When I meet someone new, our get-to-know you conversation eventually leads to asking, “Where do your kids go to school?” or “What do you do?” Both questions are answered with, “I homeschool.”
Which ends up with one of two responses – “Oh?! Wow, I could NEVER homeschool my kids.” The other being, “I have always wanted to homeschool my kids.”
Whichever camp you land in, I hope this post widens your eyes to what homeschooling is really like. I get so many questions about it, and there are so many families who want to try it but just don’t know where to start. This post is for you.
This is our seventh school year homeschooling and I’ve learned a lot along the way. By no means am I an ‘expert’ in homeschooling (is there such a thing?) and we may not homeschool all the way through high school. But my hope is to pass on some of what I have learned to you.
Within the overarching umbrella of HOMESCHOOLING, you can redefine what school looks like to you and your family. Some of my friends have chosen one or more of the following options:
- Enrichment Program – several school districts where we live offer a one day per week enrichment program, available only to homeschooling families. Some choose to have this be their core curriculum and take classes like writing, math and science. Others choose to take electives like music, theater, and yearbook and do their core work at home. Whichever you choose, this is a great way to meet and network with other homeschooling families in a more traditional school-like environment.
- Out-of-the-box curriculum – not sure what to teach? Don’t have a teaching background? Want to know that you’ve done all you’re supposed to do for your student to pass on to the next grade? Then this option may be for you. You purchase a year’s worth of grade appropriate curriculum and get teacher’s manuals, supplies, consumables, and the peace of mind knowing you’re following some type of guideline. This is what we have done for all seven years (we use My Father’s World) and it’s been an easy way for me to know I’m teaching what I’m supposed to be teaching.
- Class Hopping – I have friends who choose to do one or more subjects at home, taught by mom or dad, then enroll in a variety of supplemental classes to round out their education. Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular, and several universities, art studios, rec centers, nature programs (just to name a few) have homeschooling programming during school hours. If you’re looking to plug homeschooling into a work schedule, this may be a good fit for you.
- Tutoring – Similar to the classes approach, some families find they have a strength in teaching certain subject(s) and are lacking in others. Plenty of former teachers or graduate students are looking to earn money by tutoring, especially during school hours.
- Large group setting – this can look like a co-op, or some people participate in Classical Conversations. In my experience, both of them involve a parent teaching a number of students that are not their children. How it compares to an enrichment program is that with the enrichment program, you’re leaving your kids with a public school teacher all day, and in the co-op, the parents are the teachers. Similar group sizes, depending on the setup of each, but that’s the big difference in the two. Also, the parents get a day off when the kids to enrichment, whereas they are heavily involved in the co-op.
- Online – Options for this are growing every day, but the general programs seem to be similar. You’re paying for access to online curriculum and it’s self-guided with a virtual teacher and sometimes a classroom. Some of these have other students, some are just videos with questions afterwards. There are a lot to choose from and options abound. If you’re a full or part-time working parent, this may be another option for you.
Again, some friends I know do more than one of these. They may be in both an enrichment program and Classical Conversations group, and then supplement with more typical after school activities or groups.
The biggest hurdle parents have to jump over when thinking about homeschooling is changing the way they think about what school looks like. School doesn’t have to be sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. School is a nature walk, watching a history channel video, reading before bedtime, a karate class or a piano lesson. All of that is considered “school” by the homeschooling definition. Other things to know before you take the leap into teaching your kids at home are:
- Know your state law – In Colorado, when we let our school district know that we’ll be homeschooling, it mails us a copy of the rules we need to follow. Included are the number of days we need to be teaching and the average number of hours of instructional time each day. Colorado gives us a lot of flexibility on how we teach core subjects, which is awesome. We also are required to take standardized testing in odd grades, beginning in grade three. There’s lots of help with this, you just need to know where to look.
