How To Start Homeschooling
So many people e-mail me asking this question that it would probably be easier to just dedicate a page to it. Unfortunately, there isn't just one way to do it. The laws vary from state to state & there is an overwhelming number of curriculum available out there. I will try to set you off in the right direction but, like everything else that matters in life, you are going to have to find your nook.
The very first thing you should do is try to find out the law in your state. You can try to find statewide or local groups in your area that can help you find these things out but it is definitely your responsibility to check that the information you receive is correct. A letter to the state Department of Education will probably give you the most accurate information in terms of the exact laws pertaining to you. Other than telling you what the law is, you can NOT necessarily trust what they tell you to do in terms of following it. So now what? Find a local or statewide group of homeschoolers who are already doing it to help you make sure that you are following the terms of the law. For example, I live in NJ. We are in a legal loophole. I was told by the state Department of Education to get in contact with my local school district. Another homeschooler advised me to just send in my letter of intent along with a copy of the curriculum. I did this & the only thing that happened was getting a not very supportive letter back. Another friend tried going through the district & was told that they would prosecute her (she didn't know the law very well & they knew it). I moved just 2 towns away & got in touch with a friend who had successfully homeschooled here for 6 years. They are much more supportive here & will even give me a copy their curriculum for a small copying fee! As you can see, if I had followed the state's advice, I probably would have been intimidated right out of it! You can find a decent starting point for finding a group at National, State, and Local Support.
A question that comes up a lot at this point is whether or not to join the HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association). There are many factors that go into this but it is a personal decision. If you are feeling very insecure in your footing that first year, you may consider this option. I know of several people who have joined just to get through that first year. I DO advise that before you sign up with them, you investigate them as you would any other business that you are considering working with. If you ask about them on the message boards, e-mail loops, or newsgroups, you will find that this is a hot-button issue for homeschoolers so, in the end, you will have to rely on your own needs or desires to make this decision.
So far, you have found out the law & found a local group. Now you need a curriculum. For starters, you have to figure out what it is you want to/have to teach. You can get a general idea of what is covered by going to these pages:
The Mental Edge, or
World Book Typical Courses of Study
And, to find out your specific state standards, you can check out Developing Educational Standards. You do not have to follow this very closely since anything you don't cover, you can get to next year. Children also learn on their own internal schedules. For example, a late bloomer in reading may catch up to grade level in one year or less and a child who took a long time to grasp the math basics may fly through several years of math in a short period of time. Homeschoolers have the advantage of time on their side. You can learn anytime & anywhere so please don't stress yourself out trying to do things on an average curriculum if your child just isn't ready for that particular goal. On the other hand, if your child is flying in a particular skill or topic, don't clip his wings simply because the "curriculum" says you shouldn't cover that topic for another year or two. The whole idea is to tailor your curriculum to yours & child's needs & when you realize that, it will take a lot of the pressure off of you.
To find out what curriculums are out there & what you might be interested in using, start by going to conferences or networking with other homeschoolers to see what they have. You can also ask questions on homeschooling message boards, newsgroups, & e-mail loops. Try to get your kids involved in this one since you can get the "best" curriculum out there but if it doesn't suite your teaching style or your kids' learning style, then you just wasted money. Many homeschoolers don't even use a formal curriculum - they just figure out what they want to cover & hit the library. You can also find lots of lesson plans & mini classes here on the net. Remember, this is a personal decision so try not to be swayed into getting something simply because someone else likes it. I personally have 2 very different children & the only curriculum that they both are using is Writing Strands; everything else is different & based on their needs, interests, & abilities. This may sound overwhelming, but it really isn't as hard as it sounds. For example, if you have a child who would rather play with legos than crack a textbook, you don't want to get a typical "fill-in-the-blank" textbook; you would probably have an easier time using a project oriented unit study. If you have a child who loves workbooks, then get some workbooks! Do they love computer games? Then check out some software! If you are not sure of what kind of learning style your child is, spend some major time with him/her following one of their interests. This will give you a handle on what their interests are & how they learn best.
