341 | Dumb Questions All New Homeschoolers Should Ask… and the Answers! (Jennifer Cabrera)
Do we need a laminator and some chickens? Asking random nervous questions is part of becoming a homeschool parent. No need to flail about in an ocean of possibilities. Ask away! We veterans won't laugh (out loud). Allow me to tackle a few that may have popped into your head. Though someday you may look back and laugh too, every obvious answer you need to hear now will placate your fears and insecurities, and show you... You got this!
Jennifer Cabrera, the Hifalutin Homeschooler, is the writer of homeschool truth, humor, and inspiration. Jennifer lives in Salado, Texas with her husband and three brilliant boys. She is a licensed Physician Assistant/MPH, but set aside that career for her ultimate life's work. She is also the author of Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook and Revolting Writing, a hilarious writing, vocabulary, and illustration journal for reluctant writers. She is a featured speaker with Great Homeschool Conventions and her memes and witty insights are widely shared on social media.
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Jennifer Cabrera [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to the Homeschool Solutions Show. I'm Jennifer Cabrera of the Highfalutin Homeschooler and just one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging, inspirational, often humorous conversation from this busy and blessed journey of homeschooling our children. Now, while the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we do not even pretend to have all the answers to every question related to homeschooling. But it is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ and that you may seek His counsel as you train your children in the way they should go. We are so glad that you have joined us here for today's conversation.
[00:00:41] Do we need a laminator and some chickens? Hello and welcome to another installation of the Homeschool Solutions Show podcast with the Hifalutin Homeschooler, Jennifer Cabrera, here. And today we're going to tackle dumb questions all homeschoolers should feel free to ask. Asking random nervous questions and then getting giggled at lovingly is the homeschool version of hazing. Most of us have been through it. We asked things we now know seem ridiculous and obvious, but we really needed to hear the answers as we flailed about in this alarmingly free ocean of options. Every soothing, placating and obvious answer calms our fears and insecurities. I mean, ten plus years ago, I didn't know a thing about homeschooling, except that only weird people did it and that I'd need a laminator, which turned out to be only partly true. You don't need a laminator to homeschool, and this is where I get a lot of flak from all the laminating addicts in the peanut gallery. No laminator? Blasphemy. Well, ten years later, I still don't have one, though I hear they provide a soothing, accomplished pastime for many who could wallpaper their homes with bookmarks and dry erase ready worksheets.
[00:01:58] But when you're a new nervous homeschooler or haven't actually taken the plunge yet and just trying to weigh your options and you really don't know anything about homeschooling, you should go ahead, ask all the questions as they pop into your head, even the silly, stupid ones. Sure, you might get laughed at by more experienced homeschoolers, but we've been there, done that, and no one can say that they just came here knowing everything there was to know about homeschooling, even those that grew up homeschooling. Because things are changing. I mean, even in the last ten years that I've started homeschooling, things have changed. And in the last two years, I think we can all agree that schooling across the country—homeschooling, public schooling, private schooling—everything has changed. Parents are taking the reins back. So if you're new to homeschooling and you think, "I don't know what I'm doing. I need a school board and curriculum and teachers and school nurses and lunch ladies and—" no, no, no, no, no. Slow down. Go ahead and ask all of the ridiculous questions in your head because some of them actually really aren't ridiculous, and you should ask them before you go and buy a hairnet and one of those weird aprons to serve breakfast in the homeschool cafeteria.
[00:03:11] So ask the questions, and that's we're going to get to today. I'm going to try to hit on some of the questions you're probably thinking about if you're new to homeschooling or contemplating whether or not you are able to homeschool, which the answer is yes. If you can sit and contemplate it, then you probably are ready to jump off and go forth and wield that lunch lady spoon. First off, you do not have to grow your own food or wear a denim jumper to be successful at homeschooling. I know that was a lot of people's first questions, and I'm just saying, you know, they've got pockets. They're also great for gardening. If you garden, gardening counts for equal parts science, P.E., math, art, home economics. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Perhaps we should start with: is that even legal?
