How to Start Homeschooling…6 Steps to get you started
Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to homeschool. Some families want a private school education but can’t afford the tuition. Other families have medical or physical challenges that their local school districts can’t accommodate. Then there’s those that simply don’t agree with the direction our public schools are taking and feel that homeschooling is just the better way to go. No matter what your reasons, making the decision to start homeschooling can be very overwhelming. The laws, the curriculum, the co-ops, the money….the list goes on. It’s a lot. Whether you’re starting from day 1 of Preschool or ending your time with your local school district and starting your homeschool adventure a little further into your child’s education, I want to help by giving you some tips on getting started, so you feel better prepared and confident to start this amazing adventure you’re about to begin.
Now, I could go on and on and give you TONS of helpful tips, but, when it really comes down to what’s going to work the best in your home for your family’s homeschool journey, only you will be able to determine that. And it does take a while and a lot of trial and error to really figure out what’s going to work. I’ve known a lot of homeschooling families over the years from all different lifestyles and budgets and teaching experiences, and the one thing they had in common is that none of them got it right the first time. Let me say that again….no one gets it totally right in their first year. But, you will learn from your failures and your successes with each day, and you’ll find a rhythm that works for your family. It’s a whole lot like parenting in general. You have the babies, you make mistakes, you learn, you make adjustments, you start traditions, you grow together, and when you think back to those first days of life as a new parent, you have fond memories and a whole lot of wisdom to pass on. God made your children with you in mind, and if you feel like he’s calling you to homeschool….You can do this!! What I want to do to help, is give you an outline to follow. I want to provide you with good information to get you started on the right track and help you get organized so you don’t feel like you’ve gotten in way over your head. I’ve been there…I know how it feels. Being organized, and knowing where to look, is super important. So, I’ve created a FREE workbook to help get you started. A place to organize your thoughts, your ideas, and all the ‘must have’ information you need to make homeschooling happen for your family. Make sure you read all the steps I list below, and then follow the link at the bottom for your FREE printable worksheet. I will also have more helpful homeschool printables coming so, if that’s something you’re interested in, you can sign up on the mailing list and get notified when they become available.
On to the good stuff……
When you first look up “how to start homeschooling” online, the results take your brain in a million different directions. So many different blogs and videos to choose from, most of which provide you with fantastic information and endless resources. The homeschool community as a whole is very supportive and will provide you with a wealth of information. However, before you dive in to all the super fun pinterest projects, lapbooks and unit studies, you need to handle the business side of thing. The MOST IMPORTANT thing you need to consider when starting to homeschool, before you do anything else, is the laws. Every country that allows homeschooling has very different and sometimes very specific requirements. In the US, every state has different laws and requirements. Some require registering with your local school board and keeping very detailed records that your children are getting the education that state requires. Some states just require “proof of learning”, while others have no requirements at all. The Home School Legal Defense Association is a “nonprofit and advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” ….thank you Wikipedia. So in real people language…that means that these are your go-to people that will stand up for you and defend your family if you need them to….and they can do it in over 60 countries!! They also have a lot of great resources for homeschoolers no matter where you are in your homeschooling journey. Memberships are available and, in my opinion, are totally worth it for the piece of mind alone….but, not at all necessary to start homeschooling, because you can access the site and tons of information without signing up. However, to have full access to the legal department and be represented by a competent lawyer who specializes in this kind of thing, if the need ever arises, membership is necessary. You can visit HSLDA by clicking HERE.
2. CREATE A HOMESCHOOL MISSION STATEMENT…as a family
The purpose of creating your mission statement is to provide you with the bones of your homeschool. Creating it provides you with a custom made homeschool blueprint, and will help you make all the major decisions in your homeschool. It’s what you will always strive to achieve. Imagine going into Walmart….with no list….and 4 kids in tow. Well, if you’re anything like me , you bribe the kids for good behavior with a treat of some sort the second you hit the parking lot. Originally you came for water, flour, milk, diapers, shampoo and dog food. It’s a list short enough you think you’ll remember it, but long enough that you’ll forget half of it, and end up leaving with water, flour, dish soap, yarn, 3 new outfits for the baby, a new pair of rain boots for your preschooler, cards for holidays that are 6 months away, your good behavior rewards, and gum. Then, you unnecessarily spend your week feeding the dog leftover chicken and tripling up underwear overnight on your potty training 2 year old because you don’t have time to make the 30 minute one-way drive back to Walmart…with the list you forgot. You spend your week stressed out and in total chaos. We want to avoid that kind of chaos in our homeschools. We all have crazy weeks, but no one wants to have that craziness spill over into their kids’ education. That’s why, we make our mission statement. Your homeschool mission statement should include why you want to homeschool, your expectations of everyone involved (include expectations you have for yourself) and your goals.
