More families than ever are considering homeschooling their children this year. Yet, it’s a daunting decision! There are many pieces to this particular puzzle. People are wondering… “How do I even get started with homeschooling?” Here’s your Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling!
The Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling
- Seven years ago we jumped head first into homeschooling. I had just finished student teaching in my daughter’s 1st grade public school classroom. For a number of reasons, I felt compelled to give homeschooling a try. Here we are, still at it!
- Over the years I’ve tried a variety of teaching styles, curricula, and options. For better or worse, I’ve learned a lot and want to share it with you.
What is Homeschooling?
- Homeschooling is defined as a child being educated outside of a traditional school. Homeschoolers can participate in community classes, private lessons, sports, leagues, or do all of their learning at home. Rules vary around the world, but homeschooling is legal in the USA.
- There are a number of misconceptions surrounding homeschooling families:
- They are wealthy.
- Homeschooling does not have to be expensive. Basic materials for learning cost very little. There are fantastic, affordable curriculum choices. Opportunities for learning can be found everywhere you go!
- One parent doesn’t work.
- As a working, homeschooling family, this one just isn’t true. I am fortunate to have part-time and flexible work that allows me to spend more time with my kids. However, I’ve also homeschooled as a full-time working & single parent and want you to know: it can be done!
- They are religious.
- While many families do homeschool for religious reasons, there are tons of secular homeschoolers as well. More and more secular curriculum options are being produced each year.
- The kids aren’t socialized.
- Every homeschooling family gets this question all the time. Can we just lay this old sentiment to rest already?! Kids generally love other kids. Kids typically like to play with others, regardless of where they go to school. In fact, due to the extra hours in their day, they often get to participate in far more activities than their public-schooled peers. That leads me to the next one…
- It takes a lot of time.
- I’m not going to flat-out deny this one: homeschooling doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger. But it does take less time than most people think. CO State law only requires an average of four hours a day of homeschooling. It is acknowledged that homeschoolers can accomplish a whole lot more in less time than a public school with 30 children per class.
- Some days, we’re able to finish in two hours or less. Don’t forget to count those trips to museums, hours spent skiing, doing math at the grocery store, etc. Real life learning happens all day. Getting to 4 hours is easy. Plus, for parents who are used to spending hours helping their kids decipher their homework, homeschooling is better!
- They are wealthy.
How to get started: A Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling
Ok, let’s jump right in. Here’s what you need to do to get started with homeschooling.
If you’re more of a visual learner: check out my awesome Homeschooling Roadmap that walks you through each step!
1) Research the legality of homeschooling in your area.
Here’s a great map of the USA showing laws in each state.
2) Write down your reasons for wanting to homeschool.
What are your goals this year? (It’s 2020: surviving is perfectly acceptable.)
What do your kids want out of this experience? Even reluctant Covid-forced students can be encouraged to find something fun to do with the extra time they get due to homeschooling. Craft a mission statement.
3) Models, Methods, and Madness
Here’s a nice link to break down some of the common homeschooling methods/models. These are just different approaches to teaching at home. You don’t have to commit to any one model, but some families like to define their methodology before moving on.
Do you identify with a more earthy Waldorf method or do you want to recreate a traditional school at home? Maybe you like some aspects of Unschooling or Montessori but also want a strong STEM focus. That’s all OK!
You don’t have to fit in any one box. Take what you like and make it work for you. These labels are here to HELP you, not trap you.
Let’s say you like Waldorf… cool, check out Oak Meadow curriculum. Is it a little too laid back for you? Feel free to add a traditional math workbook. Pick and choose your own adventure!
4) Learning Styles
It’s important to know your child’s learning style because it can help you teach them better. It can also help you to pick out curriculum. If you know that your child is a kinesthetic learner, chances are, they’ll do better with math if it involves manipulatives. They’ll enjoy ELA that involves movement. Or if you know your child is a strong visual learner you can simply search for “visual science curriculum.”
