The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling
The truth is, you can start homeschooling at any point in your child’s education. For those that begin homeschooling their children right from the start, you’ll have some excellent advantages that you might not have later in their academic career. You’ll be free to teach your child, not only the required subjects but also a love for learning in general. The experience is a little different for those who start homeschooling after attending a public school, but even then, there are still many benefits. Each child has their own unique and diverse personality, and homeschooling is a great way to bring out the very best of those characteristics.
It really doesn’t matter when you start so much as it matters that you start. In this ultimate guide, you should find plenty of tips that will, hopefully, make the process easier and simpler. For those who have never homeschooled, the task may feel daunting with requirements you might feel like you’re never going to be able to comply with. Of course, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, there are certain and specific requirements you’ll have to meet in your home state, but you’ll find it easier than you originally thought.
If you’ve already decided to homeschool, you’ve won half the battle. If your mind is not yet made up, then hopefully this guide is intended to help you clear those final hurdles that have been hindering you to this point. You’ll also find a list of “What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Homeschooling” topics later on in the guide to give you the benefit of the knowledge many homeschoolers took years to learn. Remember, if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well.
Find Out About the Legal Requirements In Your State
The most important thing you need to do, right from the start, is to find out exactly what your state requires with regards to homeschooling. Not every state requires the same thing, and if you don’t find out the expectations of your home state, you could run into problems. For instance, some states do not even ask for notification that your child is being homeschooled. That means no LOI (Letter of Intent), and no need to notify your local school board, even though you’re in their district.
When you begin researching the homeschool laws in your state, be sure to view multiple web sites and gather all the data you can. Some offer information in very easy to understand terminology, while others list their information in “legal-ese”. Knowing the state’s requirements, as well as your own rights as a homeschooling parent, are absolutely crucial before beginning this journey. It is not uncommon for some districts to send out letters in the mail, asking for far more than is necessary. Districts that do this are hoping to reach parents who are uninformed about their rights so that they can draw out as much information as possible. So why is that bad? Let’s look at the consequences:
If a school district gets enough parents to volunteer information that is not necessary, they will find a way to regulate it. They will go to the state lawmakers, citing the influx of this “unnecessary information” and its made-up importance to the district or the state, and it’s likely they will lobby for stricter rules and regulations. It might not happen until after you no longer homeschool, but it’s a great disservice to those who are still, or who will be, homeschooling. This is a sly way slowly to take away more and more freedoms until the right to homeschool no longer exists. So make sure you do your part to stay informed and offer NO MORE INFORMATION than is absolutely required by law.
Here are some handy resources to help get you started:
- Homeschool Laws in Your State (HSLDA) - You can join the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and if anything ever comes up that necessitates legal counsel, you will have it at your fingertips. This is certainly worth a few moments of your time, especially in states with greater legal mandates.
- Current Homeschool Law (CRHE)
- A Guide to Understanding Homeschool Laws (ThoughtCo)
Make Sure You Know Your Child’s Learning Style
Contrary to the public-school education model, children DO NOT all learn in the same way. In fact, most children have their own way of processing information that makes them truly individual. That’s why you should carefully consider what your child’s learning style is and how to work with it. The blog post, Understanding Learning Styles… And Homeschooling Accordingly offers some excellent in-depth information on these different styles, how they affect the child’s ability to learn, and how you can capitalize on your child’s strengths.
Visual learners, you’ll find out, work well with the information they can process through sight. Learning is more enjoyable for them when they are allowed to draw, investigate maps and charts, or take part in artistic activities. You’ll be particularly successful in engaging this learner with vibrant colors and interesting fonts.
Auditory learners, as you might expect, respond well to things like talking and music, and they’re far better listeners than the visual learner. You’ll get better responses from these children when you present lessons in musical or rhyming format, give verbal instructions, and you could even use verbal quizzes and tests to get the best results.
