Getting Started Homeschooling
By Linda Patchin
We are so excited that you are considering the great adventure of homeschooling your children! This article has been written to help you get started.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
If your child has not previously been enrolled in public or private school, it is not necessary to contact the school or the State Department of Education to inform them of your decision to home educate. Simply obtain curriculum and get started.
If you will be removing your child from public school, then there are a few things that you should consider first. It is preferable to withdraw your child before school begins or at the end of the school year, or semester. Of course, if you are concerned about safety, or other immediate issues, then it is acceptable to remove at any time. It is wise to contact the school that your child attends and inform them with a dated, certified letter that you are withdrawing your child effective immediately, to teach him at home. You do not need to provide them with any further information. A sample withdrawal letter can be found here. http://www.iche-idaho.org/gettingstarted.html
Before Getting Started: Consider a few Things
Pray! Do a little homework. Exercise some critical introspection. Read a book on the basics. I recommend, Homeschooling: The Right Choice, by Chris Klicka. Consider the following:
- What is the personal cost of homeschooling and am I prepared to pay it? As with anything, there is a personal cost associated with the choice to homeschool. Homeschooling is most definitely not for the faint of heart!
- Ideally, both parents should be in agreement with the decision to homeschool.
- It is also helpful if the parents have established respect for parental authority.
- Successful homeschooling parents have sacrificial love for their children and are willing to give up a certain amount of personal freedom. They must be able to make a serious commitment to make the time to homeschool. This includes time for learning about homeschooling, organizing the school, and carrying out the instruction. This time requirement often presents challenges for families where the parents are working outside the home.
- In most cases, homeschooling families commit to resourcefully survive on only one income.
- Are you qualified to teach your children? Research shows that the educational background of the parents does not appreciably affect the student’s academic outcome. Instead, the commitment of the teacher to see that the child learns the required subject becomes the major determining factor for success. A committed teacher seeks to meet his or her student’s needs. No one can be more committed to a child than his or her own parents! Idaho law does not require parents to be certificated teachers or to use certificated teachers or state-approved curriculum.
- What will your schedule look like? In other words, how many hours in the day can you commit to homeschooling, and how many days in a week? Many operate their homeschool on a schedule that is similar to the public school; four or five days a week, four to five hours per day, roughly 180 days per year. Others educate their children year round.
- What about your other children? You can teach some subjects to several grade levels at the same time. Lessons can be presented in an amplified manner with explanations that enable all children to understand, and older children can dig deeper. Older students can do much of their work independently while younger ones receive necessary tutoring in basic skills. Keeping a basket of “quiet” toys handy for toddlers will help immensely.
Select a Teaching Method: To Thine own Self be True
Before purchasing curriculum, a teaching method should be selected. There is no single curriculum approach that works for everyone. Make your choice based on the following considerations:
- The ages of your children.
- Your familiarity with the subject being taught.
- The number of children that you will be teaching.
- The time you have available to prepare and teach material.
- Your child’s abilities or special needs, and motivation level.
Take an honest assessment of your organizational skills. Get help from your spouse or close friends if you need to. Are you organized or disorganized, spontaneous or structured? The answers to these questions should have a significant impact on the type of teaching method that you select. For example, a disorganized teacher needs a curriculum that will do the organizing for her. If the teacher were naturally highly structured, she would be very successful with a more eclectic teaching method. Home educators can choose or combine elements of the following approaches
Textbook curricula have graded textbooks in each subject and follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in daily increments for a 12-year, 180-days-a-year academic program. Teacher’s manuals, tests, and record-keeping materials are usually available. Workbooks allow more independent study and require minimal teacher preparation time and supervision. Most of the textbook and workbook programs used in private Christian schools are available to homeschoolers. Each publisher shares a distinct doctrinal perspective. This approach is the one that most of us are familiar with from our own days in public school. If your child is used to institutional school, then this is a good way to start. This method provides structure and reliability. Using the same publisher throughout the years will provide a good comprehensive education. Some examples of this type of approach are Bob Jones University Press, A Beka Books, Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff, Alpha and Omega, Christian Light Education.
In the Classical Approach, children are taught tools of learning, collectively known as the Trivium. The first stage, the Grammar Stage, covers ages 6-10 and focuses on reading, writing, spelling, and Latin and on developing observation, listening and memorization skills.
At ages 10-12, children’s independent or abstract thought signals the Dialectic Stage. Instead of suppressing the child’s tendency to argue, the teacher molds and shapes it by teaching logical discussion and debate, and how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts.
The final Rhetoric Stage, at about age 15, seeks to produce a student who can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively to express what he or she thinks. Hallmarks of the Classical Approach are the study of Latin from a young age and “conversation” with the great minds of the past through reading literature, essays, philosophy, theology, etc. Some examples of this type of approach are: Teaching the Trivium magazine by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer.
Living Books, Whole Books, and Charlotte Mason Approach
These approaches are different, but contain many of the same features. They include involving children in real-life situations, allowing them to read really good books, as opposed to portions of really good books, ample creative play time, and respecting children as persons. One begins by teaching basic reading, writing and math skills, then exposing children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects, taking nature walks, observing wildlife, visiting museums and reading real books for subjects such as geography, history and literature. Narration and dictation of passages from books and discussion with parents are hallmarks of these methods. Some examples of this type of approach are: Charlotte Mason Study Guide, and Charlotte Mason Companion. Also The Whole-Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson.
