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Now that you’ve figured out your reasons for homeschooling and checked your local laws to make sure your legal bases are covered, it’s time to figure out the logistics of homeschooling. This final installment of the Homeschooling 101 series is all about figuring out your daily life as a homeschooler. This is where the rubber meets the road, folks!
Find Your Homeschooling Style
When I was finishing up my education degree we were required to write up our ‘philosophy of education’, which is just teacher-speak for how you think people should learn and how you think education should look and work. As homeschoolers we should also be figuring out our ‘philosophy of education’ to help us find our own homeschooling style. This style is unique to you and will help you choose how you can best homeschool your children.
There is probably a pretty good chance, though, that you don’t yet know what your homeschooling style is. You will hear terms like Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, and Classical Education thrown around, but if you’re anything like me when I first started people might as well be speaking Chinese when they discuss these methods! Thankfully the Eclectic Homeschooling blog has put together a simple quiz that will help you determine which methods fit your beliefs best. It will rank the most popular education styles from highest to lowest as far as how they line up with your own philosophy of education. I have taken this quiz myself and here were my results:
My Top Three
1) Unit Studies
3) Charlotte Mason
My Bottom Three
1) Traditional Homeschooling
3) A tie between Unschooling and Classical Education
You may be wondering why I included both highest and lowest scores. It is equally important to know which products and curricula you should buy to fit your style as it is to know which you should avoid. For example, my quiz results help to confirm my desire to incorporate studies that cross over the individual subjects and incorporate them into a larger topic that we are studying (Unit Studies) and my desire to focus on life skills with my kids (Montessori). It also makes me more comfortable in turning down offers to join a Classical Conversations co-op because classical education just doesn’t fit well with my beliefs.
Once you get your quiz results I would take a few minutes and do a little Googling on your top methods. Check them out and see what it is that you like about them, and what about them may not work for you and your family. For me, Montessori methods fit with my beliefs in that I think it is vital for kids to learn life skills. What doesn’t fit our family is the common practice of only using special ‘Montessori’ materials and methods to teach those life skills. I love the ‘living books’ approach that is included with Charlotte Mason method, but I’m not into nature studies (there are bugs out there, ewww) or using excerpts of literature to teach spelling (I’m a big believer in teaching spelling rules). Take a bit of time to explore each of those methods and see what draws you to them and what you can leave behind because it just doesn’t fit your personality or your family’s needs.
Choose Your Curriculum
I think choosing curriculum is probably the most anxiety-producing part of homeschooling. We tend to fear that if we don’t choose just right we will ruin the whole thing. Here is the good news: there is NO perfect curriculum. Not one. Different things will work well for different families. Some will choose digital options, some will avoid anything digital and stick to paper and pencil, and some will skip both of those and go for hands-on projects. Most families will do a blend of all three. There is a common fear that you can’t homeschool because you don’t have enough money to buy all the ‘best’ curricula, but you don’t have to. Relax and repeat after me, “I don’t have to buy something just because it works for someone else. I will choose what works best for MY family!” Not sure what works best for your family? Here are some tips on how to choose curriculum.
Check It Against Your Why
Remember when I said that it is super important to start your homeschooling journey by figuring out your reasons for homeschooling in part 1? Choosing your curriculum is part of this. When you are considering whether or not a curriculum would be a good fit for your family, look back at your ‘why’ (the reasons you are homeschooling and your goals for homeschooling). Does this choice fit with that? If it doesn’t, set it aside. Even if your friend/neighbor/lady on the internet said it is the best curriculum ever and THE way to teach whatever subject, if it doesn’t fit with your reasons for homeschooling just set it aside.
There will be times where a curriculum choice fits part of your reasons, but maybe not another part. Then it comes down to a judgment call. For example, for part of the year we use some inexpensive workbooks for lessons. No, these workbooks don’t exactly inspire a love of learning, but they teach the basic skills the kids need, in a way that works for us at that time. They don’t always enjoy doing these pages, but that is okay with me, because one of our reasons is to develop good character. I see diligence (careful and persistent effort) and endurance (the ability to push through something that may not be enjoyable without giving up) as two hugely important character traits. That means that having them work on these pages, even when they aren’t super thrilled about them, is helping them to develop these traits. It is building the habit and ability to push through and complete work, even if it isn’t fun, and continue to put careful effort into that work. We adults all know how essential it is to be able to do this in the real world, so I’m okay with the fact that these workbooks don’t exactly ignite a fiery passion because they are developing character. Just the other day my son fussed a bit about doing his workbook, but then moved on to the next page without being asked when I was busy making lunch. That’s big for a 6 year old!
