Your First Year of Homeschooling
Whether you’re just beginning to consider homeschooling or you’re finally ready to get started after years of preparation, let us be the first to congratulate you and welcome you to the wonderful world of homeschooling! It isn’t uncommon to get an email asking where a new homeschooler should start. Here are our best tips, tricks and random thoughts for you, in hopes that some will prove helpful to you!
Browsing online is awesome, but sometimes it is just helpful to be able to flip through a catalog, carry it with you to read in the waiting room, or let your child circle the science kit he really wants to use this year. Start with ours of course and then google free homeschool catalog, ask your friends what their favorites are… just get them coming, since mail is never as fast as you want it to be!
If you haven’t already done so, determine how your child learns best. Usually the simplest way to guess this is by how you were best able to sooth him/her as a young child or infant. Watching people and objects will soothe a visual baby (my sister Pearl and myself). An auditory baby (my siblings Grace & Abel) is soothed by sounds/singing. The kinesthetic baby (my sister Hope) just needs to move or be moved – bouncing, rocking. This is going to help you decide what is the best curriculum for them- most traditional curriculum is designed for the visual learner and is easily translated for the auditory child. Kinesthetic programs are harder to find, but worth the effort if that is how they will learn best. (For more information on this, we highly recommend Talkers, Watchers, & Doers by Cheri Fuller. ISBN #1-57683-599-5.)
Pick an Approach for this Year
To get the ‘big picture’ for homeschooling you may want to try checking out various home schooling books from the library. The Charlotte Mason Companion, and Ruth Beechick’s books are great starting points. There are many different methods out there, and you may want to decide what will work best for your family up front. Or, you may simply want to figure out the details as you go – this approach does actually work well for many families!
Curriculum Package or Custom Curriculum?
Many new homeschoolers like to start with a curriculum package the first year. This lets them relax knowing that everything is covered, and get their feet wet with a complete plan in place. There are those adventurous parents though who would rather hand-pick each element of their child’s curriculum. That was my mom years ago, and when you are ready to do this both you and your child will benefit.
One word of caution here though, as I know some moms who are committed to teaching, loving and training their children, but are completely overwhelmed when it comes to analyzing curriculum components for their child. Relax! Maybe you just aren’t as much of an educational geek as the mom leading the homeschool group, so what? That makes her perfect for that job, but you don’t need to be her. You don’t feel badly to use a mechanic, so why agonize over curriculum particulars? Find a reliable source, ask your friends, and then focus on helping your children learn, that’s the good part anyway!
Get the Big Picture
You will have days that you’ll ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. At some point take a minute and write down why you are homeschooling. For instance, if your primary goal is to give your child a God-saturated environment, then a day spent at the hospital getting stitches is no less a success than the first time he reads an entire book. If your goal is one on one instruction, then the hour you spent working on math during baby’s only nap still puts you miles ahead of the teacher who would have been juggling 24 students all day long.
Placement Tests & Samples
Unless this is your child’s first year of school, you’ll probably find that you have some questions on where to start. Math is the one subject you’ll want to be most careful about starting with the right level. Thankfully most of our math curriculum options have free online placement tests – it is worth the time to use them! For other subjects, simply glancing over the sample pages will usually suffice. Too hard? Go back a level. Too easy? Try the next level up.
Make a Decision for this Year, Then Move Forward
Thinking ahead is important, but don’t feel like you need to have the rest of their school years planned out now. Make a decision for this year, and then reevaluate at the end of the year. For instance, you may be torn between Math-U-See and Horizons Math. Pick one for this year, and tell yourself (and perhaps your child) that you’ll reevaluate at the end of the year. That way you can settle down to work through the curriculum without constantly looking over your shoulder to see if there is a better way.
Chat with Your Child
You’re the parent and the teacher, so you make all final decisions of course, but part of our planning each year includes getting together with your student and finding out their goals and aspirations. For instance, if they really want to learn about astronomy this year, rather than botany, why not? Or if they have always wanted to learn how to sew, you could add a home economics portion to this year’s plan…
Plan an Annual Schedule and Weekly Checklists
Our curriculum kits include free access to our online scheduler. This makes it easy to plan out your schedule customized to your family needs.
