First, let me say congratulations and welcome to homeschooling! Making the decision to homeschool was a little bit terrifying, if I'm being honest. I wasn't sure how it would go at all, but I knew that the situation my kids were in at the time wasn't working. Something had to give. My two oldest children are still in public school and we are intent on keeping them there. I am currently homeschooling my 5th grade daughter and 2nd grade son, and they were pulled for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that neither one of them fit into the tiny boxes they were expected to fit into. Conventional school wasn't working for either one of them and they were falling further and further behind. We needed to do something else, and so we did.
We all homeschool for different reasons; ours are primarily academic in nature.
Homeschooling and the Law
Once you've made the choice to homeschool, you will need to do a little bit of research about the laws specific to the state you reside in. Every state is a little bit different in terms of the notice you are required to provide to the district, records you will need to keep and/or submit, hours of instruction expected, content you are expected to cover and testing. The level of regulation varies widely from state to state.
I highly recommend doing some research about the district you reside in as well. Our school district has many alternative school types, one of which is a homeschooling supplemental enrichment program. My kids attend once a week, where they have exposure to ordinary classroom settings, age appropriate peer groups and material that I might not otherwise be able to cover. For example, my daughter is taking a class on Shakespeare and both of the kids are in a musical theater class.
Important Decisions in the Beginning
One of the first decisions you will be faced with when you begin homeschooling is what type of teacher you intend to be. Are you planning to structure lessons, organize materials ahead of time? Are you intending to let the child's interests guide the lessons? Are you unschooling? This choice will in all likelihood shape the path you walk as a homeschooler more than anything else. Here, we do a little bit of everything. Some lessons are planned out in advance, some are triggered by an interest the kids have in a subject. Sometimes we get hooked on a documentary series and watch them all day.
Though you are expected to spend a certain amount of hours a week on instruction, know that you aren't limited to weekday lessons. Homeschooling happens any time, day or night, weekday or weekend. I do a fair amount of teaching on the weekends and at night, particularly when I am focusing on topics that I want the older traditional students to learn as well. Homeschooling also isn't limited to "home". You can teach math at the grocery store, science at the zoo, history at the museum.
Also important to the initial days and weeks of homeschooling, and something we had to deal with here, is that you may be undoing damage done from prior school experiences. If you have a child who is hesitant about reading because they've struggled in a classroom setting and been teased, if you have a child who was bullied, if you have a child who needs help focusing (or an entire laundry list of other issues), you may find that the initial adjustment phase to homeschooling involves slaying a lot of old dragons.
Before you make any curriculum decisions, I highly recommend that you take a quick personal inventory, being totally honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Are you strong in math? Is it something you struggle with? Do you think you can teach grammar? Reading? How much you can rely on your own background will largely determine how well you will be able to teach different subjects.
Dealing with Other People
The one question everyone always seems to ask any homeschooler has to do with socialization. What about the socialization?!?!?! Be prepared to get asked that question a lot. A. Lot. Playgroups, homeschool field trips, parks, supplemental programs, scouts and sports are all good ways to ensure that your kids are well socialized.
There are not many areas of parenting that elicit more comments and criticism than homeschooling. For whatever reason, people have preconceived notions about it and don't often hold back on sharing their opinions. You will have random strangers ask your children whey they aren't in school when you're out and about during the day, that's virtually guaranteed.
It isn't just strangers, either. You will, in all likelihood, have friends and family question your decision...so prepare yourself. The truth is that you know your child better than anyone else ever could, and no one else gets to make this decision. Period.
Building Your Classroom
Most of our lessons are at the kitchen table or on the couch in the living room. No fancy furniture necessary. I did purchase a small chalkboard that I use along with a whiteboard we already had. Aside from that, I did not do anything special to start homeschooling.
Building Your Curriculum
There are fully inclusive curriculum packages available for your use. Some are online, some are tangible materials, some are a combination. I do not use any of them, nor am I comfortable giving my opinion on them. I looked into them briefly and opted to build my own curriculum instead. My only piece of advice here is that you should look into who devised the curriculum and what angle (if any) they are pushing. Many companies that make the packages are Christian in nature, which may alter the materials covered in history and science especially. We use purely secular history books and evidence based science materials.
Here are the resources we've used and/or will use in the future, broken down by subject. I'm positive I will forget something. There is so much great information out there, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Khan Academy - This is a fully inclusive site that has math programs from K-12 and beyond. There is test prep as well. There are also science lessons, art history and more, though most of the other subject content areas are taught at a high school level. The programs include assessments to determine the level children are at, where their strengths and weaknesses are, what areas need more work. It is very much aligned with Common Core strategies. Free.