[00:03:58] So is it legal to homeschool in the United States of America? Yes. If you're going to ask me about some country that I don't know how to spell, the answer is probably no, or I don't know, or email me and we'll find out. But in the United States of America, it is legal to homeschool. Now, each state has different laws governing their homeschool. So you can look at HSLDA.com to find out all of the rules and regulations in your state. But it is legal to homeschool. And if you're lucky enough to live in a state like Texas, well, just know that God blessed Texas and those of us who live here, and homeschool families in Texas are considered to be their own private school and are therefore under no requirements to report to a public school or government entity, as are several other states. Now that's report nothing at all if our children have never been enrolled in school and only a withdrawal notice to remove them from the school is needed at that point. And you don't have to fill out any of those little tricky, sneaky forms that they might hand you saying, "Oh, we need to know what curriculum you're going to use," which how do we know what we're going to use? We like to change from year to year. But that's getting ahead, too.
[00:05:10] Other states require homeschool families to report each year what they plan to use for their curriculum. And some only require attendance records, which is really kind of funny, if you think about it. We're here. We live here. So you need to check with, like I said, HSLDA.com to figure out your state's requirements when you get started. Now from there, just a little admission here to make you feel better about all the questions that are swimming around in your head— before I had completely decided to homeschool, I phoned a homeschool parent that I barely knew through other friends. And then I rapidfire riddled her with questions. Thank God she didn't laugh. Well, at least not where I could hear her, anyway. She probably hung up the phone and fell out on her kitchen floor.
[00:05:56] But all that to say, I've been there. I know it's overwhelming. There's a rabbit hole of endless questions and it doesn't end. You'll just get better at answering them yourself as you move along as a homeschool parent. So some questions that you probably want to ask right now if you're new to homeschooling or thinking about homeschooling: how do I know what to teach? How do I know if they're learning anything? Who keeps up with their files, grades, behavior charts, attendance records, lice checks? How do I set up our daily, weekly, monthly coffee break schedules? When do we change grade levels? When do we change classes? What supplies and things do I need? What curriculum should I use? Do we do P.E.? Ring a bell between subjects? How do I know if they have done enough to change grade levels? Do I have to keep everything to prove that we did stuff? Should we take attendance, recite the pledge, get dressed? And what about prom? Shh. Don't ask about prom. Yes, we have that, too. We have all the things: sports, music, theater, mom cliques, and field trips, oodles of pajama days.
[00:07:04] But from here, please note that most of the questions that I just repeated that you've probably had running through your head for days, months, weeks— they seem kind of general, but in reality they're very personal and only answerable by you as the homeschool parent. And now you're like, "Wait, why am I listening to this podcast? She's not going to tell me anything? This was useless." Well, here's the trick: I don't know you or your kids or their interests or their learning styles or where you live or your budget. However, I can answer some basic home education questions to get you started devising your own plan. Meaning, the thoughts that I am going to share are interchangeable with your preferences and the needs of your own children.
[00:07:50] But just to get you started, I will start with this: a typical school grade year is 36 weeks. Curriculum is usually divided into 36 weeks of study, 36 weeks of instructional material for teaching, practicing, grading, and then extra fluff that they throw in to keep all the kids busy at school that you can throw out or fill with other fun activities. Basic subjects such as math, language arts, science, and history are available in 36 weeks of courses from hundreds of publishers under thousands of titles. Secular and religious based curriculum. They either come in boxed sets or for control freaks to pick individually, such as me.
[00:08:36] So how do you begin? Well, pick a start date. Count out 36 weeks from there, and exclude holidays, and allot for a few sick days, and then some of those I'm-sick-and-tired-of-this-beep days, and then vacation time, and field trip days, and then you'll find the rough end date. Now stay flexible because life happens. FYI, you don't even have to finish all of the curriculum. Public schools never do. You can skip the extras and stuff they already know and do things your own way. Or light it on fire and buy something new. Now start with a lesson a day for each subject. Or a different subject each day for hours at a time. If you want to do science every Tuesday, all day Tuesday; Tuesday is Science Day— well, then you— that's your prerogative.
