"How do I start homeschooling?"
When it comes to homeschooling, this is probably the most asked question and the one that gets the most diverse answers. You will hear anything from "De-school yourself first!", "If your kids are in school, pull them out now and just let them decompress," to the other end of the spectrum where someone will say "Find a virtual school." Receiving such varied responses can be confusing for someone new to homeschooling. I am going to try to simplify it for you and end the confusion.
Step #1 - Find out what your local homeschooling laws are. A five-minute internet search can help you with that.
Step #2 - Once you see what the legal requirements are, find a local or state homeschooling association which can help you with the logistics to meet those requirements. Some states are much simpler than others. In the ones where the requirements seem complicated, there will be people who have been doing it long enough to guide you in simplifying the process. The best advice I can give you in this area is to think like a lawyer and ONLY give what you are required to give by law. By the end of the year, chances are you will have gone above and beyond what was required, so there is no need to complicate things by offering more to your reporting agency.
Step #3 - Give your year some structure. How you proceed with this will vary greatly depending on your family goals and how you want to meet your state's requirements. It may also change from year to year, depending on your educational goals. It works best if you break this down into much smaller steps, so you don't get overwhelmed. And please, do yourself a huge favor and do not follow anyone's "method", "style" or any packaged right or wrong way. I won't list the coined methods, but you will know when you see them. Almost all of them can interfere with your parenting so don't give your power away.
This is how I break it down every year for my family:
Interest led activities
I have four children, ages seven to seventeen, who each have very different personalities, learning styles and interests. This complexity could potentially lead to a loss of sanity for me if I don't plan ahead accordingly. This past year there was taekwondo, four different dance classes, gymnastics, acting workshops, productions and classes, Japanese class, Girl Scouts, horseback riding, homeschool teen group activities, library clubs and volunteering. I put a high priority upon all of the above because these are the things that the kids want to do and that give them joy. For those concerned about the kids having social interactions, activities like this should answer that concern! The list will look different for you, so don't be concerned about mine.
Each summer we discuss what they would like to do in the fall. My daughter has decided to scale back on dance classes a bit. One of my sons wants to go to beekeeping classes and start an apiary in the spring. Another one of my sons would like to sign up for fencing. While each of them is keeping a few activities that they did last year, they have the option to try others. Once the kids have decided what they would like to do in the fall, I get it on their schedule, that way I know what days and time-frames I have available for the rest of the year.
Classes and Clubs
After those schedules are completed, I can find out what classes or clubs they would like to be involved in that are homeschool centered. Last year, my oldest was covering American History. Since I have a strong history background, I designed an American History Through Movies course that fit his learning style and would keep him connected with the material. My youngest wanted to have a book club, so we held a Mighty Girl one, choosing books from the site A Mighty Girl, where six other homeschooled girls attended. If you don't want to set these things up yourself, find others in your area that are holding open classes and clubs. Keep looking until you find the right fit for you! You may even decide that you don't want to run classes or have your child attend any because they have enough other things going on. Or you may want to spend that time building a closer connection with your child by going on a lot of field trips by yourselves.
Yes, I put this step last! Once all of the above is set up, it is much easier to fit in all of your other educational goals, whether that means a lot of free play because they are very young, or more structured studies in preparation for college, or even time for your child to learn a skill that they can use to start their own business. You have the freedom to create what is best for your child here as long as you meet your state's legal requirements at the same time. Don't be afraid to get creative and think outside what you know about the "classroom."
Those new to homeschooling usually put all of their efforts into their educational goals first and foremost, then start feeling isolated very quickly, even deciding to give up because their children aren't around enough other children. You can prevent this by trying the order I suggest here. If you are worried you won't have enough time to meet your educational goals, I have to tell you that homeschooling does NOT take as long as you think it does. You can have your child learn in a way that doesn't take hours out of your time. It may sound impossible, but with the resources we have available today, it can be accomplished and in much less time you ever imagined!
People often think that the overwhelming part of homeschooling is the academics. Once you get started, you will see that because there are so many options, finding the right method that works best for your family as a whole will be the biggest challenge. That challenge will come more from your own expectations about what you think you are "supposed" to be doing based on your own school experiences, as well as some pressure from people who have no idea how homeschooling really works. The academics are only one aspect of it. Integrating them into your life will be much easier if you let go of preconceived ideas of what schooling has meant to you in the past.