- Moby Max - This website is used by some people as their primary curriculum source, though we use it only as a supplement. The basic website is free, and the content adjusts based on the skill level of each child. There is more on the site if you pay.
- Used textbooks - found on Amazon, this is about as basic as it comes. My second grader is almost finished with the 3rd grade math book and learning division right now. Not free, but low cost. Used textbooks can be found for as little as $0.01, plus shipping of $3.99.
- Workbooks - I've focused on word problems, data interpretation, fractions, decimals and percentages with my 5th grader. We have a few workbooks from Scholastic. Look for sales.
- Worksheets - There are quite a few websites where you can search and print math worksheets by grade level and area of content. The sites I have used most are greatschools.org and education.com.
- Khan Academy - for high school level subject and above.
- icell - An app for middle school science and above, it gives you microscopic views of different cells.
- Bill Nye - Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill. You already know and love him. His website has tons of videos, experiments and worksheets. Lessons can be easily adapted to all age levels.
- National Geographic Kids - Great resource for animals and more, from early elementary and up.
- Used textbooks - Yep. I'm a big fan of the cheap used textbooks on Amazon. I purchase the books and accompanying workbooks. Not free, but cheap.
- Worksheets - There are some on greatschools.org that we have used.
- Netflix. For real. There is a huge amount of science educational material on Netflix, in just about every area imaginable.
- Pinterest. Yep. For real. I'm always looking for hands on experiments for the kids, and there are a ton of homeschooling boards on Pinterest with ideas. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, I promise...there is a lot out there already. There is usually some kind of science experiment sitting on my kitchen counter.
- Reading Rainbow - Without a doubt, this is my favorite resource for reading, though it is subscription based.
- Moby Max - We use this for periodic reading level assessments mostly. It's not perfect and the robo voice is a little funky, but it's free.
- Lexile website - I recently went through most of the books in the house to sort them by the Lexile levels. When you have emergent readers or struggling readers, this can be fairly important. You want them to be challenged a bit, but not too much by the material you present them with. If it is too hard, they will get discouraged. It's very important to foster and grow confidence in reading.
- Spelling workbooks - I did purchase workbooks at grade level for the kids to use. We aim for one lesson a week. The workbooks we use are by Flash Kids/Harcourt and under $7 each on Amazon.
- Cursive. I'm teaching this because I think it's an important life skill, and vital for kids to be able to read historical documents. There are many cursive workbooks available as well as free printables online.
- Grammar. So important to learn this, I use a variety of resources, including...C.M. Punk's videos on youtube. His grammar slam series is awesome.
- Netflix! Yes. I know, all the Netflix. They had a TON of History Channel series that just expired, though I believe you can still access them on the History Channel's website. The Story of Us and How the States Got Their Shapes were awesome.
- Liberty's Kids - This was a PBS cartoon series, now available on DVD. I think I paid $10 for the whole series. Elementary level.
- The Complete Book of United States History - I don't love everything about this book, but it is okay. Not a standalone resource in my opinion.
- The Story of the World - The kids have two volumes of this series from their homeschool supplement history classes, and while I like the storytelling aspect of the books, I don't particularly like the religious slant. Not my favorite.
- Howard Zinn. I use both the online resources as well as have purchased used copies of the Children's History books he wrote. He strives to tell accurate history lessons from the perspective of all parties, not just the lessons we learned, told from the angle of whoever had the power to write the books.
- Time For Kids. The website is filled with current events stories, written for children from mid-elementary level and up.
- Museums. I cannot stress the value of the museums enough. Here in Denver, the art museum no longer charges admission for children at all. Free every day. It is wonderful.
- Netflix. By now, you should know this was coming. From musicals to concerts and more, there are tons of great resources here.
- Pandora. This isn't free, but was a subscription we already had. Searchable by genre or artist, this is the background noise while we work almost every day. Vivaldi, The Blues, Bach, The Beatles...it's all there. I tend to teach the kids about music as an ongoing affair as it is, so for me, this is vital.
- Check into your local arts facilities. They may offer reduced tickets for performances. In the summer, many areas also have Shakespeare festivals that may offer free productions.
- I adore The Artful Parent.
- Free Japanese lessons are available online.
- PBS has tons of educator resources in all subject areas, at all grade levels.
- Scholastic - If you call them, you can register as a teacher. This gives you access to all the deals and sales that you would find in a classroom setting.