Homeschooling In The Early Elementary Years: Grades K-3

Homeschooling in the early elementary years can be time of so much learning and fun. These tips will help you get started and thrive in the early years.

You know, I love my teens, but when my kids were little, we did this picture book, literature-rich unit study style of homeschooling.  And I miss those days. It was so much fun when school was going down to the pond to feed the ducks. I love the early elementary years of homeschooling. 

Homeschooling The Early Elementary Years

I wanted to start out by talking a little bit about some of the joy and struggle of homeschooling these particular age groups. Now the joy is this age of homeschooling is so much fun especially if this is all the homeschooling you’re doing (meaning no older kids).

It is a great time to just lean in and enjoy being with your kids. You’re never going to have this much fun in your homeschool ever again. So really enjoy it and don’t make it drudgery. This is the time where you have the freedom to go places without worrying about online classes or co-ops or counting credits.

So what are some of the problems? It’s not all sunshine and roses with this particular age group. The first problem that I see with this age group is the expectations that are put on them are often unrealistic.


Kids working with map

If you’ve looked at what’s been happening in the public school system through the years, in the 50s very few children were expected to know a lot coming into kindergarten and only a small percentage of children were really expected to know how to read leaving kindergarten. Now, in our current times, a hundred percent of kids are expected to learn how to read before they leave kindergarten.

Kids have not changed folks. Only the expectations have changed. So step one is to temper your expectations.

You may have a child who is reading by the time they’re six-years-old. You may also have a child who’s just ready to learn to start reading by the time they’re six-years-old. Both things are completely normal, and nothing is wrong with either one of those children.

We need to temper our expectations for these early years and know that our kids could fall at any one of these places. You may have a child who’s not ready to start to learn to read until they’re seven-years-old and you know what? That’s okay too.

The second thing is kids are really, really wiggly and like to move a lot at this age. They don’t always want to sit still for long periods of time, and they shouldn’t have to. So put away the worksheets and let kids move as much as they want to.

Girl drawing with crayons

If you’re reading to them and they’re standing on their head, it’s completely okay. If they’re jumping on a mini tramp in the house (we had a mini trampoline with handlebars sitting next to our school table for years in our house) that’s completely okay too.

Keep your lessons short. Lessons for a kindergarten or a first grader — your entire school day is going to take about an hour. Maybe it will take an hour and a half if you include lots of wonderful picture books.

For this age, math can be completed in under 10 minutes. You’ll get just as much done, because if your math lesson is 30 minutes long, the first 10 minutes, you’re going to get a lot done, and the last 20 minutes you’re just going to spend that time fighting with that kid. So don’t do the fighting part, just do the most effective part and keep the lesson to 10 minutes.

The third problem that you might run into with this age group is if they have younger siblings you’re going to have a six-year-old who’s watching that four-year-old and going, why do I have to do school when they don’t have to? This is a really good chance to establish the fact in your homeschool, that when you are seven, you have certain expectations on you. When you’re six, you have certain expectations on you.

When you were four, you didn’t have to do school either, but now that you’re six or seven, you do. And when your brother or sister is six or seven, they’re going to have to do school. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. We have a saying in our house —  suck it up buttercup, and this is one of those places where that saying is appropriate.

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What Subjects To Teach In Your Homeschool: Grades K-3

The good news about which subjects to teach is that it’s probably way less than what you think.

There are some basics that every young child needs to start learning. Those are things that we call skill area subjects (and not even all the skill area subjects). You want to focus on teaching that child to read.

I am a huge fan of a phonics based program. Our very favorite program was All About Reading and it was multi-sensory. It had a lot of pieces we would cut out and they would move about, or they would move tiles about. We could make the lessons very, very short. We broke up one lesson over the course of three to four days.

The second thing you want to teach is math. Remember, you’re going to do about 10 minutes of this math program a day. So I am actually going to refer you to a blog called Kate’s Homeschool Math Help, where she has a number of different articles on helping you choose the best math program for your child.

boy learning letters

Our personal favorite is a program called Math-U-See, which is a mastery based program. It is set up very differently than anything you’ve probably ever seen if you are coming out of the public school system, but we have loved that program and it has stood my children well.

Finally you will want a handwriting program. You can start with cursive or you can start with print. I have friends who have started with cursive. We took the traditional route and started with print. If I had it to do over again, I probably would start with cursive.

We used a program called Letter Stories from IEW and that was our favorite print first program for our kids.

Basically, that’s it right there. Those three programs — learning how to read, doing a little bit of math every day, and learning how to do some handwriting (handwriting practice five minutes tops).

So what does your child who is K-3 not need? They don’t need grammar. Save yourself the trouble and wait until they’re at least 10-years-old to start the grammar program. And honestly, the composition program as well. You’re going to be reading a lot of good books and having conversations with your child, getting them to express their thoughts. Don’t worry about the act of composition at such an early age.

As they get older, you might want to add copywork and maybe a little bit of dictation, because that’s going to help them ease into those composition writing skills. When I say copywork and dictation, I’m talking about maybe for a second grader or third grader, but don’t worry about getting your children to write paragraphs or papers when they are under 10-years-old; it is simply not necessary.

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Incorporating Your Child’s Interests In The Early Elementary Years

Your next question may be what about science and history and all those other subjects? Shouldn’t my students be doing those? Shouldn’t we have a textbook or a workbook? And the answer is no, you shouldn’t.

When your kids are younger, what you want to do instead for these content area subjects is you want to follow your children’s interests. If they’re into dinosaurs, if they’re into space, if they’re into King Arthur, if they’re into ancient Egypt — you want to get tons and tons of picture books about those things and read, read, read, and find some fun hands-on projects to do.

boy and girl releasing butterfly

Because while these kids are young, while you don’t have a lot of requirements on you, you want to teach them that learning is something that we enjoy doing, and it’s fun and exciting. You do that by reading lots of good books and doing some fun activities. You don’t need expensive curriculum to do that.

What Your Child Really Needs In The Early Elementary Homeschool Years

What your child really needs in the early years is habit building. Building the good habits of being a good learner. You do that by being consistent with your homeschool.

Build a morning time habit where your kids get up and enjoy starting their day to together by doing some of these fun content-area subjects (like history and science) in a family context. Set the tone for your homeschool day with the Morning Basket by enjoying learning together.

Focus on that love of learning and those basic skills. Keep it simple, do it together, enjoy your time.



  • Kelsey says:

    Do you have any suggestions for good cursive-first programs that you’ve seen? Thanks!

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