Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to homeschool. Perhaps you’ve done your research, learning more about the requirements for homeschoolers in your state, or about which curriculum and approach might be the best fit. More likely, you’ve already made your choice, put in an order, or started the enrollment process. Perhaps you are waiting with much anticipation to receive your curriculum during this very busy time of year, and you and your children are eager to get started. Or you’ve received your curriculum and are wondering, “Now what?” Depending on where you are in the process, it can be challenging to sort out your next steps. After all, for many of you, it’s a brave new world. And as excited as you are, you may also be feeling a sense of overwhelm. “This is so exciting! Where do we start? How do I begin?”
“As a new homeschooler, I feel very overwhelmed by the entire process; almost fearful of picking/doing the wrong thing and shooting myself in the foot before beginning.” ~ Jillian
Whether exploring your options or trying to figure out how to get started, it’s perfectly natural to feel a bit intimidated, particularly for families new to homeschooling. What does my state require from me? Which curriculum should we use? Can I really do this? How do I know what is best? Will my children be okay?
Do More of What You’ve Been Doing
Even if you believe that homeschooling can only begin when your child reaches the mandatory school age, chances are you have been laying the foundations of homeschooling since your children were born. Parents are naturally driven to teach their children. No doubt you have been reading to your children. Thoughtfully creating a healthy, stimulating, playful home environment. Establishing daily routines for well being. Spending lots of time playing with your kids. Seeking out social learning and experiential learning opportunities. Field tripping. Providing time just to play. Making art together. Guess what? These are all aspects of a vibrant home learning environment. For many families, homeschooling is really just an extension of parenting.
“… I’ve been homeschooling since the day they were born–why stop now?!?!” Meagan
“I started doing child-development activities with my oldest when he was born, which probably contributed to his early cognitive abilities, which contributed to his early academic advances, which led to my decision to homeschool him for academic reasons, which led to us living a homeschool lifestyle, which led to homeschooling the rest of our children. So, although I’ve legally homeschooled school-age children for 12 years and I don’t feel the need to “beef up” my homeschooling resume, I truly do feel that I have been homeschooling since they were born. But, I’m more likely to say “we’ve always homeschooled” than “I’ve been homeschooling them since birth.” ~ Amy, Well Trained Mind forum
Wanting to get started right away? No need to wait for your books to arrive or your enrollment start date to come! You can begin enjoying the many benefits and joys of homeschooling now.
Create Rhythms for Learning
Homeschooling enables families to create rhythms and schedules that work for them, including incorporating lots of outdoor time and play into your day. Being able to create a healthier balance for your children is one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling, and one of the best ways to do so is to start establishing some essential routines into your day to day.
Depending on the age of your children, your day might look like this:
Morning circle, when everyone gathers to start the day with poetry, song, movement, or whatever you make of it
Two sessions of focused time working on individual projects, reading, writing, and math (this is a great time for other children to review last year’s skills while new-to-school children can enjoy quiet book or drawing time)
An afternoon nature walk
Time for self-directed creative play and collaborative art projects
Handcrafting during family read alouds
Playing board games or cards after dinner (games like these almost always have an educational aspect)
Talking about bedtime stories
You might begin by introducing structure to your day by adding one or two planned activities at a time; see how it feels. Make your adjustments as you go.
Learning is something that happens all the time; it is a continuous process, a journey, not a destination, or an end result. As John Dewey said, “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”
Ease into your new rhythms
If your routine begins to feel forced for either you or your kids, then something is not right. It happens to the best of us: we get so caught up in trying to re-create school or find ourselves overly focusing on academics that we lose sight of the most important essentials: to enjoy one another, to let learning happen naturally and organically, to be flexible, to stay calm and homeschool on. Be patient with yourself and with your children. Give yourself permission to gradually ease into the homeschooling experience, and to learn as you go.
Reflect on what matters to you
Feeling the need to rethink your approach? Reflect on what your children love to do and what their individual strengths and learning styles may be. Spend some time talking with them about what they are excited to learn about, do, explore. Older children can write out some personal goals. Take advantage of the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling to customize the experience to better meet the needs of your family and individual learners. And think, too, about your own interests, needs, and experience: as the home teacher, you are often the most important part of the team. Establishing time to take care of your own needs early on will ensure that you can be at your best for your family.
Spruce up your Space
Get organized! This is the fun part. When my boys and I homeschooled, we spent a week or so every August clearing out and reinvigorating our learning spaces–both indoor and outdoor–with fresh energy and ideas. We re-organized books, games, and other learning/teaching tools, assigned each child a shelf, decorated the covers of notebooks and binders. Sharpened pencils. Rotated maps and posters on the walls. Added a few new things. Back to school shopping is not just for school kids! Let your children pick out some new colored pencils or a colorful folder. It gives them ownership and helps everyone feel more ready.
