If you’ve considered homeschooling at all, or you’ve decided to homeschool, you’re probably now wondering what steps you can take to help you prepare to homeschool. I remember what it was like, looking down that long tunnel at the full school year ahead and wondering how in the heck I was going to even get started with the planning phase, let alone the teaching part.
It’s freaking scary.
I feel ya.
So I thought about what I did to get ready for that very first homeschool year, and I thought I’d share it with you. You know, since we’re staring down that long tunnel again.
Find a friend or neighbor (or even a blogger) who can tell you her own story, lead you through some of the trickier parts, and just be there to support your struggle. My mentor in homeschooling is the sweet lady next door (and by next door, I mean 3/4 of a mile away) who has homeschooled 9 kids, 3 of whom have graduated. She really encouraged me when I was doubting whether I could do this thing, and I will always be grateful. I would not have known where to start without her. Finding another homeschooler to walk you through the beginning, and to be there when you need advice, is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
2. Learn your state laws
I wouldn’t even have known where to start doing this if it hadn’t been for my neighbor; that’s why it’s second on the list. But every state has their homeschool laws listed on their government website. If there’s something in them you don’t understand, fall back on your veteran homeschooler–I’ve never known a homeschooler who wasn’t thrilled to help someone get started, and no question is too frivolous.
Many states have testing and/or paperwork that must be filled out each year, or certain requirements you have to fill. Indiana isn’t one of them. I love the freedom my state gives me to homeschool my boys as I see fit. As long as I keep them at least at grade level and school them for 180 days a year, I’m golden. But the law is I have to keep attendance, so I do so diligently. You should be diligent about the laws your state has in place, too.
3.Set a budget
You know what your family can afford. You can spend as little or as much on homeschooling as you want, so now is the time to decide if you want to do this as frugally as possible or if you are more comfortable shelling out more cash. Many of the steps that follow are going to depend on your budget, so keep them in mind when you’re deciding how much you’re willing to spend.
4. Gather supplies
I’m a bibliophile, but you know that. So I already had an entire library worth of books when we started. What I didn’t have was paper, pencils, scissors, glue, notebooks, crayons, paints, all the basics you need for your littles to learn everything at home. I hit the back-to-school sales and Stocked Up. Over the years, I’ve added to our craft bins whenever I see something that might prove interesting some day. My favorite additions have been air-dry clay and chalk pastels. We also keep spare journals, sketchbooks, binders, and three-pronged folders on hand.
All of the paperwork for each class gets three-hole punched and put in either a binder or a folder. We keep those when we’re done, so the boys have an entire class worth of notes and worksheets to look back at if they want to. We have lapbooked, notebooked, took notes, filled in worksheets, drew pictures, written stories, and everything they do goes in that class’s binder. It’s a great way to keep track of what you’ve done. It also keeps paper from scattering all over your workplace. Win!
Another supply I keep on hand and really love is freezer paper. We use it for large art projects (one side is waxed so paint doesn’t leak through), making charts, all kinds of things. It’s cheaper than art paper and sturdier, and I always make sure there’s a roll handy.
These are basic supplies that will get you started. I promise it won’t end there.
5. Decipher your children’s learning styles
My boys learn in very different ways. Middle is a reader and a retainer. He would rather read about and discuss a subject than anything. Littlest likes a more hands-on approach. He gets a little bored reading nonfiction and listening. He wants to get his hands dirty. Because I come from a public school background, and my oldest graduated from public school, and the Littles went to public school for at least a year, I didn’t know starting out that there could be such a difference. In public school, we’re taught to learn the way they teach or we fail. At home, we must teach the way they learn so they can succeed.
If you’re not sure how your child learns best, spend some time studying her. There’s a cool quiz on Education Planner that you might consider giving your littles to start off. I took it, and the downside is that it is geared toward older kids, but you might be able to discuss the questions with small littles to get at their answers.
Oddly enough, it turns out I’m an auditory learner. I would have told you visual. Apparently I would have been wrong. Who knew?
If you have no faith in quizzes, Teach.com has a great overview of different learning styles and how to teach to them. Once you know what you’re looking for, watch your children carefully to see which style is best for them. Keep in mind, no one has just one learning style, but there will be one that stands out as the best way to reach your little.
6. Decide your teaching method
Even with several different learning styles in your house, you can pick a single teaching method and apply it to all of them. There are so many and one is sure to fit your homeschool. A few of them are
- Montessori With this method, children learn at their own pace. The tools for learning are provided, but the teacher does not intervene. Rather, the child goes to a shelf, picks what she wants to do, and works with the materials. The teacher is mostly there for guidance. It is a brilliant method for teaching lower elementary.