[00:09:27] Now, don't forget that at some point you need to throw in your other subjects. Obviously, you can't be like, "Well, we're not going to do English because we don't like it. So we're going to add five days of science and then we're going to have lunch." No. Okay. But you can decide which days for which subject. Or you can do a little bit of each subject each day. Now you can follow the teacher's guides that come with the curriculum. Or you can make up your own schedule. You can mess up. You can try again or pick a new way each week. If it's not working out, change things up. Keep it exciting.
[00:09:58] You will know if your kid grasps a subject by discussion. Imagine that sitting down, talking with your kids, letting them repeat what they learned to Dad when he gets home from work. Also, you can grade their work. You can issue tests or choose not to. They could be written or oral. You can gauge their level of frustration, boredom, or contentment. And like many homeschoolers, they will be an A-plus student if you treat it like we did, because every lesson is not complete until it is correct. Now, after you've gotten your basic subjects outlined, you can add electives based on interests or requirements for college or career or the skill of choice or whatever floats your boat that day. You can even make your own study plan and gather your own resources. You don't have to buy a curriculum.
[00:10:51] Note that things like cooking are learning. So is fixing a car, hiking every trail in three counties if you want to. And they can all be counted on a transcript. Now, transcripts are for high school students. Now templates are available online, as well as paid sites that you can use to record, store, print and even send them out for you to colleges such as HSLDA.com. But it's really not that hard to create a transcript. If you can use a computer or even wield a pencil, you can keep a very rudimentary transcript for your students. And some people like to keep them for all ages. And depending on which state that you're in, you may need to keep some sort of a record to turn in what you taught with your state for all of the grade levels. But for high school, you definitely need to keep a transcript if your child plans to go to any kind of vocational, junior college, university, or to look pretty on the wall when your skeptical relatives show up for Christmas dinner.
[00:11:49] Now for younger grades— like here in Texas, we aren't required to keep record or a transcript for under high school ages. But if you'd like, you can keep what's important to you, such as a list of the subjects and electives that you did for that year, curriculum you used, possibly the books that you read together or that they read on their own or all of the above, activities you were involved in, such as clubs, sports, awards that they received in those clubs or sports, or awards that you make up and hand out on your own, like I like to do for fun. And you might want to hang on to some writing samples for all ages of your kids, just for memories and to show them. See? I really did teach you something. Some artwork, keepsake items, all of those things. Or you can keep nothing at all and set it on fire every year. Or you can laminate everything and hang it on the wall. It's your choice. It's your homeschool.
[00:12:41] So if you want to follow the traditional school schedule and have the summers off, then you would pick a start date around the time that your local schools may be starting. So if your children have friends that are still going to the schools, that they would have summer break at the same time. Or if you're planning on take vacations with other family that does go to school and you need to be off at the same time, you can follow the traditional school schedules and starts and do your 36 weeks of curriculum thereabouts, within the realm of the timeframe that the schools are going. You can also school year round, which is a nice benefit to being a homeschooler. You could start your school year in November or March—whenever you want to start it—and take breaks that are convenient for homeschoolers, which to say is when everyone else is in school and all the parks and museums and all of those things are free and prices are probably lower because there's not a lot of demand. Vacation spots are empty. It just makes for great vacations if you can get away. And there are homeschoolers that do both: some that follow the traditional schedules and some that do their own thing and take advantage of those discounts and crowd-free times.
[00:13:48] Okay. So some other answers to burning questions that you may have. You don't have to have five or more kids to homeschool. You don't have to have a designated classroom in your home. Your designated classroom can change from day to day. It could be at the breakfast table on Wednesdays, and the back porch on Tuesday, and on Friday it could be at whatever museum you're visiting this week. But you also don't have to have a college degree to teach your children. You don't have to have farm animals or a denim jumper.
