How to Start Homeschooling
So you’ve made the decision to homeschool your child. Welcome to the ever-growing group of homeschooling families. Making that decision is not always an easy one, but once you’ve made up your mind it can be an exciting, overwhelming, fun, and sometimes stressful process to get it all going smoothly. And going smoothly does not always happen overnight, for some it does and my hat goes off to you. We were probably somewhere in the middle though. At one point I was so burnt out that we even sent them back to public school for a year thinking it would give me a break and regroup to keep going the next year. By winter break our pre-K child was pulled out, by March our 3rd grader was pulled out, leaving only two to finish the year in public school. On top of that, our oldest in 4th grade had received death threats right before the end of the year. The issue was handled, not the way I would have liked to see it handled but it was handled and was the final nail in the coffin on public school for our family. Now we are in our 4th year of homeschooling. We have learned a lot of what works for us and what really does not.
One thing before I get into my list of how to get it all going somewhat smoothly let me state that not everything works for the same family. We have five kids who are school age this year so what works well for us won’t necessarily work for a family with just one child learning at home. Like most things there is a learning curve, homeschooling is no different. It can take a few weeks or even years to work out the kinks for what works best for your family. The best advice I can give you for that is to not compare your families homeschool to a friends homeschool. Not one set of families are the same, has kids that learn the same and what not so just don’t go down that comparing rabbit hole.
HSLDA. Home School Legal Defense Association. You can check out their website here. It is a membership program for homeschooling families. Basically if you have questions on the ins and outs of your states laws and requirements this is the place to go. If you have issues with your local school district and need a lawyer, they will provide one for you(as long as you are a member). Homeschooling has been in the news a lot lately and not always for the best reasons. However, the majority of us who are not in the wrong and being bullied by local school districts or just need a lawyer for whatever homeschooling reason, they will help. For a small fee once a month it can bring peace of mind. They also have annual and lifelong membership options if you want to go that route. For our family they were extremely helpful with making sure that when we moved cross-country I didn’t miss anything and fulfilled both states requirements and kept it all legal.
Letter of Intent. Before you pull them out of public school and get planning, I would highly recommend you look deeply into your states requirements for homeschooling. Hardly all of the states have the exact same rules for homeschooling. Each state will have its own requirements but Washington for example, it also comes down to your local school district to approve you to open your homeschool. In North Carolina it was at the state level, I had to file online, send in some documents, pick out a school name, and they would email you a school ID number and paper to print out stating your were an official North Carolina Home School. Washington has some of the same annual requirements as far as testing and attendance goes, but how you file that letter of intent is a bit different. In WA it is down at the local school district level. You have to go to the local district office, fill out your form and that’s it. No school name, no ID number, nada. I honestly had to call them just to make sure I did it right wondering why I hadn’t heard from them yet saying I was good to go. Also pay attention to how often you have to file this form. In Washington we have to file that paper each year by a certain date. Where as in NC you don’t have to file a new letter of intent, but you do have to go to their website and update your children’s info and submit their annual testing scores.
Organization. I can not say this enough… Get a planner and keep it all organized. It doesn’t have to be a super fancy planner, but something to write down what your kids need to work on each day is a very important step to keep it going smoothly. Also, most planners have an attendance spot. It can look like overkill when you only have a couple of kids that you have to keep a record for as most of them are set up for a public school setting and have spaces for 20+ kids. But this is important, if you ever get audited you will need attendance and testing records. Having a good planner to hold it all in one place can be very helpful. Another reason to have it all planned out is in cases of emergencies. Each family will have their reasons but ours in the past have been from my husband being deployed to me being pregnant and simply being prepared cause you never know when an emergency will happen and need someone to step in and help. It will be wonderful for them to just open the planner, find the days date and see exactly what each child should be working on. My favorite lesson planner so far is from Erin Condren, it has enough room for each kid’s daily lessons and loads of wonderful extras that I just love. Helpful tidbit, when writing out lesson plans, use a pencil, life happens and stuff has to get rearranged. You will be glad you used a pencil if you have to go through and redo your plans because your family had to take a week off due to a stomach bug(been there). Feel free to get creative and colorful in other areas on the planner but keep the lessons in pencil.
Curriculum. There is no right or wrong curriculum out there. Some are expensive but all planned out. Some are free and need some planning on the parents part. Some families make their own curriculum and some don’t. However, go back to your state’s requirements to make sure you do fulfill everything that you need to for your children. Some states will offer a free to you curriculum, it may work for your family, it may not. I honestly do not think we have even used the same curriculum one year after the next. Life changes, kids learning habits change and the great thing about homeschooling is that you can change the curriculum to fit their needs. It can take a while to find one that works best for your child(ren) so please please please do not get discouraged when one doesn’t work out. I don’t mean to sound so vague on this topic, but this is one of the parts that you really can’t just say, “use this one it will work for you guaranteed!” and on that note if someone says that to you, I would question the snot out of it. You’re the parent, and us parents tend to know how our kids learn the best.