While the above is how I do it with my family, keep in mind that the right way to do it is the one that works best for your family and will look completely different. Find others who are willing to share how they do it and keep trying different things until you find what works for you and what doesn't. You will quickly discover that homeschooling isn't something you do during "school hours" but it is a complete lifestyle.
When a lot of homeschooling parents think about continuing through the high school years, they can get overwhelmed very easily. The prospect of college looms on the horizon and parents get nervous about their abilities to prepare their teens. What can be even more daunting is wondering if college admission offices will take your teen seriously since, after all, they have a transcript prepared by mom and/or dad! What I can tell you is that putting together great classes for your teen that will be taken seriously by colleges and ones that are enjoyable for your teen is completely possible. First you need to let go of the teacher, curriculum, transcript trap.
So what do I mean about the "trap"? It's too easy to look at college admission requirements then go backwards to figuring out how you are going to plan to cover those credits. You automatically think of things like English 101, Geography and other pretty stale, nondescript class titles. While some people are perfectly content with buying courses or having their teen take them through a local community college, there is another way. That way is by creating a custom curriculum. The best way I can describe how to do this is to give you a couple of examples.
Last year, I was concerned that my sixteen year old wasn't reading a lot of traditional books like he used to. He had no interest in the few I gave him and after giving them a try, he put them down. I am an avid reader and writer so I completely believe in only reading what interests you. If you read the first chapter of a book and just can't get through it, it's either poorly written or just doesn't click with you. There are so many books to choose from so why be forced to read what you don't enjoy. While I firmly believe this, I was still seeing current suggested book lists for high schoolers and it got me a little nervous. My son's main source of reading this past year was the graphic novels found in the Teen section of our local library. (A good library pulls out the Mature ones and be warned, they are rated Mature for a reason; just as the Teen ones are rated for a reason as well!) When I went to look at how many books he read, I discovered he had read almost FORTY! Those were in addition to the more classic ones he did read. While I had originally told him that I couldn't count them as toward his transcript credit, seeing the number he read made me think twice. So I did a little digging...
After a quick internet search I found course descriptions for Graphic Novel classes not only from Phillips Academy, but also from a number of Ivy League colleges! Reading through the requirements of the courses as well as the syllabuses made me realize that not only could I form what he did into a course but it was one he was going to complete and have fun doing! I grabbed suggestions for a few books for him to read so that he can further understand the genre as well as a couple of other suggested graphic novels that are written a little differently than what he had been reading. He now has a complete course under his belt!
Another example of creating a custom course is how I am covering United States history this year. I have an extensive background in history from college and have maintained of love of it since then. One thing I love to do is watch a historical movie or documentary and see how accurate it is. After finally getting around to seeing the HBO John Adams series this year, I decided that I could make a fun class for the kids and their friends out of doing that; especially since my sixteen year old loves history as much as I do!
It did take some work but I sat down and came up with twenty six historical dramas that will be fun to watch that are PG13 and below. The kids will do research on their own during the week to look into the validity of what they watched then we will talk about it before our next movie each week. (I keep getting requests to share my list but I decided that it wouldn't serve people very well without being a complete class. I hope to find the time as we go during the year to put together an affordable package with complete historical notes. If you do decide to try this yourself, please be aware that even documentaries have mistakes in them! I was even recently advised that the Teach With Movies service has mistakes all over it.)
These are just two examples of how you can create your own custom courses. The more you can create that center around your teen's interests and learning style, the better. They will connect with the information more and it will be much more tangible to them. They will not only meet the transcript requirements that college admission offices look for but they will stand out as being unique, interesting individuals.
There is quite a bit of advice from homeschoolers regarding college. Funny thing is, the people pushing the most advice are either people who don't have kids that are teenagers yet or they are the ones with the teens that those particular people use as examples of what homechoolers who go to college are like. You hear tons of stories about homeschooled teens that go to college early; the actuality is that there aren't as many as you'd think. Or stories of “our founding fathers” who homeschooled; different times, people, different times. Even more about college for free through online free classes; all HYPE, believe me! Or how some colleges don't even require SATs; not by my research. Or what about the whole "college is an evil empire" argument and how you don't need it to succeed; not always wrong but haven't they read the stats about college grads and the gap in earning? Shall I list more? Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about!