Here are some things to consider when putting together your family’s homeschool mission statement:
- What led you to begin homeschooling?
- How do your religious beliefs and family values impact your homeschool?
- What is your vision for your homeschool? How do you see your homeschool shaping your children? And your family?
As an example, here is our homeschool mission statement:
In our homeschool, we believe in teaching our children to put their relationship with God before anything else.
We believe in actively practicing the fruit of the spirit…Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control.
We believe in prioritizing our family over elective activities.
We believe in Laughter and Forgiveness.
We believe in promoting a lifetime love of learning.
We believe in hard work and sacrifice…and not giving up when it gets too hard.
I should add here, that we reexamine our mission statement at the beginning and end of every quarter. As our children grow in and out of their stages of development, their needs change. As our children grow into young adults, we may need to add or take away parts of our mission statements. However you do it, be sure to do it with the entire family. Even if you spouse is not teaching your children their academics, they’re still teaching them life skills. Having a way to stay accountable to yourselves and to each other is a great thing.
3. DETERMINE YOUR BUDGET
This step can either be super simple or super complicated. So here’s the biggest tip I have to make it super simple…..be honest about your financial situation. Knowing what your budget is BEFORE you start shopping for curriculum is very important. We’ll get into the purchasing curriculum part of it later, but, trust me when I say even if you have next to no budget for this, you will still be able to get quality homeschool curriculum. A few things to consider when setting your budget:
- school supplies (ya know..pens, pencils, notebooks, dry erase markers, etc)
- equipment (if you need a computer at home, a dry erase board or chalkboard)
- memberships (some people don’t include this in their homeschool budget, but some states give a tax refund so if this applies, you might as well include it)
- extra curricular activities (again, up to you if you include this in your homeschool budget)
Your homeschool may need more or less budgeted in, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to allow yourself an extra little financial cushion to accommodate any changes you may need to make in the middle of your school year. Remember though, you won’t need to get everything you’d need for a traditional public school year, so you don’t have to go nuts. Just plan on purchasing what you know for sure you’ll use….and a little extra.
4. DETERMINE THE LEARNING STYLE & TEACHING STYLE
This is the one piece of advice I wish I’d heard before we started homeschooling. Everyone learns differently. Auditory learners may learn textbook material by reading aloud or a book on tape approach, while visual learners need to look at the text and see the material to get a firm grasp on it. But how to you figure all that out? Education Planner.org is a great site that provides a quiz and tips for how to figure out learning styles and how to teach the 3 main styles: Kinesthetic (tactile), Visual, and Auditory. Parenting.com has a great page with tips and a quiz for younger children that may not be able to answer questions as well. Both sites have teaching tips on them, and while the quizzes were created for determining your kids’ learning styles, I encourage you as the parent/educator to also take the quiz. Your results may surprise you…plus, it’s kinda fun. Figuring out your teaching style can be a little trickier. If you have prior teaching experience, you probably have a good idea what your style is. However, after switching from teaching in a traditional setting to teaching your children, you may find that your style has changed. In the homeschool setting, there are several different teaching styles such as:
- Charlotte Mason
…to name a few. Homeschool.com has very detailed information on the above mentioned teaching styles as well as sample schedules to give you an idea on what a typical day might look like in the chosen teaching style. Finding your right fit may take a while and, as your family grows and as children mature, you’ll most likely discover that teaching styles need to change for both the student and the teacher. Being flexible, patient, and observant during this process is beneficial.
