As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many parents were thrust into home schooling unprepared and ill-equipped to handle their children’s learning needs. However, after the shock wore off of suddenly becoming a parent-teacher, many parents settled into the new normal and began to see the benefits of teaching at home. Whether it was the pandemic that made you want to start homeschooling or some other reason, you may find that home education is an excellent choice for you and your children.
The first thing to remember is: don’t be afraid. There is a common misconception which tries to tell us that a person has to be a certified teacher in order to be a good homeschool mom or dad, and that if you’re not a trained teacher, you will fail at homeschooling. This is not the case! While a teaching degree definitely comes in handy, any parent can be (or can become) a good homeschool parent. So, again: Don’t be afraid. But also know that if you choose not to teach at home, there is nothing wrong with using the public school, private school or charter school options. Your choice of school system is all about what is best for your son or daughter. As a parent, you are well-equipped to determine what is best for your children, so don’t be afraid.
Besides being able to spend more time with your children, home education offers some benefits that the other schooling options don’t:
- Curriculum choice: You can choose a homeschool curriculum that fits your son’s or daughter’s grade level, regardless of his or her age (Not sure how to do that? Keep reading, and we’ll give you some pointers on choosing a curriculum)
- Homeschool year: You can set a school year that is adaptable to your situation or needs (keeping in mind compliance with your state laws)
- Homeschool style: You can teach in a style that matches the way in which your son or daughter learns. (Some children are visual learners, some auditory, etc. You’ll learn quickly which type of learner your son or daughter is, and you can adapt and change to your child’s learning style.)
So, where you begin homeschooling?
Always begin with the rules. Check the laws in your state that govern the practice of homeschooling. Your state has a set of requirements each home school must fulfill. Some states have homeschool laws that outline tasks or forms that must be completed on an annual basis, for example. Some states may require testing on alternate years, and yet others may apply only to specific grades. Different states have different requirements for the length of time that must be spent in school each day or each “school year.” Check your state laws and your school district’s mandates so that you know what is expected of you. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association has an excellent resource. Simply choose your state and check it out.
Homeschool Learning Pod
Resources to help you be a successful homeschooling parent are myriad. From lesson plans to distance learning schools to more localized organizations. While setting up your home school may be confusing at first, there is help. Many areas have local groups or homeschool co-ops, sometimes called a homeschool learning POD (Parent Organized Discovery). PODS bring together children of similar ages and/or grades and a host parent or family teaches a subject in which other parents may not be as proficient. Parent and teacher POD members arrange field trips to interesting places, plan extracurricular activities such as participating in sports, learning arts and crafts, music and other hobbies.
As part of the group, you can find out from experienced homeschoolers the many environments in which your children can learn. Groups often sponsor a statewide homeschool convention to introduce new curriculums. You may also find used materials that other children are no longer using. POD participation is not always free, and prices can vary, but PODS are worth looking into. The National Homeschool Association has a POD connection, although you do have to be a member of the association.
Choosing a Curriculum
Deciding what homeschool program to use is the meat in most questions asked about teaching at home. What should I teach my child? What method should I use? How do I know what curriculum options are right for my child? A search on the internet will hammer you with every curriculum and homeschool method out there. How do you make sense of it? How can you determine what is right for your situation? For that matter, how do you even decide which is a good, well-rounded curriculum choice that covers all the particulars your son or daughter should learn? We aren’t getting into curricula specifics in this article, but here are three ways and a resource that might help you to decide on curriculum.
- You can question experienced homeschoolers in your area. They have a variety of ways to help you get started.
- Check with your local school district. District or state requirements may narrow down your search. The district may also give options to use their curriculum. Some schools even allow your children to attend classes part-time online or in-person or may allow participation in extra-curricular activities such as sports.
- You can wing it and dive into a curriculum that matches the age or grade level of your son or daughter. You know your child best and may be able to guess where to begin in the homeschool journey. While “winging it” may sound haphazard, remember that one beauty in teaching at home is that you aren’t locked in to any one thing. If something isn’t working, you can change it at any time. (keeping in mind your state’s requirements) For some insight into different curricula, try cathyduffyreviews.com.
How to Set a Schedule
One thing to remember about homeschooling is that schedules can be flexible. Yes, children need structure, and it’s important not to be too lax. Schooling does need to be treated as an important priority, but unlike traditional school, a homeschool day can be adjusted.
A good schedule will take into consideration when your son or daughter learns the best. We’re not all “morning people”. If your child is more productive in the afternoon, it may be better if you have a relaxed morning schedule and a more regimented afternoon schedule. Start homeschooling when it will be the most beneficial and end the school day when you know “pushing it” will do more harm than good to your homeschooled child.
