Homeschooling challenges, grade by grade

image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

Now that another school year has come and gone, I wanted to bring up the subject of homeschooling once again. Today’s episode of “The Survival Mom Radio Hour” discusses how to decide if homeschooling is right for you and what are some of the challenges you might face.

You have all summer to think about it!

As I’ve thought about our 9 years of homeschooling, I have to admit that some ages and grades were easier than others. Here is what was true for me:

Kindergarten – 2nd grade

On one hand these grades were super easy because the material was so simple. I taught my kids to read using How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and sure enough, it worked. Our school days were super short, and I read a LOT to my kids. In fact, for the first several years of my daughter’s life, her favorite “toys” were books.

What made these grades a little complicated at times wasn’t my student, it was her younger brother. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her going over a math lesson (we started out using Saxon Math) while my son climbed onto my chair and tried to sit on my shoulders. He was old enough to know he was missing out on something but too young for those school lessons himself.

I tried many, many different diversions to hold his attention during “school hours” but it was a struggle. Life became easier when he was doing real live school work himself.

In most families with a kindergartener, there’s a high likelihood of younger siblings. There are lots of creative ways of juggling all these little ones at once but my very extroverted son just wanted to be in the middle of things. Literally.

One other complicating factor was that I still had to read almost everything to my daughter. We didn’t use traditional textbooks, but still we had lots of reading in subjects like nature and history.

However, during these years “school” can be finished in just a couple of hours, leaving time for field trips, park days, and play dates. We included all of these in our schedule.

3rd – 5th Grades

Gradually, as my kids became more proficient readers, they began doing more and more lessons on their own. However, since we were using Ambleside Online, and it’s still our curriculum of choice, the book selections were very advanced.

image by whgrad

image by whgrad

In 4th grade we had Robinson Cruesoe on our reading list. That is no easy book for a 10 year old! We read it together and there were many times I had to stop and explain some of the archaic words and terminology. Still, it was a great book.

What this has developed in both my kids is a no-fear attitude when it comes to books of any genre or copyright date. My daughter thought nothing of reading Peter Pan or Oliver Twist. She has read plenty of twaddle but is more than willing and able to read any classic that might show up on a “Must Read” book list.

She’s 13 and recently finished Animal Farm. “I hate pigs now more than ever. Except when they’re bacon.”

Math at this level is still very easy but requires plenty of ongoing practice. By this time we were using Math-U-See, which incorporates math worksheets, video lessons and some manipulatives. Usually I was able to assign a lesson and the kids did it on their own.

They learned about science and history from books such as This Country of Ours, Minn of the Mississippi, and The Handbook of Nature Study. Whenever I felt that a particular book was a little too advanced, I would read along with my kids.

6th grade – Jr. High

By this age, my daughter was a highly proficient reader and could tackle even the most advanced books on her own. However, when it came to reading Plutarch’s biographies, I opted to read them with her. In 7th grade she began reading full-length plays by Shakespeare, but I let her cheat a bit by having a version in modern English on hand as well.

You can take a look at her 8th grade reading list here. It’s not for the squeamish! Reading challenging material has given her the mental acuity to challenge what she reads! At one point during The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson, she asked, “Mom, what was wrong with this lady??” I loved that she could read something and process the author’s message through an intelligent filter, not just accept every word as the gospel truth.

In these grades, math becomes more complicated, and I had a choice. Do I re-learn algebra or hand the subject off to someone else who teaches it all day long? I’m only kinda, sorta ashamed that I opted for the latter! In our city there is a large homeschool co-op that offers classes ranging from ballet to graphic design to Latin, American Sign Language, and yes, algebra!

I decided to give her a little push into a world in which there were firm deadlines for assignments and tests were graded by someone other than Mom. Very, very often, homeschooled kids begin taking community college classes when they’re about 15 or 16. Since I knew this is the path we’ll be taking, I wanted her to have a taste of a demanding school schedule, and that’s exactly what she got!

At this point, selfishly, my life became much, much easier. I wasn’t reading any subjects with my daughter and only read aloud to my son in a couple of subject areas, partly because he still loves sitting close to his mom and listening to her read aloud and partly because some of his books were still pretty advanced. This opened my days up to writing articles for the blog and taking on other projects of my own.

I can see now how homeschooling has created two very independent learners. Most days my daughter just looks at her Ambleside schedule and decides what needs to be done. My son still needs some prodding but once he gets going, he’s fine with working on his own.

I’ve written before about the difficulties of homeschooling but now that we’re on the home stretch, I almost wish we could start over. I loved those crazy days of reading aloud to my son and daughter and even those moments when one or both would crawl all over me, knocking over the book, and fighting about who got to sit on Mom’s lap. The TV commercials tell us that the Army is the toughest job you’ll ever love, but I disagree. Being a homeschooling mom is tougher but having your kids close by and learning together is priceless.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. paul says

    There are some drawbacks to homeschooling and that is with the sciences, friends of mine who tried it said it was difficult to teach topics they were unfamiliar with such as botany, and geology.

    • says

      There are so many resources available to homeschoolers. I would suggest to your friend that she research what community colleges offer, both in-class as well as online. Homeschool co-ops are available in many locations and sometimes parents with an expertise in one area or another will offer to teach classes. I definitely wouldn’t give up on homeschooling because of this! Technology offers solutions in more areas than a lot of parents realize.

