My Best Advice for New Homeschoolers


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Jumping into homeschooling for the first time feels a lot like I’d imagine bungee jumping for the first time does. You’re teetering on the edge of the unknown wondering things like:

Is the rope going to snap?

Am I going to really regret this?

Am I crazy?

Should I turn around, go back, and forget this insanity?

Or, maybe, just maybe, is this going to be the most exhilarating, amazing thing I’ve ever done?

That’s how I imagine it anyway. I’ve never bungee jumped. I have homeschooled, though – for over 12 years. And, I can tell you that it runs the gamut from exhilarating to heart-stopping, amazing to terrifying, relationship-building to insanity-inducing – and I can’t imagine any other way of life for us.

If you’re just considering homeschooling or are getting ready to take the plunge, I want to share with you the same advice for new homeschoolers that I’d share if we were sitting down having a glass of sweet tea together.

Accept that you can do this.

I don’t personally know anyone who didn’t suffer with doubt and insecurity when they first began homeschooling. The idea of being solely responsible for your child’s education is overwhelming.

However, my biggest piece of advice for you is to accept that you can do this. If you’ve got a young child and you can read, write, add, and subtract, you’ve got this. Really.

And, if you’ve got older kids, you can learn alongside them (you might be surprised how much more sense algebra makes the second time around), hire a tutor, or seek out online learning opportunities. There are many ways to teach high school level subjects.

Give it at least a year.

New homeschooling families often put way too much pressure on themselves. The first year (or four!) is a huge adjustment for everyone, whether you’re homeschooling from the beginning and adjusting to formal learning with a young child or transitioning from public or private to homeschool with an older child.

It removes a lot of the pressure to commit to giving it a  year before making a long-term decision. Our first homeschool year, we were bringing my oldest home from two years in public school. We opted to use the same math program her former elementary school was using so we could keep her up to speed in math (and do something with which she was familiar) while focusing on reading, her area of struggle.

We reasoned that we’d have three options the following year: 1) put her back in school in third grade, 2) put her back in school in second grade if she continued to struggle, or 3) continue homeschooling.

By the end of that first year, she was on grade level with reading and homeschooling was such a smashing success, that we chose option 3 and never looked back!

Read lots of books about homeschooling.

Read lots of books about different homeschooling styles even if you don’t see a certain approach ever suiting your family. You may be surprised at how much your homeschool evolves as you and your family adjust.

Even if your homeschool doesn’t change drastically, most families will discover that their style is a unique blend of approaches that mesh together to form their family’s personal brand of homeschooling.

Advice for new homeschooling families

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Everybody has an opinion and everybody thinks that their opinion is right. If they didn’t, it probably wouldn’t be their opinion. The fact is, there are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families.

So, don’t worry about the latest and greatest curriculum that your homeschooling friend is using. Don’t worry about that homeschool blogger who thinks that using {fill in the blank with whatever curriculum option or homeschooling style she was dissing} makes you a pariah in the homeschooling community.

Don’t worry about that lady at co-op whose kids were reading before they could crawl. And don’t worry if you just started wondering, for the first time, if you should join a co-op when you read that last sentence.

You are finding the way for your family. The best way to do things right now is the way you’re doing them. Will you make mistakes? Probably. Will you look back and wish you’d done some things differently? Most likely. Will you ruin your kids? No. You’re all learning and adjusting together. Cut yourself some slack.

Don’t worry about the naysayers.

As if your own fears and doubts about homeschooling aren’t enough, there will be people coming out of the woodwork to tell you that you’re ruining your kids – that they’re going to be weird, unsocialized social outcasts. If you don’t believe me, just read some of the comments on the post, 7 Things You Should Never Say to a Homeschool Mom.

I’ve met lots and lots of homeschooled kids and a handful of homeschool graduates with kids of their own who prove that it really is possible to grow into a successful, contributing member of society even if you were homeschooled. Homeschooled kids can get jobs. Homeschooled kids can go to college. They can even get scholarships.

Don’t think that your homeschool has to look like a public school classroom.

Most of us only know the classroom model of education, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that’s the only way to educate kids. Your homeschool does not have to look like a classroom. You can do school at the dining room table or in a room you’ve set up especially for homeschooling.

