15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Homeschooling

Embarking on the path of homeschooling can be both exhilarating and daunting. As I stood on the precipice of this educational adventure with my children, a mixture of excitement and trepidation swirled within me. The commitment to homeschool was clear in my mind—it was a path I felt drawn to—yet the weight of the myriad of choices ahead loomed large, stirring fears of potential missteps right out of the gate.

However, as I navigated this new terrain, I came to understand homeschooling as an evolving journey, one that would naturally refine itself through trial and error, and the accumulation of experience. Fortified by the guidance and encouragement of seasoned homeschoolers, my initial apprehension gradually transformed into confidence. Now, I’m here to extend that same support to you, recognizing the gravity of this pivotal choice in your life as a parent.

I have learned that while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, grounding yourself with some tried-and-true strategies can make all the difference. These foundational steps are paramount, from setting up a comfortable learning environment to establishing a rhythm that works for your family. Homeschooling offers a unique opportunity to tailor education to your child’s individual needs, interests, and pace—something I find incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

Over time, I’ve collected a handful of tips that I wished I’d had from day one—insights that would have smoothed my initial plunge into homeschooling. Whether it’s avoiding the trap of trying to replicate traditional school at home or embracing the reality that not every day will be perfect, these nuggets of wisdom are what I consider my homeschooling compass. They guide our educational journey, ensuring that I stay true to the reasons why I chose this path while providing the best possible learning experience for my kids.

A cozy homeschool room with books, a whiteboard, and colorful posters on the wall. A desk with a laptop and school supplies. Bright natural light streaming in through the window

Top 10 Tips

1. Learning The Laws

First, I always recommend that each family familiarize themselves with the homeschooling laws of their state or region. These regulations can dictate everything from the number of required instructional hours to subject requirements and annual assessments. For example, some states demand a notice of intent to homeschool, while others might require portfolio reviews or standardized testing. This will also depend on whether you will be homeschooling through a Charter school, Private School, or Independently.

We homeschool independently in California. Each October, we complete an affidavit online and we maintain our own attendance records. Personally, I enjoy documenting our daily activities and educational experiences in a planner. It serves as a personal annual record and yearbook, allowing us to reflect on and cherish the knowledge and memories we’ve accumulated throughout the year. Being well-versed with these laws ensures that your homeschooling is legitimate and that you avoid any legal issues. The Home School Legal Defense Association or the HSLDA is a great place to start. The HSLDA is the nation’s largest homeschool advocacy program. It is there to help you with all of your legal needs.

2. Setting Realistic Goals

It is essential to set realistic educational goals for both yourself and your children. When I started, I aimed for progress rather than perfection, recognizing that homeschooling is a journey with variable paces and styles for each child. I found it helpful to outline what I wanted to achieve in terms of academic milestones, personal development, and family dynamics. Acknowledging from the outset that there will be good days and bad days helps set practical expectations for what we can accomplish in our homeschooling efforts.

Start thinking about your long-term plan, it will help you decide which learning style is best for your children. This doesn’t mean you need to decide everything for the future. You are merely trying to determine if you want to homeschool for the long haul or if you plan on returning your kids to the classroom at a traditional school at some point in the future. Obviously, not everyone will know the answer to this and anything can happen at any time in our lives that can change our plans, but if you know for certain you will only be homeschooling for a short amount of time, it will help you to choose an education method that fits with a more traditional classroom environment and pace if that is what your child will eventually be returning to. If you know you want to homeschool through grade school or high school, that will also help in your decision-making process by allowing you a little more freedom in what, when, and how you teach your child.

A cozy, well-lit room with a desk, bookshelves, and a comfortable chair. Educational posters and colorful learning materials decorate the walls, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for homeschooling

3. Creating a Conducive Learning Environment

I find that having a dedicated study area is crucial. It should be a space where distractions are minimized, and learning materials are within easy reach. I make sure there’s ample lighting and the seating is comfortable. Tailoring this space to fit the needs and personality of your child can make it inviting and conducive to learning. This doesn’t mean that we are stuck to this space only, we do school all over our house, yard, and sometimes even in the car (see our post about Roadschooling). But we always have this space to start our days or return to if we need to re-focus ourselves.

To keep my children focused, I limit distractions in the learning space. This means keeping toys, gaming devices, and non-educational screens out of sight during school hours. I’ve found that setting clear boundaries and expectations helps my child understand that this space is for learning.

4. Researching Curriculum

Selecting an appropriate curriculum is foundational in setting up a successful homeschool environment. It’s my priority to align the curriculum with my educational philosophy and to adapt it to suit my child’s unique learning style. This is a great time to decide if you will be homeschooling using secular or non-secular curriculum. Secular education is not religious-based. It is curriculum not affiliated with a church or religion. Non-secular education is a religious or faith-based curriculum. This will immediately narrow down your options when it comes to curriculum. All homeschooling is categorized into these two styles of education. This should be one of the easier decisions you make as a home educator. There are wonderful curriculums that fall into each category, whichever type of homeschooler you are.

