Thinking about homeschooling but not sure where to start?
When we started the homeschool journey, I followed the steps below, but out of order. That cost time and money! To help others avoid costly mistakes, I’ve outlined the process below in a way that saves time and money. It’s what I advise to anyone who asks me how to get started with their own homeschooling journey.
The transition (or decision to homeschool from the start) can seem overwhelming at first but there are many families (several with non-traditional schedules and circumstances) finding a way to make homeschool entirely possible. In the past, homeschool was typically viewed as a “one parent working/one parent responsible for the homeschool learning” of multiple children. Now, there are two parent working homes, single parents, traveling families and various schedules to accommodate homeschool settings.
Before we get into the steps, let me specify that the steps below are for a transition to homeschool that’s traditional in the sense of structure… home learning that’s separate from a public school. There are families who decide to use an online public school from home and others who find a public school that offers a hybrid model with online and on campus courses. The steps below describe a structure for the family that wants to separate from the same guidelines or procedures that a public school may require.
If I had to start again with homeschooling these are steps (and order) I would take to make the process go more smoothly.
First 3 Steps of the Process:
1. Involve immediate family in the decision to homeschool.
Homeschool truly is a family team effort. It really requires everyone to be on board to have the best chances of success. It takes time and a lot of commitment. It requires “buy in” from everyone involved to truly be a positive experience.
If one spouse does not want to homeschool, it could create tension and a situation that’s not optimal for a home learning experience. If there are two siblings and one has been to traditional school and prefers to stay there, it could cause resentment or conflict between siblings.
The decision to homeschool should be made as a family with everyone being agreeable or willing to give it a try. It would be ideal to discuss options should it not be the best fit such as a timeline about when to evaluate how it’s working out.
It takes a high level of support among the family to set up a successful experience from the start.
It’s important to add that this may or may not include extended family. Extended family, especially those who have never considered any format of school outside of a traditional brick and mortar setting, may not understand or be supportive of your decision. The decision to involve extended family would be personal based on their level of involvement, but you may need to consider and be prepared that some of the opinions could be negative due to lack of experience with or understanding of homeschool learning.
2. Research your state laws about homeschooling.
Every state has different requirements for homeschool. You do not want to find yourself in the situation of learning about legal requirements too late. You may be in one of the states that require parents to meet certain qualifications or require submitting a level of intent to homeschool to the state department by a specific date.
You can usually find your state’s homeschool requirements on the state’s department of education website. Just Google “Name of State + Department of Education + home education.” The first 2-3 results are usually the best resources for up to date information, from the DOE websites or the sites with .gov or .org extensions.
Most states also require some form of periodic testing and have attendance laws for homeschoolers. It’s important to know these laws from the start so that you can keep the appropriate documentation and comply with the laws.
Even if you are in a state with minimal requirements for homeschool, it would be a good idea to consult with other established homeschool families in your area to be sure that there have not been changes to the law or processes that you may be unaware of for your state. This would be especially helpful after a legislative session as proposed bills with changes in regards to home education may have been approved.
3. If your child is currently in traditional school, you will need to withdraw to homeschool.
If they have not started a traditional public school, skip this step and go to the next section.
If you are removing your child from public school, you will need to withdraw them from their current school. This is typically as simple as a signed paper or producing a copy of your letter of intent to homeschool. You would just need to call your local school officials and ask about the process to withdraw.
Some states have laws where the public school system is obligated to ensure that a student enrolls in their next school. This is to protect children from potential unsafe situations. You may withdraw your child from school but be asked to provide a copy of your intent to homeschool or other documentation.
To enroll in homeschool, you would follow the state requirements as previously researched.
Steps 4 – 7 of the Process:
4. Join local homeschool Co-op groups or actively engaged homeschool facebook groups.
Your local homeschool co-op is a valuable resource for homeschooling and connecting with other families in your area. There will be an admin or moderator in the group who reminds families of the state requirements and keeps everyone informed of opportunities to participate in organized activities or events. Some of these co-ops may ask for a fee, or dues, to join and receive the information. These discussions may take place on a website forum, a Facebook group or other medium. They may meet both online and offline.
These groups are also a way to bounce ideas off of other families who have been homeschooling for years as well as a way to find resources that someone is selling or offering to loan out. It’s essentially an exchange of information, ideas and resources that is more relevant among state and community groups.
If you don’t have a local co-op group to join, you could always start one or join other homeschool Facebook groups that are specific to your state or perhaps the type of curriculum you have chosen to use. There are tons of homeschool Facebook groups to find by doing a simple search for keywords that are specific to you, such as “religious homeschool, secular homeschool or “name of curriculum” homeschool” that also offer valuable insight.
