This will be our 6th “official” year homeschooling, and the longer we homeschool, the more questions I get from other current and prospective homeschoolers. (Some of which I’m confident answering and some of which just make me laugh that they’d ask me for advice or an opinion.)
Today I thought I’d share my top 10 tips for new homeschoolers. I never feel like I have time to share all of these in a single conversation, but this is what I wish I could tell each person before they start their first year:
1. Start with a boxed curriculum.
I can’t take credit for this advice, which actually came from Susan Wise Bauer, but it’s worth repeating: As a whole, homeschoolers are independent, out-of-the-box thinkers, and it’s tempting to begin crafting your own curriculum right from the start.
The problem with that approach, though, is that your first year homeschooling is really more about learning to homeschool (for you and the kids), discovering learning styles, etc. When you start by picking and choosing curriculum that sounds like the best fit, you may be jumping the gun a bit and choosing based on your ideals rather than the reality.
Starting with a boxed curriculum that covers the main subjects makes it easier to focus on the habits, routines and relationships of homeschooling and then make adjustments from there based on your family’s experience, strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
2. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
One of the hardest parts of being a homeschooler is buying curriculum that you know your family is going to love and having it turn out to be boring or a burden instead. Because of the money invested and fear of making the wrong decision again, it can be tempting to continue using something that’s not working, but don’t be afraid to replace curriculum once you realize it’s not a good fit.
(And you can usually recoup much of the cost by selling gently used curriculum on eBay or through various curriculum swap groups on Facebook or in your local community.)
3. But don’t give up on the original plan too soon.
On the other hand, it can take time to really get into the groove of using a new curriculum, so be careful that you’re not switching every time you bump into a frustration or something that doesn’t go exactly as you pictured it. Try tweaking the program, addressing the exact issues you’re having or setting it aside for a short amount of time before getting rid of it altogether.
4. Pay attention to tears.
As a decidedly non-empathetic person, my natural response to tears is to “encourage” my kids to choose to have a good attitude. What I’m learning more and more is that while tears may occasionally be used to manipulate me or get out of schoolwork, most of the time they represent a deep frustration or insecurity. Sitting down and talking about what’s causing the tears and how we can overcome those struggles — rather than pushing them to work through the tears — can help turn everybody’s frustration around!
Our cool find of the day.
5. Always look for the wonder.
Homeschooling offers us the incredible privilege of being able to inspire wonder in our kids. Whether it’s discovering a secret math trick, how bees collect pollen or a connection between what we’re studying in history and a modern news story, homeschooling is the perfect way to inspire wonder because we’re able to stop and focus on even the smallest of details. This, I believe, is a crucial building block for a lifelong love of learning and discovery, which is one of our family’s ultimate goals as homeschoolers.
6. But don’t be afraid of hard work.
That said, there is value in teaching our kids that sometimes you have to work hard, even when it’s not easy or fun, in order to reap the benefits. My oldest girls are passionate about French and Spanish, respectively, and even when the new vocabulary words and pronunciations don’t come easily to them, they know that “practice makes perfect” and the harder they work, the easier it will get.
We also have a rule in our house that if you complain about school (just to complain and not because you’re really struggling with a specific concept) you get double the work for the day. It only took a few times of following through on this rule before we were able to eliminate the bad attitudes about school.
Practicing math facts together.
7. Relationships come first.
It’s easy to get caught up in checklists and schedules and meeting the requirements of your state — and all of those things are important to some degree — but don’t forget that the relationships within your home really are the most important thing. Focus on building those relationships, even when it’s hard (and it will be hard sometimes, I promise!) so that your relationships blossom rather than struggle.
8. Don’t worry if it’s not easy.
I honestly think every new homeschooler should commit to homeschooling for at least two years. The problem is that when you’re just starting out, everything is new — the schedule, the academic requirements, the learning and teaching styles, all of it. It takes time to try new things, adjust, and find your groove, and I’m afraid that people who give up after one year because it’s “just not working” are missing out on the benefits of those early struggles.
Our family had to tweak and adjust our approach to homeschooling for several years before we settled into our current approach and really felt confident and happy about our homeschooling as a whole. There were times in the midst when we seriously considered other options, but I’m glad we stuck with it because we’re reaping the benefits now!
9. Don’t lose sight of WHY you’re homeschooling.
No matter what your reasons are for homeschooling (and they may be different than mine!), don’t forget why you’re doing this in the midst of the actual hard work of homeschooling. If it’s to inspire wonder and a love of learning, kids who dread school each morning are a clear warning sign that you’re getting off track. If it’s to build close family relationships and your family is bickering constantly, it may be time to back off the academics and focus on the relationships instead. No matter what your reasons are for homeschooling, be sure to keep them in mind not just at the beginning of your journey but throughout the day-to-day as well.
10. Remember that no homeschooler has it all together.
And finally, it’s all too easy to get discouraged by the challenges of homeschooling and to compare yourself to Suzie Homeschooler who has the perfect children, is always patient and who never struggles with patience. But Suzie Homeschooler is a mythical creature, and while there are many homeschoolers who are confident, joyful homeschoolers, none of us have it all together. We all struggle with patience and discipline and fear and remembering what’s really important sometimes; we’re just able to work through those feelings and embrace the joys of homeschooling instead.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the homeschooler who you think does it perfectly. Share your struggles and ask her how she handles those same feelings; I have a feeling you’ll walk away encouraged by her real story rather than discouraged by myth!
Discover even more encouragement, advice and practical resources in the You Can Do It Too package, which includes stories from 25 homeschoolers, a mini ebook with details about our homeschooling method and a ton of great printables!
What advice would YOU give to a new homeschooler? Anything I missed?