A Mom’s Advice to the Homeschool Mom Wannabe

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A Mom's Advice to the Homeschool Mom Wannabe via The Survival Mom
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?

A: 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?

A: 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”?

A: 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!


22 thoughts on “A Mom’s Advice to the Homeschool Mom Wannabe”

  1. I have a few comments to add.
    Another great, free homeschool 'curriculum' for preschool/kindergarten is http://www.letteroftheweek.com. I used this for both my younger boys. There's a lot of play with it, and you can add or take away anything that isn't for you. But, it does give you a sort of plan.
    Some states DO have funding available. I know that Alaska does, for example. They have different requirements for using the funding. I think California has funding available through charter schools, not the K-12 cyber-public-school option, but a genuine homeschool option that's worth looking into.
    As far as skills go, the problem is that states have add different skill sets. In fact, sometimes, different school districts within a state require different things. That is the beauty of homeschooling if you move a lot. (We've lived in 4 different states since our children started school.) The children can have continuity. Don't worry about the school schedule, because students move in and out of various school districts, and they're always behind or ahead. I went to three different high schools. I took the second half of American history 3 times. Go figure.

    Relax, foster your children's love of learning, and everything will work out.

  2. I personally don't homeschool, for my own reasons, but I totally understand why families do. In second grade, my 7 yr old looked at me defiantly and informed me that his homework was a waste of his time. Since he could do that math when he was 5, I had to agree. I started photocopying pages from another math book we had and doing that instead. He loves it so much more. It's a 1912 reprint of an 1878 text. There is row after row of math problems, and nary a request for "new math" or "explaining your results" or "showing your work" in sight. It's 2+8. How much explanation do you need?!?!?! We also read old history texts and reading primers. When I say old, I mean 100-130 years old, generally. The kids really enjoy them and they don't have any of that PC nonsense infecting them. They also routinely include morality lessons, particularly the reading texts.

    And my first history class that went past WWII was in college.

    1. I admire the parents that homeschool their children and the dedication to the education of their children. I have four boys and I do not homeschool them. My oldest son struggles constantly in school because he does not learn the way his peers do. He asks me to homeschool him, I just don't feel I would be doing my best as his Mom or be as good of one. I believe my son has a defiance toward the school because he is a little different and I have come to the realization that someday I may be teaching him along with his brothers. I am going to start looking for old history books, thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Jean in Illinois

    Since you mentioned the Burgess Bird Book, I thought I'd add that book, and other Burgess books for children, are available at LibriVox.org – FREE. "LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. " Just look at their catalog – lots and lots of books homeschooling or any moms would like their children to hear, read by volunteer readers from all over. Imagine: all the Jane Austen novels, read by English ladies with their delightful accents! Listening to books read is a magical experience, and some children learn even better by hearing rather than reading. LibriVox could be a valuable supplement to your children's education, whether homeschooling or not. Just hearing all the different voices and accents is fun for me.

    My husband recorded the Burgess Bird Book and several others, using his theatre experience to create (really cute) character voices for all the animals. His mother, a retired librarian, joined him on one of the recordings shortly before she passed away. They sat outside of her nursing home that day, and you can hear birds in the background of the recording. It's a sweet memory.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      We love listening to recorded books. It allows everyone in the family to sit back and enjoy a good story, experience it together, and then talk about it later. All great bonding experiences.

  4. Homeschooling your child is an absolute joy. I learned more homeschooling my son than I did when I was in public school. When you have an off day, ( We all do.) leave the text books and bake cookies. Have your "student" read the recipe, or print a copy of it for their own recipe book, have them double the recipe or do half a recipe. When they are little, use raisins or chocolate chips to do math. "You have 17 chocolate chips and you love me so much that you want to give me half of them, how many is that?"
    Our Bible study was every day, not just on Sunday for 30 minutes. One Sunday, my son was given a sheet of paper and 6 stickers to put on the paper in pre-shaped areas and told to stick them on at home. They were busy planning a skating trip and didn't have time to do the Bible lesson.
    Join a local Home School support group for field trips and group studies on specific topics that interest several of the kids. Have fun! These are wonderful days with your child that you will never have again.

