The Homeschool Playbook: Science-backed ways to power up your homeschool


Admit it.

You want teaching to be easier.

Yes, you like it.  Perhaps you even love it.  You just wish it would take less emotional energy and time.

You want to teach your kids; you just don’t want it to be all-consuming.

Good news! You don’t have to accept that exhaustion is an inevitable part of good homeschooling. One thing I discovered through nine years of being a home teacher is that there are many science-backed strategies to make your homeschooling journey easier.

Give your homeschool more power by implementing some of those small changes today and they will add to big results!

It is true what they say about purpose

Kids who find purpose in learning, study harder and persevere when the going gets tough.  A ten-year study, that looked at over 1,000 school kids, discovered that only one fifth had a clear sense of purpose, the rest were dreamers, disengaged, or dabbled without a commitment.  It’s a common-sense assumption that purpose can be a powerful source of motivation. Can getting into a good college and becoming rich be that powerful purpose?  Probably not.  But I want to go to college because I can have a positive impact in life,”   in fact, inspired kids to voluntarily chose math drills over entertaining games and video.  Researchers call it prosocial learning purpose. Kids are learning to empower themselves.


Mindset matters

A meta-analytic review of over 100 studies found that internal attitude is predictive of performance.  So how does one get in the right mindset for learning?  Research from Mindset Scholars indicates that one way to go about it is to foster a purposeful learning mindset.  Another is a development of growth mindset, a belief that you can grow through hard work and use of effective strategies.  Carol Dweck’s research and its implications have been fundamental in teaching kids how positive attitude improves their learning capacity.


The time of day matters

There is, in fact, the best time of day to do math.  According to the University of Chicago study published in a Review of Economics and Statistics, kids learn more math in the mornings.  English classes did not seem to be affected by the time of day.  Nearly 2 million students involved in this study demonstrated that a morning math class led to increased test scores and productivity.  Researchers concluded that rearranging the order of tasks, so that the math comes in the morning, increases learning.


Got it wrong this time!” doesn’t work until kids are 12 years old

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience documented an interesting discovery.  MRI scans among eight-year-olds revealed strong activation in the areas of the brain involved in cognitive control only after positive feedback (“Well done!”) but not after negative feedback (“Got it wrong this time!”).  However, that pattern changed with twelve-year-olds and adult subjects prompting scientists to conclude that learning from negative feedback is a function of age.  A pat on the back, a high five, well dones, and “I appreciate that you tried your hardest” will all go a long way with little learners.


The rule of 3 Cs

According to the self-determination theory of motivation, it’s not the importance of the goal that dictates our motivation but the presence of three factors: control (freedom of choice), competence (my actions bring desired effect), and connection (a secure relationship with people who give us freedom to make our own decisions).  In other words give kids decision-making power in the area of curriculum, schedule regular reality checks, and show support and unconditional love, and kids will have an internal source of motivation to get the schoolwork done.


Harness the power of mind

Here is a thought to consider.  Scientists discovered a magic tool that is based on solid scientific research and costs nothing to acquire, but only a small percentage of the population of the world uses it.  You might have heard of it, it’s called  mindfulness.  There are a number of ways mindfulness improves learning.  A 2015 study on the effect of meditation on 4th and 5th graders found that after 12 weeks kids scored higher in math and showed improvement in the areas of attention, memory, emotional regulation, optimism, and empathy.  Amazing, isn’t it?



We all know that developing good habits is essential to success in life, but did you know that eliminating options is the way to go about it? Research suggests that making choices depletes mental energy. So if you want to establish good learning habits, arrange your day in such a way that it’s not even a choice anymore. Researchers call it a behavior chain. “When I finish breakfast, I’m going to sit down at the table and open my Latin book” is more effective than “I will learn Latin today.” So to make a learning habit stick, designate a study area, select an environmental trigger, and put a poster on the wall that reads “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.


Foraging theory of learning

Decades of scientific research into foraging theory of learning among animals has shown preference for knowledge optimization, but it’s only recently that this theory was applied to human information gathering.  It turns out that we are wired to follow the scent down the path of least resistance and prefer bite-size chunks of information.  Want to make learning fun?  Portion out the learning materials so that pieces gradually come together as if in the puzzle (more on how I do it later).


“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

Want to find a sweet spot for learning? Study the works of Russian psychologist Leo Vygotsky.  According to his theory of cognitive development, the best learning happens just beyond a person’s current level of achievement or in the zone of proximal development. There is a fine line between when to push and when to hold back, and it’s the job of a teacher to find that optimal learning zone.  So what techniques can you use to get there?  Stay attuned to your learner, recognize immediate learning needs, and appropriately scaffold the lesson (by modeling, asking questions, and giving clues) to help them reach their full potential.


Relationship is the key to success

It goes without saying that the quality of child-teacher relationship affects learning.  But did you know that there is a desirable positivity ratio in your relationships? According to the research by John Gottman that ratio is 5:1. There must be five positive interactions for each negative one.  Need some ideas for positive interactions?  Here are some tips for nurturing a deep bond.


Show the Way

You might have heard of Bobo Doll Experiment in your Psychology 101 class. In this experiment, scientists studied children’s behavior after they watched adults play with a doll in two different ways. They found that children learned by observation. Not that surprising, right? Another study showed that parental reading habits are a major influence on the reading habits of their children. So take time each day to sit down at the table (despite your never-ending to-do list) and write, read, or study, perhaps a new language or a new scientific discovery. If you want to make learning irresistible, act like you cannot resist that thirst for knowledge and your kids will likely imitate you.


Self-fulfilling prophecy

According to research by Robert Rosenthal, student performance is affected by teacher’s expectations. If you project a conviction of high achievement potential, it will influence their beliefs about themselves and actions in a positive way.  This article published in the Journal of Teacher Education references 17 ways teachers communicate their expectations to students.  Create a culture of high expectations with these tricks from the Center for Teaching and Learning (podcast: episode 16).


Not all feedback created equal

A six-month study that looked into the role of immediate vs. delayed feedback on reading performance discovered significantly higher gain scores for the group receiving immediate feedback.  These results were replicated across other subjects.   But what if I need to deliver negative feedback?  Contrary to what you might believe, starting with the positive is not the best way to do it.  “You’ve been doing a fantastic job, but there were a few mistakes in this math sheet” might make you feel a bit less of “a bad guy”, but it doesn’t beat the straightforward delivery. Be clear and straightforward with any negative feedback. Read 5 research-based tips for providing students with meaningful feedback.


Mere Exposure Effect

Remember that expensive curriculum you bought last year that your kids didn’t like? Did you put it on a high shelf or in the back of a closet hoping that they will change their mind someday? Consider doing this instead: According to the mere exposure effect, people tend to develop a preference for something merely because they are exposed to it. In other words, we can get to like most things, given time, as long we are continuously exposed to it. Simply keeping the curriculum on the coffee table for a month so that kids can see it repeatedly might raise their interest. If not, take it a step further and ask the kids to give it a try for just five to fifteen minutes a day for a week. If the curriculum is a good fit for your child, then the more they experience it, the more they will like it. However, if the curriculum is a bad fit, no amount of exposure will increase them liking it.


Magic ending

Most people are not surprised to hear that not having fun increases perception of pain.  But how about applying it to education?  If the last ten minutes of the lesson are frustrating, kids are going to remember their frustration with the lesson.  If you want your learners to leave the table with the sense of accomplishment, competence, and worth, then you better finish with something fun.

Here are 15 science-backed strategies to give power to your homeschool, so that you can homeschool your kids without losing your mind.  

Don’t wait!  

Pick one or two and start implementing it today.