|

A Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling

Dear new homeschooler,

Five years ago, I was in your shoes. My child was in public school but it had become very clear – halfway through first grade – that school was not a good fit. Her mental health was suffering and she had severe anxiety, among other behaviors and challenges.

I spent those five months of first grade watching my child struggle, talking to every homeschooler I knew, crying myself to sleep, and petrified to take the leap. Even though we had considered homeschooling from the beginning, it seemed overwhelming and like there'd be no turning back, ever.

Maybe you have a child who is struggling. Bedtime fights, morning meltdowns, school refusal? Are you tired of being the Homework Enforcer?

Or maybe you just feel in your gut that you want more time with your kids, that their childhood is slipping away.

Maybe your child is being bullied. Maybe there are learning challenges that need support, but the support isn't helping.

Start taking pictures of everything – it's a great way to learn together & document.

I'm here to tell you that making the choice to homeschool could be life changing for your family.

It was for ours. Night and day.

By the way? We found out later, much later, that my precious daughter is 2e (twice exceptional). She's gifted, autistic, ADHD, and a few other uniquenesses. For her, getting through school equaled masking (with its corresponding decline in mental health, anxiety, and post-school meltdowns) and she is very, very sure she never wants to set foot in a school again.

Whatever your story, I'd like to encourage you that homeschooling is a viable option and could actually be the best decision you ever make for you and your kids.

What is homeschooling anyway?

Homeschooling, or home education, is an alternative to public schooling and is legal in all 50 states.

It's important to know that homeschooling is different from public school learn-at-home programs, parent partnership programs, or other alternative learning programs offered through public school systems. Although a student in one of these programs may indeed complete their schoolwork at home, they are not homeschoolers in the legal sense.

Homeschoolers are students who have been withdrawn from public or private school and all educational decisions are made by the parents.

By the way – zoom school, pandemic school, and other learn-at-home measures created by public schools over the past couple of years are NOT homeschooling. That's important because I know, for a lot of families, pandemic school was a nightmare.

Homeschooling doesn't have to look anything like a full day of zoom calls.

Why is homeschooling important?

The legal right to homeschool, and for parents and students to be able to choose homeschooling, is incredibly important.

There are multitudes of reasons why public schooling may not be ideal for a child. Here are some stories I have heard from homeschooling families:

  • A child has chronic or sudden medical issues and physically cannot manage school. Many families have been threatened with truancy for missing too many days, even when a child has documented medical concerns.
  • A child has dealt with bullying or other social issues that have not been resolved by the school.
  • Families have the opportunity to travel because of the parents' work.
  • A child's learning is so asynchronous (meaning: kiddo might be at grade level for one subject, “advanced” in another, and “behind” in another) that s/he is continually frustrated at school.
  • A child struggling with mental health issues finds the demands of school overwhelming and shuts down.
  • A child with learning challenges cannot get complex needs met, even with an IEP or other learning plan.
  • Autistic children have some particularly distressing stories: being put into locked “calm down rooms,” having police called, or worse.

It's not always a negative experience with school, though. Sometimes, families choose to homeschool simply to have more time with their children. Some families also wish to include a religious or spiritual component to their child(ren)'s education.

Families of kids who are exceptional athletes, dancers, or who are actors at a young age often homeschool to allow their kids to train and follow those passions!

OK, but really. How do I start homeschooling?

1. Do your research and understand your state's homechooling laws.

This is really important. Without doing your due diligence and following your state's laws, you're not homeschoolers – you're truant public schoolers. Don't do that!

Homeschool.com has an excellent page with state-by-state homeschooling requirements in a handy table. They also have a page listing local homeschooling groups by state. Local Facebook homeschooling groups are where you can find all the details, too.

2. Withdraw your kidlet(s) from school.

In our state, I had to write a letter of withdrawal and file a Declaration of Intent to Homeschool with the superintendent of our local schools. Find out what is necessary, and do it.

There are a few states in the northeast that have more stringent homeschool requirements, and require approval of plans before even withdrawing your child.

