So, you have decided that you will homeschool your child. What do you do now?
First, let me tell you a few things you don't have to do.
1. Please don't panic. The fact that you care about your child's education and have thoughtfully decided to homeschool is a pretty good indicator that you are going to be just fine. You have been your child's teacher since the very beginning. You taught your child to walk, talk, dress himself, and feed himself to the best of his ability. You probably also tackled some academic skills, such as color identification, letter and number recognition and how to spell his name. If you taught your child to skip, hop and bounce a ball, you covered a basic preschool curriculum. Congratulations! As it turns out, you have been homeschooling all along, you just decided to make it official.
2. Please don't buy an expensive curriculum. I know the prepackaged curricula look amazing. Some of them are and you may end up using one. You just need to do a little research and a lot more thoughtful decision making before you are ready to buy. Now, you could be like me and ignore that advice and go on and purchase that fancy curriculum. In which case you too may realize that you acted in haste and may now repent at leisure. Even if your best friend loves (or sells) that cool-looking curriculum, put your credit card away!
3. Please don't rush to set up a schoolroom in your house. There is nothing wrong with having a schoolroom in your house and you may end up wanting or needing one. I just hate to see brand-new homeschoolers go all out buying fancy desks, paint, huge whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc. You can start out at your kitchen table. You probably already have one of those. If you later decide you need a schoolroom, you will have a better idea of what you need in that room.
4. Think twice before you announce it to the world. I have a hard time keeping exciting news to myself, so I understand if you want to announce your decision to everybody. Let me just warn you that announcing you are going to homeschool is similar to announcing you are going to name your daughter Melchizadek. Everyone is going to have an opinion and few people are going to keep that opinion to themselves. You will tell everyone eventually, but give yourself the time to figure out how you are going to answer all the questions that caring (or nosy) people will insist on asking.
As an aside, if you decide to name your daughter Melchizadek, I think that is an interesting name. I don't hate anyone with that name and it has lots of nicknames you could use. I'm on your side, mother of Melly (Chiza, Adee, Melchi, maybe Zade?)
Now you know what not to do, here is what I think you should do. See, I am shoulding all over you here. Feel free to ignore me.
1. Get connected! If you have looked around your church (synagogue, temple, gym, golf course, whatever) and have not found any other homeschoolers, fear not! Home Educators Association of Virginia has a list of support groups. There are quite a few local ones that arrange field trips, classes and other activities. A quick online search will turn up more online support groups than you will know what to do with. You can join a couple and see which one fits your needs the best.
2. Know the laws! Home School Legal Defense Association has the homeschool laws for each of the states spelled out on their web site. Virginia's homeschool laws are very straightforward and relatively easy to follow. You can even print the necessary forms from HEAV's Notice of Intent page and send them straight to your local school superintendent.
3. Figure out your goals! There are many reasons to homeschool. When you are choosing curriculum and activities it is helpful to have a written list of goals or a mission statement for your homeschool. This acts as a guidepost for your decisions.
4. Read and research! It is helpful to research learning styles, teaching styles, and homeschool methods. Of course you can search online, but a trip to the library or Barnes and Noble is helpful (and fun) or you can ask your homeschool friends if there are any books they would recommend. I also highly recommend attending the HEAV conference, which will be June 6-8, 2013. The How to Begin workshops on Thursday are free to everyone and if your oldest is a preschooler you may qualify to attend the whole conference for free!
5. Choose your first day of homeschool wisely! Many parents who pull their children out of school find they are not ready to transition immediately to doing schoolwork at home. Taking a month off allows the children to get over the idea that being home all day means sleeping in and hanging out. Even if you are starting right off with your first child homeschooling, it would be wise to let all that research sink in for a while before you try to apply it. Figure out what your school day will look like, pay attention to outside commitments and how you will fit those in. When you start officially homeschooling, you will be glad to have worked those issues out ahead of time.
Don't allow these lists to cause you to wilt. The great thing about homeschooling is the flexibility. If you choose a curriculum and it doesn't work, you can try something different. If doing schoolwork at the table doesn't work, you can try the couch. If your child needs to stand on his head to do his math, that's just fine. Homeschooling does require hard work, but it also allows a wealth of freedom to you and your family, and that freedom is worth the hard work.