By Karen Lange
Are you thinking about homeschooling? Homeschooling your children can provide many benefits, such as a one-on-one, customized education, hands-on learning, quality family time, and healthy socialization.
Homeschooling is legal in every state; scores of families have done it successfully for years. These families have forged the trail before you, so take advantage of their seasoned advice, and of the many homeschool resources available.
Start by considering your reasons for homeschooling. Are you dissatisfied with your children’s current form of education? Do you want more quality family time? Are there negative social issues you’d like to address? Does home simply seem like the best place for your children to grow and learn? Whatever your reasons, be sure to do your homework. Homeschooling is a wonderful choice, but it is a decision that requires thought and research. Consider the following elements to help you get started.
The best information usually comes from other homeschoolers. These parents can provide info about notifying the local school district, support group meetings, curriculum and teaching ideas, field trips, and more. Find a family or two, or a local support group through the Internet, local papers, the library (the children’s librarians usually know the homeschoolers), or groups like the La Leche League or food co-ops. Your educational philosophy may differ from some of those you meet, but be open to gleaning from their experience. Don’t be concerned about finding many families on your same “educational page”; you are likely to come across families that share your mindset as you go along.
Check out your state’s homeschool requirements. Talk to other homeschoolers in your area; check the library, State Department of Education website, or online homeschool resources such as www.hslda.org or www.homefires.com for details. Some states are lightly regulated, others have requirements such as testing or keeping portfolios. It’s better to be prepared and informed than to risk the ire of local school officials. Don’t fret over any regulations; homeschoolers in every state have managed to do well, no matter what the requirements are.
Research curriculum offerings. Materials can be easily found on the Internet, in homeschool books, magazines, and curriculum catalogs, or through other homeschoolers. Curriculum fairs, and new/used bookstores also offer things to help get you started. If you are still feeling confused, find a good curriculum guide, such as the Unschoolers Network Living Is Learning guides, www.unschoolersnet or other similar resources. These guides provide what is called a scope and sequence, outlining what is covered in each grade. They provide a framework, sources, and ideas for curriculum and activities. Many homeschool companies provide consultation services that help you put a plan together; some offer distance learning or Internet classes, among other options.
Everyone has preconceived ideas about education. Maybe you loved school; maybe you hated it. Perhaps you think that kids these days grow up too quickly. Whatever your thoughts, they will obviously shape your educational philosophy for homeschooling. This can be a good thing to help you formulate your homeschooling plan. Your ideas may develop and change over time but they will initially bring your family’s plan into focus. There are many approaches to homeschooling: Some families like the traditional classroom approach, others prefer unschooling and interest-directed learning, and still others fall somewhere in between.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor your homeschool experience to your children’s learning styles and needs, your family’s schedule, and so on. Information on teaching, students’ learning styles, and various educational philosophies is available through homeschool books and magazines, the Internet, and from other homeschoolers. It may take a little time to find the right fit for you and your children, but don’t stress over it. You do not need to have this all figured out before you start. Keep an open mind as you proceed and your plan will come together as you go.
Be flexible as you put your plan together. This will help your transition into homeschooling go smoothly. It is normal for there to be ups and downs. It helps to remember that your plan will develop and even change over time. Allow yourself a learning curve when starting. Each family has different needs, schedules, and pursuits. Consider these, for they are important factors for success and a peaceful home. Other things that direct your steps and clarify your plan are your children’s ages, learning styles and interests, the family budget, and state requirements.
Be prepared for questions from others – family members, neighbors, etc. — about socialization. There are a great many misconceptions about socialization and most homeschoolers know that it is really a non-issue. Homeschoolers benefit from interaction with people from all walks of life, from infants through adults, as opposed to their peer group in a classroom each day. Homeschoolers experience real-life socialization, which is better at preparing children for the “real” world. Homeschool co-ops and support groups, sports, clubs, church and community activities, friends and neighbors, all provide avenues for your kids to socialize. The plus is that you have a strong say in how it comes together. This provides a good balance to the negative aspects of socialization — which we all know exist, but which proponents of mass socialization are hesitant to admit. Or if they do admit it, they explain it away, saying that your kids need to learn to grow up in the “real” world. Of course they do, but that doesn’t mean that you need to throw them into inappropriate situations. No matter what anyone says, resist the temptation to worry about it. Your kids will turn out just fine. Many homeschool graduates out there have already paved the way for your kids.
Another benefit of school at home is the flexibility it provides for learning. The world is your classroom! Your homeschool experience and household set-up will be as unique as your family. Some families have one room designated for schoolwork; others have an area where books and materials are kept, doing actual schoolwork in different places. The “how and where” learning possibilities are endless. Your homeschool philosophy may affect what you decide is best.
For example, an unschooler may have a more unstructured day, and will see learning happen all over the house, inside and out. The more traditional approach may have a student stay in one area. Most families do a little of each; it just depends on your preferences. Consider younger family members, location of a computer, and other factors or distractions. If you know your child will be distracted during math lessons, for example, choose a quiet area where they can work. Schedules are flexible too, determined by student learning styles, state regulations, grade level, etc. Some families start early, break for lunch, and continue in the afternoon. Others finish their work in the mornings; still others have no set schedule. It may take trial and error, but you’ll soon discover what works best. No one size fits all; remain flexible and open to learning possibilities wherever you are.
Are you concerned about your ability to homeschool? This is normal; many parents feel this way. Be encouraged, though, if you feel that this is the best option for your child; it will come together. There are innumerable support resources available, such as curriculum teachers’ guides, answer keys and other support, private tutors, homeschool learning co-ops, swapping teaching duties with other parents, books, and more. You’ve already been teaching your children from birth, so you have a great head start. Relax, you will find the right balance in time.
Your kids aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this experience. You will learn and grow too, and strengthen your family’s relationships. Homeschool success stories abound; all of the homeschool graduates that I know live productive adult lives in the real world. I am confident that you won’t ruin your children. Trust your instincts and take it a year at a time. You can do this! K.L.
Karen and Jeff Lange homeschooled their three children in grades K-12. Karen is a freelance writer, homeschool consultant, and student writing instructor. Visit her website at
www.hswritingcoop.bravehost.com, or email her at [email protected].