Looking back twelve years to the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I remember well the questions swirling around in my mind. How will we do this? What’s the best way to teach this? Am I doing this right? Did I make a mistake in this or that? Truthfully, we all begin homeschooling with some preconceived ideas about how education is supposed to happen, usually gleaned from our own school experiences. As with many other areas of life, homeschooling’s best practices are often learned on-the-job through trial and error. Having said that, I feel that there is still great benefit in learning from the successes and mishaps of others. If we could sit down and chat, these are the six things I would tell you—the things I wish someone had told me when I started homeschooling.

  1. Remember that you are teaching a child, not a curriculum.

In other words, the goal is not to get through the book, but to get what’s in the book through to the child. It’s easy to get caught up in checking boxes. I’ll be the first to admit I love the sight of a completed, boxes totally ticked, to-do list. Completing material shouldn’t come at the expense of our real goal for our children though, which is mastering the material. Rushing through lessons doesn’t serve our purpose very well. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to slow down or speed up to meet the needs of the child.

Another pitfall in this area that seems to be common among those of us educated in the American public-school system is the insistence on using a textbook/workbook approach. The subtle error in thinking goes something like this: if the lesson doesn’t come from a textbook, it doesn’t count. This idea is simply not true. Let’s say your objective is for a child to learn the multiplication facts. There’s a myriad of ways to accomplish this goal, such as worksheets, flashcards, audio CDs, and hands-on math manipulatives. What’s most helpful will be determined by your child’s learning style.

Ultimately, the goal is helping your unique child obtain the skills and information that comprise a good education. Homeschooling frees you to do that with methods and at a pace that works best for you and each child in your family.

  1. Cut the comparisons.

Nothing will take the wind out of your homeschooling sails quite like comparison. Comparing your curriculum, schedule, methods, or worst of all your family to another is the quickest way to destroy your contentment and motivation. I’m not talking about the kind of comparison that simply seeks to learn what someone else has found to be effective. That can be helpful. What’s not helpful is the kind of comparison that holds one thing up to another to determine which is best. It leads to thoughts like, “If only I had those books,” “I wish my children would do that,” and “If I had just used the Charlotte Mason method during the early years my kids would be perfectly behaved geniuses, too.”

There is no one-size-fits-all best-method-ever in homeschooling. Trying to force your family into another family’s schedule or method often leads to misery. One of the advantages of homeschooling is being able to tailor an education to your child’s learning style. Comparing your homeschool to another to see if you measure up will never be productive. Find what works for your family and forge ahead confidently.

  1. Recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect curriculum.

If there is a holy grail of homeschooling, this is probably it. The quest for the perfect curriculum has lured many of us down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, but I’ll tell you a secret: it doesn’t exist. What does exist is a number of great products that will be a good fit for your family.

Looking back, I see how my question shifted from “Where will I find material to teach ___?” to “How will I choose among all these awesome products?” It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of curriculum products available to homeschoolers today. And it’s easy to second-guess your choices when you read the rave reviews of another book or listen to the success story of another family. There’s nothing wrong with changing curriculums if something isn’t working for your family but be wary of switching out a good product that works for something you hope may be perfect.

  1. Don’t neglect discipleship for your children.

It’s easy to assume that once we’ve purchased Bible-based materials, the discipleship will take care of itself—this is not the case. Children thrive with the kind of life-on-life discipling the homeschooling lifestyle allows, but it doesn’t happen without effort.

Making time for Bible study, prayer, and the processing of what is being learned is vital to the development of a Christian worldview. Never assume your children are thinking biblically about a topic. Ask questions. Find out where they are in their understanding. We often avoid doing this because we’re afraid we won’t know how to answer the questions, but it’s okay not to have all the answers. Not knowing gives you an opportunity to model the learning and growing process as you search out answers together. Each homeschooling family establishes its day-to-day rhythm of learning and living. Be intentional in including opportunities for spiritual growth.

  1. Use structure to save your sanity.

Right now, all the type A readers are nodding, while all the type B folks are shaking their heads in disgust. Hang in there, type B-s! Structure doesn’t mean soul-crushing, second-by-second regulation. The structure I have in mind is simply a schedule/system/plan that works for you and yours.

The purpose of structure and organization is to enable learning. Too much or too little can get in the way of the goal. Too much structure can result in a disproportionate amount of time spent maintaining it, while too little leads to lost time searching for needed materials and figuring out what should be done next. Even unschoolers need to be able to find materials and have a big-picture plan. Some curriculums come with built-in scheduling you can take advantage of, but many people tweak such plans until they find what works for them.

I made schedules, tweaked, adjusted, and remade plans so many times I lost count. It always seemed our system was a work in progress, but we did always have an overall plan that helped keep us on track. Find a structure that works for your family and don’t be afraid to adjust it as needed.

  1. Don’t be afraid to plod rather than sprint.

Remember the adage: life is a marathon, not a sprint. The same can be said of homeschooling. Accomplishing a little every day adds up to a lot of learning over the course of a homeschooler’s journey.

Cramming too much into your homeschool day or year can result in frustration and tears for both student and teacher. Oh, we have the best of intentions when we buy all those beautiful extras and pencil them in for each week, but as reality sets in, we may realize the eight-year-old is not going to be able to complete the art appreciation, music appreciation, Spanish, and poet of the month curriculums by the end of the year. You don’t have to throw all the extras out the window, though. Pace yourself. Do what you and your children can reasonably do. It’s okay to stretch a curriculum over multiple years or to pick and choose the parts you want to use. Take your time and enjoy learning with your children. Remember: the tortoise wins.

I wish I could say my family excelled in each of these areas from the beginning, but that would be far from the truth. We had our share of unsuccessful practices that were eventually scrapped and replaced. As our venture came to a close this spring, we were able to say with Solomon, “The end of a thing is better than it’s beginning.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) The beginning of the homeschooling journey can be fraught with uncertainty. Our vision of what we want to accomplish may still be unclear, or we may know exactly what our end goal is, but little about the day-to-day practices that will take us there. While homeschooling may always be a learn-as-you-go process, one of the best ways to learn is by taking to heart the lessons others have gleaned through the years.

T.K. Chapman does her living and writing by the grace of God alone, for the glory of God alone in western North Carolina. She has spent the past twelve years homeschooling her exceptional younger brother. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family.