Here's how we used to do it manually:
Our family made two lists for each child at the beginning of the year. The first was the annual plan. This included every school book we planned to get through that year as well as how many pages/lessons were included. We then determined how many weeks we planned to do school that year. A typical school year is 36 weeks long, but you may wish to school year-around, take 2 weeks off for vacation or??? It is then just simple math to determine that the 144-chapter book should be completed at a pace of 4 chapters a week…
Once we had a yearly plan, it was an easy thing to make a weekly checklist. We simply listed off all the books/curricula from our annual list with a checkbox for each lesson or page. As we completed a page or lesson, we could check it off our lists. Even pre-readers can enjoy crossing things off their list of things to do each week. My brother Abel was notorious for updating me and my sisters with his minute-by-minute progress reports! An independent learner is our goal, and a weekly checklist helps us get there.
Set a Goal
For most children having a reward for completing the list and a consequence for not getting it done will be important. For us this was a weekly family night. We would plan to watch videos or play games Friday night, and all who had their list done were able to participate. Each of us had weeks where we put off school until the very last minute, and bore the consequences of it, but in the process we learned about time management and responsibility in a very practical way!
Have a Backup Plan
Start another list of educational things you would like to do someday with your child. Label it Field Trips, and set it aside for those days when you both would do better with a breath of fresh air. Not sure where to start? Grab a tourist’s guide to your city and look for local landmarks, vistas, businesses, etc. Call the local fire department and see if you can get a tour. Visit the zoo. Go to the beach/lake/mountain/river/canyon/fossil field or other geological feature and explore it. The possibilities are endless.
Connect With Others
In the “olden days” this meant joining a local homeschool group and attending homeschool conventions. While that is still an invaluable resource for many families, other options include finding like-minded homeschooling bloggers or connecting with friends and groups on Facebook. The important thing is to have a handful of people that can provide help, encouragement and a vision to your homeschool.
Change As Needed
Sometimes learning is hard work, and your children will soon discover that. But if math brings them to tears every day, you will want to step back and try to figure out what is going on. Is the program best suited to their learning style? Is there too much repetition? Not enough? Do they understand the work? Is it possible that they have missed a foundational skill? Perhaps they simply need glasses!
Remember, You Can Do This!
After all, you already taught your child to walk and talk, both incredibly complex skills! Each state varies on what it requires, so you should check with HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) to find out what you need to know. Legal questions aside, while it may seem scary to plan out your child’s education, it truly is not that overwhelming. You do not need to teach your child everything. Rather, teach him how to learn, as this is the most important skill he’ll ever develop. After that, whether he needs to learn algebra or firefighting, simply point him to the right resources and watch him go.
What If You Leave Out Something Important In Your Child’s Education?
Quick, what was the cause of World War I? How do you divide a fraction? Does a tendon connect muscle to bone or bone to bone? If you didn’t know one of those things, did you panic? I hope not! If you think back over everything your teachers sought to drill into you, how much did you retain? Not nearly as much as they’d hoped! This has not made you a “less successful” person, nor would it keep you from learning any skill you suddenly found you needed or wanted. If your child simply learns how to learn, he will be much better prepared for life than many high school graduates. Here at Timberdoodle, we like to say that school is for people who don’t have a life – meaning that if you teach your child the essentials, and he uses the rest of his time to live life, he will likely score better on his exams than his peers do, and be much more well-rounded than if he sat in a classroom all day attempting to absorb information he cannot relate to.
Know that we are always happy to answer questions, even if they are not related to our products. We are much more concerned that you find what works than that you buy our materials! So, if you have any specific questions, be they catalog/curriculum or... please drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org I will try to help you find products that will work for you and your family.
Finally, here are a handful of our most helpful links and articles: