I'm A Homeschooling Newbie––Here's What Is Working For Us So Far

by Jennifer Castorena
Originally Published: 
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So I chose to homeschool during the pandemic. Great, now what?

I was in the same boat with most parents this past summer: send them to school or keep them home? It sure as hell was NOT an easy decision. By going to preschool, our daughter would have gained so much socially and academically (language, math, etc.). Not to mention, I was looking forward to having a little bit of more “mommy time.”

But as much as we wanted her to go to school, we felt it best to keep her home. I would just put on another hat and become Teacher Mom.. Really how hard could it be, right? I didn’t want to waste a school year because she wasn’t going to school, per se. I made it a mission to teach her relatively the same things she would have learned in school this year.

Listen, I’m not here to judge other moms’ decisions. Each one of you made the best decision for your family, as I did mine. I just want to share my homeschooling experience thus far and hope it helps other newbies who chose to homeschool.

My daughter would have been in the “readiness” level at the school, which is a mix of preschool and kindergarten curriculum. So my first step was to figure out what the heck to teach her. I chose basic math, science, writing, and reading as the core subjects, and I would touch on time and money. Of course we can’t forget arts and crafts. Our daughter wanted to learn French and Violin just because I do them, so I thought “why not?” Worse case scenario, she ends up not liking it, and we just figure out some other interests for her.

After creating a “learning space” in our home and figuring out what I was going to teach, I had to figure out how I was going to teach it. I needed to get some materials. One box store near me tends to have a selection of teaching tools that are relatively inexpensive, especially at the beginning of the year. For teaching tools year-round, I was surprised to find that my local dollar store has a nice little selection as well. I did buy most things online, because, well, there’s a pandemic going on.

So here’s what I gathered. (Caveat: If you can’t afford to buy this much stuff, homeschooling can work just as well for you. These are just some things I’ve found useful.)

Workbooks. I got one of those thick ones that cover a lot of different subjects, and a couple of those smaller ones that cover one subject. I just chose the level I felt was right. I was able to find great free printable worksheets online that work just as well. The only downfall with printable worksheets is they’re a little more work on my end since I have to search for worksheets for every subject for each day.

Puzzles. My daughter loves putting puzzles together, so I got a few educational ones. ABC and number ones are great for starting from scratch. I also found number puzzles where they match the numeral to the correct number of objects. I got some math puzzles where she has to put it together to finish the math equation. Spelling puzzles are great too, since she’s beginning to read. I also got some just for fun puzzles that relate to a subject in some way.

Dry erase boards and books. A white board is a must because I can write on it and works as a daily calendar and agenda. It’s also magnetic, so I can put up magnetic letters, numbers, shapes, or whatever. Individual white boards are a fun way to practice writing other than worksheets. What kid doesn’t like to use markers? We also have a couple of dry erase books which are perfect for practicing letter tracing on the go.

Books. They have fun books for learning any subject, and in the past I totally didn’t drop a lot of coinage either. Prior to COVID, I always went to my local library’s book sale and got a wide variety of educational books on the cheap. Of course, let’s not forget the option of plain old borrowing from the library. I don’t worry if a book is “too advanced” for my child to understand. I paraphrase the subject so she can understand. The point is to introduce the subject. She finds it interesting even with my paraphrasing. Plus, mommy learns as well: a win-win situation.

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Local institutes. Once again our local library is a fabulous resource. Our library offers homeschool classes for different age groups. It even offers homeschool packets/kits that can be checked out for different age groups, which are pretty cool. Our local zoo and museums offer classes (sometimes free, sometimes not) for homeschooling. Of course, this does look a little different these days, but some places still offer classes, even virtual. In the past, I did have our daughter participate and she loved it.

Apps. As a modern mom, appropriate screen time seems to always be up for debate. My thought is that if we’re going to do screen time, they may as well be learning something. I found some great learning apps that are completely free, and a few with a low one-time fee. No matter what, though, I always scope out the app myself prior to having my daughter play it. This way I can deem whether or not it’s suitable.

