homeschool FAQ

You Asked: How to Organize your Homeschool Library

You Asked: How to Organize your Homeschool Library

The key to useful and accessible homeschool library: Good organization. If you want to wrangle your book collection into a well-organized library, you’re going to have to get hands-on. Here’s how.

New Resource: Your Guide to Homeschooling 1st Grade

New Resource: Your Guide to Homeschooling 1st Grade by Shelli Bond Pabis

When I began homeschooling, I felt overwhelmed. There were too many books, blogs, and other resources. I wanted a short, sweet guide to help me get started teaching my son. I never found that, so I decided to write one myself.

I’m happy to announce that The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade is now finished and available for you! It’s short, but it’s also packed with information. This book will be helpful to any parent who has a child between the ages of 4-8 or thereabouts. “First Grade” is merely a guide. Not an absolute.

When we officially began homeschooling (that is, according to the state law), I asked, “What are 1st grade students supposed to learn?” Yes, there are books and websites out there that will tell you, and when I looked at them, I started to panic! Are you kidding me? A first grader is supposed to know all that?! 

I calmed down, and ultimately, I used those lists as a guide for some simple lessons, but truthfully, I didn’t teach even a quarter of it to my son that year. Instead, I realized that by creating an environment that would honor his questions and foster his creativity, he was learning more than enough. I knew it was important that I let him use his imagination, play, and start a good routine. When he was five-years-old, I decided to create priorities for our homeschool that are still helping me plan our goals six years later. And the daily habits I set in place that year have helped me tremendously as we dig into more academic work now.

I wrote The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade for those of you who want to teach your children, but you also don’t want them to lose their love of learning. There is a list (not an overwhelming one) about what 1st graders typically learn in school, but then I also show you how to start thinking like a homeschooler. The first grade is the perfect time for setting up good habits that will last throughout your child’s whole education, and I will encourage you to set up the habits that are most important to you. 

Also in this e-book you will find: 

  • a list of the most popular educational philosophies used by homeschoolers today
  • clickable resource links
  • how to create a physical environment that will foster creativity and learning
  • a tip on how to get your child to try something without forcing him/her
  • tips on lesson planning and scheduling
  • tips on how to meet other homeschoolers
  • a secular resource guide
  • suggested reading list
  • and more…

I hope you’ll check out the Table of Contents and Introduction here and also get back to me about this and other resources you’d like to see here on home/school/life. Amy and I are dedicated to making the home/school/life website a complete resource for families at every stage of homeschooling, so we want your input. Thanks!

Q&A: How Do I Deal with the Clique-y Moms in Our Homeschool Group?

Bottom line: Clique-y moms don’t have to keep you from enjoying a homeschool group — but if they do, it’s perfectly fine to just move on.

We recently found a homeschool group that my kids love. The problem: The moms are super clique-y and not very nice. Is it worth continuing in a group where I’m miserable, even if my kids are happy with it?

Well, the question you need to ask here is, “Does it matter if this group is a good fit for me?” It’s possible that it doesn’t — you may have your own group of friends and a strong support network, and you can view this group as a social outlet that’s just for your kids. In that case, treat it as you would any activity waiting room: Bring a book or catch up on your phone calls or work on a knitting project, and grab a seat where you don’t have to deal directly with the not-so-nice moms. Smile and say “hi” when you arrive, wave “bye” when you head out, and don’t give any of your emotional energy to the situation beyond that.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that you’re looking for a social outlet for you as well as for your kids. If that’s your situation, you may want to give these moms a second chance before writing them off. It’s possible that you misread their cues on your first outing, and they are really more welcoming than you thought. Sometimes what seems like shutting other people out is really just a group of people being so excited to catch up with each other that they forget there’s a world outside their group. If you jump into the conversation, they may welcome your participation.

If you’re dealing with a real mom clique — and they’re out there — assume that you aren’t the only mom to get the cold shoulder, and look for other parents on the fringe of the group. Strike up a conversation with the mom who always shows up with a book or the dad who spends the hour working on his tablet. And warmly welcome newcomers who show up, like you, hoping to find a piece of their homeschool community in the group. You may discover that the clique is only a small (if salient) part of the overall group.

If your best efforts still leave you feeling lonely and on the outside, it may be that this just isn’t the group for your family — even if your kids seem to enjoy it. New homeschool groups sprout up every year — you could even start one yourself — and finding one that’s a good fit for your clan can take time and effort. Sometimes moving on is the best way to deal with a snooty group of moms. 

This Q&A was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of HSL.

