How to Start Homeschooling Mid Year: 10 Simple Tips
It’s never easy to make a dramatic change in the middle of the school year, but homeschooling can provide a great opportunity for you to create a learning environment tailored to your child's needs. With the right preparation, the transition from the public school system (or private school) to homeschooling can be smooth and successful.
Here are 10 tips on how to start homeschooling mid year and make the transition as easy and stress-free as possible for everyone involved. From understanding your state's homeschool laws to finding new curriculum, these tips will help you take the big leap and set your homeschooling up for success right from the beginning.
Find out your state laws.
Homeschool law differs in each state, and it's your responsibility to understand and comply with whatever requirements your state has.
One thing to know that your local school district likely does not have a good understanding of your state's homeschool laws, and may ask you to fill out forms or provide other information that is beyond what the law allows them to do. It's important that you don't give the school system more than you are required by law: homeschoolers all over the country have fought hard to keep homeschooling legal and accessible.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association has excellent information on the homeschool requirements for each state. Also, join local Facebook groups and search to see if your state has a homeschooling organization. Local homeschool groups will have experienced home educators who are familiar with the laws and can answer your questions.
In Washington state where I live, here is an overview of my requirements:
- Notify the school that I was withdrawing my child.
- File a Declaration of Intent to Homeschool with the superintendent's office.
- Make sure I qualify to homeschool (our state has several different ways to qualify including college credits, or taking a homeschool qualifying course)
- Teach the required subjects over the course of my child's education (not every subject has to be taught every year)
- Do a yearly standardized test or portfolio assessment with a qualified teacher (we have done both but my daughter prefers portfolios)
Lean into deschooling for a while.
Sometimes when kids are coming out of a public school struggle, it's a great idea to step back and give them a chance to regroup, rest, and become themselves again. This is part of the process called deschooling.
Deschooling is also a chance for you – the parent – to start examining your own beliefs about how learning happens and start to examine other ways of facilitating the learning process than just bringing the classroom home.
I often say that the “after school and weekends” version of your child is a totally different person than the homeschooled version of your child.
Just like it's hard for adults not to carry emotions, worries, and struggles from work home with them, kids are the same way. And home isn't truly a place to get away from school pressures and stress either, because kids have to bring work home every week, no choice. Homework brings all those school feelings right to the kitchen table.
So it takes a while for kids who have been in public school to let go of those patterns of thinking and feeling, the expectations, and to shift into a different dynamic.
I often tell new homeschoolers to have a vacation or staycation when they first start homeschooling. Make it a celebration! It doesn't have to be expensive. Some ideas:
- Make your kids' favorite foods for a week
- Stay up late watching movies
- Visit new parks, playgrounds, or nature spots
- If it's in your budget, get something special for each child that's about one of their interests
- Be tourists in your hometown
- Try a new restaurant
Rest is important. Joy is important. Family relationships are important. Take your time and enjoy being off the school schedule!
Talk to your family about a daily rhythm.
Maybe you've got late sleepers, like I do. Maybe your kids would love to have all the schooling stuff done early so that they have more free time during the day. Maybe work schedules mean that homeschooling gets done in the evenings after dinner.
Every family is unique. What works in our home won't work in yours… that's why I'm not a fan of pretty, color-coded schedules that you find on Pinterest or Instagram.
When do YOU feel the most energetic and able to tackle the homeschooling work? When are your kids at their best?
Creating your own homeschooling rhythm is something I'm so passionate about. I see so many homeschooling moms tied up in knots because they see or read some schedule or routine that works for another family and try to replicate it… and it doesn't work. Or they try to follow some all-in-one big box curriculum and can't keep up.
You really CAN create a homeschool that's just right for your family. To help you, I have a post called The 7 Secrets of Stress Free Homeschooling that I'd love for you to read.
To go with the 7 secrets, I made a beautiful printable called Discover Your Homeschool Flow: A Guided Journal for Stressed-Out Moms.
I'd love to give you the article and the printable journal to help ease your worry and create a homeschool rhythm based on your unique family.
Straight truth here: you can't replicate school at home because school is a unique environment and it has a set of pressures and authority and lack of choice that don't exist at home. Well, you could TRY to make your house school-like, but your relationship with your kids will bear the burden of that experiment.
