Homeschooling During the Coronavirus Crisis

Homeschooling During the Coronavirus Crisis

List of helpful products and resources near the end of this post.

School closures across the country mean that families are unexpectedly homeschooling during the coronavirus crisis. Families like mine that homeschool can carry on as usual for the most part. Field trips, co-ops, and classes outside our homes may be canceled, but we are accustomed and equipped to educate our kids at home. We have schedules, supplies, and curriculum, so our poor kids are getting no/little interruption to their schoolwork and education. 😜

But how about families whose kids attend public/private schools? Schools in our area aren’t planning to open again for another month, and some districts are already saying that they will be closed indefinitely. School officials and teachers are working hard to help their students continue their education at home in some way, but it’s a HUGE lifestyle change for families, especially when one or both parents are also working from home.

I’ve had a couple of conversations with non-homeschooling family members about how to tackle this lifestyle change. Homeschool-specific advice doesn’t fully apply in this temporary situation, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and recommendations about how to get through this season of life. Please keep in mind that I’ve never worked as a teacher and do not have a degree in education (I do have a degree in computer engineering and 13 years working in the computer industry, so there’s that). This advice is based on my almost-five years of homeschooling our three boys (currently 5th grade, 2nd grade, and Kindergarten) while trying to turn the hobby of blogging into something more. I hope that it’s helpful to you!

Ok, let’s get started.

Define a Schoolwork Space

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.

I highly recommend that you define a schoolwork space in your home. Typical after-school homework may happen wherever – living room, bedroom, kitchen – but doing ALL schoolwork at home is different because a lot more supplies/resources are involved and you’ll likely be doing some teaching.

Your two main needs will be a work surface (ex. desk, kitchen table) and storage. A solution that worked for us when we were moving and going through a minor renovation in our new home was a file crate for each child that held all of their schoolwork, along with a pencil case for pencils, erasers, crayons, markers, etc. You may also want your own crate with teacher supplies, like notebooks, pens, small whiteboard/markers, boogie board, etc.

The beauty of a crate system is that you can take it right where you need it and then store it in a closet when not in use, but really any shelf or cabinet will do. If you do store your supplies on a shelf or in a cabinet, I recommend that you find one close to your work area so that kids don’t wander off to another room to get a book or whatever and simply not come back because they get distracted. It’s little frustrations like that throughout the day that lead to chaos and turn an ok day into a bad day.

One note about using file crates – you may want to color-code your crates for your children. Even though I color-code my kids’ supplies, I purchased white crates for all of my kids because they are normally kept in our schoolroom and sit on their workboxes. But that turned frustrating after a month. Ideally, you should all be able to glance at the crate from any direction and know who it belongs to. And it really helps if you need to send a child to get something out of their crate. Rather than digging through a sibling’s crate and ruining your attempts at organization, they can go directly to their own crate and get what they need.

(I also color-coded their pencil boxes and even started wrapping the tops of their pencils with washi tape in their color so that there weren’t arguments over school supplies or who left their pencil on the floor/in the kitchen/in the laundry room(?!).)

Please keep in mind that your main schoolwork space doesn’t have to be the only place you do schoolwork. I’ve loved days that we’ve done schoolwork outside, at a picnic table or on a blanket or even in the trampoline. I wouldn’t recommend doing all schoolwork for a day in those locations, especially when you need a lot of supplies for a particular subject or activity. But reading and workbook-based schoolwork are good options for taking outside.

Define School Hours

I think that this will be one of the biggest differences for families that are accustomed to dealing with homework during the evening. You might think that it’s not necessary to define specific hours because you and your kids have the whole day to get things done. But please trust me when I tell you that during the evening, when you and your kids are tired (you from work and them from whatever), working through a lesson on fractions is the last thing that you’ll want to do. The temptation to skip schoolwork “just for today” will be strong, and before you know it a lot of days will have gone by and you’ll feel terrible and like a bad parent.

Please save yourself from frustration and guilty feelings by setting school hours and sticking to them. In my house, schoolwork starts after breakfast and Teacher Mommy is off-the-clock after 5pm. After 5pm, I will not teach or grade or help with schoolwork. And any child that hasn’t completed all of their assigned schoolwork that day doesn’t get access to TV or iPads during the evening. (More about discipline further down.)

Just know that you and your child won’t be doing schoolwork during the entire day. Likely their schoolwork will be spread out throughout the day between meals and chores.

Also, familiarize yourself with how much time your kids should be doing schoolwork each day, based on their ages. For homeschooling:

  • Pre-k kids should be fine with just about an hour (including activities with fine motor skills, number sense, read-alouds, phonics activities.
  • Kinder/1st Grade might be 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
  • Myy 5th grader has about 4 -5 hours of work each day.

This might sound strange since kids are at school for much longer, but if you’ve ever volunteered in your kids’ classes then you’ve probably noticed that students aren’t “on task” the entire day. There’s time spent moving from one activity to another, recesses, and lunch. And besides all that, curriculum creators that sell to traditional schools (rather than homeschools) build “busy work” into the curriculum to aid teachers in class management so that they can do things like work with individual students or smaller groups.

Also keep in mind that kids have a short attention span. One rule of thumb I’ve heard of and used is to equate chronological age to minutes of attention span. So a kindergartener might have an attention span of about five minutes.

This will, of course, vary from student to student and activity to activity (my boys can focus a lot longer when Minecraft is involved), but it’s something to keep in mind when planning out your days. Spending an hour a day on math with your first grader would probably be a terrible choice leading to tears and heartache. You might be able to get away with it if you had your student do several short math-related activities during the day, but it really isn’t necessary for their math education. Short, daily lessons work just fine.

What I’ve seen in my home is that consistency is one of the greatest contributors to learning success. The rule of thumb I try to adhere to in our home is to keep most subjects/activities each day to 20 minutes or less for my younger kids. Sometimes a particular subject takes longer because my kids don’t stay on task or because I’m working with them. But I try to be aware of signs of overwhelm or saturation.

Create a Weekly Schedule

I’ve got great news for you! You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, do every subject every day.

But before we explore that idea, let’s first talk about how many days of schoolwork you should have per week. Would it surprise you to know that many homeschoolers “do school” only four days a week? This is usually to leave room during the week for a co-op, class, field trip, fun day, or catch-up day.

My family has adopted a four-day school week…sort of. Fridays are a combo of a catch-up day / fun day / Mommy-needs-a-break day. What this means for us is that, on Fridays, I try to give my kids assignments that don’t need any teaching and very little help from me. And I try to mix it up a little on Fridays, too. So my fifth grader might do Mad Libs for grammar and a crossword puzzle and online resource for spelling practice. My younger boys will work out of a drawing book for art and connect-the-dots (extreme version for my second grader) for math.

A pre-k student would be fine “doing school” only two or three days out of the week. But if they have older siblings, they might want to do some schoolwork along with them every day (see resources below).

Other ideas for Fun Fridays include educational games, crafts, baking together, or a fun read-aloud complete with special snacks.

Ok, now let’s get back to how often to do each subject. This will vary from family to family, but here’s how I try to approach each subject:

  • Every day (4-5 days a week, depending on your weekly schedule) – subjects where my kids are learning a fundamental skill, like reading, math, spelling, and handwriting.
  • 2-3 days a week – content-rich subjects, like history, science, and grammar.
  • 1 day a week – art, music fundamentals.
  • A subject like writing (not handwriting) will depend on age. It’s probably best to do a little writing every day, but I currently have my kindergartener write a sentence in a sight word journal twice a week, and my second grader does a writing activity twice a week, too. They both get some writing in most days in other ways.

Again, what subjects you do each day will vary from family to family and child to child. A child that loves art or science may want to work on what they love every day. A child taking piano lessons will probably need to practice every day. Just use your best judgement.

Create a Daily Schedule with Time Blocking

You may have used time blocking in your professional life, but it can be a big help to you at home, too!

Quick explanation – time blocking is the idea of setting up blocks of time for specific tasks. For example, I had an OB/GYN that saw obstetrics patients during certain time blocks during the week. When I called to make an appointment, the receptionist looked for appointment availability during those time blocks. A financial advisor might have some time blocks for client appointments, and other time blocks for working on financial portfolios. Time blocks should be treated as “sacred” and not interrupted by other tasks.

Without realizing it, I’ve used a form of time blocking (and you probably have, too) since becoming a mom. When my oldest was a toddler, we had time blocks throughout the day for meal times, playing downstairs, playing upstairs, playing outside, and nap times. Our time blocks established our daily rhythms.

