When you are just getting started with homeschooling, where to start can be beyond overwhelming. This article will help you take your first steps with our best tips to get you started with homeschooling.
You’ve done it! You’ve decided to homeschool. That’s great! It is an incredible feeling to finally make the decision to home educate your children. If you have been mulling it over for a while unsure if it was the right decision or if you have known since the moment that you conceived your child you would homeschool one day, the moment you finally say out loud, “We are homeschooling this year,” is quite an emotional statement.
It is filled with a sense of freedom to be able to educate your child in the way that best meets her needs and your family’s values. It brings excitement about what the future holds with so many wonderful memory-making moments ahead. It may even be filled with relief if the educational journey so far has been a bumpy one for your kiddo and by extension for you, too.
After making the commitment, there may be another feeling that could set in that you might not be expecting. You know, that feeling of…uh…what do I do NOW? How exactly Do I homeschool? How do I get started?
If your feelings of jubilation have changed to sheer utter panic, don’t despair. Here is a guide to help you get started homeschooling.
Know Why You Want to Homeschool
Before you begin planning out the homeschool year, the very first thing you should do is to think about the reasons why you and your family chose to homeschool. None of us just blindly pick this educational choice without consideration. There is at least a single reason if not a myriad of reasons we decide to take on this complete lifestyle change. Consider each reason, even writing it down, and then explore why each one of these reasons is important to your family.
Knowing why you are homeschooling, leads to what I believe is an important step in planning your homeschooling structure. These reasons provide a framework to create a mission statement that sums up the purpose and philosophy of your homeschool. It provides you with a solid, clear path to making more informed decisions about what resources you will use and how you will go about ensuring your children get the knowledge and experience they need to meet the goals at each stage of their educational journey.
A mission statement is a clear, concise way of summing up what you are trying to accomplish and how you will go about doing that. It will help you and your family stay on course, so you don’t make changes that completely disrupt the reasons you started in the first place. It is there to help when choosing a curriculum and planning your day. It is useful in determining if an outside activity or support group is worth the investment. It serves solely for you and your family’s benefit. It is not something that is required by any state law or needs to be shared with others unless you want to.
It may, however, help you to feel more confident when others ask you why you homeschool. Because this will happen – a lot. Family and friends who do not homeschool or didn’t even know it was legal will be very curious. The lady at the grocery store will wonder (out loud) why you could possibly WANT to homeschool. While you certainly do not need to provide everyone a dissertation on the advantages of homeschooling, knowing why you are doing what you do makes you more internally confident to deal with those naysayers doing all their naysaying.
But the number one reason why I believe a homeschool mission statement is so important is that in those moments when you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated, you can turn to it for an emotional pep talk. Because behind those words was the person who knew why she set out to homeschool her kids in the first place and she will remind you why this is the only kind of educational choice that meets those needs. Each time I have felt like giving up, I remind myself of our mission statement and it immediately re-energizes me for another day.
Follow the State Homeschool Laws
When you make the decision to homeschool, you want to ensure that you are following the homeschool regulations as required by the state you’re in. It is very important that the exact requirements are followed to ensure you are compliant and avoid truancy charges. Submitting a notification to homeschool, keeping documentation, testing, or providing a certain number of days or hours of daily instruction are some examples of regulations.
Some states have very little regulation like just having to keep attendance for a set number of days while other states require filing quarterly reports to the superintendent. Since each state has its own regulations, homeschooling families need to find out this information before they begin homeschooling to ensure they are following the law. In order to obtain this, find the legal code pertaining to education and homeschool on your state’s legislative government website so you can read the actual legal verbiage for yourself.
In addition, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), state homeschool advocacy groups, and homeschool assessors can help new families understand their legal responsibilities. It is important to note that it is up to each family to be accountable for understanding the law regardless of where they received the information. However, joining a group like HSLDA may provide a benefit to families who are interested in legal protections.