Instead, take some time to discover what works for your family according to your values, schedule, energy levels and types of learning. It takes a while – but I promise it's worth it even though that pretty box curriculum looks so fun and easy!
Become a student of your kids.
If you’re new to homeschooling, you may feel like you’re starting from scratch when it comes to figuring out how to teach your child. That’s completely normal, but it’s important to remember that you don't necessarily have to be a teacher.
Instead, you’re a parent who is now taking on the role of bringing information to your kids, providing opportunities, facilitating experiences. You’ve been observing your child for their entire life, and you have a wealth of information about them at your disposal.
So take the opportunity to really become a student of your child. Spend some time each day observing your child. Look at their interests, the challenges they’re facing, and the skills they already have.
Then use that information to guide your child’s learning. This will help you to not only figure out how to teach your child, but also how to tailor your child’s learning to their specific needs.
Begin looking at curriculum.
Notice I said begin looking at curriculum.
The truth is that your first attempts at finding homeschool curriculum will likely not be the right fit. How do I know this? First, personal experience, and second, talking to other homeschool parents for the seven years we've been on this journey.
When I talked about being a student of your kids above, that was purposefully before choosing curriculum. You have to discover how your child learns best and how your family rhythm works before choosing curriculum.
It's not a matter of replicating what your kids did in school. School is a very specific environment chock full of peer pressure and top-down teaching, rules, schedules, and bells. What your child would do in a classroom (because they had no choice) they might balk at while sitting at your kitchen table.
I'm all about finding ways to equip our kids to learn, enjoy the learning process, and teach themselves. I'm a facilitator, a help-giver, a resource finder, the one with the ability to make connections in the community, buy resources, set up lessons and play dates. I don't consider myself a teacher – although sometimes I do directly teach!
Instead, I see homeschooling as putting all the pieces together to allow my child to learn, at her pace, in the way that most lights her up.
Does that mean every day is sunshine and rainbows? Of course not!
So – back to the curriculum choices. Here are some basic observations and questions to ask as you make decisions:
- What kind of learning does my child gravitate to? Do they love pencils, drawing, writing? Do they want to talk about everything? Do they love nature shows and documentaries? Do they bring home piles of library books? Or do they like experiences and hands-on?
- What time of day does my child seem to have good energy and be eager to interact?
- What is your budget? Do you need to find curriculum that works for different children of different ages?
- Are you open to online curriculum choices?
- What are the non-negotiables for you? What are your goals for your kids? Think beyond “getting them to graduate.” Include life skills, volunteering, community involvement, the arts, family faith, travel, etc.
- How will you structure your year? It doesn't have to follow the traditional school schedule. Lots of homeschoolers I know do more year-round homeschooling so they can take more short breaks or vacations when they want, or they tailor the homeschool year around the best weather in their area.
Cathy Duffy's website has reviews of much of the homeschooling curricula that exist, and it's a good place to start when you're deciding what to try first.
Don't jump into your full curriculum all at once. Recipe for overwhelm!
Start with a little at a time. Check out the math and do some reading aloud of a classic novel. Join the local pool and do some swimming for PE and watch a documentary during lunch a couple times during the week.
Check out a local homeschool get-together or park day. Start a nature journal. Get a bunch of library books on things that your kids are interested in. Have them help you cook.
Then start introducing bits and pieces of academic work.
Gradually get in the flow of adding learning to your days. It doesn't have to be stressful or all at once. Remember – you're not on school time any more.
Don't be afraid of tech.
There's a lot of fear mongering out there about screens.
I don't subscribe to that.
Here's some interesting history about fear mongering and new technology. Did you know that when the kaleidoscope was invented, experts were “in despair” that people were focused on looking into their tin tubes, ignoring nature's beauty, becoming antisocial and unaware of their surroundings? I'm not joking – it's all the same as what we say today about kids with technology.
The advent of the printing press brought grave warnings about how women would have hysterics from reading dangerous novels and how the newspaper would be the end of polite conversation. I'm beyond sure that if we could have measured brain activity back then, doctors would have been gravely concerned about what reading did to change the brain.
When I was growing up in the 70s/80s, TV was going to rot our brains.
Our brains aren't rotten, and newspapers, books, and kaleidoscopes are now considered wholesome and essential and good. We are all attracted to new technology that is fun and stimulating and captures our interest. Kids are on the leading edge of this.