So rather than setting up time-specific daily schedules, I recommend defining time blocks. Your time blocks may include:

  • Group Time – This might include a Bible devotional, prayer, a read-aloud.
  • 1:1 Teaching – This includes teaching a new concept, shared/guided reading, a read-aloud.
  • Independent Work – Independent activities will depend on the age and maturity of each child. My 5th grader has a list of his work for each day, and I highlight the items that he should do independently. This might include reading, a video lesson, or practicing a math concept that he’s learning. Younger kids will need mostly 1:1 teaching, but can do some independent activities (coloring, drawing, crafting, puzzles, etc.).
  • Outside Time – Playing in the back yard, taking a walk if you don’t live in a highly populated area and can keep up good self-distancing practices.
  • Chores – This might be a good time to instill some good habits by setting up a chore system. My kids each have a job to do after every meal (Kitchen Chores) and also help with their own laundry each week. (My fifth grader does his own laundry by himself, from start to finish, every Tuesday.)
  • Mommy Work Time – Many parents are working at home due to social-distancing requirements. Since these parents are also having to fill in as educators for their kids and likely don’t have live-in child care, I truly hope that employers are being reasonable with their employees. Regardless, you’ll need a big block of time, or a couple smaller blocks of time during different parts of the day, to get your work done. Even if you’re not working outside of the home, you likely have things that you need to get done and could use some focused time.
  • Free Play – This is where I tell my kids to go find something to do. They’ve got plenty to play with, lots of books to read, but I still get the “I’m bored!” complaint. There are a lot of ways to handle this time block. You could have bins for each day of the week containing activities that they get only during this time block. You could allow some screen time, allowing them to watch educational television (set the sleep timer on your TV to turn it off after a set time and put on Magic School Bus, PBS Kids, etc). You could set up an iPad to allow only educational apps during the school day (set up Screen Time section in Settings, specifically Downtime and Always Allowed). Or you could do what I’ve had to do a few times, which is to say, “Oh, sweet child, are you bored? Let me help you. Here’s a trash bag – fill it with all of the toys and games that bore you, and we’ll give them to a child that will enjoy them.” That usually ends the conversation and gets the kids interested in their things.

It’s much easier to think about time blocks than, “What are we supposed to do between 2-3pm?” I think of it as flexible planning because you can play around with the blocks until you find what works for you. It also helps you to group various activities in a sensible way.

For example, your older kids might have an Independent Work block while you work with your younger kids (1:1 Teaching block). Or all of your kids may have an Independent Work block while you have your Mommy Work Time block. Or you could spread a blanket in the back yard and have a Group Time, 1:1 Teaching Time, and/or Independent Work block, alternating assignments with 15 minutes of play (Outside Time block).

If you are working from home, I recommend having a Mommy Work Time block early in the day while your kids have Independent Work or Free Play blocks. The reason for this is that I find that, on days that my kids (or I!) wake up on the wrong side of the bed or are behaving badly or are resistant to my teaching and leadership, I have a really difficult time doing anything productive afterward. So try to get your most important things done in the early Mommy Work Time block, and then dedicate time later in the day to getting schoolwork done.

Determine What Schoolwork Your Kids Will Do

Ok, this is a difficult one because there are so many different situations. But I’m going to assume that, if you’re reading this, you’re doing school at home temporarily and plan to send your kids back to their schools as soon as the school doors open. Amiright?

So in this situation, the first thing you should do is get guidance from your children’s teachers. You’ve likely been in communication with them and are getting guidance, maybe even assignments. If not, check out the school’s website. When my oldest was in public school, the teachers at his school each had a webpage that they updated periodically with information about what was being covered in class. They even had links to helpful websites and resources. Look for the same from your kids’ teachers.

You’ll probably have to fine-tune after you get started and see how your kids are doing in each subject. For example, you might feel like they’re not being challenged enough in reading, but are struggling with their multiplication tables. An awesome thing about being so in-tune with how your kids are doing in their schoolwork is that you can customize their education and either challenge them more or slow things down a bit.

Look for areas of struggle. Your child may be struggling because concepts are being taught to him/her in a way that doesn’t fit his/her learning preferences. Or maybe they never learned an earlier concept well. For example, if your student hasn’t learned their multiplication tables very well, division is going to be a huge struggle. Doing more division problems isn’t the answer. Instead, it’s better to back up and focus on those multiplication tables again, maybe in a different way (see resources at the bottom of this post).

Discipline

Ok, let’s have a moment of truth here and talk about the least-fun thing about teaching your kids at home: discipline. This topic is so vast and complex that there’s no way that I could possibly do it justice in a blog post, but I’ll try to touch on some important points for you to consider.

