“Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 Choosing to homeschool your children is a worthy and important undertaking. It’s exciting to think about custom making an education for your children and all the potential that exists by deciding on this incredible educational option. Along with your hopeful dreams and plans will also come questions, concerns, and at times anxiety. You might wonder how to begin homeschooling, how to choose a curriculum, whether or not you will succeed, what the experience will be like for your children, whether they will have friends and thrive, if will they miss out on something important, or if you will even have the patience and fortitude to get through the day to day. Let me assure you, all of these questions are valid and it’s completely normal to have a range of emotions surrounding this decision!
When I began to seriously consider homeschooling my children, they were ages 6, 4, and 3. Of course I felt some trepidation prior to when my husband and I finally made the decision to give homeschooling a try. For me, one of my biggest fears was that we might feel isolated and just stuck at home all the time, lonely with no friends. After seeking counsel from friends who were already homeschooling and researching and finding support from various groups and organizations, my apprehension began to wane and I was ready to give it a try. It was such an promiseful time for our family.
Fast forward 11 years and now as I am on the last leg of our homeschooling journey, I realize how incredibly important it was for our family in those early days to seek out support and counsel from those who had gone before us and to be intentional about connecting with the local homeschooling community. Even now as an experienced homeschooler, I continue to seek out support, advice, and wisdom from others more seasoned than me. Strength and peace for challenging endeavors comes when we feel supported.
There are many ways you can find the encouragement and help that you need to successfully homeschool your children. Here are several:
Home School Legal Defense Association
HomeSchool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a non-profit advocacy organization that defends the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children. I always recommend that new homeschoolers join HSLDA when beginning to homeschool. They can advise you on the specific homeschool law in your state and offer recommendations on how to inform your local school district of your decision to homeschool. If you run into any issues with your school district they are there to help and will even provide you an attorney, covering all of your legal fees, should you ever need that level of support. Their website also offers a wealth of resources; such as, online classes, help for homeschooling high school, how to homeschool children with special needs, etc. They even have a foundation for helping homeschooling parents who have become widowed or for families who have experienced some kind of catastrophe.
State Homeschooling Organizations
All 50 states have one or more organizations that exist to educate, support, and equip homeschoolers. Many of these groups will have a wealth of information available on their websites, will hold periodic informative meetings, and help connect you with other homeschoolers in your local area.
Additionally, most state organizations will hold and sponsor an annual homeschool convention where homeschoolers can gather to attend educational and informative sessions regarding a wide range of topics of interest to homeschoolers. At most conventions there will be a vendor area where parents can peruse and purchase curriculum and high school students can check out various colleges and volunteer organizations. Some conventions will offer fun and interactive programs for students from kindergarten all the way through high school as well.
Attending our state run homeschool convention has always been one of the highlights of our year. My husband and I appreciate the encouragement and helpful information we receive and my kids love hanging out with old friends and making new ones as they participate in programs especially for them. There’s something about being together in a large convention facility with hundreds of other families who have made the same educational decision. I always leave feeling motivated to keep going and it helps me realize that I am not alone. I love how energized my kids seems to be too after attending. It’s life giving to them to be surrounded by other young people their age, who are also being homeschooled.
Finding a local homeschool group can be a great way to find support and community right where you live. Many state run organizations will have chapters and groups spread throughout the state. Check out your state organization’s website for a listing. Sometimes several families will also form their own groups, not associated with a state organization. Both types of groups can be wonderful sources of information, provide various extra-curricular activities or educational experiences for your children, and help facilitate the creation of meaningful friendships for parents and students.
I love my local homeschool group. These families have become some of the closest friends I have ever had and the same is true for my children. We have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences together over the years. Some of the things that my group offers are monthly parent meetings where a topic of interest to homeschoolers is discussed and where parents can check books out of our group’s lending library. We always leave time in our meeting for Q & A and we spend time praying and encouraging one another as well. Over the years we have done various things together such as; field trips, gym class, art class, enrichment and educational classes, park and beach days, hiking trips, holiday parties, field day, tween and teen groups, and more.
Several years ago, one of the moms in our group was involved in a terrible car accident the week before Christmas and suffered severe injuries that required major surgery, many months in the hospital and rehabilitation. The homeschool group rallied together and bought and delivered Christmas presents for the children, provided months of meals, helped with childcare and homeschooling, and collected and donated thousands of dollars to help with expenses. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed. The love and support of the community was beautiful.
Homeschool Cooperatives and Tutorial Communities
A homeschool cooperative (co-op) or tutorial community is a group of homeschooling families that gather together periodically around a specific goal, like academic or enrichment classes, sports, social events, or for special events or projects. In a co-op, typically parents will share the teaching or administration or may pool their resources together to hire an outside teacher, while a tutorial community may be run by parents, but not necessarily and functions more as a business that offers tutorial services or a-la-carte traditional classroom experiences for homeschooled students. Co-ops come in all shapes or sizes; some can be as small as just a few families and others can look more like a mini-school. Tutorial communities for homeschoolers tend to be very structured, more formal, and more expensive than a true co-op.