Unit Study Approach
A unit study involves taking a theme or topic and delving into it deeply over a period of time, integrating language arts, science, social studies, math and fine arts as they apply. All subjects are blended together and studied around a common theme or project. Some advantages in using this method are that all ages can learn together, each at his or her own level. Planning time is reduced because subjects are not taught separately. Curiosity and independent thinking are generated. There are no time restraints. Intense study of one topic at a time is a more natural way to learn and because knowledge is interrelated, it is learned more easily and remembered longer. Some examples of a unit study curriculum are: Five in a Row, Tapestry of Grace, and KONOS.
The Unschooling Approach is often defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who concluded that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. What children need is access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps and guidebooks to make it easier for them to get where they want to go. Basically, unschooling refers to any non-structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance and lets children learn by being included in the life of adults. Some suggested reading: Growing Without Schooling Magazine, Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax, The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood and The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.
Rolling Up Your Sleeves
Okay. You’ve selected a teaching method, and you’ve purchased your curriculum. Now it’s time to consider some other matters. The key to running a smooth homeschool is organization. It has been said that it’s the little things that become our undoing. The following organizational tips are not a list of things for you to feel like you must do, but a list of practical helps.
Create a space for school in your home.
Education is important enough to deserve space priority. In other words, some spot in the house should be designated as school. A dining room table or card table is a good substitute for desks. A table offers the convenience of allowing your house to resume the look of home once classes are over for the day.
For my family, it helped to have a room that was designated as our “classroom,” where we could shut the door on distractions. Since we entertain houseguests frequently, it helped to have a place that was set apart from our visitors. I purchased used desks from a thrift store.
Find a place to store your books.
Bookshelves are a great investment, but if they don’t fit into your budget, another solution might be plastic crates that are stackable. If you keep all of the classroom books in one location, you won’t have to waste precious time searching for them. We also keep other essential items in the same place, such as glue, tape, stapler, crayons, and markers.
Structure your time during the school day.
School routines and schedules vary greatly with individual homeschooling families. Start by establishing boundaries for your school day. Plan for classes to begin at a certain time each day, even though course order may be subject to change. Of course, there are times to be flexible, but by starting school on time, everyone knows what to expect and will learn discipline. Make sure that your children know what you expect of them.
Determine what the school year should look like in advance.
Some homeschoolers choose to have school five days a week, for thirty-six weeks, or for a total of 180 school days. Some choose a four-day week, for forty-five weeks. They may arrange their break periods differently from the standard “summers off” schedule. Some families choose to take-off for the entire month of December. Many choose to take their family vacations during the off-season, taking advantage of smaller crowds and greater hotel and attraction savings. Homeschooling offers tremendous flexibility, and your schedule has to work for your unique family.
One thing that I have found tremendously helpful is a teacher’s daily plan book. I buy a book for each of my children, for each year of school. This plan book becomes a part of their permanent records. During the summer break, I try to schedule their next year’s work. Sometimes, it’s just a broad outline that gets filled in as the days go by, but I have found that having this written down in advance keeps me on-target for completing all of our annual goals. They can be purchased from most curriculum suppliers, but I have found the ones from Bob Jones University Press to be of excellent quality.
You’ve prayed; you’ve consulted with your spouse; you’ve read some good books; you’ve purchased curriculum; you’ve gotten organized, and now it’s time to start. This may sound strange, but the best way to get started is to, “Just do it!” You will learn a lot about yourself and your children the first week. Don’t worry. It will get easier. I promise!
Don’t make any type of assessment until you’ve been homeschooling for at least 6 months. It’s common to have one bad day and think that you are a failure. It’s even common to have several bad days. Give it a little time. Pretty soon, you will begin to see some reward for all of your hard work. After six months, you will probably have established a reliable routine. By then, you’ll be able to more accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses.
Your children will only take homeschooling seriously if you do.
If you were a public school teacher your classroom instruction would not be interrupted by phone calls. Use your answering machine! Return calls during your lunch break, after school and in the evening. Your children are important enough to have uninterrupted school time. If you are easily distracted and can be easily persuaded to take the day off from school, you will get to the end of the school year with many of your educational goals unmet. Even good things, like fieldtrips and extracurricular activities, can become bad things if they are allowed to interrupt the educational process and plans too frequently. Your children will take their cues from you. While school can be fun, it is also an awesome responsibility to train young minds.
Extended family and friends will only take homeschooling seriously if you do.
As a general rule, you should not be available to baby-sit while a friend goes shopping. You’re doing serious work. Would your friend ask you to baby-sit if you were working outside the home? Help her to understand that you are doing serious work at home.
Well-meaning family members can also undermine your efforts. Tell them kindly, but firmly that you are not available during school hours. Strangely, they will respect you more for it. Do not expect them to appreciate what you are doing at first. It takes time for them to grow accustomed to the idea that you are not “playing school,” and that your children are really going to be able to learn at home.
Many grandparents draw pleasure from having “bragging rights” over their grandchildren’s school successes. They may feel cheated as a result of your decision to homeschool. Share your homeschool success stories with your critics. They may not ask you how things are going, but trust me, they are wondering. Share your success stories with others. Share your struggles with God.
Enlist their help in areas where they have expertise.
My Father-in-Law became my biggest supporter after I asked him to share his World War II experiences with my oldest son. Not only did my son learn valuable, first-hand information, but also he began building an even closer relationship with his Grandfather. My Father-in-Law felt invested in the success of our homeschool,
A Final Word to the Wise
Every moment of every day, you are a mother. That does not change just because you have also taken on the role of teacher. There is a wonderful sweetness about the words home and school when they’re used together. Your home should always be a place where your children feel loved, accepted and secure. Isn’t it wonderful that their school can take place in such a unique and nurturing environment? Homeschooling is a wonderful gift from God! It is a gift to your children, and it is a gift to you. Use it wisely!
Linda Patchin ©2004. All rights reserved.