It surprises me when I hear about people who homeschool without knowing the homeschool law in their state. Look, if there is anything that you need to know forwards and backwards it is this. If you don’t know it, it is time to remedy that right away. It threatens the rights of homeschoolers everywhere when people fail to follow the law whether intentionally or because they are too lazy to look it up. Know it. Period.
It is important to note here that not everyone that you meet will be as familiar as you are about homeschool law. There are countless stories of families who have been given false information from school districts or even on the Department of Education website in their state about what they were required to provide. Sometimes families find that people in their community are unaware of their legal right to homeschool. It is in these situations that it’s essential for families to know the law and be able to educate others while shining a positive light on the homeschool community.
Keep on top of what is happening with laws and parental rights in your state. Join an advocacy group if there is one in your state and become an active voice to help protect homeschool families. Contact your state representatives when there is a proposed legislation that threatens the rights of homeschooling families. Share information with other families to help create a network of well informed citizens who care about protecting their right to make educational choices for their children.
Discover How Your Child is Smart
A lot of what you are going to hear from me is about observing your child. You are not only going to be teaching him, but he is going to be teaching you. In the beginning of the homeschool journey, you are going to learn so much about how he goes about things and what subject areas he excels in and what areas are his struggles. You will also start to get a sense of his learning styles. A learning style is a way in which a person learns best.
It is helpful to understand your child’s learning styles so that you can find curriculum and instructional techniques that will bolster the educational process. Each child in your family may learn in different ways and utilizing methods that help them learn the most effectively will certainly make the process easier. Spending time with each child to see how they engage new material and work to solve problems will help to determine learning styles.
Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from 4-8 different learning styles. The VARK model utilizes four styles (visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic). Each one of these styles represents preferences on how information is received. For example, visual learners learn best with the aid of diagrams, maps, and pictures while kinesthetic learners learn through touching and hands-on activities. While these learning styles are the most commonly talked about, there are other styles worth consideration.
None of us have only one learning style. Most of us favor a blend of different learning styles with a few being more dominant than others. Kathy Koch, author of 8 Great Smarts, states that it’s not a matter IF a child is smart, but HOW she is smart. She outlines eight different smarts in her book that provide a guide to helping assess the best ways to engage individual learners. These smarts are body smart, logic smart, music smart, nature smart, people smart, self smart, picture smart, and word smart. Each of us has a blend of several different smarts.
Understanding your child’s learning style can serve as a guide, but do not let it sway all decisions when it comes to books, activities, and resources for your child. Any child can benefit from learning in a new, different way and this can help them to strengthen their ability to think critically. In life, it is not practical to only receive information in a particular way, so we need to help our kids understand this and practice this whenever possible. Savvy students may be able in time to create study methods utilizing their favorite techniques regardless of how the information was initially presented.
Find a Curriculum that Works for Your Family
There is not a single area that homeschoolers spend more time on than choosing a homeschool curriculum. Usually before anything else, excited mamas are scouring the web, asking their friends, and lining up for the next homeschool convention because they want to know about all of the curriculum that are out there. Searching for a math curriculum alone can take years off a homeschool mom’s life. It seems like every day I will see moms coming to Facebook homeschool groups asking the same questions looking for curriculum for a particular subject for their (fill in the blank) child.
Look, I get it. It is VERY exciting to start shopping for curriculum. After all, this is a big part of how you may spend your day. You want to make sure it is top-notch, rigorous, and has the best reviews. You probably heard that Mary is using “X” curriculum and Mary says all her kids are geniuses, so you should probably use that curriculum, too. It makes sense, right? If everyone else is using something, that probably means it will work for you. (Note sarcasm. Now.)
There is an endless amount of curriculum options for every subject you need and many more you probably haven’t even considered yet. (Latin, anyone?) And while you can certainly ask for advice from veteran homeschoolers, the reality is that you won’t know if their suggestions will work for your child because your child is your child. How do you homeschool your kids? This is an important consideration because you probably already know this, but that kiddo of yours is unique. She was created with certain talents and interests that make her special.
Before you buy any curriculum, there are a few things that you need to consider:
- How old is your child and do you need to even purchase curriculum?
