Homeschool Help

Should I Homeschool My Kids?

Ah, what a question! If you’ve landed here, you’ve considered homeschooling to some extent and I’m so glad you’ve popped by. Today I’m sharing with you the story of my dear friend, Tiffany. By God’s kindness I ran into her at a Chick Fil A during our first winter living in the Midwest. I could pick her southern accent out from across the restaurant - I felt a sense of kindred spirits almost immediately. Today she is a dear and treasured friend, who feels more like family. Her daily pursuit of Christ is a constant encouragement to me. She shares how, as a former teacher, she learned to embrace the idea of homeschooling as the Lord led - and let go of the pressures a lot of us often ask ourselves. I think you will be encouraged!


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Hi, I’m Tiffany..

and I have a hybrid home! Seriously, when Lily first messaged me with the name and inspiration behind this lovely space I thought, ‘Nailed it!’ It’s me. It’s most of the mamas I know trying to live this life well.

My husband and I have been married for almost 14 years and we have three kids. Once upon a time, I was a teacher. I taught 1st and 3rd grades in a public school stateside and on a military base overseas. My husband and I both attended public schools growing up and believed we could educate and disciple our children by allowing them to do the same. If I’m being totally honest, we felt like parochial schools and homeschooling sheltered children too much and we’d have to be in a really bad school system to entertain either idea. Oh boy! “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21

Fast forward a few years and we started the journey of public school with our children. My son attended a preschool, then our public half-day kindergarten, and then first grade. I loved it, he loved it—we were feeling great in our schooling decision. Second grade was…different. There were red flags with his attitude, behavior, spiritual growth, peers, teacher, and academic performance. He would come home almost every afternoon and have a complete meltdown. He was a hot mess and it made me sad and miserable. Looking back now I can say that I was losing his heart! There just wasn’t enough time after school and activities to nurture and train him. We were all struggling—it was definitely affecting our entire family. 

The worst part was I felt stuck. How could I carve out more time with him when we had made the decision to send him to public school? It was all or nothing right? I was NOT like my wonderful, creative, super-smart friend with endless patience who homeschooled her boys while going for hikes in the sun and snow!

Of course, the Lord was orchestrating His perfect plan. A couple of years earlier I met Lily at Chick-Fil-A. We were both Southern girls living in the Midwest and we both had three small kids. Oh, and we look a little bit like sisters. She homeschooled and I didn’t. We exchanged numbers that day and now she is a dear friend. 

Half way through my son’s second grade year when my concerns were really coming to the surface, we had a playdate with Lily and her crew. I shared my heart and she challenged me to continue to pray and listen to that still small voice. She said if you don’t have peace about registering your kids for full-time public school next year, don’t do it yet. We talked about the option of homeschooling and she made me realize that there was not one specific way to do it. I didn’t have to be all in or all out. 

I mean, folks, that’s pretty basic advice, right? However, I was completely blinded to other possibilities; partly because of my fears, but also because I just didn’t think it was possible to overcome all of the hurdles. How would I know where to start without the school curriculum I’d been given when I taught? How would my extroverted son be able to interact with peers on a regular basis if he wasn’t in school? Would our school dissuade me? What would we do if it was a total flop and he needed go back to school? Even if we made it a full year homeschooling, how would be able to ease back in without any trouble? Would this be too disruptive for him and for our family?

For every thought and fear, I was sure that God was affirming the decision to homeschool my son, but not my daughter. I felt a peace about sending her for the half-day kindergarten program in our district. My youngest was just turning three and not in school yet. My husband, who had not previously wanted to entertain the idea of homeschooling, was completely on board. Our principal encouraged me to do it and said the school would support us if my son still wanted to come for some classes. We also joined a co-op with friends, when we were initially told it was full and we needed to look elsewhere. 

So how did it go? What was it like for the former school teacher and mama who was used to sending her kids to school to be thrust into the world of homeschooling? Well, it was overwhelming and also the absolute best thing. I chose to obey the Lord’s calling and He showed up daily in big and small ways. More of Jesus! That is what we needed—that is what we received! I read 2 Corinthians 12:9 with an all new appreciation, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

At times we butted heads and struggled because I had to be mom and teacher. Once or twice, I may have said, “I have a master’s degree in education.” The hard façade that built up over the previous year melted away. Multiple friends and his even Sunday School teacher commented that they noticed him softening. My son, who had commented the previous year that he wasn’t sure God was real, said that he wished his school friends could go to his co-op so they could learn that God was in everything. 