  2. Katy says

    I have homeschooled my 16yo and 13yo from kingergarten on up. I have found that the challenges in homeschooling high school are these:
    – You have to be willing to spend a LOT of time researching potential opportunities and classes. This means looking at AP (Advanced Placement) and online classes and community college classes (more than one cc if you have several nearby), etc. and weighing the pros and cons of different ones. For instance, do you take Intermediate Algebra at this cc or that one? Do you forgo an outside class in favor of doing it on your own and then doing the SAT II subject test? Should you do the AP or the subject test? What type of science should you take after bio, chem, and physics? British Lit or World Lit?
    – You have to deal with the school system, even if you have never done so before and your state is relatively regulation free. To register for AP exams or the PSAT, you have to register through the local school, not the College Board.
    – You need to know what the potential colleges you want to attend want to see in terms of SAT II exams, AP exams, cc classes, curriculum rigor, courses, etc.
    – On top of a more demanding academic schedule, you have to strategically plan their extracurricular activites to appeal to potential colleges (colleges want to see them demonstrate a passion for a hobby or future career through their extracurriculars, not bounce around doing 1 year of this and 1 year of that).
    – You deal with other details of “life” with a near-adult, such as driver’s education and summer jobs.
    – You must stretch yourself academically or pay others to teach classes outside of your expertise, and these classes are not cheap (most high school courses range from $225-700 per year). And, yes, doing lab sciences at home is the biggest challenge and probably the best thing to outsource to the cc. Colleges like to see “real” lab classes from homeschoolers.
    – Teens begin to want to socialize more with members of the opposite gender and have a more vigorous social life (25+ teens in attendance), including dances and teen parties that don’t include their 10yo brothers, and you must create or find those types of opportunities for them.
    -Community sports options become limited unless you are willing to travel long distances (e.g., our football team required a 40 min. drive each way every day for 3 montsh).

    Of course, there are also lots of great benefits to homeschooling high school, including:
    – Fewer problems with drugs, alcohol, sexting, teenage pregnancy, etc.
    – Ability to have TIME to have highly interesting and intelligent conversations with your teens about adult topics, such as career selection, spouse selection, political leanings, spiritual values, etc.
    – The thrill of watching your children grow into adults right before your eyes.

    I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  3. says

    I agree with Paul. I’ve homeschooled my now 16 year old son up until he was about 12. I am having a hard time coming up with lesson plans to learn everyday so I decided to enroll him back to school and learn with his peers.

  4. Katy says

    For subjects with which I am unfamiliar (e.g., “geology or botany” as Paul put it above), we use co-ops, local paid in-person classes, or online classes. There are so many resources out there for homeschoolers now that no one should feel they have to stop homeschooling because of subjects which are too challenging for the parent to teach. For instance, this fall, my daughter will be taking a Field Biology class for high school homeschoolers offered by the local university, paid for by a grant. Another local university offers free two-hour chemistry lab classes on Saturdays to high school homeschoolers. It is a great marketing technique on their part because they get to expose potential future students to their lab facilities. I already know of at least one homeschooler who plans to attend there as a result.

  5. says

    I just came across your site while googling for info on homeschooling high school. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a picture of my own son reading a book! It is a small world, isn’t it? :)

  6. Kathryn says

    I am really struggling with this. I am doing online virtual public school at home for my third grader. My son takes hours upon hours to do each class. He cannot stay focused. I find myself losing my patience quickly and I feel bad that I even tried to do this. I just started doing this for this school year. 2014-2015. How can I ever hope for him to learn anything at this rate? The work is compounded and he is required to do 4 classes per day with him putting 8 or more hours into this. I am so frustrated and feel like I’m losing my mind. Anyone have any advice for me?

    • says

      My advice: Drop the online public school. Homeschooling should bring freedom — freedom to move at your child’s pace, freedom to adjust your family’s schedule, freedom to explore interests, encourage talents. It was never meant to be public school at the kitchen table. I am VERY much against this option, as you can tell. There are so many low-cost materials out there online, homeschooling co-ops and a multitude of social groups. We use — free curriculum. You just need to acquire the various books that are part of the curriculum — many are free on Kindle. I used to be a classroom teacher and a teacher trainer in a large public school district — so I’ve seen education from both sides and would never put my kids in public school.

  7. Karen says

    This will be our first year of home education, 8th grade for my 13 year old socially-autistic son. I attended the 2015 Thrive convention, where I purchased a LifePac Science kit. I scheduled what he needs to do every day for Science, along with additional activities/trips I found online, and plan to encourage him to finish early on a monthly basis. I also purchased their History plan. I bought Saxon Math based on a friend’s recommendation. My son will take the end-of-chapter test and use additional games/worksheets with lessons where he needs extra learning. He appears to be ready for Algebra, but I’m in no hurry to push him.

    I was so excited to send my Notice of Intent! I imagined all the discounts I could be getting on workbooks, literature, project material, and ink. Unfortunately, none of the store managers I’ve approached have admitted that their store has an ‘Educators discount’ or ‘Teacher’s discount.’ I’ve tried Target, Office Depot, and a few others. Office Depot sent me a nice letter informing me that they only offer a promotional period for teachers to save 25% on certain items in Aug 1-4 and Aug 29 – Sept 1. That is NoT what I’ve read on the message boards. I’m dreading the trip to Michael’s Crafts tomorrow because I’m worried they will not give me a discount. I have a print out of my Intent email, school authorization to purchase letter (I wrote it), our school ID’s (I designed and laminated them), and an overview of our 2015-2016 curriculum with a list of books and materials. Any tips on asking for an educator’s discount? Links to store policies would be immensely appreciated.

    • says

      I’ve only ever tried to get a teacher’s discount one time, and that was at a bookstore. Maybe Barnes & Noble or Borders, when it was still around. Call ahead of time and ask them what type of ID you need. I won’t be able to pull together a list like the one you suggest any time soon, unfortunately.

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