Don't Panic- Homeschooling 101
The school year is fast approaching and the uncertainty this year brings has many of us scrambling for alternatives to public schools. I have never had more inquiries about homeschooling from friends, friends of friends, or random people on the internet, than I have in the last month. I have heard from many people who are seriously considering homeschooling, if only for this year, but they are very anxious about what that might look like and how it works. So that is what I am going to talk about today. I have been homeschooling my four children for quite a while. We are going into our 8th year so while I am by no means an expert, I can definitely offer some guidance and a lot of encouragement for this adventure you are about to undertake! Most of the people who have approached me lately with questions about homeschooling are looking into it as a temporary alternative to school. I am assuming that is why most of you are here also. Obviously, with all of the COVID regulations and uncertainties – many school districts have yet to formulate a plan or the plans they have decided to implement just won’t work for your student or family. But whether you are looking to homeschool for the short term or possibly as a more long term alternative to public school, you will still approach it the same way.
Now to clarify, when I say “homeschool” I am not referring to a home based virtual school program. Virtual school programs are directed by a teacher with assignments, videos, online work, and homework delegated to the student. They can be great programs and I know a lot of families have benefited from them – that just isn’t what I will be talking about there. I am talking about parent -led homeschooling, where you, the parent, will be the teacher. Let me start by asking you a few questions:
How far have you gotten in planning?
Are you just in the thinking about it stage?
Have you started looking into curriculum and textbooks?
Are you already stressed paralyzed and sitting in the closet eating cookies? This post comes with big bold letters that say “Don’t Panic” - just like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I hope to give you some beginning steps to make homeschooling seem a lot less daunting and a lot more fun.
1. Do your homework. The first step is boring. Sorry. Let’s get the formalities out of the way. The first thing you need to do is see what your state requires for homeschooling. The easiest way to do this is to go to the HSLDA website. The Home School Legal Defense Association – www.hslda.org They have the most informative, easy to follow break down of what each state requires. It’s a heck of a lot easier than trying to find it on your state’s Department of Education website. You can get the lowdown on what you need to do to officially start homeschooling in your state. You can also join the HSLDA for a fee and they provide legal counsel and assistance when you need it. If you live in a state with strict homeschooling regulations, like New York or Pennsylvania, you might want to take them up on the membership offer and let them help you navigate regulations. I live in a low regulation state and haven’t had a need to join but I know by reputation that they are EXCELLENT. Once you know what you need to do – go ahead and get the paperwork/formalities out of the way. Your state may have you submit a letter or fill out a form giving a start date for your homeschool year – get that done as soon as possible. They may have a larger than normal volume of paperwork this year so you don’t want it delayed. Keep copies of EVERYTHING you send to school district or state – EVERYTHING. If you email something, save the sent draft. If you mail something in – get a receipt from the post office that it was sent. Better safe than sorry. Some states have requirements as to how many hours/days you are supposed to account for, what subjects are required, etc. Be sure to read over everything because this will help you plan your subjects and schedule. And when you have finished reading all of that stuff and started freaking out again, take a deep breath and realize that there is a lot of flex within most of those requirements. We’ll talk a little more about that later.
2. Fun, Not Fear So you have filled out your form, submitted your letter, signed a blood-oath – whatever. Now you are ready for the fun part, homeschooling! Yes, I said the “Fun Part”. The scariest thing in your homeschool adventure should be dealing with the paperwork. If you are thinking that being with your kids all day without a break will be scary, or that being “responsible” for their education will be terrifying – this is where we will change that perspective. If you approach homeschooling as a difficult activity or a chore – your kids will see it the same way and they will hate it. That’s basically true about anything you do with your kids. If you want your kids to embrace it – you need to embrace it first! So that is what we are going to talk about now: how to embrace homeschooling and make it a pleasant experience.
The first and most important thing in homeschooling is your relationship with your kids.
If you have already been online researching curriculum – you can see that there is a TON out there and its likely to send you back into the closet with a fresh Snickers bar. Would you think I am totally crazy if I told you to put the curriculum catalog down and step away from the computer? I mean, don’t step away right now, because I want to stay with me – just figuratively step away from the figurative computer. Finding curriculum is not the most important thing in homeschooling. Nope. It's really not. It's secondary at best. The first and most important thing in homeschooling is your relationship with your kids. You have known them as babies, you have known them as toddlers, you have known them as students who have gone off to school. You are about to get to know them in a whole new way – as students who are learning WITH YOU! (Notice that I said “with you”, not “from you”. There is a big distinction there!). This is a whole new dynamic.