Homeschool FAQ: Teaching What You Don’t Know

Homeschool FAQ: Teaching What You Don’t Know

My daughter wants to study Latin—which is great, except that there aren’t any home- school Latin classes in our area, and Latin is—well, Greek to me. Is it possible to succeed in teaching a subject when I know almost nothing about it?

As you move into middle and high school, you may find yourself with a kid who wants to take classes outside your knowledge base. It’s totally, absolutely, 100-percent okay to outsource those classes, either by using a plug-and-play curriculum that gives you step-by-step guidance, signing up for online or in-person classes, or joining a co-op where another parent can take over. The older your student gets, the more important outsourcing will become in your homeschool life. But don’t think outsourcing is your only option: You can teach a class you know nothing about—and teach it well.

The key is to drop the mantle of teacher and put on the mantle of fellow student so that you and your child become learning partners. For this to work, you’ve got to tackle the topic together. How do you do this? It breaks down into three simple steps:

Making the choice that works for your particular kid always counts as successful homeschooling.

Be upfront with your student: “I don’t know much more about Latin than you do, but I’m excited to learn about it with you.” It’s important to talk about this with your student and to really listen to what she has to say— maybe she’ll be thrilled to continue your learning-together tradition, or maybe she’ll be concerned about whether your Latin adventure will adequately prepare her for the college classics classes she wants to take. Don’t let your ego or your desire to teach everything get in the way of what’s right for your student—if she’s looking for an academically rigorous course and you aren’t confident your plan will deliver it, consider other options. Making the choice that works for your particular kid always counts as successful homeschooling.

Be prepared for a big commitment. Self-directed learning can be invigorating and exciting, but it isn’t easy—expect to spend a lot of time and energy resources in pursuing an unfamiliar subject. For this kind of learning to work, you can’t expect your student to do anything that you’re not doing yourself, from memorizing vocabulary cards to working through translations. You want to keep pace with your student, but you also want to set the pace for the class so that you’re progressing. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours a week working on your own for this class, in addition to the time you spend working with your child.

Choose a simple, straightforward program with a workbook or lots of exercises to give you plenty of practice with concepts. (We use Ecce Romani for Latin, which I really like.) It’s scary to think about taking on an unfamiliar subject in your homeschool, but if it’s something you’re interesting in learning about, too, this kind of learning together can be a homeschooling win-win.

This Q&A is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.

Should You Break Up with Your Curriculum?

You put a lot of effort — and sometimes, a lot of money — into choosing the right curriculum, so it’s not always easy to let one go. But sometimes moving on is the right thing. Here are a few tips to help you figure out whether it’s time to say adios to a curriculum that isn’t working for your homeschool.  PHOTO: Death to Stock Photos

You put a lot of effort — and sometimes, a lot of money — into choosing the right curriculum, so it’s not always easy to let one go. But sometimes moving on is the right thing. Here are a few tips to help you figure out whether it’s time to say adios to a curriculum that isn’t working for your homeschool.

Consider your timing. Maybe the curriculum is great — just not right now. Your child might not be academically or emotionally ready for a particular curriculum—in which case, putting it back on the shelf for a few months or years may be all you need to get the perfect fit. 

Tweak the assignments. If a curriculum has too much writing or too few hands-on activities, you can easily change some of the writing assignments to oral presentations or add a few experiments. An okay curriculum can become a great one with a few strategic tweaks. But if your tweaks end up rebuilding the curriculum from scratch, you might be better off letting that curriculum go and forging your own path. 

Use it as a guide. If you like the content a particular curriculum covers but not its methods, you can always use the syllabus as a starting point to create your own curriculum. Similarly, if you love a curriculum’s method but wish it covered different topics, you can use its methods to inspire your own curricular creations. 

Recoup your loss. If a curriculum doesn’t work, don’t let it glare at you from your schoolroom shelves. Resell it, and use the money to invest in a program that you love. Chances are, that not-right-for-you curriculum is perfect for another family, so you’ll be helping someone out and getting rid of a problem in one swoop. 

This was part of our Problem: Solved feature in the winter 2015 issue of HSL, along with other ideas for teaching math when you hate math, writing your own curriculum, getting organized for high school, and more.

How to Start Homeschooling in the Middle of the Year

How to Start Homeschooling in the Middle of the Year

There are lots of reasons you might decide to start homeschooling in the middle of the traditional school year, but it usually boils down to the fact that you’re ready to start homeschooling Right Now.

Q&A: Dealing with Competitive Homeschool Parents

Great tips for dealing (politely) with homeschool moms who get competitive about how their kids are doing. #homeschool

One of the moms at our regular park day wants to turn every learning-related conversation into a competition where her kids are smarter and better than everyone else. How can I politely shut her down?  

