The Why and How of Homeschooling (for Us)

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(Benjamin shows off one of his many fearsome LEGO creations)

Some of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers are about why and how we’re homeschooling our kids. Currently, we’re only officially “schooling” one child–our oldest, Benjamin, age 5. But I thought I’d share a bit about why we choose to teach him at home and what exactly we’re doing.

Why Are We Homeschooling?

Daniel and I were leaning toward homeschooling when our firstborn was an infant but, as he grew, we became more firmly convinced that it was the right path for our family and particularly for him. Now, toward the end of his second year of “preschool,” we’re really happy with how it’s turned out. Our reasons for homeschooling are extensive and teaching our children at home just fits with our personalities and family situation at this point in time. I’m not saying it’s the right choice for every family or that we’ll homeschool each of our children every year, just that it’s the right choice for our family right now.

I can imagine our oldest daughter in a conventional school setting (it’s unlikely that we will send her, but I can IMAGINE it playing out). She is relaxed, methodical, and eager to please. She would probably thrive in many different educational scenarios. But our son….well, not so much. He’s a five-year-old boy with unfathomable energy. He can. not. sit. still. By that you probably think I mean that he won’t sit still…..NOT SO. He cannot sit still. Most nights he falls out of his chair at the dinner table because….well, I’m really not sure what he’s doing….except that he’s not sitting still. The child needs to MOVE.

He’s also quite a talker. While his sister can sit meekly, he cannot. He asks questions all day. Truly, it’s a constant mind-bending stream of curiosity: “Why is Sauron an eye? Is he good or bad? Why is he bad? What does he DO that’s bad? Why did he do that?” or “Are all snakes with hoods poisonous? How much venom do they have? One drop or a TON?! Do we have Cottonmouth’s in Florida? What kind? When they bite are they bad, or just being snakes?

He is five. He is supposed to be learning about the world with his incredible God-given curiosity all day every day. But honestly, by the end of the day I am mentally exhausted from trying to answer all the questions. I cannot imagine him sitting in a classroom bursting with a thousand questions that he simply cannot ask because there are a dozen (or many more) students needing to be taught.  If he asked every question he wanted to ask, he would be monopolizing the teacher’s attention for the whole school day and that’s understandably unacceptable. There are other students. Talking all day just won’t work. But my concern is that his natural curiosity would be discouraged in order to make a conventional classroom run smoothly. Or worse, that he would start to think his (honestly, sometimes annoying) curiosity was a bad thing, or that he was a bad student because he couldn’t sit still and be quiet.

Some might argue that sitting still is a skill he needs to learn at some point. That’s fine, but we don’t think age five is that point. Right now, all we require is that he is quiet and still during Mass. It’s hard for him, but after five years of practice, he does very, very well. The rest of his hours, he’s free to wiggle. We are sure that he will learn to sit still for longer periods of time as he gets older, just as he has developed the same capability over the years at Mass.

Another attribute that makes him challenging to educate is that he is not a people pleaser. He is a strong-willed child with an intense internal drive. He loves to learn, but it needs to be his idea, at his own pace. It would be like pulling teeth to have him in a conventional classroom. Now, there are AMAZING teachers out there who can work incredible classroom magic. But, for my son, I really can’t imagine a better learning environment than having access to the outdoors all day to run out all that energy, along with unlimited access to an adult (me) who can help him channel his overwhelming curiosity. Because he is my only student I can answer his questions, and because I’m his mother I will still love him after answering question #2,879 of the day.

The How

In my opinion, for preschooling at home, there are only three things that are essential:

Access to the outdoors, access to books, and access to a parent.

Of course, I’m not a structured sorta gal. We have a weekly rhythm, but not a rigid schedule. When the baby’s asleep and little sister is coloring, Benjamin and I will do some “school.” But typically learning is just woven into our day and rarely shows up as sitting down at the kitchen table with pen and paper (this will change somewhat as he gets older).