- Join a group – Options abound in this area, but the most common thing I hear from people who don’t think they could homeschool is, “My child is just too social.” Homeschoolers are not, by any stretch, anti-social. They usually prefer to socialize less than most families, but in my book that’s not a bad thing. Personally, I think kids spend too much time with friends and could stand to be with their parents more, but that’s a soapbox for a different post. There are Facebook groups galore for homeschoolers looking to go on hikes together, meet at playgrounds, do lessons, form co-ops, you name it. When you add in one of the educational group settings I mentioned above, you can quickly meet a lot of other families doing what you do.
- Give yourself some grace – I talk with a lot of parents who think they need to start teaching at 8:30am and finish at 3:00pm with a half hour in there for lunch. That sounds awful! I wouldn’t sign up for that! But if you told me that I needed to do a couple of hours in the morning, then go for a walk or bike ride with my kids, have some lunch, then do another hour or two in the afternoon (which could include some after school activities or bedtime reading), then I’d be all about it. The latter is what a typical day of homeschooling looks like in our house. In fact, I’ll tell you more about that next. There’s no rule that says what your school needs to look like. You can read books on the couch or on the front porch. You can go for a walk and discuss the history reading assignment. Talk over lunch about math and use real world examples of how to apply the concept. It’s all possible. Get rid of what you’re used to thinking “school” needs to look like and start brainstorming about what you want school to feel like.
- Know what you’re looking for – Why do you want to homeschool? Is it to have more flexibility as a family? Teach your child who may have a learning challenge like dyslexia or ADHD? Is it to challenge them academically so they can get into a tougher college? Is it to integrate your faith into learning? Whatever the reason, it’s a good reason to homeschool. Knowing why you homeschool will help you determine what you homeschool and prioritize some of the options you’ll come across and determine if it’s what you want to spend time doing.
A Day in the Life
The final question I get a lot about homeschooling is what a typical day looks like. First off, there isn’t really a ‘typical’ day in the way that people think of a school day. We rarely have two days that look exactly alike. We have a goal in mind of how we want the day to go, but with two older kids, a toddler and a puppy in the house, flexibility is the name of the game. With that in mind, here’s what I am working towards in our school day:
8:30am – Start lessons. We work on subjects that I teach them first, then move into subjects they can do on their own (like practicing music or homework for their enrichment program).
9:30am – Take a snack break, maybe walk the dog or play outside, and put the toddler in his room for playtime by himself. I use this time to put in some laundry, clean up from breakfast, or other quick household chores.
10:00am – Work one-on-one with the girls on anything they need help with. We do harder subjects to group teach (like math) and troubleshoot anything that had come up earlier in the day.
10:45am – Get the toddler back out of his room and see if the girls need help with anything else.
11:30am – Lunch Break
12:30pm – Put toddler down for nap
1:00pm – Grade any work from the morning; see what I can help the girls finish up.
1:30pm – Usually we are finished by this time or close to it. Sometimes we finish up before lunch, depending on the workload that day. We usually do some bedtime reading of a read aloud book, as well as after school activities.
Our state law requires that we spend an average of four hours a day of instructional time. We are way above that, even when some days we may only spend two hours doing lessons. When you start to think about all you do during a day that’s educational, it adds up quickly.
Give it a Shot
Still curious about homeschooling? Give it a shot over the summer, or a school break. You can download sample lessons plans from several curriculum websites like My Father’s World or Sonlight and try it for a few days. Then you can answer these questions – Do you like teaching? Do your kids like learning from you? Could you do this for a few hours a day? Or could you do it for a couple hours and then plug into one of the other options above? Only you know you and your kids. But it’s worth giving it a shot.
Other things to check out when you’re evaluating homeschooling are introductory seminars and conferences. I attended an introductory seminar and conference before I started and it was extremely valuable. I highly recommend it. Some conferences you can check out are listed on this site. I haven’t been to most of these, but it shows the wide variety of choices and help available to you as a homeschooling family.
The final thing I want to say is just go for it! It will not be perfect at the start, I promise you that. But tweak what isn’t working and move forward. Your kids will always be learning, no matter what you do with them. And they’ll be learning it from you, which is great! You’re their main role model and this is a journey your family will take together.