When my husband and I first decided to start homeschooling our kids, it was a relief to finally come to a final decision. However, it was also a little daunting, since neither of us had any experience at all with homeschooling. Now, over 6 months in, I feel like we’re doing well, and I want to pass on the information to you that I had to search all over the internet for! I sincerely hope that this guide helps you to get started without feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
The first step in your homeschooling journey should be research. Even before you make the final decision on whether homeschooling your children is the best choice for your family! Below are some of the topics you are going to need information about before you start homeschooling.
Requirements in your state
Every state has different requirements for homeschooling. In some you have to record attendance and teach for a certain number of days each year. Some states require testing at certain grade levels to make sure the children are on track. Others, like our home state of Michigan, have almost no requirements at all! you can find the laws for your state at the HSLDA website.
It can be helpful to learn about the different homeschooling styles (or methods), and which one fits you, your children, and your lifestyle. When you know what style you prefer, you will have an easier time later of narrowing down what curriculum to use, and finding groups to connect with. Some great resources I found for this are from Fearless Homeschool and from Natural Beach Living.
Finding out your children’s learning styles is important as well. Purchasing curriculum, planning daily lessons and field trips, and more of the next steps are much easier when you have this information. Also, your teaching will be most effective, and your children will be much happier to learn, when you are teaching the way that they learn best. You can find out your child’s learning style with this quiz.
Before you start homeschooling, you are going to want to find out what kinds of resources you have locally, and where they are. These resources may include the library, museums, nature centers, sports centers, and so on. Anywhere where you can go to learn something new, go to as a field trip, or go to get teaching materials should be added to your local resources list.
Local resources that may also be on your list, depending on your state’s laws, are the local school district, an umbrella school, tutoring centers, and the local government’s education department.
Setting goals is a very personal thing for every family and every individual child. No two families are going to have the same vision for their children’s education and future. Part of getting started homeschooling is actually writing out the vision and goals you have, as a way of working through the next steps and being intentional with your choices. Some questions you may want to answer while goal setting are:
What are your child’s ideas and vision for their future?
What do you want your children to experience in the coming year?
Who do you want them to be at the end of your school year?
What do you want your children to know by the end of your school year?
What do you want them to be, know, and be able to do when they graduate?
Is there a budget you need to stick to?
Connection is an important part of homeschooling. Neither parents nor children want to feel as if they are all alone in this endeavor. Sometimes you will need to bounce ideas off a neutral party, get advice from someone with more experience with and knowledge of a certain topic, or get help finding a specific resource. You also are going to just need a friend to have adult conversations with! For all of these needs, you have to connect.
Facebook is probably the easiest way to connect with other homeschooling families. There are thousands of groups to choose from! There are groups just for moms, groups for whole families, groups based on certain curriculum, regional groups, groups for parents of special needs kids, parents of gifted kids, and so many more. Just do a search in the Facebook groups tab and take your pick!
Other online communities
Although sometimes harder to find, there are homeschooling communities on other social media channels as well.
Pinterest, of course, is full of information from every corner of the internet. This is my primary search engine/ media site for looking up all things homeschool. Everything from curriculum reviews, free printables, suppliment activities and homeschooling can be found there! *Speaking of free printables, don’t forget to subscribe to my emails to become a site member and get access to my Freebie Library!*
Instagram has a large homeschooling community as well. With just a quick hashtag search you can find homeschooling parents and homeschooling bloggers to connect with. They often post advice, curriculum reviews, book suggestions, and ideas for activities too! And many are happy to answer questions or share their wisdom, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Twitter is a little more tricky. I have had a more difficult time connecting to other homeschoolers on this particular platform. I don’t know if it’s the character limit, or the fast pace at which tweets get buried, but I don’t often see them in my feed. However, if you search hashtags like #homeschool or #homeschoolresources, you’re sure to find some great tweets to read and people to follow!
Local homeschooling families and groups
Some local school districts have a homeschooling extension that can connect you to other families in your area and help you get your children special needs resources or even bring your child into the school’s sports teams. An umbrella school may be required by your state laws, and connecting with one early can help you to get all set for homeschooling as well.
Homeschool co-ops are popular, as they help parents teach subjects they may not be proficient in, and give the children new peers to socialize with. Getting involved with one usually incurs a cost, but many families believe it’s worth the price for all that if offers.
