My Advice For New Homeschoolers, Part 1

Advice for new homeschoolersHow do I homeschool my child?

It must be the year for homeschooling.

I’ve had more friends this year decide to homeschool than any other year since we began homeschooling. The reasons have varied — concern over values taught in the public school system, distress about peer relationships, a desire to inculcate principles of faith, worries about increased “teaching to the test” procedures in government schools, an interest in providing more individualized instruction… but whatever the reason, each parent has had a significant “deer in the headlights” look as they have shared their newly chosen educational path. They have one question in common, whether spoken or unspoken: “How do I homeschool my child?”

Many of them have come to me for advice. As if I’ve got this whole thing figured out.

(Insert eye roll and a loud, exclamatory “Sheesh” here).

So I’ve been trying to put together my best, most humble advice from a non-veteran-but-definitely-broken-in homeschooling Mom. There are many things that I have learned, through my experience thus far in home education, that I think can help a newcomer address one of the central fears I hear across the board: “I just don’t know if I can do it”.

Honestly, is there a homeschooler out there that hasn’t thought that? Even while homeschooling?

Yeah. The truth is, this homeschooling thing is a day-by-day exercise in patience, perseverance, and the willingness to learn from mistakes. I kind of approach it much like parenting. You never feel like you’re adequate to the job, but if you are willing to learn as you go, get support when you need it, and you remain committed to making it happen (and, well, rely on a bit of grace from Above), you can be an effective parent. The same with homeschooling.

This series attempts to relay some of those first time homeschooler fears. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s daunting. But isn’t anything that’s worth doing?

Yep, just like parenting. Hard, daunting, challenging… and totally worth it. The biggest joys in life come from the things in which we successfully struggle.

So…here it is. Part 1 of my best advice for new homeschoolers.

  1. Be committed. The most important factor to your homeschooling success is not your education level, intelligence, creativity, patience, ability to work well with kids, or aptitude in teaching. The most important factor is commitment. If you are committed to homeschooling, you will find ways to make it work. One of the best ways to become whole-heartedly committed to it is to understand its benefits. Take the time to learn about the research on homeschooling, and how it benefits children academically, socially, morally, developmentally, and spiritually.  (In addition to the previous hyperlinks, for more information on this, see TheHomeSchoolMom’s Benefits of Homeschooling). Once you believe wholeheartedly that it is the best option for your family (if it, in fact, is), you will be able to develop the commitment needed to overcome any challenges you may face.
  2. Know the law.  Homeschooling law varies from state to state, and it is important to know the relevant policies for your area. In most states, there are usually a couple of critical dates of which to be aware (things like dates when testing scores are due to the superintendent’s office, and when a homeschooler’s Notice of Intent to Homeschool must be turned in). Be vigilant about keeping necessary dates and requirements, so that your ability to homeschool is not compromised. For more information on the homeschooling law in each state, check out TheHomeSchoolMom’s Local Homeschool Support.
  3. Surround yourself with other homeschoolers. You will, at some point in your homeschooling career, feel like you are out on a limb by yourself. It’s only by hanging out with other homeschoolers that you will find out you’re really not — that many others have been where you are and have encountered the challenges you are facing. Join a co-op, participate in a homeschooling group, attend a homeschooling conventionsurround yourself with other homeschoolers. By doing so you will be able to get ideas, receive support, and make sure your kids have friends that do the same thing they do. Having a homeschooling community is critical for homeschooling success, for both you and your children. For more information about homeschool groups where you live, see TheHomeSchoolMom’s Local Homeschool Support.
  4. Don’t compare to public school. If you want public school, put your kids in public school. But if you homeschool, don’t try to compare yourself or your homeschooling to public school. Homeschooling is completely different from public school, and many of its benefits come precisely from the fact that it is not public school. Individualized education, flexibility in schedule and techniques, opportunity to disseminate personal and faith values, the ability to adapt all aspects of schooling to the student’s needs rather than making the student fit into the plan for the group, teaching in-depth on subjects of interest rather than teaching blurbs for a test, and creative outside resources are just a few of the advantages homeschooling provides more effectively than public school. So don’t try and pattern your homeschool after public school. Make it whatever you need it to be for your unique family. Know that your homeschool will be different from what public school is and does, but that because of that, your children are getting different benefits from public school.
  5. Adjust your expectations to the long-term. Public school is ingrained in focusing on episodic learning per semester and per year, according to the cycles of standardized testing. In other words, all children are generally expected to know x concepts by x point in the school year. Homeschooling, on the other hand, tends to be more focused on long-term learning. Johnny might be ahead of his public school equivalent grade level in Reading but behind grade level in Math. There is no problem with this, because the goal is that by the end of his schooling he will have mastered all of the necessary concepts for all subjects. The path it takes him to get there, in homeschooling, does not have to be linear as is expected in public school. Allow your child the flexibility to learn at his or her own pace without the pressures of needing to adhere to the guidelines of public school sequence and standardized testing.
  6. Treat each child as an individual. The beauty of homeschooling is that your kids do not all have to be using the same materials or doing the same thing in the same way! Don’t assume that you will get one math program for all of your children. Treat each child as an individual, and purchase curricula according to each child’s learning style, interests, and abilities. One child might need more hands-on activities, while another child might learn best with traditional textbook-style resources. One child might be able to work independently while another might require significant parental support and guidance. One child might accomplish work more effectively with periodic tests interjected at strategic learning points, whereas testing and grades might demoralize another child, who would learn better with Mom simply keeping track of progress without official grading or testing. Make your child’s needs the focus, not the materials.

