Homeschooling 101- A Beginner’s Guide To A Relaxed Approach

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I never imagined I would homeschool my own children. In fact, I can remember leaving my homeschooling roots behind (I was homeschooled K-8) to attend a traditional high school thinking, “That was great, but I’d never want to do that.” I went on to become a high school English teacher and brought many of my homeschool experiences with me to create an engaging and dynamic classroom. Once my daughter was born, my husband and I found ourselves thinking the same thing my parents probably thought when they decided to homeschool me and my siblings in the ’80s: there’s got to be a better way. 

Maybe you’ve thought the same thing? Maybe the idea of sending your kid into a crowded school, or locked-down classroom or having multiple children on different Zoom schedules doesn’t sound like fun. There’s no doubt that education has taken a radically different form over the past six months as schools, teachers, and parents have navigated the effects of the pandemic. While not everyone has the privilege of choosing to homeschool, it can be a great alternative if you’re feeling like there must be a better way.

Getting Started

If you’re thinking homeschooling might be an option for you and your family you’ll first want to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding homechooling. Every state is different, so it’s important to know what you need to do. You can find a list of laws by state HERE.

Homeschooling Styles

When it comes to homeschooling there are multiple methods and approaches. Our family has opted for a flexible style that allows us the freedom to choose a curriculum that works for each child’s learning style and incorporate our love of the outdoors. However, I was educated at home with the School-at-Home model: we had desks, there was a whiteboard bolted to our family room wall and the structure of our day was similar to a traditional school day.

Keep in mind that every support group you’ll find in the Seacoast and around New Hampshire often reflects a certain style, understanding these styles and finding the one that fits your family best is key to finding your “tribe” and being able to thrive as a homeschooling family. It’s also important to note that you can move fluidly through all the styles of home education until you find a structure and method that works for you.

  • Classical – The classical or traditional approach to homeschooling focuses on grammar, logic and rhetoric and centers around classic texts and the Socratic method. This method is reading-centric and involves rote learning, which can be challenging for struggling readers.

  • Unschooling – The unschooling method is a free-form model where learning is driven by the student’s interest and curiosity. Unschooling is unstructured and does not incorporate evaluation with quizzes and tests, instead focuses on learning through self-guided discovery and exploration.

  • School-at-Home – This homeschooling method is often the first that families try when they start homeschooling. With a traditional school day as a reference, the School-at-Home method often centers around a complete curriculum and follows a similar schedule and structure to a traditional school day.

  • Eclectic Homeschooling – Eclectic homeschooling is a relaxed method that borrows from each of the other methods. This flexible method allows parents to pick and choose curriculum and resources based on their own and their child’s preferences and learning styles. This customized approach can be more work but is often the place where most homeschoolers end up after trying multiple methods and curriculums.

You can find a more in-depth description of these methods and more HERE.

Choosing a Curriculum

Choosing a curriculum is often the most daunting task once you have decided to start homeschooling: how do you know what’s the right fit for you and your child? I was faced with this same decision when we started homeschooling. After requesting multiple catalogs and spending hours online I ultimately decided that instead of purchasing a complete curriculum package (which can get incredibly expensive), I would piece together resources on all of the required subjects. For our daughter’s first year I found various workbooks that I liked and purchased them on Amazon (Handwriting without Tears, Explode the Code, Hooked on Phonics and Mathematical Reasoning). I looked at recommended reading lists, enrolled her in an experiential science class, and found a read-aloud history book that interested all of us. We took a relaxed approach and Sophia passed her end of year evaluation with flying colors.

I tried the same approach with my son Jack with much resistance, he wasn’t the same kind of learner as Sophia and required a totally different technique. At first, I struggled with the fact that he was “behind” where his sister had been at his age and felt as if I was failing him. But just this past year he improved leaps and bounds and closed the gap in the areas where he was behind. Allowing him to move at his own pace has been critical for him in staying encouraged and motivated. This is one of the benefits of homeschooling, if your child is ‘behind’ you can cater to their learning styles and needs, go at their own pace and trust their internal timing. Our third child, Liam is also a learner unto himself. He is just entering school-age this year and we’ve yet to see exactly how he will respond to some of the methods we’ve employed with our other two children.