There is a very basic way of finding out what you need to know about a curriculum just by asking the right questions. Don't just ask why someone likes something, find out what they DON'T like, too, and find out why. The very reason that they may dislike it may be exactly why you would. A good example of this is when a friend & I compare software. I personally am very happy with open-ended problems and creative problem solving; she likes multiple choice, straight-forward stuff. As you can see, something that my family & I would use & enjoy just wouldn't fit her bill!
Also, keep in mind that if you are reading this, you have one of the most flexible learning & research resource tools at your disposal - the Internet. Not only can you find resources to cover almost any topic, you also have online classes & teachers available to you 24 hours a day. I am not condoning having your children wired in 24/7, but there are a lot of resources available online that you can use offline, too, such as science experiments, lesson plans, & book lists. Many libraries are also online so you can see if the books you need are available before you get there!
If you are not comfortable that first year doing things on your own, check out a satellite or umbrella school which will help you choose a curriculum & help with the teaching duties. They will also keep a transcript for you in most cases & many of them will run interference with school districts if the need arises. Make sure that you ask a lot of questions to find out what is expected of you & your children, how flexible they are in terms of curriculum, time, price, etc. In short, all of the things you would ask if you were putting your child into a private school.
One thing I do NOT advise the first year is to "bring school home." By that I mean a separate book for each subject along with making & grading tests, designing a daily, detailed lesson plan, etc. This is the fastest route to burnout for most! I did this the first four months & it was maddening! Unless you are a very organized & a naturally detailed person & doing this type of thing fits your personality, it can be very, very difficult.
Keep in mind that homeschooling can be very flexible and that you can easily cover many skills in one topic. For example, my daughter wants to be a paleontologist. She studies dinosaurs on her own & we are hoping to go on a dig this summer. She writes reports (grammar, writing, research skills, biology), learns to spell the names of the dinosaurs and their time periods (spelling), where they were found (geography), the layers of earth she must dig through as well as the types of rock that fossils can be found in (earth science). If you are insecure covering a certain subject, you may be able to find a fellow homeschooler, family member, friend, teacher, or other tutor to teach it or at least be able to answer any questions that may arise!
The absolute best thing you can do is to model how important education is! Set a good example by admitting if you don't know something & then finding the answer! Take a class! You will ultimately find yourself learning right along with your kids!
No matter what curriculum or path you follow, be prepared to ditch something if it doesn't seem to be working. That is one of the beauties of homeschooling! You will be doing a lot of tweaking of this nature the first year or two, especially if you have taken them out of a public or private school. You will also find yourself tweaking as your children get older & their learning styles & needs change. This is normal! Your best bet that first year or two is to buy things used whenever possible so that you won't be quite so hesitant to drop it if it isn't working. You may also want to keep in mind that anything you are no longer using, some other homeschooler may be looking for!
On an emotional level, be prepared for a bit of a roller coaster the first few years. Not only are some of your friends & family not going to understand, you may also feel some twinges of self doubt. THIS IS NORMAL - IT SHOWS YOU CARE! Although you can not control how your friends & family may feel, try to keep in mind why you decided to do this. If you have a lot of support, that's great! If you don't, keep in mind WHO is responsible for your children. Be aware that most people who are against homeschooling know little or nothing about it, so try to educate them & include them in activities. If this doesn't work, you may want to limit time with these people or decide that this is a topic that you don't want to discuss (if they care, they will agree to this). Don't get sucked into trying to please others; like anything else in life, if you try to do this, you will end up pleasing no one and getting nothing accomplished! Worry about your children, they are what matters! Once you have been doing this for a while, you will become more secure & any disputes will most likely roll off your back. If you stay focused on your goal of educating your children, you will be ok!
