Homeschooling | Encouragement for the Little Years

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.

 

 

13 replies
  1. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hey All!
    We have a 5 year old, 3 year old, 19 month old and I’m pregnant with our 4th. All boys thus far. It’s been a mind blowing, on our knees, at moments, journey!
    I just wanted to echo the encouragement! As an educator for 15 years, both teaching and management, motherhood by far is the most enjoyable and spiritually altering experience I’ve embarked upon! The one resounding best practice that I hear often from many mommas is character and family building in the young years! Check. Laughing. I often take breaks and just walk barefoot in our tiny garden and have the boys dig up worms and other bugs: ecology and mommas sanity! Trust me teachers and admistrators feel the same way about getting through curriculum and meeting set standards. Unfortunately, they don’t have the ability to do what each child needs. We on the other hand do. His yoke is light don’t add more to it!
    In Joy!

    Reply
  2. Kim
    Kim says:

    Bethany!! Thank you SO much for this! You are by far my favorite place to go for inspiration, encouragement and great tips for homeschooling. With a 5 year old, 3 year old and a still growing family….I needed this post! Not to mention almost no support within our family for us deciding to homeschool. Our homeschool will be somewhat different from the “norm”. My husband will be doing the bulk of it, as I work full-time outside of the home. I long for our roles to reverse, but it’s just not in the cards at this point. Anyhow…THANK YOU! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Jen Howe
    Jen Howe says:

    Love this, Bethany! It is all so true…and I’m thinking good reminders and encouragements even when we have a few years of homeschooling under our belts. 🙂

    Reply
  4. michelle
    michelle says:

    Oh, Bethany! This is exactly what I’ve needed! I have three under 7 (I can’t even imagine 4 under 6!) and feel like our day is spent just surviving – making meals, doing a bit of tidy up, taking the dog for a walk, reading a book or two, and nursing/changing diapers/rocking a fussy baby every spare moment between. It feels as though there isn’t much learning (or fun! or living!) going on at the moment and, when there is, it’s slow, monotonous, and frequently disrupted. I’m overwhelmed and feel like a failure (not having slept more than 2 uninterrupted hours for months on end doesn’t help my negative frame of mind!). Your homeschooling pictures/captions are so dreamy and are what I yearn for, but all I can muster is doing worksheets in 15 minute-increments while the baby nurses/ has a power nap/sink bath/actually lets me put him down for a few moments. I wish I could just let go a bit, but I feel horribly guilty at having removed our oldest from school for – what feels like – a sloppy attempt at education in a few spare bits of time found here and there. Don’t even get me started on the guilt I feel about how “behind” our 4-year-old is. I haven’t had much focused time to teach him the basics and worry that I’m squandering his potential by not fostering his curiosity.

    Each evening I make plans and come up with ideas to make tomorrow better/more productive/more fun, but wake up feeling like a zombie and end up just getting to the bare minimum (sometimes not even that).

    Thanks for your honesty and for sharing tips on how to navigate this little years. I’ve bookmarked this post and I have a feeling I’ll return to it often.

    Reply
  5. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I love your thoughts and outlook on homeschooling. It’s so holistic. We are praying through whether or not to take our son out of public school and homeschool him next year-it really helps to read about your experiences with it. And the ups and downs. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Mandy S.
    Mandy S. says:

    What wonderful encouragement! My oldest is 4, youngest is 18 months, and I’ve been wrestling with a lot of these thoughts lately. I’ve felt such a strong desire to homeschool for the past several years (for 100+ reasons), but I so often get discouraged during the day-to-day struggles. An 18 month old and preschooler can sure waylay the best of intentions! We joined a homeschooling group this year, Classical Conversations, and the community and support I’ve gleaned from that has been so beneficial. (I don’t think my 4 year old enjoys it nearly as much as I do 😉 We also loosely follow the suggestions in the Peaceful Preschool, doing the activities that interest him, and pushing the others aside for now. They’re still so little! I still question, am I doing enough, is he learning enough, am I giving him what he needs? And you’re right, everyone has their own opinions, and it’s sometimes hard to stand by what you feel is good/right in the midst of that. Thanks again for the encouragement!

    Reply
  7. Christa Threlfall
    Christa Threlfall says:

    Thank you so, so much for writing this out. I am right in the thick of early years right now, so this is right up my alley!! Thank you for sharing both your heart and experience.

    Reply
  8. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Perfect! I shared this with a HS FB Group I am a part of. Lovely encouragement. Thank you.
    I see so many moms, especially in the early years–myself included, who try to recreate a school at home. Homeschooling is so much more than that! The more I’ve relaxed and truly paid attention to what is best when and not just according to someone else’s plan, the better it’s gone for our whole family.

    Reply
  9. Jackie Parker
    Jackie Parker says:

    Thank you! Just what I needed today. We are in our first year of homeschooling with a kindergartner, a 3 year old and a baby. I love your perspective! <3

    Reply
  10. Ashley P.
    Ashley P. says:

    This was exactly what I needed to hear while thinking about our preschool year ahead. I have been researching curricula for years but am trying desperately to find a peaceful, natural rhythm for our family. I don’t want my children’s introduction to “school time” to be stressful, so this was honey for my heart. Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for sharing about The Peaceful Preschool! We are so happy to be just one resource to support families on their journey into homeschooling.

    Reply

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