Both co-ops and tutorial communities can be a great way for parent teachers to share their talents and professional skills with the community. Years ago we were in a tutorial community where one of the dads was a brain surgeon. He volunteered his time to come teach a class on the human brain. He even brought a real human brain that had been donated to science and dissected it as he gave his lecture. The students were also able to help dissect the brain. Parents and students alike were in awe. He explained the amazing complexity and adaptability of the brain, sharing that the longer he operates on brains the more convinced he becomes of the awesomeness of our Creator. Another dad, who was an attorney, acted as a judge for a competitive mock trial that we organized for 9th grade students. His direction and insight was invaluable. This type of real life exposure to professionals, who are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do, can be very inspiring to students.
In the elementary years we took part in an enrichment co-op that offered classes like sewing, photography, art, crocheting, karate, gym class, etc. My children loved getting to learn and do things that we didn’t always take the time to do at home. As a homeschooling mother, I appreciated not only the social time for our family, but the skills that they learned from other parents. Art was one of those subjects in the younger years that I had a hard time fitting into our schedule consistently at home, so attending the enrichment co-op was a wonderful way to make sure we were incorporating important non-academic content into our homeschool experience.
Academic co-ops can be helpful most especially in the high school years when parents can sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to teach more advanced subject content. Our family participated in a co-op run entirely by parent teachers who were skilled in teaching history and science and my children benefited greatly.
When deciding on a co-op, be sure to choose wisely, weighing out the contribution required from parents against the benefit to your family. If your investment of time supersedes what your family is gaining from the experience it can become more of a drain than a blessing. With that being said, finding a well run co-op that is a right fit for your family can be an excellent way to find much needed academic and social support.
My students currently attend a local tutorial community where they all take literature classes. The classes are taught by professional teachers, some of whom also homeschool and others who do not. So far, we have been very pleased with the quality of instruction and it has helped lighten my teaching load at home. Literature is a subject that naturally lends itself to discussion and analysis; the depth and breadth of the dialogue in some cases can be more easily accomplished with a group. With three high school students all reading different works of literature it is not possible for me to keep up with all the reading, prepare quality discussion, and devote the time required to provide them with a robust study of literature. Having a tutorial service to help has been such a blessing. Additionally, this community includes opportunities for social experiences. My children participate in a student planning group that organizes fun events for the students and they also serve on the yearbook committee. Several times a year special events are held too, like a fall festival, a Winter Evening, an evening where students can showcase their talents, trips to local attractions, and an end of the year graduation ceremony for seniors.
Search in your local area for tutorial services for homeschoolers or look for national organizations located near you. Some well known educational communities are Classical Conversations or the University Model Schools International. Classical Conversations is a community of homeschoolers that meet together one day a week to support and educate parents and students in the classical model of education. They provide classes for grades K-12. The University Model Schools International is more of a homeschool-traditional school hybrid. Students attend classes 2-3 days per week and study at home on the other days.
Online Groups, Forums, and Blogs
There are many useful online groups and forums for homeschooling parents. These can range from yahoo groups to forums on individual curriculum providers websites to Facebook groups. These resources can be a great place to ask questions, get curriculum reviews, buy and sell used curriculum, find local friends, learn about opportunities that exist for homeschoolers, read interesting articles, and receive needed encouragement and perspective from other parents who are in the homeschooling trenches just like you. The homeschooling community is very diverse, so chances are there is an online group that shares your particular interests or perspective. For instance, if you are using a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education you can search for a “Charlotte Mason homeschool forum” or if you just want information on teaching science you can search “homeschool science forum”, etc.
Blogs can also become a favorite source of support, especially if you find a mom blogger who seems like a kindred spirit. You can frequent her blog, establish a rapport with her, and gain insight and encouragement when needed. I have a few favorites bookmarked on my computer and find myself visiting them when I need homeschooling inspiration. Reading about someone else’s real life homeschooling journey makes you realize you are not alone in your daily struggles and that can be just what you need some days.
Homeschooling is a big commitment. I knew that when I decided to give it a try all those years ago. There have been times when I have felt like I might be in over my head, for sure. In those moments, I take a step back and a broad view. When I think about what a wonderful journey this has been for our family, how much we have all learned and grown, how my children are thriving, and how even the hard times have helped strengthen our faith and made us stronger and wiser, I remember that with the Lord’s guidance and the love and support of the homeschooling community we can see this through to the end. Find a community. Reach out. Ask questions. Be teachable. Pray. Take advantage of all the support that is available and you too will begin to realize that it is possible to tailor make and deliver a wonderful home educational experience for your children.