Archives For Home Schooling Reviews


I was hoping to get these posts written much more quickly than I have! So thank you for your patience in waiting for this one.

So what are the key ingredients for successful homeschooling? Keeping in mind everything in mind that I have shared in parts one and two of this series, I would say that I don’t believe the answers are related to academics.  Of course, we want to do our best to teach our children well so they have the knowledge and tools to function effectively in this world. But if I had to choose, I would like to suggest that the key ingredients for successful homeschooling are love and time, not superior academic training. Often we are so focused on the academic side of homeschooling that we forget we are building relationships and shaping hearts. It’s really profound that when people reflect on their lives from their death beds, their greatest joys and their biggest regrets always have to do with relationships.

Relationships – Parent and Child

From birth, we are wired for relationships with others.  Babies who are deprived of physical touch and emotional love will eventually die.  And this time of lockdown has shown us all in a new way how very much we need people! We’ve seen the adverse effects when we are isolated and separated from those we love.  As we homeschool our children, we need to remember that the most important thing we can give them is love. Specifically, love in the form of time.  Time is the currency we use to fill the love banks in our child’s heart.

The reason why homeschooling has been so difficult for some people in this time of lockdown is that many parents have been put into a situation where they are trying to do their paid jobs as well as homeschool their children.  This means they are lacking TIME – one of the key ingredients to successful homeschooling.  My heart goes out to these parents. I know they are doing their best in a much less than ideal situation.  However, if you have limited time (for COVID-19 or other reasons), you can still be intentional with the time you have.  Put routines into place in your day and your week to make sure your children know that they are your most important priority. I will be the first to say that this takes effort – you need to fight for these routines! I find that over time, my routines always slip and I need to re-establish them, or try new ones that work better. This is normal.  If something stops working, don’t give up.  Start fresh today putting first things first (ie the people you love!).

Some practical tips on time and routines:

Bedtime is one of the best times of the day for relationship! Don’t rush through bedtime (I’m speaking to myself here, as I’m often guilty of doing this!).  Take time to talk with your children, listen to them and read aloud to them. You can even save some of your “school” read-alouds for bedtime. This is a great way for Dad to get involved in the schooling too.  If you are a Christian, this can also be a great time to help your children grow in their relationship with God by reading them Bible stories and praying together.  Often we as parents are weary at this time of day, and it’s hard to slow down and make this time special.  But think of how much love and time 18 years of bedtime routines adds up to (even if it’s only 15 minutes!). The little daily decisions we make (often hard-fought for routines) are very, very important.

NOTE: Reading aloud is not just for younger kids! After reading the inspirational book The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma, I asked my oldest daughter if she wanted to do a “reading streak” with me during her last year of school before she left home. I read aloud to her for at least 10 minutes a day for over a year and wow, it created so many precious memories and really strengthened the bond between us! (in only ten minutes a day) See Hannah’s 3 part blog post (part 1, part 2 and part 3) about the streak if you want to hear her beautifully written reflections on our streak.

Our phones and iPads and TVs are the number one enemy of relationships in our homes!  When you are with your children, be fully present with them.  Put your phone down!! Even better, put it away in a different room of your house – especially during the hours you are homeschooling.  Give your children eye contact and listen to them (really listen!). Do a little experiment and check your daily screen time vs. the actual time you spend each day interacting with your child. Do any major changes need to be made?!!

Relationships and Homeschooling – How does this all relate to homeschooling? Well, I’ve always sought to homeschool in such a way that I’m building relationships with my children while I’m teaching them.  When our relationships are strong, they are more open and receptive to me teaching them.  And in the end, having a close relationship with my children trumps all my other desires for them (including academic success)!

So, how do we focus on relationships while homeschooling?

