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You want to homeschool but the sheer amount of information left you tearing your hair out, feeling like there is no way on Earth you could ever know where to start!
I hear ya. I’ve been there.
I homeschool two of my children, one is in 2nd and one kindergarten. When I first decided to homeschool, I was intimidated by all the homeschooling programs and felt very unsure of my ability to educate my kids.
I still have a lot of unknown ahead of me, but I have learned a lot during almost 4 years (if counting preschool) of homeschooling and I wanted to share my experiences with those of you who have no clue where to start.
In this article, I will answer these questions:
-why homeschool and what is homeschooling like
-what are the different ways to homeschool
-legal requirements of homeschooling
-what qualifications do you need to homeschool your child
-how to set up the homeschooling space
-what homeschooling curriculum to use
-how to get everything done
-how to make sure your child learns enough
THE ULTIMATE HOMESCHOOL GUIDE FOR THE OVERWHELMED BEGINNER
Let’s get you from overwhelmed beginner to confident starter! First, you will need to answer a very important and super personal question: why do you homeschool?
I said this question was very important because you will need to record a list of all the reasons you homeschool so you can look back at it when you feel like quitting. I did say “when” not “if”. You will have those days when your beliefs and your reasons for homeschooling will have to tame your emotions and keep you grounded.
This was especially important to me in the beginning when I was full of self-doubt and insecurity. I glanced at my list and reminded myself of the “why”. Your “why” is going to keep you in the game long after your excitement fades and when your emotions are screaming at you to quit.
I also said this question was personal because different people’s list will look different. There isn’t one good answer to homeschooling pros and cons, because your goals and reasons will be determined by your personal lifestyle and belief system.
However, there are probably a few common reasons why people homeschool, which I will list here to get you started.
Most Common Reasons To Homeschool
- Being able to spend most of your time with your kids.
I have tons of reasons for homeschooling but one of the more important ones is valuing relationships above all else in life. The time I get to spend with my children and the wonder of discovering together has been an absolute blessing in my life.
- Wanting to be in control of what is taught and how it is taught.
Being able to choose your own curriculum may be overwhelming at first, but overall, it does give you the freedom to educate your children closely in line with how you want to raise them. If you’re a Christian and want to teach your child about creation instead of evolution, you’re free to do that. Or if you are the type who wants a lot of facts memorized, you can choose to focus on that and keep your kids sharp with individualized memory work.
- Desiring the freedom that comes with setting your own schedule.
Imagine not having to get up early in the morning to get cranky kids ready for school, to have to be sitting in carpool lines or to be restricted in when you can take a school break. Homeschooling allows you the wonderful flexibility of setting your own schedule.
- Wanting to provide more free time for your kids to be kids.
Let’s face it: kids will spend all day in school and then homework. When you homeschool, it is common to be done before lunch especially in grade school. There is more time and energy for play and free exploration as well as extra-curricular activities like sports, music and such.
Most Common Challenges Of Homeschooling
After reading some cons for homeschooling and considering your “why”, we need to address some less than stellar aspects of educating your kids yourself.
- Having to spend all of your time with your kids.
Wait, wasn’t this a reason FOR homeschooling? Yes, yes it was. But this wonderful closeness is also what is going to be one of the daily challenges. You will deal with all the ugly attitudes, tiredness, crankiness and you will hear all of it because you’re mom so kids will just simply complain.
- Commitment to grow and learn alongside your kids.
It’s impossible to know all the answers, remember every piece of information and always make the right choices in your homeschool. You will have to commit to change, adjust, evaluate and grow as a person and as a teacher on a consistent basis. It’s the nature of this game and it can be tiresome.
- Sacrificing a lot.
Homeschooling moms sacrifice their time they could spend doing other things to educate their kids. Time spent on homeschooling goes way beyond the actual lessons as home educating is really a way of living life. You’re building habits and character along with school subjects and that’s hard work. Many families also sacrifice nice homes or fun vacations so they can afford to live on one income, or if parents do hold jobs, “it takes a village” to sync everybody’s schedule.
Write Down Your Whys
As you can tell, homeschooling comes with a lot of challenges that shape and mold us, and that is why you have to know your purpose, so you aren’t derailed when you face rough days. I would not have it any other way, and I am thankful (almost) every day that I get to homeschool! Take some time to create a list of things that answer your “why I homeschool” question.