    1. eBay and used book stores primarily. I've also found them at yard sales and stores with misc. old "junk". You can find ones for teaching cursive and all sorts of oddball things, as well. Have fun searching!!!

      1. Keep an eye out for them at libraries. They often clearance their books for pennies. I found some 19th Century readers and an English textbook from the 1920's for .50 each. They don't make textbooks like that anymore!

  5. While it only goes up to high school, my parents were very satisfied with Calvert School when they were homeschooling me. Granted, the textbooks and materials are somewhat fixed (at least, they were a decade or so ago), but the testing/evaluation part of the process was quite simple – box up all the paperwork in the prepaid packaging, and the folks at Calvert would handle it all. I would imagine the specifics have changed, but it consistently ranks highly amongst homeschooling parents.

  6. I home schooled my younger daughter from 3rd grade on, who was struggling in public school. She just graduated from a private college with academic scholarships all the way. And it didn't cost much at all. I used primarily library books for reading, genuine source materials (such as the constitution and attending state and national legislative meetings) for civics, the real world (reading clocks, thermometers, weather charts, etc), and internet sources (checked for accuracy, of course). We used few "textbooks" because they are full of errors.

    Accurate historical fiction can be fun for learning in the early years, and you can design a curriculum around whatever your child is interested in at the time. And, very contrary to public school, we started science very early (3rd grade) with the concepts of physics. Have your child sit in a chair that spins. Have him extend his legs for a moment, then draw them in towards his body. See what happens! Have a race emptying equal sized bottles of water–turning one upside down and swirling the other one around before turning it upside down. That, my friends, is science. It's fun. Kids love it. Math? Nature is full of examples of the Fibinacci Principle (although don't tell the kids that counting rings of seeds in a pine cone has that name). Look for examples of geometry in the home, in art, in simple objects. Apply geometry by sewing or building something. Double and halve recipes of favorite snacks. What is the Golden Mean? Well, it's a 3×5 card, or a whole lot of other ordinary household objects.

    Go to museums. Ask to tour various businesses of all kinds (farms, stores, publishing houses, automotive repair shops–whatever is available to you). I was never turned down and we both learned so much (such as our local mechanic will give a free pre-purchase inspection on a car if I promise to use him to service the car in the future). Join 4-H (it's not just for rural stuff anymore) and learn about just about anything. Ask if your child can participate in public school sports, band, art class, mechanics class, or whatever you feel you might lack the skills in yourself (many states allow this for free).

    We followed just a few rules:
    1) Don't just read about it. Try it. (So, if you're studying Rome, try acting like a Roman soldier. March a 15 minute mile carrying 60 pounds on your back (okay, less if you have a very small child). Try throwing a homemade javelin for accuracy. Drink your water with vinegar added. Etc.)
    2) Don't sit in a chair at a desk. Sit where you feel comfy–maybe on a tree limb, maybe snuggled against Mom on the couch, maybe in a tent made of card tables and sheets.
    3) Get out in the community and meet as many people as you can. Teach manners as you meet these folks (so many young people don't have a clue how to do a simple handshake).
    4) Show off your crafts and musical talents where you'll really be appreciated–nursing homes love visitors and will applaud just about anything! (If you're really good, join a community theater group, choir, band, or orchestra.)
    5) If you're not having fun 80% of the time, you're not doing something right.
    6) There are no dumb questions–only people who are not smart enough to ask when they are puzzled.
    7) Home school does not have snow days. (Those are the days you learn about wind chill factors, how to build igloos, maybe how to live without electricity, etc.) Instead, take a few "sun" days to just go play in park, take a hike, or relax outdoors. (If you happen to slip in a little birdwatching and wildflower identification on the way, who's going to notice?

    I promise if you follow these simple rules, your child will flourish, learn a lot, and always want to learn–until the day they die. Learning actually excites children, as you can see in any toddler. Your goal is to keep that spark thriving.

  7. Check your state for funding options. I'm in Alaska and I know we do things differently here, but there is funding for homeschooling here. When I homeschooled my son in Kindergarden I was given a budget by the homeschool program I used. We bought the curriculums they recommended and then had about $1,000 left for other things. I used this to buy books, educational toys and science equipment. However my sister who lives in a different area of the state and has been homeschooling for years uses the money for lessons like piano, swimming, etc. or for an acting camp this summer and she can also get reimbursed for taking the kids to educational activites such as museums. And if you didn't guess Alaska has a huge homeschooling population.

