How to Start Homeschooling

I’ve had a number of friends ask, “If I wanted to homeschool my child, how do I get started?”

I’ve also had a number of friends say, “There’s so much information, where do I start? What do I need to know? What do I need to teach in my homeschool?”

I’ve answered these questions so many times, in fact, that I thought I’d put together a quick and dirty guide on how to start homeschooling your children.

1. Learn your state’s homeschooling laws

Some states are really lax in what they require for homeschooling. Other states require things like testing, portfolios, and careful record-keeping. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a good resource for finding information about homeschooling including whether you need to notify officials or not, whether you need to keep records and what records you need to keep, whether an outside evaluation is necessary, etc.

It’s important to understand the laws for homeschooling in your state so that you can maintain compliance and so that you can avoid truancy and educational neglect cases stemming from not following the steps that are necessary to legally homeschool in your state.

2. Are you able to commit to homeschooling?

While homeschooling a child is really exciting at first, and there are a lot of positives to it, I won’t lie! It can be rough-going sometimes. Kids won’t want to work, you won’t want to make them work. After the honeymoon period wears off, can you ensure that you will be responsible for your child’s education even on the days when you don’t want to be?

When I started homeschooling, I was a single parent and a graduate student in a demanding program. As I’d mentioned in my introductory post, I was a reluctant homeschooling parent. I had really wanted to make public school work for my boy, but it just didn’t. When I pulled him out, I was very committed to ensuring he received the education he deserved. That meant that I had to become a master at scheduling when I’d teach him and when I’d work on my own educational and career projects. Ultimately, I left graduate school (for a myriad of reasons) and started my own home-based business so that I could dedicate the time needed to ensure that he had the best education possible.

3. Do some research on homeschooling styles

There are as many homeschooling styles as there are homeschoolers! Over the years, I’ve become more of an eclectic homeschooler, still focused on using the classical model as an outline for what to teach and when, but when I started out, I was very much a rigid classical homeschooler. Here’s a basic (very basic) rundown of the different styles of homeschooling. Remember that just because you start out one way doesn’t mean you have to stay that way for the entire homeschool journey. Once you’re actually homeschooling, you’ll find what works best for your children and youself.

  • School-at-home: This approach generally involves the purchase of boxed curriculum and a parent trying to replicate the school experience at home. There’s usually a schedule involved, and schooling happens during traditional hours, most, if not all, days of the school/work week. Many umbrella charter and private schools and online schools provide this sort of education. This can be convenient for those who are unsure what to teach and/or like to feel confident that they are covering everything a traditional school would cover. It lends itself fairly well to secular homeschoolers, as many using this method will be working through a K-12 online program.
  • Unschooling: Student-led learning based on a child’s interests happening wherever the child happens to be. While unschooling is contrasted to school-at-home as an absolute opposite, children may still have some structure to their day. A lot of unschooling is done based on experiential and service learning. It lends itself well to secular homeschoolers. It also has developed a bit of a “reputation” both in homeschooling communities and communities at large for being too loose with education.
  • Classical: Based on the five tools of learning – reason, record, research, relate, rhetoric – schooling years are divided into the grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stage, where children get a foundation of knowledge, learn how to organize knowledge, and then learn how to relate and analyze what they have learned. Think of this as your “traditional private Catholic school” method. The classical method can work well for secular homeschoolers.
  • Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods are based on the principal idea that children are not receptacles for knowledge, but rather that childhood ought to be play-based and learning happens through play, creating, and real-life situations. There’s a lot of emphasis on nature studies in Charlotte Mason. This is also one of the harder methods to find secular curriculum for.
  • Waldorf: This is another educational style that is based on nature. Waldorf homeschoolers focus on educating the whole child – body, mind, spirit. Creativity, music, nature, movement, are all emphasized. Screens are discouraged in this method (so educational videos are out). Rather than using textbooks children learning in this style create their own books.
  • Montessori: Montessori education focuses on child-led exploration within a framework of experiences provided by adults. Practical life, cultural, and sensorial skills are emphasized along with language, math, art, and music. Montessori methods are best-suited for early childhood education and also discourage screen use. Children are encouraged to learn at their own pace. This method lends itself well to secular homeschooling.
  • Unit Studies: All studies are built around a particular theme – for instance, weather. Students will learn about the theme, and engage in language arts and mathematics activities based on the theme. Again, this is a method that works well for early childhood education and is easily used by those wanting to use secular curriculum.
  • Eclectic: Eclectic homeschoolers use a combination of the various methods and educational philosophies. They may use workbooks for some subjects while taking an unschooling approach for others.

4. Determine what you will teach

At a minimum, you’ll want to teach:

  • Language Arts
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Spelling
    • Grammar
    • Handwriting/penmanship
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • History

It’s also a good idea to teach the arts – both art and music history and art techniques and some music theory. Doing so helps children with many other skills.

You’ll want to incorporate some sort of physical activity – either organized or informal into your routine.

You may want to teach a foreign language.

You may also want to do nature studies, practical life/life skills exercises, logic, rhetoric, or any number of electives based upon your child’s interest.

To get an idea of what to teach, you may find benefit in looking at your state’s standards or the Core Knowledge Sequence. Here are a few book resources that also list suggestions for what to teach (these are Amazon associate links, so should you purchase one of these books, I will receive a small percentage of that sale at no extra cost to you.)

5. Find a good support system

Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group in your city that is secular, you can find other secular homeschoolers online. There are many great Facebook groups for secular homeschooling families. You’ll want a support system for when things get tough, and so you can ask questions about curriculum choices before making purchases. Other families can be great resources when it comes to homeschooling.

6. Plan time for socializing

We’re lucky that here in Wichita most of the museums have homeschooling classes. There’s a rec department with lots of different classes and sports. There’s even a group of secular homeschoolers that gets together. It’s important to account for opportunities for your child to be around other children on a regular basis.

7. Choose your resources

Whether you’re using a curriculum or pulling together a variety of resources, you’ll want to get that together so that you’re ready to go.

8. Determine what method you’ll use for record-keeping

Even if your state doesn’t require record-keeping, you’ll want to keep a record of some sort of what your child(ren) has/have read. You can keep records in a binder, you can use a planner of some sort or other. You can use online planners like Homeschool Tracker, or you could use a program like SeeSaw or Evernote. It may take you some time to figure out what works best for you.

9. Get started!

Once you’ve done all of the foundation-building, it’s time to do the fun stuff. If you’re pulling your child out of a public, charter, or private school, you might want to allow for a period of “deschooling,” especially if your child did not have a good experience with learning. This time could be a week, or it could be a month or two – especially if the child is dealing with burnout. This will help ensure a healthy and welcome transition to learning at home.

Veteran homeschoolers, do you have anything to add? Comment or tweet me at @justasechs!