With the mask restrictions, social distancing, and other guidelines in place for the return to schools this fall, more people than ever before are opting to keep their kids home. Some for safety reasons, some for social reasons, but whatever the case… It’s homeschool for everyone!!
If you plan to homeschool your kids for the first time this fall, here are five easy steps to get you started on your journey.
Know the Law
The good news is homeschooling is legal in all 50 states here in the US — but the confusing news is there’s no single, national law that everyone follows. Just like each state has unique public school graduation requirements, each state has different homeschool requirements, which means the rules you will need to follow vary from state to state.
Some states require absolutely nothing. Other states might ask you to fill out a form or send a letter to your local school district. Opting not to send a kindergartener to school for the first time in the fall may be a different process than withdrawing a rising sixth grader from middle school.
For instance, where I live in Missouri, if parents opt to homeschool a kindergartener this fall and s/he’s never been enrolled in school, then there’s nothing they need to do and no one they need to notify. However, if that same child happened to be in kindergarten last year, but s/he won’t be returning for first grade, then parents will need to send a letter of withdrawal.
So, your very first step is to find out exactly what your state’s law says and requires you to do.
In order to prevent confusion, a quick online search will help you know exactly what you need to do in order to be in compliance.
HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association, is a good start. HSLDA usually has up to date information for what each state’s homeschool law looks like. Follow the guidelines in place for your state to get your homeschool off on a good footing.
Establish a Routine
Once you’re officially homeschooling, it may be tempting to jump right in and start assigning work. There’s always pressure (even if it’s the pressure we place on ourselves) to make sure we’re “doing enough” to educate our children.
But if you’re homeschooling for the first time, the most crucial next step is establishing a routine for your days and weeks. Human beings are creatures of habit, and if you can build good habits for your homeschool, it will make everyone less stressed as you embrace your new lifestyle….and homeschooling is a lifestyle.
What do I mean by routine? It’s all the standard things you might first think of: When are you getting up? Now that you don’t have to meet the bus or be at school by a certain time, will you allow your night owl to stay up later at night and sleep a little later in the morning?
What about the routine of meals? Your kitchen will now double as the school cafeteria, so will you serve up a big breakfast? What about lunches? Dinners? Snacks?
There’s also the routine of activities. One of the biggest myths about homeschooling is the name. Sometimes it is more rightly called Not-At-Home-Schooling, because honestly, homeschoolers are often on the run — going to activities, events, the library, music lessons. You name it, homeschoolers are busy doing it.
Ask yourself how often you plan to go out adventuring? What fun things — sports practices, church youth groups, piano lessons, theater rehearsals, etc. — are already plugged in to your lives? What activities have you always wanted to try but never had time for because you were busy with school? Build time for those into your routine.
Establishing a routine also means other things as well. Will you do the laundry on the weekends or will you try to stay caught up during the week so your weekends are more free for fun? Do you attend church services? Do you want to make space in your weekly schedule for one day where you don’t do school at all, but simply chill out instead.
Another thing to factor into your routine is this: will you as mom/dad first time homeschool parent want or need some downtown in the afternoon to regroup? There’s nothing to stop you from sending all the kids to their rooms for “quiet time” where they can nap, read, play quietly, or basically anything that doesn’t involve your needing to do something for them. Daily quiet time can be a real lifesaver for any homeschool parent, not just newbies.
Whatever you decide, please know there’s no wrong way to homeschool…only the way that works for your family. After all, there’s no one you need to answer to!
Connect with Others
And again…the next step still isn’t about finding the right curriculum and getting started. In my work as a homeschool parent life coach and podcast host, one of the things I often find myself saying is “find your people.”
Finding a homeschool group is important on a lot of levels, both for you and your children.
On the parent side of things, connecting with a homeschool group (or groups!) means you will find a community of support and encouragement. There will be times when you simply don’t know what to do, but I can almost guarantee —regardless of what you are dealing with — there will someone in your homeschool community who has gone through something similar.
Homeschooling after a new baby? Homeschooling only one after graduating an older student? Homeschooling through a death in the family? Homeschooling after a tornado or house fire? Homeschooling through an unexpected job loss? Homeschooling a special needs child?
There’s someone who has been there and done that.
When you announce your intention to homeschool, you will inevitably find someone who will ask you the question all homeschoolers get at some time: what about socialization?
For most homeschool families it’s a non-issue. As I said earlier, we would more aptly be called “Not At Home Schoolers,” but joining a homeschool group means your kids will find friends and play groups.
Just like kids who have gone to school in the same school district their entire lives have kids they grow up with, so too do the kids in our homeschool community. My son has friends he’s known since he was five or six years old and first attending activities.
One interesting thing about homeschool kids is this: more than public school kids, homeschoolers tend to put less emphasis on having friends their own age. My son has friends who are older than he is, younger than he is, and the same age that he is. And, while there are still cliques and other groups within the group, homeschool kids tend to be more accepting of kids who are different from themselves.
Hit the Books
Finally!! Here’s the part where you get to choose a curriculum. Why wait so long to choose a homeschool curriculum?
By learning what your state law requires, you can choose a curriculum that will meet those requirements. You might need to teach a particular class, or you might need an umbrella school.. Whatever the case you will want to choose homeschool curriculum and materials (or unschool activities) that keep you in compliance with your state law.
By establishing a routine, you will know how much time you have available during the days and weeks. You’ll have an idea whether or not you want to school year round or according to a schedule that more closely follows the public school year.
By finding your tribe first, you’ve gained a valuable resource, so use it. Ask people about the curriculum they’ve used. When you meet people who have homeschooled for years, ask them which curriculum they’ve loved and which curriculum they’ve hated…and why. Ask them if they have any used curriculum that’s for sale — I’ve yet to meet a veteran homeschool parent who doesn’t have a storage closet filled with used curriculum!
Then — before you spend any money, think about what you want in a curriculum. Do you want to call all the shots with an eclectic or unschooled approach or do you want something more structured where you can open a box and have all the lesson plans laid out for you? Do you want an online curriculum or one that requires very little screen time?
Whatever you decide, remember to work with your children, not against them. And realize you may very well end up using one curriculum for one child and another curriculum for another child…and that’s okay! It’s also okay to get to November and change curriculum completely if what you’ve chosen isn’t working the way you like.
Relax, and eat the elephant one bite at a time
I know I say this all the time, but it’s the truth about homeschooling — relax into homeschool. Have faith in the process, and realize that for all of human history up to just a couple of hundred years ago, most all education took place within the home setting. Parents didn’t send their five year olds off to be educated by someone else.
Kids don’t need to — and they won’t — learn everything in one day or one week or one month or one year or 13 years of schooling or in college after that.
But that’s okay because if your primary focus as a homeschooling parent is to develop a love of learning for kids who will grow up to be lifelong learners, then it won’t really matter which curriculum you choose or whether or not they know how to write in cursive or how to play the piano.
What they will know is learning new things is fun — and yes, sometimes quite challenging — but that’s what learning is all about.