How to Homeschool – Veteran Advice for Pandemic-schoolers

I wrote the title so that I sound particularly wise and experienced. We homeschoolers need all the positive public image that we can garner… to make up for our bad haircuts and yoga-pant-wearing lives.

Oh, that’s everybody right now?

Hello pandemic! Welcome, friends, to homeschooling!

I’m Rachel and I’ve been a homeschool mom for about 8 years. My oldest just completed 7th grade and I mother and homeschool five kids, with a variety of personalities and special needs, between the ages of 7 and 13.

If you just want to see what I’ve been doing for homeschooling, click here.

This blog post was written to introduce newcomers to homeschooling and I hope some of the practical suggestions make life easier for you. But before I start, here’s the heart of the message:

You can do this.

You are absolutely qualified and capable of pulling off homeschooling. I believe it wholeheartedly, even if your situation isn’t ideal. For proof, I offer my own situation. I’ve had chronic pain and fatigue for years and two of my five children have severe disabilities. Even so, every single year when we revisit our schooling options, homeschool comes out on top. I am not anti public schooling… I am pro homeschooling! The benefits, both academic and social, are huge, and it is vastly easier than distance learning!

No, every moment isn’t wonderful. But there is a freedom of decision and a genuine vitality of relationship within our family that is priceless. Also worth noting: Both my husband and I were homeschooled and we are both successful college graduates with healthy relationships with our peers. My fashion sense is questionable, but that’s not because I was homeschooled. My mom did try.

Okay – this post is long. I made chapters, so that you can read as little or as much as you are interested in. I’ve included practical suggestions throughout and included a list of curriculum options at the end as a jump start.

8 Been-there-done-that Homeschooling Thoughts
1. Homeschooling is better and easier than distance learning!
2. You are qualified and capable of teaching your child.
3. The lifeline to challenging seasons is prioritization.
4. Organize ahead of time to set up for success.
5. Not all learning happens in a classroom.
6. Curriculum choices are custom made for your situation!
7. If a subject is making you and your child pull your hair out, it’s okay to take a step back.
8. Relationships, emotional health, and family integrity are priority one.

1. Homeschooling is better and easier than distance learning!
I get breathless when I consider distance learning, particularly with multiple children or while working! Several friends have told me about it and… the number of hours and the amount of multitasking that’s going on is enormous. It’s unsustainable for both parents and children! No grade-schooler is ready to hold down a job for five or more hours a day and they will struggle to do school for that long too! When kids are in a successful public school environment, they are not applying themselves every minute! There are easier ways to educate than distance learning.

First perk to homeschooling: It takes less time. Preschoolers and kindergarten don’t need more than 30 minutes a day… and that’s broken into sessions. As they learn to read and follow directions (Learning to sit down for school is a skill too.) you can spend a bit longer, but I wouldn’t have them doing focused schoolwork for more than an hour a day until after 2nd or 3rd grade. Think only an hour a day is crazy? It’s pretty common for homeschoolers to finish “doing school” comfortably before lunchtime and studies show that homeschoolers test ahead of the curve on average. Maybe the minimal learning time is because so much learning is done outside of “school-time” and kids at home have the freedom to explore. Or maybe it’s because the quality of study is higher in a controlled home environment.

Second perk: You set your own schedule. Make it line up with work-from-home. Make it line up with when ballet class meets. Do schoolwork in the morning. Or in the evening!

Third perk: You control the material! Hate the common core math? Ditch it and go back to real math. (My personal preference is showing!) Your daughter is advanced or interested in a particular subject? Buy programs that highlight that. Son learns best with visuals? Get the curriculum that teaches with a multimedia approach. Have multiple kids and are exhausted by keeping up with multiple teachers and programs? Choose a curriculum that was prepared specifically for multiple ages at once. Homeschooling is far more efficient and customizable.