As you start investigating homeschooling through books & magazines, you may feel like a major underachiever! Don't be alarmed! Remember, whatever you are reading worked best for that particular person & you are not them! You can easily get overwhelmed with the volume of "good" information out there & that can backfire to the point that you get nothing done. Once you pick something, whether it is a style of learning such as unit studies or a type of curriculum such as a math textbook, stick with it unless it isn't working! I don't mean stop reading up on other options but, unless what you are using isn't working (& you should really give it more than a week or two to decide), stick with what you have since something "better" always seems to come along. Again, be aware that your family is unique and that even a curriculum that is great for 99.9% of the people may NOT be right for you. Also, if you spend too much time worrying about what you are or are not doing that someone else is or thinks you should be, you won't accomplish anything at all!
One hot button topic is to test or not to test. If testing will help you feel more secure, go for it! I do advise you to either test at home or to use testing software since this will help put yourself & your children more at ease & will also enable you to use testing for what it was really designed for - a diagnostic tool! You will find in a short time of working with your child, you will pretty much know what his/her strengths & weaknesses are without testing. I personally tested my son for several years & by the second or the third time, none of his scores came as any surprise; they just reinforced what I already knew! I am testing my youngest in part because we don't have a set curriculum & it just makes it easier for me to choose starting points & know when I am beating a dead horse
You may also be wondering about whether or not to use a grading system. Again, this is a personal choice. Although grading may help you and your child feel more secure, it can also backfire. I had this problem when I started with my oldest, who had already spent five years in public/private schools. Passing was a 70 in his last school &, if he passed , he fully expected to go on to the next lesson, even if all the errors where the same thing & he obviously didn't "get" it. I would want to go back over that particular skill & was informed that "in school we have to go on to the next chapter" because he passed the test! I dumped grading in a hurry! This does not mean I stopped correcting things; I simply went through & erased wrong answers & had him correct them. Don't confuse grading with report cards! I personally see nothing wrong with coming up with a school name & designing report cards for your kids to take advantage of some of the offers out there, such as free video rentals for good grades.
Lastly, the dreaded S question - socialization. You will hear this even more often than doubts about your teaching abilities! Let's start by looking at this from an extremely logical standpoint. Schools were never meant to be a place to "teach" social skills. They were supposed to be set up to educate a large number of children at once. Children were either homeschooled or sent to small, multi-grade, one room school houses for centuries & no one wondered about their "socialization." Our current system limits contact to only age/grade peers & limits contact even further by only allowing "socializing" during lunch & recess which is a total of about 40 minutes a day. (How many times were YOU told to stop talking to the student next to you in class?
Currently, the blame is falling on violent tv, video games, movies, etc. Have you ever read the unabridged Grimms Fairy Tales? Take a good look at history & you will see that for many time periods, violence was a part of life. What seems to have been taken out of the equation is adults. Children just are not spending enough time with adults to learn to respect others and to pick up basic moral values. Adults also should be taking on the responsibility of deciding just how much of this enters their children's lives & to take the time to discuss these things with them when they do. Children are curious creatures by nature and I think that is what causes the ratings system to backfire. They want to know why they are too young for something so they will find a way to see it. We have turned over the responsibility of what our children come in contact with to others & THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING! You will have a lot more success if you spend time with your children & model values for them rather than just leaving it up to others to make the decision for you! Yes, watching some shows with them or before them can be time consuming & sometimes boring & cruising the net with them when you could think of a dozen other things you should be or could be doing can seem futile, but it will pay off in the end! They will have more respect for you & know that you cared. Also, make yourself available to them and they will know that they are important! For example, my son, who was 15 at the time, had been using IRC chats for a long time with my supervision at first. After I taught him the basics, found a family oriented server, & he got his feet wet, he would chat mostly on his own. One night, he came in & asked me to help him with some obnoxious person who was bothering everyone (most of the others in the chats were teens). I entered the room under my own nickname & informed this person that if they couldn't behave they should leave. The others in the room knew me from a chat I ran on that server & stayed out of the conversation until I got rid of this person. Even at 15, he saw a problem he wasn't sure how to handle & he knew enough to call on mom! Trust me, it pays to be involved with your kids!