Sometimes you can find a local homeschooling family or group to do on play dates together, go on field trips together, and other fun social activities as well! Don’t be shy, jump in and make some new friends!
Getting organized will be hugely important to the success of your homeschool. You want to be able to find your supplies quickly, have a plan in place so that you are being intentional with your time, and if reporting to your state is required they are going to need organized paperwork! Being organized means you don’t have to waste your time looking for things and can be learning with and enjoying your children instead.
Find a planner you like
Finding a homeschool planner is SO easy. Finding one that meets all your needs is a little more time consuming. But once you find it, it makes life SO MUCH EASIER. Being able to write out the daily school workload is a must, but there are planners that have other perks as well. I’ve seen some with reading logs, some that include monthly calendars to plug in other important events, and some with a field trip planning sheet!
There are many different planners to choose from online. Some free and some for purchase. There are also hard copy ones you can purchase, or even planners that are entirely online! Some examples I’ve looked at are:
Free Homeschool Planner by, The Relaxed Homeschool
Free Homeschool Planning Printables from The Crafty Classroom
The Best Homeschool Planner by, Bless My Budget
The Laid Back Homeschool Planner from Industrious Mama
Free Homeschool Planner by, Nature Homeschool
Decide how to organize and store supplies, curriculum, etc.
Just as every homeschooling family is different, so is each house they live in. So organizing and storing supplies will look different for everyone. Some families have a dedicated homeschool room with bookshelves and closet space just for this purpose. Others (like us) work at our dining table, on the living room floor, and out on the picnic table on the patio, and therefore have to get creative with it.
One thing that works for me is plastic shoebox totes and pencil boxes. I’ve made space on a couple of shelves in my hall closet, and I use shoebox totes and pencil boxes to store things. For example, I have a pencil box that holds my flashcard sets, another one for scissors and glue sticks, and a shoebox tote that holds my felt board pieces. Then I have a shelf on my bookshelf just for curriculum, atlases, and other teaching resources.
There are a lot of articles out there on storing and organizing homeschool items. Some good ones I found are:
How to Organize Your Homeschool Room in a Small Space by, Love this Mom Life
Homeschooling Without a School Room from Learning Mama
6 Easy Ways to Store Homeschool Materials from Midwest Modern Mama
How we Organized our Homeschool Space by, Musings of Mum
7 Tricks to Organize Your Homeschool by, They Call Me Blessed
Decide how to organize the children’s work
I have chosen the portfolio method of organizing my children’s work. This portfolio is in a 3 ring binder for each child and separated by subject. It includes highlights of the paper and pencil work they’ve done, photos of field trips and hands on activities, and a log of the books they have read throughout the year. I also include a log of the books I’ve read to them.
Another way some families organize their children’s work is with a file folder box. You can create a box for each child and folders for each year, or a box for each year with a folder for each child!
For those who don’t have the space for hard copy portfolios, a digital portfolio is another option. There are different apps you can use for this, such as Seesaw or Google Forms. Or simply create a file on your computer for each child.
When choosing, make sure to take into account your state’s laws. Here in Michigan we have no reporting requirements, so I keep a portfolio more for my own records and for that “just in case” scenario. Your state may require you to submit your children’s portfolio with specific format requirements, or certain things to include.
Now that you have done your research, set goals for your children, and gotten organized, it’s time to plan! Break out that new planner and a nice pencil (trust me, don’t use ink!), and let’s get started.
Your daily schedule should be personalized to your family’s needs. For young children, you will want to take multiple snack and wiggle breaks throughout the day. Lunch can be at 11:30, noon, or even 1 pm depending on when your family gets up and has breakfast. If your child is a morning person they might be ready to jump right in to their math and science lessons right away, while other children may need more time to wake up and need some read aloud time and snuggles with you first thing.
Planning ahead for the year is very important too. You need to decide if you are going to school year round, with a traditional school schedule, do a 6 weeks on 2 weeks off sort of schedule, etc.
You also need to remember to plan around holidays and vacations. And part of the beauty of homeschooling is that you have the flexibility for this! You can plan your 2 week out of state vacation during less busy times and get cheaper rates. You could even continue to homeschool on your vacation by bringing the work with you, and by learning about the history, culture, and geography of the place you’re going!
