The Best and Worst Homeschool Advice

When you homeschool you receive a lot of advice. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Here are a couple of the best, and worst, pieces of advice I’ve received over the last fifteen years.

When you homeschool you receive a lot of advice. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Here are a couple of the best, and worst, pieces of advice I’ve received over the last fifteen years.

Best: Invest in your weakness.

This came from Lee Binz of The Home Scholar. If you are concerned about homeschooling high school, I highly recommend her blog, her books, and her counsel.

You will naturally find yourself drawn to the aspects of homeschooling that are your strengths. What homeschooling catalogs do your drool over? My favorite homeschool catalog is Home Science Tools. My microscope and Erlenmeyer flasks make my smile every time I open my science cupboard. Oh, and I have a full cupboard (standard width, but four feet high) of science supplies. Obviously, I don’t need to put any focus on investing in science.

The things you don’t like or are not good at are easy to overlook and push aside. How much time will I spend on history when I don’t know it well and find it only mildly interesting? Not much.

Investing in your weakness means spending more money on the subjects you dislike or are uncomfortable with. While that amazing science curriculum sounds like so much fun, I may need to rearrange my budget and not buy science curriculum at all so that I can afford a solid world history course. I already have so many science resources, and even if I don’t plan anything for science at all our normal TV watching, field trip taking, and kitchen playing activities will more than suffice. I cannot offer the same for history, not even close.

In addition, investing in your weakness also means investing time on the things that are neglected. At least once each semester I rearrange the order we do school work so that whatever subject is being forgotten gets rotated to being done first.

Lastly, investing in your weakness may mean things other than curriculum. Do you struggle with getting dinner on the table after a full day of homeschooling? Maybe you should invest in an electric pressure cooker. Can your house use a little more work? Maybe you can set aside a half day a week for “home economics”. There are many ways that a small investment of time or money can help your weakness be stronger.


Worst: Don’t waste money on curriculum.

Also given as: You can homeschool on a shoestring. I actually gave this advice at one point, although it was when I had only two children and the oldest was still preschool age. No one should have taken any advice from someone that was as new as I was.

The truth about spending money on curriculum is that the amount of money you spend on homeschooling is inversely related to the amoneyvstime-graphmount of time you will spend, to a point. This means the less money you spend the more time planning and preparing you have to spend, and the more money the less time. For you math geeks out there (hi!), that would be y = 1/x, where x is money and y is time. A graph of this would look something like this.

For you non-math geeks, it works like this. If I spend $100 or less per child per year, the amount of time I have to spend to make up my own lesson plans, request books from the library, search out decent sources online, and so on is pretty high. When my oldest was a preschooler, I was spending approximately 3 to 4 hours planning for every week of school. This time included going to the library, with a preschooler and a toddler, to look through the books to see which seemed appropriate.

If I had a busy week, the planning didn’t get done and I had nothing to work with my son with the following week. Planning was stressful and haphazard. Then, that spring, I found I was expecting our third child and I knew there was no way I could meet the more serious (or so I thought 😉 ) demands of kindergarten with a new baby in the home.

Since that year, I have averaged $500 to $600 per child per year to homeschool. That amount gives my children excellent academics with little to no planning from me. As I described in my 4 Reasons I Don’t Lesson Plan post, we just “do the next thing.”

Best: Homeschool is a marathon, not a sprint.

This advice came from a dear homeschooling friend, Merry of Hope is my Anchor. I’m not sure if it was originally hers, but I heard it from her first. 😀

The key to homeschooling success is in the day-in, day-out, here a little, there a little. You may not see huge progress in the first week, and spending an hour and a half on math facts may yield little to no noticeable difference the next day. It is in the multitude of days that progress is made.

Did you know that a world class marathoner can fall apart because they are running just one second per kilometer faster than their ideal pace? One second per kilometer too fast, in a forty-two kilometer race!

As marathoner has to pace himself to go at a slow and steady “just right” pace, so should a homeschool teacher. You cannot push a child through material faster than he is ready, no matter how much you would like to get that workbook finished. The results of pushing usually results in gaps in what a student needs to know, because he wasn’t able to master it the first time through. In the long term, mastery is much more important than grade level.

Even if you are committed for homeschool for just a single year, that is 180 days. Slow and steady is the way to go.

Worst: Just give him time, he’ll read when he’s ready.

Well-meaning people giving this advice usually can point to so-and-so that didn’t learn to read until he was eight, or nine, or ten, and now he is a brain surgeon, or pastor, or taking college classes at sixteen. I actually took this advice for a while, when my third child was struggling.

The idea behind this advice is that children that are struggling will somehow out grow their struggles and learn to read (or do math, or write, or whatever) as easy as pie, if you just allow them another year or two of maturity. This simply isn’t true for most children.

Yes, there is a such thing as developmental readiness and you cannot teach a child a skill she is not developmentally reading for. Most three year olds are not capable of learning to read, just as most nine year olds aren’t capable of learning Algebra. However, if your child is a normal age for learning and is struggling greatly, just putting the books away for a year isn’t likely to make a big difference. A six-year-old that cannot sound out simple words like cat and map isn’t likely to find such skills easy at seven after a year of doing nothing reading related.

By the way, a related worst advice is: Of course he is having trouble reading/writing/sitting still/whatever, he is a boy. Sigh. No. Gender has little to no relation to learning struggles. Research shows this clearly, and my personal experience as a mom of three boys and two girls confirms it.

Rather, if your child is struggling, research. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. There are many blogs, Facebook groups, websites, and books about homeschooling students that struggle. Four of my five students have struggled in one way or another, and I am happy to share what I have learned about dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, auditory processing disorder, and more. Almost always children that struggle CAN learn, but it usually takes a different approach to help them be successful.

So, what is the best homeschool advice you have received? What is the worst? Have you ever given advice that you later realized was bad advice?












4 thoughts on “The Best and Worst Homeschool Advice”

  1. Love this article, and was so surprised to see my name here! Thanks for the link back. The marathon theme certainly got me through a lot of rough times when I wanted to push too much. I’m sure I heard that from someone, though I’m not sure who now…

    1. In so many ways you have encouraged me and supported me as we went through this journey together. So, thank you.

  2. Yes, I agree with the best and worst advices. I’ve been guilty of another problem you didn’t mention, and that is curriculum collecting! I’m trying to turn over a new leaf…

    1. Oh, Cherry, I know about the curriculum collecting problem! I’m always drawn to the latest edition of something, even though the edition I had worked fine with my older kids. I’m currently trying to convince myself that I don’t need the 2nd edition of Mystery of History volume 1 for next year, that my 1st edition copy will work fine. So far I am failing. 🙁

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