by Kathy Kuhl     One day last week, four new families talked to me about how to begin to homeschool. They each had a child for whom school wasn’t working.

Here’s what I’d say to anyone starting out:

1. Don’t panic. You’ve always been responsible for your child’s education. You just outsourced it to a school.

Now you’ll do lots yourself. You may still outsource some: to fellow homeschoolers in a co-op, to tutors, to community classes. Think of yourself as facilitating your child’s education, especially as they grow older.

(Yes, Mom and Dad, you can outsource algebra, precalculus, and French! We outsourced Spanish, biology, chemistry, driver’s ed., and one math class–even though I’m trained as a math teacher.)

You’ll need to educate yourself about home education. I listed some favorite videos below. But here’s a way to think about what you’re learning and how intimidating it may feel.

Suppose you’d only eaten carryout and in restaurants all your life. Cooking at home might sound crazy: planning, shopping, cooking, washing up. Homeschooling is like home cooking:

  • More work,
  • Often better quality,
  • More attention to your child’s particular needs,
  • more attention to your and your child’s preferences. Want to take a field day to go rock climbing, visit a political rally, go hiking, hear a symphony, compete in Junior Olympics? Do it!

Like home cooking, homeschooling can be more satisfying to the cook and those who eat, or in this case, to the homeschooling parent and the kids. There’s a satisfaction in crafting a good supper for your family, and a good course for your children.

2. Know the law for your state, province, or country. Compulsory school attendance laws apply to all children–homeschoolers just fulfill them differently. To find how these laws affect residents of each state in the US, check here, where the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) provides links to current law for each state. HSLDA provides helpful descriptions of the law for other countries here.

The burning question most prospective homeschoolers have is, “What curriculum shall I use?” But which curriculum is not the next question you should ask. Before you chose curriculum, you must:

3. Identify your goals

If you children face learning challenges, don’t come in expecting to fix all their problems in a year. Set a few goals. Chapter 11 of my book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, explains how to do this.

Consider emotional, moral and practical goals, not just academic goals:

  • Emotional: If your child has become discouraged by school, or thinks he is stupid, imagine restoring a love of learning. Imagine nurturing a love of education. Build on their passions. Read the memoirs of the Suskind family and the Barnett families for two examples.
  • Moral: Struggling with discouragement, many of our kids don’t recognized how important character is, because they’ve focused on their academic troubles. In my new book, Encouraging Your Child, I talk about what and how to praise.
  • Practical: What life skills will you nurture this year? Whether it’s washing hands or washing laundry, setting the table or setting a budget, your child has lots to learn. Some of our kids need more detailed, repeated, explicit instruction in these skills.

4. Understand your child academically before you set academic goals. Whether our kids are gifted, have learning disabilities, or both, if they have been struggling in school or have given up, we tend of focus on the problems.

But their successes as adults and as kids will likely grow out of their strengths. You’ve got to focus on those and build your homeschool around them.

So ask yourself, “What are they good at? What do they enjoy?” and look for ways to build your homeschool around those strengths.

5. After you set goals, you can shop for curriculum.

Some parents want an easy answer, like “Buy this-or-that Brand Homeschool Curriculum, and do what it says in the book.” But if traditional school wasn’t working for your child, you may need to customize, adapt or pick and choose. Like buying all your clothes from one brand, it may be convenient to buy from one publisher, but you don’t have to.

I strongly recommending visiting a homeschool convention, even if you aren’t sure you want to homeschool. I’m speaking at these conventions this spring.

See chapter 13 of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner for more on how to shop for curriculum. My post on choosing curriculum here, which will help even if your child does not have special needs.

6. Connect with your community. (Here’s a post about that.)  The world is your classroom. Take advantage of local opportunities you may never have considered as educational.

For example, we took field trips to meet a book binder and a dendrochronologist (studies tree rings), and visited a Coca-Cola bottling plant, a hydrodynamic research center, many forts, museums, and historic sites–my son volunteered at one monthly–to name only a few.

7. Connect with other homeschoolers virtually and locally. Both kinds of connections have advantages. Click on the link for details.

Then you’re ready to make a plan for your year, quarter, week and day, as described in chapter 15 of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner.

What’s your top advice to those considering homeschooling? Please answer in the comments below.

[Here from HEAV and VAHomeschoolers are some of my favorite introductory videos to homeschooling, with plenty that will help you wherever you live. Got a good introduction to homeschooling to share? Add it in the notes below, please.]

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