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Top Five Homeschooling Mistakes You’re Making (and it isn’t your curriculum!)

by Holly Williams Urbach

I love homeschooling and homeschoolers. As a long time homeschooler (since 1993) and the director of an enrichment academy for homeschoolers, I talk with many parents about the issues that they encounter in homeschooling their children. Here are the five most common mistakes I see folks making.

  1. Comparing your homeschool to someone else’s homeschool. Folks, comparing what you can do to what someone else in entirely different circumstances can do is one of the most damaging things you can do to yourself and your children. Some people school year-round, some people school four days a week. Some people’s children have a propensity for languages and speak more than one, while some children struggle with English. Try to take inspiration and encouragement from what others are doing, instead of using their accomplishments as a way to make yourself feel inadequate. Please, please, please-if you take away only one thing here-do not compare what you are doing to what others are doing!
  2. Doing too much. 

    If there is no park day in your area, consider starting one.

    One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to choose classes and activities for our children. I often see homeschoolers whose children are involved in so many activities that they are rarely home, family life suffers, and the children begin to suffer burnout. The younger the child, the less they should be involved in formal extra-curricular activities. A low commitment activity such as park day is likely a better choice than a high commitment activity such as a full season of soccer for a young child. Older children also need to be helped not to have too full of a schedule. I have had students at our academy who told me that they were exhausted because they worked, did sports, played an instrument, had rigorous honors and AP classes, and also were in Scouts or other youth civic organizations. We all want our children to be well rounded and have a great education, but it is important to find balance and make sure that every family member (you too, Mom and Dad!) has time to just be. Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing. Everyone (even kids) needs a work-life balance.

  3. Doing it all yourself. The homeschooling life is a full life. By choosing to homeschool, you took on another full-time job in addition to what you were already doing. It is all too easy as a homeschooling parent to feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. You do not have to do everything yourself. You should not do everything yourself. Get your children involved in helping to make meals as well as to clean and maintain your home. Even young children can be taught to do real jobs that are a big help to the household. Get other adult family members to assist you with your homeschooling. Grandma and Grandpa (if they are supportive of homeschooling) can be great resources in your family’s homeschool endeavors. If there is a field trip you would like to take, see if the grandparents want to go with you or take your child for you so that you can do something else-like earn some money for new curriculum. 🙂
  4. Not having an end to your school day. One of my children taught me a valuable lesson early on in our homeschool, when she asked me to spell a word for her one evening. I suggested that she get the dictionary and look up the word for herself. She responded, “Can’t you just be my mom right now and spell the word for me?” At that moment, I decided that the school day would have an end, just as public and private schools do. While it is true that we have teachable moments outside of our lesson plans, we also need to designate school hours. This is a help to us and our kids. Knowing that we have only so much time to complete work helps all of us to be better managers of our time. It also allows us to be a family after school is done for the day. Our kids need us as their parents as well as their educational facilitators.
  5. Not making time for yourself.

    I fell in love with yoga. Anyone of any age can do it.

    Making time for yourself as a home educator is very important. You may think you don’t have time to exercise, go out to dinner with your spouse or partner, or go to that really cool monthly Moms Night Out. But the truth is, those things are what give you the physical and mental energy you need to homeschool your child. I neglected the physical care and upkeep of myself as a homeschool mom until 2009, when I woke up and realized that I needed to make my health a priority. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago. I wish I had made time to care for myself earlier. If you have not made your physical, mental, and social well being a priority, I encourage you to start immediately. You and your family will benefit immensely! 

So there you have it-the top five mistakes you are making in your homeschooling and I didn’t mention curriculum. As homeschool parents, we need to consciously create balance in our lives so that we have endurance for our whole homeschooling career. What are some of the challenges you have overcome in your homeschooling and what did you do to solve those challenges? Please let us know by clicking on Leave a reply above this post. 

Extra-curricular or Essential?


Colorful notebooks for students in elementary schoolColorful not

The Texas Education Code requires home schools to teach the following subjects: reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and a course in good citizenship.

There were days when that was all I could teach, having begun my home schooling career in 1993 newly pregnant, teaching a first grader, kindergartner, a three-year old, and an eighteen-month old. There were days when I was relieved that is all that is required  of homeschoolers to teach!

Over the years of teaching my six children, participating in several co-ops, and leading or assisting in youth organizations such as Boy Scouts and 4-H, I have become convinced that extra-curricular subjects and activities are just as essential as core subjects. I believe that extra-curricular subjects actually provide more real life skills to students than core curriculum does.

In the world outside of school, people compete, set goals, plan projects that have actual applications, and receive rewards for the successful completion of their projects. Conversely when people do not meet goals, the consequences of failure also teach important skills. Many times we learn more from our failures than our successes.

One advantage of extra-curricular subjects and activities is that often the choice is student-driven. When a student has an interest in an area he or she is more likely to be more invested in obtaining and utilizing the information presented. It is a joy for both student and teacher when there is enthusiasm for a subject, activity, or event.

