You might be just starting to homeschool with your young child(ren) and are excited about the possibilities ahead!
You might be just starting to homeschool with someone who has already attended school.
There are so many reasons for “why” you may have decided to homeschool but you’re now at the stage of planning.
“How do I begin?”
Include science and art!
Science is so important!
- Science naturally helps to develop logic and critical thinking skills.
- Science has so much practicality/real life application to the things you learn about.
- Science helps us discover and take care of the wonderful world which God designed for us to enjoy and work in!
Here are some ways to include SCIENCE in your homeschool (and you can think of these as general principles for other subjects as well):
No or nil effort – Casual conversation: Include your children in your every day life AND explain why you do something or something happens. This can be gardening, kitchen science, simple and safe building projects, care for a pet. But to be “science”, remember there should be not only observation but also, explanation. This is the type of science that one might do if overwhelmed or in transition or just beginning to homeschool. It might also be done when low effort curriculum cannot be found. May I encourage you to at least have this type of science regularly in your homeschool!
Low effort – Guided and independent learning with curriculum – such as our own Peppermint Stick Learning Company’s science resource books (PSLC) (or the science courses/curriculum we’re affiliates with). Written at student level, PSLC curriculum covers lots of concepts in a broad topical base for students to discover even more. Parents/teachers can be involved but aren’t required to be available all the time for lessons so there is a lot of flexibility for real life without delaying or frustrating a child’s science education. The lesson outline, notes, worksheets, activity ideas, etc. are essentially completed for you so you don’t have to prepare much at all, if anything.
Medium-effort – Preparation time online or in libraries gathering worksheets, videos, website activities, and other “stuff” to create your own guided unit study. By experience, I can say that this seems less demanding for time in comparison to “tweaking” science curriculum to fit individualized learning when it was written for classroom groups. However, it does require time. And a good unit study with some depth to it is not just thrown together overnight! If you are just beginning to homeschool and have several children, this can feel very time-consuming although it can work for those who have some experience lesson preparation in the past and who has the time/energy to put into it.
Depth is very important to any subject area and any topic! Make sure that if you are designing as a unit study yourself (or purchasing from another), it isn’t just a reviewing concepts or a piece of pretty notebook paper for you to have to provide the depth of the content on it (unless your goal is to just have pretty paper to work with). Core curriculum provides in-depth learning whereas supplemental curriculum just reviews or introduces concepts. Both “core” and ‘supplemental” can be excellent when used in balance of one another but I strongly recommend that you carefully consider the level of actual content presented inside the unit study. A good core curriculum rarely needs time spent in review with supplemental resources so it is a time and frustration-saver to have lessons that stick the first time.
High-effort – Curriculum that really needs you as a parent-teacher to do lots of… demonstrations or experiments (clean-up plus supplies to gather), lots of marking of fill-in-the-blanks or other corrections to schoolwork, lots of oral reading of paragraphs, and/or lots of time needed for a discussion. It means that the adult must be present, available, and focused on a manual to follow detailed words, every day. To me, that’s too much effort for a busy mom with preschoolers and should be unnecessary if a student is a fluent-enough reader. It can be fine for families with few and/or older students. My guess is that seeing this type of high-effort science is why so many beginning homeschool moms shrink away from including science as an academic subject.
Art (or other hands-on project-learning) is also important!
- Art allows practice for fine motor coordination (which helps to strength the hand’s ability to print/write/draw/cut).
- Art provides opportunities for easy expression of thoughts (“a picture is worth a thousand words”). It’s sometimes easier to see a child’s artwork and hear him/her tell you about it than it is for a plain Q & A discussion about something.
- And art is fun! For beginning homeschoolers, reassure them that homeschooling can be fun, not just work.
Personal Experience: When our family was going through some challenging times with care needs, we tried “school” two ways – one was essentially following the popular philosophy of “just keeping to the basics” of “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. THAT was a very boring and we weren’t as happy with school life! Then we did the OPPOSITE – we purposely set aside the “3-R’s” – the spelling, the literature (other than whatever the kids wanted to read in their spare time without pressure to discuss or write about it). We reviewed math skills. We reviewed writing skills. But we didn’t worry about doing much at all for the “3-R’s” that year. We focused our academic education on science instead (and geography and a few other things of interest). Wow – what a difference in our days! AND what a difference it made in overall understanding and maturing in almost all other subject areas!
Avoid heavy amounts of writing and reading!
At least for the first little while until you have a better idea of your direction, this transition period, I think, is best spent if there are NOT tons of reading and writing assignments.
Remember to give some extra space and freedom at the beginning – more than what you are aiming to do for the rest of your homeschooling year(s). Classroom teachers do this too at the beginning of each year for a few weeks. It helps everyone get used to new situations.
(Some homeschoolers call this “deschooling” and do it only for a period of time when they are beginning to homeschool after a traditional classroom where there were written assignments and a structure of scheduled learning time. I prefer to continue a relaxed homeschool approach and balance writing/reading with hands-on/experiential learning throughout the years.)