A few practical tips:

  • Have fun! My personality is very goal-oriented and I can tend to be way too serious. Look for ways to learn that are genuinely FUN! One recent example:  my two younger girls have been loving “playing school” while we are actually homeschooling. This usually involves them packing backpacks with their books, choosing a different name and age and some imaginary interaction with me. Yes, it slows things down for us a bit (and I have to remember their new “names” each day but, they love it! 🙂
  • As much as you can, let them choose parts of what you study, read, and do for school.  For example, I have a series of great books called Usborne Beginners on different topics (many are scientific). My 4 1/2 year old loves to choose one each week to go through. I also let her choose the read-alouds we are doing each day (she chooses from a selection I’ve put on our school shelf) and choose the order of things we do each day. I also make my 8 year old a list of work to do for the day and then she can choose when she does what (my 13 year old gets a list for the week).  When children are allowed to choose (within reason), they are much more invested in what they’re doing.  Letting them choose says to them that we think their ideas and thinking are truly valuable. Also, if they come up with ideas (ie Let’s go on a nature walk today mummy!) or topics they want to study, do your best to go with their interests!
  • Be encouraging! As parents we often need to spend lots of time correcting our children, and rightly so.  However, as humans we are all starving for words of affirmation and praise and our children are no different. I like to focus on praising them for things like their hard work, perseverance, choosing to pay attention, etc. (rather then . . . you are so clever, you are so skilled at this).
  • Be affectionate. Physical touch is vital for building close relationships.  Make sure to hug, kiss, cuddle, wrestle, snuggle and just be physically near to each other.  These are massive investments in your child’s love tank.  The amazing thing is that homeschooling offers us the opportunity to do all these things – in the middle of a school day!
  • Lastly, at the risk of sounding like a broken record:  Focus on reading aloud (see part 2 post for more on this!).  Part of the reason why reading aloud to your child is so powerful, is that in the act of reading to them, you yourself are fully present with them!  Which equals TIME invested.  Being fully present says to your child, I love you enough to focus on just you . . .  you are so valuable that I want to be with you (more than do other things!). This is a simple but very powerful gift you can give your child – the gift of your full attention.  With younger children, reading aloud often means holding them on your lap or cuddling next to them – which means physical affection is being shared too.  Also, sharing a good story often means sharing emotions – even if there is no conversation afterwards about the book. Good stories, in and of themselves, deal with emotions and the heart and teach us empathy for others.

Relationships with Others and Character Training

I remember the sweet joy of holding our children in our arms when they were brand new.  Nothing really compares to those precious first moments with a new baby.  As a parent, your heart is filled with so much love and joy and also so much hope!  We look forward to watching this child learn to walk, hearing them start to talk and then grow into a unique person with talents, gifts and personality. We anticipate the years ahead with this child and we imagine what this little person will be like, how they will grow and what they will become.

If I asked you what you are hoping your child will have learned by the time they leave home, what would you say? Of course, we all want our children to succeed academically.  But is this the most important thing? If you had to choose, wouldn’t you rather your child grow up to be kind, generous and able to relate well to others than to come out at the top of the academic ladder?

In order to help your child grow into the kind of person you want them to be, you need to almost think of character training as a school “subject!”  This will hopefully give you the permission to stop during the school day and take the time to address issues that come up.  And come up they will! Some days (often Mondays!!) I feel like I spend more time addressing bad attitudes and sibling arguing than I spend teaching academics.  And you know what? That’s 100% OK. In fact, it’s the time we spend teaching our children to be aware of their own selfishness or helping them learn to be kind and patient that will pay the real dividends in your child’s heart and life. And yes, this takes lots of time and patience! Instead of just telling them to “stop it,” we need to take time to address what’s really going on inside them, to listen to them and teach them gently.  I used to view these frustrating moments (ie my child refuses to do their math or my child has been rude to me or one of their siblings) as interruptions to my schooling day. But even though I still have to battle with my own frustration, I now try to see these “interruptions” as an actual part of our homeschooling.  We are working on character/heart development and in the end it’s going to be the condition of heart of my child that really matters.

Sometimes we think of love as just “niceness on steroids.” We forget that as parents, our deep love for our children should mean that we set up boundaries for them.  Love has a tough side, and yes, it takes work to make sure our discipline and training of our kids stays loving (ie about them and their growth, not about our need to vent our own feelings or create peace for ourselves!)

