Homeschooling. When you first start homeschooling everything seems new and exciting but also completely intimidating and overwhelming, doesn’t it?
Where do you even start? Where do you even begin? How do you get started? What do you focus on first?
While it is true that there are many aspects to homeschooling, it is also true that many people make the process of getting started far more complicated than it needs to be!
So, I have created a list of 10 tips that are very important for when you’re just getting started. Things to help you make sure that you have all the nitty-gritty details in place, but also things that will help you prepare your mindset for homeschooling. Some of these things wise friends told me before I started and some of them I wish that someone had told me and I had to learn the hard way!
#1 :: Get on the Same Page
My top piece of advice to you is to make sure that you are on the same page with your spouse and that you clearly communicate to your children.
Now, it might seem odd to place this first before any of the paperwork or choosing curriculum or figuring out your plan for your day. But the truth of the matter is, if this piece is not firmly in place, everything else that you build will have a shaky foundation.
Take the time to make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to homeschooling your child (or children). Homeschooling is not all sunshine and rainbows. You will have hard days. There will be joys and laughter, but there will also be frustration and tears. Knowing that you are both on the same page, that you are both committed to this method of educating your children. Knowing that you can lean on each other and rely on each other when those days do get tough is extremely important!
If your child is older when you start homeschooling, it is extremely helpful to have them on board with the whole idea of homeschooling. It’s not as critical as being on the same page as your spouse, but it is extremely helpful!
#2 :: Know Your Inspiration
The idea of homeschooling can be very alluring. It can bring up all these wonderful pictures of families sitting around the table, each working on their own work while glancing up occasionally and smiling sweetly at their mom who is the teacher. It can bring up images of fights disappearing and this beautiful, rose-colored filter washes over everything.
My Friend, can I be very real with you? This is not what a typical homeschooling day looks like! The scene that I just described sounds like it belongs in a 1950s sitcom!
Here’s the truth of it: Homeschooling is incredible. There is nothing better than having the privilege and opportunity of teaching your children at home. But at the same time, there will be tough days. There will be days when you wonder why on earth you made this decision in the first place. There will be times that you second-guess yourself. This is why knowing your inspiration is so important.
You’ve heard it said that the ‘how’ isn’t as important as the ‘why’ when it comes to goals, right? Well, the same concept applies here. There are so many people and so many resources that can help you with the ‘how’ of homeschooling, but there is only one place where you can find that ‘why.’ And that place is you articulating why you chose to homeschool in the first place.
#3 :: Find a Support System
When it comes to starting to homeschool, many times people can fall into one of two categories. There is the group that says, ‘Just give me everything I need to do in a neat package and I’ll follow the instructions.’ And then there is the group that says ‘I don’t need anyone else to help me! I’ll take this thing on and figure it out all by myself!’
I’ll be honest, I’ve fallen into both categories before – and many other places on that continuum! However, through it all, I have learned one very important thing:
You need a support system. This is twofold: You need a support system of people who will encourage you in those tough days, people who will stand by you no matter what. These people may or many not have any experience homeschooling or advice directly relating to homeschooling, but they are people who love you and who will support and encourage you no matter what.
The second part of this is finding a local group of homeschoolers that you can lean on for advice and encouragement. People that you can meet up with and hang out with. People that have been homeschooling for longer than you and can help give you wisdom, advice, and motivation when you need it.
#4 :: Make Sure You Follow the Law
This one sounds intimidating, yes, but don’t get scared on me! Let’s break this one down, okay?
There are some national laws regarding homeschooling in the United States. Most of these pertain directly to the fact that parents have the right to homeschool their children if they choose and to direct their child’s education. However, with that right, there are some reporting requirements that vary from state to state.
Now, this piece can be tricky because each state is different on the information that they require. There seem to be two common themes in many states, though. First, you generally need to communicate (typically to your local school district or the state education department) that you are starting a home education program and the child or children that will be a part of this program. And second, at the end of each school year in several states there is a ‘check-in’ of some kind to ensure that each homeschooled child is making progress in their education.
How this looks is different in each and every state. And here’s the really tricky part: Not all school officials know the exact rules that the state requires! So how do you navigate this?