[00:14:17] You don't have to join a co-op. Although you will get to meet other homeschoolers in your local area. You might get to take some really interesting classes like the Care of Bearded Dragons. And you could also be lassoed into teaching one of those. My first year to join a co-op, and the only year that we joined a co-op, I actually got to teach the high school kids A Tale of Two Cities, which was actually really fun because my boys were really small at the time, and so there was nobody like punching or fighting each other while we read this epic tale that I had never read before. So I was learning right along with these other people's kids that were like really sweet and they thought I was cool. And then I had to bring my own kids home and that all faded away. But you get the idea.
[00:15:01] But you don't have to join a co-op to have group classes. There's all kinds of different ways that homeschoolers organize in your local area, and you can also find that out on HSLDA.com and find meetup groups, fieldtrip groups, and Dungeons and Dragons groups, or 4-H clubs, so find your people. It's good to get out there, especially if you're pulling your kids out of public school or a private school and you're bringing them home and you're worried about keeping up with friends.
[00:15:30] I'm just going to be honest: you're going to lose some of the friends that your kids had because their parents are not going to understand your decision or they're going to feel threatened by your decision or your worlds are just going to go off in different directions. And friends who really didn't have any problem with you homeschooling, they just kind of fade away because your lives don't line up anymore. So it's good to seek out other homeschoolers because they will help you on your journey, help you get started, give you someone to lean on and to talk to that won't judge you when you want to rip all your hair out and hide in the closet and eat cookie dough one morning because your kid hates math. So it's good to try to make some homeschool friends, whether you do it at a co-op or you meet them at the library, or you're the only people at the swimming pool after school starts in August. Find them. Look for those friends. Look for activities where they can make friends and get out in the community and so that people can't call you unsocialized, which is ridiculous because to socialize like a homeschooler is to meaningfully interact individually or as a family within your community, not force—despite your personal values, beliefs and goals, but naturally because of them.
[00:16:36] But back to some of those burning questions that you may have. You do not have to study Latin or enjoy all of the Narnia books or laminate anything, but you totally can if you want to. And what about prom? Well, we've got that, too. But with better music, better attire, better manners. And for those pestering you about socialization, let them know we also have sports teams and playground meet ups, field trips, theater groups, bands. And and some of us have to even fight to stay home and actually get our studies done because we are, in fact, so social.
[00:17:12] Now, let me just say that retail therapy is really what you need to answer all of your homeschool burning questions. And I know that sounds like really bad advice. I'm not saying go out shopping and spend all of your paycheck and whatever else and your inheritance on curriculum right now. What I'm saying is that shopping for homeschool curriculum will help you along the way of deciding and understanding what it means to homeschool. Now, the first time I went curriculum shopping 10, 11 years ago, I don't really know what I expected to find. Probably some Bible school paraphernalia and a soap making kit, but what I found was my confidence.
[00:17:52] The school system that I was fed up with offered parents very little info on what they were actually teaching our kids and how parents could be involved. It kind of kept us pushed away. So naturally, when tossing around the idea of homeschooling, I felt handicapped and in the dark. How do I know what to teach them? Now, that was before I stumbled onto a smorgasbord of tools and resources for teaching my own children online. I googled and smiled down each digital aisle in awe of what I didn't know existed. It was like the first time I set foot in a Tuesday Morning. And then if you have those, you know what I'm talking about. Throw pillows, half price Belgian chocolates, all under one roof. But this was even better.
[00:18:30] So many great options for all types of learners with teachers guides and hands-on fun kits all separated not just by grade levels and ages, but interest levels, abilities, whether it was secular or faith based. And as I began to see what all was available and I got to see what my kids would be excited about and things that the school had never even bothered to try to use, I realized I get to choose what, where, when, and how. And I realized, "Oh, I so got this." So I encourage you to go shopping and don't buy anything at first. But look at what's out there and think about your own children, not the kids in the brochure that will lead you astray. But see what's out there.