What Are The Different Methods Of Homeschooling?
It meant so much to me to have seasoned homeschoolers come alongside me and help me get started when I first began. It took me a while to figure out what methods work for us and what don’t because I first had to gain understanding about what the options are. (this isn’t an all-inclusive list)
A lot of families complete their homeschooling online, so whatever method you follow, you can probably find corresponding online resources.
The Classical Method
The Homeschool Mom says:
Classical homeschooling involves teaching based on the three stages of learning: the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. The Grammar stage involves learning facts, memorization, and knowledge gathering. The Logic stage is when reasoning and logic begin to be applied to the knowledge. The Rhetoric stage completes the Trivium and is when the student learns the skills of wisdom and judgment.
Education Corner says:
Unschooling allows children to follow their own interests at their own pace, without direction from adults. In this sense, parents act less as teachers and more as facilitators, watching to see what the children are interested in, and then providing the environment, resources, and opportunities to explore those interests.
This is the style most often portrayed in the media because it is so easy to understand […] Most families who follow the school-at-home approach purchase boxed curriculum that comes with textbooks, study schedules, grades and record keeping.
Eclectic homeschooling is a highly individualized education method resulting from mixing and matching a variety of homeschooling resources. It is an exceptionally personalized approach for every child based on their strengths, learning styles, and interests.
Charlotte Mason Style
The Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling uses rich literature and “living books” rather than textbooks […] Charlotte was a British educator in the late 1800s and early 1900s who emphasized respecting each child as a person and giving him a broad education. Her approach works with the way children naturally learn.
Though I probably don’t apply everything strictly, I consider myself to be in this last group, simply because I love and support Charlotte Mason’s ideology and methods. You can read more details about the homeschool styles when you visit this homeschooling community.
Legal Requirements Of Homeschooling
Since formal education is required by law for all children between the ages of 5-18 in the United States, homeschooling is not all up to the parent. There has to be a way to ensure children receive a good education and meet certain requirements especially if they want to attend college.
Different countries would have different laws and requirements you would need to google if you aren’t American.
How do schools make sure you are actually teaching your children?
There are three basic ways for this:
- Homeschooling Under The Public School System
This option gives the parent the least amount of freedom, as it pretty much means doing public school at home. Usually, there are set hours to be spent with school work, exact documentation of what’s been taught and weekly check-ins with a district school.
- Homeschooling Through A State Accredited Association
This option gives a little more freedom in curriculum choice and schedule setting, but strict records still have to be kept and yearly state exams are taken to ensure children are keeping up with the public school.
- Homeschooling Under An Independent Accountability Group
The third option means a great amount of freedom for families. Each state has accountability groups and homeschooling organizations who legally “cover” families. When you pay for a membership you promise to have at least a high school diploma, keep records of attendance and subjects taught, maintain a portfolio of your child’s work and commit to being conscientious in your education efforts.
These are the basic facts about legal requirements, based upon the state I am in (South Carolina). Check to see what the exact laws are in your state on the HSLDA’s website.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Homeschool Your Child?
You need to have a high school diploma or GED on file and a clean criminal record.
Can You Start Homeschooling At Any Time?
In the United States, yes. You can withdraw your child from school even just weeks before the school year ends. Legally, children need to complete 180 days of school, so that is the only thing to be aware of.
How To Set Up Your Homeschooling Space
Now that you are ready to take action, let’s discuss: how can you start homeschooling?
You may have seen those super-duper, inspiring homeschool rooms on Pinterest and started to wonder if a dedicated space is necessary.
Make no mistake, a gorgeous school room is fun to have, but it is not necessary at all for the success of your student. We have always done school at our dining room table and it wasn’t until this year that I turned our (previously unused) formal dining room into our school/playroom. It is nothing fancy, but it serves us well.
My most important recommendation would be to have a dedicated space for storing school work, teacher books and other supplies just so you don’t have to search for them every single day in various places of the house.
A Central Location Works Well
I love learning in a central area because I can watch the younger ones, cook or wash dishes while also supervising independent work. We also read aloud and practice memorization while sitting on the couch or playing with playdough, so being in the living or dining room works great for that.
