Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?
I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children. I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.
When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.
You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.
You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.
Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.
Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.
Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.
You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.
Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.
Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.
Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.
Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill. Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.
Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.
Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.
OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD
Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.
Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.
The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.
Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.
The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.