How to Start Homeschooling Your Child

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Maybe you’ve always secretly wished you could teach your child at home, or maybe you’re not left with much of a choice right now (thanks to COVID-19). Either way, as a new school year looms—and the pandemic continues on—you may be asking yourself “Can I really homeschool my child?”

For many parents, the surprising answer is yes. While there are some families that simply can’t make it work for a multitude of reasons, more parents than you’d think could manage to educate their kids at home with the right tools, tips, and resources.

We know it may feel overwhelming or confusing about where to start. So let us help you get started with homeschooling your child—one step at a time.

Ask Yourself If It's Right for You

Many parents hear the word “homeschooling” and scoff, “Oh, I could never do that!” when in reality, they just don’t have the confidence or experience (or frankly know what's really involved).

Parents are natural educators for their kids, even without formal teaching degrees. Still, it does take a certain amount of dedication, commitment, and patience to homeschool. 

On the other hand, you may be overestimating your ability to teach your child at home. If you work long or unpredictable hours, can’t provide your child with a safe, supervised home environment during the day, or rely on much-needed school services (like special education classes or free lunch programs), homeschooling may not be the right fit.

Research Homeschooling Laws in Your State

As a parent, you have the right to educate your child at home; homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. But every single state has a different set of laws and you will need to get very familiar with the homeschooling rules and regulations of the state where you live.

If you’re mandated to submit certain documents or establish your home as a private school (like in California), failing to do so can lead to legal consequences. 

How to Check Your State's Laws

Check your state’s department of education website to find out what’s required and how to fulfill those requirements.

Then double-check it against the state laws listed on the website of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, because sometimes information is outdated on state sites.

If you’re still unsure, join one of your local homeschooling groups on Facebook—the moms there always know what’s up!

Talk to Others

It’s a good idea to talk to other homeschooling parents before you make the decision for yourself. Reading about homeschooling online isn’t the same as chatting with a real person who’s been doing it in their own home for years.

Ask them to honestly share:

  • Their most and least favorite parts of homeschooling
  • How they plan their homeschool year
  • What curriculum they use
  • Where they go for advice and support.

Then, if you haven’t already, talk to your spouse or partner if you have one. In most cases, one parent handles the majority of the homeschooling, but it’s hard to do it without the ongoing support of the other parent.

You should also talk to your kids; though you’re the parent and have the final say, homeschooling will be significantly more difficult if your kids can’t get on board with the plan.

Asking them how they feel about it and what their concerns are—and working together on addressing those concerns—will make homeschooling a more positive experience.

There may be extended family members you want to discuss your plans with as well, but fair warning: people tend to have strong opinions about homeschooling even if they don’t know that much about it. It can easily deter you even if it’s the right choice.

If there is a trusted friend or family member whose input is important to you, you can try to have an honest conversation; most of the time, though, it’s best to make the decision with your spouse or partner and ask for support—not opinions—from others.

Commit

Yup, this is a scary step! But you can do it. Once you’ve decided to homeschool, make sure you withdraw your child from any school districts they are currently enrolled in to avoid truancy charges.

And remember that you can pretty much always change your mind. If it doesn’t work out, congratulate yourself for trying and re-enroll your child in traditional school.

Choose a Curriculum

This is the step many newbie homeschoolers stress about the most! In some ways, deciding to homeschool is the easy part. Figuring out what and how to actually teach your kids is much harder.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to curriculum, you can either buy a prepackaged option that covers all subjects for a single grade level, or piece your own curriculum together from individual materials. 

There are dozens of homeschool curriculums available. Some are primarily online and others send you print materials. Some are free, others are inexpensive, and some will cost you several hundred dollars per academic year. 

Here are some of the more popular curriculums among homeschoolers:

  • Abeka
  • Time4Learning
  • Sonlight
  • Oak Meadow
  • Alpha Omega
  • Connections Academy
  • K12

There are advantages and disadvantages to each option (the ability to design your own curriculum can be freeing or intimidating, depending on your personality!).

