Updated: Oct 11, 2021
So, you've decided to homeschool. You've figured out your state laws and requirements and have unenrolled your children from their previous school. Perhaps you've even purchased a few school supplies and researched some class or curriculum options, but there are so many ways to do this, so many things to choose from, and the thought of being solely responsible for your child's education is overwhelming! You didn't think you'd ever be doing this, yet, here you are. How in the world do you start? How do you know what's best? How do you make sure not to mess up your child, miss something, or limit their future endeavors?
First, take a deep breath. There are no educational emergencies. You have time to figure this out, your kids aren't going anywhere and they don't need to have the knowledge to head off to college tomorrow. In fact, I recommend that you don't attempt to have everything in place on day one, as that's an almost impossible goal. Give the kids a mini-vacation, and take some time to figure this out.
First, think about your family, your child, and your schedule to determine your initial approach. There are many ways to homeschool. You could recreate school at home (although I don't recommend this as you'd be missing a huge opportunity to create a unique learning environment tailored precisely to your kiddo), or maybe you'd prefer a relaxed approach that's a little bit schooly, or perhaps you're ready to delve into child-led, self-directed learning via an educational way of living life called unschooling.
No matter which way you go, a bit of deschooling is in order. Deschooling is a period of adjustment after leaving a school environment during which you and your children disengage from a school-centric mindset. It's a time to reevaluate what learning is and what it looks like in order to break away from school culture and expectations. It's a time with no coerced learning that will give everyone a chance to heal from any negative connotations associated with school or learning. This might look a bit like whatever you and your kids normally do in the summer months. While you give your kids a break from formal learning (they're still learning, just not with a class or curriculum!), you will be doing your own internet research and reading to learn how to get started!
A lot has been written about learning styles and methods of homeschooling. I take the approach that whatever works for you and your child is what you should do, labeling aside. Methods include recreating school at home/traditional, unschooling, classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Montessori, to name a few. Eclectic, a highly personalized and curated educational style, means you pull from whichever method works on a given day, week, month, or year and is my favorite style. It means that you may end up using one method today, and a different one tomorrow, or next month, and it's all dependent upon what's best for your child and your family at any given moment. Sounds good, right? Homeschooling allows for exploration and experimentation in this way.
To learn more about unschooling, check out these websites to prime your palate on the subject: untigering.com, blakeboles.com, or raisingfreepeople.com Even if you decide unschooling is not for you, I recommend continuing to learn from self-directed learning experts like these throughout your homeschool journey, as this will help you to be more relaxed and pull you away from school centric thinking, which, in my opinion, is always a good thing.
If you find that you are a bit school-centric and want to start out with curriculum and classes, albeit ones that have been curated especially for homeschoolers to be especially engaging, as you find your footing or until you become more confident and willing to try new things, I have a four-step process for picking out what you will actually do with your kids every day.
First, think about your child. Do they tend to prefer or despise worksheets, love or shy away from in-person learning, enjoy or abhor online class interaction, do better or zone out with recorded classes, or prefer or shun software programs and apps? Do they do better when one parent or the other, or an unrelated teacher is working with them? Do they prefer self-study, or classes with lots of students, or a tutor situation? How do they learn best for any given subject? Do they do better with a schedule or lots of flexibility? If you don't know, you'll use trial and error to find out.
Second, think about your family rhythm. Think about your days, your schedules, and your flow, including the responsibilities, jobs, and schedules of the adults, along with considering if your kids tend to do better with a planned schedule, flexibility, or if you'd like to adopt an unschooling, child-led lifestyle, where real-life learning is the priority? Considering these thing will help you to intuit if you're more likely to recreate school at home or lean more into self-directed, real-life learning. As you begin, be open to changing your schedule and how you accomplish everything in a day to tailor the learning environment and bend it to your child's needs, rather than your child bending to it.
Thirdly, you’ll begin to decide upon what you’re going to “do” all day. Real life/self directed learning will look just like real life. You and your children will go about your lives and your children will communicate to you what they want to learn and what they are interested in. Just like they did when they were one, two, three, four, and beyond when they naturally wanted to learn, you couldn't help but assist to get them what they needed to grow and learn. You helped them walk, talk, tie their shoes, clean up, learn their numbers, letters, colors, and more. Continue this approach to unschool by focusing on whatever is important to your family like gardening, cooking, chores, games, projects, building, or perhaps running a business, and exploring your world, and your children will learn a skill when they need it. In unschooling, when your child needs reading to understand the captions in a video game, that's when they'll learn because they are internally motivated versus coerced or forced to learn.
Alternatively, if you choose a bit of a schooly approach, as I did, you'll take into account that there are four main categories you'll need resources for to cover what's generally accepted as the main subjects for schooled children: History/Social Studies, Math, Science, and Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Grammar, Spelling). Then you will research your options, connect with veteran homeschoolers like myself, attend my regularly scheduled, free Homeschool 101 session, and decide, based on what you figured out for #1 when you thought about your child, which of these resources makes sense. For my grade school aged kids that was an in-person science class, a workbook for math, an online live class for literature, a workbook for grammar, and for history we visited museums, watched Crash Course and Liberty's Kids on YouTube, and various history documentaries. Cover these four basic subject areas to start, and later add other impromptu learning opportunities like cooking, games, gardening, arts and crafts, exercise, park days and social opportunities, etc.
Step four is to simply begin to implement what you've picked as you decide upon them. Adding various resources, classes, or curriculum over a period of a few weeks allows everyone to see how they are working and lets you ease into homeschooling while you tweak and adjust your schedule and activities until you find the optimal daily routine for your family. When folks begin homeschooling, a typical curiosity has to do with what everyone's schedule looks like. But there is no "one" typical schedule or even day for a homeschooler, so this question is quite difficult to answer. Some families might sleep in until noon, stay up until midnight and have a very flexible schedule filled with real-life learning on their farm. Others might be up at 7 am, be sitting at the kitchen table or in front of a computer for classes until noon, and then head out for a class or park day after lunch. Many have an asynchronous schedule, with something different happening every day.
See my other blog post regarding resisting the need to have everything figured out and set on day one here, and resist the urge to rush to fill your schedule with every homeschool offering under the sun when you begin.
Take a moment to choose, but if you've been paralyzed with too much choice, just pick "something" for these various subject areas and begin. You will swiftly understand if you like it, if your kids like it, and if it's a good fit or not. This is why I caution new parents against spending a lot of money or committing to anything they aren't fairly sure of, as sunk cost fallacy is a real thing, and you don't want to feel roped into anything when one of the main benefits of homeschooling is that it gives you the freedom to change on a dime and choose again when something isn't working out. Don't be afraid to drop a resource like a hot potato if it's not a great fit. Drop it, move on, and choose again. Or drop it for now and come back several weeks or months later.
Starting out can feel overwhelming, especially when you don't know which programs, curriculum, or resources are the best or the best for your child. Following the steps above should help you approach the process, and I can assure you that after a few months of trial and error, most homeschoolers do find their mojo and are able to enjoy the process and see that their children are learning and thriving in a tailored educational environment. And if they're not, change things up! Start again. Remember, there are no educational emergencies. You have time. You have YEARS. You've got this.