You can also homeschool in the living room, snuggled up on the couch reading together. You can learn together sprawled across the bed, surrounded by books. You can do school in the backyard. You can school at the local children’s museum or aquarium, learning with hands-on experiences.

Your classroom can be anywhere you and your children are exploring, experiencing, and interacting.

And if a classroom-style environment is what suits you and your family – if that’s the setting that helps you focus and learn – that’s okay, too. Don’t let any well-meaning homeschooling family tell you otherwise. Because we really do mean well and we want you to learn from our mistakes, but you know your family better than we do. Trust your instincts.

Do what you need to do to feel confident starting out.

If you need a boxed curriculum to guide you, buy one. If you need to join a co-op, join one. If you need to spend several months deschooling, spend them. As much as I personally don’t care for them, if you need to use an online public school option, use it. You are schooling your child, not mine, not your neighbor’s, not your homeschool friend’s, and not your public school friend’s. Yours.

You have to do what is right for your family and you have to give yourself time to find your bearings. What you start out doing, may not be what you’re doing next year. It may not even be what you’re doing next month. When we first began homeschooling 12 years ago, my carefully researched curriculum lasted us about four months before I chucked it and did my own thing.

Did I feel like I’d wasted my money or our time? Not at all. It was exactly what we needed those first four months until I began to figure out how homeschooling would look for us – and our homeschool has continued to evolve as my children have grown and we’ve entered different seasons of our lives.

Taking the plunge to homeschool can be scary and overwhelming – and it probably should feel that way. After all, accepting personal responsibility for your children’s education is a huge undertaking that should not be shouldered lightly.

It is also immensely rewarding – it just may not feel that way in the first few crazy months as you adjust…or, you know, on those random days because some that are like that, even when you homeschool.

One last thing, it may help to know how other kids feel about homeschooling. Check out these 50 reasons why homeschooled kids like being homeschooled.

If you’ve been doing this awhile, what advice would you offer a new homeschooling family?

If you’re just getting started homeschooling and want more tips for getting your homeschool off to a successful start, check out my book, Homeschooling 101.

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9 Comments

  1. These are great suggestions. I really try to encourage people I meet who are thinking about home school. I can see they really want something better for their children, but they think they are not qualified. I was a real live English teacher, but that did not help me be a teacher to my own kids. When God made me their mother, he prepared me to help them learn whatever they need to know. Oftentimes, I am up late learning the chemistry or algebra right before they do. Miraculously, its is a lot easier to learn than it was in high school. I just wanted to encourage any moms thinking about homeschooling to take that first step. You can always go back if you don’t like it, but you probably won’t because home school helps your kids learn more effectively and have fun while doing it. Besides who doesn’t love the idea of learning in pj’s on some days.
    *Dana Snowden at https://littlewomenontheprairie.blogspot.com/

  2. This is perfect timing! Last year we pulled our 2E, 1st grader from public school when Common Core was introduced and we saw his education failing. We chose to have him repeat grade 1, and took a lot of criticism for that! On top of which everyone, family-friends-neighbors, repeadly suggest we put him bak in public school!! My fears of failing his education at home are overwhelming me….thank you for this post! It reminded me I can do this, it’s ok to not be perfect, we have to find what works for US:)

  3. I agree, perfect timing. I feel overwhelmed daily right now. I haven’t started the writing program I bought. My science program was a flop…so we are recouping from that and I feel like we miss every other week of history. ACK! When will it all fall into place?

    On the other hand, I have really enjoyed how much it has lowered the evening stress for our family. I love the conversations I am having with my 5th and 2nd graders. I love seeing my daughter FINALLY figure out the basics of grammar and excel at it. I love that my son can be goofy and we can skip to the next level in math so he isn’t AS BORED. So, I love it…absolutely, but I do wonder if I am going to get it all in. Today I could only get in grammar and math.

    I work from home so I have to devote from 2-5 or 6 to that. HOW DO WORKING MOMS DO THIS???

    Well…I had better get to work!!!

    Thank you for the post, I need all the encouragement I can get right now!