The truth is some of us, actually most of us homeschooling parents, have teens that are just …. well, normal!!! They may not know what they want to do with their life. There is nothing wrong with that. They may know what they want to do but not sure what path they want to take. There is nothing wrong with that either. Isn't it even a little unfair to expect a fifteen year old to decide what they want to do with their life, pick a path, and be expected to follow through just for the sake of finishing something they start. The stories of overachievers from the main stream or homeschoolers I think make those of us who don't have super amazing stories to tell much more tight-lipped about sharing our paths. … But you know me... I'm not afraid to share if I know it will help someone gain a little more confidence in their abilities as a parent.
My oldest is sixteen. He has wanted to be an actor from the time he could talk. At sixteen, he still has that passion and while I may be biased, he is good at it! (When a casting agent who holds a workshop he takes tells you so, that's even better ;-) We have looked at what path is best for him. He has a few options and the key for me is that I don't close off his options because that can decide for him what his path will be. I want it to be up to him to find what feels best for him. What I mean by that is if he decides he definitely wants to take the college acting degree path, he has to have a transcript and diploma. Period. The transcript has to have a certain amount of credit hours for certain subjects. (Sorry unschoolers! The facts are the facts!) After looking into his college options that are the most affordable for a one income family of six, all of those colleges require SATs. Even if he doesn't go to college now and decides to later, he is going to need those scores.
Okay, homeschoolers. I know I just burst a few overinflated bubbles! But don't be scared and react by declaring your kid is going to an institutional high school! I will do a completely separate blog about course options for high school as well as transcripts. You don't have to follow a bunch of packaged curriculum to have an outstanding high school transcript. In fact, it is often better if you don't and have a much more personalized learning path that is directly related to what your teenager would like to do. If you go to college admission pages, they often come right out and say that they want to see some specialized emphasis. This is how us homeschoolers have a huge advantage! Again, I will visit that later.
My son has other options than the college path. For him, it is best for him to continue not only his training, even outside of college, but also get experience. He may decide to finish his high school years and focus all of his efforts on auditioning, gaining roles and experience and see how it goes. He may decide that is working great for him and he won't need college at all since he may be working enough. Or he may only get roles intermittently and decide that he wants to have other skills that he can use to make money with. Then he can decide if he needs a full degree or just other training.
Whatever he decides he wants to do, it is still my job as a parent to be his advocate and make sure he has a good foundation he can build upon no matter what path he chooses. To do anything else or follow what other people do can really make things more difficult for him further down the road. I am the adult who has lived in the adult world. He isn't there quite yet and he doesn't have the experiences I have to see the whole picture as well as I can. And even for us parents, seeing the whole picture can be a challenge, can't it? We don't know what the future will bring for our kids. It's our job to just do the best we can to prepare them for it and set them up with options for success.
As a Parent Coach and Mentor, my passion lies in empowering parents to make the best decisions they can for their children and their families as a whole. As a well-trained coach, I can be your facilitator and accountability partner for long-lasting, meaningful change that has a permanent, positive impact for your family. By focusing on the values that you hold most important in your life, I can help you create and maintain the type of parenting relationship you want to have with your children, now and into their adulthood.
I am a homeschooling mom of four children in Massachusetts. I am also the author of a book called The Herbal Beverage Book, which can be found on amazon. When not coaching, writing or spending time with the family, I enjoy Hayao Miyazaki films, new and classic Dr. Who episodes, anything related to American history and a great glass of mead.
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This blog is a collection of thoughts, articles and perspectives I have at any one time. While I am pretty consistent in my beliefs, life changes and evolves along with experiences. You may feel a connection with me through my writing yet I never want any of my readers to misunderstand that the connection you feel is with a perspective I have shared and not me as a person. I am continually humbled that I am able to connect with my readers, and I hope to continue to be able to for many years to come, but it doesn't make us connected in any way beyond this. If you connect with what I write and know me as an acquaintance, this in no way reflects that I have any knowledge of you, your situation in life or that I am writing with you in mind. It is merely that I have shared a human experience that most likely very many others have had has well. This also goes for anything I post on my Twitter account, Facebook Page and Facebook personal page. I wanted to make this disclaimer as clear as possible so you know that any misunderstanding you choose to have is not my responsibility.