The reasons for choosing to homeschool over the years 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.
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).
Know that you can do it
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.
What You Need to Know to Start Homeschooling
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. 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.
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.
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 homeschool co-op, participate in a homeschooling group, attend a homeschooling convention... surround 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 Resources.
Don't compare to public school
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.
[Ed. note: Read about how it works if your children might be going from homeschool to public school at some point.]
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.
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 homeschool curriculum 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.