For many years I worked at an educational retail store and was the token homeschool employee. Whenever a parent came in asking for help with homeschool materials, they were deferred to me. I enjoyed listening to people tell me their stories about the struggles and fears of what they were getting themselves into. Many children had issues with their school environment which centered around bullying, anxiety, illness, or they simply were not being challenged enough.
After listening to the parent’s story, I would often get asked, “Now what do I do?” In response, I would offer the following advice:
1. Honestly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
This is a question that deserves a well thought out answer. Homeschooling requires a parent’s full commitment and should not be taken lightly. This simply means that a parent is working in the best interest of their child to help them achieve their educational goals.
Many factors play into why and how a family homeschools. Sit down and make a list of what your child’s educational needs are. Think of people you can talk to if you have issues regarding learning disabilities or accelerated academic learning. Think about the subjects you are more comfortable with teaching and which ones would you need extra help with. For me, writing, history and elementary age science were a blast! However, I was overwhelmed by having to relearn high school level math and science and did not think that I was as effective of a teacher in these subjects.
As well as your child’s educational goals, think about your goals as a teacher. Perhaps homeschooling is a temporary answer to meeting a child’s educational need due to an illness or a move. Are you more comfortable working on a year by year basis or committing through high school? You may also consider joining a homeschool group or co-op for support. Be aware that you’ll probably receive a lot of advice about how to homeschool or what curriculum is the best. Homeschoolers can be passionate about their ideas and their books! The purpose in thinking about your goals though, is to recognize that no matter what advice someone else gives you about homeschooling, your family is unique. What works for someone else may not work for you.
2. Learn your state’s laws regarding homeschooling requirements.
It is also important to understand what your state requires from you as a homeschooling family. Requirement levels range from having to do absolutely nothing to annually registering your children. Some require limited or annual testing while others require portfolios to be reviewed by professional evaluators. States also vary in regard to homeschoolers playing interscholastic sports and how a student obtains a driver’s license.
All states have a compulsory school attendance law for children. The mandatory age varies by state but ranges between 5 and 8 years old. Make sure that you are aware of your state’s compulsory attendance law and what is required if you need to register your child.
If your state requires testing or portfolio reviews, make sure you understand which grade levels they need to be accomplished and how to go about meeting the requirements. Many do not allow the homeschooling parent to proctor exams or review portfolios.
For example, I homeschooled my children in the state of Oregon. Oregon compulsory school attendance law requires that children age 6 (by September 1) attend school. A parent must notify their educational service district within 10 days prior to school starting of their intent to homeschool (or, if a parent withdraws their child from school during the school year, within 10 days after withdrawal). Parents are only required to notify their educational service district once. Students are required to be tested in 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grade (by August 15) by a neutral tester and test results are to be submitted upon request.
3. Understand the myths and realities about learning styles.
Understanding the different ways that children learn is important — but perhaps not for the reason you think. While there are many different learning preferences, experts tend to focus on these groups: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and analytical.
Visual – Learn by watching. These students may need to doodle or draw during lessons and are able to illustrate or list in writing what they have learned.
Auditory – Learn by listening. These students need oral instruction and may have difficulty in writing.
Kinaesthetic – Learn by active, hands-on activities. These students may need to move around and do projects that show what they have learned.
Analytical – Learn by understanding patterns. These students may ask a lot of questions to understand how things relate to one another.
It is important to note that the idea that children learn better when their instruction is tailored to their preferred way of learning is a myth. What is true, however, is that different ways of learning are more or less helpful when it comes to different subjects. For example, my youngest learns history best through kinaesthetic and auditory activities. When it came time to work on a history assignment I would read out loud to him (auditory) the lesson for the day while he sat building with a pile of Legos. Usually when we were done with the lesson I would ask him questions about the lesson and there was a small page for him to complete in his lap book (visual) to help me know that he understood what he was learning. My oldest, on the other hand, would have preferred to read the history lesson on her own and answer a sheet of comprehension questions. This is because more advanced learners learn better when solving problems themselves.
It is also helpful for you to understand your own learning preferences. We tend to teach in the style in which we feel most strong, but it is important to teach to children’s learning strengths and their weaknesses. Making sure your kinaesthetic-preferring child has a chance to learn not only kinaesthetically but also visually, auditorily, and analytically will enhance your child’s education.
4. Understand different ways to homeschool.
There are many different ways to homeschool and many different curriculum options for homeschooling. For my first year of homeschooling I was overwhelmed by the options available and went for a first grade package set. By my tenth year of homeschooling I used a unit study approach for most subjects, and was more comfortable with mixing materials based upon what worked best for each child. In our final year at home we tried an online public school approach. While a lot of people I know loved the program, we lasted six weeks with it because it was too difficult for my child to follow.
Talk to people who homeschool to find out how they are homeschooling and what curriculum or books they are using. What do the like or dislike about their curriculum or program? Again, beware, you will find that people are very passionate about what they use! However, this can be a good way to find out information about different styles and material.
Be aware of your budget. Curriculum can be very expensive, but it does not have to be. Thanks to the internet, there is a wealth of information in terms of lessons plans, video tutorials, writing prompts and lessons, science projects, unit studies, etc. Remember that the library can be your best friend in terms of reducing the cost of books. I found out that I was able to have access to a neighboring county library system as a teacher. Not only was I able to utilize a larger library system, but I was able to check out books for a longer period of time.
5. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
My final advice to the question, “Now what do I do?” is to tell new homeschoolers not to be too hard on themselves. The first year is the hardest because you’re on new territory. It takes some adjustment time for everyone, especially for kids who are used to going to school. Try to take breaks and get out of the house when you can. Trips to the park or field trips around town to places you have never been offer new experiences. Homeschooling allows great flexibility to try different activities with your kids to see what they like and find out what they are passionate about.
Homeschooling can be a fun, creative and rewarding educational experience for your child and you. Teaching your child allows you to experience the “light bulb” moments when concepts are understood. It really is amazing to watch how children grow mentally, physically and emotionally. With a bit of thought and planning, you can be a wonderful educator to your child.
Author: Kathi Bonham
Kathi Bonham is a member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s Advisory Council.