A few practical tips on setting boundaries:

  • Try not to set up too many rules, but make the ones that you do set up related to the important stuff of life! And don’t set up a rule that you aren’t willing to consistently address when it gets broken. Have clear consequences and implement them consistently. Children learn fast whether or not we mean what we say.
  • Use sticker charts (with rewards) occasionally to help your younger child work on a specific issue (we have one going right now for bedtime behaviour!).
  • I mentioned this in my first post, but it’s so important to teach children to be helpful around the house. Make sure that even the youngest children have regular jobs (we call them contributions) and that you teach them to do them cheerfully (yes, this is a long process but so worth it!) See my first post for more on this subject.
  • Character training is hard, hard work. Especially when children are little.  As a parent, it sometimes feel relentless. Children are human beings (like us!) and will often test your endurance your desire to teach and train them.  Don’t give up! All the planting of seeds will be worth it and In the end you will reap a beautiful harvest. (If you are a Christian, see Galatians 6:9 – my favourite mummy Bible verse)

A Word on Teenagers: A lot of what I have written in this post has been more applicable to younger children. We currently have four teenagers in our house and they need love and time and boundaries just as much as the younger ones, though perhaps in a different way. Make sure to listen when they open up and don’t be repelled by their apparent lack of need for you! They do indeed need us! As parents we need to pursue a relationship with them while at the same time offering them ever-increasing freedom and respecting their opinions and feelings. We need courage to keep having the hard conversations with our teens when they cross boundaries. We need to identify when they need “tough” love and when they need “soft” love. And we need to keep on top of what they are doing in schoolwork, even if most of their assignments are done independently. There have been a number of times when I have gone weeks without checking if their work is getting done and then I’ve realised they are massively behind! Oops!! (Obviously this was an opportunity to address time management skills as well as character issues!) So, stay involved with your teens’ homeschooling. I find weekly meetings on Monday (to assign work) and on Fridays (to mark and check work) with some of my teenagers have worked really well.

If you have decided to homeschool by choice, you have chosen to make a major sacrifice.  If you are homeschooling during lockdown, I applaud you for the sacrifice you are making which you didn’t choose for yourself! Whether by choice or not, you are giving your children the gift of your time with them, day in and day out.  It’s not easy! Sometimes even the most dedicated homeschool mums among us (myself included!) feel resentful of this daily sacrifice of time – to help your child with one more math lesson, to do the very hard work of teaching a child to read, to fold one more load of laundry, mark one more math page or address one more attitude problem or sibling squabble.  Just remember that massive and beautiful buildings are built one brick at a time.  One choice at a time, you can put yourself and your own desires aside and give the gifts of LOVE and TIME to your children.  The investment will be worth it!

Coming next: For the last instalment in this series, my daughter Hannah (19) is going to write a post about what she loved (and maybe didn’t love?) about homeschooling! Hopefully it will be helpful to someone.

Bonus section: Relationship With God (I have tried to make these posts accessible to everyone but here are some thoughts from my heart. If you are not a Christian and want to find out more, check out these four posts written by Peter at

If you are a Christian, teaching your children how to relate to others can be rooted in first teaching them about God’s deep love for them. When they begin to see God’s love, kindness, and patience toward them, it leads them to be learn to extend that love to others. I believe the love of God transforms us.  We are changed from selfish people, turned in on ourselves, to people who are outward looking, always focused on the interests of others.  If you are a Christian, your number one goal in educating your children should be to teach their deep need for a Saviour, who will forgive them and change their hearts, making them into the person he wants them to be. It’s when we allow our good God to transform us, that we find freedom and life becomes full of true joy! All this happens in a real relationship with Jesus. Their deepest need is a relationship with Him.  It is vital for us to put in the effort to teach and train our children, but we can’t make our children “good” people. We need to point them to the One who can! It’s scary knowing that we can’t control how our children will turn out.  This knowledge has always propelled me to pray more – to ask my children’s heavenly Father to do in them what only He can do.

This topic of introducing our children to a relationship with God and how this relates to homeschooling is a huge one which I don’t have the space to explore here!  (Maybe I need to do another post!) For Christians, this isn’t just something we incorporate into our homeschooling – it should be the core of everything we do and teach.  For now, can I recommend an excellent book: The Disciple Making Parent by Chap Bettis (here is his website, The Apollos Project or pretty much any book by Sally Clarkson! (She also has an excellent blog and podcast)

Before I launch into part 2 of this series, a quick reminder . . .Give Yourself Lots of Grace! – As I’m hearing various mothers speak about their recent (challenging!) experiences as new homeschoolers, let me just begin by re-stating a point that’s very central in my heart!    If you are new to homeschooling, due to Covid-19 or your own choice, then what you need to remember right now is to give yourself a break!! Have compassion on yourself – you are in a difficult place of transition.  I promise things will get easier over time, but right now, remember to take lots of deep breaths and be very patient with yourself and your sweet children.  Homeschooling is a new way of life, that I believe you’ll come to love.  But it will take time to find your new rhythms and figure out what works for you and your children.  It’s a journey for sure, but one that can be full of joy and blessing – so try to relax and enjoy the ride! (For more encouragement to be patient with yourself, see my post: New to Homeschooling? – Part One .)

