10 things every new homeschooler should know

10 things every new homeschooler should know
Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool

I never know exactly how to answer when someone asks me how long we’ve been homeschooling.

“Since the beginning,” goes over pretty well.
“We always have,” gets a fair response.
My holistic view of learning used to lead me to say “since birth,” but that one raised some eyebrows here and there.

But if someone, wanting a more technical response, counts the time since my oldest would have started Kindergarten, that makes this our eighth year of learning at home! No matter how you slice it, I guess I’m not a newbie anymore.

I still remember those days well, though. The insecurity, the worries, the thoughts of inadequacy. (Oh wait, that was just last night!!)

I’m crazy far from being an expert on the matter, but the past several years have taught me a few things I’d like to pass on to every new homeschooler.

I hope they bring comfort to those of you getting started.

1. It can take a year or more to find your homeschooling rhythm.

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It makes me inwardly cringe a bit when I hear readers say, “We’ll try homeschooling until Christmas and then decide if we’ll continue.”

Remember when you started college, or got married, or began your first full-time job? Big life transitions take time–but by Sophomore or Junior year, you strutted around like you owned the place.

Use the principle of observation and correction. When something doesn’t work, don’t over-generalize and decide, “Homeschooling doesn’t work!”

Instead notice, pause, and try something else. In time you’ll find the rhythm that matches your family.

2. There’s no point in duplicating a struggling system.

Isn’t it ironic that often we pull our children out of traditional school because it isn’t a good fit for them, then we create the same system in our dining room and wonder why it isn’t working?!

There’s nothing enlightened, spiritual, or idyllic about the current educational system. It’s one option, and in many ways a dinosaur, a leftover relic from the Industrial Revolution.

If there’s an aspect of it you or your kids love or truly believe in, take that with you. Then read Gatto, and remind yourself that you have the permission to invent something new.

3. There’s more than one way to home educate well.

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I’ve come across families who classically school, who follow the Waldorf curriculum, who unschool, who adhere to Charlotte Mason ideas, or who love the principles of Leadership Education–all of them with now-grown kids who have found a successful path in life.

It should be comforting, but sometimes we get threatened by this truth: There’s more than one way to home educate well.

Each young mind is unique. Why would we ever assume that one way of schooling would fit them all?

4. When in doubt, read-aloud.

Serious days will come your way, new homeschoolers–the kind when nothing goes to plan and everything goes wrong. When that happens, pop popcorn or make hot chocolate, and snuggle under covers with your kids and a book.

Have wigglers? Take your book out to the trampoline or the swing!

Try this one if you’re just getting started with chapter books. This one if you need a good laugh. This one for poetry lovers. Or this one to keep older, restless troops engaged.

Browse this awesome list for more showstoppers and stock up for the winter.

5. School hours don’t have to look like school hours.

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Some families get up at dawn, finish lessons, and head out to work their farm. Some sleep in until 10 or 11am, then slowly begin after breakfast/lunch. Some follow traditional hours and find that works best.

We’ve never had official “school hours” in our home because one of our goals has been to blur the lines of living and learning. That’s why, when someone recently asked my Jonathan (11) what time he starts school for the day, he answered, “About 6 a.m.” (i.e. when he wakes up)

The questioner looked at me as if I must be quite the strict taskmaster!

6. Your own learning matters as much as theirs.

Teachers get in-service days, don’t they? They invest in themselves as professionals, and so should you.

Sometimes when I’m convinced that we’re all headed for ruin (you know the days), all it takes is 30 minutes with a good book to turn me around. It could be the perfect homeschooling how-to (or how NOT to!), or even just my current classic novel.

Making learning an enjoyable pursuit for yourself shows your kids how much it matters in life.

7. Guess what prepares kids for real life? Real life.

Raise your hand if you, as an adult, spend five days a week in a single building with 20-30 other adults your same age.

Anyone?

In a healthy family, real life is simply an incredible way to prepare kids for real life–making all those socialization fears beyond pointless.

8. It’s okay to take a break when you (or they) need one.

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Repeat after me: Humans are not robots. We don’t have to use every minute perfectly in order to move our kids’ educations forward.

