The Must Haves for homeschooling

I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, and I saw, once again, five different homeschool moms asking “what are your must-have’s for homeschooling?”

Here are the Must Haves that I see: 

1. The Belief that parents are the best teachers for their children: You have to believe that the fact that your child is yours makes you the best teacher for him or her. This is the force that will keep you going.
2. Time:  You have to be willing to make teaching your children a priority in your day, laying aside your own desires for a time in order to invest in your children.

3. Determination: You have to consistently determine that the best thing for your family is for you to pass on knowledge that you have to your children. And once you need to pass on knowledge that you don’t have, you have to be willing to learn that information yourself or connect your child with someone who already knows it.

Whether you homeschool with hundreds of dollars worth of curricula and co-ops or the 1970s Saxon texts ($2 used), a library card, and paper and pencil, these are the three things that you Must Have.  

Everything else is ice cream.

Rule #2: Relate

IMG_1406For some reason, I find this second Rule very hard to describe.  Let me give you some examples of things we make sure we do that strengthen our family.  Some of them are stupid simple – which may be why writing this feels silly to me.

We eat together, particularly in the evening. Sometimes, the boys have a snack in the middle of the afternoon because having dinner together will mean that dinner isn’t until 8pm. (Of course, the boys think that we should have popcorn nearly every afternoon anyway. It’s the afternoon read aloud treat if we are at home together.) We do a large portion of our schoolwork together on the couches in the living room, and the younger boy who needs lots of snuggles sits very, very close to me and shares my book. The other guys sprawl out on couches or rug. And we discuss what we are reading together and on our own.

We have a common language. We discuss Ralph Moody and work ethic and economics and Frindle. We find ourselves singing history sentences or quoting poems we’ve memorized. We relate repeatedly through recitation and reading and discussion. This is simply our family culture.

We work together. There are five people and three businesses and two organizations in our house, which is no more than medium-sized. We have to keep our things put away, or there won’t be room for the next project. It only all fits because much of our work is done online. We do laundry and cook and clean together. And we try to find the fine line between personal responsibility and demonstrating love for another through service. These are habits we work on. I am still chief cook and housekeeper, but these boys are getting to be quite efficient.

We also relate in (debatably) less healthy way. Again, we have five people and three business and two other organizations running in our small to medium sized house. We get in each other’s space. Micah’s big Lego project may be accidentally damaged in a Nerf war, and Gideon’s art project might not fit well with my cooking chores. We have plenty of room for growth in the whole putting others first department. While we like our small house because it is easy to clean and in a cozy neighborhood, we have to manage the stuff in a way that is both functional and attractive. (And my version of attractive is not the same as the attractive designed by a boy.) We like each other – most of the time – but we are family, and we get on each others’ nerves also.

We go together out into the sunshine, to walk in a forest, to work in the garden, to run through the park. We often take a longer lunch to meet up with our buddies in the park to walk or fish or play. Sometimes we take a short lunch so we can meet up them a little later. Outdoors is good for us, and out is better together. We are very fortunate to have many home educating friends who live near our home or are frequently in our neighborhood. We are part of two different (and overlapping) home schooling communities, and we are part of a tiny church. We have a bunch of family around, including all of our kids’ grandparents. There is a lot of relating to do.

What is a Rule of Six? How did I find it?

Rule of six instagram
A Rule of Six isn’t fancy. It is just six words or ideas that you want to meet regularly. It isn’t intended to make you tired or to be a judgment on whether you had a good day or not. A Rule of Six is meant to bring rest – to allow you to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing because you know what the Main Things are for your family. You won’t be as tempted to go chasing after every new curricula that pops up after you know what works in your house, and what is important to your family.

I am not completely sure of the origins of the Rule of Six, but I first read about it in 2007. That was a crazy year around here.  You see, we have five sons. Our oldest son, Danny, died when he was five years old in 2005 due to a nasty genetic disorder. That left my husband and I and Micah, preschooler. And then we had babies in 2006, 2007 and 2009. So, in 2007, I was struggling to recover from my own grief, help my husband and Micah recover from theirs, home educate that now-kindergarten-aged boy, and care for our almost Irish twins (our double blessing boys, Josiah and Gideon, who arrived 14 months apart). I was exhausted. I went searching for ways to simplify, and I found the idea of the Rule of Six appealing, but I was too overwhelmed at that moment to really think it through.

I was reading Ann Voskamp’s A HolyExperience daily because I had found that counting blessings was the only way to crawl out of the grief hole into which I had (quite understandably) been sucked. I was intrigued when Ann posted a list of Seven Daily Rungs that her homeschool hung on. That was back before she was famous, but after she started keeping her One Thousand Gifts list. You’ll find that post here:

Then I found the idea again on Elizabeth Foss’s blog as I continued my search for holistic education ideas. She wrote about a Rule of Six in 2006 and 2007 and likely some other times also. These were simply six things that she was striving to give her children daily. Those posts are here: and here:  (If you haven’t read Elizabeth Foss’s book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, please do. Especially if you are in the season of many small children, she has some practical advise and curricula ideas for the first eight school years, as well as ways to avoid burnout.)

Elizabeth Foss led me back to Melissa Wiley, here: Melissa Wiley had her own (different) six things that she plans for her family.

All three ladies had different rules of six, but they had the same purpose – to bring peace and efficiency to their home educating homes that allowed them both structure and freedom as they created family life and wrote books and blogs and articles while they were at it.

Much more recently (after multiple rounds of simplifying and making our homeschool look like I want it to), Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the Read Aloud Revival Podcast over at and who also wrote the little guide Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, did a Master’s Class to help her members sort out a way to decide what is the most important things for their own homes.  (If you join the Read Aloud Revival membership site, you can watch the recording of this class and several others)

After watching the catch-up video of the first in the two class series, I hurriedly scratched down six words that are things we have been trying for in our house. I finally grasped that I wasn’t supposed to take someone else’s idea of what would be good for this house of boys (now 8, 9, and 13) and their author-editor-publisher-parents. I needed to write what would work for us. And I needed to start with what is currently working and see where that leads. So, that is what I did.

I suggest you try it also. (I’ll explain more about why I chose the words I chose in the next few posts).