Dipping Our Toes in the Homeschool Pond


Dipping Our Toes in the Homeschool Pond

It’s not easy adopting a lifestyle with which you have no prior experience.

My school years were comprised of public and Catholic schooling, and I graduated from a public university to teach in a public school. I have no idea what homeschooling actually looks like. I don’t know what the first step of the first year will be. And, when I don’t know, I tend to freak out a little bit. So, it might be too early to be starting my daughter with formal schooling, but I have to know if this is going to work for us, and I am hoping that by dipping our toes in, we will be a little less nervous if or when the time does come.

Somebody talk me down. I know that pushing school on a child at too early of an age can be very detrimental. I’m trying to just dabble. Maybe one or two “formal” things per month when I think about it. Earlier this week, the weather was beautiful, I took Ellen outside, and I drew letters on the driveway. I called out letters while she ran and hopped on them. That’s harmless, right? But, I get freaked out: Is this what homeschooling looks like? What else do people do? What if I don’t do it right? How do I start when it is time? I need a plan right.this.minute!

I spend time praying about if it is right for us. I read blogs and other moms’ stories. I’ve visited moms during the day while they homeschool. I’ve even been to a conference. I’m a planner, and I am determined to feel as confident as possible before this all begins. And, I KNOW. She is two. I have plenty of time, and I need to enjoy the part of life we are in. And I am doing that. There isn’t much harm in feeding my neurotic desire to research a bit, right?

So, help me out. Where are you on your journey? How did you feel when you first started? What do you wish you had known when you were in my position? What advice can you give me for staying informed and learning more while still enjoying the little years?

Copyright 2014 Jenna Hines


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  1. Take a deep breath…I tell moms all the time you have been homeschooling since you conceived that child!!! I have been homeschooling for 24 years and love it. It is a lifestyle for our family not an educational choice per say. Things in the homeschooling arena are changing every day for the better…more resources, more support, more opportunities. So take one day at a time and read books to your kids (or have someone else do it) as much as possible! Enjoy your family and relax, the best lessons the children learn are the ones that come by day to day loving Christ and those HE puts in our path. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions about homeschooling! +JMJ+ Sam

    • :::deep breath:::

      I have a feeling I will be emailing you when the time does come! I am not shy with questions 🙂 I almost wish I could have a mom come and stay with me for the first month!

      Thank you for the encouragement!

  2. You sound like me when I started homeschooling. I was very concerned about doing it “right” and afraid I would miss something or mess something up. I’m 3 years into in, and thank God he delivered me from those insecurities.
    Just focus on loving your child, everything else will fall into place. Make the practice of your faith the focal point in your home and your child will develop the moral character God desires. Academics are good, but of less importance than moral development. Think on your own experience, how much do you remember from school? Your most important task is to help shape the person your child will become. Trust God to help you discern and teach what’s necessary. God bless your family and home!

    • Yes! That is great advice. Thank you 🙂 Now, can I pick your brain a bit more? What ways do you make Christ the center of your home? We say nightly prayers, say grace, go to Mass and other services, talk about Jesus, etc. Other ideas?

  3. I’m a planner, too, and I never intended to homeschool. I also went to college for teaching and spent the years before I was a parent teaching other people’s kids. I took the time before we started “officially” homeschooling for kindergarten to read as much as I could and just let that reading sit. It turned out to be pretty easy to tell what was “us” and what wasn’t. Read the different methods and see what stands out to you…good or bad!…and go from there. The nice thing about gradually dipping your toes into the homeschool waters is that there is no pressure to figure it all out RIGHT NOW (though believe me-I understand that impulse!). You’re doing great already. Sam’s comment above is right on- you have been teaching Ellen since before she was born. Take a deep breath, follow Ellen’s lead on the early stuff, and read lots and lots of books while you enjoy each other. You were made for this, Jenna. 🙂

    • “You were made for this, Jenna”

      That comment actually inspired a lot of confidence in me. Maybe that sounds silly, but it did. I felt the Lord was saying it too. Thank you for that!

