Advice for New Homeschoolers
Dear New Homeschooling Mom (and Dad!),
I know how exciting it is for you to be starting your homeschool journey! I’m excited for you, you’re going to have such a great year! I know that while you’re excited, you’re also really scared and worried. I’m here to tell you that you CAN do this, you WILL be ok. Your kids will be ok, too. There are going to be a lot of ups, but there will be downs too. Be prepared for the downs. Not every day goes as planned and sometimes the happy days morph into…well…let’s just say less-than-happy days. Regardless, enjoy the good days and prepare for the bad ones.
Fortunately a lot of the bad days can be avoided with the right mindset. With that in mind, I share with you the 10 things I wish I had known about homeschooling when we started all those years ago. I hope this post brings you some peace.
(and don’t forget to hop on over to our Facebook page to join in the conversation, or leave a comment below!)
1. Don’t recreate the school in your home
This was a big one for me. BIG. It’s really hard to step out of the school mindset of grading papers and raising hands. Take a deep breath and leap, Mama. When you learn to leave the confines of a school mindset behind something really cool happens, the whole world opens up right before your eyes.
2. Don’t spend all of your money on curriculum
It can be difficult to step out of the school mindset, and that makes it really hard to imagine going into homeschooling without a box of shiny new textbooks. Kids, especially kids under the age of 8, don’t NEED curriculum. Kids are naturally curious creatures and for most of them, textbooks don’t encourage curiosity, engagement, or exploration.
Do you want to know what DOES encourage curiosity, engagement, and exploration? Experiences. Unless you’re independently wealthy you’re probably going to have to make some tough decisions about how to spend your money, and in my opinion, an experience beats a textbook any day of the year.
Now, hear me out. My family decided to study Medieval Europe last year and we are enjoying it so much (and working so slowly) that we decided to make it a two year pursuit. Why? So we can use our hands and visit experts. Sure, we could follow along with the curriculum three times a week, we could read the books and mark the map and make pieces for our timeline (and we certainly do those things!) and be done in 9 months but if we do that we miss out on a lot. We would miss out on the making of the jester sticks, we’d miss out on the local Medieval Faires, we’d miss out on making costumes with our friends & the epic trivia card games.
I’m not saying curriculum is bad, it is a very useful tool with a time & a place. When you set your homeschooling budget look for experiences first (especially if the experience offers a student day, much cheaper!) and curriculum second. I promise that 10 years from now you won’t regret your decision to do more and buy fewer textbooks.
3. You don’t have to know everything.
“But what about algebra?” I hear that a lot, heck I’ve asked that a lot. Here’s something that a lot of people don’t know: you don’t have to be an expert in all subjects to give your child a really great education at home. The goal of homeschooling isn’t to give the child all of the information they will ever need to succeed as an adult, rather, the goal is to give them the tools they need so they know how to teach themselves.
Homeschooling parents are a resourceful lot. If your kid needs algebra to meet one of their goals, like going to college for instance, homeschooling parents will find a way to teach them algebra. There are curriculum options that do all of the teaching for you, there is dual enrollment, there are co-ops, there are tutors…where there is desire, there is a way.
4. Look to the future but don’t worry about it now
Ah, the trap of “but what if…” I have so been there and soooooo done that. Yes, things get a little more critical as your kid ages but, and I know this is tough so take a deep breath, don’t let worry control your actions.
One of the worst things you can do is spend money when you’re worried. Trust me, you will spend too much money on something you purchased as a knee-jerk reaction. Take the time to talk things over with your spouse, your kid, and a friend. No one was ever denied a job because they waited two weeks to decide what to do about geometry.
5. Know your laws better than the school does.
When we started homeschooling this was very important because frankly, a whole lot of people assumed homeschooling was illegal. Most people today know that it isn’t, thankfully, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. The curse part comes in with the school district. So many children are homeschooled now that school districts are scrambling for ways to keep up with them and with the laws.
In Florida, for example, each county has its own homeschool liason. The liason is resonspible for communicating with homeschoolers and ensuring laws are followed on both sides of the aisle. One would think that the homeschool liason would know the laws about homeschooling and how to legally apply them, but sadly that isn’t the case. Every county in Central Florida asks for more information than is legally required on their paperwork, and they tell people that their paperwork is mandatory when it most certainly is not. That’s relatively minor, however, compared to the liason in one county who has spent the last three years telling thousands of parents that annual evaluations aren’t required. WHAT?! It’s pretty clear in Florida law that yes, annual evaluations are pretty much the biggest requirement to homeschool legally. It’s true, the homeschool liason and now thousands of parents are dealing with the aftermath of being given incorrect information, an aftermath that includes the state trying to force kids into school and threatening to take the parent’s drivers licenses away.
My point is this: Know your state laws better than the school district, and more importantly, follow those laws even if you or someone else thinks you don’t need to or shouldn’t have to. People who don’t homeschool legally put ALL OF US at risk. Fight to change the laws if necessary, but follow the laws until they are changed.
6. Local support groups are a great lifeline
Even though time has changed their circumstances, my adult children are still friends with the support group kids they met when they were 5. These relationships were founded on solid ground, not simply because they were born the same year. In fact, when my oldest did a stint in school she went through a very hard time and showed signs of depression. Was it the school kids who came to our house to visit and let her know that they cared about her? No, it was those support group kids that she hadn’t seen in several years.
Support groups aren’t just for the kids though, they’re for us too. On the days when I feel absolutely overwhelmed and inferior and want to quit (and yes, I have those days a lot!) I know that if I call or text a friend from the group I’ll be at a park in an hour and she’ll be listening to me while the kids play.
It can be hard to find a support group that meets your needs, especially if you’re a secular homeschooler. I decided to create one when I couldn’t find one, but homeschooling is so popular today that you probably won’t have to resort to that. You can read about how I founded Mid-Florida Homeschoolers here.
7. Don’t try to change your kids
If your child is an auditory learner you won’t do him any favors by pushing a visual curriculum. If your child is a late waker all of the cajoling in the world won’t turn her into a morning person overnight. If your kid doesn’t like to read the worst thing you can do is demand that they read.
Homeschooling should reflect your child’s natural abilities and interests while challenging them to improve and expand. Check out Is This Curriculum A Match For My Child?
8. Don’t try to change yourself.
You shouldn’t try to change your child through homeschooling, but you also shouldn’t try to change yourself. If you aren’t a planner, for instance, and you try to follow a strict schedule you’re going to be miserable. Miserable parents lead to miserable kids, and miserable kids lead to the demise of your home education program.
Be honest with yourself when choosing experiences and curriculum, and don’t buy something that is going to make you miserable.
9. Involve family members who care.
No one said you have to do this alone. The big book of homeschooling rules doesn’t have a chapter about being a lone wolf. If grandma is interested let her help! Maybe she can attend a field trip or buy a book or talk to your kids about something she knows. My parents are always asking what books they can buy for the kids; not only does that help our budget, it helps them stay involved!
10. The days are long but the years are so, so short.
There will be a day when you wake up in the morning and you’re children aren’t kids anymore. Mama, it WILL happen and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It’s bittersweet, it’s scary, it’s…it’s amazing. When that day comes you can rest easy knowing that you did the best you could and in doing so you gave your kids the tools they need to tackle this world on their own.
Would you like to read more? Check out a guest post I wrote about this topic and take a look at my ebook just for new homeschoolers! Don’t forget to hop on over to our Facebook Page and Facebook Group for more discussion!