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21 POINT HOMESCHOOLING CHECKLIST FOR BEGINNERS
If you are just entering the brave new world known as homeschooling, it’s understandable if you are feeling anxious, wishy-washy or even a little bit panicked. This is a big move. Yes, homeschooling is far more common than it’s ever been, however mentioning that you will be homeschooling will still raise some eyebrows. Fortunately, the virtual community and available Homeschool Resources right in your own city offer support, advice, and the “been-there-done-that” companionship that you might lack in your immediate neighborhood.
The checklist below is designed to help you consider the many sides of homeschooling and the logistics involved during your first year. Obviously, every family is going to have their own unique challenges but, this checklist covers the basics for just about every situation.
Know Your State’s Laws
Before you do anything, it’s important that you know your state’s laws regarding homeschooling. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. Some states, like Texas, have no requirements of homeschoolers. Other states, like California, impose many regulations on homeschooling families.
Know how the law applies to homeschoolers in your area before you pull your children out of school. Understand your options, under the law, regarding: testing and reporting; record keeping; special services available; and how to legally take your child out of the school system.
Write Down Your Reasons For Homeschooling
Most people homeschool for a combination of reasons. Some know even before they have children that they will homeschool. Other families find that their child with special needs isn’t receiving the education they deserve in a public setting. Still other families want to be free to include/exclude religion from their child’s education. No matter why you are homeschooling, it can be very helpful (especially on days where you need a reminder of why you are doing this – and you will have those days!) to have a notebook with a paragraph or two describing, in your own words, exactly why you have chosen to homeschool and what you perceive to be the benefits.
Become Familiar With De-schooling
If you are pulling your children out of a public or private school be aware that they will need an adjustment period before you plunge right into homeschooling. One month of no school for each year in a traditional school is a good rule of thumb. This will give you all time to adjust to being home together and finding a new rhythm to your days. Read books aloud, visit local parks, walks, cook together and don’t worry about formal lessons during this period. Gradually begin homeschooling by introducing one subject at a time. Take your time and relax.
Part of being a successful homeschooling parent is being honest with yourself. Own up to your weaknesses and use your strengths to their full advantage. Homeschooling is a full-time job. It is difficult to maintain a Martha-Stewart-ready house and teach a full range of subjects everyday to one or more children.
Know your limits. Do you shut down if your house is cluttered? Develop a strategy for working quick, daily pick-up sessions. Do you despise crafty, hands-on projects? Consider joining a co-op or taking an outside art class. Your kids get to do projects and your home remains blissfully, glitter-free. No homeschooling parent is good at everything. The key is acknowledging the areas where you are likely to struggle and develop a plan to work around/through the struggles.
Know Your Children’s Unique Learning Styles
Everyone learns differently. Knowing how your child learns best is important as your plan your homeschool for the year. Figuring out your child’s dominant learning style will help you choose the best curriculum and how best to approach teaching. If your child has a learning disability, knowing their learning style is doubly important. The three basic learning styles are: visual, auditory and tactile/ kinesthetic. If you know your child learns best audibly, you can tailor lessons to include reading aloud and incorporating songs and rhymes to help with memory work.
Decide How Your Want To Homeschool
There is no one “right” way to homeschool. Talk to a few veteran homeschoolers and you will learn that most of them tried several different methods of homeschooling before finding the right combination for their family. There are several styles of homeschooling that you will run across in your research. While most people will find themselves immediately drawn to one particular type of homeschooling, it’s worth taking the time to learn about other styles as well – each has something to offer. Additionally, what works well when your children are young may need to be tweaked as they get older – knowing your options ahead of time can help make this transition easier.
School at Home
This is what people unfamiliar with homeschooling picture when they hear the word homeschool. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You create a classroom in your home. You use textbooks similar to those found in traditional school and follow a set schedule.
A British educator, Charlotte Mason eschewed textbooks in favor of “living books.” She’s known for creating the adjective “twaddle free” to describe the literature she encouraged her students to read. This method focuses on good book, nature study, art and learning by narration. A Charlotte Mason Education: A Homeschool How-To by Catherine Levinson is an excellent guide to this style of homeschooling.