5) The Great Curriculum Search
Note: you don’t have to use pre-made curriculum. Some people don’t use any, and others create their own. This section is for those who want to use curriculum and need help selecting it.
This is big, there’s no denying it. There’s only about a million options to choose from. So how the heck do you get started? Good news: you just did!
I’m going to share a simple formula to find curriculum for your family. First, answer a few quick questions.
Do you want…
Religious or Secular?
Any particular method? (All-in-one, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessorri, Nature-based, etc.) This is optional!
Child’s Learning Style (Kinesthetic, Visual, Auditory, etc.)
= Your curriculum suggestionsEnter these keywords into Google to get your curriculum suggestions.
BAM! You’re done. Just enter those terms in Google and start taking notes. Try to pick just a few curricula that really interest you and compare from there.
Examples of Curriculum Search
For example, I might want a “Secular nature based visual language arts curriculum for 4th grade”
Maybe I want a “Secular kinesthetic math curriculum for 3rd Grade”
Or a “Religious Charlotte Mason science program for 2nd grade”
Searching with the right words can help you find the right curriculum.
I know it can be overwhelming… like I said there’s millions of options! But this should help you narrow down from millions to maybe just a hundred 😀
A few more curriculum-picking tips:
- Be sure to download samples and read reviews of whatever program you are researching.
- You can search for used curriculum to save money.
- Ask other families what they’ve enjoyed.
- If possible, look at print copies of curriculum before you buy it.
- Sometimes you can flip through and tell right away whether or not you like a program.
- Check with local homeschool groups, many homeschoolers are happy to show you what they use!
- Remember: there’s never any shame in trying something and realizing it isn’t working for you or your child. Sell it and try something else!
Tips for Success in Homeschooling
Here’s a few pieces of advice I’d like to give my past-self about homeschooling:
- Keep it Simple! You really don’t need all of the books, all of the resources, and all of the activities.
- Nail down the core subjects first. Then add in the extras and fun stuff. Loop scheduling or a Friday Fun Day can be good for extras.
- Take a break when you need it. Avoid burnout.
- No comparing! Everyone’s homeschool is different.
- One sport per season, per kid. They get to choose which one. Otherwise, scheduling gets crazy.
- Teach them together when you can. Ages/grades can easily be combined for Social Studies and Science. Kids close in age or ability can combine Math and Language Arts lessons as well.
- Let go of perfect. Be OK with a messy house or stay up late to clean. Buy more packaged foods for quick lunches and dinners. It’s OK. Hello shredded cheese.
- Be super clear on expectations with the kids. “First we do this, then we do that.” It’s really important for me to be clear or I’ll quickly find myself in a tornado of domestic chaos and academia.
Common Questions About Homeschooling
Should I homeschool through a charter/umbrella/online/public school?
You certainly can! There are MANY online and umbrella options you can join that will take care of the legalities for you. In this case, you might be considered a member of an umbrella or private school, even though you homeschool on your own time. Each option has it’s own requirements.
Some states have charter schools that you can enroll in. They might offer homeschooling guidance, record keeping, and extra resources such as curriculum, classes, or funding. We homeschooled through a charter school for a few years and loved it!
In exchange for weekly progress logging and monthly check-ins we received funding to purchase curriculum, lessons, and supplies! Check with your local school district to see if there is something like this in your area. This year, we’re enrolled in a “part-time online option” through the state that provides tech classes and funding.
Can I get help with expenses?
This goes hand in hand with the previous question. Sorry, it’s an “it depends” answer. SOME programs will provide you funding to put towards your child’s educational expenses. For other programs, you will need to pay them in exchange for their online or print classes. Carefully research any program you’re considering to make sure you’re clear on the financial side of things.
Most programs that provide you with funds require you to register with them. They then receive your child’s state-allotted pupil funding and pass some of it back to you. You can expect to document your child’s learning more thoroughly than if you were homeschooling on your own. This is because these types of programs are receiving state funding and have to show proper documentation of learning.
I’m still worried about socialization.