Some children prefer reading and writing as a means of taking in information and use writing to relay what they’ve learned. These learners love to take notes, make lists and writing stories. Utilize this learning style by teaching the value of notetaking and allowing them to teach you the information that they have mastered themselves.
If your child is a logical learner, you might find them particularly drawn to math and science. They are completely in their element when there is order, reason, and structure to the things they are learning. These children will learn best in environments where they can utilize numbers, computers, statistics, patterns, and more.
Some children are clearly extroverts and that’s a good sign you’re dealing with a social learner. This is one particular learning style that can accompany any other, but they work particularly well through role-playing, discussions, interaction, and taking the leadership role in certain activities. With a truly social child, you’ll definitely want to find a co-op, go on field trips with a group of other homeschoolers, or get them involved in extracurricular activities.
Solitary learners prefer isolation as a means of accomplishing their academic goals. They enjoy reading, workbooks, and studying within the confines of their own personal space. It can be most beneficial to find curriculum options that provide a lot of independent study, assignments that are geared towards reading and writing, and the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.
Kinesthetic learners are children who utilize all five senses to take in information. They love hands-on activities, field trips, and working with others. There are many ways to engage the kinesthetic learner, including video lessons, experiments, building models, and real-life scenarios.
In most cases, as a parent, you will know exactly what kind of learner you have on your hands. Just having parented them their whole lives gives you all the experience you need to make a qualified assessment. However, if you still have questions, or think your child may be employing more than one learning style, you can click over to The Vark Questionnaire for Younger People, an online tool for the assessment of 12 to 18-year-olds. This questionnaire can help alleviate any doubts you might have and help you to move forward confidently towards your new goal.
Decide on Your Homeschool Teaching Style
Now that you’ve learned what your child’s learning style is, and how best to address that with curriculum and resources, you can move on to the next step: planning your homeschool teaching style. Just as you found with learning styles, you will also find that sometimes it can be necessary to use more than one teaching style. The ability to switch back and forth is an option that is simply not seen in the public-school model of education. On the contrary, it is actually discouraged. This is a breakthrough benefit for the homeschooling family! Especially for those who may have had to remove their child from public school, this can be a great way to capitalize on your child’s strengths, allowing them to see success they might otherwise have never known.
Some parents who are new to homeschooling think they are stuck in whatever homeschooling style they choose in the beginning. For instance, if you really like the Montessori Method, but find out it just doesn’t work for your child, you might think you are locked into that method for the entire year. It’s important to know that that’s simply not the case. In fact, if you find that anything is NOT working, you can feel free to drop that approach the very day it is attempted. In fact, you SHOULD drop it. There’s far more harm to be done in utilizing the wrong homeschooling style than there could possibly be in switching. Your “perfect” homeschooling style might look vastly different from that of public-school or your friend that also homeschools, and that’s just fine. This is YOUR child, YOUR homeschool, and YOU know what’s best for both.
Here are some of the homeschooling styles you can examine for more information, and to help you decide which is best for you and your child:
- Unschooling - This style if the one that appears to be the most radical. Utilizing “child-led” learning, your daily routine will look much different than many other homeschooler’s days. It may take some creativity to learn how to keep good records while using this style.
- Eclectic Homeschooling - This homeschooling style isn’t often used by first-time homeschoolers. Often referred to as Relaxed Homeschooling, it actually utilizes a variety of styles, sometimes different styles for each subject. It’s perfect for the kinesthetic learner.
- The Charlotte Mason Method - Building on the child’s natural learning process, young children get the opportunity to learn through discovery using short lessons, habits, Living Books, Narration, and Copywork in addition to thorough art, music, and nature study. This style is broken into various age levels rather than grade levels and is very beneficial to many children.
- Classical Homeschooling - Classical Homeschooling utilizes the “trivium” which means that the specific content and subject matters are based on the child’s specific development. It creates children who learn to learn as opposed to simply memorizing information. It’s easy to find a curriculum for this style, and you’ll even find some devoted to this style alone.
