The 10 Best Things You’re Not Doing for Your Homeschool

If we’re really being honest with each other, as much as we may love it, the internet can be a big ol’ time suck.

We turn to the online world with a desire to make our homeschool better, but often the best gets lost amidst all of the good, not-so-good, or just plain distracting ideas.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillShiny crafts and printables abound on Pinterest. Forums are filled with opposing curriculum recommendations. Blogs (including this one) feature an abundance of ideas. And it’s mostly good stuff.

But sometimes what we really need in our quest for the better homeschool are actions — things we can do today that will improve the quality of education we are giving our children because they are not just good things, but the best things. And these are those best things.

Doing just one of the ten actions below will raise the standard of education in your home. Do more for an even bigger effect. They are easy to implement and you might find that you enjoy them so much more than other things that have been filling your day.

Best Things free eBook

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Action #1: Read out loud to your kids more

Simple steps

  1. Peruse a good book list and choose a book age-appropriate to read aloud. If you have a wide range of ages, shoot for the middle of the pack. Good family-friendly read alouds for starting include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, fairy tales, The Penderwicks, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  1. Resign yourself to the fact that read-aloud time does not have to be quiet and serene to be effective. Set up some simple rules like “you are free to play with any quiet toy as long as you are listening” and “keep your hands to yourself”.
  1. Just get started. Commit to five minutes a day to begin and build the habit from there. Download the free Quickstart Guide to Great Conversations with Your Kids About Books for the support and tools you need to begin simple conversations with your kids about what you are reading.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: According to Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, reading out loud to your kids builds a “database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns” which is essential to their future as communicators. Since written and verbal communication are vital to any profession, this is likely the most important act you will do in your homeschool. Not to mention the fact that reading good books imparts a wealth of knowledge to our kids.

Pudewa insists we should start reading aloud to kids while they are young, but it is perhaps even more important to read to them after they get older too. He suggests reading to your kids for hours each day, so whatever you are doing likely isn’t enough.

Sarah Mackenzie, the host of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast, declares better relationships are the greatest benefit of extended read-aloud sessions. Kids will better remember books you have read to them and talked about with them. According to Mackenzie, the simple act of reading together will strengthen the relationships in your family.

Additional resources

Action #2: Choose more classic books

Simple steps

  1. For help choosing age-appropriate classics, consult this list.
  2. Peruse your personal homeschool book list and replace every third book with a work of classic literature instead.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow can this change your homeschool: According to Jason Caros, headmaster of Founder’s Academy, classics are “written in noble language and teach readers important lessons about human nature (life lessons pertaining to virtue and vice)”.

Historical fiction may include historical facts packaged in an enjoyable package, modern stories may be fun and engaging, and non-fiction may be necessary at times, but all are milk compared to the cream of classic literature.

To fully shape the moral imagination of our children, we need to feed them a diet of cream and consume less watered-down milk.

Additional resources:

Action #3: Memorize a poem

Simple steps

  1. Choose a short enjoyable poem for memorization like a selection by Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, or Christina Rossetti.
  2. Read the poem aloud daily with your kids until they have it memorized — I bet they do it quicker than you do!
  3. Lather, rinse, and repeat with another poem.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: Let’s return to Andrew Pudewa from his book Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization:

A child’s instinctive desire to memorize is intrinsic to language acquisition. Yet for the most part, we ignore it, or allow it to happen so haphazardly that we miss out on one of the greatest opportunities to build sophisticated language patterns. Poetry has long served a critical role in the transmission of culture, as it tends to convey the “rhyme and reason” of life in a concentrated and memorable form. But if we don’t provide the content and opportunity for organized memorization, kids will let popular culture be their teacher. In other words,  if we don’t provide them with Belloc, Stevenson, and Rossetti, they’ll memorize McDonald’s commercials and Snoop Doggy Dog rap lines. Memorization is not only natural for young children. It is culturally powerful and educationally essential.

So if we want our children filled with the worthy, then we have to fill their heads (and hearts) with content of our own choosing.

Poetry is not the only content worthy for memorization, but it is often the easiest, so a good place to start. Scripture, selections from Shakespeare, great speeches, and helpful tools (like math facts or Latin chants) are easily added to your repertoire once the memory habit is established.