I already mentioned local Facebook homeschooling groups – but they are where you find other parents who are on the path and can explain how everything works. Find 'em. Join 'em.

3. Dust off your library card.

You don't have to buy curriculum right now. I repeat: do not spend money on curriculum right now. You'll 100% for sure buy something that's perfect for your learning style, and not your kid(s). Ask me how I know.

a pile of library books with a colorful bookbag
A recent library haul. We love graphic novels!

Take a trip to the library and load up on books, audio books, movies, CDs, and magazines your kids are interested in. Congratulations! You have started homeschooling and have your first curriculum all ready to go.

Yep, it really is that simple.

4. Let those kids catch up on a lot of sleep.

Seriously. Don't try to keep school hours. Especially if you have a tween or teen. Let. Them. Sleep. Watch the magic of how they become more able to manage emotions, less cranky, more fun to be around.

Here's a good starting schedule for new homeschoolers:

Wake up
Have breakfast
Play some video games
Watch a cool documentary with lunch
Go on a walk
Read some books and talk about them
Do some crafts or research projects they'd like to get into
Make dinner together
Watch a movie or funny reality show together
Stay up late because you can
Repeat

Have you picked your jaw up off the floor? Kim, where's the math? Where's the STEM? Where's the academic rigor?

Look, there's plenty of time for that, IF that's the direction you want your homeschool to go. The first few months are not where that's going to happen, though. You and your kids have to get used to a whole new way of living together. Let's do that first.

5. Read my post about getting started as a homeschooler.

Everything I wish I'd known five years ago, I put in this post for you.

6. Take a few months and deschool. Pretend you're on vacation.

Homeschooling is a BIG CHANGE. It's a change in the very fabric of your family life. It's also a change in the way your kids are going to be learning… no more classrooms of 20 people and one teacher.

In the homeschool world, we use the term deschooling to talk about this transition period and the sort of paradigm shift that goes along with it. Often, the kids have a much smoother process than the parents.

For me, the best deschooling happened when I thought about being on vacation or simply filling our days with joy. What special breakfast could I cook? How about we stay in pajamas and watch our favorite movies all day since it's pouring rain outside? What about being a tourist in your own town? Visit museums, art galleries, parks.

Ask your kids what would be fun. Some new legos or a new video game? Trying out that new restaurant that opened? Maybe a weekend trip if you can swing it in the budget (we like Great Wolf Lodge)?

The rule of thumb is one month of deschooling for every year your kiddo was at school. I find that to be the very minimum. Depending on your kid, whether school was traumatic for them… it could be a process that takes many more months or even a couple of years.

Frequently Asked Questions

Each state has different qualifications to homeshool, but homeschool parents are not required to be licensed teachers. Some require you to check in with a teacher, submit a portfolio, or take standardized tests yearly.

Homschool.com has a great summary of each state's homeschooling laws and how parents qualify to homeschool.

As a homeschool parent, your job is to facilitate learning and to source and select appropriate learning materials, and provide a rich learning environment. You may have to log a certain number of learning hours, check in monthly with an advisor, or teach certain subjects at certain times.

But, to more directly answer this question: I don't have to be an algebra teacher in order to find an excellent curriculum (either physical books or online), to help my child research questions, or to find a math mentor or tutor if my child needs one.

If you are a caring, involved parent, you can be a fantastic homeschool parent.

It doesn't have to. Your local library is a treasure trove.

But, before you even go down the rabbit holes of researching homeschool philosophies and endless options for your curriculum, read my post about getting started slowly. You need to learn more about how your kids learn before you put money into learning materials.

If you are wanting to parallel public school, grade-level learning, there are many free and low-cost curricula out there. Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool and Discovery K-12 are two.

Khan Academy is free. Education.com has tons of lesson plans, games, and printable worksheets that you can sort by grade level and subject.

Nature is better than a playground any day.

Time4Learning.com and Power Homeschool are low-cost monthly subscriptions that are grade-level based and follow Common Core standards. We have used both at various points in our homeschool journey.

