People considering homeschool often ask, How do I take my children out of public school to homeschool? How do I make the transition from public school to homeschool go smoothly?
Sometimes you will receive (well intended) advice from people who have always homeschooled without the public school experience. Their experience and advice may not cover all the different aspects that are relatable for those moving from one form of schooling to another. It also depends on how long your child has been in public school as the transition may be different for older students in middle or high school.
For example, you may be advised to do a school “detox” for a period of time, or disconnect from any form of schooling. This essentially means a time for relaxing and developing a new mindset about learning outside of an institution.
While I do think there will be an initial adjustment period, I think kids who have been in public school should see a distinction at home between previous holidays/summer breaks and their new learning environment. If those lines are not clear to your homeschoolers, then I believe it sets up the potential for too much resistance and tension.
This will be a personal decision based on your preferred homeschool structure, but I think it’s important to present a different viewpoint from the common advice to deschool.
All of the following tips are relevant to those making the change from public school in 2020 to a homeschool setting.
1. Formally withdraw from public school.
This may seem like an obvious step but some overlook it because they simply don’t return to public school in the fall or after a break. It could be that your local school does not require anything for this step, but it’s worth checking as most do.
Failing to go through the formal withdrawal process could result in a truancy situation, and some schools are legally required to report to the Department of Family and Children’s Services when they do not know the whereabouts of a student as part of their safety protocol. Most of the time, withdrawing from public school simply requires a signed paper.
Formally withdrawing from public school also allows your child an opportunity to say goodbye to his or her classroom teacher and classmates. If they leave during the year without this type of closure, it could be on their minds and create some conflict or resentment.
It would also be a good idea to ask for a copy of your child’s academic records or any testing documents if you don’t already have a copy of those for reference and your own record keeping files.
2. Keep connected with peers in traditional school.
Chances are that your child made some positive friendships during his time at public school. There is no reason that those friendships can’t continue to grow and develop off of the school campus. Healthy, familiar friendships will help ease the transition and ensure your kids that they can still stay connected with peers from their previous school.
If they did not form any healthy friendships, then this is an opportunity to start fresh with peers as well. Your child will meet new peers as you connect with co-op groups or stay involved in sports or community groups.
3. Involve everyone living in the home in the decision to homeschool.
Making the transition to homeschool should be a decision made as a family. If someone is not invested from the start, you will have the added job of meeting resistance. When your children give their input (especially older children) about curriculum, schedule preferences and overall likes/dislikes when it comes to schooling, they feel ownership in the process. They feel that their opinion is valued and that makes them much more likely to view the process with a positivity and optimism.
Spouses and siblings may have some initial hesitation and that’s to be expected, but everyone has to have an open mindset to at least give it a try. Perhaps as a family you can set a timeline, such as a semester or a year, that everyone commits to the new learning environment. After that time period, you could come back together as a family and discuss next steps.
4. Start small and grow your homeschool.
A lot of families who make the move from public school to homeschool tend to go a little overboard in the beginning. They set up school as they know it and find resources for every subject and an activity for every minute of the day. This is going to create overwhelm and burn out quickly! You will quickly find out that much more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time at home as you take out the wait time and transition time in the public school setting.
Instead, start with the basics- English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science- and start small at first. This gives your kids time to adjust and for you to get to know them better as learners. As parents, we do know our kids best, but we may have not seen them in the academic setting or know their individual learning preferences. Going slowly is a way to lessen the overwhelm and ease into a new learning environment.
Starting small allows you to make better curriculum choices that fit your child instead of forcing your child to fit the curriculum. It will give you plenty of room to grow and build out your instructional parts of the day to be the most productive and successful.
5. Know your homeschooling why.
If you’re making the transition from public school to homeschool, there may be a glaring reason, or there may not be a real reason besides it’s something you have wanted to try and the timing is right. There may or may not be negative experiences with public school. Whatever the reason(s), you have a “why” and sometimes you will need to remember that “why” when the days are long and hard and things don’t go as planned (see #10).
Write out or type out your “why” where you can see it. It’s a simple statement of what this type of learning environment provides for your family and your children. It’s helps to stay motivated and encouraged when things don’t go as planned.
6. Make time for home learning fun!
Field trips, Fun Fridays, random “free choice” days… whatever your kids enjoy, make time for fun! If your kids get up ready to go and eager to start, then they are finding joy in the process and that will make the job of teaching them much easier. You want to keep that level of excitement!
