If you are just starting out, homeschooling can seem overwhelming. There is so much information out there, it is hard to know where to start. Do you find your curriculum first? What about the Board of Education - do you need to inform them? This step-by-step guide will help you know where to start and how to get it all done.
Step 1: Know the Law
The very first step when you are considering homeschooling is to look up your state's laws. Education and homeschooling laws vary by state, but regardless of your state's laws, it is important to be in compliance with them lest you have legal issues. The best place to find your state's homeschooling laws is through the HSLDA website. Whether or not you are a member (or ever intend to be one), the site has an interactive map that gives you a synopsis of your state's laws.
Summary Chart of Homeschooling Laws
The following chart is intended to be a quick reference guide and is current as of 2012. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice in your specific situation. Homeschooling laws in your state can change from time to time, so it's advisable to connect with a local or statewide group that will keep you updated of such changes.
|State||No Regulation||Low Regulation||Moderate Regulation||High Regulation|
|District of Columbia||x|
Step 2: Find a Support Group
Your second step in beginning to homeschool should be to find a support group. Support groups come in many different shapes and sizes, and you'll want to find one that meets both your needs and your kids' needs. When you first start looking, look for groups that are well-organized and have a clearly designated contact person. The following websites give a fairly comprehensive list of the statewide groups that are around and active:
- HSLDA - Note that HSLDA is a Christian organization and only gives out information for the official Christian organizations in your state.
- Homeschool World - This site has an up-to-date listing of organizations listed by state. It shares information on any organization, regardless of affiliation with a particular philosophy or religion.
- Secular Homeschool - As the name of the website implies, this site shares information only about homeschooling groups that are exclusively secular, or inclusive of all religions.
Types of Support Groups to Look For
There is a support group for everything! Don't limit yourself to thinking that you have to stick with a chapter of your state's homeschooling group. While these state groups provide invaluable information (especially when it comes to legal issues), they may or may not meet your day-to-day needs as a homeschooler. Other groups to consider include:
- Philosophy-Oriented Groups - These groups have a particular educational philosophy and bond around that philosophy. This could include unschooling or classical education, but regardless, the activities, classes and parent meetings all center on the common ground held within the educational philosophy.
- Mom-Only Groups - Think about the popular preschool program 'MOPS,' and apply that to homeschooling. Whether you're homeschooling high schoolers for the first time, or want to learn more about Charlotte Mason, these groups are nice because they offer an opportunity for new homeschooling moms to interact with more experienced moms.
- Religious Groups - Religious groups will offer only those activities which do not conflict with the group's stated religion. Generally, participants have to be of a particular faith or denomination.
- Curriculum Groups - These groups are often co-ops, where the children come to learn together, and follow a particular curriculum. Popular examples would include Classical Conversations and Tapestry of Grace.
What if I Can't Find a Group?
Homeschooling is popular enough that there is more than likely a group near you. However, if there isn't, you'll want to seek out opportunities for your children to interact with others. The great thing about homeschooling is that you are not limited in any way. If your child loves plants, see what the nearby botanical garden is offering in terms of classes or internships. If your child loves to sing, find out about your town or city's choir. You'll find that in most cases, people are very willing to work with alternatively-schooled children.
Step #3: Curriculum
For most people, finding what to teach is far more daunting than figuring out how to comply with laws. Simply put, there are just so many options to consider. Rest assured that if you talk to experienced homeschooling moms, most will tell you that they've changed curriculums multiple times. Before you even start looking through a catalog, try thinking through the following questions:
What Should My Child Learn?
What do you think your child should learn this year? Some moms go to their district's Board of Education website and look up what other children in the same grade are doing. This is certainly acceptable, even if you never intend to send your child to school. Other parents follow a scope and sequence that tells them what to teach each year. It is not as important how you decide what you're going to cover, as much as it is important that you write down your thoughts. Doing so will help you find curriculum and options that cover what you think should be covered. If you are at a complete loss, this Typical Course of Study can help you think about things that other kids might be doing.
What Is the Best Way to Learn?
What do you believe about how children learn best? Do you feel like all children learn best by doing and investigating? Do you feel like there is a time and place for hands-on activities, but that the bulk of learning should come from reading? Do you feel like there is a certain strategy to learning that should be used to tackle all subjects? There are no wrong answers, so jot down how you think children should learn. When you go curriculum shopping, what you buy should match up to some degree with what you believe about how children learn best. If it doesn't, then you should rethink your purchase carefully.
How does my child learn best? If you're not sure how to answer that, think about what activities he enjoys most. Chances are very good that if you think about what he likes best, you'll discover his dominant learning style. Most kids can function well using all the learning styles but have one or two that is dominant. The curriculum you purchase should cater to that particular learning style and if it doesn't, you'll find yourself and your child very frustrated.
