There are many aspects of homeschooling that might seem daunting to parents at first. Scheduling, the curriculum, the daily lunches and snacks, planning for field trips and vacations, or dealing with a stressed student (or spouse!) — it’s a lot to take on!

Lots of new-to-homeschooling parents often ask us if there is a how-to guide for getting started. While there are many great books out there, we’ve found that most parents appreciate a handful of easily digestible tips instead of a book report.

Here are a few tips I learned after my first year of homeschooling that I inevitably share with every soon-to-be-homeschooler I meet.

1. Don’t over-schedule

I will never forget my first year of homeschooling. My children were involved in art classes, gymnastics, classes at the zoo, science center classes, chorus, piano lessons, physical education classes, and community sports. On the one day per week that we did not have scheduled events, we would get together with fellow homeschooling families for field trips, writing classes (which I taught), or just a fun time.

I can’t remember who burned out first, the kids or me, but I do know that we burned out. Soon those creative moments during science experiments, writing fun, and history projects were a thing of the past and we became a slave to our demanding schedule of activities.

My advice is to limit yourself to one or two activities per day and try to spread them out throughout the week, thus making schooling the highest priority. When you have more time to commit at home, learning and the occasional activities become much more enjoyable!

2. Don’t under-schedule

Kids need opportunities to be with peers, which makes extracurricular activities critical. There are many opportunities for homeschoolers to interact with kids their age through extracurriculars offered by local museums, art schools, YMCAs, support groups, colleges, churches, and historical sites. Find activities that match your family’s schedule and interests and take advantage of them, remembering to plan wisely to avoid burnout.

For example, in our family, we get together with several other homeschooling families and plan a year’s worth of field trips, allowing for one per month. We then assign one field trip to each parent to organize, pick the dates (which we have all reserved), and look forward to our once-a-month outing.

On occasion, we also get together at a local playground or state parks for an additional day of fun and learning. This smaller network also allows us to support each other on a more personal basis and the freedom to call one another when we need encouragement or ideas.

3. Set realistic expectations

I have met many homeschooling moms who were upset because their three-year old was not reading yet and meeting their developmental expectations. On the other hand, I have seen families who decide to homeschool with no direction or goals in mind, and end up drifting through the academic year.

As a homeschooling parent, you have to set realistic expectations for each day, as well as where you’d like your homeschooler to be at the end of the year. If you start your year without a plan your students typically quickly adapt and enjoy themselves for a time. However, by Halloween, kids long for the structure of class, and parents are left scrambling trying to create activities for their bored and antsy children. On the other hand, I have watched as families try to cram a whole year of world history into one quarter and plan a world history fair to culminate the experience. These are the same parents and kids who are burned out by Christmas and struggling to make it through each day!

The individualized instruction that homeschooling provides opens up the door for students to master concepts much quicker than in a classroom full of distractions. However, it also makes it very easy for parents to lose sight of their goals.

The key to careful planning is to know your child. What are his or her abilities? Struggles? Weaknesses? Passions? How long can they tackle an activity without getting restless? Do they excel at math or reading at a certain time of the day? Putting a homeschool curriculum plan together that addresses all of complexities of your child gives you the tools upfront to a successful school year. New homeschooling parents can take our free Learning Style Assessment survey for an individual student profile filled with strategies to set your child up for lifelong success.

That’s all for now, but keep an eye on the blog next week when we’ll publish Part 2 of Jessica’s 7 Keys to homeschool success!