What is the purpose of education? – Fourteen years ago, when I was a brand new homeschooling mum, I was given a piece of incredible advice.  Simple but profound. I have failed many times at implementing it (as I so often fail in so many areas!) but I have hung onto it tightly and done my best to let it shape my homeschooling. What were those words of wisdom that I was given: Make it your number one goal to see to it that your children LOVE to LEARN.

Looking back on my own education, it’s sad but true that much of what I learned has been forgotten (calculus or physics or grammar anyone??). In light of this, I would like to suggest a controversial point.  The goal of truly excellent education should not merely be to transfer information from the brain of the teacher to the brain of the child. If that is the goal, then most education is quite a pointless exercise! Historians are not certain who authored the following profound quote . . . but here it is: The real aim of education should not be to fill a brain/pail/vessel, but instead to light a fire!

Your children will never remember everything they learn in school.  But if deep within them they have gained a permanent appetite to learn, to know, and to discover . . . if their imaginations have been captured by things that truly matter, then they will be very well-equipped for life! So how do we kindle this flame in them? I know that whole books have been written in answer to this question.  But let me offer a few of my own thoughts.

How do we kindle the flame? – 2 Simple Suggestions . . . And one thing to avoid

Story! – If you want a very simple, very powerful way to “light the fire” in your children – read, read, read stories to them!   Picture books, longer chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry . . . any books!  (Of course, be sure to pick engaging, life-giving stories.) Human beings are intrinsically drawn to stories – we live in stories ourselves and look to stories for inspiration and comfort and guidance.  My number one recommendation if someone asks me “how” to homeschool, is to spend lots of time reading aloud together. And don’t stop when your children can read for themselves! Research shows that through the simple act of reading aloud, you are accomplishing multiple incredible things all at once.  Reading aloud results not only in massive educational benefits, but it stirs up a love for learning and also strengthens family bonds in beautiful ways. Plus it’s just pure fun!  How much more enjoyable to read an exciting story about a Danish family hiding Jews from the Nazis (see Lois Lowry’s awesome book Number the Stars) than to wade through a dry textbook explanation about World War II. We have seen reading aloud achieve beautiful things in our home over the past 14+ years of homeschooling and I can’t urge you strongly enough to make this part of your family culture! Reading together builds bonds, it changes lives and it kindles the “love to learn” flame!

NOTE: If you are interested in finding out more on this topic, I highly recommend the wonderful book, The Read Aloud Family, by Sarah MacKenzie.  She also has an amazing podcast called the Read-Aloud Revival (available on iTunes) and a brilliant website full of recommended books for all ages and occasions.  Soooo worth checking out!

Quote from Sarah Mackenzie: “Books are powerful. Sharing those books together is like jet fuel for our family bonding and our kids’ academic and social and emotional success.

Time Outdoors – Another very simple but very powerful way to “light the fire” of your children’s love for learning is to take them outside! God’s creation is packed full of things to stir up wonder and awe in your child’s heart – essential ingredients for loving to learn. From the vastness of space to the gorgeous spring blossoms and flowers . . . from teeny tiny bugs to massive lightning bolts.  Nature not only delights those with eyes to see, but it inspires us to know, to learn, to discover.  When do we as human beings stop learning? When we stop asking questions! When we stop wondering and appreciating new things beyond ourselves. We get bored with the every day. I believe we are all born with an innate desire to know, to explore, to learn and to experience new things (that fire that fuels all true education). Our modern lives have sadly extinguished this flame in our hearts. The abundance of screen time plus the fact that we just don’t walk from place to place anymore, means most people naturally spend very little time outside.  Can I encourage you to let your children explore and exercise outside as much as possible – and go out with them! Go for long walks, let them dig in the back garden, plant flowers and veggies (in pots if you have no dirt patches!).  Find the nearest woods or other patch of nature and visit often!  Observe the seasonal changes.  Learn the names of trees and flowers. Make simple observations as you spend time with your children.  Appreciate the beauty. If you are a Christian, soak up the love and power of God with your children as you spend time in his creation.

