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Ten Things First Year Homeschoolers Should Know

Ten things first year homeschoolers should know


We did it. We survived the first year! We pieced our way through, and came out the other side in one piece. For the most part.

I have to tell you, it was a LOT of work. It wasn’t always easy. The things that I thought were going to be a slam dunk, well…they weren’t. The things I was most worried about tended to be easier than I imagined. We dumped curriculum, picked up new ones, tried lots of different things. What I thought I knew at the beginning of the year was not what I thought at the end of the year.

And through all of that, I still have to say this: it has been the best decision we have ever made as parents.

Homeschooling is tough. It isn’t for wimps. But the benefits are pretty spectacular. My kids and I have a pretty awesome relationship now. We laugh together. We are curious together. We learn together. That’s right, I make sure they see me learning right along with them. I am tough and play the teacher role too, but mostly we learn together.

We are three weeks into our second year, so I thought I would sit down and write out the things I want first-year homeschoolers to know.

There are a million ways to ‘Do School.’ There is no wrong way to do it. Well, there are, but if you are researching homeschooling then likely you aren’t being lazy or taking the neglectful way out. So whether it is unschooling or relaxed homeschooling, eclectic or structured curriculum, Charlotte Mason or Classical, there is no wrong way to do it. We began last year with an online curriculum. It helped my kids transition from the routine and structure of public school into the self-teaching method of homeschooling. It was a great fit for about two months, at which point we had a better footing on what WE wanted schooling to look like. We began eclectic homeschooling, using multiple sources and ideas for our school time. By December we had begun a transition to inquiry based learning, using project based learning sources across the web. We are fully inquiry-based this year.

LittleMissSunshine studying

Working on a sewing project while watching one of her history lessons.

Deschooling is important if they were in public schools.  In most public schools they are consumers of education. In homeschool the goal is usually to help them become self-directed learners. This is not an instant or easy transition. Some people define deschooling as just letting kids do whatever they want. That wouldn’t work for us. Both of my kids needed help transitioning from the consumer method of learning to the self-directed method. We did this by having an hour set aside every day just for self-directed learning. Their morning work was core work, on the computer, that was lead by the curriculum. (We used Time4Learning and/or Khan Academy.) But in the afternoon we had an hour set aside for them to choose their work: Learning games. Recreating ancient cities in Minecraft. Researching and completing projects. (LittleMissSunshine researched backpacking and planned an entire trip for the family.) Music lessons. Computer programming classes. All of these and many others allowed them to take control of their schooling. We began to creep that into other parts of our schedule, with JD teaching us about Kentucky history, or watching TED Talks together and discussing the ideas from the talk. By mid-October we had ditched Time4Learning and by January they were for the most part doing their schoolwork on their own, using their resources to teach themselves.

Schedules or Routines help. I understand unschooling, and I think it is great. I hear a lot from other homeschool moms that they love the flexibility of homeschooling. But I also hear a lot of gripes from them about how hard it is to get their kids to transition into “school time” or to do their work. This is where I am a huge fan of schedules and routines. I am ADHD. My kids are both ADHD. My parents were hippies and I lean that way myself. Trust me, if ever there was a family that doesn’t like being told what to do and when, it is us! But schedules and routines have proved to be invaluable the past year. My kids appreciate it because they like knowing what is expected of them. There was no arguing by my kids when it was time to do their work. They understood when was their free time, and when was time to do their work. I didn’t have to stand over them, arguing with them or cajoling them out of playtime and into school time. In fact, our routine gave me a lot more freedom to blend the two together. Let me say that again–our schedule and routine didn’t take away mine or my kids’ freedom, it added to it. We each knew what was expected from us, and when, and could use that as a basic framework. I knew that mom playtime was here, and mom worktime was there. I knew I had built in time to the day to do my housework, my teaching work, and my own free time to read, to garden, to play on Facebook. My kids had the same. They had time to play Minecraft, to watch YouTube videos, but they also had time to do their work. I’m sharing our routine below for newbies so you can kind of see what worked for us. Within our schedule the kids had flexibility to choose their own activities. For example, within “core work” time, they knew what they needed to complete each week–but they were free to choose which days they completed it. If they wanted to knock out a week’s worth of math at once and be done with it, they could. If they wanted to parcel it out, a little each day, they could. It was up to them, and this gave them a lot of freedom within our structured framework. You’ll notice our day begins with a family walk. This is by design, as it is a clear line between free time, and school time. (It also counts as PE!)

