The Beginners Guide to Homeschooling
I never planned to become a homeschooling Mom.
Both of my sons attended a wonderful private preschool and Kindergarten that was play-based and engaging. They learned a lot and most importantly, loved to learn.
Then, public school happened. Even though I had carefully selected the elementary school my new first-grader would attend and it seemed fantastic, it only took a few weeks before we started having problems. My son quickly lost his love of learning, was bored, and cried almost every day when I dropped him off. Talk about breaking a Mom’s heart!
By December we had made our decision and after Christmas break, our son didn’t go back to public school. And although I wasn’t thinking at the time that homeschooling would be our permanent solution, my son and I both enjoyed learning at home so much that we’ve been doing it ever since! He’s now in 6th grade and my youngest, added to the mix when he hit first grade, is now in 4th. So we’ve been homeschooling for 5 years now!
When I started homeschooling I had a lot of questions! I didn’t have a teaching degree and really didn’t have any idea where to start. Do I need a homeschool room? What kind of homeschool curriculum should I buy? Is there free homeschool curriculum out there? What the heck are unit studies?
Now that I feel I’m a bit of a veteran homeschooler, it’s time to start sharing my experiences by writing this beginner’s guide to homeschooling. We’ve used a lot of different curricula, tried different methods of learning, figured out what works for us in planning and organization, learned the value of homeschool groups and classes, and figured out how to get through a day when no one seems to want to get along.
Of course, the beauty of homeschooling is that it can be individualized to fit the needs of your family, so the way I homeschool may not be the way you want to. However, I do have a lot of experience and I hope that I can help you in your journey!
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What is Homeschooling
By definition, homeschooling is the education of children at home by their parents. Depending on where you live, the education could also be provided by grandparents, legal guardians, or other relatives. It’s important to check with your state to find the exact rules.
You’ll hear a lot of people say that homeschooling is not about re-creating school at home. While I agree with that statement, for you, the way you were educated may be all you know. When you start homeschooling, doing things “like a school” might be where you find comfort and reassurance. And that’s okay! You might start from that place but as you go along your confidence will build, you’ll learn a lot more about how to make homeschool work for you and your family, and you will develop your own unique method of teaching and learning.
Even if you end up sticking with a more traditional curriculum, trust me, your homeschool will be SO MUCH BETTER for your kids than being stuck in a windowless room for 7-8 hours a day.
How to get started with Homeschooling
Research homeschool laws in your state
First things first, figure out what the legalities are in your state. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has the resources you need here.
Guide books for beginners
The most useful books I used when I first started out were:
- The Three R’s, by Ruth Beechick. This book helped me understand what the most basic components of teaching needed to be.
- What Your First Grader Needs to Know, by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Awesome, comprehensive guide to what kids are ready to learn at each grade level. Although I have since figured out that when you teach a certain subject isn’t as important, this book was still helpful to give me an general idea of when to teach things (like starting with early American history before tackling world history). There is a book for each year up through sixth grade.
- 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, by Cathy Duffy. First I used this book to find curriculum suggestions, later I used it as a reference when I would come across new curriculum choices. The author does lean towards making her top choices Christian-based curriculum, but she does a great job of reviewing just about everything, which can help you in making your own decisions.
Choose a homeschooling method and/or curriculum
Next, research the different approaches to homeschooling. You will see a lot of advice from other homeschoolers insisting that you figure out if you are a “classical” or “traditional” homeschooler, an “unschooler”, or follow methods like Waldorf or Charlotte Mason. Honestly I’m not much one for labels, but I suppose my method would be more “eclectic” which basically means “I have no idea what my method is, I just teach.”
The important thing to figure out is what resources you are going to use to teach. Do you have teaching experience and can plan your own lessons? Or do you need everything precisely planned out for you? You can buy a complete boxed curriculum (lesson plans included), use unit studies, workbooks, or just piece together a curriculum using all different types of resources.
And remember, you can (and will) switch from year to year, or maybe even after a few months. I abandoned a history curricula halfway through the year because it was just so boring, and replaced it with a unit study on US Geography instead. It happens to all of us!
