The Biggest Mistake You Can Make as a New Homeschooler

Don't fall into this trap when you start homeschooling. You'll regret it!

I have made a lot of mistakes as a homeschool mom. A lot. And while I now neither claim to be perfect at this job or have everything figured out, there is one thing I can assure you I am 100% confident of:

Out of all the traps you can fall into as a new homeschooler, there is one that stands out above all the rest as potentially the most destructive and the most joy-draining mistake you can make.

Before I get into what that is, don’t lose heart if you discover you’ve been doing this all along. I think most of us are guilty of having done this to some extent in our homeschools- I know I have.

Ready for the big disclosure? Okay. The biggest no-no you can run into as a new homeschooler is… 

Boxing yourself into a school model.

Don't feel like you MUST replicate school!

Confused? Let me explain.

If you’re new to this homeschooling thing, chances are you’ll do exactly what I did- draw on your own school experiences to help you to structure your homeschool. That’s perfectly understandable. As a society, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the school model is the only way to learn.

What if I told you that’s just not true? What if I told you that your kids don’t have to raise their hands to ask questions? That you don’t have to start your day by taking attendance and saying the Pledge of Allegiance? That chewing gum is perfectly acceptable? That drawing on schoolwork isn’t against the rules?

What if I told you that you are in control- not the school down the street?

Did that grab your attention? Let’s get started.

10 Common Ways We Let the School Model Control Our Homeschool

1. Schedules

Just because schools divide their days into 7 or 8 periods of 45-55 minutes each doesn’t mean a homeschool must be run that way. What if I were to tell you that the whole routine of bells signaling the need to stop everything and move onto a new subject was instituted into the school system as a way to condition students to get used to working in factories?

Doesn’t seem so great now, does it?

As the facilitator of your homeschool, how much time your children spend on any one subject is entirely up to you. Many homeschoolers, myself included, prefer to use routines to schedules because they are less restrictive and offer more flexibility. Whereas schedules offer specific starting and ending times for each individual subject, routines tend to focus more on what order things get done in than how much time is spent on them.

2. Textbooks

What’s the first thing most people think of when they think of learning? My guess is textbooks. Since most of us were brought up in the traditional school model, this is all we know.

One thing you have to remember is schools use textbooks because they are “educating” a large number of students, so uniformity is a must. That just isn’t necessary in a homeschool setting.

Kids are not cookie cutter molds of one another, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Homeschooling gives you the unique opportunity to tailor your child’s learning to meet their needs. In a lot of cases, textbooks just aren’t the best way to reach your child, and that’s okay. There are so many other ways to learn.

Do your research. Read about differing homeschool approaches. If textbooks are what your child truly needs, then by all means, use them.

Just don’t feel like you have to.

3. Grade Levels

Grade levels are one of those things that are only in place to bring about uniformity among large groups of kids in a public school setting. It’s a way to group them, so to speak.

Unless you are planning on sending your kids to school one day, consider focusing more on the needs of your child as an individual than on what an arbitrary timeline says they should be doing.

4. 6-Hour Days

Just because school days last 6-7 hours per day doesn’t mean your homeschool has to. There are so many things to factor in when considering why school takes so long, such as:

  • Taking attendance
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Discipline issues with multiple students
  • School assemblies
  • Waiting for all students to complete an assignment
  • Collecting homework and going over it in class
  • Handing out the next day’s assignments
  • And so on…

All of these little interruptions add up to a lot of time- time that you as a homeschooler don’t need to worry about. What I’ve found in my experience with talking with other homeschoolers is that a typical homeschool day (for those who have let go of trying to make it last 6 hours) is about 2-4 hours long.

That’s it!

5. School Calendars

As a homeschooler, when you start and end your school year is entirely up to you. In fact, some homeschoolers don’t end their school year at all. They just keep going!

If you want to start in July and take breaks every few weeks, go for it! If you want to just keep going, then do it! And if following the school calendar works for you, go right ahead!

The key is to do what works for you and your family.

6. School Hours

As with the calendar year and the 6-hour days, don’t ever feel obligated to restrict your homeschool to between the hours of 8-3 because that’s when school is in session. You can start anytime you want, and you can end anytime you want.

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is that we can ease into our day by not starting until 10am. My teens, on the other hand, do the vast majority of their work at night.

I’m going to sound like I’m repeating myself, but it’s important to say it again- let your homeschool work for you, and stop worrying about following the school model.