  4. We’re just starting out on this journey, so I’ve been reading everything I can find on this and talking to everyone who wants to talk to me about it. I worry about if I’m doing the “right” thing all the time, but in my heart I know it’s best for my kids.Thanks for these tips.

  5. I’m strongly considering homeschooling my daughter. She’s not quite 3, so I still have some time to decide. Meanwhile, I’m trying to educate myself on the idea as much as possible. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  6. I love this, and I would have loved this a year ago, when I asking those exact same questions -will I ruin my kids? Do I have to join a co-op? Will I have wasted my money if I pick the wrong curriculum? Am I crazy for doing this? We took the plunge almost a year ago, and I LOVE homeschooling! So glad we made that choice! I had so many doubts and worries, this post would have been great to read. I hope it helps someone who is thinking about it right now.

    Maybe this is obvious, but the only thing I would add is, “Talk to other homeschoolers”. That really helped me to decide, to see how different people homeschooled and it also helped so much after I started, because I felt so isolated(where I am, there’s not that many homeschoolers)! I did not join a co-op, but I did purposely try to meet other homeschoolers in the area, and it’s just nice to talk to someone about the struggles, get some ideas, and not feel alone. I started just by getting connected through other people who knew someone who homeschooled and asked for their contact info to ask them questions(everyone was so willing to help me, a complete stranger!), then I joined Yahoo and FB groups, and visited local groups. Since there were only 2 people in my circle of friends, family and acquaintances who homeschooled, finding other homeschoolers to talk to was SOOO helpful in my early months.

  7. My advice to new homeschoolers is relax and enjoy the ride. We made homeschooling our family lifestyle and so every part of life was our school. We choose to do year round school and used a character based curriculum for the first 6 years and adapted Streams of Civilization Vol 1 and 2 into a similar approach for the last 6 years. We would then set up our class schedule that way — 3 to 4 weeks on and 1 or 2 weeks off depending on what else life was throwing at us. We also did not do a lot of review especially in math since we went year round. Once our son fully mastered a concept we moved on, the book always threw reviews in from time to time anyway.

    I counted church camps, church events like AWANA and Vacation Bible School, YMCA sports and music lessons as part of his education as well. I used charts from time to time mainly when our son needed that extra incentive to work a little harder than he was willing to at the time. This was especially helpful after life threw a major move and change in life when we moved in with my mom to care for her. We had actually taken off a little more than 3 months so the next 6 were back to the grindstone in a big way to get ourselves back on track academically and mentally and establish new routines. The charts were a big incentive since the prizes were Nintindo games at the end.

    Vacations were counted as well. I always tried to plan some educational stops along the way. I also would have him write a one page report of what we had seen and done for the day.

    In a nutshell, relax, enjoy, go with the flow of life, don’t stress when things do come up, just ride it out and make the best of it. The only time I really wished I had know what was going on was when puberty hit. If I had know why he was so moody and difficult I would have cut back on the formal lessons and gone to more hands on lessons that were fun and incorporated more book reading and perhaps more History channel or educational movies that went with things we had been studying or planning to study. Less stress on all. But we made it through all 12 years and he graduated college and is now married and has a full time job and in the National Guard. I think we did pretty well.

    If you go into your homeschool experience with the whole family knowing it is your family lifestyle you will find everything will run smoother. Also, you don’t have to have your school room and your day structured as a strict school room. Ours “looked” like a school room in that we had a chalk board, table, shelves, etc. But that was more to help us understand that this was our spot to get our education accomplished and focus was required while in there. But the space was used for other things at times because that’s life.

    Finally, if you are a believer your best source of strength for your school is your Father in Heaven. Lean on Him for guidance and direction – daily. The other part of your job as teacher is to find your child’s bend and the best place to start is with God. Ask Him to place opportunities in your path that will help you see your child’s bend so you can help him find the path God has for him to walk as an adult. You will be amazed at the doors that will open and close when you do. What you think when Johnny is 8 may only be one step in the right direction that may have many twists and turns but will eventually lead him to the right career path to follow and the right mate God has chosen for him. It is exciting to watch God’s plan for your child unfold before your eyes!

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