It's 2020 and everything about this year has been unpredictable! Most parents have found themselves unexpectedly crisis-schooling their children from home, quickly adapting to a "new normal". Empty classrooms have left parents juggling jobs, budgets and patience.
Another unforeseen scenario has arisen along with the pandemic; the piqued interest in homeschooling by parents who are reluctant to send their children back to public schools. Maybe you've discovered a blessing in disguise by having your children home, and you would like to explore this as a permanent option?
If this is you, let me share what I have learned as a home-school Mom of 6 years.
So many questions come to mind when you begin to think about homeschooling. You may have young children and you just know that you will homeschool from the start. Others, like me, have children who had previously attended public school and you are making a big change. Either way, you are bound to be navigating through some rough waters and winding roads when you take on this challenge.
I often describe homeschooling as a “journey” because you are constantly moving, changing, and re-adjusting your travel plans. It is not a one time and done deal; it is a long, exciting, challenging adventure! While I am not an expert by any means, I have learned a few things that I wanted to share with new homeschool parents, in order to provide a tiny bit of a road-map to help you along the way.
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION
No matter how prepared you are, the beginning of the school year will sneak up on you. So the earlier you prepare, the less stressed out you will be when it comes time to start school. The first thing to do is decide where you are headed – what is your destination?
Sit down with your spouse and discuss why you want to homeschool and what you want your children to get out of it. What are your worldviews, morals, ideals, and educational standards that you hope to instill? By thinking about these questions, you will have a clearer understanding of your destination, and it will set the groundwork for choosing your path. It is also helpful to set realistic short-term and long-terms goals, and write them down. They don’t have to be fancy, just attainable. Your first year, the short-term goal may be just to get through the year with all of your hair intact, and THAT'S OK!
Now that you have a good idea of where you are going, you can plan your trip accordingly.
RESEARCH THE LAWS AND "LOCAL WEATHER"
You would not travel to a foreign country without researching the local laws, weather, cuisine, and customs. So it goes with homeschooling. Try to find a few families who homeschool in your area and pick their brains. You could think of them as the “locals” of where you are going. Ask lots of questions about their schedule, curriculum, style, organization, etc. You will gain so much insight by just asking. If you can, visit their homes and see how they do it. Everyone has different styles and methods. By the time you’ve talked to several families, you will have gained some very valuable information - maybe you'll get a feel for what would work and what won't work for your family.
Every state has different laws and requirements that govern homeschooling. Things like letters of intent, attendance, and testing requirements can vary greatly, so search your state for its specific laws and regulations. I found it helpful to bookmark web-sites and print hard-copies of laws to keep in a binder for quick reference.
Search for any support organizations in your area. There are many organizations, (local, state, and national) that want to help you succeed. Don’t forget to search social media as a great source for support groups!
Now would also be a good time to consider “traveler’s insurance”. I’m not necessarily advocating for these groups, but it is nice to know that there are options, and you can decide what best suits your family’s needs.
One option is an umbrella school. This is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements. Umbrella schools vary greatly in what they offer and cost. Some offer group classes, a defined curriculum, sports, field trips, standardized testing, and more; whereas some are very minimal and just provide support and a place to keep records. You probably want to look into the Home school Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA is a nonprofit advocacy organization established to “defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” Personally, I think this coverage is important for every homeschool family.
MAP YOUR ROUTE
Ok, you know where you are going and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you get there. Now you have to decide HOW you want to get there. For me, this was the most overwhelming part. My first year, I attended a conference and I was asked numerous times what style I plan to use. Um… what? There are styles? Charlotte Mason, Classical, Traditional? I had no idea what they were talking about. But that’s not all! Once you choose a style, now you have to decide on curriculum!
Literally, there are thousands of curriculum choices, and I spent hours wandering through a curriculum fair trying to decide on my children’s FUTURE! What if I pick the wrong one? What if I mess up my kids? My head was about to explode – I was so frustrated and overwhelmed! My perception was that everyone I talked to felt their curriculum was the “right” one. I wanted to cry and I wanted to quit.
But, when my head stopped spinning, I came to an amazing realization that there is no right or wrong way; there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. Every style and every curriculum has pros and cons for every family. Although it can feel daunting, the best advice I can give is to stay calm and return to your original questions of why and what. Find a style that speaks to you and start there. Find a curriculum that appeals to you, and JUST GO WITH IT! You can mix and match whenever you want.
When you are traveling, you are not locked into a certain route. You may hit road construction, bad weather and detours. When you are on the beautiful homeschool journey, you can turn around, back up, speed ahead, take a side-road, adjust your route. It doesn’t matter, just enjoy the ride!!
I found this to be a helpful article, with lots of guided print-outs: Choosing Curriculum
TIME TO PACK!
Get an idea of how much money you can spend on your journey and set a budget. Once you decide, go ahead and order a few things. If you are working with a tight budget, you can check out used curriculum sites, borrow from friends, or rent from the library. Head to your local second hand stores, dollar stores, and online sites. It is amazing what you can find for math manipulatives, art supplies, text books, reference materials, educational games and videos on the cheap.
Try it out for a month, 3 months, 6 months. If it is working for you and your family, GREAT, then go ahead with it. If it isn’t working, then adjust your route. I think the BIGGEST MISTAKE you could make is to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on an entire curriculum for an entire year, and end up hating it. Who wants to be STUCK in road construction and miserable for the whole year, when you could have easily taken a detour?
GET IN THE CAR AND GO!
The only thing left to do is fire up your engine and GO! Start on this incredible journey. Make sure you don’t get so wrapped up in the destination and distracted by the road-bumps that you forget to enjoy the ride. Be flexible, adjust, grow. Enjoy the time you have with your family, and it is helpful to have a big backyard for the times you are not enjoying it so much!! There is no right or wrong way to take this trip. But one thing is certain; your life will be blessed in ways you never expected.