In a society overflowing with anxious “doing,” model calm “being”–patience and character are every bit as important as math and language arts.

9. Find their passion, and you’ve found the key that will unlock their love of learning.

Every child has a passion. You might have to dig a little, or it might not be what you think it should be–but it’s there. Thanks to the internet, we now have the resources to transform just about any passion into a unit study.

I have one child who loves meteorology, one who loves writing, one who loves military history. Each one has a different curriculum plan; each one still loves learning.

And an individual who loves learning, over time, begins to educate himself. Since I’m hoping to eventually work myself out of a job, I’m all for that!

10. You can’t do this alone, and you don’t have to.

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You need friends and mentors on the same path–ones you can confide in, gain advice from, and lean on when things get hard. If you don’t have people like that in real life (I’ve had seasons when I didn’t), find them online.

There are blogs like this one and many fabulous others. There are Facebook groups for those who follow Leadership Education, for those who want to feed their families well, and for those who wear togas around the house. (I’m guessing about that last one, but it wouldn’t surprise me!)

Get help when you need it, outsource subjects you don’t want to teach, and don’t try to do it all. There’s no need!

Newbie homeschooler, you are concerned and worried about many things, but only one thing is needed: YOU.

You, putting your imperfect self on the line day after day on behalf of your little people. You, setting your values and priorities, moving toward them with baby steps each day. You, seeking divine help and guidance because you know there’s no way you can do this on your own.

One day soon you’ll look back and be amazed at how far you’ve all come.

What words of comfort would you tell a new homeschooler?

Originally posted on Nov 3, 2015

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.

Comments

  1. Yes, to all of this! I especially love “9. Find their passion, and you’ve found the key that will unlock their love of learning” This is what I strive for.

  2. I really love how you always break homeschooling down into do-able, relatable, individualized human-sized bites. Thank you for the inspiration and confirmation.
    Rachel’s latest post: planting the seeds

  3. We are just going into our second year and i thought i would have it all figured out by now but i still feel overwhelmed most of the time and even though i know I’m doing the right thing for my kids i always feel i should be doing so much better. Thank you for
    this post, given me a lot to think about, like the humans are not robots bit. ☺ thanks, janine

    • You’re welcome, Janine! I think it’s one of the biggest myths that we feel we should have it all figured out by a certain time. In reality, it’s likely that when we feel like we’ve mastered something, everything changes! 😉 Or our kids reach a new stage, and the game changes – it’s always a new learning curve.

  4. A friend of mine recently recommended your blog as encouragement to me. We’ve been homeschooling for 5 years now. I “school at homed” it for the first 3 1/2. Then because of some health issues in an already very difficult toddler (4th of 5 kids), I was forced to reconsider. It was change my ways or put all of my kids in school. Well, I decided on the first and we began the road of unschooling. I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out and constantly worry I’m not doing enough…. But then I read amazing blogs like this and it puts me at piece. Thank you. 😉

  5. Oh, I love all of this! It is definitely what I believe about homeschooling, especially as I grow more comfortable. I will definitely be saving this post for a reminder when things get crazy!

    I especially love the tip to read-aloud. I have not always been great at it, but it is definitely something that can reset the tone of our day and bring us together.
    sarah’s latest post: Non-toy gift ideas for kids

  6. Tami Rasmussen says:

    THANK YOU!!!! This was just perfect for me. We are still new to this and my teacher training is keeping me from having faith and letting go. We homeschooled last year and I was kind of thrown off by one of my kids wanting to continue. I feel like we are stubbling through and this was exactly what I needed. I love your insights and resources. I just worry too much and need to build faith that inside my kids are amazing learners and just need me to help them figure out what’s inside not download info onto their hard drive.

  7. My children’s passion is a big reason we chose homeschooling. They both knew what they wanted to do in life from an early age. Homeschooling allows us to create a custom path to their goals. Love your tips & ideas!
    HeatherAnne @ Foofy * Not Foofy’s latest post: September/October 2015 Monthly Wrap-Up

    • I love hearing about kids who have such a clear passion from an early age, and I feel like children have “permission” to get in touch with their passions when they’re raised with that goal in mind! Thanks for reading, HeatherAnne!

