[co-written by Jenny and Carolyn]
You would like to begin homeschooling. Your children are already in school. How do you begin? Start with a trip through the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website (http://www.hslda.org) to learn what must be done in your area to be in compliance with your state’s laws. Some states require notification before you remove your children from a formal school; some do not. Trust HSLDA as your final authority: public school officials are often woefully ignorant of their state’s laws. Laws and requirements vary from state to state, so do not assume you can do the same thing as your friend’s neighbor’s sister-in-law who lives three states away. HSLDA also has links to homeschool support groups in your state or local region. Find the name of a homeschooling family and call them up — if they do not feel they can answer your questions, ask them to suggest someone else who can. I have spoken to many potential homeschooling families who just needed a little boost in the encouragement department.
The first physical step would be to pull your children from the school system they are in, but truly, you already have started teaching them. Your children have been learning from you from the time when their big eyes first followed you around the room, though they could not even speak or understand you, and it has progressed from there (see Who Taught This Kid to Walk…). Not getting your children up early enough to catch the bus may seem too simple of a way to begin homeschooling, but that is the beauty of home education. You may choose to delay removal from a school system until a semester break or major holiday break, but it often is not necessary. Others (in more drastic circumstances) choose to pull their children out NOW before another day goes by.
From there you can begin with the books that you already have around the house. Literature is a great way to start: read to your children, and have them read to you. Make cookies together and do the math of fractions. Play with water or corn meal and all your measuring utensils. There is no need to freak out and think you need a formal set-up. Relax and enjoy having your family together, and learn from life. Watch an historical video and discuss the parts that interest you. Spend an afternoon at the library. Walk around your local business district and see what you have never noticed before. If you are the only customers in a shop, talking to the owner can result in a fantastic, spontaneous field trip. Visit a local museum or antique shop and ask questions of the proprietor. Later, textbooks or organized lessons can be added, but it is not necessary right away, even if you are starting with a child who is in junior high or high school. You can still allow yourselves to take it easy at first; it helps make the transition less stressful and more enjoyable. Do not worry about desks and art supplies and music lessons until you find a need for them. Cuddling together on the sofa or gathering around the dining table will work just fine for now.
When you begin to doubt whether you are doing enough, stop to consider how much time your children would be wasting in a classroom while waiting in line, waiting for silence, or waiting for the teacher to finish whatever is going on before they can all move on to the next thing. A lesson that requires 45 minutes for a classroom to do may take only 10 minutes at home with one student. If you have multiple children, you may be able to combine lessons sometimes and save even more time. The entire family can enjoy a video or read-aloud book, and then your students can continue the lesson with assignments appropriate to their ages and abilities (i.e. further research, comparison or analysis of characters, make a costume and re-enact a scene). When my daughter had to read Hamlet for a college class, my son joined her for the video/read-along session and used it for high school literature credit.
It is beneficial and therapeutic to spend time contemplating what things you and your students have learned at home — remembering that we learn much more from life’s experiences than we do from books! Enjoy your time together as a family. From mealtime conversation to family game night, the educational opportunities never stop. Those opportunities were always there, but you were all too exhausted from rushing to keep up with school schedules to take advantage of them.