Are you new to homeschooling this fall? Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone! Being a homeschool mom takes a huge leap of faith, mountains of perseverance, and more than a few gallons of coffee. Here are five tips on homeschooling for beginners from a veteran homeschool mom so you can start your first year off on the right foot.
The first leg of your homeschooling journey can be a bumpy one. There are so many changes happening all at once. Perhaps you were working outside the home before, and now you are working at home, or taking a break from work altogether. Maybe your kids were in public school and you’ve pulled them out to give homeschooling a shot.
Even if you’ve been a stay-at-home mom of preschoolers who are now transitioning into kindergarteners, you can still expect plenty of changes. When you first start homeschooling, the idea of worksheets and formal lessons may come as a shock to a 5-year-old accustomed to playing freely most of the day.
No matter what the transition looks like for you and your family, it’s important to ease into it.
You do not, for example, want to kick your home learning experience off in the same way I did, which involved the following—all within the first three months: working full-time outside the house until the middle of September, taking in not one, but two grandparents who were undergoing cancer treatments, taking a four-week drive across Canada, and adopting a rescue dog.
You don’t want to do that, because that would be crazy and would send your whole family into a tailspin for the rest of the year. Trust me.
I have, however, gotten slightly savvier over the past 10 years when it comes to launching a homeschool year right. That first month sets the tone for the rest of the year, so it’s important to give some thought to what you want your year to look like and how you’re going to make that happen.
Here are my top five tips for a successful first year of homeschooling.
1. Make Sure You Know What’s Required
Every state and province has its own laws and requirements about homeschooling and these laws are updated regularly. It’s critical that you know up front exactly what’s required of you and that you’ve taken care of all the necessary paperwork and registrations.
Your state’s laws may dictate some or all of the following:
- how many days (or hours) of homeschooling you need to log over the course of the year
- what subjects you’re required to teach
- whether or not you need to adhere to a state curriculum
- whether or not you need oversight from a professional teacher and what that process looks like
- with whom you will register your children as homeschoolers
- what funding you might be eligible for
- what could happen if you don’t follow the requirements
As a homeschooling parent, it’s your job to stay educated about the rules that pertain to you and operate within them. To find the homeschool laws for your state or province, visit the Homeschool Legal Defense Association in the US or Homeschool.Today in Canada.
2. Get Connected
If you’re not already, you’ll soon be familiar with the tiresome question all homeschoolers must face: “But what about socialization?”
Unless you live in the middle of nowhere—in which case socialization probably isn’t at the top of your priority list—there is an abundance of opportunities for homeschoolers to socialize.
The first step is to get connected. You’ll want to befriend other homeschooling families and possibly join a homeschooling community so you don’t feel alone during the hard times (and there will be hard times).
Facebook is a great place to start your search. Type your town or county name into the search bar along with the phrase “homeschool community” and see what groups pop up. Request to join the most relevant ones. Facebook groups require a relatively low commitment to join, and being a member of these groups automatically gives you a fount of wisdom from which to drink when you run into homeschooling challenges.
If you’re registered through a distance education school, they may also organize in-person classes and co-ops. Even if you feel hesitant about attending these, I encourage you to try out one or two classes in the early years so you can put roots down in the local homeschool community. Just as with brick-and-mortar schools, the time spent waiting to drop off and pick up your kids is the perfect time to network with other parents, find out what other events and activities they’re involved in, and set up playdates for your kids.
Homeschooling is much more enjoyable when you don’t go it alone.
3. Don’t Worry Too Much About Homeschooling Methods
If you’re a proactive planner, you’ve probably already started digging around to learn more about homeschool methods. Maybe you even took a quiz online to find out whether Charlotte Mason, classical, eclectic, or unit studies is the best approach for you. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do NOT start freaking out right now!)
Understanding the various homeschooling methods is helpful, but certainly not required. They give us a useful framework that we can use to search for a curriculum that resonates with us, or bond with a like-minded mama over lattes at the park.
But you don’t need to commit to an approach to be an amazing homeschool teacher. All you need is a commitment to getting to know your kids better and discovering what teaching methods make them the least miserable.
Think of homeschooling methods like personality types—the Enneagram, for example. You already have a personality. You know who you are and how you tick and under what circumstances you thrive. You do not need to know your Enneagram type for all those things to be true.