- Unit Studies - This style takes one theme and uses it across all subjects in “units”. It’s easy to combine curriculum and resources to create the perfect homeschool day. In some instances, it’s even perfect for travel and nature time as well. It encourages your child to research as deeply as they’d like, letting their curiosity take precedence.
- Traditional Homeschooling - With this homeschooling style, parents and children can actually “do school at home”. It’s perfect for children who may already have attended public school and simply aren’t ready for a massive change. On the other hand, it can also be easier for the parent in some cases.
- The Montessori Method - Choose this method if you prefer allowing your child to learn in a way that suits their development as well as their potential for development. This style encourages self-awareness, independence, and self-confidence and moves through age levels instead of grade levels. There are varying degrees to which some parents will utilize this method. Some believe that only teachers trained in the ways of Charlotte Mason are able to teach this style, while others acquire this knowledge on their own and teach independently of any other instruction.
Carefully Consider Your Curriculum Sources
Not all learning or homeschooling styles require a full-fledged homeschool curriculum. For instance, the Eclectic and Unschooling styles each use some unconventional methods and there are no full curriculum choices for either. In these two cases, a parent is more likely to pull together curriculum and resources from a variety of different places, bringing everything together for a school year that caters strictly to their child’s placement and abilities. The good news is, there are no specific rules on how to choose your curriculum. You’ll find “tips” and “advice” from a variety of different places and people, but it is ultimately your decision in the end. Choosing something that both you and your child will benefit from is really the most important part of the process.
There are many companies that specialize in homeschool curriculum. Here are just a few you can consider:
You’re sure to find many more homeschooling curriculum options as you do your own searching. If you know someone personally who homeschools, you can always ask their opinion about their curriculum to get ideas as well. However, be aware that just because Suzy from across the street LOVES and SWEARS BY a specific curriculum, it does NOT mean that it will be appropriate for you or your child. In fact, what works well for one parent may not work at all for you. As we’ve already learned, different children have different learning styles. It could be that your friend has a child who is a visual learner, which is why curriculum A works so well. But your child may be a social learner, which means curriculum A won’t work at all. Understanding that crucial difference can save you a lot of stress and worry.
It’s easy to access a variety of websites and blog posts where homeschool curriculum options and reviews are abundant. You’ll find details about textbooks, full package deals, and other resources, but the truth is, the most important thing you can do when you’re considering your curriculum options is to get them into your hands in person. Taking the time to actually pick up and thumb through the books, workbooks, lesson plans, and teacher guides can give you an in-depth view that isn’t possible online. Neither is it possible via word of mouth. If you don’t take this crucial step in curriculum planning, it’s quite likely you’ll find yourself with pieces you’ll never use.
One of the best ways to be able to examine extensive curriculum options all in one place is to attend a Great Homeschool Convention. In each exhibit hall, you’ll find many homeschool curriculum providers whose materials you can explore at your leisure. Better still, if you find the perfect curriculum or curriculum pieces, you can purchase them right there on the spot, never worrying about shipping costs or wait times. This particular method of shopping for your homeschool curriculum will also allow you to speak to those vendors about their products so that all your questions will be answered. Furthermore, you can also talk with homeschooling parents who have used these resources for their own children. This will give you a list of pros and cons without worrying about any bias whatsoever. Between the two, you’re sure to find exactly what you want and need for your child’s upcoming homeschool year.
Plan Your Record-Keeping Strategy
Many states have a legal requirement for keeping records for your homeschool. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by keeping a notebook or portfolio with important information inside. Not everything will be necessary, and you may be the only one that ever sees some of these records, but it’s more than worthwhile (and safe) to keep them on hand, just in case.