Additional resources

Action #4: Do fewer subjects

Simple steps

  1. List out every subject that you do in your homeschool each day
  2. Turn a critical eye towards this list and put a star beside those subjects you would consider truly necessary for your student’s success
  3. Carefully consider eliminating most of the subjects without a star beside them
  4. Research alternate schedule ideas

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: If you are frantically rushing around trying to get 20 subjects done in a day, there is a very good chance that nothing will be done well. By paring down the schedule to a few things on which to focus, you can make sure those skills are being done well.

Elementary students need mastery of the skill subjects of language arts and math, plus a rich diet of classics read aloud (see above), tons of outdoor play, and interesting field trips (see below).

Moving into the middle and high school years, add more subjects but use creative scheduling techniques like block scheduling or loop scheduling. This will limit the number of subjects studied in any one day, yet the student will still accomplish all the necessary subjects.

Additional resources

Action #5: Plan a field trip

Simple steps

  1. Peruse local websites, the chamber of commerce or homeschooling resources and pick a place to visit
  2. Either alone or with a group, visit a museum, performance, science or nature attraction, local business — anywhere to learn
  3. Once there explore, read, discuss, enjoy
  4. Repeat often

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: Sometimes we get so caught up in getting things done that we forget one of our greatest gifts as homeschoolers is to get out and learn in the real world.

We spend our time reading about the natural world instead of being in the natural world. We look at pictures of things in books instead of seeing them in person. We listen to recordings of music instead of watching a live performance.

Homeschooling gives us the freedom to take advantage of so many more opportunities than our schooled counterparts. While informal, the education we receive while attending the theater, a national park, or the art museum is just as valid as the formal education we receive while sitting at a desk — and often more effective.

Our lives should be as rich with these opportunities as our budget and schedule will allow.

Additional resources

Best Things free eBook

Love this post? Now you can get it as an ebook absolutely free. Fill out the form to get your copy today!

Action #6: Become a life-long learner yourself

Simple steps

  1. Start a book club of other homeschool moms to read classics or study homeschooling books like Charlotte Mason’s works
  2. Take a class either at a local venue or online. Learn a new skill or creative endeavor
  3. Develop yourself professionally as a homeschool teacher by attending a local conference, a state or national convention, or through audio lectures and online resources

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: Mom as a student is valuable to your homeschool in a number of ways. First, you will be modeling an example and love of learning to your student. Janice Campbell, homeschool mom of four graduates, says:

Beyond this, you will be the first and most influential learning model your student will see. If you approach new projects and concepts with curiosity, humility, and a positive attitude, your children are likely to respond similarly. It is important that they see you actively pursue topics that interest you, because there are no greater catalysts for learning than curiosity, interest, and wonder.

In addition to modeling learning, the act of learning ourselves reminds us of the difficulties of being a student.

As I struggle to learn to knit, I have a greater empathy for my kindergartener struggling with letter formation. I am reminded of how difficult learning a new skill is and how often I need to practice with patience to master it.

Additional Resources

Action #7: Hold a poetry tea time

Simple steps

  1. Put water on to boil while you have the children set the table with linens, gather teacups and plates, and devise a centerpiece (candle, simple nature display, flowers from the yard)
  2. Pour everyone’s favorite hot drink (sometimes we do tea, sometimes we do hot chocolate) and set out a simple snack. It can be store-bought or homemade
  3. Grab a collection of poetry books, your current read aloud selection or some treasured picture books
  4. Eat, drink, and be merry as you share, read, and discuss.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool:

Ritual is extremely important in the formation of family culture and the ability to set aside time from the busy whirl. Time set apart is special, cherished, treasured, and remembered. Does it have to involve tea? Or poetry? Neither are necessary, though both are nice.

Some homeschool family tea rituals might revolve around religious practices, others might have a standing read-aloud time after dinner in the evening. The important thing is to choose the ritual, make it a moment set-apart either by the food you eat, the decor, the action, or a combination of any of those, and to be consistent with its practice.

Additional resources

Action #8: Be consistent

Simple steps

  1. Change your mindset to one that allows you to see homeschooling as your part-time job.
  2. Get up every morning and act just like you would if you were going to work! If you consider not homeschooling that day for some reason, pretend you have to call a boss and explain.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: This one is huge. I speak from experience. Wake up every day and just do the school. Hit or miss homeschool never helps anyone. Not your kids and certainly not you.

The more the kids get into a routine of waking every single day, sitting and doing school, the easier it will be for everyone, regardless of your method of education.

Whatever you choose to do for school, do it routinely. The kids will come to know what is expected of them, they will argue and fight with you less, and it will get easier as you go along. End of story.

