Thursday, June 18, 2020

Where Do I Start with Homeschooling? - by Linnea Johnson

You made it through the school year “homeschooling” your children and either you’re saying “never again”, or you are now considering homeschooling this next school year.  There are differences between coping with an unplanned and potentially chaotic quarantine school at home and planning for a homeschool experience in the fall.  If you’ve questioned your ability to homeschool based on your experiences with this recent lock down, don’t. There is no comparison between having something ill prepared and untested foisted upon you in addition to all the other stresses and planning for your own successful homeschool.
What will schools look like?
There are good reasons to consider homeschooling in the fall given the current requirements for children to return to school. The CDC has issued recommendations for reopening schools and they include having children wear masks all day, bringing their own food to school, discouraging sharing of supplies, staggering arrival and drop-off times, and students remaining 6 feet apart at all times. We’ve already seen stores install arrows directing movement through the store and it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to see this in schools as well. We’ve also seen adults “peer” policing for wearing masks and no doubt, children will follow suit.
Your school system will decide how to manage these recommendations, but I suspect we’ll see some pretty consistent implementation methods. Following the CDC recommendations for strategies to prevent COVID spread gives schools some perception of legal cover. If they follow CDC recommendations, lawsuits are less likely to result from re-opening the schools. We live in a litigious society and there’s institutional safety in implementing procedures that are consistent across the country.
What are the laws?
As you make the decision to homeschool, check your state and local requirements for homeschooling. Use this searchable map for homeschool organizations and laws in every US state. The Home School Legal Defense Association also has a searchable map for your state and shows options for how to manage in states that are more highly regulated.  If you’re in Canada, check out this resource.
How do I begin to figure out how to homeschool?
Just as there are a score of teaching methods, there are many ways to homeschool. Perhaps the reason why you want to homeschool defines what method you choose for your children. Parents choose homeschooling for various reasons. Some choose to homeschool for religious reasons. Others choose homeschooling to ensure their children are challenged or are better supported in their learning. Others choose homeschooling to ensure their child’s safety or to help them escape bullying. Some families homeschool because they can’t afford a private school.
There are many valid reasons to homeschool. Some parents choose a predetermined curriculum with videos and grading done by the issuing school. Others choose a more modified version in which the parent grades assignments. Still others research and put together their own curriculum, while others choose unschooling. What is unschooling, you ask? This site can answer your questions.
What about curriculum?
With the resurgence in homeschooling in the 1970’s, there wasn’t any curriculum. Parents cobbled together their own or bought used books from public or private schools.  Many homeschoolers were Christians, and many of the earliest curricula reflect those values. Now, there is a universe of choices to help you in your homeschool experience. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out what will work for you and your children. Start reading and talking to veteran or current homeschoolers.
The links below are ones respected friends or I have used.
·         Cathy Duffy Reviews has been for many the best review of homeschool curriculum for years. Many of her books are no longer available on Amazon. You can order directly from the company and often in e-book format.
·         The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Fourth Edition) Fourth Edition I have not used this book, however, friends have highly recommended it.
·         You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 2nd ed. Edition  is by far the best advice I’ve ever read on homeschooling.
·         Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons We taught both our kids to read with this method and they still enjoy reading today as young adults.
·         Real Science 4 Kids presents science as integral to other learning with fun experiments. We used the “Focus On” series, but many people like the “Building Blocks” format.
·         Mary Pride’s Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling  I am not familiar with this particular book, but we did use many of Mary Pride’s materials when formulating our approach to homeschooling.
·         Singapore Math is a system of teaching math mastery and is best used from the beginning so that both the child and the parent learn the system, which is very different from how math is typically taught in the US. We did not use this system, but friends who were in the STEM field highly recommended it.
·         We used Saxon Math in middle school and beginning high school years because my children wanted to attend public high schools and Saxon tracked well with the school math curriculum.
·         Timberdoodle was our go to for educational toys and they have morphed into selling curriculum that may be worth checking out.
·         HearthSong has many educational toys, but you can just as easily contact an appliance dealer for a free refrigerator box for your kids to convert to a fort or ask for scrap pieces of wood from the local wood yard for the children to create things with hammer and nails. Public schools often sell their old equipment. We acquired a couple non-working microscopes and other mechanical items that my oldest enjoyed bringing back to life.
·         Calvert curriculum is a well-respected comprehensive Catholic curriculum. I haven’t used this, but I do know many people who are very happy with it.
·         Sonlight is a Christian curriculum that we used in the early years because of its international view. There is a heavy focus on reading: both the parent reading aloud and the child reading at their level. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to read aloud to your children. We read every night and worked our way through many books, including Tolkien’s works, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (twice), many missionary biographies, and one of our favorites, The Little Britches series.
·         The Khan Academy is a free resource for learners, parents, teachers and school districts worldwide. I have heard it is helpful and is especially useful for high school students. If you have used Khan Academy, please share your experience in the comments below.
