I've been doing this homeschooling-thing for a while now, so I don't often thing about how intimidating it can seem to someone just starting out. And if I'm honest, since I tend to suffer from an over-abundance of self-confidence, the early years didn't really phase me, either. I figured I could probably handle kindergarten and went on from there. (The beginning of high school threw me for a bit of a loop, but I recovered.) But I do know that the leap into homeschooling can seem really scary at first.
I think it's because there is a preconceived idea that there is a "right" way to homeschool; that to not follow the rules means that you will somehow injure or ruin your children. It's as if there is some sort of magic formula out there that only the "experts" have the inside scoop on and without their wisdom or product, you're doomed. Doomed to have children who will go through life as obviously having been homeschooled, so great are their deficits, and all because you didn't follow their rules.
The curriculum companies (or anyone touting their particular method of homeschooling) would love for you to believe this. But, really, there are no hard and fast rules about how children learn. (Plenty of rules about how to record and track educational efforts in some states, though. But real learning and educational bureaucracy are two very different things.) Each child is so different that what works really well for one, doesn't work at all for another. Sure there are some basic, overarching rules of thumb that apply to most children, but there are always exceptions. And each family is also different. Schedules? No schedules? Lots of workbooks? All hands-on experiential learning? I've watched children from a great many family learning styles grow into intelligent, functional adults.
One thing that doesn't work (or at least make for a calm and enjoyable household) is when the parents are so worried about 'doing it right' that they cease to enjoy their children. The idol of 'right' does make for a really frustrated parent, though. A much better way of looking at homeschooling is one of doing your best with whatever you have. And what you have may change from day to day, if not from hour to hour. Life is unpredictable and children even more so. You need to be willing to be flexible, with enough confidence, to know that you will not have ruined you children if you didn't follow the scope and sequence exactly... or you didn't get to every period in history... or you didn't ever diagram a sentence... or you were a bit lax in the experiment department. You will not be able to cover everything (schools don't even do that) and to try is to make yourself crazy.
Learning happens all the time (just try to stop it), and some of the best learning doesn't come from a book. I'm sure my children learned far more when we closed the books and took a month or so off the fall when my mother-in-law died. We comforted each other, we remembered, we cried, and we didn't do much else. My children learned that it's OK to grieve, that people and relationships are important, and that the books will always be there when we're ready to go back to them.
So, new homeschooler, I know you are anxious about this new venture. If you have never really lived in this world it seems very intimidating, but it will be OK. And I will admit there really are some things you need to do in order to be successful. First, you need to know why you are doing this. This will help you clarify a lot of decisions. (And save you a lot of money.) Second, homeschooling is a lifestyle. It pervades your entire family-life and is not just for a certain number of hours a day. The child who reads science books for fun under his covers is still learning. It counts even if it is not during your assigned school day and you didn't assign it. Third, be willing to try a new approach. Not every curriculum, method, or book, will work for every child or every family. It's OK to stop doing something if it is not the right fit. It's OK to try something new. Do what works for your child and your family even if no one else is doing it. And last, remember it's usually not about the homeschooling. If there are difficulties in your family, the chances are you would have those difficulties whether you homeschooled or not. Homeschooling does act as a sort of incubator, though. When you spend so much time together it is easier to see where the family stresses are.
There is plenty of homeschooling advice out there from all sorts of different sources (including yours truly). Take what is useful and ignore the rest. Do ask for advice from more experienced parents if you have questions, but be willing to take the answers with a grain of salt. No one person or entity has the market on how to do homeschooling. Ask yourselves: Do enjoy your children. Are you all relaxed? Enjoying each other's company? Learning things and finding them interesting? Involved in activities you enjoy and do not overwhelm you? I think if you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, you're well on your way to doing it right.