- Charlotte Mason This method is based on beauty and real-life situations. Nature walks, living books, and field trips are major components of Charlotte Mason. It is very popular among homeschoolers.
- Classical This approach has been used by scholars for centuries. Its 3 stages are followed in this order: Prep includes basic reading, writing, and math. Grammar stage includes compositions and collections. Dialectic stage involves reading, study, and research.
- Unschooling Also known as child-led or delight-directed, unschooling involves following a child’s interests and letting him learn what he wants when he wants. It is a much more natural approach to learning than most of the others and can help your little find his passion earlier than he otherwise might
- Unit Study This method takes a single interest and expands it into many subjects. When we studied Asia, we studied its geography, geology, history, animals, gardens, poetry, religions, and art. Pulling all that from one topic is what makes a unit study, and you can teach anything in that way with a little imagination.
- Eclectic This is our approach. We pull from every single one of the above methods and more to make our homeschool as lively and interesting as we can. With an eclectic approach, you can use the ideas from different methods to tailor to your child’s learning style with ease.
7. Pick a curriculum
Once you know how your child learns and how you want to teach him, you can start looking at curricula and decide what is right for your homeschool. I’ve read about and talked to lots of mamas who have chosen a curriculum and found it wasn’t right for them, so don’t pick the most popular or the most expensive because you assume it is the best. Pick one that will suit your family’s need. Do your research, then do it again. Read reviews. Talk to other homeschoolers. You don’t want to throw money away. That would suck.
There’s a great list of different companies that offer curriculum on the HSLDA website.
If the idea of choosing a curriculum scares you, you can branch out into my world, and write all your curricula yourself. I have a free ebook for subscribers that will be available this Sunday, June 26 that tells you how to homeschool without buying curriculum. And if you have any questions, you can always email me or get with me on social media. I’m a nice gal; I will help you out.
8. Get Organized
Now you have all the basics in place. It’s time to plan. Find a planner (you can purchase one or search for free printables on the interweb). In fact, there’s a planner pack in my Subscriber Freebies that can get you started.
Before you start writing, think about the kind of schedule you want to have. Do you want to have a traditional year? Or do you want to homeschool year-round? We school all year, taking long breaks at either end of summer and during the holidays, but you may find that a more traditional August-through-June calendar works for you.
Now think about the best time of day to school. Morning? Afternoon? All day with breaks? You can tailor the schedule to your littles. When are they most alert and engaged? Have school then. Do they nap? Plan school around their nap time. I have found that learning takes place so much in our house that even with our morning school schedule, we continue to learn throughout the day. I decided on our schedule by calculating the number of hours students spend actually learning in public school. We have to be up early to do our farm chores anyway and morning is our best time, so we school from 8-12 or 1. That may not work for your family, and that’s ok. Do what works for you.
The great thing about homeschool is that no two look alike because every family is different.
9. Plan for fun
No matter what teaching method you choose, fun activities and field trips should be part of your homeschool. Field trips can be such wonderful additions to history, geography, literature, and science lessons. Trips to the zoo, the museum, the planetarium, and historical sites will enrich your littles’ educations exponentially. At home, you make crafts, do art projects or science experiments, go for walks and study nature. Just make sure to include all this yummy goodness in your yearly plan and your budget.
You might decide to join a homeschool co-op or have your littles take music or dance lessons. Even extracurricular activities count toward their education–they are learning something just by being there.
My Littles are always telling me how glad they are that we homeschool because they have so much fun and learn so much. That’s the point, so I can’t stop grinning when they show their appreciation. Makes me feel like I’m rocking this thing.
And believe me, there are plenty of days when I question that, so I’m grateful to them for saying it.
10. The most important step you can take to prepare to homeschool? Breathe.
Relax. You got this. I know you don’t want to hear that word right now because How Can You Relax When Your Children’s Education Is The Most Important Thing You Will Ever Be In Charge Of?
Yeah, that’s how I felt for the first two years. I smirked or growled at people who told me to relax. I would not relax, I was on a mission.
Let me repeat myself: Relax.
Your littles want to learn. It is part of human nature. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself (or them) that you don’t enjoy this precious time you have together. Because these years are fleeting. You don’t want to look back one day and think, “I wish I had just enjoyed being with my kids.”
Be with your kids. Teach them from your heart. It will be good.