Although, there are many things I was excited about teaching him this year, I really only had one primary goal for Benjamin: helping him move toward literacy. He just turned five and he was showing us that he was ready to start reading. But we I also knew that unless it was his idea, he would dig his heels in. So, we didn’t push it (and I’m really glad we didn’t.)

Here’s the curriculum we used this year:

26 Letters to Heaven by Sarah Park. This is a Catholic preschool curriculum that we used as a jumping off point, primarily for it’s fantastic picture books lists (no twaddle!). We’re on Letter “T” right now. We rarely do the activities, but we always order the books from the library and that has given us just enough structure. You can read my review of the curriculum if you’re interested!

We also started using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons in the late Fall. Y’all I LOVE this book. When it arrived, I was concerned because it looks a little boring. But, to my surprise, Benjamin thought it was awesome! We’re a third of the way through the book and Benjamin is taking off with reading 5 and 6 letter words. It’s phonics-based and I LOVE it. Now that he’s very familiar with the sounds letters make, he is starting to read things everywhere we go and that is just so exciting!

But we did hit a snag with Teach Your Child early on, though, because Benjamin didn’t want to do the letter writing practice at the end of each lesson. He was so indignant about it that I let it go for a time because I didn’t want reading time to become a chore. Then a friend in a nearby city with a homeschooling little boy just a little older than Benjamin asked if the boys could be penpals. This did the trick! He was so excited about sending and receiving mail that all his stubbornness about practicing writing his letters disappeared and he’s been excited to practice since then.

We just started memorizing the Scripture verses in 26 Letters and practicing copying out the words. He also likes making everything from birthday cards to grocery lists and I’m just jumping on that enthusiasm while it’s here.

We’re also using a Montesorri-inspired home catechesis curriculum by Moira Farrell and the kids really like that, too, although it’s a bit over Lucy’s head, as she’s only two and it’s designed for ages 3-5.

But most of the time, we just play, talk, bake, do read alouds, etc. And I think that’s just how it should be.

If he continues at the rate he’s going, now, he’ll be reading without assistance by this summer which will open up a whole new world to him. We will start incorporating some basic math (I’ve heard great things about Life of Fred), keep tending his little raised bed garden for science, keep listening to a ton of read alouds, and perhaps start some fun history here and there. But still, at age five I think little boys should be climbing trees, digging in the dirt, and building LEGO, and asking questions.

I hope that little run down was helpful to some of your who are in the same boat and just starting out like we are! Veteran homeschoolers, feel free to share your wisdom in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth says

    Sounds like a perfect preschool program! I homeschooled my kids for three years (preschool through 1st for my oldest) and may do it again in the future. We use Angelicum Academy, a classical Catholic curriculum. But I am more like you with preschool. AA’a preschool program basically accomplishes the same thing, and I’ve learned to be more flexible with accomplishing our goals, tailoring it to each child. Reading makes school a thousand times easier. My kids have all been early readers and — oh, my — just the ability to read their own directions, read some of their own books, helps you in the learning process and ultimately helps in homeschooling multiple children at once.

    I have also learned a ton from sending my kids to a classical Christian school for the past two years. I love both. But if I homeschool again, I will adopt some of their practices and mix it up with AA, again tailoring to each child. My oldest, an amazing reader, was a horrible speller (as opposed to my second child who is an amazing speller). The spelling program used at their school was a life saver, and their approach to science is also more my style. I also really like the Latin at their current school. But I love AA’s reading list, online discussions, phonics programs, history, religion, etc. I still homeschool religion at home coupled with lots of extra literature, since their school is not Catholic. Even if you end up in a traditional school in the future, gaining that homeschool rapport with your children enriches your home life a thousand fold. Keep up the great work!

      • Elizabeth says

        They use Lingua Latina text and workbook: http://www.amazon.com/Lingua-Latina-Illustrata-Pars-Familia/dp/1585104205

        AA uses Prima Latina in the earlier years, which teaches more church Latin (not a bad thing!). Both are great, but I found that my son really enjoys Lingua Latina better and, as a result of that enjoyment, gets straight A’s and does his homework without complaining. They start in 3rd grade and use Lingua Latina through 10th grade. You could start earlier and/or go through the book faster if you want.

