Starting Homeschool: First Steps

Spring is coming (although there is little evidence of that here) and every year the homeschooling groups get a sudden influx of parents who are realizing that they are unhappy with the way this school year went and are now considering homeschool.  This is especially true of the special needs groups, as IEP meetings happen and parents are not satisfied with where their child’s education is going.  For all of you who are considering homeschool or have already decided in that direction, I have put together some resources to help you get started.  We’ll start with some general information and I will include more detailed information in the weeks to come.

R having fun

Where to start:

1.  Research the requirements in your state.
Do you need to do standardized testing?  Are you required to register somewhere?  Here is a good starting point:

2.  Learn about on the different homeschool methods (brief chart below).
There are books about most of them, but you can also read some of the many homeschool blogs that will tell you why they love their particular style of homeschooling.  Be sure to read many different perspectives so that you get a complete picture of the pros and cons of each, although most people don’t stick to one strictly.

3.  Look at the curriculum available.
Many places will send you catalogs and you can see samples online.  If you attend a homeschool convention you can also see them in person.  Some maybe available at teacher’s supply stores, but most are not.

4.  Do some planning.
What do you want your kids to learn this year?  Here is how I planned P’s first grade year and here is our fifth grade plan for D  You don’t have to be as detailed as I am, but it is a good idea to figure out where you are going so that you can evaluate which are the correct tools to get you there.  It helps you avoid the mid-year feeling of “Why did I waste so much time on that?”

5.  Jump in!
Start with some things that are light and fun to get used to the idea of learning at home.  Use summer break to do some fun science experiments or projects.  I would strongly advise against spending a lot of money your first year because you will find that what you thought would be great may not work as well as you thought for your kids.  If you really want to try something that is a little expensive, try getting it used.

Changing your plan is not a sign of failure!  Don’t feel bad if you need to scrap something you thought would be great and go in another direction.  Homeschool in real life is usually nothing like what you imagined in your head.

Method Description More info:
Classical Based on The Trivium – Little ones are in the “Grammar Stage” (learning basics to build on), the “Logic Stage” at about middle school (learning the way things fit together, more analytical), High School is ” Rhetoric Stage” where students perfect their skills and learn to communicate their now more sophisticated knowledge well.  Four year cycles of learning, most also learn Latin. The Well Trained Mind (by Susan Wise Bauer)
Charlotte Mason Heavy emphasis on the Humanities, especially literature.  Uses narration and copywork, many CM homeschoolers do a lot of unit studies. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series
Unschooling Following the child’s lead in what he/she wants to learn, not requiring anything in particular, but encouraging their own curiosity. The Underground History of American Education (by John Taylor Gatto)
Eclectic A mix of different methods This describes most homeschoolers that I know.
Traditional Based on what children usually do in public schools a traditional school environment
Unit Study Integrating all subjects into areas of study.  A study of the rainforest might include a science study of what plants/animals live in the rainforest, literature based on someone’s life in the rainforest, math problems adding up jungle animals and geography lessons locating rainforests on a map. Usually a mix of unschooling ideas (follow what they love) and Charlotte Mason.  It is also a way to teach children in different grades with the same content but different assignments for each child.
Delayed Academics Young children simply explore their world (like unschooling), with no pressure to read, write and do academics until they show interest. Better Late than Early (by Raymond and Dorothy Moore)
Literature-Based All areas (except math usually) are explored through literature.  Biographies and historical fiction are used for social studies and math. Sonlight is probably the most well known curriculum that uses this method.  Charlotte Mason is often literature-based.

Homeschool Schedules

One of the things that people ask me most is what our “homeschool day” looks like.  Homeschool will look different in every home depending on:
-how many outside activities you are involved in-whether your kids (and/or you) do well with structure
-your “homeschool style” (un-schooling vs traditional)
-when you and your children work best (morning, afternoon, evening)
-the age of your children
-your work schedule (if you work outside the home)

I have nothing against a more loosely scheduled day or even un-schooling if that works for you and your kids, but for me and for my children (at least for now), we all do better with a much more structured day.  No, we do not have a strict schedule that we stick to every day, but we do often make schedules when I feel like we are getting to out of control.  Usually we work from lists.  Over the summer I make a plan for each subject – what I want to teach and how I will teach with what resources in the year ahead.  I break that up into the ten months and I work off those plans all year.  Each weekend I make a list of what we will do that week and then we work from there.

In a “normal” week this past year, I assigned D a total of 27 different assignments for a week.  He did seven each day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, five on Thursday and he went to our homeschool co-op  on Fridays and did one assignment at home on Friday.  In the evening he also read another 30 minutes, did a page of cursive practice and one page of math facts review.  It seems like a lot, but it helps that we do several shorter assignments throughout the week instead of one day with lots of math or lots of literature.  Doing more frequent short assignments helps them to “stick” better for us and when projects are done in small chunks there is less avoiding of those “hard” subjects.  We also take days off or postpone assignments if it gets to be too much.  Sometimes a subject that I thought would be easy ends up being more difficult.  Other times maybe we’re just enjoying a subject and don’t want to move on quite yet, so within all that structure, there is still flexibility.  I try to leave lots of extra room in my monthly plans so that we don’t have to feel pressured.

Here is a sample work list for a random week:

weekly checklist grid March 12 through March 16

The details of the assignment are not there – just a quick summary, but Diego looks at the schedule over breakfast and picks which subjects he wants to do and he is usually mostly done by lunch.  Some days go better than others.  If I have to go to work for a few hours, it is usually a much less productive day.  If it seems like we are getting to 4:00 before he’s done, I usually start to make a specific schedule with times and I let him earn 15 minutes of video game playing for each subject finished on time.  No, we do not stick with a schedule to the minute and we don’t beat ourselves up if we have to skip something, but it does help get us back on track though when we are not getting things done as quickly as we would like.  Here is a sample of one that we have used:

sample monday schedule

We also keep going year round – kind of.  We are “done” with 4th grade for the year, but we do Reading (one book from a list every two weeks), Writing and Math in the summer.  If he is quick, D can finish in an hour to 90 minutes, but usually he takes his time since I won’t let him play video games all day anyway.  I am just starting to do some things with R more formally (no pressure, of course) and  P is still in school a little over half day and will have half a day of summer school also, so he just has a few short assignments.  Here is a recent summer work list:

summer work list

I don’t push my homeschool methods on anyone else.  I don’t even push homeschooling on anyone else, but this is what I have found works well for us (for now) and maybe someone else can benefit from it.