How Do You Homeschool An Only-Child?

Homeschooling an only child is not only possible, it is one the most enjoyable things you can ever chose to do.

If you have an only child and you are contemplating homeschooling you are in for the biggest treat.

If you have an only child and you are just considering homeschooling, the image of a big family sitting around the kitchen table with text books, notebooks, and crayons might pop into your head. I know this is what popped into my head, which was very odd because that family wasn’t mine and that woman wasn’t me. Therefore that whole vision was completely unrealistic.

So when I snapped out of it and thought about the reality of homeschooling just my daughter, who a the time was 3, I envisioned just the two of us. Which was worrisome.

While it can be sweet it is terrifying at the same time to predict a life of being completely immersed with your child all day everyday, being very isolated and, well, bored. We always look for that time when kids start playing by themselves. They start to get a little carried away and you end-up having an hour when you don’t have to be engaged, entertaining her, and playing with her.

We bought toys often, thinking she would want to play with the toys for a little while instead of mom or dad, but kids are social beings, they are always going to prefer company, it’s better that way. And of course, for an only child company is mostly provided by mom and dad. At least until they are 3 years old and they learn to play with other kids.

Then when they’re 4 they can go to preschool and after that, you can count on your child being in school all day everyday surrounded by kids her age.

I know that’s how I thought it would play out. Much like when I was pregnant I thought I would go back to work after the baby was born. But latter there was no way I could leave her all day, she was so little. Well, when I thought about her spending all day five days per week at school away from her loved ones, it just didn’t seem realistic.

So whether it was because I was bracing myself for a lonely homeschool life, or out of impending urgency, or anxiety, or because she wanted to play all day but I knew her beloved preschool friends were slowly disappearing into Kindergarten, spread out all over the city…I realized that it was on me to create a rich homeschool life with community, friends, and lots of fun. Otherwise homeschooling my only child could not be sustainable for long.

Here are the posts I developed for our project-based approach and some other guides for science, planning, etc. that worked perfectly with an only child.

Projects for 2nd to 4th Grade

Natural Science and Geography Free Curriculum for 8 – 11 year olds.

13 Week Indoor (unplugged) schedule

4 Steps to Homeschool Planning and Organization

Free Natural Science for 5 – 8 year olds

Favorite Activities for Preschoolers and Beyond

Establish a Social Framework

Start early

If you have a preschool age child don’t wait until he’s of school age to start homeschooling. Homeschooling is a way of life, specially for an only child, it is not a set of text books that you lay out on the dining table when your kid turns 5 or 6 years old. Whether your child goes to preschool or not, now is the time to focus on establishing his social network.

An only child’s friends are the closest thing to siblings, so the earlier the friendships are made the better.

Use every resource available to give your child an opportunity to make friends. Post on Facebook groups to meet similar age kids and organize play dates and park days. Start a Meetup group. Host play dates, kiddie parties, treasure hunts, potlucks, cooking activities…Pretty soon you will have a little community of friends that get together regularly.

I have a friend that I met because she hosted “a revolving door party” once per week at her house. She posted it every week on a homeschool Meetup group and invited total strangers that after a while became a tight community of friends.

Kids live in a play world

As children grow, they don’t want to play less, they want to play more. At one point they master pretend play, and other types of play. Kids can play with their parents but they can really get in “the zone” with other kids, specially their best friends.

This is How We Homeschool -Mindful and Age Appropriate

This is How We Homeschool -Part 2

Nurture lifelong friendships

It’s not going to happen by osmosis like when kids make friends with the kid that sits next to him at school. You have to take the reigns on this. Organize play dates at least once per week one-on-one with his best friends. In order to nurture friendships, kids have to see each other often so they can get to the point where they expect it, they can count on seeing their friend or friends regularly.

Put energy into making friends with other kids that are homeschooling or intend to homeschool. Homeschool kids are simply more available to play.

Sign up for special interest classes

Find classes that are offered to homeschoolers during the day, like Art, Theater, Science, Music, Ceramics, etc. The funny thing is that our daughter keeps running into kids she knows from other classes. Even after all these years, she knows many kids that she’s not particularly friends with, but they chat and relate with each other during and after class.

We often sign up for classes for the sole reason of meeting more homeschool friends. Once I took my daughter to theater class, when I came to pick her up the first day she asked me to exchange numbers with another kid’s mom and set up a play date, turned out this kid could make perfect dolphin noises.

I hear so many times about the lack of socialization, blah  blah blah, but my daughter keeps running into people she knows at random events, Fairs, food festivals, museums, the ballet, the theater, etc. and we live in a city with 6 million people! How is it possible!

Join group activities

Homeschool classes and field trips are great because your child can meet new kids and get exposed to new things. But at some point homeschooling may start to feel lonely even when your child has regular play dates.

You may become a little worn out of hosting play dates and parties. You may notice that life happens and for one reason or other, vacation, illness, friends move…your child goes a week or two without seeing his friends, which gets lonely.