  8. As a second-year homeschooling parent, I think this is such solid and practical advice. I worked in public ed for 14 years and while there are ways of “learning” that I feel can overlap both public and home school settings, my hardest battle has been letting go of the way I was trained to think about learning and let my kids be more free. It’s a learning ground for sure and I’m grateful for everything I learned that first year. We changed up a lot this year but we’re still finding our way. I also loved the way you described the lines blurring between life and school. I feel quite the same and wrote about it a bit on my blog, how I felt the call to “do life with my family” and those blurring of the lines is part of that. Thanks for the great article!
    Allison’s latest post: 31 day writing challenge all in one place

  9. I have 4 children ages 7,4,2, and 5 months. I have thought about homeschooling since my yyoungest first started public school. I still feel like I can give them so much more but I have no clue where to start. What kind of materials to buy, how testing works, how to juggle a baby in the mix. It seems so owerwhelming and yet the little voice in my head says “what are you waiting for”.

  10. . Really wanting to home school my kids, oldest is only two so trying not to stress yet. Found this blog post very encouraging but my head still spins with questions and worries. Will in be able to give my kids what they need, what do in need to have our get etc. Can feel like a daunting decision at times and not sure I’ll have the energy to do it properly. ….. Our patience. ..

  11. This is such a great list for new homeschoolers. I love all ten things, but I think number 9 is my favorite. Help your children find what they love, and they will do the hard work of learning willingly! Think of your role as a homeschool parent as more of a mentor than an instructor.
    Melissa R Wolfe’s latest post: Commonplace Books vs. Writing in Books

  12. Christine B says:

    We are “homeschooling” preschool (which is more about me making a point to expose my daughter to books and fun activities that go with them). She is super interested in tablets. My husband works in IT, so I don’t know if this is an actual interest or just a preschooler liking screens interest. We generally limit screen time, but part of me wonders if I’m missing out on one of my daughter’s “keys” in saying no to a tablet for her (or family use). Thoughts?

    • Hi Christine! I’m far from an expert on this topic, and believe that each family has to make their own decision about screens ultimately. But I know that for us, it felt right to hold off on screens for our littles (to tightly limit them, at least), wanting our littles to be firmly planted in the real world first.

      It makes sense your daughter would be interested if that’s your husband’s work, so I’d focus on exploring them together WITH her for short time periods…and then putting them away to go back to the real life you’re learning about in your preschool! I’ve written a bit about this here: http://www.steadymom.com/2015/11/to-the-mom-i-was-seven-years-ago.html

  13. Such a wonderful post! As a “graduated” homeschool mom, (my son,21, is about to finish his bachelors in computer science) I can agree with all you’ve written here. I started out scared to death that I’d do it wrong until I realized that my fear of leaving something out always kept me from being complacent. I started homeschooling my son after first grade in the public school system. My only regret is that I changed curricula quite a bit on my little Guinea pig each year trying to find a rhythm, but in another way he learned flexibility and different ways of looking at things. There were weeks he would fly through lessons and I felt like Socrates…and then there would be a month when he wouldn’t write a sentence, read a paragraph or complete a project; we’d cook together and take field trips instead, and I secretly felt like a failure, waiting for a truant officer to show up at my door. Later, I realized that learning happens in spurts – like physical growth. We were always learning…but the academics will wax and wane from week to week. My biggest piece of advice is to always do something…but there are days when math isn’t in the cards or they don’t want to read. Be open and flexible to taking a week off, or pick a cause together and do some community work instead of school at home that week. Homeschooling is the scariest decision we ever made but it was also the best!

  14. Thank you! This is just what I needed to hear. This week has been hard. This new homeschooling mom was begining to feel very inadequate. Here’s to a new day and a new way!

  15. I loved reading your post! I’ve been doing this thing called homeschooling since 2003. I agree with letting our kids learn through their passions and literature … But now with high school students who homeschool and attend classes outside the home to supplement our homeschooling – there are those not so fun subjects (like Chemistry) that we just have to do because it’s “required” – I miss the elementary and junior high years when we could be more choosey in our subjects. And those moments of freedom to spend unexpected hours just going with the flow.