If you started homeschooling to get away from competitive education, you may be out of luck. For every chill, laidback homeschooler who’s never looked at her child’s test scores, there’s a homeschooling mom who watches her — and your — child’s academic progress like a hawk. Your son loves Harry Potter? Her daughter just finished War and Peace. Your daughter is finishing up her math workbook? Her son found that particular curriculum way too easy. Your son loves his new art class? Her son is repainting the Sistine Chapel. Whatever you’re talking about, the conversation always seems to veer to how smart/talented/superior her child is.

Before you get grumpy, consider the fact that this mom may be facing criticism from her family or insecurity about her own abilities to be a successful homeschool parent. She may be aggressive because she feels like she has to convince other people that her child is doing well. While that knowledge won’t make her behavior any less irritating, it can help you deal with it politely, says Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. For starters, resist getting drawn into specifics: The more details you give, the more ammunition she has for comparison. Be vague: “Oh, we’re always reading, but I don’t know what’s on the list off the top of my head,” or “We’re doing pretty well in math right now, but I’m afraid if I talk about it too much, I’ll jinx it.”

If she keeps pushing, it’s perfectly acceptable to let her know you’re not interested in the conversation: “All we’ve done is talk about school stuff! I’d love to know more about that farmers market you were talking to Susan about” or “Jordan’s reading list is under control, but I’m looking for something to read myself. Have you read any good books lately?” And if your polite diversions don’t have any effect, you’re well within your mannerly rights to excuse yourself and relocate your blanket to another part of the playground.


Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.

Q&A: Teaching Current Events in Your Homeschool

Great resources for teaching current events in your homeschool.

One of the things I want to be sure to do as a homeschooler is to keep my kids plugged into what’s happening to the world at large. Are there any great current events resources you recommend?

You’re wise to introduce current events early in your homeschool. Students who participate in elementary and middle school current events classes are more than twice as likely as their non-news-informed friends to follow politics and world news as teens and young adults. Finding the right resources is just part of the plan, though. To really engage kids in current events, you need to find opportunities for them to interact with the news, says Thomas Turner, Ph.D., a professor of education at Tennessee State University. Let your student come up with opening and closing arguments for a controversial news case, engage in family debates, or put together your own newscast of the week’s most important stories. Older kids can follow a story across different media to see how the news changes depending on the outlet and whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, or television broadcast. You can certainly use your regular newspaper and nightly news programs to study current events, but if you’re looking for a kid-friendly introduction to the news, these resources (most of which take summers off) fit the bill:

CNN Student News :: A 10-minute daily newscast covers the day’s top stories. Maps, background-information articles, and discussion questions help put the news in context.

Student News Daily :: Thoughtful discussion questions help kids make sense of the day’s news. This is a good resource for introducing the idea of media bias and helping students recognize bias in reporting.

PBS NewsHour Extra :: Get current news stories organized by subject. Smartly compiled lesson plans help kids build an understanding of how news affects history, geography, society, and more.

Scholastic News  :: Age- appropriate current events are pulled from Scholastic’s print magazines.

Time for Kids :: The pop culture vibe of this magazine-related news website may appeal to news-reluctant tweens.

The New York Times Learning Network :: In-depth analysis of recent news stories teaches kids how to approach news. The site also taps into the Times' extensive archives to illuminate historical events.

Tween Tribune :: The editors of this middle school news resource have a knack for choosing news stories that appeal to younger readers.


Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.

The Easiest Way to Get Organized for Homeschooling High School

Super easy, fool-proof method to keep up with homeschooling high school - love how simple this system is!

Homeschooling high school doesn’t have to mean acquiring organizational super skills. This easy organization method won’t stress you out and will make your life a whole lot easier when you start working on transcripts and other official paperwork for high school graduation. (This is our most-requested reprint from the magazine.) The envelope solution is elegant, effective, and so simple you can’t screw it up. Start it in ninth grade — eighth if you’re feeling particularly ambitious — and when it’s time to start the college application process, you’ll be all set. Here's how it works.

Label a large envelope for each class with the full name of the course and grade number (such as 9-Honors English 1 or 11-AP U.S. History). Add a separate envelope for extracurricular activities — if your child is serious about an activity, like soccer or theater, you may want to create a separate envelope for that particular activity as well as one for general extracurricular activities.

Label another envelope with your teen’s grade level and Honors — you’ll use this envelope to stash certificates of achievement, pictures of science fair experiments, and other awards and recognitions. Add one last envelope for community service — again, be sure to label it with your student’s grade level.