        I love Lingua Latina, because I can actually read Latin via this method — I never had Latin in school. The entire book is written in Latin, but it is written in such a way that you can understand it almost as if you were reading English from chapter 1. It builds from there.

        Just as a side note, I don’t think anything comes even close to the awesomeness of Shurley Grammar for English grammar (used both by AA and their school). If you are still homeschooling in 1st grade, I cannot recommend it enough. My kids have been diagramming sentences since 1st grade with little trouble. Most high schoolers can’t diagram a sentence anymore, and grammar is a mess in the current school system. The curriculum goes through 8th, I believe, but the kids get through all of it by 6th grade in school anyway. Okay, I won’t overwhelm you with too many thoughts :). I’m sure you will find a system that works well for you!

  2. says

    You are absolutely doing the best thing for your family and especially for your son! He’s a little boy and little boys are full of energy! Unfortunately, a lot of public schools just aren’t set up to accommodate that anymore and active children like your son get labeled “disruptive” or as needing medication for ADD/ADHD, whether they really need it or not. Keep up the good work! Your children will thrive because of it!

  3. says

    I have a 5 (almost 6) year old son (my 3rd child) and you are right on about what a 5-year old boy needs. The only thing I would add is that I don’t think all 5-year olds need to be pushed towards literacy or are ready for literacy. Some 5-year olds are ready for that (my son is and is taking off on reading…we also use Teach Your Child to Read,- but my 3rd grader who is now a fluent/voracious readers wasn’t ready for reading until more around age 6). All children are different.

    My 5-year old son is great at reading and advanced at math, but super behind in fine motor skills and handwriting…and that’s okay, because all children develop differently.

    Homeschooling in the early years is really fun…and it sounds like you are enjoying it, which is great! I love homeschooling. There are days I want to put all my kids into school (ages 12, 9, 5 and 1) but most of the time I love it.

    • Haley says

      That is a great point, Amelia! Every child grows at their own pace with their own strengths and weaknesses (why is why I love how homeschooling can be tailored to each individual child).

  4. says

    I love this! I’m not exactly a veteran homeschooler — although I am now homeschooling 3 of our girls, so I think I’m getting there — and if I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to slow the heck down in the early years!

    It took me many years of struggling through my homeschooling ideals to scale things way back and start building a firm foundation rather than trying to overload the schedule with the things I thought we *should* be doing.

    For our fall birthdays, we actually do two years of kindergarten, and — now that I’ve learned my lesson — we stay pretty laid back for most of that time, only increasing the structure toward the end of the second year (basically now for our 6.5 year old). That means she’ll turn 7 at the beginning of her 1st grade year, and — if it works the way it did with her big sister — she’ll be ready for a slightly more rigorous school schedule then.

    All of that to say that what you’re doing with Benjamin sounds *perfect* to me — good job, mama!

    • Haley says

      I totally think of you as a homeschooling veteran and pin all your posts about what curriculum you’re using for the girls! Thanks for the encouragement, Mandi :)

  5. says

    The pen pal idea is great! I’m also doing the 100 easy lessons with my 5 year old and he never wants to practice writing his letters- thanks for the inspiration!
    I can personally say that the 100 easy lessons really works- I’m the oldest of 9 and taught several of my little siblings to read using that book :)

  6. says

    Haley, this sounds like a perfect line-up. Our daughter goes to a private Catholic school, and I think it sounds like your plan is as good. We love her music class and they are getting her to do so many things (listening, taking turns, being patient, playing outside, mass buddies) that we struggled with. Again, it sounds like you have a wonderful plan for your son!! We did BFIAR, also Teach Your Child to Read and loved that. God bless.