Fourth perk: Your school plan is reliable. Normally, public school is reliable. This pandemic thing has really made a (usually) good program into a chaotic mess. If you need one year of predictability during this in-school, out-of-school, distance-school, heaven-help-us pandemic, homeschooling is a remedy for that. If you’re in a district with difficult teachers or problematic bullies, are dealing with ADHD or other special needs, are struggling with negative social dynamics for a particular child… homeschooling gives you a way to remove the problem and focus on healing and growing. (How many here would have like to have been homeschooled during middle school!?)

Fifth perk: There are curriculum options that can overlap multiple age groups at once, making a “one-room-schoolhouse” teacher’s job more efficient and relaxed.

Realistic expectations: Prep work during the summer takes some time and energy. Also expect that the first few few weeks of school will take some adjustment. There is a learning curve for both kids and parent(s). At the beginning, kids will need the most support and have the most questions. Go ahead and prep your kids for a mixture of excitement and frustration at the beginning. Go ahead and only start one subject a week if you want. Or buy everybody ice cream for finishing the first week. After awhile, you’ll have a rhythm and things will be predictable. The kids and life and work will still have ups and downs, but the school routine can become pretty predictable after awhile. Not everybody loves homeschooling, but it’s a pretty great option.

2. You are qualified and capable of teaching your child.

Listen, I’m a special needs mom. I have special needs and my kids do too. We don’t always get along. My oldest is going into 8th grade next year, so the material is becoming much more challenging. I don’t get a medal for being the ideal homeschool mom! But, you know what? Nobody knows my kids better than me. And nobody knows what your kids need better than you. You see and know your child/ren most and you are uniquely qualified to head up their education.

Intimidated? I do love schoolteachers and their education prepared them to teach children with every learning style and to manage large groups of students with disparate backgrounds, cultures, and personalities. But you don’t need all of that to homeschool. To homeschool, you have to guide just a few children who (whom?) you know very well. How? You take your parental insight into your child/ren and you start to make a list of what they need to be successful. A little math? A little reading? More time in the outdoors? Learning to care for a pet? Some kind of sport or physical outlet? You don’t need to write the math program or run the sport, though you can if you want and can. You’re more like the general contractor, organizing and supervising the process. Make some lists. Keep reading… I’ll get to more nuts and bolts later.

The curriculum available to purchase online comes in every format imaginable. Textbooks, workbooks, vidoes, hands-on projects, in depth studies around interests, just small bites, and curriculum for parents who want/need to hire help in the form of a pre-organized curriculum. There are programs for the organized and regimented teachers (me!) and programs for teachers that like to follow the twists and turns of ever-evolving interests. There have been great programs developed for teaching subjects in a multi-sensory approach, with lots of hands-on activities and videos, and foods, and field trips. And there are programs, equally as great, for people who prefer a more stationary approach, with reading, reports, workbooks and the occasional youtube video.

There are so many options, that your task is not to develop a great curriculum, because that work is already done. Your job is to choose which one or ones to use. I’ll talk more about this later, but you can make a list of the subjects your state/district/school covers (In Washington, there’s a list of 11 subjects), choose which subjects you’re doing that year (all or some), and then start searching online for curriculum created for your child’s grade and that subject. Cathy Duffy Reviews is a good place to get a reliable review on a product. Keep in mind that a single program might actually cover multiple subjects, so you should never need 11 curriculum programs to cover 11 subjects! It shouldn’t end up costing you much, either, because of subject overlap and also because many programs can be used by multiple kids at once.

I just want to highlight that you know your children better than anybody else. And you know where the everyday struggle will probably occur when you homeschool. I have kids with autism… there are definitely struggles. Heck, I’m an introvert home year round with five children! I have to be intentional about my planning for this to work! And some days/weeks/months/years are hard. But with where I am and with who my children are, homeschooling has been the best choice, even during hard times. Allow yourself permission to think this through and spend time organizing so that you can be as successful as possible. Take that extra time with setting priorities before you start implementing anything.

3. The lifeline to challenging seasons is prioritization.

There is never enough of you to go around. When you look at your family as a whole, it’s important to watch that nothing is so heavy that the ship sinks. Especially when the daily grind is challenging, you have to be careful to care for yourself. Prioritize school appropriately… not too high or too low. Because homeschool lasts for months on end, it’s worth the effort to think about the different parts of your life and prioritize.

