Friday, January 30, 2015

The Three-Year Homeschool Learning Curve (It Really Exists!)

Several years ago, I read a wonderful article by Amy over at Raising Arrows, and it has been a source of encouragement ever since. Hop on over and check it out:

Homeschooling and the Three Year Learning Curve

To summarize:
"'The first three years are the learning curve. Give yourself a break.' Those are the words a veteran homeschool mom spoke to me my first year homeschooling. Those words gave me permission to mess up, regroup, and try again. Those words are now the ones I give to every new homeschooling mother I come in contact with. They are priceless."

We are now nearing the end of our fourth year of home education, and I can attest to the truth of those words. Things really started to fall into place at the end of the third year. While I have not "arrived," and most likely never will, I no longer feel that I am floundering hopelessly in a foreign universe.

I have found my homeschooling feet.

Just starting on the journey.

In my (brief) time in the homeschooling world, I have seen many mothers give up on home education within their first couple of years. They give it a try, but end up calling it quits a year or two in. (I did it too!) In any conversation that I now have with struggling mothers, I always reference this "law of homeschooling." If you're serious about homeschooling but don't think you're making it, purpose not to give up before you've completed three full years. Most likely, you'll be okay by then.

What does it look like "on the other side" of three years?

Here's what it looks like for me (some of these are elaborations on Amy's points in the original article):

I have learned about myself

I have learned so many things about myself - things that are vital to shaping our family's homeschool environment. For example, I have learned that I am not a super-crafty person. Continual large messes pretty much make me lose my sanity. I need to have the house reasonably clean to be able to think clearly (or even be civil). That may seem basic, but learning things like that about myself is also part of learning about how home education will look in our family. It's different for each family, and every mother has to figure out her own style and how homeschooling needs to work to be successful for her unique family and situation.

I have learned about my child

Had I put my child in school, the 8yo and I would now be complete strangers to each other. We are very, very different and tend to butt heads often. But being together around the clock has forced us to learn to work together and to become closer rather than growing further apart. I am so thankful that God led me to home education, because otherwise this child and I would already be well on the way to total estrangement from each other. As it is, I have been able to learn more and more about him while growing closer to him.

Homeschool science experiments. 

I have faced harsh realities

The harsh reality about home education is that it all comes down to parenting. If I'm not willing to tackle my parenting weaknesses and really enforce cheerful obedience, respect, responsibility, etc., then home education will not work - or will be a nightmare for the mother who has to suffer through it. This has been an awesome reality check for me, and it has helped me greatly in my parenting journey. Like it or not, the basis of successful home education is first producing teachable children, and that involves being willing to face my parenting weaknesses - and deal with them.

I have learned about home education

Attending my first homeschool convention was one of the most inspiring events of my life. It was also one of the most frightening, intimidating, and completely overwhelming events of my life. In fact, my decision to stop homeschooling was due to that feeling of being completely out of my element and overwhelmed with too much information. I couldn't handle it, and I turned tail and ran.

Since then, I have learned so much. I have learned the terminology and the lingo. I have learned the authors, the books, the key personalities in the homeschool community, the curriculum options, the educational styles. I have spent the past years reading (and reading and reading) about home education - on blogs, in books, on websites - and listening to talks, lectures, and convention break-out sessions. Finally, at some unknown point, it stopped being overwhelming. I started recognizing terms and curriculum names. I could talk the talk. I no longer had to sit there looking like a soon-to-be-flattened deer in the headlights.

I don't have it all together. In fact, on the average, I would still rate myself as rather behind rather than ahead when it comes to home education knowledge and abilities. But I am now at home (rather than completely at sea!) in the home education world. Conventions are no longer overwhelming, but a delight. I can handle the information without bursting into tears of frustration.

Dear homeschooling mother, if you are still in the "I'm so overwhelmed and I don't know what to do!" stage, don't despair. Just hold on, keep breathing, and keep reading (and reading and reading). Sooner or later, it will start to make sense, and the feeling of being overwhelmed will fade.

Homeschool craft time. 

I have learned about homeschool curriculum

Thirty years ago, curriculum selection was super-simple because there were simply so few options. Today, even a mother who has been homeschooling for twenty years hasn't seen all of the available curriculum choices. There are hundreds (thousands!) out there. However, I have finally made it to where I know the major names, the major styles, and the major options - and that's a huge relief. I can now "talk the talk" and know what my major options are in different subjects, even if there are still hundreds of options that I haven't yet seen.

Unit studies! 