5. GO SHOPPING
Woo Hoo!! Here comes the fun part!! So now you’ve done all the leg work. You’ve researched your local laws, written your mission statement, figured out your budget, and now you have a pretty good idea what type of learners your kids are and what your teaching style is. It’s time to find a curriculum that meets your needs. There are soooo many curriculums to choose from, this is where all that research you did will be a HUGE help. You now are armed with enough information to be able to weed out all the options that may look appealing, but, really won’t give you what you need. Be careful though, even though it’ll be easier to make your choice, you’ll still get tempted to #buyallthethings. Even the most seasoned homeschool parent will do it…walk into a homeschool conference, or find a rummage sale filled with treasures from generations of homeschooled past, or find an amazing online curriculum clearance sale and think to themselves…”I’m sure I could use that for something.” And before you know it, you’re poor husband is spending his weekends putting together another bookshelf (or 3) and wondering why, as a homeschool family, he has a vaster library than the actual library down the road. It’s tempting, so very, very tempting…but try hard to stay focused on the season that you’re in and only buy what you need for your first year.
So how do you find curriculum? Excellent question! There are several options available for any budget:
- buy new directly from the manufacturer- this is a really good option for those that want to buy in kits, or have chosen a curriculum with lots of parts to it. You’re also guaranteed that everything is in excellent condition and, if it turns out to not suit your needs very well, you may have the option to return the curriculum (be aware of return policies before you make your purchase…just in case)
- borrow or buy from a friend or family member- this option is definitely a good choice for those that have a very tight budget or those that want to try it out before they commit to a certain curriculum.
- buy used- I do this more than anything else…I will look on manufacturer sites and read reviews online and make my choices. Then I’ll head over to a homeschool buy/sell/trade page on Facebook and save at least half of what I had budgeted. Benefits are rather obvious, but the downside to this is, you’re buying used curriculum. You’ll never be 100% sure what you’re getting until it shows up, and if it’s not right or the curriculum is damaged or not complete, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. I’ve never had a major issue doing things this way, but you just never know.
There are several social media pages that have homeschoolers selling curriculum year round. If you do choose to go this route, be sure to allow plenty of time to search sites, find people selling what you need, purchase it and have it shipped to you (usps media mail is the most common shipping but painfully slow), go through it all and do your lesson planning and be ready to start with a little time to spare. Waiting until the last minute will probably not help you start off strong. Speaking of lesson planning, you’re going to need some type of homeschool planner. There is no one “perfect” lesson planner out there because everyone’s needs are different. I’ve used several different planners over the years and The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Apologia is my absolute favorite so far.
6. FIND A SUPPORT SYSTEM
We’ve all heard the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Personally, I’ve never really cared for that saying. I mean, we homeschool….we kind of avoid the village. I’d like to change that up a little….how about, “it takes a village to raise a confident homeschool parent”. The first year of homeschooling is the hardest. We all have insecure moments as parents, and during the more challenging homeschool days, those insecurities get magnified and even create some new ones we never had before. That’s why this last step is so important. Super important. Really really really important. When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t know about our co-op. Actually, we’ve been homeschooling for 6 years now, and this is only our second year in our co-op. Before that we did a visual arts class for homeschoolers at a local fine arts center. I hesitated for a long time to join a large group, because I was kind of scared. I didn’t know what to expect, thought I wouldn’t fit in with the other moms, and then there was the teaching a full class of homeschoolers thing. It felt very intimidating. Now that we’re a part of it, I regret not starting sooner. The friendships we’ve formed, fellowship that we’ve had, experiences my children have been able to learn from, and of course, there’s the socialization factor, it’s all enriched our lives so much. Not all areas have a co-op though. Or, maybe you just aren’t real impressed by the one closest to you. There’s a few other things you can do if an organized homeschool co-op is not an option for you:
- Contact local museums or fine arts centers and ask if they have any programs designed specifically for homeschoolers.
- Find a virtual co-op. If you Google “virtual homeschool co-op”, you’ll find several options to sort through.
- Start your own. It’s a big undertaking, I know, but if it’s something you feel passionate about…go for it!!
Whatever route you take, I want you to take this step as seriously as all the other steps. Us moms in particular have a tendency to take care of everyone else with 100% effort to the best of our ability, and we push ourselves to the side. So seeking out like-minded homeschooling families will be a precious resource for you on this new journey, and the relationships you form will bless you in many ways. Remember, when you feel confident, encouraged and inspired, your children will too!
I hope you feel a little less overwhelmed and a LOT more empowered! Homeschooling is an amazing adventure and I’m excited to help you get started. Remember to click the How To Start Homeschooling Worksheet link to get your FREE workbook and start organizing and planning your homeschool, and also remember to sign up on my email list if you’re interested in more homeschool tips and resources.