·         The Five Most Important Money Lessons to Teach your Kids discusses what you can teach your children about managing money from the youngest ages. Schools, in general, do not teach this, you should.
·         Duolingo offers language learning in an interactive format. I have used this in advance of traveling to another country to familiarize myself with the language.
·         Grasshopper teaches how to code in a fun and enjoyable format and I liked the interface.
Find descriptions and reviews by homeschoolers on just about any curriculum and publisher here.
Another great resource is a homeschool convention. Typically, there will be keynote speakers, along with lectures from vendors. While the conventions may be postponed this year because of COVID, the organizations that sponsor them are still active. I began going to homeschool conventions when my oldest was two and got practical information while doing my own research. Used bookstores can be a tremendous help in finding both curriculum and homeschool support groups. Public libraries will sometimes order books if you request them or may have a reciprocal arrangement with another library system in which they can offer the book for checkout. is a great resource for both used and new books if you know what you’re looking for. Amazon and eBay are always options as well for both used and new books and videos.
Find your people
Homeschooling may be met with lots of resistance from friends and family. In our case, my parents were both educators so the choice to homeschool was met with derision.  There was no help offered, in fact there was a lot of discouragement expressed. Fortunately, we had many friends who homeschooled and they became our lifeline.
We joined a co-op, explored playgroups until we found one that fit our family, attended rehearsal performances of the arts for children during the daytime at our local performance center, and met other families at the park once a week for lunch and playtime. Our kids took music lessons, played on teams, and were part of church groups.
We found our people and you need to do the same. Who are your people? Find them and you can support each other.
Well, that’s all well and good, but both of us have to work to support our family.
I agree that in the last 20 years, it’s become more difficult to have one parent at home. However, an argument can be made that it’s not efficient to have both parents working either. With both parents working, someone has to take on the tasks of running a household, maintaining cars, paying bills, grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking. Someone also has to take on the task of caring for preschool age children or retrieving children from after-care in schools. When both parents work, the life tasks are not fewer, yet there is less time to accomplish them, leaving less time to build a relationship with each other. There is a continual pull between what you instinctively know is necessary and right for your family and what your employer demands. It can become a rat race and suck the life out of all who try to maintain it. A case can be made that both parents working with children in daycare does not advance financial health.
I’m a single parent, where does this leave me?
Being a single parent is the hardest job I know. Not only do you need to provide for your family, but homeschooling would be an additional responsibility that occupies what little free time you have. If homeschooling is something you want to try, let me suggest a couple of things. Find like-minded parents with whom you could share schooling responsibilities. If you are able, work later hours and spend the daytime hours with your children. Better yet, see if you can work from home. Find a family member who can help you care for the children while you’re at work and homeschool when you get home. Perhaps there is a Grandma in your life who would love to homeschool your children. Be creative. What are the potential options open to you?
What about all our living expenses?
Living expenses can be high and may go higher if the increase in food prices continues, but do we really need to maintain our current lifestyle? Could we downsize, eat out less, be happy with the clothes we have, take a walk around the neighborhood or have a picnic in the park for entertainment? Do we need that large TV to be happy? Do we need all those expensive video games and gaming systems? Choosing homeschooling is choosing a lifestyle that is different. It is choosing to resist the hype in advertisements that we need all that stuff to be happy.
When our kids were little, we’d watch Veggie Tales. One of our favorites was the one with Madame Blueberry and Stuff Mart, which was ultimately a lesson in thankfulness. It also demonstrated how we think we can buy happiness. It was really more a lesson for me than my children! I’ve learned that the more stuff I have, the more I have to maintain, store and protect.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating an austere lifestyle. I am suggesting if we dial back what we think we need, we can save a lot of money, which opens up other possibilities. For example: one of the parents not working, being able to save money for things that really matter, and living a more simple, less-stressed lifestyle.
When you don’t have as much, improvise and use what you have.
Interestingly, in this quarantine situation, I’ve gone back to many things I did when my kids were little and we had less income. Things like washing out plastic bags or containers and reusing them, letting a potential purchase “incubate” for a time and save up before I make a buy/no-buy decision, carefully planning meals to create a new meal with the leftovers, and doing simple things like taking a walk and noticing the birds and flowers to enjoy life.
I ask you, do we really need everything we have? Do we encourage each other to acquire new “stuff” because we want to conform to a norm or because we think we deserve it? I challenge you to think about it and consider the possibilities. I truly believe a shift in this paradigm can open up a world of possibilities.
What do you think?
What are your thoughts on the homeschooling lifestyle? If you are a current homeschooler, please share your thoughts in the comments below. If you’ve homeschooled and have adult children, your comments are especially welcome! If you are considering homeschooling, use the comments to ask questions and discuss options.
About Linnea
Linnea Johnson has her MA in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught preschool students through adults on topics including music, English as a 2nd language, technology, business, and personal finance.  She now works in technical business development with universities.  She and her husband homeschooled their two active sons, who went on to careers in mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship. Her greatest joy is spending time with her family, cultivating a little urban farm, and traveling with her husband of 31 years.