very now and then, I like to pause and think about our early days of homeschooling. We began with a handful of ideas, some math and grammar books, and the belief that we could improve as we went along. And as we went, we constantly asked ourselves and each other, “What’s working, what isn’t, what/how can we learn from this, and what’s our path forward?” Meanwhile, I read everything I could about homeschooling. As a result, I kept running into the same advice: “Define your approach, select a curriculum, and connect with a homeschool tribe.”

Which is great advice—except, when it isn’t.

The Advice and Our Reality

Back then, every time I ran into this advice, it seemed to suggest that we couldn’t move forward without these things; that we needed the cart before the horse—or our son, in the case of homeschooling. Yet, there we were, knee-deep into homeschooling without having first established our approach or curriculum.

Next, the advice seemed to prescribe a shift in focus from our learner to an externally defined framework for success (e.g., specific curriculums or pedagogical approaches). The problem was that this was our first year—our baseline year. We needed to focus on our learner (Duncan) so that we could understand how learning happened and what obstacles hindered it. Defining an approach (or curriculum, for that matter) seemed a bit irrelevant.

I found the advice to locate a homeschool tribe/group seriously challenging, as well. Besides being an introvert, I wasn’t sure in which group we belonged or where we would belong after our first year. More importantly, we were already a part of a highly creative tribe of family and friends (of skilled workers, artists, and engineers) with a mix of schooling approaches (e.g., traditional, online, homeschool). I didn’t believe, really, that I needed a new homeschooled-only tribe.

For our first year, all of that advice landed on the list of, “What isn’t working well.”

Then, in the years that followed, I saw how the advice stopped would-be homeschoolers in their tracks. Some were overwhelmed by the decisions they believe they needed to make about curriculum. Others, worried that they wouldn’t have support if they didn’t have a tribe. For others, a lack of a well-defined approach made them feel incapable of a DIY education. The anxiety was enough to keep them from homeschooling altogether. This meant that whatever called them to homeschooling—a problem to solve or an opportunity—went unanswered.

Rethinking the Advice

Here’s the deal—at least, the deal as I see it:

1. It takes courage to homeschool. Learning is wrapped in uncertainty (will my child’s learning serve his future realities?), homeschooling as a practice is wrapped in uncertainty (what will my family, friends, neighbors, or strangers think?), and change is wrapped in uncertainty. It takes courage to risk the unknown—whether that unknown is the result of a developing learner whose needs today don’t match yesterday’s needs, or the result of a lifestyle shift from a traditional to a DIY education.

2. Things can be improved. This axiom is true of everything from software products to brownie recipes. It’s especially true of dynamic things like learning systems. A learning system changes with the learning happening. It’s not static. So, even if an approach or curriculum has been defined, it’s subject to change and likely to require improvement.

3. Unless state laws require it, it isn’t necessary to have a set/prepackaged curriculum, let alone a tribe or an approach. However, it is helpful to have a simple vision—an idea of where you want to see your learner(s) go in the future.

For us, our vision developed when Duncan was in public school: Rekindle Duncan’s love of learning and his belief in himself by helping him grow his knowledge, abilities, and understanding.

Homeschooling was a tactic we adopted to realize that vision.

4. Though optional, it’s helpful to have an elevator speech, too. A DIY education generates questions from homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers. People are curious, interested, concerned, and want to know: What curriculum are you using? What’s your approach? Do you belong to any homeschool groups? Consequently, I’ve found it’s good to have a ready-made response.

This is ours: We follow Duncan’s interests and professional goals rather than a set curriculum. Between our experience and education, my husband and I have it pretty well covered. But when we don’t, we get help from community education programs and online sources (like Youth Digital). Also, we have a bunch of supportive friends from the public school and homeschool arenas.

If pressed a bit more about subjects or requirements, we share that we comply with state regulations (which include subject and assessment requirements). Plus, we’re prepared for re-integration into public school, should we need to do so.

For the concerned, this pretty much covers it. For the curious and interested, our elevator speech leads us into interesting conversation.

When the Advice Is Good

The advice does have its merits—given the right context. It is much easier to have conversations with and learn from other homeschoolers when you can discuss approach. Talking about curriculum is a great way to learn about available resources. Likewise, a new tribe may cultivate much needed connections, support, and idea sharing, but so might your existing groups of friends and family. Even so, you don’t need to have it all figured out to begin a DIY education.

What it really takes to begin is the courage to step into the opportunity.