I have received so many emails on how to get going homeschooling. So here is my best advice.
I have published the curriculum that I made for our daughter after extensive research elsewhere on this blog (look under the “Homeschooling” header for all of those posts). I use a lot of materials I have ordered and picked up all over the place and I create a lot of units that are specific to our daughter’s interests.
But you don’t have to do all that!
I have one of those “extra” (as the kids say these days) personalities and I am nuts about the idea of having a classical education. I like to find awesome things and tweak them to make them even more awesome. And sometimes I fail at accomplishing that. Sometimes I spend a lot of money on a resource and it turns out that it’s not as great as I thought it would be.
For people who are considering getting into homeschooling but don’t want to go totally overboard with it like I do, there are so, so many outstanding ready-to-go curricula out there. These are programs that have been planned out pre-K through 12th grade, with everything a parent needs to do typed out and put into planners. Some even have video lessons if you want those.
Among these, my favorite is Abeka, especially for elementary and middle school kids. Abeka has the strongest reading and math programs that I have seen anywhere. The reading selections are wonderful, too, with an emphasis on history and Christian values.
Those are the subjects that will make your life the easiest over the long run. Once your kid is a strong reader, most of their learning life becomes independent learning. Giving them a robust early start will also maximize the amount of dual enrollment college work they can do in future years. Here in Florida, dual enrollment is 100% free for homeschoolers, so your kid can pretty much get most their college work done with zero student loans, if that is what you want. The time and money invested in a solid curriculum in early years can translate to tens of thousands of dollars in value over time.
(Note: I am NOT being paid to promote Abeka here. I am only recommending them because I truly believe they are the best. I wish we had started with their programs when our daughter was pre-K age.)
You can buy an entire grade level as a kit from Abeka or pick and choose the subjects you want. I do the latter, as I do not use their science or religion packages. (I am not saying those packages are bad, per se, but our daughter is way into science so I buy all kinds of stuff for her on that subject, and I use a variety of religion and philosophy books for character-building exercises. I also try to teach her about other religious traditions, so she can develop a sense of respect for every person she encounters.)
Another question I always get is “what does this cost?” Grade level kits will usually run you from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. That’s for the entire year. Abeka provides materials for most of the private, Christian schools around the country, which charge more than that for a month of tuition. Their homeschooling materials are a serious value.
For families that cannot afford to spend that much, I would recommend calling Abeka directly to learn about scholarship programs. Many homeschooling publishers offer scholarship programs for needy families.
If you check out Abeka and it’s not for you, I would refer you to the Rainbow Resource Center catalog. This is the most extensive collection of both religious and secular homeschooling resources that I have ever seen. I would also recommend signing up for their Christmas catalog, which is AMAZING. It has a lot of interesting toys that you will not find anywhere else, including a lot of nostalgic and educational items.
I would also recommend checking out Ambleside Online, which is a FREE homeschool curriculum based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. (Charlotte Mason is one of my heroes.) And Classical Conversations. And Cindy Lange’s Integritas Academy.
If your child is in high school and plans to go to college, it will pay to understand the prerequisites their desired college has. This is an excellent post from another blogger on Preparing Homeschooled Kids for College, including advice on creating a transcript that stands out to admissions officers. (The author has been an admissions officer, so she really knows her stuff here. Homeschoolers have a tremendous advantage in this respect, to have something more interesting than “Honors Biology” as a subject. Admissions officers will see tens of thousands of applications that say the same exact thing.)
It is also a great idea, especially if you are committed to homeschooling for a while, to join the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA serves two main purposes: (1) they will defend you in court if anyone challenges your right to homeschool your children, and (2) they are a Washington DC law firm that promotes and defends school choice legislation clear across the country. The monthly fee to be entitled to their services is negligible. It also enables you to call their legal staff at any time with any questions you may have in filling out paperwork, etc. for your state. HSLDA also provides grants for homeschooling materials.
That is my final piece of advice on homeschooling, which is know your laws! States have wildly different requirements for homeschooling families. Some require you to submit a letter saying you are taking control of your kid’s education and then they forget you exist. Some require annual evaluations or standardized tests. Some require you to keep a daily log of what you are teaching and the materials you use. That might sound onerous, but it isn’t. If you use a program like Abeka, all of the record-keeping is pretty much done for you – just copy or scan the pages of the planner they send you, done. Here is a resource with the basic laws by state.
If your child has a disability, from a physical disability to a psychological condition, you may be eligible for grants or vouchers in your state. These can be substantial and may offset the cost of curriculum materials and therapy considerably. It is absolutely worth looking into if you are in that situation.
I tell people all the time that if you are a working parent, homeschooling can actually make your life a lot easier than sending your child to a traditional school. You can usually get homeschooling activities out of the way in a few hours. Homeschooling does not have to be one long continuous sprint, either. You can do an hour here or there or do school in the evenings. It absolutely can be stretched and shifted to accommodate your work schedule. I know single mothers who homeschool their kids because it makes their family work.
There’s also no rule that homeschooling has to happen at home. You can do schoolwork outside to change things up a bit. If you own a business, you can take your kid to work with you and set them up in a conference room.
The best thing our family ever did was throw out the idea that anything was more important than a happy home life. We work together to get everybody’s priorities accomplished in the best possible way. We also find time to be together throughout the day, whether that is going for an afternoon walk to get away from the keyboard or grabbing lunch by the beach.
Change isn’t always easy. But sometimes, when it seems like your sense of normality has been torn apart, it’s actually an opportunity to move into a lifestyle that might suit you better. It’s the kick in the ass you needed to get out of a rut.