Now that all of our children are school-aged, we’ve opted to use some online resources (Accellus Academy) along with texts and workbooks that we hand select to piece together a complete curriculum that works for each of our kids.

A complete curriculum (like this one) can be helpful if you’re feeling unsure of your ability to plan the school year and keep multiple children on track at grade level. However, it can be a very expensive way to start and if you make the investment and find out later that it’s just not working, it can be incredibly frustrating. While it is important to cover all the topics required, create a portfolio, and prepare your child for evaluation, the way in which you explore and learn those subjects is entirely up to you!

My suggestion is to start as inexpensively as possible. Begin with your end-goal in mind (these can be grade level bench-marks) and then plan your year in 3-4 weeks at a time, setting smaller goals for each unit. If this detailed planning intimidates you, adopt a more exploratory method. The most important thing is to take the pressure off yourself, any kind of pressure or stress you create will trickle down to your children and in my experience is the source of most resistance, fighting, and struggle.

Approach

When my husband and I set out to homeschool our kids (he is now the primary parent at home and shoulders the teaching responsibilities) we had two primary goals that had nothing to do with grade-level or subject matter. At the end of each day, we want our children to feel encouraged and confident. Those are our goals. Our homeschooling philosophy is centered around the idea that if our children are feeling encouraged and confident, that will empower them on their learning journey. Encouraged and confident kids are more curious and more engaged with whatever subject matter they are learning

With encouragement and confidence the priority, the material can often take a back seat. Which as a former teacher,  was hard for me to wrap my head around at times. I tended to focus more on comprehension and often pushed to the point of frustration and tears. What I have noticed is that when my priorities shifted, the learning environment improved: comprehension flows more naturally for a child who is feeling encouraged and confident. The quote from Dr. Jane Nelsen is true, “Kids do better when they feel better.”

Local Resources

Your state is probably full of resources, support groups and classes that are geared towards homeschoolers. A little digging on Google and you are sure to find a homeschool group that jives well with your family. We’ve found some great local resources here in New Hampshire and it’s through these classes we have met many of our close friends. My children have taken science classes at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, sailed down the Piscataqua with the Gundalow Company, taken art classes at the Woodman Museum, and bombed down the trails at Gunstock with the Homeschool Ski School.

We’ve been a part of a homeschool co-op where we gathered weekly and each parent took on the responsibility of teaching a topic. I chipped in by teaching PE and creative writing. A co-op is a great way to connect with other homeschool families and can help diversify the way in which you educate your child.

While the current health crisis is sure to impact many of the things we have been a part of in the past, our hope is that these activities will resume soon. Until then, we continue to explore our state and stay in touch with homeschooling friends in a context in which we all feel safe.

You got this

Despite my experience as a high school English teacher, I was seriously intimidated by the idea of teaching a non-reader how to read. Expository essay, Brit Lit, Creative writing–all no problem, but phonics? Not so much. We struggled at times in that first year, but ultimately found our way. Now my daughter is a skilled reader who stays up way past my bedtime with her light on reading and re-reading her favorites.

Homeschooling isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding to bear witness and be inextricably linked to your child’s learning journey. Watching them become engaged and curious about new topics, struggle through and ultimately comprehend new concepts can fill your parent-heart with joy. Those highs are offset by days when you want to quit, ship them off to some imaginary boarding school where they’ll wear capes and ride brooms and never have to deal with the whining, bickering and complaining again. It’s all real. And it’s all part of the journey.

As with anything in life that is worthwhile, there is often struggle involved. It’s important to acknowledge that struggle is not a sign of failure. I like to think of it as a sign that you and your family are a beautiful work in progress. Whenever I reach that breaking point of frustration–when I want to throw in the towel–I give myself permission to “begin again.” Its a concept I have learned through meditation, that when you become distracted by your own wandering thoughts, you simply reset and refocus on your breath. You choose not to beat yourself up about “getting off track” or failing in your meditation, but instead let the momentary lapse in concentration go and begin again. Homeschooling (or anything for that matter) is the same, there will be lapses and slips and struggle, but the way forward is through grace, reminding yourself of your ultimate goal (for us encouraged and confident kids) and beginning again, over and over and over again.

-Sarah

This article originally appeared on the Sarah Canney Blog and can be found here:

https://sarahcanney.com/blog/homeschool-beginners-guide

 

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