How to Homeschool
The decision to begin homeschooling is incredibly personal. Many new homeschoolers have made the choice to homeschool for safety reasons. Others homeschool because their children’s needs aren’t being met at the school or because they want to impart their own worldview and beliefs to their children.
I homeschool because it’s so rewarding! I initially typed fun and then I thought better of it because I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. Not that we don’t have fun times — we do!
We laugh and act silly together and I absolutely love being a part of all the moments, but it can also be excruciatingly tough. Let me back up a little.
I began homeschooling because my oldest missed the kindergarten deadline. All of her little friends had earlier birthdays and she cried while watching them (out of our front window) happily board the bus and wave goodbye to their moms.
The only way to console her was to promise her school at home. Little did I know what I was getting into!
I didn’t consider us homeschoolers that year, but we enjoyed our school time so much that year, and my daughter was so far of ahead of her peers at the public school, that there was no going back.
That was 17 years ago, but I remember feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the task. I remember not knowing where to start. I remember feeling the weight of my children’s entire lives on my shoulders.
My initial hope in creating this beginner’s guide to homeschooling was to provide you with all of the information you need to get started in one place. But as I started reading, I realized that it was like trying to cram a beginner’s guide to parenting into a thousand words. There is no freaking way!
So instead, I hope to give you just the basics — enough to get started without feeling overwhelmed, but I’m going to include links to more in-depth material so you can learn at your own pace.
Most of all, I want you to know that you can do this!
How to Homeschool: A Beginner’s Guide
1. Figure out your why.
What do I mean by a “why” and why does it matter?
Listen up, sister! This homeschooling journey on which you are embarking is not going to be all sunshine and sparkles and unicorns. Some days (or months) will be tedious, exhausting drudgery and others will be downright abominable.
Homeschooling will try you to your very depths, much the same as parenting does. You will need your why to remain committed even through those tough times. It will help you remember why you embarked on this educational journey when you want to quit.
Think of your why as both the deep-down-reason-that-compels-you-to-homeschool and your homeschool mission statement all rolled into one. During times of discouragement, knowing your why will help you to persevere as well as giving you a framework from which to reevaluate your methods and ensure that your goals are in line with your overall objectives.
Here are a few questions to get you thinking. What values and beliefs do you want to instill in your child? Do you want to strengthen family relationships, particularly between older and younger children? Do you feel you can give your children an academically superior education? Do you want to inspire a love of learning? Do you want your children to be able to work at their own pace?
What unique purposes are inspiring your family’s decision to homeschool?
Finally, know that you will learn as you go, and your why might change as your children grow and your family dynamic evolves.
I tend to complicate and overthink this, but it can really just be one sentence or even one word. Your why might be that you want to individualize your child’s education to his own unique learning style, interests and abilities. It might be that you want to give your child diverse and interesting experiences.
You may want to impart a lifelong love of learning or instill family values or nurture religious faith. I always felt held back at school — like it was a waste of my time. I am confident that I can give my children a better education than I received.
>>> Why I Decided to Homeschool <<<
The reasons I decided to homeschool are a part of my why, but not the entirety. My why includes some personal experiences with prayer and some of my children’s unique needs.
2. Research your state’s homeschool laws.
Find your state’s requirements on your state Department of Education website. Just type __(my state)___ + Department of Education Homeschool into your search bar and you’ll find your states laws and requirements, helpful resources for parents, and possibly even a sample affidavit if your state requires one.
HSLDA has a fantastic state-by-state legal resource. They do a great job of keeping it up-to-date and it’s easy to navigate. Just click on your state to learn everything you should know about your state’s homeschool laws.
As you research, keep in mind that the goal of public educators and district and DOE (Department of Education) employees is to keep students in the public schools. If you need to call someone for help with homeschooling matters, the DOE is usually not the best resource.
In Utah, where I live, we are required to file an affidavit when we first begin homeschooling. We don’t have to file it every year.