- What subjects are you required to teach each year?
- What are your child’s preferred learning styles?
- How much can you afford toward the cost?
- How much time can you realistically give?
- What activities does your child like to do?
Take some time to get to know you and your child’s ways before investing in any books or products. Some libraries have various homeschool materials so that you can check it out and give it a try before you buy. Ask mom friends to look through their books or come over and visit with them to see them using them in action with their kids. Go to a homeschool convention near you so you can peruse the vendor hall and talk to the company representatives. Ask lots of questions and keep your answers to the questions above it mind.
Decide on Homeschool Co-Ops, Outside Classes and Activities
If you ask one hundred homeschooling families if they think that a homeschool co-op or support group is essential, you are going to get lots of different answers. For some, you are going to strike a nerve. For others, they are going to wonder why you would ask an obvious question in the first place. There are a lot of different beliefs on whether being a part of a co-op is something that families should want to do or not. After all, didn’t you just pull your kids out of a school setting?
A homeschool co-operative is a group made up of homeschooling families that meets regularly to offer classes, activities, and support. Each family is responsible to contributing to the group in some way. Moms or dads may be called upon to teach, do administrative work, help with building maintenance, run a nursery, organize field trips, or provide other support services. In exchange, all the children get to participate in various classes and activities. Each co-op is unique based on religious or secular affiliation, ages of children, weekly schedule, class offerings, and cost.
People who like participating in a type of co-op or homeschool group enjoy the support and comradery of other homeschooling families as well as a social network for their children. Specific classes may be more economical if materials and supplies are split between families. Activities such as drama or sports may play an active role in whether a family will join. In addition, families looking for field trips and typical “school” activities like field days and holiday parties may find a co-op offers these kinds of things.
For families not interested in taking classes outside the home, a homeschool support group is another way for families to stay connected and spend time together. Every homeschool support group is different, but support groups can offer mom meetings, field trips, holiday-themed parties, and clubs. These provide a social component with friend meetups while families keep the academics at home. It is also a way of staying connected with information about homeschool in your state and may provide resources for fulfilling specific regulations.
Homeschooling is on the rise and more and more businesses are becoming aware of that. Where I live, we always see individual homeschool classes offered through sports complexes, art studios, and theaters. Many libraries are providing homeschool classes and meetups during the day. Facebook groups are popping up organizing special group field trips to local museums, historical sites, and parks. Churches may offer youth groups for homeschool kids. Depending on how involved you want to be, there may be a variety of options available near where you live.
Plan Your Day by Observing Your Time
It may seem counterintuitive to say this given the subtitle of this section, but I am going to say it. Don’t plan your day. At least, not just yet. Do not create a homeschool schedule and write when your children will work on each subject. Do not write in when is lunch and break time. Do not try to guess how long it will take to do anything. Do not even think about how a typical school day works. Do not try to recreate anything that you have seen your friends do. Do not try to squeeze in every single subject. Do not assume you can do it all in the beginning.
In addition, if you have pulled your child out of school, then you should highly consider de-schooling. This simply means that you take some time off from formal academics to help separate them from that experience before you dive into new material. Use this time to explore their personal interests such as learning to sew or building a tree fort in the backyard. Plan outings to parks and local historical sites. Cuddle up on the couch and read. Let it help both of you forget about traditional schooling and get prepared for your transition to homeschool.
You are probably wondering how do you homeschool without a plan? The answer is simple. You live life and see what happens. If I just took the wind out of your planning sails, just bear with me on this one. If you have no experience homeschooling, how long do you really think it will take you to do anything? Sure, some curriculum guides will give you the amount of time the average student spends on their course, but that doesn’t mean that it will work for you.
The only way for you to truly understand how long anything will take is to track you and your kiddos’ time doing it. Let the day unfold and just see. Whatever your average time is for any given subject, it is a better gauge than letting something or someone else tell you how long something should take. Take this information and then begin to plan your typical day. Plan out a week at a time and see what happens. Did you get everything done? If yes, major high five! If not, go back and re-evaluate your time. Observe.
