Vol.2, No.4

How to start homeschooling

The main qualification for home schooling is a desire to teach your children at home; the rest are just details.

A child doing his home schooling work
Photo Credit: Sean Locke
In the past couple of decades, home schooling has gone from being a rare, fringe-group phenomenon that was usually done only by severe non-conformists to an up and coming mainstream form of education. In a report dated July, 2004, the U.S. Department of Education declared that there were 1.1 million home schooled students in the United States in 2003, and researches are finding that the number of home schooled students is growing by about 7% per year.

While home schooling is not for everyone, the benefits and advantages cannot be ignored. Home schooled children in grades K-12 are influenced more by family than peers; the one-on-one attention is much more productive; children can learn at their own pace and within their own learning style; and home schooling families are free to practice and/or teach religion as part of the course work.

If you believe home schooling is the right choice for your family, but you are intimidated by the amount of work, the change in lifestyle, and the question about your own qualifications, you are not alone. Even veteran home schooling families question how they are doing and how their children will turn out. The main qualification is a desire to teach your children at home; the rest are just details. Following are a few tips to help you as you begin your home schooling adventure.

1. Join HSLDA. The Home School Legal Defense Association has been helping and defending home schoolers for quite some time. They will let you know about all the home school laws in your state and what you can expect.

2. Find a support group. Home schooling has become so popular that home school groups have popped up in nearly every area of the country. Even if you live in a very rural or unpopulated area, chances are there are home schooling families not far from you. Ask around at local libraries, churches, and even at the local public school district. A support group is important for beginners: the other moms and dads will encourage you, and your children will meet new playmates. Support groups will also answer your questions, help you understand the changes in lifestyle that you may face, and they will assure you that you are not alone.

3. Research your state requirements. Each state is different, with some requiring extensive record keeping and accountability, while others care very little about what their home schoolers are doing. Contact the office of education for your state or HSLDA and inquire about the requirements. Often support groups are a wealth of information for finding out about requirements and resources.

4. Do your homework. Before purchasing a traditional, expensive curriculum, study up on what's out there. Attend a home school conference, go to the seminars and talk to the curriculum vendors. There is a whole plethora of materials out there with something for every type of child and every type of parent. Beginners should just start with the basic requirements for their state, such as math, language arts, history, science, and physical education. The time will come later for branching out into foreign languages and upper level artwork. And it is important to remember that if you buy a curriculum with which you are not happy, be open to changing in mid-stream.

5. Be open-minded. Remember, home schooling is not doing traditional school at home; rather, it is teaching in a whole new way. Often beginners expect their children to sit at a traditional student's desk while the mother or father sits at a traditional teacher's desk; they may want bells to indicate changes in subject matter and even hand-raising for asking questions. Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these things, but most home schoolers find that rather than emulating traditional school, it is much easier to find their own way of doing things. They might do math at the kitchen table, history on the living room sofa, and reading in the bedroom. They might do science experiments on the back porch or in the garage, and art at the local park. Math may be done at the grocery store as a child buys something and counts out the correct amount of money. Reading may involve reading the newspaper or food packaging. Science may be part of helping to cook dinner. Home schoolers will discover that the learning doesn't end when the books are put away.

6. Never doubt your qualifications. Whether you are the proud owner of a doctorate degree in education or if you never finished high school yourself, you are qualified to teach your child. Some states require certain certifications or educational levels, but know that the only real qualification for home schooling is a love for your child, the desire to educate him, and the ability to obtain good curriculum materials. Most parents will find that even if they have earned a higher degree, they learn right along with their children.

7. Have fun. Home schooling is a wonderful way to spend time with your children and get to know them in ways that would not be possible if they went to a traditional school each day. There is nothing quite like seeing your own child's face light up when he finally learns how to read, or when she finally understands how to do fractions. Savor the time together and enjoy your children. They grow up so fast.