“We just started homeschooling, and I think it might be a mistake.”

“We just started homeschooling, and I think it might be a mistake.”

We started homeschooling three weeks ago, and it is terrible. I have two children — an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old — and they don’t want to do anything, even fun stuff like field trips or listening to an audiobook or going outside to play. They argue all the time. I’m not trying to make them have a normal school day right now. We’re just taking it slow. But I’m miserable, and I can’t help thinking that maybe this was the wrong decision.

We don’t always talk about it, but the first months of homeschooling can be really hard. Not for everyone — some families jump right in and never look back, so it might not occur to them that other homeschoolers can have a real period of adjustment. But just like having a baby or getting married, homeschooling is a major life change that can be as challenging as it is exciting. I guess that’s my long-winded way of saying that what you are going through right now is totally normal, and it doesn’t mean homeschooling is not a good fit for your family.

I think you’re smart to start with a relaxed schedule, but it sounds like you’re ready to start building a routine. This doesn’t mean you need to be sitting down at 9 a.m. every single morning to do math, just that it’s time to start figuring out how you want to structure your everyday routine. You might have a late-riser who doesn’t want to get up until just before noon, or your dog might wake everyone up at 7 a.m. on the dot for his morning walk. You might like to have an assembly-style lunch in the backyard or all cook together in the kitchen. You might like spending most of the day together, or you might find that you need healthy doses of alone time. Every family’s day will come together in a different way, and now that you have a few weeks of homeschool life under your belt, you probably have an idea about how some of those things work best for your family.

Start by adding one regular thing to your day. Our books editor Suzanne starts every day with a readaloud — she doesn’t even get out of bed; everyone just snuggles up with her in their pajamas, and they all read a few chapters together. My son and I eat toast while we take the dog on his morning constitutional and note the day’s weather in our nature journals. You might watch a documentary, or make breakfast together, or play a game, or, sure, do some math, if you want to. Pick one thing, and spend a week or two making that one thing part of your daily routine.

Once you’ve got that down, add something else, and let it become part of your routine. After a week or so, add something else — and keep going until your days feel like they’ve found a happy rhythm. The key is to stick with one thing at a time so that you really have a chance to get comfortable with each new addition.

That makes it sound easy, and it isn’t necessarily that. If your kids are feeling battered from their school experience, they really might not want to do anything. If you’ve asked and nudged and encouraged, and they’re still checked out, it’s totally fine to set a time limit on doing nothing and for you to make the executive decision to add something you’ve chosen. Just be matter-of-fact about it. Say. “We’re going to start The Mysterious Benedict Society as a morning readaloud,” and do it. Don’t offer an option. Let them know that at a set time — in two weeks, say, or when you’ve finished the book — you can discuss whether to continue, but you’re going to try this for the next how-ever-long-amount-of-time. Everyone’s welcome to weigh in with opinions, but no complaining about the activity is allowed while the activity you have planned is actually going on.

The important thing is to remind yourself that you don’t have to get it at all figured out right away in order to have a happy homeschool life. It’s tempting to want everything to magically click together into one of those blog-worthy homeschool lives you probably spent months reading about before making your decision, but real life homeschooling doesn’t always work that way.

For most of us, it takes some trial and error, some hits and misses, and just plain time to get a happy rhythm going. (And once you do, you’ll probably get to enjoy it for about three weeks before something changes, and you have to start figuring out things all over again.) Homeschooling is always a work in progress, even when it’s going perfectly smoothly, so recognizing that fact right now, during these first few weeks, puts you ahead of the game. The pressure to make things work isn’t all on your shoulders. Your kids will start to come around, too, as they relax into your new routine, and in a few months, your days will probably feel very different. Be patient —  you’re probably doing fine.