Getting started in homeschooling can feel overwhelming. There is so much information, so many curricula, so much stuff! Sorting through it all can take ages — and it means you spend a lot of time on the computer instead of with your children, who are, after all, the point of the exercise. One mistake nearly all of us make at first is overbuying: in our excitement and our anxiety to cover all the bases at once, we spend too much money and buy too much of everything.
When I first got started, I spent a whole lot of time reading. I was a little bit lucky in that I started thinking about homeschooling when my first child was two years old, so I had plenty of time to research. But anyone could do this kind of reading as a long-term thing, though not everyone would want to.
I had already found out that classical homeschooling was what I wanted, but I still read just about everything I could. This often meant that I requested books at the library through InterLibrary Loan so that I could read them without spending hundreds of dollars on books I might not find useful. Then, if I really loved the book and wanted to use it as a permanent reference, I purchased it, which helped me not to overbuy. Because I wasn’t committing to the books by purchasing them, I was free to read across religious lines and homeschooling philosophies. I could choose to mine conservative Christians for tips on teaching math, and radical unschoolers for ideas on making my home a learning environment. I read about people homeschooling so they could focus on African-American culture, and people who spent a year bicycling across the country, and all sorts of things.
The only books on homeschooling (not curricula, but how-to books) I ended up purchasing new were:
- The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
- Laura Berquist’s Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education
- Rebecca Rupp’s Home Learning Year By Year
- David Guterson’s Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense
I also found some books used at library book sales and so on. I got a full set of E. D. Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” series that way–which I mostly did not use, but it helped me feel secure.
Other People: A Fantastic Resource
Once kindergarten was closer, I started looking around for people to meet up with. Please understand that I live in a small city, and at that time there weren’t a lot of homeschoolers for me to meet; you may have far more available to you!
My neighbor down the street told me about her mothers’ group and invited me to go. This turned out to be a group that was very welcoming to me and did not have a statement of faith, but was entirely composed of evangelical Christians (I am not). The criterion was that members had to be independent homeschoolers, not connected to any charter or public school with an independent study program. They were lovely to me and I always enjoyed the meetings, but I also knew that some of my more secular friends would not have felt comfortable. I may well have been the only person in the room not teaching young earth creationism. I learned so much from these women and am grateful to have been able to do so.
I also heard about a group that met for a park day, and I tried that out. They were welcoming, too! This group tended to be comprised mainly of unschoolers and crunchy folks, but welcomed everyone. I’m not an unschooler either, but again, I made good friends and learned a lot. My kids had a great time running around the park and playing in the creek. We have also shared field trips and other events with these same families, and these times have been wonderful for all of us.
I never did meet very many people like me; there are very few classical homeschoolers around here. I never joined a co-op or even heard of one I could join. Instead, I learned to make friends wherever I could and learn from them. I met lots of people whose homeschooling philosophies I did not share, but who made great friends. I could take care of my own homeschooling philosophy myself.
I had gathered many recommendations for curriculum from the books I’d read, especially the ones I purchased. My next problem was how to choose among those recommended curricula — which ones would fit our style and what I wanted to teach? Even the most detailed recommendations couldn’t tell me that, although they often helped me decide that I did not want something.
I visited a lot of websites and ordered a lot of catalogs. I loved looking at them, but I was often frustrated by my utter inability to inspect the actual books. These days I think it is a bit easier to find long samples so that you can see more of the book, which is hugely helpful, but I really prefer to pick up the book and handle it.
I live quite far from the places where homeschooling conferences mostly happen, but there was one in a large city about two hours away. It was unschooling-focused, and I didn’t want to pay to attend the whole conference, but the exhibit hall was free (they usually are). I drove down and explored, visiting as many vendors as I could. Since I was mostly looking for classical vendors, there still weren’t that many for me to look at, but I could inspect Saxon Math and some other basic things. Later on I traveled further to attend an evangelical-focused conference, where I was able to find and inspect other products.
Used curriculum swaps were also helpful to me, although they often ‘helped’ me buy books I ended up not using. The mothers’ group had a yearly used curriculum sale, which gave me the chance to really look at some things! The prices were always right, too. Used curriculum swaps seem to be going a bit out of style in favor of selling online, but I think there’s a lot to be said for an in-person sale first; you can see the books, and there’s no shipping to pay.
Some things I just had to order and hope they worked out. It felt like a leap of faith, but I was rarely disappointed. I ordered some books based only on recommendations and short samples. Most of the time, it worked out fine. My biggest leap was buying Prima Latina, a Latin curriculum for younger children, and that turned me into an enthusiastic convert to teaching Latin to children.
The local teacher supply store was not helpful as far as curricula went, but it was great for other materials. I bought many math manipulatives, test tubes, art supplies, and posters there. We often really enjoyed our trips to that store, because they had tables set up with activities for young children and they often raised silkworms in a box on the counter. I don’t think I ever had to order materials online; I either got them at the teacher supply store or, sometimes, made them myself.
Homeschooling is a huge job, and getting started is overwhelming. It can often feel impossible to figure out how to select the right curriculum — for several different subjects! — when we haven’t picked up a textbook since our own long-ago schooldays. It’s OK to take things slow and steady, adding as we find good materials. (And meanwhile, head to the library and borrow lots of good books to read!) As homeschooling moms, I think that one of our weaknesses is our desire to get everything chosen and planned right now! In our anxiety to do right by our children, we tend to think that we need to get every subject started right away. It is hard for us to remember to take things one day at a time, one child at a time. It’s a long journey, so we need to pace ourselves.
Another mistake we make is to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We are always wondering if this math book, this grammar text, is really the best possible option. Is this other textbook better? Switching all the time is usually self-defeating, as we spend too much money and jerk the children from one thing to another. If a curriculum is working for you and not making your child cry on a regular basis, switching mid-stream is not productive.
Seek out other homeschoolers to befriend. Read about homeschooling and figure out what sounds good, and then seek out the curricula that will help support the philosophy you choose. Take it slow. And sometimes, make a little leap of faith.
Jane-Emily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.