If you’re struggling with school this year, you’re not alone. As the pandemic drags on and the impacts to education deepen, parents are looking for solutions beyond the circus that is the public school version of remote learning.
This year has seen a massive surge in families embracing some form of homeschooling, from pods and mini-schools to virtual schools with a history of doing it right. Some families have even transitioned all the way “unschooling.” If you are among the thousands of parents fed up with the solutions your local district is offering but are unsure how to navigate the unfamiliar waters of home education, this homeschooling guide is for you.
Luckily, getting started homeschooling is easier than you think. You just need to learn your state and local laws and requirements, make a plan, execute it, and learn how to keep good records. Here’s everything you need to know to start homeschooling.
How to Start Homeschooling
Research your homeschool options
The biggest mistake families new to homeschooling make is to jump into trying to pick a curriculum without thinking through which style of homeschooling the best fit is for their family. Spend some time exploring the differences between:
- Traditional School-at-Home homeschooling
- Charlotte Mason
- Classical Education
- Eclectic homeschooling
- Unit Studies
If that list feels confusing, this article gives a decent overview of each of the main philosophies of homeschooling to help you understand more and figure out where your family might fit.
Start by educating yourself. Taking a bootcamp that does a deep dive into the options and the very practical “how to” will save you time and tears as well as giving you the confidence to make the best choices for your family.
Which states are "best" for homeschooling?
Like everything else in the U.S., homeschooling regulations vary, state by state. There are states that require a lot of paperwork, record keeping, and a degree to homeschool your kids. Other states don’t even require you to file a single document. It’s imperative that you check your state requirements before you begin.
You might even want to enlist a professional to provide support in registering and record keeping as different states required unique documents and fees.
The following states are considered “difficult” to homeschool because of their legal or district level requirements:
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
The following states are considered the easiest to homeschool in:
- New Jersey
Checking your state rules is as easy as Googling “MY STATE NAME’s homeschool laws.” Don’t skip this step!
Enlist professional support
Many families feel completely out of their depth when it comes to the idea of homeschooling their kids. For those families thrown into the deep end by the pandemic, it’s even harder. Of course, you can homeschool completely on your own (hundreds of thousands of families do it!) but it’s often smarter, and almost always easier to enlist professional help.
A service like Beyond School provides a range of services for families homeschooling, as well as support for groups of parents interested in setting up pods or micro-schools. They’ll help you with the basics of paperwork and state compliance, as well as curriculum development and ongoing support as you figure out how this will work for your family. If you want to build a pod or micro-school, they provide everything from policy development to a full curriculum, including teachers (or teacher training).
Feel free to go it alone if you’re confident. If you’re not, professional support can be a godsend.
Join a local homeschooling group
Community is essential. If you’re new to homeschooling, reach out and join a local homeschooling group. These groups have operated for decades and provide the social side of a well-rounded education. They are also often co-ops that provide extra classes for kids and parents, field trips, and fun stuff.
COVID has affected homeschool groups in the same ways it’s affected public schools in person. In many areas, the groups aren’t meeting or are meeting with restrictions. Don’t worry! There are plenty of homeschool groups online that can provide similar support and the huge benefit of a group of experienced parents who can answer your questions as they come up.
Pro Tip: Search for homeschool groups on Facebook that are in line with your approach: “Montessori homeschool groups,” to really find your tribe.
Choose (or design) a homeschool curriculum
Once you know your philosophy of education, then you can look for a curriculum. One quick search of “Homeschool curriculum” will uncover a dizzying array of options. This is why knowing your approach first is hugely helpful. Toss out anything that doesn’t fit your new “Charlotte Mason” mindset. That will narrow the field.
If you can’t find a boxed or online curriculum that feels like a good fit, consider designing one yourself (or with professional help!). Education is not one-size-fits-all, is it?
Be sure to review your state’s requirements for subjects taught before you begin. If you are totally new to the game, working with a curriculum consultant is a good way to shortcut the thousands of hours of research that often go into making solid curriculum choices.
Set up your homeschooling space
Homeschooling can be done at the kitchen table, but for many families having a designated space often works better (for everyone!). Think through your family’s space and your needs, as well as the kids’ learning styles and habits. Choose a spot, get organized, and be consistent in using that space.
Check out this article for a ways to improve your homeschooling setup.
Plan your days and set some goals
The worst way to homeschool is to try to replicate public school at home. Learning is different 1:1 (or a few on one!) than it is in a classroom of 30 kids.
Think through the flow of your day and where learning will fit best. Remember that you don’t have to sit down for eight hours straight like a typical school day. You’ll work more quickly and efficiently with just a few kids. Get the core subjects in during the best and most alert parts of your child’s day. Be willing to be flexible and allow for the “real-life learning” that is happening all around you and all the time.
For many families, a four day per week schedule works best (leaving a day off for field trips, adventure, and laundry… which are all learning too!). Often you can accomplish an equivalent amount of work in just 2-3 hours per day for elementary-aged kids. That’s good news for families drowning in the 8-hour zoom marathons being imposed by e-learning! That 2-3 hours doesn’t have to occur in one block.
You might decide that your typical day of homeschooling looks like this:
- Morning chores and breakfast
- Half an hour of math
- Half an hour of language arts
- Outside exercise
- Half an hour of science, computer, or technology
- Watch a documentary (on a high-interest topic)
- Half an hour of history or geography
- Music, art, or sports lesson
- Read aloud before bed
Consider bundling reading out loud over mealtimes and stretching learning out through the day rather than trying to force a bigger block of seat work, especially for younger kids.
Follow a homeschooling schedule & keep records
Your schedule can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. There are families who don't follow any set plans. Others spend all of their waking hours scheduling around some specific aspect of learning. The trick is to find a rhythm to life that works for you, that's fun for everyone, and that you can be consistent with.
Then, document and keep records of your activities and progress. It’s super helpful to have a centralized place to keep track of the legal requirements for the state as well as the general progress (tests, work samples, writing samples, video clips of activities, and more). Pillar is a great way to keep all of your forms safe, secure, and easy to access when you need it.
Keeping good records now will be a lifesaver later! It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you definitely want to use a system!
3 Common Homeschooling Mistakes to Avoid
Here are three of the biggest mistakes that new homeschoolers often make. Consider this your heads up to avoid them:
Trying to replicate “school” at home
Learning is happening everywhere. Embrace that. Instead of trying to make your homeschool look like a classroom, focus on maximizing the learning potential of every area of life and get good at documenting that.
Trying to do “too much”
You truly can match or exceed the academic standards of your public schools in fewer days per week and fewer hours per day. Start tracking the learning and in very short order you’ll have proved that to yourself. Don’t punish kids for excellent learning by assigning more busywork out of a fear of “not keeping up.”
Forcing one model or learning style
The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to customize the curriculum for each individual child. Experiment with trusted methods until you and your kids find a learning style that works for them, then replicate those successes. And remember,jJust because you hated (or loved!) workbook-style learning doesn’t mean they will feel the same. Become a student of your student and tailor your educational choices to the kids you have and you'll both be on your way to learning a lot.
Start your free 14-day trial at Pillar and start storing and tracking all of the documents and reports you need to start homeschooling today.