Homeschooling Tips: 5 Things to Ensure a Successful Start

mom homeschooling son
Image via Flickr/IowaPolitics

Homeschooling can be a daunting undertaking, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I started when my kids were elementary school aged, and currently I’m homeschooling my three teenagers while traveling with them for a year in an RV as we tour America immersing ourselves in it’s history.

If you are new to homeschooling, or are considering it, here are my 5 tips for how to successfully start.

 Tip #1 Know your local regulations

Every state has different laws on homeschooling, and you need to be familiar with them. Some will make you jump through hoops to get approved, and others just require you to sign a notice at your school board office letting them know you are opting out of public education and taking the responsibility on yourself.

 My school district in Utah was even willing to give me a disk with the state benchmarks for each grade so I could make sure my kids were on track with other kids their age. If you have any troubles in your area, contact the HSLDA, an advocacy group for homeschooling families, for additional help. Overall it's just a great resource to familiarize yourself with as you embark on your homeschooling venture.

Tip #2 Read & Research

It’s important to read different philosophies of how to educate your child, and then pick the style that fits you and your child the best. Typically this will be a blending of a few methods, and not adhering strictly to one philosophy. As you delve in and learn about Classical education, Thomas Jefferson, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Christian-based curriculums, etc. –DO NOT get overwhelmed; these are just options. The key is to come up with your own mission statement of how you want to educate your child, and then pick from the buffet of ideas so that you can create a customized program that fits your needs.

The key is to come up with your own mission statement of how you want to educate your child, and then pick from the buffet of ideas so that you can create a customized program that fits your needs.

Tip #3 Connect & Communicate

Before I made the decision to homeschool, I joined online communities and forums for homeschool parents so that I could ask questions and get a feel for the challenges they were up against, and the resources available to them. I found the women to be open, gracious and friendly. They welcomed me and put my fears to rest. Local mothers invited me to meet up activities in the area where we could meet other families in person at the park, and that helped us become a part of the community. Having support from in-person and online mothers was key to my transition as primary educator, and will be essential in your success as well. Nowadays it’s even easier to connect online: Yahoo groups, Facebook groups, Google+ circles and website forums are great places to connect and chat. Attending a homeschool conference will give you tons of ideas and tips, while connecting you to other moms as well.

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Tip #4 Take advantage of your “school” status

One of my favorite perks of homeschooling is that I’m considered my own “school” in a sense, and therefore, I’m able to attend local attractions that are geared toward field trips for schools. Most classrooms get 1-2 fieldtrips a year, but in our first year of homeschooling, we went on 38 field trips to local museums, theatre productions, art galleries, etc.

We experienced a mountain man rendezvous, a re-creation of Ellis Island and the immigration process, watched Chinese acrobats, symphony orchestras, musical productions and saw a newly discovered species of dinosaur. Some exhibits like the Bodyworks and DaVinci traveling exhibits are expensive to the public, but for schools, only cost a few dollars or were free. Some science centers even have programs geared towards homeschool kids. Please take advantage of the free and fun learning opportunities in your own backyard.

 Tip #5 Go Deep, Not Wide

Public education is geared to teaching a little bit, about a lot of different subjects. Schools go shallow and wide. The advantage to learning at home is that you can go narrow and deep. My daughter loved animals, and would spend hours watching a medical vet show where they’d heal animals.  I allowed her to spend more time studying and reading about animals, even if it meant missing a few lessons of other science subjects. I even arranged for her to be in an operating room while a local veterinarian was spaying and neutering cats and dogs. She got first hand experience in her area of passion, and it ignited her love of learning.

By letting the student lead their education, not the parent, their passion and curiosity will create intelligent, life learners. The Harding Family is a great example of that; six of their ten children entered college by 12 yrs. old because they went deep, not wide, and that naturally accelerated their learning tremendously. They didn’t set out with a goal to create “super learners”, they just fostered their children’s deep, narrow interests and let learning unfold.

There’s a lot to learn when you take your child’s education you’re your own hands. Luckily it doesn’t have to be learned all at once, and there’s tremendous support available online.

Homeschooling has been a rewarding part of my motherhood, and I know it can be for you too. I hope these tips will assist you in having a successful first year!

I’d love to hear tips and ideas from other current homeschooling moms, or from mothers who aspire to school their children some day. What are your tips for successful teaching? Leave your comments below.