7. School Timelines

Similar to grade levels, school timelines are simply put in place for uniformity. Just because the 4th graders at the local elementary school are learning U.S. history doesn’t mean your homeschooled 4th grader has to. If he really wants to study ancient history, let him. If your daughter would rather learn about mammals than rocks and minerals, do it!

Stop trying to fit the mold and make your own!

8. Tests

It’s no secret that U.S. schools are failing miserably, and educational bureaucrats are trying to remedy the problem with equally ineffective standardized tests. These tests do nothing more than stress out students and teachers alike. In no way are they an accurate assessment of what students have or have not learned.

While I’m fairly certain that most homeschooling parents are aware of that, how often do we point to our kids’ standardized test scores as “proof” that we’re doing a good job?

Too often, I’m afraid. After hearing something for so long, it can be extremely hard to get out of the habit of doing something we know to be untrue.

As a resident of PA, I’m well aware that some states require homeschoolers to take these tests. I get it. All I ask is that you resist all urges to start teaching to the test.

Looking at our public schools, it’s quite obvious that it doesn’t work.

9. Overscheduling

The traditional education model seems to take everything- even things that are better learned in everyday, real life situations- and turn them into “subjects.”

Nothing makes me sadder, for both mom and child, than to see someone post a homeschool kindergarten schedule that contains 12 separate subjects and that many textbooks to accompany them.

Use your common sense. You don’t need a curriculum for gym. Unless your child is a serious artist, you don’t need a full curriculum for art. The same goes for music, health, life skills, and to be honest, most other subjects, as well. Between trips to the library, videos, and conversation, these other subjects can easily be covered naturally and enjoyably.

10. Socialization

It was bound to come up. As the saying goes, “If you hear a lie enough times, you start to believe it.”

Socialization is the perfect illustration for that.

Homeschooling is the perfect opportunity for you kids to get out in the real world and interact with real people. It can be as natural as breathing. Please don’t fall prey to the socialization myth and overschedule your kids in all sorts of activities so that they can interact with others.

Repeat after me- kids don’t need a multitude of organized activities in order to meet people. Meeting friends in a club has no more value than playing with neighborhood kids.

Got it?

Before I wrap up today’s extremely long post, let me just say one thing:

If anything I mentioned above actually works for you, by all means, do it. My intention today was just to point out that homeschooling comes with choices- lots of them. Don’t ever let your preconceived notions of what school is “supposed” to look like get in the way of what you and your kids “need” it to look like.

Now, get on out there, and use your homeschool freedom. Your kids are counting on you. 🙂

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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

21 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake You Can Make as a New Homeschooler”

  1. Such excellent points, Shelly! The longer we homeschool, the less I feel that I need to try to fit into these constraints. The one thing I haven’t figured out how to escape is grade levels and that’s because of church. My boys are in specific grade levels at church and that sort of traps us within that structure so that my boys can continue to move up with their friends. That makes things tricky for us. Other than that, though, we’ve felt AMAZING by being able to throw off the expectations and rules of the education establishment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it!
    I am a new unschooler, and it has been interesting thus far. Everyone I know who hears that I am homeschooling has serious concerns. Once they find out I’m UNSCHOOLING – holy cow! You can almost see their brains explode!

    Here’s the fun thing:
    Yesterday was Sunday. My 7 year old and I were on a walk, when I introduced NSEW to him, and throughout our walk, he was telling me what direction we were traveling in. After that, we played card games, then I used the cards as flash cards to brush up on his addition, some subtraction, and then introduced basic multiplication, and he loved it! Then we were up until 11:30 pm last night reading Moby Dick because he wanted to. Throughout the day, I will randomly ask him what time it is, so he’s working on telling time…. So, at the end of the day – IT WORKS! You just have to let it.

    When people ask my son how he likes being homeschooled he says, “Its cool because my mom is not teaching me anything.” LOL! He has no idea how much he is learning!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE all these tips! Though we don’t tend to be “unschoolers” in the traditional sense of the word, we learn from so many different things that I feel like we kind of are. I don’t follow traditional timelines, we don’t “do school” for 7-8 hours, 2-4 is plenty for us, We do our school work first thing in the morning, but only because we are all our best at that time, and so on…What I’ve learned in the past few years, is that I had to be okay with not being an unschooler even though I really wanted to be one. It isn’t my personality and it makes me stressed and I have to be okay with that.


  4. Yes! These are the principles my mom used in homeschooling me and I hope to carry them on with my own children. Of all of your points I am most tempted to fall prey to schedules. It is so refreshing to be reminded that they aren’t necessary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes! I am so completely on board with all of this! I love the freedom that homeschooling provides to learn in whatever way meets the need of your own family! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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