Homeschooling: Six Truths I Wish I’d Known in the Beginning

Homeschooling 1991
Homeschooling 1991

I’ve spent the past 23 years homeschooling, and unless I collapse from exhaustion, I have 11 more to go. There are days when I’m not sure I’ll make it to the end, and if I don’t, I’m going to give myself the same grace and kindness I would give you and say, “Well done – that was amazing.”

Over the years, I’ve been hard on myself. I’ve compared myself to other homeschoolers, private schools, and public schools. I’ve fretted over my children’s failures and successes and feared I might have ruined them. Don’t ask about the year that one of my children “forgot” to do math for months (and I was too overwhelmed to check) – I promise, that child is now an adult with two college degrees.

If I could give my younger self some advice, this is what I would say.

1. You will never get it all done – and that’s okay.

Sure, there will be days when you pat yourself on the back as you check off the last item on the lesson plan, but most days you’ll find yourself packing up the books long before it’s complete. Some days you’ll spend an hour just trying to find a pencil that is relatively sharp and hasn’t had its eraser chewed off. Take a breath; tomorrow will be better (and don’t take 18 years to buy yourself a good pencil sharpener and Ticonderoga pencils – they’re the best).

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2. Over the years, there will be periods of time when you hardly teach, and your kids will still learn.

One day you just might want to write a book titled, “Homeschooling by PBS.” During that stretch when you have a baby every 22 – 25 months; you will miss many days of structured schooling. And when you have a rough pregnancy and you’ve taken time to recover, call the year complete, order new books, bump everyone up one year and start a brand new school year in March. Just think, your kids will get ahead rather than fall behind.

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3. You may never feel that you are doing a great job homeschooling, but you’re doing better than you think.

Don’t be so hard on yourself because ultimately it will make you harder on your children and that will take the joy out of homeschooling. Remember that your goals are long term – very long. There just might be a year when your kids test low in punctuation because, honestly, you sort of forgot to teach it to them, but they will learn it next year. Your goals go far beyond test scores, grade levels, or even grades – don’t bother to give them, especially when your kids are young. Go over their work, let them correct their mistakes, and move on.

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4. Your children will learn more than you can ever imagine simply by being with you and their siblings.

The time you spend folding laundry, cooking, and serving others with your children by your side will have a greater impact than any number of formal lessons. Some of your children’s favorite memories will be of you reading aloud to them – I can’t emphasize how precious it is to snuggle up with your children while a story unfolds. Read to them often, and then read to them some more.

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5. You won’t teach your children all that they need to know.

It’s simply not possible. Set your sights on teaching your children to love learning. Encourage curious  minds and teach them to find the information they need. Allow messes when creativity is happening – even if it means your kitchen counters are cluttered with science experiments.  Bring other people into their lives who will share their talents with your kids: techy folks, dog experts, master gardeners, writers, artists, coaches, and musicians, to name a few. Prepare them for a lifelong educational journey.

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6. Step back and let God work in your children’s lives.

His plan is far better than yours anyhow. He has created your children with unique interests and talents; your job is to cultivate them. Encourage your kids to serve one another and people outside your home. Determine what is most important to your family and steep them in it.  Some day you might make this your family mission statement:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

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Young mama, just starting out, you are undertaking something incredible. Homeschooling will be hard and sometimes more than you can manage, but you will never regret the time spent with your children. Hold on, it’s going to be an amazing journey.

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Lisa

this post contains Amazon affiliate links

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

46 Comments

  1. Chantelle
    June 23, 2014

    Wonderful, as always!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      Thanks, Chantelle.

      Reply
  2. Charlynn Havrilla
    June 23, 2014

    Exactly what I needed to read. Thank you Lisa!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      Good to know, Charlynn. I'll always tell you that you're doing better than you think. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  3. Stephanie
    June 23, 2014

    I homeschooled for around 12 years and am now starting over with a little one. My two oldest have graduated from high school and are in college. I so agree–it's great to have big goals to try to achieve during the year and don't sweat the small daily things. They always seem to get it, even when it feels like you spend more time in the car or at the soccer field than "doing school." Great post, thanks!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      Stephanie, I wonder if you have seen gradual changes in yourself as a homeschooler like I have? Watching my children grow up and simply having more life experience may be mellowing me a little. My younger kids can be thankful that I'm a more peaceful version of myself than my older kids knew. There is probably a blog post in that 🙂

      Reply
  4. Wendy
    June 23, 2014

    Best homeschooling post ever.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      Wendy, you are too kind. Thank you for your encouraging words today.