Start by checking out this website to find the exact requirements of your state. Sometimes legal language can sound a lot scarier and more intimidating than it is and the HSLDA team does an incredible job breaking down the requirements of your state into a simple, easy to understand format. On top of that, they have links that will direct you to any forms that you need. Such an incredible resource!
On top of that, I cannot recommend highly enough that you join HSLDA.
#5 :: Join HSLDA
HSLDA? What on earth is that? HSLDA stands for Home School Legal Defense Association. Essentially, it an organization that stands behind you and your family as you educate your children. They have a team of lawyers, many of whom were homeschooled growing up and now choose to homeschool their own children, who are very well versed in the homeschooling laws of the nation and each state. This incredible team is able to help you if ever any legal questions arise.
Let’s face it, we don’t like to think that there will ever be a legal question about our family when it comes to homeschooling. But in this day and age, unfortunately, there are questions that do come up. Miscommunications with local school officials have been known to happen. You never want to think that it will happen to you, but what if you could protect yourself and your family? What if you could know that if ever a question arises that you have a team of lawyers backing you up, helping to make sure that everyone – not just you, but everyone – follows the rules set forth in the laws of the nation and each state? That is the peace of mind that HSLDA brings. That is the expertise that they bring to the table.
In addition to the legal team, they have consultants for early years, high school, and even struggling learners! When you are a member of HSLDA, you have access to all these incredible resources. Now, keep in mind that I am extremely choosy about things that I recommend to you. I want to make sure that any resources that I recommend will bring you great value, but I cannot recommend HSLDA highly enough! (This is not an affiliate link, by the way. I just believe in them so strongly that I want you to have easy access to this resource.)
#6 :: Choose Good Curriculum
You will not know everything that you need to know to teach your child. Ouch. Yup. I did just say that. But here’s the good news: You do not have to know everything that you need to teach your child throughout their school career.
Take me, for example. Science and math are not my strong subjects. They never really were, truth be told. I’ve always leaned more towards the literature and music subjects both in what I enjoyed and what I excelled in. So, when it came time to teach our children, I knew that I needed help when it came to math and science. I did my research and found a wonderful curriculum that teaches math and a wonderful curriculum that teaches science. And you know what? My kids are learning by leaps and bounds in both math and science and I get to learn right along with them!
When it comes to choosing curriculum, there are a few things that you need to remember:
- Do your research! Check out the curriculum before you invest money in it!
- Just because someone else uses it or recommends it does not mean that it will be the right fit for your family. Again, go back and do your research!
- There are so many curriculums available to you that it can become completely overwhelming just trying to figure out where to start, let alone which one to pick. Don’t despair! The next time that we chat about homeschooling, we are going to dive in to the different types of curriculum and create a framework for you to use to help choose your homeschooling curriculum.
#7 :: Learning How to Learn is More Important than a Teaching Style
Growing up, you’ve had many different teachers in your life, some in formal settings and many in informal settings. You have seen and experienced firsthand that each teacher teaches a bit differently from every other teacher. Even with the ones who had similar teaching styles, I’m sure that you could tell me some differences between them!
You are a unique person and you have a unique teaching style. When you’re just starting out homeschooling, it may be challenging to put your finger exactly on what this style is and that’s okay! The important thing to realize is that you have a teaching style that will be all your own.
You’re heard it said before that everyone has a different learning style. This is very true! Your child has their own unique approach to learning. If you have multiple children in your family each one of them will have a unique learning style. Each child will learn just a little bit differently and at a different speed than every other child.
The biggest key here is not to fight these different learning styles. The bigger goal is to learn how to mesh your child’s learning style and your teaching style to create an atmosphere where they are given the freedom to learn and that they enjoy learning! The ultimate goal is to teach your children how to be lifelong learners.
#8 :: Set Realistic Expectations
It is incredibly easy to get this picture of homeschooling where everything is perfect and that everyone behaves impeccably. Where learning takes place on an exact schedule and each child pays focused attention no matter the subject.
Can I let you in on a secret? Homeschooling does not look like this!
Homeschooling is wonderful in its structure and in its flexibility. Many times, how this plays out will change from year to year. Most often, it is a process that is continually being fine-tuned.
