Ever wished you could have your homeschooling questions answered by someone far more experienced than yourself? Me too. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to do just that.

Together with four sweet blogging friends (Tsh, Jessica, Mandi and Heidi, as well as the amazing Sarah Park), I travelled to Williamsburg, VA to meet Susan Wise Bauer. We were treated to a beautiful and luxurious stay at a Bed & Breakfast, spent time touring Colonial Williamsburg, and simply enjoyed one another’s friendship. Talking, talking and more talking was pretty much the theme of our weekend.

We were honored to be guests at Susan’s gorgeous farm, and sit together in her living room, talking homeschooling and mothering and writing, and many things in between. As promised, I brought along questions from you, my readers. Here’s your chance to be a fly on the wall during our conversation, as I posed some of those questions to Susan…

Stephanie: I get a lot of questions asking where do you even begin, particularly when you’re pulling your kids out of school to begin homeschooling? How do you decide how much to fit into a day or week, and what curriculum to use?

Susan: If you’re pulling your kids out of school for the first time and you’ve got more than one, I always tell parents the best thing to do is to get a curriculum-in-a-box for the first year.

There will be parts of it that you hate and you’re probably going to find it doesn’t fit you at all all, but then you know what you’re doing, right? So the first thing is to not get caught up in “I’ve got to find the perfect curriculum because I”m pulling my kid out of school and the first year has to be perfect”.

The first year needs to be about pulling the kid out of school. It’s about establishing a new learning routine, and as long as you’re doing your math, your grammar, your language arts, all your core subjects– then you can’t fret too much about “have I found our learning style? Was this a wonderful experience?” Because everybody wants the first year of homeschooling to be this fantastic experience so that the kid won’t want to go back to school. It just doesn’t work that way.

The focus has to be on being at home. So if you over-research that first year, you end up with this jam-packed schedule. You’ve got 15 things you want to do, all these fanastic resources, you’re all excited about the learning. But you forget that having them at home, that’s your biggest learning curve your first year. So get a curriculum-in-a-box.

And then at the point when you think to yourself, I hate this particular aspect, that’s the time to research that particular part of the curriculum. You have to be willing to sort of ladder it, very gradually. And I think going to a homeschool convention is probably a horrible idea, because you get bombarded with all of these ideal homeschooling worlds, all of these vendors and speakers have this world they’re going to share with you, “This is how it’s going to work!”. That’s for the second year. That’s a great thing to do in the second year, when you’ve got some sense.

When you start, you don’t even know how your kids learn. You don’t know how long they can work. You don’t know how they process things. Those are all things you start to learn that first year. Until you know that, you can’t make any choices.

Stephanie: What about those who are just starting out with their oldest child, with several little ones at home?

Susan: That’s true when you’ve got a lot of little kids, too. When you’re just moving into homeschooling, even if they haven’t been in school, you start with your grammar and your math. And that’s all you do, until you figure that out. Then you add another subject, and then you add another subject.

People overbuy for the elementary grades in the most astounding manner. It’s probably because it’s fun. You know, it’s like toys for you, more than for the kid. Everything’s all shiny. And pretty! (Heidi cuts in… “and the UPS guy comes and brings a package!” and Susan retorts, “It would be better to knit or something, and order yarn by UPS instead.”)

Just do your core stuff. And I say that as someone who is really happy when people buy my history curriculum and I would love for them to do it, but that’s not where you start. (Someone else pipes in, “but that’s the fun part!“). Yes, it is, but you have to figure out the routine first, then start to add in.

Stephanie: Well, that’s another question I have. When you have those terrible, no-good days, what do you focus on? If you can only do one or two things before you pull your hair out, what do you do?

Susan: I always did math and grammar, but, it depends what kind of horrible, no-good day it is. If it’s just one of those chaotic, kids are all running around and I can’t get everything done, but everybody’s happy kind of days, then I would do the core stuff. If it’s one of those days where everyone is weeping, then you do the fun things and skip everything else. It depends what kind of melt down you’re having.

Heidi: It’s almost like you need inspiration or something to connect with.

Jessica: Or even just reading books. I remember days when the oldest was 8 and they all filtered down below that and there was a baby in the mix, and he was bucking whatever math or whatever we were doing, and I was like, let’s just read the Roman mysteries.

Susan: I have on my website these real examples of “days in my house” when my kids were toddlers and babies, and that’s what it’s like. I mean, seriously, I spent entire days sitting and rocking Emily (her youngest) because she would just scream and scream and scream. We did snatches. I feel like we did math 10-minutes at a time for an entire year. But it was only one year.

Jessica: My MIL was a schoolteacher when she was diagnosed with cancer, and her students had a range of substitute teachers. Their year was trashed, and then I remembered, oh yeah, my French teacher died one year, and that year of French was also trashed. That happens in any system (homeschooling or not).

Susan: That’s one of the reasons why I think standardized testing is a really good idea, even though most homeschoolers really buck it, is because at least it gives me some sense (of where they’re at).

I think that our expectations of where our kids are and how they’re doing can either be so much further below where they should be (because you’re so busy) and it doesn’t occur to you that the kids aren’t really doing very much. Or, they can be way up here, and I think that tends to be more often the problem. There’s all this stuff that we think they have to be doing.

So we always did the standardized tests, and I would send them away to be graded and they would come back and I would be like “ahhhh” (sigh of relief)… The standardized tests were a real reassurance and help to me.

More to Come…

This is just a portion of what we discussed, and I have more that I would love to share. There’s so much of our weekend that I can’t even begin to describe or it would take me a week’s worth of writing, but I do promise that I will share as much of it as I can.

Heidi has actually done an amazing job of sharing the details of our weekend, along with a ton of her gorgeous photos, in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. You can see more of the Bauer family’s farm, the B & B where we stayed, Colonial Williamsburg, and even a few glimpses of how cute and squishy baby Kepler has gotten. 🙂

How do you handle terrible, no-good days? And what helps to reassure you that you’re where your at in your homeschooling?

Thanks to TriLight Health for their partial sponsorship of my trip to Virginia! You may have noticed me mention TriLight before, and that’s because I’m such a big fan of their herbal liquid remedies and supplements. Our family uses them frequently, and they’re one of my top recommendations for those wanting to use herbs for better health.

All images by Heidi Scovel.
Disclosure: My accomodations at the Peace Hill Bed & Breakfast were complimentary, but I am not under any obligation to post about my stay. I also received free curriculum, compliments of Peace Hill Press. All opinions expressed in this post are my own, unless specified as a quote from another person.