When I’m figuring out how school fits in the order of prioritization, I split the subjects into more and less crucial by asking these questions:
Which subjects are most important to me and my kids? (Example, one child needs to keep up with math especially, another especially needs reading, etc. etc.)
What are my state’s minimum homeschool requirements?

The answers are so different from family to family and state to state. But, I’ll try to articulate a bit of my own prioritization process so that you can see an example.

Rachel’s super-informal school-related priority process:
1. My personal health (things like exercise, sleep, life-giving hobbies and going for walks alone.)
2. Creating and following a predictable daily/weekly schedule.
3. Judging the overall family stress level to make sure the plan is sustainable (Leave room for rest!)
4. The essential household chores (laundry, food, dishes)
5. The chosen core school subjects (It’s usually reading and math for us, but this year it was math and history.)
6. Extra curricular activities and external social connections. (Ballet, taekwondo, grandparents, cousins, friends, phone calls, etc.)
7. The rest of school (Social studies, Grammar, Cooking, Spelling, Penmanship, etc.)
8. Etc.

We do break the cycle with mini vacations now and then. Video games all day for a day? Sure. Watch MythBusters all day for a day? Fine. Drop it all and go to the park? Definitely. You know what will be a good pressure release for your family. Do that.

Important fact: Not every subject has to be done every day or even every year! Also, many subjects can be combined.

If you already have created a long list of subjects and curriculum… and it looks like too much, do a little Marie Kondo and ask what is most important to you. Sparking joy is a little much to ask for grammar, and you do have to suffer through some things, but let her general process guide you. For example, nobody in my house is going to be forced to do formal grammar lessons every single year, so that helps. Also, we chose a history curriculum that covers history, reading and social studies with one program. Once, I started an awesome spelling program and it made everybody crazy, so we stuck it right back on the shelf after a noble effort and haven’t regretted it one bit!

Prioritize! Don’t do it all every day or even at all. Take care of yourself and your family first. Stressed out kids don’t learn anyway.

4. Organize ahead of time to set up for success.

This is my personal favorite part! I love to plan and prepare and shop, so this is all the fun part for me. I get way more enthusiastic over every subject than my kids, but that’s okay. 🙂 It is worth it to prepare ahead of time, especially if it’s your first time. It takes awhile to sort through all the subjects and curriculum options to find what you need. If you’re a relaxed, go-with-the-flow, lover of surprises, you’ll still benefit from having prepared. Preparation looks different for everybody, but it’s an investment with high return.

In case you’re a list-lover me, this is roughly how I prepare each year:

a. List kids, then list state requirements. (Washington State’s list of subjects… makes a nice guide for me.) Note the 1-2 subjects that are highest priority for each kid.
b. Go through the subjects with YOUR family in mind. What’s the ideal format? Hands on or not? High parent involvement or low? In depth or overview? All subjects included or each subject purchased individually? Targeted to multiple ages or just one? With my brood of five and my fatigue levels, I usually look for programs that have low parent prep required and can be completed semi-independently. This step makes choosing curriculum more efficient. If you have no idea… probably choose something inexpensive with good reviews. Then you can scrap it and try again if you get something you or your kids hate.
c. Shopping time! I start searching online for what I imagined. Google search and Cathy Duffy Reviews are my friend. Take notes on what you want (saving links to make it easier if you can), but finish your list and review it before purchasing, because if you’re like me, your stack of curriculum will be way too tall and you’ll wish you could return some stuff.
d. Review that beautiful, imagined school year by looking at the details of the specific curriculum you plan to buy! How many days a week is each curriculum assuming we’re working on it? Will it take 10 minutes or 2 hours to do each lesson? Did I over-commit my children in my enthusiasm? Is it a curriculum I must finish or one I’m okay with just getting as far through it as we want? Keep in mind that little kids don’t need more than 2-3 formal subjects and big kids even wear out after 4-6 subjects a day. Is the price tag more than you can hack? There are great inexpensive options… and great expensive options too! Find what works for you.
e. Order and collect it all in one spot. This is our school shelf and I LOVE filling it up in the spring with exciting new stuff:

The boxes on top hold what they’re actively working on.