We spent a year really slowing down and focusing on the things that interested him. Plenty of lazy mornings at home in our pajamas. We read a lot. We snuggled on the couch and got lost in Farmer Boy and Om-Kas-Toe. He mastered the US map and presidents, as well his multiplication tables. His little sister was still around and demanding requiring attention—but he got way more one-on-one time than he’d received since his younger siblings were born. His love tank was full.

I love the promise in Deuteronomy 7:9, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” Perhaps one of the most beautiful things to come out of last year is the peace in my heart that God is indeed a promise keeper. His love for my children is far greater and more perfect than my own. We pray with and for them, teach them about God’s amazing love in sending Jesus, and teach them about the reality and pain of sin. We stand in the gap and pray with hope that they will have hearts for Jesus. Spending more time with my son gave me more time to see the work God was doing. I do not have to fear every act of disobedience! I’m parenting their hearts, not their actions. Proverbs 4:23, “Guard you heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Oh, and my son still sinned plenty even in a homeschool “bubble.” 

He is now back at school in 4th grade and doing great. He no longer has meltdowns after school! His teacher emailed me recently and said that he is making excellent choices at school, both academically and socially. We have little heart-to-hearts several nights a week while he is snuggled in bed. Sometimes it’s just a chat about video games, but other times we have talked about things kids have said and done at school that he didn’t agree with or understand. By God’s grace, I am able to listen and talk and pray with him without a paralyzing fear of our culture or his future. 

Another beautiful thing to come from last year is the opportunity to encourage other moms within our public school community and empower them to do what is best for their kids as well. I have had several phone conversations and coffee chats. For one friend that has meant pulling her son out as well to homeschool him in 3rd grade. For another friend that has meant speaking up and being a stronger advocate for her daughter within the school system.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” I do not know what the future holds for our kids’ education, but I am more confident than ever before that as my husband and I lean into Him, God will lead us and give us the means to get through each year. We will pray each year leading up to registration time and follow God’s call for the next year.

I struggle with that first step of faith. I’d rather not even try than fail! Oh, but friends, I choke on tears as I think about God’s goodness to my family in the last year. My prayer for you is peace in the decisions you’re making for your children’s education and courage to step out on faith if God is calling you to something new.

February Together Time!

Glory Glory the longest month of the year is OVER and we have all the heart eyes!

One of our most intentional - and favorite - times throughout our homeschool day is during our Together Time. Often known as Morning Time or Morning Basket - our Together Time is filled with our “together” subjects and usually includes a tasty treat or snack. This is a time when we gather around the table, enjoy read alouds, poetry, Bible, and work through a few of our loop subjects such as music and science. However, each month I try to change things up just a bit and include a few seasonal crafts, hands on activities and holiday read alouds. It’s taken us a little while to get into a rhythm that suits our family (ages 8 months - 9 years) but after trial and error and a lot of scouring we’ve come up with a pretty good system that is quick to captivate and engage each of my learners.

Below you’ll find a link to our February Insert. This is not intended to replace your current schedule - simply meant to add a little something extra that is inviting for every member of your family gathered at the table! It’s meant to be hands on, seasonal, and includes a free scripture memory printable! My hope is that this helps cut out those afternoons of scouring book lists, trying to whip up a last minute craft, and spice up your current basket’s curriculum. And if you’re needing some tips on toddlers & Together Time, I’ve included a few ideas we’ve implemented in our home well past the toddler years ;)



Fill out the form below to get access to February’s Together Time Insert!

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Pre-K, 1st & 3rd Grade Homeschool Roundup

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The only way I’ve managed to get this far in homeschooling is by picking the brains of other homeschool mamas. Linking arms - and blogs - with other homeschooling women offers perspective, tools, and so much grace. It helps us to think outside of our own box, or maybe offers us freedom to create something new altogether. My prayer in offering this to you is just to show another way of doing things. It’s not better than, but it is a best fit for our family right now!