Whichever materials you choose, though, make sure you preview some of the content online or in print. You want to make sure you understand the material and feel confident that you could teach it to your child, too.

Also consider the learning styles the materials cater to—if there is a lot of reading or writing, it may not work well for a child who learns best through audio or visual resources.

Again, this is a great time to join a local homeschool group online. Ask members if they’ve used the materials you’re considering or if they have recommendations for programs that would be a good fit for your child. 

Plan Your Homeschool Schedule

Homeschool schedules can be rigid or flexible, traditional or totally unique. It can be hard to know upfront what will work best for your family, so plan for making changes as you go along.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to go with the flow, but creating a schedule keeps you better organized and helps your kids know what to expect.

The amount of time you spend homeschooling and when that time occurs during the day, however, is nowhere near as important as how well your kids are learning at home.

Resist the temptation to think you’re not “doing enough” homeschool; in a school setting, most kids only spend a couple of hours a day, at the most, on direct instruction (little kids even less). If your first grader homeschools for an hour every day, that’s probably all they need—especially if they’re happily learning. 

Make Space in Your Home

You don’t need a dedicated room in your house for homeschooling, though some families do find this to be easier. You can also section off part of a finished basement, make rooms for functional desks in bedrooms, or utilize portable carts and lapdesks to makeover the family room every morning for “school.” Tag sales, consignment stores, and IKEA are your friends!

Get inspired by homeschool set ups on Pinterest, like this budget-friendly preschool room, this guide to homeschooling without a school room, and this tour of a large family’s homeschool areas.

When all else fails, set up at a kitchen table. This is actually how many homeschoolers get started, since no one wants to make major changes without knowing if homeschooling will work for them.

Where you learn may or may not impact your child’s ability to focus, but you won’t know this without a little trial and error. 

Buy Supplies

You don’t need to go wild in the back-to-school aisle at the store—you probably have a lot of the supplies needed to homeschool already!

But your kids definitely need writing utensils, notebooks or loose leaf paper, basic craft supplies (like scissors and glue sticks), calculators, crayons, and some folders or storage bins. You may also want to invest in a chalkboard or dry erase board, a printer, and a laminator.

Beyond that, your biggest expense will probably be curriculum materials. Even if you don’t buy a full packaged curriculum, you’ll need to accumulate individual textbooks, picture books, and workbooks.

If you’re not opposed to secondhand items, you can buy used books on Amazon or through a site like Thriftbooks to save cash. Barnes and Noble also allows homeschoolers to sign up for their educator membership and receive a discount on many book purchases.

You can find homeschooling supply checklists at the following homeschool blogs: Teach Beside Me, Confessions of a Homeschooler, and Just a Simple Home.

Set Goals

If you’re putting together your own curriculum, check out the core standards for each subject by grade level to get a baseline idea of what your child may need to learn this year. They may already know some things, or you may need to start from the beginning. It’s OK if your child doesn’t meet every single goal, but knowing what most third graders learn in a year of social studies, for example, will help you create a year-long learning plan for your child.

Since this is your first year homeschooling, be gentle on yourself! Rather than set firm goalposts for everything you think you need to accomplish, here are some good goals to work toward:

  • Plan to be flexible.
  • Plan to become an expert at how your child learns best.
  • Plan to get comfortable making changes, adapting to the reality of your homeschool life.
  • Plan to evaluate your child’s “success” in new and different ways. 

And don’t forget to ask your child what they would like to learn! The best way to get your child engaged in homeschooling is to make them a part of the planning. A kid who loves the act of learning will never get tired of asking questions and seeking out the answers—and homeschooling is a great way to foster that positive relationship. 

A Word From Verywell

Once you and your family have made the choice to do it, the only way to learn to homeschool is by actually doing it—so just get started! You may feel like you're pretty bad at it at first, but you will get better. And your kids, who aren’t used to viewing you as a teacher, will need some time to adjust, too.

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