5. Determine your homeschool schedule.
There are some essential questions to answer before you get started with homeschooling regarding the schedule or calendar you will use. Knowing this in advance helps organize the year and your homeschoolers will know the expectation from the start.
First, you need to determine the schedule that’s a good fit for your family’s needs. Some questions to ask would be:
Are you going to homeschool all year long with a shorter week and/or longer breaks?
Are you going to follow the school system calendar?
Are you going to homeschool longer on some days in order to have a shorter school week?
The calendar can be simply printed out or kept digitally for everyone to have a copy and reference of the homeschool year schedule.
6. Choose your homeschool curriculum.
This is where many families get lost when they make the decision to homeschool. Whatever curriculum you could be looking for, I can assure you it probably exists! It’s a good problem to have!
However, while many curriculum choices exist, the real question is what is the best fit for your child and how do you know that in advance? You do not want to invest hundreds of dollars into a pre-packaged curriculum to find out that your child is not motivated by that format or type of materials. Many of the all in one curriculums have a sample. You could print or order a small sample of various resources and have your child do some work on each resource. This will give you a better idea of what materials may work best. You could also connect and consult with co-ops or Facebook groups with other homeschool parents who have students of a similar grade level or interests.
There is an abundance of curriculum materials that you can find for free on the Internet. However, this method takes more time and research because you are essentially piecing together a DIY curriculum. Still, there has never been a better time to have all kinds of resources and materials available for little or no expense except (in some cases) the cost of printing.
7. Plan your first quarter/month/9-12 weeks of homeschool.
Take some of the initial stress of a new homeschool environment off of yourself and your child by planning out the first several weeks of your homeschool with some back up plans in place too. This will help you establish good routines from the start as it removes some guess work.
The great thing about homeschooling plans is that they can be changed and adjusted as you learn more about the individual learning preferences of your children. However, an overall outline that includes general topics and activities will allow you to make changes that are not as easy if you are planning day to day. Essentially a 9-12 week overview will give you a basic guide to follow and then you can fill in the details along the way.
Steps 8 – 10:
8. Set up homeschooling space, materials and resources.
Make sure you have the essential resources you will need for the plans you created in step #7. Gather your homeschool materials and resources in advance and put them in your designated homeschooling space.
Everyone’s homeschooling space looks different according to the space available and the type of schedule being used. For some families, the homeschool space is an area in the dining or living room. Others may have an enclosed garage or basement area that’s designated as a homeschool room. The important piece for any space is to have materials and resources accessible so that time’s not wasted looking for essentials to complete assignments.
Materials and resources will be different depending on the type of curriculum used. Your homeschoolers may be able to accomplish most of their work with Internet and a notebook/paper/pencil. Younger students may need more art supplies and things like scissors, glue and crayons to develop those early learning skills.
9. Keep essential homeschooling records.
Homeschooling may be a temporary or become a long-term decision, but, either way, it’s a good idea to start essential record keeping from the start.
The most important homeschool records to keep are first and foremost the ones that your state requires. This may be attendance, letter of intent and/or grades depending on the state’s requirements. You may be asked to submit these documents, or you may just have to keep them available, but it would be much harder to recreate or rely on memory for things like attendance and course descriptions. Some families keep up with these documents on paper and others digital as the format is generally left up to each family unless the state provides a required template.
Some other documents you may want to consider keeping for records would be: test scores, beginning/end of year work sample and/or course credit descriptions and grades for high school students. Keeping these documents along the way will make it easier if you were to transition back to a traditional school, or as needed for post-secondary schools.
10. Monitor homeschool progress/test as needed or required.
One big advantage of homeschool is that monitoring progress and testing is less involved than in a traditional school. As long as you meet the state requirements for grades/testing, you can monitor and track progress by simple checks for understanding throughout a unit or subject of study.
While state guidelines vary, you may be required to administer (or find someone to administer) an approved standardized test in certain grade levels. You would also want to research high school course credit requirements as related to testing and credits for your state.
Grading requirements are dependent on state guidelines but they do become more important in the secondary school years when students need course credits to graduate.
Bonus- Attend a homeschool workshop or conference.
While you do not have to attend a homeschool conference or workshop as a required part of the process, they provide a wealth of information and different perspectives about homeschooling.
They involve speakers and vendors who are immersed in the homeschool educational model and can answer many questions and provide some great insights about best practices for successful homeschooling.