The flexibility that home learning provides is a huge advantage. You can learn so many things about the world with real life hands-on experiences that can be found in your backyard, in your hometown and by using the time that you do not normally have in a traditional school for creative outlets and extracurricular activities.
7. Expect the unexpected.
I think sometimes parents considering a transition to homeschool have a picture in their mind of what it looks like. That picture may not end up being reality.
You may have a picture of a middle schooler who wakes up fresh, has work done by noon and spends the rest of the day exploring other interests. Instead, you may have a middle schooler who sleeps until noon and doesn’t finish their work until late evening. Some homeschool families have more than one child who are on two different schedules based on how and when each child learns best. If they can work independently or they are using a self- paced online curriculum, you can make these flexible schedules work for your family. It may work well, but not be what you expected.
Homeschool is not perfect. It comes with bumps and turns and sometimes the need to pivot. The first few weeks, months or year may more than likely make you question everything- yourself, your kids and your decision- and that’s completely normal and relatable to many others. If your expectations going in are realistic, it will be much easier to adjust and make changes as needed.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations from the start. Instead, ease into this new way of learning with an open mind and permission to adjust!
8. Find other homeschool groups.
Homeschool groups can be found in pretty much every city and state. It may feel more isolating at first because public school may not have provided the opportunity to meet other homeschooling families unless your children were on the same ball teams or attended the same churches or community events. Once you make the transition, you can find out more about groups in your area that have meet ups or connect on a website forum or Facebook group.
If you do not have a local group, the age of modern technology is closing in that gap with options to meet virtually or connect across groups outside of your home state. Homeschool Facebook groups provide a (free) source of a place to ask questions and find a wealth of information for places and ideas to connect with other homeschooling families.
9. Take regular breaks and enjoy the flexibility of homeschool.
One of the biggest advantages of homeschool is freedom and that freedom gives families permission to adjust and make changes to anything that’s creating stress or anxiety. Homeschool should appropriate academically in a fun and comfortable learning environment that home makes entirely probably and possible. You have an advantage that traditional teachers do not.
When everyone seems down or not as motivated, you can give everyone permission to go outside for a long break or pile in the car for a surprise trip for ice cream or cherry limeades! Naps are even allowed (and sometimes encouraged)! You can cook together, garden together, and can start/stop activities without time constraints. The flexibility is an awesome aspect of home learning.
You will be setting up the school calendar so, as long as you’re in compliance with homeschool hour requirements, you can make the schedule as flexible as you want. This may include all year schooling with built in weekly breaks, four days of a week of school with one day of free choice, or you could follow a school system calendar with the flexibility to travel or switch around days to accommodate your family. This freedom helps to manage stress levels and motivation as it’s needed.
For younger students, every day can (and should) include extra recess!
10. Be prepared to pivot.
Some families make the transition to homeschool from public school and give it a great effort (at least a year) only to decide later that it’s just not the best fit. If this is the case, you could make the transition back to public school or consider a private school setting. You may have one child that is thriving at home and another who wants to return to public school.
A pivot is not a sign of failure. It’s a sign of parenting and having your children in the environment that best meets their individual needs at the time. There’s nothing wrong with the academic environment being a year to year decision that’s given much thought and consideration.
11. Create a homeschool non-negotiables list and/or a motto together.
Homeschool doesn’t need the same type of rules as a public school setting as it’s a completely different environment. In fact, many of the rules would be opposite as moving around and talking is part of the everyday routine! Public schools create some of their rules to manage and maintain an orderly environment with 25-30 kids in a classroom and 500 or more students in a building.
However, all kids enjoy giving their input and the sense of belonging. You could consider starting each year by discussing 2-3 non-negotiables for your homeschool, such as:
Try our best.
Use kind words and actions.
The home learning environment reduces the need for the same type rules as a traditional school, but it does create the need for different non-negotiables. If screen time or video games were allowed after (public) school, you may want to establish the expectations of when/how long they are an option when you start homeschooling.
Your family could also consider a motto or something that you refer to when there’s a need to work out conflict or encourage each other.
In summary, regardless of the reason for the transition from public school to homeschool, it’s an opportunity to work with your kids in a unique and fun way. It may become a new normal for your family or it may become one part of your family’s journey, but you’re there for and alongside your child on the ride… and that’s what matters most!