Late summer:

a. It’s important to prep a daily schedule/rhythm/pattern so that everybody knows what’s expected and when. It can be loose or rigid as suits your family (probably somewhere in between), but it’s the lifeblood of living together long-term. Our daily schedule centers around when they’re allowed in the kitchen (or as I say, “when the kitchen is open.”):

Morning chores
School (if there’s any left)
1-2 hours quiet time or outside time or finish school or journal, but definitely leave mom alone
Afternoon snack
More free time
Evening chores
Screen time hour

b. I type and prefill a weekly planner for each child that shows how much they should do each week so that they don’t get behind. If I figure this out at the beginning of the year, I don’t have to rethink it every week. We write the lesson numbers down as we go… or even prefill that week’s page on Monday morning with that week’s assignments. Older kids can fill them in themselves as they study. These make handy school records! I keep them in a binder and just keep putting the new blank ones in front every week.


c. I personally also like to type a document that shows every subject and every lesson for the whole year. We mark these off as we go and it’s a helpful visualization as the year goes on for where we’re at, what’s left, and what’s next. It takes awhile to type it, but even just preparing this helps me feel prepared.

Example page from this year

So – Organize! Prioritize! Set up some sort of system to lean on, so that you don’t have to remember everything all the time.

5. Not all learning happens in a classroom.

Unless it makes you happy, there is no need to model homeschool after a classroom. Homeschooling can be minimalistic very comfortably. We have a school shelf and I splurged and got an electric pencil sharpener. I only force kids to use a table if they’re practicing penmanship. No time is spent on a bus, lining up, or waiting for Jessica to find a pencil. It’s very efficient and little kids usually need less than half an hour of formal schooling. Older kids don’t usually spend more than 3 hours working on their schoolwork and sometimes are done within just one hour. I haven’t hit high school yet with my oldest, but homeschooling is so intensive and efficient that the kids can only take in so much each day. I mean, think about it. Even if you’re busy with folding laundry and keeping the toddler from destroying the universe, it’s still an incredible student:teacher ratio.

Little kids will learn their colors, numbers, and letters without a lot of formal effort. They’ve got a big job just learning how to learn. Settle into that and don’t rush. Just paying attention and following instructions is a skill set little ones don’t have. Capitalize, in all ages, on the natural learning. If a child wants to learn something, they are going to learn it a thousand times faster and better. If somebody is interested in caterpillars, load up a bunch of youtube videos on caterpillars, order one of those butterfly kits and send them outside to draw pictures of bugs. The amount of information they absorb while exploring is immense and the value of self-directed play is priceless.

Let kids be bored. Schedule time for them to have to figure out what to do. Figuring out how to manage unstructured time is a great skill. Learning to make their own meals is a great skill. Letting them browse amazon and make endless wish lists of impractical toys will be the fuel for them learning to make and spend money.

Live life together. Play outside often. It’s the good stuff.

6. Curriculum choices can be matched to your and your child’s personalities/needs/styles.

Every curriculum is as individual as the people who developed it. Some are very time intensive but are wonderfully sensory rich and give hands-on connection to interesting fields of study. Some are very dry and terse but get to the point and allow you to move on. Some are loosely organized and others are fully structured. Some curriculums are “all-in-one” and include facets for every subject under the sun, giving you a wonderful framework, but may have too much content and not allow much flexibility between learning or teaching styles. There is basically… every possible option.

Try to imagine what you want. Feel incapable of doing that? Then, allow yourself to make a best guess. Maybe you’ll love it. Maybe you’ll scrap it and have to start again. Just start. Start small or start big, but start. If it’s early in the summer, ask friends or read reviews or browse curriculum websites. There are many excellent programs out there and I’ll share some of the well-reviewed curriculum choices so that you have a place to start. I personally prefer to choose different publishers for different subjects, based on my preferences, but many of my friends feel more comfortable choosing a program that is all-in-one. Both are good options.

