Category Archives: Homeschool

23 Tips and Tricks for the Frazzled Homeschooler

Is your mind frazzled at the thought of planning your next homeschool semester? If you feel overwhelmed by the things you don’t know you don’t know, I get it. I’ve been there, and sometimes am still there. This blog covers topics that inspire and ignite our Christian faith, but a big part of my Christian walk involves homeschooling our three children (ages 12, 10, and 8), so today I want to encourage homeschool parents to embrace this mighty calling without embracing the pressures and comparisons that so often accompany it. Trust me—it doesn’t have to be as hard as some people make it.

A peaceful scene to help you take a deep breath. 🙂

I’m currently staring my eighth year of homeschooling in the face, and even though there’s always more to learn, I want to share a list of tips (in no particular order) I wish I’d known eight years ago. Hopefully it will be of some benefit to you. Here are:

23 TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE FRAZZLED HOMESCHOOLER

  1. Curriculum. Don’t waste weeks searching for perfection; it’s elusive anyway. Settle for “very good” and be prepared to experiment with new methods in the future as needed.
  2. Cathyduffy.com is an invaluable curriculum review website. Super helpful.
  3. Make the curriculum work for you; don’t let it run your days. Who cares if you don’t finish a textbook by the end of the year? We rarely did when I was in public school and I’ve survived. Just start with a review before diving into the next book.
  4. Going with my point above, there’s no need to stay on grade level for all subjects. I have one who zips ahead in math because he loves it, but lags a little in language. At one point he was in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade at the same time. Not a problem!
  5. Hold lesson plans loosely. Plans are made to be changed. Honestly, although I always have ideas for the week and we’re always moving forward, nowadays it’s more common for me to document in my planner the things we’ve accomplished each day, rather than the things I plan to accomplish.
  6. Don’t strive to recreate traditional school. It’s not the same, and that’s a wonderful thing. Do what works for your family, whether that means kids sprawled throughout the house on separate screens, or you leading group discussion as they sit at desks.
  7. If teaching multiple ages, get olders to help youngers when feasible. (giving spelling quizzes, doing flashcards, etc.) Anything taken off your plate is a win for your sanity.
  8. Do have consistency so your children (mostly) know what to expect each day. Children thrive on routine, even if said routine is pretty relaxed.
  9. With multiple kids, do what you can together. We love to start mornings with “living room time,” where we do devotions, take turns reading a poem, and do history together. It’s my favorite part of the day.
  10. Your own settled, peaceful spirit is more important than checking off your to-do list for the day. Kids pick up your attitude and will soon learn to hate school if you’re always stressed out. I may or may not speak from experience. 😉
  11. Do subjects for a scheduled amount of time, not the duration of a scheduled assignment (as long as your kids are trying). My firstborn used to struggle through math, but I pushed to finish an entire lesson each day. Cue tears, frustration, and wasted hours for both of us. With an end time in sight, your child can be assured that even if they’re struggling to grasp a concept, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll pick it up again tomorrow.
  12. Cut yourself some slack. Completely overwhelmed? Take a mental health day and have the kids watch educational shows/videos with no guilt. Learning is still happening, trust me—my kids learned everything they know about animals from Wild Kratts and I don’t regret it for a second. If they’re older, give them a great book to read.
  13. Your kids are learning more than curriculum. They’re learning how to run a family and live life as kind, respectful, critical-thinking humans. Isn’t that just as important, if not more, than book learning?
  14. Homeschooling doesn’t have to be forever, so release yourself from the pressure of making such a huge decision. People sometimes ask me if I plan to homeschool through high school. My answer? “We’re taking it year by year, kid by kid.”
  15. Ease into your semester. Start with a week of devotions and math review (or whatever is most important to you), then add subjects in from there as you all get accustomed to the school routine.
  16. Join a co-op if you can. Ours meets weekly and parents take turns teaching from predecided textbooks. It’s great for the kids to make friends and learn how to function in a group environment, and just as great for us to form friendships with other likeminded parents who support each other.
  17. Minimize. Saying yes to the three Rs, plus history, science, Latin, Spanish, typing, coding, piano, violin, soccer, and theater will only completely overwhelm you and your kids. Don’t try to do everything. Figure out your “musts” and choose accordingly.
  18. Consider rotating some subjects. You don’t have to do every subject every day. We rotate science and history. I also leave Fridays more open, requiring only math before jumping into art, cooking, or a field trip.
  19. Leave blank space in your days. When each minute is planned, your children don’t have time to form independent thoughts and ideas, or use their imaginations. Turn off screens, give them time, and see what they create or make up. Kids have the coolest, most random ideas.
  20. Hear this: You don’t have to love homeschooling to be glad you’re doing it. Most of the time I’d rather be writing, reading, or playing with my kids, than teaching and making lesson plans, but I’ve never regretted our decision. No guilt. No comparisons.
  21. Be okay with hard days. Trust me, they will come. Have your reasons for homeschooling settled in your mind so even if you take a day or two off to regroup, you can continue on without giving it up altogether.
  22. Rest time isn’t just for toddlers. My grade school aged kids still “rest” for an hour in their rooms after lunch, giving us all a much-needed break from each other. They read, listen to music, or play quietly. Even our dog has rest time in his crate, and I’m pretty sure he looks forward to it as much as the rest of us. It’s not a punishment; it’s a blessing.
  23. When all is said and done, there will always be gaps. You’ll always wish you had covered this or that. Kids are resilient. Teach them to enjoy learning and they can fill in their own gaps later. No guilt, so long as you’re trying.