The classical method of homeschooling breaks education into three stages: grammar, logical and rhetorical. History and science are taught in three four-year cycles. Emphasis is placed on “living books” and original sources. Many classical homeschoolers incorporate Latin and/or Greek into their homeschools. The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer is an excellent introduction to classical homeschooling.
Unit studies and/or notebooking let you focus on one specific topic and incorporate all school subjects in your study. Everything You Need to Know about Unit Studies by Jennifer Steward offer useful advice on creating your own unit studies and how to create notebooks that maximize learning.
Virtual schools and classes are increasingly popular for homeschoolers. Many states offer free online schools. Choosing this option full-time does make your child a public school student. Some families opt to have their child do just one or two of their state’s online courses. There are private, virtual classes and schools for every subject. Most offer a range of services and prices.
Make Room For Homeschooling
You don’t have to have a gigantic house to homeschool. In fact, you do not even need a separate room dedicated to homeschooling. (Of course, having extra room is nice!) It is a good idea, no matter the size of your home, to think about your homeschool. Being organized is always a plus. You may have to rearrange furniture, bring in extra bookshelves and create a central space for supplies to make the most of the space you do have.
Make Room For Homeschooling
One look at the Rainbow Resource catalog is enough to make any new homeschooler’s head explode. Go ahead and get the duct tape and go through the catalog anyway. Rainbow is an excellent overview of what’s out there. There are honest, intelligent reviews for most items and the family that owns the company will answer questions via email or on the phone. Before you buy anything consider the following:
- Is it available at your local library?
- When considering hardback vs. paperback versions of the same book ask yourself how often the book will be used? Will it be shared by multiple children? Will your child be using the book for multiple years?
- Will you eventually be reselling the book?
- In general, how hard is your family on books? (Be honest, some of us have a knack for damaging books inadvertently.)
Homeschooling Can Be Budget-Friendly
Most homeschoolers are on a budget. Make use of your local library and local homeschool groups’ book sales. You can also find gently used curriculum at Homeschool Classifieds. Don’t over think curriculum. You will make mistakes. A lot of homeschooling is trial and error. Take advantage of online and real life methods of reselling items that don’t work for you. Also remember to take advantage of the multitude of homeschooling and Special Education Resources available at no charge online.
Getting And Staying Organized
In addition to making room in your home for homeschooling, getting organized is another challenge better faced sooner than later. Everyone has their own way of organizing (or not). The list below gives you homeschool-specific areas to think about before you get started. When you are getting organized be realistic about your child’s ability to keep track of their own books/supplies and about your own ability to manage paperwork. The links within the list will take you to sites with budget-minded organizational tips from other homeschoolers.
Once you know your state’s requirements for homeschooling, you’ll have a general idea of the types of records you need to keep each year. If there is a chance you will be relocating to another state while you are homeschooling, keep evidence of your child’s work even if you currently live in a no reporting state like Texas.
Planning and teaching materials
it’s a good idea to have your own space for catalogs, reference books and teacher editions of text books. A desk with shelves or even a single shelf on a bookshelf often works well.
stock up at back-to-school sales. There is nothing worse than having your child excited to make a model of the Great Pyramid only to find out when you start that you have no glue and no one can find the scissors. Use under-bed storage containers for extra paper and other supplies. For regularly used supplies, keep them in a central location and take the time to have kids put things away everyday.
Your computer and phone
get your bookmarks organized and labeled before starting the school year. Make it a habit to bookmark sites you find interesting even if you don’t need them right away. Have a bookmark titled “Future Homeschool.” It’s also a good idea to have a folder for things specific to each of your children. You do not have to be particularly tech savvy to use a program like Evernote to keep your homeschool organized. The link will take you to easy to follow instructions written by a homeschool mom. She explains how she uses Evernote in her family’s homeschool.
Your kids’ work
Homeschooling can quickly take over your entire house. You can lose entire days while your child swears they did, in fact, actually lose their math work on the trip from their bedroom to the kitchen. Work boxes are a solution for both moms and kids who struggle with keeping track and staying on track. The work box system is great for all kids but it is especially effective for kids who have learning disabilities.