I also believe that home education is a way of life, so I don’t want to separate learning to a room necessarily. It happens anywhere and everywhere in our home and the environment reflects that. With that said, I do keep supplies and main school items in one room and that’s where most of our lessons take place as well.
Evaluate What Your Child Needs
Setting up your learning space will also greatly depend on what style of homeschooling you chose and what are the needs of your children. If they do better with no distraction and complete quiet, it makes sense to have their own desk set up in their own room.
Or if you do school at home, you may actually set up a traditional classroom for your student. In our family, a school room/playroom works well, so younger kids can occupy themselves while I work with older ones.
Don’t Go Overboard
As an aspiring minimalist, I am a huge believer in not buying everything advertised and available for homeschoolers. I buy what I think we need and add more as we go. I have learned this lesson the hard way when I realized some items only work in my head where others I didn’t even think of, may be the most necessary ones.
Minimalist Supply List
Here’s a breakdown of the most minimal supplies to get you started:
- pens, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, markers, etc.
- electric pencil sharpener (trust me!)
- folders/paper organizers
- scissors (these are our favorite)
- glue, tape
- printer paper
- cardstock (a.ka. thicker printer paper)
- laminator or self-laminating sheets (I prefer the laminator)
- notebooks for journaling/writing
- some type of whiteboard and dry erase markers (this is what we have)
- basic art supplies (paint, brushes, construction paper, etc.)
- some type of computer, laptop or tablet
- a library card or a well-stocked home library
What Homeschooling Curriculum Should You Use?
Here’s is where things get interesting because the curriculum question is by far the most confusing part of getting started. How to make a choice when you don’t even know all your options? Well, one way to do it is going back to decide what style of homeschooler you are and look for resources that correspond with your method.
Or, decide on curriculum by asking homeschooling families around you, to give you insight on what works for them. This gives you an opportunity to look into books and get a feel for that curriculum.
Another great way to get your hands on books and look into them is to attend one of the many homeschooling conventions or curriculum sales in your area. Vendors are usually happy to walk you through their curricula, and you will have your questions answered first hand.
You could also try free online homeschool options such as:
When it comes down to it, there is probably not such a thing as a “bad” choice, it just may not be a good fit for your family. That’s why I recommend buying used when you can or try looking at the books in person before buying. If your choice turns out to be the wrong fit, guess what? You can change it!
How Much Does It Cost To Start Homeschooling?
As you see above, there are ways to homeschool for free or for really cheap. You will have to pay for membership with a homeschool accountability group, which is usually $30-$60 a year.
After that, everything else is based on your budget. There are all kinds of different price points for curriculums, but I recommend going as cheap as possible until you are sure about what you’re doing.
You can buy used curriculum from Facebook groups and eBay or check with your local homeschool groups. Many hosts sales throughout the year specifically for saving money on supplies.
How Do You Actually Make Sure You Get Work Done?
This is why you need a schedule, lose or strict, but you need one. It’s helpful for kids to work within a routine because they are more likely to go with the flow when there’s a direction. Depending on your personality, this will look different in each family.
The Timer Method
My favorite way is to set a timer for every subject I do together with my kids. For example, I would set a timer for 20 mins when doing math and expect my 2nd grader to focus to the best of her ability for that duration. When the timer goes off, the lesson is done even if it’s not done “done”. This works well for subjects you have to do every day.
The Looping Method
I first heard of this reading Sarah Makenzie’s book, Teaching From Rest. The basic idea is to choose an order you teach subjects and loop through it. For example, let’s say you have a plan to teach history, science, music and art.
Then you start with history and next day with science and continue on. However, if you miss a day you just pick it back up from where your loop got interrupted and you didn’t miss a beat. This works best for subjects you don’t have to do every day.
School Before Noon Method
Make a commitment to keep your mornings focused on school. No appointments, no housework and no distractions. This does not mean you can NEVER do anything other than school, but it does mean you make it a priority. This way, the likelihood of being done before lunch is pretty dang high.
Work Box Method
Some homeschoolers like to put all of their child’s work in an actual box or similar storage container at the beginning of every week/day and let the kids work through their school from there. This promotes independence as well as a visual reminder that you aren’t free until you’re done.
