Lots of people are thinking about homeschooling for the coming academic year. As a homeschooling/ multischooling mom of five with 14 years experience under my belt for all grades, I’m going to do my best this week to give you the practical advice you need, in an orderly manner, so you can learn how to start homeschooling with confidence and joy regardless of your background, your child’s ages, or your motivations. I’ve gotten tons of questions and I’m going to use this week to try to answer them all in the following posts:
- How to Start Homeschooling Your Elementary School Student
- How to Start Homeschooling Your Teenager (Middle through High School)
- How to Start Homeschooling Your Special Needs Child
- How to Homeschool in Difficult Circumstances
- The 7 Most Common Homeschooling Questions Answered
So let’s jump right into the steps you need to take to begin homeschooling your elementary aged child!
First and foremost, you need to know what is required by your state. Every state is different, so I recommend checking out HSLDA’s website as the first step. If you are in a particularly restrictive state, it is in your family’s best intersts to join so that you have legal protection and advice. Next, find a local homeschooling family, or organization. HSLDA’s website keeps a listing of groups so start there, and then move to searching Facebook groups. Between HSLDA and local families, you will be able to get all your technical questions on how to start homeschooling answered and get practical advice from families who’ve dealt with local school regulations and reporting. Homeschooling is possible in your state- don’t be daunted by the steps you need to take.
Next, even before you start thinking about curriculum, figure out why you want to homeschool this year. Work with your spouse to figure out why you’re choosing homeschooling over public or private school. What are your goals for this year? Create a homeschooling mission statement to help guide your curriculum and activity choices. This is an important step! Without a big picture plan, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with curriculum choices, get discouraged when challenges arise, and become burnt out. If you have time, it can be helpful to read books about homeschooling and different homeschooling methods. These authors can often articulate what you’ve been thinking and point you in the right direction. You can view some recommended titles HERE.
Once you know how your state’s requirements may affect your curriculum options, and you have a mission statement, you can start thinking about curriculum. But before you start shopping, create a budget. This budget should cover purchasing materials to start the year, plus there should be a “monthly allowance” of sorts to cover costs that will arise during the school year. It is easy to go overboard with buying ALL THE SHINEY BOOKS. Set a realistic budget and stick with it! If everyone you know swears by a $200 phonics program but you can’t afford that program-relax. There are lots of other ways to teach phonics and reading without spending $200. Whatever your budget, there is a way to homeschool your children for that amount.
A quick search with reveal hundreds, if not thousands of curriculm options. How will you decide? First, start with the subjects you need to cover which will vary by grade but will always include English Language Arts (which includes phonics, spelling, reading, literature, grammar, writing) and math. And then depending on grade level you can add social studies/ history, science, art, music, religion, physical education/ health, or a foreign language. Most first time homeschoolers fall into the trap of trying to do too much. While children are young, many secondary subjects can be covered in a fun informal way and don’t require a textbook and tests (but again, that may depend based on the state you reside in). Focus on ELA and Math and a few other extras. If you get a few months in and things are going well, you can always add more vs. spending money on lots of subjects you need to drop because everyone is complaining and overwhelmed.
Will your child have gaps in their educations?? What if you forget something?? Yes, they will have gaps- just like public and private school students. Yes, you will forget something, just like public and private school teachers sometimes miss or skip material due to unforeseen circumstances. Obviously, you don’t want to blow off material but know that the long term success of your child’s education doesn’t rest on whether you finish the last chapter in the math book or drop a special STEM unit for your first grader.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.
You can purchase a boxed curriculum and lesson plans by grade or pick and choose what looks good from a variety of sources. Talk with experienced homeschoolers, borrow and view what they have on hand to see what you like. Many publishers also have free trials of online programs or samples to view on their websites. Keep your mission statement in mind, along with your own temperament, and that of your children. Purchasing pre-made lesson plans is usually a good step for your first year. It will make planning a lot easier, and gives you a starting point for how to craft your own plans down the road should you choose to do so. If you are strongly against purchasing pre-made plans, it may help to work with an experienced homeschooler when creating your own so they can help you judge the pace and content of your plans. Be humble and take their advice. In general, I advise people to choose curriculum that will help their children work as independently as possible. When encountering new and challenging material, kids will undoubtedly need your help, but don’t lock yourself into hovering over every child for long periods of time. The more kids you have, the more important this becomes.
