where you’d want to start before moving onto anything else is checking what your state or country requirements are for homeschooling. some are quite stringent, others surprisingly relaxed. for example, in the state of missouri, you don’t have to notify anyone if you intend to homeschool unless they were in public or private school to begin with and you’re taking them out. official homeschooling with record keeping doesn’t need to begin until age 7. at or after age 7, you must provide your child with at least 1,000 hours of instruction every term (however you want to split that up). 600 of those 1,000 hours must be in the core subjects, such as reading and math and social studies and science. you should maintain (but do not need to submit) a daily log that showcases the hours spent in any given subject, samples of the child’s work, and academic evaluations like tests, etc.
next, i’d suggest taking a homeschool philosophy questionnaire. i can’t recall if this is the same one i took years ago when we were starting out, but it should do the trick. you can find it here. it should tell you which philosophies you side more with, and which you probably ought to stay clear of. if i remember correctly, i had a tying high score (agreement) between charlotte mason and classical education, and a single negative low score (disagreement) with traditional education. this will give you a good point of reference when moving ahead with the next steps. it’s hard to know what to do, what not to do, what to buy, what not to buy, when you don’t know what form (or forms) of homeschooling you align with.
joining groups is a life-saver. i started lurking in them a good few years before we made any real decisions for our homeschooling. if you’re on facebook, these are the two groups i’d recommend above any other for joining, soaking up information, asking questions, sharing experiences and joys and grievances, etc. you can find them here and here. the secular group has plenty of folks in it who are religious, they just don’t incorporate their faith into their schooling. but if you wanted to be part of a nonsecular group, i’m sure they’re out there! just try searching on facebook for “christian / muslim / hindu / buddhist / jewish / etc homeschoolers” and something is bound to pop up! another good idea is to look locally for groups. this will help when covid-19 is a thing of the past for meeting up, making friends, going on group field trips, playdates at the park, you name it.
as far as curriculum goes, although it is admittedly quite tempting to have it all wrapped up in one neat little package, i recommend attempting to resist that urge and instead purchase piecemeal. not every company that’s publishing academic material excels in each subject. they all have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s nice being able to choose what does work from some and avoid what doesn’t work from others. this may be a bit of a guessing game to begin with, but spending some time lurking in the groups i mentioned earlier should make the options a bit easier to sift through.
that said, where i started was searching places like timberdoodle and oak meadow for ideas as to what to teach in which grade level. this might seem a bit overwhelming at first because there are so many items to sift through, but i found it helpful to have a jumping off point instead of taking a stab at it in the dark. you can find it here (this is for kindergarten, but you can find the grade level you need). with this, you are able to figure out what you are and are not interested in, and buy what you do like elsewhere piece by piece instead of receiving a pile of items you don’t need. i also found that giving this (or any) semester / year plan an overview pointed me in the right direction. you can find it here. i personally don’t think kids who are just starting out need that much structure, but i know for some parents it is a saving grace to have everything mapped out, even if you aren’t able to get to it all.
on that note, i want to take a minute and confirm what i’m sure you’ve already been thinking: how does anyone get it all done? they don’t! it is not humanly possible to juggle everything there is to juggle without letting some aspects of your life fall. some days schoolwork will be your number one priority, and that’s all that gets done. some days it will be housekeeping, catching up on tasks you’ve put on the back-burner. some days, perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to focus on refilling your own cup so you can do better at being fully present the next time around. there will never be enough time or energy in the day or in yourself or in your children to do everything. it is vital you let go of really any expectations, which is of course easier said than done, and just do what you can when you can, and letting that be enough.
next up: workbooks. some kids love them, some kids would rather pull their hair out than spend a minute on them. we’re big workbook fans here, but that might not work for you and that’s ok. there are many different ways to learn! but if they do work, evan moor is almost always our go-to. they are tried and true. you can’t find much better. over the years, we have collected a shelf full of textbooks and encyclopedias and atlases on a number of different topics ranging from the arts to the human body to space to dinosaurs. we like to sit on the couch and pore over them. we use them in conjunction with our projects in art, science, and history. we also watch many documentaries on the natural world, historical figures, and historical events. liam likes to take notes as we go, picking out the bits he finds the most interesting, and we review them afterward and dive in deeper where he wants to to get a fuller picture of whichever topic. i’m not an expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt, but i think it’s tremendously important that we allow our children, who are so curious and explorative and imaginative by nature, to steer the ship, so to speak. child-led learning leads to seeing the potential to learn in everything. i believe our priority as parents, especially homeschooling parents, even if the homeschooling is temporary, is to let our children figure out who they are, what they love, and to support them on their journey to pursue it when the time comes. this is of course a personal decision, and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but i don’t think we have to wait until our children are high school age to give them this freedom. we also our share of hands-on activities, particularly in science, and when we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic that requires social distancing, our outings to the library, and the natural history museum, and science centers, and art workshops, were fairly regular. we had also started to attend a local homeschool group on a weekly basis that offered fun, non core subject activities to sign up for like crochet club and poetry and woodworking. joining a group is also a great way to meet other kids and families of different ages and lifestyles and homeschooling styles. many also meet for field trips, playground playdates, game nights, “school” dances, etc.