<deep breath> Here we go…

  • Make your expectations and boundaries (rules) clear, along with consequences for not meeting expectations and breaking rules. Boundaries may include school hours (discussed above), respectfulness, cleaning up the school work area at the end of the day, etc. Keep it simple at first so that your kids have early success in meeting expectations.
  • You don’t need me to tell you that kids don’t always want to do school work. Especially if they’re struggling. If behavioral issues and non-compliance are due to academic struggles, spend whatever time you need to identify the point of difficulty and remediate. Trouble with handwriting? Maybe you need to work on pencil grip. Trouble with division? See if your student has a good grasp on multiplication tables. Trouble reading? Check their eyesight. You may have to try many different things to make progress, and may have to consider learning disabilities. This is difficult, I know, but keep at it.
  • If behavioral issues and non-compliance are simply due to a lack of interest, rewards may help. My kids don’t get access to TV or iPads during the evenings if they haven’t done their schoolwork and chores for the day. Sometimes I feel like this hurts me just as much as them, but I’ve followed through enough for them to know that I’m serious and won’t budge on this.
  • Brace yourself for behavioral issues, especially if any teacher has expressed concern or frustration with your child’s behavior. It’s easy to ignore negative comments from teachers and privately blame them for the problems, and sometimes there’s truth in that. But sometimes we’re not aware of how our kids behave when we’re not present. I speak from experience here. In our homeschool, I’ve dealt with a lot of what I would call oppositional behavior beyond typical childish defiance. And honestly, sometimes I’ve felt like it has broken me. There have been times that I’ve just sat and cried during really difficult moments. Some days, you may have to put the school work on the back burner in order to work with your child to accept your leadership in your home and behave with respect and civility to you and everyone else. This is easier said than done, of course, but totally worth the effort.

Helpful Products & Resources

I’ve put together a list of resources that I’ve used and liked. While I’ve used them for homeschooling, most are not necessarily homeschool-specific and could be helpful to you during this temporary season in conjunction with lessons and materials that you get from your children’s teachers. Most of these resources aren’t homeschool curriculum, but I did include a couple of curriculum items that you might try if your student is really struggling in that area. This might be a good time to get them on the right path before going back to their regular schools.

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 Phonics – Curriculum 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. Evan-Moor is currently offering 25% off e-books through March 31, 2020.
  • 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. If you get spelling lists from your child’s teacher, you can use these worksheets to practice spelling the words for a week before testing them. If they still have problems with particular words, I include them in the next week’s word list (although you’ll want to make sure to limit the size of your word list each week – no more than 10 at a time, maybe even less).

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. Evan-Moor is currently offering 25% off e-books through March 31, 2020.

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 an Independent Work block. It only takes about ten minutes a day and really helps with math facts.

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 Kids – My 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. And they’re running a sale on eBooks through April 20, 2020.
  • Skrafty – If 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. And it looks like they’re all ready to help families dealing with school closures.
  • 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.
homeschooling during the coronavirus crisis
How to Homeschool – Be Informed About Laws

How to Homeschool – Be Informed About Laws

In my previous “How to Homeschool” post, I shared with you the importance of:

  • celebrating your family’s uniqueness
  • customizing your homeschool to fit the members of your family and your current season of life.

I also promised you that I will help you to customize your homeschool with three key steps to take before doing anything else. Today, I’m sharing with you the first step. Honestly, it’s the most boring step, but it’s still critical.

How to Homeschool – Step #1: Learn Your Local Homeschool Laws

Connect with HSLDA

First and foremost, learn your local (state) homeschool laws. If you live in the United States, you can learn about your state’s or territory’s laws from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). The Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) is also a good resource for Texas residents.

There are a lot of differences between the states about what is required to homeschool, so this is a critical step. Your state may require a certain number of school days a year, or a certain number of hours a day of schoolwork. It may require standardized testing, meeting with a local representative, or making a portfolio of work. Even what subjects are required varies from state to state. And if you currently have kids in the school system, you’ll also need to learn about the withdrawal process. It’s up to you to find out.

Find out your local laws before doing anything else! Before watching curriculum videos, before reading books about homeschool methodologies, before anything. Print out your local laws and put them in a binder or glue them into a notebook or laminate them. Whatever works for you. Just keep them ever-present as you’re making your plans.

Connect on Social Media

Connect to HSLDA on social media. I personally follow them on Facebook, along with THSC. Both organizations keep followers in-the-know regarding legislation involving homeschooling and parental rights. They also share stories about specific homeschool families that they have helped. While those aren’t the most fun posts to see in my news feed (show me all the cute and funny babies and pets!), I’ve found their posts to be helpful and eye-opening.

Get Legal Protection

You’ll notice a link to join the organization on the HSLDA website (or THSC or whomever). I highly recommend that you join! The small fee is worth the peace of mind of knowing that you have legal protection should the need arise.

When I connected to these legal organizations on social media, I started seeing the stories they shared of cases where attorneys needed to get involved in protecting specific homeschool families. What surprised me was that, often, those families hadn’t done anything wrong. There were times where the local school district didn’t know or follow the law, or simply made mistakes and lost records. I shudder to think what might have happened if those families hadn’t had legal protection.