I have found the local homeschool community

Discovering and getting to know your local homeschool community is incredibly important! Here are some of the things that I've learned about my local community:

  • Local support groups - I've found two that work for me, and know of countless others (and where to find them!) if I ever need them.
  • Resources - Testing locations, homeschool stores, etc.
  • Classes, groups, and co-ops - Whether it's theatre, archery, speech and debate, science co-ops, homeschool P.E. - I know where to find the homeschool groups and classes (and we have many!).
  • Homeschool days - Many museums, etc., have annual homeschool days when homeschoolers can get reduced admission fees. Knowing these by memory is a huge blessing and a big stress-reliever as well.
  • Annual field trip schedule - In addition to homeschool days, there are local events that occur annually, and I now know these by heart as well (our city's Jazz Festival, the Christmas parade, etc.). Having these in my memory saves me so much time scrambling for field trips.
  • People - Getting to know people in the community, making friends, letting your children make friends - it's a big part of feeling connected rather than lost and floating. Also, getting to know various persons' strengths and interests means that I know where to go when I need help or information on a certain topic.

When we first started out, feeling alone was one of the biggest obstacles. Now that I've gotten to know the community, I feel much more settled and at home. If you're just starting out, I do recommend finding a few support groups! They can be intimidating at first, but after a year or two of getting to know people, they're priceless.

I have learned lots about what doesn't work

We've spent lots of money on curriculum that was shelved in the end. I've tried schedules that didn't work, ideas that didn't work, discipline techniques that didn't work. You name it, I've tried it. And most of it doesn't work. But for the odd 5% that does work, it's worth it. Each time I try something, I learn something - even if it's how to go back to the drawing board start again.

I have learned about the practical side of home education

There is so much more to home education than just "doing school." Let's see - my short list would include home management, teaching chores, time management, marriage, parenting, blogging, cooking, meal planning, laundry - and biggest of all, putting all of that together into a doable package on a daily basis. This is a sharp, steep learning curve, and it is not easy. However, I have come a long way, and I'm learning more and more every day.

I have learned the faithfulness of God

A year or two back, I heard a veteran homeschooling mom say the following (paraphrased):
"Do I have regrets? No, I don't have any regrets. God has been faithful. Every day I asked Him to show me what His will was for our home education journey. He did, and I followed His leading. I have no regrets."

At the time, I was a bit baffled. What did she mean, she had no regrets? Didn't she know how many mistakes I make on a daily basis? How could she make such lofty claims of perfection for herself?

But over time, I realized the difference between regrets and mistakes. All of us make mistakes. But we press forward to the goal, and we can do so in spite of our mistakes - and we can do so with no regrets. God is faithful. And if He has called us to the journey of home education, then we can trust Him and lean on His leading to get where we need to go.

God is faithful.

Thus, dear mothers, if you're still in the trenches of the first three years - don't lose heart! Press on! The challenges and the struggles continue, but there really is a breakthrough at the three-year mark.

Veteran homeschoolers, I would love to hear your input. When did you feel that you passed the initial learning curve and found your homeschooling stride? I'd love to hear your story.

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  1. I'm 11+ years into it, and I feel as if I'm brand new every few months.

    That said, we do have chore systems in place that keep our home running (fairly) smoothly, and I do know a lot more than I used to. It is easier to make major decisions now because I know where I want us to go (in the most general sense), and I'm not afraid of making mistakes any more . . . they're just too constant. :)

    Like you wrote, I've learned a lot about myself, am constantly re-learning to trust the Lord, and I really enjoy our homeschool community.

    But truly, I feel constantly new.

    1. Oh, dear - I hope that I didn't come across as "I have this thing figured out!" No, not at all. And like you, it feels new continually - because not only are we changing and growing personally, but our children are constantly moving into different stages with different sets of challenges. (Unlike a third-grade teacher, for example, who is always teaching third graders, home educators have a different set of ages and stages every year - usually with a newborn and a toddler and a preschooler thrown in!)

      The main thing that I wanted to communicate was simply that I don't feel that overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness that I did at first. The feeling that I will never understand the least thing about home education, that there's no use trying, and that I might as well give up now. It has been like breaking the surface of the water - I'm still treading water, but at least I'm no longer drowning.

      Enjoy that sweet newborn of yours!!! :)

  2. Dear Diana,
    I can relate to almost everything you wrote about! I have the benefit of having grown up homeschooled. With my own kids, though, I didn't at first feel confident enough to start homeschooling them. I think this is because I didn't have experience with very young children. However, after 4 years in a charter school, my kids finally started their education at home. We're in our second year--and no regrets! It's the best thing we've ever done.

    You're right when you say that homeschooling brings out our parenting weaknesses. Discipline at home is the #1 most important thing for homeschooling success.

    Great article--thanks!

