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There’s Always Room for New Members in the Club

Sometimes you do a thing so long that you forget what it was like when you first started. I have been homeschooling my two children for 8 years. I get contacted frequently by new homeschoolers and those just thinking about doing it, and they all want to know: Where do I begin? When should I pull my child out of school? Is it legal? What do I teach? Where do I get the supplies?
As I try to answer these questions without scaring the pants off new homeschoolers, I struggle to give them enough information to get started without overwhelming them completely. Here are some excerpts from a recent response to a distressed mother…
You can start homeschooling anytime. In fact, you probably have been for months already. All those hours you have no doubt spent after school and on weekends, doing homework, quizzing spelling words, reciting math facts…that’s teaching. (I like to call it “afterschooling”.) But combined with the 32+ hours a week they spend at school, it’s overkill. Cut out all the time spent waiting in line, going to the bathroom as a class, lunch, recess, assemblies, discipline, etc. and you don’t wind up with much time of actual instruction. In fact, I have a quote on my wall that has never stopped being true: “You can do more in one hour with your child than the school can do in a day.” So, homeschooling actually takes LESS time than public schooling, because you are focused on YOUR students and they don’t have to waste their time waiting on two dozen other people to get it together.
Leaving school at a vacation or semester break is probably easiest since there is a natural “good-bye” at that time. However, if your children are miserable, suffering, or falling drastically behind, anytime is a good time to pull them out. Just be sure to give a letter of intent to homeschool to the school principal so you aren’t reported as truant. The [state of residence] does not require any other form of registration or reporting to any agency (no matter what someone else may say). You can also check legal requirements through HSLDA’s website (Home School Legal Defense Association) or DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).
Once you bring them home, expect a “detox” or “decompression” period. Children are under a tremendous amount of stress in the school system, and transitioning to home education is a process. Most experts suggest one month for every year of public schooling for a child to adjust fully to the routine. Many simply take a break for 2, 3, or more months from all formal education (workbooks, pages, assigned reading, etc.) so their children can fall in love with learning again and begin to pursue their own interests – a skill that is natural when they are toddlers, but worn out of them by hours seated at a desk. This is a good time to go to museums, the park, library, nature hikes, read fun books out loud together, visit festivals and historical sites, and so forth. EXPERIENCING learning in the real world is key to this rekindling of a love of knowledge and curiosity.
During this decompression period, explore your children’s learning styles. Be aware that they are probably different from each other. One may be a visual (read or draw a lot) learner, the other kinesthetic (needs to move, build, touch, etc.), while you yourself may learn best from hearing (auditory learner). Do they retain information best in a quiet atmosphere, or with music playing in the background? Do they like to sit at a table or hang upside down from the couch? The most difficult part of beginning homeschooling is unschooling YOURSELF and your perception of what learning looks like. The brain works in a variety of ways, and all of them contribute to learning. The public school format exists only because it is convenient to a single adult teacher working with many children to produce a factory-type model of student product. This is not at all the best way for a child to learn.
Once you have an idea of your family’s learning preferences, you can begin to look at curriculum. Ask what other homeschoolers are using, but be conscious that we all choose books and programs for different reasons. Some desire a strong christian perspective, others want a copy of the public school schedule (school-at-home), some choose accelerated academic programs for college prep, some have a child-directed approach (let your child choose what they want to study), and some (like myself) use an eclectic method. When I first started, I was so scared that I just wanted a school-in-a-box so I didn’t screw anything up. I used Calvert School, which is the program that military families on the move and homebound students often use. It was familiar in format to me, as a public school student and teacher, and worked great the first few years. I prefer to do my own religious instruction separately, so I desired a secular program. Many in this area use Abeka, Horizons, LifePac, or Bob Jones curriculum, which are all similar to Calvert, but with a christian perspective and varying levels of academic quality – but essentially close to a public school scope and sequence. Once I felt I had a handle on things, I branched out and started getting books and curriculum that were best suitable by subject, learning style, and quality.
As you delve into the world of homeschooling you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information available. You will need to learn to look at only what applies to your family and ignore the rest. You cannot teach them everything they need to know in life. You can only teach them HOW to learn, and let them take care of the rest. As long as they know how to acquire knowledge and have an interest in doing so, they will always be able to learn what they need when the time comes. Take a day [to visit your local bookstores.] These places will also give you an idea of new vs. used prices. I would usually scope out these stores, then look on Amazon.com for the lowest prices on what I really wanted. Also, I had an out-of-county library card for [local metropolitan area] while the kids were younger, and we took a trip every two weeks and loaded up (seriously, like 4 grocery bags of books). They let homeschoolers have something like 30 books per person for check out! (Now, we read longer books and don’t devour so many picture books as we used to!)

Now, you need a buddy, a mentor, and a friend in this homeschooling thing, so find a homeschooling family that is similar in lifestyle to yours and use other educating parents as resources. We all love to talk about homeschooling. Honestly, we never get tired of it, as you can tell by this book-length [email]. I coordinate a program at [our area] YMCA for homeschooling families. It is a co-operative, which means that all the parents take turns helping out in some way to provide classes one day a week for the things we can’t or don’t want to do alone. Our group meets every [week]. We have Art, P.E., Sign Language, French, Cooking, Theater, Music, and Science/History classes. We also have clubs for Crafts, Robotics, and Fiddle lessons.
There’s so much to starting on the road to Homeschooling. I hope these tidbits from recent conversations help point you in a direction that’s right for you. But before you go, take a look at the websites and books I suggest below. They are by no means a definitive list, and I’d love for you add your favorites in the comments. Tell me what websites and authors/books have made a difference in your experience!

https://kbnelson.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-right-homeschool-method/ (This post lists links to an article series I wrote about homeschooling methods, and also has a video interview about homeschooling methods.)

https://www.facebook.com/GiftedHomeschoolersForum (This is a great forum for all homeschoolers with questions or to get reviews about things.)

http://a2zhomeschooling.com/ (There are several sites out there like this, but this one is the most user-friendly and without quite so many ads.)
http://www.hslda.org/hs/ (HSLDA legal site. Good to have on hand.)


What Your Child Needs to Know When by Robin Sampson (This is a great checklist resource for grade-by-grade skills, plus a lot of bite-size information for parents homeschooling.)

CoreKnowledge Sequence: Content Guidelines for Grades K-8
(Not to be confused with Common Core, this book is like an outline of every subject for every grade. Of course, you don’t have to do any of this in the prescribed order, but you could easily take this book and get everything you needed from the library to homeschool. This is the same company that does the series “What Your 1st Grader Needs To Know” and so on.)

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start
by Linda Dobson (A good beginner’s book. You may learn all you need to know from talking to homeschoolers and looking at websites, but if you want a book, this will help a lot.)

The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto (This should be required reading for every parent and teacher. Not specifically about homeschooling, but will help make sense of why public school isn’t working and what is best for kids. You should definitely read this at some point before you die.)

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