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Preschool:

This Reading Mama, “Reading the Alphabet”

One plus One plus One Alphabet printables

Matching workbook

puzzles

Read alouds

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1st Grade:

Sonlight 2nd Grade Readers

Saxon 2

First Language Lessons 1/2

Explode the Code 2

A Reason for Handwriting

*Classical Conversations Geography

*Story of the World

*Apologia: Botany

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3rd Grade:

Sonlight Grade 4 Readers (we did half last year, half this year and do not read aloud every day)

Saxon 5/4 + Life of Fred

First Language Lessons 3

Fix it Grammar

Explode the Code

Handwriting with Ease, cursive

Lifepac Geography Grade 3

*Classical Conversations Geography

*Story of the World

*Apologia: Botany

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*these subjects are combined with all ages, even the pre-ker ever now and then.

For tips on scheduling, check out how we used Block Scheduling this year!

Block Scheduling

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The beauty of block scheduling lies in that chunks of time are carved out for chunks of school, so if keeping to a strict "to-the-minute” schedule isn’t your thing, you’ve still got a working plan in motion that sets expectations for everyone on when school subjects will happen. This block schedule is for your ideal day - the ones that will run as a “normal” school day at home without the interruptions of extracurriculars. For us, this is three times a week. Our other two days are modified for co-op day and Bible Study mornings. Remember, you’re homeschooling, so you get the joy of setting parameters and working around what you choose.

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Here are some ways you can begin to categorize and break things down before working on timing:

-individual subjects vs. mommy-led subjects

-grouping table/together subjects in one block (such as morning time, devotional, character study, any subject that is done as a family)

-identify subjects that require your student at their sharpest point in the day, such as math

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Now you can begin looking at your day, your family’s typical flow (or maybe the flow you hope to instill!), and use your categories above as to how you can group subjects + time of day together. For us we grouped school into two main chunks of time in which all our attention is focused on completing our work:

10am-12pm Morning Subjects

1:00-4:00pm Afternoon Subjects

(Call me crazy, but these are also hours I try to keep my phone usage to a minimum, if at all. Turning it on silent, do not disturb or leaving it in another room helps me stay just as focused as I expect the kids to be).

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Now that this is established, let’s begin to break things down into a little more detail:

Which subjects take the longest?

When do you, the teacher, have time for each child’s mommy-led subjects?

Is there a point in your day where everyone is a little cranky or needs more movement?

Is math especially hard in the early morning, or does it take four times as long at the end of the day?

What needs to happen before morning and afternoon school start?

What are things I’d like to include in our day for enrichment but not grouped into our morning and afternoon school blocks?

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With answers to the above questions in hand, here is how we plugged things in and around our Morning and Afternoon Subjects:

Block one - (8:30-9:00) morning time, including character, Bible, poetry, read aloud

Block two - this is about 30-45 minutes long for us and it’s when I get to do preschool & books with the 4 year old, while the older two can work on subjects like handwriting and explode the code which does not often require my help.

Block three - (10:00 am- 12:00 pm) Morning Subjects! By this point everyone is hungry which is a great segway into doing a few things that we try to do together, such as history, science, etiquette, music. Then we split up and work through the rest of our Morning Subjects which also include a few mommy-led. Everyone knows that their list of morning subjects must be complete by the end of our block, and whatever is not complete turns into…homework! The motivation? If they’re finished before noon, *F R E E T I M E *

LUNCH & RECESS

Block four - (1:00pm-4:00 pm) Afternoon Subjects! Nappers nap, others that need quiet time get quiet time or the option to work on stuff on their own that didn’t get finished earlier in the day. And we work through the last few subjects of the day before - free time!

For more information on planning your day and year, visit Pam Barnhill’s homeschool solutions - she has a wealth of resources!!

And if you’d like to see a more detailed schedule, check out last year’s round up for Pre-Pre-K, Kindergarten and 2nd grade here, or this years’ round up for Pre-K, 1st & 3rd here.

Our Loose Homeschool Schedule

I am a scheduler at heart.  I love color coordinated calendars.  I love to know what is coming, what is expected and I typically thrive when there is more to do.  HOWEVER.  I also need downtime, time to reflect and process and freedom within my well planned schedule to breathe, reassess and just let us all be.  Which is one of the many reasons I love homeschooling and the freedom it affords each member of our family.  

