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Beginning Homeschooling

by Karen Lange

Homeschooling is a great educational option for children. Some of the benefits are a one-on-one, tailored education with interest driven and hands-on learning opportunities, real-life, balanced socialization, and quality family time. In order to get started on the right foot, consider the following important homeschool basics.

Is it legal? Homeschooling is legal in every state. Each state has its own requirements, so find out what is required in your state. Talk to other homeschoolers in your area (see listings of state-by-state parent groups on p. 112); check your local library or homeschool resources such as www.hslda.org or www.homefires.com for details.

Who can help me? Connect with other homeschoolers. Find a few families or a local support group. Information on state and local homeschool networks and groups can be found on the Internet, in local papers, at the library (the Children’s Librarian usually knows the homeschoolers), through groups such as the La Leche League or food co-ops, etc. Other homeschool parents can provide a wealth of information on how to deal with the local school district, support group meetings, field trips, curriculum, teaching ideas, and much more. Even if down the road you find that your homeschool philosophies differ, there is much to be gained from their fellowship and experience. Once you get started, you will find a family or two that shares your specific mindset.

What material should I use? Research curriculum offerings. The Internet, homeschool books, magazines, curriculum catalogs, other homeschoolers, curriculum fairs, and new and used bookstores, etc., all offer things to help get you started. Don’t know where to start? Find a good curriculum guide, such as the Unschoolers Network “Living Is Learning” guides, www.unschoolersnetwork.bravehost.com or other similar resources. These guides offer a framework, outline what is covered in each grade, and provide sources and ideas for curriculum and activities. Many homeschool networks offer consulting services, too, that help you put a plan together.

What else can I do to make this transition to homeschooling? It helps to formulate a plan for your family’s homeschool. Avoid being too rigid; remember that this plan will develop and change as you go. This is normal! There’s a learning curve, especially when you start. Each family has different needs, schedules, and interests. Consider these, for they are important factors for success. As this plan unfolds, also consider your child’s age, learning style, and interests, the family budget, and state requirements. These will help direct your steps and further clarify your plan.

What are your thoughts about education? Everyone has preconceived ideas – whether you loved or hated school as a kid, or you feel that kids are being pushed too much too soon or whatever – we all bring something to the table when we educate our kids at home. This helps shape your philosophy about education. This will probably develop and change as you go, but it can help bring your plan into focus. Bear in mind that there are many schools of thought on homeschooling. Some families prefer a traditional classroom approach, others take a more relaxed or unschooling approach, still others fall somewhere in between, choosing to use unit studies or a correspondence school. Information on teaching styles and homeschool educational philosophies are available through the Internet and homeschool books and magazines. Talk to other homeschoolers, too, for input. It may take some time for you to find the right fit for you and your children. Don’t stress, though, it is not necessary to have this all figured out before you start. Just be aware and open to different philosophies. It’ll come together with time.

What about socialization? Be prepared for questions about it. As most homeschoolers know, this is really a non-issue. Homeschoolers have the benefit of interacting with people of all ages from all walks of life, not just their age peer group in a classroom each day. The socialization that homeschoolers experience imitates real life experiences, better preparing children for the real world. Homeschool co-ops and support groups, sports, clubs, church and community activities, friends and neighbors, all provide avenues for your kids to socialize. The “plus” is that you have more say in how it comes together, thus providing a good balance on the negative aspects of socialization (which we all know exist, but proponents of socialization are hesitant to admit). Don’t worry, your kids won’t grow up stunted socially. Trust me!

How and when should we do school? School at home will be as unique as your family. Some families prefer a classroom-like setting, others designate an informal area where books and materials are kept, doing actual schoolwork in different places; the ‘how and where’ possibilities are endless. These choices will be affected somewhat by your homeschool philosophy. An unschooler will see learning happen all over the house, inside and out. The more traditional student may stay at a desk in one area. Other families do some of each – it just depends on your style and preferences. Consider things such as younger family members, location of a computer, and distractions. If you know your child will be easily distracted while trying to complete a math lesson, choose a quiet area of the house where s/he can work. As for schedules, it is up to you, your schedule, student learning styles, and state regulations. Some families start at 9 a.m., break for lunch, and continue some in the afternoon. Others finish all their work in the mornings, still others have no set schedule. No one size fits all. It may take some trial and error, but it won’t be long before you find what works for your family.

What should I do? I’m still nervous! If you are feeling unsure of your ability to carry this out, be encouraged. There are great resources available to support you if you are feeling insecure in your ability to do this. Resources include, but are not limited to, curriculum offerings (teacher guides and support), private tutors, homeschool learning co-ops, swapping teaching duties with other parents, books, and videos. You’ve already been teaching your children from birth, so you have a great head start. Relax, you will find the right balance in time.

You can do this! If you truly feel that this is the best option for your child, it will come together. It will take time and effort, but it can happen. You will learn, if necessary, right along with your kids, and have opportunities to bond with them in ways you’d never imagined. Families have homeschooled for years with great success. My family is a prime example; all three of my children survived our sixteen-year homeschool adventure and lived to tell about it. They are all adults now, with jobs, real lives and the ability to socialize with others. You won’t wreck your kids. Take it a year at a time, trust your instincts, and go from there.
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Karen and Jeff Lange homeschooled their three children in grades K-12. Karen is a freelance writer, homeschool consultant, and student writing instructor.

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