Homeschooling is a wonderful way to stay close to your children while helping them become well-rounded adults. It offers you the opportunity to tailor your children’s education to suit your children, your lifestyle, and your beliefs. Schooling at home also gives you a safe ‘home base’ for your children while they explore the people and places around them. With the ability to individualize your child’s education, you can truly foster a life long love of learning.
1. Prepare Yourself. Realize that this means being able to devote yourself to your children every day, morning to night. As their parent or legal guardian, you (and your spouse) will now be legally and solely responsible for the direction, depth, and breadth of their education. This is an enormous responsibility and should not be stepped into lightly.
2. Determine Your Homeschool Teaching Style. Examine your own intentions and motivations. Why do you want to homeschool? What do you consider a ‘good’ education? What do you believe about children, teaching, and learning? How do your children seem to learn best? These questions can help you determine what approach to take, and help you create a learning environment that will be best for you and your children. Learn about the different homeschool methods, such as
o Diane Lockman’s authentic classical trivium (The Classical Scholar)
o unit studies,
o Charlotte Mason’s methodology,
o Montessori or Waldorf methods, and
o eclectic blends of different styles.
o Complete Online curriculum package like Global Student Network
o Private Online school like International Virtual Learning Academy
3. Plan Your Curriculum. The enormous volume of material and methods that are available can be very overwhelming for a new homeschoooling parent. Identifying your approach will help narrow things down. (For example, unschoolers usually have a wide variety of resources for their children to experience, but no formal curriculum. Authentic classical education involves teaching reading, thinking, and speaking to substantial mastery. There are many resources to help you navigate through the maze of ideas. Libraries and bookstores have books on homeschooling methods, experiences, and proven curricula. The internet offers a never-ending source of information as well: basic information on various subjects, online curriculum and supply ordering, articles about methodologies, support groups, and public school curricula. The internet even has free lessons on most subjects from teachers, other homeschoolers, and even television stations. Research, read, and plan what you want to teach and how.
4. Look for local support. You can find local groups that meet regularly, organizations that put on periodic seminars or conventions, or even online groups that swap ideas and resources on it. Many groups set up co-op classes – taught by other parents – in a variety of subjects. If you start to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or all alone in your family’s educational pursuits, a support group can offer advice or just a reassuring acknowledgment from other parents that you are not alone. They are also an invaluable resource for tips on how to comply with the homeschooling laws in your area.
5. Establish Your Homeschool Legally. Learn what is required to homeschool legally where you live, then do what is necessary to work within that structure. Make sure you get a copy of the actual laws involved as well as discovering the current legal interpretation of those laws. Since homeschoolers have a personal investment in ensuring they understand the homeschooling laws correctly, local support groups are often the best resource to steer you to the most accurate legal information in your area. Be advised that the legal requirements for homeschoolers vary by country, state, and even sometimes by school district, so a bit of research will be required. HSLDA and AtoZ Home’s Cool provide useful guides to what it means to have a legal homeschool (see external links.)
6. Prepare Your Children. Explain to them what is going to happen in the months to come – including how daily life will be changing – for them and the family. To older children, make clear that though they may be leaving their school, it doesn’t mean they are leaving their education or their friends. Ask them what they would be interested in studying (for example, if one loves star gazing, get a telescope and study astronomy). Be sure to get them excited. Homeschooling is fun!
7. Inform Extended Family. Others in your family who care about you and your children can be helpful and give great support to your homeschooling efforts – or they can be heartbreaking critics. Plan how you will tell them what you are planning to do, listen to their responses, and answer questions and concerns they may have. Help them understand that you are both prepared and determined, and don’t let any negative attitudes get you down. They care, and over time as your children show success in homeschool, they very well may come around and be your greatest supporters.
8. Allow time to adjust to change with older children. Often children who leave the standard educational system for homeschool need some time to adjust. Instead of immediately jumping into “school at home” you may want to do unstructured activities and then slowly work into your routine. Determine how much “recovery time” is needed for your particular child, then work with them to create a different and more enjoyable learning environment.