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Homeschooling Tips: 5 Things to Ensure a Successful Start

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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  1. Lovely says:

    I think those tips are great. I am homeschooling my second child for different reasons. I don’t feel that kids in regular school can focus on their education the way they should due to distractions around them and issues that arise with other children. I figure I have to pick my battles. Every type of schools have its pros and cons. I just need to ensure that my child is where he needs to be. My family is signed up with the YMCA so my kids can still interact with other child. Some of them even have programs for kids that are being homeschooled. I am not concerned about prom but prom is still offered to kids who homeschool. I wish I could meet more mothers that homeschooled. I am still trying to find a stay at home job because I do not want to stop homeschooling my child.

  2. Chris says:

    Those are good tips, but you left out the 3 things I believe are the most important
    1) develop an attitude that LEARNING is your goal – not “getting through school”. Learning is something that occurs for your entire life, the subjects during “school” are merely a small subset of things to be covered (and not necessarily the most important ones).

    2) Related to #1 – the first subject should be “Learning how to learn”. And this will be unique for each family (and each child within a family). One of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is that the methods can be tailored to meet each individual’s needs, desires, and goals. Using methods developed for educating the masses would be to ignore this huge benefit

    3) There is really only 1 rule that applies to all homeschooling situations: Semper Gumbi
    “Ever flexible”
    This was adapted from the USMC moto – basically it means do not get so tied down into a curriculum, method, or style that you can’t completely scrap it all and change to something else. If something isn’t working as well as you like – move on and do something else.

    • Shannon Watt says:

      Chris- great additions to the article, thanks for your input. My article is actually 2-part: the second will be released in a few days, and some of your points are touched on in the second half. I especially like your insight on how the goal is to love learning, not study for the test. I completely agree. Also, flexibility is key. A mother/teacher could easily go crazy if she isn’t flexible with herself, the schedule and the students. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Phammom says:

    Great tips, learned a few things. I would like to homeschool but my husband isn’t for it because of the social.

    • Melissa says:

      I agree with your husband. Another concern that most don’t notice until college years is that the shared experiences that people who attended public school or even private school have, that the homeschool child won’t. Prom, football games, assemblies, new teachers, new classmates, etc.

      I am K-8 certified but I won’t homeschool my child because I don’t want them to feel like they missed out on something, I would have never met my best friend, I would have been affraid of public speaking, and I would not have the high self-confidence that I received from all those teachers calling me smart, a great student, and extremely intelligent (report cards, teacher conferences, and student of the quarter awards). But don’t get me wrong I will be educating my child every chance I get just like my stepkids it will just be going above and beyond what they get in school or help when needed.

      We are lucky though, we have a great school that has honors programs starting in 3rd grade where the kids do go deeper into the material and the staff have become my friends so I am very informed on what they are working on and what I can do with them.

      In the end, compromise with your husband by doing co-op preschools, volunteer in the classrooms (just be expecting to help the other kids more than your own), teach a lesson to your child’s class, or lead your children’s Camp Fire group or scouting group where you can go deep into various subjects.

    • Chris says:

      This is the #1 myth about homeschooling.

      The truth is, your kids will be socialized to the extent and in the manner that you (the parent) deem appropriate. If you want them isolated, that is your choice. But if you want them exposed to everything under the sun – you can do that as well.

      We leaned toward the ‘expose them to everything’ side. As an example, my 3 daughters (as young teenagers) met both Stephen Hawking and WWE wrestlers…. in the same week. How many public or private schooled children can say the same thing (ever – much less in the same week)?

    • Shannon Watt says:

      That’s a common response I hear from parents who aren’t familiar with homeschooling. I’d suggest you join a local group of homeschool families and spend some time with them.
      My kids got plenty of social time attending field trips, co-op classes that other parents took turns teaching, after school activities and just being in our neighborhood with the kids around them. Many cities have programs during school hours and homeschool kids get together to take those classes and be together. It’s definitely not isolated, especially with the internet.
      When you school at home they are still part of so many community activities and after school programs that they’ll be just as socially integrated as you allow them to be. Scouts, sports, church community, dance classes, etc. are where a lot of friendships are created anyway.
      Talk to local moms and get your questions answered before you decide. Good luck!

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