  4. While I don’t home school, it has always been in the back of my mind if Catholic school doesn’t continue working out so great for our family. I sort of home school my kids in preschool, though. I feel like a lot of things that I do with my kids are just what you would do if you home school, though. Simple things like making letters out of playdough, drawing chalk, learning through reading and playing. I think you are doing a great job! Your child will tell you if you are pushing too much.

    • You’re right! Even now, when I am trying to teach her something, I can tell when she isn’t interested. She is very obvious about it. And, I need to take those cues. Thank you!

  5. I’ve been homeschooling for 11 years. I never wanted to in the early days; my first child even went to public preschool. Then just before Kindergarten (I mean 2 days before registration), my husband said why don’t we try homeschooling? So I had to jump in with no planning at all, and really not much enthusiasm. We barely made it to a seminar put on by the Christian homeschooling statewide group, 100 miles away, but it really helped. I am not a teacher by training or temperament, but now I feel I’m more of a one-on-one tutor. For your planning side, one thing I wish I had done all along is keep a list of all the books we read that we really liked. That’s to help with possible future children, mostly, but also shows you a record of what you’ve actually done. For these early years, read to your daughter, play games (like jumping to letters on the driveway — yes! that is what homeschooling looks like!), go on “nature walks” around the neighborhood or park, and don’t do anything too formal. She has a whole career ahead of her of formal schooling; right now she is learning all the time, with all the fun activities you do. One of the great things about homeschooling is tailoring the pace to your child’s learning schedule. If things aren’t working (tears, frustration), back off. The book is not in charge, you are. Also, it’s so much easier to teach anything when the child is ready. I tried to teach my kids how to write their names early on, but they didn’t seem to catch on or even want to try. Gradually I realized they would do it on their own when they were ready, first with one letter, then adding a few more, until they got it. I didn’t teach them, they figured it out. (Of course I had examples of their names on the fridge and etc, but left it at that.) It’s kind of similar with other things – think of subtraction with borrowing! Some kids get it in first grade, others you have to say, well, this is too much right now, but we’re going to see it again in second grade, we’ll come back to it. And I think it’s great to read as much as you can about all different kinds of approaches, but make sure in the end you do what feels right for you and your family, and be prepared to change things that aren’t working. Oh yes, I also wanted to mention this: once you start the more formal things, you have to try to put yourself it your child’s place; specifically, remember this (whatever concept you’re teaching) is new to her, and try several methods, using manipulatives and other things, to explain it. You already know it so it seems so obvious, but it’s not obvious at all to her. At my house, we all love “edible math”, using raisins, graham crackers, and (everybody’s favorite) chocolate chips to teach subtraction or fractions or whatever.
    When it comes down to it, you’ve already adopted a new lifestyle with no prior experience (having a child is sure a new lifestyle), and you are doing just fine. Like parenting in general, homeschooling is learn-as-you-go, on-the-job training. Sometimes it’s not all that fun but you can see the benefits. You will often wonder if you’re “doing it right” – even after 11 years. But as long as you’re trying to help the child get to where God wants her, respecting her own gifts and challenges as God made her, you are probably “doing it right”.

    • Monica,

      This is amazing and uplifting and perfect. Thank you for all of this! The more and more I read of other mom’s testimonials, the stronger I feel. You are helping me more than you know!

  6. Hey Jenna! We’re about to finish up our 4th year in a few months. When I started, I just jumped right in and learning to swim. I have changed our pace and ideas about the “how-to” several times, but it all comes back to learning together. Sometimes it’s been painful, most times it’s been a joy and a perfect fit for our family. There are probably more ways to homeschool than you can imagine. Some love workbooks, some love online schooling, some love unschooling, so do it in between. We’re an in-between family! I mostly follow the ideas in classical education, but we do a bit of unschooling (like now when everyone is passing germs, or when we want to go on a trip, or when there is a great opportunity not to be missed at a museum…)

    I wouldn’t change anything about our experience, because everything we have done has been a learning experience and helped me to find the best way to teach my kiddos.