Some new things we incorporated this year: 

*Table time for the 3 year old - a lot of great ideas out there, but essentially 45 minutes - 1 hour where the 3 year old plays at a small table quietly with things only brought out during table time, so I can work with the older two on combined subjects (map work, Classical Conversations memory work, presentation preparation, etc.)  

*Rotations for the big kids to play with the 3 year old - this worked in 30 minute increments, long enough for me to complete 1-2 teaching subjects with each of the older two kids one-on-one

*An electives only co-op because having a house of highly active boys, and needing a little differentiation in age-appropriate activities I will gladly pay $10-$35/month for science, PE, art and more.  It has been a gift to us this winter/spring!

*Morning time! - time together every morning we are at home, which realistically boils down to 2-3 mornings/week where we read scripture, share a devotional, study a character trait, talk through an etiquette lesson, read poetry, and then a chapter or two from our current read aloud.  We might cover map work or a few pieces of memory work review during this time.  The only time I require them to give me complete attention is during Bible, devotional & character.  After that, they are allowed to work on/play with something quietly while I read or we discuss.  I try to rotate things in the basket that are available each week just for this time (dot to dot, cars, hand puzzles, jar of shells, etc).  I love pambarnhill.com and appreciate all the things, especially her morning time suggestions/plans as well as A Handbook for Morning Time by Cindy Rollins.  

Our schedule started off ...super scheduled.  Time windows, back to back, and motivation to finish promptly which equated to a few free minutes outside or doing something of their choice.  It worked well at first but I felt bound, without freedom to fluctuate between subjects if needed or give the kids a longer break if necessary; this was confusing to them to deviate from the schedule even if we really really needed to deviate from the schedule.  

So then what?  We adjusted :) 

Before you read ahead to what OUR day looks like, this is in no way to try and force your family into our mold nor lead you down a path of comparison.  Our "average day at home" is about 2-3 days a week.  Full of mini breaks, moments of correction, and getting off track often.  Each year when I evaluate our schedule I am constantly searching for ways to improve, whether adding more or taking away or changing it up altogether; that's all this is for.  To show another means of "how".  

Our average day at home looks a little like this: 

7ish - breakfast

8-9ish - all morning chores/responsibilities completed; I read and puzzle with the 3 year old if he's feeling social :) 

9ish - Morning Time!  **I mean, sometimes morning time didn't start until 10.  Sometimes I just needed longer for coffee.  Or someone soiled clothes and I had to get a load of wash in, which means I didn't get dressed when I'd hoped.  Or let's be honest, some days during this pregnancy I just plopped right back in bed and let the kids play.  Be. Free.  To wake up, assess the day, and reevaluate what best suits the needs and emotions of all those precious people in your house...including yourself :) 

10ish - Snack & some sort of review/presentation topic discussion.  Or a few moments for me to switch out laundry, take a bathroom break, check my email.  

10:30ish - 3 year old plays on his own or has Table Time.  This is a stretch for me because Table Time inevitably means playing with all the things in all the ways that make all the messes.  I try to ignore and limit correcting/instructing if it's not a life or death situation.  2nd Grader goes to a quiet place to go through all morning work subjects that do not require my help (includes: LifePac, Handwriting, Math Worksheet, Spelling Worksheet, two pages of Review from his Classical Conversations Cycle 3 note booking pages).  I work with Kindergartener on as much as I can get through in half an hour - usually starting with Math.  

11ish - Kindergartener needs a BREAK or is sometimes finished for the day so he plays with the 3 year old while I work on 1-2 subjects with the 2nd Grader

11:30ish - everyone is cranky and begging for food so I send them outside or to their room/basement to play basketball while I make lunch

*in an ideal world we are finished with school by lunchtime.  Some days this happens..others we all need food and a nap so we tack on some more later in the day.

12ish-  lunch

12:30ish - nap time for the 3 year old!  (and all the people said amen)  Reading/spelling lesson with kindergartener if not completed earlier while 2nd grader has free time or works on something he didn't finish earlier

1ish - everyone has quiet time for an hour and a half...or longer if needed...

