As a Homeschool Specialist I receive many calls from homeschool parents this time of year. They often tell the same story.
It’s midyear, possibly mid-semester, and they just pulled their children from school. For whatever reason, it wasn’t the best fit for their family, and they’ve decided to give homeschooling a try. Their children’s education is important to them, and they are worried about doing everything right. Since this is their first time homeschooling, they are unsure where to start.
If you can relate, know that you are not alone. Even if it is only a few days into the school year, you might already be feeling a panic set in. It is a great responsibility to be in charge of someone else’s education, even more so when that person is your child and you are trying to prepare them to succeed in life. The good news is that you are not alone, and you are stronger and more qualified to teach your children than you may realize.
Nowadays homeschooling is better known, so there are thousands of support and advice resources for homeschooling parents. Books, articles, and blogs offer guidance from real homeschoolers who have found their way through the same challenges you now may face. Local homeschool groups get together to share experiences with different curricula and offer each other advice. It can be as simple as comparing notes over coffee, taking walks in the woods or meeting at a park while the kids play. Homeschool co-ops can help by sharing the work of teaching some subjects while you focus on the other courses at home. Online classes, video lessons, or textbooks designed for self study can also alleviate some of the pressure to teach everything at home.
If you’re just getting started on your homeschool journey, here are five steps to help you begin, whether it is August 25th, September 3rd or mid-February:
Step One: Don't Panic
I can’t say it enough. Don’t panic. You are not going to mess up your child’s education.
Your children are going to learn, whether it is smooth sailing from the beginning or a bumpy ride at first. What matters most is that you are willing to stick with it, try new things, and be patient as you both try this adventure together.
Step Two: Find Out What's Needed and Make a List
After you talk to other homeschoolers and do some research, you will likely have an idea of what types of materials appeal to you. Organizations like Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) can help you understand what is required to homeschool in your state. You can also talk to other homeschoolers in your area who have gone through the process before. Here are some of the things you should consider as you research:
-- Does your state has any specific requirements that you need to follow? What are the requirements?
-- Which subjects does your student need to have this year?
-- Do you want a parent-led or semi- independent curriculum?
-- Do you prefer a computer-based or more traditional curriculum format?
-- Which options best fit your budget?
-- What materials do you need for the curriculum you chose?
Step Three Research Curriculum Options
The first question I like to ask when helping people choose curriculum is whether they would like a curriculum that is parent-led or has more independent learning. Do you want to set up your home school like a classroom and teach your students from textbooks and lesson plans? Some parents know that they prefer this approach. Others assume that they are required to attempt to recreate the classroom at home.
The reality is that homeschooling comes in many forms with many different levels of direct involvement from the parent. Do you want your students to watch video lessons and then work in their workbooks? There are curricula for that. Maybe you want your older student to work semi-independently. There are curriculum options for this as well. Perhaps you would like to try computer-based options with automatic grading? There are choices for every lifestyle and budget; it may just take some time to find what works best for your family.
Step Four: Purchase What You Need
Once you know your state requirements and have chosen a curriculum or subjects for the year, you will need to find out which books and materials are required. Depending on the curriculum you choose, you might be buying individual books or a set with all of the books included.
Some subjects, such as science or art might need additional materials. If you are starting partway through the year, you can look to see if the curriculum is sold as a set for the whole year or if it is available in parts. Another good idea is to have your student take a placement test. This can be very helpful as it will help you know exactly where to place your child within that specific curriculum.
Step Five: Decide Where and How You Are Going to Homeschool
Homeschooling doesn’t look the same in every family. Some parents set up an area of their home to be a dedicated classroom. Others teach in different rooms on different days or take work on longer car rides. You may have to try a few different styles before you find one you like.
Consider whether your children will be doing all of their classes at home. Will they be taking some courses as part of a group or co-op? Do they have any extracurricular activities that will take up part of the day? Do other family members need to use that space at certain times? One of the best parts of Homeschooling is the flexibility to learn when and how it works best for your family. When you decide when and where you are going to homeschool, remember that your version of homeschooling doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
Success with homeschooling lies in the attitude and perspective of the parent. What matters most is being willing to be patient through the ups and downs to be able to look back and say “look at what we were able to do.” Homeschooling is not always the bright smiling faces of perfect students sitting at their little desks, listening intently as their parent explains the finer points of geometry and grammar. It is not six hours of perfect attention, perfect patience, and easy A’s. Homeschooling is a journey you and your children can go on together. It has easy times and difficult times like any journey, but in the end you are left with the joy of being part of your child’s education.
I asked some of my coworkers what encouragement they’d want to give people just starting to homeschool and this is what they said:
“Sometimes homeschooling seems daunting, but the hardest tasks in life are often the most rewarding. Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint. If possible, find a few supportive people who will be there to help you when results are not immediately apparent or when you grow weary. You can do this, it is possible, but don’t do it alone!” -Melanie
When I was starting out homeschooling about 18 (!) years ago, it felt like I was jumping off a cliff. My oldest is now 21 and I am very glad that we have homeschooled all 5 of our children through at least part of their education. In my view looking back, I see that homeschooling laid a very good foundation educationally and also in creating life-long learners. I am still homeschooling my youngest. If I could go back and start again, I wouldn’t change my choice, though I would have been more relaxed at the beginning. Reading the books For the Children’s Sake by Macaulay and A Charlotte Mason Companion by Andreola helped me alot and would have been good to read when I was starting out. One of the most beneficial products we used was Foundations in Personal Finance. It has been worth every penny for our family. -Jessica
Part of the flexibility of homeschooling is being able to take one year at a time. Our youngest attended public school for 6th grade when my husband needed surgery that required my help during his lengthy recuperation. It was a challenging time, and I did struggle with guilt, but God protected us all and our daughter grew in ways she might not have if that year had been different. -Debbie