So... You're Thinking About Homeschooling (Part 1- Getting Started & Curriculum)

With the times as they are, I have been getting so many questions from friends about homeschooling. Things are very uncertain for public schools, and I don't blame parents in the least for looking at all of their options. 
First of all, I have to tell all you parents out there, you are all my heroes. When your kids were sent home for quarantine in March, you went into crisis schooling... that is way different than homeschooling. You had to follow a different curriculum for every teacher your kid(s) had. You had check-ins for every teacher your kid(s) had. You were at the mercy of every teachers' schedule. You sifted through 100's of emails and/or letters that were probably giving you inconsistent information and advice. All while dealing with the uncertainties of your own jobs, finances, and health! 

You did it! You made it through the end of the 2019-20 school year, and you deserve applause for that!

Unfortunately, for the schools around me anyway, life is not going back to normal as we have known it. Most parents are now trying to decided if they want their kids to be in school face to face (mask to mask) a couple days a week, go totally virtual again dealing with all the things mentioned above, or to fully withdraw from the school and commit to homeschooling until we are safe from COVID-19. Remember, homeschooling is never a permanent decision; you can re-enroll back into public school anytime. I found that very comforting when we were deciding whether or not to do it.

I have to tell you that I am NOT a very experienced homeschooling mom. My oldest is just starting 4th grade. So, what I share is mostly appropriate for elementary age kids. 

I only have two kiddos to school without any toddlers or babies in tote. I am blessed that my husband's income is enough for me to work free lance as much or as little as I want. I have it incredibly easy. 

My circumstances are also unique in that my oldest is dyslexic (that's a post for another time) and my youngest would probably be considered gifted and talented. In many "academic" areas they are doing the same level of work. So, I use one curriculum for both and adjust according to their age and abilities. 

So, knowing all of that, I'll share with you some things about getting started with homeschooling, some of the things we do, and some of my favorite resources in a series of posts.

First off, you'll have to find out homeschooling laws for your state; every state is different. 

Here in WI you need to file a PI-1206 form. It's a very simple, online form that you'll need to file every year for every child that you homeschool from ages 6-18. 

In WI a simple record of attendance is required, and you need to provide 875 hours of instruction which sounds completely overwhelming. But I guarantee that when you assess all of the learning that takes place in the daily activities of life, it adds up to WAY more. 

Trip to the store- give them some price comparison math! Trip to the bank- let them count the cash! Working in the garden- science! Baking and cooking- measuring/math skills plus home and life skills! Trip to the apple orchard, zoo, or museum = field trip : ) <----- public schools do field trips all. the. time. When you do projects around the house, make sure your kids are there to help. My hubby is SO good at including the kids in building and repair projects. 

There are plenty of times when I have to check myself, because it would often be so much easier to just do it all myself. Sure, it would go faster. Sure, it would be less messy, but I remind myself that I only have so much time to do this stuff WITH them. In the blink of an eye I will be doing all this stuff myself and I will miss the extra time and messes!

Once you figure out what your state requirements are, you'll want to consider what type of homeschooling you feel would be a good fit for your family. 

Some of the most popular/well known styles of homeschooling are: traditional, classical conversations, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, and Unschooling. There are more as well, and of course, you can always use a combination of styles! I'm not going to cover them all. Just know you'll need to take some time to research them to figure out what you'd like to try. One main reason I love homeschooling is that you can CHANGE your style anytime! 

We do a combination of traditional and unschooling. So, in other words, we use set curriculum for some main subjects, but also allow lots of time for "interest led" learning. I try to have a day every couple weeks that is unplanned and I simply ask my kids what they want to learn about today. Most of the time, the interest led learning happens when questions come up during our time using curriculum. We make room for lots of tangents. 

Moving Beyond the Page is our current choice of curriculum for literature, English, science, and social studies. They also have math and spelling units which we don't use. I LOVE literature based learning which is why I chose this brand. I really like how they break down the concepts and units. I appreciate their scope and sequence. They have plenty of hands on activities that cater to all types of learning styles. I don't do every activity. Honestly, I mostly use this curriculum as a guide. I often find my own activities to do (thank you Pinterest!) and when we find something the kids are really interested in, we welcome tangents and extra activities on that. BUT, on days when I don't have drive or energy to find my own things to do (which happens to every homeschooling parent!), I love that I can default to the provided worksheets and activities. 

If your child is just learning to read, you'll have to get a separate reading curriculum. We used the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons along with the Usborne Very First Reading Box Set. I loved the script and the coding of TYCTR. "Easy" is definitely a relative term. It took my dyslexic child a really. long. time. to get through the book. We had a big celebration when she completed it. My second child... didn't even finish it. I think he made it to lesson 78 and he was reading chapter books on his own. 