      Reply
  5. Anita
    June 23, 2014

    I am a public school elementary teacher and I can say that these are wise words for every mama out there whether you work at home, homeschool, or work outside the home…the world is an amazing place and the human brain is an amazing organ!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      Great thought, Anita. This definitely applies to more than homeschoolers.

      Reply
  6. Pam
    June 23, 2014

    Way back when I started our family homeschool someone gave me a bit of great advice that really helped me through the years. She said "Pam, Homeschool is not 'school' at home." In other words, it doesn't look like nor function like the public school I went to and does not need to. My boy are great self learners now and are furthering their education in college. I lived this list for many years. Great advice!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      I totally agree, Pam. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
    2. Karen
      June 27, 2014

      So true. I wasn't sure I could homeschool, and my children. I was also disabled. It is so amazing how God provided opportunities for us, and they learned well, and as with yours, they continue learning throughout life.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        June 27, 2014

        That is great to hear, Karen. I'm sure that homeschooling with extra challenges must have been tough at times; it's great that your children did well and continue to learn.

        Reply
  7. Lori Glasscock
    June 23, 2014

    Some days I'm totally overwhelmed by the thought of beginning the homeschool adventure all over again and other days I can't wait for this little guy to be old enough to get started. 🙂 21 years down…16 to go!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      I totally understand, Lori! Mothering a large family and homeschooling are marathons, not sprints.

      Reply
  8. Christa
    June 23, 2014

    Thank you for the encouragement today and the chuckle!! I will tuck this one away for those days when I am overwhelmed!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      I'm glad you liked it, Christa. I read it to Russ and we laughed (and maybe cried just a little).

      Reply
  9. Sandy
    June 23, 2014

    Thank you for this Lisa!! We just finished our 1st yr of homeschooling and I felt like I didn't teach my daughter a thing. But I did find out that she has issues the school was not addressing and because of that I am calling this yr a success! Bring on next yr!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 23, 2014

      That sounds like a great success to me, Sandy! Press on.

      Reply
  10. Rebecca
    June 23, 2014

    THANK YOU so much, I've been wallowing in fear, counting down the days of summer til our official homeschooling days begin. Here's my unique challenge, I have an only child and so all that wonderful sibling love and learning isn't to be found. And getting together in a co-op and outside classes and playdates, um, way harder than you think. Gosh people have a lot of excuses. And then I sigh and think, my kid is all alone again. I know we can't afford private school anymore, and I'm not feeling any remote shred of peace for public school. Hello homeschool. Hello oh my lawd what on earth have I done.

    Reply
  11. Michelle
    June 23, 2014

    I so appreciate your words of wisdom & encouragement! I am just beginning this amazing journey…completed K with my boy & looking forward to many years of learning together. My daughter is 3 and will enjoy the fun of learning alongside him. I take your advice to heart!!

    Reply
  12. blessed
    June 23, 2014

    #2 was my favorite! By all means, don't get stuck in the dreaded "we're BEHIND" mentality (as I was wont to do too much my first 5 years–and still sometimes find myself thinking), and if something is not working, just drop it! Skip ahead, go back–do whatever makes the most sense for your family's needs at the time. : )

    Reply
  13. Shelly
    June 23, 2014

    This was very insightful! As a mother of 8 looking to homeschool but just haven't made the plunge, I was encouraged by your words!

    Reply
  14. Ellen
    June 23, 2014

    Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for the encouragement! We have four sons, ages 1-7. My goal for this past year was simply to establish a schedule: get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, do math. Most days, we succeeded! This next year's goal is to add grammar.

    I'm reminded of an Ann Voskamp analogy, that parenting children is like the continual washing of waves upon the shore. Over and over, again and again, seemingly the same. But! *Water carves stone.* I am carving stone, raising the next generation of Christian men to lead and serve and love and glorify. It's the long obedience. Now there's a worthy homeschooling goal!

    Reply
  15. Fencingmama
    June 23, 2014

    Thanks for the moral boost! I've been despairing lately. But, I have discovered a great pencil sharpener – took, three tries – and Ticonderoga pencils which are definitely the BEST!

    Reply
  16. Isabelle
    June 25, 2014

    This is wonderful, thank you! We are only one year into our homeschooling journey and I have been wishing lately to hear advice from moms who have adult children who they homeschooled. It is such a helpful perspective and very encouraging.