When my daughters participated in 4-H they read the monthly newsletter avidly, telling me about the various workshops, competitions, and community service projects in which they wished to participate.

Through their participation in the food show, fashion show, livestock show, and Round Up, they learned how to prepare balanced meals, to insure food safety, to comparison shop for food and clothing, to write and present a speech, to care for and train animals, and to identify and serve the needs of their community. They earned credits in family & consumer sciences, speech, health, citizenship, and community service in a fun, challenging, encouraging atmosphere.

Another asset of extra-curricular subjects and activities is how they strengthen skills in core curriculum areas. Whether my students were preparing for an upcoming 4-H competition, earning badges in Scouting, or participating in a co-op class, they used and improved the math, reading, writing, and spelling skills they had learned in their regular coursework.

Opportunities to pursue extra-curricular activities are everywhere and can be as expensive or inexpensive as your budget allows. We have utilized home school co-ops, private lessons, youth organizations, volunteering, and the Internet as a way to incorporate extra-curricular subjects to our school day.

Some home educators may feel that the school day is already so full with math, English, science, grammar, foreign language, literature, history, and other required coursework that they could not possibly add anything else. I would encourage home schooling parents to make time for extra-curricular subjects and activities-especially in the high school years when these subjects offer a way to “try on” careers and interests.

Extra-curricular studies also pave the way for lifelong hobbies and skills that develop the student into a well-rounded individual. If college is in your student’s future, a transcript that has a variety of courses and activities detailed on it sets your student apart from the rest of the pack. Scholarships are often offered in extra-curricular areas or through community service organizations such as 4-H. My youngest daughter received a 4-H scholarship which made all the time she did invested extremely worthwhile. Youth enjoying kayak trip

In conclusion, I would encourage everyone to make room in their school schedule for extra-curricular subjects and activities. These activities breathe life and excitement into your school day and your students. You and your students will reap many continuing rewards as a result of the time you invest. What kinds of extra-curricular activities do you do in your homeschool?

(written by Holly Williams Urbach, previously published in the THSC Review, all rights reserved)

Who is the teacher and who is the student?

When I began my homeschool journey in the summer of 1993, I was pretty confident that I could teach a second grader and kindergartner. I was fairly certain I could also manage a three year-old and 18 month-old while teaching their older two siblings. I was sure I know who the teacher was and who the students were . . . Apple for teacher

We weren’t very far into our homeschooling expedition when I realized that I was actually the first student in our little school! This came as a surprise to me, though in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all because I definitely had a lot to learn.

I thought that because I had worked with children since I was old enough to be older than another child and that I was familiar with children’s development, and that because I was literate and knowledgeable about many subjects, that I would be able to teach my children easily. However, getting information to children in a form and fashion that they can relate to is not always an easy or intuitive task. Learning to recognize when my students were getting frustrated and helping them to keep going when topics or skills were difficult wasn’t always easy. I had to hone my skills and to adjust them to each child’s learning style. children reading

My nearly six year-old son was a very active child and one of the primary reasons we took the leap into homeschooling. He literally NEVER sat down or if he did, it wasn’t for a very long time. Teaching him to read involved taping letters onto our carpet and allowing him to jump to each one to say its name and sound. My third child sat sweetly next to me while learning her letters. My fourth child needed a multi-sensory curriculum (we ended up using Sing, Spell, Read, and Write with huge success) while my fifth child thrived using just A Beka’s Blue-Backed Speller. Each child stretched and added to my teaching skills. I was a good student and not only learned what I needed to learn, I retained that knowledge for future use.

In 2010, I got involved with a little homeschool enrichment academy when my two youngest children were teens. They started attending classes there on an a la carte basis. I did the cleaning to offset my tuition and taught a class. Eventually I was hired as the director and now I am the owner of Hill Country Academy. I use the time management, child development, and teaching skills I honed with my own children in our academy. I have come a long way since I was the first student in my homeschool!

Who knows where you will end up with what you learned while teaching your children?


So You’ve Decided to Homeschool?

sharpened pencil photo

So you made the big decision to begin homeschooling your kiddo? And you’re wondering what in the world you have gotten yourself into now? Let me reassure you- you are a normal homeschooling parent! Welcome to the ranks of millions of parents who are teaching their own children.

Now what?  What curriculum do you use? What is your educational approach? What about socialization?  If I had a dime for every time I was asked about socialization, I could retire by now. People generally don’t know much about homeschooling, but they all seem to know about socialization. Thankfully, for most homeschooling families, socialization is the least of their worries. Today’s homeschooler may just need to socialize a bit less. 😉

But, back to curriculum and educational approaches . . .

When you are just starting out, you may wish to use a more prepared curriculum from well-known curriculum suppliers. By the time your child is graduating, you will likely be doing something very different from what you did at the beginning. Just as your student will mature over the years, so will you as an educator. If you don’t have an educational philosophy right now, it isn’t something that should stress you.

