You've decided that you have the time, temperament, resources, and passion to homeschool your child. Now what? With so many decisions to make, the notion can seem overwhelming. Rest assured, says Linda Dobson, author of The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 101 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling's Most Respected Voices. "Nothing is so stringent that you need all your ducks in a row before you start."
Take a deep breath and review this step-by-step timeline. It covers everything you need to know and do before taking charge of your child's education.
1. Research Your Homeschool Options
Begin any time, no matter whether your child is a toddler or already has several years of elementary school under her belt. Some parents find the end of one school year is a good time to start their research because it gives them enough time to investigate the details and get started by autumn. Subscribe to magazines such as Homeschooling Today, visit the library, read books, and talk to people who homeschool — contact or join a local homeschool organization. Educating yourself about the various routes you can take is the best way to define why you are making this decision and what you hope homeschooling will accomplish for your family. Just don't get frustrated if you don't understand everything you read or hear.
2. Investigate Your State's Homeschooling Requirements
Homeschooling rules and regulations vary widely from state to state. In New York, for example, parents must file an annual declaration of intent with the local superintendent by July 1 or 14 days before starting to homeschool, as well as an individualized home instruction plan. New York parents must also maintain attendance records, submit quarterly reports, and conduct standardized tests. You can find detailed information on your state's laws at You Can Home School.
3. Join a Local Homeschooling Group
Meeting homeschoolers in your area will net you valuable information. Here you'll find other families who can answer questions, let you review their at-home teaching habits, and show you how homeschooling works for them. You can learn about age-appropriate activities your children may want to participate in, such as sports, tutoring, or small clubs that suit your child's interests. During weekly meetings, parents may opt to teach a subject such as a foreign language or a science lab to a group of students.
4. Decide on Homeschool Curriculum
Curricula can be purchased through mail order catalogues or at online stores, including Scholastic's Teacher Store (you'll need to register in order to buy). They vary from traditional textbooks and workbooks that cover reading, writing, and arithmetic to more individualized approaches that are guided by a child's own interests. State conventions and curriculum fairs, held several times each year, also showcase a variety of homeschooling publications and products.
5. Create Your Homeschooling Space
Will you be conducting classes at the kitchen table? Do you need a blackboard or a desk? How about empty wall space to post schedules, calendars, and completed work? Is there a computer nearby that's connected to the Internet? Get organized by purchasing storage cabinets and bookshelves for holding textbooks and workbooks. Baskets are also useful for keeping loose supplies under control.
6. Set Specific Homeschooling Goals
Since homeschoolers proceed at their own pace, it's important, especially in the first year, to consider what you want to accomplish. Academics are important when you set short- and long-term goals, but they are not the only component of a child's education. For example, how will your child get physical activity? When will he socialize with other children? Consider the importance of extracurricular activities such as music classes or Boy Scouts. Network with other parents — homeschooling and not — to find the best activities. Also check local community centers, houses of worship, and newspaper advertisements and listings.
7. Define a Homeschooling Schedule
Create a plan to meet the goals you've outlined. While a schedule makes some people feel hemmed in, it helps, especially in the beginning, to be organized and have a mission, says Dobson. Purchase a plan book and consider how you want to break up your child's academic schedule and each subject you want to work on. Consider how you want to break up your learning week by week too. Make time for field trips and visits to the library. And remember, flexibility is one of the key appeals of homeschooling. You can always adapt your schedule to your child's changing needs.
8. Watch Out for Common Homeschooling Pitfalls
Homeschoolers say there are three issues that often stymie beginners. First: feeling isolated. Make sure you've followed the advice in Step 3 and joined a support group. It's not just for the kids, although socialization is critical for them. Homeschooling parents need to connect with likeminded adults too.
Another potential problem is committing to a curriculum too early. Dobson notes that some new homeschoolers purchase an expensive packaged curriculum right away, only to find that it doesn't suit their child's learning style. Experiment for a while before you plunk down a lot of cash.
Finally, know that you'll need to learn as you go. Adjusting to the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling is a challenge. There are so many ways to approach your task. Remember that you'll be defining — and constantly redefining — yourself as you go.