Additional resources

Action #9: Plan a morning time

Simple steps

  1. Make a list of subjects or activities which you feel are important, but often get the short shift in your schedule and set aside for more scholarly pursuits. These could include reading aloud, memorization, picture study, composer study or music appreciation, prayer, Bible study, etc. The key to morning time is that these are all subjects that the entire family can do together as a group.
  2. Use the post Six Steps to Plan a Circle Time to draft the first plan. Jot this down in a notebook with a pencil.
  3. Live your plan for a while. You will likely change a few things, drop a subject, add a reading, switch things around. Eventually, a habit will develop that will become routine.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool:

From Cindy Rollins:
“That is what MT (Morning Time) is. It is the daily collection of little grains of time that add up to a lifetime of learning. It is the daily sowing of the seeds of learning for the long haul … Over the years, MT has kept the same structure but it can also be fluid as to categories. I think it is a great place to put all those categories which fall outside the usual school routine: composer study, artists, Plutarch and Shakespeare, even nature notebooks are each perfect for MT because these are the important things that often get squeezed out of the traditional school day. We may even find when we scoot over just a couple minutes a day to make room for these easily neglected areas the connections the mind begins to make start circuits for our children which far surpass the mundane teaching of subjects (emphasis mine)

I have read the complaint from a mom in an online forum that she did not need to name these practices and put them in a basket — she had been doing all of these things for years. I say good for her.

BUT the act of naming something (basket optional) is at the very heart of its existence. The first thing Adam did in the garden was name the animals. This naming is important stuff. By giving a name to a set of practices we do (a liturgy, if you want) we elevate it, makes it more than what it was before.

The practices of morning time — prayer, reading aloud of worthy literature, memorization, singing, the arts, discussion — are the very heart of human learning, and the most important things you will do all day. Call it what you will, but name it, own it, and let your homeschool be transformed.

Additional Resources

Action #10: Replace a textbook with a living book

Simple steps

  1. Choose one text that is sucking the life from your studies, one that everyone dreads or has become dry and boring.
  2. Research alternatives by chatting with friends, perusing online forums, or searching book lists. Strive to find a living book (fabulous definition and websites with lists at that link).
  3. Put the text aside and instead use the living book to complete your studies.

The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for Your Homeschool Pam BarnhillHow this can change your homeschool: First, what is a living book? In order to define the difference it might make, we must first explore what makes it different from a textbook. From Simply Charlotte Mason :

Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject “come alive.” They can be contrasted to dry writing, like what is found in most encyclopedias or textbooks, which basically lists informational facts in summary form.

Brandy Vencel calls living books the “medium of ideas” as opposed to fact. Since we want to fill our children’s heads with big ideas instead of small facts, living books are a valuable way to learn.

Living books will interest our students, make them think about the topic at hand, and prompt discussion because they do not come with comprehension questions at the end of the chapter.

Living books are what I reach for as an adult when I am interested in a topic and want to learn more. I would never choose a text and submit myself to the boredom. Why would I do the same to my kids on a regular basis?

Additional resources

Remember, you do not have to do everything on this list. Start small, and well, by choosing the one thing that interests you most and then do it! Once it is established as habit, try another thing from the list. Your homeschool will be better for the small, consistent steps you take.

Best Things free eBook

Love this post? Now you can get it as an ebook absolutely free. Fill out the form to get your copy today!

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  • Mystie says:

    I’m pretty good with #10, but #5 – field trips – is my weaker point right now. I used to have a group that did stuff like that when my older set were young, but now that I have more kids and a bigger range of ages, we’ve let that drop.

    As a family, though, we’ve been doing 1-2 day trips per year to things like the zoo, a dam, the mountains, and other cool places in our state. We might not get to many outings in the course of our school year, but a few learning trips sold as “mini vacations” helps. 🙂

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Yes, I think it is so much easier when kids are all of an age. But in this definition “field trips” can be any family trip. My big problem is sometimes I get so tied up in “getting things done” I forget that incidental learning can be just as important. We have not been to the zoo all year. I think we need to go before it gets too hot. 😉

    • Jessica says:

      I love field trips. I’m pretty sure it’s the primary reason we homeschool. I always feel sad for all the kids who are being rushed through an experience we can devote the whole day to. I’ve become something of a snob about going to places like the zoo and the museum – we never go when school is out and we try to avoid the mornings so that we miss the worst of the school crowds. I’ve come to see that “incidental learning” really is at the heart of our homeschooling.

