New to Homeschooling?
By Tiffany Michaels
I frequently get emails from people wondering where to even start as they begin to consider homeschool. Below are a compilation of my responses and my best suggestions. Blessings to your family as you consider and begin this homeschool journey!
If you are just starting to consider homeschooling, the task can feel overwhelming! Here are a few suggestions to help with the transition:
Know your State laws on homeschooling. For Washington State, Washington Homeschooling Organzation is a great resource. This page shows the legal requirements for Washington: https://washhomeschool.org/homeschooling/getting-started-homeschooling/
These are the basic requirements for Washington State:
- Parents need to have 45 quarter hours of college or take a parent qualifying course to homeschool
- Complete a yearly Intent to Homeschool form for children ages 8 and older and send to your school district office. You don't need to do anything at all for children ages 7 and under.
- Do yearly standardized testing (3rd grade and up, no testing before 3rd grade)
- Cover 13 required subjects of reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation. HOWEVER, the law recognizes that for homeschoolers, these subjects may be "more experiential in nature." That means that everyday things you do count. Did you go for a walk and watch some tadpoles? Maybe you talked about how water becomes clean as it flows. Maybe you talked about the people who work in nature. Maybe you even drew a tadpole or read a book about tadpoles at home. There you have science, reading, health (walking and talking about sunshine/fresh air as things you need to be healthy), occupational education and art.
Sometimes less is more for curriculum. As new homeschoolers, we tend to jump into a ton of new, sometimes expensive, curriculum for all subjects. I recommend NOT doing that. Choose a core language arts and math program and start there. Especially for younger kids. Younger kids aren't going to remembrer anything else anyway!!! I did such cool stuff with my oldest when he was little--we covered history and science and art and so many things in first and second grade. He doesn't remember ANY of it. Go on some field trips. Take some walks. Watch some cool documentaries. Do some fun art. Do some science experiments. Read a LOT. Choose books you love as a family. Sneek in your history through historical fiction. There are a lot of great options, such as The Golden Goblet, The Bronze Bow, Little House on the Prairie, etc.
A nice resource is 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. It discusses the different homeschool styles, such as Charlotte Mason, Classical, Traditional, Unschooling, Eclectic, etc as well as the different learning and teaching styles. From there, she has a nice matrix of curriculum that might work well. I found it an interesting starting point.
I'm kind of a curriculum junkie and have tried TONS of different curriculum.
LANGUAGE ARTS RECOMMENDATIONS:
By FAR my top choice for Language Arts is The Good and The Beautiful!!! Their Language Arts combines 8 different subjects into one:
- Phonics, Reading, & Spelling
- Grammar & Punctuation
- Literature & Writing
- Art Appreciation
The Phonics is PHENOMINAL. I have never seen a more thorough phonics program. The curriculum is BEAUTIFUL to look at. The content is very good. Plus the downloads are FREE for levels 1-5. It doesn't get much better than that! Lessons are a little different every day, which is nice, and I love that it is open and go, so there is no prep for the teacher.
If you have kids under 5th grade, I would recommend just starting with The Good and The Beautiful Language Arts and add a math of your choice. I'd add in other subjects as you have time or desire. If you do decide to start with this Language Arts, make sure to have your child take the placement tests to know where to begin. It is important to know that the levels do NOT line up with grade level. I would recommend this Language Arts for older kids also. I haven't actually used their high school language arts yet, but it looks very good.
For upper level writing, I highly recommend Institute for Excellence in Writing. This writing program is fantastic and sets kids up really well for upper level high school and even college writing. However, be aware that there is a steep learning curve for the teacher. It teaches by having students write key word outlines and then write their paragraphs from the outlines. You will see a huge increase in your children's writing abilities with this curriculum. They actually have curriculum for all grades K-12, and I love the K-2 People and Places curriculum if you have younger kids.
For Washington State, you need to test once a year, any time during the year. It's not as bad as it sounds! There are lots of options:
- Test for free with students at your local public schools
- Use any Washington State approved Standardized Tests (most are where you order the booklets through the mail and return them again). Tests are about $30 each plus shipping. This link has a pdf of approved tests: http://washhomeschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/FAQ-Home-Based-Instruction.pdf
- Use the California Achievement Test online for $25 per test: https://www.shopchristianliberty.com/special-service/
BUT... WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?
Seriously, homeschoolers hate this question because most homeschoolers are far above the average ability of children to socialize with others. They socialize frequently with children and adults of all ages. I recommend choosing just a couple of activities to get your kids involved in. My kids love Co-op, and I love that they get a chunk of their subjects there that I DON'T teach at home, such as PE, science, hands-on activities, art, etc.
Other options could include:
- 4-H, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Pathfinders, etc
- Church, youth groups
- Sports through local schools, the YMCA, or the City
- Kids' College and/or camps in the summer
- Orchestra and music groups
- A weekly group with other homeschoolers at a park or other location
Your children are going to be fine and will be adequately socialized! In fact, you may find that you have to limit their social activities so that you have enough time for school at home!
Looking back, these are the suggestions that I have:
- Keep it simple. For younger grades, just do reading (with Phonics), writing (including spelling), and math. Do everything else experientially here and there as field trips, with groups, or as fun activities.
- Read. Read. Read. My family loves reading, and we read outloud together a lot. It's our favorite time of the day. I typically have 3-5 books we read a chapter of each day. I always include one for character building, one for history, and one just for fun.
- If your child has been in school and is just starting to homeschool, your child may feel like he or she is going to die from lack of socialization (at least my child did when I pulled him in 3rd grade, lol). Plan it in your week to have 1-2 social activities at least when you first start homeschooling. Your child may need less the longer you homeschool.
- Find other homeschooling families to connect with. This is important for your kids AND FOR YOU.
- Recognize that some days are going to be terrible. Utterly, completely terrible. Perservere. Keep homeschooling anyway. Learn from the bad days and make improvements for the future.
- It's okay to sometimes throw out the curriculum entirely, pack the kids in the car, and go to the park or for a walk or to do something fun together. Fun together is important.
- Go to a Homeschool Convention. Seriously. GO. The Boise Homeschool Convention is fantastic, cheap, and has a program for kids and teens too! I went for the first time this last summer, and it was incredibly inspiring! I came home jazzed with tons of new ideas... and curriculum.
- If you are Christian, PRAY. Often!