Welcome to the adventure!
The first thing you need to do is pray. Hopefully you have already prayed, so if you did, do it again. Now, every time you start thinking about homeschooling, curriculum, or anything related, pray again.
Stop scrolling. Close your eyes. Talk to Jesus.
Thinking about homeschooling can be overwhelming. There are so many choices and decisions that we have to make. There is no way we can do this without God. It is a big job to educate our children at home, so we must pray.
And we must continue to pray. Find moments of the day to pray. Set a phone alarm or post a prayer at the sink. Offer your research and decision-making to God, morning and night.
Because I promise you. Grace will come from constant prayer.
Then, take action.
1. Figure out why you are homeschooling and what your primary goals are.
Maybe you are homeschooling because of the pandemic. Your primary goal could be to help your children continue their education, so they can get back to school the following year.
Maybe your children are young, and you have always wanted to homeschool. Your goal might be to try it this year and see how it goes.
Perhaps you want family and home to be the priority in your children’s lives, and your goal is to meet the spiritual, emotional, and academic needs of your children while being more united as a family through spending your days together.
Perhaps one or more of your children has special needs, and they don’t do well in a brick and mortar school environment. The goal could be to get them the support they need to thrive and not merely survive.
It could be as simple as you want a Catholic education for your children but cannot afford or do not have access to a Catholic school. Then your goal is to teach them the Catholic faith throughout their schooling.
We think ahead of time about our why and our goals, so that as we make the thousands of decisions it takes to homeschool, we can refer back to our why and our goals to help you make all of those decisions.
In the Heart of a Mother Facebook Group, we met for a Zoom call to discuss why many of us chose to homeschool and why we continue to homeschool (because our why often changes over time). You can watch it here for inspiration to determine your why. Here's a more detailed video of my why.
Before you go any further, write down in a notebook, planner, journal, etc. why you want to homeschool and what your primary goal is. Then, when you have to make decisions about curriculum, lesson plans, and scheduling, you can look at it and make sure your decisions match your goals.
2. Look up your state laws.
This is the best place, in my opinion, to find your state laws: https://hslda.org/legal You can also find your state homeschooling laws on your state’s board of education website.
HSLDA is dedicated to helping homeschoolers be successful, and their explanations of state homeschooling laws are written by lawyers, designed for families. They are an excellent resource!
Some states don’t require reporting at all. Some require registration and/or annual testing.
Some states specify which subjects you must teach. Some require you to track a certain number of school days.
Finding out this information is key, because it will also affect your decisions about curriculum, lesson plans, and scheduling. Also, please be sure to research the laws yourself, rather than relying on a neighbor or Facebook. I wouldn’t want anyone getting into trouble, because they were given a poor explanation.
3. Connect with other Catholic homeschooling moms.
If there were a statistic for this, I would guess that something like 99% of moms who are personally connected with other homeschoolers will feel more confident about homeschooling and continue to homeschool the following year than those who are not.
There are super helpful Facebook groups and online communities. Consider joining Heart of a Mother on Facebook. Search your city and homeschooling in Facebook to find online groups for your area. Enter your city and homeschooling in Google to find local activities and gatherings. Ask at your library or church where homeschoolers tend to spend time.
Connecting with other homeschooling families can provide activities and friends for our children and valuable resources for us. Having another mom to meet for coffee or text a question is incredibly beneficial and motivating.
We are not meant to live in isolation. Community makes us better.
Keep in mind there are secular, Christian, and Catholic homeschooling groups, so be discerning when choosing. If your Catholic faith is an important part of your life and you want it to be in your children’s lives, go the extra mile (or drive the extra 20 minutes) to connect with Catholic homeschoolers. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk freely with other moms whose daily life and daily challenges are similar to ours.
When local homeschoolers are tough to find, seek out those who are supportive, if at least not critical, of homeschooling. These are our cheerleaders on the bad days (you do realize there will be bad days, right?) and provide essential connections to our communities.
4. Research homeschooling
Most moms will start with this step. Many will dive all the way to the bottom before coming up for air to realize they are completely overwhelmed and need a way to discern. If this is you, it’s going to be okay. Please stop, pray, and complete steps 1-3 before moving on. I’ll wait.
Then start looking for what appeals to you and what sounds right. There are many different styles of homeschooling. There are many different opinions on how to homeschool. The secret is that they are all good. There is not a bad way to homeschool except to keep your kids home and not do it.
When you’re first starting out, it would be nice for someone to tell you exactly what to do. I have a secret about that here, too.
In that article there are links to articles and quizzes to help choose your style of curriculum. There is also a detailed listing of many of the Catholic homeschool curriculum programs with various facts about each one. And an explanation of what faith has to do with it. My primary advice to Catholic homeschoolers is to check the Catholic options first, and you can find my Mega Catholic Homeschooling Curriculum List here!
You might lean towards classical or school-at-home programs. You might want to pull together your own curriculum from various resources. Again, we have spent lots of time in the Heart of a Mother Facebook Group discussing these options. Here is a sampling of full programs that are especially good for mamas who need a set plan and curriculum to follow.
If you are just homeschooling for a year, you probably want to choose a school-at-home approach and purchase a boxed curriculum with lesson plans to follow. If you are in it for the long haul, you can spend more time deciding which style is right for you and even consider piecing together various curricula to make your own program.
The reality is, though, that homeschooling just doesn’t look like brick and mortar schooling, even if we choose a school-at-home program. And it’s going to look differently in different households, depending on the ages and maturity of our children and the availability of parents to teach and/or assist. So, there are lots of options, too many options!
5. Decide on curriculum
When should we decide? Usually, it’s ideal to order materials at least one or two months before the first day of school to allow for a couple of weeks to familiarize ourselves with the books and plans. If you're getting started late and your official materials won't arrive for a while, use your library and YouTube to fill in for a bit!
Don’t forget to pray before entering your credit card information. Be sure to look back at your why, your goals, and your state laws to make sure your decisions fit those parameters.
God gave us these children, and he’s put us in the situation where we are choosing to homeschool, right now. He will give us the grace to make the best decision for our families if we ask him. Does that mean it will be the perfect curriculum? Nope. There’s no such thing. But we do want to choose what will work best for our family in our current season of life.
These days there are many excellent choices when it comes to homeschooling curriculum. We must overcome decision fatigue, trust our mama instinct, and move forward. We know our children better than anyone in the world, so we must confidently choose what we feel will work for this year, knowing there will have to be adjustments along the way.
If you need to go further than this outline and need more detail, I highly recommend Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year book and/or course. She walks us through the steps to planning a homeschooling year with purpose and peace. Every year since I have used Pam’s approach annually, my school years have gone more smoothly than ever. She guides us through making decisions and trusting our decisions and is wonderfully encouraging.
You Can Do This!
Prayerfully invest the time now to prepare carefully for homeschooling. Determine your goals and your state laws. Connect with homeschooling moms who can advise you. Enjoy the endless hours of research and rabbit trails. And decide with confidence on a path for your school year.
Is homeschooling a lot of work? Yes.
Is homeschooling going to keep you up at night sometimes? Yes.
But, is it worth it? Absolutely.
It's worth it to see the joy on your child's face as she reads a book for the first time.
It's worth it to watch your children play out the stories you share with them.
It's worth it to see your quiet child come alive as he gets to learn about his current obsession (and count it as school!).
It's worth it to build lifelong relationships of trust and love with each of your children as you share the joys and struggles of home education.