  16. Emily Lacey says:

    I’m 3 months in and things have been really hard lately. This was a so reassuring and encouraging. Thank you!

    • Oh I’m so glad, Emily. 3 months is still so, so new – be gracious to yourself…particularly if your kids have been in traditional school before, they may just need a period of deschooling, allowing them to reset their natural curiosity and love of learning.

  17. Your number 1 point is so true. I cringe too when I hear people say they’re just trying homeschooling. I almost want to beg them to jump in with both feet.
    This post is so helpful and comforting! Thanks for sharing.
    Cara@TheHomeLearner’s latest post: HOPE (& calm) for homeschooling through the holiday season.

  18. Thank you for this article! Just what I needed to read this morning. Great points made 🙂

  19. I am in my third year of homeschooling and now find people asking me questions about homeschooling all the time. My biggest advice to all new homeschooling parents is……breathe. Don’t worry about how long it takes your child to complete that one math problem. Don’t worry about the calendar. You make the rules. Do not try to cram everything in a set time slot that works for the public school world, but may not suit you and your family. There is no race in homeschooling. This is the glory of homeschooling. You get to do things in your child’s own time. You do not have to do every assignment and you do not have to shove things down your child’s throat at some rapid pace. Take your time. Enjoy and embarrass the process. Your child will set the tempo if you let them and everyone will be better for it.
    Kay’s latest post: Create a New History

  20. I needed this today. Trying to somehow feel like I can get everything in order to start seriously homeschooling by January. I have three four-year-olds and two two-year-olds and it’s hard to image anything running smoothly on a semi-regular basis. Thank you!

  21. elizabethlower says:

    i did not read until 12 with best teacher who taught one on one in a circle
    in regular school but using home school system thanks MS H
    my daughter did 2 years MONTESSORI preschool She created her own news paper
    at 2nd grade but school did not work I got brave and home schooled her last year
    i use zooprogram and magazine to help daughter do her senior year now is
    a top on line editor/ writer I J REVIEW
    i see best results thanks e

  22. I’ve homeschooled for 20 something years now. I still feel like I’m finding my way some days. Our children are all different and what works for one doesn’t always work for the others. Go with the flow, don’t stress and definitely take time for yourself. Great article. It is seeing that other people feel the same way and have their struggles that kept me going all these years and still keeps me going.

  23. I love so much of this post, but the “when in doubt, read aloud” bit speaks the loudest to me. Whenever we have a terrible day, I think of the books we’ve read. We always read books. So at least there is that, and that is huge.
    Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: How to Get Kids to Write Thank You Notes in 4 Easy Steps

  24. Thank you for sharing these points! We’ve just started homeschooling our 10 yr old (so we’re heading into month 4) and i feel like I bounce all over the place with what we’re “studying”. And I would have to agree with the point about the reason we took him out of school… It didn’t work for him! I recently let go of trying to do school like the school does and by mid December it was sooo much better. Now to keep moving forward. 🙂

  25. Thanks so much for this post. I just started homeschooling this past August and my son is in 4th Grade. My heart leans more toward unschooling, but I’m having a surprisingly hard time breaking away from “normal” classroom routine. I do get to gear his lessons around his interests, but I’m driving myself crazy knowing what to teach for the year-end evaluation – not knowing if I will have provided him with the things he needs to be evaluated fairly. He loves learning, loves reading, and is very social – but I’m a worry-wart… so this article puts some of my fears at ease. 🙂 Glad I’m not the only homeschool parent who’s making it up as I go along!! 😉

  26. I love this but I’m still struggling. With my oldest we used a full curriculum, then she went to public school for middle and high school. I’ve just brought my youngest son home to school at the start of middle school and it’s been a major transition for us. I never believed in letting kids choose their paths in school until this experience. It’s hard to know what is “enough.”

  27. I have been a public school teacher, a private school teacher, and a home school teacher. Many of your tips cross contextual boundaries (ok, maybe not the scheduling ones, but it might be better if they did!) The thing I want to say to encourage your readers is that the struggles they have are shared by all teachers, even if the setting and students are different. Teaching is hard because it never stops. We are always “on” and we feel the urgency and passion to do our best because little souls are relying on us.

