The Biggest Mistake I Made When I First Started Homeschooling

Most of us started homeschooling because of the freedom that comes with it. Freedom to add flexibility to the day. Freedom to travel when campgrounds are emptier in the off-seasons. Freedom to be with your kids in an unhurried environment. Most importantly, we homeschool for the freedom to teach the topics we feel are most important in a way that works best for our families.

That doesn’t always happen though, especially in the beginning. My biggest mistake was starting too much too soon. It can be so tempting to check out books on every subject, print out a million pages, and dive into this whole school thing full force, but this generally leads to a major burnout. 

Allowing Learning to Happen Organically

When my oldest daughter was really young, I dove into so many homeschool books that harped the same thing over and over again “trust that your child will learn what they need to learn and allow learning to unfold naturally”. I got the concept, I fully embraced the concept, but when the time came – I fell flat on my face. I checked out too many books at the library, I over-enthusiastically jumped into anything she showed interest in and tried to cram in every fact about it, and I generally put so much on our task list that it wasn’t fun. I had a lot of ideals about what I wanted our homeschool to look like and what styles I wanted to incorporate. Add to that an attempt to do things that were above her current skill level, and you have a recipe for certain disaster!

How do you recover from that?

After trying to do that for a while, the two of us were burnt out and not interested in school at all. It had become such a chore! Fortunately, in our state, children aren’t recognized as being school age until they turn eight years old. This extra padding of time gave us some room to breathe and unwind from the overwhelm. At this point, I had a 7 year old and a 4 year old and I decided that play would be the best teacher. We dove into board games, LEGOs, Barbies, and the outdoors, and the two of them had the freedom to just be kids – no learning expectations.

What happened at that point was beautiful. They had the space to become great observers, they truly began noticing the world around them. We went on adventures and learned organically. Learning was fun again!

At that point I began adding in books from the library to go over topics they were interested in. I reassessed the books we were using for our curriculum and removed everything that wasn’t working out. We were left with a very eclectic mix that works great for us. Figure out what works for your teaching style and your child’s learning style – this likely won’t fit in a pretty box that’s easy to explain to others, but that’s okay!

Learning to Keep a Thriving Homeschool Rhythm

Keeping up a good homeschool rhythm is a constant dance of adjusting and reassessing. As soon as I start browsing the library catalog with a new topic in mind, I find myself adding WAY too many books to the hold list and have to go through and remove anything that seems repetitive or truly not necessary. When we began adding country studies, I picked up over 100 books from the library at one time. In case you’re wondering, that’s way too many. 

Remembering the objective is helpful when reining in your perfect rhythm. Is your objective to learn every little detail about a country, or is it to introduce your child to the cultures around the world so they understand they’re part of a much bigger global network than what they’re exposed to in their local community? Keeping that in mind can help you check out five to ten books that will more than cover inspiring stories, geography, and teach about customs, culture, and expectations. 

Quieting the Pressure to Over-School

I find there’s this invisible pressure to teach everything all at once. Based on the discussions I see on homeschool forums, I know it isn’t just me that feels this pressure. It can be hard when your child who’s eight doesn’t read fluently yet, but their six-year-old cousin can read fluently after being in public school for two months. In reality, public school students have a different set of needs and expectations because they’re being taught as a group. Neither example is better or worse, it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your child. 

It’s important to remember that homeschooling provides your child the freedom to learn at their own pace. It’s also important to make sure we allow ourselves that freedom to learn and grow at the same time. Constantly adjust and pretty soon you’ll find yourself in this amazing place where you actually trust that your child is learning and that what you’re doing is effective. 

Hardly anything is taught in one sitting, learning happens organically when we trust that it will unfold as it’s supposed to. Think of when you meet someone; you don’t generally tell them every detail about yourself the first time you meet them. The stories of your life come out organically over time as you interact and share. Learning happens the same way, bit by bit over the years. It can be difficult to trust this in the beginning, but once you discover this truth for yourself, I can confidently say it will transform your homeschooling completely.

The Most Overwhelming Time of the Year

I’ve noticed that fall seems to be when I’m most likely to check out too many books, start too many new topics, and become susceptible to burnout. I’m sure it has something to do with everyone going back to school and feeling the pressure to make sure we’re “keeping up”.

In the last couple of years I’ve combated this by homeschooling through the summer. We don’t do anything too intense, a little reading, writing, and math three days a week. Just enough to move forward without it adding any overwhelm, and then in the fall we add in a little more. It’s an intuitive process that works well for us. In a future post I’ll go into more detail about what our year typically looks like. 

What time of year do you find to be the most overwhelming in your homeschool?

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