9/1/15

how to start homeschooling


The whole idea of homeschooling can seem a bit daunting at first, and if you're anything like me, the decision to homeschool didn't come easily, but after many a late night researching all the options for educating your children. It definitely isn't a decision we take lightly! We have always said we will take it one year at a time and so far, homeschooling has been a great fit for our family, and something we feel very passionate about. And we're not the only ones, homeschooling has become much more common! This is a great article on how more and more urban families are choosing to homeschool.

Of course, once you decide to homeschool, you get to wade through all the curriculum choices too. I mean there are just so many options! It can definitely feel overwhelming. But one thing I have learned in our several years of homeschooling, is that it really isn't as hard as it may seem. In fact, at this point, I would definitely say, having to manage all the kids being in public or private schools full time would be more difficult than homeschooling. And it's different for everyone of course. For others, homeschooling may be more difficult or not a good a fit for them or their child. I'm a big proponent of doing what works best for your own family.

So let's say you love the idea of homeschooling. Great! But where do you begin?

I've put together this post with some basic recommendations that I hope will be helpful to anyone just starting out.

HOMESCHOOL LAWS

First, I would recommend looking into the homeschool laws in your area. You can visit the homeschool legal defense website for info on the laws in each state. In our area, for children ages 8 and up, we are required to register as homeschoolers and take annual standardized testing for our records. It varies from state to state so you definitely want to know what you're getting into when considering homeschooling.

HOMESCHOOLING METHOD

Next, you can think about your homeschooling approach. There are many different methods of educating your children at home and sometimes you even have to try a few things out in order to find what works for your family. This page has a good overview of some of the more popular methods of homeschooling. Classical, traditional, montessori, unschooling, waldorf, child-led education, online schooling, maybe even a charter program where they homeschool while also attending part time classes? Again, tons of options! Consider what your child's learning style is and then explore what might be a good fit for him. This is a great article for understanding the basic learning styles in children and another about left brain vs right brain learning.

For us, our general homeschooling approach has been based on Finland's education system which you can read more about here. We don't follow any formal bookwork until the age of seven and  really emphasize more free play when they're young. That and a combination of classical, montessori, and unschooling works really well for our kids.  So far, we are putting their curriculum together ourselves instead of using one program for all subjects, which makes it easy to combine teaching methods. I like doing it this way because it gives us more freedom to tailor their education, but it is more work than using a set curriculum, so you have to think about how much time you want to spend researching and lesson planning. We do take our Latin lessons online and I have to admit, it's nice to have someone else teaching for that hour while I can just offer study support (also helpful because I am not fluent in Latin! so I'm learning right along with the kids). There may be certain subjects you feel more confident in teaching yourself and others that you want to rely on curriculum for. 





EXTRACURRICULAR

Once you've settled on a general style of homeschooling, think about any extracurriculars your child may be interested in taking. One of the biggest benefits to homeschooling is all the extra time you have! Our actual schoolwork usually only takes less than half a school day, leaving the rest of the day to attend extracurricular classes, work on hobbies, and spend more time together as family.

Our kids have loved things like gymnastics, ballet, tennis, and art interpretation. This year we will go to a Montessori class twice a week as well as continue their weekly Catholic faith formation classes. We also have seasonal environmental education programs where they learn about our native forests and wildlife and get to meet rehabilitated animals that they look forward to every year. Check your local parks and libraries for programs! Museums, zoos, aquariums, and community centers also offer classes or even drop in activity days that are fun for little ones. Consider getting memberships to these places. With our little nature enthusiasts, we spend a lot of time at the natural history museum and the zoo! Most museums also have free admission days, so make sure to check their calendars. We have several museum memberships, but also try to hit a different one every month on their free day. We chose not to enroll our kids in swimming lessons, but rather get a family membership to the aquatic center so we can all go swimming together. Think about which things you'd like them receive instruction on and what things are better just for doing together on your own. As they get older, check into local college lectures they can sit in on. Our oldest two have sat in on a dozen free lectures at our university and even received some amazing advice from speakers about following their passions.









SOCIALIZATION

This may be one of the most over-used homeschool words of all time. The whole idea that children must attend full-time public or private school in order to be properly socialized, is really quite absurd.  But people will bring this up, so take time to think about it. Here is a great article on the socialization topic. My advice is, don't stress over it. Instead, focus on providing your child with an amazing, well rounded life!

When you're just getting started homeschooling, get to know other homeschooling families in your area so you can get together during regular school hours when the zoos and parks aren't as crowded. Even meeting up at a local cafe with the kids' sketchbooks in hand. Most areas have homeschool co-ops and groups you can join for activities, classes, field trips, and even just weekly playdates. If you can't find a group that's a good fit, start one of your own! You can also look online for support. There are a lot of homeschool groups on Facebook for different styles of homeschooling and also for specific cities. We're in a local group where we take regular field trips together and it's been a really fun part of our homeschooling!

I want to touch on another aspect of socialization as well. With the extra time that homeschooling allows us, we've been able to be involved in a variety of volunteer activities with the kids. Its been an amazing way to foster compassion in them from an early age. And as they've grown, they've developed a real sense of responsibility and connection with our community. So I urge you to look into volunteer opportunities at your local parish, parks, hospitals, even some homeless shelters have programs where you can prepare food or bags to donate if you're not comfortable serving in the soup kitchen with your little ones. In addition, we've been able to really support the kids' relationships with friends and family of all ages. That means they've been able to be exceptionally close to great grandparents, grandparents, our friends, our babies. It's pretty wonderful.



GETTING STARTED

Now that you've covered your bases, think about when you'd like to get started! If you don't have legal requirements, you can chose what parts of the year you want to do schooling. Some do it year round so they can take breaks when it best suites their family and others like the routine of a September through June school year. It really just depends on the state you live in and what kind of schedule you prefer. We do schooling almost year round so we can enjoy our breaks at various times throughout the year, such as when we welcome a new baby or have really amazing weather or decide to head to Disneyland when it's not too crowded. The flexibility is really wonderful! 

Think about how many days a week you want to do schooling, four or five? Maybe just three for little ones? Consider what your schedules are like and what time of day might work best for schoolwork. Mine are much more focused in the morning so I like to get a few lessons done right after breakfast. In the winter, we like to make hot chocolate and get to the books as soon as the little ones are done at the table. Obviously, it's more complicated with lots of kiddos around, but you find a rhythm that works. We use a daily chart to help remind the kids what they need to do each day and I schedule our lesson plans each week to help keep on task (otherwise, some mornings, I will be too tired to remember what we're supposed to be doing!) I'm working on a more in depth scheduling post for homeschooling, but in the mean time I hope this info has been helpful to any of you just starting out on your homeschooling journey!



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