It’s always the most popular homeschool support group meeting of the year. The veterans attend willingly, and the newbies are equally eager. Everyone takes notes, jotting down golden nuggets of information to make their homeschooling year more organized, efficient, and fun. It is the SECRETS meeting, one where everyone, from the first-year homeschooler to the 20-year veteran comes prepared to share their best homeschooling tips and learn from each other. As you head back to school, here are four secrets I learned as a new homeschooling mom that transformed my school year:

1. The body of knowledge is cyclical. You don’t have to teach it all the first time around. 

The first time we encountered reptiles and amphibians in our curriculum, I dove into the subject with passion. It was fascinating, and I wanted to teach my daughter everything there was to know. Unfortunately, she could only absorb so much. After all, she was only in kindergarten.

As a new homeschooling mom, I didn’t realize the body of knowledge was cyclical. As we continued to homeschool, reptiles and amphibians appeared again in the second grade curriculum, the fourth grade curriculum, and several more times thereafter. Each time we studied the material at a greater depth. Realizing that the subject matter repeated itself and increased in complexity allowed us to learn the material without feeling like we had to cover it all the first time. It also gave us the freedom not to fret if we didn’t make it through all the material. If we missed something, we knew we’d see it again.

2. If your child is struggling with something, it’s ok to set it aside.

I firmly believed that if I did everything “right,” my daughter would read early and well. To that end, I read to her from the time she was born, filled our house with books, and carefully chose a phonics program. Every day during her kindergarten year, we labored through a phonics lesson. Some days she cried. Other days I did. “Will she ever read a three-letter word without sounding out every letter?” I wailed privately to my husband.

Summer came, and we set aside “school” for a time. I continued to read to her every day. When school began in the fall, we began formal reading instruction again. By Christmas, she was reading.

Looking back, I realized that summer break came at a providential time. It gave us a natural pause, during which the synapses in my daughter’s brain continued to grow and develop. When we began school again, her brain had three more months of maturity with which to approach the process of reading. Now she was ready.

I learned from this experience that it’s okay to set aside a difficult concept for a while, especially if the effort to learn it results in tears (yours, theirs, or both). Each child matures on a different timetable, and we are wise to allow for and work with their differences.

This same child who struggled with reading is now a legislative correspondent drafting constituent communication for a United States congressman. And she loves to read.

3. Little formal learning occurs during the months of December and May. 

The Christmas holiday season, packed full of concerts, parties, shopping, and cooking, can wreak havoc on the most carefully scheduled lesson plan. May, with its spring Siren’s Song, end-of-the year recitals, sports competitions, and standardized testing, can be equally destructive to serious academic progress.  

Classroom teachers know May and December are difficult months for concentrated book learning. Rather than fight a losing battle by setting unrealistic academic goals, they take these two challenging months into consideration when they create their yearly lesson plans. Homeschooling parents have even greater flexibility to tailor their children’s schoolwork with these troublesome months in mind. Here are a few suggestions for working around the distractions of December and May.