  • Joy says:

    Such a sweet (and simple to follow) post! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  • Great list, Pam! I needed the reminder to read aloud more. We ALWAYS are better with each other when I take time to snuggle up with the kids on the couch and read.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Thanks Colleen. Reading aloud is a great way to start and end the day. And if you get started before everyone wakes up too much sometimes they forget the jump around so much while you are reading!

  • Great list! Love #8… so important when homeschooling!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Thanks Ursula. Yeah, I have found #8 to be at the key all parenting in general.

  • Alli says:

    Awesome article Pam. I have to say, as someone who isn’t homeschooling yet, but looking into starting, this post was fantastic, and actually helped clear a little of the clutter in my head. I love your suggestion for reading the classics. My youngest and I are in the middle of Winnie The Pooh and he absolutely loves the language they used back then.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Thanks Alli. Winnie the Pooh is awesome. Props to you for reading it aloud. I have never been able to make that work. We have an audio version we love, but I just can’t pull off the pacing of it myself to make it interesting.

  • This is such a fantastic list! It took us a few years to add in #3 and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long — it’s one of our favorite things!

  • This is a very nice article. You hit on some important points. I really like “replace a textbook with a living book.” While textbooks can be useful for us we find that we certainly remember the stories of what happened at certain times in history by using living books.

  • Jesenia says:

    Love this list! We need to plan field trips more often. I find that the cold weather keeps us inside a lot more than needed. Thanks for sharing!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Spring is coming!! I will be so excited when it gets here too. Sometimes during the winter if we have an odd warm day we throw off school for sure just to get outside.

  • Clare says:

    I’ve just started learning about the Charlotte Mason philosophy and have already started ‘reading aloud’ to my toddlers. We’re going through the complete works of Winnie the Pooh right now but I’m lining up some classics on the bookshelf ready for them as and when they’re ready. I’m pinning this so I can come back to it as they grow!

  • Melissa says:

    This is a very timely article for me and I just happened to see the link to it in Road to 31’s Facebook feed. We have been toying with the idea of homeschooling for quite some time, and today we received a notice from the school board that tuition is going up $700 across all grades next year. Technically we can afford it, but practically that cuts into fun stuff the family can do. I’m terrified at the thought of homeschooling because of various deficiencies in my character, but the thought of public school is even more horrific. Thank you for such wonderful information.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Melissa,

      You CAN do this. Lay out your plan and just get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other. The important this is when the deficiencies in character win for the day (and they will because we are only human and we all have them) then get up the next day and start fresh!

  • Gabi says:

    Pam, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop myself from clicking those links because I had to finish reading this post till the end!! I had a serious dilemma scenario going on here and it was difficult to decide if I shoul look into the resources you share or continue reading the interesting advice you have given!!! I couldn’t stop reading and by the time I got to point #3 or 4, it dawned on me that this is a post I’m gonna refere back to for months….no YEARS to come! Thank you so much! Now I can’t close my tab with this post open in it! 😛

    First up: morning time resources, while I implement more read out loud! I really need more info on how to structure our morning circle time!

    Thank you! Hugging, squeezing and running away with your post now! <3
    xoxo – Gabi

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Gabi,

      Thanks lady. More morning time resources are coming!! I have some big morning plans in the next few months.

  • […] The 10 Best Things You’re Not Doing for Your Homeschool – I told Pam that this is my absolutely favorite blog post ever written in the history of blogs. This is a list of the things that will improve the quality of education in our homes….from reading aloud to your kids (my son is 12 and I still read to him every day) to becoming a life long learner yourself (I have been reading this book and I highly recommend it.) She even included a free checklist to download. […]

  • Jenny says:

    Really great post Pam. My homeschooling is lacking some luster now that I have two that we’ve transitioned into a more formal homeschooling program for highschool. I feel like the younger set are not getting some of the benefits and fun–read alouds and tea parties the older set got. Thanks for this post to inspire me to add just one thing. I’ll strive to make it a habit and then add one more, etc.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Awesome Jenny! We all a reminder every now and again. I know I get distracted and need it too!

  • Meg says:

    Thank you for sharing this information for free! I have been in a pickle this year thinking I needed to cover everything. Yet I was working a lot, and could not get everything in. I have resorted to the Indiana Common Core 🙁 to ensure he was meeting the standards in case he ever needed to return to a public school. It is not for us but after reading your blog and doing some of my own research this list has definitely helped us out. Thank You Again for this blog as it has changed our homeschool.