9. Gather Supplies. Homeschooling supplies, like everything else in homeschooling, vary greatly by teaching method. You can order textbooks, boxed curriculum, and learning tools online or at homeschooling curriculum and supply sales. For cheaper alternatives, many homeschoolers use libraries, used book stores, curriculum swaps, thrift stores, and garage sales. Also, a back-to-school-sale at a local discount store or office supply store is the perfect place to get some of the basic school supplies like pens, notebooks and glue.
10. Plan Your Day. If you choose to have a more formal homeschool environment, you can prepare by gathering your lesson plans, materials, and textbooks together – or even by setting-up a room in your house for studies and activites. A different approach might mean your teaching preparation involves setting up field trips for the rest of the year in every subject, placing learning objects around your home, or simply getting yourself into a mindset of using every day as a learning opportunity with no set plans or textbooks. However you choose to homeschool, it can only be helped by planning and preparing as much as you can before you start.
11. Look for hands-on activities. Everyone benefits from seeing things firsthand. Some activities that can be educational as well as easy to do are: gardening, cooking, sewing, composting, science projects, hiking, fixing the house, caring for pets, and taking apart broken appliances (just make sure there are no lasers or dangerous electronic components still active). Your children will learn different things depending on their ages, but everyone will come away better-educated.
12. Keep a portfolio of each child’s work. Thick, three-ringed binders with tab separators for each student are an excellent way to keep track of school work, along with whatever may be required from a legal standpoint. Label each tab with whatever subjects you are studying (for example: Math, Spelling, Language Arts, History, Biology, Spanish). After your child has completed a page under that subject, punch holes (using a three-ring hole punch) and snap the page into the proper section of their book. Remember to date each page or it will be a big jigsaw puzzle to figure out later. This is most useful when your child may be thinking of university study, as they often require portfolios of work from homeschoolers.
13. Periodically evaluate your progress. Progress evaluation happens naturally through the one-on-one process of homeschooling, although in some areas the law requires periodic formal testing or evaluation of homeschoolers. Personal evaluation, however, should not only consider how your child is doing academically, but also how the process is working for everyone in the family. If the teaching methods are a poor match with your child’s learning styles, if the curriculum is too structured or not structured enough, or if the process of homeschooling seems to be making things worse rather than better, then it’s time for a change. Fortunately, change is something you can do fairly quickly with just a little research. If you feel uncomfortable with your level of knowledge on the subject, there are standardized progress tests (such as Fcat) that your child can take and then have the scores mailed to you, and you can find many other tests to order or take online.
14. Go With Your Gut. Trust your knowledge and instincts regarding your own children. You are not only the one ultimately responsible for guiding your children’s education, but you are often the one person best able to recognize what they do or do not need. Turn to evaluations and insights from others to help guide you, but trust your own instincts about what your children need to learn and do in their educational progress.
15. Make sure your homeschooled children are not socially disadvantaged. Arrange play sessions with other homeschooled children. Also sign your child/ren for extra classes like violin, piano or ballet. This gives them a chance to interact with other children and make friends.
- Be aware of your time-use habits. Homeschool isn’t an invitation to laziness, but a door to creating a learning style that better serves your family. Early birds can use the morning hours while night owls prefer late afternoons and evenings. Take a look at what you and your children’s most productive times are.
- Address the “socialization” concern. Involve your children in sports, 4-H, drama/music classes, youth groups, scout groups, DeMolay, and so on. These are much better opportunities for social interaction than a school classroom, anyway. With homeschool you can even improve their social skills by giving them opportunities to interact with many different people in different situations, not just same-age students in a classroom or on a playground.
- Be a cheerful teacher. Homeschool will become miserable for both you and your children if you become angry and frustrated from the daily stresses. Take care of yourself, allowing daily time to rejuvenate and be prepared for the many responsibilities of homeschool and parenting combined.
