It's scary, isn't it? The decision to pull your kids from public school? Being totally new to homeschooling and leaving the structure of school behind?
I remember that fear! The decision to homeschool felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, about to step off with no idea what would happen! I talked to every single homeschooling friend about our daughter's situation, over and over. I laid awake at night, weighing pros and cons. Worried. Cried.
Finally, I filled out that Declaration of Intent to Homeschool, informed my daughter's teacher, and took the leap. And I found out that the other side is pretty awesome. We get more sleep over here, our family relationships are thriving, and my daughter's mental health has improved beyond measure.
If you're on the edge of the decision to homeschool: consider this a nudge to take the leap! Here's how to get started. Hint: you do NOT have to have it all figured out right away.
Help! I feel lost and overwhelmed!
It does feel overwhelming. I get it.
You really don't have to have it all figured out right at this moment. Truly. You don't have to have curriculum set up, and a dedicated homeschool room, and a multicolor schedule taped up on the wall.
There is plenty of time. Keep reading, and I will help you get started.
Homeschool is a new way of life.
Most of us parents who are making this decision to homeschool grew up in the school system. It's all we know. It worked, more or less, for us. We usually have some really good memories (and sometimes we put on rose colored glasses, and forget the not-so-nice parts).
School is part of the fabric of our society. People's lives and schedules rotate around it, parents show off achievements and milestones, and complain together about grumpy kids, homework, early mornings, and all the rest. It's one of the ways people relate to each other.
So homeschooling IS a big decision! It feels “out there.”
But I'm here to tell you that the homeschool community is deeper and wider than you might think. There are adventures to be had.
You can TOTALLY do this.
My Best Tips for Beginner Homeschoolers
Here's how to get started homeschooling without being overwhelmed!
Tip 1: Learn Your State's Homeschooling Laws
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. But homeschooling laws differ.
Look for local homeschooling groups on Facebook, or reach out to your personal network of friends and ask if anyone homeschools. There are always a few people who are a wealth of information on how to navigate the requirements in your state.
For instance, in my state (Washington), we have to:
- File a Letter of Intent to Homschool with the superintendent of our local school district yearly by September 15.
- Cover 11 subjects (listed in our laws) over the course of the child's K-12 education.
- Test or assess yearly (includes submitting a portfolio to a qualified teacher).
Your state may have different requirements, or even fewer! But it's important that you know your state's homeschool requirements and follow them.
Otherwise, you aren't a homeschooler – your kids are truant from public school. You don't want that. So do your due diligence to be in compliance with state laws.
Tip 2: Start With Deschooling
Deschooling is the process of unwinding your brain from believing that the only way kids learn is school.
You and your kids will be on different journeys with unschooling. The general rule of thumb in the homeschooling community is that kids need at least one month of deschooling for every year they were in school.
Us parents? We need deschooling too. I think deschooling takes a LONG time – depending on how attached you are to the system of schooling. I've been homeschooling for 7 years now and still sometimes need to take a step back and examine where I'm thinking in a public school way.
Think of deschooling like an extended vacation. Sleep in. Make your favorite foods. Watch movies. Go on bike rides. Play games. Yes, video games too. Take walks. Go to the park. Bake things. If your budget can handle it, actually go on a vacation. Let the kids just BE. Let them relax from the pressure, expectations, and requirements of school.
Focus on your relationship with your kids. Do things just to bring a smile. Academics will always be there.
Tip 3: Begin Gently
Please, I beg you, do not buy curriculum right now. Please.
Anything you buy right now has a 98.7% chance of being a mistake. Or sitting on the shelf unused. (That's a very scientific percentage gleaned from all my conversations with homeschoolers over the past five years.)
I know. One of the rabbit holes you went down when thinking about homeschooling was researching allllllll kinds of curricula. And you've found what really appeals to you. It looks pretty darn perfect. And hey – it's so much better than school, right?