Other Reasons to Learn Your Local Laws

Minimum Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a huge lifestyle change, especially if you’re withdrawing kids from public school. When you first start homeschooling, you may want to do the minimum while your family is adapting to this new lifestyle. And by minimum, I mean the legal minimum for your state (see above).

When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t understand how much homeschool laws varied from state to state. So I piled us up with a lot of work that we really didn’t need to do. During the year, I did end up letting a couple of things go so that we could manage our time better. Looking back, I wish I’d taken a “minimum homeschooling” approach while I got my sea legs, so to speak.

(Disclaimer: If you’ll be homeschooling kids in high school that may attend college, you’ll need to consider college entrance requirements and maybe even explore dual-enrollment at a local community college. Candice from Homeschool on the Hill created a video about homeschooling high school that you may find helpful.)

Resist Imitation

When you watch YouTube videos about homeschooling, or read blog posts, or peruse Instagram, you’re going to get a front row seat to how families from other states incorporate homeschooling into their lives. They may be doing things that aren’t required in your state. Or maybe they’re not covering a subject that is required in your state. At the least, you’ll be confused. At the most, you could get yourself into some trouble if you’re not doing the minimum for your state.

This is the reason that I ended up overloading our schedule during our first year of homeschooling. I searched the web for curriculum videos and blog posts, not understanding that the homeschool parents that created that content were working to satisfy a different set of requirements.

So don’t be like me. Enter the research phase of homeschool preparation (after the next two steps!) armed with the very important information of the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state.

REAL TALK: Don’t waste time complaining about laws.

The homeschool laws in your state or territory may irritate you. You may think that they’re ridiculous or require too much oversight or are just unfair. But focusing on these negatives is not productive.

Certainly join organizations that support and protect homeschoolers (like HSLDA and THSC), both directly and by working with legislative bodies in regards to parental rights. Those organizations may even suggest ways that you can make a difference in how homeschooling is addressed in your state.

But if you don’t like your state laws and don’t want to follow them, please reconsider your decision to homeschool. Breaking the law by doing your own thing is putting your family at risk, and frankly setting a terrible example for your kids.

So instead of looking at your local laws with angst and frustration, see them as a helpful framework for ensuring that your kids get a good education.

How to Homeschool

How to Homeschool – Introduction –>

How to Homeschool Step #2 – Determine Learning Preferences –>

How to Homeschool Step #3 – Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights –>

How to Homeschool – Introduction

How to Homeschool – Introduction

So you’re thinking about homeschooling…or maybe you’ve already started homeschooling and are struggling. The decision to homeschool is a big undertaking, and sometimes anxiety-inducing. But I want to help you!

Celebrate Uniqueness

So how can I help? By giving you a framework for your research that will give you confidence in your decisions. The reason for this framework is uniqueness.

Why is uniqueness important?

Every child is unique. Like no one else. They each have a unique combination of gifts, abilities, struggles, interests, and quirks.

Every unique child also has parents with their own uniqueness – their own gifts, abilities, struggles, interests, and quirks.

Put all of these unique individuals into a family, and you have a unique family with layers of uniqueness and complexity. Those layers of complexity increase when you look at that family through the lens of a specific season of life, both for each individual and the family as a whole.

FREE DOWNLOAD!

Since each family is unique, what works for one family may not work for another. This is especially true for homeschooling, which is pervasive in the way it affects the lives of every member of your family.

In a day when so many people are interested in personality types (including me!), this shouldn’t come as a surprise. (If you’re curious, I’m an INTJ, enneagram type 5.) But somehow, when it comes to children and their education, we tend to default to a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Even homeschoolers, and especially within families.

A Customized Education

The uniqueness of individuals and families can complicate the homeschool decision-making process. We look at how other families homeschool, and it all looks so fun and peaceful and magical. So we think, “I want to homeschool like that!” Or we look at other families with children that are so accomplished and knowledgeable and respectful and we think, “That is how I’ll homeschool!” And it goes on and on.

Add to that the conflicting advice we see

Do lots of crafts! But memorize tons! And spend hours outside! And more hours reading! But don’t let any of it feel like school!

and the homeschooling quotes and memes

Play is the work of childhood! But you also need to train the mind! But wonder is more important! And homeschooled kids are “socialized” just fine! But it’s better not to fit in!

and it all starts getting overwhelming and confusing.

I would love to help you out of that confusion! (Also, don’t take parenting advice from memes. 🙂 )

Types of Homeschool Advice

A lot of homeschool advice falls into two different camps: “Just relax!” or “Do it my way!”

“Just relax!”

If you’ve been researching homeschooling for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the idea to just relax! Because it’ll be ok! It’ll all work out!

