Advice for starting homeschooling: 10 things that helped us

I’m a little late in sharing mine, but this week, the iHomeschoolNetwork’s 10 * in * 10 series asked our group of awesome homeschool bloggers to post about “10 pieces of advice that you’d give a new homeschooler.”

Well, I pretty much AM one, so I’d like to share 10 pieces of “do-and-don’t” advice for starting homeschooling, from friends real and virtual that helped us get off the ground and finish off Sarah’s sixth-grade year in an incredibly positive way!

Advice for Starting Homeschooling: Unschool RULES

 1. Do trust.

“Trust yourselves. Trust your daughter.” That’s the mantra that I’ve heard reiterated in many ways through blogs, books, friends and family members.

It’s HARD. Harder than I ever expected. But when I relax and trust that we’re in the right place, doing the thing we should be doing, then I become more and more confident that Sarah is doing exactly what SHE should be doing, too!

2. Do focus on quality over quantity.

One of my biggest concerns going into our homeschooling experience was how much LESS time we planned to spend on “formal learning” than Sarah did at school.

Turns out that we learn more often now – even if we spend less time doing things that would look to much of the world like “school.” In the end, this comes back to No. 1 – if we trust that we’re doing the right things, and we trust in Sarah’s natural curiousity, the richness of those experiences more than makes up for the “8 hours a day, 5 days a week” mentality!

3. Don’t miss the moment.

Oh, this is a hard one. I’ve said it before – being intentional about helping Sarah learn based on her current interests is probably more work for me than using a planned curriculum would be.

I have to be in the moment. I can’t just “Uh-huh” and “I don’t know” and “That’s nice” my way through conversations with Sarah.

I’d like to think this would be true no matter what type of curriculum we used, but the fact is, I’m busy, and it’d be soooo easy for me to just turn her over to a stack of textbooks and workbooks and try to just “bat cleanup” where needed.

Then I remind myself that, in effect, that’s what I was doing when she was in public school – and it wasn’t working. So I try to just pay more attention, to be there THEN and not later, and to capture the best moments of life and learning and fun as they happen, rather than when it’s convenient for me!

I’m working hard at this one. Still a work in progress, but I’m trying.

4. Do keep decent records.

Dare I say this is NOT “sexy” advice? It’s not – but in a state like Pennsylvania that wants things like a log of books used by date, it’s so much easier to just keep track as we go.

I have nothing but amazingly kind words to say of Pauline and the askpauline.com website in this regard. It gave me EVERYTHING I needed to get started, and it helped so much throughout the year and at our evaluation! If you homeschool in Pennsylvania, it really is a must-read. I even wrote my own guide, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling and Unschooling in Pennsylvania, thanks to what I learned there.

5. Don’t lock yourself into anything.

This was a hard piece of advice for me to take. I’m not, uh, known for my flexibility, and more importantly, it’s really hard for Sarah to adjust to change.

So I wanted to KNOW what I wanted to do in terms of homeschooling philosophy and just commit to doing it through high school.

Real life doesn’t work that way – and real families don’t work best, in my opinion, when there’s an authoritarian “this is what we’re doing and that’s that” kind of model – for anything.

So we started out doing what we thought would be best, and we’ve been adapting along the way. While I think we’re pretty well entrenched in the idea of unschooling in some of the most radical senses, I hung on to a couple curriculum catalogs – thanks to what I call the “hedging my bets” advice.

If nothing else, I don’t want to write off something that Sarah might be interested in and benefit from just because it doesn’t fit MY picture of what we should do!

6. Don’t try to do everything.

I think this is especially true if you’re dealing with a child with learning disabilities… or if you’re removing your child from public school… or, you know what, I just think this is true for everyone.

In Sarah’s case, we could not maintain her sanity and ours and try to fit official science, math, social studies, language arts and other “stuff” into every school day.

I’d love to think she could work through all that, take music lessons, play on a sports team and still have time for friends and 4-H and family trips and learning a foreign language.

But she’s just now going into seventh grade, more or less. We have time. I have to trust (there’s that word again!) that we will get to what we need to get to over time, even if it’s not TODAY.

7. Don’t compare what you’re doing to public school… or other homeschoolers.

This appears in a lot of this week’s “advice lists.” I’ll sum it up the Joan way:

You’re the only person teaching your child as part of your life. That shouldn’t look like anyone else’s story. Write your own story.

8. Do get outside as much as possible.

I’m sure I read this on one of the many Charlotte Mason blogs I follow, but I also think my mom and Sarah’s 4-H leaders shared the same wisdom.

We’re all better as a family when we can spend some time outdoors. I truly believe it brings us closer to the universe and each other. We are all calmer and happier outside – and that carries over into the rest of our day.

9. Don’t give up on your personal identity.

I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a blogger, a writer, a friend, a teacher, a martial artist… I’m a ton of things. When I started working from home and subsequently homeschooling, one great piece of advice I heard from a lot of people was to keep doing most of the things I’d been doing.

I still go to tae kwon do class – in fact, more often now that I’m not engaged in a homework battle every evening. And I’m better for it.

Showing my daughter that I’m a real person with real interests helps HER develop into a unique individual with her own interests, I firmly believe.

10. Do learn everywhere.

I guess this goes along with getting outside, but… some of the best advice I had was to make our school an “everywhereschool” and not a “homeschool.”

We have gone down so many fun trails of learning new things after trips to farmers’ markets, antique stores, pet shops, friends’ houses, local businesses’ factory tours … it’s amazing. We get to go new places and interact with all kinds of new people.

The world really is your classroom – and ours.

Don’t forget to check out my previous posts in this series if you missed them, on our 10 unschooling and homeschooling must-haves, 10 of Sarah’s “likes” about homeschooling and 10 reasons we chose our unschooling style.

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4 thoughts on “Advice for starting homeschooling: 10 things that helped us

  1. Love the advice “write your own story”. I am continually reminded to do that. Just last night I dreamt about my daughter’s public school friends signing up for special classes and felt (in my dream) that we were not doing enough. This is silly since I know why I had this dream (a comment made from a family member) and I know that my girls are participating in amazing programs that they could not experience if they were in public school. Thank you for the reminder again to write my own story rather than simply be a character in someone else’s.

  2. Thanks Joan for sharing your experiences and insights on homeschooling! My daughter is just a toddler (2yrs 7 months) and I have decided recently to homeschool her while I’m working. It caused me some sleepless nights and anxiety during the day just thinking about whether I can do it. Reading through your blog assured me that it can be done and it can be fun! My main reason for homeschooling is that I love teaching my daughter and I believe that she looks up to me when she wants to learn. I believe that truly is our role as parents, we are the primary teacher of our kids (whether or not we homeschool them). 🙂 and now that you’ve said that it takes a lot of TRUST. I have resolved that its really about TRUSTING God.. that this is His will when he made us parents, to teach our children, so I know He will enable us and be honored when we fulfill His purpose. 🙂

    • Chol, you can do it!! You are so right – our job whether homeschooling or not is to help our kids learn (and love learning)… so why not take the leap and say, YES, I can do that, and I trust that I can do it well! So nice to hear from you. Thanks for commenting!

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