From the beginning, I knew that my oldest would need something very visual and tactile for learning math. We did a lot of Montessori math activities in her first years of schooling. Then, we started Math-U-See. The number blocks, which are used in plenty of curricula, are an important visual for the kids. There is video instruction for every unit, which is what I need for the subject I feel the least confident about teaching. I love that Math-U-see is very straight forward. Though I understand and appreciate all of the "new" and different ways of teaching math, my dyslexic child (who struggles with remembering sequences) gets very overwhelmed when presented with so many different steps and variations of doing something. She does best with a set, straight forward method and then plenty of repetition to set in the order of steps. 

For spelling and grammer, we use the Orton-Gillingham method which is well known as an effective way to teach dyslexic students. I highly recommend Logic of  English which uses OG techniques. We started the LOE essentials and eventually we will get back to it. But this year, we are going back to the basics of OG. I was failing at teaching spelling, and spelling is my daughter's BIGGEST struggle. This, though, is one of the main reasons we chose homeschooling, the ability to take ample time to address struggles.

Curriculum (or no curriculum) is such an individualized choice. Every kid learns differently. Every parent has different comfort levels of teaching. What works for one family isn't necessarily going to work for another. For instance, take my bestie. We both found success with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She is the person that introduced me to Logic of English, which I think will be good for us in the future, but not right now. I introduced her to Moving Beyond the Page, which she isn't jiving with. She doesn't have the time to find alternate activities and doesn't find the provided activities motivating. So, she is looking for something different. I know a couple of families that do classical conversations and love it, but tuition can be costly for some families. There are benefits and drawbacks to all styles of homeschooling and curriculum.

Curriculum is a trial and error type of commitment. But, you know what? When I taught in a public school, they switched curriculum and methods of teaching several times! When our students were scoring lower on reading standardized tests, the whole district adopted a new way of teaching reading. So, don't feel discouraged if you don't find the perfect curriculum right away. 

If you do choose a curriculum, usually there will be at least a couple of Facebook groups centering on the use of that curriculum. I find those groups to be a treasure trove of ideas for alternate activities, extended learning, and advice. Those groups are usually great for buying and selling used curriculum books too. Curriculum can definitely get expensive! I buy as much used on FB groups and Ebay as I possibly can. 

I want to encourage those of you considering homeschooling during this weird time in our world. I have a feeling that separating from the expectations of multiple teachers will be much less stressful than educating your kids yourself. 

Literally, if you start the day with "what questions do you want to answer today?" Or, "what do you want to learn about today?" you can successfully educate your kids. For example:

Kids: I wanna learn about FOSSILS!
Me: Okay, tell me what you already know about fossils (proceed to discuss or write what they know)
       What questions do you have about fossils? (proceed to say or write down questions)
* Look up information on fossils via the internet to answer those questions. Find printed information and have them read aloud. Also watch some videos. Check out a book or two from the library for them to browse throughout the week (there are lots of digital books available if your library is closed). 
* We like "taking notes" using a web diagram.
* When you find or hear locations in articles, books, or movies, be sure to find them on a map or globe.
Kids: I wanna be a paleontologist!
Me: Cool! What can we do to be like a paleontologist?
Kids: DIG UP BONES!
Me: Lol. Right. We might not find bones, but we can go dig : ) 
* Let them play and dig somewhere and record what they find. If they don't find anything... who cares!?Paleontologists don't find something on every dig.
* This inevitably leads to dinosaurs. We happen to have a ton of dinosaur toys. We could match the toys to our dinosaur species book.We could create an environment for the toys. Discuss the terms, herbivore and carnivore. Name currently living animals that fit into each category.
Me: Let's pretend you are a paleontologist or an archaeologist. Write a journal entry describing today's dig. Draw what you found and describe it.
Other possibilities:
* You could have a discussion of what kind of artifacts or fossils will be found millions of years from now.
* You could make a time line of history
* You could make some type of treat to represent a fossil (like the fossil cookies).
* You could figure out the differences of ages of things. 

TA-DA!
Learning.

Your kids are curious creatures. Curiosity is the basis for learning.


You can do it! I'm not saying it's going to be sunshine and rainbows everyday, but freedom to explore interests, freedom to concentrate on specific gifts and struggles, and freedom from someone else's schedule is worth it. 

Stay tuned for further posts on homeschooling. Next up: Part 2- To Schedule or Not to Schedule? What the heck does a homeschooling day look like? 

What questions or worries do you have about potentially homeschooling? Let me know in the comments.

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