Your first task in the “Fun Part” is to get acquainted with your students. There are a lot of different things you can do here. You can go to the library and help them pick out books, fiction and nonfiction – and watch what they are drawn to. Depending on the age of your child, you may ask them, "If you could learn about any topic, what would it be?" Go find books, videos, magazines, or materials for that topic. It doesn’t matter what the topic is – trucks, basketball, hair braiding, underwater basket weaving – whatever. Go find it! Maybe take on a multi-library search. Make it a goal to visit each library branch in your area (if they are open – of course, COVID restrictions and all that). With your kids, search for free or cheap educational things to do in your area and make a list of what you want to do. If your health situation is requiring you to stay away from people in general – make a list of outdoor things to do. Maybe brainstorm at home activities that they like to work on or play with – puzzles, learn a musical instrument, video gaming (yes, you can make that an educational experience – as a project – not just playing games all day), coding, nature walks, cooking…. These do NOT have to be things you know how to do. You are just having them think about stuff they would LIKE to learn. Include your kids in the planning process as much as possible. The more input they have, the more they will like it. You don’t have to have a perfect plan in place at the start of the year. This is brainstorming, list making, idea hatching… the plan will take shape as the year goes on. You can pull from these ideas throughout the year and add to the list whenever you want.
Home school is not school at home.
3. Book learning
I want to be very clear here, the book learning is part of the fun too. It's just a different kind of fun. I always suggest to new homeschoolers that you don’t dive into a full school day right off the bat. The first thing you need to remember is that a home school is NOT school at home. You will not be sitting at a desk for 7 hours a day because that would be crazy. A homeschool student can get their school work done in a fraction of the time it would take in a traditional classroom. In a class, you have many students and one teacher, so that teacher has to move at a pace that accommodates all students. There are behavioral interruptions, time spent transitioning from one subject to the another, lining up to go places, and waiting for students to finish assignments. None of these issues factor into your homeschool day. Here is a great info graphic to give you an idea of how long an academic day should take, depending on the age of your students:
"How do I get started with the academics?"
"I’ve never taught anything before. What if we get off schedule?"
"How long do I spend on math?"
"How do I get my kids into a routine?"
Easing into your home school year
Even if it is just for one year, you are adjusting to a new normal (have you grown to hate that phrase as much as I have?). You are going to have to find a routine and schedule that works for your family. You can find tons of sample schedules out there but each family is so unique that you will probably never find a perfect fit to copy. That’s okay. You shouldn’t start out with a full schedule anyway. I recommend staggering your start in academics. You need time to learn the curriculum and books you are using, you need time to see where your kids are in each subject and get to know how they learn.
Choose one or two subjects to start with. If your child/children are younger, start with just one. Older children can start with two subjects. Do just those one or two subjects every day for a week or two. This is the time to get a morning routine in order. Establish what time you want everyone up and breakfasted. Do you want them to do chores or even play outside before the school work time starts? Get this routine going and make it habitual with your one or two subjects. Spend the rest of the day doing the fun stuff from your lists, working on household projects, playing with friends in the neighborhood if that is in an option. If you can avoid the TV or video games and electronics, its in your best interest to do so during this time. Maybe establish a “no tv until after 3” rule or whatever works for your kids. This can be “free” time but it shouldn’t be lazy time. Once you have had this routine going for a few weeks, add in another subject. Then in a few weeks, add in another one or two.
But wait! Won’t my kids fall behind if I start them on some subjects later?
AH! This the magic of homeschooling – remember, a homeschool student can accomplish the same amount of work in a shorter period of time so, no, they won’t fall behind simply by starting some subjects later. As their habits and routines are firmly established, you can add time here and there for a certain subject or you can skip a subject for a day while you double up on something else. No worries – they will all even out in the end. You probably won’t enter into a full homeschool day until maybe October. And by “full homeschool day” – I mean at most a couple of hours of academics – not all day. For junior high/ high school kids – the days may be a bit longer but they still won’t fill up a full public school day.
4. "How do I get in everything I am "supposed" to teach?"
"My state says I have to have X amount of hours or X number days, how do I fill that time if book learning is only a few hours?"
This is where we can really FLEX our homeschool muscles. Learning is not just confined to books. Children learn all the time. ALL.THE.TIME. They learn while they are helping you clean. They learn while they are at the grocery store with you. They learn while they are playing. Actually, they tend to learn the most while they are playing. By labeling these activities, you can count that learning towards whatever goals you may have.
Example course/subject titles:
Home Economics – cooking, cleaning, household chores. (cooking can fall under chemistry
Life skills – grocery shopping, budgeting, making appointments, balancing a checking
account or opening a savings account.
Social Studies- visiting the post office, the bank, government offices, doctor offices
Computers – learning coding, how to write an email, typing, educational games
Reading – reading for fun, reading with a younger brother or sister, reading aloud with mom
or dad or grandma, story time at the library
Physical Education – free play outside, going for walks, going to the pool, going to the park,
baseball team, dance classes, working out with mom!
Science – nature walks, bird watching, taking care of a fish or maybe a family pet
Now I think you are getting the picture! All of these things that seem like chores to us are learning experiences for our kids. They actually find them interesting and want to be included in them! THIS is homeschooling. When you take learning out of a classroom, you bring it into LIFE. Life is learning!
I hope this post has encouraged your heart and calmed your fears about homeschooling. Even if you only homeschool for a semester or a school year, you will not regret this time with your kids. You will not regret having more time with them before they are grown up and gone. You will not regret giving of yourself to make sure they have what they need during this time. You may eventually decide that you love homeschooling and its perfect for your family or you may find that it really isn’t what your family needs – that is all OKAY! You can still look back on this time and hold it dear. Just remember:
And keep Snickers bars out of the house.