Always a novice: Homeschooling my first born

Written by contributor Hillary Boucher of infinitely learning

When I was pregnant with my first born I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what it meant to be a parent.

After he was born I learned quickly that he came with his own personality and needs that didn’t necessarily fit into my philosophies or chosen approaches.

And thus, was the beginning of a seven year long journey of learning that parenting philosophies don’t necessarily translate well into every day practical applications.

If I were to give a new mom some advice I would say:

“Follow your gut.

Don’t listen to the books.

Take care of yourself and take care of your baby.

There are no right or wrong answers.”

I know this isn’t as easy as it sounds because, on some level, I’m always a new parent. Every time my oldest son has a growth spurt or hits a new phase we’re back to square one.

This is very uncomfortable for me. I would much prefer to act from the confidence that comes from experience. For example, parenting my third and youngest child through the toddler years is no sweat. With her, we laugh instead of worry.

But my sweet eldest wears the brunt of our worry and our inexperience.

And so it is with homeschooling. While I’ve explored many philosophies and done a lot of thinking and writing about how children learn, I find myself a novice with the day to day applications. And just like every other phase of his life, teaching him to use the potty or ride a bike – it’s all new to me.

Do I zig or do I zag here? Is this a place where I need to push or let go? Am I going to regret insisting on a curriculum or regret never using one at all?

On the homeschool days where I feel like a brand new parent all over again and find myself having trouble making decisions from  a place of confidence, I find I need to shift my focus to values that help guide my decisions.


May I have the courage to make decision with and for my son even when I don’t have the right answer.


May I walk this journey with humility, acknowledging that my decisions won’t always be the right ones and I will make mistakes. May I draw from a deep well of compassion for both myself, my partner and my son as we figure it out together.


May I make decisions based out of respect for his autonomous person-hood. May I be clear that this is not my life. He is not me and he does not have to do things the same way that I did/do them. May I respect him when he holds his ground and reminds me of this truth.


May I walk this journey with my heart wide open and may by actions be grounded in love.

I know some of our biggest challenges as homeschoolers are practical ones and focusing on values isn’t always the most helpful approach.

After all, love doesn’t take standardized tests and humility doesn’t pass your college entrance exams, but they do lay the foundation for good decision making.

And without the practical experience of having walked through the homeschooling journey my values are one of the only things I can be sure of.

How is homeschooling your younger children different than your firstborn? And how do you make decisions about your eldest’s homeschool when you aren’t sure of the right answers?

About Hillary

Hillary feels lucky to be able to work full-time from home and shares the homeschooling responsibilities with her partner. Together, with a little creativity, a full schedule and a lot of love, they facilitate the education of their three adorable, and sometimes very loud, children.


  1. Thank you! I really needed this. I currently have an “only,” and it can be very frustrating to always feel new at this, and never experienced. The truth is though, as you’ve pointed out, no matter how many additional children we have in our family, we will always be new at something.
    Queen of Chaos’s latest post: So, how’s that vegan thing workin’ out?

  2. Katherine Barron says:

    My poor oldest! He has also born the brunt of my homeschooling mistakes. But, thank the Lord, he is my most easy going child and still loves me anyway.

    The best thing to me about learning this stuff from the firstborn is being able to pass on the wisdom. I have a sister who is going to start homeschooling her daughter this fall. I have been able to give her the “take it easy on her” talk so that she can learn from my early failures and hopefullly avoid some of the pitfalls of being excited about teaching your own child.

  3. I’m a big believer in filling in the gaps of my inexperience with the wisdom from my elders. Seeking out the wise counsel of a woman I respect and and admire (and whose children I’d like my own children to emulate) has been blessing not only to my parenting but to my own personal life as well.

    Loved this post. Thank you for your encouragement!
    Mary Beth’s latest post: state of the union: home

  4. The sad thing is that your oldest will always be your oldest, and always be receiving the brunt of our inexperience … high school, college, marriage, grandparenting…. I like your keys to doing well, especially the one about courage. We are currently making some college decisions with and for our oldest and praying that what we do will be right for him and his own very wonderful person-hood.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Free Summer School Bonus: Concerts in the Park

  5. I smiled almost through the whole post. My oldest is not so hard to handle for he is calm in character. My second though is another story and as you say we learn as we go, we constantly have to learn, adjust and apply and all,over learn again. He is quiet hard to figure out. I sometimes want to pull my entire hair off my head and on other days I’m melting because of his sweet and caring being!!!