2:30/3ish - Finish up last 2-3 subjects with 2nd grader if it's one of those days, otherwise...freedom!!  

The reality is - seasons change.  Life with littles is tough!  Give yourself grace, give your kids grace and worst case take them all to chick fil a and the library and call it a field trip + life skills lesson while looking for books ;) 

School Lunch Simplified + FREE Printable

What is it about packing lunches that just sucks?  Is it all the options?  See Variety Is A Ploy of the Devil...Or the whole making it through the day, feeding people, cleaning up from the day only to get out stuff for the next day and make another mess in the kitchen?  My mind is ready to shut down at just the point it needs to make yet another 3-5 decisions for 3-5 people and I just want to be done!

Here are some tips, and super easy lunch box ideas to help you out this week:

1. Keep. It. Simple.  As much as I feel like my love and parenting ability is wrapped up in what this lunch is like...it is not and I can stick to what I know and what I know they like.  

2. Ditch the Bread.  Making sandwiches can be on of my most dreaded chores of packing 5 lunches for the kids.  But giving them a roll up or just some meat and cheese with or without crackers (similar to a lunchable minus the price and packaging) accomplishes the same thing: main meal.

3. Eliminate all the options.  I grew up on the same lunch, 5 days a week with maybe a slight variation in my chips or dessert option.  Granted, it was in the days when peanut butter and cheetos were allowed in school, but here I am no worse for the wear.  It's ok to not ask your kids what they want for lunch every single day.  

4.  Stick to a few basics.  There are a couple of items I pack in their lunch boxes nearly every single day.  Such as a granola bar, applesauce, a fruit cup, and a piece of fresh fruit.  

5. Invest in a decent water bottle for each child and give them only water.  I occasionally buy the mix-in flavors so they feel like they are having something special.  

6. A few inexpensive, simply divided containers make the packing that much easier and clean up a breeze.  A few favorites are listed below and don't portion of your child's education fund.

7. When all else fails, no one ever died from eating 1 lunchable a week.  

A few of Amanda & Lily's Go-To's:

*it should be noted that Amanda is the most reliable source when it comes to lunch packing.  Lily makes packed lunch 1-2 days a week which is enough to send her into a tizzy and be known for avoiding it all together by bringing a bag of popcorn and sack of apples to share on the floor of the gym...

Water water water

Rollups: 1) meat & cheese, 2) peanut butter & nutella, 3) peanut butter & jelly, 4) peanut butter & honey, 5) cream cheese & avocado, 6) cream cheese + shredded cheese

DIY Lunchable: Crackers, sliced cheese, sliced meat or pepperoni

Pita Chips + to-go hummus

Side ideas that don't involve much prep work and can be thrown into those containers mentioned above: apples, clementines, carrots, cucumbers, squeeze applesauce, frozen yogurt tube (usually thawed by lunchtime), granola bar, grapes, mini bell peppers, fruit cups, popcorn

And sometimes just for fun, I throw in a little something special that makes the kids smile.  Maybe their favorite cookie or a simple hershey kiss.  

 

To Download a FREE School Lunch: Simplified printable with over 3000 lunch combinations, all on one page, fill out the form below.

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Those Early Years - Part 1

Once upon a time I had a baby.  Who turned into a sentence speaking 18 month old that turned into a 3 year old reader who then started computing multiplication in his head around 4, reading through the Bible around 5 and completed his first boxed set of novels just before 6.  His drive and focus was amazing and sometimes overwhelming.  He was so busy - he never slept.  In fact I’ve just now surrendered my 7 year battle of trying to get him to sleep more :)  He is who he is.  I also have a precious almost 6 year old who cannot get his b's and d's sorted out to save his life.  He sees everything in shapes and colors, what it could be instead of what it actually is.  He spends most of his time creating and dreaming, living outside of any sort of proverbial box and it's amazing and wonderful.  He's taught me a lot about slowing down and savoring.  My 3rd born is a unique and incredible mix of the two, who keeps us laughing/crying on a daily basis.

