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Are you a wannabe homeschool mom? Are you looking for some sane advice? You’re in the right place! No doubt about it, jumping into the homeschool world can be terrifying. Not only is a parent going against the flow, but most homeschooling moms don’t consider themselves to be teachers and are unsure of their own abilities. I know there’s a lot of interest out there when it comes to homeschooling, and when one of my readers submitted several questions to me, I decided to share them with you, along with my advice.
My blog reader was asking questions from the perspective of a mom with a high-energy boy around four or five years old. At that age, I would recommend just running with whatever fascinates him or her. Kids at that ‘sponge’ stage, ready to soak up every bit of information they can. If you can tap into that natural love for learning and nurture it year after year, you’ve already done far more for them than any school ever could!
Q: What are the basic materials I need to get started?
Books. Lots of books. A good math curriculum. Math manipulatives
, although you can easily substitute buttons or beads or any number of manipulatives you already have around the house. You truly need so few materials that you’ll begin wondering why on earth our public school system needs billions and billions of dollars. As time goes on, you and your child will work on various projects together and you’ll need materials for those, but that really is about it. You’ll find many
free materials and resources online, everything from handwriting pages to flashcards. We’ve enjoyed using a free curriculum called Ambleside Online
for many years. The curriculum is free, and all you have to do is purchase the books (many of which are free on Kindle).
I have a list of a ton of free homeschool resources for every age group here
. If you want a quick-start guide to homeschooling (with more good advice thrown in), check out this article
Q: Can you recommend a preschool/kindergarten program?
All of the homeschooling parents I know end up using a mish-mash of curriculum and learning materials. As you progress together, you’ll find that one program or another really works with him or her and others do not. Saxon math
was a great choice for my daughter in kindergarten and 1st grade but in 2nd grade, we switched. The emphasis on fact memorization and lengthy worksheets freaked her out. We now use Teaching Textbooks
, which is great. Don’t be surprised if, in a couple of years, you’re using a math curriculum from one company, phonics from another, and an assortment of children’s classics and reference books for everything else.
One program we used when our kids were in that pre-schooler age, was Five in a Row. The concept of this program is to use a different children’s picture book each week and read it aloud every day for five days in a row. Each day you pull different lessons from the book. The child really enjoys the repeated readings, and you get a chance to draw lessons from every subject area from a single book. You can talk about the artwork, or the location of the book (find it on a map, globe, maybe make a recipe from that town/country, etc.), the characters, nature lessons from the book, etc. There’s a different content lesson each day, all pulled from the same book. The main problem with the program is that many of the books are out of print, and it can take quite a bit of effort to track them down. However, once you see how the author creates her curriculum for each piece of literature, you could easily replicate it yourself using different books.
I taught my daughter how to read using a phonics program, Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons
. The lessons were boring to me, the illustrations were dorky, but golly, if she didn’t learn to read! She is now a voracious reader, easily reading at 11th and 12th grade. (She’s 12 years old.) Yesterday she was reading ‘Taming of the Shrew’, the original version.
Q: Is there funding available for supplies, books, etc.? If so where do I start finding that information?
A: Welcome to homeschooling! There is no funding available, whatsoever! The closest you’ll get is your state’s pseudo “homeschooling” program in which they might give you a ‘free’ computer and a stack of textbooks. You check in once a week with a ‘certified’ teacher and keep a written record of the assignments, quizzes, and tests.
Friends of mine who have done this eventually drop out. One friend complained about the massive amount of time and effort demanded of her kids. Their school days were sometimes longer than a public school day! When you think about all the classroom crap that doesn’t exist when you homeschool (e.g. taking roll, lining up to go here and there several times a day, time consumed with discipline problems) it mystifies me why so much work should be piled on homeschoolers using these programs. Unless the ploy is to actually lure them back to the public schools in frustration.
(Disclaimer: I taught school for numerous years and was a teacher trainer for several more. I may be a little more critical of public schools than the average mom.)
A lot of moms go for these programs because of the lure of the free computer and curriculum and their own insecurity, but in my opinion, there’s a high price to pay. Homeschooling can set you free of tight schedules, questionable curriculum (as in, “Tell me again why my kid has to learn THIS????”), one-size-fits-all-10,000-kids-in-our-district curriculum. My advice is that you take a deep breath, go to the library with your child, look for books on every subject he’s interested in, and then just dive in together.