- Be flexible. If you and your family start feeling burned out from being in your house and working through seemingly never-ending lessons, take a field trip! Go do something fun as a family, such as visiting a museum (which will be educational at the same time), going on a picnic, or going fishing. Every day will not go exactly as you have planned, and illness or emergencies can interrupt homeschool as well. Be open to changes and enjoy the ride!
- Seek outside help when necessary. If there is a subject you do not have enough knowledge about to teach to your children, you can consider hiring a certified tutor, or have a friend with in-depth knowledge of a subject come over and explain about it.
- Get each of your children their own library card. Weekly trips to the library are a great way to spark an interest in reading and learning. There are a lot of great books for kids out there, and the library is an excellent source of additional materials to supplement your courses of study. In addition, many libraries provide weekly story times and other programs for homeschooled students.
- Take pictures! Don’t forget to record homeschool activities – even those that may seem to be daily drudgery. By logging your homeschool life you show that you are active and pressing forward with learning experiences. Make a scrapbook at the end of the year, or start a family website – both for memories and for a creative way to tell other people about your homeschool. You can also share photos and record memories by creating a homeschool blog.
- Your local board of education might lend you a curriculum, or you can find plenty online.
- Join an online homeschool forum or yahoo group. Online message boards are great ways to receive support and encouragement without leaving your home. In addition, you can often share struggles with online friends that you can’t share with those in real life. These groups can be specific to a religion, teaching method or curriculum, or can be open to all homeschoolers. They are wonderful sources of ideas and information for both new and experienced homeschoolers.
- Because your children will have more time to learn than public/ private school children, arrange activities outside the syllabus, like reading up on the history of European royalty, learning a new language or skill. This will give them a more whole rounded education.
- Be sure to plan fun excursions. Like visits to the museum or botanical gardens. Because your child gets the full attention of his/ her teacher, he/she is likely to learn more from this trips than usual school excursions.
- Regular trips to the library will cultivate a spirit of self- learning- something which public school educated children rarely develop. This also cultivates the love of reading in your child. Your child is sure to thank you for this.
- If you are homeschooling a child with Learning Difficulties, seek out others who are also homeschooling special needs children through groups such as Learning Abled Kids or the National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network. There is a large sub-community and positive support and resources are essential for homeschooling success.
- In the best interest of your children, reconsider homeschooling if you suffer from a mental illness, such as agoraphobia, depression, or manic depression.
- Be careful not to overdo it! The opportunities for both educational activities and social interaction are so many that you may find yourself and your children overwhelmed if you try to do everything. Determine what you think is most important as well as what your children enjoy most, then stick to that.
- Do not neglect to follow the laws regarding homeschool where you live. Find out what is legally required of homeschoolers and follow-though. Even neglecting what may seem to be a technicality could result in tragedy for you and your children.
- Don’t overspend on curriculum and supplies. Homeschool does not have to be expensive! Utilize free and low-cost resources both in your community and on the internet, and don’t waste your money on unseen or unproven curriculum.
- Don’t get stuck comparing your child with others. Your child will have more time, more days of the year, and more opportunites for learning than her schooled counterparts. Enjoy the versatility of that privilege and worry less about where she is compared to the public schools.
- If grades are part of your homeschool, don’t fall into giving good grades out of sympathy. If they can do better, let them know. A ‘C’ is passing for most schools. If they are doing ‘C’ work, have them go back and repeat it or study further until their work is ‘A’ quality. While you want them to do well, remember that in a job or at college they aren’t going to get breaks, and need to be prepared.
- Don’t become obsessed with your children! Take care of yourself, go out with your spouse, talk about something other than school and kids once in a while, and everyone will be much happier.
- Be careful when using a traditional textbook or online curriculum. These programs have many benefits, but they are not suited to all learning styles, and can bring the negatives of a traditional classroom into the home. Take care to adjust any curriculum you use to meet the needs and goals of your family.