That’s fine, most people are! It’s been a long-repeated concern regarding homeschoolers. The fact is, homeschooled children will be as social as their family allows. We personally participate in swim team, skiing, snowboarding, baseball, soccer, mountain biking, music lessons, protests, and community classes. Plus we love to hang out with our friends. We see a lot of people. I often hear how cool my kids are from other adults. They’ve had tons of opportunities to interact with humans of all ages, not just 20 other 12 year olds.
*Keep in mind, many school districts allow homeschoolers to play on their school’s teams. Just call the school and ask.
If you homeschool, be sure to take your kids to the park. Take them on field trips in the community. Sign up for ballet/karate/fencing/soccer/volunteer work/ lego league/library story times/you name it! There’s a million opportunities to be social: use them!
Do I have to use curriculum?
Nope! Some people Unschool and don’t use any. Others use it only for certain subjects. Some families use an “all-in-one” that covers all of the subjects. Some families create their own unit studies. I’ve enjoyed all of these methods!
Currently we use curriculum for science, math, social studies, and spelling/phonics for my son only. My daughter is grades ahead in Language Arts so I don’t require any LA work at all. She just likes to read all the time. Crazy, huh? Homeschooling=Flexibility.
My kids will be taking tech classes to learn Adobe, Minecraft STEAM, Digital Photography and Drone Videography this year. My son will be trying a class based on KiwiCrates. I’ve used LOTS of different programs over the years though and will be working on reviews. Feel free to ask me about any of them.
How do I schedule?
Scheduling is as personal as curriculum choice. Some families do a solid four hours, five days a week. Other families crank out a bunch of work on the weekends. Some families do a few hours here and there, year around. One of my favorite homeschooling families hits the studies hard in the hot summertime so they can ski all winter!
Take a look at your “at a glance” schedule and see what works for you. Remember, one of the best parts of homeschooling is flexibility!
How do I homeschool as a single/working parent?
I just want to give you a big high five. You CAN homeschool under these circumstances. Some tips I have for single or working parents are to:
Consider your resources. Where do your children currently go while you work? Can you ask other caregivers to make sure your kids complete school work you send? Or do you need to school in the evenings or on weekends?
Use online resources. We’re fortunate to have access to the oracle of the internet. There are TONS of online programs that can take the work load off of your shoulders. Online programs can take care of teaching lessons, aligning to standards, keeping track of grades, etc.
Don’t be afraid of screen time. There are so many great educational shows, documentaries, and interactive websites that homeschooling kids can use to learn while a parent is busy.
Look into co-ops. Maybe form your own homeschooling co-op to split the time teaching with another family you enjoy.
What supplies do I need to homeschool?
Keep it simple! To start, invest in some Ticonderoga #2 pencils, (ok, I’m being a pencil snob) notebooks, binders, crayons, scissors, internet, etc. If you use curriculum, it’ll let you know what else you need.
A 3-hole punch is great for creating portfolios. A laminator can be nice if you’re printing a lot of activities, especially in the early grades.
A designated shelf for everything is helpful. I love my Ikea Kallax shelf for our used-daily items. Each person gets a cubby, including me for teacher’s guides. Library books live on the bottom two shelves.
I know it’s fun looking at these beautiful homeschool rooms you see online, but truly, you can homeschool with very little and still provide a stellar education.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Homeschooling
- Your homeschool will constantly evolve. Each day will bring something new. It’s important to adapt frequently.
- You might be excited about something that doesn’t work. Feel free to let it go or replace it with something that does. There’s a lot of trial and error when homeschooling.
- You will have bad days. You will also have days that bring you tears of joy. Hold on to the good ones and shake off the bad ones. Each new day is a new chance.
- Always let your family’s accomplishments overshadow the fails.
Phew, this was a huge post. Congratulations if you made it this far, you’re going to be an amazing homeschooler!
Did you enjoy this beginner’s guide to homeschooling? What questions do you still have? Leave me a comment below or share with a friend who could use this guide as well!
I wish you the best of luck… YOU GOT THIS!