Thinking about Homeschooling?
Questions: Where do I begin? Am I qualified? Will I ever have any time to myself? Will I ruin my children’s lives?
Answers: At the beginning. More than anyone else. No. Yes, but you would have anyway so do it up right and enjoy it more!
I am not a homeschool or education expert, but I do have a lot of experience. I have successfully homeschooled my own children and known and worked with many other homeschooling families. I have been in coops and other types of groups. By some people’s definition, I might be considered an education expert because I am a fully credentialed teacher with formal education well above what was required. I also taught in public schools for more than 15 years. Still I don’t think anyone has all the answers, especially me. See my About Me page. If there is any field that it is difficult to be an expert in, it’s education. There are too many different types of learners, backgrounds and families. However, I want to give you a starting place.
Where to Start
If I found myself feeling that I needed to start homeschooling my children and I never had before I would of course start with prayer. God will lead you if you trust Him for it even though after praying you probably still feel like you don’t know what you are doing, that doesn’t mean God isn’t leading you. Next, make sure you understand the homeschooling laws in your state. I often forget about this step because I live in California which is one of the easiest states to homeschool in, so far, thanks to Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Next, decide what topics or standards you want to cover for each of your children. Do you want to follow state standards? Google California education standards (obviously put in your state name). Some curriculum companies have complete grade level kits which can help if you don’t want to have to figure out what you need to cover. These kits can be expensive of course but you can often get them used, even if you have to piece them together. What I have done many times is find the list of items on the company’s website and then search for each item individually on used curriculum sites as well as ebay and Amazon. Sometimes you find people selling the entire grade level kit used. My first couple of years I did this and we enjoyed the curriculum but as I became more comfortable with homeschooling and was around other families I began to try different curriculums and piecing them together. Get the curriculum early if you can, so you can familiarize yourself with how it works.
Some people are able to plan out in detail the entire school year before it starts . If you are able to do that, good for you. It is worthwhile but not necessary. I learned a few years back that I am not one of them. I would get a little way into planning and run out of time. The first few weeks would be okay but then I was totally unprepared for the rest of the year so I would have to stop and take some time to familiarize myself with the next parts. That worked okay but I have found a better way that works for me. Now when I get my new curriculum for the year, I find the “How to Use this Book” section of the curriculum and read through that. In some curriculum that is more in-depth than it is in others. Sometimes it is very helpful. Next I look through the table of contents and try to schedule out which topics I will cover each month. For me this is not written in stone! I reserve the right to stay on something longer or shorter than originally planned, depending on how things are going while we are actually doing it. One of the biggest frustrations I see many homeschooling moms struggle with is thinking they have to finish everything. You do not! It is more important that you do a really thorough job with certain areas and enjoy them and have your child enjoy them. Most curriculums are written with way too much so you have options. Even when a curriculum says you must do every practice problem or lesson, usually that isn’t necessary. Anyway, many of those decisions will be made daily as you are working on a specific lesson. For beginning of the year prep get a general idea what you want to focus on in each month. This way you can prioritize and make sure you can cover what you think is most important, because whether it’s all important or not if your child or you can’t get through it all it is better to have done what is most important. That part of my planning usually only takes me about two days even when I still had three children I was homeschooling. I then move onto my next step.
Once you have generally planned what you will cover each month look for the few things that you want to prepare for ahead of time. Again, choose! There will always be a ton of stuff you could do. I try to choose only a few areas in couple of subjects for each child that I want to do some of the extra stuff to add more interest and even fun. For example, some history or literature programs have extended learning or movie sections in the back of each unit. I spend a few minutes looking for the movies or books on the public library site and schedule holds for any I find that matches up with my year plan. I also look for one or two projects or activities(or several small ones) in some of the subjects that we can do. I then make a list of things I need to gather ahead and do that before the school year begins at least for the first semester. If there is something that needs to be made ahead of time, sometimes I have my kids do it. They enjoy the process and are more excited about the upcoming school year even if it is actually for a sibling. I try to be realistic with my own personality and my children’s, because again it is better to do a few than never get to any because I am overwhelmed. Buying kits for some subjects like science is worthwhile for me even though it is so expensive because I know science labs will not be done if the supplies aren’t already there for us.
Next, prepare a classroom or at least an area dedicated to schooling. This is an area of frustration for me because our house is small and crowded. For years one of our small bedrooms was a classroom which was wonderful! However, my daughters were sharing a small room and that had to change so now for the past several years we have not really had a classroom. When we first made this change we worked on our garage to make part of it a classroom. We sheet rocked it but decided we couldn’t afford to do much else so it is still too cold in the winter and hot in late summer and much of the spring. What we have been doing is cleaning it out every year and setting our “classroom” up and then starting the first few weeks in there. The kids love it because we open the big garage door and can enjoy the outdoors while we work, however, by about noon we have to move indoors because of the heat and almost as soon as the weather cools off it starts to be too cold, so the number of days we actually do school in the garage aren’t many. I feel that having that area at least gives us some order and the kids enjoy the decorations, posters etc that I put up to kick off the new year. I also find a place to display things like an ongoing time line that they are doing throughout the year. This year as I began my preparations I announced that I didn’t need to set up the garage classroom this year and my two younger children (going into 6th and 9th grade) told me they wanted to have their garage classroom fixed up and that they enjoyed it. They also said they would help clean it up and set it up. Hearing how important it was to them surprised and pleased me and when my kids say they will help they do and they do it well. Needless to say we will have our garage classroom again this year.
First Day of School
One of the best things about homeschooling is the closeness it brings within our family. One of the things that I feel has fostered this is making certain days special and the many traditions that we have. I didn’t really even expect this it kind of just happened. My oldest daughter started college last Fall and so sadly is no longer part of our homeschool but still wanted to be involved with some of these special days. We were all happy about that. One of these is our first day of school. My purpose in making this day special is to make starting school a little exciting and fun and to emphasize the importance of our school and the special aspects of working together as a family. I advise you to come up with your own ways of making this day special for your family.
Here are some of the things we do. We start with a photo session. Each child has a completely new outfit that they have chosen including shoes even though most of the year we school barefoot. We take pictures of each child individually and then as a group, each child with me and then all of us together. I also take a picture of each child with one of their school books: one serious with just a smile and then one silly. They do whatever they think of like put the book on the ground and act like they are furiously stomping it. Then we have a special breakfast. There will be a gift bag at the table with some new thing for the whole family, so far it has been a new game that we play at the end of the school day and then the following Friday afternoon. I am trying to think of other ideas though because I am having trouble coming up with new games. The day before no one is allowed in the classroom because we want the final set up or decorations to be somewhat of a surprise. I also make sure to have some new school supplies on each child’s desk which they really enjoy. After breakfast, we see what’s in the gift page and then we walk into the classroom to see all the new stuff. We start this day and many (not every) days throughout the year with the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag, the Christian Flag and the Bible. We also sing and pray.
We used to work on learning a song in sign language until my oldest daughter started taking college classes on ASL and found out we were doing it all wrong, so that is no longer allowed. I am very proud of her she is now majoring in deaf studies and planning to become a certified deaf interpreter so our incorrect lessons at least triggered her interest into what God was calling her to and it’s okay because she now teaches us a bit of signing.
Their first day each child writes something about how they have changed since last year and what they think their upcoming year will be like. This assignment of course has gotten longer as they have gotten older and their writing abilities have improved. They also draw a self portrait. It is really fun to look at how these have changed over the years. I usually do a new activity each year too. Like one year we traced their entire body and they made that their self portrait. I often get a new special book to read to all of them at the same time or each child takes a turn reading a page or two to everyone out of their new reading book or novel that they will be using with their language arts program. Besides all this I try to start on at least one or two of their regular subjects that day even if it is just very brief. We also have special lunch all packed up in cute lunch bags that we seldom have a chance to use so they are still special. We take our lunch bags and go sit in the yard or living room(depending on the weather) for a picnic. The first day is always fun and exhausting.
I spend the next several days moving into all of our curriculum and establishing routines. They may not be the most productive days but the effort to establish some simple routines pays off all year long. We learn.