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5 Things Every New Homeschooling Parent Needs to Know

April 17–21, 2017   |   Vol. 130, Week 8

Starting your homeschool journey can be both exciting and daunting.

HSLDA educational consultant Vicki Bentley knows this firsthand—she’s homeschooled 17 kids. And she’s here to help you make sense of it all, as she explains five things every new homeschooling parent needs to know.

While this program is geared towards parents who are new to homeschooling, it’s also a great refresher for veteran homeschooling parents looking for encouragement or practical tips for teaching their kids.

This week’s podcast will cover:

  • Coming up with a plan
  • Cutting through the curriculum noise
  • Tips for socialization
  • Subjects you don’t feel equipped to teach
  • Finding local support

“Remember that it is not your job to teach your child everything there is to learn. Your job [is] to teach him how to learn.”—Vicki Bentley

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Thinking about homeschooling but aren't sure where to start?

Order your free copy of You Can Homeschool—a great resource that answers all your questions!

For information on your state’s homeschool laws click here.

Starting your homeschool journey can be both exciting and daunting. If you’re new to homeschooling, or if you just want some fresh tips for teaching your kids, tune in to hear five things every new homeschooling parent needs to know. That’s next on Homeschool Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: We’re joined today by Vicki Bentley. She’s a former homeschooling mom who’s written several books on parenting and homeschooling, and she’s one of HSLDA’s educational consultants. Vicki, welcome to the program!

Vicki Bentley: Thanks for having me, Mike!

Okay, let’s homeschool! . . . Now what? [0:32]

Mike: Vicki, this week we’re going to look at five things that new homeschooling parents need to know.

Now, we know that homeschooling is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be a bit daunting. What do you tell a parent who comes to you and says, “Okay, I’ve decided to homeschool. What now?”

Vicki: The first step is the “Getting Started” section at HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens page. Get familiar with your state’s laws and pay attention to any deadlines. And if you can attend a local support group meeting, that’s great. Also check out your state organization’s website. If you can attend a state convention, that’s even better!

Some goals. What should you be teaching? With primary students, the basic goal is to give them lots of physical and creative play, discovery learning, [and] experiences. Think of these as “hooks” on which to hang their future learning. Remember, what looks like play to us is really work to them!

And as they get older, our academic expectations increase. Kids are more secure with a routine, kind of a pattern to the day. So visit our “Organization” tab. We have lesson planning tips to help you have reasonable expectations, and you’re probably going to want a chore system in place to keep the house manageable.

If you’re bringing a child home from a conventional school setting, get reacquainted with him. You’re going to be tempted to jump right into academics, but pay attention to his passions, his gifts, his interests and strengths and needs.

When we start out, we only know to do what we did, so we re-create school at home. But home education is a lot more than just school at home—it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a relationship of mentoring and discipling our children—kind of a lifestyle of learning. So catch that vision and enjoy your children!

Cutting through the curriculum noise [2:04]

Mike: Vicki, many new homeschooling parents are overwhelmed by the sheer number of curriculum options. As someone who has homeschooled 17 children, you have a lot of experience with this. What would you tell those new homeschoolers about narrowing down the list and choosing the curriculum that works best for their child?

Vicki: Wow! I’ll try to condense my hour-long workshop into 60 seconds!

Regardless of your kids’ ages or your homeschooling “style,” start with a plan—set some goals, then choose resources to help meet those goals. And remember that curriculum is more than just books; it includes activities and interests and everyday skills.

If you’re not sure what your child should be learning, start with our article, “What Should I Be Teaching?” Then evaluate how your child learns best and how your family functions. If he likes you to read to him, then maybe [try] a literature-based unit study. Have an active child? Then sitting at a workbook for hours at a time may be setting you both up for failure. So maybe go for something with a hands-on component. Have an auditory learner? Include a read-aloud component or an audio or video.

Do you prefer a packaged curriculum, or do you want to pick and choose books and games yourself? Are you teaching several kids at once and you need to combine some subjects? Do you want all textbooks, or do you like the idea of some unit studies, too? Or maybe even a gentler Charlotte Mason approach? Do you want video or paper? And, of course, what’s your budget?

There’s not any one perfect curriculum—there’s not one right way to homeschool. And that’s the beauty of home education—you can tailor the plan to your child’s needs!