    I’m still fairly new to homeschooling,going into our 3rd year with a 2nd grader and Kindergardener. It feels much longer though because I’ve learned so much already. One of my main concerns about teaching my oldest is to NOT having him be the testing object of what works and what doesn’t, so much so that it causes quiet a bit of a stress on my side.. (dare me making a wrong decision.. No pressure..) I have yet to learn that there are many ways to being successful and am constantly trying to not overdo it and not trying to want to “teach him everything under the sun”

    My 2 cents,
    Myriam’s latest post: Homesteading Arts Festival

  6. I loved this. Beautifully written. It’s terrifying and inspiring to always be challenged by the stages of that firstborn, isn’t it? Thank you for writing this.
    6512 and growing’s latest post: forty

  7. Not only do we homeschool our children all differently (because of where they fall in the birth order) but also because of their personalities. What this means practically is that our youngest gets a different education from our middle who gets a different education from the oldest.

    Thinking there are right answers sets us up for disappointment I think and also stress when we don’t fit or when our children don’t fit.

    We choose the “who are you and what do you need (within the context of our family life)?” model of homeschooling in which there are no “right” answers except what’s right for our children and us.
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: An Urban Adventure (& Bra Shopping) in Montréal

  8. There are moments when I think “poor firstborn” but mostly I see that all his life experiences, including being my first at parenting and homeschooling, helped form who he is as a person. He is a leader, so strong in character and determined, logical, justice-oriented… I wouldn’t want to wish away the person he is today so there is really no point in lamenting my imperfections as a parent 🙂

    Each of my girls that followed their big brother have had a different experience, partly (mostly, I hope) because, as Renee mentioned, they are individuals and it wouldn’t make sense to offer a “one size fits all” education. My youngest certainly does benefit, too, from the fact that I’m more tired and relaxed – more comfortable in my own skin – so less likely to worry about what others are doing/thinking.

    I follow my intuition a ton. I very regularly have a “sense” or “feeling” about things – which way to head or a concern or idea to pursue that fits each child or a particular situation.

  9. You nailed the toughest part about being a parent, I think – just when you’re to a point where you feel like you’ve got it down, everything changes. Learning to accept that every single day is going to be different hasn’t been easy, but every time I try to apply yesterday’s attitude to today, I end up frustrated.
    Angela’s latest post: Would you consider a ‘No Rules’ day?

  10. With three children, and just wrapping up my first year of homeschool… I LOVED this post!!!

    especially the line, “After all, love doesn’t take standardized tests and humility doesn’t pass your college entrance exams, but they do lay the foundation for good decision making.”

    blessings to you!

  11. This resonates with me at many levels. 1. My oldest is my most sensitive child and I too feel like raising and educating her is never easy or routine. 2. I was the oldest, sensitive child and I am now seeing how difficult it must have been to raise me. 3. It gave me pause to think about any child ever becoming routine. My third child must get tired of me thinking I have it all figured out for her. Just because I have “been there, done that”, she is experiencing each stage anew and I need to respect that. Thank you, for the wonderful post.
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  12. thank you for this post. it is just what i needed. i am gearing up to homeschool my (first and only) child for preschool this fall, and my mind has been aswirl with books and plans lately. i’ve been feeling lately like i need to take a step back, stop reading, and return to a place that is guided by my love for my child and my values. thank you for reaffirming for me that love and values are just as important as knowledge and curriculum.

  13. This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing your struggles and your wisdom gained!

  14. i really enjoyed this post. i have the same sentiments as i’m sure any homeschooling mom had with their firstborn. my boy will be “kindergarten age” this fall, so we’re approaching the time where we’ll be official homeschoolers. i’ve been mapping this out and thinking about it all for the last three years. it’s so good that you remind us that our children are who they are no matter what we may be like ourselves. i used to be a teacher – first grade for 8 years. i have many preconceived ideas of what school is, what educating children can look like. i’ve decided to forget all that and for the most part… my boy is leading me. it’s working for us.

  15. Hillary says:

    Many thanks for all of your responses and support. It’s inspiring to hear from other families!
    Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

  16. I think all our children get versions of being “first.” My second child was the first one I engaged on sibling issues, he had to learn to share far younger than his older brother. The second one gives me different responses to situations I thought I had “down,” so all the variables are a first for our family with every new child.

    I’m not sure, however, that I can say there are NO rights or wrongs in parenting or homeschooling. We obviously share different worldviews. I believe there is such thing as truth, goodness and beauty and no one’s personal values can trump those things. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert in those areas, but it’s my constant search and joy to find them (especially in unexpected places).

    So happy you mentioned taking care of yourself though! I think we as mom’s often forget to take care of ourselves as we focus on our children. 🙂 You’re obviously an awesome Mom!!
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