Getting Started in Homeschooling – A Few Thoughts

I have had a few moms lately who have asked me for advise in getting started homeschooling, so I figured it would make a good blog post.  🙂  So, I’m going to share some of my thoughts with you, and hopefully you’ll find this encouraging and informational!  *Disclaimer: I’m mostly speaking from the perspective of a mom who has decided early on to homeschool, and I don’t have experience pulling kids out of public school later on.  That adjustment can be a very different experience entirely.*

Homeschooling has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember!  I was blessed to be homeschooled myself from kindergarten through high school graduation (except for a one-year stint in public school).  Some of my earliest memories are reading with my mom and little brothers.  Although there were times I felt very “different” than the neighbour kids, I knew that I was blessed to be home!  And as I grew older, I knew that homeschooling my kids was a non-negotiable.  I was very happy when Mark shared my conviction fully.  Anyway, as a homeschooled kid, and now a homeschooling mama, I think I can share with you a fairly well-rounded perspective on something that I’m pretty passionate about!

First things first – making the decision!  So here’s the deal – as valuable and awesome as homeschooling is, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is a big huge decision that you need to spend weeks and months agonizing over.  Because, in most cases, it’s just not that big of a deal!  We moms have a tendency to over-think everything – from whether or not we mash up our baby’s food to how often we brush our kids’ teeth.  Are you interested in homeschooling?  Is your spouse on board?  Then give it a try!  Especially in the early years, you really don’t have much – if anything – to lose!  And that leads me right into my next thought…

Commit to taking things a year (and day) at a time!  For many moms, committing to a life of homeschooling is a completely overwhelming thought!  They start pondering things like “How do I teach calculus/chemistry/physics?” “How will I my kids learn music or speech/debate (or those other things that require classmates)?”  Here’s the thing – starting homeschooling early on with one child (or even two) is something you ease into.  Homeschooling kindergarten (and other early grades) is a totally different ball game than high school.  And the confidence you will get from teaching your children through elementary school will help see you through the harder parts of high school (which, btw, is totally do-able as well, but that’s another post for a later day!).

So, those things said, I’m going to dive into some specifics.  This relates mostly to the early elementary years, since that is where we are right now.

Education Style

One of the first things you’ll want to figure out is your education style.  There are many terms that refer to various styles ranging from very structured to very relaxed.  Here are a few of the most commonly used:

     Unschooling – Unschooling refers to any non-structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance and lets children learn by being included in the life of adults.
     Montessori / Waldorf – Montessori and Waldorf recognize and respect a child’s need for rhythm and order in his daily routine. They recognize that need in different ways. Take toys, for example. Montessori schools use Montessori designed and approved toys which will teach them concepts.  A Waldorf education encourages the child to create his own toys from materials which happen to be at hand. Using the imagination is the child’s most important ‘work’.
     Living Books / Charlotte Mason – One begins by teaching basic reading, writing and math skills, then exposing children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects, taking nature walks, observing wildlife, visiting museums and reading real books for subjects such as geography, history and literature.
     Unit Studies – A unit study involves taking a theme or topic and delving into it deeply over a period of time, integrating language arts, science, social studies, math and fine arts as they apply. All subjects are blended together and studied around a common theme or project.
     Classical – Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.
    All-inclusive Curriculum – Textbook curricula have graded textbooks in each subject and follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in daily increments for a 12-year, 180-days-a-year academic program.

I have found this website: http://www.homeschoolreviews.com to be a priceless resource for learning about different curricula!

I’m not going to tell you which approach I think is *best*, because that really depends primarily on you and your children!  If you and your kids need more structure, do that; if you do better on more freedom, do that!  Don’t let anyone else make you feel inferior because you take a different approach than they do.  And again, don’t forget that homeschooling is a constantly-changing, fluid part of a relationship you have with your children, and as such, don’t be afraid to adjust it with your kids as you go about your studies!

But to get started out, pick an approach that you feel best reflects your style and goals for the next school year, and go from there, okay?  😀

Our Approach – What Works For Us

Okay, so all that said, I know that some people may wonder what we use, and why, so I will share that too!

First, some quick background.  We have two kids who will be in school this next year – Eliza and Judah.  Eliza will be 6 1/2, and in first grade.  Judah will be 5 and in kindergarten.  But although they are only one grade apart from each other, academically they are very different!  Eliza learned to read before she turned 4, and now reads around a 4th grade reading level.  She does 2nd grade math and writes well, and has a pretty long attention span.  Judah has a much shorter attention span and is just starting to learn phonics and numbers.  That said, I am still trying to keep them together for as many subjects as possible, for the sake of family togetherness and my own sanity!  🙂

So, here’s my take on the early years of homeschooling:  The goal for the first 2-3 years is to establish a love for learning and a foundation to build upon for the rest of the child’s school career.  By nature, this has to be very individualized, because that works out differently for each child.  For Eliza, that meant that I had to be careful not to hold her back, and to keep things interesting.  Last year (kindergarten), we had to completely change gears after the first trimester because neither of us were enjoying ourselves!  For Judah, this means that I have to be careful not to push him too hard or put my experiences with Eliza onto him, because he is a totally different person with his own needs and personality.

