Nobody ever said homeschooling was easy. Nobody ever said, either, that there are new homeschool challenges every school year and at every grade! Looking back, this does not surprise me at all. My children grow and change every year, and our difficulties with homeschooling often reflected these changes. Both my kids have graduated high school and are now in college, so I wanted to think back and talk about how we overcame obstacles in our homeschool over the years.
As I’ve thought about our 15+ years of homeschooling and their unique challenges, I have to admit that some ages and grades were easier than others. Here is what was true for me:
Kindergarten – 2nd grade
On the one hand, these grades were super easy because the material was so simple. Our school days were super short, and I read a LOT to my kids. In fact, for most of my daughter’s childhood, her favorite “toys” were books.
What made these grades challenging 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 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 different diversions to hold his attention during “school hours” but it was a struggle. Life became much easier when he got older and was doing school 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 playdates. We included all of these in our schedule.
3rd – 5th Grades
Gradually, as my kids became more proficient readers, they began doing more lessons on their own. However, since we were using Ambleside Online, the book selections were very advanced. In 4th grade, we had Robinson Crusoe 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 era or genre. 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. In her words, “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 analyze and even challenge what she reads. 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, 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’d be taking, I wanted her to have a taste of a demanding school schedule, and that’s exactly what she got!
Ladies, all of these homeschool challenges are worth it!
After my kids reached about the 6th and 8th grades, 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 homeschool challenges, but now that both kids have reached the collegiate level, 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.