This is the third article in a series by Melissa Pinkley, designed to help new homeschoolers get started in the adventure of home education. This series is largely a compilation of input and feedback from homeschool veterans, sharing their own experiences and tips on how getting started in homeschooling can be made easier.

You feel secure in your decision to homeschool. Your reasons are sound. You know all the rules and requirements for your area. You have even read some homeschooling books. All you need to do now is to buy the curriculum and you can jump into schooling. Yet, as you flip through the catalogs your head spins. So many choices . . . what should you choose? What if you pick the wrong thing?

Don't panic! Homeschooling varies between families as much as pizza topping preferences. The ideal homeschool is not the same for everyone. Each family learns and creates a schooling environment that works best for them. You should educate yourself on what resources are available, realistically decide what materials you will feel comfortable teaching, and match your options to your child's personality and learning style.

Let's begin with teaching methods. If you have not yet discovered, there are a variety of teaching methods in the homeschool circle. The following list is just a sampling of teaching methods.

  • Traditional method - This approach uses structured subject times focused on working through textbooks and workbooks.
  • Unit Study method - This approach integrates several subjects focused on one topic or theme.
  • Classical method - This approach teaches through classical languages, critical thinking skills and western civilizations.
  • Unschooling method - This approach surrounds the child with opportunities to learn in an unstructured environment.
  • Eclectic method - This approach picks and chooses from all the other approaches.

As one reader shared, “Decide which teaching method best suits your family style. Just because all of your friends are teaching a different style, does not make that style the right choice for your family.”

Once you know which teaching method your family will use, you are ready to look for the right curriculum. Remember to ask any veteran homeschoolers in your area for advice on materials in your chosen method. However, there are several websites and catalogs that will direct you to materials that match your needs. In fact, there is such a plethora of homeschool teaching tools available now, you may be overwhelmed with your choices. Take a deep breath, remember the teaching style that you feel is right for you and use that as a guideline. Do not feel that you have to teach 12 subjects to your child right away. At first, buy only what you need. It is easy to overbuy. One Homeschool Enrichment reader says that her biggest challenge is to limit the resources that she purchases each year. There are a lot of wonderful ideas, but do not set yourself up for disappointment by spreading yourself and your child too thin.

If you just cannot decide which item would best suit your needs, do not despair. I have found the homeschooling community to be a very warm helpful group. Many of the websites and catalogs have “help-line” numbers. The “help-line” staff that I have encountered have all been very knowledgeable and patient people. It is usually best to narrow your selection to a few materials and then call for more information that cannot be acquired through print.

If you have found a curriculum that you are sure will work for you, but it is a little out of your price range; look for used materials. With a little extra searching, you can usually find some very good deals online or at a local homeschool group's used book sale. If you know what you are looking for, do not be afraid of used merchandise. Once again, I find the homeschool community honest about the quality of their items. So if an item is listed in very good shape in the advertisement, it usually is.

It is best if you purchase your materials a month or two before you plan to use it for the first time. Prior purchase will give you time to look over the materials and plan your teaching strategy. Most books are straight forward in presentation, but sometimes there are extra materials that are needed to optimize the learning. You will need the extra time to make sure that you have everything that you need. You will feel much more prepared if you take the time to familiarize yourself with the curriculum.

Once you have done all of this, you are ready to begin teaching. However, do not limit yourself to only the books that you have purchased. Remember to utilize your local library and plan activities that might help a lesson become more real for your child. You will find that learning is an around the clock activity. Use the teachable moments in your child's life and don't let them slip by just because they fall outside of 'school' time. One reader states this by saying “You are not teaching to a classroom with 25 kids and sticking to a schedule to say you completed something.” No, we want our children to love to learn. Enjoy learning with your child and make it as positive as possible.

Next, how do you fine-tune your homeschool and deal with difficulties? Find out in Part 4 of this series!

Melissa Pinkley enjoys life with her husband, Wes. They learn a lot from their four children: Ben, Micah, Levi, and Abigail. Homeschooling goes on 24/7 for the whole Pinkley family. They have been homeschooling for more than ten years. The Lord is gracious and continues to help them follow Him.