Well, now that you’ve “officially” decided to homeschool, where do you go from here? That depends, in large part, on your situation. If you have a pre-k aged child, then your next step will be different from someone who will be withdrawing their child from a school. Either way, we suggest spending some time in “information gathering” mode. Join a homeschooling group, find a message board where you can ask questions, read homeschooling blogs and find out what work for other families. Use that time and information to imagine and plan how homeschooling will work for your family.
Starting homeschool in pre-K or Kindergarten
Starting homeschool with a child who has been in school already
If you have a child in school right now, and can finish out the month/grading period/semester/year, that gives you a little more time to gather and plan. If you need to pull your child immediately, then you can utilize de-schooling to plan while you and your child adjust to homeschooling.
One of the biggest challenges can be deciding on a curriculum to use. One option might be to get your current ISD’s school books from the local library and continue with what your child is already doing until you gain more confidence to branch out or find something that works better. Some parents find that in their information gathering, they come across different educational philosophies that change their perception of how children should be educated. If you find a philosophy that speaks to you, you may choose to abandon everything your child has previously learned about education and go off on a new path.
Another option might be to start looking at boxed curriculum, though like many other beginning homeschooling sites, our recommendation is not to purchase a bunch of materials for the first year or so. The truth is that you learn so much in the first year of homeschooling, and your child changes so much that you may end up abandoning that expensive boxed curriculum for something completely different that works much better for you child.
If you’re using a boxed curriculum, then your courses are pretty much set; there’s not a whole lot that you have to do in addition to that. Your child is going to get the basics that way. However, we’re fairly sure that you’ll want to enrich the basics with additional materials and subjects that don’t usually get covered, like art or music or a foreign language. This is where some parents thrive and others start panicking.
If you’re a super organized sort, then planning additional subjects and activities is fun and a challenge for your oh-so-creative mind. If you’re not, then the task of thinking up what to do and how to go about doing it, or choosing from the myriad options is a daunting task – one that you tend to put off and put off because it is so overwhelming. If you’re in the latter category, here are some tips that can help break the task into manageable sized bites:
Step 1: think about what you want to accomplish in your homeschool. Better grades? A closer family? A happier, well-rounded child? Think about what will be needed to accomplish those goals. Will you need to focus on a particular subject? Go back and re-form the foundation in a subject? Will you need to focus on adding classes or extra-curricular activities to your child’s educational plan? More family-oriented events?
Step 2: decide what subjects you’d like to cover. That will include the basics like reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, and probably some history and science. Art is a great homeschool subject, and “home economics or life skills” is an easy way to rack up school time doing chores and keeping your home tidy at the same time.
Step 3: decide what days/how many hours per day you want to devote to school, or think you’ll need. In other words, make a schedule. Some families choose to follow a similar schedule as the local ISD, 5 days per week from 8ish to 3ish. Most families find that they don’t need that much time per day to get school work done. Some families do a year-round schedule with regular breaks instead of a long summer break. Some families only do school 2 or 3 or 4 days per week. If your partner works an odd schedule, then homeschooling allows you to plan your school schedule to work with that. If your family travels a lot then you can plan your breaks around that schedule, or just school on the go. One benefit to homeschooling is that it truly can fit into your life. You don’t have to schedule around someone else’s arbitrary schedule.
Texas requires 180 days of compulsory attendance and though homeschoolers are exempt from that requirement, that’s a good basis for planning how many days per year you want to “do school”.
Step 4: decide your term schedule or grading periods. This is for convenience sake; you may choose to omit this step depending on what works best for your family. Some parents find it easier and less stressful to plan in week long, or couple/few week blocks than it is to plan for a whole semester or year at once.
Step 5: make a daily lesson plan. We suggest using a lesson planner (like school teachers use) to plan your days. You may choose to have some lessons daily and cover others only weekly. You may want to sync your science lessons with the seasons, or your history lessons with what your literature lessons are covering or what the local museum has on display. You’ll want to factor in library trips and social engagements as well.
Step 6: start with one subject and decide what you want to cover. This is where you’ll decide what book or curriculum to use for that subject. In your information gathering, you’ll likely have found something that appeals to you; this is the step where you break it down into daily or weekly lessons. For many subjects (math, spelling, phonics) you can pretty much start with lesson 1 in a book and do one per day/week. They’re designed to start with one lesson and build on that foundation with each subsequent lesson. For others (like history, literature and art) you’re kinda on your own. Some methods, like The Well Trained Mind, advocate doing history in 4 year blocks and starting chronologically. Other methods, like Charlotte Mason (or here for a more secular based CM style), advocate synchronizing literature readings, composer and artist study and history/geography so that the child gets a “whole culture” idea of a time period.
Planning with one subject at a time is less daunting than thinking of the whole schedule and year at once. If you wrote down goals for your homeschooling plan in the beginning, then you can evaluate how well you’re incorporating those goals into your plans.
Step 7: make a daily schedule. This may be different for each day, depending on your routine and it doesn’t have to be set into stone, but having some sort of schedule will help ensure that your goals are met. You might like just a basic list of what needs to be covered each day, or you may prefer a fully detained schedule complete with footnotes. You may choose to schedule your day so that your child’s weakest subjects are covered first thing in the morning, or you may schedule your days to take advantage of the weather outside, saving lessons for when it’s too hot or too cold to be outside. You may start your day with a spiritual or philosophical thought or discussion, or you may start with a song – it’s entirely up to you.
Step 8: gather your materials and set up your space. You’re almost there! Now that you know what to do, get ready to do it. Gather your books and paper and pencils, art supplies, library card – whatever you need and set up your school area. This may be as simple as a few baskets on the kitchen table or it may be a room full of homeschool splendor – whatever gets you and your kids motivated and in the mood to learn. There is something to be said for taking time to make your school space an appealing place to be in. Natural light is always a plus, and access to a computer is also helpful. Your square footage will dictate your options to some extent, as will your preferences about having school things visible when school is not in session. The main thing is to have everything you’ll need in a convenient and central location so that you’re not searching for supplies when it comes time to start.
Step 9: decide on a first day of school and DO IT! You’re all planned out – you have everything ready, you know what you’re going to do and when. Now, just do it! Mark your successes – the end of the first day, end of the first week, first grading period – celebrate with your kids! If you have a lot of homeschool-related clutter in your head, start a blog! Homeschool parents love reading about other parent’s journey down the homeschooling path. Sharing yours is a great way to get the thoughts out of your head and to encourage other parents at the same time.
Donna Young – Beginners – a start to lesson planning and more