Beyond the affidavit, there is no oversight — no mandatory record keeping, no standardized testing, no weekly teacher meetings. Your state will probably be different, though.
3. Figure out your homeschool style, your educational approach and your children’s learning styles.
Have you heard terms like Classical Education and Charlotte Mason thrown around? Those are different methods (or styles) homeschoolers use to educate their kiddos.
Classical Education is based on the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and kids receive a very rigorous, academic education including Latin. Charlotte Mason was a Victorian English educator who placed great emphasis on high-quality literature and living books.
I recommend that you not get too hung up on choosing a homeschool method because most homeschoolers end up eclectic anyway. Eclectic homeschoolers simply use various aspects of the different homeschool methods to create something completely unique for their families.
To give you an idea, I started my children out in the Classical method and we have evolved into a very relaxed, eclectic style with an extra measure of Reggio Emilia because we love to use Unit Studies. Your experience will probably be similar.
After you take the quiz, you’ll find links to read about each homeschool method, so you can get a better understanding of what they’re all about. Even if you already have a good idea of your style, it’s helpful to learn about all of the methods because it gives you a better understanding of education in general.
Next, you’ll want to figure out your children’s learning styles. As their mother, you probably already have a pretty good idea about what motivates them, but this is helpful to know as you choose curriculum.
4. Find a homeschool support group or a co-op.
I’m an introvert with a capital I. But still, as a young mom of four tiny kids and brand new homeschooler, I would have gone out my ever loving mind without our fantastic homeschool group.
I don’t even remember how I found them, because the internet was in it’s infancy. But somehow I did and hallelujah!
The moms in our homeschool group were about half fledgling homeschoolers like myself, and the other half were very experienced, so it gave us newbies access to wisdom. It also gave us all a place to feel normal. No matter how we felt about politics, religion or anything else, we had our homeschooling adventures in common.
The group organizers brought a huge calendar to our first meeting and gave us all a chance to volunteer for whatever assignments we wanted to take on. Or we could think up other ways to contribute our talents and gifts to the group.
My favorite part of that group was the Friday field trips. Each mom in our group was responsible for one Friday field trip per year. The organizers handed out a schedule of what had been done in prior years as well as ideas for places in our community.
I can’t even remember all of the places we visited, but I’ll never forget the way it set my children up for a lifelong love of learning. I now think of field trips as question-pullers, and questions are always what initiates learning.
If someone had just told me how valuable field trips were, I’d probably never have believed them. The idea of spending a whole day each week on a field trip was foreign.
And yet our field trips have been infinitely more educational than weeks spent in textbooks. We moved after a couple of years, but have firmly kept the field trip Friday tradition alive.
We’ve since participate in a Commonwealth school, a homeschool co-op where we moms all taught each other’s children, and lots of community classes.
Most homeschool groups have Facebook pages or groups they use to plan fun things, communicate and disseminate information. So if you’re looking for a local group, Facebook is a good place to start.
Your city or community probably have Facebook pages or groups for the same purpose, and they could be a great resource for questions about local homeschool support groups.
Homeschool conventions are another great place to connect with local homeschoolers and find local support groups and resources. Even as an avowed introvert, I have needed my homeschool friends, and they have made a tremendous difference in our lives.
5. Choose your homeschool curriculum.
This one stymies most new homeschoolers, just so you know. I’m going to give you the advice I wish someone would have given me that first year. Keep it simple!
Start as simply as possible. Your kids don’t need to study all of the subjects, and that will lead to major overwhelm for you and for them.
I had grand visions of exploring Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, Physics, Chemistry, American History and every single other thing with my little people. I let that crazy amount of curriculum give me hives for three years before I finally realized it was ridiculous and that I was destroying my kiddos love of learning.
Now we only study math daily, plus everyone reads constantly and I’m careful to sneak educational (especially historical nonfiction) content into the library bag. Science only happens a couple of times each semester, but when we study science we really study science and we go deep and accomplish a semester’s worth of learning at a time.
