I’m going to tell you a secret.
When I was seven, the very thought of reading gave me severe anxiety.
This would probably shock anyone who knows me today because, as an adult, I’m a total bibliophile. I have way too many books and am reading anytime I get a chance. I even have a (somewhat impractical) MA in English. As much as reading was once a source of dread for me, it is now one of the things I enjoy most.
The love of reading has shaped so many other things about my life, too. It’s helped me understand different kinds of people and different ways of thinking, and it’s given me a love for learning that I can’t envision possessing, had my childhood self not changed her ways.
So what caused the big change? What turned me into a reader?
It all started with my parents’ decision to homeschool me.
My mom knew that I loved being read to, so she believed that I could become someone who loved to read for myself. She also saw how my struggle with ADD impacted my learning style. Taking these things into account, her efforts to help me engage in reading through homeschooling were totally successful. This, in turn, has made all the difference in my life.
Today, as a new homeschooling parent, I hope to be as successful in teaching my daughter as my mom was with me. However, the task can feel like an intimidating one. I imagine that it is even more overwhelming to those who are totally new to the world of homeschooling.
Interestingly, the reason that homeschooling can be so overwhelming is the same reason it is so appealing in the first place. There is such an incredible amount of freedom and flexibility in this form of education. It’s wonderful to have so many choices and be able to personalize learning for your child. However, for many, it’s hard to know how to start homeschooling because there seems to be no set way to do it.
There can be a constant internal stream of blaring questions and insecurities, like:
- Am I going to mess my child up by this decision?
- What will my family and friends think?
- Is this really going to help him/her learn more effectively?
- Is my child going to be miserable?
- Am I going to be miserable?
- I’m not qualified to teach.
- I don’t know where to begin.
If you are a new homeschooling parent and have these doubts running through your brain, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’m not going to tell you how to homeschool, or even whether you should homeschool (because no one knows your life and your family better than you do). Instead, I want to share with you 5 essential tips that will help you get you started on your own, personal homeschooling journey.
1. Understand Your Why.
“Finding your why,” is a hot topic of discussion today, whether you are starting a new business, pursuing a change of career, or making any kind of life-changing decision.
Your “why” is more than just a goal or even a set of goals. It’s the reason that directs your path, as well as the force that keeps you powering onward.
Choosing to homeschool is a major life decision that affects both homeschooling parents as well as our children. It definitely comes with its own challenges: from the personal (will you and your children clash in an educational setting?) to financial (often, the choice to homeschool affects at least one parent’s career). It’s therefore absolutely critical to map out your “why” as you get ready to start homeschooling.
Despite the many different ways to homeschool successfully, I think that most homeschooling parents start out with a similar mindset.
- The basic belief: we, as parents, know our children better than anyone and are also more committed than anyone to give them the best educational experience to meet their needs.
- The basic goal: to engage our children in learning in a way that fosters their academic and personal growth to the greatest extent possible.
I think this is really at the heart of every homeschooling parent’s reason for choosing this lifestyle.
But is it a “why?”
Well…not quite. However, it can be an important starting place for discovering your why.
Four Elements of Your “Why”
This article in Forbes discusses the importance of figuring out your “why” in the realm of business, highlighting four questions that you can ask yourself to discover it. These four questions relate to the following:
- Skills and Expertise
As a new homeschooling parent, you can also look at your approach to homeschooling in light of these four areas. Grab a notebook and write down your goals for homeschooling in light of each topic. How do you plan to consider your/ and your child’s: passions, skills, values, and talents in your homeschool journey? Brainstorming about this will help you define your specific why and begin to set practical goals.
I would also look at this list in consideration of the child (or children) being homeschooled:
- Strengths (and weaknesses to be overcome)
- Talents or interests
- Social Needs
- What values does the child already have?
- What values would you, as a parent, like to instill?
