Entire books have been written for beginning homeschoolers. Obviously, what follows is my ideas on a few major questions, not an exhaustive treatment of the subject (which is impossible, anyways, see #1). But here goes:
1. If you homeschool, you are not bound by the constraints of how school is “supposed” to be. This can be the scariest and most liberating aspect of the entire homeschool journey. What does a homeschool look like? That’s like asking what a family looks like: it depends on the family! You need to determine how you want this to look. Do not let anybody else intimidate or badger you into thinking you have to look like a public school or like that homeschooling mom with the cute blog and the ten kids all running their own businesses already. Find your normal, but be open to changing it as your children grow.
2. You really do not need to have a daily planner for every day of the school year; I know some moms do it, but I think it is inadvisable. When kids are sick, you aren’t going to finish all the planned subjects; you have to be willing to adjust, and I know I wouldn’t be if I had a box that said I must get such-and-such done on March 8th or else! On unseasonably gorgeous days, we’re likely to be outside studying clouds, or bugs, or taking an impromptu field trip to the botanical gardens or the zoo. Personally, we generally start school the first Monday of August. It’s twenty weeks to Christmas, give or take a week, then twenty weeks after Christmas, which has us finishing about when the weather is really getting nice around here. In between, I just break up the lessons in the books so that we know how much we have to accomplish each week. English is looser (one spelling unit, one vocabulary unit, some general English), math is stricter (three lessons per week for Diva, three or four for Crash). History can be even looser. We are studying the Age of Exploration this year, so we have started an overview book, and checked out a pile of books from the library on pre-Age-of-Exploration explorers (Vikings, Marco Polo, etc.) and early Portuguese figures (Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, etc.). We have an overarching plan, but we will stay on specific people or periods as they interest the kids. Be organized enough to stay on track, but not so much that you constantly feel like you’ve failed because you didn’t dot the very last i. (See #1: this is also a very personal decision, best tackled with your husband, who might be able to help you find that happy medium between OCD and slacking off.)
3. Curriculum. Ugh. I know some people swear by the idea that there is a perfect curriculum out there for everyone. Personally, I go more on the, “This is what I picked, and we’re going to make it work.” I don’t have infinite amounts of money to switch math curricula in the middle of the year for each child; they’re all using Saxon. I tailor the amount of repetition to each child’s needs, but I don’t buy all new courses for each child. We have a thorough phonics course that all three children have used. Once I find a book I trust and feel comfortable with, we stick with it. (And we borrow most of our history and science books from the library. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE LIBRARY!) Figuring it’s going to have to last through at least four kids, I usually buy new; for most books, fill-in-the-blanks can be done outloud or on separate paper. For Saxon math, the consumable parts come separately for the early grades. All that said, buy used whenever possible. Our area is blessed with a wonderful homeschool bookstore, and homeschool conferences frequently have used book sections. Ask around your homeschooling groups for people who have outgrown levels (or switched mid-year) and are willing to pass them on or sell them to you. Which brings us to…
4. Find a homeschooler play group. The kids get to hang out with other homeschoolers, and you get to talk to other moms. If you want to, you can even discuss homeschooling. Do not underestimate the relief of being able to just be normal and not have to even think about explaining yourself to others. If one group doesn’t work, try another. We joined a Catholic co-op; it was a really bad fit, simultaneously rigid and disorganized. We joined a “Christian” play group; better, until the group leader decided to impose a faith statement… designed specifically to exclude certain denominations that aren’t quite Christian (including Mormons), and, apparently, Catholics. We finally found a Catholic group that meets for children’s adoration (i.e. NOT silent, kids crawling everywhere, rosaries being chewed on, etc.) and play time at the parish playground.
5. Know how to pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. Not every day will be perfect. In fact, not many days will be perfect! Most will be tiring, many will be frustrating: the child who just doesn’t get math, the trashed house while you were trying to explain math, explaining to your mother for the millionth time that public school would not be better thank you very much, convincing yourself for the millionth time that there are reasons you’re doing this and public school would not be better… Put them in bed, take a deep breath, straighten up, pray, sleep, and wake up and try again.
I won’t say it’s easy, I won’t claim boundless joy at the thought of teaching grumpy children math in the middle of winter, and I can’t tell you you’re going to love it.
But it IS worth it.