Choosing curriculum can be one of the most fun and/or the most stressful parts when you start homeschooling. There are SO MANY choices out there. (So many that I’m starting to compile a list for a future post!) When choosing there is a lot to consider:
Whether your child would do better with online, pencil and paper, heavy on reading, or a more hands on curriculum.
Your teaching style and your children’s learning style.
The schedules you’ve created.
Your children’s interests.
In addition to boxed curriculum and your own creativity, there are many other ways to supplement the curriculum for added learning. Netflix, for example, has an array of documentaries to choose from. YouTube is a great resource for learning songs and short educational videos on all kinds of topics. You can even find workbooks, flash cards, and other learning materials at Dollar Tree or Walmart!
I personally have created my children’s curriculum for the coming year by purchasing certain subjects, and then creating my own lessons for some subjects too. I’ve known other families who bought an all in 1 curriculum, others who the parents completely created the lessons themselves, and still others who don’t do much for formal lessons at all but have their children investigate what they are interested in on their own. There really is no right or wrong curriculum, as long as it’s working for your family and the children are receiving the education they need.
When you are starting to feel overwhelmed, just remember, God has made you capable because He has called you to teach your children. Do whatever works best for your family. And if (or most likely when) what’s best for your family changes, don’t be afraid to go with the flow!
Once you’ve chosen your curriculum and have your schedule figured out, you can divide the curriculum into daily work. Some curriculum comes already broken down into lessons for each day, and some you will have to figure out yourself based on your schedules and how fast your children will go through the material.
Some states have requirements on how many hours or minutes a schooling day needs to have to meet their attendance guidelines. If your state has laws like that, keep it in mind how long each activity will take and how many hours of instruction are needed while you’re planning.
Don’t forget to count those extra curricular activities as part of your homeschooling! Sports can count as Phys. Ed. Music lessons can count as Arts and Music. Even chores can sometimes be considered Home Ec. or Life Skills education!
Field trips are such a fun part of education! And the possibilities for different field trips to take are endless. Ideally, field trips will be planned around the material the children are learning already, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes, you need to take a fun trip and chalk it up to socialization or Phys. Ed. time!
This is a list of possibilities for field trips I’ve come up with:
- A pond or lake – get water samples to look at under a microscope, or identify different plants and animals.
- A farm- milk cows, pick apples, and learn about farm life.
- The local bowling alley- if you call ahead they may be able to give you a tour to see how the pin reset and ball return works!
- Local museums and historical sites.
- A mechanic shop- they may be able to take some time to show the children different tools, how the lift works, and how to change a tire!
- The zoo- especially during special events when they highlight certain animals and do educational workshops.
- A florist, greenhouse or garden center- children can learn about different types of plants and how they’re grown.
- The playground- teach about friction, inertia, momentum, then play and have a picnic!
- A nature center or forest- look for and identify animal tracks, types of trees, animal bones, and more…
- An indoor trampoline park- learn about gravity and burn some energy!
If it’s not working, change it!
Is the planned schedule not working? Re-arrange it!
If your child isn’t understanding the way the curriculum teaches things, try a new one or add a supplement!
Don’t like your planner? Try a new one!
Everyone has an off day sometimes. Don’t be afraid to take a break and come back later, or pack it up for the day and try again tomorrow!
Don’t feel guilty for leaving a co-op or dropping a program that isn’t working for you!
It’s OK to take a snow day, a sick day, a sun day, or a play-date day!
Final Thoughts on How to Start Homeschooling
You’re not trying to replicate public or private schools. If you liked they way they did things, you’d send your kids there!
Part of the beauty of homeschooling is going at your children’s own pace and teaching the way they learn.
If your child has been in a public or private school previously, it may do them (and you) some good to take a season to “deschool” them before you start homeschooling. That is, taking a time out from formal lessons of any kind to let them have a break. This time allows them to discover that learning can be fun as they explore things they are interested in on their own timetable. It also allows their brains to be deprogrammed from the schedule and ideals that public schools teach, to make them more open to the education you will provide. These are a couple of awesome resources to learn more about the deschooling process!
Finally, try to relax and have fun! If you’re stressed about it, your children will be too. Having the blessing of spending this precious time with your children and educating them is a thing to be celebrated!
Do you have any questions? Or is there anything I’ve missed? Did you go through a similar process when you decided to start homeschooling? Let me know in the comments below!