    Another commonality we share is finding instructional materials we can trust. Certainly a large number of people who homeschool are looking for materials that align with their faith systems, but not all who homeschool weave religion into their schooling. So the trust I’m talking about is trust that the educational content is reliable and actually educational. Those who teach outside the home have the same concern, though we are sometimes bound by district choices, so we rely on collaboration with colleagues and friends. I’m a skeptic at heart so I always took a “I’ll see for myself” approach. I’ll share a resource for educational apps that I have come to trust because their metrics are objective and include elements I know are necessary for deep learning (not just a digital worksheet in game form). Check them out and see what you think. http://Www.balefirelabs.com

  28. Thankyou for all the advice. I have 6 kids ages 11,10,10,8,6, and 1. I just started homeschool in December.. I have been a little worried that I am not doing good enough but God has kept me going and my kids have kept me going to.. I am very open with them and with my ideas, struggles and prayers. I am glad to hear the way I feel is normal..

  29. Thank you! This is my first year, my son is 6. He is not a fan of doing work. I was going to give up and send him to school next year. I think I will give it another year!

  30. Jamie-
    I find homeschooling my high school daughter very challenging. I keep finding most homeschool advice is geared towards younger kids. How do I motivate a teenager to do the work without being so harsh?

    • I’d recommend you look into Thomas Jefferson Education, Susan! Reading about the phases of learning could help you figure out if your teen may need to renegotiate a phase that could kick their natural love of learning back on track: tjed.org

  31. I am homeschooling a 9 year old developmentally delayed , hearing impaired daughter. Her passion is dramas. How can I incorporate dramas into homeschooling , any ideas ? Thank you

  32. I have dread your blog because most of my friends homeschool and they post. And I have those childcraft books and loved reading them as a child. However, I was so disappointed. I think it is wonderful that you champion homeschooling and feel passionate about it, but to champion your cause do you have to distort public education? “There’s nothing enlightened, spiritual, or idyllic about the current educational system. It’s one option, and in many ways a dinosaur, a leftover relic from the Industrial Revolution.” my experience in public school is not his statement at all. As a Christian public school educator who wants to support her homeschooling friends, these statements crest a divide and a mindset that is very damaging. Be mindful of all your readers. Even those who are not exactly where you are but could be on your side if you where more gracious if theirs.

  33. Such a great list! I especially agree with number one… that statement always makes me cringe as well. I am going to share this with all of the homeschoolers in our local support group.
    Natasha’s latest post: 8 Mistakes To Avoid During Your First Year Of Homeschool

  34. This is my first year of homeschooling. I tend to put alot of pressure on myself so this was a good read. Thank you!

  35. Some of the best advice I got when I began homeschooling was -Don’t make the decision to quit after the first year, wait it out! I think each point you made is great. I especially like the last one 🙂 Sometimes finding someone or a group of someones online is the only support you will get.

  36. Paraguayan Mom says:

    I am a mom of a 4 yr old and decided to home school starting this fall when he turns 5. I am scared and completely clueless. Your article brought me peace and courage. Thank you for writing this and I am so happy I am not alone! Blessings to you!

  37. This is likely a new one…I raise my 12 (almost 13) y/o granddaughter. I have done so since birth with the exception of a few months when her mother TRIED to be a mother. I have 4 grown kids and when my 2 youngest were in elementary school (1st & 3rd grade) I homeschooled them for 3 years. We tried alot of different things some worked well others not so much. We did A LOT of field trips…several local museums and such offered discount memberships or free days for homeschoolers which we took advantage of. With my granddaughter it’s been different. I am a single parent now and she is in 7th grade. She is a MUCH different child in temperment than my two homeschooled kids were. She has MUCH different interests. My son knew from the time he was 3 that one day he would join the military (he is in his 7th year in the Navy!!). My daughter wasn’t so sure…my granddaughter has NO idea what she wants to do. She is convinced she isn’t smart…(but she IS!! All of her teachers in school have said so and she is smart as a whip at Math –NOT my strong point). I’m schooling her but not PUSHING it right now…more of a concentration on the subjects she ENJOYS because I want to REIGNITE the passion for learning she had once upon a time. To be sure I am confused, frustrated, overwhelmed by this task…especially trying to work full time so I am aiming toward SELF learning. She does LOVE technology so we are planning to try Alpha Omega’s Monarch system after the New Year once we are financially stable again (we moved over the summer and I lost my job). We got a late start to homeschooling…we had talked about it over the summer before our move but she insisted she wanted to TRY public school…that lasted 12 weeks (2 report periods)…the last 6 weeks was her calling home most days at lunchtime begging to be allowed to come home!! 🙁 Daily grades were all over the place –except in math–but she brought home A’s & B’s on both report cards…go figure!! I am still working on figuring out a curriculum that works for her and holds her interest –public school DID NOT…private Christian school was better and taught me that she NEEDS to be CHALLENGED to thrive!! So we are a work in progress!!