    Reply
  17. Michele
    June 26, 2014

    Previous poster Rebecca with the only child, I graduated my one and only in 2013. Not only does she have no siblings, she has no father in her life. Our situations are unique in homeschooling, but so are everyone else's. I didn't find it hard to get involved in co-ops and play dates. Do you live in a remote area? If people are giving you excuses, find other people! Regardless, God knows your situation and He loves your child more than you do. You can't go wrong with giving your child yourself. You can do this! Will it be easy? Absolutely not! I hated the (many) nights when I got only 4 hours of sleep because as a single parent I had to work and homeschool. Will it be worth it? Absolutely! I love the time I spent with my daughter and wouldn't trade it for anything. Did I teach her all she needs to know? No, not even close. She's getting married in six months and her room is a disaster. I wonder what kind of housekeeper she's going to be. I'd rather she be a good wife, though, and let the housework slip than to have a neat house and a lousy marriage. She and her fiancé went to a bookstore yesterday and she got a book of nursery rhymes to read to her 2-yo cousin, many of which she remembers from me reading them to her and watching PBS shows together. THAT'S what I want her to take away from me and my house – good memories of togetherness. She can learn the other stuff anytime in life.

    Reply
  18. Lorena
    June 26, 2014

    Thank you very much, Lisa ! Just what I needed to hear to keep me going ! May God bless you and your family !

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 27, 2014

      You are very welcome, Lorena.

      Reply
  19. Heidi
    June 26, 2014

    Thank you, Lisa. I get too hard on myself, so this was good to read as I think ahead to next year.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 27, 2014

      Heidi, I'm sure your kids are constantly learning from you – you're an amazing mom.

      Reply
  20. Michelle
    June 27, 2014

    Love it! This is such an encouraging post. I especially loved this: "He (God) has created your children with unique interests and talents; your job is to cultivate them." So true!!! Thanks for sharing this…

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 27, 2014

      Thanks for commenting, Michelle. I just took a quick peek at your blog, and it looks great.

      Reply
  21. Rosie
    June 29, 2014

    Psssssst … Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 29, 2014

      You're welcome, Rosie.

      Reply
  22. Mjrl
    June 29, 2014

    Thank you. From a Mamma only 2yrs down the homeschooling path with child #1 and newborn #3 on my knee, while #2 runs circles around me… Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 29, 2014

      You are very welcome. Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
  23. CCM
    June 30, 2014

    Stopping by from Conservative Christian Mom and this is my first time to your page. I found your post link through NGJ. I can't tell you how much it is what I needed to hear today. I feel like you spoke right to me! Thank you for reminding me of how to act as a mom!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 1, 2014

      Thank you for the encouraging word – I'm glad you were helped by my thoughts.

      Reply
  24. charity
    June 30, 2014

    I never worried about coops or groups for solitary children, which you can have in a large family as well…find their passion and they will develop friendships with their mentors, neighbors, librarian s…that is one of the great beauties of homeschooling, a far broader circle of friends than those in your age group

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 1, 2014

      I love the fact that my children don't see the divides by age groups that are so common. Thanks for pointing that out, Charity.

      Reply
  25. Melissa Fleming
    June 30, 2014

    So much wisdom in this! I'm thankful for the mama's who have gone before me and have so much grace and amazing advice to share along my path. It's a wonderful journey God has set me on and I already know I will never regret a second of it 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 1, 2014

      Melissa, thank you for taking the time to comment. I've very glad you are encouraged.

      Reply
  26. Marilyn
    July 3, 2017

    This is our 12th yr homeschooling, the 4th yr with a child from hard places, the 1st yr of finally realizing we are working with significant fetal alcohol effects. When she came it disrupted birth order and we have 3 kids in 3 1/2 yrs. plus 3 older kids. Lots of days I thot I was going to go crazy. It is very hard for me to ‘accept the things I cannot change’. Fetal alcohol effects STINKS bad.
    This is a great post. I also take issue with pencils being a trial of hs. And PBS is geat 🙂 And they really do learn from all around them when you encourage a lifestyle of learning. And reading aloud at nap time and bedtime does wonders. I credit that for how well our special child does do.
    Now I have a question. I know you are working on your website but is there any way to bring back the random ‘you might like these ‘ posts? I clicked on those a lot and received SO much help. It is easier than trying to go to archives but maybe thats what I need to do.
    Thanks for being real that sometimes its not all happy ever after. Although you seem so good at working it around to that. I don’t have much of a support group and so come here.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 3, 2017

      I’m so glad my blog is helpful to you, Marilyn. I am going to ask my web designer about bringing back the “related posts” feature. I forgot about it! Thank you for the reminder.

      Reply

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