Though it wasn't originally my plan, I ended up homeschooling all four of my daughters during their elementary school years. My husband and I started homeschooling with the idea of taking it one year at a time. It ended up being the perfect solution for our family. I enjoyed the natural teachable moments that came from our day-to-day life. Each child has been able to pursue individual passions and interests that became part of their education, and they all went on to traditional middle and high school experiences.
Whether you're still weighing the homeschooling decision or ready to dive in, here are a few things to consider before you get started.
Homeschool was a fantastic choice for my family, but it's not for everyone. In my experience, the most successful homeschooling families share these characteristics:
Each state has different regulations, processes, and paperwork for homeschooling families. State requirements can vary widely, so it's important to follow your state's specific guidelines to ensure that your child meets educational requirements. Visit your own state's Department of Education to get the latest information on homeschooling in your area.
If you decided to give traditional school a shot this year but it's not working out the way you'd hoped and the stress is taking a toll on your child and family, don't feel stuck for an entire year. You can begin homeschooling whenever you're ready, even mid-year.
With younger children, it's fairly easy to make the move to homeschool at any time. With older kids, you may want to wait for the end of a term or the next big holiday break. It's important to talk to your kids, too. They may be reluctant to start homeschooling or have specific requests about when to start and how to communicate the change to their teachers and friends.
If you decide to make a mid-year school change, again, check your state's guidelines. Some states have specific processes for removing children from school once they're enrolled for the year. Additionally, if your child currently attends private school, you'll want to understand what happens when you withdraw your child. For example, are you still responsible for a full year of tuition? Will you be eligible to return to this school in the future if you change your mind?
When I started homeschooling, I pictured having an entire room in our house set up as a "classroom," complete with giant chalkboards, charts, pull-down maps, and special reading corners. If you have the space, time, money, and inclination to create that, go for it.
But here's what you need to know: Your homeschooling space can simply be a designated corner of your dining room. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. You can even move your homeschooling supplies back and forth in a tote each day if you're short on space – whatever works for you.
Before I started homeschooling, I stressed about how to keep my children engaged in learning from 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. every day. But learning at home is different from being in a busy, distraction-filled classroom. The amount you can accomplish in very little time will surprise you. Especially when your children are young, your homeschooling time may only take a few hours each day, with breaks in between. You may want to focus on harder subjects like math or reading in the morning, and save the afternoon for time to snuggle and read a book or work on a kitchen science experiment. Don't box yourself into thinking a homeschool day needs to look like a typical seven-hour day in a traditional classroom.
As you begin to research your curriculum choices, you should also take note of the amount of prep work and teacher-led learning is likely to be involved. Some curriculums lend themselves to more independent learning – especially for older children, and "open and go" lesson plans that require little preplanning. But others require more parent prep time, as well as more involvement in the teaching process.
There are somany options for homeschooling curricula and methods and philosophies. And some will sound amazing. But at some point, you'll need to stop researching and watching how other moms do it, choose what looks best for your child, and just start. There will always be something that looks shinier than the curriculum you picked, but stop the scrolling and get going.
Still, there are a few things you should be sure to consider as you begin your search for curriculum:
Make sure you know what fits your schedule and your student best before making a final decision or purchase. And you don't have to conjure up a curriculum on your own. Many intrepid homeschoolers have gone before you, and you can find great homeschool curriculum resources online.
Two of my favorites include:
I wish I could tell you there was one do-it-all curriculum that will work for your child, or for all your children if you are schooling more than one at the same time. Some children need something more structured, while others may respond to a more holistic, project-based approach to learning. One child may be driven to finish the worksheets and be done for the day, while another may learn better with hands-on activities. Be open to discovering what makes sense for your child or children and what sparks their curiosity. The space for personalized learning is part of the magic of homeschool.
Childhood goes by so quickly. Whether you're going to homeschool your kids for one year or ten, enjoy the flexibility that comes with making your own schedule. When my children were little, I appreciated that homeschooling gave them more time to simply play – knowing that playing is learning. As they got older, I loved that we could learn about things that they wouldn't have necessarily had time for in a traditional classroom: I taught them how to knit, how to plan and cook a dinner from start to finish, and we visited fun and fascinating places from art museums to battlefields to potato chip factories. We'd play in the stream and look at tiny water bugs under a microscope, or play tennis on a random Friday afternoon just because we had the time. Barring any COVID-19 restrictions, enjoy the flexibility of homeschooling and use that freedom to pursue the things that your children love.
Lest you think it's all wading in streams and watercolor painting, let me remind you that homeschooling is also very hard. You'll always think you're doing it wrong. Some days are utterly defeating. And other days you just wish for a little space from your kids. This is where support is invaluable. Find a Facebook or other online group of fellow homeschoolers in your area. Connect with other families that are also starting out. And don't be afraid to delegate – hire a tutor for subjects that intimidate you, create a mini co-op with other families that are also homeschooling in order to share the load of teaching all the subject areas, or scroll through homeschooling hashtags on Instagram to find ideas, inspiration, and support from a huge community that is there to help. You'll be glad for the assistance and camaraderie, whether you're sharing oversight on small field trips as a group, getting help with some of the teaching burden, finding a sounding board, or just need a shoulder to cry on for those extra hard days.
The transition from parent to teacher can be tricky. When do you stop being the person folding laundry and making PB&J sandwiches and become the person teaching multiplication tables? Finding the boundary between home time and school time can be difficult for kids, especially if they're playing in your living room and are suddenly expected to move to the dining room and focus on learning letter sounds. This is when a schedule can come in handy, or even be essential — both for you and your child. It sets expectations for "how long do I have to do this?" and makes it easier to get kids in a "school time" state of mind.
With that being said, approach your schedule with flexibility. There may be days when things need to be moved around, and that's okay. One of my favorite tips? Keep Fridays flexible. Use the day to run errands, do fun activities as a family, or catch up on lessons you didn't get to during the week. Or you can take a mental health day. Sometimes it's better to make it a family movie day than slog through another assignment. Having this flex day helps create a little breathing room in your week.
Homeschooling is going to be hard (hence the mental health day). You'll often feel like you're not doing enough. You'll worry that your kids are behind or not learning "the right things." But I'm here to tell you that you will do a great job. You will build unique relationships and bonds with your children, and have the time to explore unexpected and exciting things. I always say that the best thing my girls got from our chapter of homeschooling was the experience of falling in love with learning and becoming curious about the world around them. As a homeschooling parent, you will give your child a special gift that will last a lifetime.