Did you have some extra “associates” in the home office this spring? What used to be considered extreme is now quickly becoming almost popular in light of the recent decisions in many school districts to open in the fall with an online/distance learning option only. Most online homeschool groups have welcomed a significant increase of new members lately.
While this may not ideal for some family situations, there are others realizing they really enjoyed having their kids around and want to have more control in their childrens’ education. They like being part of the world of discovery and understanding for their child, and are interested in homeschooling their kids in the upcoming school year. There have been many posts by new or potential homeschoolers seeking information and support.
Almost every inquiry ends up with the same basic question: “I want to homeschool, but how do I get started?”
Not to be confusing, but there are actually a number of ways to homeschool your children. This is one wonderful aspect of homeschooling; you can make it what you want it to be! You can focus on what works for your unique family dynamic and what most benefits each of your children.
However, for someone just starting, the number of possibilities may be overwhelming. Most upcoming homeschoolers are just looking for simple, practical steps to ease their anxieties and help get them started. This article is geared towards the younger grades.
So, Let’s Get Started
First – It is legal to homeschool in every state, however, some states have specific requirements for homeschoolers, some don’t. Because every state in the U.S. has their own laws when it comes to homeschooling, you need to contact your state’s Department of Education website to find out what’s required. Don’t be intimidated, it isn’t that hard – and there is plenty of help!
Second – No matter what system you start with, over time you will find yourself starting to personalize your homeschool, gaining confidence along the way to try new things. Don’t be surprised to find yourself customizing the learning to your children’s particular interests and aptitudes. Simply let go of what doesn’t work for you.
So, how do you homeschool your children?
1. Start at the Core: Math and Language Arts
Education needs to have a solid foundation in – you guessed it – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The easiest way to make sure you’re solidly covering math is to utilize a program that does the heavy lifting for you.
There are many curriculum options available that teach, offer practice exercises and assessment tools. They can be either through written or video instruction. Here are some ideas but remember you don’t have to make a ‘perfect’ choice. When you see something that looks promising, give it a try (you can change later, if desired.) It may also be useful to reach out to your community for input. Check Facebook for any local homeschooling groups in your area.
Math: you can check out math curriculum reviews on CathyDuffyReviews.com. Choose one you think your child might enjoy, and try it out. Talk to the company providing the curriculum if you have questions. It may be worth considering how math has been presented to your student thus far, and whether the program you are excited about implementing will actually prove to be a smooth transition and learning process for your student. (Some curriculums even have a placement test if you are not sure where in a program your child should start.)
Language Arts: includes reading, grammar, spelling, writing, and penmanship. For reading, you might try “The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections With Your Kids,” by Sarah Mackenzie. You will find you don’t need a curriculum for “reading,” just a bunch of great books. (Make sure your library cards are up to date.)
Again, the Cathy Duffy Reviews site also covers many of the language arts curricula on the market. You may want to use a curriculum for grammar, spelling, or writing – or all three. Pick one and give it a go.
1. Set the Rhythm
As summer winds down and your first day of homeschool approaches, give some thought to the rhythm of your school days.
- What time will you start each day?
- How will you start each day?
- What routines will move you from breakfast to math to lunch to afterschool activities to winding down at night?
Pam Barnhill has some good thoughts on this in her “Better Together, Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, and Savor the Subjects That Matter Most”. Schedules can be tricky to stick to, but rhythms keep everything grounded. You’ll likely tweak this for a month or more before you feel like you’ve hit a good rhythm. Be patient.
2. Set the Stage
Finally, get your home ready for homeschool. Gather supplies, tidy up, do what makes you feel good about the space where you’re about to embark on a learning adventure with your kids. More success is found with a designated spot in your home, even if that is the dining table. The atmosphere of your home will have a lasting impact on your children’s education.
Before you start, if you read only one homeschool book, read, “The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life” by Julie Bogart. When the time comes, wake up, start your day with your family, enjoy the successes, forgive the bloopers, and know that tomorrow is another day.
The Calendar Year Basics
Above, you have two programs that will form the backbone of your homeschool year.
- The first step is to have an idea of how much time it will take you and your child to get through the by the end of the school year. (Of course, you don’t have to finish exactly on time, but this exercise will help you get a feel of the workload involved.)
To do this, divide the number of lessons in each program by the number of weeks you intend to homeschool this year. (A typical public school requires 180 days or about 36 weeks of instruction – but some states mandate the number of weeks you must complete.)
- Start the year by aiming to cover the determined number of lessons each week. You can, of course, adjust your schedule at any time to meet the needs of your family.
- In the beginning of the homeschool year, you can provide your children with an excellent education simply by covering math and language arts. As you become more comfortable homeschooling, you can start to build your curriculum.
As you get into your groove, there are other subjects you can add to math and language arts. Sometimes these subjects work best studying them together as a family. Teaching to the highest grade level will keep older children engaged, and younger children will benefit by absorbing what they are capable of, and will have familiarity with a topic when they are older and revisit it. Sometimes it works better with individual children working on a grade-level version.
The key to teaching history is to tell the story in sequential order. History is simply a story and, for some reason, schools teach it regarding specific events, or a very selective, out-of-order way that confuses everybody.
Take a look at the 4-volume series, “The Story of the World” by Susan Wise Bauer as the foundation of your exploration into history. Through very basic stories, Bauer walks the reader through history from ancient times to modern days. When you get to a part of history that your family finds particularly interesting, linger there for a while. Sometimes, you may think of an activity to add to it, like watch a documentary, go on a museum field trips, reading a related fiction or non-fiction book. You can add as little or as much as you’re motivated to before moving on to the next story.
Look at science as a discovery exploration. Science textbooks tend to take interesting ideas and discoveries and suck the life out of them. Actually, tackling science in units of interest can be very fun. Ask your kids what they’d like to learn about the natural world and go from there. You may find yourselves camping out under the stars, viewing prehistoric skeletons at the natural history museum, or creating a volcanic eruption in the driveway. When they pick a topic, run with it.
Art appreciation doesn’t need to be a chore. View pictures of famous paintings, watch videos about the greatest artists, and visit museums galore. With Distance Learning in play for so much of the country, many museums have created wonderful online tours. Create an atmosphere where your family gets to admire art regularly. That’s all you have to do. The learning will blow your mind.
It is the same with music. Fortunately, we live in a time where all music is at our fingertips. Don’t be too quick to let the kids channel the music into one field. Let the best music written in many areas be part of your homeschool. Even with music they don’t like, they can have fun describing what they like and don’t like about it. They will have a broader background in different types of music than most children – especially when they can experience live concerts or even street music.
When a child shows interest in certain aspects of practicing the arts—whether in dance, musical performance, or art – see if there is some outside instruction to explore their potential.
Much to Learn
Is there more you can teach and add for enrichment? Of course! There’s typing, sewing, foreign language, woodcraft, etc. You also have time on your side. You will most likely find as you get settled into a routine, that you are able to cover so much more then what a classroom teacher can cover with 30 children in the classroom. You can begin adding more enrichment as time and desire allows.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the beginning!
Be patient with yourself, your children and the process.
As you go along, you’ll find time for the lessons that are most important to your specific children. Your children will get far more from the personal time you (and any other children) spend with each other than any school can give.
“You’ve started to tend a new garden here and you’re just planting the seeds. While you may not see any fruits or even sprouts, the seeds are nestled under well-watered soil, and tomorrow you can water them again with love, patience, hope, and care. Along the way, there will be weeds, droughts, and storms. But as you continue to tend your garden, after many seasons, you’ll behold what blooms.”
~ Author Unknown