Here are just a few things you can include in your notebook:
- A current school calendar
- A record of field trips, extra-curricular activities, and volunteer hours (if your child is old enough)
- Attendance records
- A daily schedule
- Lesson plans or day journal
- Material lists, with resources websites, phone numbers, and other contact information
- Report cards and progress reports
- Standardized tests and evaluations
- Reading list
- Samples of weekly work
- Copy of birth certificates
- Immunization records or waiver
- Copy of LOI (Letter of Intent)
- Education materials receipts
- Your grading key and/or evaluation protocol
- Student and teacher ID
The question often arises, How long should I keep my homeschool records? Most require that your portfolio contains records for at least the last two years, although the safest route is to check your state’s specific legal requirements. The truly diligent homeschooling parent makes an effort to keep all homeschool records indefinitely. This not only helps to make sure you have a record of everything, should your motives ever be brought into question, but it also helps to create an extensive transcript, especially for the high school years.
Some parents use homeschool record-keeping software to keep track of all their records. If you’re willing to spend a little extra cash for a program like this, you can research Edu-Track, Transcript Pro, or Homeschool Tracker by TGHomeSoft. In and of itself, record-keeping online isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it could be a bad idea to trust that it will always be available. In the event of a power surge or outage, you could possibly lose all of your information. If you’re using cloud storage, there’s no guarantee that the cloud will always be there. To be completely sure your records are safe, burn them to a disc, send them to a flash drive, or go the really old-fashioned route and print them out as hard copies for your notebook.
It can also be helpful to know that there are tons of free resources out there for record-keeping and planning. Not only can you find these freebies by searching through Google, but you can even find them on Etsy and eBay as well. Some veteran homeschoolers are happy to create homeschool planners, complete with daily, weekly, and monthly planning pages, report card templates, attendance charts, reading, and field trip logs, and so much more.
Make Sure To Include Music Lessons
The benefits of on-going studies in music are not nearly as appreciated as they should be. Take this quote, for example, from a 2013 study by the German Socio-Economic Panel:
“...the effect of music on cognitive skills is more than twice as large as the effect of sports, an activity which has been found an important input for skill development.” (Source: How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills, Adrian Hille and Jurgen Schupp)
Even in the world of science, it turns out, music is well-known for its neurological advantages. Some of the benefits you’ll see through continued music studies are increased abilities in math, speaking, and reading, new language acquisition, better motor skills, improved self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, and many more.
Engaging music can create and/or increase joy and happiness, especially if kids are directly involved. Sometimes, even the worst moods can be lifted with just a little music time. At the same time, once a child learns to play more skillfully on an instrument of their choice, they can even help to regulate their own emotions, from extreme joy to violent rage, without ever involving another soul in what they’re feeling. This is an excellent way to self-calm and self-regulate through many situations and feelings that could otherwise create destructive behaviors.
Some parents are very intimidated at the thought of teaching music, especially if they’ve never played an instrument themselves. The truth is, you don’t have to know how to play the first note. In fact, you might find that your child has enough natural talent to pick up some songs by ear. However, learning to play by reading notes and scores can bring great benefits as well. You can seek out a local resource at a nearby music store or studio, or you can browse the internet for distance learning opportunities as well. Even if your child isn’t interested in learning to play a specific instrument, you can still teach a worthwhile appreciation for music in various ways. And it’s well worth it.
Take a look at these articles titled The Benefits of Music Lessons for Homeschooled Children and Benefits of Music Lessons, Part II for even more information on the importance of music in your child’s life.
Make Sure You Have a Support System
Finding homeschooling support isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. Now, your homeschooling support groups are as near as your computer or smart device, thanks to social media. You’ll find tons of support groups on Facebook, Twitter, and on various blogs and forums around the internet. Some are general support groups while others are homed in to a specific niche. For instance, you might find a group specifically geared towards:
- Christian homeschooling
- Secular homeschooling
- Homeschooling using a specific curriculum
- Homeschooling using a specific teaching method
- Homeschooling solo
- Homeschooling through elementary, middle, or high school
The list could easily go on and on, and all you have to do to find that perfect support group is spend some time searching or networking.
