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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

What Are Your Top Tips For New Homeschoolers Starting Their Year?

Do you have any tips as I start the school year, tips that the counselors regularly give to new homeschoolers and homeschooling parents? I am not new, but I need to be reminded!

  1. Before the school year starts, take a good week to look over all the courses, the textbooks, and tests. Take the time to become familiar with how it all should work. Make a plan and a schedule about who will take which subject and when, who will need you for a certain subject, and who can do some assignments on his own.
  2. You don’t need to do everything in the lesson plans. The daily assignments are a suggestion. You may want to do some more quickly and some more slowly, depending on your child’s ability or interest. You may want to skip some things or add some of your own ideas. Of course, if you want grades on the report card, your student does need to take the tests.
  3. The first quarter is usually the hardest because it sets the pattern for the other quarters. Once your child understands the weekly pattern, you do not need to oversee everything. Many children learn the pattern of assignments for their spelling, vocabulary, and reading workbooks without too much extra help.
  4. As you go along, you will learn about which subjects are easy and which are the difficult ones for each child. You will learn to spend more time with one child on his English and less with his math, while his sister needs more time with her math and less time with her phonics.
  5. Don’t get discouraged on your first day, or first week, or first month. Give yourself and your children time to adjust to a different way of life. And be confident that homeschooling is a better way of life.
  6. Some may tell you that homeschooling is not a bed of roses, but those special moments of insight by your children regarding the deeper issues of life and love will make your heart jump with such sweetness and delight that you will be happy to endure the few thorns that are sprinkled among the flowers.
  7. Pray with your spouse and children every day. No matter what happens, or what does not happen, pray with your spouse and children every day. Try to attend daily Mass. Homeschooling is a spiritual journey for your family!

Would it be okay to have two of my children in adjacent grades take the same courses whenever possible? My husband thinks each child should take all the courses at his own grade level.

Most busy homeschooling moms with several children like to have children in adjacent grades take some of the subjects together. This works easily with subjects like religion, science, and history. Depending on the children’s skills, other subjects may be combined if one of the children is a grade level above, or a grade level below in a particular subject. This happens most frequently with math, but also happens with spelling, vocabulary, phonics, and reading.

An advantage to children working together at the same grade level is that they  work out problems together, have fun talking about their lessons, sometimes learn from each other, and discuss the issues they find in their analysis books.

In a school, authorities need to make practical decisions. The most simple “yardstick” to organize classrooms has been determined to be age. It often happens that immature boys of 5, the first born in a family who do not know letters yet, end up in a classroom with mature girls of five, the youngest in their families, who learned to read with older siblings at 4. Some children spend years and years of frustration and unhappiness, either because of a constant struggle or because of a constant boredom. Most of these children and their parents never understand why they are so unhappy in school.

We don’t need to replicate the rigidity of the school system in our homes.  Homeschooling helps children to learn and to be happy when their parents adjust the program to fit each child.

I would like my children to do their schoolwork in the morning so we have the afternoons free. Some friends say that is impossible. Do you think that is possible?

Parents can certainly arrange their homeschooling day to suit the needs and abilities of the children, as well as to suit the situation in the family. Half-days of homeschooling sometimes can work for families with young children. However, for middle grades and high school students, it may not be possible to do the ncecessary work in a half day. High school students, looking forward to graduation, want to finish each grade level in no longer than a calendar year. With five or six courses, this would be difficult with schooling only a half day. You may want to be prepared for longer days as the children start into the middle grades, and beyond.

That being said, you need to find what amount of time works best for your family. When we ran a survey a couple of years ago, we tried to learn whether spending more time home schooling translated to more successful homeschooling.  We found that more time does mean more success, but only up to around six hours a day.  If you try to have your children do schoolwork for too much time in a day, they can become burned out.

One thing you might want to try is to find out how much time the schooling really takes, and how much time is wasted.  You can run an experiment by telling your children they will receive some kind of reward if their schoolwork is completed (well) by a certain time.  This can be a financial reward, such as a dollar or two, or something like a trip to the park or swimming pool.  By doing this on a  few occasions, you can gauge how much time subjects take when the children really apply themselves.

A group of homeschooling families have started a homeschooling co-op. They offer classes two or three times a week. Should I consider it?

Seton is certainly not opposed to co-ops.  In fact, we work with many co-ops to provide curriculum materials.  A co-op can be very good in a lot of ways.  First, it can be a great way to teach a subject which the parents might not know or might have trouble with.  For example, a child might be able to take a foreign language or an advanced science or math course from an expert.  Second, a co-op can help some students keep on track by providing a bit more accountability, in that students need to finish certain work by a certain day.

What you might want to shy away from is using a co-op to recreate a school situation.  One of the main reasons parents homeschool is because of the Catholic family life they want to live together with their children. Most homeschooling parents are not homeschooling because they think they are better teachers, but rather because they believe it’s better for children to be taught by their parents and that they will have better children by teaching their Catholic values at home in the daily family interaction. A teacher at a co-op may have greater expertise in a subject area than a parent, but only the parent receives the sacramental graces of matrimony to help raise the child.

Of course, educational decisions are up to the parents, and the parents should decide what is best among all the educational options available.

Would Seton or my local school district be upset if I don’t follow the lesson plans exactly? My daughter is easily upset by some stories about animals.

The Church teaches that parents are responsible for the education of their children. If you believe that your daughter would be upset by animal stories, such as of animals being mistreated, then it is your right and your responsibility to do what is best for your child. One benefit of homeschooling is that you can make the best decision for your child and that your child need not be unnecessarily upset. Unless a story is involved with a test, simply skip it. If it is involved in a test or book report, phone one of our counselors for another option.

My son has a perfect score on the standardized achievement test. I would like him to skip a grade level so he is not bored! What do you think?

Our experience for more than thirty years is that children should not skip a grade level. A standardized test does not cover the information that a whole year’s worth of schooling covers. Children who skip a grade often fall behind at the higher grade level, many attain lower grades though they work longer hours, and some become frustrated and unhappy.

We suggest that you enroll your son in the next grade level. He can do the assignments as quickly as he can, successfully, through the various courses. While some material may be repetitious, it is likely that practicing over or repeating some lessons is still greatly advantageous. His skills will be increased. At least some material or information will be new.

Most importantly, you will have a child who will be happy with his success. And remember this: if your son moves ahead quickly with good understanding and achievement in any subject, he can advance to the next grade level, one subject at a time. This makes for a happy student!

About Dr. Mary Kay Clark

Director of Seton for more than 25 years. Dr. Clark left Mater Dei Academy and began teaching her children at home at seeing firsthand the opportunities and the pitfalls of private schooling. Meet Dr. Clark | See her book
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