Evaluating Educational Philosophies

When I first began homeschooling, I had to think about what I believe education should accomplish. This helped me understand our educational goals and aided in my research of different curriculums and how they cater to various educational philosophies.

Some, but definitely not all, of the methods homeschoolers use are: Traditional homeschooling, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, classical education, eclectic schooling, literature-based curricula, unschooling, life schooling, game schooling, road schooling and there are so many more. The more you research, the more informed decisions you can make for your family and sometimes even separately for each of your children.

Just like in “brick and mortar schools” (the term we homeschoolers use for traditional schools) there are so many types of homeschoolers out there. Researching and familiarizing yourself with the different methods will help you decide how you want to educate your child(ren). It will narrow down your options, give you a launching pad, and help guide your future decisions and plans.

Many people blend different homeschooling styles to create their own. This can be empowering for some people and overwhelming for others. Either way, it will help you choose the methods you want to use and how many you would like to combine. We personally like to blend styles and pick and choose what we like and what works for our kids, this method is called eclectic homeschooling. But I know many others who find one method that works perfectly for them.

Adapting to Your Child’s Learning Style

Next, I considered my child’s learning style— is he a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner? I looked for materials that would cater specifically to his strengths. For instance, if he learns best through hands-on activities, a curriculum with plenty of physical projects and experiments would be ideal.

A colorful array of educational materials laid out on a table, with books, workbooks, and online resources. A checklist of top 10 tips for beginner homeschoolers is prominently displayed

5. Picking Your Subjects

Besides the foundation subjects like Math and Language Arts, base your other subjects on your child’s interests. I thought my oldest son would love a science and nature-based curriculum, so we started with that. He always loved anything science or nature related and I thought it would be a perfect match. After a year he realized he was more interested in History. So we pivoted, backing off on the science a bit, and we found our perfect match for history with language arts woven together in the two curricula that we combine creating our own perfect plan. Torchlight and Build Your Library are both literature-based curricula with an emphasis on history. We have never looked back and are still loving these curricula four years later.

Interest-led learning is one of the best things about homeschooling. The beauty of homeschooling is that it is all about following your children’s curiosity. Whether they’re into art, music, science, or coding, you can shape their education around what inspires and lights up their eyes. It’s amazing to watch them soak up knowledge when they’re genuinely excited about what they’re learning. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like seeing your child’s imagination take flight when they connect with their lessons. It’s like a little bit of learning magic!

6. Choosing Curriculum

Now it is time to determine if you will be purchasing a full curriculum, if you will be mixing and matching, or if you will be creating your own curriculum. There are so many options as far as curriculum is concerned. Finding what is right for your children is part of the process and one of the benefits of homeschooling. Sometimes this takes time, sometimes we have to test different ones to find a good fit, so do not feel as though choosing a curriculum is a forever commitment. You are not tied to your curriculum, you can switch at any time, even mid-year if needed.

Some choose to buy what we call an “open and go curriculum”, this is a curriculum that requires very little to no preparation. This can also be called a “boxed curriculum”. It usually comes with everything you need to teach a subject or a full grade level. These are great for busy parents, parents who don’t feel confident in teaching, or anyone looking for a little help in the planning process.

Some people choose to buy different curricula for different subjects, creating an eclectic mix of curricula. Others choose not to purchase any curriculum and either create their own, teach by unit studies, or participate in unschooling. Unschooling is an informal learning style where the learner chooses the activities and interests and learns through natural life with the guidance of the parent. This includes play, household chores, personal interests, curiosities, experiences, books, etc.

And of course, there are the eclectic ones like us who do a mixture of them all. Right now we are using two different language arts programs, an open-and-go math curriculum (Check out our review of our favorite math program Beast Academy), Literature-based History, literature and project-based Science, supplementing as we go, Podcasts for Spanish, and plenty of unschooling experiences thrown into the mix! Oh, and did we mention, that we LOVE road schooling.

7. Finding Your Rythm

In my journey as a homeschooler, I’ve discovered the importance of a balanced schedule and routine. Getting this right sets the tone for educational success, personal well-being, and overall home environment. That being said, your daily rhythm or daily schedule should be very personalized. Homeschooling allows us to be flexible and spontaneous, but we all need a little structure and consistency as well. But to what level is entirely up to you. One of our favorite parts about homeschooling vs traditional schooling is that it can help you make the time for important routine habits to add to your days like chore time, family game nights, adventure days, and anything else that is important to you and your family.

