August and September are such exciting months for the homeschooling community–the promise of the year ahead; the planning (and the planners!); the shiny, new curriculum; the beautiful stacks of books all over the house; and the arrangement and decorating of homeschool spaces. Even year-round homeschoolers like me can’t help but get caught up in the anticipation of it all. But with this excitement can also come worry, questions, analysis-paralysis, and a whole heaping spoonful of self-doubt, especially for brand-new homeschoolers.
I remember my first year of homeschooling. Even though I’d just wrapped up over ten years of experience teaching in the classroom, I felt unsure going into this uncharted territory. Everything was new, there were millions of choices swirling around my mind, and the homeschoolers seemed to have their own language that I didn’t yet speak (What the heck are “twaddle” are “living books”?) I changed my mind a hundred times that first year, running toward each new iteration with an all-in, “battle-cry” mentality. The landscape of our homeschool changed shape every few weeks, from “school at home” to Waldorf to unschooling to unit studies to Charlotte Mason. It took me that whole first year just to steady the spinning top long enough to think about what I really wanted our homeschool to look like.
If you’re a new homeschooler going into your first year, you probably feel a bit overwhelmed, certainly excited, and possibly scared. But we’ve all been there, and trust me–it’s so worth it. I have gotten a pretty steady stream of questions in my inbox over the last two months, so I decided to address the most common ones with a little collection of tips for the new homeschooler. Seasoned homeschoolers, feel free to chime in with any I missed in the comments section! 🙂
Tip #1: Know the Laws & Requirements for Your State
Before you start flipping through the curriculum catalogs or shopping the dollar section at Target, you need to get this out of the way. It’s the least exciting part of the whole thing, yes, but it’s very important that you understand what your state requires of you as a homeschooler. Every state has its own rules and processes for homeschoolers, ranging from the extremely lax to the obnoxiously regulated. Some merely require you to send in a letter of intent to homeschool and others have strict guidelines about what must be studied each year and how to document it. Take some time to look into this, and make sure you really understand the laws before you make any decisions about curriculum or planning.
Tip #2: Explore the Different Homeschool Styles and Philosophies
There are SO many different approaches to homeschool, but don’t let the myriad variations overwhelm you (like I did, haha.) First of all, there is absolutely no rush to declare your allegiance to one philosophy or another, and you are free to change and alter this as often as you want, despite what anyone may tell you otherwise. I started out very much “school at home” style and gradually evolved into a combination of Charlotte Mason and nature-based, open-ended, project-oriented learning. Every family is unique, and different aspects of these approaches are going to resonate with yours at different steps in your homeschooling journey. Homeschool is not static–its meant to evolve and shift with you. So feel free to explore and take your time deciding what works and what doesn’t.
Remember, too, that the approach that works best for you will not only depend on your children and their learning styles, but your teaching style as well. One of the reasons Charlotte Mason’s philosophies work so well for our family is that I really love teaching that way. Therefore, I am confident in my abilities to teach in that style. This is paramount. You need to feel comfortable with your role as the teacher in the style of homeschooling you choose. If your heart belongs to unschooling, you’re probably going to have a difficult time embracing the role of the teacher in the “school at home” style of homeschooling, and vice-versa.
Tip #3: Stay Fluid and Take Your Time Finding Your Rhythm
There are going to be good days, bad days, and everything in between. You’ll have days where you feel like you rock at homeschooling and days where you’ll feel like it’s a big mistake. Ride. The. Waves. Homeschool is not always easy, and it comes with a unique set of hurdles to overcome. But it’s also extremely rewarding and full of benefits for you and your children. One of the keys to finding your groove is to be flexible and fluid, and to honor the rhythm that works for your family. Some families are early birds and do better getting their lessons done first thing in the morning while others do much better if they save them for afternoons, or even evenings. My husband and I both work, so we do our homeschooling early in the morning and on the weekends. Find what works for your family, and adjust as needed. Again, there are no rules here about when you can and can’t do homeschool. The flexibility and individual nature of homeschooling is one of its biggest benefits!
Tip #4: Connect With Other Homeschoolers
Oh, how I wish I had figured this out earlier in my own journey. Look–homeschooling can be really isolating, and downright lonely if you don’t make an effort to connect with other homeschoolers. My experience of this was compounded in my first years by the fact that I lived in the middle of the jungle in the center of the Pacific, in a place where I knew absolutely no one. Being a bit of an introvert (or, if I’m being honest, a hermit) didn’t make things easier. Homeschooling is a tough road to travel alone, and there’s no reason to do so in the first place. Thanks to modern technology, you can talk to other homeschoolers all over the world every single day.
Join Facebook groups–there are hundreds of them, for every kind of homeschooler there is. Read blogs by other homeschoolers–there are SO MANY great ones! This was huge for me. Reading about other people’s experiences helped me so much when I was starting out and made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Connect with local homeschooling groups and co-ops. Become pen-pals with another homeschooling family (and don’t just let the kids have all the fun, the moms can write to each other too!) Engage in extra-curricular activities or meet-up groups.
Don’t isolate yourself–you need to have other people in your corner that understand what it’s like to be a homeschooler. You’re going to come up against all kinds of people in society that don’t understand the benefits of homeschooling and they’re going to say hurtful things some times. It really helps to have your tribe to turn to for reassurance and support. If you’re like me and groups “in person” kind of freak you out, then just make playdates with one family at a time. If you’re a social butterfly, join or start a group for other homeschoolers to come together. Above all, make that effort to make connections. You need it, your kids need it, and other homeschoolers need you, too.
Tip #5: Use the Resources Available to You
When I walk into a library, or into the visitor center of a state or national park, I feel like someone rolled out a welcome mat and sat me down for tea. I feel like I belong there. There are certain places that really love on, and cater to, homeschooling families. Find them, use them, and visit them often. On Maui, our tiny local library had events for kids every single week where I could bring the girls to play and interact with other children. Here in Colorado, Jefferson County Open Space Parks are always hosting workshops, hikes, star-watching, and other activities for kids. There are a ton of free resources available to you, so use them!
And One Bonus Tip: Capture and Record Your Journey
I once read a post that was circulating around Facebook that said something like “they will never be as little as they are today, ever again.” This has stuck with me since then, and every morning I tell myself that when I wake up. Every single day with our children is a gift, a treasure. Someday they are going to grow up and move out and I want to be able to look back at all of these memories and moments learning and sharing together. I started my Instagram account just for that reason, and use the Chatbooks app to print physical books of those photos several times a year. (Click here to see more about that.) Preserving those memories is also why I started a blog in the first place. I highly recommend you do something to capture and record your homeschooling journey, not for your state’s records, but for yourself. Keep a journal, start a blog, make scrapbooks, or do it the techie way and print out a book of your Instagram photos. Some people even keep private Facebook pages and post their days into it like a diary. Someday, you and your children will be so happy to look back over those memories and all of that time you spent together.
Take a deep breath, new homeschoolers. You’ve got this, and we’ve got you. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask questions on my Facebook page @blossomandroot. Have a beautiful first year together and don’t forget–the joy is in the journey!