    Don’t be scared! The hardest part is starting. Just do it. 😉

    • So, tell me this: Can you think back to Day 1? Do you remember what you did or how you felt? I am imagining on Day 1 I won’t feel like I did enough, and if she doesn’t come out of it having learned something observable, I will feel disappointed. I KNOW that shouldn’t be the case, so what would you do to combat those feelings?

  7. I’m also a long time homeschooling mom (18 years). Keep a daily journal of what Ellen does, not just the schooly stuff. After a week, read it over and you’ll see that she’s learned many things. If you look for or “test” her on observable learning, you’ll both end up stressed out. You can do this!

  8. Pingback: Dipping Our Toes in the Homeschool Pond - call her happy

  9. So, I was one of those public/private school graduates who could NOT imagine homeschooling. Even said I’d never do it.

    We’re in year four of homeschooling now. Liana went to 3y/o preschool and everyday 4 y/o preschool just seemed like too much. Ten to be followed by all day kindergarten? That just seemed too long for a 5 y/o. So, my hesitant husband agreed to let me have 4 y/I preschool as my “trial period”. We had a year to figure things out.

    I bought a preschool curriculum….and used approximately one page (luckily it was a preschool/K curriculum, so we used a little more the next year!). We went places, we visited with friends, we hung out together and she helped me make food. We counted as we poured ingredients into bowls, I talked about halves whenever I cut something.

    Remember that monologue you carried on through the grocery store when they were babies and you were teaching them object names and sentence structure? THAT’S homeschooling! You just keep talking and sharing the world. I use a curriculum from Catholic Heritage Curriculum (although we’re not doing their math, we’re doing Life if Fred) that has a four day week. I like the relaxed pace.

    I still worry that I’m not doing enough or that I’m leaving some gaping holes, or that there’s a better program and if I just kept researching I COULD KNOW EVERYTHING!

    Then, I (try to) take a breath and remember the whole point. Heaven. Maybe Harvard too, but primarily Heaven. The second goal should be a love if learning. Because you won’t teach her the whole world in 12 years. But you can help that spark stay alive for a lifetime.

    Don’t forget, homeschooling is about your sanctification too. I feel called to be a homeschooling mom and I know I gain just as much from our community and way of life as she does. Don’t be afraid to reach out to homeschool communities and start paying those dues now to go to their field trips and gatherings. Surround yourself by families who are doing it. Make that your social scene (obviously you don’t have to chuck your other friends!). Observe them, learn from them, set up play dates with them.

    Current homeschoolers were really what convinced me to move from potential to actual homeschooler. I liked their kids. I saw what they had and I wanted it for my family.

    Just let me know what month you’d like the girls and I to crash your place 🙂

    • “Then, I (try to) take a breath and remember the whole point. Heaven. Maybe Harvard too, but primarily Heaven.”

      This ^

      I need to keep that in mind. Those words were rolling around in my head last night while I was trying to go to sleep too. Thank you for the reminder!

  10. Oh man, my MIL would be great for you. Or maybe she would wig you out like she does me with her many, many resources and ideas and questions and answers. She is fabulous, but I am not really a planner and I just want to do what seems right for us and go at whatever pace feels good for the girls. That said, her book has helped lots of people out and I may have read one or two pages, and what i read was good:

    I also was not home schooled and feel totally clueless, so lots of solidarity from here!

    • So, how does Mike feel about all of the homeschooling? Was he on board or did he have reservations?

      My Mike definitely has reservations. He wants our kids to be geniuses – which, you know, would be great, but it’s not my #1 goal.

