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How to Start Homeschooling

Written by Leslie

Engineer turned homeschooling mom of boys, sharing my tips and advice to help you dive deep into the details of your homeschool so that you will have greater peace and confidence in your home!

July 15, 2020

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During these unprecedented times, parents all over the country are considering their options when it comes to education and asking themselves, “How do I start homeschooling my child?” When I began homeschooling, I had many months to research and make my decision. But due to the unease that many parents are feeling about sending their kids to school during the pandemic, parents today don’t have a lot of time to determine how to start homeschooling. So I’ve put together this list to help approach your research and decision-making in a step-wise manner.

How to Start Homeschooling – 10 Steps

(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using the links. See my disclosure  for more information.)

The following 10 steps will get you started in your homeschool research and decision-making progress. Download the checklist to keep you on track!

 

Step 1: Determine to customize and NOT imitate.

Be firm with yourself about not trying to replicate another family’s homeschool in your own home, and not falling into marketing traps. This is harder to do than it sounds and not a throw-away step!

Resources to establish this mindset:

Step 2: Get to know local homeschool laws.

It’s important to get to know your local homeschool laws so that you protect your family legally. The requirements set forth by your local homeschool laws can also help you to establish a helpful framework for your homeschool.

Resources for learning about homeschool laws:

  • HSLDA web page (United States)
  • My blog post about the importance of being informed about homeschool laws.
  • My video about the importance of being informed about homeschool laws.
  • THSC website (Texas only)

Step 3: Sign up for legal protection.

I consider this to be legal insurance for homeschoolers. You just never know when you’re going to need some legal help.

Resources for getting legal protection for homeschoolers:

Step 4: Get to know your kids’ learning preferences.

Understanding the most effective learning methods for your kids in particular will help you to choose curriculum. This is a very important step for customizing your homeschool and your kids’ education!

Resources for determining your kids’ learning preferences:

  • My blog post about learning preferences. If you can, determine the most effective Learning Method for each child (you’ll want to use it for challenging subjects) and the least effective Learning Method (you’ll want to avoid this one, especially for challenging subjects).
  • My video showing how I brainstormed about my kids’ learning preferences.

Step 5: Identify difficulties, dislikes, and delights for your family.

Determine difficulties, dislikes, and delights for your kids individually and your family as a whole. Focus on specific struggles and topics of special interest. This is another important step to customizing your homeschool. This step in particular will help you to navigate problems and difficult seasons that arise.

Resources for identifying difficulties, dislikes, and delights:

  • My blog post about Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights.
  • My video about Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights.

Step 6: Investigate educational philosophies.

But don’t fall too much in love with any educational philosophy in particular. Pass what you learn about educational philosophies through the filter of what you’ve learned about your kids’ learning preferences and the Three D’s. For example, a living literature curriculum is best for kids that want to listen to a lot of books being read aloud every day (and have a parent that’s willing to do that) or want to read a lot of books. But if your student struggles with reading or language in general, a topic like history or science would be better tackled with a hands-on approach, projects, or videos.

Resources for investigating educational philosophies:

  • This video at Unlikely Homeschool.
  • This blog post about educational philosophies.
  • Hana has a YouTube channel all about Waldorf schooling.

Step 7: Research curriculum.

Again, pass what you learn about curriculum through the filter of what you’ve learned about your kids’ learning preferences and the Three D’s.

Tips for researching curriculum:

  • Focus on any subjects required by your local homeschool laws.
  • Look for quality curriculum that helps you to teach the subject well.
  • Work smart, not unnecessarily hard. That means that the majority of the time and energy that you put into homeschooling should be dedicated to subjects where your student is struggling or where they have a particular interest. Is history not a struggle and not especially interesting to your student? Then don’t spend five days a week on it doing every project out there. Is your student a natural speller? Then you may not need a parent-intensive spelling curriculum. Does your student love science but hate reading? Put time and energy into finding science readers to incorporate into what you plan for your student’s reading curriculum. You get the idea.
  • If a particular curriculum is marketed for a range of ages, like Kinder-6th grade, assume that it’s most appropriate for the upper end of the range. What’s appropriate for a 6th grader is way different than what’s appropriate for a 2nd grader.
  • If you’ll need to teach a child to read, read this article about reading readiness.
  • Check out my Pinterest boards that will jump-start your homeschool research

Resources for researching curriculum:

  • Cathy Duffy Reviews website.
  • My blog posts (with videos) where I review some of the curriculum we’ve used.
  • Many homeschool bloggers share their curriculum choices each year. Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler has many years worth of curriculum choices.
  • Homeschool YouTubers like to share their curriculum choices each year, too. In YouTube, search for homeschool curriculum choices.
  • Janelle Knutson has some nice curriculum review videos, including some about video-based distance learning.
  • Timberdoodle has curriculum kits that you can customize and purchase. I like to look at them for ideas.
  • Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool provides a free, complete, online curriculum.