Check It Against Your Passion & Skills
Several years back I attended a session at the Oceanetwork homeschooling conference given by Heidi St. John. She was talking about choosing curriculum and said that we are often tempted to go all out on curriculum for the subjects we love. They look all shiny and appeal to our passions. Don’t do it. You can MacGyver your way through teaching your passions. Spend the good money on areas where you are lacking (passion, skill, or both). If you are a history buff you could probably successfully teach your kids about WWII with a library book and some toothpicks. If you feel uncomfortable teaching math, focus your money on a quality math curriculum. That is where you will get the most return on your investment! For us that means I mostly use historical fiction, some reference books, and my background knowledge to teach social studies. It also means that we have decided to spend the money to get Math-U-See for our math curriculum.
Check Out A Homeschool Conference
Homeschool conferences are an AMAZING resource for choosing your curriculum! When you shop online you can look at descriptions and reviews, but not much of the curriculum itself. Every homeschool conference out there has an exhibitor hall loaded with companies there to help you. It’s the perfect time to get your hands on the products. Touch them. Flip through them. Compare them. Talk to the owners and representatives to learn about their companies and beliefs. This is your big chance to look at a bunch of choices all at once without having to have 147 tabs open on your computer! If you’re local to me, the conference in Portland is coming up this weekend!
Find the encouragement and support you need for your homeschool! You’ll enjoy amazing speakers including keynote Heidi St. John, a fantastic vendor hall, a used curriculum sale, and activities for the kids!
Figure Out Your Routine
You know those people who have a detailed schedule, on paper, down to the minute? The ones that seem to thrive off of that? Yeah, I’m not one of them. I would venture to say that most of us aren’t. If you are one of those people, I mean no offense. I think it’s awesome. You do you and I’ll do me. For me that means I need to have a routine and not a schedule. What’s the difference between the two? A schedule has a focus on the clock, it’s anchored to specific times during the day. A routine, though, is an order for how your day proceeds that is not attached to specific times, but might be set for general times of the day (think morning routine and bedtime routine). Whether you want a schedule or a routine, here is the plan for finding the one for your homeschool.
Check It Against Your Why
Like I said, your reasons why you homeschool will be central to everything you do, that’s why it is SO VITAL that you start at the beginning with Part 1 in this series and think through WHY you want to homeschool. These reasons will inform everything else you do. Before adding or removing something from your routine, compare it to your reasons and goals for homeschooling and see if it meshes with them.
How does this look in real life? For us it means that I try to always start our school day with prayer, a Bible story, and song time that includes Bible songs because one of our reasons we homeschool is to develop relationships with God. It means we are finding new ways to include skills-based activities in our lessons so that the kids develop the skills they will need to succeed in life. It also means that we include large blocks of free play time for the kids to play together so that they can develop their relationships with each other.
Check It Against Your Circumstances
Not everything that is good is good for everyone. It’s easy to see another homeschooler doing something and feel like you MUST do it in order to be a good homeschooler. Resist that thinking. When you are considering new things for homeschooling, whether they be curriculum, activities, lessons, or groups, check them against your family’s circumstances to see if they will work for you. Does what you are considering work with the available money in your your budget? The best curriculum out there isn’t worth struggling to put food on the table so you can afford it! Does it work with your available time? Perhaps you have plenty of time to in your schedule to go to a homeschool PE class at the local YMCA, but perhaps it goes right over your child’s speech therapy sessions. Does it work with your available energy? Maybe your are up all night with a new baby, so adding in a 4 hour co-op session every Friday is just too much for you. After a bit of consideration you might just find that you can include these things in your routine. You might be able to join your neighbor for a Classical Conversations group, or afford gymnastics lessons. If they work for you, go for it! Happily enjoy all of the wonderful opportunities that are out there for us. If they don’t work for you, pass them by without a bit of guilt.
Check Out A Planner
If you’re anything like me, you think you can skip writing things down and just remember them, but you can’t. Without a doubt, “I’ll remember it” is the biggest lie I tell myself! I have learned this the hard way and realized that I need some sort of organizational system or planner to help me keep track of what we’ve done, what we’re working on, what our goals are, and all of that. I tried several planners over several years but none of them really worked for us. They didn’t have the right subjects to fit what we did, or they were too rigid and I couldn’t keep up with them, or any number of other issues. Then I found a great system from my friend Tauna over at Proverbial Homemaker. She created the Relaxed Mom Homeschool Planner that was just what I needed! It fit my type B homeschooling style better than all the other planners I had tried. It works so well to track what we have done, which helps me to be much more relaxed in our school time than I was when I was trying desperately to check all the boxes I had filled in with plans I had made ahead of time. This planner helps me to plan the ‘big stuff’ like large goals for homeschooling and the year, but relax on the ‘small stuff’ like the individual day to day ‘assignments’ for school. Anything that allows me to be decently organized without getting super uptight (a particularly difficult balance for me to find) is a win in my book!
I know that starting homeschooling can be a very overwhelming decision. I remember being super intimidated by trying to figure out how to run our days. The good news is that there is no single ‘right way’ to do this. In the end it is about figuring out what fits your family. That, and keeping a plentiful stash of the good chocolate hidden away. Trust me, you’ll thank me later!