    • Haley says

      What’s BFIAR? I’m always interested in hearing about curriculum I don’t know about! We’ve been committing ourselves to a couple of playgroups a week, and that’s helped with the sharing and other social skills. I think a sister that’s now vying for toys, etc, is helping, too! Lots of practice ;)

  7. says

    My son never wanted to practice his letters either until I got him a wipe-off book and he LOVED it! He practiced all the time until he decided he was okay writing on paper (although he is still not a fan of writing unless it’s his idea, yet another reason why we’re going the homeschooling route!), and at this point I’m not going to stress the letter practice because at this point (he’s 4.5) his writing is far more legible than most kids older than him – we’ll work on neatness when he’s ready!

  8. says

    Ahhh I am so jealous over how you know what you’re doing with your kids and school. I don’t have a clue and I’m supposed to be registering and what not right now. BLAH.

    Part of me thinks to just homeschool Josie now. Part of me thinks enroll her somewhere. That part of me thinks–if you’re not sure where we’ll be living in the Fall how can you register? All of me wants to cry…. what to do… what to do…

    <3 jeni

    • Haley says

      Don’t be too jealous! We only know what we’re doing this year, haha. But making those decisions is so overwhelming. I’m sure you will make a great choice for Josie as you always do.

  9. Amelia says

    I highly recommend that you check out the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (cgsusa.org). As someone who used Moira Farrels stuff before I took the Catechesis of the Good Shspherd training, I can attest that Farrel is a very poor knock off of CGS. Do not bother buying her album for the older child. Please. She basically omits all the most essential aspects of CGS while stealing what appears on the surface level to be the main idea. As a reader of your blog, I can pretty much guarantee tht you will love CGS times infinity and never look back. Yes, it takes time and money, but it is beyond worth it. Thanks for writing such a great blog!

  10. says

    I just wish Henry was older so he could be a PenPal with B. right now! Maybe in a year or two you guys can help this little guy learn his letters (he currently has no interest in drawing or writing of any kind).

    I’m finding the closer we get to the preschool/kindergarten years the less I’m a fan of the ideas of both. I guess I have to give credit to Henry’s “preschool” daycare teacher, the idea of trying to teach a dozen 3 year olds anything makes me want to run for the hills! But I find myself saying “Why do we need school so early?” more and more often!

  11. says

    We are doing home school preschool too and ours looks similar. We use the PreK Teaching Montessori in the Home book by Hainstock and then just live life together. I’m glad to hear that you like 100 Easy lessons. I’ll need something like that next year and I’ve gotten mixed reviews of it. The Montessori book works on teaching letters and sounds and spelling but we need something a little more.

    It’s so nice to hear you reflect on how much they learn by just being with you and living a normal day. I often feel bad if we don’t sit down and do something that feels “schoolish.” I forget that the flexibility and creative ways of learning are one of the beauties of home school!

  12. says

    I LOVED this in so many ways. I’m a homeschool graduate (with some college), and it’s been a prayerful thing for my public-schooled husband and I to choose education. Right now, our oldest is 2, and pre-preschooling exactly this way that you’re working with Benjamin has been doing wonders! I’m convinced that parents that enjoy learning-as-you-go are doing such a gracious service to their little learners. It can be hard, based on how tired and scatterbrained I am. But we’re reaping many fruits for these efforts, praise God! I’m enjoying helping her learn based on what I know about her, and my love for her.

    Thank you for linking to all these resources. As of right now, we’re planning to homeschool. We aren’t sure if we will for their whole schooling career yet, but we’re taking it a day at a time. Its so good for my doubts and insecurities to have encouragement and recommendations from respected Moms who are going before me. :)

    • Haley says

      Daniel went to public school and I tried a little bit of everything: homeschool, private Christian school, private secular school, public school. Definitely a one day at a time thing!

  13. Stacey D says

    When I hear stories like that, it really makes me which we had started homeschooling earlier, rather than beginning at age 12. God blessed the years he was in private schools, but I sincerely love hearing how different moms and dads ‘do’ school.

    • Haley says

      Anytime I see a “day in the life of a homeschool day” kind of post, I’m fascinated! It is so interesting to see the different ways you can do it!