What Won't Work
Although it sounds counterintuitive, come up with a list of things that you are sure won't work. Your list can include anything from, 'Can't sit still for more than 15 minutes,' to 'I don't want to read aloud all day.' When you think about buying something, decide whether or not it includes these things that you've decided won't work. If it does, you'll need to keep looking.
What Do I Need?
In a perfect world, you may well spend the day baking, doing science experiments, reading and writing. In your ideal world, you have all the time in the world to grade papers, give solid feedback, make detailed lesson plans and still get dinner and laundry done. However, ideal and reality very rarely meet. Think about what you need. When you see a curriculum you love, think honestly about whether or not you can make it work. How much teacher prep is involved and can you do that? How many hands-on activities does it include? Will you actually do those? Be firmly rooted in reality to avoid paying a lot of money for a curriculum that you can't use.
Before you make a purchase, do try to figure out what others are saying about the curriculum. Taking the extra time to research will save you a lot of money in the end.
- Cathy Duffy - Geared towards Christian homeschoolers, the site provides a variety of useful information such that even non-Christians should find her reviews useful. You cannot buy curriculum here, but you can find useful reviews to help you narrow down your options.
- Rainbow Resources - This company sells everything and the kitchen sink. In addition, they also offer reviews for the products they sell, so you can get a sense of what something is before you buy it.
Your Curriculum Should Work for You
Once you've answered these basic questions, you'll be in good shape to choose something that will work for you. It should be noted too that it is okay NOT to choose a curriculum. There are many successful homeschoolers who use their libraries extensively to provide everything from history to science to literature. The key in considering what to do and how to school is to make sure that whatever you do, it is working for you and your family. If you get to the point where you are a slave to your curriculum, feeling burdened by having to check off every box, it is time to reconsider your approach.
Step #4: Record Keeping
Whether or not your state requires you to, you should keep records. Regardless of your state's requirements, you should keep the following:
- General attendance - Consider 180 days to be a school year, but remember that you don't have to follow a school calendar.
- Subjects that you've covered - Include a general description of the topics taught as well as any textbooks you used, or the course reading list.
- Reading list - Take notes of the books that your child has read, especially once he hits high school.
- Hours of school - Document hours for high school only, unless your state requires that you document hours for all your years of homeschooling.
- Field trips, volunteer hours, and extracurricular activities - You do not need to worry about keeping track of these things before high school, but once your child enters high school, keep track of these activities so that you can put together a well-rounded transcript when the time comes.
Resources for Record Keeping
Thankfully, you don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to record keeping. The following resources have all been tested and approved by hundreds of homeschoolers:
- SkedTrack - An online system for keeping track of everything your children do and learn. It is free, and moderately easy to set up.
- Homeschool Tracker - Homeschool Tracker is an online program. You must pay to use it, but many feel it is well worth the price. It will reschedule your lessons if you miss one, will help you generate transcripts and is a catch-all online homeschooling journal.
- Donna Young - Donna Young is a helpful resource for everything, but her planners in particular offer a wide variety of styles for the DIY homeschooler who wants to print something out. She also has created the v-planner, which uses Excel files and must be purchased from her site.
10 Tips for Successful Homeschooling
- Create a schedule. Scheduling your homeschool will help you stay on task and make sure that you get things done. You do not, however, need to be a slave to your schedule. It's okay to break it every once in a while to engage in some alternative learning or just a day off!
- Remember that you own the curriculum - the curriculum doesn't own you. It is okay to not do everything that's suggested. (School teachers are generally only required to teach 80% of the textbook to consider it finished.)
- Always take advantage of opportunities that provide interesting learning. Whether it's field trips, an internship, or a class at a museum - your kids will learn more.
- Remember - you are not required to keep up with the Joneses. Focus on where your kids are academically, and where you want them to be rather than on what someone else is doing.
- If you can do nothing else during a day, spend time reading to your kids.
- Join a museum, zoo, or similar venue near your home. The outreach and educational programs they offer are so rich, it will more than make up for the price you paid for the membership.
- Take advantage of your Interlibrary Loan services. This allows you to have access to the entire system's books, which is helpful if your library is small.
- Take the time to find a support group that you really get along with well. Chances are, you'll be spending quite a bit of time with these families.
- Visit a homeschooling conference near you once you've been homeschooling for a year or more. You'll be encouraged and find a wealth of information - so much so that it's overwhelming to go when you first start.
- Stay relatively organized, keeping track of at least what you do. If you are not a natural organizer, keep notes in a spiral notebook or binder.
Write Down Your Goals
Your reasons for homeschooling are likely to change as you continue on your journey. When you first start out, write down three general goals for your child. Your goals may have to do with character qualities you'd like to instill in your child, or your goals may be specific to an academic skill. Either way, get your thoughts down on paper. When the year is over, open the paper again and see how you've done. Chances are very good that you'll have met all three goals for the year. This can be a huge encouragement when the going gets a little rough.