Work space. Again, this will be different from family to family. But still having a set work space for them to get their work done can be helpful. And on the flip side hiding in a blanket fort in your room can also be just as good of a work space. As long as they are thriving and learning it really doesn’t matter where the learning happens. In the past we have used the dining table, which I prefer because it makes it easy to go around from kid to kid as they need help, because we have multiple kids at different grade levels. Something similar that I have drooled at on Pinterest is a row of desks for a work space. They have their own area to work at but it is still in one spot so momma isn’t doing a marathon to help each child. Like most homeschooling mamma’s out there, I too have scoured Pinterest ogling the different ideas for homeschooling rooms. Not everyone has space for that, we never have. We have had to integrate our homeschooling stuff into our daily living areas, whether in our living room and dining room at our old house in NC or now to our very limited space in our camper. Use what you’ve got, real life is hardly ever Pinterest worthy. If you have a room to dedicate to homeschooling, send pictures so I can drool over them. But I digress… Sometimes kids will also work more productively alone in their rooms. When the weather is nice we like to take it outside and get some work or reading done in the sunshine. Be flexible and pay attention to your kids cues in case you need to change it up a little to help them stay on task. Working scattered across the living room is a perfectly acceptable work space, don’t let that judgy homeschool mom guilt you into thinking you need ‘the perfect’ space set up for your kids to learn. We have done that to shake things up every once in a while too, but then I get worn out running all over the house and would have them go back to the usual table set up for us.
Supplies. This goes along the same lines as the work space. You really don’t need a bunch of fancy supplies to homeschool. Right now we are only using pencils, crayons, spare paper, calculator, and my husbands tape measure. That’s it. Now sure, having manipulatives for math, lots of crayons, markers, colored pencils, and even a printer and lamination machine would be amazing, but for us specifically, we do not have the room. And with being a month into this school year it is kinda cool to know that we can do it with very little. Now, I will certainly be doing an epic happy dance on the day I get my printer, craft supplies, and easy reader books back. But we will happily work with what we have. So on this note, less is more. Especially if you have curious little ones running around. The more homeschooling supplies you have lying around can mean a big mess to clean up later on.
Resources. Never overestimate your local Library. It is a free tool that is easily forgotten about. Once you have planned your school year, I would highly recommend going to your local public library and seeing what resources they offer to homeschoolers. Some will offer monthly classes, box or bag of supplies for unit studies, story times for the little ones, info on local co-ops, and not to mention the obvious, books. Our oldest is a book-worm and usually means we are frequent fliers at our local branch. Also on the list of resources to not forget about are You-Tube and Netflix. Yesterday my older son went down a rabbit hole on You-Tube about how resistors, conductors and things of the engineering variety that confuse the snot out of me but he was soaking it all up as I am now looking into Advanced engineering books and lessons for him for the future. Pretty sure we may have a future inventor on our hands, but thankful that with homeschooling we have the time to let him go deep into learning the things that interest him the most like we try our best to do with all of our kids. Now Netflix, it is not just for my latest favorite period drama, but it also has shows like The Magic School Bus. You know that great show that encourages kids to explore science and the world around them. But be forewarned, the new version of the show’s lead voice actress for the new Ms Frizzel is the same lady that does the voice of the goat in the new movie Ferdinand so now whenever I hear them watching it, all I picture is that goat teaching the class and going on amazing field trips.
Parent help. You are not an island. My husband likes to remind me of this when I am burned out and not wanting to ask for help. Mommies are human too, sure we may look and act like wonder woman at times, but we all have limits. It is perfectly okay to ask for help. It may not be like this in all houses, but in our house I am our children’s primary teacher, my husband is a full-time student now, and before that he was an active duty Marine, it just works best to have the work book time while he is off at his classes, or in the past while he was at work. It gives us more time as a family when he is home and can help me elaborate on the subjects that he knows more about like the resistor videos our son was geeking out over. Whom ever is the main teacher in your house, make sure you spend time on you. If that means getting up before the kiddos to enjoy a whole cup of not microwaved fresh hot coffee, then do it. Just make sure you do what you need to do to not get burned out. We all have rough days with homeschooling, I have yet to meet another homeschooling mom who hasn’t and we must encourage each other. Try to find a good support group of other homeschooling families in your area, they can be a great resource and support group. I have been involved in a few on Facebook and they are truly amazing. Another tidbit I can give you to help on those hard days is to make a manifesto of why you started on this journey to help remind you why you are homeschooling and to help encourage you to keep going.
I sure do hope this has helped you as you start on your new path of homeschooling. If you have any questions I am always free, just email me. Also I am only human, you can read my full disclaimer here. One of the curriculum’s that we have used over the years and was a great source for the time was Easy Peasy Online Home School, you can check that out here. I will hopefully have a fully interactive list of the curriculum’s we have used over the years up soon.