  14. says

    We just started using Life of Fred as a supplement to our schooled 10 yo who has an intellectual disability. So far we both enjoy it and our son is having feelings of success, which is not such a common thing for him.

  15. Carolyn says

    I burst out laughing at your comment about how you’re mentally tired by the end of the day from all the questions. I have a 5-year-old girl that we’re homeschooling, and I feel the same way.

    In fact, one day, I counted how many questions she asked between our house and Daddy’s place of employment, a 1/2 hour drive. I stopped counting at 83.

    Once out of exhaustion and desperation, I asked her to hold on to her questions, just for a little while. Her answer? “But Mom, what do I do with all my left over questions?”

    I haven’t read all the comments, so many someone else suggested this, but try picking up both of Suzie Andres’ books. She’s a Catholic Unschooler, and runs the Catholic Unschooling yahoo group. It’s been an invaluable resource for me. We loosely follow the Mater Amabilis curriculum, but most days we just do our own things. I just like having the book lists, although your site has been pretty awesome in helping me compile new lists of “must reads”. :)

  16. says

    I LOVED this post!

    We are so excited about homeschooling! My husband was homeschooled all the way through high-school and I went to public school for my k-12, looking back – both of us with Very Involved, Very-much-in-love-with-learning-parents, it’s still amazing to see all the benefits of homeschooling!

    Thanks for all the resources!

  17. says

    You’re the first person I’ve seen who is a combination of Montessori and unschooling! Next year I’ll be almost exactly where you are now. My boy will be four this spring. He’s going to Montessori preschool this year and lots of it has been wonderful, but I think I can do at least as good of a job on the education side of things and it will be so much easier on everyone not to have to be somewhere five mornings a week! I’m looking forward to having more time to just BE during those morning hours when little ones are at their best. Montessori has a lot of beautiful things about it but it’s too structured to replicate at home, at least for me. We’ll be visiting the Atrium once a week but otherwise our “homeschool” will look a lot like yours. I will check out that Twenty-Six Letters book; I’m always eager to find good children’s books!

    • Haley says

      Sometimes I think about what it would be like to have to get every one dressed and out the door every single morning….and I shudder, haha.

  18. Jackie says

    I love your posts! I desperately want to homeschool our children (or currently, CHILD…our daughter is 2) but my husband needs some convincing. Any recommendations for books about Montessori method for kids under 3?

    • says

      “How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way” (pompous title, but a good clear book)
      “Montessori Play and Learn: Ages 2-6″
      “Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child”

      Under 3 – focus on Sensory Exploration (touch, smell, etc.) and Practical Life (Care of Self, Cleaning up, etc.) and then just regular things you’d do with a small child – lots of outdoor time, reading, and plenty of time to play and explore.

  19. Elizabeth says

    You may already know this, but your description of your son rang a bell in my head of something I read recently (or maybe saw on a TED talk?) about learning styles. Your son totally sounds like he may be a Kinesthetic learner. Just in case you were unfamiliar with that term, maybe some research could help you tailor his future schooling plan.

    Thanks for sharing so much great information in your blog!

    • Haley says

      Ooo! Now I want to watch that TED talk! He is definitely a hands on sensory sort of learner. I still make him ride in the grocery cart because if I don’t he has such a hard time not touching everything in the store. Keep those hands busy or disaster ensues ;)

  20. Melissa says

    Thanks for sharing! We will begin homeschooling this fall! My 2nd grader has been in school until now and sounds just like your little guy! She had such a tough time sitting still in 1st grade and keeping her thoughts to herself. She still excelled academically, but I am excited that she will now be able to thrive and learn to love learning in a different setting! I am a little overwhelmed though when it comes to choosing a curriculum. Any suggestions for older kiddos? Thanks!

  21. Mandy says

    What are you doing for kindergarten? We’ll start kindergarten in the Fall and I’ve been looking at different Catholic homeschooling curriculum. I also want it to be relaxed. Tips?!

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