Seven Things to Know Before You Begin Homeschooling

Seven things to know before you begin homeschooling.

1- Know where you are going before you gain momentum.

(Once you’ve gained momentum, it’s hard to change direction!)

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he points out that you must begin with the end in mind in order to be sure you’re on the right track. Plan your homeschooling path by envisioning where you want your family to be in 5, 10, 20 years, then work backward to decide on the steps you need to take to reach that goal.

Just as a map helps you reach a travel destination, a clear vision of the family life you desire (you can describe your goals in a family mission statement) can make time and money management choices much easier. Our family mission statement included the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” That helped us to be thankful, rather than unhappy, when circumstances and finances combined to give us more time at home than we anticipated.

2- Remember that children don’t remember what you do; they remember how you made them feel.

Let your actions and words convey to your children— daily, hourly— that they are loved and very important to you. One major way to convey love is to speak lovingly. That means no yelling, and no saying hurtful things. Unkind or careless speech has a lot to do with self-control, and that can be helped or hindered by the life we live (I’ll talk more about that in a later point). Be ready to listen, to apologize if you’ve been impatient or wrong, and be gentle and kind. Ephesians 4:29-32 has been my lifelong, heartfelt goal in this area.

3- Understand that this season of life will be over before you know it.

Don’t put off doing the fun things! When I began homeschooling, my first son was five, and my fourth son hadn’t yet been born. Looking forward, it seemed as if I’d be homeschooling for the rest of my life, but it hasn’t been that way at all. Because all of our boys have gotten a jump start on college, our fourth son graduated from high school last year at 16. I’m already a retired homeschool mom.

I think that if I had known how short the time would be, I would have made more time for special projects and field trips, as those are the things that seem to stick with them. As it was, I often felt so pushed to get in the basics that the fun stuff fell by the wayside. In retrospect, they would have learned as much or more from more memorable activities than they did from another page of math.

Knowing how brief the homeschooling years are, you may want to make provision for when you are retired from daily school work. Consider your gifts, and how you can use them for others. A home business can be a wonderful thing, especially in the present economy, but there are many other ways you can use the time formerly spent in homeschooling. Start thinking about it now, as the time will come sooner than you think, and it’s comforting to be prepared.

4- Use habits and routines to help make life simpler and more streamlined.

Charlotte Mason said that “a habit is ten natures,” and she advocated training children in orderly habits of mind and body. Through the hectic years of child-training, home-schooling, and care-giving, I have found that simple habits and routine can keep the household (and learning) happening, even when unexpected events occur. (There is a lengthy discussion of habit in Charlotte Mason’s A Philosophy of Education, in her explanation of the concept of education as a discipline.)

5- It’s not only okay to be different, sometimes it’s best.

Learn to evaluate learning materials, curricula, activities, and other things by asking whether they will move you closer to or farther from your family goals. That will help you make wise choices!

Even if everyone else you know chooses unit studies or a textbook-based curriculum, don’t do it if it’s not the right choice for your family. It is your job to choose the curricula that fits your student’s learning style and your family’s needs, and it doesn’t matter at all what others do. They are responsible for their family; you are responsible for yours. Do the research it takes to make choices that fit your family, and you’ll all be better off for it. (And if you are, by nature, a worrier, please see #7.)

6- Learn to say “no” to things that will be a distraction from your family’s mission and goals, even when they are good things.

As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities for fun and valuable learning experiences. We can do co-ops, 4H, sports, community activities, church activities, and much, much more. There is so much to do, and so many busy people running around doing it all, that you can begin to feel guilty for saying no to most of it. After all, these are usually good things!

I said “no” to most things because I had to — I was caring for my grandparents (and am still caring for my grandmother). I often felt guilty, though, when with friends whose children did so much more — martial arts, music classes, sports, all sorts of things. I was nearly through homeschooling when I realized that even though I began saying no to a lot of activities because I had to, I ended up saying no because ‘no’ was the key to creating the life we wanted for our family.