Find a Homeschool Group
One of my most important resources when I was just starting out was the wife of my husband’s coworker. She had been homeschooling for years and really helped me out with ideas, resources, and a tour of her homeschool room.
If you don’t know anyone who is homeschooling already, then do a Google search for “homeschool groups in [your city]” or look on Meetup. Homeschool groups are an excellent resource for new and veteran homeschoolers. Not only do you learn from others but when you meet for play dates at the park you get a chance to just have conversations with other adults!
Diving into an unknown world is scary for most of us. Trust yourself, and trust your decision. You are doing what is best for your children. Even if you aren’t a trained teacher (like me), the moment you became a Mom, you earned your teaching degree. Disagree? Who taught your child to crawl, walk, eat, use the bathroom, etc.? You did, Momma.
Yes, you will have days of frustration with your kids who aren’t interested in learning that day, or hours of worry that you aren’t teaching the right thing or your kids aren’t learning anything. Just remember, no one is more invested in your kids education than you are. You will figure things out and you will produce awesome, well-educated children. You can do this.
Tips for Success in Homeschooling
- Again, trust yourself! You know what is best for your children.
- Find a group, a few friends, or even an online group for support. You will encounter friends/family/strangers that question or criticize your choice and you will need to vent to people who understand!
- Use tried-and-true resources for lessons and curriculum. Some of my favorites are Bookshark, Critical Thinking Company, Teachers Pay Teachers, and Teaching Textbooks. The Homeschool-Buyers Coop has lots of great discounts on many types of curriculum and learning tools.
- Check local zoos, aquariums, museums, and parks and recreation for homeschool classes. Our zoo has a monthly science class for homeschoolers, and while my kids are learning and hanging out with other homeschooled kids, I am enjoying two hours to myself!
- The Homeschool Mom is an excellent site chock-full of resources for new and veteran homeschoolers. Find curriculum reviews, state-specific information, and lists of places that offer classes and activities to homeschoolers.
- Check out my list of non-curriculum tools that you will definitely need for your homeschool!
Common Questions/FAQ About Homeschooling
Here is a list of the questions I get asked the most about homeschooling, whether it be from prospective homeschooling parents or just friends or family that are curious.
How much does it cost to homeschool?
Homeschooling can cost as much as you want it to, or as little. I’ve heard of people homeschooling for free using resources they have found on Pinterest or using a site called Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool. On the other hand you can spend upwards of $700-800 to purchase a full year-long curriculum from a company. Pro tip: if you are going to be teaching more than one child, keep in mind that a one-time investment might go a long way in teaching multiple children.
Do you get money from the state?
No, I do not get money from the state to help me homeschool. I live in Arizona, and honestly it may be one of the best places to homeschool for it’s “hands-off” approach. However, many other states do provide money or resources for homeschoolers to help with curriculum or supplies. The caveat there is that usually those homeschoolers have to submit their lesson plans, keep attendance records, and/or have their kids tested annually. Again, it’s all state-by-state and another reason to familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschooling laws.
What about socialization?
OMG don’t even get me started on this one. Don’t we send our kids to school to learn? My boys are involved in so many activities where they interact with other kids — Cub Scouts, karate, church, youth group, homeschool group, homeschool classes. Not to mention just playing with neighborhood kids and having play dates with friends. Not convinced? Here are some of my favorite articles on the subject: Why I don’t worry about my homeschooler’s socialization and Homeschooling and Socialization
Do you ever get any time to yourself?
Yes, but obviously not as much as I would have if I sent my kids off to school. It’s important to have support from your husband, friends, or family members who can take the kids once in a while to give you a break. Find something just for yourself. I play in the handbell choir at my church, and although it’s only an hour each week I still get to do something I enjoy and adult conversation. Or just go wander the aisles of Target on your own one evening after your husband gets home from work. Trust me, you are going to need a Mom time out once in a while!
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Homeschooling
Homeschooling is not for everyone. However if you are willing to make the commitment and really invest in your child’s education then the rewards will be extraordinary.
What other questions do you still have about homeschooling? I’d love to hear from you and help you out!