[00:19:13] And now, if you come across something that you're really interested in and then you're not really sure what grade level your kid is on, a lot of curriculum out there actually has some pretest that they actually give online. So you don't have to actually purchase anything, but you can take the test—or actually you should let your kid do it because that's— you know, even though it looks fun and you're excited, you should let your kids take the test and they give you a little grading rubric to follow. And then depending on how many questions they got wrong or right, you can gauge what level they should start at. Now, don't freak out if your kids are under their grade level. These are just arbitrary points in a lifetime. They will catch up or they will be where they need to be.
[00:19:52] God has a plan for all of our kids. They're not all going to be doctors and lawyers. But if we treat them like they all should be, well, then a lot of them are going to feel like failures. So holding some back and pulling forward based based on some arbitrary numbers, ignore them. And if it's going to bother your kid that's a third grader that you bought them a second grade reading book, well then stick a fun sticker over the top of that when you hand them the fun pretty book that you bought them. It does not need to be the main focus of their learning. And this is why when you ask a homeschooler who's been homeschooling for more than a year, "Hey, what grade are you in?" Well, sometimes they'll just give you this really confused look because they may even say, "Well, in math, I'm in seventh grade, but in literature I'm in 10th grade. And in handwriting, Mom says it looks like a kindergartner wrote it."
[00:20:44] But we are educating to our kids individually, not 30 in a classroom, in a school of 800, which, by the way, those 30 are not all on the same level. A lot of them are being held back and even more of them are being pushed along for numbers' sake and lost to the system. So homeschooling, forget the grade. What does your kid need? That's the grade level you should buy. So, frankly, I mean, I find it amazing that anyone is ever able to make the decision to homeschool before they head out and check out the merchandise and see all the available resources as far as books and classes and field trips. I wasn't so bold, but once I finally started really looking at what's out there and not waiting for someone to tell me what to teach my kids, oh, it was so exciting and freeing.
[00:21:32] And then you can go overboard and get your eyes bigger than your child's grip on a pencil. And you don't want to do that either, because then you'll have burn out real quick with overload. So back off and get your basics going first. Just some math and some reading and maybe a little bit of science for fun and then add in extracurriculars as you see fit. If they're spending six hours a day on Minecraft after your two hours of lesson and you want them to do something else but get hands-on and fun, then, you know, you could maybe add a sport or add a music lesson or do more science experiments or reenact a Shakespearean tragedy in the living room. Wear togas and host your own Olympics in the backyard. Grow vegetables. Try out a new sport that your child has even invented on his own. Or let them have time to be bored and see where their interests and imagination take them. That's the really big glory of homeschooling is all this free time to get lost in who you are instead of being told where to sit, when to pee all day, every day.
[00:22:38] So now you probably want to know, well, where do I look at homeschool curriculum to even see what's out there? Well, I've got some resources for you. RainbowResource.com. ChristianBook.com. HomeScienceTools.Com. CathyDuffyReviews.com. All of these places have great stuff to peruse and all subjects— well, except Home Science Tools. You probably want to just look at science there. But go check out these sites, go to a local homeschool used bookstore. A lot of times the parents in the area may run those and can give you some good tips and suggestions on things. Or email me and ask me any question you want.
[00:23:17] Now everybody is different, so I will not promise anything for any curriculum because I believe that you could probably use any curriculum for the benefit of your child if you fit it to their needs. But everyone learns differently, and what may be my favorite curriculum may be something that you are ready to light on fire for a science experiment. So while I am willing to give suggestions, I do not stand by them. I do, however, believe that researching curriculum, reading a lot about it, finding out what works for other people does offer a learning curve much needed by new homeschool parents. Reading reviews, downloading samples, weighing your options. But the main thing is to get to know your own child and how they learn.
[00:23:58] So if you start out with your basic subjects in your first semester or year of homeschooling and take them lightly and don't hold yourself to some impossible standard of homeschool parent or your child to winning a scholarship at the age of ten, then you will have a good time together learning how you work together, learning who your child is and how they learn best, and what time of the day that you're going to be at your best, and how to approach things. Do you want to do things more orally or more written? As a group? Separate per kid? All of those things.