Find Homeschool and Fieldtrip Groups

All kids should play in a group from time to time but only-child kids even more so because this is their chance to become comfortable interacting with several kids at the same time.

Look for established homeschool groups, and “extracurricular” activities, like sports and group activities.

Join a homeschool group that has Park Days, book club, co-op, etc. Your child may not become best friends with all the kids in the group but he will most likely play with all or a lot of them at the park. Chasing, hide and seek, challenging each other and other group games are similar to the dynamic of school recess.

While being part of a homeschool group is great, don’t let it be your only support system for classes and friendships. I think homeschool groups can be such great support that we may end up relying solely on the group for classes, socialization, community, and we may not realize that the group should only be a part of our child’s homeschooling experience. Expand out from the group so you can meet other people in different settings.

Lay the ground for intentional learning

*Update 2020*: In 2018 our daughter was 8 years old. There were days when she refused to do the work, and there were days when I was doubting whether school might be a better option for her. So I devised a system that we called The Homeschool Challenge. It worked! Here is the post I published on it in case other parents and kids need help adjusting and developing a habit for homeschool: Parent Tool Box -what to do when your child doesn’t want to do the homeschool work.

Ditch all the preconceived ideas of what homeschool should be. With an only child you have the luxury of providing learning opportunities tailored to your child’s interests and needs. You can provide a world-class education, if that is what you’re after. Read our post on How much does it cost to homeschool?

Families that have kids (plural) may choose to buy a curriculum because even though curriculum is expensive, all the kids can use it. With an only child, using a curriculum puts a big strain on your relationship because much like school, the curriculum requires to follow a strict method, and to complete each lesson within a time frame. It has no connection to the real world, to tangible things that kids can relate with, it has no relation to their real life. While this makes sense for a school teacher with 20 or 30 kids, it doesn’t make any sense for one kid and one mom.

With 20 kids in the class one kid is not going to push back because he can estimate and weigh in the chances he has to get his way, but one child to one mom ratio, the chances are much higher.

If your kid pushes back, don’t take it personally. Our daughter looks to mom and dad as the people who have her back, understand her most, has her best interest in mind, and nurtures her. So if I impose something that seems to go against those markers, she will express it, and since I am the grown up, she expects me to readjust.

Please also read my post This is How We Homeschool – Mindful and Age Appropriate

So how do I lay down the ground for learning if I have to start off by accepting that my kid is going to push back? Are you saying I am supposed to be OK with that behavior and let him disrespect me? – Not at all!

Start off from expecting respect. Which is a two way street. If you have an authoritarian style to homeschooling, you will create friction and will end up feeling like you are always going against the grain, that you have to be more strict and create more structure because otherwise your kid doesn’t want to learn anything…there will be yelling and tears. You will win, but this is not a win to brag about.

We read and hear so many homeschool moms say: “There will be hard days, there will be crying, but stick with it, it’s worth it.” IT’S NOT. Ditch the curriculum.

Do come from a place of understanding

Give your child freedom to start the day like he wants, you will find out what is the more natural way for both of you, or the three of you, to start the day. Implement some rules, like, if he is spending time connected to the iPad in the morning, he also has to spend at least the same amount of time in the morning doing something not connected. Like reading, playing, building, cooking breakfast, tidying up, etc.

Instead of curriculum invest in supplies

Art supplies, building supplies like foam board, LEGOs, wood, play-dough, fabric, masking tape, scotch tape, yarn, paper, cardboard, memory foam, pillow filling, wire, planting and gardening toys and supplies…These are my Absolutely Must Have Supplies.

In other words, create an environment for homeschool. This doesn’t mean that you turn your dining room into a school. It means that you have stations, so to speak. Different areas of the house that might be conducive to take on different kinds of activities.

Please read our Guide to Project-Based Homeschooling

Chores or organization

Helping around the house and organizing their room has an amazing impact on self growth. Suddenly they care about having a nice space in which to function and play. They care if friends mess up their room, or take stuff and don’t put it back. They appreciate the stuff in their house and care to maintain a nice living space.

Learning is a private thing, even if around others, it happens within. For an only child who homeschools, home is his sanctuary. Her projects, her precious slime collection, her toys, her supplies, all that stuff that she cares about has a place at home.

You might be thinking that you have a kid whose room looks like it exploded and every part of the house where he plays also looks like it exploded and it doesn’t bother him at all! And doesn’t seem to understand an iota of what his parents are telling him about putting stuff away. But he does…he does….Maybe not today, maybe not next week…But don’t give up.

Sit calmly with him and ask him to put away all his laundry while you fold it for him. Sort, make towers, make it playful. Make his room amazingly tidy one day when he’s out so he’s surprised to see it when he gets back. Little by little he’ll start to appreciate it when his room is nice and tidy, and little by little you can introduce more small tasks that lead to having an organized space.