The main homeschool approaches are: textbook approach, unit studies, Charlotte Mason method, unschooling, classical approach,  delayed homeschooling, and online-based homeschooling. Many home educators find that they are a mix of the different approaches and some of the approaches overlap each other. For example, there are many elements of classical education found in the Charlotte Mason method, but there are valid reasons why one would not label the Charlotte Mason method as classical education, as  you may learn when you begin investigating the various educational approaches.

When I started my journey in homeschooling, I used A Beka curriculum. It is a textbook approach from a curriculum supplier used by many private Christian schools. I was beginning with a 2nd grader, a kindergarten student, a three year-old, an 18 month-old, and I was pregnant. I didn’t have the energy or brain power to reinvent the wheel at that point in my life.  Lot of homeschoolers use A Beka happily for their whole homeschooling career. It is very thorough, with little prep time needed for the homeschooling parent. However, as it is intended to be used in a school setting, it also contains a lot of repetition and busywork and is more like bringing the school to one’s home, which was ultimately not very useful to me as a home educator, so I began to look for something else that was more engaging for my students.

This search led me to unit studies, which can be very engaging as they revolve around a particular topic in which your students may be interested. You use that topic to cover all your subjects; reading, writing, spelling, math, science, social studies, etc. There are many well-written prepared unit studies available to purchase, or you may want to create your own. My children enjoyed unit studies quite a bit and we used a unit study approach for a couple years until I felt that something was still lacking in our education and discovered Charlotte Mason.


Charlotte Mason was an educator who lived in England in the 1800s. She viewed children as possessing the capability to understand more than they were given credit for by adults. She advocated training in good habits, lots of time spent outdoors, making lessons short, and giving children a liberal arts education (emphasizing a well-rounded curriculum that included art study, learning multiple foreign languages, reading great classic literature and poetry, useful handiwork, studying music, learning world history, and being proficient in mathematics and science). If you are not familiar with Charlotte Mason, I encourage you to check out Simply Charlotte Mason.

Unschooling is a philosophy that has its roots in the writings of John Holt, who was a teacher and published the newsletter, Growing without Schooling, which was in publication until 2001. He became disillusioned with the typical system of education and believed that if children were given an educationally rich environment that they would learn what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it. He felt that children had a natural desire to learn and didn’t need to be forced to learn.  John Holt’s Growing without Schooling is a valuable resource for anyone interested in unschooling. The website contains John’s writings and an archive of his newsletter, among other things.

The modern guru of classical education is Susan Wise Bauer. She was home educated herself and wrote the The Well Trained Mind. Classical education teaches students certain information at certain ages aligned with the classical model of the grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stages of intellectual development. Everyone knows how little kids can memorize incredible amounts of  material; we have all seen a kid on a television talk show who can identify every dinosaur or knows all the presidents and vice-presidents of the United States. While that is a worthy accomplishment, once you understand that it is something that most young children can do, you can harness that ability to educate your child. The next step children move into is the Logic stage. This is the time of their lives when they can harness the facts they learned earlier and facts they are currently to provide proof of their knowledge. Children in this stage of learning are able to answer why something is so. Finally, children enter the Rhetoric stage when they can argue and debate, and provide proof of how their position is accurate or true.  This is just a brief synopsis- for detailed information, click on the link embedded in Susan Wise Bauer’s name.

later education child playing near water

There is also a philosophy that says waiting until a child is older is a better way to educate a child. The biggest proponents of this philosophy were Dorothy and Raymond Moore, who authored the book Better Late Than Early, School Can Wait, and The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook. The Moore Foundation (began by Raymond Moore) and Moore Academy are carrying on the work that Dorothy and Raymond began. The core beliefs of how to implement delayed education are listed on the Moore Academy website.

And finally, there is online schooling. The birth of Khan Academy in 2006 by Sal Khan was a boon to homeschool families. Obviously, Khan Academy is just one of many resources folks can locate and use online to educate their children. YouTube videos and TED Talks are  very popular as are podcasts. There is no limit to what one can learn using online resources!

Online Schooling young woman

This article has just touched briefly on each of the main homeschooling approaches, mainly as a way to give you some food for thought. I encourage you to ask homeschool families that you know what they are using and why-they will be great resources who can point you in the direction of curriculum and information that will help you to evaluate what would work best for your child. If you try something that doesn’t work well, sell it on a local used curriculum site, and replace it with something you like better until you hammer out just what approach suits you and your student.


Welcome to the Hill Country Academy Blog

Hello and Welcome!

This blog will be published weekly. It is my hope that this blog will be a helpful resource and a place to come to find reassurance that you CAN successfully homeschool your child/children.

I am Holly Williams Urbach, the director of Hill Country Academy. I am a veteran homeschooler, wife, mother, grandmother, business owner, writer, and fitness enthusiast.

I began homeschooling in the summer of 1993 with four children ages eight and under (8, 6, 3, and 18 months). I discovered that I was pregnant shortly after we decided to homeschool- talk about taking a challenge and making it even more challenging!

I thought I graduated my last student in May 2014. As of this writing, my husband and I are adopting our nearly four year-old grandson, who will also be homeschooled. Here we go again!