Our family mission statement included the goal of creating “a loving, serene, creative environment that encourages personal and spiritual growth as part of a warm, nurturing family.” It’s difficult to do that and to communicate sweetly and patiently with one another when everyone is exhausted from too much running around and busy-ness. Many activities are like busywork — they take up time, and look as if you’re accomplishing something, but actually just distract from the truly important things in life. When you understand this, you can say no without feeling guilty. If there are people in your life who try to make you feel guilty for choosing the right thing for your family, you may want to limit time spent with them.

7- Know that in a loving, wholesome, book-filled home, learning will happen, even when crises interfere with the planned teaching schedule.

During the early years of homeschooling, I created meticulous lesson plans and elaborate schedules that worked very well, until we took in my grandparents. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, and life became a series of crises as he would wander off, often onto a nearby freeway, or become unexpectedly hostile. It was a terribly stressful time.

Through the final years of his life, it was nearly impossible to keep up with lesson plans. I relied heavily on audio resources, including classic literature, classical music and composer biographies, geography and science songs, history tapes, and more. Each year, as they took the state-required standardized test, I’d be anxious until their scores arrived, then relieved to find them in the 90th percentile or above, as they had been before my carefully laid plans met reality.

I realized that ‘teaching’ is not a synonym for ‘learning.’ Learning can happen anytime, anyplace, and does not require lesson plans and worksheets (which often hinder true learning). As Charlotte Mason said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”

A rich learning lifestyle makes growth- mental, spiritual, physical- almost inevitable, so fill your home with good books and beautiful music. Take trips to art museums and botanical gardens. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Learn to make things with your hands. Have long talks around the dinner table. Live well, and your children will learn. Live well, and your family will grow.


I will be in Fairfax, VA on Saturday, April 5, to do an SAT-prep workshop. You can find complete details at

E-mail difficulties- Due to the server migration, we’ve had a few issues with receiving e-mails this past week. Because of this, please use the e-mail link from the contact page of Everyday Education, rather than the e-mail we normally use. Thank you!


8 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks. That was a nice encouragement.

  2. Karen Davis says:

    Great article as usual. My only caveat is with number one and that is only because I would stress that a new homeschooler doesn’t have to know their end for certain just to get started. Rereading it, I am thinking maybe that is what you meant by “before you gain momentum?”

    This was timely for me as I am speaking on Exploring Homeschool Options at the local library this weekend and your ideas helped solidify what I decided to include.

  3. Hi, Karen-

    You’re right– ‘before you gain momentum’ is exactly what I had in mind. I’ve talked with many families who didn’t know their homeschooling goal before they started, but they did know the ‘end’ they wanted for their family, and they’d gotten far enough to feel that homeschooling was one step they wanted to take to get there.

    You can always learn the details of home education as you go, but having a clear picture of the family and the life you want is a wonderful start.

    Thanks, Michelle and Karen, for your comments! I enjoy hearing from you.

  4. Hey Janice!

    Fantastic article. It really ministered to me. In fact, I made you one of my ten today. 🙂

    Thank you for the important reminders.


  5. Kimmie says:

    Hi Janice;

    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    I loved #7-surrounded by good books is certain to spark the love for learning, especially when they see the parents reading good books.

    I have had to trust God with our homeschooling as He has added on to our family with each adoption. Good books are our staple (vs. curriculum) and I am so thankful to God for all the wonderful godly books that He has blessed us with over the years.

    thanks for sharing-big HUG!

    mama to 6
    one homemade and 5 adopted

  6. Hi Janice,

    I’d like to reproduce your article to use with new families who are just starting their homeschooling journey. Will you give me permission to do so? I’d be more than happy to recognize you as author and to give your webpage for further reference.

  1. October 17, 2008

    […] homeschoolers I usually recommend Sonlight Curriculum.  Another consultant has written an article for beginners.  See if it will help you.  I like more concrete examples, but if you need encouragement, I think […]

  2. July 27, 2011

    […] Seven Things to Know Before You Begin Homeschooling […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: