Thursday, March 12, 2015

Homeschooling 101: Where Do I Start?

Perhaps you're just thinking about homeschooling your child, or maybe you've already pulled your child out of public or private school.  Who knows, maybe you're just a curious person who has no intention of teaching your child at home.  Regardless, welcome!

For those of us who weren't homeschooled as children, the process of starting a homeschool journey with your children can seem daunting.  Because each state and country is different, I can't give you a detailed step by step of what to do, but I can give you a direction to go.

How To Homeschool Your Child

1) Laws: Search online to find out what the homeschool laws are in your state or country.  Some countries don't allow homeschooling.  Every state in the USA does allow homeschooling, but some states can be very strict with rules and regulations while other states don't care and have no rules for homeschooling at all.  Finding out what homeschool laws pertain to you should be the first place you start.  For instance, if you live in a state that says you must write a letter of intent to the local school district, and that your child must take a state test every three years, then you know that to start in your state you have to write that letter of intent.

2) See What's Local: Search online in local school and mom groups, look on Facebook and Craigslist, and talk to the local school district to see what kind of support is available in your area for homeschool families.  We are fortunate to live in an area with a thriving community of homeschool families.  We have a local group on Facebook that plans field trips, parties, get togethers, art classes, hikes, curriculum swaps and show and tells, and other things for the kids to do.  If there are no groups like this in your area, then you should start one!  Don't underestimate the power of having a positive and lively support group.  If you have people around you that are also homeschooling, then you have people to talk to and ask questions to about local laws and regulations, curriculum, state testing, and to organize get togethers with.

3) Figure Out How You're Going To Pay For Curriculum: Some people do the free thing, and that's cool.  Others want a set curriculum for each subject though, and that can be costly even if you buy used.  If you want to pay for everything yourself that's awesome, but if not then speak to your local school district to see if there are any programs that will pay for the curriculum for you.  We live in an area (the only county in our state that I know of that does this), where the county school district will buy all curriculum provided that it isn't religious, art or music related.  The trade off?  We go for one hour a week to their classroom with other homeschooler's my child's age so they can be sure we haven't absconded to another state or county with all of the nice curriculum they've purchased.  It's not a bad trade off.  We can still use what we want and my child gets an hour of play time.  Other states have programs where you must use their curriculum if you enroll, and some states have programs like ours.  Just see what's available and what their rules are.

4) Learn How To Choose Curriculum: I've already written a handy step by step post for choosing curriculum without pulling your hair out HERE.

5) Figure Out Your Goals: You'll need to do this for step #4.  Think about why you want to homeschool and write down 1-5 goals for what you want to accomplish by homeschooling.  Looking at these goals every once in a while is a great way to stay focused and on track and to remind you when you get frustrated why you started this in the first place.

6) Know That It Isn't Always Going To Be Easy.  There are going to be days when you struggle to find motivation to continue homeschooling.  There are going to be days when you or your student are frustrated.  There are going to be days when friends, family, or neighbors question your motivations and your ability to parent because of your choice to homeschool.  There are going to be days where you doubt yourself.  

Listen, homeschooling isn't for everyone, ok?  It's a lot of work.  You don't put your kids on a bus and send them to school, greet them when they come home and then help with homework before they go to bed.  You have them all day long.  

You wake them up, feed them, teach them, help them with their work, grade the work, administer tests, grade the tests, do reviews, organize field trips and play dates, help them with projects, drive your child to sports, choir, or whatever other social and extracurricular activities they're involved in, you work hard to find new and interesting ways to keep your child motivated to do their work in a timely and correct manner, you plan curriculum, you buy curriculum, you organize your work space, you decorate your school space if you have a dedicated one, and if you're one of those lucky parents who is homeschooling more than one child, you get to do all of this for different age groups (I know of parents that homeschool more than 5 children at once).  

Did I scare you?  I hope I didn't.  It's doable.  It's manageable.  And at times it can be a whole lot of fun and can be very rewarding on top of that.  We all have our reasons for homeschooling, we all have our goals.  Whatever those reasons or goals are we have to remember why we're doing this and then try to do the best by our children that we can possibly do.  Ignore the naysayers who say your child won't be socialized (they are ignorant and you will have the responsibility of educating them in as polite a way as possible).  Ignore those who say you aren't the best teacher your child can have because you don't have a teaching degree (see previous link).  Ignore the self doubt that you have and do the best you can do.  Be the best you can be for your kids.

7) Research The Different Methods Of Homeschooling.  What?  There are different methods?  Yes, a lot of them.  You can run your school like a public school classroom, or not.  Some methods you may wish to look up online and become familiar with are: Eclectic (a mixture of different methods), Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Power Teaching (Whole Brain Teaching), Waldorf, Montessori, Internet Schooling, Unit Studies (Project Based Learning), and School at Home.  There are more, but these are the main methods different families typically use.  We actually use an eclectic method, meaning I use certain aspects of different methods that I like.  In our house we march to the beat of our own drum.  

Now you could just get or make curriculum and do your own thing.  One of the joys of homeschooling is finding what works for you and your family and doing it that way.  Not everybody has to do the same thing.  Each child learns in a different way and responds to different approaches.  One of the reasons many people pull their kids from traditional schools is because sitting at a desk all day doesn't work out for them and squashes down their creativity and natural curiosity and love of learning.  Find the method that works best for you to bring those things back for your child.

8) Get Family Involved.  If your family is supportive of you homeschooling your children, get them involved.  Ask if grandpa would like to teach the kids practical math by building a bird house (or whatever he's into).  Ask if that nifty aunt you have who works for the animal shelter will let the kids get involved there and volunteer a couple of times a month.  What about your spouse?  Homeschooling doesn't have to be just mom's responsibility.  There are a lot of dads who homeschool, and even more families where both the mom and dad are involved.  Figure out if your spouse wants to be involved, figure out how the responsibilities will be divided (choosing and ordering curriculum, dealing with state and government requirements, teaching certain subjects etc).  Figure out which spouse wants to teach what and when.

9) Discipline.  You obviously know what works best to discipline your child.  The thing is, that might not work well during school time, especially with younger children who may not be accustomed to doing school.  For example, some families threaten their children... "Johnny, if you don't clean your room up right now you're going to be grounded."  Possibly this kind of motivation is what gets your child moving.  Now equate that to a school setting, "Johnny, if you don't focus and finish your worksheet in the next five minutes you're going to be grounded."  That is the fast track to burning out yourself and your child, and getting your child to hate everything that has to do with school or learning.  

It helps to come up with rules as a family and have the kids participate in making the rules (you'd be surprised what they come up with), having the rules written down in bright bold colors and put on the wall where all can see and refer to.  When the kids are involved in making the rules, they are more likely to abide by them.

It also helps to use positive reinforcement techniques instead of negative reinforcement techniques.  In regular school the teachers don't have the ability to ground kids and in some schools time out is not even allowed.  Teachers the world over have had to find ways to motivate students.  You could use a token economy system (see #6 in this post), use words of praise, or even break work up into smaller chunks and intersperse the work with a lot of breaks.  Some people use a time for time system (something like... for every page in the workbook you complete, you earn 10 minutes of TV, video games, etc etc).  You can also remind your student when they're unfocused of the positive thing that is waiting for them when they're done with their work.  You don't have to bargain with them or 'bribe' them, that's not what I'm saying.  But during 'school' time there are plenty of positive things you can do to keep kids on track and keep learning fun instead of a task to be dreaded.

I hope these nine points have helped give you a direction to go in if you're new to homeschooling, curious about it, or considering it.  If you have questions about what's been written here, or comments, let us know in a comment below.

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