But I remember approaching those preschool years with my firstborn and feeling a lot of pressure to dive into homeschooling - because we could.  He was ready.  I was ready, I thought.  And we’d just spent the past four years playing, puzzling, reading, field tripping, walking and talking and doing all the things.  And really, I found schooling, curriculum shopping, all the extra reading and researching so much fun.  There is so much to look at and choose from and such great resources available right at your fingertips; Unit studies, coloring packs, busy bags galore.  All the seasonal crafts you can think of are just right there!  The eagerness and excitement of starting something new and setting up “school” just seemed fun.  

I am thankful we started when we did, and how we did and the things we chose to do.  But in my few years of parenting, and then diving into it again with my second born, I am just so thankful for the freedom homeschool affords; and if I could impart any wisdom or have the opportunity to encourage any new mamas out there with preschoolers and kindergarteners on their hands...this would be my list of top ten things to remember….

-DO play.  For me, that sounded dreadful.  What on earth had I been doing the past four years?  I was played out.  But every study under the sun shows the benefits of early play - even into ages 6, 7, 8 and 9.  Let those littles create, dream up and think to their hearts content.  **for those busier bodies that go from one thing to the next, structured play and sticking to a loose schedule is so helpful!

- DON’T over plan.  They are just so young!  Know your personality type - but also know the personality types of your kids.  I am a planner to my core, but not all of my kids thrive at the same pace or in the same box that I do.  Leave them space to explore at their own pace, even if it looks so much different than yours.

- Less. Is. More.  Our natural inclination is to give our kids the best this world has to offer; All the electives, all the classes, all the sports, all the books and experiences.  Academically speaking, children don’t need unit studies and tidy curriculum packages at this age.  They need structure and they need to know what to expect but ditch the busy work and extracurriculars to let them be.  

-Ditch the electronics.  If your house is anything like mine, there is a magical thing that happens when an electronic device come out: peace. And. quiet.  Mama gets a break.  Free babysitting.  But these are such precious years to instill self control and wise decision making; if you give a child the choice between playing/reading on a tablet or building with blocks or legos, they will of course gravitate towards the tablet!  But as educational as those apps claim to be, nothing...noth-ing… compares to the hands-on play time at such a young age.  

***I want to be clear here, life happens in seasons.  And if you find yourself in a season needing those moments of quiet or needing a break, I am with you and understand.  We are in a season where some days I’m couch ridden or just do not have the capacity to move a muscle - give yourself grace.  Use what is available to maintain peace and sanity in your home until you find yourself a little more capable.  

-Enjoy the slower mornings, and choose to focus on character and responsibility more than academics; my eldest thrived on the structure of a schedule.  Some mornings he was dressed, fed, read to, played with, and finished his morning snack by 7a.m.  Which kind of set me on a trajectory of jumping right to it every morning - but mamas, be encouraged that those slower mornings matter.  Taking time to instill helpful habits, starting with the Word, snuggling up for a great book or exploring nature on a morning walk - they all matter more than getting in that reading or phonics lesson.  

-Read.  Read.  And then read some more.  The end :)  

-If something isn’t working, give it some time - if it’s still not working, switch!   Sometimes we feel really bound by deciding on something that we stick it out even if it’s making "school" time miserable; Because we have to check it off the list, duh.  But it’s just not worth it.  I bet one of your goals in home educating is to tailor your child’s education to what works for them - so just keep in mind that if it isn’t working, you’re in charge and can change it!

-Let them lead.  If they are driven, let them keep going.  If they are laid back, let them be laid back.  If art and creativity consumes their day, follow them along and see what can be discovered together.  If reading lessons are going great but suddenly there is push back, it’s ok to back off.  I once read somewhere that as far “ahead” as kids can be at a young age, and as far “behind” as they can be at a young age - by the age of 10 most children meet around the same spot academically.  

-PRAY.  Our God is the God of creativity - He delights in discovery.  He adores relationship.  He is the giver of all wisdom - and He genuinely cares about your heart to homeschool.  Before you dive into curriculum and scheduling, spend some time praying over what would be a best fit for your week, month, year.  Ask Him to give you insight to your kids, open your eyes to their unique giftings and areas He wants you to focus on.  After all, He is the one who made them :)

So I guess I only had 9, not 10.  

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will be a list of my favorite preschool and kindergarten blogs, printables, curricula and toys!