In addition to regular school time, set aside time to reflect on what’s been accomplished during the day or week. Focus on your child’s strengths; address whatever is holding them back, if anything, and provide tools or extra tutorials to help them overcome those obstacles. Also, adjust the schedule if you need to so that they can learn at their own pace.
Remember, too, that you can break up the day. Perhaps you want to teach from 10:00 AM to noon, and then take a break until 3:00 PM, and then teach until 6:00 PM. Perhaps it’s better to set up a schedule where all schooling each day is completed directly following breakfast and brushing teeth, but before anything else is done. That’s OK. Check with your state requirements. As long as you are meeting the daily or semester time requirements, you can be as flexible and creative as you need in order to make the most of your child’s education.
Also, take your child’s needs into consideration when setting up a schedule. Whether your son or daughter has a spectrum disorder, is intellectually gifted, or otherwise, he or she can benefit from being allowed to pursue what captures the intellect, so take the opportunity to set your schedule accordingly. You will find that there is plenty of time during the day to incorporate traditional, structured learning as well as including more individualized, less structured outlets.
Next, take into consideration your own personality. Find that balance between what works for you and for your children. If they need structure and you need flexibility, then find a balance between the two. And don’t be afraid to change your schedule. If you find something isn’t working, try something else. That goes for any year and at any time. You may keep a regimented schedule for an entire school semester and then completely change that schedule for the next semester. Likewise, it may take you a year or two to find a “groove” that works for you and your son or daughter. That’s just part of being a homeschooling parent…and that’s all right!
And, remember that scheduling conflicts are bound to happen. That’s just life. Whatever schedule you set up needs to take into account what is happening around your family. There will be times when the schedule will be upset due to family needs, doctor’s appointments, a once-in-a-lifetime learning event, visits from friends/family, sports, hobbies, or other situations. A good schedule has to be flexible enough to take into account what is happening within your family circle. Do not feel like a failure if your schedule goes awry sometimes. If your child is learning the subjects he or she is supposed to be learning, then you’re doing fine.
Homeschooling as a Family Affair
One advantage to setting up a home learning environment is that schooling can become a family affair. Having family members in close proximity throughout the day can help children in multiple ways. Parents can more easily integrate life experiences, faith elements, and current events into the more traditional curriculum, which can help children to develop critical reasoning skills. Older siblings can learn generosity, responsibility and patience by helping younger children. Younger children can bond in different ways with those older children. (One caveat: be sure not to put pressure on your older children. They can learn responsibility skills by helping, but it isn’t their obligation to teach or to raise their siblings; it’s yours. Helping younger siblings should be treated as an opportunity that can be beneficial to both age groups.)
The entire family can be involved in the school experience and can meet needs according to each child’s personality, learning style, problem areas, and the areas in which they excel. A child helping to fix breakfast or learning how to fold laundry is a good “home economics” lesson. A son or daughter learning to change the oil in the car is “auto shop”. But unlike these similar settings in a public school environment, where only the skill is learned, in a homeschool environment these activities serve to strengthen bonds and build trust between family members. (Another caveat: household activities, while treated as learning experiences should not become your child’s responsibility to the degree that they usurp learning traditional subjects or their natural state of “being a child.”)
This may seem daunting or complex, but once you settle into your homeschool journey, you will see how becoming a homeschool family happens in an organic way. No pushing. No trying too hard. Just natural evolution based on seeing what works, what doesn’t work, and adapting to fit the needs of each child and the family as a whole.
The Socialization Issue
An important part of homeschooling that concerns many people is socialization. The fear of isolation can be overcome by joining a homeschool group in PODs, participating in extracurricular activities, and finding groups that serve your son’s or daughter’s interests. Hobbies are an excellent way to get children to socialize. They can attend meetings or conferences that service the hobby. Day camps and summer camp are available to bring children together. Marathons are open to children in many communities. Learning a musical instrument from a qualified teacher can open doors to group settings and recitals. Online and real life gatherings to play video and board games are available. Churches often have groups for various age groups. Renaissance fairs and historical re-enactment groups are not only good for socialization but are enriched learning experiences for children and adults alike. Volunteering is an opportunity to help children grow in character. Nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters, animal shelters, and community service are all places where children can not only learn to help others, but to appreciate their own circumstances. Many parents will tell you the socialization issue isn’t really an issue at all. You will always find ways to make sure there are opportunities for your children to interact with others who have similar interests.
While homeschooling your child can be a challenge, home is where children are meant acquire the foundations of their characters, goals, and dreams. What better person to facilitate that development than their own parents? Children are a precious gift, and when you teach them, you can instill the self-esteem, the strength of character, and the lifelong values you want your sons and daughters to have. Dive in, and don’t be afraid. You’ll soon be veteran homeschooler!