We play grammar games occasionally and my kids work on a few things, like coding and foreign languages independently, plus my kiddos each have a couple of instruments they are learning. But all of that is on their own — I don’t oversee it.
The only subject I do oversee and that we study daily around the kitchen table is math. That kind of simple is exactly my language and it works for us.
Keeping things simple will save you a lot of money (because you won’t be wasting it on curriculum you end up not using) and headache. Moving slowly and carefully allows you to experiment a little and learn about your child’s needs before plunking down a wad of cash.
My best advice is to start by choosing a math curriculum and by scheduling a set time each week to visit the library. Don’t worry about any of the other subjects — just make sure you do math every single school day and read a TON.Once those things are a habit, it’s easier to add in another subject and then one more subject.
It’s a little like starting a diet and exercise program. If you decide that all of a sudden next Monday morning you’re going to do an hour of cardio then lift for another hour and you’re going to eat completely keto and fast intermittently — you’re setting yourself up for failure. You probably won’t last until Thursday.
One thing at a time is much more doable and easier to maintain. The reason I suggest starting with math is that it’s my favorite. Haha, totally kidding!
Math really is my favorite, but the real reason I suggest starting with math is that most other subjects can be learned by reading, and you can sneak strategic books into your children’s learning piles. I believe that math is the one subject that can only be mastered with daily, careful practice.
6. Plan your homeschool year.
I’m talking about creating a general outline here, not a detailed map. And the secret for success is, again, keeping things simple. Over-scheduling will just lead to burnout and disappointment.
In fact, I’ve learned that I’m happiest if I take what I think I can manage and reduce it by half. All I can manage might feel okay for a few months, but by Christmas I’ll be drowning.
You know yourself and your limits best. Just make sure you don’t fill your schedule to the very edge of your limits. Here are the steps I use for homeschool planning:
- Create a year-long calendar. If your state has a minimum attendance requirement, this will help you to make sure you’re meeting it. Some people like to plan backward. For example, they check their child’s math textbook and see that it contains 120 lessons and 16 tests. They then divide 136 total days into quarters and plan their calendar that way. Me? I don’t care when my kids complete their textbook, so long as they do indeed complete it. I guess I’m more a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. (Not really, though — just ask my husband who thinks I plan everything to death.) So my planning looks more like making sure Field Trip Fridays, holiday breaks and all of our trips are on the calendar, and that I haven’t scheduled myself to be in two places at once, regarding orchestra, music lessons, classes and extracurricular activities.
- When will school begin and end? We homeschool year round because we like to travel for months at a time during the off season, when everyone else is in school and things are cheaper! Homeschooling during the summer also helps us stick to a routine for my sanity! But it’s also fun to have some back-to-school and last-day-of-school traditions, which we couldn’t have if there was never a beginning or end. So I do stick a little week-long summer break in there. I can handle the insanity of not having a routine and just letting the kids go hog wild on books and video games with no bedtime for one week.
- Set some goals. If goals are your thing, this is a great time to set goals. I don’t set goals for our homeschool because I encourage my kids to set their own goals (and because — let’s get real — I can barely manage my own goals!). That could be part of your homeschool planning for the year if you wanted it to. This could include things like wanting to pass the AP test in the spring or learning a new piece and auditioning for a concerto concert in the fall.
- Create plans for achieving your goals. If it’s not written down and mapped out, a goal is just a wish. Hah! I’m such a hypocrite because I don’t even set goals for our homeschool. But if you’re more organized than me, I think they could be very valuable as part of your year-long planning.
7. Create a daily routine.
It’s critical that you establish a habit of learning as part of your daily routine. School can’t exist in a vacuum. You wwill be most successful if you can make learning time feel just as integral and necessary to your days as meal time and play time and sleep time.
That’s why I suggest that instead of merely laying out your daily school schedule, you lay out your entire daily routine and just make sure school time falls within it somewhere, and adhere to that religiously. Because my children are such avid eaters, I use mealtimes as hooks around which we structure our daily routine.