  8. If you can give away your books try http://www.paperbackswap.com. You can 'trade' books you don't want for something you haven't read yet. After you post your 1st 10 books you get 2 credits/books. When you request someone else's book they mail it to you for free. When someone requests your book you mail it to them.

  9. The homeschooling movement needs to get organized nationwide. Whenever there's a threat to homeschooling in one state. The full weight of million of homeschooling parents should slam said state with calls and donations.

    Likewise, whenever there's a favorable bill to homeschooling being put forth, nationwide strength in numbers should ram it through.

    I'm at the point where when I see a state or federal worker, I am disgusted and think parasite. When kids are getting hammered for opening a lemonade stand or parents have to jump through hoops to home school. All the state or feds are doing is protecting entrenched bureaucracy.

  10. The homeschool community is getting organized through [url ]www.parentalrights.org[/url]. They are proposing a Parental Rights Amendment to the Constitution. If you go to the website you can sign the petition and learn how to get more involved.

    You can also sign the petition to STOP the U.N.'s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, if ratified by the U.S., will allow the government to decide what's best for our children instead of the parents (and it doesn't just apply to homeschooling). There are now 37 Senators who are co-sponsoring a resolution to stop ratification of the CRC. If you've never heard about this, please visit the website learn more.

    As a homeschool mom, I'm relieved that my teen daughters will soon graduate and threats like this will not affect them. However, I also have a 5 year old and I'm concerned that her education will not always be within my control. So I'm very thankful that the homeschooling community has the support of HSLDA and ParentalRights.org to protect our families and our freedom to educate our children as we see fit, whether it's homeschool, public, or private school.

  11. Homeschool family for 11 years. I actually started with my step daughters when they were in middle school. Middle school was not good to us. I already ran a homedaycare so I was working from home anyway. My oldest step daughter went back to school in 11th grade, then joined the National Guard and is now a combat medic. My youngest step daughter started college a day before she turned 17. It was a small Christian college, she met her husband there and is now married. My own daughter has never stepped foot in a school. She uses FLVS and is doing exceptional (ok, math is a little hairy sometimes). For us it was one of the best choices we ever made!

  12. I do feel blessed living in OK – where "other schooling" that is written into our state constitution has been interpreted as homeschooling due to one of the writers at the time schooling his children at home. The public school system doesnt even know I have children. We dont answer to any one or tell anyone what we are doing.

    In fact, I met a mom at the pool who had just moved to the state and wanted to know who she contacted to tell them she homeschooled – I told her "Welcome to Oklahoma. Good luck to you." She was dumbfounded.

    If you want to stop the encroachment in many states, you need to turn them back from the path they have already come. And you most certainly need to not take any of the "freebies" because nothing is free. There are always strings. If they give you a computer, they have the right to tell you what you can do with it…. Take nothing from them.

  13. This is one of the best advice pieces on homeschooling that I have seen yet! I wish I had grabbed this when I was considering homeschooling. I have a teaching background, like you, and so appreciate your take on “the system” and curriculum! I found myself getting anxious last week when I wasn’t getting to the end of my math curriculum, until I remembered that I had NEVER reached the end of a textbook while teaching public school! Sometimes I forget that I am actually ALREADY homeschooling one grade above where the public schools would shove my kids (along with 25-35 other kids their own squirley age). You had great advice, and super reminders. Thank you.

  14. I LOVE your articles on HS Lisa! It is soo helpful to me. We pulled our son out of High school 12-12-12 and it is such a blessing. I have to figure things out still and am learning along the way BUT I know I can do this. The biggest thing is creating transcripts, grades, etc so they look professional and neat. Also, finding info for teenagers would be helpful too as there is a ton of info flooded for younger years. I KNOW without a doubt this is the best route for our son as he has always hated school for all the right reasons and he should be a heck of a lot happier learning at his level and not being “dumbed down” any longer. Thanks Lisa, look forward to all your articles and blogs!

  15. abebooks.com is a good resource for cheap books if anyone’s interested. Rainbow Resource cataloge is also good, and they give really good summaries/descriptions of the materials they offer.

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