I know my few paragraphs here can't stem the tide of screen warnings and fear mongering that's out there.
But I would like to invite you to be reflective of the way we, as adults, tend to idolize the positive parts of our own childhood experiences and seek to re-create them for our kids. Instead, let's embrace the world they are growing up into and help them thrive in it.
Game with your kids. Learn with your kids. Help them learn the skills to transition to and from the immersive gaming world. And check out Jane McGonigal's work.
Get support from homeschool mentors.
As you navigate the transition to homeschooling with your child, it’s important to find support and encouragement along the way. It can feel very isolating, initially, when you leave public school. You realize pretty quickly how much of our communities and lives are based around the school schedule!
And your Facebook feed will still be filled with all those school-y milestones and achievements that your friends will post about their kids.
In a school-focused world, it's important to have a steady stream of homeschooling encouragement and cheerleading in your life. I've written about some brilliant homeschool mentors that I think are worth following – some days I just curl up with one of their books or read a few blog posts when I'm feeling discouraged.
I'm also a big fan of homeschooling podcasts. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Pam Laricchia: Exploring Unschooling
- Stories of an Unschooling Family
- Julie Bogart: Brave Learner
- Stark Raving Dad: Life Without School
- On the Hard Days (for parents of neurodivergent kids)
I have found the homeschooling community to be pretty supportive, but there are definitely “camps” of homeschool philosophies and people tend to cluster around their beliefs.
There is obviously a big contingent of Christian homeschoolers (who also tend to fall into groups based on their chosen curriculum), there are nature/wild school enthusiasts, there are those who very closely replicate a school experience, there are unschoolers of varying degrees.
Many of us end up sort of taking what we like from different philosophies and making our own paths. While I lean unschool-y and we are a gaming/tech family, I do require some academics and household involvement with chores.
Facebook groups can be a great source of encouragement and support too. Here are a couple that I'm active in and have been helpful:
- Almost Unschoolers
- Unschooling Every Family: Embracing Neurodivergent and Disabled Learners
- Homeschooling Middle and High School
- Homeschool Free and Affordable Resources, Printables, & More
Get creative with field trips and activities.
As you make the transition to homeschooling with your kids, think about ways you can incorporate real life excursions and learning experiences into your schedule. I love love love field trips and the memories we make along with the learning!
Sometimes our field trips are as simple as a trip to the craft store or Home Depot to get supplies for a project coupled with lunch out or ice cream. Sometimes we visit a new park or someplace in nature we haven't been. Sometimes I plan bigger field trips, like when we went to the homeschool day at iFly Indoor Skydiving.
One of our favorite regular field trips is to a local art park (outdoor art installation in the woods). We love seeing our favorite pieces and discovering what's been added.
Field trips can also include:
- Local performances: theater, music, poetry reading, story time
- Visits to your local fire station, police station, court house or military base (obviously these need to be arranged in advance!)
- Local museums, art galleries
- “Behind the scenes” trips to grocery stores, the post office, or other community businesses
- Fun trips to see sporting events, go bowling, skating, or other activity
- Tourist attractions
- Vendor events, holiday bazaars, flea markets and thrift shops
All of those things are chock full of learning and can be a fun pre-planned field trip or something to do when you're just having one of those days and need a change of scenery.
Connect with other homeschoolers
A great way to find support, encouragement, and resources as you make the transition to homeschooling with your child is to connect with other homeschoolers.
Even if you live in a small town (like me), homeschoolers are there! See if there are local FB groups for homeschoolers or moms. Ask around. Chances are there's more homeschool get-togethers and opportunities out there than you realize.
I don't believe that our kids need a group of 30 same age peers to learn to be good people and interact well socially. A small friend group is all that's needed – even two or three families that you see regularly!
Don't be afraid to create what you need, though. When we first pulled my daughter from public school, I wanted a non-academic get together. Most of the groups happening at the time were co-ops, or focused on academics.
So I made a group. We met at our local library's community room! Each week we'd have a theme but kids were welcome to take part or not. We'd have a movie playing, and snacks. Sometimes we had board games, sometimes we'd have crafts. Some kids would bring video games, some kids colored for a couple hours. We had kids from ages 3-17 and it was really the highlight of our weeks!
So don't be afraid to create what your family needs. Chances are, there are other families wishing for exactly the same thing.