So you’re thinking about homeschooling…congratulations! While this may seem like a huge and overwhelming decision, I am here to encourage you. You can do it! But, please understand, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The 2020-21 school year will look like none before it. As parents, we are all just trying to figure out what is best for our families. For some, going to school is the best choice. Other parents will decide to do virtual learning. If you are choosing to homeschool this year, you are walking into quite an adventure!
By choosing homeschooling, you offer your children the gift of time and space. You children will have the freedom to develop their own interests. They will have time to dive deep into whatever fascinates them, and the space to create and explore their interests. You, as their parent and teacher, will get to witness all of this learning. You know your children best. Now you have the opportunity to guide and tailor their educational experience according to their own unique personality.
Why are you choosing homeschooling? Write down your “why” in a sentence or two.
Check your Regulations
First, you need to find out what your state requires for schooling at home. The Homeschool Legal Defense Agency (HSLDA) has a listing of requirements by state. In Michigan, parents have a right to homeschool their kids with very little state involvement. If you are pulling your child out of school, although not required, it is courteous to notify your school district with a phone call or written letter. You have the opportunity to enroll in elective classes through the public school, and the state requires instruction in math, reading, English, science, and social studies. That’s it! The rest is up to you.
Are you familiar with your state’s regulations?
Do you need to contact your school district?
Recognize your Strengths
You may have ideas about what school should look like at home. These might be based on your own school experience, and they might be based on virtual learning experiences. I have good news: homeschooling can be whatever works well for your family! Don’t be afraid to try something and decide to switch things up if it’s not working for you and your family. Keep it simple, and find what works.
Before you start, pause and reflect on what your family does well. Do you enjoy reading aloud? Getting messy with crafts? Are your kids interested in science? For example, my son loves fire trucks. When we read about firefighters, we are learning about social studies. We can practice math by learning about the flow rates in fire hydrants. For English, my son could dictate a story or write a book report after reading about fire trucks. For science we can learn about what a fire needs to thrive (water, fuel, and air) and what firefighters use to quench fires. We create a lap book to document our study. All five core subjects required by the state are covered and documented, and my child will love learning because it’s all based on his interests.
Make a list of three to five interests, including everything from baking to minecraft, and think through how you could turn that into a learning opportunity. Even video games can be used educationally if you are intentional.
Seven General Styles
As you develop a sense of what your family does well, you may find yourself aligning with a certain style of homeschooling. There are seven general styles of homeschooling:
Classical | Based on the great books of western society, a classical education emphasizes logic, critical thinking, and a systematic approach to education.
Where to start?
Charlotte Mason | Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the early 1900s. Her method emphasizes education as “An atmosphere, a discipline, a life” of learning. She speaks of “spreading a feast” of rich information for children to interact with and make connections while learning.
Where to start?
Montessori | Montessori is a humanistic educational model developed by Maria Montessori, an italian physician and educator who worked with special-needs students and integrated child psychology into her methods. Characterized by multi-grade classrooms and open ended toys, many Montessori schools are tailored to mimic the home, making Montessori a natural homeschool option.
Where to start?
- Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method (Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912)
- Here is a list of 10 montessori curriculums to get you started!
Unschooling and Game Schooling | Probably the most controversial method on this list, to unschool is to follow the lead of your child. It is NOT letting your kid veg out in front of the TV! Game schooling is a closely-related cousin, where you use games to teach concepts to your children. Both methods are based on the idea that children learn best when they are interested and engaged in the process. Parents watch closely to see what their children are interested in and capitalize on those interests to teach children when they are ready rather than adhering to a strict curriculum.
Where to start?
- My Little Poppies – Game schooling
- John Holt was one of the pioneers of unschooling: https://www.johnholtgws.com/homeschooling-unschooling-resources
School-at-Home | Perhaps the most similar to a regular classroom, school-at-home utilizes textbooks and workbooks or a virtual learning platform.
Where to start?
Unit Studies | These are a popular way to organize learning topically. While there is no right or wrong way to organize a unit study, the internet is FULL of ideas.
Where to start?
Eclectic Education Methods | Just not feeling any one specific method? You might be an eclectic educator. Pick and choose the parts of each style that work best for your family and create your own educational style!