This works well for all subjects as long as you are meticulous about checking what was done and teach new material when needed.
School On The Go
There will be days when you have an emergency appointment or travel, so who said school has to be within the four walls of a building? You can educate at a park, a restaurant, hotel room or in the car. What could be more convenient? Simply grab your supplies and work!
No need to be perfect or always have amazingly successful days. Keep at it, tweak things and always put the relationships first. If something doesn’t work for your child, research, ask questions and observe. No matter what method you choose to get your work done, the bottom line is you have to be committed and consistent.
How To Make Sure Your Child Learns Enough
Aaaah, the favorite question of every beginner home educator. I know I asked it! When you’re just starting out, it’s difficult to see the big picture and feel confident enough in your abilities as a teacher. Especially if you attended public school all your life and/or aren’t a professional teacher.
Naturally, we worry: is my child going to be well educated at home?
Mother Knows Best
While I don’t believe parents are always right just because they’re parents, I do believe most parents love their children more than anybody else. When it comes to the well-being of the child, a loving parent will move heaven and earth to ensure it. Who else would be more invested in the education of your precious offspring if not you?
Benefits Of One-On-One Time
We all know that tutoring is a successful form of education, even the public schools use it to catch struggling students up on schoolwork. The reason for the success of one-on-one time is first of all the attention and secondly the individualized approach.
You can slow down and practice more or move on faster depending on your student’s need. And because you’re focused only on one student, you’re able to get the point across in a shorter time.
Homeschool Is Not School At Home
Unless you chose options 1-2 of the legal homeschool methods, chances are your home does not mimic public school. Nor should it. In this flexible form of education, you have the freedom to read classic books, take field trips or spend days immersed in the topic of your child’s interest. Why would these be any less educational or valuable?
I’d argue that kids retain more because they actually love the learning process so they open up, research out of curiosity and soak up the information. Wouldn’t you desire for your kids to love school? It is entirely possible when you look at everything as a chance for learning, not just when they’re at a desk for 5 hours.
Books To Check Your Progress
Even though homeschooled kids consistently outperform those in public school, initially it gave me peace of mind to check against common core standards and ensure my kids are on track. You can do this by looking into what kids learn in general by grade and have an idea of the big picture. Another way to do this is to purchase a book called “What Your [insert grade] Needs To Know” and check your child’s progress in light of that.
Most homeschool curriculums are pretty thorough and as you gain more confidence you will be able to set even more individualized goals and relax a bit about whether your kid is keeping up.
Some parents choose to have their kids take a standardized state test each year, which is also a way to show that your children aren’t behind. And they’ll probably surprise you, that they are actually ahead.
Being Behind Is Not The End Of The World
In all honesty, even if you find yourself lagging and your child may not be on supposed grade level, what do you think they would do at a public school? Tutor him, hopefully. Isn’t that what you’re doing at home? Your child may need summer school or extra weekend practice but you’re there to see his progress and pay attention.
Exactly because you’re the parent, you will find a way to help them, whether it’s a learning disability, a mental disorder or just simply being a slower learner. Trust in your ability to be the best parent this child has and trust in your love towards them.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to get started homeschooling, here’s a list of resources that will further guide you on your journey! Keep in mind, I get overwhelmed with too much stuff, so the list is minimalist.
A book on how to home educate without losing sight of what matters: beauty, goodness and strong relationships.
A wonderful and thorough book on why to read living books for children, with hundreds of specific book recommendations.
This book comes highly recommended on Amazon to help you explore your child’s learning style and the curriculum best fit for it. Though I have not read it personally, I did consult Cathy Duffy’s website often times for curriculum review.
A Christian approach to homeschooling, the Clarksons write about how to make homeschooling part of your life and how to instill the love of learning in your kids.
You can find more must-read homeschool book recommendations on Finding Joy In The Journey.
Blogs With Homeschooling Articles
These blogs and books have plenty of information to help you dive deeper into what homeschooling looks like and how real moms do it. Don’t forget, it’s a learning journey for everyone at every stage. But you don’t have to do it alone! Email me or comment if you have any questions.
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I have been homeschooling different age levels together and had little ones underfoot, so there was no shortage in lessons on patience and creativity.
-how to homeschool different age levels