Balancing Flexibility and Structure

Some families thrive on a schedule that is the same every day. Others will create a rhythm that is more of a rough outline. I have learned that effective homeschooling for our family requires a mix of both flexibility and structure. On one hand, we benefit from having a clear weekly framework that accounts for all our subjects and activities. This gives me an outline to follow so I don’t miss anything important. On the other hand, I’m ready to adapt based on our daily circumstances. Sometimes a topic needs more time, and being flexible allows us to dive deeper without the stress of a rigid timetable. It also takes into account that life happens. Whether it is an unexpected trip, a doctor’s appointment, or an opportunity we can’t pass up, sometimes we need to be flexible and change up our plans.

Including Breaks and Downtime

Equally crucial is allocating time for breaks and downtime in our schedule. I found that incorporating short intervals for “recess” between subjects helps us to recharge, leading to more effective learning sessions. I weave in breaks such as recesses, snacks, or quiet reading times that suit our home environment. This approach keeps us energized and prevents burnout. We like to incorporate what we call “Brain Breaks”. This is a quick reset that can be as simple as standing up and doing 20 jumping jacks. When my kids start to lose focus on something we like to take a very quick brain break to activate our physical bodies and reset the mind. This is especially crucial in the beginning days of homeschooling when we (our kids and us) are learning how to homeschool together and frustrations can be frequent.

8. Plan Your School Year Over the Summer

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I love sitting down towards the end of summer to begin planning out our next year. I love reflecting upon our previous year, and the excitement of outlining a new year. Remember, your homeschooling journey is as unique as your family. Whether you’re going with a ready-to-use curriculum or shaping your own, a bit of planning can really help you hit the ground running and set yourself up for success.

If you’re using an open-and-go curriculum this will be easy, your main task is to decide if you want to stick with the same one next year. Once you’ve made your choice, just gather all the materials you’ll need and you’re all set for success.

If you are creating your own curriculum, start dreaming! Make a list of things you would like to explore in the following year. These might be subjects, themed unit studies, or specific topics and interests like sharks, geology, or Norse mythology. Include experiences and “field trips”, books, movies, and any other supplements for learning.

If you are someone who loves flexibility and likes to let your year organically unfold, sketch a basic outline. This way, you have a guide that you can follow or simply use as a springboard for those days when inspiration calls.

Children engaged in group activities, sports, and crafts. Parents guide and encourage. Resource books and materials on homeschooling

9. Ease Into School Slowly

As a new homeschooler, allow your child and yourself time to adjust to this new adventure and your new roles as parent/teacher and child/student. No matter how excited or nervous you are to start homeschooling, I advise starting slow. Start with one subject or one activity and build upon that. It will help everyone feel less overwhelmed. Sometimes we do this even when coming back from a Holiday or taking a school break. We start with my oldest’s favorite subject, History. On our first day back we will only do History, the next day we will do History and Math, and the next, History, Math, and Language Arts. This can go day by day or week by week, gauging what your child is ready for each day and progressing at a rate that works for everyone.

It is a significant undertaking homeschooling your children, and a big job for them to learn a new role for you, as the teacher and parent roles blend, allowing yourselves grace and time is the best way to acclimate to this new environment and set yourselves up for success.

Always remember that homeschooling should not mirror the classroom, let yourself be flexible and experiment with different schedules and rhythms to find what is right for your family.

10. Assessing Progress

Assessing your home-educated child’s progress is paramount to their learning journey. For me, staying in tune with my child’s educational growth involves consistent and thoughtful check-ins. I make it a point to schedule short, informal review sessions weekly where I can ask specific questions about subjects we’ve covered. This helps me gauge their understanding and retention.

By treating these as friendly conversations rather than tests, I create a comfortable environment for my children to express what they’ve learned and where they might need more help. The pressure of formal examinations is lessened, making the experience more about growth and less about grades.

11. Being Prepared to Adapt

I have learned that adaptability is key to the success of homeschooling. It’s about more than just changing plans; it’s about evolving with the educational needs of my children.

One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility it provides. You can adjust your schedule to accommodate your family’s needs, take field trips whenever you want, and spend more time on topics your child is passionate about. However, it’s important to strike a balance between structure and flexibility. While it’s okay to deviate from your schedule, you don’t want to lose sight of your goals.

I quickly realized that what works today might not work tomorrow. My lesson plans are flexible, and I look for signs that my methods need tweaking. If a curriculum isn’t resonating or a schedule isn’t working, I’m ready to try new approaches. For instance, I found that incorporating more hands-on activities engaged my kids far more than worksheets.

Staying Informed and Connected

I stay updated on educational resources and connect with other homeschooling families. These connections have been invaluable for providing support and sharing strategies that can enhance my children’s learning experience. For example, joining a local homeschooling group introduced me to different teaching methods and curricula that I hadn’t considered before. The firsthand experiences of other homeschooling families can offer valuable insights, helping you determine the best approach for your own family.