New families can become very concerned about time in general. They are either worried they are not spending enough time on academics or they are stressed over spending too much time in the books. This is a good time to mention that just because a typical public or private school day lasts about 6 and a half hours, this doesn’t mean that you are required to do the same. Some states do require daily instructional hours, but even those do not specify how those hours are achieved. Homeschool hours are not just achieved by sticking your child’s nose in a book.
When you begin to consider your homeschool day, think in terms of routine instead of schedule. Trying to watch the clock to ensure you stick to a certain schedule can be stressful and frustrating. You don’t want to rush your child through something if they need more help. Likewise, don’t draw out or add more work to something that isn’t taking as long as you planned. Again, observe your child and start there. Build a routine that allows for certain subjects to be tackled during certain times of the day and always include breaks and times for activities and other responsibilities.
Let’s face it. Your home isn’t a brick-and-mortar school that is there to serve one purpose. Your home has a lot going on it! People actually LIVE at your school. Things are going to get messy, kids are going to get cranky, the refrigerator door will be opened a lot, and you are going to see learning strewn everywhere around your living room, kitchen table, and up the stairs. It is going to get real people. Don’t worry about strict schedules in the beginning. Live life and let the ebb and flow of your day show you how it is going to work for you. Then you will be ready to form a plan that is realistic, do-able, and fun.
The Cost to Homeschool
A common question asked among newbie homeschoolers is about the cost to homeschool. This can be a sticking point for a lot of families that already have tight budgets or rely on two incomes. Some people believe that homeschooling must cost a certain amount of money in order to be effective, but that is simply not the case. The cost to homeschool can be a wide range depending on how you approach it. Costs to consider include curriculum and materials, outside activities, loss of income if one parent quits a job, and required testing or portfolio preparation if needed in your state.
The cost of materials per grade level and subject varies tremendously. This will be one of the considerations when choosing curriculum. There are all-in-one box curriculums that are pricey, however contain everything for one grade level. Some families choose to be eclectic and use a variety of homeschool products. There are many free and low-cost online resources, printables, and videos that can be used to create a curriculum. Libraries also provide a variety of books, videos, and audio books you can use for free and some allow for patrons to check out a large amount at a time.
If you are super excited about signing your kiddo up for the next pottery class or joining a co-op, these additional costs must be weighed into the budget. Planning for a certain amount of expenses per month for homeschool can help families stay on track with their finances while still allowing room for enjoyable and educational outside activities. You can find online deals for fun outings through places like Groupon or by checking Facebook for local homeschool events.
Remember, homeschooling is a lifestyle change. One of those lifestyle changes may be the loss or reduction in income if a parent decides to quit or cut back on work. It takes a lot of faith to make this work, but it can be done. Consider money saving strategies to reduce the cost of daily expenses and utilities where applicable. Family luxuries like expensive vacations, brand new cars, and frequent shopping trips may need to be cut from the budget. While trimming budgets can feel painful, keep in mind this sacrifice is so that you and your family can provide your child with something far more valuable. Always remember your reasons for homeschooling.
There are other costs to budget for including any testing, portfolio preparation materials, assessments, or umbrella schools that you must pay for to satisfy state requirements. Each of these will vary depending on your state, but they should be figured into your budget. Some of these will need to be paid at the beginning of a school year while others will be needed toward the end or during the summer. Planning for when expenses will occur will help to spread out the cost and make the entire year more affordable.
While there are some things to consider when it comes to how to homeschool, you should keep in mind that it is as much of an opportunity for you to learn as well as your kids. Keep compliant with laws, but then trust the process. You have always been your child’s first teacher, so you already know who you are working with and how to help. You are about to witness some incredible milestones and light bulb moments. You get a front row seat as your child grows from babbling baby to confident young adult.
Take heart that this is an exciting time and you can do this! No one loves your child more and wants to see him succeed like you do. You are giving him an incredible opportunity to learn in a way that best suits him.