His idea of organized might mean a totally different look and feel than what you had in mind, but that’s OK.

The Pros and Cons of homeschooling an only child

The pros:

  1. Better education than private school. Your budget doesn’t need to be split amongst siblings, all your education budget will go towards the one child. If you can afford two special interest classes per season, one sport, and a couple of field trips, for example, your only child will have a richer education that year than most kids.
  2. You will find yourself driving her around, dropping her off at classes, picking her up, taking her to friends’ houses, but you won’t be torn in different directions…imagine if you had more than one kid, each with different interests and friends! Or worse, you have two kids and they are both forced to practice the same sports, hung out with the same friends, do the same activities even if they are not interested but for the sole reason that it’s convenient to have both kids in the same place at the same time.
  3. Your relationship with your only child will be so much stronger. Once you find your comfort zones in your homeschool lives you will understand each other so much better. The rules will be based around a mutual respect and understanding of each others learning style, needs, preferences. I grew up in a big family so we had to have one size fits all rules just to keep things from becoming chaotic.
  4. You and your child can agree on education decisions. Not only because he understands that you have more wisdom, but because he knows that there is a give and take, and sometimes he has to give, in order to take.
  5. Your child is the oldest child. It takes a steeper learning curve for anything because she doesn’t have siblings to mod, to bounce ideas of off… She’s on her own when it comes to learning. She will have to fail more often, she will have to figure a lot of things by herself, but she will end up being more self sufficient because of it.
  6. The only-child has complete control over their stuff. No one is there to take, borrow, mess their room, misplace their things…He’ll learn to keep all his supplies and resources organized.
  7. Your only child will have a big support system and some very good friends.
  8. An only child’s homeschooling takes place mostly outside of the house: Around other kids, other people, in different settings. They can be exposed to many interests and activities. Their social life is top notch. As parents, we may have to find a balance between managing our kid’s agenda and having time to focus on ourselves. Please read the post 10 Tips to have time for yourself and homeschool.

The cons:

These are my personal cons. You may find your own challenges. Honestly, even what seems like a con turns out is a pro.

  • We are busy. Always. Because I figure there is always time to be by ourselves we hardly ever pass up a play date, Park day, field trip, etc. with weeks-on-end having hardly any down time.
  • The house often doesn’t get cleaned up. Some days I have time to tidy up, put dishes away and have a civilized morning before we walk out the door. But other times it is all I can do to feed the cats, run an errand and get on with Katherine’s agenda for the day.
  • I tried to start a little co-op so that Katherine could learn in a little group, but I had to tack, and be OK with it.

I thought it would get harder, but as our daughter grows, it gets easier. The doubts that I had about not being able to meet her social needs, about not being able to teach her what she needs to learn, about turning her into a video game gobbling…all those fears dissipate.

Homeschooling an only child who is shy

If you have an only child who hides behind you when you meet new people or when you go to a public place or someone’s house, you probably have a very young kid. Don’t push him too hard, respect his shyness. The world is a big, imposing, strange place, and people are weird. However, keep going out, keep meeting new friends, going to parks, etc.

Try to avoid labeling her as “shy”. Often strangers will talk to a young child and expect the kid to engage in conversation and when they don’t get a reply, they say “Awe, are you shy? she’s shy”. When kids hear this enough times, they will believe themselves to be shy.

Parent/child classes and activities are great when they are 2 and 3 years old, but after they turn 4, they can handle being in the uncomfort zone in small doses. A half day small Preschool two or three times per week might do wonders for the shy only-child because it leaves them with plenty of room for observation, and they can deal with other kids in small doses. An Art class is great too.

It’s just a matter of time. As your child gets older he will act shy less and less because there are not as many uncomfortable situations, he knows the lay of the land and has friends and acquaintances.

Shy people aren’t antisocial, they are just shy. They still need a lot of interaction with other kids, and they still need to play most of the time.

If your child is older and very shy, or has social anxiety we will soon be posting an article on this subject.

Homeschooling an only child when mom is an introvert

For me the invention of email made it possible to find a job and function in the work-place because picking up a phone and talking to someone could be excruciating, and showing up to talk in person was almost out of the question. It’s not that I am antisocial it’s just that I have always been very shy, and not an only child. I was the third in a family of four children and I got away with my sister talking for me, my brother standing up for me and just generally socializing within my own family.

So how is our homeschooling life based on a social axis? I followed the motions. Knowing what is best for our kids we just do it. For an only child there is no other option but to be social beings, that means that mom has to make the effort to get out there. Please read the full post Homeschooling Guide For Shy Moms.

Once we cross the social threshold, we are OK…Introverts aren’t antisocial, but we might be a little socially inadequate. This happens because we have avoided people through our lives and often gotten away with it. We may feel a little insecure when talking to a group of moms, we might give TMI, we might worry that we are not adequate.

Just be proud that you are out here, with your kid, setting a good example, and rejoice in the inadequacies that make you unique.

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