My Resource/Curriculum Recommendations

Some of the resources below are available as downloads. I highly recommend using Dropbox to store your downloads. Dropbox provides a layer of backup for your important files and allows you to access files across your devices. I store all school-related files on Dropbox.
Resources for Pre-K Students
Resources for Elementary Students
Handwriting
Reading / Phonics / Literature
  • Hooked on PhonicsCurriculum Alert! This is the curriculum I’ve used to teach all of my boys to read. I actually purchased it when my oldest was attending kindergarten at a public school. Whatever the school was doing to teach reading wasn’t working for him and his teacher expressed concern, so I decided to go the tried-and-true phonics route. Thanks to this, he was all caught up by the end of the school year (his teacher was amazed) and we just kept on going. My review of Hooked on Phonics may be helpful to you.
  • Bob Books – All of my boys have loved using Bob Books as a supplement to our reading curriculum. See my review on Bob Books for more information.
  • Confessions of a Homeschooler Literature Units<Printable> I’ve been using these literature units with my fifth grader this year, and they’ve been a hit. They are great for Interactive learners.
  • Kindle E-reader (Kindle Unlimited) – Kindle e-readers (NOT the Kindle Fire tablets) are great for older readers. A Kindle isn’t a great option for picture books or graphic novels, but is my preferred option for any book that is mostly text with few pictures. You can also use it in bright daylight, so a Kindle is great for an Outside Time block combined with an Independent Work block. Kindles are associated with an Amazon account, so I’ve set up an Amazon account specifically for my kids so that any e-books I purchase or borrow for them are download to their Kindle….and so that their Kindle isn’t loaded up with my own e-books. If you have a library card, check out Overdrive to borrow e-books for your kids from home for FREE and have them downloaded to their Kindle. It’s easy-peasy and an amazing option during this time when a library trip isn’t a great idea. You may also want to try out Kindle Unlimited.
  • Audible – I love audiobooks and have started using them with my kids. They’re a great option for an Independent Work block, especially for kids that love stories but struggle with reading. Audible is currently providing access to hundreds of titles for free.
Spelling
Before getting to spelling resources, I need to share my biggest spelling tip with you: teach spelling (encoding) separately from reading (decoding). This includes sight words. One of my biggest homeschooling mistakes was trying to teach my oldest to both read and spell sight words concurrently. I eventually realized that reading level is about a year ahead of spelling level, at least in the early elementary years. Reading and spelling are different skills, so I find it much easier to teach them separately.
  • Explode the Code Online – The Explode the Code workbooks have been a hit with homeschoolers for a while, but I prefer the online option as a supplement to our spelling curriculum because the software assesses your child’s skill level and presents appropriate lessons. I usually have my oldest work on it for about 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Spelling City – This website provides games and activities to review spelling words. If you’re getting spelling lists from your child’s teacher, you can just plug them into the website and have your student work on it for about 15 minutes a day.
  • Reading Eggs – This is a fun option for Independent Work or Free Play blocks for your pre-k or early elementary student.
  • Evan-Moor Building Spelling Skills<Printable> This is my favorite approach to spelling so far for my middle boy, who is a natural reader but also a perfectionist that gets stressed out with tests. 
  • Spelling PowerCurriculum Alert! If spelling is a weakness for one of your kids, you might want to invest in this book. If spelling tests are a huge stressor for your kid, though, you’ll probably be better off with Evan-Moor spelling workbooks.
  • Spelling Word Work worksheets<Printable> This is the resource that I’ve used the most from the Teachers Pay Teachers website. You can use these worksheets to practice the words on any spelling list.
Writing
Grammar
Evan-Moor Grammar & Punctuation<Printable> I was so impressed with Evan-Moor’s Building Spelling Skills that I decided to try one of their grammar workbooks, too, and have been very pleased. 
Math
  • Times Tales – A great resource for kids working on their multiplication facts. There’s an app, too. Even my younger boys wanted to use it.
  • Dice Activities for Multiplication – My oldest loved practicing his multiplication facts with the games in this workbook. It really saved my bacon during his third grade year!
  • XtraMath – This is a nice alternative to flash cards and works well for independent practice of math facts. And it only takes about ten minutes a day!
History
  • The What Your…Needs to Know series of books are a great help for history since they include the content along with teaching tips. They also tie in related poetry, geography, and art lessons when they can. Students can read on their own or they work well as read-alouds (that’s how I used them). You can supplement with activities and leveled readers on the period of history you’re studying.
  • Liberty’s KidsMy kids LOVED this video series. Definitely consider it if you’re studying early American history.
Science
  • Carson Dellosa Science Interactive Notebooks<Printable> These are a nice alternative to typical worksheets and can work as a supplement or be supplemented with hands-on science activities.
  • SkraftyIf you have a Minecraft lover, they may love studying science on the Skrafty website. Skrafty actually has courses on many different topics, including history and technology, but my son has especially enjoyed a couple of the science courses.
  • Mystery Science – We haven’t used this website ourselves, but I’ve heard good things. 
  • Little Passports Science Expeditions Subscription – My kids really enjoyed these kits. You can easily stretch out a kit for a month if you do science once or twice a week, especially if you supplement with worksheets or other activities along the same topic. Some of the activities are better than other, but in general they are enjoyable. The Science Expeditions subscription is better for upper elementary, but it looks like they now have a Science Junior subscription available.
Art
  • Draw Write Now – I love these step-by-step drawing books. I like using them as a supplement for both science and history if I can find an appropriate drawing related to our current studies.
  • Draw and Write Through History – This series of step-by-step drawing books is more advanced and for older students.
Foreign Languages
  • Rosetta Stone – I’m using the app version with my fifth grader. I’m not thrilled with the vocabulary aspect, so we’re supplementing with Quizlet (below).
  • Quizlet – This is a great tool that goes beyond simple flashcards. We’ve been using this app with great success for history, but it’s also a good option for foreign language vocabulary.