12. Fostering Socialization and Extracurriculars

In my journey as a homeschooling parent, I’ve learned that balancing academics with social and extracurricular experiences is vital for my child’s well-rounded development. Here’s how I foster these crucial aspects of their education.

Community Engagement

I prioritize community service as a means for my kids to interact with a variety of people and develop empathy. We participate in local clean-up projects or volunteer at community events. We have found that 4H provides all of these opportunities and more. My children connect with their peers and take part in group learning experiences.

Extracurricular Activities

For extracurriculars, I encourage my kids to pursue their interests, whether that’s sports, music, or academic clubs. These activities often offer competitions or performances, which provide goals and challenges that can help with their personal growth.

  • Sports: Join local leagues or try independent sports
  • Creative Arts: Music lessons, art classes, theater groups
  • Intellectual Pursuits: Chess clubs, science fairs, and debate teams

Exploring a mix of both community service and extracurricular activities helps my children develop a keen sense of belonging and balance in their lives.

A cozy homeschooling space with a desk, chair, and shelves of books. A calendar and planner on the wall. A plant and a mug of tea on the desk

13. Taking Care of Yourself

Homeschooling is not just about educating children, it is also about maintaining our own well-being, which sets a good example for your children on how to prioritize mental health. Let’s explore how to keep ourselves feeling refreshed and ready to teach.

Prioritizing Self-Care

I recognize that caring for my needs is not just beneficial, it’s necessary. I make sure to schedule time for activities that replenish my energy, such as reading, exercising, or practicing yoga. These moments of self-care help me to stay calm and focused, which ultimately benefits my homeschooling environment. This also models this behavior for our children without telling them what to do. After a few weeks of watching me do yoga or read when I need some self-care, pretty soon my kids are naturally doing this on their own without having me tell them to do anything. This is one of my favorite parts about homeschooling, watching them make connections on their own through observations. You will quickly learn the value of showing rather than telling.

14. Finding Support and Resources

As a beginner homeschooler, finding a supportive community and obtaining the right resources is crucial for both you and your child’s success.

Joining Homeschooling Groups

I’ve discovered that being part of a homeschooling group can be immensely beneficial. This can be a physical group in your area or an online community. These groups provide socialization opportunities for children and a platform for parents to share resources, advice, and support. You can find local homeschooling groups through online platforms or community bulletins, and join gatherings where experiences and curricula are exchanged.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Sometimes, I seek professional guidance to navigate educational requirements or curriculum choices. Education consultants or veteran homeschooling families can offer personalized advice tailored to your child’s learning style. Additionally, connecting with professional educators through websites or at homeschool conferences might reveal new teaching methods or resources that could enhance your homeschooling experience.

15. Create A Learning Lifestyle

Perhaps the most important advice I could give to a new homeschooler is to create a learning lifestyle in your home. Everything is a teachable moment, embrace creating a learning environment.

Bring learning into all of your daily activities. Whether you are teaching your child a new life lesson or bringing math into grocery shopping, everything you do can be turned into a learning lesson. We made up a game that my kids love, where we use grocery shopping to practice math skills. They are learning math, budgeting, and meal planning all while helping my errands run more smoothly. It’s a real win-win!

Fit homeschooling into your life instead of trying to fit your life into homeschooling. If you have a busy day and need to accomplish more than just a school day, you can create a learning lesson based on anything you are doing. This takes practice, but you will be amazed at how quickly you catch on. A simple trip to the doctor or Costco can inspire hours of learning.

There are so many useful learning tools that can be implemented on a busy day, giving you time for what you need to do, all while still learning. Podcasts, audiobooks, documentaries, field trips, and so many more.

Sometimes your kids will be having a bad day, just like we all do, allow yourself and them the freedom to do something fun that is still educational. Let yourselves have a break from your curriculum for the day, the morning, or the afternoon, and do something fun together. Depending on what your family enjoys doing together, you can read books together, create arts and crafts, learn a new language, go on a hike, visit a museum, go to tidepools, or learn to cook a new dish, the possibilities are endless! You will foster your bond with your children and create long-lasting memories together. Plus, everyone will forget about having a bad day.

Wrapping It Up

I understand the mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension that come with the decision to homeschool. It’s normal to question if you’re making the right choice or wonder how you’ll cover all the necessary subjects. But I’ve discovered, through trial and error, that with a little planning and flexibility, homeschooling can be an enriching experience for both you and your children. Remember, it’s about fostering a love for learning and nurturing curiosity, not just ticking boxes on an educational checklist.

Do you have any advice to add to this list? Please share in the comments!

Happy planning!

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