[00:24:33] The first year is really just kind of a get to know each other, trial and error, how to work. And then I know a lot of you might be thinking if you are new to homeschooling, well, we have to meet so many standards and we have to do all of these things by a certain date by the end of the year. Hogwash. Yes, you should be homeschooling routinely and you should build a routine that works for you. But just because things are written on paper at the public and private schools and look nice and neat and all embossed and signed by the superintendent does not mean they're going down in the classroom the way that they look on paper. And if you have your child's best interest at heart and you are moving forward each day, working on their weaknesses and feeding their strengths in areas that might lead to career paths, then you are doing what's right for your child.
[00:25:18] And discovering your child's learning style may take some time and a few hits and misses on curriculum or ways that you set up your homeschool day. And that's okay. But you already probably know your kid better than the school system ever did or ever cared to accommodate. So make sure that when you are choosing your tools for homeschooling, that you are choosing what works best for your kids and not the kids in the brochure or not the kids you wish you had or not the kids who live down the street who seem to be all Yale or Harvard bound. Because even with those kids that seem to be the smartest out there, just know that there are no mic drop moments. Okay? They're not just one and done, they've learned everything in the first attempt.
[00:26:04] There are no mic drop moments in parenting either. So go ahead and invest in a looper pedal and an amp. You will be repeating yourself. You will have bad days. They will have bad days. You will have days that you wish you had started homeschooling before they were even born. Because it will be such a wonderful time and it won't always be so you can get excited and have a great first week of school. And then the first time your child complains about having to get up and wield a pencil, you think you're a failure, and you're not because they're children and they are more comfortable with you as a parent than they would ever be with a teacher. So they're going to complain more. They're going to feel free to whine and cavort. But that doesn't mean that you aren't doing a good job. They're only human. We all have those days we just don't want to do anything. And on those days, you're going to have to have a spine and remember why you chose to homeschool and realize that you are going to have to want to homeschool more than your kids are going to want to be homeschooled at times.
[00:27:03] But if you keep going and working with your kids' learning styles and finding those curriculum options that work best for your family, you will learn to work together and you will become the family team that God intended. And the days will become more smoother. Kids will still complain, but they will know what's expected of them. And you will be able to shake things up and not sit down at a desk all the time and move around the house and move around your town or community and find those homeschool friends and other homeschool moms and dads that can pat you on the back and buy you another tube of cookie dough on the day that you need it.
[00:27:40] And know that this is real life. It is not a brochure. And that even on the days that don't look quite so picturesque, your children are getting more of what they need than they were when they were sitting in a room, just another number with 30 to 40 other kids in the room that no one was handling their particular needs.
[00:27:59] So embrace the freedom to homeschool. Understand that with true homeschooling, you and your children are in control of their education and their path forward, which is equally amazing and horrifying. But it won't always seem as scary as it does in the beginning. Complete accountability is the part of freedom that doesn't feel so free. No one to blame if you mess up. I mean, I would get heart palpitations looking down the road to homeschooling high school when my oldest were only in the fourth grade and my youngest was still learning to read while hanging upside down from the sofa. And yet, here we are. I have two seniors this year and half a freshmen. And my oldest two are already applying to colleges and I can say it can be done, and that I did not start out as a school teacher, but I love my kids, and I put them first, and I let God show me the way and what I needed to do with them.
[00:28:49] And hopefully I'm on track and I'm still—to this day—looking for new ways and seeking out where I'm going wrong and what I need to fix and praying for guidance. Will we get it perfect with each of our kids? Not with one of them, actually. But so let's just be awesome instead. I mean, if you're going to ruin a kid, you might as well, keep them home and do it yourself. So until next time, stay weird and homeschool on.
[00:29:17] Thank you for joining us this week on the Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and while you are there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode. Have you joined us at one of our Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling event of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit hall in the United States. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there.