  11. I could have written this post a few years ago 🙂 I joined our homeschool group when my oldest was two. B/c of my temperament, I do like having a curriculum for the basic subjects- even if we use it in an unschooly way. I am also a former teacher and I need a scope and sequence for each grade, even if I am going to substitute for books we don’t want to read, explain the math concept in a different way etc. I just like to have it to give me a frame of reference for what they “should” know at approximately each grade level. I feel like it helps with the constant second guessing if I am “doing enough”. That being said…. flexibility and humility have been (are) hard lessons for me to learn. I have had to be willing to get more or less structured to meet a child’s needs. I have had to be willing to ditch things *I* liked that weren’t a good fit. And I have had to consider school as an option for a child who might benefit from it. So, if I could go back to the beginning and talk to myself over again, I would say this: Read all the books and preview different curriculums for personal enjoyment and while thinking about my temperament and those of my kids. Join the homeschool group and go on field trips and playdates. Get a preK curriculum if you want to and gently introduce coloring, cutting, and holding a pencil correctly while reading lots of great books and living the liturgical year. But allow things to ebb and follow and enjoy yourself and your kids! Now I’m off to take my own advice 🙂

    • You and I sound so much alike. I love to have everything spelled out for me, and then as I get comfortable, I start to make changes and adjustments to fit our needs better. I’m sure that is how I am going to approach homeschool as well. Do you have any curriculums that you would recommend?

      • Yay kindred homeschool spirits 🙂 so everyone will tell you that you don’t need to buy anything b/c there are tons of free printables, ideas on Pinterest etc. it is all true. But, I am just not on it enough to sift and sort and figure out what to do when etc. I prefer to saturate the environment with good books and games and movies and toys and let them explore as the background to everything. Just put out the globe, map, animal book and let them learn with their fingers. We have a subscription to abcmouse.com, some learning apps, and a few montessori things.

        Re: curriculum… I really like Charlotte Mason and the living books approach and used Ambleside and Mater amabilis (free online curriculums) this year. But even with these, or creating your own CM or classical curriculum, you have to choose which materials to use for phonics, math, etc. And make the plans yourself- which started as fun and then… 🙂 So I am looking at Memoria Press for next year.

        I like the Handwriting without tears PreK book and they have some good free PDFs at their website about how to teach proper pencil grip. We are very happy with their crayons and pencils for little hands. Seton and Memoria Press both have PreK programs and MP’s has lesson plans and a book list. Elizabeth Foss has great book lists at her website also. And the internet 🙂 has great liturgical yr projects if you are crafty. If your daughter has good fine motor and likes handwriting and coloring then she might love workbooks. I like having them so I can say “hey let’s try this” and gradually over time work through them. But I have so far had boys who need extra practice in the fine motor department and don’t love workbooks. So I use them but don’t stick rigidly to any program. You can always do stuff out loud or in other ways (love your chalk idea!). And don’t be surprised if interest goes up and down. You really don’t have to do anything. I didn’t do much with my three year old this year. When he asked to “do school” I got the handwriting without tears crayons and showed him how to hold them. Then I gave him a coloring book, Kumon maze book and cutting book and scissors. When he feels like doing school he does. He is picking up letter sounds and recognition of letters and numbers from abcmouse. At 4.5 I will use the handwriting without tears book and a couple MEmoria Press workbooks to be more systematic about handwriting practice. I know so many people say not to start anything until K and I think they are right- unless your child really wants to or you are considering putting a child in school and need to keep close to a specific grade level.

        Just some thoughts….. I am NOT an expert. My kids are still young. But it does sound like we have similar temperaments :). So hopefully this is helpful food for thought!

  12. Hey Jenna! So excited you’re thinking about homeschooling. I have 3 kids. The first two went to Catholic school, and the youngest we decided to homeschool. Now, the youngest is about the head off to college. I tear up thinking about it actually. All of my children are great–they all turned out terrific. But with my youngest, it was like I had the time with her. I was able to spend so much more time seeing her grow up, and instilling the Light of Jesus in her. Of course, there are drawbacks. It’s important to work hard at socialization because I did find that my daughter felt “left out” at times. Overall, the most important thing, whether you decide on homeschooling or traditional school, is that YOU teach those Catholic values to your kids–as it sure seems you have been doing since the day they were born! 😉

    • I love that. You know, one time I heard a mom say that she thought it was unfair when people said that wanting to be with your children is a selfish reason to homeschool. She said, “I am their mother. I have the right to want to be with them.”

      It’s so true. We only have so much time. I want it all.

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