Get Ready To Handle Curious And/Or Anxious Friends And Family
The first year you homeschool you will get all kinds of unsolicited advice from friends and family. Remember there was a time when you were not familiar with homeschooling and possibly held some misconceptions. Are you prepared to answer the dreaded socialization question? (some nice answers at the link) Most people are honestly curious. Some are truly concerned. Others are looking to argue. Keep your answers brief and polite. If someone is looking for an argument, remember an urgent appointment or smell something burning in the kitchen, and walk away. You know what’s right for your family – you are not in charge of recruiting other homeschoolers.
Is Your Child Resistant To Homeschooling?
See number 3 and then keep reading. Some kids, particularly ones who have been in a traditional school for several years are not too keen on homeschool at the onset. This is where you get to play the “parent card.” You are the grown up. You know what’s best for your child. If it’s an older child give them some control over their school day.
Set Up Your Annual Calendar
It sounds simple. It is simple. Create a calendar that you can keep on the fridge or other place the whole family sees everyday. Mark birthdays, appointments and outside activities. Now is also the time to decide if you will follow your local school district’s school calendar, set your own school calendar or school year-round. Advantages to sticking with the school district’s calendar include sharing days off with friends who attend public school. Setting your own calendar lets you declare birthday as days off, travel as you please and include important family-related events. Finally, homeschooling year-round gives you a chance to keep things moving while enjoying shorter school days and more frequent short breaks.
Try To Set Realistic Goals And Keep Your Expectations “Sane”
Homeschooling really does open up entirely new worlds for you and your children. For homeschooling parents, especially parents who might classify themselves as “nerdy,” it’s easy to set the bar too high. If you have been struggling with the public school special education program (gifted and/or learning disabilities) no doubt you’ve found some terrific special education resources and cannot wait to get started using them. That’s great! Allow time for things like flat tires, oversleeping, kid and/or mom melt downs, the flue and all the rest. Everyone will be happier if you pace yourself slowly to start until you find your family’s homeschool rhythm. If you find yourself half-way through a semester and everyone is feeling burnt-out, pat yourself on the back for writing your plans in pencil. They’re easy to change. Ease up the pace. Schedule time for fun stuff like the zoo or a hike into your weekly schedule. Doing this means you’ll be less likely to feel frustrated and your kids will not feel pressured to achieve every single day.
Determine If A Homeschool Group Or Co-Op Is Right For You
Talk to a few homeschoolers and you will hear varied opinions on homeschool groups/co-ops. Do a quick search for groups in your area. This is a good place to start – also check your state’s homeschool association. There are a couple of things you want to consider before saying yea or nay.
if you are more of an introvert, you probably find meeting new people exhausting. The idea of a homeschooling group might seem overwhelming.
Your children’s personalities
you might be an introvert but, what about your children? If your kids are extroverted it might be worth you getting tired a couple of times a month to give them on outlet for all of that energy.
are you looking for a scholastic group or a group that gets together to let the kids play while the moms visit and share experiences? Are you willing to sign a statement of faith in order to join a large church-based homeschooling group that offers a huge range of opportunities?
Most homeschoolers are willing to drive a bit to meet up with like-minded families. It’s important to do a couple of visits to a homeschool group if you’re leaving your “part of town.” For some families a few $50-75 outings a month is nothing – for others it means rice and beans for a week or so. Before joining a group make sure it’s a good financial fit for you.
If you are living in a neighborhood where no one plays outside and your kids have few or no neighborhood friends, you might be anxious to belong to a group where your kids can make lasting ties. (You might be looking for a few friends as well.) If you struggle to find a group that is a good fit, consider starting your own homeschool group. It only takes a few families to have a nice, solid group for play dates, field trips or sharing academics.
Your lack of need
If your children are involved in multiple outside activities and/or have many friends who attend traditional schools, you might not need any more “socialization.” (See #11) Not belonging to an actual “homeschool” group may be more work/travel/money than you want or need to spend.