Our approach is rather “eclectic” – I have realized that although I love the ideas behind the less-structured methods, I need more structure than that myself, especially having four kids.  But I can’t have too much either, or I drive myself nuts!  So I have to find a happy balance, which is sometimes challenging!  I lean mostly towards the “living books” approach, using the library a ton.  For Eliza, with her level of reading where it is, we have chosen to do American Girl studies for kindergarten and 1st grade.  We spend 6 weeks with each historical character, reading through the 6 books as well as the “Welcome to *A.Girl*’s World” book that AG published.  We make lapbooks for each girl, which is how much of her writing practice happens.  Through this, we cover reading, writing, history, culture, and art.  For science, we just use the library for topics they choose (this will change in 2nd grade).  For math, I love the Singapore Primary Mathmatics series!  Eliza really likes them too, and is learning a lot.  She’s currently in the middle of 2nd grade for math.  For Judah, kindergarten will be mostly phonics and math, with read-alouds for other topics (the world around us) of his interest.  He’ll use Singapore Math as well, and we were given the K12 Phonicsworks program which we like.  (I’ve heard really good things about Explode the Code as well, but K12 is all I’ve used)  Like I said before, kindergarten is kind of a “warm-up” year – with the biggest goal to establish a foundation and love of learning, so all that really matters to me is that he makes progress in reading and math, and that he enjoys learning about whatever else he’s interested in!

Subjects We Study:
     Kindergarten – character/Bible, phonics/reading,  intro writing, math, the world around us (nature & culture), art/music
     1st Grade – character/Bible, phonics/reading, writing, math, nature & culture, art/music

*As a side note, for preschool, I love this guide from SimplyCharlotteMason.com: http://simplycharlottemason.com/planning/eyguide/  Although I didn’t follow it exactly, I think it lays a great foundation to build off of!

Getting Started

So, if you’re just getting started, here’s what I recommend.  Read about different approaches to home education, and discuss them with your spouse.  Get an idea of what you think will work for you and your family.  Research the curriculum options for the basic topics and pick something to get started with.  Don’t go overboard!  Then, a few months into your first year, take a really honest assessment.  Are your kids learning?  Are they enjoying learning?  Are you enjoying teaching?  Is there anything that needs to be adjusted?  Readjust, and continue.  Take it a day at at time, a week at a time, a month at a time, and always be open to changing and adjusting.  The journey can be challenging at times, but it is so worth it!

~ Judy

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Our Future Plans

As a major planner, I am actually a total nerd about researching homeschooling curriculum and ideas, and as such, I’ve drafted out my plans for the rest of our homeschooling career!  So, in case you were curious, here’s what’s been floating around in my mind. (And if the idea of planning this far out totally freaks out out, please feel free to skip it – I won’t be hurt!)

2nd – 6th Grade – the subjects above shift into character/Bible, language arts (grammar, writing, spelling, vocab, reading), math, science, history, geography, art, music, foreign language intro.  My plan for the elementary years is to work chronologically through history using Truthquest History (a Christian history curriculum, but there are great secular ones as well), and incorporate our language arts studies into history like we are now with the American Girl studies, as well as art and music history.  We’ll continue using Singapore Math through 6th grade-level unless it no longer meets our needs.  We’ll be using Apologia science (also Christian/creationist) which also uses the holistic Charlotte Mason approach.

7th – 12th Grade – literature, math, science, social studies, foreign language, electives of choice.  My plan for the secondary years is to work chronologically through history again using Truthquest History and incorporate literature, art and music history.  We’ll probably switch to Teaching Textbooks for math, which I’ve heard is the best homeschool math program around, and since math is *not* my strong point, I need a curriculum that will teach my kids for me.  (Maybe I’ll go through it with them, lol!)  We’ll continue using Apologia science for middle/high school, and probably Rosetta Stone for foreign language. **I will also have them studying at a deep enough level to take CLEP test to earn concurrent college credit as we go through the relating topics in 9th-12th grades.  Our goal is for our kids to have at least their associates, but hopefully bachelor’s degree by the time they graduate.**

 Getting Started in Homeschooling – A Few Thoughts

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