This type of advice about homeschooling reminds me of comments I’ve received from older moms while exhausted with a new baby, or struggling with a toddler, or just generally weary from parenting challenges: “Enjoy this time! You’ll miss it when it’s gone! You’ll wish you could come back to this!”

Yes, I recognize that one day I will miss the charm of toddlers and the joy of childhood. One day I may be sad that my walls are not covered with toothpaste splatters and that my table and counters (and floor and refrigerator and, again, the walls) aren’t smeared with food. But that’s not what I need to hear when I’m struggling. At the very least, I need to hear, “You’re doing great!” Even better is genuine interest in my parenting experience, with maybe some practical advice.

So you won’t hear, “Just relax!” from me. Quite the opposite – do NOT relax. That sense of urgency can be a gift. It motivates us to be extra-vigilant when scoping out new terrain. It reminds us that we have some work to do. It encourages us to get our ducks in a row. That’s the responsible reaction to a decision that will have both personal and legal implications for your family. Once you’ve (somewhat) got those ducks in a row, with the help of the steps I’ll present to you (practical advice!) and further research, then you can relax.

“Do it my way!”

The “Do it my way!” advice is different from the “Just relax!” advice in that you actually do get some practical advice. Unfortunately, since your family is unique, that advice may not work for your family.

Yes, there are homeschool moms that have been homeschooling dozens of kids for decades, and have a ton of experience and knowledge from which to draw. They are experts…in educating their own children. Not yours.

And yes, there’s that author that “everyone” loves, that blogger, that YouTuber that you absolutely must follow and imitate. But just because an author or influencer is popular doesn’t mean that you should model your family after theirs.

Middle Ground – “Find what works for you!”

The homeschool moms that I have appreciated the most have been those that share their own experiences, but acknowledge that something that works for them may not work for everyone.

So I’m not going to tell you what curricula to use. Or what co-op to join. Or whether or not you should use workbooks, or have a schoolroom, or grade your kids’ assignments.

If your family is unique, how could anyone, especially a stranger, be qualified to tell you how to educate your kids? No, I don’t want to tell you what to do. I do want to give you some ideas and tools for understanding your family’s uniqueness so that you can make insightful, lo, even WISE choices for your family. So that you can adjust when things don’t go as planned. Or when life changes. Or when you get to know your family better.

The first three tools I’ll give you should be the first three things that you do, in order, as you work to customize your family’s homeschool (or as you work through the decision-making process of whether or not to homeschool).

After the first three steps, we’ll tackle subjects like educational philosophies, curricula, planning, organization, co-ops, etc. Be sure to join my mailing list so that you’ll be notified when I update this website!

You can do this!

You really can do this! Your educational background, personality type, and work history will not determine your success as a homeschool parent. Your dedication to getting to know your children and determination to make wise choices are much greater contributors to success.

How to Homeschool Step #1 – Be Informed About Laws –>

How to Homeschool Step #2 – Determine Learning Preferences –>

How to Homeschool Step #3 – Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights –>

 How to Homeschool - To Do List
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How to Homeschool
How to Homeschool

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How to Create an Unschooling Learning Plan

How to Create an Unschooling Learning Plan

Unschooling Learning Plan

I’ve become interested in exploring “unschooling” as a way for my kids to delve more into their interests. The definition I’m using for unschooling is using an interest-led and child-directed approach to learning, rather than using a purchased curriculum or parent-created unit study. I think that unschooling may be a good way to teach my kids how to learn in a way that will serve them for the rest of their lives, and another step toward fully independent learning.

At the moment, I’m trying out unschooling with my oldest for his science studies. Since he’s only 9, I felt that I needed to give him a bit of structure as I guide him in this learning experiment. So I created a printable to facilitate this learning process.

Begin with Questions

Any good science exploration begins with questions, and the printable reflects that idea. After choosing a general topic, specific questions help my son to focus and direct his learning.

Learning Ideas

The printable then shows him different ways to learn about that topic, and gives him ideas for each of these learning categories.