(You might notice I have no number dedicated to raising kids who love Jesus. This is always the filter through which I view all of the above. And don’t forget to start, end, and fill in the blanks with prayer along the way.)

This is the list I wish I had eight years ago. I hope it helps you find some freedom in your own journey. One more recommendation is a blessedly short book I discovered several years ago that literally changed my homeschooling/parenting life by leaps and bounds. I wish I could give it away, but since I can’t, here’s the link to Teaching From Rest….

Oh yes, one last thing. Please don’t forget to check and abide by your state’s homeschool laws.

 What would you add to this list? What questions do you have for me? Leave a comment or reply to this email to let me know! I’d also love to hear from you with ideas for future blog post topics that could serve you in the future!

And if you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe below to receive super-occasional blog posts and newsletter updates from me, and to claim your free printable of my ten favorite quotes and verses (awesome to hang on your mirror for some daily inspiration)! Thanks for reading and have a great week!

No Guilt: Motivation for the Homeschool Parent

Let’s be honest. Homeschooling is a privilege. A blessing, even. There are days that feel downright storybook. I fall asleep those days with these thoughts running through my mind: We rocked it today! No tears, minimal complaints, I’ve got this down! Did I mention these days are few and far between? Oh, they are.

More often than not, the end of the school day leaves me with these thoughts swirling: What just happened? What do I think I’m doing here? As if I’m capable of holding this all together!

Honestly, I guess most days fall somewhere in between. Or maybe the average day captures all these thoughts at various times; that’s probably more accurate. Am I the only one? It may feel like it at times, but I know I’m not alone.

Social media feeds are rampant with photos and captions of the perfect homeschool experience. Beautiful, intentionally decorated learning spaces. Happy children doing complex experiments. Schedules and planners so fancy they should have their own Instagram pages.

You want to know what our homeschooling space looks like? It looks like a messy countertop, probably still scattered with breakfast crumbs. It looks like the living room couch, surrounded by abandoned dirty socks (I think those things multiply if left overnight). It looks like a nook in our unfinished basement, chilly and peppered with storage tubs, but stocked with books and old school desks to boot. It looks like an out-of-place bookshelf in our kitchen, because we have limited space for our schoolbooks.

Our “good enough for me” homeschool space.

I’m done pretending I’m going to “get it all together.” If you’re a mom who enjoys interior decorating and creating a peaceful, intentional learning space, go for it! Do it and enjoy it! And if you’re not? (*raising my hand high*) Don’t stress; you can give your children all they need regardless.

Are you researching yourself to death trying to find the ever-elusive, perfect curriculum? I give you permission to settle for a “great” curriculum and end the search. Until you need something that works better for a different kid, that is. And then the search inevitably continues…

Are you wondering how so-and-so mom balances forty-seven activities, keeps a perfectly clean house, and cooks healthy meals three times a day? Here’s a secret; they don’t. Even if it looks like they’re keeping it together, and even if they think they are, they’re not. There will ultimately be a payoff for hectic schedules.

If your priorities look different than the homeschool family down the road, embrace it! Have a play date, put on a (big) pot of coffee and compare notes with other moms! Laugh about your failed attempts and cheer each other on for what’s working!

Whatever your homeschool day looks like, make it yours and make that enough. Make it your goal to lie down at the end of a day with these thoughts running through your mind: I showed up for my kids today. I was present with them, we accomplished plenty of things (even if it wasn’t all I originally hoped), and there were more smiles than frowns. Whatever we didn’t get to today, we’ll get to eventually and my kids will be okay. No guilt.