We hope that you have plenty of support within your family, especially from your spouse. However, that isn’t always the case. Still, you can also choose to connect with local groups, homeschooling clubs, or co-op groups that meet in or near your town. Sometimes these groups can even help to bring your spouses and family members around to the homeschooling mindset, offering lots of great information about the process.
Prepare to Defend Your Choice to Homeschool
There are more than enough naysayers to go around when it comes to homeschooling. Whether it’s your in-laws, siblings, neighbors, or just someone who happens to see you at the grocery with your school-aged child, you’re going to likely to hear things you never thought you’d hear. I could attempt to go into detail and give you some examples, but the truth is, it’s always something new. The bottom line is that you have every right to homeschool your child and so long as you’re following the legal requirements set forth by your state, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
At some point, you may also face the assumption that, since you’re homeschooling, your children will be hopeless recluses who have no social skills whatsoever. You might also hear that your child has no hope of ever attending college, thanks to a life of homeschooling. You might hear someone say that your child’s dream of joining the military will be useless since they were homeschooled. All of these, you’ll come to find, are simply not true. Your child’s social graces will be fine, assuming they are socially-minded. Some children are simply introverted, and it has nothing to do with homeschooling. They will also have just as much hope of a college education as anyone with a public-school diploma, and sometimes, even more so. They definitely have the opportunity to join the military, as I’ve known plenty of homeschooled children who have done so.
The best way to handle situations like these, or the countless others you could encounter, is to be well-versed on what you’re doing right. Know your rights, know why you’re homeschooling, and believe in the fact that children can learn very well in homeschool, many times better than in public school. When someone comes at you with negativity, just sharing a couple of real-life homeschooling facts can often leave them with that deer-in-the-headlights look. And many times, after that, they will leave you alone - at least for a while.
Be Ready For Imperfections & Setbacks
No matter how prepared you think you are, especially if this will be your first year in homeschooling, things will go wrong from time to time, just like in any other life experience. Never start your year off with the idea that things are going to go perfectly, that your curriculum and teaching plans will be flawless, or that your child will be bright-eyed and ready to go every single day. That may be a great mask that some blogs and websites put on to sell a product, it clearly isn’t realistic. Things will go wrong. You’ll quickly find out what works and what doesn’t, which resources are tailored to your styles, and which aren’t, and so much more. But the truth is, that’s good news! Learning what doesn’t work gives you the option to stop, readjust, and try something new that might be a better fit. It’s through this kind of real-time trial and error that you’ll have a great second year!
Sometimes when things aren’t going as well as you think they should be, you can take a moment to stop and consider why you started homeschooling to start with. Some parents know, right from the start, that they don’t want their children in government schools. Others might prefer to offer the very best academic program possible to their special-needs children. Homeschooling could be the result of your child being bullied in public school. It could be that your child is gifted and talented and needs specific guidance through their education. Still, others might have a child with a short or long-term illness or severe food allergies. There are a million other reasons that can lead to homeschooling, but whatever yours was, that’s what you need to focus on if things get really tough.
If things get really rough, and nothing you do seems to be working, you might want to reach out to a support group, club, or homeschool co-op where you’ll meet and be able to speak with other homeschoolers. You are NOT the only one who has ever considered throwing in the towel. Give yourself - and your child - plenty of grace and room to grow. Even when things aren’t going perfectly, you’re still able to learn about and take part in activities that can be educational and stress-reducing all at the same time.
Even in a perfect situation, there might be times when you simply feel burned out. To avoid this, make sure you’re giving yourself ample opportunity for rest and relaxation. It’s hard being the parent and the teacher at the same time and some parents don’t get nearly enough breaks. Yes, it’s very rewarding to see your child plow through homeschooling. But there certainly isn’t anything wrong with taking a day, a week, or even a month just to be a parent only. Even public schools, for all that they get wrong, have breaks throughout the year to allow children and teachers to just “defrag” before resuming.