But it’s still kind of fun to find out your type. It gives you some deeper insight into yourself, alerts you to potential blind spots, and gives you a reference point for connecting with others. It allows you to say things like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push so hard. It’s just that I’m an Enneagram 3.”
The same is true with homeschooling methods. You’ll teach in the way that makes the most sense to you, and at some point, you may decide you want to put a label on that. But it won’t necessarily dictate the way you teach. It will give you a name for it and allow you to lean into it more.
And there’s no need to rush that.
4. Do Take Into Account Your Kids’ Learning Styles
On the other hand, understanding the ways in which your children learn best is paramount to teaching them well. If you haven’t spent a lot of time at home with them already, you’ll need to give yourself an experimentation period where you can try out lots of different things and see what clicks for them. Ideally, this will happen before you invest a whack load of money in a homeschool curriculum.
Some of the most frustrating times in our homeschool have arisen from a mismatch between the way my kids learn and the way I teach (or the way the curriculum I’m using tells me to teach).
My kids are not the type of people who do well with reading a chapter of a book and answering questions about what they’ve read. It seems like a straightforward assignment, but to them, it’s about as easy as running a marathon. They’d much rather do something creative like writing a musical about the topic, or making a video tutorial about it—even if it takes them 10 times more time and effort.
As their mother, adapting to their needs requires two interdependent things: flexibility and time.
I must be able to take a curriculum, discern its desired outcomes, and be flexible in allowing my children some say in how they demonstrate that they’ve met those outcomes. For younger children who haven’t yet discovered what works best for them, this could mean trying out a series of options—for example, writing math questions on patio doors with window markers or setting up a play store to demonstrate adding skills.
But none of this creative transfer of knowledge can happen if we don’t leave ourselves enough time.
And time is so important, it gets its own section.
5. Give Yourself Enough Time
Giving yourself sufficient time and margin is a critical success factor for your homeschool.
For most homeschool families, the problem is not—as many assume—a lack of opportunities for engagement. Rather, it’s a deluge.
If you’re not careful, you’ll soon wonder why it’s called homeschooling instead of ‘vanschooling’ because most of your time will be spent schlepping from one activity to another in your cracker-crumb-riddled minivan.
You’ll always be rushing, behind schedule, late for another class or appointment, and this will make all of you—but especially you—frustrated and cranky. You will snap at your kids when you don’t mean to, hurry through lessons just to check them off the list, and drink more drive-thru mochas than you would have believed possible.
It’s not a pretty picture, I know. But almost every homeschooling family I know has gone through this phase. The doing-way-too-much-but-can’t-slow-down phase. Everyone is under pressure and stressed out, and the homeschool experience ends up looking nothing like how you’d imagined it.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Start out the way you mean to go on. Set a pace for your homeschool that is sustainable, that meets everyone’s needs, especially their need for down time. A great resource to check out if you need help in this area is Sarah Mackenzie’s “Teaching from Rest.”
You can always add more curricula or classes as you go, but it’s much harder to scale back once you’ve taken on too much. Kids get attached to friends and activities and pulling them out is heartbreaking.
Spend time together as a family regularly discussing your schedules and commitments and checking in to see how everyone is doing with it all. Be prepared to make adjustments if anyone starts to feel overwhelmed.
There’s plenty of time to do all the things you want to do, just don’t try to fit them all in the first year.
Oh, and one quick tip from a recovering overachiever: Our husbands are usually the first to pick up on it when we’ve overcommitted. Don’t be offended if your husband suggests you may be doing too much. Take the time to listen to his concerns and consider where you might scale back. If he’s feeling it, your kids probably are too, but they won’t have the words to communicate it yet.
Your first few years of homeschooling are an exciting time. You’ll get to know each other really well, and you’ll discover all the joys of childhood again through your children’s eyes.
Don’t be too hard on yourself—or on them—if things aren’t going the way you expected them to. I would encourage you to return to these tips on homeschooling for beginners again later and make sure you’re maintaining a balanced perspective.
Above all, keep your eyes on the long game, and allow yourself to rest in the confidence that you’ve chosen the best path for your kids in this season.
Seasoned homeschooling moms, what tips would you add to Sophie’s to help and encourage new homeschooling families to have a successful first year?
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