Make a basic information sheet for each class your child is taking. Include:

  • the textbook(s) used, with ISBN number
  • a copy of the textbook’s table of contents (Do this now. The last thing you want to do is end up rooting through boxes in the garage in a couple of years to figure out if your son’s freshman biology class included a section on genetics.)
  • the course description and syllabus
  • the name of the teacher (yes, even if it’s you!)
  • the number of credit hours the course entails


Tuck this information sheet securely in the envelope. Add items to envelope as the year progresses. Things you’ll want to include:

  • graded papers and tests
  • samples of presentations, lab reports, or other work done in the class
  • a running reading list (Add titles of books and essays to the list as you read them so you don’t have to try to remember everything at the end of the year. Even better, have your student keep an annotated reading list — with notes about each book.)
  • notes about associated activities — visits to museums, lectures, theaters, etc. — that relate to the class


At the end of the class, write the final grade and total credit hours on the front of the envelope. Inside the envelope, add:

  • official grades — community college report cards, printouts from an online class, or your evaluations
  • Ask any outside teacher to write a recommendation letter or evaluation for your student. Do it now while your student’s work is still fresh in their minds, and add the recommendation to your envelope. If you decide to ask this teacher for a recommendation when you’re working on college applications, you can give him his original recommendation to refresh his memory.
  • If your student ends up taking an AP or CLEP exam in a subject, add the exam results to your envelope. Similarly, if your student publishes or wins an award for work she started in the class, add those credits to your envelope.


Use a binder clip to group your envelopes — depending on how your brain works, you may want them grouped by grade level, by subject matter, or by some other criteria. However you group them, they’ll make writing that final transcript a lot easier since all your information will be organized in one place.

Reprinted from the winter 2015 issue’s Problem: Solved feature, which also tackled writing your own curriculum, keeping up with library books, getting over bad days, how to tell the difference between a homeschool slump and when you’re ready to stop homeschooling, and lots more

Q&A: Homeschool Volunteer Projects for Families with Young Kids

Homeschool Q&A: Finding Volunteer Opportunities for Families with Young Kids

Q: I’d like to make community service a regular part of our homeschool, but I’m not sure where to start. My kids are 6 and 8 years old, and a lot of organizations seem to want volunteers who are at least 16. Do you have any suggestions for homeschoolers looking for volunteer opportunities?


A: Yes! Volunteering is a great family project, and it’s definitely worth the effort of seeking out opportunities for your kids to contribute to their community and the world around them.

With younger kids like yours, the volunteer driver will be you: You’ll choose activities you care about and bring your kids along for the ride, whether that means carrying trash bags at your local park’s annual clean-up days or decorating the box for your family’s food bank drive contribution. Let your kids know that their contribution makes a difference — say things like, “Isn’t it great to clean up the park? It’s a lot of work for one person, but it’s easier when we all do it together. We’re lucky to have such a fun park to play in. I’m glad we can take care of it.”

Some organizations welcome younger volunteers as long as their parent sticks around: Check with animal shelters, nursing and retirement homes, community gardens, and food banks, which are often family friendly volunteer zones. Or consider volunteer work you can do at home, such as making blankets for Project Linus or drawing pictures for Color a Smile.

It’s great when kids get the bigger picture at a younger age, but don’t be disappointed if your children don’t immediately appreciate the importance of volunteer work. For most kids, a developed sense of empathy and interest in the larger world around them don’t really start to kick in until they’re 10 years old or so. That’s when kids will really start to appreciate the positive impact they are having on their community as a reward on its own—until then, try to keep the projects fun and give your young volunteers plenty of positive reinforcement for their community service efforts.

Q&A: How can I help my student focus?

Great tips for helping your homeschooler develop better focus.

Now that my son is in sixth grade, he’s doing work that requires him to really dig in and focus. He’s doing good work, but he’s so easily distracted, and he has trouble concentrating. Is there anything I can do to help improve his focus?

Learning to focus can be hard even for adults, but most of the time, all you need to boost your concentration is a change in your routine and regular practice, says Michael Coates, M.D., chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Try these easy-to-implement actions to help your son improve his focus.

Set a timer. Something about an established time limit — “Work on this math for 15 minutes” — inspires focus, so don’t hesitate to break out the kitchen timer when you get to a subject you know taxes your son’s concentration skills. Start with small increments of time, and gradually increase time spent until you reach the amount of focused time you’re shooting for. This works best if you don’t rush — you don’t have to increase the time every day. Instead, give your son a chance to really adjust to each increase before adding more time.

Check your sleep habits. Around sixth grade, some kids start making the shift to adolescent sleep habits, which means their bodies naturally want to stay up later and sleep longer in the mornings. Kids really need at least seven hours of sleep a night to concentrate during the day, so if your child’s sleep patterns are changing but your schedule isn’t, it may be time to try something different. Even just starting an hour later in the morning may be enough to improve your son’s concentration.

