I was lucky when I started homeschooling. I had a few friends and some local families who had either been considering it or were actively homeschooling. So when I started with my youngest, I was more than prepared. Quickly, however, my ambition and excitement to homeschool my daughter began to outpace my family’s ability to keep up. Which led to a very stressful academic year.

I often think back to that first year, and what I wish I knew that would have made life easier for my family and me. All of the obstacles that felt so daunting during that first year, I now take for granted. Years of homeschooling have taught me tips and tricks that now feel like second nature. And since I can’t go back in time and share that knowledge with myself over what would be a very weird cup of coffee, I wanted to share that advice with our blog readers so any new homeschoolers struggling with their first year can feel encouraged.

Choose a curriculum that will work for you.

When a friend told me how much she loved one particular homeschool publisher, I was all in. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that the same publisher did not excite me, and was not working for my kids. As a result, that book hit the shelf and stayed there until we found something that fit our family better.

Don’t try to force a square peg through a round hole.

My youngest had significant trouble with spelling and nothing seemed to work. We went back to the basics of phonics, we tried all kinds of different spelling curriculum, and I started taking away privileges when she seemed to be taking things too casually. Finally I realized that her “casual” approach was simply discouragement! After trying so hard and continuing to fail, she just could not approach spelling with any kind of hope. So she gave up inside. It wasn’t long before we started to see the struggle in other areas.

That was when I realized she needed something more than just a different book or approach. We signed her up for a computer learning disability therapy through Essential Learning Institute (now part of Bridgeway Academy’s HOPE program) and the rest is history. She still struggles a bit with spelling, but is light years ahead of where she was and is still succeeding.

Sometimes you have to say “no.”

Too many people decided that since our kids were home, we had the time to take on all kinds of favors. In no time, a nearby church had us down for serving in the nursery for MOPS, Women’s Bible Study, and Body and Soul aerobics. We were helping the food pantry across the street one morning a week, and our kids were the dog sitters for several neighbors. Add to that our active extra-curricular schedule, and we were spending more time outside the home than we were in our studies. Don’t be afraid to turn someone down by letting them know you’re in the middle of your homeschool day. Even though you are actively shedding the structure of schooling, the kids still need time to focus on their studies.

Know when to call for a “snow day.”

Sometimes you can get bogged down with the day-to-day homeschool activities and feel like you want to throw in the towel. Take a break; take a day off; let the kids relax and get some coffee. Even if you miss a day, it isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re completely ignoring your child’s schooling, they’re going to outdo their peers who attended a traditional school. Remind yourself of the reasons you started homeschooling in the first place. It’s not just the day-to-day work, it’s the greater purpose. Keep that in mind.

Separate ‘teacher’ and ‘mother.’

One of the biggest struggles for a new homeschooling mother is to shift into their new role as “Teacher.” While you want them to succeed, you have to prepare yourself to let your child fail and learn from their mistakes. You have to let them be independent. Shifting to teaching academics is actually easy since you have been their primary teacher their entire life. It is the shift away from mother/nurturer/helper that is tough. You have to know when to step aside and understand when it’s best for your child to learn on their own and grow from those experiences.

Find a local homeschool co-op.

Local homeschool co-ops can come in a variety of flavors, so it’s best to do your research before joining one. Some abandon the idea of a schedule entirely and instead keep a very fluid and interest-driven curriculum, while others might meet multiple times a week for more of a lecture style class. Even if you are unable to find a co-op in your area, they’re fairly easy to start with a few families. The first year I homeschooled I wasn’t in an official co-op. There were about six of us who came together and planned a field trip every month. Each of us took a month to plan a trip and were responsible to create some kind of lesson that correlated. It was a great way to keep the kids excited about upcoming activities, encourage socializing, and ease the burden on parents of planning every trip on their own.

Local parks and museums are perfect for homeschool field trips.

Looking for field trips to contribute to your co-op, or that will interest your child? There are so many amazing destinations right at your fingertips — local parks, museums, historical buildings — try a local search for something you or your child want to see and you will be amazed at how much is out there. We planned a trip to a local state park and requested any resources that would help us make our trip more focused. When their package arrived I was amazed at all of the resources — from a scavenger hunt that had us examining the various trees throughout the part to a dig for fossils, we were amply provided with things to do. We had a similar experience with the Philadelphia Zoo, who crafted a special homeschool class for us — and even received a grant for it — just because we asked! Now our co-op goes back to the zoo every month for a special class and an opportunity to feed the animals. For them it’s a business opportunity, but homeschoolers get a great, personalized experience in return, all while filling academic requirements!

Parents, if you had a time machine what advice would you give to yourself during your first year homeschooling?