My personal learning style loves is a multi-sensory, hands-on, and interest-led program with lots of clear visual presentations. However, I tried teaching that way and it just won’t work for me! My teaching style is different. It’s very organized and methodical with very little hands-on. It’s okay to have limitations! You can balance your personal limitations with a curriculum that supports your teaching weaknesses.

My kids have a variety of learning styles. One loves to gather loads of information and will read and read and read, even if the material seems dry to me. One struggles sit still or pay attention to anything that is repetitive. However, she can take a subject she’s interested in and go much deeper than any of the others. Some children are better communicators and some are better at more concrete skills. Again, I can choose curriculum that best supports their learning style (without making me crazy) and which emphasize the subjects that are most needed or valued for us.

I encourage you to let yourself swim in the sea of options for awhile without pressure. If you get overwhelmed, ask an experienced friend or email me. I enjoy talking homeschool! I’ll list some curriculum options at the end of this blog post. I’m not getting paid and I don’t know how to monetize a blog, so it’s just one mom’s feedback.

7. If a subject is making you and your child pull your hair out, it’s okay to take a step back.

Something I’ve learned is that sometimes kids aren’t ready to learn something… even if the schedule or grade level says they are. Some kids are late readers. Sometimes kids aren’t ready for algebra, even if the rest of the class is. Just because a subject is supposed to be learned in a particular grade, doesn’t mean that a child is ready to learn it. On the flip side, sometimes kids are ready for material way ahead of time! But who says it’s time? Who are you measuring against? When you homeschool, you get to nurture your children right where they, as individuals, are at. When they’re ready to learn something, they’ll learn it without heroic efforts on your part or theirs. Like walking… they walk when they’re ready and we support them when it’s time. Sure, some kids need a nudge or a hand up, but rarely is there misery in the proecess. That concept holds for most of a child’s development.

I want to illustrate this with an example from our family with math. One child was doing fine with math at first. But then, a few months in… she wasn’t. She was hiding that she was skipping lessons and getting lots of wrong answers when they tried. They began to hate math and avoid it. We sat down to try it together and it was a struggle. They just didn’t get it in any intuitive way. Our family does not have margin for drawn-out battles. We had plenty of other healthy things and school subject we could spend our mornings doing. We shelved the math. Months went by. The next summer. We picked up that math the next fall and the kid WHIZZED through it! She skipped every other lesson, because it was so easy for her. Is she behind? A little. Did it make her feel like a million bucks? You bet. Does she feel confident that she can learn math? She does now! All because we waited. For what it’s worth, when she did her annual standardized test, she tested at slightly above average for her grade in math. And six grades ahead in language arts.

Kids don’t learn in a steady, gradual manner. Like everything else they do, it’s in spurts. No need to fight that. Try to relax and enjoy the ride.

8. Relationships, emotional health, and family integrity are priority one.

Finishing on a strong note: Social development, unlike homeschool stereotyping, is one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling. And it’s not just because kids don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom or conform to institutional necessities for the bulk of their waking hours! The social rules they have to conform to at home, with friends, and at any classes you sign up for, are far more normalized to the real world. We are far more relational with our children than a teacher has freedom to be, and there is a drastic reduction in “cliquey” behaviors. I can sometimes recognize a child who is homeschooled by how comfortably they interact with me as an adult. Homeschooled kids spend their days with people who know them, interact with them with respect and interest. Shy or not, homeschooled kids are more practiced at navigating social and emotional situations genuinely and with honesty.

This hits on something important. Academics learning information about the world is valuable. However, nothing is more important than our relationships with each other, our emotional health, and your family’s integrity. If your family falls apart and everybody is yelling at each other, nobody is going to learn fractions. Putting your individual and your family’s well being as the number one priorities sets you all up for success. We learn to trust one another and respect each other. Negative self talk can diminish in the face of the love an confidence of a family that sees and hears you. It’s a beautiful foundation for success!