Limit “busy work” – While stories and time outdoors are incredible sparks for the “love to learn” flame, nothing dumps cold water on it faster than “busy work.” By that I mean, lots of fill in the blank type worksheets, excessive practice/problems on concepts your child already knows, or maybe even crafts or activities that are done just for the sake of jumping through an educational hoop. Another way you can possibly identify “busy work” is to observe what work genuinely frustrates your child or squelches their love for learning. Now what I am NOT saying is that all worksheets or schoolwork your child hates are bad and shouldn’t be used.  Children need to learn to do things they don’t like at times (character building being a big one!). And as far as crafts go, some children love hands on learning and that’s great! However, I think it’s always worth asking: Is this activity/resource, worksheet, etc actually fostering genuine learning AND is it kindling delight: the “love to learn” flame.  If the answer is no, maybe it’s worth spending your “school” time in another way.  Now this is a huge subject because really we’re starting to tread into the waters of homeschool style/curriculum.  There are SO many choices out there! And I realise that those of you homeschooling through this time of lockdown probably don’t have much choice of what curriculum you use. But the questions are worth asking.  I think the schools are quite flexible in terms of what work the children need to achieve.  Could you accomplish the same goals in a more engaging way?  Could you ditch the textbook or workbook and read them a historical novel on the subject? How about watching a video together on a science topic or have a conversation about something they’re studying.  Choose education that lights the flame and avoid things that bring boredom, frustration or bitterness to your child’s heart!

You may have noticed that much of what I have written in these first two posts has highlighted the importance of relationships in your home. My last post will dive more deeply into this subject and also include some more practical how-to tips.

A few more resources:

Busy Work Article: Here’s an article I thought was good on the subject of “busy work.” (Note: I don’t know anything about the Book Shark curriculum).

The Charlotte Mason Method: Especially for those of you homeschooling long term, check out this article and blog post series about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling which incorporates my first two “light the flame” suggestions and provides many ways of avoiding “busy work!” This method has been really central to how we’ve homeschooled over the years!

Let Your Kids Get Bored – Covid-19 Homeschooling Tips: I thought this was good advice from schoolteachers!


The world has changed so quickly in these past weeks and suddenly, those of us who are homeschooling our children are no longer in the minority! The current world Coronavirus pandemic has forced most of the world into isolation in their homes which means millions of people are now homeschooling their children.

Many mums and dads seem to be feeling quite anxious about the situation and I’ve had more than one request for some advice and tips! While I want to be very clear about the fact that I most definitely don’t have all the answers, (and every family is unique in their characteristics and needs) I thought I’d share some tidbits that have helped us over the past 14 years of homeschooling.  Hoping it might be a help to someone!

First, if you’ve been thrust into homeschooling, I recommend that you stop and take a deep breath.  Give yourself permission to find this challenging (even us veterans have really difficult days!).  Homeschooling is just one of the many changes our families are experiencing at the moment and it’s a lot to face all at once.  Be very patient and gracious with yourself and your children.  Pay attention to their emotions and also your own.  Give yourself and them time to adapt to the changes, including the fact that they will be learning at home.  Let them know you understand the changes are not easy.  There is no rush to find the perfect rhythm! In fact, it doesn’t exist! One of the things I find constant as a homeschooling mum is the continual need to adjust – our schedules and routines, curriculum and everything!  Flexibility is so important.  Under ordinary circumstances, when families begin homeschooling, they often take a period of time called “de-schooling” (which is just a time for the children to get used to being at home and a brand new way of doing things) before actually starting back into formal academics.  Feel free to take a period of time like this if you need it. – guilt free (for whatever reason!)