  • kat says:

    I absolutely loved this post. It’s such a motivation to get moving on those changes I’ve
    “been meaning” to make. Thank you. My kids will, especially, enjoy #7.

  • Jennifer S. says:

    Thank you so much for this. So much here to think about. I used to read aloud to my children a lot. This was a good reminder to get back to it.

  • Baiba says:

    Thank you for this list!
    I’m doing homeschool for the 1st year, and we have started to struggle. But I think, God leads us out from it in different ways right now, and these are good ideas to change something!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      You are welcome Baiba. I hope one of these blesses your family. I suggest starting with the extra reading aloud.

      • Baiba says:

        I used to read aloud a lot, and my daughter is very smart at her 7 / almost 8. But it has become hard as we have 4 daughters now. I don’t know why and how… There have left only reardings before sleeping. We started with Bible studies this morning, and day continued differently… We went out and I enjoyed how my kids play outside by diging out treasures (rocks) and making a play-house from fallen pine branches, for almost 3 hours (!! that’s also weidr for me) 😀 So great changes in one day!!! Ang guess what???!! I have been calm almost all the day! -> Another weird thing for me 😀
        Oh, God is almighty!
        Thank you for being a part in His plan for me!

  • Jen says:

    The link in this section is broken! I want that link!!! Do you know where i can find that list?!?! Thank you for this article… so good to hear! 🙂

    Action #2: Choose More Classic Books

    Simple Steps

    For help choosing age-appropriate classics consult this list….

  • […] The Ten Best Things You’re Not Doing For Your Homeschool at EdSnapshots. I loved this article for its clear, concise, to the point encouragement. […]

  • Rebekah says:

    I love the idea of Morning Time! While we start everyday with Bible and memorisation, I’ve noticed the days we go straight into more creative pursuits (rather than straight into maths and English) run smoother and everybody is happier to do their more scholarly work afterwards. It seems to put us all in a better frame of mind for the day!

  • Ashley says:

    The ten points you listed are really great and they are true. Mom should be a life long learner to educate their children. And subjects should not boredom the children. The children should get education in many innovative and interested ways. This remains forever in the children minds. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jessica says:

    Naming and doing Morning Time, and doing it consistently, are two huge lessons I have learned from you. This is the first year we’ve done it, and three weeks in I am seeing such beautiful fruit from the practice. Not sure why it’s taken me so long to put in place!

  • KD says:

    Love this list! 8 and 9 don’t really apply since we plan to unschool, but I will definitely be saving the list for future reference. Thanks!

  • Sherry Hayes says:

    Just shared this on FB today–I wish every homeschooler would read it! Thank you!

  • Jen says:

    Love this, found it on pinterest, and pining so others can read it too. Thank you for all the hard work and research that went into writing it. I just started reading aloud again to the kids, and love the circle time routine, if our homeschool schedule ever changes to an actual schedule I would love to try this out. One tip that hit home though was number 7! Why have I never thought of this?? So good!
    Thanks again,
    Jen
    http://www.practicalbydefault.com

  • Regina says:

    This is a great list. We use the Abeka accredited video program & it does alot of what you mentioned. I’m amazed at what poetry does for kids. It makes a huge impact. We try to do field trips on each job change my husband has (his job has us traveling in our travel trailer). Last year in Ohio we saw the Amish. Hands on learning to me is so much more fun than just reading about it.

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  • Great post. I’ve come back to it 4 times since you originally posted it as a reminder and I’ve shared it with countless friends.
    I’m so thankful someone shared with me 10 years ago (and that I listened) how important reading aloud to your children is. My husband read 40 chapter books to the girls last year plus I read to them for school. He rarely read for fun before we had kids now he enjoys it as much as they do. It lends to great family discussions.
    Keep up the great work encouraging homeschooling families.

  • […] can happen in so many places and can look so different from what we have been lead to believe. Learning can happen on the floor, […]

  • […] the math lesson first thing in the morning and start with something delightful. You will be happy you […]

  • Ashley says:

    Love this very simple post! Im homeschooling for the first time and am not ashamed to admit having three kids is alot and i need rest and down time! Ive read so many blogs and just realized after a few weeks into it, simplicity is best for them and me! We are enjoying it so much and dont olan on ever going back to regular school, yay us 🙂

  • james says:

    I’ve been considering homeschooling my 2 children so I’ve been researching what is all involved here.
    I really liked this article, I would have never considered reading more classic books and memorizing poetry. Thank you for these trips.

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