Here are a few mindset guidelines to help you set realistic expectations:
- It will not look exactly like you think. And that is more than okay! Be open to new ideas and trying different ways of doing things.
- You do not have to homeschool exactly like anyone else. Remember, you have your own unique teaching style. Your children have their own unique learning style. No one else is working with the same unique combination of personalities as you. By definition, your homeschool will have its own look and feel. And this is one of the absolute beauties of homeschooling!
- Laugh a lot! You will make mistakes. It will take some trial and error to find out what resonates and what works. If you allow it, there will be fun and silliness and joy and laughter. Embrace it!
- Own up to you mistakes and learn together. No one is perfect. This is brought out very clearly in homeschooling. You will make mistakes. Your children will make mistakes. The question is not ‘Will I make a mistake?’ But ‘What will I do when I make a mistake?’ Own your mistakes, admit where you were wrong, learn from your mistakes, and move forward together.
- Grace and Patience! Whatever you do, add an extra measure of grace and patience as you are learning your homeschooling pattern!
#9 :: Structure with Flexibility
Creating structure with flexibility sounds like two opposing things, doesn’t it? How can you have structure and still be flexible? Usually if you’re creating a structure, say a building, you don’t exactly want it to be flexible! Now, this is very true when it comes to construction. If there were buildings that shook and wobbled as people walked in them, that would pretty much defeat the purpose of creating a structurally sound building in the first place!
But keep in mind that you are not dealing with bricks and wooden beams and drywall here. You are working with real, live human beings. Human beings that have different moods and occasionally get sick and sometimes need more help on a certain lesson than you may have initially thought.
That’s where structure with flexibility comes in. Human beings, particularly children, thrive on structure and routines. It lends stability and permanence and a feeling of knowing what to expect to the day. So, as you begin putting together your homeschooling plan, come up with a structure, a pattern to begin implementing during your day. Oh, you many not have everything scheduled down to the minute – in fact, I don’t really recommend that! But you can create a framework to work with.
It might be as simple as knowing that you’re going to start school at a certain time of day and you’re going to start with a certain subject. It might mean knowing that you will take a break for lunch at a certain time. It might mean claiming a specific block of time to work with one child on a particular subject. No matter what it looks like for you, you want to have a basic structure to your day.
And yet, within that structure, allow for flexibility. There will be the rare occasion when you or your child wakes up sick and you need to take a day to rest and heal. Different life circumstances will happen. Family will come into town. There will be those days when, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot get school going at the normal time. This is okay! This is a part of life.
This is how the structure and flexibility work together: You want to have a good framework so that you know where you’re headed, so that you have a rhythm and routine to your school day. But you want to remain flexible enough to adjust when you need to.
#10 :: Don’t Get Overwhelmed!
Homeschooling is a single word that packs a big punch, isn’t it? The concept is very simple, but when you start to dig into it, there are so many details that seem to come with homeschooling whether you want them to or not. Let me leave you with this last, very important tip: Don’t get overwhelmed!
Easier said that done, right?
It is very easy to get overwhelmed, but don’t allow yourself to go there. When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a break and go back to your homeschooling inspiration. Go back and remind yourself why you chose to homeschool. Say it to yourself again – out loud if you need to! Remind yourself why you are doing all this, why you are walking through all these details, why this matters.
Remember, if you keep focused on your why, the exact steps, the ‘how,’ will come. The exact steps that you need to take become a lot easier to figure out when you know why you are doing what you are doing.
You’ve got this, my Friend! And I’ll be here to cheer you on every step of the way and give you all the resources that I can to help you!
**The information found in this post is not intended to be taken as legal advice. The information provided is given to be a resource to the reader and to point them to others who are qualified to give sound legal advice (namely, the HSLDA team).
- Difficult Decisions: Homeschooling is Not for the Faint of Heart
- The Importance of Knowing Your Homeschooling Inspiration
- 3 Paralyzing Myths and How to Overcome Them
- Learning: The Ultimate Goal, Perspective from a Homeschooling Graduate
- The One-Room Schoolhouse Approach
- How to Overcome Perfectionism and Mom Guilt
- How to Intentionally Create a Pattern for Your Day
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.