    1. Excellent points, Jessica! Thank you for visiting!! :)

  3. I came here from a Facebook link. I'm glad I read this, especially on a Monday morning. We've moved twice in our four years of homeschooling, once cross-country. While I feel comfortable with our educational choices, I'm lacking in the knowledge of local resources and in connections with other homeschoolers. This article encouraged me to remember that I'm still finding my feet in this new town, and that those things will come in time. Thank you.

    1. Oh, I can only imagine how challenging those two moves have been for you! That is one challenge that we have not faced during our home education journey. I definitely think that finding one's feet most likely would have to be done all over again in a new town - feeling comfortable in the local community is so important! Blessings as you work toward that! Thanks for visiting!!

  4. Do you have advice for struggling readers? My daughter is 8 with mild autism and severe dyslexia. She has always been home educated. Her autism isn't an issue for us because as a mama I know her cues.

    1. Hello, and thanks for visiting!

      Unfortunately, I do not have any great advice for struggling readers or readers with special needs. Our son was a "late" reader, per the school system's standards, but we found that that was mainly a matter of waiting for him to be ready. Some children do indeed need extra years of patience! However, there are lots of great special needs bloggers and specialists out there (like Diane Craft, for example) who know more about this than I do.

      Here is Diane Craft's website:

      We do have one child with special needs, but his special needs are so extreme that he will never read (or write, or talk). Thus, though we have some experience with special needs, it doesn't extend into the area of academics simply because they will never apply to him.

      Thank you for dropping by!!

  5. I"m glad there is a 3 year curve and that now I know its normal! We are at the very beginning and have had a floundering year. My goal is to get through out books by August and have our schedule down (as much as it can be).

    1. Our first year was definitely spent floundering!! Don't be too hard on yourself - it really does take several years to feel more grounded. Thank you for visiting!!

  6. I am coming to the end of my third year and I gotta say, this is TRUE! I was homeschooled myself, you would think I would have all the answers. Although I knew a lot about homeschooling, it has taken me this long to start to figure out what works with my teaching style, my kids various learning styles, and our large family. I have five little kids, so even though I LOVE the idea of Montessori learning, hands on, tailored education... sometimes that just doesn't work with the toddler and the baby, and the house and making meals, etc. More and more as we finish up the year, we are finding what works for us. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I know that God will use this time we have together as a family to draw us together and draw us to Him. It is not important that my kids see me as perfect, but rather as a person who fails and tries again. That they see God's grace and love in the midst of our "mistakes" ;)

    Come over and say Hi, I really enjoyed the read!

    1. Rebecca, thanks so much for visiting! I agree with everything you wrote! I am enjoying scrolling through your sweet blog and can't wait to read more. I'll look forward to getting to know you! :)


  7. Well said, it was an encouragement and so insightful. Thank you. I have a request my daughter asked to take of her 2 year son (my grandchild) I would like to know what you might suggest in a curriculum. We spend a lot of time outdoors exploring but I want him to be well rounded any suggestions?

    1. Hello, and thank you for visiting and for your kind words! I really appreciate it!

      We don't do much in terms of preschool. With our eldest, I tried the formal preschool route (both at home and in formal preschool at our city's rec center), and it didn't go too well. He just wasn't ready, though I didn't recognize that at the time.

      Here are a few articles that would probably give the points I would want to make:

      Our current mode of operations is to start formal school at age six - possibly later (especially with boys), and possibly earlier if a child is really ready and actively desiring school work.

      For little ones, I really want to focus on:

      - Reading, reading, reading - That is, read-alouds with mama (or grandma!). I really recommend reading "The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease. This is an eye-opener and really helped me to realize how important reading aloud is.

      - Play, especially outdoor play.

      - Helping mama/grandma cook (fine motor skills, math, relationships!).

      - Character (basically, obedience)

      I would also recommend that the homeschooling mama/grandma read anything and everything that she can on the subject of home education - blogs and books. Usually there are several books at one's public library, and one can find homeschooling blogs that are excellent (like the one I mentioned above in my article). Attending your local convention is also wonderful - they usually have wonderful classes for beginners. At our Arizona convention, grandparents are welcomed free of charge! (And the price is usually reasonable anyway.)

      At some point, if you really want a preschool program, two that I have heard of are:

      Heart of Dakota
      Before Five in a Row

      Also, Rebecca, who left a comment above yours, blogs about a preschool program called Mother Goose Time - here is her blog address:

      In the end, it's all about what you and your grandson want to do. If you want to do preschool and he enjoys it, go for it! But definitely don't feel like you have to. There are many skills that emerge naturally at older ages without forcing them at younger ages, and many times (especially with boys!) it's easier to wait. Do what gives you joy, and don't feel pressured.

      Enjoy your homeschooling journey!!


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