Where to start?
What style do you think fits your family best? Choose one to research further.
One of the biggest questions about homeschoolers is that of socialization. High school parents also wonder if they will be able to teach more advanced subjects. Enter the homeschool co-op. Now, in the 2020-21 school year even co-ops will look different as we all practice physical distancing. Many families are choosing to meet together in a homeschool ‘pod’ or smaller co-ops to provide socialization and support. As you make a plan, you must consider whether or not you want to be involved with other families in a co-op, adventure club, or pod. If you do choose to join a co-op, you want to find one that mirrors your homeschool style.
Are you working from home? Would a co-op help balance work and school?
Do your children participate in sports or extracurriculars? Homeschool co-ops can provide extracurricular opportunities.
Choosing a Curriculum
Once you know your family’s strengths and whether or not you want to join a co-op, it’s time to choose a curriculum. Remember, the state of Michigan requires the following subjects: math, reading, English, science, and social studies. You can use the Michigan Academic Standards as a starting point for what to cover this year for your child. The HSLDA Getting Started page is also a great starting point.
- Homeschooling in Detroit has a great list of homeschool co-ops and extracurricular opportunities in Southeast Michigan.
- Cathy Duff Reviews provides curriculum reviews for almost every homeschool option out there. Her website is a fabulous resource as you compare curriculums and find the one that will work best for your family.
- Read Aloud Revival provides fantastic themed book lists for all ages.
- The Good and the Beautiful provides free, high quality, faith-based language arts and math curriculums for K-12. Books can also be purchased.
- Timberdoodle offers curriculum kits that are high-quality and critical thinking skill-based. Both religious and secular options are available.
Books to inspire and guide you as you begin homeschooling:
As you pick a curriculum, you might want to write down a vision statement for your homeschool. Lara Casey at Cultivate Your Life offers this free homeschool planner download. Not only does her planner walk you through scheduling, but she includes some great vision-casting resources for you as you begin homeschooling.
Take a deep breath, you can do this. What stands out to you? Choose three curriculums that interest you. Look them up on Cathy Duff’s website. Keep it simple and start with math, reading, and language arts.
Set a Schedule
So, you know what your state requires and you recognize your homeschool style and strengths. You decided whether or not to be involved in a co-op this year and you have a curriculum. It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and set a schedule! First, a few thoughts:
- Homeschooling may not take as much time as a regular school day. This is OK!
- Switch subjects regularly to provide mental breaks. Intersperse physical breaks, too.
- If you have several students of different ages, start with whichever student can do the most work independently. Work with each student initially until they are able to continue on their own, then move on to the next student to get them set up with their own work.
- Older kids can practice independent reading by reading aloud to younger kids.
- Morning Baskets are a popular method to include poetry, art appreciation, music, mindfulness, and other subjects that you might not get to otherwise in your homeschool routine. Some people do them first thing after they wake up and call it Snuggle School, others do it with a snack in the afternoon and call it Tea Time. Pam Barnhill has some wonderful Morning Basket plans and resources for scheduling your homeschool day.
- Homeschooling provides an opportunity to prioritize outdoor time. Kids do so much learning while playing. Especially in the younger grades, plan to include free play in your homeschool day.
- Use a block schedule to make routines that are flexible, yet consistent. Involve your children in your plan as much as you can. Giving them independence in their school work will foster ownership…but at the same time, you must follow through and check your children’s work.
Remember, consistency and follow-through are most important. You don’t need the very best curriculum or to compare to others. Simply make your choices, then just keep going with what you are doing. Don’t forget to check your kids’ work, read a lot, and laugh. Take breaks and change things up if you’re getting frustrated.
As you set your schedule, think about what time of day works best for your family. Are you early risers? Maybe do a morning basket with read alouds before breakfast. Pay attention to your family’s natural rhythms and build a routine around them.
Most of all, relax and be in the moment. See your daughter’s eyes light up when she is finally able to work out a difficult math problem successfully. Watch your son experience the thrill of reading his very first book all by himself. Savor the time with your teenager before they leave the house in a few short years. This year will be a new adventure, no matter what you choose to do. Enjoy the ride.