  • Watch – My kids watch a lot of science-related educational programming on PBS Kids, so I had that in mind for this category. They also love the Magic School Bus and the newer version of that show, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (both on Netflix). There’s a wiki for both shows that tell you the scientific focus of each episode, which is really helpful for when you’re looking for something specific. I’ve also found helpful short videos on scientific topics on YouTube. Documentaries are also a good option, if you can find one to hold your child’s attention.
  • Read – Fiction and non-fiction are possibilities here, even fun reference books targeted to children (like a children’s encyclopedia).
  • Play – Games, kits, puzzles, experiments, apps, even Minecraft are possibilities here. We also have a subscription to Minecraft Homeschool, which has courses on many topics.
  • Create – My thought with this category was for my child to find a way to be creative with the things that he’s learning. So he could create a model, drawing, a Scratch program…even charts and diagrams could be fun creative outlets.
  • Write – This could be as simple as having him write three sentences in his science notebook for each activity he does. For a child that loves to write, this could be report or even a story.
  • Teach – I’ve been entranced by the leadership benefits for older children in a one-room schoolhouse as they help younger children to learn, so I was hoping to explore that idea in this context. Possibilities could include him creating/running an experiment for his younger siblings, giving them a short lecture about an interesting aspect of his learning, or even designing a lapbook or notebooking page for them to use.

This isn’t meant to be a strict plan. These are just ideas. For our first shot at this, after choosing a topic and writing down a couple of questions, my son and I explored learning activities in the Watch, Read, Play, and Create categories. He wrote down the ones that interested him. We’ll revisit these ideas, adding and subtracting as we go. When he’s ready to close down this topic, I’ll encourage him to share with his brothers an aspect of what he’s learned (the Teach category).

Implementing the Unschooling Learning Plan

So what does day-to-day learning look like when unschooling? Possibilities range from the very relaxed (“What science activity do you want to do today?”) to the very structured (transferring all ideas your child has decided upon to a lesson planner).

In our case, we’re somewhere between relaxed and structured. We keep a copy of this printable in my son’s science binder. I’ve highlighted the activities that are ready to go (we have the book, or the show, or the supplies) for him to choose from on a day that we’re doing science. If an activity requires a lot of help from me, or for someone else to be involved (ex. my husband, a grandparent), I’ll take the opportunity to teach my son to respect the time of others by getting him to schedule a specific day and time for it.

Tracking Learning and Getting Ready for the Future

Besides the learning ideas page, I also created a form for my son to keep track of his learning activities, as well as a form for him to keep track of any new questions he comes up with during his learning process. These new questions will be helpful as we consider a new science topic to explore once he closes out the current topic. My son keeps all of these forms in his science binder.

Are you ready to take a different approach to learning?

Download these learning plan printables today!

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Unschooling Learning Plan
Unschooling Learning Plan
Unschooling Learning Plan

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Homeschool Science – Mid-Year Update

Homeschool Science – Mid-Year Update

I started off the school year wanting to take a different approach to science. I felt the need to streamline and minimize a bit this year, doing more of what we like and less of what we don’t. In years past, it sometimes felt like science wanted to take over our homeschool, with all the fun projects and activities and experiments. But it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been, partly because it was all too much. So this year, I thought the answer would be to “unschool” science rather than using a traditional homeschool science curriculum. I thought that a child-led, child-directed approach would allow my kids to delve more into their interests while putting less of a burden on me.

So did that work? Welllll…..yes and no. Instead of “unschooling,” we ended up falling into unit studies that I created by supplementing Little Passports Science Expeditions boxes. And it was fun. For the most part, the Science Expeditions learning activities were high quality and well-thought-out. It was nice to not have to hunt down supplies for experiments. And it wasn’t hard to find supplemental activities so that all three of my kids could participate.

But it wasn’t what I wanted. I really did want my kids to explore their interests more, but that wasn’t happening because I was letting Little Passports choose the science focus. And it really wasn’t any less work for me. It was actually more work because, instead of planning way ahead like I usually do, I had to do last minute planning when I would learn the focus of the next box. (If you plan to use Little Passports Science Expeditions for science, I would suggest beginning your subscription a few months before you need them so you can plan ahead.)

Plan to Unschool Homeschool Science

The first decision I made was to forego treating science as a group subject. I found that “child led” and “group work” really didn’t go hand in hand because group work requires agreements and compromise. While those are skills that I want my children to learn, I don’t want to use science to teach it to them.

Preschooler – Science Tag-a-long

My preschooler will participate in activities with his older brothers if appropriate and if he’s interested.

First Grader – Traditional Science Curriculum

For my first grader, I determined that unschooling really isn’t the answer. At his age, so much is new and fascinating to him that really any science topic will do. And there is foundational scientific knowledge that I’d like him to learn. So I decided to go back to notebooking with him, using Carson-Dellosa Interactive Notebooks. He gets a thrill out of putting together the notebooking pages, and we both enjoy the recommendations for furthering learning so that he can process what he’s learned in a simple, creative way. (I explain more about this in the video, so please watch it if you’re interested. 🙂 )

My first grader will likely also participate in some of his older brother’s scientific activities if appropriate and if he’s interested.