Again, since science is so useful in real life, perhaps just begin with THIS subject (or another very practical one) and then add the other ones one or two at a time. This is also one version of what’s called a “staggered start to the homeschool year”. (The other version of a “staggered start” can help in multi-grade situations where it is about beginning with perhaps the older students first for a couple of weeks, then younger children.)
- math – e.g. in an application of science such as measurement or geometry or graphing
- reading (for literacy reasons/learning how-to-read plus for information or enjoyable stories)
- then penmanship and writing (creative topic of own choice or research report/factual writing on subject of own interest)
- geography or history, as you get more comfortable with your homeschooling style.
If you want to include these other subjects right away, you might want to consider using methods such as field trips which relate to topics you’re studying, hands-on curriculum, having students briefly write about what they are learning (in contrast to an official writing program with heavy grammar), visual learning, or small project-based learning. (Most of our PSLC curriculum has fun ideas like this built into the resource itself so it works well in situations needing flexibility!)
I’d leave history/government to the second last thing to add, unless it is audio, video, hands-on, or field trip based. (In other words, I wouldn’t begin with plain written notes to copy or questions/answers to complete.)
The last subject to add when you are just starting out (in my opinion) is the analysis of reading comprehension – it’s a skill that simply takes a lot of time so I would set those aside for future times or wintry snow days if you are wanting to have long reading/thinking/discussion times as part of your school-day. Just give some more free-time and space in your routine/schedule instead of having a lot of directed reading and discussions together for this starting period of time (unless the one-on-one discussion is what your child is craving or perhaps if young hands are also busy building, eating, or sewing at the same time as you listen and talk with them).
Together. Yes, of course you’d read some things together and talk together but you will likely find it less stressful if you ALSO plan on moments to be across a room or in a separate one while you get used to having young people around you 24/7. You love your children and want to share many experiences together but you don’t have to squeeze all that togetherness into a short period of time. (You love spending time with your hubby too but imagine what it would be like if he were to be beside you and read to you and then discussed it with you everywhere you went in your house for a whole morning…all week…)
Allow lots of wiggle-time! And find things to learn about outdoors!
- I have used pockets hanging on walls or crates on a shelf away from a desk to hold various subject materials. Doing this purposely encourages the student to have to get up and walk in-between subjects. This is very helpful to reinforce wee stretch breaks!
- One of my children used a big exercise ball to sit on at her desk for a while. This allowed her to wiggle safely and longer before leaving her desk. It helped her focus.
- I like to have school outdoors whenever it is good to do that. A deck, a screened porch, under a tree, on a wagon, by a picnic table, even in a tent in your yard are all places where your “homeschool room” can be during at least the warmer weather months in Canada!
- What can you take outdoors to learn? What can you learn from the outdoor world itself? Try it! This is so good for anyone, regardless of how long or short they have been homeschooling!
Organize your resources according to subjects/topics, not grade levels!
When I first began homeschooling, not much was organized because it was just kindergarten stuff for one child and we were in the midst of building and moving. When we decided we would be homeschooling for the long-term, I arranged my resources in grade levels.
Many moms who have been homeschooling for a while can tell you that, if you are enjoying the benefits of a self-paced learning style, your child will not likely be in the same grade level for all subjects. I learned the hard way. After a few years of this and as our house became smaller and smaller (the family grew), many of my resources had to be stored in the basement instead.
Now I had begun to teach multi-levels plus had had another baby or two. I remember one day at lunch phoning Rob and essentially crying that I couldn’t stand the organization of my stuff! (It’s rather funny now but wasn’t at the time.) I just couldn’t find my teaching stuff when I needed it and had had enough of that experience being repeated over and over and over. My dear hubby came home over his lunch break, helped me move a few heavy things I needed his help with, and I stopped “school” for that day so I could organize my resources much more usefully – by subject, not grade. It made a huge difference for me! Now I even organize according to sub-topic and that is helping me even more. I highly recommend it!
See this printable for how I organize my general expectations for each grade/level. The Four Year Repeat Plan (updated).
See this blog post and this blog post to see how I’ve organized some of my “school stuff” (at least in the past when I homeschooled in a house but not a separate building in a yard. If you are curious to see that, search on my website for the word “yurt”.).
Plan a year-at-a-glance and post it on a wall!
It helps everyone in the family (dad, mom, kids) to “see a big picture”, to have some idea about what you hope to learn over a year. (More about this technique for planning will be mentioned in a later chapter.)
Some of you will also want to jot down some general ideas for several years’ worth of accomplishments-to-be. Some publishers offer a scope-and-sequence which gives this sort of information. We offer some free planning guides to help give ideas for this, one of which is called “The Four-Year Rotation Guide”. You can design your own instead too.
Enjoy shopping for stuff!
If you are making a decision about homeschooling and have months to plan it, of course this is most ideal. The best sales and discounts from educational supply businesses tend to occur during the spring homeschool conference season or in January.
