How to Start Homeschooling

As a long-time homeschooler, friends seek me out when they're seriously thinking about homeschooling. Often they're panicky at the prospect. I can relate. When we decided halfway through our firstborn’s kindergarten year to un-enroll him and teach him at home, my “what now?” phone call was to a homeschooling veteran. She not only successfully homeschooled her own children, she was (and still is) an expert on homeschooling. An author of books about homeschooling and speaker at conferences on homeschooling, she told me to take a deep breath and grab my library card. “If all you do the rest of this school year is get the best children’s literature from the library and read aloud to your son, he will be just fine" she said. "In fact, he’ll likely be ahead of his classmates.”

She wasn’t commending un-schooling, or a lazy approach to learning, rather, she was trying to get my attention. I was mildly freaking out about not having a math curriculum for a six-year-old. She knew what I would come to learn: that the place to start is not with an inches-thick curriculum catalog.

Following is what I would tell a new homeschooling Mom if I were on the receiving end of such a phone call.

First things first

You’re going to need a math curriculum, but that isn't step one. Step one is understanding why you're doing this and determining what your goals and convictions are. It's like when you build a house. You start with the architect, not the painter. Choosing a curriculum is a lot like picking paint colors.

You have to know why you’re doing this, before you decide how you will do it. Mission must come before tactics, otherwise you’ll be forever second-guessing your approach to teaching and buying this and that curriculum or program or book that a friend insists is the best way to teach. In an earlier day, there wasn’t much to choose from. Homeschooling resources were limited. Now, however, in what is a good problem, there is more out there than you will ever be able to use. And it costs more than you will likely ever have to spend.

Are you homeschooling for academic excellence with an eye toward the Ivy League? To overcome a learning disability? To focus on certain strengths and talents? To impart a love of learning? To impart a biblical worldview? There are a lot of good reasons to homeschool (and a few not so good). It’s essential to know them at the start. What are your goals? What is most important?

You can imagine how much your answers to these and similar questions will shape what you teach and how.

Say No to Comparing

In order not to be unsettled by every conversation you have with other homeschooling Moms, you need to know why you’re doing this. After that you will be able to figure out your homeschooling method, or style. Then, when another Mom talks about what’s working for her family, based on their mission and goals, you can enjoy listening and even learning from her without measuring yourself against her. You’ll be able to share your methods without feeling superior or inadequate, and without feeling pressured to go out and buy the books she uses or sign up for the co-op she attends.

You are the best person for the job

No matter how hard it gets, or how inadequate you feel, remember, no teacher will ever love your children — or care about their hearts, their salvation, and their learning — as much as you do.

Think of all you’ve already taught them: eating, sleeping, crawling, walking, talking. You’ve potty trained them, taught them about love. Taught them about Jesus. This is complex stuff. The rest is simple by comparison. The first five years — the years you’ve already been their teacher — are hugely formative. They’re packed with learning. The rest is bonus, and you can hire a tutor when it’s time for trigonometry.

What will you do about high school?

There are many options to help you with the higher grades. Don’t let fear of what you’ll do nine years from now dictate your decisions about what’s best for today. You don’t have to do everything — all the teaching in all the subjects — but you are responsible for it all (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Ephesians 6:4). You should direct it all intentionally. Set goals then search out the best way to meet them. And pray for wisdom every step of the way.

What will you do about friends?

Their siblings are their friends from God, the longest lasting relationships and the ones with the potential for generational fruit — a worthy investment. Not so for the majority of friendships formed in childhood and adolescence. To my sorrow, I often chose my school friend over my own brothers and sisters, to their hurt and my harm. I often neglected my siblings for friends I haven’t talked to more than a time or two in over three decades.

What about sibling rivalry and bickering?

True, it takes a lot of work to build friendships between brothers and sisters, but it is worthy work. Among siblings who don’t get along, spending their days apart in different school classrooms will do nothing to make peace. It may buy some calm, but true reconciliation between brothers and sisters takes discipleship, training, and hard work. Lean into the problems. Don’t run from them or try to suppress them.

What about when your kids drive you nuts?

Sending them to school won’t fix the problem. Teachers will likely not see it, because kids tend to have “school behavior” that’s different from how they act at home. Kids are good at masking behavior problems in order to fit in. What’s worse, some selfish behaviors are praised in a classroom and may get worse. Even if the teacher does see the problem, she’ll have limited time and capacity to address it, if she even thinks it worth addressing. Much sinful behavior is overlooked. School teachers aren’t called to disciple the children in their care the way parents are.

Why do this?

The most important reason to homeschool is discipleship. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands His disciples to go into all the world to make disciples, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Certainly the Great Commission is much broader than teaching our children, but it is not less than that. We must be careful to obey Jesus’ command with those we are closest to — with those for whom we are accountable for their direct care.

Our former kindergartner is in college now, and three younger siblings are following him. How glad and thankful I am for the homeschooling path God set us on. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s what He calls you to, don’t panic. In the midst of the math, the science, the literature and more, let the daily challenges remind you of your need for grace. That is the best learning of all.

————————— My go-to resources:

Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola. This is my favorite resource; the one that helped us determine our homeschooling style.

Instructing your Child’s Heart, Tedd & Margy Tripp. Homeschooling is about educating the whole child. It’s easy, though, to forget that in your effort to master math facts and spelling rules. The Tripps focus on the most important work of discipling your children’s hearts.

Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt. A book of books that opens with a look at the essential role stories play in the life of a healthy family, why you should read aloud to your children, and what makes for a good read aloud. The second half provides lists of books by grade level (beginning with picture books, all the way through novels) along with a short description of the plot (an annotated bibliography).

Read for the Heart, Sarah Clarkson. Sarah was homeschooled in a good-books-saturated home. She is now an author of books about books. Read for the Heart is an annotated bibliography of books by topic and author; very helpful for knowing what to borrow from the library.

The Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer. This book provides a comprehensive, year-by-year list of reliable curriculum choices for each subject.

What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know; What Your First Grader Needs to Know, etc., E. D. Hirsch, Jr. This series is available from the local library. Each book gives a broad overview of a year’s worth of learning. A helpful resource to see if you’re on pace for a certain grade.