For many people, homeschooling is something easily dismissed or something that is intriguing in theory. Making the step from thinking about homeschooling to actually doing it can be terrifying to the point of paralysis! What are the laws? What will my family think? What if my child wants to go to medical school? The questions that pop up are big and endless at first.
Approach homeschooling like any other big, overwhelming job – break it down into baby steps. Below, I’ve outlined the steps I recommend for people with children who have not yet been to school who are considering homeschooling.
1. Start a notebook.
(Homeschooling moms don’t always wear long braids and denim jumpers, but they do seem to share a love of notebooks!) In the back of the notebook, start a list of pros/cons and leave room to add, move items and make footnotes. It will changes as you explore homeschooling.
2. Read, talk to real homeschoolers and explore internet resources.
There is no one way to homeschool. While its important to talk to local homeschoolers, keep in mind that what works for one family might be a disaster in another. Explore local homeschool groups. Most will welcome you for a visit to a park day or a co-op day – with or without your children. These groups will vary wildly – some insist on you signing a “statement of faith” to join while others eschew any type of religion. Most homeschoolers have to try one or two groups before finding a fit for their family. AND … there is no rule that says you have to belong to a group! I strongly recommend reading as much as you can about all sorts of homeschooling before beginning extensive internet searches. (I have included a list to get you started below.) Read about unschooling, virtual schools, unit-study type schooling, classical schooling and everything in between. Not only will this give you a handle on various terms thrown around on homescooling websites, it will help you figure out where you fit in. Remember that homeschooling is fluid. You might prefer a more relaxed homeschool situation while your kids are young and find yourself drifting to a more classical approach as they get older. It’s your school, you write the rules. Now, armed with some basic information, you are ready to tackle the internet. Start with your state’s homeschooling page. It will outline the basic requirements in your state. Next, visit the Homeschool Defense League (sounds like a super-hero organization, huh?). Whether or not you join the organization is up to you. Their website is a tremendous resource for new homeschoolers. Book mark it, you’ll be back! My next recommendation is a stop at The Well Trained Mind. This site is an offshoot of a book by the same name. The focus is on classical education but the message boards are friendly and open to questions from anyone. Additionally, a quick archive search will give you information on almost anything homeschool related you can think of! (Additional resources provided below.)
3. “Unschool” yourself.
While there are plenty of parents who were homeschooled and are now homeschooling their own children, if you’re reading this article, it’s unlikely you’re one of them. Homeschooling is not about duplicating a traditional classroom. With young children, actual “school” work only takes an hour or two each day. (Remember, you are not trying to contain 25 kids AND teach.) If you attended a traditional school, it can sometimes feel as if you’re not doing enough when you homeschool. Try to embrace the fact that just about everything you do with young kids is educational. Cooking, shopping, doctor’s appointments and even trips to the beach include opportunities for discussion and teaching. You do not have to be sitting at a desk or a kitchen table to be learning!
4. Have realistic expectations.
If you are planning to homeschool your oldest child staring in kindergarten, consider the reality of your life. Do you have younger children as well? Is your partner wary or supportive of homeschooling? Do you move often? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about your children? The reality of homeschooling is that it’s messy. You will not have a spotless house and beautiful meals on the table everyday. You will have days where you wake up and everyone is grumpy and uncooperative. You will also have days where a really fun art project carries way over into dinner time and you end up eating oatmeal for dinner – those are great days! Your children will horrify you in front of skeptical family as if on cue. Grandma will ask what is 2 + 2 and your child will simply stand there wordless or answer “12.” Life happens. There will be times where school gets pushed to the side while someone is sick or during a move. Remember these things would be disruptive no matter where your children are educated and also remember that despite our best efforts, kids keep learning.
5. Give it a try! Nothing’s permanent.
Approach homeschooling on a year-by-year basis. As your kids grow and your life changes, you might find that traditional school is a better fit. Or, you might find that a few tweaks on last year’s schedule will make homeschooling for another year just fine. (As far as medical school goes? Universities love homeschoolers and homeschoolers have a terrific graduation rate. Many homeschoolers go on to become M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s! Their parents stay home and relax.)