And then remember the most important ingredient of all to a successful homeschool life: Give it to God. Stop trying so hard with your own efforts. Place your control in his capable hands and sleep peacefully, knowing you have another chance in the morning and he’s got your back. He’s guiding you as you guide your children. Isn’t that a relief?

Thanks for reading! What other homeschool or parenting topics would you like to see me attempt to tackle here? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

And if you’re searching for a way to supplement your kids’ Bible teaching, my tween/teen novel, Power Up, is a great way to encourage kids to embrace an active, living faith of their own! Find it here or here!

Finding a Homeschool Rhythm…or Lack Thereof

It’s officially my seventh year teaching my children at home, and I confess: I can’t seem to find a good rhythm this year. I know, *gasp!*

If you’re Supermom and have never had trouble balancing your homeschool schedule, you’re going to want to stop reading now. Put down your phone, go to your sparkling clean kitchen and make yourself a hot beverage. Then sit down and put your feet up so your brilliant children can give you a foot rub. You deserve to celebrate your elusive-to-every-other-homeschool-parent-on-the-planet accomplishment.

If, however, you or someone you know resonates with my struggle to balance the teaching with the running around and living life, stick with me for a few. Hopefully you’ll leave encouraged.

As homeschool parents, we spend hours planning, imagining, and preparing our school year. Our glorious summer break comes to a close, fall semester begins, and we implement our perfectly crafted daily schedule. But a few days later… Dentist appointments. Playdates. Preparing for a garage sale. Co-op. Dance class. Ninja class. Day trips to visit out-of-town relatives.

All wonderful things, to be sure! But all things that disrupt the daily flow, am I right?

(Let me interrupt myself for a second to say this. Many of us need to say “no” more often. We need to prayerfully reduce the number of activities on our calendars and set healthier boundaries for our days. This problem of over-scheduling is real, but it’s not what I’m talking about today. Today I’m talking about balancing what’s left in our lives when we’re already being deliberate with our “yes’s.”)

So far, it’s one of those years when I tell myself, “I’ll get into a rhythm next week, after…” And then next week inevitably comes along with the same mantra.

I have a few choices at this point. I can:

1. Cancel all outside obligations in order to have a perfect rhythm to our school days.

2. Do school well into the evening on our busy days, no doubt leaving the kids grumpy and their mom (ahem) grumpier.

3. Embrace the freedom homeschooling allows, utilizing our intended school schedule as much as we can, prioritizing math and language on our busy days, and emphasizing life learning in between.

I choose sanity. I choose option three.

If you’re smothering yourself with guilt because your six-year-old hasn’t done science all week as you’ve been potty-training your toddler, let me be blunt: It’s going to be okay. Chances are, your kiddo watched a PBS show that taught him all about lightening bugs and now he knows more than you ever know about them. He may even be throwing around the word “bioluminescence” like a pro, while you’re busting out your smartphone to google it. (This example may or may not be based on a true story. Also, thank you Wild Kratts.)

My point is this. Children, especially in the grade school years, are always learning. They pick things up and remember them like nobody’s business. Which makes your job so much easier. Live life, have conversations about what you see and do along the way. Talk about caring for others, teach them to show empathy, teach them the importance of hard work and the value and blessing of learning.

Go to that dentist appointment without guilt. Discuss what you see, what the dentist is doing, and why. Discuss the plight of the homeless man on the street corner and our role in helping spread the love of Jesus to others. Go to the library and read a book about teeth. But don’t feel guilty if you don’t!

Book learning is important, and I’m not at all advocating dropping it; I’m simply suggesting we need not tie ourselves and our definitions of a successful homeschool year to how many chapters we’ve covered or if we made it through the entire book by the end of May. Give yourself some grace to move a bit more freely with your days. Trust me, your children will thank you because you’ll be less stressed overall and they won’t be doing math drills at bedtime.

Structure is a good thing, and it’s important for children to know what to expect, so a changing weekly calendar that helps them know what to expect from their days may help when your weekly activities vary. Consistency is great, but the ability to roll with the flow is necessary too.

This past Saturday we had a garage sale/bake sale, which was my 11-year-old daughter’s idea to raise money for a worthy charity. (How do you say no to that?!) The week leading up to it was full of sorting, pricing, and baking. During that entire week my children formally did math four days, science three, language arts twice, and then we had lots of life lessons on organizing an event, baking, and money handling. I call it a successful week.

