Ryan and Brianna Widen raise & homeschool their 3 kids on their working ranch in Washington State. The family raises nearly all their own food, have a Ranch Store open each weekend and ship their meats nationwide.
I remember researching every curriculum under the sun. It was overwhelming and as the books kept arriving, my mom brain was so excited to begin diving into them. However, as I began lesson planning, I realized we were going to be “doing school” for 5-6 hours a day and honestly, my kids were WAY too young for that. Plus, I run 2 businesses and cannot actually afford to loose that daily time. So, I paired way back and took the advice of a long time homeschool family who I deeply valued. Here are a few tips that helped our first 4 years of homeschool go off without many hiccups (and a whole lot less frustration)!
1. Don’t try to recreate school at home.
You don’t need to have fancy desks and schedules and timelines and plans. In fact, we embrace more of a Montesorri style homeschool where, instead, I have chosen to run with our kids interests at the time. Our kids are happier and our homeschool environment is so much more peaceful. I love curriculum that is grab and go vs lots of lesson planning.
Our homeschool doesn’t have a designated room and we don’t have a daily schedule that we are strictly adhering to, partly because we can’t. We don’t have the luxury of saying, “oh, its 9 am so we’re going to sit-down for school now”. The farm comes first in our household and thankfully, the kids adapted incredible flexibility at young ages. They love writing in the sand, practicing their writing while sitting on the hay bales and diving into all sorts of science topics simply by working alongside us on the ranch.
2. Less is more & boredom is king.
Your kiddos age determines their attention span. A LOT of time is spent in traditional school just trying to wrangle the number of kids each teacher has. The average kindergarten kiddo has an attention span of just 2-5 MINUTES. In Elementary especially, play is an important part of schooling so break out those (non electronic) toys and let their imagination fly. We have loved inserting books before and after a short lesson to help their little brains switch gears.
Homeschool is a deeply enriching part of a kids life IF you let it be. If there are tears, frustration and overwhelm, take a step back and see what you can to do to make learning fun again. This is a time to connect with your little one, a time you don’t get back.
Our kids are young and being bored is a vital part of their creative process. Being bored gives them space to pursue the things they love from building to creating to writing and even inventing. Science has proven over and over again that being bored improves mental health and social connections. Letting our kids experience the power of boredom is so important, we actually schedule it into our daily routine. While I milk the cow, the kids are given the simple task of going outside & finding something to do (rain or shine!). Sometimes, that means they’re covered in mud after playing with their toys in the hole they dug. And other times, they’re picking wildflowers in the pastures for their fairy gardens. As long as they aren’t hurting themselves (or someone else) we give them the space they need to discover the things they really love.
3. Let go of the worry that your kiddo might be “behind”.
YOU set the standards in homeschool. There is no comparison in our household. My kids might be really good at certain things and not at others but, fostering a love for learning is the most important thing you can do for you child. We can learn to do literally anything, so teaching them how to learn in the first place is the most vital skill a child could ever have. I use assessments as a way to gauge my teaching. Not to measure my child. Sometimes, we go back and redo things. Sometimes, we put a subject away for a few weeks because it’s causing too much angst. ALL of that is ok. It just means they aren’t ready yet. If your munchkin is struggling to get a concept, it might mean it’s just too advanced. Take a step backwards and try again later. I promise, your kiddo wont be behind. In fact, they’ll likely thrive.
At one point in Levi’s Kindergarten year, he was struggling with his math. Instead of harping on the same subject until he got it, we began playing card games instead. Not only did he develop a strong foundation for math, but he had a really good time.
My husband was 8 years old when he could read and write cursive. So, you can imagine the worry we felt when our 8 year old was still struggling to read basic 2 letter words without getting frustrated. Levi, however, is extremely advanced in science from a lifetime on the farm. The kids is smart as a whip and a sponge when it comes to things that interest him. We had a long talk about what our expectations are and what ways we can foster a love of learning in our children above everything else, even if that meant we set aside our expectations of our children’s milestones.
One day, a few weeks after that conversation, Levi picked up a notebook and began to write a list for the next day. He carried that notebook around until it was full of musings about his day and plans he had made. When that notebook was filled, we gave him another one. He would often ask to not speak but to write letters to each other. The patience we had given him had paid off. Levi fell in love with reading and writing in his own time and it has been like watching a fire catch dry timber. The little sparks of faith we held for him lit the whole forest when he was finally ready.
Friend, I say this lovingly: this is time you don’t get back with your kids. Sticking to schedules & timelines over the mental wellbeing of your child (and you) is likely not what you signed up for when you decided to take on educating your child at home. The number of completed lessons this year is not going to determine your worth. Your value lies most deeply in the little lessons of flexibility, emotional resilience and love that you provide your kiddo. Create an environment where you can nurture the above and all of the other things seem to fall into place.
Keep in mind, they won’t remember the concepts you taught them, they’ll remember how they felt while you taught them.