Another option if you're more hands-on is to use The Core Knowledge Series books (“What My Fifth Grader Needs to Know”) as a base resource and build your curriculum off of the recommendations there. We love these books for the literature, poetry, history and arts selections.

You don't receive any state or federal funds to homeschool.

You don't have to.

Look. Take a step back and think about how weird school is for a minute. It's really odd that school has become the standard childhood socialization.

Where else in all of life are you:

  • placed into groups with age as the only deciding factor
  • forced to do tasks at the same pace and in the same way as everyone around you
  • given only limited opportunities to engage in personal interests and talk to others
  • had to ask permission to do things like use the restroom or eat

One of the things that happens for homeschooled kids is that interactions with adults aren't primarily a “teacher-student” dynamic. Homeschooling allows social skills to be built with people of all ages, as you go about living daily life and providing learning opportunities for your kids.

As my daughter accompanied me on all my daily errands over the years, she had the opportunity to engage with people in all kinds of situations in society. From our favorite clerk at the Post Office, to the librarians in the children's section, to the waiter at our favorite restaurant.

Below is a pic of us when we went to the local airport for an informational program. It was a sunny fall afternoon and because it was during the workday, my daughter was the only kid there. It totally didn't stop her from answering (correctly) a question the airport manager asked. That's socialization, right there.

mom and daughter wearing masks and safety vests
On a lunchtime “Walk with the Manager” at our small-town airport.

Another great facet of homeschooling is that co-ops, play groups, and get togethers all tend to be kids (and adults) of varying ages. This is, I believe, the very best way for kids to learn to socialize – not just with same-age peers, but with all ages.

I haven't even talked about groups like scouts, church participation, private lessons, martial arts, 4H, hobby groups… the list goes on and on.

TL;DR – socialization isn't a problem. If socialization is a problem, it's much more about parenting than about homeschooling.

Yeah, I hear you. It's a scary decision!

I laid awake many, many nights before pulling our daughter from public school.

But truly, I'm telling you, the fear of making the decision is much worse than the decision itself. Once you are on the other side, you'll realize there is a lot of support around you and you are not alone.

My advice? Search Facebook for local homeschool groups and check out any upcoming meetups or ask for encouragement. The homeschool community is pretty darn fantastic.

Or send me an email and I'm more than happy to chat with you about this decision.

Nope.

You can make the decision to homeschool and withdraw your kiddos from public school at any time.

However, it's important to look up your state's homeschooling requirements and make sure you are doing what you need to do in order to be homeschooling legally. Some states require approval to homeschool before you can withdraw.

[If you simply stop sending your kids to school, you are not homeschooling. You are truant public schoolers. Don't do that.]

Well, what's weird anyway?

Making decisions that most of society wouldn't? Not wanting to look, or speak, or do the things that everyone else does? Being interested in topics others find boring? Or NOT being interested in the current social fads among peers?

Some families are drawn to homeschooling because they already march to a different beat.

Some families homeschool because they want to live a different kind of lifestyle (full time travel or living on a boat, for instance).

Some families homeschool because school was a traumatic and damaging environment for their kids.

Some families homeschool because school couldn't meet a specific child's needs.

Other kids were in school. We learned to fly stunt kites.

If we look at kids and declare them weird because they homeschool, or they aren't into the latest fashion trends or social media, or because they easily converse with adults or are allowed to dive deep in a particular interest… I think it says more about the person doing the judging than the homeschool kid.

Like I talked about in the socialization question above, we really have to take a step back and think about the framework we've all accepted. It's actually school that's weird. It's a very, very recent development in human history. Read about what award-winning educator John Taylor Gatto has to say about compulsory education.

Humans are just humans, and we're all kind of weird in our own ways!

Kids are just kids. And it's a lot of fun to watch their interests grow and bloom when you homeschool.

The last thing you need to know about homeschooling

You can totally do this. You really can.

Learn your state's requirements, then pull those kiddos out of school, load up on library books, and get some cozy new jammies. Connect with local homeschoolers – Facebook groups are a great way to start.

YOUR TURN! Comment below what questions you have that I didn't answer, or tell your story of making the decision to homeschool!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.