A Homeschooling Conversation with Susan Wise Bauer: Advice for Newbies, Curriculum and Terrible, No-Good Days

A Homeschooling Conversation with Susan Wise Bauer: Advice for Newbies, Curriculum and Terrible, No-Good Days

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…

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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.

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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.

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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?

TLH AD BANNER FINAL 125Thanks 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.

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  1. Wow this was so awesome! Thanks for sharing it.

    I’ve been using Story of the World in our homeschool for a few years now, and love it, and this year I’ll be implementing Susan’s First Language Lessons and her Complete Writer series with all my kids. I don’t know why her grammar and writing resources weren’t on my radar earlier!

  2. we trash everything but reading together on the couch…and then we spend at least an hour playing outside or at a park. Once we’re all refreshed, we try again or if it’s too late in the day, we have lunch, quiet time, and then start over tomorrow….that’s the beauty! (and usually EVERYONE, including myself, is in a better mood after outdoor time!)

    Sarah M

  3. What a helpful post–and I loved Heidi’s pics! I can’t answer your question since we don’t homeschool yet :)–but I’m excited to read others’ answers!

  4. I don’t have children, but have always wanted children. Some day I hope we can adopt, but I don’t know if it will be possible or not. Anyway, I have been married for 19 years and during all this time, my husband and I have talked of homeschooling our children when and if we have children.

    I have been impressed with Alpha Omega curriculum. I have also been impressed even more so with the Noah Plan for education. As my husband and I talk I realize how much better of an education he had in his K-12 years than I had. I grew up in liberal Seattle area where they were experimenting with classes on comparative religions, and music styles, and where some of my high school teachers specifically stated that our parents are ignorant and that now was the time to form our own opinions and specifically told us how evil America was in the Viet Nam war. I was taught science in school as if molecules-to-man evolution were the gospel fact. He grew up in a small town in upper Michigan where any teacher who opposed the war or said anything to contradict the parents was fired. He studied Shakespeare, was taught science with alternate views of origins, and learned about our countries form of government in high school.

    I want to fill in the gaps in my own education. I am always reading and studying anyway, but I decided to begin to buy bits of curriculum as I can and homeschool myself as it were. I have come to the goal of learning to think more from a Biblical worldview and becoming better at self discipline and self government. However I work full time and our income depends on that. We rent a unit in a triplex that feels like home and have 2 pea patches in nearby community gardens so we can grow as many as we can of our own vegetables. All these things take time and there is often not enough time for study from the curriculum that I want to learn from. I also want to increase some of my homemaking skills in the way of being a better homemaker and in learning several creative skills like quilting, sewing, and decorating. So my answer is much different than most people’s but I am basically muddling through. One of my favorite sources so far for science education for myself is from http://www.answersingenesis.org. I have learned a great deal from the scientists on that site.

    1. Virginnia, It was so nice to read about someone else who is homeschooling themselves! My friend and I had a good laugh when I said this is what I really wanted to do! I am fortunate and honored to have my son joining me for his junior and senior years of high school. He has combined homeschool years alternated with years of his private school that he loves. He is home again because he says this provides a superior education. Adoption is wonderful, just hang in there with the paperwork. My friend has an adopted two year old and they are so blessed! He is so dear!

  5. How wonderful to hear that even Susan has had some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days in homeschooling. Thankfully, we don’t have many here anymore, but when we did, I chucked the whole thing and took a “teacher in-service” day. Or a snow day (even if it was sunny and 80!). The school year is done when the books are completed, so adding a few days (or weeks) doesn’t really matter. Now, if we are having one of the terrible, horrible, ….days, we work outside in the yard or inside on the ongoing renovations.

  6. This is VERY encouraging to know that people I respect even have days like me! I am looking forward to seeing the full post. I would love to see some curic. ex as this year has been my first year HS a 1st-ish grader, and has been rather rocky. Any advice is listened to!

  7. What a fun trip! It is always such a treat to ask a seasoned homeschooler some questions. Thanks for sharing her answers with us.

    On bad days I try to change things up. We definitely do some reading and snuggling on the couch, and we also try to get outside. Sometimes they just need to run around.

    Sometimes a change of scenery helps too. One day last year I set up a tent in the backyard and we did our school work in there. It was fun, we made memories and got our work done at the same time. Not being tied to a desk is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling!

  8. Stephanie, Thank you SO much for a glimpse into your weekend. What a privilege! I was homeschooled K-12 so I have my Mom to ask for a lot of things, but I still sometimes wonder, “where do I start?”

    I have been told many times, “Don’t overbuy in the beginning.” Glad to hear from yet another source!

  9. I loved this post Stephanie. Thank you for sharing! My oldest is in kindergarten so when I pulled him out of school after 1st semester I bought My Fathers World in a box. It made things so easy and enjoyable for us. Now I’m super pumped for next year! I can’t wait to read more posts about this trip 😀

  10. Thanks for sharing! I’m still in my “figuring this out” stage. Kids 6, 3 and 2 months. Nice to read about this, thank you

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this…. we’ve been homeschooling for 6 years and I still like to read people’s opionions and how-tos when it comes to homeschooling.

  12. I had to LOL after reading the first part! I will start homeschooling my 2nd grader in the fall for the first time. This weekend I went to a homeschooling convention. 😀 But I took all the very motivational classes put on by Christian women and felt inspired. Their main message was for us to relax. I did spend a few hours looking at all the curriculum but didn’t buy any. At least I knew that it wasn’t time for me to buy since I have no clue what I was looking for.

  13. This article was great. I’m going into my first year next year with 5 1/2 and 3 year olds. I keep hearing just relax and enjoy it. I’m hoping that I can pull that off. I did already buy curiculum, but I’m planning on using it as it fits us, and not let it be the master.

    Nicole T.

  14. Hi! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  15. This was SO helpful for me and I’m in my fourth year of homeschooling! Excited to pass this on to friends who are just getting started!

    Looking forward to other posts about your visit!

  16. oh Wow, what a VERY helpful post for me! Thank you Stephanie! I’m just at the beginning of figuring out “schooling/education” for my 19 month old, getting my feet wet with homeschool, private school, public school, etc….and this is a very helpful and informative post as I begin my journey of learning and educating. Thank you! I look forward to hearing more of y’alls time with Susan!

  17. It’s been many years since we homeschooled but we loved & used a a combination of Bob Jones & an other curriculum For math for my youngest we used a book they used at school for 1st grade For the older girls it was Saxon Math That’s the best math program

  18. I am so excited to read this and what is left to come. We are just starting our homeschooling journey and I am terrified, meanwhile my hubby thinks it’s no big deal. The children are 6, 8, & 9 and it just seems overwhelming to pursue 2nd, 3rd, and 5th with my little monkeys at one time. I am not even the best with time management or organization and doubt if it can be pulled off by myself. But, I will continue to educate myself in hopes that it can be done. Thank you for this very informational post!

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