Well, hello! Welcome to the Homeschooling Fitness Club! If you’re new here, that’s okay. A record number of parents are opting to homeschool their children this fall. Your only experience might be the “crisis schooling” of this past spring, so I think you’ll find actual homeschooling a very different and welcome change.

Your first challenge here at the Club is to complete an obstacle course. It kind of whips you into shape for the coming year. Here, let me show you around the course.

Obstacle #1: The Law

This run can be complicated or a breeze, depending on which state you live in. All of it is easier now than it was back in the 80s, when it was almost impossible to get through. Every state has slightly different homeschooling laws, so you need to make sure you’re in line with yours. Go here for a summary of each state’s requirements. And yes, sorry, you do have to jump through all the hoops.

Obstacle #2: Building the Network

Here, hold this rope. Your goal here is to make as many connections as you can with other homeschoolers. The best strategy is to join with a local support group or co-op. This year, of course, we’ve had to reconfigure those networks for mostly online interaction, but a lot of them are designed specifically for new homeschoolers. This is a pretty important step, since what you build here is what supports you through the rest of the course.

Caution: This course is not recommended as a solo effort. Many years ago, after years of handling all of the homeschooling by myself, I burned out and nearly dropped out. My husband had to take over for a while, until I was back on my feet. Now we run it as a team. He plans, shops for curriculum, and oversees the high school classes. I run the day-to-day school, get kids to lessons, and act as the on-site guidance counselor. You don’t get extra points for doing it all yourself, so bring in all the help you can get. 

Obstacle #3: The Curriculum Maze

Yeah, I know. It’s vast. Homeschoolers have so many options these days that they can spend months trying to get through this maze. But we’ve got some tips for you.

  • Ask seasoned homeschoolers for their suggestions.
  • Online reviews are also helpful, such as Cathy Duffy’s  in-depth look at many different curricula.
  • Your state’s Standards of Learning can be a guide as to what you should cover over the course of the year. Standardized tests, while not a good measure of education, also give you a picture of which academics you need to focus on with each child.
  • Be cautious about dropping a lot of money on untested curriculum. You don’t know yet what your kids will like, or what will work with your family. In fact, for the early elementary years, workbooks from Wal-Mart and books from the library work quite well. Later grades take more specialized materials, but not necessarily expensive packages.
  • Remember, no matter which path you take or which turn you make, you can always backtrack if you need to. You aren’t bound to finish every book, do every activity, teach every concept. Homeschooling is based on the mastery of a subject, not how long you spend on it.

I know, this obstacle course probably looks pretty daunting. But you’ll find plenty of people ready and willing to guide you through it. And when you emerge on the other side, you’ll be ready for your homeschool journey—whether it’s just a semester, or the whole year, or a completely new way of education. Welcome to the club!