1. Treat each kid individually. Just as not all kids thrive in a public school setting, not all kids thrive in a home school setting. We have one child we home schooled 2nd - 8th grade and 11th and now 12th grade. He is the poster child for home schooling as a traditional classroom is too noisy and too disruptive for him. It was also too slow-paced. He was bored out of his mind! Our other child went to an arts-based Montessori preschool through kindergarten. We then home schooled her until 6th grade. Being such a social butterfly, the school setting and being among her peers all day suits her well. She loves doing homework (used to beg for it as a home schooler!), loves her classes and her teachers. For her she thrives better in a classroom setting. School your kids where and how they will thrive best.
2. Follow your state's educational standards. Even though you want to dictate what your kids learn and when they learn it, be sure they are on par with your state's educational standards. One never knows what life may bring, so you want them to be prepared properly if they end up having to go to a traditional school. If you follow your state's standards, your child will test at least at grade level when they enter the system.
3. Teach your kids cursive writing. Kids need to know how to read and write in cursive. Schools that have pulled away from it are reintroducing it. They must be able to sign their college and mortgage applications some day. It's also helpful for them to be able to read Aunt Martha's note in their birthday card.
4 Have your kids take tests. Get your kids taking tests, and more tests. I'm not an advocate of tests showing a person's knowledge on a subject, but if kids are not used to taking tests they will not perform well on them if they have to enter the public school system. They certainly won't test well on the ACT or SAT either if they are not accustomed to taking tests. When they go off to college they will definitely be taking tests. Prepare them well. After all for most of us, aren't we preparing our kids for college?
5. Get your kids involved in other groups besides just home school groups. Get out of your comfort zone. Have the kids mingle, play and associate with other kids outside your home school group(s). Put them on a non-home school sports team. Get them involved in scouts and organizations not associated with your home school group. This gives them more diverse interaction with others and doesn't limit them to one certain group or type of kids. This was something my own son taught me. There are more kids out there within your community that your kids may really enjoy being friends with. Don't limit them.
6. Foster each child's individual interests. Whatever they are interested in, run with it! My son couldn't soak up enough science. He loved it, and was good at it, so we fostered it. His home schooling years focused on science topics with English, math and reading added in as unit studies. History was done separate as well as other fun subjects such as art. When he went to high school his science teacher told me he had the most knowledge of science concepts out of any of her advanced students. He is now planning on a career in the medical field. Our daughter spends much of her time on art and loves to draw and paint. We fostered her curriculum with art. She now is in the fine arts track at our local high school. What ever it is that makes your child "tick", foster it. Run with it. Use it to make learning fun for them.
7. Take advantage of the co-op classes offered by home school groups in your area. Most areas have home school co-op classes available. This is where groups of parents get together to teach each others' kids. A former English teacher or writer may offer to teach English classes. An artist teaches art classes. This is a great way for kids to learn from some experts. It also gets the kids together with other kids.
8. Go on field trips! The more field trips the better. There is no better way for kids to learn than to see and experience what they are learning about first hand. Take advantage of all the places you can go to in your area - historical places, museums, farms, aquariums, nature centers. If you are able to travel, travel for field trips. One of my kids' favorite field trips we ever went on was when were were studying Helen Keller. My son actually taught himself braille. And then he asked to go see the Helen Keller house. Her house is in Alabama! Over 1,000 miles away. But we drove to Tuscumbia, Alabama just to see her house. I was bound and determined to foster that interest! Those kids were so excited to see where that well was where Helen had her big break through. They were able to see first hand how Helen had lived and where she learned. Our greatest memories of home schooling and being together as a family are from all those field trips we went on. These could be yours too.
9. Read to your kids! It makes them strong readers and better thinkers. You can introduce the real versions of the classics as soon as your kids are born. Read to them. Read them living books. Read them every book they want read. And once they learn to read, don't stop reading to them. You can always read more advanced books to them than they can read. This is a fantastic way to build their vocabulary. Kids also still love to be read to even after they learn to read themselves. Reading together builds a huge bond among families.
10. Follow through. For that child who thrives in your home school environment, don't send them to the wolves just because you may think he/she will miss out on the fun middle school or high school years. Follow through and finish what you set out to do. There is nothing worse than seeing your bright child squashed by the public school system and a 16 year old boy literally crying days on end because he cannot bear another day at school. Spare yourself and your child this.
11. Let them know the option to come home is always open. If you put your child in public or private school, keep the option open that they can come back home. Just because you put them in public school does not mean they have to stay there. If it becomes clear that putting them in school was the wrong choice for them, pull them out. Don't make a whirlwind decision right away at the first inkling. See how things progress and you will know if it is right to pull them back home.
12. Teach your kids how to take care of themselves. We all want to raise independent adults who can take good care of themselves. Be sure they know how to do their laundry, cook, clean the house properly, manage their money and all other basics of taking care of themselves. Have them make their beds and straighten their rooms each morning. Have them help with making breakfast and lunch - even dinner. They can set the table. Set up a bank account and teach them how to manage it. I made sure that if anything happened to me the kids would be able to take good care of themselves. This will carry them into adulthood. Of course, these learning activities need to be age appropriate. You know your kids and what they are capable of doing. By the age of eight my daughter could whip up an awesome lemon cake! Now by almost the age of 18 I am confident my son will be able to live on his own and survive just fine. After all, isn't raising them into adulthood another of our purposes?
I certainly hope these tips save you some heart ache and also provide some guidance as you advance through your home school years. Bless you for what you are doing for your children. Enjoy these years with them. They will be the best of your life. And always remember, you know what is best for your kids.