves grace when our schoolday doesn’t go as planned. We’re lavish with our praise when our children make a noble effort.

2. Beginners have nothing to prove.

The unique pressure of home-educating is that we often feel the need to prove ourselves and our children. Often I get questions about our relaxed approach to kindergarten. Sometimes I’m tempted to interpret these as challenges and consider carry around one my son’s reading books in my purse, just so I can just toss it at questioners and say, “He’s reading this now leave me alone!”

But beginners have nothing to prove. When I am comfortable with my beginner-status I can simply smile and explain what we do, why we love it, how it works for us, and leave it at that.

I don’t need to sell it. I don’t need to prove it. And this confidence frees me up to genuinely hear people’s questions and the heart behind them, rather than worrying about whether or not I am “right.”

3. Beginners have the freedom to try new things.

Two years ago, a good friend and I used My Father’s World curriculum and did a little co-op together with our five children. It was fun, but in time we realized it wasn’t meeting the individual needs of our kids. So we stopped. She then tried public kindergarten for a year while I explored Classical Conversations.

At times we both feel like failures, since we keep trying things and haven’t landed entirely on one. But we both have found freedom in relaxing and realizing that each time we try something we learn something new. And, in the process we are modeling for our children that it’s okay to try new things.

My son in particular has a real challenge with taking risks. As we embrace our beginner status together we are both learning to relax and enjoy the fun of trying something new.

4. Beginners aren’t embarrassed when they fail.

Failure is one of the most necessary components of education. More and more educators are championing the value of allowing students to fail in a controlled environment. Teachers are encouraged to cultivate the idea of “safe failure” so that students learn to risk, then learn from their failures rather than be crushed by them.

Believing that we need to be experts, that we need to prove ourselves, is crippling. It keeps us from embracing failure because we’re more concerned with keeping up appearances. This inevitably affects our children and their own attitude toward failure. When we see ourselves as beginners we are no longer embarrassed by failure, we embrace it as a beautiful part of the learning process.

How we grow as educators has everything to do with how our children grow as students.

No matter how experienced we become, we can always have the joy of being beginners. And we all know that more is caught than taught.

As we cheerfully embrace beginner-status we can raise confident children who are comfortable in their own skin, who don’t take themselves too seriously, who learn from failure, try new things and relax, even under pressure and scrutiny.

The result? Much less stress and way more joy.

Does this really work? Don’t ask me; I’m only a beginner. I’d welcome your thoughts …

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. Great thoughts! I am at the *very* beginning stages of homeschooling. But, from what I have researched, it seems like you are always going to be constantly changing what you do. That’s part of the appeal of homeschooling for me, the ability to change what we are doing to better focus on the needs of my children. If they are slower in an area, change it, if they are more hands on, do that, if they love reading, read a lot. It definitely is exciting though, to be able to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your own family.
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  2. “I don’t need to sell it. I don’t need to prove it. ”

    I have to tell myself this all. the. time. Especially with family. I just don’t understands why some critics of homeschool think that a loving mother will who happens to be a beginner at homeschooling will have any less success at educating these children than the brand new 1st grade teacher fresh out of college at the elementary school down the block. I mean, yeah, the teacher has 4 years of instruction on “how to instruct” but I think we mothers have a much bigger advantage – we LOVE our children and KNOW them and will go to the ends of the earth to find what works for them.

    Great post!
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: Bullying and What Should Be Done About It

    • “We LOVE our children and KNOW them and will go the ends of the earth to find what works for them.” That brings tears to my eyes, Becky. Yes! THAT is why we are equipped as educators for our children. Keep at it, girl! Thanks for your encouragement here.
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: The Joy of Being a Beginner

      • Honestly, in the six years I spent in university in the field of Education (to be a French Immersion teacher), I don’t think I received much useful training in ‘how to teach’, anyways. I believe it is mostly learned in the field, hands-on. My husband, who is a teacher, would agree with that although he did have great practicum mentors that he modeled himself after in some ways.

  3. very, very encouraging, from one homeschooling mama to another. thank you.
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  4. I agree with Becky. “I don’t need to sell it. I don’t need to prove it.” is a great reminder for me as well.
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  5. We began something new at my house yesterday–foreign language learning for my 7yo and 9yo. In half an hour, they went from knowing zero German to 20 words, and could speak actual sentences that they repeated at dinner that night! (“The boy eats.” “The girl eats.” Perfect!)

    It made me so happy to watch their joy at beginning something new.
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    • Awesome!! This is so cool–and you know it encourages me that at 7 & 9 they are picking it up so fast. Mine are only 3 & 5 and sometimes I feel like I’m so far “behind” in teaching foreign language. I love hearing from you that I can relax and “get to it” down to the road. That’s so excited that they are learning new things! Thanks, Anne.
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: The Joy of Being a Beginner

  6. I’m a beginner too but struggle with wanting to be perfect at all I do (and sadly fail at regularly). Thank you for writing this article.

  7. Thank you for sharing this perspective, Kari! I often feel anxious about being a beginner at home-educating my children, but now see this is a good place to be!