What about socialization? [3:34]

Mike: Vicki, a common question from new or prospective homeschooling parents is, “What about socialization? How can I make sure my kids will get enough social interaction?” Now how do you respond to that question?

Vicki: Well, most homeschooled kids have lots of social opportunities. One middle schooler at our weekly gym day at the Y answered that same question. He said, “Ma’am, if I were any more socialized, I’d need a secretary.”

The book of Proverbs tells us, “He who walks with the wise becomes wise.” And there are a lots of ways through daily life in general for our kids to learn to be wise adults and to practice interacting with others.

So we like to focus not so much on age as on common interests. Maybe sports, ballet, choir or orchestra, quiz team, Sunday school, scouting, clubs, the Y, 4H, co-op classes (of course, not all at one time). The homeschool group might offer book clubs, field trips, and game nights.

But not everything has to be educational. Maybe invite another family for dessert or a park date. Or take bananas to residents at a nursing home. Or take visiting missionaries to lunch.

You can simply piggyback on other activities. When the local choir puts on a community sing of Handel’s Messiah, invite some families to go, and then meet up for hot chocolate and fellowship.

Get involved in local service opportunities—we have suggestions on our site. Your kids will socialize, build skills, and learn compassion at the same time.

You don’t have to teach everything [4:49]

Mike: Vicki, another question we get from a lot of parents is, “How can I give my kids an excellent education in subjects I don’t feel comfortable teaching?” So what advice do you have for them?

Vicki: As your kids get older, the subject matter will become more complicated—especially as they hit junior high. But remember that it’s not your job to teach your child everything there is to learn. It’s your job to teach him how to learn, to get him well grounded in the basic skills, to instill in him good character and encourage him in the way he is to go, and then provide lots of opportunities to stretch that knowledge. We want our kids to out-know us!

So yes, you’ll need to recognize your strengths and your limitations. And then bring in other resources if you need to. Maybe “living” books about a subject; possibly textbooks designed specifically for homeschoolers, that are written to the student or scripted for the parent; CDs or videos; supplemental classes—maybe co-op or online classes, or even community college; tutors, or trading with other parents who have complementary interests. Kind of, “I’ll do dissections with your kids if you’ll do Shakespeare with mine,” or “You evaluate my child’s writing and I’ll tutor calculus.” 

Then there’s hands-on experiences or internships. If your child is passionate about a subject, if it’s relevant to him, you don’t have to know a lot about it. You just need to point him in the right direction, and his passion will fan the flames of motivation and learning.

Finding support and encouragement [6:08]

Mike: Vicki, what kind of support is out there for homeschooling families—especially the new homeschoolers?

Vicki: Well Mike, of course there’s a lot of great information online, but I always encourage families to connect with a local support group. A lot of them offer monthly meetings on homeschool topics, and field trips and clubs and classes, even moms’ night out, and just general encouragement.

Then your state organization has your back on a state level, including legislation and a lot of bigger opportunities. They usually have a website and sometimes they have a statewide convention.

And at HSLDA, we know this can be overwhelming. You want to know: What are the laws? Where do you buy books? Maybe you just want to know how to get dinner on the table the same day you homeschool, and you just need some encouragement to keep on going!

Our website is packed with articles, and videos, and blog [posts], and suggested resources, and seminars. And those are all available to all of our web readers.

But then our member families can pick up the phone and they get to talk to a real, live person who’s been there and done that. Our education consultants and our legal staff personally answer members’ specific questions. We help with everything from laws and testing, to curriculum choices, learning styles, teaching tips from preschool all the way through high school, plus special needs and struggling learners.

So for help with all the topics we’ve covered this week—and a lot more—visit hslda.org and click on “Teaching My Kids.”

Mike: Vicki, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and encouragement with us this week. I appreciate you taking the time to join us. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Vicki BentleyPhoto of Vicki Bentley

Mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over 50, and grandma to 14 wonderful grandbabies (so far), Vicki Bentley has homeschooled 17 children since 1988, with the invaluable assistance of her husband Jim. In addition, she led a local support group of over 250 families for 14 years and served on the executive board and convention committee of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. Vicki has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations and many mothers’ groups. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschooling and homemaking helps. Vicki has a heart for moms and brings strong practical wisdom and encouraging words as she coordinates HSLDA’s Early Years program.

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