9 Homeschool Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Caucasian mother helping daughters do homework
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One of the most exciting aspects of homeschooling for homeschooling parents is that we often learn as much as our students. However, these 9 lessons are those I wish I'd learned through wisdom passed down rather than through my own mistakes.

If you're a new homeschooling parent, I hope you'll benefit from my experience.

You can’t force learning before your student is developmentally ready. You know that saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?

Similarly, you can drag a child, kicking and screaming, to the curriculum, but unless he is developmentally ready to learn the material, it’s just going to be source of frustration for you both.

Trying to force a child to learn a particular skill before he is mentally and physically capable of doing so creates a negative attitude toward the subject and can cause him to feel that he’s not smart enough to learn it.

Because homeschooling allows parents to customize a child’s learning experience, it’s okay to delay a skill or topic – even past the age at which it is typically taught in a traditional classroom.

Often, a few weeks or months can make a drastic difference and allow a child to easily pick up a skill he would have struggled to learn before. Spelling and long division are two prime examples from my own experience.

Don’t try to replicate the system. Many homeschooling parents, seeking comfort in the familiar, make the mistake of trying to structure their homeschools like a traditional classroom.

While there is nothing wrong with having a school-at-home style if that’s what works best for your kids, don’t be afraid to try new ways of learning and experiment with a more flexible schedule.

It was kind of fun starting our school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and circle time when my kids were younger, but I wish I had approaching learning in a more organic, laid back fashion that would have capitalized on their natural curiosity and fostered a love of learning.

I’ve even recently had to remind myself of this with my high school students. If we’re going to let a public school model dictate our homeschools, why homeschool?

It’s okay to continue interest-led learning in high school. While reminding myself to quit trying to replicate a public school setting for my homeschooled teens, I’ve also had to remind myself that this applies to their coursework as well. Just because traditional education says that high school science, for example, should be biology, chemistry, and physics, doesn’t mean that’s the best fit for my teens.

While I do want to ensure that they are prepared for college, if they choose to attend, I also want to ensure that I am preparing them to use their unique gifts, talents, and interests to pursue their goals after graduation. With that in mind, we have started making adjustments for a more personalized education in the upcoming school year.

It’s okay to ask for help. As homeschooling parents, we can become so conditioned to dealing with critics that it is easy to start thinking that everyone outside of the homeschooling community is looking for an opportunity to prove that our children are doomed to failure. That mentality can make it difficult to seek outside help.

That’s not good – particularly when the help you need isn’t readily available within the homeschooling community.

When circumstances such as a struggling student who needed a math tutor or a dyslexic student who needed more help than I could offer forced me to seek help outside the homeschooling community, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not everyone is a critic. I also found that even those who may initially have some reservations due to their preconceived notions of homeschooling can be won over and may even become powerful allies.

Glitter and homeschool parties don’t mix. I have nothing against glitter, but trust me when I say that glitter and homeschool parties involving children elementary age and younger don’t mix – not unless you’re having the party outside. If the party is being held at an indoor facility whose owners expect it will be left in the condition it was found, leave the glitter at home.

Formal learning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for young children. As a new homeschooling parent, it’s hard to stifle the desire to start formal instruction with young children. If you have older children, it can be even more difficult because the little ones want to do what their older siblings are doing.

You’re excited. They’re excited. That’s a heady mix. However, preschoolers don’t . It’s not wrong to introduce formal learning. If they’re craving it and you’re following their lead, have fun!

However, don’t feel pressured to have lesson plans and curriculum for your preschoolers – or even your kindergartner. Young children learn best through play and exploration of the world around them. Instead, create a learning rich environment and be ready to follow their lead, says the mom who regrets pushing formal instruction too early.

Grade levels aren’t necessary. Arbitrary grade levels can limit a precocious student, put undue pressure on a struggling one, and confuse all those who waffle between the two. As homeschoolers, we can do away with grade levels and instead let our students learn at the pace that’s right for them.

Homeschooled students can slow down for concepts that take longer to grasp and move quickly through those that are readily understood without feeling pressured by labels.

I discovered the benefits of not allowing arbitrary grade levels to define us when one of my kids articulated the fact that she wasn’t ready to go into the youth group (6th grade) at a new church. Other factors indicated that it would be wise to “repeat” 5th grade instead.

Just a few years later, this same student was ready to catch up that lost year by buzzing through 8th grade and starting high school at the same time she would have had we not made any changes in the previous years. In both situations, this was the right move for my daughter and we were both thankful that our homeschool didn’t have to be restricted by numbers that weren’t an accurate representation for her unique needs and skills.

It’s okay to take a day off to go play every once in awhile. Years ago, in the early days of our homeschool, I met a lady who was to become a dear friend. Her school was much more relaxed than mine and I remember asking her how in the world she ever got anything done with people coming over to visit all the time.

It took time before I understood what she tried to express in the conversation that followed - that homeschooling is about much more than academics. That’s not to say that academics aren’t important, but sometimes there is a problem with rigor in education.

Sometimes it’s okay to take a day off to go play with friends, take an impromptu field trip, follow a rabbit trail, or take advantage of a gorgeous spring day to delve into nature study.

The years pass too quickly. If you have young children, you may not believe me, but the hardest lesson of all is that the years pass with blinding speed. Take time to savor the moments, even on the hard days, because you will look back and realize that it all went by much too quickly.