9 a.m.–Dressed and downstairs for breakfast and morning chores

10 a.m.–School begins with a morning family walk

10:30 a.m.–CNN Student News

10:45 a.m.–Journaling time

10:50 a.m.–Core work time (Math, science, social studies, spelling, etc.)

12:00 p.m.–Lunch!

1:00 p.m.–TED Talk

1:20 p.m.–Literature/read aloud time

1:45 p.m.–Self-directed study time

2:45 p.m.–School ends


You don’t have to recreate the public school classroom at home. For most of us, the public school model of schooling is the only one we have ever known. Doing it differently is enticing, but scary, and often we revert to the methods we see everyone else using. Desks, notebooks, textbooks, and lots and lots of worksheets. Moms become teachers, lecturing and instructing their children on a daily basis. Moms burn out, kids rebel, and we wonder why we aren’t having any fun yet. Don’t be afraid to change things, to sit on the couch or to get up and play. I researched and used a lot of Montessori methods last year during our math and language arts time, which really helped us grow and learn about our own learning styles.

Homeschool classroom

Early days in our first year. Look how neat and clean it all is!

Don’t marry a curriculum. There are thousands upon thousands of curriculums, and each one seems to be pricier than the next. If you ask in a group of homeschoolers which is best, you will get an avalanche of options–but a few are bantered about as THE best. Saxon math. Teaching Textbooks. Abeka. Sonlight. Honestly? There is no one size fits all curriculum. The one that works for my best friend and her kids is not the one that works for us. If you get into a curriculum and find it isn’t a good fit, don’t be afraid to change. Kids are flexible. You aren’t a failure for needing something new. This is actually a great lesson for the kids in self-education–sometimes you need to try multiple things before you find the information you need to learn the skills. I went through a couple of different math curriculums before we found the ones that were our best fit. We started with Time4Learning, moved to Khan Academy (which we still love and use for testing) but when we stumbled up on Life of Fred, we were hooked! Now both kids use it and love it. It is okay to try new things, sell the old, and move forward.

Ice crystals in bubbles

Ice crystals in bubbles

 Take advantage of your surroundings. One of the beautiful parts of homeschooling is that you don’t need to fill out tons of forms and jump through hoops to schedule field trips or to take advantage of one of a kind events. Last winter with the brutal cold we took the opportunity to do several science experiments out in the cold. We took a couple of field trips out to local historical sites, participated in letterboxing, and took in cultural events. Check with your local ballet and theatre for homeschool days–Cincinnati has a great arts community with lots of resources open to us. I bet your city does too, if you just ask!

Build rest into your schedule.  I know people saw me say “schedule” and “routine” and instantly thought I am a slave driver. But the opposite is true. We are very intentional around here, giving lots of opportunities for rest and free time throughout the week. We start the day slowly, with free time until school starts. We have an hour break in the middle of the day, and I make the kids (and myself) away from schoolwork for that time. We end early enough that they have a little free time to themselves before their friends come off the school bus. And then if they have finished their core work assignments for the week, then we take Fridays off for field trips, errands and other fun. As a society we tend to see being busy as a good thing, as if it makes us more valuable or important. But truthfully, it just makes us more burnt out. So make sure to schedule free time, and then use it. Moms, I’m talking to you, too. Even if it is only 15 minutes a day, schedule yourself some quiet time. I know, you’re busy and have no time for that. But you NEED it. Especially as a homeschooler. Schedule it and make yourself take it. It is for you, for your health. And it is for your kids, as they will mimic what they see you doing. There were many times in the last year where I had hit the wall, and I needed Fridays just to have some time to myself and restore my peace. Save your sanity, and build in free time.

JD said "If I can't buy Little Debbies then I want apples!"

Practical lesson in nutrition and finances at the grocery store.

Find a co-op. Co-ops are great for classes, but they are also a great lifeline for you. As a new homeschooler, you are constantly wondering if you are doing it “right.” My co-op has helped me to understand that I am doing well. They have been a great support, a lifeline of resources, and a great group of women to laugh with when things go horribly wrong. They have all been there, done that! Your kids will also enjoy the social time, and the chance to learn from other people. Our co-op has done some amazing projects, like the Shakespeare Company they assembled last year.

