This summer at this site, Peter Cook wrote an excellent article containing his tips for families thinking about homeschooling. To briefly recap, his five pointers are 1) Find a curriculum; 2) Find a community; 3) Start slow; 4) Relax; 5) Enjoy. Great suggestions, all!
Cook acknowledges that his list is only a beginning and there is much more to consider. To that end, here are five additional suggestions for anyone who is considering homeschooling or has already made the decision to do so.
1. Check Out Your Homeschooling Laws
Research the laws that govern homeschooling in your state. They vary widely from one state to the next. Some states, such as Oklahoma and Illinois, are largely unregulated, imposing little in the way of specific requirements or reporting. Other states, such as New York, require parents to partner with their local districts, file extensive plans and reports, and participate in regular assessments.
Whatever your view on the question of how much the government should or should not regulate homeschooling, you need to be aware of the law in your state and make sure you are following that law. Your continued freedom to make decisions about your child’s education could depend on it.
2. Attend a Homeschool Convention
If possible, attend a homeschool convention. Not only will you find an immediate community of similarly minded people with wisdom to share, you will have access to the homeschooling equivalent of a candy store: the convention vendor hall! Within this magical place is table upon table spread with all those curricula you have spent months reading about and trying to visualize from the homeschool catalogs. There is nothing like seeing, touching and smelling them up close to help you decide what may or may not work for your child. Take your checkbook, a good calculator, several strong canvas shopping bags, and your inner child for a back-to-school shopping trip unlike any other!
3. Relax about Curriculum
Whether you are beginning from square one with your first grader or pulling your eighth grader from public school, don’t feel as though you have to settle on a curriculum right away. So much learning happens naturally as you simply go through the day, doing normal household tasks and enjoying your child’s company. Cook, clean, and run errands together; find out about the educational opportunities (libraries, museums, and the like) that exist in your community; spend time reading aloud; take walks; volunteer for your church or a cause you believe in. You will be amazed at the “education” that takes place without any curriculum at all. There will be plenty of time for curriculum decisions down the road. Start out by enjoying your child and letting him or her enjoy you.
4. Visit the Library
Read some time-tested homeschooling books. Here are a few frequently cited by experienced homeschoolers: “You Can Teach Your Child Successfully,” by Ruth Beechick; “How Children Learn,” by John Holt; “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda of Compulsory Education,” by John Taylor Gatto; “A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning,” by Karen Andreola; “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home,” by Susan Wise Bauer; “Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style,” by Harvey Bluedorn; and “So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling,” by Lisa Welchel (yes, that Lisa Welchel).
The books listed here represent a variety of homeschooling approaches, but even if you ultimately don’t go all-in with one approach you will find words of wisdom in each of them. Our family’s homeschooling style is best described as “eclectic” because of our propensity for cherry-picking ideas and strategies from a number of different approaches and combining them into our own unique homeschool pie.
5. Lawyer Up
Consider joining a homeschool defense group, particularly if you’re in a high-regulation state. But be warned: this can be a contentious issue among homeschoolers, and you should do your research before signing up.
Some homeschoolers think defense and advocacy groups do more harm than good by pushing for government protections and perquisites and thereby inviting unwanted government attention; others tell cautionary stories about times their local authorities overreached and their advocacy group stepped in to defend them. This is one of those issues where there are well-meaning, thoughtful arguments to be made on both sides, and each homeschooling family has to consider and decide for itself. Take time to think about what sort of advocacy you want, if any: advice and counsel only, legal representation, or political activism? Here are a few groups to consider: National Center for Life and Liberty, National Home Education Legal Defense, and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
One for the Road
I know. I said five tips, not six. Consider this one a bonus: Trust yourself. No one loves your child like you do. No one knows him or her like you do. You may mess up. No, strike that. You will mess up. But so does every teacher in every classroom on the planet. And even the best teachers don’t love their students like you, as a homeschooling parent, will love yours.
Any choice you make, whether it’s a curriculum, an extracurricular activity, an advocacy group, or the decision to homeschool itself, is just that: a choice. And no education choice is forever. When you find you’ve made a wrong turn, all it takes is a little backing up and turning around to try a new direction. As all the best teachers and students know, mistakes are nothing more than opportunities to learn.