Mama friend, hold off on that purchase. Wait and see and watch your kids. Deschool for a while. Talk to your kids about what they liked in school. Get some library books. Read aloud in the afternoons. Find some great documentaries to watch with lunch.
This is a great time for you to learn to think differently. One way is to start following some homeschool mentors and listening to other families' stories of how day-to-day life works. Lots of podcasts and blog posts and books. It will satisfy your need to be doing something while you let your kids deschool.
Tip 4: Get in the Habit of Tracking Learning
One of the things that I found (and still find) most difficult is tracking all the learning that happens in a day. There's a lot of it.
An example: today my daughter and I went to JoAnn's to spend her allowance. She found a pair of earrings and a hair clip she wanted. They were 40% off. That's some great mental math work! So we rounded up the .99 prices, I taught her how to easily move the decimal over to get 10%, multiply by 4, and subtract from the total. Then we talked about the tax percentage and estimated how much that would add.
It's Saturday. But we did a whole math lesson right there in the jewelry section of JoAnn's. Since it's something she cares about and was invested in, it was meaningful for her (and math is a struggle area, so anything I can do to make it meaningful helps).
You better believe that gets written down as math work! I could actually make a whole worksheet on that if I was inclined.
You'll have to try out different methods to see what works for you. Some people don't bother tracking this kind of learning if their kids love worksheets, they have plenty of work to put in a portfolio. But since we lean more toward unschooling, I track.
What works best for me?
This simple learning journal I made, along with taking pictures on my phone. Each page is two days (unless you have a LOT to write). You just write the learning in the box and circle the appropriate subject.
Enter your email below if you'd like to download my learning journal! Print off a bunch, put them in a binder and you're good to go! Easy peasy!
Tip 5: Explore Your Community
When you're homeschooling, you can use every outing to learn and grow together. Even a trip to the grocery store can be a learning experience in so many ways… budgeting/math, cooking/home economics, supply and the food chain, jobs people have to keep the store running. How do scanners work?
Put those library cards to work! Our local library has fun things like instrument rentals, make-and-take craft kits, bins with fun learning topics or entire young adult book series, and a fantastic graphic novel section. Story times and activities are great for younger kids.
Explore all the parks and playgrounds for “recess” and exercise. Sign up at your local pool if you have one. Check out skating rinks, bookstores, indoor playgrounds. See what the local YMCA offers.
One of the very best things about homeschooling is that the daytime school hours are open to you and nothing is crowded!
Tip 6: Watch and Learn
Some kids thrive with a to-do list and a stack of worksheets and freshly sharpened pencils. Some will melt in front of you at the same scenario. Some can retain everything they learned while listening to a podcast. Some learn best with visual input.
Some kids with neurodiversities or learning challenges may need creative solutions, less writing, more one-on-one time, kinesthetic materials or video lessons.
The thing is, you have to be around your kids, watch them, study them, and see how they tick. If they've been in school all day for years and the biggest role you've had in their learning is being the Homework Enforcer, you haven't yet had the chance to see how they naturally learn outside of that regimented system.
Watching your kids and learning how they work best ties in with my advice above to not to buy curriculum right off the bat. You will almost always be buying things for your own learning style, not theirs.
Watch them. See what they love to do. In a few months, you can start building more structure into the learning with resources and curriculum pieces that fit your kids.
You do not have to have everything figured out the moment you pull your kids from school.
Tip 7: Lean into Your Kids' Interests
Here's the truth: learning is always happening. Kids do it naturally. Adults do, too. Think about what you do when you have a new interest. Read blogs, maybe? YouTube? Order books from Amazon? Take an online course? Whatever you do, it's because you know how to learn, naturally.
So lean into whatever your kid is into. They are learning a ton from whatever it is. Spend time doing it with them. Got a lego fanatic? Get a new kit and build together. Watch the lego competition show. Look at videos of other builds. Figure out the best way to organize blocks. Set goals for earning the money for the next 5 kits to get.