2. Apply Your Why.
Considering all of these factors will help you understand your why and how it may be applied in a homeschool setting. Once you’ve evaluated your passions, strengths, and potential challenges in homeschooling, you should be able to define your why in a more practical way and think about how you will meet your goals.
From looking back on my personal experience as a homeschooler, I am able to clearly see my mom’s why: to foster a love of reading in me. This would, in turn, support me as a student in every subject. As a creative person, she used her skillset to engage me in books through using art projects and crafts that related to the stories we were reading. She also brought my interests into the equation by selecting novels that she knew I would like.
You see how it all begins to connect?
Each homeschool family’s “why” is going to look different, but once you’ve figured yours out, it should give you some clear priorities in your homeschooling journey, and some ideas about how you will invest in those priorities.
Especially if you write everything down, this can be a great first step in mapping out your homeschool journey.
Two Examples of “Whys” and Practical Applications
A very organized homeschooling parent has a child with an interest in social activities, space, and science.
- That homeschool parent’s “why” might be to invest in their child’s love of science and give them opportunities they might not have in public school, while also meeting that child’s social needs.
- A practical application for that parent might be to foster their child’s love of science through organizing a homeschool science club that gets to do things like go on weekly field trips or take a road trip to one of the nation’s space centers.
A homeschooling parent is skilled in the kitchen and values creativity. That parent has a child who is a talented artist but struggles in math.
- The “why” in this situation might be the homeschool parent’s desire to cultivate a creative learning environment that engages the student in math and allows him/her more time and opportunities to pursue an interest in art.
- A practical application would be to use a creative means, like baking or cooking, to engage the student in math. Additionally, the parent could make the child’s interest and skills in art a priority by investing in private art classes and/or professional online courses such as those that are offered by Sparketh.
3. Find Your Tribe
So now you hopefully better understand the driving “why” behind your decision to homeschool and have some ideas about how you will keep your “why” central in your homeschooling journey. You may feel excited to get started, but there’s a chance you may also feel a little bit afraid.
The potential time commitment involved may be scary for one thing, especially if you work in addition to homeschooling. Likewise, the financial investment may seem frightening if you’ve given up a job to commit to homeschooling. Another looming factor is the dreaded “mom guilt:” the prominent cultural phenomenon of feeling like you are constantly letting your kids down in some critical way, no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately, the duel responsibility of parenting + schooling can mean that this “parental guilt” can be doubly strong in homeschooling moms (and homeschooling dads, too!)
However, one really important thing for homeschool parents to keep in mind when facing inevitable moments of guilt and uncertainty is this: you are not alone.
A well-known African proverb states that: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Many people think that this concept favors a public school education. In reality, every successful homeschooling family has its own village, made up of members who have been intentionally and thoughtfully chosen for their ability to support, mentor and educate.
There are several different places you can look at when finding the tribe (or village) that will help you and your family succeed in your homeschool journey. Here are just a few of them!
Your own family can be a built-in network of support as you get started with homeschooling. Consider calling upon family members to share their knowledge of special topics, come along on field trips or road trips, or provide childcare if you need some extra time to lesson-plan. This article on grandparents and homeschooling gives some more detailed ideas on how family members may offer homeschooling support.
Online communities can also be a valuable resource for parents who are just getting started. There are a lot of homeschool parent groups on Website forums and on social media platforms like Facebook. These can be a great source of emotional and practical support. There are also many communities online for homeschool students! When searching for a supportive online community, try looking for groups that share your (or your children’s) values and interests.
Another concern when homeschooling is, of course, what to do if you feel incapable of teaching your child in a particular subject? Online learning and online teachers can be one valuable resource in this situation.
Online courses can be great for laying down the groundwork of an academic subject that homeschool parents may struggle with. Parents are then free to add to learning via engaging supplement activities! Plus, a lot of online learning resources come with built-in communities for students and parents! This article gives some great tips about how to utilize online learning effectively.
You can find more than basic academic instruction online, too. For example, Sparketh offers unlimited access to high-quality fine arts instruction via video-instruction by real artists. All of these art courses could be available to your homeschooled student. As someone who lives in a rural area, this is definitely the kind of resource that I value!