  38. We love learning every day and in every way! We focus on the educational aspects of traveling. We read about our destination before we go and we enjoy traditions from the countries we visit. Being able to turn loose of the ‘should haves’ makes everything more doable. As a former teacher in the public school system I use what I know about curriculum to create travel guides for my kids BUT definitely think outside the box. I couldn’t agree more that a lot of the current school system is antiquated!! Our kids need to be prepared for a changing and advancing world in terms of technology (it changes every single day it seems!) and social skills (FaceTime? Skyping?) and being part of the VERY big and yet VERY small world. We HAVE to be global citizens now. Regular school will not prepare kids for that…it just hasn’t kept up.
    Natalie’s latest post: Choose the best travel shoe

  39. This is a wonderful list! It does take time to find a rhythm and in my experience, the structure of our days can often turn out to be very different from the one originally imagined, which is okay. In our case, it’s way better. Number 4 has saved my sanity and our day’s tone more than once. Plus, is there really anything better than snuggling down with your kids and a good book!
    Kelly Sage’s latest post: Seven!

  40. This is a great list! This might seem like its obvious…but how do you figure out what your child’s passion is? I have a child who just seems disinterested in a lot of things. I’ve been trying to figure it out. She’s very quiet and always has been. Also how do you deal with an interest you can’t actually pursue in real life? I have a child who loves horses (for years!) but its all been through books…we can’t afford nor do we live close to anywhere for her to pursue this interest beyond books…so I am not sure what to do about that.

    • just to add to my above comment in case anyone has any ideas…my child’s issue seems strange to me since we have always homeschooled…so its not like she has been struggling with this due to public school.

    • Hi Nola! How old is your daughter and how long has she been homeschooling? I think books is a great way to learn about horses, also maybe videos on YouTube when you can or learning to draw them, learning about their bodies like a vet would. You make a great point, though, which is that we don’t have to make every interest/passion into a huge endeavor!

  41. Great list, even for a not-so-newbie homeschooler! My best advice? Never make major life decisions in February.

  42. I love how you believe that there are many ways to home educate. That takes so much worry off the newbie 🙂

  43. I homeschoolers my oldest (now 15) until grade 4 when she decided she wanted to give traditional school a go. She has consistently been a straight A student and her teachers have always been amazed at what an incredible independent learner she is. (The only kid to always finish her work in class and have an extra half hour to read and never any homework.) While she continues to thrive in public school, her 6 year old sister has been getting ‘dumbed down’ by the system and I just pulled her out of school this week to do it myself. I’m happy to be back at it and realize that my 2 daughters while both incredibly intelligent beings, couldn’t be more different creatures. Due to their unique differences, I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed at having to do so much differently this time around and I really appreciated your words at a time when I truly needed them. I can breathe. I’ve sooo got this!
    Thank you so much for this post!

  44. This is a wonderful piece, thanks. We are moving to China in a month and cannot afford the schools there. So, I’m about to be thrown into homeschooling rather reluctantly. I’m currently still at the ‘cry at the thought of it’ stage and am really scared I’ll go nuts stuck at home all day with my kids. Ha! Maybe I’d go nuts stuck at home on my own all day! Anyways, it was really uplifting to read this as I begin the process of figuring out what homeschooling will look like for our family. Funny thing is, I have toyed with the idea of homeschooling in the past, but decided not to because it just seemed too hard. I guess life has other plans for us. Wish me luck! 🙂

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