Read Part 2 of My Advice For New Homeschoolers

Rebecca Capuano

Rebecca Capuano is the stay-at-home mom of three children (one of whom is in heaven) who also makes attempts at being a homeschooler, writer, photographer, scrapbooker, and truth-seeker. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from East Carolina University, and has worked in a variety of capacities (including group homes, day treatment centers, and public schools) with at-risk children and staff, including developing a therapeutic and educational day treatment center for delinquent youth in Wilmington, North Carolina. She currently resides in Virginia, and has written on a variety of topics for both Examiner.com and Home Educators Association of Virginia. Rebecca believes that family is created by God as the most fundamental institution in society, and she is dedicated to helping families nurture their children to become responsible persons of character and integrity. In addition to reading her posts at TheHomeSchoolMom, you can follow her search for truth (and blunders along the way) in family, faith and culture by visiting her blog, seeluminosity.com.

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Comments

  1. This is really well-written, Rebecca! Am looking forward to part 2 . . .

  2. Joana Roush

    This helped me out a lot! I am just now considering homeschooling with my Son and I am completely lost. I live in Kingwood, Texas and I cannot find any homeschoolers, groups, nothing around my area :(

    I am not sure what book stores there are around here, what curriculum I follow NOTHING!

    Please HELP!!

    Joana

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Joana,

      Have you checked our Getting Started page? I suggest looking for support online if you can’t find anything in your area. In looking for curriculum, most homeschoolers buy online or at conventions. Rainbow Resource carries an immense selection.

      Mary Ann

  3. Ciara Cole

    Thanks for this!
    I have a question in regards to the “letter of intent”
    My daughter is only 4 until October.
    Upon her incessant begging and her scoring >160 in all the categories on the kindergarten assessments tests, I am convinced she is ready to begin Kinder.
    Do I need to send a letter of intent this year?
    Or can I send one next year, intending to begin 1st grade?
    Will they need to see the completion of an accredited kindergarten curriculum?
    Especially because next August she will still be 5.
    And am I too late as it is August already this year?
    Thanks, Ciara

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Ciara,

      Are you in Virginia? The laws vary by state. Typically it’s best to teach your child on whatever schedule fits their needs, but to submit their level to the county as what fits their age (if they are advanced). While a 4 year old might be well ahead of her peers, the same child as a high schooler might not and you don’t want to have to drop her back a grade later. Grade levels are a lot less important for homeschoolers (a child may be in a wide range of grade levels for different subjects).

      I hope this helps.

      Mary Ann

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