    • Actually, Lacey, I think you ARE an expert! 🙂 Haha, I just mean that you are doing so well with your two boys and I am constantly inspired and encouraged by you. Thank you for being the “Pioneer” in our little homeschool circle, we’re all so blessed to have you going before us! (And thanks again for the pictures here!!)
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: The Joy of Being a Beginner

  8. I love this! I’m beginning too and definitely feel the need to defend myself when I feel others may be “doubting” what we are doing. But I truly love the strength this article seems to give me. Makes me feel proud to admit I am beginning and makes me want to always be a beginner in some way or another. Love all the support found on here! Thank you all 🙂

    • Yay!! Here’s a Woohoo! shout to you and a big hug as you embark on this journey in homeschooling. Yes, isn’t it encouraging to have this supportive, helpful, informative space? Three cheers for Jamie for providing this space for us. All the best to you, Tamara!

  9. This was definitely something I needed to read right now. Thank you! It’s been challenging having to “defend” why we’ve chosen to homeschool our children (mine are 5, 3, and 7 months) and to listen to others make comments like “I sure hope you make sure to socialize them with other kids. You know how awkward home schooled kids can be.” Dealing with the stereotypes and the expectations from others has been challenging. However, I have found that it makes me more determined to do what is right for my family and not just what others expect us to do. We have chosen this path for many reasons but the freedom to experiment, to fail, and to find what works for us is one of the most important reasons. Thanks again!
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    • Absolutely, Alicia! All the best to you, and strength and courage as you determine what is best for your family and go that direction with confidence and joy. I keep finding that so often the best “rebuttal” or response is simply a smile. 🙂
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: The Joy of Being a Beginner

    • Absolutely, Alycia! All the best to you, and strength and courage as you determine what is best for your family and go that direction with confidence and joy. I keep finding that so often the best “rebuttal” or response is simply a smile. 🙂

  10. I keep telling myself and my son: “Mistakes are awesome! They lead us to new ideas!”
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  11. I photocopied a page from a Magic School Bus book and I turned it into a magnet for the fridge. I read it to the kids and they read it to me and it keeps us all going. It says, “Ms. Frizzle beamed. ‘That’s the spirit! Take chances! Make mistakes! Check out pollen tubes! Yahoo!’ she yelled as she, too, jumped down the tube.”
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  12. Thank you for the encouragement! My son is only 1 year old, but we plan on homeschooling too. You addressed many of my fears!

  13. I just wanted to chime in on how much I appreciated this post. I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist in any area, but at the same time, I find myself being critical of myself too often. Feelings of not doing “enough,” feelings of inadequacy, feelings of being too concerned what others think….and in reality it doesn’t matter. God has called me to educate my children, and with HIS help, I’ll do the best I can each day. “I don’t need to sell it. I don’t need to prove it.” From both directions….those who think everyone should homeschool and you are wrong if you do not…to those who think that homeschooling is not for anyone. I respect others’ decisions for their families and I am thankful for those who respect our decision as a family to homeschool our children. If God hasn’t called you to it, then you shouldn’t do it, but if He has, then, He will provide the grace to help you each day. I have to remind myself of this every day!
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  14. Absolutely!! Can you please write a post, Gayla? 🙂 There is so much freedom is knowing what WE are called to, and then resting in that and not having to prove it or sell it. Such a great perspective, thanks so much for sharing!
    Kari Patterson’s latest post: The Joy of Being a Beginner

  15. Lovely post Kari. And from a veteran homeschooler, I’da say you are absolutely correct. Curriculums, circumstances and other peoples’ opinions of you all fall by the way side as long as your focus is the Lord. He provides, directs, encourages and even fills in all of those dreaded gaps! Relax, seek God and enjoy your kids! Blessings to you.
    Marianne@AbundantLife’s latest post: 10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum

  16. karen (mom) says:

    As grandmother to Kari’s kids, I have the sweetest memories of those lovely days. Three year old Kari having “Bible study” with a Bible upside down and 8 year old Kris inadvertantly concocting cyanide with his chemistry set.

    Best advice: Get “school” done in the morning and spend the rest of the day pursuing learning.

  17. What a refreshing perspective! Thank you!
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  18. Hey, I loved this too! I *am* a perfectionist & I am also a relatively new homeschooler & an eclectic one at that! I often feel like I’m not on my path yet… But maybe thinking of this post with help me redefine what I was looking at as failure as really the gifts of new beginnings. I like that 🙂

  19. Loved this post, it’s so encouraging, especially for a fellow beginner. I was also homeschooled back in the day and now am trying to figure out this path for my own kids. It’s nice to know that being a beginner has its advantages! I hope I do’t forget it. 🙂
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  20. Kari, I haven’t even read this blog post yet and already it has inspired me! The title (The Power of the Beginner) and this one phrase: “Instead of raising experts, I hope to raise beginners,” were like a breath of fresh air – like a bolt of lightening, really. My whole life I have wanted to be an expert. But my passion for, and interest in, life have made me more of a jack-of-all-trades than an expert. I have often felt I am “easily distracted,” or “not focused enough,” or “lacking in direction.” Your words were an epiphany for me – rather than feel guilty about not being an expert, I can start to appreciate the wonderful gift of being a life-long beginner. And I can let my kids be beginners too, without the fear that their lives will be somehow less than. Thank you!

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