On the other hand, if your homeschooling is starting to feel really mundane, you might just need to stop and make homeschooling fun again. Change up the schedule, watch videos, play board games or assemble puzzles. You could even arrange a family karaoke night. Whatever you enjoy doing as a family can be turned into a mini-vacation, taking place in your very own home! Don’t be afraid to test out other types of homeschooling materials as well. For instance, it can be just as much fun to work through a lapbook or a unit study for a week or so as it is to do some other fun and exciting activity. The fact is, if it’s a big change from the “normal” activities, it’s likely to be a lot of fun for your child.
What I Wish I Had Known…
As promised from the beginning of this guide, here are some of the things many homeschoolers have said they wished they had known before they ever started homeschooling. If you’re lucky enough to be a first-time homeschooler, you’ll automatically have an upper hand by reading through these gems of wisdom. If not, you might still find something useful, and you can always pass it on to someone else who needs it. For even more information, you can read the original article, What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Homeschooling.
Work on relationship more than academics.
A brand-new homeschooling endeavor can often take its toll on parents and children alike. What you really dream of for your perfect year can quickly fall through, for a variety of reasons, leaving you both grasping for straws to find an answer. Instead of storming off in different directions when it comes down to the wire, make sure you simply take time for one another. It could be the GREATEST thing you can do for your homeschool.
You don’t have to “do” every subject every day.
For those not well-versed in homeschooling, or how credits are counted, it can be a struggle to try to fit in everything all in one day. It’s particularly troublesome if your child finds something they really are interested in and wants to learn more about… right now! You’re torn between letting them dig and research to their heart’s content, knowing that it’s strictly educational at its root, and shutting it down so you can get on to the next subject, and get it over with. Subjects such as math, reading, and writing are the most important, especially in the early years. Those should definitely be taught every day. However, in many cases, other subjects can take a backseat.
You don’t always need a desk and “school supplies” (and neither does your kid!)
Children are always learning, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes it’s in the back yard, other times it’s in the restaurant or grocery store, and sometimes, it’s in the back seat between home and your vacation destination. Desks can be great, and books definitely have their place, but sometimes the best classroom is a park, a zoo, or a local bookstore. The truth is, you can homeschool almost anywhere, and enjoy it the whole time.
Plan on staying the course
The desire to just give up and quit will surely cross your mind, just as it’s crossed the mind of almost every other homeschooler that’s come before you. Take courage; decide, right from the start, that it isn’t going to end that way for you, no matter how tempting. Go ahead and draw up a kind of pledge, to yourself, your homeschool, and your child, including all the important things. When times get hard and the going gets tough, you can look back on this with renewed vigor and press on just a little further. Eventually, the tide will turn and you’ll get over that rough spot. And someday, you’ll look back and be so very thankful you didn’t give up. To lessen the chances that this will happen, don’t be afraid to look out ahead, especially if you’re nearing the high school years, and make some unwritten plans. Do some research on things you have yet to undertake. You won’t regret it.
It takes time to get it right
No matter how well you plan, or how early you bought your curriculum, you can’t expect to be a perfect homeschooler in the first year. Go ahead and get rid of that stipulation for yourself. The sooner you realize you’re going to make mistakes, and that you can accept them and move on, the more peaceful your life will be! It doesn’t matter whether your child is a first-grader or a senior in high school, you just won’t be completely ready if it’s your first year. The important thing to remember is that there’s no shame in it Every failure you have to deal with is just another stepping stone towards the grander outcome of success. And you’ll make it. Just like we all do.
Getting started with homeschooling seems like a daunting task. It’s my hope that this guide has been successful in alleviating some of the stress associated with just stepping out of the boat. It’s true that there are many things to do, but when you slow down, take a breath, and take one step at a time, you’ll find out that it wasn’t really that hard after all. Be sure to cover your bases, get the facts and know them well, and then feel free to have fun with it! There’s no way to get it all right all at once, but with the proper planning, you won’t have nearly as much to worry about.
If you know someone who could benefit from this information, feel free to pass it along!