Have a voracious reader? Cool. Get to know the librarians at your library and get lists of books for your kiddo. Look up the authors and illustrators. See what books have been made into movies and watch them, then compare with the books. Have your child journal their favorite quotes and share with the family at dinner.
Got a gamer? Dig in. Play together. Look up advanced hacks. Read the wikis. Research the gaming companies. Talk about the artwork and the music. Look up the musicians. See if anyone you're connected with knows anyone in the industry.
See what I mean? Learning is happening in every interest. Imagine how thrilled your kids will be when you pour into their interests!
Tip 8: Plan Field Trips
Field trip possibilities are everywhere. I'm big on field trips. I love learning from experience whenever we can!
Here are some field trips we have done in our homeschool to give you ideas!
- Our local (tiny) marine life center
- A local lavender farm
- Nearby national park tide pools
- A local gallery's art installation
- A trip to an indoor trampoline park an hour away
- A nearby alpaca rescue
- Local Audubon center
- Local Tribal museum
- Trip to a big nursery with all kinds of plants
- A nearby beach park
- The local hand-made ice cream shop
We usually plan Field Trip Fridays at least once a month and I try to group together different experiences. For instance, we'll go to the field trip destination, then a restaurant we haven't been to, and maybe a local park, too.
We live in a smallish town of 20k people and still have lots of field trip opportunities we haven't explored. I have ideas to call the manager of the Post Office, explore a gallery we've never been to, go on our town's “Underground Tour,” call the local newspaper office and radio station, and the Coast Guard base… the ideas are endless!
Tip 9: Let Go of Comparisons
Attention: you are now stepping outside of the system and structure of public school. You are free to move about your life. Put your hands and feet wherever you want to.
You do not need to impose schooly structure on your homeschool, or compare the learning that your child is doing to what is happening there. That is the fastest path to homeschool burnout, I tell ya.
The kids in school are on a set path. And while they may pass tests and move up grades, there's no measure for how much of all of that information they are retaining.
Instead, realize that humans are not naturally learning the same things at the same time simply because of age. Some kids teach themselves to read at age 4. Some learn at age 9 or older. Some kids are advanced readers and have a harder time with math. Learning isn't linear.
So do yourself and your kids a favor and walk away from the grind of keeping up with the school kids. Meet your kids where they are. Learn and grow from there.
Tip 10: Take Time for Yourself
Being a public school parent is work. Being a homeschool parent is work. But yes: the reality is you are now with your kids 24/7 and are in charge of their whole education.
You need to be intentional about taking care of yourself. Some moms thrive on the all-day-everyday togetherness. Others (introverts like me) need some alone time to be able to be at their best. We all need rest and support. You may need to ask for it specifically, even from your partner.
Here are some ideas for help, rest, and support:
- Hire a housecleaner. (I gave up cable to do so. Worth it.)
- Schedule times where you can go for a walk or to a coffee shop and read a book. Enlist your partner, or swap childcare with a friend.
- Let yourself nap when the littles have theirs. Set the olders up with a show and a snack.
- Get up just a bit before everyone, or go to sleep just a bit later.
- Set up a weekly playdate with a friend. Just having another adult around – even if you're still wrangling kids – is a soul-filler.
- Check out MOPS or other programs for moms in your area.
- See if a local gym has childcare. Walk slowly on the treadmill and watch a show.
There may be seasons where you have less help and down time, and seasons where you have more. It's a journey. But please do ask for help and support and don't try to do it all, all the time!
One more thing…
I have a gift for you.
I wrote an article called 7 Secrets to Stress-Free Homeschooling that is what I wish I could tell every homeschooling mama, face to face, over a cup of coffee… or tea… or a cold bubbly Cherry Coke. Mmmmmm.
To go with the 7 secrets, I made a beautiful printable called Discover Your Homeschool Flow: A Guided Journal for Stressed-Out Moms.
I'd love to give you the article and the printable journal to help ease your worry and create a homeschool rhythm based on your unique family.