So you’re fed up with the political system and the educational system and you’re considering homeschooling your kid. What now? Where do you go from here? What kind of options do you have, and what are you required to do? Here’s a brief, simple look at how to start homeschooling from scratch.
1. Get Legal
The first thing you need to do is look at what’s legal in your state. Homeschooling requirements vary from almost nil to rather complex, and you need to know where your state falls on the spectrum of requirements. This site has a brief breakdown of state requirements to get you started. It’s best to check with your state’s own website too, of course.
In general, most states have some sort of notification process, and some sort of tracking and reporting progress. For example, my state of Virginia requires an NOI (notice of intent) at the start of the school year. Then, around the time you file your NOI for the next year, they require proof of progress: an evaluation by a qualified evaluator or a standardized test like CAT. Most people do their evaluations or tests in the spring in order to get the results by the deadline.
It’s always a good idea to keep a portfolio of your child’s work including pictures of projects, field trip lists, book lists, writing samples, and so on. This is especially important for high school, as a lot of colleges want to see a portfolio in addition to test scores.
Did you know that you can pull your child out of school mid-term in most states? The requirements might be a bit different for that, so make sure you do your research to avoid truancy issues.
2. Get Involved
Unlike first generation homeschoolers, we have so many awesome support network options. Some of the best ones I’ve found are online but you should research groups local to your area too. Your kids will need a social group, and you might need access to co-ops, field trip groups, and class options.
If you’re planning to homeschool secularly, one of my best resources is the SEA (Secular, Eclectic, and Academic) group: their website and Facebook groups are full of awesome, helpful people. If I get stuck looking for the right resource, I can count on my Facebook groups to suggest ideas and options that will help. SEA also has spinoff groups for Preschool, Special Needs, Gifted, Homeschooling High school, and LGBTQ. There are plenty of other Facebook groups for religious homeschoolers or just homeschoolers, but SEA is the most helpful that I’ve found so far.
As you start to join different groups, you’ll find a wealth of resources available. Homeschool parents know all the good deals, the best classes, the dual-enrollment options, and the social gatherings. Best of all, there’s a strong sense of community in most homeschooling groups. We stick together!
3. Get Deschooled
No, not unschooling, although that’s an option you might want to look in to as well. Deschooling means that you take things easy. Slow. No rushing out to buy expensive curriculums and going crazy with homeschool schedules.
Both you and your kids need time to relearn learning. Homeschooling isn’t school at home. It’s learning at home (and around town,) but sometimes that doesn’t involve textbooks or worksheets at all. Sometimes it’s getting messy doing science experiments, going on field trips to museums, the library, the post office, or on nature walks. Sometimes it’s building world landmarks in Minecraft or playing periodic table battleship. It’s fun.
Deschooling means that you rekindle your love of learning. It’s about following your interests and going down rabbit trails, until you have no idea where you ended up but it’s pretty darn cool just the same.
Deschooling your child also allows you, the teacher, to figure out how your child learns best. If they’re super active, then sitting at the table for hours isn’t going to work. If they’re visual learners, then they might need more videos and demonstrations to get the concepts. Homeschooling lets you tailor your child’s education to exactly what they need. Be flexible!
4. Get Confident
You’ve got this. After all, you’ve been teaching your child since the day they were born. You taught them how to use a spoon, and how to potty train. You taught them manners and social norms, and you enforced and disciplined until they got the picture. You don’t need to know classroom techniques; you simply need to know your kid to teach them effectively.
Homeschooling is an evolving process, so don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment. If something is a battle then it’s not a good fit. Trying a different learning style, a different textbook, or a different teacher (outsource.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions on groups or to veteran homeschoolers: most of us really want to help, and want you to succeed. Why? Because we care deeply about kids getting a great education.
A great way to build confidence is to attend a homeschooling conference near you. They offer workshops for new homeschoolers, used curriculum sales, and a support network. They’re super helpful when you’re first starting out. Be aware that many conferences will have a Christian/faith-based tilt and plan accordingly.
5. Get Resources
Homeschooling isn’t cheap, although it can be done fairly cheaply. You need textbooks and materials, so plan how to get what you need if resources are an issue. Your local library might just surprise you.
My best advice to new homeschoolers is to not run out and buy an all-in-one curriculum. These aren’t a good fit for most kids. Instead, pick a few great textbooks or specific subject curriculums and supplement with extras.
If you feel completely lost and confused, then consider an online-based curriculum until you are more comfortable with doing this. Try something free like MobyMax or EasyPeasy for a while. And utilize the free resources that abound on the internet: free printables from TeachersPayTeachers or various blogs are a great way to find fun teaching ideas.
Whatever you do, don’t go out and spend a ton of money when you’re first starting. What you will need (or want, half of my battle) changes as you learn more and become more comfortable with your resources and abilities. Take that money and spend it on bookshelves, educational toys, and a membership to a science museum (or a robot class.)
Don’t forget the wealth of online resources that are available to homeschoolers. Museums, government websites, random YouTube videos by teachers – your options are as wide as your reach. It takes time to research stuff like this, so spend a little time following great Facebook pages like Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, the SEA Page, or even my page for random, weird, and interesting tidbits to spark your kids’ interest. Better yet, plop a filter on the computer and let them go search. Computer 101, right?
Homeschooling is for anyone who wants to make the commitment, but it’s not right for everyone. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and make an informed decision – but know that it’s not as hard as you think. You can do this. You’re a parent, right? You’ve got this!