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January 2017

Homeschooling—Where Do You Start?

by Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant

Vicki Bentley
Vicki Bentley

Christmas break is over, and some of you have just entered the wonderful world of homeschooling. Or maybe you plan to start homeschooling this fall and want to prepare. (Good for you, getting a head start on gathering information!) Or maybe you have homeschooled for years, but you would appreciate a few reminders.

Whether you’re a new homeschooling parent or a seasoned veteran, this article will help you plan and prepare your homeschool year.

First Things First

The first step (after joining HSLDA, of course!) is to bookmark the Getting Started section of HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens website. It’s also good to get familiar with your state’s homeschool laws, paying special attention to any deadlines or paperwork requirements.

If you can attend a local support group meeting, great. You might also want to check out your state organization’s website. If you can attend a state convention, even better! For encouragement and practical advice, browse our online seminars.

What Does Homeschooling Look Like?

Some good questions to ask yourself are: How can homeschooling fit in with my family’s unique dynamics? How much structure does my family want or need? What time will I start each day? How will I get dinner on the table the same day I homeschool? What about keeping up with the house? How do I lesson plan?

For answers to all these questions and more, a great place to start is our Exploring Homeschooling online video series. Then check out the “A Day in Our Homeschool” section of our Resources page, where you’ll find accounts of a typical (or maybe not-so-typical!) day in the lives of various homeschool families.

With younger learners, the basic goal is to give them lots of physical activity and creative play, discovery learning, and experiences—think of these as “hooks” on which to hang their future learning. Remember, what looks like play to us is work to them! As they get older, our academic expectations increase with their maturity levels.

Kids are more secure with a routine—a pattern to the day—so visit our Organization page for lesson planning tips to help you have reasonable expectations, as well as hints for a workable routine.

If you’re bringing a child home from a conventional school setting, you may need to get reacquainted with him. You’ll be tempted to jump right into academics, but take time to recognize his passions, gifts, interests, strengths, and needs. This won’t happen all at once, of course. It’s a process that will continue as you proceed with homeschooling.

When we start out, we only know to do what we did, so we tend to re-create school at home. But home education is more than just school at home—it’s a lifestyle choice, a relationship of mentoring and discipling our children—a lifestyle of learning. Catch the vision and enjoy your children!

What about Curriculum?

Regardless of your kids’ ages or your homeschooling “style,” start with a plan—set your goals, then choose resources to help meet them. And remember that curriculum is more than just books—it includes activities, interests, and everyday skills.

Not sure what your child should be learning? Start with our article, “What Should I Be Teaching?” After that, evaluate how your child learns best and how your family functions.

Does your child like to read (or have you read to him)? Maybe a literature-based unit study would be best.

Is he an active child? Having him sit at a workbook for hours at a time may be setting you both up for failure. You might prefer something with a hands-on focus.

Is he an auditory learner? Include a read-aloud component, or audio/video.

Do you prefer a packaged curriculum, or do you want to pick and choose books and games yourself? Are you teaching several kids at once and need to combine some subjects? Do you want all textbooks, or do you like the idea of some unit studies, too? Or maybe the gentler Charlotte Mason approach? Video or paper?

Learn more about the myriad options available to homeschooling families on the Curriculum section of our website or in our video seminar on choosing curriculum.

And of course, you’ll want to consider your budget. What does it cost to homeschool? If you are going with used curriculum, here are a few guidelines to help you purchase wisely.

Regardless of what you choose, remember that your curriculum is simply a tool—use it, adapt it, modify as needed. The bottom line is that there is no single “perfect” curriculum, no one “right” way to homeschool. That’s the beauty of home education—you can tailor the plan to your child’s needs!

What about Socialization?

Most homeschooled kids have lots of social opportunities. When asked about socialization, one middle schooler at our weekly gym day at the YMCA answered with, “Ma’am, if I were any more socialized, I’d need a secretary.”

The book of Proverbs tells us that he who walks with the wise becomes wise. And there are a lots of ways through daily life in general for our kids to learn to be wise and to practice interacting with others.

When planning socialization opportunities for your children, it’s a good idea to focus not so much on age as on common interests—such as sports, ballet, choir or orchestra, quiz team, Sunday school, scouting, various clubs, the Y, gymnastics, 4-H, or co-op classes (preferably not all at once!). Your local homeschool group might offer book clubs, field trips, game nights, or other activities—but if not, you can create your own opportunities.

Not everything has to be “educational.” Invite another family for dessert or for a park date. Bring bananas to residents at a nursing home or take visiting missionaries out to lunch.

You can also simply piggyback on other activities. When the local choir puts on a community sing of Handel’s Messiah, invite a few families to go, and then meet up for hot chocolate and fellowship.

Get involved in local service opportunities, either as a family or with others in your group. Your kids will socialize, build skills, and learn compassion all at the same time.

But What If You Need Help?

Of course, there’s a lot of great information online, but I always encourage families to connect with a local homeschool group. Many offer monthly meetings on homeschool topics, field trips and clubs and classes, moms’ night out, and just general encouragement.

Your state organization has your back on a state level, including legislation and some bigger opportunities. They usually have a website and sometimes a statewide convention.

At HSLDA, we know how overwhelming this can be. Our HSLDA website is packed with articles, videos, blogs, suggested resources, and seminars, all available to our web readers.

And if you’re an HSLDA member, you can pick up the phone and talk to a real, live person who’s been there and done that. Our education consultants and legal staff will personally answer your specific questions, helping with everything from the laws and testing to curriculum choices, learning styles, and teaching tips for preschool all the way through high school—plus help for special needs and struggling learners.

We look forward to serving you along your journey!

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