the single most important thing i believe we can impart to our children as their teachers is a love of learning. measuring a child’s success by grades and tests scores, putting pressure on them to ensure they are checking all the boxes and hitting all the milestones, will not accomplish this goal. just like learning to walk, or to talk, children continue to develop as the individuals they are. perhaps a child may be ready to read at age 5, but another child might not be until age 8. they can’t be behind their own developmental pace. they get there when they get there, and not a moment sooner, and that’s ok.
i’ve seen a graphic floating around in some of the homeschooling groups i’m part of that gives a general guideline for how long to spend on lessons by age range. if i remember correctly, it said when all is said and done for age 5, the “schooling” (i put this in quotes because learning isn’t limited to a school desk or a workbook; children are always learning from the world around them, from the questions they ask, from the things we explore, from the conversations we have) portion of the day doesn’t need to take more than an hour at most. and this hour (or however long works for you, because the guideline is not compulsory; for example, our school day takes about four hours) doesn’t need to be all at once. break it up throughout the day. have play time, eat snacks, do chores, rest. there is no one right way to do things.
another thing to note is that homeschooling does not need to look like public (or private) school at home. it does not need to look like being confined to a desk for hours at a time. i’ll let you in on a secret: you don’t even have to be at home to homeschool! homeschooling can look however you want it to look, can be whatever you want it to be. you can incorporate bits you like about public (or private) school if you’d like, take out whatever you don’t, or forget it all and unschool or be eclectic. keep playing around with it, keep experimenting and evolving, until you discover what does and what does not work for you and your child.
if you’re worried about teaching your child to read, you are not alone! this was my greatest fear before we started. it’s hard to shake those ideas of “success” the traditional school system ingrains in its students. liam wasn’t reading at age 5 like other 5 year olds i knew. he wasn’t reading at 6, either. it wasn’t until he was age 7 that some sort of switch went off inside him, and it was like all the pieces to the puzzle finally fit together. reading made sense. allowing him to develop at his own pace, and giving him the space he needed to do so, making sure he was consistently around reading but being sure not to pressure him into performing before he was able to, was essential in bringing about his metamorphosis into the bookworm he is today. he’s read 70 books between today and this past christmas, and this time last year, he was still attempting to sound out three letter words like “fan.” it’s remarkable how quickly their learning seems to fall into place when you take a step back and allow them to find their own footing.
after seeing it recommended again and again in various homeschool groups, i bought a book called “teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons.” wasn’t for us. unfortunately, these sort of hiccups will happen and it’s all part of the process. it becomes easier to recognise what material does or does not work for you or your child, but it really is just a guessing game to begin with. what did work for us was a mix between bob books and the educational app called teach your monster to read. some families aren’t big on screen time, we aren’t either, but i do think it’s worthwhile, given the world our children are growing up in, to expose them to technology and teach them how to utilise it at as early an age as you’re comfortable with. after all, technology isn’t going anywhere. they’ll have to learn it eventually.
starting with the basics, focusing on math and reading, is the key, i think. they are the foundation for everything else that will follow. and the simpler, the better — both for the child you’re teaching to adjust to a brand new routine and structure, and for the parent to not feel too overwhelmed by taking on so much new work. there is no need to feel guilty or behind when you only accomplish one of the goals you set out to do for the day, or when you skip a day entirely because you need to. the beauty of homeschooling is the freedom.
it helps, too, to be able to have that one on one lesson time. more difficult to do when you’re teaching multiple, but, from the experiences of homeschoolers with multiples i’ve been privy to, not altogether impossible! lessons go by faster and children are able to soak more up when it’s more of a private tutor dynamic than a crowded classroom where distractions are anything but few and far between.
this next bit might seem as though i’m going off on a tangent, but i promise there is a purpose for it. bear with. there are certainly aspects of my public school education i am grateful to have had, and it has never been my intention to shame anyone for the choices they make in regards to their child’s academic life, but i would be remiss if i didn’t mention the severe lack of practical, life skills learning in schools. why is it schools neglect to teach children how to cook? or sew a button? or replace a tire? or change oil? or balance a checkbook? or apply for a loan? or build credit? or sign their name? some have argued it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the teachers to instill this knowledge in their students, that it should instead to fall to the parents to accomplish this goal. and perhaps they would be right, if we lived in an ideal world. but the people who make that argument are the same people who seem to forget that not everyone lives the same life or has access to the same options. it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own lived experiences and forget the realities of others, it’s true. but one of the benefits of living when we do is having the resources available to us to learn a little more about life outside our own individual bubbles. and for many, necessary life skills aren’t able to be taught at home. but all children, regardless of their home situation, deserve access to the same knowledge needed in order to function in society. all children deserve assistance on their quest to independence. this is one way we, as homeschoolers, can endeavour to do a bit more than our public (or private) school counterparts. we’re homeschoolers. we’re at home (except when we’re not), and thus (in theory) have more time to dedicate to this kind of teaching.
if i could give one last piece of advice, i’d say, to the best of your ability, try to keep your schooling low stress. try to make your schooling fun. when you’re in a bad mood because they aren’t listening, or when they’re in a bad mood because they don’t want to do what they need to, take a break. walk outside. wiggle. do what you need to to keep things light. homeschooling ought to exist, in my opinion, to set the foundation for a lifelong love affair with learning for the sake of learning. it is not worth it to allow bad moods or attitudes or housekeeping or to do lists or anything else to jeopardise that.