Now, how do you properly "socialize" your kids? There are many opportunities available to homeschoolers if you just look around you. First & foremost, since a lot of their waking hours will be spent with either yourself or a mix of adults & children, you are already one step ahead of the game. Your children will learn that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, no matter what their age and will learn to judge others based on their whole personality rather than just a small part of it. Keep in mind that there will still be personality clashes but now you can teach your child to deal with these situations as an adult would rather than resorting to name calling, bullying, etc. As for opportunities, check out local homeschool groups, sports teams, the local Y, adult schools (many offer classes & programs for kids) and your church, synagogue, or other house of worship. If you can't find anything that interests you, try starting up your own group with advertisements in local papers, libraries, store bulletin boards, community cable access, and the internet.
A Day at Haven Academy lists their typical homeschool day.
Aquinas Homeschool Books Homeschooling Tips and Q & A includes articles about Teaching Preschoolers, Teaching Foreign Languages, Making Geography Interesting, & How to Help Your Children Start a Business.
The Bauer Homeschool includes their ideas about homeschooling as well as how to get started.
Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum is a great article that may help you with this sometimes overwhelming decision.
Donna's Home Page has homeschool forms you can print out including scheduling charts, lab sheets, journals, book report forms, calendars, chore charts, directions for making your own geosafari cards, & more!
Eclectic Home Educators offers several downloadable forms that you can us for homeschooling, in Microsoft Word format. If you can ot read these, their are also free viewers that you can download here.
Eclectic Homeschool Download Page offers schedules, planners, forms for history time lines, and more!
Finfrock's To Home School or Not To Homeschool is a great resource for making the decision whether or not to homeschool. Includes info on myths about homeschooling, reasons to homeschool, pros and cons, socialization, costs, a compilation of notes from other homeschooling parents, kids, and headlines, & how to get started.
Helpful Forms for Home & School offers 17 forms for various curriculum content areas as well as 4 forms for making grocery lists & menus.
Highland Heritage Forms offers 119 forms covering everything from organization & grading to social studies & art!
Home Crusaders Homeschool Forms, Schedules & Aids is all in .pdf & .doc format.
Home's Cool! Get Organized for Homeschool is a site for novices & veterans alike! Here you will find ideas, articles, forms & more to help you declutter, get organized, and keep your homeschool and family life running!
Homeschool Free Schedules offers several different schedules that you can print out right from the net!
Homeschool-Fun Typical Homeschool Days Lot's of people ask what a typical homeschool day is like; here you can find different families accounts.
Homeschool Forms on the Web is a Christian site that has many different forms & worksheets you may find useful! Icluded in the mix are reports card forms, transcripts, schedules & topical forms/worksheets/coloring pages in subjects such as science & social studies!
How to Start Your Own Homeschooling Support Group is gives tips & advice on how to start your own group!
The Imperfect Homeschooler Free Page offers several enlightning articles on the day-to-day trials & tribulations of homeschooling.
Linda's Homeschool Pages Typical Day lists her schedule & other info.
ParentPatch Homeschool Forms includes links to forms to help you organize & schedule your homeschool. Also included are links to chore charts & To-Do lists.
Quailhaven Academy's Homeschool Schedules offers forms for schedules.
Sassafrass Grove Tea Time includes homeschool FAQ's covering everything from socialization to burnout!
Tammy's (Mostly) Home Schooling Curriculum and Book Reviews has the reviews broken down by topic, author, or title.
Tipztime Homeschool Schedules are free to print out. You may also want to check out their Chore Charts. Of special interest for people who are trying to organize their homeschool are the Certificates page, which includes an Excellence Certificate, Kindergarten Diploma, Spelling Certificate, & a Preschool Diploma, and the Charts page, which includes Daily Lesson Plan, Weekly Lesson Plans, Daily Time Schedule, To Do List, HomeSchooling Journal, Weekly Food Menu, Homeschool Diary, Grade Sheets, Report Cards, & more!
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