Maybe you’ve thought about homeschooling for a while, or maybe the option has just hit you in the face for some reason. You know that you have what it takes to homeschool, but the “how” is still pretty foggy.
First, take a deep breath. The number of choices involved when you start homeschooling can be really overwhelming, and the various “camps” can be really compelling. At best, the different (possibly mutually exclusive) methods of homeschooling can seem so incredible that it’s hard to choose. At worst, it can sound like a given method or curriculum could ruin your child for life, but you’re not 100% sure which one. So good luck, right?
I wanted to make a short introduction that will help you get a basic outline of how to get started without losing your mind. This is oversimplified, but sometimes an oversimplified map can be helpful when the danger is getting lost in the details. (There’s an emergency “Quick Start Guide” at the bottom of this post!)
Ready? Let’s get started.
- Clarify your reasons for homeschooling. The glaring reason for homeschooling in the minds of many folks is to shelter a child because of religion. But there are many, many reasons for homeschooling. Maybe your family moves frequently and you want to minimize disruption. Maybe you have a special needs child who could be better served at home. Maybe you want more time with your kids, or you want to have a less hectic life in general. Maybe you want to provide them with an individualized education, or take more time to travel. Whatever your reasons, make sure that they’re clear in your mind before you enter the fray so that you can go back to them when you need guiding values to help you make decisions.
- Think about who you and your kids are. Take some time to think about the strengths and weaknesses you each bring to the table. Some families choose to write this out, or write a family motto or mission statement in order to bring some clarity to the why and who questions.
- Take a minute and envision your kids as young adults. What do you want them to know? What does “educated” mean to you? What do you want to keep or change from your own education? You may wish you had learned computer coding, or that you had started a foreign language younger. This is an opportunity to dream about what you want.
- Learn your state requirements for homeschooling and record keeping. HSLDA has a good list here.
- Now that you know who you are and what you want, think about a style (or styles!) you would like to incorporate. There’s a good basic list of styles here, so one way to start would be to read the descriptions and then just get a bit more information about the styles you feel most drawn to or interested in. I read about the Charlotte Mason method with this book (affiliate link, disclosures here), and I read about the Unschooling approach with this book (affiliate). You can start to make mental notes, or even a written list, of what you like and don’t like from different methods. Compare this list to your goals. At this stage I also found it helpful to talk to other adults who had been homeschooled, just to get ideas of what had worked for them and what hadn’t. Remember that the most common form of homeschooling is eclectic — a mix of different styles. You’re not signing up for a religion! Just getting some ideas.
- Now that you’ve got some ideas about where you want to go, shop for curriculum or resources. We have really enjoyed conventions, but remember that most conventions limit their offerings of curriculum to those within their philosophy (Christian or secular, unschool or traditional). For those of us somewhere in the middle, it can be harder to find one that fits. Cathy Duffy Reviews are a fantastic resource for evaluating curriculum, or you can get a book of her top picks here (affiliate). A lot of people also utilize places like Costco, or local libraries for resources. It doesn’t have to have “curriculum” stamped on the title to work, and in fact it’s frequently better if it doesn’t!
- Evaluate and change course as you go. Here’s the fun part of homeschooling: If you don’t like what you did yesterday, you don’t have to do it today. You can change course on a dime!
There you go. You’ve started homeschooling without losing yourself in the process! Hope this cheat sheet helps you on your way.
*** BONUS SECTION: I need to homeschool, like, now. What do I do?***
Okay, you have just had the IEP meeting from hell, or learned of a dramatic change in your family situation, and you need to get going next Monday. Or tomorrow. Here’s the short version:
- Take a breath. Kids miss school for a week for vacation or illness and life goes on. Nothing is super urgent.
- Check your state requirements here. Following state requirements is the only real essential, so make sure you have this done.
- It may be best to build and implement your homeschool plan gradually, adding as you go. Start with reading, writing, and math. It can be as simple as read-alouds, writing letters to family members, journaling, or grabbing a workbook like these (affiliate). Work your way out from there.
- Join groups on social media and ask questions. Find local homeschoolers and ask questions.
- Now you can follow the steps in the longer plan as you go. Godspeed!