You need to give yourself some dedicated time to think your supplies through and be patient with yourself. Panic doesn’t often get you things that you love to work with! It’s better to purchase when you have looked at the description and sample pages carefully to think if that is what you might like to try working with. (It can be worth “missing the sales” if you find something you’re more confident in using.) So make time to shop and take time to think over your options, even if that means that you don’t start a school year until the end of October!
(This is the same advice given to me by an older mom in our church when I was gasping over my search for materials after our decision in mid-August before Weigela (her webname) was to be in grade 1. I did start homeschool right after Labour Day weekend but in hindsight, I should have given myself more time before starting, simply to peruse through curriculum and send it back before we cried over it in frustration.)
Be aware of some big-company-marketing – like the inexpensive kind that says “complete” or promises that “you can get everything done in such a short time”. “Complete” might mean “complete review” of skills, not complete teaching of new concepts, especially so if it wasn’t developed FOR homeschooling originally. And, lessons can take longer in real homeschool life just because it’s a home with things cooking on a stove, a ringing telephone, maybe a climbing toddler or a muddy pet racing through the “classroom”! Also be aware that “free” or “cheap” curriculum might be a good bargain or it might waste your time with things that don’t matter or take longer on a concept that could be grasped in a more efficient manner. Homeschool curriculum is the same as anything else we buy for our children – valuable resources will generally have a reasonable cost to them. Curriculum is a tool that makes teaching tasks easier. Some cheap tools are fine; many are less-delightful to use.
Not everything that is “popular” will fit your family. Curriculum that has been designed originally to be used in classrooms/single-age group work can be OK to adapt to multi-level situations or individual learning sometimes. Many of the most effective/useful books and supplies that I have found for us (that I didn’t design and don’t have to tweak much or at all) were and remain items that are NOT as popular. I have had to “dig” to find some “gold nuggets” but, on the other hand, I have saved a lot of frustration because I’ve found items which work very well. They just were not advertised or reviewed well. (One example is the MFB French program; we were the first distributor for that curriculum but it took me a fair amount of searching to find that one online.)
To get highlighted for sale or for positive reviews in many places, it costs the author/producer of the resource a significant amount of money or giveaways. So a product might be very good, effective, and relevant to families but a home business behind it is likely very small in comparison to the large office companies which can afford various kinds of advertising, reviews, or printing costs. Small businesses rely on word-of-mouth advertising but in the homeschool world, the customers often don’t interact much or at all in the same community. All this to say that it takes some effort on the part of the homeschool parent(s) to search in detail for something less common and perhaps a “better fit” for home-based learning but I have found it to be well-worth that effort! (Yes, I often say on my blog “what” our family uses so that it can help others too.)
Costs: Back around 2001, before any of our kids were homeschooling, I had been told by another Canadian mom that an estimate for a “good homeschool education” was around $400 per grade per child. When I began, I wanted to make it closer to $400 per grade and be reusable or reproducible for all children. Over the 17+ years of homeschooling, I’ve seen estimates of $50-900 per grade per student so I think that a $400-500 per grade with reusability built within that for other siblings remains a fairly good average expectation. The main exceptions I would say to this are higher costs for senior high school, field trips (which a family might take regardless of homeschooling or not), and “extras” such as a blackboard or lab supplies. The early years seemed higher in cost in comparison to the middle years (e.g. because we were investing in more storybooks for our shelves and general equipment such as chairs, sports-related, craft supplies, manipulatives). We continue to aim to keep prices reasonable in our shop.
To the Christian parents reading this, like all other impacting decisions, we all are to pray for the Lord’s direction. He promises to lead into good things. As Christians, we have the privilege of coming to our God and calling Him “Abba Father” (literal meaning “Daddy”). Trust Him for all aspects of life, not just educational matters. Through His Spirit, He will be your peace in any situation He leads you to experience. Your overall focus should not be on what is temporary but rather, what is eternal. A question to consider when planning home education: “Will this matter in eternity – will learning _______ (you fill-in-the-blank here) matter in my child’s future testimony to interact with other people who need to know about our great God and Saviour?” And finally, as you begin (and continue) your homeschooling experiences, walk in faith with the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking to know Him more and more and put His desires first. (Of course, do the same regardless of where your children learn their academics.) ♥
To the non-Christian parents reading this, God still daily blesses you with His care for you and your children, even though you don’t yet acknowledge it in the same sense as people who personally know Him. He will allow circumstances and people to come across your journey to show His love and truth to your family. You will notice these things at times. Your Creator longs for you to talk to Him and have a relationship with you so that you can know His comfort and peace. So do we. ♥
It is a privilege and practice of ours to pray for our connections, as we serve you and when God brings you to our mind. May you all know HIS blessings!
“And if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just – every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”
Proverbs 2:3-10 (NIV, 1984)
P.S. We sort of began homeschooling a few times. You can read about that at another blog post here.