Accept that, as a first time homeschooler who is just getting starting learning how to start homeschooling, you will probably select materials that you ultimately won’t like. It’s okay! Don’t shoot for the perfect curriculum this year! Simply pick materials that can educate your children and that you can afford. If you continue to homeschool, you will learn more about yourself and you teaching style, your children’s learning styles, and what books work best in your family. It’s going to be trial and error and that’s okay. But if you put in the time to research and craft a mission statement, you’re more likely to find materials that work.
Once you have your materials, you will need to get organized. Figure out the dates of your school year, and when you want to have breaks. Decide if you want to break your school year into quarters, trimesters, or semesters. (Your lesson plans may do this for you.) Keep in mind regular activities, work schedules, etc., as well as holidays and months when things are busier or slower than usual.
Next, think about when you are at your best during the day, and when you’re the most tired. When do your youngest children nap? When is your husband, or other family, available to help? Think about when chores, meal prep, and checking work can take place. With this information you can plan a routine for your day. It doesn’t need to be a set schedule, but it can be if that works for you. Figure out what hours of the day are dedicated to school. If your children are little, you can complete most subjects in a couple hours before lunch and still take Fridays off. Older students may need five days a week with perhaps an hour after lunch to finish up. Make time for breaks during the day. Elementary school kids should get up and move around every 20-30 min. at least. If they want to sit longer and work that’s fine, but don’t make it a requirement. Letting your kids get outside and run around between subjects often provides needed stress relief for everyone. Let your kids know what the routine for the day is, post it prominently, and then stick with it- you and them.
Finding a daily routine, and flow to your homeschool will take some time, but you’ll know within the first month whether your initial schedule is working or if your need to make changes. If you can’t seem to get everything done or everyone is having constant meltdowns, scale back on the extras and focus on ELA and math until you can figure out what’s eating up your time and stressing everyone out.
As the teacher, you will need a place to keep your materials (lesson plans, answer keys, teacher editions, etc.) and your children will need a place for their materials be it a desk, dedicated bin, or shelf. You don’t need a seperate school room. It’s nice, but your kitchen or dining table can work too. (Or if you have a formal dining room you don’t use, consider turning it into a school space.) You also don’t need a ton of fancy new containers or plastic bins. Do a walk through of your house and see what space you can use, where items can be stored, and what boxes and bins you have on hand to contain anything. Make sure everyone knows where everything goes and make sure there are clear expectations as to how school work is cleaned up at the end of the day.
Be not afraid!
Now get excited! Build up the first day of the new school year as a joyful occasion. Ease into things; there will be growing pains. But extend your children, and yourself, some grace and follow your plans. Offer lots of praise, keep to your routine, and when it’s all too much, stop and take a break. Hang up your children’s artwork, and be sure they share what they’re doing with grandparents and friends. Take pictures, document the highlights, and when it’s hard, keep the big picture in mind.
I’ll wrap up this first post by saying, there’s a TON of information out there on each of these points. You could research the hell out of everything and really be no better off than you are right now. When it comes to deciding on homeschooling stuff, decision fatigue is real. Try not to overthink it too much this year. Don’t let all the fun looking stuff out there distract you from instilling in your children a love of learning and equipping them with an education that they can build on throughout their life. Do your best in planning your first year, and reevaluate when you’re done. You don’t need to have everything figured out down to every last minute detail to successfully homeschool your children- honest.
Tomorrow- how to start homeschooling your teenager. Are there differences in what you need to do? Oh yes, but it’s not as scary as you think.