Step 8: Think about how you’ll organize your homeschool & curriculum.

Homeschooling involves a lot of books, supplies, and information. The quickest path to homeschool stress is allowing all of the books, supplies and information to devolve into a chaotic mess. A little bit of organization can make all of the difference between a good day and a bad day!

How I do it:

Resources for getting ideas about organizing your homeschool:

  • Erica’s video about workboxes.
  • Erica’s homeschool room videos here and here.
  • Kristi’s video giving organization tips (helpful if you don’t want to use a workbox system).
  • Kristi’s homeschool room tour video.
  • Homeschool room tour video by A Place to Nest.

Step 9: Think about how you would schedule your year/weeks/days.

You have a lot of options when it comes to scheduling your homeschool. My recommendation is to try to find a routine appropriate to your family rather than a fixed schedule.

How I do it:

  • We do year-round(ish) homeschooling. We start school each year around the third week of August and our last day of each school year is the last Friday of July.
  • I try to make Fridays easy or fun days with no (or very little) teaching from me to give me a break. So Fridays are a catch-up day, a day that we’ll do a history project or science experiment, or a day that they practice a subject in a more fun way (ex. Mad Libs for grammar, playing Hangman for spelling, an educational game).
  • Every sixth week is a week off or an easy week (much like Fridays). Some people do every seventh week off (they call it Sabbath schooling).

Resources for getting ideas about scheduling your homeschool:

This is a helpful article about different ways to schedule your homeschool.

Step 10: Think about how you’ll approach lesson planning.

Paper planner or digital? Weekly, monthly, or for the full year up front? A plan helps you to know that you’re fulfilling your legal requirements and gives structure to your days. While plans should be flexible, they should also be firm enough to keep your homeschool on track.

How I do it:

I use a digital planner (Homeschool Planet) and try to plan for the entire year up front. The plan is just a plan, though, and I adjust as needed. I check my plan for the following week on Fridays or the weekend to see if I need to make adjustments. I find all of that easy to do with a digital planner.

Resources for lesson planning:

Final Questions to Ask Yourself

Now that you’ve done quite a bit of research, make your final decision about whether or not you should homeschool by asking yourself the following questions:
  • Am I willing to follow my local homeschool laws?
  • Am I willing to take the necessary time to prepare for homeschooling?
  • Am I willing to take time out of every school day to teach and help my kids?
  • Do I recognize an organizational method that will allow our family to function well while homeschooling?
  • Am I prepared to adjust during the school year if my kids are struggling in a subject?

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