Second, don’t expect homeschooling to look or feel like normal school. It will take time to find a good routine, but try to create one based on YOUR family’s needs and don’t try to replicate the look or feel of a classroom!  I do believe children thrive with a (flexible) routine but make it your own personal family routine with your own style. Don’t try to force a 9am-3pm timetable (think about how much school time is spent in things like moving from activity to activity, classroom management, etc). I really think that children 7 and under realistically only need a maximum of an hour of formal schooling a day (ie the amount of time they actually sit down at a table and do work). Having said that, all of the rest of their day can be extremely educational!! Board and card games, arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, taking care of pets, stories being read aloud, the list could go on! And of course free play is extremely good for children in so many ways – lego, playmobil (our personal family favourite for fostering creativity!), dressing up and creating imaginary games are so wonderful for their development!

(NOTE: The availability of screens will most definitely squeeze out these creative and highly beneficial activities! If children have a choice, they will always choose the screen.  This isn’t the place to write about the immense damage to the brains of children being done by screens and the addictive nature of them but I’m confident you won’t ever regret limiting the access your children have to them! Remember, there might be an adjustment period while your children are getting used to being at home all the time. If screens are not a constant option, their creativity will eventually blossom and you will find that their “boredom” motivates them to try all kinds of new and creative play. If you resist the temptation to use a screen as a babysitter, it will temporarily mean less “free” time for you as a parent.  But in the end it will pay off! And the brain and heart of your children will be protected.)

Thoughts on routine:

  • Children are usually much more able to concentrate in the morning.  So try to do the subjects first thing that they most need their brain power for (ie maths and English and for older children, science, etc).  Afternoons can be free for things like reading, read-alouds, crafts, outdoor play (if possible under the current rules!), cooking, lego, music practice, projects, etc.
  • If you have multiple children of different ages, I have found it helpful to work with the youngest children first.  They will be more fresh first thing in the day, and will benefit having your attention (it fills their love tanks!) before you get involved in helping the older kids.  I find my little ones have always been much happier to go off and play by themselves if they’ve had time with mummy first. If they are not school aged, you can read them stories, play a game or with toys with them  – try letting them pick what they would like to do with you! It will make them feel special and show them that you have time just for them.
  • When a child is about 6 or 7 years old, I have found that making a daily list of school work for them really helps them to learn responsibility and self-motivation.  They can tick off the items themselves and it stops you having to constantly be telling them what to do. (Of course they should know they can come to you for help if they need it!).  Older children can have a weekly list, rather than daily, which teaches them to manage their time and decide what needs to be done each day.
  • Having a routine is so helpful but don’t become a slave to your routine.  Give yourself permission to throw the math lesson out the window once in awhile and make play dough or cook something together or whatever.  Embrace joy!
  • Include in your routine a time in the day where everyone goes to their own little corner and does something quietly alone (screen free if you can!).  With everyone being together in the same space for long periods of time, it’s super healthy to get a break from each other! It’s also very helpful for you as a mum or dad to take some time to rest, nap, read or call a friend.  We all need time to rest and recharge our batteries!
  • Another essential part of a homeschooling routine is a regular time or times for tidying up. More people in the house for more time means more mess! Choose regular times where everyone in the house participates in bringing some order back to your home.  We have a time before we eat dinner where everyone has a job to do.  And we have after meal clean-up jobs too.  And then deeper cleaning jobs on the weekends.  In one sense we have an advantage in that we have a big family and therefore more hands to help (but more people in the house means it gets messier more quickly too!) Doing chores (or contributions as we call them) is absolutely part of education for children too and teaches love, kindness, responsibility and working as a team. It takes effort for a parent to organise the jobs, teach them and make sure they are getting done.  But your children will grow up with invaluable skills and hopefully some wonderful character traits!

Remember, your family is unique and wonderful! Some families like to do a lot of art and craft, others love music and dance, and still others love science and nature.  Maybe you love them all or something else entirely! But please, please try not to compare yourself to other families.  They are not you and you are not them.  Go with the interests of your children and remember you don’t have to imitate other families or live up to anyone else’s expectations. Keep things simple and remember that your family relationships are vastly more important than academic success.  You are teaching precious little people, not school subjects.  Value them as people – mind, heart and body.

This has gotten very long and I still have quite a lot more to say! So I will come back with part 2 (and maybe 3) in the next few days. I hope to write a bit more about the “how to” of homeschooling and the things I believe are truly important to prioritise as we are educating our children. As well as resource ideas.  Stay tuned! And do let me know if you have any specific questions you want me to address.