Give yourself the freedom to call messy weeks a success. Accept the grace God is offering you and be released from the guilt of not having perfect-looking weeks. I’m beginning to think those are a myth anyway…sort of like the Supermom I referenced above.

Dear Lord, I pray you would bless this dear reader with a calm, peaceful heart. Reassure her/him when they feel inadequate, and help them embrace and make the most of messy-looking weeks. When patience is thin and emotions are high, I pray for wisdom and the strength to lead their children well. Thank you for the opportunity to teach our children at home. Give us eyes to see our children as you see them, and may we be a blessing in their lives, leading them ever closer to you. Amen.

Note:  If you or a parent you know is stretched thin and you want to prioritize your grade-schooler’s spiritual development, but just don’t have the brain space, I encourage you to check out my novel, Power Up. You can simply hand it to your child and let it lighten your load by giving your child real spiritual truths to think about while it entertains!

3 Quick Ways to Rock Homeschool This Year!

We have just begun our 7th year of homeschooling. That sounds like madness to me. Honestly, I still feel like a newbie in many ways, though I’m currently teaching a 6th grader, a 4th/5th grader (yes, that’s one kid), and a 2nd grader.

Whether you’re a brand new homeschooler or an old pro (or don’t homeschool at all, but know someone who might benefit from this info), I want to share three ways to rock your homechool this year. (I’ll keep it brief, I know your me-time is precious!!)

1. Adjust your attitude.

Yep, your attitude – it’s contagious. Kids will have bad attitudes that come and go, but trust me when I say your attitude will set the tone for the entire day. (No pressure, right?) Maybe this isn’t news to you, but I learned it the hard way.

When my kids were younger, I was so overwhelmed with life I went through a period where I was perpetually grumpy. And guess what. So were my kids. When I came out of my brain fog long enough to realize this was the case and take action to improve my mood, the differences in my kids were night and day.

So set your alarm 15 minutes earlier, spend time in prayer focusing on what matters, and embrace the day with a smile. Start the morning with your kids doing or watching something silly together so you can begin the day laughing before anyone has a chance to get grumpy.

2. Don’t give your checklist power over you.

I used to be the worst offender of all when it came to this. I would plan our day and when things went off course (as they always do), I would get frustrated because we didn’t “get through” everything.

Here’s a secret, so listen carefully: you don’t have to “get through” everything! (You may want to read that last line again…)

Whether homeschooled or public schooled, your kids will never be taught everything in school! Take some of the pressure off yourself and rest assured – any remaining gaps get filled in as they grow up. Teaching our kids is a big responsibility, yes, but stressing about it does way more harm than good.

3. Remember your ultimate goal.

Write it on a post-it, tape it to your mirror, and re-read it as you brush your hair. My main goal is to instill in my children a love of learning. Yours may be different. And honestly, I went through quite a few of our homeschooling years being ruled and frustrated by my checklist, which resulted in the exact opposite of my goal. Now I’m fighting to undo the damage and teach my kids that learning is actually a wonderful, fun thing. Don’t make my mistakes. Stay grounded by remembering your main goal in all of this homeschooling craziness.

I truly believe: if you make sure you have a good, positive attitude, you’re willing to put down your checklist without stress or guilt, and you remember the purpose of all this in the first place, you can have an amazing year with your precious kiddos. It’s all a mental balancing act, but you can do it.

I have to remember all of these things every day too, and sometimes I fail. But the next day I try again, and you can too. Kids are resilient and God’s grace has got us covered. Just keep trying, giving your days (and your kids) to God, one day at a time. You got this.

(Real Quick…When I began this blog a year ago, I decided I would NOT write about parenting. Or homeschooling. I figured it would be doomed to become white noise against the backdrop of the thousands of other blogs on the same topics. Turns out parenting and homeschooling are pretty significant pieces of my life though — who knew? 😉 And so… the times, they are a changin’. Though my focus may shift more toward parenting and homeschooling, the underlying theme will remain: “Inspire. Ignite. Power Up.” That is what I hope you’ll feel through my posts, no matter the topic.)

I’d love for you to share your thoughts or questions in the comments below! I also welcome any ideas of parenting or homeschooling topics you’d be interested in reading more about! Thanks for reading! 🙂

One last thing — if you need support as you teach your kids (8 and up) how to embrace a living faith of their own, please check out my book, “Power Up,” which was released by Elk Lake Publishing Inc. earlier this year! I wrote it exactly for people like you and me, who want nothing more than for their kids to fall in love with Jesus. See more below.