In our basement, we restocked Darwin Station, our life science lab, with specimens and other natural collections in jars and drawers, science tools, field guides, National Geographics, and secret notebooks for recording our observations. Outside, we set up tables and work/playspaces, made trails through the woods, and made sure the poison ivy wasn’t encroaching on our favorite think-spots.
There are endless ways to energize your learning spaces for the coming homeschool year. Start with a brainstorming session, and be sure to get everyone involved. You can prioritize together the changes you’d like to make, and then make your plan.
Looking for ways to enhance the overall homeschooling experience? Get connected to the larger homeschooling community and to the amazing array of resources that are available. Homeschool groups and co-ops often meet regularly for special programming, to give and get support, share ideas, host events, and enjoy fun, all-ages time together.
There are many ways to connect with other homeschoolers in your area:
- Research Yahoo Groups or Facebook to see if there is an organized group in your area; typically, all it takes is an email message to the coordinator to access the group’s site. Introduce yourself, access listings for area events, and start taking part in dialogue and community happenings.
- Post on the Oak Meadow FB page; I will be happy to re-share it as an OM Connect post for you to reach a wider audience. Typically, people have wonderful luck at connecting with people on the page. And Oak Meadow high schoolers are invited to join the Oak Meadow High School and Alumni Group on Facebook.
- Check out local programs that serve homeschoolers: these might include programs and courses in art, music, dance, theatre, skiing, wilderness, environmental ed, etc. Taking advantage of your community resources can be a great way to create social, intergenerational learning opportunities for your kids, keep your rhythms fresh and fun, and give yourself a break at the same time.
Get to Know Your Library ~ Read Together
One of the absolute best resources for homeschoolers (and families and people of all ages everywhere) is the local library. In all likelihood, you are probably already making good use of this simply awesome, free resource. Many homeschooling families report that their local library is their most-used, most-loved resource. Make the most of your library and get to know your librarian. Ask about special programs for homeschoolers. Make good use of InterLibrary Loan and stock up on books, videos, audiobooks, and other essentials. Start reading together.
Looking for book ideas? Head to our We Love Books! Pinterest board for oodles of book lists, literacy sites, and inspiration. Fill your house with books, arrange a comfortable reading nook or two, and be willing to read with your kids each and every day, no matter what their age. Read more about how to grow readers in our Summer Reading series.
Our Pinterest boards have fantastic ideas for making the most of your playful learning adventures with your kids, and starting to work in math, science, history, and language arts investigations into your day to day. Our Hooked on Nature board includes ideas for turning your nature walks into fun springboards for all sorts of science, nature, poetry, math, and creative investigations. Make fairy houses with your younger children, or experiment with natural watercolors, or leaf art
For older children and teens, try out this very cool form of nature mapping, phenology (not to be confused with Phrenology, the study of the relationships between a person’s character and the morphology of the skull). Children of all ages can enjoy all sorts of mapping projects, starting with the self, and radiating outward to family and community, adding as they go throughout the year as the child’s world opens up and grows. Mapping projects for children can be a wonderful way to start the year. Or, choose a Citizen Science project to do together as a family.
This is a great time to have the family sit down together and make a list of field trip ideas for the year, based on your children’s interests and the curriculum goals you have for the year. Will your fifth grader be studying early American history? Maybe the family can plan a trip to Plimoth Plantation. Having a field trip list (even if it never gets completed) helps everyone feel the year is off to an exciting start.
Being able to take advantage of having time to visit museums and parks and all sorts of fun places when most people are either at work or in school is one of the best perks of being a homeschooler. And many museums host Homeschool Days just for you! Regular field tripping of any kind can enhance the overall learning experience in so many different, wonderful ways.
Looking for ideas? Hip Homeschool Moms has an impressively comprehensive list of Homeschool Field Trips by State. As well, the Field Trip Resource Center creates and organizes educational field trips and programs for the over 100,000 homeschooling families it serves, in New England and in Michigan. And there are several living history museums all over the U.S. who offer seasonal Homeschool Days, with reduced rates and special programming. Some of our favorites are Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village, Historic Deerfield, and the Pocumtuck Memorial Valley Association, which has an incredible, award-winning website, too. Most museums have excellent educational resources for students, teachers, and homeschoolers. As well, our Field Trips! board includes ideas for making the most of your roadschooling.
“If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.” — Bruce Barton
Sustain the Excitement
The most essential ingredient? Your own infectious curiosity and enthusiasm. You may be feeling your way carefully through the first few weeks of homeschooling, but as long as you enjoy the process, your children are likely to enjoy themselves as well. Homeschooling is a learning adventure for the whole family, so dive in together and see where the journey takes you!
Your Turn: What are you most excited about this time of year? How are you and your family preparing for the upcoming home/school year?