Expect The Best. Plan For The Worst
Life happens. No matter how organized you are you will have months, even years, where it seems like everyone is trading strep throat or the flu. In families with multiple kids getting the “disease of the month” fully out of your home can take weeks. Before you get started think through a few scenarios and decide now what you will do should they come true.
it happens. It’s stressful, expensive and it will most definitely interrupt your homeschooling plans. What would you do? You can cancel school until the issue is resolved. You can move school to the local library or Starbucks (although plumbing disasters usually put that out of the budget). It may never happen. But it can. Have a plan.
Mom gets the flu
it happens. For the most part, moms are acutely aware that if one kid gets a cold it won’t be long until everyone has a cold. She’ll replace all the toothbrushes, switch to disposable tableware, change everyone’s sheets and wash the dog (they can carry strep throat, dontcha know?). Mom’s wash their hands and take precautions. Still, every once in a while, Mom falls. Usually, she falls hard. What is your plan for the day you wake up with the flu or whatever crud is running through your house? If you have very young children, do you have baby gates to contain everyone in the same room while you watch a Netflix marathon as you doze on and off? If you have a child with special needs, do you have a trusted parent or neighbor who can come in a couple of times a day to help? It’s not fun but, it’s an important scenario to think all the way through.
You are needed elsewhere
it happens. What if you have a seriously ill parent, sibling or friend who needs your help nearly full time. Are you prepared to car school your children? Are you prepared to unschool them for a few months (really, kids learn no matter what is going on)? This does not come up for everyone but, again, it’s important to think about it before it’s ever an issue.
It can be hard, especially when you first start homeschooling, to avoid the “us vs. them” mentality. The truth is, most parents are working to do the best they can for their kids. There are those who never gave homeschooling a thought that find themselves pulling their child with special needs out of school. There are those who have been committed to homeschooling since before their first child was even born, who find themselves sitting with a guidance counselor signing their children up for traditional school. No matter what your situation is, keep things as friendly as possible. Many public school systems offer special education services to families who homeschool – speech and other therapies, music, and sports. Find out what is available to your children and take advantage of it! You are still paying taxes after all. In the same vein, don’t use public/private school as a threat to your homeschooled child. You never know what’s going to happen and making them fearful/scornful of such a change serves no one. Finally, you do not have to be everything if you homeschool.
Be Aware Of Special Education Resources
If you are struggling to teach your child or if your child has a learning disability research special education resources in your area. Private tutoring is an option for homeschoolers and can remove stress and tension from your home. If you discover that your child is gifted/talented beyond what you are comfortable teaching, check out your local resources as well as internet resources. Your ultimate goal (see #2) is to give your child the best education possible. Use the resources available when you need them.
Have A Plan If You Have Younger Children In The Home
If you are getting ready to start homeschooling an early elementary school child and have younger children as well, you need a plan. Young people need attention – lots of attention. Fortunately, young elementary school kids have short homeschooling days. It may take some practice to figure out how to keep everyone contained and entertained but, it can be done. If you are dealing with very young children, the best thing you can do for your sanity is to institute a mandatory nap/quiet time right after lunch. The youngest nap. Older kids should be in their bedrooms napping, drawing quietly, listening to an audio book or otherwise quietly entertaining themselves. YOU should be on the sofa. Doze, read, listen to music or a book. No chore. Everyone does this for at least an hour. Make it a habit early on and you’ll be refreshed when you jump back into the school day.
It’s Not A Race
It is far too easy to get sucked into the ever-present parent competition of whose child is the best. A casual conversation at soccer practice can turn into a heated discussion quickly. In these short encounters, it’s not worth your time or energy expounding the wonders of homeschooling. Instead, congratulate the bragging parent and ask lots of questions about their child. Nothing is gained by you trying to explain that your child finished algebra in the 4th grade yet still struggles to read Captain Underpants. Remind yourself that you and “bragging parent” are both doing what you’ve deemed best and leave it at that.
Above All, Have Fun
Homeschooling should be fun! Yes, it can be terrifying and exhausting but, it’s fun. Over time you and your children will share inside jokes and have some great stories to tell about your homeschool journey. If you find you are not sharing a good laugh at least three or four times a week, it’s time to lighten up and have some fun. Study ancient Egypt by mummifying a fryer chicken or building the Nile Delta. These kinds of projects rarely go exactly right but your kids will learn and you’ll build some great memories!