When I was a homeschooler, I took ballet classes most nights of the week. I even taught some morning classes to the youngest dancers to help pay for my own classes. In addition to helping me pursue one of my passions, this also taught me responsibility. One of the best things about a homeschool lifestyle is that it allows students to more fully explore their passions and interests.
Extracurricular activities also allow homeschooling parents and homeschooling students to connect with others who share some of the same interests and values. Try to get to know people you meet through extracurricular involvement such as sports, the arts, or church. These people can be awesome friends and mentors that add enrichment to your family’s homeschool experience and to your life, as well!
Co-ops allow you to connect with other homeschooling families in your area! These groups can be a great way to help share the load of teaching (many co-ops offer classes taught by homeschool parents who are strong in a particular academic area) and also for you, the homeschooling parent, to find a network (tribe) who gets your “why.” This is also a great option for giving your homeschooled child (or children) an additional social outlet. If you are new to homeschooling, you may be surprised to find that there is a homeschool co-op in your area that you were never aware of before!
4. Plan your Homeschool Lifestyle
If you’re reading this, then you’ve already begun this step! Research is key when starting any new and unfamiliar endeavor, and transitioning to the homeschool life is no different. It’s important for you to enter the situation with a clear idea of how you envision your homeschool lifestyle. (If you go into homeschooling without this idea in place, the kids are going to run the school). Here are some topics you might want to consider.
- Different Homeschooling Methods: while there are many different ways to homeschool successfully, these 10 methods are some of the most common. Read them and think about which one seems like the best fit for you and your child/children.
- Daily Schedule: Are you a night person or morning person? How about your child/children? Since you don’t have to be anywhere at 8 a.m. you get to make up the rules. Many homeschool families do chores, errands, and extracurriculars in the morning, starting school after lunch. Some let their children sleep until they naturally wake up, then get started on school. Others follow a more traditional schedule. Whatever your method, you may want to assert it from the beginning.
- Role Models: Connect with homeschool parents who demonstrate the kind of instruction style/lifestyle that you’d like to have. You will likely meet these people at co-ops or even in your homeschool online communities. Don’t be scared to reach out to some of the homeschool parents you admire. You may be surprised how often they are happy to help or offer tips.
- Learn about Some Amazing Homeschoolers: From science prodigies to famous athletes, there are some truly amazing individuals who credit homeschooling with at least part of their success. Learning about some of these amazing homeschoolers will encourage you and help inspire your child/children (Here are a few to get you started).
In planning your transition to homeschooling, it’s crucial that you trust yourself. You’ve made the decision to homeschool, at least in part, with the belief that you know your child/children and what they need better than anyone else. While it can be tempting to let the doubt creep in, remind yourself of the reasons you chose this path to begin with.
If you find that your confidence levels are still a little low, it might help you to read some of these research facts about homeschoolers and homeschool learning outcomes.
Highlights from the Above Resource:
- Homeschool students consistently score higher than public school students on standardized tests.
- On average, homeschoolers also score higher on the SAT and ACT.
- Homeschoolers typically ranked above average on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development.
- Research indicates that girls who are homeschooled demonstrate a greater sense of self in their teen years.
- Homeschooled students attend and complete college at an equal or higher rate than the general population.
- As adults, homeschooled individuals are more likely to serve their community than their non-homeschooled peers.
- All of this has nothing to do with whether or not the homeschool parents were ever certified teachers, with either parent’s level of education, or with the family’s income.
Even if you question your own background and abilities, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. If you believe that homeschooling is the right choice for you and your child… trust yourself!
As you start your homeschool journey, remember to define and apply your “why,” to find a tribe that will support you, to plan your homeschool lifestyle and to trust yourself and your unique homeschool journey. Best wishes, new homeschooling parents!
Do you have additional tips for new homeschooling parents? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Written by Kathryn Gustafson