How to Homeschool Your Child
By Susan Mallette
Congratulations if you are thinking about homeschooling or have already made the decision and are just getting started. You are beginning a beautiful journey with your children, one that will create memory after memory of first-time experiences and snapshot moments … an experience I believe will create well adjusted people with a passion for learning and thinking and a strong sense of family and spiritual beliefs.
First things first
The best place to begin looking for information on home schooling is the Home School Legal Defense Association. They are a 20-year-old nonprofit organization that organizes state laws and information on home learning.
It’s important to find out what your state laws on home schooling are. You may need to file an affidavit of home schooling with your State’s education department, or you may need to keep a portfolio of learning for your child.
Build a support network
The next step is to find a home school support group in your area. The HSDLA site has a list of homeschooling support groups for each state. I urge you to check out your local homeschool group. If you join a homeschool group, you’ll be insulated from pressure and questions from non-homeschoolers whose children are sure to go to preschool and public school at some point. And if your children hit it off with other homeschoolers, they won’t be losing friendships to other lifestyles when the friends they make go off to preschool and kindergarten.
Most groups organize fun events for all ages: tours of ice cream shops, fire stations and trips to the zoo and museums. So even though your children might not be old enough for a homeschool science fair, they can certainly enjoy a field trip.
School-age homeschoolers enjoy homeschool groups not only for organized field trips but as a chance to form lasting friendships and meet regularly to socialize. Many homeschool groups also organize “schoolish” events: science fairs, multicultural expos, end-of-the-year picnics, homeschool pictures, teen nights, book and chess clubs and more.
Select a curriculum
The next step in beginning to homeschool is to decide what to use to teach. Rainbow Resource has a phone book-sized, free catalog that lists curriculum, learning games, art supplies and more for homeschooling. It will give you a wonderful start in determining what the options are.
Many homeschoolers follow a particular homeschooling method. A method is not a curriculum but an approach to homeschooling. Some of the most popular methods are unschooling, classical, Charlotte Mason, unit study and Montessori. To read more about methods, visit this site from about.com that defines homeschooling methods and offers resources to help you learn more about each.
You may feel compelled to over-research how to teach or create a school at home. The internet has more homeschooling resources than you can imagine. I urge you to spend time thinking about and finding some good books or curriculum, but don’t let the search become more important than the task.
Read about other homeschoolers
If you would like to read to your kids about other homeschoolers, here are some books with homeschoolers in them.
• Kandoo the Kangaroo Hops Into Homeschool by Susan Ratner -- A picture book about a kangaroo who starts home school; adorable and informative.
• I Am a Homeschooler by Julie Voetberg -- Another picture book by a homeschool mom about the day in the life of a 9-year-old homeschooled girl; beautiful hand-tinted photographs of a real family homeschooling.
• The Belgium Book Mystery by Stacy Towle Morgan -- Part of a series of books by this author about two girls who are homeschooled and travel with their family around the world solving mysteries.
The early years
It’s exciting to start schooling little ones -- but before you buy a single book for teaching or curriculum, please read three little inexpensive books called The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick. Individually, they are sold as A Home Start in Reading, An Easy Start in Mathematics and A Strong Start in Language. After reading these three little books, I think you’ll discover you really don’t need a whole lot to teach your children in the preschool and kindergarten years.
No matter how hard you think it is to go to the library with a group of young ones in tow, it is much cheaper to borrow books than to buy them. I know it’s handy to have all the books you need to teach on hand, but why buy a book you’ll probably only read to the kids a few times? Many libraries keep their catalogs online, and you can reserve the books you want and just go by to pick them up.
If you feel like you must do something schoolish with your under-6-year-old, read, take regular walks, do crafts and play games. Check out the following at home preschool programs for a gentle start into homeschooling.
• Before Five In A Row A book of activities to do with your 3- and 4-year-old. The book suggests reading classic children’s stories to your child, easily found at the library, and then extending the ideas and pictures presented in the book by doing activities. The activities are easily done at home in a few minutes, such as picking out clothes to wear for each season, planting a carrot seed or using objects found in nature to make a collage.
• Sonlight Pre-K A selection of classic children’s books, mostly anthologies or large collections of stories. A great way to save money and get lots of good stories sure to become favorites. Does not include a teacher’s manual or instructions on how to use the books. Topics from all subject areas -- not just good stories but great science, history and art readings as well.
• Picture Book Activities by Trish Kuffner. Fun games and activities, including art projects for preschoolers, based on 50 favorite children’s books. One or two activities per week would make a great preschool program. Sections include As you Read, Let’s Talk About It, Arts and Crafts, Cooking and Baking, Fun and Games, Let’s Pretend, Music and Movement, Play and Learn and Enrichment Activities.
• The Absolute Best Play Days: From Airplanes to Zoos and Everything in Between by Pamela Waterman. If you are trying to teach children of different ages under 6, this is a great book. Fifty-two themes, with activities explained including arts and crafts, indoor activities, outdoor activities, music, book lists, videotape lists, snacks and more. A good book for trying to do some purposeful play with children of different ages.
Year by year
One thing many parents ask is what their children should be learning each year. World Book has compiled a typical course of study list for children from preschool through the 12th grade. Download the lists for free.
Skills lists, in my opinion, are fun but should be used as a guide, not a pattern. If you want to go through and check off what your kids know, great. If you want to plan activities to help them know what is on the skills list for their age, fine. But planning activities to hit all the skills on a list will probably take the fun out of home learning. It’s like teaching to a test. I have to ask myself, who created the list and why? And who says my child needs to know that at this time? Be careful with comparisons, which can lead to a lot of ugly feelings.
On the other hand, purposefully ignoring skills your child is ready to learn -- especially basics like reading or math -- is harmful. I’m not suggesting you should force your child to learn basic skills, but I am saying that there is a window of opportunity. We would all be wise to try and determine when the window is open and then leap through it.
General homeschooling resources
If you are looking for information about homeschooling in general and would like to read about what it is, how other families are doing it and different methods, try some of these books, listed here in no particular order.
• Getting Started on Home Learning: How and Why to Teach Your Kids at Home by Rebecca Rupp. Two hundred pages of advice and information on homeschooling, where to find resources, how to put together a curriculum and how to navigate tricky homeschool laws.
• Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum for Preschool Through High School by Rebecca Rupp. A comprehensive guide to what to teach, when and where to find resources.
• For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. A book about what education can be like in your home and your school. If you are interested in making education an adventure, a way of life and a solid preparation for life, this is a must-read.
• HomeSchooling: A Patchwork of Days: Share a Day with 30 Homeschooling Families by Nancy Lande. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to homeschool and would like to peek inside the lives of families doing it, this is a great read.
• 50 Veteran Homeschoolers Share: Things We Wish We’d Known compiled and edited by Bill and Diane Waring. Experienced homeschoolers, many of them well known for their curricula or contributions to homeschooling, share tips and insights.
• A Mom Just Like You by Vickie and Jayme Farris. Practical suggestions for making homeschooling work when you feel overwhelmed.
• Devotions for Homeschool Moms by Jackie Wellwood. 101 devotions that leave you nodding your head, crying and laughing.
• Homeschooling With a Meek and Quiet Spirit by Teri Maxwell. If you ever felt like you would be a great homeschool mom if only you had more patience, this is the book for you.
© Susan Mallette
Susan Regan Mallette, a former English teacher, spends her time homeschooling, writing curriculum and homemaking.