Kits and subscription boxes. I. Love. Learning. Kits. They come with everything I could possibly need for the lessons. Easy peasy. We have a preschool science kit that came with beakers, flasks, instructions, and a cute lab coat and name tag so my daughter can dress up like a scientist. It was a huge hit and she keeps asking if we can do more experiments. Subscription boxes are basically kits that come on a regular basis. I’ve seen a lot of different subscription boxes out there that cover all sorts of different subjects for different age groups. I haven’t personally tried one yet; however, I do have my eye on one that specializes in STEM activities for all age groups, even starting as infants. If it makes learning fun, why not?

Montessori number beads. For preschoolers, these really are phenomenal. So they match up the bead strand with the appropriate numeral. The beads give a really great visual on how large or small a number is and they help my daughter internalize the number versus just recognizing the numerals based on site.

Wooden word strands. These are really helpful for beginner readers. We’ve made fun game out of this. My daughter makes the word on the strand and I write it on the board and she asks what it means. I’ll throw in silly explanations and she giggles “No, that’s not right!”

Activity box. We don’t call it school work, we call each subject an “activity.” It works for us because it’s fun. I place all related materials (books/worksheets/games, etc.) into an “activity box.” Depending on the day’s subjects, I pull out one activity at a time. My daughter finds this to be so much fun, at random times she’ll ask if we can do an activity. Score.

So having the right materials was fine and dandy and made me feel prepared, but boy was I wrong. The process of actually teaching was very overwhelming at first. I give a lot of props to those moms who have been homeschooling for years. Keep in mind, I’m homeschooling a preschooler, so I’m sure it’s a whole different world for teaching older kiddos. However, I did come up some key tips that helped me tremendously:

Plan for the week.

I typically do Sunday evenings for planning out that weeks lessons. I try not to cover too much in one day, as that only led to my daughter getting tired and unfocused. I had to stop that quick. So I spread the subjects out throughout the week and hit the same core subjects every week, but switch it up every other day and do different approaches. For example, I’ll do writing throughout the week, but one time it’ll be pencil tracing a letter, next time it’ll be tracing a sentence but on a dry erase board. Other subjects I do a couple times a week. This kind of mimics the structure she would have had at school. I used to get mad at myself if we didn’t get through all of the activities in the week, but I learned to live with it. I adjust, plan what we can get through for the most part and if we don’t get through everything, it’s OK. There’s always next week.

Be repetitive.

As a mom and wife, I flipping hate repeating myself; however, when teaching it’s a must. There are times when I feel like I’ve gone over something so many times in so many ways and I think it’s not sinking in, but then one day it clicks and she gets it. I’m always overwhelmed with joy when this occurs, because it’s so satisfying to see her joy when she understands a concept. Totally awesome gushy moment.

Establish a routine.

Kids thrive on routine and knowing what they’ll be doing that day. Using a daily calendar, as well as a daily pocket chart showing the day’s subjects, helps my kiddo tremendously. Otherwise I fall victim to the endless questioning of “what are we doing today?” Yeah, no thanks.

Don’t be hard on yourself.

At first I was so hard on myself when my daughter didn’t understand something. I thought there was something wrong with me or maybe my child isn’t going to achieve. I know that sounds dumb, but those thoughts still raced through my head. This was one of my mistakes while trying to teach reading back when she was three. I know it’s been done; however, she just wasn’t ready for reading just quite yet. I learned it’s okay if she doesn’t get it right away. It doesn’t mean she isn’t smart, or that I’m failing at teaching. I had to pay more attention to her learning pace and keep to that. Pushing only causes frustration for both of us.

Have fun!

I have this opportunity to grow, learn and have fun with my daughter! I’m able to get creative as a parent about teaching. For example, we’re going to start learning about each State, starting with ours, Ohio. I had this idea to make candy Buckeyes since we’re the Buckeye State. Who knows, she might just end up thinking Buckeyes are only candies, but at least it’ll be yummy!

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