Flexibility is one of the most beautiful benefits of homeschooling, and it will help you to embrace spontaneity and help life and school feel less mundane. So be sure to create your daily routine in such a way that it can be flexible without causing anyone anxiety.
8. Set up your space.
Will you be homeschooling around the kitchen table or do you have a dedicated homeschool room? Do you have cabinets or shelves to hold supplies? What will your children’s work spaces look like? Do you plan to use technology? Do you need a blackboard or a white board?
Get organized by purchasing storage cabinets and bookshelves for holding textbooks and workbooks. Organizers are useful for keeping loose supplies under control.
9. Continually re-evaluate your homeschool.
Look over your schedule or routine critically. Make a list of the things that are working or aren’t working. Are there ways you can make it more effective?
Evaluate your curriculum. Does it hold your child’s interest? How is it working for you? Because I know that if something requires too big a commitment from me it’s not going to happen.
How about your homeschool space and organization? Do you need to rearrange things? Do you need more storage space? Do you need to purge or de-junk? Does it feel comfortable and inviting?
Examine your children’s academic progress. This one shouldn’t be done too often, and it should not involve tests.
Rather, it should involve a heart-to-heart conversation about how well he is enjoying his studies and whether there are things he would like to incorporate into his studies. Sometimes academic progress can only be measured in years, and that’s okay.
Do something different. Sometimes the same old stuff is just, well, old. It takes very little time or effort to add in a poetry tea time or homemade popcorn and a read aloud or some creative art time.
I keep a file of fun digital resources that I find free on an external hard drive. Sometimes when we need to shake things up a little, I’ll just let my kids choose a file to print off. They’re still learning, but we take a break from the humdrum day-to-day ordinary and it helps.
Another thing we do occasionally when everyone feels blah is have a DEAR camp. DEAR stands for Drop Everything And Read. We literally drop everything and head to the library. We buy a few fun snacks on the way home, and everyone lays around and reads all day.
You probably don’t need to make great big changes to your homeschool, but can just make little course corrections that add up. Even after 17 years of homeschooling, I’m still continually re-evaluating our homeschool and making tiny improvements.
10. Don’t compare your homeschool to others.
Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that it can be completely individualized to your unique children and your own special family situation. You make your homeschool conform to your family instead of the other way around.
You can create the perfect schedule/routine for your family, whether you are night owls or early birds or a different species altogether. You get to choose curriculum suited to your children’s learning styles and your preferred parenting style.
You can impart the values and character you see as important. You get to customize opportunities to your children’s interests. You get to dive down rabbit holes and take the time to learn in-depth whenever you desire.
Why would you compare your individual homeschool to another unique homeschool created by someone else? Why would you want to?
Nobody else has your kids. Nobody has your resources. Nobody else has your talents. Nobody else has your challenges.
Besides that, however perfect someone else’s homeschool might look to you from the outside — it’s not. I can promise you that with certainty. That mom who looks put together and patient, with well-behaved, clean, well-dressed children feels just like you do.
She wonders if she’s doing the right thing and if she’s doing enough.
Get ideas from others, but only for the purpose of ideas. Take those ideas and adapt them to your unique situation or toss them altogether. Above all, remember your unique homeschool ‘why’, your ultimate goals for your homeschool, and use those as a litmus test to determine the direction to take your homeschool.
What if I mess up?
You’re going to mess up. It’s inevitable. But so what?
When my kiddos groan over missing lots of problems on a math assignment, I always tell them that missing problems is a fantastic opportunity for learning. Oh boy, you are going to learn!
I’ve probably learned more through homeschooling than my children have, and not all of that learning is academic. I’m a better mom, friend, daughter and human because I homeschool — and I didn’t learn by being perfect.
Not only are mistakes a great way to learn, but they also present an opportunity to model apologizing and doing better to our children. What a great thing to teach our children!
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