If you need to back off of academics, because family life is a mess, then back off. Take the time to pull yourselves together. Do what you can do as you find your footing. Hire that counselor and cancel the stressful activities you should have done some time back. Sit down with that budget with your spouse and make a date with each other with a nice dinner on the back porch or on Saturday mornings. Talk through the impact of the pandemic with your kids. Be real with each other. Set some goals together. It’s not as easy as just good intentions, but it is a good place to start.

Later, after your house is propped up a bit, you can begin adding schoolwork. It’s more important to learn how to live than to learn anything else.

Curriculum ideas:

I review what we use every year but from here on down, it’s just me talking about what I’ve used… it’s not exhaustive by any means.

Here is a list of some of my favorites I can recommend without hesitation, listed roughly by grade level.

Kumon Workbooks for early learners and kids with special needs who like hands-on practice with tracing, coloring, mazes, folding, pasting, stickers, etc.
Brain Quest Workbooks for early learners who need easy access to tracing letters, counting, matching, coloring, etc.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons – hands down, my favorite learn-to-read curriculum. Bite-sized lessons that are easily adapted as you go along. A really well-done phonetic approach.
Singapore Math US Editions for Kindergarten through 2nd grade – These are fantastic for learning early math and helping kids conceptualize math. Is more advanced than other curriculum with the same grade level. Is chunked somewhat by subject (adding, subtracting, multiplication, fractions, geometry, etc.) so if your child gets bogged down, because it’s too hard, you can hop over to another section for awhile.
Handwriting Without Tears is my favorite curriculum for teaching how to write letters.
Teaching Textbooks math for any age, but I started at 3rd grade – This is a wonderful computer-based math program that successfully teaches math. The questions are checked and recorded automatically so the parent can review easily. Every single question can be explained, step by step if you click the button explaining it. It does NOT use weird common core and teaches methods familiar to all of us.
Christian Light Education Reading for reading kids 1st-3rd – This is an approachable program that incorporates reading alone, reading aloud, practice remembering what is read, handwriting, grammar, and a bit of spelling practice through learning phonics. Might be great for older kids too, but I love it for all that practice following instructions and reading comprehension with pleasant stories and approachable workbooks.
IEW Writing – Once I figured out how to use it, (a challenge, because I skipped their creme de la creme… but long parent training DVD) this was fantastic. I don’t try to teach writing until 4th grade or later, so we just got this and it’s been great! Worth every penny. We
Sonlight History programs – If you or your kids love to read, I can recommend the Sonlight programs for history. We skip some of their material and just do the: History nonfiction, historical fiction, and Bible reading. I also set it up so that the kids do all the reading instead of me reading any of it aloud. It’s probably better if the parent can do the readalouds, but that’s how we made it successful for us.
Growing with Grammar is my favorite grammar program! The kids don’t hate it and that’s impressive for grammar. It’s a little advanced compared to others. I decided to just offer it to the kids at 1-2 years younger than their grade every other year or so and it’s been a painless process. The program is well laid out and communicates the material well.

In general, I can recommend the following publishers of homeschool material. They’re well spoken of by either the homeschooling community in general or by myself. Doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for you, but it’s somewhere to start. Many have a heavy Christian leaning. If that’s an issue, take a look at reviews (such as on Cathy Duffy Reviews) to see if you can use it or not for your family:
Sonlight Programs
My Father’s World Programss
Apologia Science
Christian Light Education
Institute for Excellence in Writing
Heart of Dakota
Supercharged Science
Alpha Omega Publications
Easy Peasy – All in One Homeschool
Handwriting Without Tears
All About Spelling
Wordly Wise
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons


Filed under Everyday Stuff

2 Responses to How to Homeschool – Veteran Advice for Pandemic-schoolers

  1. Kathie Courtney

    Thank you!!! I am a grandma of a 7 year old, and feel a bit overwhelmed. He is very smart and I want to make sure we do our best for him.

  2. Jet

    A wonderful read. It’s nice knowing I’m not the only with the save viewed. So glad I can call you my friend.

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