Fourth Grader – Pursuing Unschooling

I considered going the notebooking route with my fourth grader, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try unschooling with him. The main reason is that I think that this is a good opportunity to teach him how to learn in a way that will serve him for the rest of his life. I also think that this could be another step toward fully independent learning for him.

Since he’s only 9, and since this is our first time trying this, I felt that I needed to give him a bit of structure as I guide him in this learning experiment. So I created a printable to facilitate this learning process.

Encouraging Curiosity

Any good science exploration begins with a question, and the printable reflects that idea. My son quickly chose a topic (electronics), and I encouraged him to write a couple of questions he has about that topic.

Learning Ideas

The printable then shows him different ways to learn about that topic, and gives him ideas for each of these learning categories.

  • Watch – My kids watch a lot of science-related educational programming on PBS Kids, so I had that in mind for this category. They also love the Magic School Bus and the newer version of that show, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (both on Netflix). There’s a wiki for both shows that tell you the scientific focus of each episode, which is really helpful for when you’re looking for something specific. I’ve also found helpful short videos on scientific topics on YouTube. Documentaries are also a good option, if you can find one to hold your child’s attention.
  • Read – Fiction and non-fiction are possibilities here, even fun reference books targeted to children (like a children’s encyclopedia).
  • Play – Games, kits, puzzles, experiments, apps, even Minecraft are possibilities here. For my son’s focus on electronics, we needed to look no further than our shelves. He knew right away that he wanted to dig into Snap Circuits again, and we have several kits that he can put together and experiment with. We also have a subscription to Minecraft Homeschool, which has courses on many topics.
  • Create – My thought with this category was for my child to find a way to be creative with the things that he’s learning. So he could create a model, drawing, a Scratch program…even charts and diagrams could be fun creative outlets.
  • Write – This could be as simple as having him write three sentences in his science notebook for each activity he does. For a child that loves to write, this could be report or even a story.
  • Teach – I’ve been entranced by the leadership benefits for older children in a one-room schoolhouse as they help younger children to learn, so I was hoping to explore that idea in this context. Possibilities could include him creating/running an experiment for his younger siblings, giving them a short lecture about an interesting aspect of his learning, or even designing a lapbook or notebooking page for them to use.

This isn’t meant to be a strict plan. These are just ideas. For his electronics topic, I sat with my son and explored learning activities in the Watch, Read, Play, and Create categories. He wrote down the ones that interested him. We’ll revisit these ideas, adding and subtracting as we go. When he’s ready to close down this topic, I’ll encourage him to share with his brothers an aspect of what he’s learned (the Teach category).

Not a Magic Bullet

I should point out that this isn’t a magic bullet for learning. I child that is naturally more academic will eat this up. Otherwise, there might be some resistance. In our situation, my son vacillated between the excitement he feels over the freedom of choosing learning activities in his area of interest, and angst over it still being “work.” Laying out his options (“You can either choose your activities and do them with a good attitude, or Mommy can purchase a science textbook and workbook for you.”) went a long way toward getting buy-in. 😉

Implementing the Learning

Once we had some ideas in place, I needed to decide how we were going to actually implement them. Possibilities range from the very relaxed (“What science activity do you want to do today?”) to the very structured (transferring all these ideas to a lesson planner). I can see myself doing both, depending on the topic and the season of life we’re in. But for the most part, we’ll probably lay somewhere in the middle.

In our case, we’ll keep a copy of this printable in my son’s science binder. I’ll highlight any activities that are ready to go (we have the book, or the show, or the supplies) for him to choose from on a day that we’re doing science. If an activity requires a lot of help from me, or for someone else to be involved (ex. my husband, a grandparent), we’ll schedule a specific day and time for it. I think that this is a great opportunity to teach him the need to respect other people’s time (a social skill that is sometimes hard to come by!).

Keeping Track of Learning and More Questions

Besides the learning ideas page, I created forms for my son to keep track of any new questions he comes up with during his learning process (possibilities for future learning!), as well as a form for him to keep track of his learning activities. I’ll also add his activities into our online lesson planner for my records, but I like the idea of my son learning to track his own work. He’ll keep all of these forms in his science binder.

What homeschool science curriculum or approach have you loved?

So now that you’ve had a peek into how we’ve approached science this past year, and what we’re planning for the future, I’d love to hear about your family! What homeschool science curriculum or approach has your family loved and why?

You may also be interested in:

Homeschool Mid-Year Update – Homeschool History Curriculum

Homeschool 4th Grade Curriculum – Mid-Year Update

Homeschool First Grade Curriculum – Mid-Year Update

Homeschool Pre-K Curriculum – Mid-Year Update

Video you may find helpful:

Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2018-2019

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