Take a monthly meeting with your kids. This was invaluable for us. Every month we’d sit down with the kids and ask them questions: What do you like? What could we be doing better? What do you wish never to do again? What would you like to do more of? How can I be a better teacher? What haven’t we done that you would like to try? Then we would turn the tables, and I would give them a fair assessment of their behavior and schoolwork. It helps to clear the air, bring out new ideas, and learn what is working and what isn’t. It also helped the kids feel like they have a part to play in their education. Now, there are non-negotiables. But for the most part, the kids were able to feel like they were being heard, and that their ideas mattered.


Kid? Or cat? We never know, but she sure loves the window seat!


Relax. Be flexible. Take a deep breath, and step back from the panic. That fear that you are going to screw up your kids? I know that one, very well. Here’s what I learned the first year: I will make mistakes, but all teachers do.  My kids aren’t screwed up because of it. In fact, after spending a year in homeschool world and then running into a lot of the public school kids in the neighborhood, I am pretty sure my kids are better off. So relax. And be flexible–learning can happen in so many ways. Sometimes life throws us curveballs and we need to roll with the punches. We have desks but they are more storage spaces than anything. The kids are just as likely to be doing their work on the couch or in the papasan (or even sitting on the floor) as they are at their desks. We’ve done schoolwork in hotel rooms, in hospital waiting rooms, even in the car on long-distance road trips. When we were trying to sell our house we often had showings in the middle of the school day, so we’d take lessons to the grocery store, to Starbucks, the library…we went wherever we could find a spot. We stick to our routine but sometimes everyone needs a break or a change of scenery. Don’t be afraid to change the schedule if you need to. It is YOUR school, set it up the way that works for YOU. You are going to do a great job!

Are you a homeschooler? What tip would you leave for a newbie? Share them in the comments below!


Ten Everyday Uses for Peppermint Oil

Ten Everyday Uses for Young Living Peppermint Essential Oil


Peppermint, Peppermint, Oh how I love thee peppermint!

Seriously, have you discovered how awesome this stuff is? We are in LOVE with peppermint around our home. It seems like every day we find a new use for Young Living Peppermint essential oil. It is our most-used oil, used several times a day around here. Here it is, not even noon, and I have already used it four times today! From a burst of energy to help with bug bites, it has all kinds of uses. Here is a list of our top ten uses for Peppermint Oil!

1. Energy–Feeling worn out? Sluggish and no motivation to do anything? Take a drop of peppermint into the palm of your hand and rub your hands together. Now inhale the vapors. BAM! The other day I desperately needed a nap, and felt like I couldn’t move from my chair–but I had a to-do list a mile long that just wouldn’t wait. Peppermint oil to the rescue! I was up and had all of my tasks completed without feeling like I was going to drop any second.

2. ADHD/Focus–Peppermint essential oil is AWESOME for ADHD issues, especially focus issues. If you fight brain fog or have kids who have trouble focusing, try diffusing peppermint oil, or rubbing some in your palms and inhaling the vapors. Research from the University of Cincinnati showed that inhaling peppermint essential oil increased mental accuracy by 28 percent! We have three people in our home with ADHD, myself included. Peppermint oil is a part of our personal ADHD blend, combined with vetiver and a few others, that really helps us focus and get our work done. In fact, I sit here writing with peppermint oil diffusing! It just helps me organize my thoughts better.

3. Soothing Bug Bites–Mix five drops of peppermint oil into a tablespoon of almond or olive oil, and store in a glass container. (I use these glass roller ball containers from Amazon.) When you or your kids end up covered in any kind of itchy bug bites, simply roll some on. The peppermint soothes the itching almost immediately. You can add a few drops of lavender essential oil  too, for a one-two knockout antihistamine punch. LittleMissSunshine forgot to use her all-natural bug spray the other day before heading out to play with friends, and came home covered in chigger bites that were driving her crazy! One roll of peppermint oil and the itching was gone!