Q: What would a typical day look like as far as the book learning segment?
A: Are you envisioning you and your child sitting down together over a textbook, answering the questions at the back of the chapter, and then taking chapter quizzes? I hope not! Kids soak up an amazing amount of information in so many ways, and as it turns out, textbooks may be the worst source of information! They’re written by adults who have been away from actively teaching children for decades. They’re written by committees and have to conform to a pre-set reading level, well below what it should be. The committee determines how many words or paragraphs are devoted to herbivores, George Washington, the Pacific Ocean, and so on. You’ll be dismayed when you realize that significant pieces of information are left out or minimized, but that an entire page is devoted to an insignificant character or event just because it’s politically correct.
The very best books you can buy and use with your child are those written by people who have/had a deep love and fascination in one area or another and want to pass along that information to children. Why limit yourself to a half-page about birds in a science textbook when your son can enjoy reading the stories in The Burgess Bird Book
and learn massive amounts of information about all types of birds without even realizing it?
Okay, that little lecture aside, there is no “typical” day in the life of a homeschool family. In some families the dad is very involved and good chunks of school time happen in the evenings and on weekends. Sometimes families have to work around medical issues, work schedules, and just life. For a pre-schooler/kindergartener, “school” really shouldn’t last more than a couple of hours a day, if that.
Just think! You can combine books, field trips, family travel, nature walks, visits with friends and family, camping trips, home routines and chores, and errands to create an amazing lifestyle of learning and practical skills for your kids! Right now they are probably a bundle of energy and will become even more so. Sitting down with a pile of books will drive all of you crazy. That’s actually one of the main reasons I avoid recommending an all-in-one curriculum because they tend to be very heavy on the textbook/workbook system.
Q: How will I know if his or her skills match up with the public school requirements? Are there tests they will need to take to prove this information?
A: My advice? This isn’t something you need to worry about until around high school age. Your state will have its scope and sequence on their website, and you can use that as a reference point or give you ideas of content areas to explore. However, let me tell you a secret about public schools. In all my years of teaching, I never once, not once, ever finished a textbook. There were many years that we threw away workbooks that weren’t even half-used. When I taught U.S. history, we used to joke that our students thought American history ended right after WWII because that’s as far as we ever got! So don’t be intimidated by your state standards or their scope and sequence.
As far as standardized testing goes, that depends on where you live. Where I live, Arizona, testing is optional. Many homeschool parents choose to test, just to give them a bit of guidance as to where their children are excelling or may need additional help. The scores are not reported to anyone, as far as I’m aware.
Even if you should enroll him in a public school at some point, you won’t need to show past schoolwork, test scores, grades, or anything else. Now, some states do have more stringent rules, so check your state’s requirements at Homeschool Legal Defense Association
(HSLDA) to find out if you have to meet any state requirements.
Because almost all of us adults spent some 12+ years in the public school system, it’s really all we know! It’s hard to imagine that kids can learn any other way other than being grouped by age, sat in desks in rows, given a set number of minutes each day to learn a given subject, have that learning interrupted over and over again by a bell, herded outside for a few minutes of playtime, etc. I could go on and on about the artificiality of the public school system.
What you’re offering your child is an amazing, customized, and authentic homeschool education. It will be centered around his or her strengths and interests. You’ll be right there alongside them to see their struggles, and you’ll be partners in learning. That is such a rich gift you are giving them, and you have my admiration.
Q: Is there paperwork I need to fill out, something I need to register in order for my child to be recognized as “going to school”?
Again, go to the HSLDA
website, and find out what your state requires. As an FYI, HSLDA is a Christian organization, but they are the only organization in the country that goes to bat for their members, regardless of personal beliefs or non-beliefs. Membership is less than $10 a month, and if there is ever a time an official from a school district, the state, or wherever visits your home, asks for additional paperwork or documentation that isn’t legally required, or anything else, HSLDA will be on your side.
I’m very passionate about homeschooling and pray that we always have the right to educate our own children. You’re in for thousands of delightful surprises along the way. Some frustrating days, to be sure, but the joys will far outweigh everything else. Hopefully, this advice from a veteran homeschool mom will encourage and inspire you to pursue homeschooling yourself!
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.