Practice mindfulness. If your son starts to drift off during reading assignments or conversations, it may be that he’s spoiled by the everything-now nature of video games, Wikipedia, and Twitter. To help him shake that I-could-be-doing-10-other-things-now feeling, encourage him to pause and wiggle his toes or snap his fingers. That moment of focused concentration will help his focus settle back down.

Have a glass of water. A 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that being as little as two percent dehydrated — such mild dehydration that your body doesn’t even feel thirsty — can negatively impact concentration. Pour your son a big glass of water before his next intensive focus session.

Jump around. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve focus, so take plenty of action breaks to walk around the block, kick a soccer ball in the backyard, do jumping jacks in the living room, or play a quick round of Wii Sports between subjects.

Bottom line: Don’t expect your son’s concentration abilities to develop on their own. Help him sharpen them over time by test-driving different focus-boosting techniques.

Originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season.Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we'll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.

How to Talk About Homeschooling (So That People Will Listen)

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

I left kindergarten for a life of school-free self directed learning, so I’ve had many years to get used to talking about home education. Some people are curious or excited, some angry or defensive, but what remains a constant is that almost everyone has an opinion on the topic and some questions to ask. I still freeze up sometimes when asked an unexpected question, or stumble over a simple explanation, but for the most part I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the range of questions and reactions that come from different people.

The approach I take hinges on a couple of key questions: who is it I’m talking to? And, what’s my goal for this conversation? It all depends on the answers to those questions.

Interested strangers or acquaintances

When I’m talking to someone I’ve just met or don’t know well, I often pull out my “elevator speech” and talk a bit more about the unique education I had, since I want to share these ideas with people. “I was unschooled,” I say, “which is basically a self directed form of homeschooling where parents act as facilitators instead of teachers.” I answer questions (again without getting defensive), while keeping a firm stance on what I will and won’t talk about. I recognize that no one is entitled to my time spent explaining my life and education, so as much or as little as I feel happy sharing is enough. If the people I’m talking to react negatively and confrontationally, I just try and change the subject, remove myself from the conversation, or firmly tell people when their questions or reactions aren’t appropriate (when people try and quiz me, as they have even in my adult years, I tell them that it’s rude and I decided long ago not to answer when people ask such questions).

I think what’s best to remember is that you never have to be an advocate if you don’t want to, and to not get dragged into arguments, keep your cool, and set boundaries around what type of conversations you will and won’t engage in. Each person you talk to will have different questions and concerns and will be curious about different aspects of homeschooling, so I find it’s best to follow their lead and answer the questions they’re interested in, or respond to their biggest concerns. I’ve found that conversations with interested strangers and acquaintances can be really rewarding, and help people think about education in a new light.

Health care providers, bureaucrats, and other professionals from whom I need some service or assistance

If my goal is getting something I need, I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of unschooling or get into any long explanations. In these instances, if it comes up I simply say I was homeschooled, and when their eyebrows raise and their mouth forms an “oh,” I just smile, say it was a good experience for me, and succinctly answer any questions they have. Several things I’ve found important in these types of conversations is to make the upbringing I had sound as normal and as similar to school as possible; to answer only the questions that are asked and not get into any long explanations; and to make sure I remain calm and non-defensive, whether the person I’m dealing with is polite in their questioning or not. My priority isn’t to educate them, it’s to get the services I need, so I try and keep things as light, non-confrontational, and brief as possible. I’ve now got this down to a science, and can reassure concerned doctors and other people in a remarkably short amount of time!

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Friends, family, and loved ones

These are the people who you most want to support your choices, so naturally these are often the most difficult discussions to have. One thing I’ve personally found important is staying away from comparing my education to a school education. Instead of trying to show how baking helped me get better at math, or talking about how my reading comprehension was on grade level, I think things worked best when we just shared the richness of our lives and learning, without making comparisons to to a schooled life. Talk about all you’re learning and doing, what each individual is passionate about and engaged in, without couching it in school terms or trying to make things sound more like school. We’ve chosen to live and learn differently because we think it’s a better option for us, so share why you feel that way instead of trying to show how similar your life is to school.

Of course it’s also important to remember that even if someone is family, you’re not obliged to share every detail of your lives or allow relatives to quiz you or your kids. Share the aspects of your life that you feel are the most important and exciting, and as politely as possible set limits on what you will and will not talk about.

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Everyones’ experiences will be different, and to a large extent I think each of us needs to develop our own strategies. I just hope that, by sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years, others can gain inspiration in their own journeys of living school free and sharing their educational journeys with others!