4. Nausea–For centuries now, moms have reached for peppermint when their families had a tummyache. From overeating to the stomach flu, the scent of peppermint is enough to quell nausea. I carry peppermint oil in my purse now for this very reason. From kids who have overindulged on too much sugar to morning sickness to just old-fashioned nausea, a thirty second sniff is enough to set all right with the world! A month or so ago I was on vacation, and had overindulged in too much junk food during our trip. My stomach was protesting this sudden change, and loudly. I felt AWFUL. Like I was going to be sick any second. I spent an hour in pain, with a cold washcloth on my head, trying to make it all stop. I remembered I had some peppermint oil with me, and thought it couldn’t hurt anything to try. I didn’t expect much, I felt that bad! Well, I was shocked when two minutes later the entire thing was gone! GONE! No nausea. No pain. No anything. Within ten minutes I felt energetic and ready to go for the evening. I have no idea how it works, but I have used it time and time again. It works!

5. Allergies–Peppermint is a natural antihistamine, like Benadryl or Claritin, without the side effects! You can use peppermint essential oil all on its own, but for a super-duper antihistamine combination, I mix together lemon, lavender and peppermint oils into a glass roll-on container, diluted with almond oil. I rub this on the back of my neck or the wrists and palms of my hand for quick but lasting relief. Reapply as needed, usually two to three times a day. We have some pretty strong seasonal allergies around here, and have all found relief using this mixture. (I took allergy shots for 18 years, starting at only 9 months old–a rarity in the 70′s.) Many sites will suggest taking the oils in a capsule, but I don’t find it to be necessary. Simply rolling them on and inhaling the vapors has worked wonders for us. If you have several people in the house with allergies, diffusing peppermint after applying them would help as well.


Read here why I only use Young Living pure therapeutic grade Peppermint Essential Oils, and how you too can purchase them


6. Heartburn–I rarely get heartburn, not since I switched to a real foods diet. But every once in a while, when I eat out or have processed foods, it hits. I have tried lots of remedies, but nothing works as fast for me as peppermint oil! I put a single drop of peppermint oil in a glass of water and drink it down. BAM! Heartburn gone! (My lips do tingle a bit from the oil, so if you have time, mix the oil in a bit of honey or sugar first, to blend it into the water better.) The peppermint oil hits the acid that is causing the burning and kills my heartburn immediately!

7. Gas–If you are battling gas pains, we have found inhaling the scent of peppermint oil to be a huge help. We also will rub a diluted drop or two on our kids’ tummies. My daughter will go from pain to relief in just a couple of minutes. It seems to dissipate the gas quickly. I don’t understand how it works so fast, but it is such a blessed relief!

8. Respiratory Infections/Colds/Sinus Infections–From bronchitis to the cold to the flu, I have relied on peppermint oil to open passageways and soothe inflamed sinuses for several years now. For this, I find that inhaling or diffusing works best. It quiets coughs, opens up airways and dries up runny noses for us. My favorite way to use this is in a diffuser, for long term relief. But for immediate relief we put a drop or two into a cup of hot water, then cover it with our hands and inhale the warm vapors. They are very strong and will open up sinuses almost instantly for us. I have also been known to rub peppermint oil on their feet and chest to help boost the immune system and break up phlegm.

9. Headache pain–If you frequently suffer from headache pain, you want to make Young Living Peppermint essential oil your new best friend! Research has shown that peppermint oil blocked headache pain in a double-blind controlled study. I simply diffuse it or rub some on my temples. Headache is gone!

10. Sleepy Teenagers in the Morning–Have a teenager who has trouble getting up in the morning? Of course you do–they’re a teenager! Here is what I do–I have begun diffusing peppermint oil in JD’s room in the mornings. He wakes up faster, and has a much pleasanter demeanor when he comes down the stairs for breakfast. This alone is worth the price of a bottle!

Seriously, is there anything Peppermint Oil doesn’t help with? It seems to us to be an all-around swiss-army knife kind of oil. There are so many other ways we use it, like in our homemade hand soap, but these are our top ten favorites. We use it so much that I have filled a glass roller bottle for each person with ten drops of peppermint oil and filled the rest to the top with almond oil. We store one in each room. They can roll it on, simply smell it, or add it to their diffuser as they need it. I keep one in my purse, too. And because each use only uses one to two drops at most, the average cost per treatment is under .15/use.  That makes this VERY Naturally Frugal. I am sure that we will continue to discover new ways to use and love Young Living Peppermint essential oil!


If you want to learn more about essential oils or how you can order them, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils. Or check out my Facebook group, Naturally Frugal Essential Oils. I also offer a free 14 day ecourse to learn more about essential oils. 

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